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Title: Tetherstones
Author: Dell, Ethel M. (Ethel May)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tetherstones" ***

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http://www.pgdpcanada.net



                           _BY ETHEL M. DELL_

                 *        *        *        *        *

                _The Way of an Eagle_
                _The Knave of Diamonds_
                _The Rocks of Valpré_
                _The Swindler, and Other Stories_
                _The Keeper of the Door_
                _Bars of Iron_
                _The Hundredth Chance_
                _The Safety Curtain, and Other Stories_
                _Greatheart_
                _The Lamp in the Desert_
                _The Tidal Wave_
                _The Top of the World_
                _The Obstacle Race_
                _The Odds and Other Stories_
                _Charles Rex_



                              Tetherstones



                                   By
                             Ethel M. Dell
          Author of “The Way of an Eagle,” “Charles Rex,” etc.



                           The Ryerson Press

Toronto                           1923                            Canada



                            Copyright, 1923
                                   by
                          G. P. Putnam’s Sons



                  Made in the United States of America



                          I DEDICATE THIS BOOK

                               TO VIOLET

                  THE DEAR FRIEND WHO ALWAYS STANDS BY
                             AS A TOKEN OF
                        MY EVER-LOVING GRATITUDE
                      FOR ALL SHE HAS DONE FOR ME



    The lonely circle on the hill
    Where mist-wreaths float and rise
    Hither and thither, lingering still,
    Like smoke of sacrifice—
    Forgotten fires, forgotten rites,
    Forgotten agonies.

    The heaven-blue flowers bloom below
    About the grim stone’s foot,
    The sweet hare-bells that always grow
    Where nought else e’er takes root.
    Of all that stony wilderness,
    The only fruit.

    A presence in the moonlit night
    Unseen doth ever brood,
    As though it kept in silent sight
    The stones rough-hewn and rude;
    The shrine of which it was the god,—
    The moorland solitude.

    And never shall that vigil tire,
    And never the great spell pass,
    Where the Druids built their altar-fire
    Over the dew-drenched grass,
    Till the last loud trump shall shatter
    The gates of brass.

    And then forgotten priests shall wake
    And forgotten victims rise,
    And the old grey stones of the circle shake
    In the place of sacrifice. . . .
    But the heaven-blue flowers will bloom for aye
    As flowers of Paradise.



                                CONTENTS

                                  PART I
                      I.— THE MACHINE
                     II.— THE BREAKDOWN
                    III.— A BUSINESS PROPOSITION
                     IV.— THE ACCUSER
                      V.— THE HOLIDAY
                     VI.— THE CAPTURE
                    VII.— ROGER
                   VIII.— THE ROAD TO NOWHERE
                     IX.— THE LIONS’ DEN

                                 PART II
                      I.— THE STRANGERS
                     II.— ROGER’S MASTER
                    III.— THE BEAST
                     IV.— REBELS
                      V.— MR. DERMOT
                     VI.— MAGGIE
                    VII.— THE PATH THROUGH THE WILDERNESS
                   VIII.— THE STONES
                     IX.— THE LETTER
                      X.— REVELATION
                     XI.— FAILURE
                    XII.— THE FIRES OF HELL
                   XIII.— ESCAPE

                                 PART III
                      I.— THE VICTIM
                     II.— THE BARGAIN
                    III.— THE TURN OF THE TIDE
                     IV.— RUTH
                      V.— THE EXILE
                     VI.— THE CHAIN
                    VII.— THE MESSAGE
                   VIII.— THE MIRACLE
                     IX.— THE INVALID
                      X.— THE WOMAN’S RIGHT
                     XI.— THE PERFECT GIFT
                    XII.— THE PARTING

                                 PART IV
                      I.— THE LAND OF EXILE
                     II.— THE NIGHTMARE
                    III.— THE AWAKENING
                     IV.— THE VICTORY
                      V.— THE VISION
                     VI.— THE INQUISITOR
                    VII.— FAIR PLAY
                   VIII.— THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE
                     IX.— WHERE THE GIANT HARE-BELLS GROW



                              Tetherstones



                                 PART I


                               CHAPTER I
                              THE MACHINE

Twelve deep notes sounded from the clock-tower of the Cathedral, and the
Bishop’s secretary dropped her hands from her typewriter and turned her
face to the open window with a quick sigh. The Bishop’s garden lay
sleeping in the sunshine—the pure white of lilies and royal blue of
delphiniums mingling together as the wrought silks on the fringe of an
altar-cloth. The age-worn stone of the Cathedral rose beyond it, and the
arch of the cloisters gave a glimpse of the quiet burial-ground within.
A great cluster of purple stone-crop rioted over one corner of the arch,
and the secretary’s tired eyes rested upon it with a touch of
wistfulness as though the splendour of it were somewhat overwhelming.
She herself was so slight, so insignificant, so altogether negligible a
quality, a being wholly out of place in the midst of such glorious
surroundings. But yet she loved them, and her happiest hours were those
she spent with her little sketching-block in various corners of that
wonderful garden. It was only that the purple flower seemed somehow to
be the symbol to her of all that was out of reach. Her youth was
slipping from her, and she had never lived.

The tired lines about the brown eyes were growing daily more marked. The
little tender curve about the lips was becoming a droop. The brown hair
that grew so softly about her forehead gleamed unexpectedly white here
and there.

“Yes, I’m getting old,” said Frances Thorold. “Old and tired and dull.”
She stretched up her arms with a sudden movement, and for a second her
hands were clenched. Then they fell to her sides.

“I suppose we are all slaves,” she said, “of one kind or another. But
only the rebels know it.”

She turned again to her work, and for a space only the sharp click of
the machine disturbed the summer silence. It had an unmistakably
indignant sound as though its manipulator were out of sympathy with the
words so deftly printed on the white page. The secretary’s mouth became
very firm as she proceeded, the brown eyes narrowed and grew hard.

Suddenly she lettered an impatient exclamation and looked up. “Oh, these
platitudes!” she said. “How are they going to help men and women to
live?”

For a moment she had almost a desperate look, and then abruptly she
laughed.

“Perhaps it isn’t all your fault,” she said to the manuscript by her
side, “that you give us stones for bread. You have lived on them all
your life and don’t know the difference.”

“How do you know?” said a voice at the window.

The secretary gave a start. Her eyes met the eyes of a man who stood
against the clematis-covered window-frame looking in upon her—a
careless, lounging figure as supremely at ease as a cat stretched in the
sunshine.

He marked her brief confusion with a smile. “Do tell me how you know!”
he said.

Her eyes fenced with his for a moment, then were proudly lowered. It was
as if she drew a veil over her face.

“His lordship is not here,” she remarked in a tone that was strictly
official.

“So I have already observed,” rejoined the new-comer, with his easy
tolerance that was somehow quite distinct from familiarity. “In fact, at
the present moment, I believe his lordship is in the thick of an
argument with the Dean as to whether Shakespeare or Bacon wrote the
Bible. It’s rather an important point, you know. Have you any theories
on the subject, might one ask?”

A little quiver that could hardly be described as a smile passed over
the secretary’s thin features, but her eyes remained upon her work.

“I don’t go in for theories,” she said, “or arguments. I am far too
busy.”

“By Jove!” he commented. “How you hate it!”

She raised her brows very slightly,—delicate brows, one of them a shade
more tilted than the other, giving a quaint look of humour to a face
that seldom smiled.

“I hate nothing,” she said with precision, “I have no time.”

“By Jove!” he said again, and chuckled as at some hidden joke.

The exasperating click of the typewriter put an end to all discussion,
but it did not dislodge the intruder as was obviously intended. He
merely propped himself against the grey stone-work of the window and
took out his cigarette-case. His eyes dwelt with artistic appreciation
upon the stately glories of the old garden, the arch of the cloisters
against the summer blue, the wealth of purple flower adorning it. His
face had the lines and the weather-tan of the man who has travelled far
and wide, has looked upon the wonders of life and death with a certain
cynical amusement, and returned almost to the starting-point with very
little of value in his pack.

As the click of the typewriter persisted, he turned from his deliberate
survey and gave his attention to a calm study of the woman seated behind
it. His gaze was speculative, faintly humorous. There was something in
that face of passive severity that aroused his curiosity. An
insignificant type, it was true; but behind the insignificance there
lurked something unusual that drew his interest. He wondered how long
she would manage to ignore him.

On and on clicked the typewriter. The typist’s lips were firmly closed,
her eyes resolutely fixed upon her work. The watcher summoned his own
resolution to wait upon opportunity, meditatively smoking the while.

Opportunity came at the end of some minutes of persistent clicking that
might well have exasperated the most patient. The end of the page was
reached, and there came a check. The secretary reached a thin, nervous
hand for another sheet.

“Still more platitudes?” queried the man who leaned against the
window-frame.

It would not have greatly surprised him had she made no response, but
the sudden flashing upwards of her eyes came as a revelation. He
straightened himself, almost as if he expected a blow.

“I am sorry,” said the secretary very evenly, her eyes unswervingly upon
him, “but you are disturbing me. I must ask you to go away.”

He stood looking at her in frank astonishment. No woman had ever made
him so simple and so compelling a request before. This from the
secretary, the insignificant adjunct, the wholly undesirable and unknown
etcetera of his uncle’s household! There certainly was more here than
met the eye!

He collected himself with an unwonted feeling of being at a disadvantage
and instantly determined to save the situation at all costs. He leaned
towards her, meeting the grave insistence of her look with a disarming
smile. “Miss—Thorold, I haven’t offended you?”

“No,” said Frances Thorold briefly. “I am busy, that’s all.”

Her tone was official rather than ungracious, her eyes questioning
rather than hostile, her whole attitude too impersonal for resentment.
And yet it aroused resentment in the man. His smile vanished.

“I am sorry,” he said stiffly, “to have appeared intrusive. That was not
my intention. I only spoke to you because I heard your voice and
imagined the hour for recreation had arrived. Pray accept my apologies!”

The firm lips relaxed a little, and a short sigh came through them.
“There is no need for apology,” she said. “No one apologizes to—a
machine. But it has got to keep working, and it mustn’t be interrupted.”

“You can’t work all day!” he protested.

She nodded. “I can. I do. And why not? It’s what I’m here for.”

Her voice had a note of challenge. Her eyes had gone beyond him. They
rested upon the wealth of purple flower that crowned the coping of the
cloister-arch in the hot sunshine, and again they held that wistful look
as of baffled longing for the unattainable.

The man’s eyes were upon her. They saw the longing. His anger passed.

“No machine will go for ever,” he said, “if left to itself. The very
best of them need occasional rest for adjustment and lubrication.
Otherwise they run down and wear out before their time.”

He was aware of the gleam of appreciation that crossed her intent face,
and for the first time he marked the wary lines about her eyes. Then he
met them again, and knew that he had scored a point.

She spoke in her brisk, official voice, returning to her work. “No doubt
you are right. I shall have to oil it one of these days—when I have
time.”

“I shouldn’t leave it too long,” he said. “Take an engineer’s advice!
It’s poor economy—may lead to a break-down in the end.”

She adjusted the fresh page with deft care. “Thank you Mr. Rotherby. I
shall remember your advice.”

“And take it?” suggested Rotherby. Then, as she did not reply, “It may
be dry bread, but it’s better than stones, anyway.”

He got what he angled for. She threw him a fleeting smile, and in a
moment he caught the charm which up till then had eluded him.

It faded almost instantly as a picture fades from a screen. Only the
official mask remained. Yet as he turned to depart, the gleam of
satisfaction lingered in his eyes. He had made his small bid for
amusement, and he had not bid in vain.

The monotonous clicking of the typewriter continued through the summer
silence as the secretary pursued her task with erect head and compressed
lips. With machine-like precision she tapped out the long, learned
sentences, reading them mechanically, transmitting them with
well-trained accuracy, aloof, uncritical, uninterested. She did not lift
her eyes from her work again for a full hour.

Page after page was covered and laid aside. The Cathedral clock chimed
and struck again. Then, in a quarter of an hour, there came the booming
of a heavy gong through the house. Frances Thorold finished her sentence
and ceased to work.

Her hands fell upon her lap, and for the moment her whole frame relaxed.
She sat inert, as one utterly exhausted, her eyes closed, her head
bowed.

Then, very sharply, as though at a word of rebuke, she straightened
herself and began to set in order the fruits of her morning’s work. She
had laboured for five hours without a break, save for the brief
interlude of Montague Rotherby’s interruption.

At the opening of the door she rose to her feet, but continued her task
without turning. The Bishop of Burminster had a well-known objection to
any forms of deference from inferiors. He expressed it now as he came
forward to the table at which she had worked for so long.

“Why do you rise, Miss Thorold? Pray continue your task. You waste time
by these observances.”

She straightened the last page and made quiet reply. “I think I have
finished my task for this morning, my lord. In any case it is
luncheon-time.”

“You have finished?” He took up the pile of typescript with eagerness,
but in a moment tossed it down again with exasperation. “You call that
finished!”

“For this morning,” repeated Frances Thorold, in her quiet, unmoved
voice. “It is a lengthy, and a difficult, piece of work. But I hope to
finish it to-night.”

“It must be finished to-night,” said the Bishop with decision. “It is
essential that it should be handed to me for revision by nine o’clock.
Kindly make a note of this, Miss Thorold! I must say I am disappointed
by your rate of progress. I had hoped that work so purely mechanical
would have taken far less time.”

He spoke with curt impatience, but no shade of feeling showed upon his
secretary’s face. She said nothing whatever in reply.

The Bishop, lean, ascetic, forbidding of aspect, pulled at his
clean-shaven chin with an irritable gesture. He had a bundle of letters
in his hand which he flapped down upon the table before her.

“I had hoped for better things,” he said. “There are these to be
answered, and when is time to be found for them if your whole day is to
be occupied in the typing of my treatise—a very simple piece of work,
mere, rough copy, after all, which will have to be done again from
beginning to end after my revision?”

“I will take your notes upon those this afternoon,” said Frances. “I
will have them ready for your signature in time to catch the midnight
post.”

“Absurd!” said the Bishop. “They must go before then.”

She heard him without dismay. “Then I will do them first, and type the
rest of the treatise afterwards,” she said.

He made a sound of impatience. “A highly unsatisfactory method of
procedure! I am afraid I cannot compliment you upon the business-like
way in which you execute your duties.”

He did not expect a reply to this, but as if out of space it came.

“Yet I execute them,” said Frances Thorold steadily and respectfully.

He looked at her sharply, his cold grey eyes drawn to keen attention.
“With very indifferent success,” he commented. “Pray remember that, Miss
Thorold, should the position you occupy ever tempt you to feel
uplifted!”

She made no answer, and her face of utter passivity revealed nothing to
his unsparing scrutiny. He passed the matter by as unworthy of further
consideration. If any impertinence had been intended, he had quelled it
at the outset. He did not ask for deference from his subordinates, but
he demanded—and he obtained—implicit submission. He had a gift for
exacting this, regarding everyone whom he employed as a mere puppet made
to respond to the pulling of a string. If at any time the puppet failed
to respond, it was thrown aside immediately as worthless. He was a man
who had but one aim and object in life, and this he followed with
untiring and wholly ruthless persistence. Before all things he desired
and so far as his powers permitted he meant to achieve, the
establishment of the Church as a paramount and enduring force above all
other forces. With the fervour and the self-abnegation of a Jesuit, he
followed unswervingly this one great idea, trampling down all lesser
things, serving only the one imperative need. It was his idol, his
fetish—this dream of power, and he worshipped it blindly, not realising
that the temple he sought to erect was already dedicated to personal
ambition rather than to the glory of God.

He worked unceasingly, with crude, fanatical endeavour—a man born out
of his generation, belonging to a sterner age, and curiously at variance
with the world in which he lived.

To him Frances Thorold was only a small cog-wheel of that machine which
he was striving to drive for the accomplishment of his ends. The failure
of such a minute portion of mechanism was of small importance to him.
She had her uses, undoubtedly, but she could be replaced at almost any
moment. She suited his purpose perhaps a shade better than most, but
another could be very quickly fitted to the same end. He was an adept at
moulding and bending the various portions of his machine to his will.
Not one of them ever withstood him for long.

The rosy-faced Dean, with his funny Shakespearean hobby-horse, was as
putty in his hands, and it never struck him that that same pink-cheeked
curiosity was a tool infinitely more fit for the Master’s use than he
himself could ever be. Neither did he ever dream of the fiery scorn that
burned so deeply in his secretary’s silent soul as she bent herself to
the burden he daily laid upon her. It would not have interested him had
he known. The welfare of the dogs under the table had never been any
concern of the Bishop of Burminster. They were lucky to eat of the
crumbs.

And so he passed her by as unworthy of notice, merely glancing through
her script and curtly noting a fault here and there, finally tossing the
pages down and turning from her with a brief, “You will lunch with me,
but pray be as speedy as possible and return to your work as soon as you
have finished!”

That was his method of exacting the utmost from her. Under those hard
grey eyes she would spend no more than the allotted half-hour out of the
office-chair.

And the sun still shone upon that garden of dreams, while the bees
hummed lazily among the blue and purple flowers. And all was peace and
beauty—save for the fierce fanaticism in the man’s heart, and the
bitter, smouldering resentment in the woman’s.


                               CHAPTER II
                             THE BREAK-DOWN

Four people sat at the old oak table in the oak-raftered dining-room of
the Bishop’s palace that day, and no greater contrast than they
presented could well have existed among beings of the same race.

Dr. Rotherby—the Bishop—sat in pre-occupied silence scanning an
ecclesiastical paper while he ate. He never encouraged conversation at
any meal save dinner, and his sister, Miss Rotherby, nervous, pinched,
and dyspeptic, supported him dutifully in this as in every other whim.
She sat with her knitting on the table beside her ready to be picked up
at every spare moment, on the principle that every second was of
value—a short-sighted, unimaginative woman whose whole attention was
concentrated upon the accomplishment of her own salvation.

Montague Rotherby, the sunburnt man of travel, sat between the two, and
wondered what he was doing there. He had just wandered home from an
expedition in Central Africa, and he had come hither with the
half-formed intention of writing a book on his experiences. He wanted
peace and quiet for the purpose, and these surroundings had seemed
ideal. The Bishop and his sister had given him welcome, and he had
believed himself to be fulfilling a family duty by visiting them. But he
had begun already to realize that there was something very vital lacking
in the atmosphere of the Palace. The place was stiff with orthodoxy, and
he himself as much a stranger as he had ever been in the most desert
corner of his travels.

“Can’t stand this much longer,” was his thought, as he sat before the
polished board on this the fourth day of his sojourn.

And then his look fell upon the secretary seated opposite to him, and
his interest stirred again.

She sat, remote and silent, in the shadow of a heavy green curtain
against which the pallor of her face took a ghastly hue. Her eyes were
downcast, the brows above them slightly drawn, conveying somehow an
impression of mute endurance to the observant onlooker. He watched her
narrowly, having nothing else to occupy him, and the impression steadily
grew as the meal proceeded. She scarcely touched the food before her,
remaining almost statuesque in her immobility, had her obvious
insignificance not precluded so stately a term. To the man who watched
her, her attitude expressed more than mere passivity. She was a figure
of tragedy, and as it were in spite of itself his careless soul was
moved to an unwonted compassion. In silence he awaited developments.

They came, more swiftly than even he anticipated. Very suddenly the
Bishop looked up from his paper.

“Miss Thorold, you have work to do. I beg you will not linger here if
you have finished.”

His voice came with the rasp of authority through the sultry summer
quiet. The secretary started as if at the piercing of a nerve and
instantly rose to leave the table. She pushed in her chair methodically,
but oddly at that point her intention seemed to fail her. She stood
swaying as one stricken with a curious uncertainty, gazing straight
upwards with dazed eyes that ever travelled farther and farther back as
if they marked the flight of an invisible bird.

Rotherby sprang to his feet, but he was too late. Even as he did so, she
threw up her hands like a baffled swimmer and fell straight backwards on
the polished floor. The sound of her fall mingled with the furious
exclamation that leapt to Rotherby’s lips—an exclamation which he
certainly would not have uttered in a more reasoned moment—and he was
round the table and by her side almost before the two other spectators
had realized what was taking place.

“Oh, good gracious!” gasped the Bishop’s sister, pushing back her chair
with the gesture of one seeking to avoid contact with something
obnoxious. “What is it? What is the matter?”

“It is only a faint.” Curt and contemptuous came the Bishop’s reply. He
also pushed back his chair and rose, but with considerably more of
annoyance than agitation. “Lay her in that chair, Montague! She will
soon recover. She is only overcome by the heat.”

“Overcome!” growled Montague, and he said it between his teeth. In that
moment, cool man of the world though he was, he was angry, even furious,
for the white face with its parted, colourless lips somehow excited more
than pity. “She’s worn out—driven to death by that accursed
typewriting. Why, she’s nothing but skin and bone!”

He raised the slight, inert figure with the words, holding it propped
against his knee while with one hand on the dark head he pressed it
forward. It was a device which he had not thought would fail, but it had
no effect upon the unconscious secretary, and a sharp misgiving went
through him as he realized the futility of his efforts.

He flung a brief command upwards, instinctively assuming the
responsibility. “Get some brandy—quick!”

“There is no brandy in the house,” said the Bishop. “But this is
nothing. It will pass. Have you never seen a woman faint before?”

“Damnation!” flared forth Montague. “Do you want her to die on your
hands? There is brandy in a flask in my room. Send one of the servants
for it!”

“This is dreadful!” wailed Miss Rotherby hysterically. “I haven’t so
much as a bottle of smelling-salts in the place! She has never behaved
in this extraordinary way before! What can be the matter?”

“Don’t be foolish!” said the Bishop, and firmly rang the bell. “She will
be herself again in five minutes. If not, we will have a doctor.”

“Better send for one at once,” said Montague with his fingers seeking a
pulse that was almost imperceptible.

“Very well,” said the Bishop stiffly. “Perhaps it would be the wisest
course. Why do you kneel there? She would be far better in a chair.”

“Because I won’t take the responsibility of moving her,” said Montague.

“This is very painful,” said Miss Rotherby tremulously, gathering up her
knitting. “Is there nothing to be done? You are sure she isn’t dead?”

“I am not at all sure,” said Montague. “I shouldn’t stay if I were you.
But get someone to bring me that brandy at once!”

He had his way, for there was about him a force that would not be
denied. In moments of emergency he was accustomed to assert himself, but
how it came about that when the brandy arrived, the Bishop himself had
gone to telephone for a doctor and the Bishop’s sister had faded away
altogether, lamenting her inability to be of use in so serious a crisis,
even Montague could not very easily have said. He was still too angry
and too anxious to take much note of anything beyond the ghastly face
that rested against his arm.

Impatiently he dismissed the servant who was inclined to hang over him
with futile suggestions, and then realized with a grimace that he was
left in sole charge of a woman whom he scarcely knew, who might die at
any moment, if indeed she were not already dead.

“Damn it, she shan’t!” he said to himself with grim resolution as this
thought forced itself upon him. “If these miserable worms can’t do
anything to save her, I will.”

And he applied himself with the dexterity of a steady nerve to the task
of coaxing a spoonful of brandy between the livid lips.

He expected failure, but a slight tremor at the throat and then a
convulsive attempt to swallow rewarded him. He lifted her higher,
muttering words of encouragement of which he was hardly aware.

“That’s all right. Stick to it! You’re nearly through. It’s good stuff
that. Damn it, why didn’t that fool give me the water?”

“Yes, it—does—burn!” came faintly from the quivering lips.

“It won’t hurt you,” declared Montague practically. “Feeling better,
what? Don’t move yet! Let the brandy go down first!”

Her eyelids were trembling painfully as though she sought to lift them,
but could not.

“Don’t try!” he advised. “You’ll be all right directly.”

She stirred a groping hand. “Give me—something—to hold on to!” she
whispered piteously.

He gripped the cold fingers closely in his own. “That’s it. Now you’ll
be all right. I know this sort of game—played it myself in my time.
Take it easy! Don’t be in a hurry! Ah, that’s better. Have a cry! Best
thing you can do!”

The white throat was working again, and two tears came slowly from
between the closed lids and ran down the drawn face. A sob, all the more
agonizing because she strove with all her strength to suppress it,
escaped her, and then another and another. She turned her face into the
supporting arm with a desperate gesture.

“Do forgive me! I can’t help it—I can’t help it!”

“All right. It’s all right,” he said, and put his hand again on the dark
head. “Don’t keep it in! It’ll do you more good than brandy.”

She uttered a broken laugh in the midst of her anguish, and the man’s
eyes kindled a little. He liked courage.

He held her for a space while she fought for self-control, and when at
length she turned her face back again, he was ready with a friendly
smile of approval; for he knew that her tears would be gone.

“That’s right,” he said. “You’re better now.”

“Will you help me up?” she said.

“Of course.” He raised her steadily, closely watching the brown eyes,
drawn with pain, that looked up to his. He saw them darken as she found
her feet and was prepared for the sudden nervous clutch of her hand on
his arm.

“Don’t let go of me!” she said hurriedly.

He helped her to a chair by the French window. “Sit here till you feel
better! It’s a fairly cool corner. Is that all right?”

Her hand relaxed and fell. She lay back with a sigh. “Just for two
minutes—not longer. I must get back to my work.”

“It’s that damned work that’s done it,” said Montague Rotherby, with
unexpected force. “You’ll have to go on sick leave—for this afternoon
at least.”

“Oh no,” said the secretary in her voice of quiet decision. “I have no
time to be ill.”

Rotherby said no more, but after a pause he brought her a glass of
water. She thanked him and drank, but the drawn look remained in her
eyes and she moved as if afraid to turn her head.

He watched her narrowly. “You’ll have a bad break-down if you don’t take
a rest,” he said.

She smiled faintly. “Oh no. I shall be all right. It’s just—the heat.”

“It’s nothing of the kind,” he returned. “It’s overwork, and you know
it. You’ll either kill yourself or go stark staring mad if you keep on.”

She laughed again at that, and though faint, her laughter had a ring of
indomitable resolution. “Oh, indeed I shall not. I know exactly what my
capabilities are. I have been unlucky to-day, but I am in reality much
stronger than I seem.”

He turned from her with the hint of a shrug. “No doubt you know your own
business best, and of course I fully recognise that it is no part of
mine to give advice.”

“Oh, please!” she said gently.

That was all; but spoken in a tone that brought him back to her with a
sharp turn. He looked at her, and was amazed at himself because the
faint smile in her tired eyes gave him a new sensation.

“Wasn’t that what you meant?” he said, after a moment.

“No,” she made quiet answer. “I never mean that to the people who show
me kindness. It happens—much too seldom.”

She spoke with a dignity that was above pathos, but none the less was he
touched. It was as if she had lifted the official mask to give him a
glimpse of her soul, and in that glimpse he beheld something which he
certainly had not expected to see. Again, almost against his will, was
he stirred to a curious reverence.

“You must have had a pretty rotten time of it,” he said.

To which she made no reply, though in her silence he found no sign of
ungraciousness, and was more attracted than repelled thereby.

He remained beside her without speaking until the irritable, uneven
tread of feet in the corridor warned them of the Bishop’s return; then
again he looked at her and found her eyes upon him.

“Thank you very much for all your kindness,” she said. “Please—will you
go now?”

“You wish it?” he said.

“Yes.” Just the one word, spoken with absolute simplicity!

He lingered on the step. “I shall see you again?”

He saw her brows move upwards very slightly. “Quite possibly,” she said.

He turned from her with finality. “I shall,” he said, and passed out
without a backward glance into the hot sunshine of the Palace garden.


                              CHAPTER III
                         A BUSINESS PROPOSITION

There was a sheet of water in the Palace garden, fed by a bubbling
spring. Cypress and old yew trees grew along its banks, and here and
there the crumbling ruins of an old monastery that had once adjoined the
Cathedral showed ivy-covered along the path that wound beside it. It was
said that the frocked figure of an ancient friar was wont to pace this
path in the moonlight, but none who believed the superstition ever had
the courage to verify it.

Montague Rotherby, wandering thither late that night after the rest of
the household had retired, had no thought for apparitions of any
description. He was wrapt in his own meditations, and neither the beauty
of the place nor its eeriness appealed to him. He was beginning to
realize that he had come to the wrong quarter for the peace his soul
desired. A few brief, wholly dispassionate, words from his uncle’s lips
had made it quite clear to him that it was possible even for a man of
his undeniable position in the world to outstay his welcome, and, being
possessed of a considerable amount of pride, Montague needed no second
hint to be gone.

But very curiously he found an inner influence at war with his
resolution. He knew very well what had actuated the Bishop in giving him
that very decided hint, and that very motive was now strangely urging
him in the opposite direction.

To admit that he was attracted by that very insignificant and wholly
unimportant person, the Bishop’s secretary, was of course too
preposterous for a man of his standing. The bare idea brought a cynical
twist to his lips. But she had undeniably awakened his compassion—a
matter for wonder but not for repudiation. Insignificant she might be,
but the dumb endurance of her had aroused his admiration. He wanted to
stop and see fair play.

Pacing to and fro beside the dark waters, he reviewed the situation. It
was no business of his, of course, and perhaps he was a fool to suffer
himself to take an interest in so comparatively slight a matter. It was
not his way to waste time over the grievances of outsiders. But this
woman—somehow this woman with her dark, tragic eyes had taken hold of
his imagination. Scoff though he might, he could not thrust the thought
of her out of his mind. Possibly her treatment of himself was one of the
chief factors in her favour. For Montague Rotherby was accustomed to
deference from those whom he regarded as social inferiors. It was true
that he had taken her at a disadvantage that morning, but the very fact
of his notice was generally enough to gain him a standing wherever he
sought for one. To be held at a distance by one so obviously beneath him
was a novel sensation that half-piqued and half-amused him. And she
needed a champion too, yet scorned to enlist him on her side. It was
wholly against her will that she had gained his sympathy. Though
perfectly courteous, she had made it abundantly clear that she had no
desire to be placed under any obligation to him. And, mainly for that
reason, he was conscious of a wish to help her.

“She’ll sink if I don’t,” he muttered to himself, and forgot to question
as to what on earth it mattered to him whether she sank or swam.

This was the problem that vexed his soul as he paced up and down in the
moonlight on that summer night, and as he walked the resolution grew up
within him not to leave until he had had the chance of speech with her
again. She might refuse to grant it to him, might seek to avoid him.
Instinct told him that she would; but he was a man to whom opposition
was as a draught of wine, and it had never been his experience to be
withstood for long by a woman. It would amuse him to overcome her
resistance.

So ran his thoughts, and he smiled to himself as he began to retrace his
steps. In a contest such as this might prove to be, the issue was
assured and could not take long of achievement; but it looked as if he
might have to put a strain on the Bishop’s hospitality for a few days
even yet. Somehow that reflection appealed to his cynical sense of
humour. It seemed then that he was to sacrifice his pride to this odd
will-o’-the-wisp that had suddenly gleamed at him from the eyes of a
woman in whom he really took no interest whatever—one, moreover, who
would probably resent any attempt on his part to befriend her. Recalling
her low words of dismissal, he decided that this attitude was far the
most likely one for her to adopt, but the probability did not dismay
him. A hunter of known repute, he was not easily to be diverted from his
quarry, and, sub-consciously he was aware of possibilities in the
situation that might develop into actualities undreamed-of at the
commencement.

In any case he intended to satisfy himself that the possibilities no
longer existed before he abandoned the quest. With no avowed end in
view, he determined to follow his inclination wherever it might lead.
She had given him a new sensation and—though perhaps it was not wholly
a pleasant one—he desired to develop it further. To a man of his
experience new sensations were scarce.

The effect of the moonlight, filtering through the boughs of the yew and
striking upon the dark water, sent a thrill of artistic pleasure through
his soul. He stood still to appreciate it with all the home-coming joy
of the wanderer. What a picture for an artist’s brush! He possessed a
certain gift in that direction himself, but he had merely cultivated it
as a refuge from boredom and it had never carried him very far. But
to-night the romance and the beauty appealed to him with peculiar force,
and he stood before it with something of reverence. Then, very softly
chiming, there came the sound of the Cathedral clock, followed after a
solemn pause by eleven deep strokes.

He counted them mechanically till the last one died away, then turned to
retrace his steps, realizing with a shrug the lateness of the hour.

It was thus that he saw her standing in the moonlight—a slender figure,
oddly girlish considering the impression she had made upon him that day,
the face in profile, clear-cut, with a Madonna-like purity of outline
that caught his artistic sense afresh. He realized in an instant that
she was unaware of him, and stood motionless, watching her, afraid to
move lest he should disturb her.

She had come to the edge of the water and was gazing up the rippling
pathway that the moonlight flung from the farther shore to her feet. Her
stillness had that statuesque quality that he had marked before in her,
and, oddly, here in the moonlight he no longer found her insignificant.
It was as if in this world of silver radiance she had mysteriously come
into her own, and the man’s spirit stirred within him, quickening his
pulses. He wanted to call to her as one calls to his mate.

Perhaps some hidden telepathy warned her of his presence, perhaps she
heard the call, unuttered though it was, for even as that unaccountable
thrill went through him she moved, turned with a strange deliberation
and faced him. She showed no surprise, spoke no word, her silence and
her passivity surrounding her as though with a magic circle which none
might cross without her leave. The mantle of her unobtrusiveness had
fallen from her. She stood, superbly erect, queen-like in her pose and
the unconscious dignity of her aloofness.

And Montague Rotherby was actually at a loss before her, uncertain
whether to go or stay. It was a very transient feeling, banished by the
swift assertion of his pride; but it had been there, and later he smiled
ironically over the memory of his discomfiture. He had called to her too
urgently, and she had replied with instant dismissal, though no word had
passed between them.

Now, with determination and a certain audacity, he ignored her dismissal
and took words for his weapon. With a smile he came towards her, he
crossed the magic circle, protecting himself with the shield of the
commonplace.

“I thought we should meet again,” he said. “Are you better?”

She thrust past his shield with something of contempt. “I certainly did
not expect to meet you—or anyone—here,” she said.

His smile became almost a laugh. Did she think him so easily repulsed?

“No?” he said easily. “Yet we probably came—both of us—with the same
intention. Tell me what happened after I left you this afternoon! I
tried to find out from his lordship, but was badly snubbed for my pains,
which I think you will admit was hardly fair treatment.”

He saw her face change very slightly at his words, but she made no
verbal response to them.

“I am quite well again,” she said guardedly, after a moment. “Please do
not trouble yourself any further about me! It is sheer waste of time.”

“Oh, impossible!” he exclaimed gallantly; then, seeing her look, “No,
seriously, Miss Thorold, I refuse to be put off like that. I’ve no right
whatever—as you have every right to point out—but I must insist upon
knowing what happened. I won’t rest till I know.”

She looked at him for a few seconds, her dark eyes very intent as though
they searched behind every word he uttered for a hidden motive; then
abruptly, with the gesture of one who submits either from indifference
or of necessity, she made brief reply.

“What happened was a visit from the doctor and a solemn warning that I
must take a rest as soon as his lordship can conveniently release me
from my duties.”

“Ah!” said Montague.

He had expected it, but somehow her method of conveying the news—though
he realized it to be characteristic—took him by surprise. Perhaps,
remembering that he had held her in her weakness a few hours before
while she had wept against his arm, he had hoped for greater intimacy in
the telling. As it was, he found himself actually hesitating as to how
to receive it.

She certainly did not ask for sympathy, this woman of the curt speech
and tired eyes. Rather she repudiated the bare notion. Yet was he
conscious of a keen desire to offer it.

He stood in silence for a moment or two, bracing himself for a distinct
effort.

“Does it mean very much to you?” he asked at length.

Her short laugh grated upon him. It had the sound of a wrong chord. She
had smiled at him that morning, and he had felt her charm. Her laughter
should have been sheer music.

Her voice had the same hard quality as she answered him. “No more than
it does to most people when they lose their livelihood, I should say.”

But, strangely, her words gave him courage to pass the barrier. He spoke
as one worker to another.

“What damnable luck!” he said.

Perhaps they were the most sincere words he had yet spoken, and they
pierced her armour. He saw her chin quiver suddenly. She turned her face
from him.

“I shall worry through,” she said, and her voice was brisk and
business-like, wholly free from emotion. “I’m not afraid of that.”

But she was afraid, and he knew it. And something within him leapt to
the knowledge. He knew that he had found the weak joint.

“Oh, there’s always a way out,” he said. “I’ve been in some tight
corners myself, and I’ve proved that every time.” He broke off, with his
eyes upon the rippling pathway of moonlight that stretched to their
feet. Then, abruptly as she herself had spoken: “Is the Bishop going to
do anything to make things easier?” he asked.

She made a small choking sound and produced a laugh. “Good heavens!” she
said. “Do you really imagine I would let him if he would?”

“Why not?” said Montague boldly. “You’ve worked hard for him. If he has
any sense of what is fitting, he will regard it in the light of a debt.”

“Will he?” said Frances Thorold sardonically.

“If he hasn’t the decency to do that—” said Montague.

She turned upon him in a flash and he saw that her bosom was heaving.

“Do you think I would take his charity?” she said. “Or anyone else’s?
I’d rather—far rather—starve—as I have before!”

“Good God!” said Montague.

He met the fierce fire of her eyes with a swift kindling of admiration
in his own. Somehow in that moment she was magnificent. She was like a
statue of Victory in the midst of defeat. Then he saw the fire die down,
and marked it with regret.

“Good night,” she said abruptly. “I am going in.”

He thrust out his hand to her with a quickness of impulse he did not
stop to question. “Please wait a minute!” he said. “Surely you are not
afraid of my offering you charity?”

He smiled as he said it—the smile of confident friendship. There were
moments when Montague Rotherby, with the true gambler’s spirit, staked
all upon one cast. And this was one of them. But—possessing also a
considerable knowledge of human nature—he had small fear for the
result. He knew before he put down his stake that he was dealing with a
woman of too generous a temperament to make him suffer complete failure.
Also, he was too old and too cynical a player to care greatly whether he
won or lost. He was beginning to admit that she attracted him. But after
all, what of it? It was only boredom that lent romance to this moonlight
scene. In three days—in less—he could banish it from his mind. There
were other scenes awaiting his careless coming, other players also . . .
higher stakes. . . .

The thought was still running in his mind even as he felt the quick grip
of her slender hand in his. He had not expected complete victory. It
took him by surprise.

“You are far too good,” she said, and he heard the quiver of emotion
that she no longer sought to suppress in her voice, “too understanding,
to offer me that.”

He squeezed her hand in answer. “I’m offering you friendship,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said gently.

He smiled into her eyes. “It may be of an unorthodox kind, but that we
can’t help—under the circumstances. It’s genuine anyway.”

“I am sure of that,” she said.

He wondered what made her sure, and was conscious of a moment’s
discomfiture, but swiftly fortified himself with the reflection that she
was no girl, and if she were still lacking in experience of the ways of
the world, that was her affair, not his. On second thoughts he did not
believe her to be lacking in this respect. She had shown too much
caution in her treatment of his earlier advances.

He released her hand, but he stood very close to her in the shadow of
the cypress-tree. “And now—as a friend,” he said, “will you tell me
what you think of doing?”

She made no movement away from him. Possibly she had not the strength to
turn away from the only human being in the world who had offered to
stand by her in her hour of need. She answered him with a simplicity
that must have shown him clearly how completely she had banished all
doubt.

“I really haven’t an idea what I shall do—what I can do, in fact, if my
health gives way—unless,” a piteous quiver of laughter sounded in her
voice, “I go into the country and learn to milk cows. There seem to be
more cows than anything else in this part of the world.”

“But have you no resources at all?” he questioned. “No people?”

“But one doesn’t turn to one’s people for help,” said Frances in her
quiet way. “My parents both died long ago. I was dependent in my
girlhood upon a married brother—a business man—with a family. I soon
broke away, and there is no going back. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone.”

“Of course not,” said Montague. “But wouldn’t he tide you over this
crisis?”

“While I learn to milk cows you mean?” The laughter in her voice sounded
less precarious now. “I couldn’t possibly ask him. He has sons to
educate, and a wife whom I can’t abide. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“But must you milk cows?” he questioned. “Is there nothing you can do to
fill in time—till you get another secretary’s job?”

“Ah! And when will that be? Secretary’s jobs are not easily come by. I
have only had one other, and then my employer died and I was out of work
for months. That is why I can’t afford to be out of work now. I’ve had
no time to save.”

She spoke without pathos, a mere statement of fact. He liked her for it.
Her simple courage combined with her businesslike expression thereof
attracted him more and more. Whatever hard blows Fate might have in
store for her, he was convinced that she would endure them unflinching,
would stand on her feet to the very end. It was refreshing to meet this
sort of woman. With all the present-day talk of woman’s independence he
had seldom found her independent when hurt. He was beginning to realize
wherein this woman’s fascination lay. It was in the fact that whatever
happened to herself she would accept responsibility. Whatever her losses
might be, she would borrow no man’s counters. She was answerable to
none, and she held herself strong enough to hold her own.

That impression came upon him very forcibly as he talked with her, and
it was to remain with him for all time. Here was a woman who made no
claim of equality or independence, but—she stood alone.

“You are marvellously brave,” he said, and he uttered the words almost
involuntarily. “It makes me all the keener to be of use.” He paused.
“You know, I could be of use if you would allow me.”

“In what way?” she said.

He hesitated. “You won’t be angry—turn me down unheard?”

“You don’t realize that I have great reason to be grateful to you,” she
said.

“You haven’t,” he returned quickly. “I am not much of a philanthropist.
I don’t pretend to take an interest in people who fail to interest me. I
am no better than the majority, Miss Thorold, worse than a good many.”

He saw her faint smile. “But better than some,” she suggested.

He smiled in answer. “Well, perhaps,—better than some. Is there really
nothing you can do to fill in time for the present? Because—I can find
you another secretary’s job later on, if that is what you really want.”

“Can you?” she said. “But how?”

He was aware of a momentary embarrassment, and showed it. “It’s entirely
a business proposition. I am just home from Africa. I am going to write
a book on travel and sport. I’ve got my notes, heaps of ’em. It’s just a
matter of sorting and arranging in a fairly digestible form. I shall
want a secretary, and I have an idea we would arrive at an arrangement
not injurious to either of us. You can help me if you will—if you care
to—and I should think myself lucky to get anyone so efficient.”

“How do you know I am efficient?” she asked in her straight, direct way.

He laughed a little. “Oh, that! Well, mainly by the way you headed me
off this morning when I showed a disposition to interrupt the progress
of your work.”

“I see.” She spoke quietly, without elation. His suggestion seemed to
excite no surprise in her, and he wondered a little while he waited for
more. “Do you want me to decide at once?” she asked.

“Don’t you want to?” he continued. “You have no one—apparently—to
consult but yourself.”

“That is true. But—” she spoke gravely—“it takes a little while to
consult even oneself sometimes. What if I took up work with you and
found I did not like it?”

“You would be under no obligation to stop,” he said, aware of a sudden,
inexplicable desire to overcome her objections. “And you would be no
worse off than you are at present. But—I flatter myself you would like
it. I think the work would interest you. I am convinced at least that it
would not bore you.”

“That consideration would not influence me one way or the other,” she
said. “There are always drawbacks of some description to every walk of
life, and boredom—well, boredom is by no means the worst of them.”

“There I disagree with you,” said Rotherby boldly. “If you can honestly
say that, then you have never really lived.”

“That is quite true,” said Frances. “I never have.”

He gave her a sudden, hard look. “Don’t you want to?” he said.

She uttered her faint laugh, avoiding his eyes. “I
don’t—especially—want to starve,” she said. “But—I assure you I would
rather do that than fail to earn my keep.”

“I fully realize that,” he said. “Will you give me a trial then, or let
me give you one? I don’t know how you put these things, but it means the
same thing, I believe.”

“Oh no!” said Frances. “It means something very different. And neither
you nor I had better make up our minds to-night. You are very kind, but
very rash; and I think by to-morrow morning you may regret this. In any
case, let us wait till then!”

“For your satisfaction or mine?” he said.

“For both.” Prompt and steady came her reply, but he was disconcerted no
longer.

“Will you tell me one thing?” he said.

Her eyes came to his. “Certainly if I can.”

“Only this.” He spoke quickly, with a certain mastery. “If by to-morrow
I have not changed my mind, shall you accept my offer?”

She raised her brows slightly. “Why do you ask me that?”

“Because I want to know what to expect. I want to know if you make that
condition for your sake or mine.” Unhesitatingly he went to the point.
He was very nearly sure of her, but still not quite.

She paused for some seconds before she answered him. He wondered if she
were seeking a means of escape. Then very calmly she gave him her reply,
and he knew that the game was his.

“I have said it was for both, because if you repent of the bargain, so
shall I. But—if you do not repent, then I shall accept your offer with
gratitude. But you have acted upon impulse, and I think you ought to
take time to consider.”

“It rests with me then?” said Rotherby.

“Yes, it rests with you.” Quietly, even coldly, she yielded the point.
“Of course, as you say, if you decide to take me, it will only be on
trial. And if I fail to satisfy you, we are not worse off than we are at
present. But please do not decide before to-morrow!”

The words were a request. The tone was almost a command. He could ignore
neither, and he swept her a deep bow.

“Madam, your wishes in this matter shall be respected. To-morrow
then—we decide!”

“Thank you,” said Frances quietly.

She turned to go, but suddenly stopped short. He was aware of a change
in her—a tremor of agitation.

“Ah!” she said, under her breath.

She was looking out of the shadow into the moonlight, and swiftly his
eyes followed hers.

A figure in black was walking slowly and quite noiselessly over the
grass by the side of the path.

“Who on earth—” began Montague.

She silenced him with a rapid gesture. “Hush! It is the Bishop!”

He reflected later that from her point of view it might have been wiser
to have ignored the warning and have gone forth openly to meet the
advancing intruder. But—perhaps it was the romance of the hour, perhaps
merely her impulse communicating itself to him—or even, it might have
been some deeper motive, barely acknowledged as yet that actuated
him—whatever the influence at work, he obeyed her, drawing back in
silence against the trunk of the yew tree.

And so, like two conspirators trapped in that haunted garden, they drew
close together in the depth of the shadow and dumbly watched the
black-gowned figure advance over the moonlit grass.


                               CHAPTER IV
                              THE ACCUSER

He came very slowly, with priest-like dignity, yet in his deliberation
of movement there was purpose. It was seldom that the Bishop of
Burminster performed any action without a definite end in view. There
was indeed something almost fatalistic in all that he did. The wandering
friar himself who was said to haunt that sleeping garden could not have
moved with greater assurance or more studied detachment of pose.

The man and the woman watching him from their hiding-place drew closer
together as if in some fashion his coming inspired them with awe. It was
true that Montague Rotherby’s lips bore a smile of cynical amusement, as
though the situation appealed more to his sense of humour than to any
other emotion. But it was not any humorous impulse that moved him to put
his hand suddenly and reassuringly through the tense thin arm of the
secretary and closely grip it.

She started sharply at his touch, made for a moment as if she would free
herself, then stiffened and stood in rigid immobility.

For the Bishop was drawing nearer, and there was resolution as well as
protection in Montague’s hold.

Slowly came the advancing figure, and the tension of the two who waited
grew acute. Though he smiled, Montague’s teeth were clenched, and there
was a glitter of ferocity in his eyes. He formed his plan of action
while he waited. If the Bishop passed them by, he would release his
companion instantly, bid her begone, and himself cover her retreat.

It was the only feasible plan, and in the morning she would thank him.
In the morning she would realize that circumstances had placed her in
his debt, and she would be ready to meet the obligation in accordance
with his views. She certainly could not flout him or even keep him at a
distance after this. Without forcing himself upon her, he had become her
intimate friend, and she was not a woman to repudiate an obligation. She
would acknowledge with gratitude all that he had done for her.

He no longer questioned with himself as to wherein lay the attraction
that drew him. The attraction was there, and he responded to it, without
scruple, as he had responded to such all his life. After all, it was no
responsibility of his what she chose to do with her life. It was not
likely that he was the first man to come into her existence. She knew
very well what she was doing, and if she relaxed her guard he had no
hesitation in storming her defence. After all, it was but a game, and
women were quite as adroit in their moves as men, even more so in some
cases, he reflected, though in this one it had certainly so far not been
a difficult contest.

Swiftly the thoughts succeeded each other as he watched with a grim
vigilance the advancing figure.

The Bishop was close to them now, almost abreast of them. He could see
the harsh lines on the thin, ascetic countenance. There was something
mediæval about that iron visage, something that was reminiscent of the
Inquisition. This was the type of man who would torture and slay for the
fulfilment of an ideal—a man of stern fanaticism, capable of the
highest sacrifice, but incapable of that which even a dog may show to
his master—the Divine offering of love.

Now he had reached the old yew in the shadow of which they stood, as if
he had attained his destination he stood still.

Montague felt a sharp shiver run through his companion’s arm, and he
gripped it more closely, with a steady, warning pressure. The Bishop was
not looking in their direction. There was yet a chance that he might
pass on and leave them unobserved. The situation was ridiculous. They
had no reason for concealing themselves. But the instinct, old as
mankind, that prompts the two whom Fate has thrown together to avoid the
intrusion of a third, the unacknowledged dread of being caught in an
equivocal position, the half-formed wish to protect that gleaming,
iridescent wonder that is called Romance from the sacrilegious touch of
the outside world, all of these impulses had conspired to bring about
this absurd concealment which the man found both gratifying and
exasperating. To be discovered now would be humiliating, but if the
critical moment passed and they were left in peace he recognized that
another powerful link would be added to the chain that some caprice had
induced him to forge.

As for the woman, he had no clue to her thoughts. He only knew that with
her whole soul she hoped to escape undetected.

The Bishop had turned towards the edge of the lake, and was standing
there in sombre reflection.

“What on earth is he thinking about?” questioned Montague with himself.
“He can’t know we are here! He wouldn’t play such a cad’s game as that.”

Nevertheless his heart misgave him. He had no faith in the Bishop’s
sense of fair play. In his own weird fashion he believed him to be even
more unscrupulous than he was himself. That any beauty of scene held him
in that trance-like stillness he did not believe. He was merely thinking
out some fell design for the glory of the fetish he worshipped.

Montague began to grow impatient. Were they to be kept there in suspense
all night while he worked out his fantastic problems? He began to
consider the possibility of making a move unheard and unseen while the
Bishop remained wrapt in meditation. He had passed so close to them
without seeing them that it seemed more than possible that an escape
could be accomplished without any very serious risk.

He pressed his companion’s arm and was aware of her eyes strangely
luminous in the shadow turned towards him in enquiry. By some trick of
the moonlight, the pale features took on a sudden unexpected beauty. He
saw her in that moment not as the woman she was, faded and weary with
the long harassment of overwork and anxiety, but as the woman she might
have been, vivid, enchanting, young. . . . The illusion was so arresting
that he forgot his purpose and stood, gazing upon her, bound by a spell
that he had not known for years.

There came a sound through the magic stillness—the soft chiming of the
quarter from the Cathedral tower. The Bishop stirred as if a hand had
been laid upon him, stirred and turned.

His face was in the full moonlight, and it was the face of a
denunciatory prophet. He spoke in hollow tones that reached them like a
voice of doom.

“As I thought!” he said. “As I might have known! You may come out of
your hiding-place. No subterfuge will serve either of you. Go—both of
you! Let me never see you again!”

“Damnation!” said Montague.

The vision flashed away from him. He saw only the red fire of his wrath.
Then, strangely, the vision returned. He saw her again—a woman of
amazing possibilities, a woman to dream about, a woman to love. . . .

He took her cold hand very firmly into his own and led her forth.

She tried to resist him, to free herself. He knew that later. At the
time he realized but the one overmastering determination to vindicate
himself and her in the eyes of the denunciatory prophet. He strode
forward and confronted him.

“Damnation!” he said again, and he flung the word with all the force of
his fury. “Who are you to dare to speak to either of us in this strain?
What the devil do you mean by it?”

He spoke as one man speaking to another, but the calm gesture of the
Bishop’s uplifted hand dispelled the situation before it could be
established.

“Who am I?” he said. “I am a priest of the Lord to whom profanity is no
more than the vapouring of fools. How do I dare to speak to you thus? I
have never flinched from my duty in the bold rebuke of vice. What do I
mean? I mean that you and this woman have been detected by me on the
very verge of sin. And I tell you to go, because I cannot stop your
sinning until you have endured your hell and—if God is merciful—begun
to work out your own salvation.”

“The man is mad!” said Montague.

A moment before, he had been in a mood to take him by the throat, but
now he paused, arrested by the fanatical fervour of the Bishop’s speech.
Quite suddenly he realized that neither argument nor indignation would
have the smallest effect. And, curiously, his anger cooled. Any other
man he would have hurled into the placid waters of the lake without an
instant’s hesitation. But this man was different. Almost involuntarily
he accorded him the indulgence which the abnormal can practically always
command.

He turned very quietly to the woman whose hand had closed convulsively
in his own, but who stood beside him, immobile and emotionless as a
statue.

“Miss Thorold,” he said, “I must apologize to you for—quite
inadvertently—placing you in this extraordinary situation. The whole
thing is too monstrous for discussion. I only ask you to believe that I
regret it from the bottom of my heart, and I beg that you will not allow
anything so outrageous to prejudice you with regard to the future.”

Her eyes were downcast. She heard him without raising them. And still no
shade of feeling crossed her death-white face as she made reply.

“I am not likely to do that,” she said coldly and proudly. “I am not
likely to blame you for showing kindness to me in the house of one whom
mercy and humanity are unknown. I do not hold you responsible for
another man’s wickedness.”

It was a challenge, clearly and unhesitatingly spoken, and Montague
marvelled at the icy courage of her, the biting disdain. As she spoke,
she drew her hand from his, and paused, facing him, not deigning to look
upon her accuser; then, as he spoke no word, calmly, regally, with head
erect but eyes cast down, she walked away over the moonlit grass, and so
passed out of their sight.


                               CHAPTER V
                              THE HOLIDAY

The soft thudding of cows’ feet through the red mud of a Devon lane—the
chirruping call of a girl’s voice in their rear—the warning note of a
blackbird in the hedge—and the magic fragrance of honeysuckle
everywhere! Was ever summer day so fair? Was ever world so green?

“Drat that young Minnie! If she hasn’t taken the wrong turning again!”
cried the voice that had chirruped to the herd, and there followed a
chuckling laugh that had in it that indescribable sweetness of tone
which is peculiar only to those of a contented mind.

It took Frances Thorold by storm—that laugh. She got up swiftly from
her knoll, sketching block in hand, to peer over the hedge.

The hedge was ragged and the lane was deep, but she caught a glimpse of
the red cows, trooping by, and of the pink dress and wildly untidy hair
of their attendant. Then there came a sharp whistle, and a dog went
scampering by, audible but unseen in the leafy depth of the lane. There
followed a blundering check among the animals, and then again the clear,
happy voice calling to order and the equally cheery bark of the dog.

“That’ll do, Roger! Come back!” cried the bright voice. “Minnie won’t do
it again till next time, so you needn’t scold. Now, Penelope, what are
you stopping for? Get on, old girl! Don’t hold up the traffic! Ah,
here’s a motor-car!”

It was not annoyance so much as a certain comic resignation that
characterized the last sentence. The buzz of an engine and the sharp
grinding of brakes upon skidding wheels succeeded it, and Frances, still
peering over the ragged hedge, flushed suddenly and deeply, almost to
the colour of the sorrel that grew about her feet.

She made a small movement as though she would withdraw herself, but some
stronger motive kept her where she was. The car came grinding to a
standstill almost abreast of her, and she heard the animals go
blundering past.

“Thank you, sir,” called the fresh voice, with its irresistible trill of
gaiety. “Sorry we take up so much room.”

“Don’t mention it! You’re as much right as I—if not more,” called back
the driver of the car.

Frances stirred then, stirred and drew back. She left her green
vantage-ground and sat down again on the bank. Her eyes returned to her
sketching-block, and she began to work industriously. The hot colour
receded slowly from her face. It took on a still, mask-like expression
as though carved in marble. But the tired look had wholly left it, and
the drawn lines about the mouth were barely perceptible. They looked now
as if they sought to repress a smile.

She chose a tiny paint-brush from her box, and began to work with minute
care. The sketch under her hand was an exquisite thing, delicate as a
miniature—just a brown stream with stepping-stones and beyond them the
corner of an old thatched barn—Devon in summer-time. The babble of the
stream and the buzz of a million insects were in that tender little
sketch with its starry, meadow flowers and soft grey shadows. She had
revelled in the making of it, and now it was nearly finished.

She had counted upon finishing it that afternoon, but for some reason,
after that episode in the lane, her hand seemed to have lost its
cunning. With the fine brush between her fingers she stopped, for her
hand was shaking. A faint frown, swiftly banished, drew her brows, and
then one of them went up at a humorous angle, and she began to smile.

The next moment very quietly she returned the brush unused to its box,
laid both sketching-block and paints aside, and clasped her hands about
her knees, waiting.

The commotion in the lane had wholly ceased, but there was a sound of
feet squelching in the mud on the other side of the hedge. Frances
turned her head to listen. Finally, the smile still about her lips, she
spoke.

“Are you looking for someone?”

“By Jove!” cried back a voice in swift and hearty response. “So you’re
there, are you? I thought I couldn’t be wrong—through a stream and past
a barn, and down a hill—what damnable hills they are too in this part
of the world! How on earth does one get up there?”

Quite concisely and without agitation she made reply. “One usually goes
to the bottom of the hill, opens a gate and walks up on the other side.”

“Oh, that’s too much to ask,” protested the voice below her. “Isn’t
there some hole where one can get through?”

“If one doesn’t mind spoiling one’s clothes,” said Frances.

“Oh, damn the clothes—this infernal mud too for that matter! Here
goes!”

There followed sounds of a leap and a scramble—a violent shaking of the
nut-trees and brambles that composed the hedge—and finally a man’s
face, laughing and triumphant, appeared above the confusion.

“By gad,” he said, “you look as if you were on a throne!”

She smiled at him, without rising. “It is quite a comfortable perch. I
come here every day. In fact,” she indicated the sketching-block by her
side. “This is how I amuse myself.”

He came to her, carrying a trail of honeysuckle which he laid at her
feet. “May I share the throne?” he said.

She looked at him, not touching the flowers, her smile faintly
quizzical. “You can sit on a corner of this rug if you like. It is
rather a ragged affair, but it serves its purpose.”

She indicated the corner furthest from her, and Rotherby dropped down
upon it with a satisfied air. “Oh, this is a loafer’s paradise. How are
you getting on, Miss Thorold? You look—” he regarded her
critically—“you look like one who has bathed in magic dew.”

She met his look, her own wholly impersonal. “I feel rather like that,”
she said. “It has been a wonderful fortnight. I am quite ready for
work.”

He leaned upon his elbow, still carelessly watching her. “Have you
learnt to milk cows yet?” he asked.

“Well, no!” She laughed a little. “But I have several times watched the
operation. You saw that girl just now, driving the cows back to pasture
for the night. She comes from such a dear old farm on the moor called
Tetherstones. I have stood at the door of the cowshed and watched her.
She is wonderfully quick at it.”

“Is she going to give you lessons?” he said idly.

“I haven’t got to the point of asking her yet. We only pass the time of
day when we meet.”

Frances picked up her sketching-block again. Her hand was quite steady
now.

“May I see?” said Rotherby.

“When it is finished,” she said.

“No, now, please!” His tone had a hint of imperiousness.

She leaned forward with the faintest possible suggestion of indulgence,
such as one might show to a child, and gave it to him.

He took it in silence, studied it at first casually, then more closely,
with growing interest, finally looked up at her.

“You ought to find a ready market for this sort of thing. It’s
exquisite.”

She coloured then vividly, almost painfully, and the man’s eyes kindled,
watching her.

“Do you really think that?” she asked in a low voice.

“Of course I do. It isn’t to my interest to say it, is it? You’ve
mistaken your vocation.”

He smiled with the words and gave her back the sketch.

“It isn’t a paying game—except for the chosen few. But I believe I
could find you a market for this sort of thing. I had no idea you were
so talented.”

“It has always been my pastime,” said Frances rather wistfully. “But I
couldn’t make a living at it.”

“You could augment a living,” he said.

“Ah! But one needs interest for that. And I—” she hesitated—“I don’t
think I am very good at pushing my wares.”

He laughed. “Well, I’ll supply the interest—such as it is. I’ll do my
best anyway. You go on sketching for a bit, and I’ll come and look on
and admire. Shall I?”

She gave him a steady look. “When are you going to begin your book?”

“Oh, that!” he spoke with easy assurance. “That’ll have to keep for a
bit. I’m not in the mood for it yet. By and by,—in the winter——”

Her face changed a little. “In that case,” she said, slowly, “I ought to
set about finding another post.”

“Oh, rot!” said Montague with lightness. “Why?”

She turned from her steady regard of him, and looked down at the sketch
in her hand. “Because,” she said, her voice chill and constrained as was
its habit in moments of emotion, “I haven’t money to carry me on till
then. I shouldn’t have wasted this fortnight if I had known.”

“It hasn’t been wasted,” argued Montague, still careless and
unimpressed. “You couldn’t have done without it.”

She did not lift her eyes. “It is quite true I needed a rest,” she said,
“but I could have employed the time in trying to find another post. I
could have advertised. I could have answered advertisements.”

“And ended up as you are now minus the cost of the postage,” said
Montague.

She took up her brush again. “Yes, that is quite possible; but I should
have had the satisfaction of knowing that I had done my best.”

“You’ve done much more for yourself by just taking a rest and
sketching,” said Montague. “Have you done any besides this?”

She answered him with her eyes upon her work. “Three.”

“Will you let me see them?”

“If you wish.”

“When?”

“Whenever you like.”

“May I come round to-night then—sometime after dinner? I went round to
your diggings just now. It was the old woman who sent me on here.
Extraordinary old witch! Does she make you comfortable?”

“The place is quite clean,” said Frances.

“That’s non-committal. What’s the food like?”

“I don’t suppose you would care for it. It is quite plain, but it is
good. It suits me all right, and it suits my purse.”

He pounced upon the words. “Then why in heaven’s name worry? A little
extra holiday never hurt anyone, and you have got your sketching.”

“I can’t afford it,” said Frances.

“But if you can sell some of your work.”

“I can’t,” she said.

“Well, I can for you. It’s the same thing. Look here, Miss Thorold!
You’re not being reasonable.”

She turned again and faced him. Her eyes were very quiet, quite
inscrutable.

“It is not that I am unreasonble, Mr. Rotherby,” she said. “It is simply
you—who do not understand.”

There was stubbornness in his answering look. “I understand perfectly,”
he said. “I know what you are afraid of. But if you will only leave
things to me, it won’t happen. After all, you promised to be my
secretary, didn’t you? You can’t seriously mean to let me down?”

“I!” Her eyes widened and darkened in genuine surprise. “I don’t think
you can very well accuse me of that,” she said.

“Can’t I? In spite of the fact that you are threatening to throw me
over?” There was a bantering note in his voice, but his look was wary.

“I must think of myself,” she said. “You forget I have got to make my
living.”

“No, I haven’t forgotten. But there are more ways than one of doing
that.” His look fell suddenly to the trailing honeysuckle at her feet
and dwelt there with an odd abstraction. “Surely you can fill in time as
I have suggested,” he said. “You won’t be a loser in the end.”

“I like to feel I am standing on firm ground,” said Frances Thorold, and
returned to her sketch with an air of finality as though thereby the
subject were closed.

Montague took out a cigarette-case and opened it, offering it to her
with the same abstracted air.

She shook her head without looking at him. “No, thank you. I’ve never
taken to it. I’ve never had time.”

“It seems to me that you have never had time for anything that’s worth
doing,” he said, as he took one himself.

“That is true,” she said in her brief way.

There fell a silence between them. Montague leaned upon his elbow
smoking, his eyes half-closed, but still curiously fixed upon the long
spray of honeysuckle as though the flowers presented to him some
problem.

Frances worked gravely at her sketch, just as she had worked in the
Bishop’s room at Burminster a fortnight before, too deeply absorbed to
spare any attention for any interest outside that upon which she was
engaged. It was her way to concentrate thus.

Suddenly through the summer silence there came a sound—the voice of a
little child singing in the lane below—an unintelligible song, without
tune, but strangely sweet, as the first soft song of a twittering bird
in the dawning.

Frances lifted her head. She looked at Montague. “Did you leave your car
in the lane?”

“I did,” he said, wondering a little at the sudden anxiety in her eyes.

“Ah!” She was on her feet with the word, her sketching almost flung
aside. “She’ll run into it.”

“Absurd!” he protested. “Not if she has eyes to see!”

“Ah!” Frances said again. “She hasn’t!”

She was gone even while she spoke, springing for the gap through which
he had forced his way a few minutes earlier, calling as she went in
tones tender, musical, such as he had never believed her capable of
uttering. “Mind, little darling! Mind! Wait till I come to you!”

She was gone from his sight. He heard her slipping down the bank into
the mud of the lane. He heard the child’s voice lifted in wonder but not
in fear.

“You are the pretty lady who came to see the cows. May I hold your
hand?”

And Frances’ answering voice with a deep throb in it that oddly made the
listening man stiffen as one who listens to undreamt-of music:—“Of
course you shall, sweetheart. We will walk up the road together and find
some honeysuckle.”

The man’s eyes came swiftly downwards to the flowers that trailed
neglected where her feet had been. So she did love honeysuckle after
all! With a movement of violence half-suppressed he snatched up the pink
and white blossoms and threw them away.


                               CHAPTER VI
                              THE CAPTURE

The description that Frances had given of the lodging she had found for
herself in that little Devon village on the edge of the moors gave a
very fair impression of the hospitality she enjoyed. The place was
scrupulously clean, and, beyond this, quite comfortless. The fare was
cottage fare of the very plainest. Her hostess—a stiff-limbed old
creature, toothless, ungracious—was content to bestow upon her lodger
the bare necessaries of life and no more.

“I can boil you up some hot water to wash in, but it’ll be an extra,”
expressed her general attitude towards all things. And Frances, being
unable to afford the luxury here implied, contented herself with the
sweet, soft moorland water as it came from the pump at the cottage-door.
In fact, she very often pumped her own in preference to accepting the
grumbling ministrations of the old woman.

But she had been happy during that fortnight of enforced rest after
leaving the Palace. The solitude and the boundless leisure of her days
had brought healing to her tired soul. She was beginning to feel
equipped to face the world afresh. She was looking forward to taking up
secretarial work again of an infinitely more congenial character. Her
first instinctive hesitation was past. She was prepared to take refuge
once more in professional absorption, resolutely banishing all
misgivings regarding the man who had hidden with her in the Bishop’s
garden and had taken his stand beside her in the Bishop’s presence.

They had been cast forth,—she thought of it sometimes still with the
tremor of a smile—they had been driven out as Adam and Eve, and neither
of them would ever enter that garden again. Their intercourse since that
night had been of the very briefest. Rotherby had obtained from her an
address by which he could find her at any time. His attitude had been as
business-like as her own, and she had been reassured. She had agreed to
take a three weeks’ holiday before entering upon her new duties, and now
had come this. He had followed her to tell her that he would not now
need her until the winter.

It had been a blow. She could not deny it. But already busily she was
making her plans. He would have to understand clearly that she could not
wait; but he had shown her great kindness, and if he really desired her
services, she would try to find some temporary work till he should be
ready. She wondered, as she sorted out her sketches in the little bare
sitting-room in preparation for his coming that evening, if he really
did need her, or if he had merely obeyed the impulse of the moment and
had now repented. She recalled his careless gallantry which might well
cover a certain discomfiture at having placed himself in a difficult
position, his obvious desire to help her still by whatever means that
might come to hand. Yes, it was impossible to formulate any complaint
against him. He had been kind—too kind. He had allowed his sympathies
to carry him away. But they should not carry him any farther. On that
point she was determined. He should see her sketches—since he wished to
see them—but no persuasion on his part should induce her to look upon
them as a means of livelihood. She would make him understand very
clearly that she could accept no benefits from him in this direction. As
she had said, she must feel firm ground under her feet, and only by a
fixed employment could she obtain this.

So ran her thoughts on that summer evening as she waited for his coming
with a curious mixture of eagerness and reluctance. She marvelled at the
kindness of heart that had prompted his interest in her. If she had
been—as she once had been—an ardent, animated girl, it would have been
a different matter. But she had no illusions concerning herself. Her
youth was gone, had fled by like a streak of sunshine on a grey
hillside, and only the greyness remained. It was thus that she viewed
herself, and that any charm could possibly have outlived those years of
drudgery she did not for a moment suspect. That any part of her
character could in any fashion hold an appeal for such a man as Montague
Rotherby she could not, and did not, believe. Pity—pity, alone—had
actuated him, and he chose to veil his pity—for her sake—in the light
homage which he would have paid to any woman whom he found attractive.
Something in the situation, as she thus viewed it, struck a humorous
note within her. How odd of him to imagine that a woman of her
shrewdness could fail to understand! Ah, well, the least she could do
was to let him continue his cheery course without betraying her
knowledge of the motive that drove him. She would not be so ungrateful
as to let him imagine that she saw through his kindly device. Only she
must be firm, she must stand upon solid ground, she must—whatever the
issue—assert the independence that she held as her most precious
possession. Whatever he thought of her, he should never deem her
helpless.

There came the click of the garden-gate, and she started with a sharp
jerk of every pulse. Again, before she could check it the hot colour
rushed upwards to her face and temples. She stood, strangely tense,
listening.

He came up the path with his easy saunter. She knew it for the step of a
man of the world. None of the village men walked thus—with this
particular species of leisurely decision, unhurried assurance. He
strolled between the line of hollyhocks and sunflowers and spied her by
the window.

“Ah! Hullo! May I come in this way?”

He stepped over the low sill into the room. It was growing dusk. The air
was extraordinarily sweet.

“There’s a mist on the moors to-night,” he said. “Can you smell it?”

“Yes,” said Frances.

She gave him no word of greeting. Somehow the occasion was too
unconventional for that. Or was it merely the manner of his
entrance—the supreme confidence of his intimacy with her—that made
conventional things impossible? He entered her presence without parley,
because—obviously—he knew she would be glad to see him. The breath
caught oddly in her throat. Was she glad?

The tension of her limbs passed, but she was aware of it still
mentally,—a curious constraint from which she could not break free. She
laid her sketches before him almost without words.

He took them and looked at them one after another with obvious interest.
“You’ve got the atmosphere!” he said. “And the charm! They’re like
yourself, Miss Thorold. No, it isn’t idle flattery. It’s there, but one
can’t tell where it lies. Ah, what’s this?”

He was looking at the last of the pictures with an even closer interest.

“That is the little blind child at Tetherstones,” she said. “It is only
an impression—not good at all. I couldn’t get the appeal of her—only
the prettiness. It isn’t even finished.”

“What, the child you went to in the lane this morning? But this is
clever. You must finish this. You’ve got her on the stepping-stones too.
She doesn’t cross those alone surely!”

“Oh, yes, she goes everywhere, poor mite. She is just seven and
wonderfully brave. Sure-footed, too! She wanders about quite alone.”

“Poor kid!” Rotherby laid the sketch aside and turned to her. “Miss
Thorold, I’ve come for a talk—a real talk. Don’t freeze me!”

She smiled almost in spite of herself, and the thought came to her that
he must have had a very winning personality as a boy. Gleams of the boy
still shone out now and again as it were between the joints of his
manhood’s armour.

“Sit down!” she said. “Sit down and talk!”

But Rotherby would not sit. He began to pace the narrow room restlessly,
impatiently.

“You accused me of letting you down this morning,” he said, “and I
protest against that. It wasn’t fair. You’ve got a wrong impression of
me.”

“I!” said Frances.

“Yes, you!” He met her surprise with a certain ruthlessness. “I know it
sounded like the other way round, but it wasn’t actually. In your heart
you felt I’d played you a dirty trick—let you down. Own up! Didn’t
you?”

She replied with that slight humorous lift of the eyebrow that was
characteristic of her, “I really didn’t put it quite like that—even in
my heart, Mr. Rotherby. I owe you too much for that.”

He flung round as if at the prick of a goad. “What do you owe me?
Nothing whatever! Let’s talk sense, Miss Thorold! You don’t owe me
anything—except perhaps some sort of reparation for the restless nights
you have made me go through.”

Dead silence followed his words, uttered on the edge of a laugh that
somehow had a dangerous note. He had his back to her as he uttered them,
but in the silence he turned again and came back, treading lightly, with
something of a spring.

Frances stood quite straight and motionless, with that characteristic
pose of hers that was in some inexplicable fashion endowed with majesty.
She did not attempt to answer or avoid him as he returned. She only
faced him very steadily in the failing light.

“Do you know what I mean?” he said, stopping before her.

She made a slight movement of negation, but she did not speak. She stood
as one awaiting an explanation.

He bent towards her. “Don’t you know what I mean, you wonderful woman?
Haven’t you known from the very beginning—you Circe—you enchantress?”

His arms came out to her with the words. He caught the slim shoulders,
and in a moment he had her against his breast.

“Oh!” gasped Frances, and said no more, for he pressed her so closely to
him that no further words could come.

She did not resist him. Burningly, afterwards, she remembered her
submission, remembered how, panting, her lips met his, and were held and
crushed till blindly she fought for breath but not for freedom. It all
came like a fevered dream. One moment she had been a woman of the
world—a business woman—cold, collected, calm; the next she a girl
again, living, palpitating, thrilling to the rapture which all her life
she had missed, drinking the ecstasy of the moment as only those who
have been parched with thirst can drink. She was as it were borne on a
great wave of amazed exultation. That he should love her—that he should
love her! Ah, the marvel of it—and the gladness that was like to pain!

He was speaking now, speaking with lips that yet touched her own. “So
now I have caught you—my white flame—my wandering will-o’-the-wisp!
How dared you refuse my flowers this morning? How dared you? How dared
you?”

He kissed her between each question, hotly, with a passion that would
not be denied. And she lay there in his arms, quivering, helpless,
wildly rejoicing in the overwhelming mastery of the great flood-tide on
which she was borne.

Her life had been so singularly empty—just a fight for bare existence.
There had been no time for new friendships—old friendships had waned.
And now this! O God, now this!

She did not try to answer him. His kisses stayed all speech. His arms
encompassed her—lifted her. He sat down on the little horse-hair sofa
in the growing darkness, holding her. And she clung to him—clung to
him—in the abandonment of love’s first surrender.


                              CHAPTER VII
                                 ROGER

It was like a dream—yet not a dream. Over and over again she marvelled
afresh at the wonder of it, lying on the hard little bed in her room
with the sloping roof, watching the misty stars through their long night
march.

They had parted—somehow he had torn himself away, she could not
remember how. She only remembered that after he had gone, he had
returned to the window and said to her laughing, “Why not come up on to
the moor and do sacrifice to the high gods with me?”

And she had answered, also laughing—tremulously, “Oh no, really I
couldn’t bear any more to-night. Besides, it is misty—we might be
lost.”

“I should like to be lost with you,” he had answered, and had gone away
laughing.

There had been something wild and Pan-like in his laugh. It was the
laugh of the conqueror, and she tingled to the memory of it, thrilling
like a delicate instrument to the hand of a skilled player. He had waked
in her such music as none had ever waked in her before. She did not know
herself any longer. This throbbing, eager creature was a being wholly
different from the Frances Thorold of her knowledge, just as the man who
had laughed and vanished like Pan into the mist had a personality wholly
apart from that somewhat cynical but kindly gentleman who was Montague
Rotherby.

What magic had wrought the change in them? What moorland spell was this,
holding them as surely as a net about their feet? She was as one on the
threshold of an enchanted world, afraid not so much of the unknown that
lay before her as of the desert that lay behind—that desert which she
had so miraculously quitted for this place of amazing gladness.

Once in the night she arose and went to the little cottage-window since
sleep was impossible. It came to her there as she stood gazing up at
those far dim stars to breathe a deep thanksgiving for this strange
deliverance. But the words she sought to utter would not come. The vague
mist, floating like smoke, seemed to cling about her soul. She stood
speechless, and so standing she heard a voice, denunciatory, fanatical,
speak suddenly within.

“I tell you to go, because I cannot stop your sinning until you have
endured your hell and—if God is merciful—begun to work out your own
salvation.”

So clearly fell the words upon her consciousness that she felt as if
they had been uttered by her side. She almost turned to see who spoke.
Then, remembering, a sharp shudder went through her. She shrank and
caught her breath as though she had been pierced.

Was this the magic that had caught her—the awful magic of temptation?
Was there poison in the draught which she had drunk with such avidity?
This enchanted land to which she had come after weary years of desert
journeying, was this to prove—her hell?

As if stricken with blindness, she stumbled back into the room and lay
down. All her former doubts swept over her afresh in a black cataract of
misgiving. Love her—faded and tired and dull? How could he love her?
What could a man of this sort, rich, popular, successful, see in a woman
of hers save an easy prey? She lay and burned in the darkness. And she
had given him all he asked in that amazing surrender. She had opened to
him her very soul. Wherefore? Ah, indeed, wherefore? Because he had
overwhelmed her with the audacity of his desire! For no other reason—no
other reason! How could this thing be Love?

So she lay, chastising herself with the scorpions of shame and fear and
desolation—because she had dared to dream that Love could ever come to
her. At last—in that terrible vigil—she found words wherewith to pray,
and in an agony of supplication she made her prayer: “O God, keep me
from making a mistake! Let me die sooner! Let me die!”

And though no answer came to her then, tears came instead and washed the
burning anguish away. Afterwards she slept. . . .

In the morning she awoke to see the sun drawing up the mist like a veil
from the green earth. All the evils of the night were gone. She arose
wondering at the emotions that had so torn her a few hours before. After
all, if she kept her soul with steadfastness, what had she to fear? She
viewed the strange event of the previous evening with a curious sense of
detachment, almost as if it had happened to another person, very far
removed from herself. She was calm now, calm and strong and no longer
afraid. The habit of years had reasserted itself. She girt herself anew
in the armour which till then had never failed her. Work was her
safeguard as well as her necessity. She would waste no further time in
idleness.

After breakfast she set forth on a three-mile tramp to the nearest town
to buy a newspaper, promising herself to spend the afternoon answering
advertisements. Her way lay by a track across the moor which she had
never before followed. The purple heather was just coming into bloom and
the gold of coronella was scattered every where about her path. The
singing of larks filled the whole world with rejoicing. She thought that
the distant tors had never been so blue.

About a mile from the village, on the edge of a deep combe through which
flowed the babbling stream of her sketch, she came to the farm called
Tetherstones, and here, somewhat to her surprise, she was joined by the
dog, Roger. He bounded to her, his brown eyes beaming good fellowship
through his shaggy hair, and at once and quite unmistakably announced
his intention of accompanying her. No amount of reasoning or
discouragement on her part had the smallest effect upon his resolution.
Beaming and jolly he refused to pay any attention to either, having
evidently decided to take a day off and spend it in what he regarded as
congenial society. She found it impossible to hide from him the fact
that she loved his kind, and he obviously considered her honest attempt
to do so as a huge joke, laughing whenever she spoke in a fashion so
disarming that she was very soon compelled to admit herself defeated.

They went on together, therefore, Roger with many eager excursions into
the heather, till Tetherstones was left far behind. Then, at last,
Frances, growing weary, sat down to rest, and Roger came, panting but
still cheery, to lie beside her.

She fondled his beautiful shaggy head with an understanding touch. “What
a funny fellow you are,” she said, “to follow me like this.”

Roger smiled at her, his tongue hanging between his pearly teeth, and
laid a damp, podgy paw upon her lap. She understood him to express his
warm appreciation of the company in which he found himself.

“They’ll think I’ve run away with you,” she said.

And he shook his ears with a nonchalance that said very plainly that it
was no concern of his what they thought.

Then there came a tramp of hoofs along the white, sandy track, and she
saw a man on horseback coming towards them through the glare. Roger sat
up sharply and, gulping, ceased to pant.

She saw that his eyes were fixed upon the advancing horseman though he
made no movement to leave her side. The thud of the approaching hoofs
had a dull fateful sound to her ears. She experienced an odd desire to
rise and plunge deep into the heather to avoid an encounter. But the
tenseness of the dog by her side seemed to hold her also motionless. She
waited with a strange expectancy.

The dazzling sunshine made it impossible for her to see what manner of
man the rider was until he was abreast of her. Then she realised that he
was broad and heavy of build. He wore a cap drawn down over his eyes.

The sudden checking of the horse made her start. “Roger!” a deep voice
said, “What the devil are you doing here?”

Roger started also, and she felt a quiver as of guilt run through him.
He got up with an apologetic air, and stood wagging his funny stump of a
tail ingratiatingly.

It seemed to Frances that even the horse looked apologetic halted there
at his master’s behest.

“Roger!” the new comer said again. Roger’s tail dipped and became
invisible in the bushy hair of his hindquarters. He crept forward with a
slinking air as if he yearned for a deep hole in which to bury himself.

The man on horseback waited quite motionless till the dog reached his
foot, then suddenly he leaned down and struck him a stinging cut with
his riding-whip.

The dog cried out, and fled to a distance, and Frances, her hands
gripped in the heather on both sides of her, uttered an involuntary
exclamation.

The horseman, preparing to go on, paused. “Did you speak, madam?” he
asked, scowling at her from under the peak of his cap.

She collected herself and rose to the occasion. “No! There are no words
for a thing of that sort,” she said, icily contemptuous.

He put up a hand, ironically courteous, and saluted her. She saw the
hard line of a very prominent jaw as he rode on.

The dog fell in behind and meekly followed him.

“What a bear!” said Frances. “I suppose that is the owner of
Tetherstones. Or—no! Someone said that was an old man. Then this must
be his son.”

She arose and pursued her way, a grim sense of amusement succeeding her
annoyance. How curious it was of people to go out of their way to be
objectionable! They so seldom injured anyone except themselves in the
process.

She had not thought that a walk across the moors would have tired her
overmuch, but the day was hot and she very soon realised that she would
need a considerable rest before returning. She had breakfasted early and
none too bountifully, and she had brought no refreshment with her,
counting on obtaining it when she reached her destination at Fordestown.

But Fordestown was a long way off, further than she had anticipated, and
she began after a while to wonder if she had done wisely in attempting
the walk. She felt lonely after Roger had left her. The great spaces of
the moors had a bewildering effect upon her tired senses. The solitude
weighed upon her.

Then, after what seemed an endless period of walking, she came to a
cross-track with no indication as to whither the branching by-path led.
There was no habitation in sight, no sign of life beyond that of the
larks singing interminably in the blazing blue overhead, no possibility
of knowing in which direction she ought to turn.

Her heart began to fail her a little, and she sat down again to consider
the problem. The whirr of grasshoppers arose in a ceaseless hum around
her. The distant hills swam before her aching vision. She sank deep into
the scented heather and closed her eyes.

She had meant to give herself only the briefest rest, but she was in a
place where Nature reigned supreme, and Nature proved too much for her.
Her lids were sealed almost immediately. The hum of insects became a
vague lullaby to her jaded nerves. She slipped deeper and deeper into a
sea of slumber that took her and bore her with soft billowings into an
ocean of oblivion. She slept as a child sleeps—as she had not slept for
years—the soul as it were loosed from the body—her whole being
perfectly at rest.


                              CHAPTER VIII
                          THE ROAD TO NOWHERE

Often she wondered afterwards how long that sleep would have lasted, if
it had been left to Nature to awake her. It was so deep, so dreamless,
so exquisite in its utter restfulness. She never slept thus in the open
before. The magic of the moors had never so possessed her. And she had
been so weary. All the weariness of the weary years seemed to go to the
making of that amazing sleep of hers in the heather. She was just a
child of Nature, too tired for further effort. She slept for hours, and
she would have slept for hours longer, but for the interruption.

It came to her very suddenly, so suddenly that it seemed to her that the
soul had scarcely time to gird itself anew in the relaxed body, before
the amazing battle was upon her. She sprang upright in the heather,
gasping, still trammelled in the meshes of sleep, defenceless, to find
the day nearly spent and a curtain of mist surrounding her; and, within
that curtain, most terribly alone with her, she also found Montague
Rotherby.

Her recognition of him came with a choking cry. She realized that he had
only just reached her, that his coming must have called her back from
that deep oblivion in which she had been so steeped. But that first
sight of him—alone with her—alone with her—within that strangely
shifting yet impenetrable curtain—showed her something which to her
waking vision—made keen by that long spell of rest—was appalling. She
was terrified in that moment as she could not remember that she had ever
been terrified before.

He bent over her. “Found!” he said and laughed with a triumph that
seemed to stab her. “I’ve had a long hunt for you. Have you been hiding
here all day?”

“No,” she said, through lips that felt strangely stiff, compelling her
voice with difficulty. “I lost my way. I fell asleep. I am just going to
Fordestown.”

“Going to Fordestown! Why, it’s miles away! Why didn’t you wait till I
came to you? You knew I should come.”

His voice had a caressing quality. It drew her against her judgment. Her
wild, unreasoning fear subsided somewhat. She smiled at him, though
still her lips felt stiff.

“I expected to be back by that time,” she said. “I started quite early.”

“But why did you start at all?” he said.

He was still bending over her. She gave him her hands with a slight
gesture of appeal to help her up. He took them and drew her upwards into
his arms.

Holding her so, in spite of her quick effort for freedom, he looked
deeply into her eyes. “Tell me why you went!” he said.

She hesitated, trying to avert her face.

“No, that won’t help you,” he said, frustrating her. “Tell me!”

Unwillingly she answered him. “I had a bad night, and I decided—in the
morning—that—I had better look for work.”

“Why did you decide that?” he said.

She made a more determined stand against him. “I can’t tell you. It’s
natural, isn’t it? I have always been independent.”

“Till you met me,” he said.

She summoned her courage and faced him though she knew that she was
crimson and quivering. “I shall go on being independent,” she said,
“until we are married.”

She expected some subtle change of countenance, possibly some sign of
discomfiture, as thus boldly she took her stand. But at once he defeated
her expectations. He met her announcement with complete composure. He
even smiled, drawing her closer.

“Oh, I think not,” he said. “After what happened yesterday we won’t talk
nonsense of that kind to-day. What is the matter, sweetheart? Has
someone been troubling you?”

She relaxed somewhat. It was impossible not to respond to the tenderness
of his voice and touch. But he had not satisfied her; the misgiving
remained.

“Only my own mind—my own reason,” she confessed, still painfully
seeking to avoid his look.

“After—yesterday!” he said.

The reproach of his tone pierced her. She hid her face against his
breast. “I couldn’t help it. You must make allowances. There has been no
time for—love-making—in my life.”

“There’s time now,” he said, and again she heard in his voice the note
of triumph that had so deeply disquieted her. “It’s not a bit of good
trying to run away at this stage. You’re caught before you start.”

“Ah!” she said.

He held her fast. “Do you realize that?”

She was silent.

He held her faster still. “Frances! Put your arms round my neck and tell
me—tell me you are mine!”

She shrank, hiding her face more deeply. He had lulled her distrust, but
he had not gained her confidence.

“You won’t?” he said.

“I can’t,” she whispered back.

He felt for her face and turned it upwards. “You will presently,” he
said, and bending, kissed her, holding her lips with his till she broke
free with a mingled sense of shame and self-reproach.

“What is it?” he said, watching her, and she thought his face hardened.
“You have changed since yesterday. Why?”

She laid a pleading hand upon his arm. Yes, she had changed; she could
not deny it. But she could not tell him why.

“I think we have been—rather headlong,” was all she found to say.

And at that he laughed, easily, cajoling her. “Well, we’ve gone too far
to pull up now. Perhaps it will be a lesson to you next time, what? But
no more of your will-o’-the-wisp performances on this occasion, O lady
mine! We’ll play the game, and as we have begun, so we will go on.”

He kissed her again, and his kiss was almost a challenge.

“Don’t you realize that I love you?” he said. “Do you think I am going
to lie awake all night for you, and then not hold you in my arms when we
meet?”

He laughed as he uttered the question, but it had a passionate ring. His
lean, sunburnt face had a drawn look that oddly touched her pity. She
was even moved to compunction.

“I am sorry,” she said. “I thought—perhaps—it was just—a passing
fancy.”

“My fancies don’t pass like that,” said Montague.

He spoke almost moodily, as if she had hurt him, and again her heart
smote her.

“I am beginning to understand,” she said. “But—you must give me time.
We hardly know each other yet.”

“That is soon remedied,” he said. “I warn you, I am not a very patient
person. There is nothing to wait for that I can see.”

“Oh, we must wait,” she said. “We must wait.”

He broke again into that odd laugh of his. “We won’t wait. Life is too
short.” He stooped again to kiss her. “You amazing woman!” he said. “Do
you really prefer stones to bread?”

She could not answer him. He had her defeated, powerless. She had no
weapons with which to oppose him. But still deep in her heart, the doubt
and the wonder remained. Was this indeed love that had come to her? If
so, why was she thus afraid?

Yet she met his lips with her own, for somehow he made her feel that she
owed it to him.

“That’s better,” he said, when he suffered her to go again. “Now, what
are your plans? Are you still wanting to go to Fordestown?”

She hesitated. “You say it is a long way?”

“It’s miles,” he said. “You are right out of your way. What made you
wander up here?”

“They told me it was a short cut across the moor,” she said.

He laughed. “Ah! These short cuts! Well, what are you going to do?”

She looked at him, “Do you know—I haven’t had anything to eat all
day—not since breakfast?”

“Good heavens!” he said. “You’ve been wandering about the moor starving
all this time?”

She smiled. His concern touched her. Not for years had anyone expressed
any anxiety for her welfare.

“Not wandering about much,” she said. “I got as far as this this
morning, and then, while I was considering which way to go, I fell
asleep.” She glanced about her uneasily. “Do you think this fog is going
to get any worse?”

“Oh no!” he said lightly. “It’s nothing. They often come up like this in
the evening. But look here! I can’t have you starving. We had better
make for Fordestown after all.”

“But—is it far?” She still hesitated. “Do you know the way?”

“I know the direction. I can’t say how far it is. But it is nearer than
Brookside. There is a fairly decent inn there. I am staying there
myself.”

“Oh!” she said with relief. “Then if we can only get there, you can
motor me back to Brookside.”

“The point is to get there,” said Montague.

“But you know the direction. Do let us start before it gets any worse! I
am quite rested.”

She spoke urgently, for he seemed inclined to linger. He turned at once.

“Yes. You must be famished. This is the way.”

He drew her hand through his arm with decision and began to lead her up
one of the sandy tracks.

The mist closed like smoke about them, and Frances felt it wet upon her
face. “We seem to be in the clouds,” she said.

“I think we are,” said Montague.

“You are sure we are going right?” she said.

He laughed at her. “Of course we are going right. Don’t you trust me?”

Trust him! The words sent a curious sensation through her. Did she trust
him? Had she ever—save for that strange, delirious hour last night
really trusted him? She murmured something unintelligible, for she could
not answer him in the affirmative. And Montague laughed again.

Looking back upon that walk later, it seemed to her that they must have
covered miles. It was not easy going. The track was rough, sometimes
stony, sometimes overgrown. She stumbled often from weariness and
exhaustion; and still they went on endlessly over the moor. Always they
seemed to be going uphill, and always the mist grew thicker. Here and
there they skirted marshy ground, splashing through puddles of black
water, and hearing the sound of running streams close at hand but
invisible in the ever-thickening mist.

It began to grow dark, and at last Frances became really anxious. They
had not spoken for a long time, merely plodding on in silent discomfort,
when abruptly she gave voice to her misgivings.

“I am sure we are wrong. This path leads to nowhere.”

“It leads to Fordestown,” he declared stubbornly, “if you keep on long
enough.”

“I don’t think I can keep on much longer,” she said.

“I told you it was miles,” said Montague.

She heard the sullen note in his voice, and her heart sank. Progress was
becoming increasingly difficult. Very soon they would not be able to see
the path.

She stood still suddenly, obedient to an inner urging that would not be
denied. “Oh, let us go back!” she said.

He pressed her arm to his side with sharp insistence and drew her on.
“Don’t be ridiculous! Do you want to spend the night in the open moor?”

“It is what I am afraid of,” she said desperately. “If we go back we can
at least find the way back eventually to Brookside. But this—oh, this
is hopeless!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” he said again. “It is just possible that we have
taken a wrong turn in this infernal fog, but it’s bound to lead to
somewhere. There are no roads in England that don’t.”

She yielded to him, feeling she had no choice. But her alarm was
increasing with every step she took. It seemed to her that they were
actually beginning to climb one of the tors! Now and again, they
stumbled against boulders, dimly seen. And it was growing very cold. The
drifting fog had turned to rain. Her feet had been wet for some time,
and now her clothes were clinging about her, heavy with damp. She felt
chilled to the bone, and powerless—quite powerless—to do anything but
go whither she was led.

It was as if her will-power were temporarily in abeyance. This man was
her master, and she had no choice but to obey his behests. She began to
move as one in a dream, dimly counting her halting footsteps, vaguely
wondering how many more she would accomplish.

And then quite suddenly she seemed as it were to reach a point where
endurance snapped. She pitched forward, against his supporting arm.

“I can’t go—” she cried out—“I can’t go—any further.”

He caught her as she fell. She was conscious of the brief physical
comfort afforded by the warmth of his body as he held her. Then, oddly,
over her head she heard him speak as if addressing someone beyond her.
“That settles it,” he said. “It’s not my fault.”

She knew that he lowered her to the ground, still holding her, and began
to rub her numbed and powerless hands.


                               CHAPTER IX
                             THE LIONS’ DEN

“From all evil and mischief, from sin, from the crafts and assaults of
the devil” . . .

Someone was saying the words. Frances opened her eyes upon blank
darkness, and knew that her own lips had uttered them. She was lying in
some sort of shelter, though how she had come thither she had no notion.
The rain was beating monotonously upon a roof of corrugated iron. She
lay listening to it, feeling helpless as a prisoner clamped to the wall.
And then another voice spoke in the darkness, and her heart stood still.

“That’s right. You’re better. Gad, what a fright you gave me! Now do
stop raving! You’re only tired and a bit faint.”

“I am not—raving,” she said. “I am only—I am only—” Again without her
conscious volition she knew herself to be uttering those words she had
heard: “From all evil, and mischief, from sin, from the crafts and
assaults of the devil—” She paused a moment, groping as it were for
more, then:—“Good Lord, deliver us!” she said, and it was as if her
soul were speaking in the darkness.

“Frances!” a voice cried sharply, and she stopped, stopped even her
breathing, to listen. “Stop talking that absurd rot! Be sensible! Try to
be sensible!”

“I am only—praying,” she said.

“Well, don’t! It isn’t the time for saying prayers. I want you to attend
to me. You know what has happened?”

His voice sounded curt and imperious. She peered into the darkness,
wishing she could see his face.

“I don’t know,” she made answer wonderingly. “How should I know?”

“I brought you here,” he said. “You fainted.”

“How stupid of me!” she murmured apologetically.

“It was rather.” His voice was grim. “But you’ve got back your senses,
and for heaven’s sake keep them! This is just an old cattleshed on the
moors and it’s all the shelter we shall get to-night.”

“Oh!” said Frances, and in her voice dismay and relief were strangely
mingled. “It was better than the open moor. But yet—but yet——”

He spoke again with a species of humorous ruefulness. “Here we are, and
here we’ve got to stay! That damned fog has defeated us. We can’t hope
to move before morning.”

“I wish we had a light,” said Frances.

She was gradually getting a grasp of the situation, and though her body
felt oddly heavy and her head strangely light, her wits were recovering
their customary business-like balance.

“I have got a few matches,” said Montague. “Also a few cigarettes.
Afraid it’s useless to attempt a fire. We should only smoke ourselves
out—and possibly fire the shed as well. The only comfort we have got is
a little hay, and you are lying on it.”

“Where are you?” she said.

“Here!” A hand suddenly touched her, and she started with involuntary
shrinking. A great shivering came over her, and for a space she
struggled to control her chattering teeth.

“You are cold,” he said.

“Yes,—dreadfully cold. But never mind! It—it’s better than being out
in the open, isn’t it? You have no idea where we are?”

“I lost my way,” he said moodily.

She reached out to him a trembling hand, and realized that he was
standing propped against the wall beside her. He stooped quickly,
grasping her cold fingers.

“Frances, we’ve got to face it. You may as well give in to
circumstances. We’re both of us helpless.”

His voice had an odd urgency. It was as if he pleaded with her.

“Oh, I quite realize that,” she said, and she strove to force a
practical note into her reply. “We’ve been very unlucky, but what can’t
be cured must be endured. We shall come through it somehow.”

She would have removed her hand, despite the physical reluctance to
relinquish the warmth of his, but he held it fast.

“You don’t want me to go?” he said.

“Oh no!” she returned briskly. “I am not so selfish and unreasonable as
that. We must just make the best of it. We must just—just——”

She broke off. Her teeth were chattering again, and in the effort to
check them, she forgot the words she was trying to utter.

She felt him bend lower, and found him kneeling by her side. “It’s no
good offering you my coat,” he said. “There’s no warmth in it. Besides,
it’s wet through. But I’m not going to let you die of cold for all
that—just for the sake of an idiotic convention.
Frances—sweetheart—I’m going to hold you in my arms.”

Fear stabbed her—sharp and agonizing. “Oh no!” she said, and drew
herself back from him. “Not here! Not now!”

Her hand remained locked in his, but he paused.

“Why not here—and now?” he said.

She gasped her quivering answer. “Because—because—I am not sure if I
have done right in—in letting you make love to me. I have not been
sure—all day.”

“You don’t love me?” he questioned.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t—possibly—know yet.”

“But you knew yesterday,” he said.

“Ah, yesterday!” The word came almost with a cry. “I was mad yesterday,”
she said.

“Why mad?” he reasoned. “My dear, listen to me! Here we are—far away
from everywhere—miles away from civilized society. What does it
matter—what can it matter—if we throw aside these idiotic conventions
just for one night? You know in your heart that it doesn’t matter one
jot.”

“It does matter,” she gasped back painfully, still striving vainly to
free the hand he held so closely. “It does matter.”

“That means you don’t trust me,” he said.

“I would if I could,” she made desperate answer. “But—but——”

“But—” he echoed grimly, and let her go.

She heard him get up from his knees, and breathed a sigh of
thankfulness.

A moment later there came the rasp of a match and a sudden glare in the
darkness. Her eyes turned instinctively, though dazzled, to the light.
She saw his face, and again instinctively she shrank. For in the eyes
that sought her own there burned a fire that seemed to consume her.

He was lighting a cigarette. He looked at her above it, and his look
held a question she dared not answer. Again a terrible shivering caught
her. The light went out, and she covered her face.

The man spoke no further word. He smoked his cigarette in the darkness
till presently it was finished, and then he threw down the glowing end
and ground it under his heel.

The silence between them, like the darkness, was such as could be felt.
Only the drip, drip of the rain sounded—oddly metallic, like the
tolling of a distant bell.

Frances sat huddled against the wall, not moving, not able to move. Her
heart was beating with dull, irregular strokes, and her fear had died
down. Perhaps she was too exhausted to be actively afraid. A sense of
unreality had descended upon her. She had the feeling of one in a dream.
Though from time to time violent shivers caught her, yet she was
scarcely aware of them. Only now and then the cold seemed to pierce her
like a knife that reached her very soul.

And when that happened she always found herself repeating in broken
phrases the prayer which no conscious effort brought to her lips. “From
all evil and mischief—from sin—from the crafts—and assaults—of the
devil—” Sometimes she thought it was the Bishop reciting the words, but
she always realized in the end that she was saying them herself, and
wondered—and wondered—why she said them.

Her impressions grew blurred at last. She must have dozed, for
suddenly—as one returning from a long distance—she started to the
sound of her name, and realized Montague once more—Montague whom she
had forgotten.

With a great start she awoke to find herself in his arms. She made an
instinctive effort to free herself but he held her to his breast, and
she was too numbed to resist.

“I can’t stand it,” he said. “I can’t stand by and let you die. Frances,
you are mine. Do you hear? You are mine. Whatever comes of it, I’m not
going to let you go again!”

She heard the rising passion in his voice. It was like a goad, pricking
her to action. For a few seconds she lay passive, waiting as it were for
strength. All her life she was to remember the strange calm of those
waiting moments. She was as one ship-wrecked and in appalling danger,
yet in some fashion aware of rescue drawing near.

And then quite suddenly deliverance came; she knew not how nor stayed to
question whence. She realized only the presence of a power beyond her
own, uplifting her, succouring her. She put away the arms that sought to
hold her, and even as she did so, there came a sound beyond the dripping
of the rain—the sound of a child’s voice singing a little tuneless song
to itself out in the darkness.

Frances gasped and uttered a cry. “Is that you, child? Is that you?”

The song ceased. A child’s voice made reply. “Is that the pretty lady
who gives me flowers?”

They could not see her, but she was close to them. She had entered the
shed and stood before them.

“I dreamt I would find you here,” she said. “It was Daniel in the lions’
den at first, then it was you. Why are you in here?”

Frances was on her feet. The man behind her never stirred.

“I have lost my way, little darling,” she said. “How did you get here in
the dark?”

“I don’t know the dark,” said the child. “What is dark?”

Frances groping, touched and held a small figure standing before her.
“Can you take me back, Rosebud?” she said.

A tiny hand, full of confidence, found and clasped her own. “I will take
you to Tetherstones,” said the child.

They went out together, hand in hand, into the dripping darkness.



                                PART II


                               CHAPTER I
                             THE STRANGERS

How long she wandered with the child, stumbling through the darkness,
Frances never knew. All that she realized and that with a deep
thankfulness, was that her guide was quite sure of the way.

They spoke but little during the journey, only now and then the child’s
voice, sweet and confident, broke the silence with words of
encouragement.

“I’m so glad I found you. . . . We’re nearly there. . . . Granny has a
big fire that you can get dry by. . . . And you can come and sleep in my
bed. I can sleep with Aunt Maggie. . . . Are you very tired? We shall
soon be there.”

And then at last there shone a glare of light in the darkness, and
Frances roused herself to speech.

“What is that light?”

“That is Tetherstones,” said the child. “That is home.”

Ah, home! Somehow the words brought the hot tears to Frances’ eyes. She
was weak with the long struggle, with the mingled fear and pain and
exhaustion of the day. She longed—very desperately she longed—for some
safe shelter where she could sink down, and this child spoke to her of
home. She could not check her tears.

“Never mind!” said the voice at her side. “Don’t cry! We are just there.
Here is the gate!”

Frances fumbled at it, but the child opened it. They went through
together and trod the smooth stones that led to the house.

The glare dazzled Frances. She went as she was led, making no effort to
guide herself. They came to the porch. She heard the rustle of falling
rain upon thatch, and there came to her nostrils the aromatic scent of
burning wood. A great quiver went through her. This was
Tetherstones—this was home.

The door opened before her. “Come in!” said the child. “We’ll find
Granny.”

They entered, and then it seemed to Frances that the light became so
intense that she could bear it no longer. She uttered a gasping sound,
and fell against the wall. There seemed to be a great many people in
front of her, a confusion of voices, and out of the indistinguishable
medley she heard a man utter a terrible oath. Then there came a crash,
whether within the room or within her brain she knew not. She only knew
that she fell, and falling was caught by strong arms that held her up,
that lifted her, that sustained her, in all the dreadful tumult in which
her senses swam. She turned as one drowning, and clung to that staunch
support.

“Bring her to the fire, poor thing!” said a woman’s voice, soft with
pity. “Mind how you lift her, Arthur! That’s right, Oliver. You lend a
hand!”

Helpless in every limb, she felt herself borne forward, and was aware of
a great glow from an open fire. They laid her down before it, and she
knew that she was safe. But still, as one who fears to drown, she clung
to one of those strong arms that had lifted her.

“Look at that!” said another voice compassionately. “Just like a
frightened child! Where did you find her, Ruthie?”

“Up in the old shed near the Stones,” said the child. “I expect she was
frightened too. She was lost.”

“Let’s give her some hot milk!” said the motherly voice that had first
spoken. “Move a bit, Arthur! I can’t get near her.”

“I can’t move.” It was another voice speaking—a man’s voice, short,
decided. “Give me the cup! I’ll see what I can do.”

And then Frances felt the rim of a cup against her lips.

She drank—at first submissively, then hungrily. Her free hand came up
to support the cup, and her eyes opened. She looked into a man’s
eyes—the hard, steady eyes of Roger’s master.

“Oh!” she said weakly. “It is you!”

“There now! She knows you, does she?” It was not Roger’s master who
spoke, but another man beyond her range of vision. “That’s funny, eh,
Arthur? You who never look at——”

“Shut up!” said Roger’s master, briefly and rather brutally. “Get out of
it, Oliver! Look after the old man!”

He held the cup again to Frances’ lips, and she drank until she drained
it. Her eyes remained wide open, fixed upon those other eyes,
black-browed and dominant, that had surveyed her so insolently that
morning.

A quivering sigh went through her. “I shouldn’t—have come here,” she
said.

He handed the cup with an imperious gesture to someone she could not
see. “You’re quite safe anyhow,” he said. “There’s nothing to frighten
you.”

His voice was deep and very resolute. It had the stern ring of a man
accustomed to hard fighting in the arena of life. She wondered a little
even in that moment of doubt and uncertainty. Somehow he did not seem to
fit his surroundings. He made her think of a gladiator of ancient Rome
rather than a farmer in the depths of peaceful Devon.

“I shouldn’t—have come,” she said again, speaking with difficulty. “I
am sorry.”

But still her fingers clung to the rough cloth of his coat like the
numbed fingers of one who fears to drown.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry for,” he said. “You’re welcome to
shelter here as long as you will.” He spoke abruptly over his shoulder.
“Speak to her, Mother! She’s scared out of her life.”

“Poor child!” said the woman’s voice. “And no wonder—out there alone in
the fog! Who is she, I wonder? Perhaps she will tell us presently.”

The voice was refined. It had a kindly ring, but it sounded tired—too
tired for any very poignant feeling. Yet it comforted Frances. It was a
homely voice. With a great effort she braced herself for coherent
speech.

“I am so sorry,” she said, “to intrude on you like this. I am a visitor
here—lodging with Mrs. Trehearn at Brookside. My name is Frances
Thorold.”

She heard the child’s voice in the background. “Aunt Maggie, you know
the lady. She paints pictures, and she watched you milk the cows. Don’t
you remember?”

“Why, yes, of course!” The fresh tones of the rough-haired girl took up
the tale. “Of course I remember! We’ll have to get her undressed and to
bed, Mother. She’ll die of cold in those wet things.”

They came about her in a crowd, as it seemed to Frances’ confused
senses, but Roger’s master kept them back.

“Wait!” he said. “Get a bed ready first! Get hot blankets and brandy!
She’s chilled to the bone. Make up the fire, Milly! You, Dolly, light a
fire upstairs! Elsie, get the warming-pan! Lucy and Nell, go and draw
some water!”

He issued his orders with a parade-like brevity that took instantaneous
effect. The crowd melted magically. And still Frances clung to that
solid supporting arm as if she could never bear to let go.

Suddenly, it seemed to her that she was alone with him. He bent over her
and spoke.

“Tell me! What has frightened you so on the moor?”

His look compelled an answer. Even against her will she would have made
it, but a violent shivering fit took her and speech became impossible.
He grasped an arm of the old settle on which she lay and dragged it
nearer to the fire.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “You’re safe enough here. Ruth!”

He raised his voice slightly. The child came and stood beside him—a
small child, beautifully made, her sweet face upturned like the face of
a flower that seeks the sun. Her eyes were always closed, sealed buds
that no sun would ever open.

The man did not look at her. He was closely watching Frances.

“Why did you go to the Stones to-night?” he said.

“I had a dream,” said the child.

“Go on! What did you dream?” The words were peremptory but the voice was
gentle. Even in that moment Frances noted the difference of tone.

There was a momentary pause, then the child spoke, her face uplifted
like the face of a dreamer.

“I dreamt first about Daniel in the lions’ den, and then it turned into
someone up by the Stones—someone who was lost and frightened—and
praying for help. So I went to see.”

“Weren’t you afraid?” the man said.

“I? Oh no! There was nothing to frighten me. I knew the way. Besides,
God was there,” the child said simply. “It was quite safe. Is the lady
better now?”

“She is getting better.” The man reached out and grasped the slender
shoulder nearest to him. “Come and hold her hand!” he said.

“May I? Won’t she mind?” The small fingers clasped Frances’ trembling
ones. “You are not lost now,” she said softly. “You are found.”

Somehow Frances found her hold transferred. The man rose from his knees.
The child nestled down by her side. A sense of peace stole upon her. She
knew that she was safe. She closed her eyes to the glare of the fire and
lay still. . . .

What happened to her afterwards she never clearly recalled. She was in
the hands of strangers who yet in some inexplicable way were friends.
They waited upon her, tended her, succoured her with every comfort, till
at last the awful shivering passed. She drifted into sleep.

It was a strange sleep of inexplicable happenings—a fevered jumble of
impressions, ideas curiously mingled. Daniel in a place of lions—or was
it devils?—that was oddly called “The Stones”! Daniel, lost and very
frightened, praying for help! And later the coming of an angel to his
deliverance!

Yes, she remembered that part of it very clearly. “My God hath sent His
angel. . . .” She heard again the voice of a little child singing in the
darkness—a child who lived in utter darkness yet knew not the meaning
of the word. She called to memory the closed eyes that no sun would ever
open, and like a voice within her soul there came to her the words: “You
are not lost now. You are found.”

No, she was not lost any longer, but she was ill, terribly ill. There
came a time when sleep no longer held her and pain took
possession—dreadful intervals when breathing was agony and rest a thing
impossible. It stretched out into days of suffering when her very soul
seemed to be lacerated with the anguish that racked her body, days when
she lay in the cruel grip of a torture such as she had never imagined in
all the hardships of her life. Sometimes during those days, it seemed to
her that death was very near. She stood on the brink of an abyss
unfathomable and felt her soul preparing as it were for that great leap
into the unknown. And it had ceased to appall her, as is the merciful
way of nature when the body can endure no more. There was nought to fear
in Death. It was only pain—earthly pain—that had any power to torment
her.

And that power was lessening, hourly, hourly lessening. She was as a
prisoner chained to a rock, yet waiting for a sure deliverance. Utter
weariness possessed her, a weakness so complete that there were hours
together when she would lie, conscious but too exhausted for thought or
feeling, and with a dim wonder watch the strangers about her bed.

They were very constantly about her—those strangers. She came to know
them by name though she hardly ever spoke to them except to whisper a
word of thanks for some service rendered. They would not let her speak
from the very outset. They always hushed her into silence whenever she
attempted it. And—since speech was very difficult—she came at last to
acquiesce dumbly in all that they did.

As the pain lessened and the weakness increased, she grew to lean upon
them more and more. There was always someone with her, springing up at
her slightest movement to help her. Maggie—the rosy, rough-haired girl
who milked the cows—spent two hours each morning and evening after
milking-time in ready service upon her, or sitting working by her side.
They divided themselves, the six girls, into special watches of four
hours each in the twenty-four, each girl serving two hours at a time by
day or by night. Frances got to know the time by these watches, for they
never varied. Milly, the second girl, used to come to her in the
afternoon and in the very early hours of the morning. She liked Milly,
who was sensitive and anxious to please, not very strong or very
capable, but always full of sympathy and never-failing attention. Elsie,
the third girl, was of the boisterous open-air type. She also had a
night-watch and she kept it faithfully, though she did a man’s labour on
the farm and only rested for the two hours in the middle of the day that
she spent in Frances’ room.

“I’m used to broken nights,” she used to say stoutly. “Maggie and I
always come in for them in lambing-time.”

Then there was Dolly—a girl of considerable character and
decision—Nurse Dolly—Frances used to call her, for she was the one of
them all whose touch was skilful and who had any real aptitude for
nursing. Lucy and Nell were the youngest—girls of twenty and nineteen.
Their watches came consecutively and they used to whisper a great deal
in the sick-room when one of them relieved the other. It was mainly by
their means that Frances learned how her condition went, and in a vague
fashion it amused her to know. But somehow she never felt vitally
interested.

When Nell—who always had hay-seed sown in her chestnut hair—told Lucy
in hissing undertones that the doctor said she had no strength to make a
stand and would probably go very suddenly in the end, Frances, still
chained to her rock above the abyss, wondered what either of them would
do if that amazing moment came while she was on guard. Lucy would
certainly be frightened. She had a shy and gentle way with her. But
Nell—Nell was extremely young and full of ideas. She would probably do
something highly original before she quitted her post to find Dolly, as,
Frances heard, had been arranged among them. Nell was a jolly girl, but
she had a schoolboy’s rudeness for all who came her way, and a funny
boyish fashion of regarding life that appealed to Frances immensely.

There was someone on the farm, she learned from the girls’ talk, for
whom everyone had the profoundest contempt. Lucy and Nell always spoke
of him as “the Beast.” But who the Beast was and why he was always thus
described did not transpire.

There was also Arthur, Roger’s master, who, she gathered, knew how to
assert his authority even over the sometimes mutinous Nell, and
commanded her unbounded respect in consequence.

Then there was Oliver—“Oliver Twist” they called him. He was evidently
a humorous person and his comic sayings often caused fits of suppressed
giggles behind Frances’ screen. Frances used to train her ears to catch
the joke, but it always eluded her, the point smothered in laughter,
after which Nell would come round to her, looking contrite, and beg her
to try and get a little sleep, in the same breath dismissing Lucy
brusquely from the room. Yes, Frances liked Nell. She was so
delightfully and naïvely human.

But most of all she loved little Ruth of the blind eyes, and Ruth’s
granny—the patient, tired woman with the mother’s voice who had pitied
her on that first evening. They were curiously alike, these two, in
their patience, their gentleness, their serenity. They brought an
atmosphere of peace into her room—a sense of rest that none of the
sisters possessed. They always came to her together, and Ruth’s granny
would speak tenderly in her tired voice, telling her she would be better
soon.

She never stayed long, but Frances grew to look for her coming with a
certain eagerness, so deep were the knowledge and the understanding in
the grave kindly eyes. She had a feeling that this woman, with her white
banded hair and sorrow-lined face was many years younger than she
seemed. The blind child plainly worshipped her. “My dear Granny” was the
fond term by which she always spoke of her, and it was evident to
Frances that she filled the place of mother in the child’s heart. She
was the petted darling of all the sisters, but this elderly woman who
petted her least of all was the beloved one of her heart.

Little Ruth brought her a flower every day, and she would stay on after
her granny had gone, curling up beside her on the bed, very still and
quiet, sometimes whispering a little, always holding her hand. Frances
loved to have her there. The child’s presence was as balm to her spirit.
Even in her worst hours it comforted her to feel her near. She was the
angel of her deliverance. Whenever that dreadful memory of evil assailed
her, she wanted to clasp the little hand in hers, and always it brought
her comfort. “My God hath sent His angel. . . .”


                               CHAPTER II
                             ROGER’S MASTER

The doctor—whose name was Square—was a bluff old countryman who was
accustomed to ride miles over the moor every day on his old white mare,
Jessie, in pursuit of his calling. A picturesque figure was Silas
Square, immensely big and powerful, gruff and short of speech, but with
a heart as soft as a woman’s. He came every morning and evening during
the worst period of Frances’ illness, Nurse Dolly always accompanying
him, and his strong kindly presence never failed to encourage, even at
the time when Nell’s whispered confidences told Frances that he believed
the end to be near. He did not talk much in the sick-room. His remedies
were old-fashioned and drastic, but he always in some fashion conveyed a
sense of confidence to his patients. She generally managed to smile at
him when he came.

“You’ve got some pluck,” he said to her once, when he had watched the
application of a poultice that caused her acute pain.

And she smiled at him again bravely, though she could not speak in
answer, so tightly was her endurance stretched.

And then one day he looked at her with eyes that fairly beamed their
congratulation. “You’ve done it!” he said. “You’re through the worst,
and, madam, you’re the bravest woman it has ever been my lot to attend!”

She valued these words immensely. They were so spontaneous, and he was
very obviously not a man given to flattery.

Thenceforward his visits dropped to once a day, but he always gave her a
sympathy that amazed her with its intuition. His kindly concern for her
welfare never failed, even when he had finally loosened her chain, and
drawn her back from the abyss into safety.

But he would not hear of her being moved. “You’ve had a very stiff
time,” he said. “And you’ve got to rest. You’re in excellent hands. The
Dermots all love having you. So why worry?”

“Because they don’t know me. Because I am a stranger,” she made answer
at last, when her strength had returned sufficiently for her to feel the
difficulties of her position. “I can make no return to them for their
kindness. I have got to make my living. I have no money.”

“Is kindness ever repaid by money?” he said, with a smile in his shrewd
eyes. “You can’t go yet. I won’t sanction it. That heart of yours has
got to tick better than it does at present—a long way better—before
you think of earning your living again.”

“Then I must go to a hospital,” said Frances desperately, “I can’t go on
in this way. I really can’t.”

“You’ll do as you’re told,” said old Dr. Square with a frown. “And
you’ll take cream—plenty of it—every day.”

Then he went away, and Frances was left to fume in solitude.

“You’re fretting,” said Nurse Dolly severely when she took her
temperature a little later. “That’s very wrong of you and quite
unnecessary. Now you will have to take a sedative.”

She did not want the sedative. She was approaching that stage of
convalescence when fretting is almost a necessity, and she fought
against any palliative. But Dolly would take no refusal, and in the end,
with tears of weakness, she had to submit.

“There now!” said Dolly practically, when she had won the day. “What a
pity to upset yourself like that! Now don’t cry any more! Just go to
sleep!”

She went to sleep, cried herself to sleep like a child that has been
slapped, and slept deeply, exhausted, till late into the night. Then she
awoke to find with great surprise the child Ruth curled up in the big
bed beside her. The fair head was actually on her pillow, the
flower-like face close to her own.

“Why, darling, little darling!” whispered Frances.

Ruth’s hands, soft and loving, clasped hers. “I’m not asleep,” she
whispered back. “Do you mind me in bed with you?”

“Mind!” said Frances, gathering her close. “As if I could!”

Ruth gave a faint sigh. “I’ve been lying awake to ask you. I came
because of a dream I had. Elsie wanted to send me away, but I wouldn’t
go. So she put me into bed with you while you were asleep. I’m glad you
don’t mind.”

“Go to sleep, my Rosebud!” said Frances very tenderly. “I wouldn’t part
with you for all the world.”

She found out later that little Ruth was accustomed to spend her nights
promiscuously among her young aunts. She chose her own place of rest,
like a wandering scrap of thistledown, disturbing none. They always
welcomed her fondly wherever she went, but none ever coerced or
persuaded her. She lived her own life; they had no time to spend upon
her, and she was curiously independent of them all. She went in and out
quite fearlessly, seeing her visions behind those sealed lids, a child
of strange spirituality to whom grief was unknown.

She brought her simple comfort to Frances that night, and they slept
together in absolute peace. It was the best night that Frances had had
throughout her illness.

In the morning she felt better. She and the little girl lay murmuring
together in the misty sunshine of the dawn.

“I am going to the Stones to-day,” said Ruth. “I wish you could come.”

“The Stones!” Memory pierced Frances, and she shrank a little
involuntarily. But: “Tell me about the Stones!” she said.

“I go and play there,” said Ruth. “Some people are afraid of them. I
don’t know why. The fairies play their pipes there, and I lie and
listen. And sometimes, when they think I am asleep, the biggest stones
talk. But I don’t know what they say,” she added quaintly. “It isn’t our
language at all. I daresay the fairies would understand, but they always
run away and hide when the stones begin.”

“What are the Stones?” said Frances.

“Oh, just stones, the same as God made when He made the earth. They
stand in a big circle. I don’t know why He put them like that, but they
have been so ever since the world began. I expect He had a reason,” said
the child. “Don’t you?”

“Yes, dear,” said Frances gently. “And you like to go there?”

“Yes,” said Ruth. She hesitated a moment as one to whom a subject is
sacred; then: “My mother went to heaven from there,” she said. “So of
course God must come there sometimes. I hope He’ll come there some day
when I’m there.”

“Wouldn’t you be afraid?” said Frances.

“Afraid of God? Oh no! Why should anyone be afraid of God? He loves us,”
said the child.

Frances kissed the upturned face that could not see the sun. “Bless you,
little darling!” she said. “Is there anyone who wouldn’t love you, I
wonder?”

Ruth left her soon after, and Nurse Dolly came in, brisk and efficient,
to prepare her for the day.

“I am glad to see you better,” she said. “But you mustn’t sit up
yet—not till you have had three days without a temperature. The doctor
says so.”

“I will be very good,” Frances promised. “But do you think I might have
my bed pushed near the window? I should so love to look out.”

Dolly considered the request judicially for a moment or two. She was
recognized commander-in-chief in the sick-room. “We’ll see about it,”
she said. “But it’s a heavy bed to move and has no castors. Still—we’ll
see.”

She smiled upon Frances and proceeded with her toilet with her usual
ready deftness.

Then she departed, and Frances heard her cheery voice calling for
Oliver.

Through the window she heard a man’s voice reply. “Oliver’s gone to put
the pigs in the cart for market. What do you want him for?”

“Oh, it’s all right; you’ll do,” said Dolly, still brisk and cheery.
“Just come along and help me to move Miss Thorold’s bed! She has a fancy
for lying in the sunshine.”

There was no answer to that save a grunt, and a moment later the sound
of a pipe being tapped against the side of the step. Frances felt a
quick flush rising in her face. She wished with all her heart that she
could have restrained Dolly’s well-meaning arrangement as she heard the
sound of a man’s tread upon the stairs.

Dolly re-entered, looking well pleased with herself. “Here’s Arthur come
to move you,” she said. “He’s strong enough.”

Arthur entered behind her. His great frame with its broad shoulders
filled the narrow doorway. He looked straight at her, and she thought
his look was oddly lowering, even challenging.

“Come in!” said Dolly.

Frances said nothing. She was tongue-tied.

He came forward into the room, moving with the careless strength of
conscious power. He paused at her bedside.

“Are you feeling better?”

She recovered herself with an effort. “I am much better, thank you,” she
said, and held out her hand.

He paused an instant as if she had taken him by surprise. Then abruptly
he gripped and held the outstretched hand. His face changed magically.
He smiled at her, and his smile was good to see. It took years from his
appearance, belying the iron-grey of hair that had once been as black as
his brows.

“I’m glad of that,” he said. “I hope they are doing all they can for
you.”

“They are doing far too much,” Frances said. “I feel so ashamed lying
here.”

“Why ashamed?” he said.

She coloured again, painfully, under his eyes. “I have never been in
anyone’s debt before,” she said. “And this—this is more than I can ever
hope to repay.”

His smile passed, and again his face was hard with the hardness of the
fighter. “There is no debt that I can see,” he said. “We are all at the
mercy of circumstance. If it comes to that, we owed it to ourselves to
do what we could for you.”

It was brusquely spoken, but his look, grim though it was, seemed to her
to hold a hint of friendliness. The dog Roger, who had entered behind
him, came nosing up to the bedside and she slipped her hand free to
fondle him. There was something in this man’s personality that
embarrassed her, wherefore she could not have said.

Roger acknowledged her attention with humble effusion, glancing
apologetically towards his master the while.

“You are very kind to put it like that,” she said at last, as he stood
immovably beside her. “But I can’t bear to be a burden upon
anyone—especially—especially——”

“Especially what?” he said.

She answered with difficulty. “Especially people who have to work as
hard as you do.”

“People in our walk of life, do you mean?” he said, and she heard the
echo of a sneer behind the words.

“Arthur, you are not to make her talk,” said Dolly severely. “She had a
temperature yesterday all through over-excitement and fretting, and it
throws her back at once. Will you please move the bed and go?”

She spoke with her habitual decision, and Frances was aware of a strong
resemblance between the brother and sister as Arthur turned to comply.
She herself was near to tears, such was her weakness and distress of
mind, and while her bed was being moved across to the window she could
not look at either of them. But when the move was at length
satisfactorily effected and she could gaze forth over the dewy sunlit
fields, she commanded herself sufficiently to utter a low word of
thanks.

He came back to her then, and stood beside her. “You are most welcome at
Tetherstones,” he said. “Please don’t talk of debts and burdens! They
don’t come into the reckoning here.”

His tone was restrained, but it held an unmistakable note of apology.
She lifted her eyes in amazement, but he had already turned away. He
went out of the room with the free, deliberate swing with which he had
entered, and she heard him descending the stairs with Roger pattering
behind.

“For goodness’ sake, never take any notice of Arthur!” said sensible
Dolly, as she whisked about the room setting it in order. “He always was
a bear, and the circumstances he talks about haven’t been such as to
have a very taming effect on him.”

Then she knew that by some means Dolly had obtained that semi-apology in
order to keep her patient’s temperature normal.


                              CHAPTER III
                               THE BEAST

From the day that her bed was moved to the window, Frances began to
regain her strength.

It came back to her slowly, with intervals of pain and weariness, when
she felt as if she were making no progress at all, but it returned, and
her indefatigable nurses gradually relinquished their vigil.

“You can go downstairs and sit in the sun if you want to,” said Dr.
Square one morning.

And she thanked him and promised to make the effort. There was a corner
of the old-fashioned garden that she could see from her window in which
she had often longed to sit, but now that the time had come, all desire
for change had left her. She lacked the energy for enthusiasm.

“That’s because you are weak still,” said Dolly. “Never mind! I’ll
arrange everything. We’ll get the couch out of the parlour. I can make
it very comfortable with some pillows and a rug. It’s nice and cool
under the cedar. Don’t you fret now! Just leave it all to me!”

She went off briskly to make her arrangements, and Frances heard her
from the garden calling Maggie to come and help her with the couch.

Maggie came, the hair as usual flying all around her sunny face. She was
accompanied by the young man they called Oliver, who carried a
stable-fork and had evidently just come from the farmyard. Maggie was
looking unusually serious, Frances discovered, as the three of them
paused at a corner of the old house for discussion.

Presently Maggie’s clear tones reached her. “Don’t you be a silly girl,
Dolly! You’ve no right to risk it. You keep her where she is!”

Dolly for once seemed undecided, and Oliver, with a faintly rueful smile
on his comical countenance, ranged himself on Maggie’s side.

“Don’t let’s have a shindy for goodness’ sake!” he said. “We’ve kept him
quiet till now, but I won’t answer for him much longer. The beast has
got to break out some time. I told Arthur so this morning.”

“Oh, but this is nonsense!” declared Dolly. “You can keep him in the
farmyard surely. I know I could.”

“Well, you’d better go and do it then, that’s all,” said Maggie. “For
he’s on the ramp this morning, and no mistake. I can’t pacify him.”

There followed some words in a lower tone which did not reach Frances at
her window, and then the group dispersed, Maggie and Oliver departing in
the direction of the farmyard, and Dolly entering the house.

Frances was left alone for some time, and presently coming to the not
unwelcome conclusion that she was to remain in her room that day, she
began to fall asleep. The day was sultry and very still. She heard
vaguely the summer sounds that came through her window. The atmosphere
was peaceful beyond words. The occasional lowing of a cow in the meadow
beyond the garden where the chattering stream ran, the cooing of the
pigeons on the roof of the old barn, and the cry of the wheeling
swallows that nestled in the eaves, the singing of a thousand larks
above the heather-covered moors, all came to her like a softly-coloured
dream. She felt wonderfully soothed and at rest, too tired to speculate
as to the meaning of that half-heard discussion below her window,
content to drowse the time away as long as Nurse Dolly would permit.

The breeze, laden with the scent of heather, came in upon her like a
benediction, playing lightly with her hair, closing her weary lids. She
sank more and more deeply into repose.

Then, just when the spell seemed complete, there came a sudden and
violent interruption, so startling that she sprang up in a wild alarm,
not knowing whence it came.

It began like the bellow of a bull—a terrific sound that sent all the
blood to her heart; then she realized that it came from somewhere in the
house, not the farmyard, and sat there palpitating, asking herself what
it could be.

It went on for many seconds. Sometimes it seemed to her strained senses
like the shouting of an angry man, then its utter lack of articulation
and intelligibility convinced her that it must be some animal gone mad
and broken loose. In the midst of the din she thought she heard a
woman’s voice crying frantically for help, and then there came a
frightful crash, and all sound ceased.

Frances sank back upon her pillows, completely unnerved. Something
terrible had happened. Of that she was certain. But what? But what? Why
was the house so deadly quiet after the uproar—that tumult that had
made her think of devils fighting together? This mysterious Beast of
whom the two girls whispered so freely—was it he who had broken loose,
trampling wide destruction through that wonderland of peace? And had he
escaped after that final crash, or was he dead? She longed to know, yet
dreaded to find out.

Her limbs felt paralysed, and her heart was beating with slow, uneven
strokes. A catastrophe of some kind had taken place. Of that she felt
certain. Had one of the six sisters been hurt? That wild cry for
help—she was sure now that she had heard it—which girl was it who had
been in such sore distress? And had the help come in time?

Ah! A sound a last! A step upon the stair! The door opened with quiet
decision and Dolly entered. She looked exactly as usual, her face
perfectly calm and unclouded.

“I am sorry,” she said, “but I am afraid it is a little too cold for you
in the garden to-day. The wind has changed.”

Frances gave a gasp, between relief and incredulity. For the moment
words were beyond her.

“Is there anything the matter?” said Dolly.

With an effort Frances made reply. “I thought—something had
happened—such a strange noise—it woke me.”

Dolly looked at her with a kindly smile. “Ah, you’ve been dreaming,” she
said practically. “People often get nightmares after a bad illness. It’s
just weakness, you know.”

She came and felt Frances’ pulse. “Yes, I think you are well enough. I
have got a letter for you here. Mrs. Trehearn sent it up this morning.”

She gave an envelope into Frances’ hand, but Frances only stared at her
blankly.

“Well?” said Dolly after a moment. “Don’t you want to read it?”

“Thank you,” Frances said, recovering herself.

Dolly smiled again upon her and went to the door. “One of the girls will
be in with your cocoa directly. I must go down and help Mother with the
bread.”

She went, still unruffled, serenely sure of herself. But Frances, who at
first had been almost bewildered into imagining that she had actually
dreamed the disturbance below, lay back again with a feeling akin to
indignation. Did Dolly really think that she was to be deceived so
easily?

She suddenly remembered the letter in her hand, and looked down at it. A
man’s writing sprawled across the envelope, and again her heart gave a
jerk. What was this?

No word from Montague Rotherby had reached her since little Ruth had led
her to Tetherstones on that night of darkness. She had been too ill to
think of him till lately, and now in her convalescence she never
voluntarily suffered her thoughts to wander in his direction. She had
come to regard the whole episode of her acquaintance with him in the
light of a curious illusion, such an illusion as she would always
remember with a sense of shame. With all her heart she hoped that she
would never see him again, for the bare memory of him had become
abhorrent to her. Here in the wholesome security of Tetherstones she
felt that she had come to her senses, and she would never again be led
away by the glitter of that which was not gold.

And so, as she looked at the letter in her hand, there came upon her
such a feeling of revolt as had never before possessed her. It was as
though she grasped a serpent, and she yearned to destroy it, but dared
not.

There came again to her as a sombre echo in her soul the memory of the
Bishop’s words: “. . . Until you have endured your hell, and—if God is
merciful—begun to work out your own salvation.”

But had she yet endured her hell? Of the hours spent with Rotherby on
the moor before the coming of the child her memory was vague. A long
wandering, coupled with a growing fear, and at the last an overwhelming
sense of evil that she was powerless to combat were the only impressions
that remained to her. But with a great vividness did she remember how
she had surrendered herself to him the evening before, and burned with
shame at the memory. No, she never wanted to see him again, and she
longed to destroy his letter unread. The very touch of it was horrible
to her.

But something stayed her hand. Something called within her—a mocking,
elusive something that taunted her courage. What was there in a letter
to frighten her? If she were sure of herself—if she were sure of
herself—She tore open the envelope with a gesture of exasperation. Of
course she was sure of herself!

“Circe, my beloved!” So the note began, and before her eyes there swam a
mist. No man in the whole world had ever called her beloved before! She
gripped herself firmly, nerving herself for the ordeal. This was not
Love—this was not Love! This was an evil that must be firmly met and
cast out. But ah, if it had been Love!

Resolutely she read the letter through. It was written from the inn at
Fordestown. “I lost you on that night of fog, but I have found you
again, and I have been waiting ever since. They tell me you are better,
but I can’t meet you among strangers. When will you come to me? Come
soon, Circe beloved! Come soon!

                                                    “I am yours, M. R.”

She looked up from the letter. So he was waiting for her still! Somehow
she had thought that he would not have deemed it worth his while. A
curious dazed feeling possessed her. He was waiting for her still! The
ordeal was not over yet. How was she going to face it?

There came a knock at the door—Nell’s boyish knock. She entered,
carrying a tray with cocoa and cream upon it.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “I hope you haven’t been wanting it very
badly.”

Frances crumpled the letter in her hand. She looked at the girl and saw
that Nell’s usually rosy face was pale.

“Is anything the matter, Nell?” she said.

Nell’s chin quivered at the question. “Oh, there’s been a frightful
row,” she said. “But I mustn’t tell you anything about it. Arthur would
be furious if he knew.”

“You needn’t be afraid of that,” said Frances. “He won’t know.”

“Thank you,” the girl said, and dried her eyes. “But I can’t tell you
all the same. It wouldn’t be fair. You don’t know the beast’s ways, and
it’s a good thing you don’t. Please don’t ask me anything—or I shall
say too much! I know I shall.”

“My dear, I don’t want you to tell me anything against your will,”
Frances said kindly.

“No, it isn’t that,” Nell said. “But I don’t want you to think you ought
to go. We’ve been so glad to have you. We’ve loved looking after you.
But there’s never any peace—and never will be so long as Arthur—” She
broke off abruptly. “Oh, I’d better go. I’m making a muddle of things,
and there’ll be a worse row if he finds out.”

She left the room precipitately, and Frances was again alone. She closed
her eyes to think. Something in Nell’s confused words had given her a
shock.

So they wanted her gone! That was what it amounted to. She had outstayed
her welcome, and she must go. The thought of all the kindness they had
showered upon her sent a pang to her heart. How good they had been to
the unwelcome stranger within their gates! And all the while there had
been no peace at Tetherstones because of the black-browed master who
wanted her gone.

No peace at Tetherstones, and how nobly they had striven to keep it from
her! Ah well, she knew now—she knew now!

Her hand clenched unconsciously, and she became aware of the letter she
held. A great wave of feeling went through her. Her eyes were suddenly
full of tears. Ah, if it had been Love that called her! If it had been
Love!


                               CHAPTER IV
                                 REBELS

Two days later, Frances went out into the garden. She leaned upon
Dolly’s arm, for she was very weak, and Lucy came behind, carrying rugs
and cushions. They settled her on a couch under the great cedar-tree
that spread its branches over the lawn, and there little Ruth came and
nestled beside her while the two elder girls went away.

“When you are well enough,” said Ruth, her sweet face upturned to the
chequered sunlight, “I would like you to come to the Stones with me.”

“When I am well enough, sweetheart,” said Frances, “as soon as I can
walk, that is, I am going away.”

“Right away?” said the child.

“Yes, darling. Right away. I have stayed too long, much too long, as it
is.”

“I would like you always here,” said Ruth.

Frances pressed her to her side in silence.

It was a perfect summer morning. From across the field that bordered the
old garden there came the babble of the stream. There was a line of
sunflowers along the red-brick wall, and below them the blue of
delphiniums that brought to mind the Bishop’s garden. The warm scent of
sweet-peas filled the air. Some distance away, Nell’s sunbonnet was
visible, dipping among the green. She and Lucy were gathering peas, and
their careless chatter came to Frances where she lay. The peace of the
place rested upon it like a benediction.

“You will come with me to the Stones before you go, won’t you?” said
Ruth.

It was hard to refuse her. “Perhaps, darling,” she said gently.

There came the tread of a horse’s hoofs on the cobbles of the yard.
“That is Uncle Arthur,” said Ruth, and freed herself from Frances’
encircling arm.

“Are you going?” Frances asked.

“I shall come back,” she said.

With perfect confidence she left the shade of the cedar-tree and moved
through the hot sunshine that bathed the lawn. Frances watched her
wonderingly. She did not run, but she went quickly over the grass, and
never faltered when her feet reached the gravel-path. Unerringly the
little blue-frocked figure found the gate that led into the yard, and
disappeared beyond the wall. Frances breathed a sigh. The place seemed
empty without her. Some minutes passed, and the child did not return.
She began to grow drowsy, and was actually on the verge of slumber when
a rustling sound close at hand suddenly recalled her. She came to
herself with a sharp start.

The rustling ceased immediately, but she had an acute sense of being
watched that sent a strange uneasiness through her. She made an effort
to raise herself.

Her heart was throbbing fast and hard, and she was conscious of intense
weakness, but she managed to drag herself into a sitting position and to
turn her head in the direction whence the sound had come.

At first she perceived nothing, for a screen of nut-trees that bounded
an orchard beyond the garden effectually concealed everything else from
sight. Then, as though drawn by some magnetism, her eyes became riveted.
She saw two other eyes peering at her through the leaves, and vaguely
discerned a figure crouched and motionless, a few yards from her.

The blood rushed to her heart in a great wave of apprehension. There was
something ominous in its utter stillness. She felt like a defenceless
traveller who has made his couch all unwittingly on the threshold of a
wild beast’s lair.

She lay very still, not moving, not daring to breathe.

Suddenly from across the lawn she heard the deep tones of a man’s voice.
She turned her eyes swiftly in the direction whence it came and, with a
throb of mingled relief and embarrassment, saw Arthur Dermot crossing
the grass towards her, little Ruth holding his hand. She glanced back
swiftly again into the green of the nut-trees, but the space whence
those eyes had glared so fixedly at her was empty. Without a sound the
watcher had gone.

An acute wave of reaction went through her—an overwhelming sense of
helplessness. She sank back upon her cushions, weakly gasping. The
sunlight swam before her eyes.

“Miss Thorold!” said a voice.

She looked up with an effort, seeing him through a mist. “I am quite all
right. Just—just a passing faintness! It is nothing—really nothing!”

She heard herself uttering the words, but she could not lift her voice
above a whisper. At the touch of a quiet hand laid upon her own, she
knew she started violently.

“It has been too much for you, coming out here,” he said.

“I am quite all right,” she assured him again tremulously. “I am only
sorry—to have given—so much trouble.”

“That’s not the way to look at it,” he said.

She felt his fingers close up on her wrist and wondered a little, for
there was something very quieting in his touch.

“You mustn’t attempt too much at a time,” he said. “Square told me so
only two days ago. You are not wanting to leave us yet, are you?”

The direct question, coming from him, took her by surprise. Her vision
was steadying, but an odd flutter of agitation still possessed her. She
did not know how to answer him for the moment; then the memory that he
wanted her gone came upon her, and she braced herself to reply.

“I must go—yes. I have been here much too long as it is.”

His fingers left her wrist, but he still stood above her motionless,
looking straight down at her, yet not as if he watched her, but rather
as if he debated something with himself.

“May I ask a question?” he said suddenly.

She felt herself colour. There was something unexpected about this man.
She wondered why he embarrassed her so. She tried to smile in answer to
his words though his expression was grave to sombreness. “If it isn’t
too hard a one,” she said.

“It’s only this,” he said, in his quiet, rather ponderous fashion. “Have
you anywhere to go to—if you leave us?”

“Oh, that!” said Frances, and knew she had betrayed herself before she
could formulate her reply. “Why, yes,—of course I have.”

“Why ‘of course’?” he said.

She hesitated. “Because—well, every woman has somewhere to go to. I
have—a brother.”

“A brother?” he said.

She found herself explaining further as if under compulsion. “Yes, in
the North,—a business man. He would take me in.”

“Have you any intention of asking him to?” Somehow the question stung
her. It was so direct, so unerring, like the flick of a whip-lash. She
dropped her eyes before his look. “I can do so,” she said with pride.

“Do you intend to?” he insisted.

She did not answer. Before that straight regard she could not lie.

He waited a moment or two, then to her surprise he sat down upon the
grass by her side. “Ruth,” he said to the blind child standing silently
beside him. “Go to the house and find my tobacco-pouch! Maggie is in the
dairy. She will know where it is.”

Ruth went with instant obedience, and Arthur Dermot took off his cap and
laid it on the grass.

“Now, Miss Thorold,” he said, “I am going to ask you another question.”

He spoke with the authority of a man not accustomed to be gainsaid, and
again that odd quiver as of apprehension went through her. She lay in
silence, waiting.

When he spoke again, she knew he was looking at her, but she did not
meet his look.

“I want to know,” he said, “what it was that scared you so up at the
Stones the night you came to us.”

“Ah!” She made a quick movement of protest. “I can’t tell you that,” she
said.

“You don’t want to tell me,” he said.

“I can’t tell you,” she said again.

He was silent for a space, but she was conscious of his eyes still upon
her, and she had an urgent desire to escape from their scrutiny. They
were so intent, so unsparing, so full of resolution.

“Someone was up there with you,” he said suddenly.

She clenched her hands to check the swift leap of her heart. “I don’t
think you have any right—to press me like this,” she said, her voice
very low.

“No right whatever,” he agreed, and in his quiet rejoinder she caught an
unexpected note of relief. “I knew you had had a fright, and the Stones
have a bad name hereabouts. I wondered what bogey had frightened you.
But apparently it wasn’t a bogey this time.”

He smiled a little with the words and she felt the tension relax. She
lifted her eyes and met a gleam of friendliness in his.

“No,” she said. “It wasn’t a bogey.”

“Perhaps you don’t believe in them,” said Arthur Dermot.

She hesitated, remembering the eyes that had glared at her through the
nut-trees, and then wondering within herself if they had been a dream.
He went on with scarcely a pause.

“Whether you do or not, I shouldn’t go to the Stones again in the dark
if I were you. It’s not a healthy spot.”

“But the child goes!” she said in surprise.

“The child!” He lifted his brows. “The child is different,” he said
briefly. “The child goes everywhere.”

His tone did not invite comment. She wondered and held her peace.

After a moment he went on, his jaw set in the fighting fashion she had
come to associate with him. “All this is beside the point, though you’ve
satisfied me in one particular. Now, Miss Thorold, to return to the
charge! Why must you go from here before you are fit?”

“I think you know why,” she said.

“But if you have no one to go to—” he said.

“I am going to work,” said Frances, with decision.

“What is your work?” he asked.

She answered him without reserve, for his manner had undergone a change.
“I am a typist. I have been secretary to the Bishop of Burminster.”

“Burminster!” he repeated the name sharply. “What is his name?”

“Dr. Rotherby.”

“Ah!” She saw his face twist suddenly, as if at a spasm of pain. “That
man!” He ground the words between his teeth.

“Yes, that man! Do you know him?”

She asked the question with a certain hesitation, but he answered it
immediately. “I knew him once—before he came to Burminster. What is he
like now? Did he treat you decently?”

“He never treats anyone decently,” said Frances.

“You quarrelled with him?” He looked at her sharply.

“Yes. I quarrelled with him,” she answered with simplicity. “I think he
is the hardest man I have ever met.”

Arthur Dermot was silent. He picked up his cap and began to turn it in
his hands, moodily meditative.

“Well,” Frances said, after a moment, “that is a closed chapter now. I
am looking out for another post.”

“They are not very easy to find, are they?” he said.

The indomitable courage that Montague Rotherby had admired in her
sounded in her reply. “Of course they are not easy. That’s just the best
of life. We’ve got to work for everything worth having.”

“Some of us have to work for what isn’t,” he said.

“Yes. I’ve done that too,” she answered.

He lifted his eyes abruptly to hers, dark eyes that seemed to her to
hold a curious protest. “And you’ve found it worth while?” he said.

She countered the question. “Have you?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t say I’d done it.”

“But you know what it feels like,” she said.

He smiled at that. “You are very shrewd. Well, I have done it. But I
don’t see any results—any decent results. I never shall see any.”

“Does one ever really get results before the work is done?” said
Frances.

“I don’t know.” He dropped his eyes again moodily, and she found her own
resting upon the silvery gleam of his bent head. “Life can be pretty
damnable,” he said, “most particularly to those who have a sense of
duty.”

“It is more damnable if we rebel,” said Frances quietly.

“You speak as one who knows,” he said.

“Yes. I do know.” She uttered the words with conviction. “I have been a
rebel. But that is over. I am going back now to work in the furrows—if
a place can be found for me.”

He frowned at her words. “Those infernal furrows! We plough our very
souls into the soil! And to what end? Of what use?”

“So you are a rebel too!” said Frances, with the suspicion of a smile.

He threw her his sudden, challenging look, and she thought he was angry.
But in a moment, sombrely, with eyes downcast, he made answer. “Yes, I
am a rebel too.”

There fell a silence between them that was curiously sympathetic.
Frances reflected later that it was that silence that banished all her
former embarrassment. She knew when he spoke again that it would not be
as a stranger. Somehow they had ceased to be strangers.

He looked up at her again at length. “Miss Thorold, I want to ask you
something, and I don’t know how to put it. I’ve lived among clods too
long to express myself with much delicacy. Will you make allowances for
that?”

She met his look with frankness. “You do not need to ask me that,” she
said.

“Thank you.” His eyes held hers with a certain mastery notwithstanding
the humility of his address. “I have no intention of being offensive, I
assure you. But I know—I can’t help knowing—that you have come through
a pretty bad passage lately. I don’t want to ask anything about it. I
only want to lend a hand to help you back to firm ground. Will you let
me do this?”

“I have already accepted too much from you,” she said.

His look hardened. “I know. So you think. But you only see one point of
view. I want you to realize that there is another. And if you leave
Tetherstones now, well, you won’t have done all you might towards
lessening what I believe you regard as an obligation.”

“What do you mean?” she said. “I thought you wanted me to go.”

“You thought wrong,” he returned with finality. “There is room for you
here, and no reason whatever why you should go back to old Mrs.
Trehearn, who is utterly unfit to look after you. Square says it would
be madness. I beg you will not contemplate such a thing for a moment.”

He spoke with a force that he did not attempt to conceal, and she heard
him with a strange mixture of surprise and doubt. She could not
understand his insistence, but at the back of her mind she was oddly
conscious of the fact that she lacked the strength to combat it.

Instinctively she sought to temporize. “It would be quite impossible for
me to stay on here indefinitely. You have all been much too kind to me
already, and I couldn’t—I really couldn’t.”

“Wait!” he said. “I haven’t suggested your doing that. I know you
wouldn’t. What I do suggest is that you should stay here to convalesce
while you are looking about for another post. Can’t you do that as
easily here as with your brother in the North for instance?”

She smiled a little at his words, but she shook her head. “I can’t go on
living on your kindness, and I have so very little money left. You must
understand how impossible it would be.”

“I don’t understand,” he said doggedly. “You are a woman, and a woman
has got to be protected when she is at the end of her resources. If you
really want to make any return, you can do the farm accounts for Milly.
She never had any aptitude for figures. But for heaven’s sake don’t talk
of going until you are well! I won’t hear of it.”

There was little logic in the argument and more than a little dogmatism;
but for some reason Frances found herself unable to combat the point
further. He was evidently determined that she should stay, and she was
too tired for further resistance.

“We will talk of this again,” she said gently. “Meanwhile, I am very,
very grateful to you, and—should like to help with the farm accounts if
I may—while I am here.”

“Thank you,” he said.

He got to his feet with the words. She thought he was going to take her
hand, then suddenly she saw him stiffen, and realized that they were no
longer alone.

She raised herself to see the bent figure of an old man coming towards
them over the grass.


                               CHAPTER V
                               MR. DERMOT

“My father!” said Arthur Dermot.

The old man had reached them. He stood, leaning on a knotted stick,
looking at her. Again she marvelled, for it was the face of a scholar—a
dreamer—that she beheld. It had the grey hue of one who seldom moves in
the sunshine. The eyes were drawn as if they did not see very clearly or
were continually looking for something beyond their range of vision. His
hair was snowy white. She thought he must be very old.

“Is this our visitor from the moors?” he asked, in a feeble tenor voice
that somehow stirred her compassion.

“Yes,—Miss Thorold.” Arthur’s reply was curt, almost as if he resented
the old man’s presence. His whole attitude was uncompromising.

“I am very pleased to meet you,” said Mr. Dermot courteously addressing
Frances. “I was so grieved to hear of the unfortunate result of your
adventure. I trust you are now nearly restored to your normal health?”

“I am much better,” Frances said. “I have been telling your son how
very, very grateful I am for all the kindness that has been shown me
here.”

“Not at all—not at all,” said Mr. Dermot. “It has been a great pleasure
to us all to be of any service to you. You are a stranger in this part
of this world, I hear?”

“Yes. I came here for a rest. It was foolish of me to get lost on the
moor,” said Frances, smiling ruefully. “I shall never do that again.”

“Ah! It must have been a very unpleasant experience. It is strange that
you should have been found at the Stones.” The tired old face reflected
her smile. “There is a tradition hereabouts that the devil walks there
at night. You did not meet him by any chance?”

“No,” Frances said. “I did not meet him. Curiously enough, I have never
even seen the Stones. I did not know they were there. The night was so
dark and misty.”

“It is a very interesting spot,” said Mr. Dermot. “A Druidical
circle—according to some—though others believe it to be the result of
a volcanic upheaval many thousands of years ago. I myself held the
former theory. There are certain marks which in my opinion can only have
been made by iron staples. This supports the current belief that
Druidical victims were chained there previous to sacrifices. Hence the
name of Tetherstones.”

He uttered the word deliberately, with a smile towards his son, who
stood on one side moodily fidgeting with the riding-whip he held.

“What a ghastly idea!” said Frances.

“It is somewhat gruesome certainly, but it holds considerable interest
for the student. If you are at all attracted by this type of research I
shall be very pleased to conduct you to the Stones one day and to point
out all the features which in my opinion tend to support this theory. My
son Arthur,” again he smiled, “has no use for relics of any description.
He is too busy tilling the ground to give his attention to the study of
mere stones.”

“Too busy grinding his bread from them!” put in Arthur with a cynical
twist of the lips. “Miss Thorold will not be equal to a climb to the
Stones for some time yet. And I doubt if they would interest her very
greatly when she got there.”

“Indeed they would interest me,” Frances said. “I have always been
attracted by the study of old things. I hope Mr. Dermot will one day be
kind enough to show me what he has just been describing.”

“With pleasure—with pleasure,” said the old man, evidently gratified by
her sympathy. “Sunset is a very favourite time for seeing them. The
evening shadows are very beautiful up there.”

“Little Ruth has been telling me about them,” Frances said.

“Ah! The child! The little blind child who lives with us! Yes, yes, of
course, the child!” The old man’s voice was suddenly vague. He frowned a
little as one who seeks to capture an elusive memory. “It is strange how
little her infirmity hampers her,” he said, after a moment. “I sometimes
think she has an inner vision that serves her more effectually than
physical sight. The brain of a blind person must be a very interesting
study.”

“She seems wonderfully happy,” Frances said.

“Yes, yes, she is always happy—like—like—another child I used to
know.” Old Mr. Dermot’s eyes took a sudden pathetic look. “I lost that
child,” he said. “There are a great many others—a great many others;
but she was the darling of them all.” He turned with sudden
querulousness upon the younger man standing silently by. “Why are you
waiting here? Why don’t you go back to the grinding of your stones?”

“I am waiting for Ruth,” his son made quiet rejoinder, without the
movement of a muscle. “I have sent her to fetch something.”

Mr. Dermot’s fine mouth curved satirically. “My son likes to be waited
upon,” he observed to Frances. “When you are well enough, he will make
use of you too. We all have to work for him. He is a hard taskmaster.”

Frances smiled. “I shall be only too glad to be of use to any of you,”
she said. “I am very much in your debt at present.”

“Oh, nonsense, nonsense!” he returned paternally. “We do not talk of
debts at Tetherstones. Nor do we let our visitors work. Unless,” he
smiled back at her with a kindliness that won its way to her heart, “you
would like to help me perhaps. I am writing a book on the Stones.”

“Miss Thorold is not well enough to do anything at present,” said Arthur
with brief decision. “We must not worry her. Remember, she is an
invalid, and she must be treated as such.”

“Oh, but I am much stronger,” Frances said quickly, for it hurt her to
see the sudden animation fade from the grey old face. “I should love to
help you if I could. Do you think I can?”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Dermot, and she was surprised by an odd
hopeless ring in his voice. “A great many have tried to help me, but it
is a very difficult matter, and no one has succeeded yet.”

“You must let me try,” Frances said gently, with the feeling that she
was comforting a child. “I should like to try.”

She uttered the last words with a glance towards Arthur and was
surprised by the sternness of his expression. He was not looking at her,
but at the old man who stood leaning on his stick with his faded blue
eyes gazing sadly before him.

“You may try if you like,” said Mr. Dermot. “But my moments of
inspiration are getting rare. Yet I should like to have finished that
book when I come to die. It is good to leave something behind to mark
where one fell.”

The dreaminess of tone and words smote upon her senses like a knell.
Again she tried to find some comforting words, but they were checked by
the sight of Ruth coming across the grass in her light, confident
fashion. They all watched her, as it were by common consent. She was
singing to herself, her little tuneless song.

“Strange!” said the old man suddenly. “They say that blind birds always
have the sweetest notes.”

He moved to meet the child, and she put out her hand to him with a
smile.

“Oh, Grandpa, are you back again? I am so glad you are back.”

“Are you glad, little one?” He stooped to kiss the upturned face. “Have
you missed the old man all this time?”

“I like it best when you are here,” she answered. “We all do. Shall we
go for a walk now, Grandpa? My dear Granny said I might go to the
Stones. I want to gather some giant harebells for Miss Thorold.”

“May I have my pouch?” said Arthur.

She had it in her hand. She turned and gave it to him. “And there is a
letter for Miss Thorold Aunt Maggie told me to bring out. Old Mrs.
Trehearn has just brought it.”

“A letter!” said Frances, and felt her heart jerk upon the word.

Silently Arthur handed it to her. One glance at the address was enough.
She could not control the swift tremor that went through her as she
murmured her thanks.

“And Dr. Square is here,” said Ruth. “He is drinking elder-flower wine
in the kitchen. He told me to say he is just coming out to see Miss
Thorold.”

“Then we will go,” said Mr. Dermot, turning towards the couch with a
courteous gesture. “Miss Thorold, I hope I have not tired you. You are
very pale. Give Dr. Square my compliments, Arthur! Tell him I am back
again and feeling much better. Good-bye, Miss Thorold! When next I have
the pleasure of seeing you, I shall be bringing you my book to read.”

He went, Ruth treading lightly by his side, noiseless and dainty as a
scrap of thistledown.

Arthur had not stirred from his post by the foot of the couch. He stood
there, massively, filling his pipe. And Frances lay, breathing quickly,
her letter unopened in her hand.

Suddenly the man’s eyes looked across at her, straight and challenging.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” he said.

She quivered at the abrupt question. She knew that she could not open
that letter in his presence.

He realized the fact instantly, and she saw an odd gleam of triumph in
his eyes. He turned and picked up his cap.

“All right. I’m going. But don’t forget—whatever he has to say—you’ve
promised to stay here for the present!”

He was gone with the words, striding away towards the house, leaving her
oddly disconcerted and unsure of herself.

Yes, she had promised to stay. At the bidding of this man whom she
scarcely knew, she had yielded the point and she knew that he would keep
her to it. His attitude was wholly incomprehensible to her, convinced as
she was that he had wished her gone. But in his taciturn, ungracious
fashion he had somehow made it impossible for her to go. She wondered,
as she watched him depart, if he were pleased—or otherwise—with his
morning’s work. Even with his last words vibrating in her mind, she
greatly doubted if he had acted in accordance with his own inclination.
She knew he had meant to be kind, but was it under pressure perhaps from
someone else—Dolly, his mother, or the old tired man his father, who
had evidently but just returned to the farm after a prolonged absence?
It was impossible to tell. She was bound to suspend judgment. And
meantime—meantime that second letter from Montague Rotherby was yet
unopened in her trembling hand.


                               CHAPTER VI
                                 MAGGIE

It was still unopened when Dr. Square came out of the house with Dolly,
and at his approach she pushed it behind a cushion.

Whether he noted any agitation on her part or not she could not say, but
he was very emphatic in his orders to her to rest, and impressed upon
Dolly the necessity for absolute quiet. Then he departed, and, before
she could open her letter, Milly came out with her work and a chair and
sat down beside her with the evident intention of remaining. Milly was
the silent one of the family, a shy, diffident girl who shared Ruth’s
adoration for her mother, but had little in common with the rest. She
was stitching at a flannel shirt for Arthur, and she worked steadily
without lifting her eyes.

Frances did not attempt any conversation. She was very tired, and the
thought of that letter which could only be read in solitude burdened
her. She had not answered the first, and he had written again so soon!
She had a bewildered feeling as of being driven against her will, but
whither she could not have said. Only she knew that if she would save
herself this letter must be answered. He was growing impatient, and
perhaps it was not surprising. She had given him a certain right over
her. He could at least with justice claim an explanation of her changed
attitude. But the bare thought of such an explanation revolted her. She
had a passionate desire to thrust him out of her life, never to see him,
never to communicate with him again. Only she knew—too well—that he
would not submit to such treatment. Sooner or later he would demand a
reckoning. And—torturing thought!—after all, had he not a right?

Oliver’s cheery voice across the lawn diverted her attention. He was
leaning on the sill of the dairy window, talking jauntily to someone
within. She liked Oliver—Oliver Twist as they called him, on account,
she had discovered, of a slight limp, the result of a kick on the knee
in his boyhood. He had a gay personality that appealed to her, and the
comic flash of his daring blue eyes was a thing to remember. He was
never depressed, whatever the weather.

He was plainly enjoying himself on this occasion, and presently a
ringing laugh in unison with his told her who was the companion of his
idle moments. There was only one person at Tetherstones who ever laughed
like that.

Milly glanced up nervously from her work at the sound, but made no
comment. Only, as the distant figure suddenly leapt the sill and
disappeared into the dairy, she coloured very deeply as if ashamed.
Frances, who had viewed the whole incident with amused interest, felt a
little out of patience with her. She had noticed before that Maggie and
Oliver were evidently kindred spirits.

She closed her eyes with the reflection that Milly must be something of
a prude, when a sudden commotion rekindled her interest and she opened
them again in time to see Oliver come hurtling through the window with
amazing force to land on his back in a bed of mignonette. With amazement
that seemed to choke her she saw Arthur, his head lowered like an
infuriated bull, draw back from the window into the dairy.

“Good heavens!” she said aloud. “Did he do that?”

“Yes,” said Milly under her breath. She added very nervously,
“It—it—it was Oliver’s fault.”

“Good heavens!” said Frances again.

The glimpse of Arthur’s face, dead-white, a mask of anger, had set her
pulses wildly throbbing. She watched tensely to see what Oliver would
do.

What he did do amazed her almost more than his first involuntary
gymnastic. He got up from the mignonette laughing as if he had just come
out of a football scrum, straightened his attire without the smallest
hint of discomfiture, and coolly vaulted back through the window into
the dairy.

“Ah!” whispered Milly, and held her breath.

She clearly expected some further act of violence, and trembled for the
young man’s safety. Frances also watched with keen anxiety. But at the
end of many seconds she began to realize that the episode was over. No
one approached the window again.

Milly drew a deep breath and resumed her work in silence.

It was clear that she did not wish to discuss what had just taken place,
and Frances was far too considerate to trouble her with questions or
comments. But the incident had very successfully diverted her own
thoughts. She actually forgot that disturbing letter which lay hidden
under her cushion.

Her thoughts dwelt persistently upon Arthur Dermot. The man puzzled her.
There was something tragic about him, something fierce, untamed and
solitary, with which she found herself strangely in sympathy. She
realized that the life he led was a singlehanded fight against odds. He
was like a swimmer battling to make headway against an overwhelming
current, succeeding only in keeping afloat; and she who for so long had
also fought alone was aware of a quick sense of comradeship urging her
to a readier comprehension than it seemed anyone else at Tetherstones
possessed. She was beginning to understand what had made her first
visualize him as a gladiator standing alone in the arena of life.

The rest of the morning passed uneventfully, save that Oliver presently
appeared, unabashed and cheery of mien, armed with a hoe, and proceeded,
whistling, to restore order in the bed of crushed mignonette. Then Dolly
came out with her midday meal, after which the sisters took her back to
her room to rest. She slept deeply during the afternoon, only awakening
when the shadows were beginning to grow long. Then, looking forth from
her window, there came to her the sudden memory of the letter she had
forgotten. A gleam of something white under the cedar-tree where her
couch had been caught her eye, and she realized immediately that it must
have fallen there when they gathered up her rugs. The house was very
still and seemed deserted. She guessed that those of the family who were
not occupied in farm-work were gathering apples for cider in the orchard
on the other side of the building.

There was no one to send for her letter, and that sense of shame with
which the bare thought of Rotherby now inspired her urged her strongly
not to leave it for any chance comer to discover. She was stronger far
than she had been, and she made swift decision to use her strength. She
got up from her bed and slipped on her shoes. She was already dressed,
and she only paused to throw around her a shawl that Dolly had left
handy. Then, with an odd feeling of guilt, she opened her door and went
out into the dark oak passage.

The stairs were steep and winding. She knew that they would try her
endurance and prepared to descend with caution. The dizziness of
weakness came upon her as she reached them. And she hung upon the rail
of the banisters to gather her forces.

In those moments of semi-helplessness there came to her the sound of
voices talking in the kitchen below, but having embarked upon the
expedition she was in no mood to draw back on account of a little
physical weakness and it did not even cross her mind to call for help.
Resolutely she summoned her strength, and, conquering her giddiness,
began to descend.

It seemed to her that the stairs had become inexplicably steeper, and
her hold upon the rail had developed into a desperate clinging with both
hands before she rounded the final curve which brought her in sight of
the bottom. Her heart was thumping uncontrollably, and her legs were
almost refusing to support her by the time she reached the last stair.
It was necessity rather than expediency that induced her to sit down
there at the foot to gather her forces afresh.

So sitting, with her throbbing head in her hands, there came to her
words at first dimly, then with a growing meaning which, too late she
realized, were never intended for her ear to hear.

“I’d do it in a minute—you know I would,—” it was Maggie’s voice, but
strangely devoid of its customary cheery lilt—“if it weren’t for
Mother. But—I believe it would kill her if another of us went wrong.”

“I’m not asking you to go wrong!” Swift and decided came the answer in
Oliver’s voice. “I wouldn’t do such a thing. I love you too much for
that. Good heavens! Don’t you think your honour is as dear to me as it
is to your mother—or Arthur?”

“Yes, but—” Unmistakable distress sounded in Maggie’s rejoinder. She
gave a little sob and left it at that.

“Well, then!” said Oliver, in the tone of one who scores a triumph.

There was a brief pause, then a sudden movement, followed by a muffled
whisper from Maggie that was half protest and half appeal. “I don’t know
what Arthur would say. He’d half kill you.”

“Oh, damn Arthur!” came the cheery response. “Why can’t he get a girl of
his own? P’raps he’d be more human then.”

“He wouldn’t—he wouldn’t! Nothing would make him that, so long as—”
Again the words broke off in half-hearted remonstrance.

“Rot!” said Oliver. “Once you were married to me, he’d have to come into
line.”

“No—no, he wouldn’t! You don’t understand.” Maggie’s answer came with a
sound of tears. “You don’t know him if you think that. He would simply
kick you out of the place. And Mother—Mother would break her heart if I
went too.”

“Don’t cry!” said Oliver softly.

Maggie was plainly sobbing against his shoulder. “I can’t help it. Oh,
Oliver, we’ll have to be patient. We’ll have to wait.”

“But what are we going to wait for?” There was a hint of exasperation in
Oliver’s query. “I don’t see what we gain by waiting. You’re
twenty-eight. I’m thirty-two. We’ve both of us waited five years as it
is.”

“Yes—yes! But let’s go on waiting—there’s a darling. Something’ll
happen some day. Something’s sure to happen. And then we’ll get
married.” Urgent entreaty backed the words. “It’s no good getting
married if we can’t live together. And we—we—we are—very happy—as we
are.”

More tears followed the assurance. Maggie was evidently aware of
pleading a lost cause.

“Oh, we’re awfully happy, aren’t we?” said Oliver, grimly humorous.
“Don’t cry, darling! I want to think. There’s no law against our getting
married—even if we don’t live together—that I can see, is there? It
would make things more sure anyway, and I guess we’d be a lot happier.”

“Oh, Oliver! Deceiving everyone! I couldn’t do it! Why, I’d be miserable
every time I went to church!”

“No, you wouldn’t. There’d be no harm done to anyone. You’re old enough
to manage your own life, and no one has any right to know how you do
it.” Oliver spoke with blunt decision. “You love me and I love you, and
if we choose to marry—well, it doesn’t matter a damn to anyone else. I
may not be good enough for you, but that’s your business, not Arthur’s.
If I’m good enough to love, I’m good enough to marry.”

“Yes.” Dubiously came Maggie’s answer. “But then, Oliver darling, what’s
the use? We couldn’t be together any more than we are. And we——”

“That’s rot, isn’t it?” Vigorously Oliver overruled her argument. “Well,
anyway, you marry me and see!”

“Ah, but I’m afraid. The beast—the beast might do you a mischief!”

There was almost a wail in Maggie’s words, but Oliver’s hearty laugh
drowned it. “Bless the girl! What next? Seems I’d better carry a
pitchfork about with me. No, now listen! I’ll fix it all up, and I won’t
even tell you till it’s all cut and dried. Then one day you and I’ll go
into Fordestown to market, and when we come back we’ll—” Inarticulate
whispering ended the sentence. “There now! Will you do that?”

“I don’t know, Oliver. I’m frightened. I’m sure it isn’t right, and yet
I don’t know why.”

Maggie’s answer sounded piteous, yet somehow Frances knew that her arms
were clinging about her lover’s neck.

There came a pause, then Oliver’s cheery voice. “There now! Don’t you
fret yourself! You may take it from me, it is right. And I’m going in to
Fordestown to-morrow to get it settled. Mind, I shan’t say another word
to you till everything is ready. You won’t back out? Promise!”

“Back out! Oh, darling—darling!”

Broken sounds came from Maggie that brought Frances to an abrupt
realization of her position. She straightened herself and got up. Her
knees were still trembling, but she forced them into action. She
tottered down the passage to the nearest door and out on to the brick
path that led to the garden.

The sun was going down. She passed between tall hollyhocks and
sunflowers into the kitchen-garden. The lawn lay beyond. It was further
than she had thought, and her strength was failing her. She came upon a
rough bench set against the wall out of sight of the house and dropped
down upon it with a feeling that she could go no further.

How long she had sat there she could not have said, for she was very
near to fainting, when there came the sound of a man’s feet on the path
beside her, and, looking up, she saw Arthur in his shirt-sleeves, a
spade on his shoulder.

He stopped beside her, and drove his spade into the ground.

“Miss Thorold!” he said. “What are they all thinking of? How did you
come here?”

She tried to smile in answer, but her lips felt very cold and numb. “Oh,
I just—walked,” she said.

“You—walked!” Amazement and displeasure sounded in his voice. “Where is
everyone?” he said. “Where is Maggie?”

He swung on his heel as if he would go in search of her, but Frances put
forth an urgent hand to detain him.

“Don’t go! It—really doesn’t matter. Maggie is busy—getting the tea.
I—I didn’t like to interrupt her. I give too much trouble as it is.”

Arthur growled something very deeply into his chest, but he checked his
first impulse at her behest.

“Well, but what are you doing here? Why did you come out?” he asked,
after a moment.

She hesitated to answer him. Then: “I dropped a letter,” she said. “It
is under the cedar-tree. I just thought I would fetch it.”

“You must be mad,” he said. “Stay here while I fetch it!”

He strode away, and she sat and waited for his return, shivering against
the wall, wondering if Maggie and Oliver had separated, wishing with all
her heart that she had not overheard their talk.

She heard the tramp of his heavy boots returning. He came back to her.

“The letter is not here,” he said briefly. “Does it matter?”

She started. “Not there! But—I thought I saw it from my window. I
thought——”

“It is not there,” he repeated. “It has probably blown away. Is it of
any great importance?”

His tone seemed to challenge her. She looked up and met his eyes
watching her with a certain hardness.

“No,” she said, and wondered what impulse moved her to utter the word.

“You are sure?” he said.

She smiled a little at his insistence. “Yes, quite sure. Please don’t
trouble about it! It will probably turn up later.”

He dropped the subject without further discussion. “I had better carry
you back now,” he remarked, and stooped to lift her.

She drew back sharply. “Oh, don’t, please! I can walk quite well.”

“You’re not going to walk,” he said, and in a moment the strong brown
arms encompassed her.

She abandoned protest. Somehow he made her feel like a child, and she
knew that resistance was useless. It was not a dignified situation, but
it appealed to her sense of humour, and as he bore her solidly back
along the paths between the hollyhocks she uttered a breathless little
laugh.

“What a giant you are!” she said.

“So you’re not angry?” he said.

“Why, no! I am obliged to you. To be quite honest, I rather doubt if I
could have walked back without some help.”

“Then it is just as well I am here to carry you,” he rejoined.

There was no sound of voices as he entered the house, and Frances
breathed a sigh of thankfulness.

He carried her straight through and up to her room. “I hope you will not
attempt that again before you are fit for it,” he said, as he deposited
her upon the bed.

“Thank you very much. I hope I shall soon be fit,” said Frances.

He lingered in the doorway, his rugged face in shadow. “I hope you
won’t,” he said suddenly and unexpectedly, and in a moment flung away
down the passage awkwardly, precipitately, as if he feared he had stayed
too long.

“Good gracious!” whispered Frances to the lengthening shadows. “What—on
earth—did he mean by that?”

But there was only the queer uneven beating of her heart to answer her
in the silence.


                              CHAPTER VII
                    THE PATH THROUGH THE WILDERNESS

Frances slept badly that night. There were a good many things to trouble
her and keep her brain at work. The thought of Maggie’s clandestine love
affair worried her most, though why this should have been so she could
not have said. There seemed to be a league among the sisters against
their brother’s authority, and she felt that against her will she had
been drawn into it. She would have given anything not to have overheard
that talk in the kitchen, but she found it impossible to forget it. And
yet to interfere in any way seemed to her impossible. Maggie was of an
age to direct her own affair, as surely Arthur ought to recognize. Her
love for young Oliver was evidently of long standing, and, however
unsuitable it might appear, no third person had the right to attempt to
frustrate it. To Frances, who had guarded her own independence so
jealously for so long, such a course was inexcusable. But the secret
worried her. There seemed to be forces at work at Tetherstones of which
she had no knowledge—sinister forces with which Maggie obviously felt
unable to cope. And Arthur was so strange, so headlong, so impossible to
manage.

Arthur! The thought of Arthur held her in a kind of breathless wonder.
The man amazed her at every turn, but he never awaked in her that
palpitating doubt with which she had always regarded Rotherby. He might
possess violent impulses, but he was upright, he was honourable. What he
said, he meant. There was even something terrible in his simplicity. He
was a man who would suffer the utmost torture sooner than betray a
friend. He was also a man who might inflict it without scruple upon an
enemy who had incurred his vengeance.

His attitude towards herself had a curious effect upon her. She was
aware of a strong bond of sympathy between them. They were rebels
together. They had eaten stones for bread. They could not remain as
strangers. There was that about him that made her wonder if he had ever
had a friend before. He stood out above and beyond the rest with a kind
of solitary grandeur that strangely moved her—a man who should have
made his mark in the world of men, but condemned to till the soil to
give them bread—a slave who had been fashioned for a conqueror. The
irony of it stirred her strangely. She wondered if anyone else saw in
him aught but a tiller of the ground. The old man, his father, perhaps?
But no! He had spoken of him with contempt. She had been aware of a
hostility scarcely veiled between them. The old man evidently despised
him for the very servitude that so plainly galled his soul. Did no one
understand him, she wondered? And then the memory of the mother,
white-haired and patient, came to her, and by a flash of intuition she
realized that here lay the explanation of many things. He had harnessed
himself to the plough for her sake. She could not doubt it. Though she
had never seen them together, she knew that she had discovered the
truth, and she was conscious, poignantly conscious, of a feeling akin to
indignation. How could any woman accept such a sacrifice?

Of her own affairs, of Montague Rotherby, she thought but little that
night. The inner voice that had so urgently warned her no longer spoke
within her soul. The need was past. Inexplicably, the attraction of the
man had gone with it. The loss of her letter had vexed her temporarily,
but now she had almost forgotten it. By her silence she would sever all
connection with him. She judged him as not ardent enough to follow up
the quest. The madness was over and would never return. Once again, and
this time with a sense of comfort, she reflected that she was not the
type of woman to appeal to such a man for long. That last letter of his
had probably been one of farewell. On the whole she was not sorry that
she had not read it. She wanted to forget him as soon as possible and
with him the bitter humiliation he had made her suffer. It was better to
forget than to hate. No; decidedly it was not on his account that
Frances passed a restless night.

With the early morning came sleep that lasted till the sun was high, and
Ruth came in to perch on her bed while she breakfasted. She had been out
in the cornfields, she said. They were cutting the corn in the field
below the Stones. Next week, when Frances was strong enough, they would
go and sit among the sheaves. Or perhaps they might go to-day if Uncle
Arthur would take them in the dog-cart. The idea attracted Frances
though she only smiled. The day was hot, and she was feeling better. She
had a desire to go out into the sunshine, away from the old grey house
and its secrets, of which already she felt she knew too much.

She did not know that the child had read acquiescence in her silence
till later, when Dolly suddenly announced that the cart would be round
in half-an-hour, and they must hurry.

“It would do you good to spend the whole day out to-day,” said the
practical Dolly, whom Frances suspected of being secretly a little tired
of a job that had ceased to be interesting. “Elsie and Lucy and Nell
will all be to and fro if you should want anything. And no one could
possibly catch cold on a day like this. Milly and I are going to
Wearmouth to do some shopping, but I shall be back in good time to get
you to bed. Dr. Square said he might not come to-day. If he does, it
won’t hurt him to ride as far as the cornfield to see you.”

It had evidently been all talked over and arranged beforehand, and
Frances had no objection to raise. In fact, the prospect delighted her.

“I should like to take my sketching-block,” she said. “And I shall be
quite happy.”

So, armed with her beloved box of paints and brushes, she presently
descended to find Arthur waiting somewhat moodily at the door with a
pie-bald cob harnessed to a light dog-cart. His dark face brightened at
the sight of her. He took the pipe from between his teeth and knocked
out its contents on the heel of his boot.

“Better this morning?” he asked, as she came out.

She smiled at him, panting from her descent of the stairs, but
resolutely ignoring her weakness. “Yes, I am much better. I am as strong
as a horse to-day. Are you really going to drive me to the cornfields?
How kind of you!”

“Jump up!” said Arthur. “You go to his head, Dolly! I’ll help Miss
Thorold.”

He issued his orders with characteristic decision, and they were obeyed.
Almost before she knew it, Frances found herself lifted on to the high
seat where he wrapped a rug about her knees and pushed a cushion behind
her.

The next moment he mounted beside her and took the reins. Dolly stepped
back. The horse leaped forward.

“Hold on!” said Arthur.

They were out in the winding lane before Frances found breath to ask for
Ruth. “Won’t she come with us? Have you forgotten her?”

“We never trouble about Ruth,” he replied. “She finds her own way
everywhere. She will probably go across the stepping stones and get
there first.”

“Are you never afraid of her coming to harm?” she asked.

“She never does,” said Arthur. He spoke briefly, and immediately turned
from the subject. “Do you mind if we go for a stretch first? The horse
is fresh.”

“Mind!” said Frances. “I’d love it!”

He laughed, and she knew in a moment that the plan was by no means an
impromptu one. “It will do you good,” he said, and turned the horse’s
head towards the moors.

They came out upon an open road and went like the wind. The day was
glorious, the distant tors all blue and purple in the sunshine. They
followed a direction she had never explored, and presently turned off up
a wide track that seemed to wind into the very heart of the hills.

“Afraid it’s rather bumpy,” said Arthur. “Do you mind?”

“I mind nothing,” she answered simply.

He glanced at her. “You are not disliking it?”

She drew a long breath. “I don’t believe I ever knew what life could be
before to-day.”

He said no more. The guiding of the horse took up all his attention.
They came presently to a track crossing the one they were following.

He reined in as if he had reached his destination. Frances looked about
her. The place was lonely beyond description. Here and there vast
boulders pushed through the short grass, surrounded by tufts of heather
that seemed to be trying to hide their nakedness. They were closely
surrounded by hills, and the gurgle of an invisible stream filled the
air with music.

“Have you ever been here before?” said Arthur.

“Never,” she said.

“Yes, you have,” he returned bluntly.

She started a little, and looked about her more attentively. Was the
place familiar?

He pointed suddenly with his whip along the track they faced. “You and
Roger!” he said. “Don’t you remember?”

She uttered a gasp of surprise. “Why—yes! But was it here?”

“It was round the curve of that hill,” he said. “Afterwards, you came on
here alone, and lost your way, took the wrong turning. Remember?”

“I wanted to get to Fordestown,” she said. “But I was tired. I fell
asleep.”

He nodded. “And then you wandered up to the Stones.”

She felt herself colour. With an effort she answered him. “It wasn’t
quite like that. I met—a friend, or rather—he found me here. We got
lost in the fog. That was how it happened.”

“Yes,” said Arthur.

He turned the horse up the wild track to the left without further words,
and they went on in silence at a walk.

A great stillness brooded about their path. A certain awe had taken
possession of Frances. The ruggedness of the place, its austerity, held
her like a spell. The high hills shut them in, and the music of many
streams was the only sound.

“You are taking me to the Stones?” she said at length, and unconsciously
her voice was sunk almost to a whisper.

“Yes,” he said.

They went on up the lonely track. She tried to picture her walk with
Montague through the blinding fog. Here she had slipped into bog, there
she had stumbled among stones. Then as now, the vague sounds of running
water had filled the desolation as with eerie, chanting voices. The
smell of bog-myrtle came to her suddenly, and in a moment very vividly
the terror of that night was back upon her. The thud of the horse’s
hoofs on the wet track fell with a fateful, remorseless beat. She
experienced a swift, almost overwhelming desire to turn back.

It must have communicated itself to the man beside her, for he checked
the animal with a curt word and brought the swaying cart to a
standstill.

“Miss Thorold, what is it? Have I brought you too far?”

The concern in his voice reassured her. She met his look with a smile.
“No! I am quite all right. It is only my foolish imagination—playing
tricks with me. Shall we go on?”

“Do you wish to go on?” he said.

“Yes. I am longing to see the Stones. I think this is rather a dreadful
place, don’t you? It makes one think of”—she stumbled a little—“of
human sacrifice. Do you hold your father’s theory about the Stones?”

“I seldom agree with my father about anything,” he returned sombrely.
“Yes, you are right. This is a dreadful place. It has a bad name, as I
told you before.”

They went on up the grassy track, mounting steadily. The rocky nature of
the ground became more and more pronounced as they proceeded. The grass
grew more sparsely though the tufts of heather continued.

“Are you frightened?” Arthur asked abruptly.

“No,” said Frances.

He looked at her. “You are sure?”

“What is there to frighten me?” she said.

“You were frightened the last time you came,” he said.

“Oh, that was different. It was foggy. I was lost.” She spoke quickly,
with a touch of confusion, aware of the old embarrassment stirring
within her.

He turned his eyes deliberately away and stared at the horse’s ears.
“Would you be frightened now,” he said, “if a fog came up and you didn’t
know the way?”

“Not with you to guide me,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

The hills closed gradually in upon the track till it was little more
than a narrow passage, winding among boulders. The horse’s feet
clattered upon stones. Quite suddenly the path mounted steeply between
two large rocks and disappeared.

“Can we possibly get up there?” said Frances.

The man beside her made no reply. He merely struck the animal with the
whip, so that he plunged at the steep ascent, and in a few moments was
clambering up it with desperate effort. The cart rocked and jolted, and
Frances clung to the rail. They reached the two grey rocks at the summit
and passed between them on to a flat open space that shone green in the
sunshine.

“This is the place,” said Arthur.

Frances looked all about her and drew a long, deep breath. “Ah!
How—wonderful!” she said. “What a wilderness!”


                              CHAPTER VIII
                               THE STONES

They stood up all around, forming a great amphitheatre—the great, grey
stones that had weathered so many centuries. Stark and grim, sentinels
of the ages, they stood in their changeless circle, as they had stood in
the early days of the world ere men had learned to subdue the earth.

Frances sat and gazed and gazed with a curious feeling of reverence upon
that forgotten place of sacrifice.

“Isn’t it strange?” she whispered to herself. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

And then she turned to the man by her side. “It reminds me of the days
when you were a Roman gladiator and I was one of the slaves who
sprinkled the saw-dust in the arena.”

He looked at her with his brooding eyes. “So you were a slave?” he said.

“I have always been one,” she answered, with a quizzical lifting of the
brows.

“You were not intended for a slave,” he said.

She smiled a little. “May I get down? I should like to walk here.”

“Are you strong enough?” he said.

“Of course I am strong enough. When I am tired, I will curl up and sleep
in the sunshine.”

“You’re not afraid?” he said.

She faced him. “Of course I am not afraid. Why should I be?”

He lifted his shoulders slightly. “You were—or I imagined you were—a
little while ago.”

“Oh, that was different,” she said. “Anyway, I am not so foolish now. I
could sit here for hours and sketch.”

“It has been called the devil’s paradise,” he said rather harshly.

She snapped her fingers and laughed. “I am never afraid of the devil
when the sun is out. Are you?”

“Sometimes,” he said.

He jumped to the ground and turned to help her, the reins over his arm.

She slipped down into his hold. “But there is nothing to frighten anyone
here,” she said.

Even as she spoke, her heart misgave her a little. The Stones looked
more imposing from the ground. Some of them had an almost threatening
aspect. They seemed to crouch like gigantic monsters about to spring.

“It is certainly a wonderful place,” she said. “And the farm is close
by?”

“Just down the hill on the other side,” he said. “It takes its name from
them. Some bygone race probably used the place for sacrifice. The actual
Tetherstones to which the victims were said to have been fastened are
over there, close to the cattle-shed in which Ruth found you. The shed
is just out of sight below the brow of the hill.”

“It is a wonderful place,” Frances said again.

She relinquished his arm, and began to walk a few steps over the grass.
The man stood motionless, watching her. His brows were drawn. He had a
waiting look.

Suddenly she turned and came back to him. She was smiling, but her face
was pale. “Mr. Dermot, I am not sure that I do want to stay here after
all,” she said. “There’s something I can’t quite describe—something
uncanny in the atmosphere.”

“You want to go?” he said.

She shivered sharply, standing in the full sunshine. “I don’t want to be
left alone here.”

“No,” he said, in his brief way. “And I don’t mean you to be here
alone.” He put out a hand and pointed to a curiously shaped stone so
poised that it seemed to be on the point of rolling towards them. “Do
you see that? That is one of the great tetherstones. It is called the
stone of sacrifice. It is so balanced that a child could make it rock,
but no one could move it from its place. There are marks on that stone
that scientists declare have been made by human hands, places where
staples have been driven in, and so cunningly devised that prisoners
chained to those staples were unharmed so long as they remained passive.
But the moment they strained for freedom, the stone rocked slowly to and
fro and they were crushed—gradually ground to death.”

“Oh, don’t!” Frances cried. “How gruesome—how horrible!”

“A devil’s paradise!” he said.

“But why did you bring me here?” she protested. “Why do you tell me
these dreadful things?”

He shrugged his shoulders again. “I brought you here to satisfy your
curiosity. My father will tell you much more horrible things than that.
His book is full of them.”

“Let us go!” she said, shuddering. “I won’t come here again.”

“As you wish,” he said. “There are certainly pleasanter places.”

He helped her back into the cart, and wrapped the rug about her knees.
As he did so, with his face turned from her he spoke again in a tone
that affected her very strangely.

“Miss Thorold, I haven’t told you everything. There is a much more
modern tragedy connected with this place which I haven’t told you of. It
isn’t a subject that is ever mentioned among us, and I can’t go into any
details. But—you’ve probably discovered by this time that there is
something that makes us different from the rest of the world. It
is—that.”

He spoke with an effort, and for the first time in all her knowledge of
men there came to Frances that tender, motherly feeling that comes to
every woman when she is face to face with a man’s suffering.

She sat for a moment or two without moving or speaking; then she put out
a hesitating hand and touched his shoulder. “I am sorry,” she said very
gently.

He drew in his breath sharply, but still he did not look at her. “I have
never spoken of it to anyone outside before. But you are somewhat
different. You have been through the mill, and you are capable of
understanding?”

“I hope so,” she said.

He jerked up his head with an odd movement of defiance. “There’s one
thing I would like you to know,” he said. “Though I am no more than a
country clod and grind my living out of the stones, I’ve made a success
of it. There’s not a single farmer hereabouts who can say that he has a
better show than mine. In fact, they know quite well that Tetherstones
beats them all.”

“That was worth doing,” said Frances.

“Yes. It was worth doing. But now that it’s done, anyone could run
it—anyone with any experience. Oliver could run it.” He spoke
contemptuously.

“Then why not let him,” suggested Frances, “and take a holiday
yourself?”

“Let him!” He turned upon her almost violently. “Leave Oliver to run
this show! You don’t know—” He pulled himself up. “Of course you don’t
know. How should you? Oliver is very useful, but he is only a labourer
after all. I don’t see myself putting him in my place. He thinks too
much of himself as it is.”

“Ah!” Frances said, with an unpleasant feeling of duplicity at her
heart. “But you like him, don’t you? He is a good sort?”

“I hope he is a good sort,” Arthur said grimly. “He needs to be kept in
his place. I know that much. And I’ll see that it’s done, too.”

He looked at her hard with the words, as if challenging a reply. But
Frances made none. Her years of rigorous work had taught her to maintain
silence where she felt speech to be futile. She never wasted her words.

And in a moment Arthur relaxed. “I couldn’t leave my post in any case,”
he said. “There are—other reasons.”

“Yes,” Frances said, glad of the change of topic. “I realize that.”

“Do you? How?” Again that peremptory, challenging look met hers.

But she answered him with absolute simplicity. On this point at least
she felt no qualms. “On account of your mother,” she said. “I guessed
that.”

His face changed, softening magically. “Yes, my mother,” he said. “But
what made you guess it?”

“It just came to me,” she said. “I knew you must be fond of someone.”

He looked away from her to a gap of blue distance in front of them, and
for a few seconds there was silence between them. Then: “Thank you for
saying that,” he said, “and for thinking it. You have an extraordinary
insight. Do you read everyone’s motives in this way? Or is it only
mine?”

There was a hint of melancholy in the question, as though he invited
ridicule to cover an unacknowledged pathos. But Frances did not answer
it, for she had no answer ready. She felt as if in his silence he had
lifted the veil and given her a glimpse of his lonely soul. She saw him
as it were surrounded by a great solitude which she could not cross. And
so she turned away.

“I am not a great reader of character,” she said. “Only I know that
there is only one way of turning our stones into bread. And if we don’t
find it, we starve.”

“Yes, starve!” He repeated the word with his eyes still upon the blue
distance. “I’m used to starving,” he said slowly. “It’s a sort of
chronic state with me.”

The sound of the reaping-machine came whirring through the sunlit
silence, and the man pulled himself together with a gesture of
impatience. “Well, I suppose we must go. You have seen the Stones, and I
hope you are satisfied.”

“I am glad you brought me,” she said. “But I don’t think I shall come
again.”

He looked at her, and she thought there was a hint of relief on his
face. “You have seen all there is to see,” he said. “I think you are
wise.”

He mounted into the cart beside her and walked the horse forward over
the grass.

“There is little Ruth,” said Frances.

The child had come suddenly into view from behind one of the great
stones, moving as was her wont lightly and fearlessly, her face
upturned. She was carrying a small bunch of harebells, and as she came
towards them she stooped and felt among the grass for more. Her soft,
chirruping song rose up like the humming of a fairy. Finding some of the
wiry stalks she sought, she knelt down in the sunshine to gather them.

“How happy she is!” whispered Frances.

The man said nothing. He walked the horse straight up to the little
kneeling figure and reined in beside it.

“Is that you, Uncle Arthur?” said little Ruth.

“Yes,” he said. “Come here to me and I will take you back to the
corn-field!”

She got up and came to him. He stooped and grasped her shoulder, guiding
her to the step.

“Is Miss Thorold there?” said the child.

“Yes, darling. I am here,” Frances answered, and made room for her in
the seat.

Ruth mounted the step, and in a moment nestled in beside her. “I
gathered these flowers for you,” she said.

“Thank you, darling.” Frances took the flowers and stooped to kiss her.

“I’ve been waiting for you a long, long time,” Ruth said. “Have you
liked your drive?”

“I have loved it,” Frances said with simplicity.

“Thank you,” said Arthur quietly, on the other side.

They passed on through the great circle and out between the stones on to
a narrow track that led steeply downwards to a lane.

The buzz of a car rose from below them as they approached it, and Arthur
drew in his horse. The car went by unseen, but to Frances in the high
cart there came a sudden, sharp sense of insecurity that was almost
panic, and for a moment she ceased to breathe. She knew that car.

Her agitation subsided gradually. They went on down the lane and turned
into the corn-field.

“I must leave you here,” Arthur said.

He helped them both down and settled them comfortably with a rug and
cushions in the shade of the hedge.

“Will you be all right here?” he asked Frances. “I will tell Elsie to
look after you.”

“I shall be quite all right,” she assured him. “Please don’t let anyone
waste any time over me!”

He smiled and turned away. She watched him go with an answering smile
upon her lips.

Roger came up and lay down beside them. The peace of a perfect day
descended upon the harvest-field. The fragrance of the cut corn was like
an oblation.

“Are we alone?” said Ruth.

“Yes, darling. Why?”

The little girl came pressing close to her side. “Because I’ve got
something to tell you, and it’s a secret. I met a man to-day in the
lane, who said he was a friend of yours. He didn’t tell me who he was,
but it was the friend who wrote that letter to you. And he said—would I
tell you that he will be at the Stones again to-night at ten.”


                               CHAPTER IX
                               THE LETTER

“At the Stones again to-night.” All through that morning in the
corn-field the words were running in Frances’ brain. She tried to
sketch, but her hand seemed to have lost its cunning, and there were
times when a great trembling seized her. His letter she had thrust out
of her mind. She had not read it, nor had she greatly desired to know
what it contained. But his message was different, and again with the
words she seemed to hear that rushing of an unseen car, and recalled the
man, his bearing half-insolent, half-cynical, the curious persistence
with which he had pursued her, the nameless attraction of his
personality. She did not want to answer his message. She did not want to
meet him. But yet—but yet—deep in the very heart of her she knew that
a meeting was inevitable. A reckoning must come, and she was bound to
face it. She might, if she so chose, avoid him now, but she could not
avoid him always. Sooner or later she would have to endure her ordeal,
and tell him—plainly tell him—that the madness was over and her eyes
were open. She was not, and never had been, the type of woman which
apparently he had taken her to be. And if he could not learn this by her
silence she must summon strength to put the matter baldly into words.
She shrank from the thought, but brought herself back to it again and
again. The idea of writing to him presented itself, but she discarded it
with an even greater distaste. When the ordeal was over, she
desired—earnestly desired—that no trace of it should be left behind.
No written word from her was in his possession now, nor should it ever
be. She wanted to thrust away this unclean thing that had come into her
life so that no vestige of it remained. And not until she had done this
would she feel free.

So she argued with herself all through the long sunny morning, while the
bundles of corn fell in ever-increasing numbers, and little Ruth flitted
to and fro playing with the long golden strands that she drew from them.

After a while Oliver came up with a smile on his merry face to talk to
her, but he had scarcely reached her when there came the sound of a
horse’s feet in the lane, and Dr. Square appeared at the gate.

“They told me I should find you here,” he said, and came in and sat down
beside her, while Oliver saluted and went away.

She told the doctor of her drive in the dog-cart to the Stones, and he
expressed some surprise that Arthur had taken her there.

“He usually avoids the place like the plague,” he said.

Her curiosity awakened. “Do you know why?” she said.

“Yes, I know,” said Dr. Square.

She looked at him. “Is it a secret?”

She thought his red, wholesome face had a dubious look, but he answered
her without actual hesitation. “Not that I know of. Naturally they don’t
talk about it here at Tetherstones. It was the scene of a very unhappy
tragedy some six years ago.” His eyes rested upon Ruth busy among the
corn-sheaves at a little distance. “It was one of the sisters,” he said,
“the child’s mother,—a lovely girl—a lovely girl. She died up there in
a blizzard one winter night. She was out of her mind at the time. She
took the little one with her. When we found them, she was frozen stiff,
but the child still lived. Poor mite—poor little girl! She’d better
have gone with her mother.”

“Oh, why do you say that?” Frances said. “She is happy. There are plenty
to love her.”

The doctor’s eyes dwelt very tenderly upon the little figure. “I say it
because it is true,” he said. “She is not like other children, Miss
Thorold. She never will be. She is just—‘a little bit of heaven’
strayed down to earth. She is one of those the gods love.”

“Oh, do you mean that?” Frances said.

He nodded. “I mean it—yes. I told them long ago—the child won’t live
to grow up. They all know it.”

“But they take so little care of her!” said Frances.

“It is far better she should lead a natural life,” he said. “She is just
like a flower of the field. She will have her day—her little day, Miss
Thorold. They are wise to leave her alone. Cooped up within four walls
she would never have lived so long. Freedom is life to her.”

“I often wonder that they dare to let her wander as she does,” Frances
said.

“It is far better,” said Dr. Square. He turned to her with a smile. “Has
it never occurred to you that she is under special protection? I have
often thought it. They are all too busy to look after her, yet she is
safe and happy. I think she is one of the happiest little souls I have
ever met. I have never seen her cry. We need not pity her too much. In
fact, I sometimes think she is hardly to be pitied at all.”

“Perhaps you are right,” Frances said.

The doctor’s philosophy appealed to her. She liked the simple fashion
with which he regarded life. She would not question him further
concerning the Dermot family, for some sense of loyalty restrained her.
But when he was gone, she pondered over the matter. Why did they stay in
a place that contained such painful associations for them? She had
Arthur’s word for it that he had made a success of the farm, and every
indication pointed to the fact. But it had been an uphill fight. Why had
he chosen to make it there?

Midday came, and with it Lucy and Nell to take her back to the house. It
was no great distance across the field to the garden, but it taxed her
powers somewhat, for the ground was rough. She was glad when they
reached the shade of the cedar-tree and she could sit down on the bench
beneath it to rest.

“You had better not go to the corn-field again,” said Nell.

And she acquiesced. She would not do anything strenuous for the rest of
the day. The thought of her letter recurred to her, and she looked about
but saw nothing of it. Evidently it had blown away.

After a brief interval she continued her journey to the house where
Maggie joined them with kindly concern on her rosy face.

“You do look tired,” she said. “Come and sit down in the kitchen for a
little and see Mother scalding the cream!”

The kitchen was oak-raftered and possessed an immense open fire-place
with a brick oven at the side. Frances went in and was welcomed by Mrs.
Dermot in her gentle, tired fashion, and made to sit down in a
high-backed, wooden arm-chair.

The girls buzzed around her, and she had almost begun to forget her own
pressing problem in the homely atmosphere when a sudden angry shout rang
through the house, and in a moment every voice in the kitchen was
hushed.

Frances, who was speaking to Mrs. Dermot at the moment saw her put her
hand to her heart. Maggie came to her quickly and put an arm about her.
But she spoke no word, and the silence was terrible.

Then from the stone passage outside came a voice, Arthur’s voice, short
and peremptory.

“I’ll stand no more of this, and you know it. Let me pass!”

There was a brief pause, then an answering voice—the broken, quavering
voice of an old man. “I have no wish to keep you here. You come into my
room, tamper with my belongings, threaten me. I only ask you to go. What
have I done that I should be treated like this?”

“What have you done?” A sound that was inexpressibly bitter followed the
words. “Well, not much on this occasion perhaps. But I warn you, it had
better not happen again. I will have no more of it. You understand?”

“No.” Sudden dignity dispelled all agitation in the rejoinder. “I do not
understand how my son who, if he is not a gentleman, has at least had
the upbringing of one, as well as the advantage of good birth, can bring
himself to treat his father with a brutality that he would not display
towards the dog in the stable. I protest against your behaviour, though
I am as fully aware as you are that I have no remedy.”

“None, sir, none.” Again that horrible jarring note was in Arthur’s
voice. “It would be as well if you always bore that in mind. I am the
master here, as I have told you before.”

“You are a damned blackguard,” said the old man in a voice that was
deadly cold. “Now leave my room!”

There came the instant closing of a door, a step outside, and Arthur
entered. The veins stood out on his forehead; his face was terrible. He
looked round the kitchen, paused for a moment with his eyes upon Frances
as if he would speak; then, without a word, took a glass from the
dresser, and went out to a pump in the yard.

Mrs. Dermot drew a deep breath and gently released herself from Maggie’s
arm. She turned as if to follow her son, but in a moment checked the
impulse and busied herself over the fire.

He entered again almost immediately, the tumbler half full in his hand.
He went straight to his mother and murmured something in a low voice.
She shook her head in silence. He drained the glass and set it down.
Again his look went to Frances, and again he seemed on the verge of
speech. Then a faint sob came from Lucy, and he swung round upon her
with a scowl.

She recoiled from him, and instantly Nell the valiant sprang into the
breach. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Arthur, stop ramping!” she said. “Go
away if you can’t control yourself, and come back when you feel better!
We’ll have dinner ready in twenty minutes.”

“Then you can send mine out to the farm-yard,” he rejoined curtly. “I’ll
wait for it there.”

He was gone with the words, and there went up a breath of relief from
the kitchen at his exit.

“Hadn’t we better get to work?” said Mrs. Dermot in her weary, subdued
voice. “Father will be wanting his dinner too.”

Frances stood up. “I will go up to my room,” she said.

“Shall I come?” said Elsie.

“No, please don’t! I can manage quite well alone.” She passed the girl
with a smile, intent upon removing herself before they should discover
her presence to be an embarrassment. As she left the kitchen she heard a
buzz of talk arise among the girls, and one very audible remark from
Nell pursued her as she went. “Oh, we’ll get his dinner for him. It’s a
pity he doesn’t always feed among the pigs.”

Frances passed on, feeling oddly shaken. As she rounded the corner of
the stairs, Oliver came clattering in from the back premises and
overtook her. He stopped her without ceremony.

“I just want a word with you, Miss Thorold. Do you mind? Don’t think
it’s cheek on my part. It’s too urgent for that.”

She stood and faced him. “Oliver, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, don’t worry!” he said. “Don’t be scared! It’s just this. A friend
of yours was just outside here to-day, asking for you. That is to say,
he asked Ruth about you, for I asked her what he wanted and she said he
gave her a message for you.”

“Yes; that is so,” Frances said. “But what—what——”

“What business is it of mine?” he said. “It isn’t my business, that’s
straight. But you just listen a minute! I’m not rotting. You get that
friend of yours out of the way—quick! Understand? There’s no time to be
lost. If he stays in the neighbourhood there’ll be trouble. You tell him
to go, Miss Thorold! It’s a friend’s advice, and for heaven’s sake, take
it!”

He spoke with great earnestness, and she saw that there were beads of
perspiration on his forehead.

“It’s true as gospel,” he said. “He’s in danger. I can’t tell you what
it is. But I’ll take my dying oath it’s true. It’s up to you to warn
him, and if you don’t—well, you’ll regret it all your life, that’s
all.”

He paused and wiped his forehead on his shirt-sleeve. She stood and
looked at him, conscious of a feeling of dread that made her physically
cold. What was the meaning of these tumults and warnings, these
mysterious under-currents that seemed to be perpetually drawing her
towards tragedy? What was the direful secret of this sinister house?

Oliver saw her distress, and dismissed his own with a jerk. “Don’t be
upset!” he said. “There’s no harm done yet—not so far as I know. But
don’t let him hang round any longer! If Arthur were to get a sight of
him—” He broke off. “That’s all. Hope we shall see you in the field
again to-morrow. It’s good weather for harvesting. We ought to be
carrying by the end of the week if it lasts.”

She knew from his tone that he was speaking for the benefit of a third
person, but she did not turn her head to look. She knew without that
that Arthur was standing at the end of the passage, and she began to
ascend the stairs with a distinct feeling that escape was imperative.
Oliver went away into the kitchen, and she rounded the curve of the old
staircase and began to quicken her pace. But her knees were so weak and
her breathing so short that she thought she would never reach the top.
Then, with a sudden start of consternation, she heard the tread of
Arthur’s feet below, and knew that he was coming up behind her.

She mustered all her strength then in desperation, for she felt she
could not face him at that moment; and gasping, stumbling, unnerved, she
practically fled before him.

The door of her room stood open, but she lacked the power to close it as
she entered. She could only stagger to the nearest chair and fall into
it, panting.

He came on up the stairs. She heard his feet upon the bare oak. He
reached the open door and stopped.

“Miss Thorold!” he said.

Then he must have seen her condition, for he came in without further
ceremony.

“You’ve been frightened,” he said.

She could not answer him because of the wild palpitation of her heart.
He bent over her; then suddenly knelt beside her, and she felt the
strong grip of his hand on hers.

“There’s nothing to frighten you,” he said, in his deep voice, and she
knew that for some reason he was moved.

She leaned her head against the back of the chair, battling with her
weakness. “I am not very strong yet,” she managed to say.

“I know—I know! You’ll be better presently. Don’t take any notice of
these trifles!”

The gentleness of his voice amazed her; it had the sound of a
half-suppressed appeal, and something within her stirred in answer.

“You are very good to me,” she said.

“Good! To you!” There was almost a passionate note in his reply. His
grip upon her hand tightened, and then in a moment he seemed to control
himself, and very slowly he set her free and rose. “What I wanted to say
to you,” he said, “is just that I am sorry that you should have been
upset in any way by any unfortunate family disagreements. I don’t know
what Oliver was saying to you on the subject; he probably told you that
they are by no means unusual. But please take my word for it that it
shall not happen again if I can possibly prevent it, and make allowances
where you can!”

The appeal was unmistakable this time, and again that sense of
comradeship possessed her in spite of all misgiving. She smiled at him
without speaking, and somehow his answering smile sent a quick thrill to
her heart.

He turned to go, then abruptly wheeled back to her. “One thing more!
I’ve found your letter—the one you lost in the garden. Do you want it
back, or may I destroy it?”

She gave a gasp of surprise. “You have found it? Where—where was it?”

“In the garden,” he repeated, with a certain doggedness.

She looked up at him. “Where is it now?”

“In my pocket,” he said. “Do you want it?”

“I think I had better have it,” she said.

“You are sure?” His eyes met hers with the old challenging look, and her
own fell beneath them.

Nevertheless she held out her hand. “Please!” she said.

The next moment she found the missing letter thrust into her fingers,
but she did not even look at it. She was staring at his retreating
figure as he went out and closed the door sharply behind him.


                               CHAPTER X
                               REVELATION

She had it in her hand at last—that letter which had caused her so much
doubt and anxiety. She sat there holding it after the closing of the
door, wondering, puzzled, troubled. He had found it—he must have found
it—under the cedar-tree the night before. Why had he kept it back? Or,
having kept it, why did he give it to her now? Suspicion stabbed her,
and she turned the envelope over. Had it been opened? It was impossible
to say. It had obviously been rubbed from having been carried in a
pocket; but there was no sign of weather-stain upon it. She was
instantly convinced that it had not lain out all night. Yet why had he
kept it?

An odd thought came to her, born of that strange new note of appeal that
she had begun to hear in his voice—a thought which sent the blood to
her face in a great wave and for a moment almost dazed her. Was it
jealousy that had prompted him? He had known that her letter had caused
her agitation, that it was from another man. He had almost openly done
his best to counteract that other man’s influence upon her. He had taken
her to the Stones only that morning in the hope of inducing her to be
frank with him regarding her adventure there. It was not curiosity—it
could not be mere curiosity—that had actuated him. She recalled his
behaviour of the night before when he had carried her in, how he had
bluntly given her to understand that his own desire was to keep her
there as long as possible. And then Oliver’s warning flashed upon her,
illuminating all the rest. With a gasp she faced the situation,
suspicion merging into certainty, amazing but irrefutable. He cared for
her, this extraordinary man who ruled at Tetherstones with so heavy a
hand. For some reason wholly inexplicable to her, his fancy had lighted
upon her—just as had Montague Rotherby’s in an idle hour. But with what
a difference! It was at this point that Frances arose and went
unsteadily to her dressing-table to lean upon it and stare in
stupefaction at her own reflection. Had all the world gone mad? What on
earth did they see in her—the faded, the drab, the tired? She gazed for
a long, breathless space, and slowly her eyes widened. What did she see
in herself? Was there not something present here that she had never seen
before? What was it? What was it? A sudden tremor went through her, and
she drew back.

What were those words he had said to her that morning? Vividly the
memory rushed upon her, and his eyes—the look in his eyes—as they had
rested upon her. . . . “You were not intended for a slave.”

Was it this that they saw in her—a slave who had broken free—her
shackles in the dust? Was it this that she had suddenly seen in herself?

She was quivering from head to foot. A feeling of giddiness came upon
her, and she dropped down upon the edge of the bed. Something had
frightened her, badly frightened her,—something wholly apart from the
gloomy secrets of Tetherstones, the undercurrent of rebellion that
existed there, the muttered warnings, the element of violence barely
masked—something that had looked at her out of her own eyes—something
that throbbed very deeply in her own heart—a thing so widely different
from anything she had ever know before that she was amazed, that she was
actually terrified, beyond thought or speech.

It was this that had stirred within her in answer to that unspoken
appeal for understanding. It was this that had inspired that sense of
comradeship within her. She had called it intuition, sympathy. But
now—she knew now that it had another name. And what was she going to
do? How was she going to treat this amazing thing? Was she prepared to
let it grow and become great? Was she prepared to yield herself to it,
her cherished independence, her very life, and become a slave again? Was
she going to stake all she had—all that the unknown future might hold
for her—upon one fatal throw? To be absorbed into this tragic
atmosphere, to feel the ground unstable beneath her feet, to hear the
grim clash of antagonisms shattering the peace, to be in bondage to this
man of harsh judgments and unrestrained passions,—to be a slave again,
perhaps to cower as Lucy had cowered from his ungoverned fury! But no!
She would never do that! Sheer pride came to her aid, and she
straightened herself with a little smile of self-ridicule. Why was she
permitting this panic? She knew herself well enough to be quite sure she
would never do that.

“I believe I could manage him alone,” she reflected. “But in this
atmosphere of servitude and oppression—well, of course—” she laughed a
faint laugh and felt the better for it—“any man would be bound to
become a tyrant—like the Bishop—only worse.” Her letter slipped from
her grasp, and she stooped to recover it. Something of the old official
attitude was hers as she sat up again and prepared to open it. “Well, we
will put a stop to this anyhow,” she said with decision. “And then we
must consider the best and safest way of leaving Tetherstones without
giving rise to foolish conjecture.”

Again that odd little smile of hers tilted her lips. The feeling of
dismay had gone.

“I shall get over it all right,” she said. “It’s a pity of course, but
it isn’t big enough yet to hurt me much. If I had been younger—” she
lifted her head suddenly—“but dash it, I’m not so old as that. If he
wants me he must get rid of his retinue of slaves and take the trouble
to win me. But to add me to the number—make me the chief one at
that—no, no, no!” She shook her head in humorous negation. “It isn’t
good enough, my dear man. Love doesn’t thrive in that soil.”

But even as she said it, a little gibing voice rose up in her soul and
mocked her. Who was she to say from what small beginnings Love the
Immortal might spring? Like the wonderful, purple flower on the grey
stone arch in the Palace garden that no human hand had ever planted!

She opened her letter almost absent-mindedly, and began to read it with
an interest as impersonal as she would have bestowed upon the letter of
an employer.

    “Circe—beloved enchantress,” so the letter ran. “Am I to have
    no word from you? It is getting urgent, and I have news for you.
    First, let me make a confession! When I left you that evening at
    the cottage, I stole one of your sketches—the one of the
    stepping-stones. I sent it to a friend of mine in town, and have
    to-day received it back. He speaks very highly of it, and
    declares you have a living in your talent, if not a fortune. How
    does that appeal to you? The old woman tells me you are better,
    but that you are staying on at Tetherstones. I must see you
    somewhere where we can talk undisturbed. Will you come to the
    Stones to-night at ten? I will wait for you there.

                       “Yours with all my love as ever.      M. R.”

So that was why he had written a second time! He had news for her. Such
news as she had little expected—news that made her heart leap wildly.
This was freedom. This was deliverance. Strange that they should have
come to her by his hand!

No further doubt existed in her mind with regard to meeting him. She
would certainly meet him. She put her letter away with a business-like
precision that wholly banished her agitation. It was the best tonic that
she could possibly have received. She wondered what had made him take
the trouble, and the thought of being under an obligation to him
oppressed her for a time, but she thrust it away from her. She could not
afford to be too scrupulous in this particular. To make her own living
successfully seemed to her at that moment the goal of all desire.

The arrival of Nell with her tray diverted her thoughts. Nell’s face was
flushed, her eyes round and indignant.

“A nice family of wild beasts you must think us!” she said, as she
dumped the tray on a corner of the dressing-table. “I suppose you’re
making plans to leave us by the next train. It’s enough to make you.”

Frances looked at her, and saw that she was near to angry tears. “My
dear child,” she said gently, “please put that idea quite out of your
mind! When I go—and it will probably be soon now that I am so much
better—it won’t be with any feelings of that sort. It will only be with
the very warmest gratitude to you all for your goodness to me.”

“Do you mean that?” said Nell.

“Of course I mean it,” Frances said.

“Well, I’m glad—awfully glad.” The girl spoke with honest feeling.
“We’re all so fond of you, Miss Thorold, and we do do our best to make
you happy. It isn’t our fault that—that—” She checked herself. “I
expect you understand that,” she ended more calmly.

“I know you are all much too kind to me,” Frances said.

“We’re not!” said Nell stoutly. “We’d do anything for you. And we hate
you to think us rough and ill-mannered. It’s Arthur’s fault if you do,
but even he means well.”

“But, my dear, I don’t,” Frances protested.

“Sure?” said Nell.

“Yes, quite sure.” Frances laid a friendly hand on her arm. “I couldn’t
think anything horrid of you if I tried,” she said.

“Thank you,” said Nell somewhat pathetically. “It’s rather hard to be
judged by one’s men-folk, I sometimes think. They can be such beasts.”

“I expect it depends how you take them,” said Frances practically.

Nell looked at her with a hint of envy. “It’s all right for you,” she
said. “You’re not under any man’s heel.”

“I have been,” said Frances, with a sudden memory of the Bishop. “But I
never shall be again.”

“You will be if you marry,” said Nell.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” smiled Frances. “But as I am not going to marry,
that is beside the point.”

“How nice to be sure you don’t want to!” said the girl with a sigh.

Whereat Frances laughed with a curious lightheartedness. “I didn’t say
that, did I? But women of my age think twice before they sign away their
liberty.”

“Your age!” Nell stared. “Why, I thought you were quite young!” she
said, then blushed violently and turned to go. “Oh, I suppose I oughtn’t
to have said that—but it’s true!”

The door closed behind her upon the words, and Frances was left still
laughing. “What can have come to them all?” she said. “Me—young! If I
am, it’s something in the air that has made me so. I never used to be!”

And then a fantastic thought came to her, checking her laughter. She had
never been young before. She had never had time to be young. Could it be
possible that for her, here at Tetherstones, life had but just begun? If
so—if so—was she right to turn away from aught that life might have to
offer?


                               CHAPTER XI
                                FAILURE

Well as she knew the way to the Stones from the farm, she had never
trodden it save on that one occasion in the fog when Ruth had been her
guide. They were approached by a steep and winding lane that led up
between high banks to the still steeper track on the open moor that ran
directly to them. The whole distance could not be more than half-a-mile,
she reflected, as she sat in her room that evening, considering the task
that lay before her.

She hoped to accomplish it unobserved, for she knew that the entire
household retired by nine, and some of its members even before that hour
in view of the early rising that the farm work entailed; and since she
had no intention of allowing her interview with Rotherby to be unduly
prolonged, she anticipated that the whole adventure need not take more
than half-an-hour or at the most three-quarters. She intended to assume
an attitude so prosaically business-like that he would find it
impossible to return, or even to attempt to return, to their former
relations. In fact, she felt herself to be armed at every point and
ready for him. For she felt neither attraction nor repulsion for him
now, merely a sort of cold-blooded, wholly impersonal, interest in him
as a stepping-stone to that independence which was the dream of her
life. It seemed he could help her; therefore she was not in a position
to throw him aside. But as a man she scarcely regarded him at all. He
had become no more than the medium for the attainment of her
ambition—the stepping-stone to ambition—no more than that. How often
in life do we thus deceive ourselves, imagining ourselves free and not
discerning the bonds of our slavery?

The coming of Dolly at nine o’clock was usually the signal of the
general retirement of the rest of the family, but Dolly was a little
late that night. She and Milly had been absent for the whole day and
they evidently had a good deal to talk about. When Dolly came to her
eventually, it was nearly half-an-hour later than usual. Frances was
sitting by her open window, watching the moon rise.

“So you’re not in bed yet!” said Dolly. “I was afraid you would be tired
of waiting.”

“Oh, no,” Frances said. “I can quite easily put myself to bed, thank
you. Have you had a good day? Has all gone well?”

“Oh, yes, on the whole. We were rather surprised to come upon Oliver in
Fordestown on our way back. It isn’t like him to absent himself without
permission, especially at such a time as harvest. Of course we thought
Arthur had given him leave. Did you know he was going?”

“I?” said Frances, and stared for a moment in amazement; then suddenly
remembered the reason of his going and felt the unwelcome knowledge burn
her. “What makes you ask?” she said, after a moment.

“Oh, nothing.” Dolly came to her to take down her hair. “Ruth said he
was talking to you just before he went, that was all. I wondered if
possibly he might have mentioned what he was going to do and why. It
doesn’t matter in the least. There will probably be a row when he comes
back, that’s all. He generally manages to get round Arthur, but I don’t
think he will this time.”

“I should like to do my hair myself to-night,” said Frances. “Thank you
very much. I am really strong enough now, and I am sure you must be very
tired after your long day.”

“Just as you like,” said Dolly. “I am not tired at all. In fact, if it
weren’t for getting up in the morning, I should feel inclined to sit up
and see what happens.”

“But what can happen?” questioned Frances quickly.

Dolly laughed briefly. “Well, he can find himself locked out for the
night, that’s all—unless Arthur sits up for him. But I should hardly
think he’ll do that. He has got to be up early himself.”

“What will he do if he is locked out?” asked Frances.

“Probably one of the girls—Maggie—would let him in if the coast were
clear. If not, he would have to sleep out somewhere. That wouldn’t kill
him,” said Dolly cheerfully. “Well, if you are sure you can manage all
right—Have you had a good day?”

“Quite, thank you,” said Frances. “Good night! I am feeling much
stronger than I was and quite able to put myself to bed.”

“That’s all right,” said Dolly. “It’s much pleasanter to do for oneself,
isn’t it?”

She went, and Frances was once more alone. She blew out the candle that
Dolly had lighted and settled down again to wait.

Dolly’s news was disquieting. She had hoped that all the household would
have been wrapped in slumber before the time arrived for her own
expedition, but it seemed that this was not to be. She wondered how she
would manage to elude observation. She hated the thought of creeping out
by stealth, but there seemed to be no help for it. Time was getting
short, and if Arthur proposed to sit up for the defaulter she would have
no choice but to risk it.

Slowly the harvest moon mounted in the sky. The boughs of the cedar-tree
stood out black against the radiance. She rose at last and wrapped her
shawl about her. The night was warm, and she would not be long. She had
not heard Arthur pass her door, so she concluded that he was still in
the kitchen. She had thought the whole matter out and decided upon her
plan of action. There was a casement window in the parlour, easily
opened and near the ground. She would not need to pass the kitchen to
reach this room, and only the window of the old man’s study overlooked
that corner of the garden. She felt sure that he would have retired long
since, and even if he had not, he was the last person in the world to
act the spy.

She smiled to herself as cautiously she opened her door. A certain
spirit of adventure had entered into her; her brain was cool, her nerves
steady. She was even conscious of a mischievous feeling of elation. It
seemed so long since she had taken any step on her own initiative. She
realized that the general sense of bondage had begun to oppress her
also.

The passage was in darkness, but a light was dimly burning at the foot
of the stairs. Arthur was sitting up, then. She wondered what would
happen when Oliver returned, if there would be high words between the
two men, if Oliver would manage to vindicate himself, or carry the
situation with a high hand as on the previous occasion which she had
witnessed. Then Oliver’s warning came back upon her, his urgent words,
his barely disguised agitation. He had been very much in earnest when he
had counselled her to dismiss Rotherby. What did it all mean, she
wondered? Perhaps Rotherby himself might be able to throw light upon the
mystery.

She crept to the head of the stairs and paused. As she did so, she heard
the soft opening of a door a few yards behind her, and a chink of light
gleamed along the passage. It was impossible to return to her room
unobserved, but she was dressed in grey and the shawl she wore was a
dark one. She knew herself to be invisible against the wall in the
gloom, and she stood up against it and waited.

In a second or two a white-clad figure stole out, came bare-footed
almost as far as her hiding-place, but stopped just short of it and hung
over the banisters to listen. Frances stood rigid, not daring to
breathe. In a moment there came a faint sob from the bending figure so
close to her, and a sharp dart of compassion went through Frances. She
was actually on the verge of betraying herself when there came another
sound from along the passage, the creak of footsteps, a piercing
whisper—Elsie’s:—“Maggie, what are you doing there? Maggie, come back
to bed! We’ll never wake in time to get the cows milked if you don’t.”

Another figure came sturdily into view with the words, and Maggie turned
sharply back to meet it.

“Oh, Elsie, I thought you were asleep!” she said.

“I was,” said Elsie. “And then I found you weren’t there. For goodness’
sake, be sensible and come to bed! What is the good of hanging about out
here?”

“I’m worried about Oliver,” Maggie said rather piteously. “Will there be
a row, do you think?”

“Good gracious, I don’t know,” said Elsie. “Don’t care either. Oliver’s
quite capable of taking care of himself. If he isn’t—well, I’ve no use
for him. Come along to bed, do, and don’t make a fuss about nothing!”

“Arthur was in a bad mood this evening,” protested Maggie. “I expect
that’s why Oliver went without asking. He knew it wouldn’t be any good.
Oh, I wish he hadn’t done it. I’m so afraid——”

She left the sentence unfinished, for suddenly there sounded a movement
from below, followed by the tread of a man’s feet on the stairs.

“Come on!” said Elsie, and the two girls fled back to their room.

The impulse to follow their example seized upon Frances, but in a moment
she restrained it. The chances were very much against his seeing her,
and she had fled from him once that day. Pride came to the aid of her
courage, and she remained where she was.

He came up the stairs heavily, as if weary. He carried no light, but he
had not extinguished the glimmer below. Presumably he had left this for
Oliver’s benefit. Further along the passage, the moonlight filtered in
through a latticed window, but the stairs themselves were in almost
complete darkness.

Slowly he ascended them. He was close to her now, and involuntarily she
shrank from him, pressing harder against the wall. She felt her heart
begin to beat fast and loud, and wondered if he would hear it in the
silence. But he came on and passed her without a sign. Then, as she
still stood there palpitating against the wall, she heard him go
deliberately along the passage to the door through which the two girls
had just retreated, and open it without ceremony.

His voice come to her where she stood. “If either of you comes out again
to-night, there’ll be trouble, so take warning and stay where you are!”

He shut the door again without waiting for any reply and turned aside
into his own room.

It was her opportunity and she seized it. Swiftly she gathered herself
together, stood a second poised and listening, then, hearing nothing,
began to descend the stairs.

They creaked beneath her feet notwithstanding her utmost caution, but no
sound came to her from above, and she went on with increasing rapidity.

Reaching the foot, she discovered that the glimmer of light came from
the half-open kitchen door. Evidently a lamp was burning within, and
that seemed to indicate that Arthur meant to return. But her way lay in
the opposite direction, and she slipped into the dark passage that led
to the parlour.

She thought she knew the place by heart, but there was one thing she had
forgotten. Half-way to the parlour, in an angle of the wall, there stood
an old oak settle, and into this she suddenly ran headlong. The settle
scraped on the stone floor with the force of the impact, and she herself
fell over it with arms outstretched, bruised and half-stunned with the
violence of the collision. It all took place so rapidly, and her dismay
was such, that she scarcely knew what had happened to her ere the sound
of feet on the stairs told her that she was discovered. She sank down in
a quivering heap on the floor, gasping and helpless, no longer
attempting any concealment. And in another moment Arthur had reached
her, was bending over her, feeling for her, lifting her.

She gave herself into his hold with a curious sense of fatalism.


                              CHAPTER XII
                           THE FIRES OF HELL

She had never before so fully realized the grim, uncompromising strength
of the man as at that moment. The day before he had lifted and borne her
as though she had been a child. To-night she was a pigmy in the grasp of
a giant.

He carried her without words to the kitchen and set her down there in
the leathern arm-chair. She had a glimpse of his face as he did so, and
it was as it had been earlier in the day—a mask of anger.

He did not speak to her, but went to a cupboard in the wall and took
therefrom a bottle and a glass. Weak and trembling from her fall, she
watched him pour out a small dose of spirit and add thereto water from a
jug on the dresser. Then he came back to her, stooped and put it to her
lips. His arm was behind her head as she drank. She felt the strong
support of it, the compulsion of the hand that held the glass. But she
could not raise her eyes to his. She drank in mute submission.

The dose steadied her, and she sat up. His silence oppressed her like a
crushing weight. She felt it must be broken at all costs.

“I am so sorry to have given you this trouble,” she said. “You will
think me very strange, but I am afraid I can’t explain anything. I will
go back to my room.”

He set down the glass with decision and spoke. “I am sorry to appear
unreasonable—or anything else unpleasant. But I am afraid I can’t let
you go back to your room at present.”

She turned and gazed at him. “What on earth do you mean?”

His look came to her, and his anger seemed to smite her as with physical
force. “My reasons—like yours—won’t bear explanation,” he said.

She gripped the arms of her chair. Had she heard him aright? The thing
was unbelievable. “Are you mad?” she said.

He was standing squarely in front of her. He smiled—a smile that turned
her cold. “That I can’t tell you. What is madness? I know I have got you
here—in my power. And I know I mean to keep you. If that is madness,
well—” he lifted his shoulders slightly, the old characteristic
movement—“then I am mad.”

She stared at him in growing apprehension. Was the man sober? The doubt
flashed through her mind and vanished. He was so deadly calm in his
anger. He had locked away his fury as if it were a flaming furnace
behind iron doors. But his strength was terrible, unsparing. It menaced
her, whichever way she turned.

But her spirit was reviving. It was not her way to submit meekly to the
mastery of any man. Very suddenly she rose and faced him. “This is more
than I will endure,” she said, speaking briefly and clearly. “Nothing on
earth shall keep me in this room against my will!”

She needed to pass him to reach the door into the passage. He stood
squarely in her path. She heard him draw a hard breath.

“There is such a thing as brute force,” he said.

She looked him straight in the eyes. “You wouldn’t dare!”

His eyes leaped to flame, holding hers. “Don’t tempt me!” he said,
between his teeth.

That checked her for a moment. Something seemed to clutch at her heart.
Then pride leaped up full-armed, and she flung it from her. She laughed
in his face.

“Do you think you are going to treat me as one of your slaves?” she said
contemptuously, and made to pass him.

He flung out an arm before her. His voice came, low and passionate. It
was as if the locked doors were opening. She felt the scorching heat
behind.

“If you attempt to pass me—you do it at your own risk,” he said.

She stopped. His eyes seemed to be consuming her. In spite of herself,
she shrank, averting her own.

“At your own risk,” he said again, and very slowly his arm fell.

There followed a silence that was somehow appalling. She stood as one
paralysed. She would have returned to her chair, but lacked the
strength. So he was in earnest, this extraordinary man. He actually
meant to hold her against her will. And wherefore? She almost challenged
him with the question, but something held her back—perhaps it was the
consciousness of that intolerable heat of which she had been aware with
the utterance of his last words.

She spoke at length. “I don’t understand you. What is the matter?”

He made a harsh sound in his throat; it was as though he choked a laugh.
“Do you really wish me to be more explicit? If so, by all means let us
drop all subterfuge and come down to bare facts! Why are you trying to
creep out of the house by stealth? Answer me!”

It was he then who meant to force a battle. The sudden knowledge gave
her back her courage, but she knew it for the courage of desperation.

She lifted her head and faced him. “What is that to you? Does the fact
that I have been your guest—your helpless and involuntary
guest—entitle you to control my movements or to demand an account of
them? I resent your attitude, and I absolutely repudiate your authority.
You may keep me here against my will—if you are coward enough. But you
will never—however long you wait—induce me to confide my affairs to
you. And let me tell you this! When I leave this house, I shall
never—no, never—enter it again!”

Fiercely she flung the words, answering challenge with challenge,
realizing that it was only by launching herself on the torrent of her
anger that she could hope to make any headway against him. For he stood
in her path like an opposing force, waiting to hurl her back.

Panting, she ceased to speak. The effort of her defiance was beginning
to cost her dear. Almost by instinct she groped for the table and
supported herself against it, conscious of a whirling tumult in her
brain that she was powerless to still. Too late she realized that the
power to which she had entrusted herself had betrayed her.

She saw it in his face—the sudden mockery that gleamed in his eyes. He
spoke, and his words cut with a stabbing accuracy straight through the
armour of her indignation. “Had I known—what I now know,” he said,
“What I might have known from the beginning from the manner of your
coming, I certainly would not have entertained you in this house. I have
my sisters to think of.”

“Ah!” she said, and no more; for words failed her. The horror of it
overwhelmed her utterly and completely. It seemed to her that she had
never known the meaning of pain until that moment—pain that bereft her
of all normal self-control—pain that made her gasp in sheer agony.

The walls of the room seemed to be closing in upon her. She felt her
feet slip away from under her. Desperately she tried to recover her
balance, failed, sought to cling to the table but felt her hands could
find no hold upon the hard wood.

And then there came the consciousness of his arms surrounding her. He
lifted her, he held her to him, and she felt again the awful flame of
his look, consuming her.

“And I loved you!” he said. “I—loved you!”

She fought against him breathlessly, feeling that if his lips touched
hers life would never be endurable again. But he mastered her without
apparent effort. He conquered her slowly, with a fiendish precision that
was as iron to her soul. With that dreadful smile upon his face he
overcame her spasmodic struggles for freedom. He kissed her, and by his
kiss he quelled her resistance; for she felt the fires of hell, and
fainted in his hold.


                              CHAPTER XIII
                                 ESCAPE

Was it a dream—a nightmare of her fevered brain? Was she back again in
the tortures of her long illness, with Lucy and Nell whispering behind
the screen, wondering how soon the end would come? Had she imagined that
dreadful struggle against overwhelming odds? If so, why was she lying
here, gazing at the fitful firelight on the oak rafters of the kitchen
instead of on her bed upstairs? Or was this too a dream—a strange,
illogical fantasy of her diseased imaginings?

She was very tired—that much she knew—sick with long delirium or too
great exertion. Her limbs were as lead. And at the back of her mind
there hovered that dreadful shadow—was it memory? Was it
illusion?—that filled her with a sense of terror indescribable.

But consciousness was returning. Her brain was groping for the truth,
and the truth was coming to her gradually, inevitably, inexorably. She
remembered her flight down the stairs, her headlong fall in the passage.
She remembered the coming of Arthur, the brief interview in the kitchen,
his terrible unspoken accusation. She remembered his kiss. . . .

Again the anguish burned her soul; she thrust it from her with a sick
shudder. It was more than she could bear.

Then she awoke to the fact that she was lying on the stones before the
fire with a man’s coat spread under her. Trembling, she raised herself
and found she was alone.

The moonlight filtered in through the bars of the unshuttered window,
mingling with the firelight. The lamp that had burned on the dresser was
gone. She found the table within her reach and dragged herself up by it,
but it was many seconds before she mustered strength to stand alone.

At last with difficulty she made her way to the door that led into the
passage, turned the handle and found it locked. Her heart stirred oddly
within her like a stricken thing too weak for violent emotion. She crept
round the room to the door into the yard. This also was locked and the
key gone. The window was barred. She was a prisoner.

She went to the window and stood before it. It looked on to thick laurel
bushes that successfully screened the farm-yard from view. Standing
thus, there came to her a sudden sound across the stillness of the
night, a sound that seemed to galvanize her to a more vivid
consciousness of tragedy—the report of a gun. It was followed
immediately by another, and then the silence fell again—a silence that
could be felt. Tensely, with every nerve stretched, she listened, but
though her ears sang with the effort she heard no more. The moonlight
and the silence possessed the world.

She began to think of the Stones, of Rotherby and his fruitless vigil,
of Oliver. And then—a thing of terror leaping out of the
darkness—another thought seized upon her. Oliver’s warning—Rotherby’s
danger—the gun-shot she had just heard. Following that, came the memory
of her letter, delayed and at length delivered. That brought
illumination. The letter had been opened and read. It was from that
letter that Arthur had framed his conclusions. Recalling it, she
realized that it had been couched in the terms of a lover. But what vile
impulse had induced him to open it? And by what means had Oliver become
aware of the danger? Her brain was alert now and leaping from point to
point with amazing rapidity. Oliver’s knowledge had come from Ruth. Then
there was some reason apart from that letter to herself for which
Montague Rotherby was accounted an enemy. Remembering Oliver’s very
obvious anxiety, she marvelled, seeking for an explanation. Was he aware
of Arthur’s passion for herself? Had he really feared that jealousy
might drive him to extremes? She found herself shivering again. What had
actually happened? Had Rotherby been surprised at the Stones, waiting
for her? Had Arthur——

A feeling of physical sickness came upon her so overwhelmingly that she
had to sit down to combat it.

Slowly the minutes crawled away, and again through her fainting soul
there beat the old, throbbing prayer: “From all evil and mischief, from
sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil, Good Lord deliver us.”

Her lips were still repeating the words mechanically when through the
dreadful stillness there came at length a sound—the soft trying of the
handle and then the turning of the key.

Frances raised her head. In that night of dreadful happenings she had
not expected deliverance. The coming of it was like a dream. A small
white figure stood on the threshold, barefooted, with face upraised,
listening.

“Are you here?” whispered a childish voice.

“My dear!” Frances said.

The little figure came forward. The moonlight fell upon the upturned,
flower-like face. “Please will you take me to sleep with you to-night?”
she said.

Strength came back to Frances. The instinct to protect awoke within her,
reviving her. She got up and went to the child.

“What made you come to me here, Rosebud?” she said.

“I thought you called me,” Ruth answered. “But perhaps it was a dream. I
thought you were frightened, as you were that night at the Stones. You
are very cold. Are you frightened?”

“I have been,” Frances said.

Ruth pressed close to her. “Has someone been unkind to you? Is it—is it
Uncle Arthur?”

But Frances could not answer her. She was conscious of a weight of tears
at her heart to which she dared not give vent.

“Shall we go upstairs?” said Ruth, with soft fingers entwined in hers.
“And perhaps you will be able to sleep.”

She yielded to the child’s guidance as she had yielded before without
hesitation or misgiving. They went out into the passage. But here a
sudden sound made her pause—it was the opening of the door that led
into the garden.

Ruth pulled at her hand. “It is only Grandpa. He is always late to bed.”

But Frances drew back sharply. “You run up, darling!” she whispered. “I
can’t come yet.”

“Oh, please come!” said little Ruth.

But though she heard a piteous note in the child’s voice, she could not.
She freed her hand from Ruth’s clasp. “Run up!” she repeated. “I will
come afterwards—if I can.”

What impulse it was that urged her she could not have said, but it was
too strong to be resisted. She saw Ruth start obediently but somewhat
forlornly up the stairs, and she drew herself back into a deep recess
under the staircase and crouched there, not breathing.

Ruth was right. It was the old man who had entered. She discerned him
dimly as he came up the passage, moving with the weary gait of age. He
paused at the kitchen-door as though he were listening, and she shrank
more closely into her hiding-place, dreading discovery. But in a moment
he pushed open the door and entered, closing it behind him.

Then the impulse to escape came to her, or perhaps it had been there,
dormant against her breathless heart, the whole time. She saw the place
as a monstrous prison, stone-walled and terrible, herself a captive
guarded on all sides, helpless, beaten by circumstances, broken by Fate.
And then this chance—this solitary chance of freedom.

Swiftly upon the closing of that door, she left her retreat, stole along
the passage to the door, lifted the latch and was out upon the brick
path in the moonlight.

The hollyhocks looked tall and ghostly; the garden lay before her as if
asleep. She caught her shawl about her, and fled along the narrow path.
She reached the door in the wall, and opening it peered forth. There was
no weakness about her now. She was inspired by the strength that is
borne of utter need.

She saw no one, and so slipped out on to the lawn by the bed of
mignonette in front of the dairy-window. The scent of it rose up in the
night like incense. As a thief she crept along in the shadow of the
house to the gate that led into the farmyard.

And here Roger greeted her with loud yells of delight from his kennel.
She cowered back against the wall, but he continued to cheer and make
merry over her unexpected appearance for many seconds, till the
conviction that his enthusiasm had failed to elicit any response from
her suddenly dawned upon him, and he broke into howls of disappointment,
punctuated with urgent whines of encouragement and persuasion.

Discovery seemed inevitable, and the courage of despair entered into
Frances. Later she marvelled at herself, but at the time she was
scarcely aware of making any effort, either mental or physical. Quite
suddenly, as if propelled by a force outside her, she found herself
calmly walking forward to the gate. It opened at her touch so easily
that it might have been opened for her, and she walked through, hearing
it swing creaking behind her between the renewed shouts of jubilation
from Roger.

She passed him by, looking neither to right nor left, neither hastening
nor lingering, hearing his wails of grief again behind her as she went.
She reached the further gate and found it stood open to the lane. Very
steadily she passed through and began to walk down the hill between the
steep banks. The scent of honeysuckle came to her here, so
overpoweringly that she caught her breath with an odd feeling of hurt.

Then—and it seemed to her later that this was the very thing she had
been expecting—the one thing for which she had come—there sounded on
the hill behind her the whirr of an engine, the slipping of wheels in
the mud. Quite calmly still she turned and faced the lights of a small
car coming rapidly down upon her. She did not know how it happened, or
how near she was to death,—at that moment it would not have interested
her to know—but she heard a shout and the sharp grinding of a brake
applied to the utmost, followed by the ominous sound of locked wheels
that grated to a standstill within a yard of her. Afterwards she
remembered thinking that that hot, protesting engine was like a dragon
baulked of its prey.

“Who is it?” cried a man’s voice. “What the devil do you want? I’m in a
hurry.”

The voice was agitated; it had a desperate sound. This also she noticed,
but her own was clear and calm.

“Will you take me with you?” she said. “I am going your way.”

“Frances!” he said in amazement.

“Will you take me?” she repeated.

“Of course I will take you! Get in! Get in!”

She moved along the side of the car. His hand came out to her, the door
swung open.

The next moment they were rushing down the lane into a gulf of
blackness, and she knew that the prison-walls would menace her no more.



                                PART III


                               CHAPTER I
                               THE VICTIM

Of that wild rush through the night Frances never recalled any very
clear detail afterwards. She only knew a strange dazzle of moonlight
that filled the world, making all things seem unreal, and once she
fancied she caught a glimpse of the Stones grimly outlined upon a
distant hill.

Her companion never spoke to her, his whole attention apparently being
occupied in forcing the utmost speed from his car, despite the extreme
unevenness of the moorland road they travelled. In the end they ran into
a little town and straight up the one broad street in an inn, Frances
always remembered the sign-board of that inn, for it was the first thing
that made a definite impression upon her after her flight. The inn was
called _The Man in the Moon_, and the sign-board portrayed the same,
being an enormous yellow face with the most quizzing expression possible
to imagine—a face that would have provoked a smile from the least
humorous. Somehow that face served to jolt Frances back to the ordinary
and the commonplace. It enabled her to put the overwhelming sense of
tragedy away from her and assume something of her old brisk and
business-like attitude.

“Is this where you are staying?” she said.

“Yes,” said Rotherby. “It’s comfortable enough in a homely way. Will you
get out?”

She turned in the seat and faced him. By the light of the moon he looked
ghastly pale, but he managed to call up a smile.

“If there is another inn in the place I’ll go to it,” said Frances.

“I’m afraid there isn’t,” said Rotherby. “And you probably wouldn’t get
in if there were. But you needn’t be anxious on that account. I’ll call
you my sister if you like.”

His manner reassured her. Moreover, he had the look of a man at the end
of his strength. She wondered what had happened to affect him so.

She got out of the car without further discussion and waited while he
ran it under an archway into the stableyard. It seemed a long while
before he joined her again, and then she noticed that he moved with a
curiously halting gait, almost as if he were feeling his way.

“It’s all right,” he said, as he reached her. “The door’s open. Come
inside!”

He extended a hand to push it back for her, but very strangely the
intention was frustrated. It was as if he had found some obstacle in his
path. And as she turned towards him in surprise he suddenly uttered an
inarticulate exclamation and grabbed at her arm. She was aware of his
whole weight flung abruptly upon her, and she caught at him, supporting
him as best she could.

He staggered against the door-post, breathing heavily. “I shall be all
right in a minute—in a minute,” he gasped out. “Just hold me up—if you
can! I won’t faint.”

She held him up, exerting all her strength.

Several dreadful seconds passed, then he made a determined effort and
straightened himself. As he did so, she felt the sleeve of his coat at
the elbow and found it wet through. A ghastly doubt assailed her.

“What has happened?” she said through trembling lips. “Your arm! Is
it—is it——”

“Blood? Yes. I got it in the shoulder. Don’t be frightened! I shall get
over it. Can you open the door?”

He spoke jerkily, but with more assurance. Frances opened the door with
a sick wonder if the horrors of that night would ever pass.

Rotherby staggered in, and she followed him closely, half expecting him
to fall headlong. But he had mastered himself to a certain extent, and
she heard him speak with some authority to the shock-headed landlord who
came sleepily out of the bar-parlour to meet them.

“This lady is my sister. Can you give her a comfortable room for the
night?”

“There’s the room you told me to prepare, sir,” said the man, with a
loutish grin.

“That’ll do. Take her to it! See that she has everything she wants! Good
night, Frances! You follow him! I shall see you in the morning.”

Rotherby spoke calmly, but it was through clenched teeth.

Frances stood hesitating. The landlord waited at the foot of a steep,
ill-lighted staircase.

“That’s all,” said Rotherby. “I’m sorry I can’t do more to-night.”

He was obviously putting strong restraint upon himself. Frances waited a
moment longer, then spoke.

“I can’t—possibly—leave you like this. You have been hurt. You must
let me do what I can to help you.”

Again for an instant she saw his smile, and she saw the clenched teeth
behind it.

“I shall be all right,” he said again. “I don’t think there is anything
to be done. It isn’t serious. I’ll see a doctor in the morning if
necessary.”

But Frances was too practical to be thus reassured. “You must let me
help you,” she said. “You must.”

He yielded the point abruptly. “Very well—if you wish it. Get some hot
water, Jarvis! I’ve had a bit of an accident.”

He moved forward to the stairs, and Frances went with him, feeling
herself once more the victim of an inexorable Fate.

They went up together, Rotherby stumbling until she gave him her arm to
steady him. Reaching a small landing on which a gas-jet burned low, he
directed her into a room with an open door, and they entered, he leaning
upon her.

The moonlight flooded in through the uncovered window, and she saw that
it was a bedroom with an old four-poster bed. She helped Rotherby to it,
and he sank down upon the foot with a sigh of relief.

“Have you got any matches?” she said.

“In my pocket—on the right,” he said. “Can you get them?”

She felt for and found them. As she stood up again he surprised her by
catching her hand to his lips. She drew it quickly away, and he said
nothing.

She lighted the gas, that flared starkly in the shabby, old-fashioned
room, and turned round to him again, forcing herself to a calm and
matter-of-fact attitude.

“Shall I help you off with your coat?” she said.

He turned to her suddenly, and she was conscious of an unwilling
admiration of the man’s courage when she saw the effort of his smile.

“I say, don’t dislike me so!” he said. “I’ll make Jarvis help me. Don’t
you stay! There’s a room for you next-door—my room as a matter of fact,
but I’ll stay in here for to-night.”

Against her will she was softened. Something about him—something which
he neither uttered nor betrayed by look or gesture—appealed to her very
strongly. She found herself unable to comply with his suggestion and
abandon him to the mercy of the landlord who was even now lumbering
heavily up the stairs. She realized clearly that whatever came of this
night’s happenings, she was bound in common humanity to stand by
Rotherby now. No other course of action was open to her.

“I shall not leave you,” she said, “till I have done all I can to help
you—unless you make that impossible for me.”

“Heaven forbid!” said Rotherby, still smiling his twisted smile.

“Well, I am in earnest,” she said, as she bent to help him.

“I like you best that way,” said Rotherby.

She felt that in some fashion he had worsted her, but she put the matter
resolutely away from her. It was not the moment for close analysis of
the situation. She could only go as she was driven.

With the utmost care she helped him remove his coat, and was shocked to
find that the shirt-sleeve was soaked with blood from shoulder to elbow.

“Don’t let Jarvis see!” said Rotherby sharply, and she covered it while
the man was in the room.

Jarvis was too sleepy or too fuddled to be curious. He merely set down
the can, wished them good night and stumped away.

Then Frances bent to her work. She found a jagged wound in the shoulder,
from which the blood was still oozing, and she proceeded to bathe it
with a strip of linen torn from the shirt-sleeve. The means at her
disposal were wholly elementary, but she performed her task with a
deftness that was characteristic of her, finding with infinite relief
that the wound was not vitally deep. Rotherby endured her ministrations
with a stoicism that again stirred her to admiration. He seemed bent
upon making the business as easy for her as possible.

“Don’t mind me!” he said once. “Just go ahead! I’ll tell you if I can’t
stand it.”

And then when she had finished at last, he told her where to find some
handkerchiefs for bandaging purposes in the room that he occupied.

“You will go to a doctor in the morning, won’t you?” she said, pausing.
“I have only cleansed it. There is bound to be some shot in the wound.”

“Some what?” said Rotherby, and looked at her with one of his most
quizzical glances though his face was still drawn with pain. “Oh, didn’t
I tell you that I tore it on some barbed wire?”

She felt herself colour deeply, but she did not take up the challenge.
“I should go to a doctor all the same,” she said quietly.

He laughed at her with a touch of impudence that she could not resent.
“Very good, Sister Superior, I will. Now if you don’t mind tying me up,
I shall be grateful. Where would you like me to sleep—in this room, or
my own?”

“In your own,” she said firmly.

He sobered suddenly at her tone. “Look here, you won’t run away in the
night, will you? I promise you—I swear to you—I’ll play the game.”

What game, she wondered? But she did not put the wonder into words.

“I have nowhere to run to,” she said, and turned away from him that he
might not see the bitterness on her face.

When she returned with the handkerchiefs she was a practical self once
more. But she was beginning to be conscious of intense physical
weariness, and she felt a sense of gratitude to him for noticing it.

“I say, you are tired! You’ve been ill, haven’t you?”

“I am well again,” she said.

He swept the assurance aside. “You don’t look it. Don’t bother about me
any more! Oh, well, just tie a wet pad over it and then leave me to my
fate!”

He became urgent in his solicitude and the knowledge that he was
suffering considerably himself made her respond far more graciously than
would otherwise have been the case.

But when it was over at last, when she was alone in the strange room and
realized how completely that night’s happenings had changed the whole
course of her life, a blackness of despair came down upon her, more
overwhelming than any she had ever known. She cast herself down just as
she was and wept out her agony till sheer exhaustion came upon her and
she drifted at last into the merciful oblivion of dreamless sleep.


                               CHAPTER II
                              THE BARGAIN

It was late in the morning when she awoke in response to a persistent
knocking at the door, on the opening of which she found a bare-armed
country-girl who informed her without preamble that the gentleman was
waiting breakfast for her downstairs. Having delivered this message, she
retired, and Frances was left to perform what toilet she could with the
very limited means at her command.

Her long sleep had refreshed her and she reflected with relief that her
strength was certainly returning. The thought of meeting Montague
Rotherby gave her no dismay. Very strangely he had ceased to possess any
very great importance in her eyes, her only determination being to break
off all connection with him as soon as possible.

Somehow, as she entered the room where he awaited her, she had a feeling
that he had never really mattered very greatly in her life. It was only
what he had stood for—the realization of that part of her being which
had lain dormant for so long, the throbbing certainty that for her also
even the stones of the wilderness might be turned into bread.

She came forward to him, faintly smiling. “Are you better to-day?” she
said.

She did not offer her hand, but he took it. His face twitched a little
at her matter-of-fact greeting. She saw at a glance that he looked ill.

“I’ve had a foul night,” he said. “But it’s not serious. I’m going up to
town. Will you come with me?”

She looked at him, startled. “Oh, no!” she said.

He bit his lip. “Are you still disliking me?” he said.

It was a difficult question to answer, so little did he seem to matter
now. She replied after a moment without any conscious feeling of any
sort.

“No. But I am not coming up to town with you. Is there any particular
reason why I should? You are quite able to go alone, I suppose?”

He stared at her for a few seconds, at first frowningly, then with a
growing cynicism. At length: “What have they done to you at
Tetherstones?” he said. “Since you accepted my protection last
night—more, asked for it—I should have thought there was quite a good
reason why you should be willing to come to town with me to-day.”

“Then you are quite wrong,” she replied very clearly. “I am not prepared
to do anything of the kind.”

His frown deepened for a moment, then passed. “Shall we have breakfast?”
he said. “Then you can tell me what your plans are. I am quite willing
to fall in with them, whatever they may be.”

Her plans! What were her plans? The old pitiless problem presented
itself. Had he meant, she asked herself, thus to bring home to her the
fact of her dependence upon his good offices? What were her plans?

“I have got to think,” she said.

He nodded. “Perhaps I can be of use. I believe I can be. I’ll tell
you—when we’ve finished breakfast—what I meant by suggesting that you
should come up to London with me.”

She wondered if he were referring to the old plan of giving her
secretary work. Or perhaps—though she hardly dared to think it—he was
going to talk about her sketches and the possibilities therein
contained. Against her will, that thought remained with her throughout
the brief meal that they ate together. Upon one point only was she fully
decided. She could live on charity no longer. She was resolutely
determined to work for her living now, whatever that work might be.

She noticed that her companion ate very little, but he seemed fully
master of himself, and she put away the feeling of uneasiness that tried
to take possession of her. She would very thankfully have avoided any
discussion of the events of the previous night, but she knew this to be
inevitable. There were certain things that must be faced.

He pushed back his chair at length and spoke. “There’s only one way out
of this tangle,” he said. “You must realize that as I do. But perhaps I
have not made myself very clear. What I want you to do is to come up to
town and—marry me. Will you do that?” He smiled at her with the words.
“I’m sorry my courtship has hung fire for so long. But you will admit I
am hardly responsible for that. And I am quite ready to make up for lost
time now. What do you say to it?”

Frances was on her feet. He had roused her to feeling at last, but it
was not such feeling as would have moved her a few weeks earlier. She
had to stifle an almost overwhelming sense of indignation before she
could speak.

“It is quite impossible,” she said then, with the utmost emphasis. “It
is quite, quite impossible!”

“Impossible!” He stared at her. “But why? I understood it was what you
wanted. I have a distinct recollection of your telling me so.”

She gasped at the recollection. It stung like a scorpion. “But that was
long ago—long ago,” she said. “I don’t want it now! I
couldn’t—possibly—contemplate such a thing now.”

“But why?” Rotherby insisted in astonishment. Then: “Perhaps you think I
don’t love you. Is that it?”

“Oh, no!” She had begun to tremble. “That wouldn’t make any difference.
At least, it is not that that has made me change my mind.”

“Ah!” he said with a sudden grimness. “Something else has done that.”

She was aware of a sharp pain at her heart that was almost unendurable.
It took all her courage to meet his eyes. But she forced her voice to
steadiness. “Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that I have
come to know my own mind rather than that I have changed it. I thought I
loved you, but it was a mistake. As to whether you ever loved me, I have
no illusions at all. You never did.”

He got up. She saw his face twist as if he were in pain, but she knew
that it was nothing physical that brought that look to his eyes,
banishing the cynicism. “You seem very sure of that,” he said, and
turned from her to light a cigarette. “So I am struck off the list, am
I? Do you think you are altogether wise to do that—after what happened
last night?”

The question surprised her, but it was wholly without malice. She could
not take offence.

She answered him in a low voice, for the first time conscious of the
dread of giving pain. “I have really no choice. I couldn’t do anything
else.”

“What do you propose to do?” he said.

The old maddening question that she had had to answer so often. She
tried to summon the old battling spirit, but it did not respond to her
call. Her pride had been flung in the dust. What did she propose to do?
Was there anything left that could ever restore her self-respect?

With a gesture that was quite unconsciously pathetic, she turned and
went to the window in silence.

Rotherby smoked without speaking for a few seconds. If he felt the
appeal of her hopelessness, he did not show it.

It was she who spoke first at length, without turning, and it was as
though she uttered the words to herself with the dreary persistence of
despair.

“I have got to begin again.”

“What are you going to do?” said Rotherby.

There was a quality of ruthlessness in his voice that pierced her
despair. She swung round abruptly and faced him. There was majesty in
her bearing, though with it was mingled the desperation of the hunted
animal at bay.

“I will work,” she said. “I am not afraid of work. And I don’t care what
I do.”

He came and joined her at the window. “Yes, it sounds all right,” he
said. “But you haven’t the strength, and you know it.”

She shrank at the blunt words, for they struck her hard. She knew—it
was useless to dispute it—that she lacked the strength.

“What is the use of saying that?” she said, protesting almost in spite
of herself.

“Because I want you to see reason,” he rejoined, and she knew that he
recognized his advantage, and would press it to the utmost. “Why don’t
you want to marry me, Circe? You might do very much worse.”

She drew back from him. “Oh, don’t you see that it is out of the
question?” she said. “I couldn’t marry you. I don’t love you.”

She saw his face harden. “That is plain speaking,” he said. “But I want
to know why. What have I done to forfeit your love?”

“But I never loved you,” she said.

“Are you sure of that?” He spoke insistently. “You kissed me. You let me
hold you in my arms.”

She flinched at the recollection, but she compelled herself to face him.
“That was a mistake,” she said.

“You are sure of that?” said Rotherby.

“Quite sure,” she answered with simplicity.

He shifted his ground. “Are you also sure you know what love is?”

She clenched her hands as though in self-defence. “Every woman knows
that,” she said.

“Then how did you come to make a mistake?” he countered.

Again she drew back as from the thrust of a dagger. “Oh, I suppose any
woman might do that, but when once she has found it out—she doesn’t do
it again.”

“How did you come to find out?” said Rotherby.

The inquisition was becoming intolerable, but still she faced him with
resolution. “I have had a good many hours for thought,” she said. “And I
have thought a good deal.”

“At Tetherstones?” he said.

“Yes.”

She saw a gleam of something she did not understand in his look. He
seemed to be watching narrowly for something. He spoke abruptly.

“What I don’t understand—what I want to understand—is why you came
with me last night.”

She answered him with an effort. “I had to get away.”

“Ah!” he said. “It wasn’t on my account then? You weren’t coming to meet
me after all—in spite of my message? Did you get my message?”

She bent her head. “Yes. I had your message. Ruth told me. I was
coming—I was coming—to meet you.”

“Yes?” he said. “Why were you so late?”

She hesitated. She could not tell him of that awful interview in the
farm-kitchen. She could not bring herself so much as to mention Arthur’s
name.

“I was coming to meet you,” she said again. “I didn’t mean to be late.
But they are a strange family. I didn’t want them to know.”

“A very strange family!” said Rotherby. “Why should they know? Your
affairs are your own.”

“Yes. But they have been very kind to me. They might think they had a
right——”

“A right to shoot anyone from outside who wanted to speak to you?” he
said.

“Oh, no—no!” she protested, feeling the hot colour rise overwhelmingly
under his look. “That was a piece of madness.”

“You knew it was going to happen?” he questioned.

“No. I knew you were in some sort of danger. I didn’t know what. I was
coming to warn you.”

Reluctantly she uttered the brief sentences. It was like the betrayal of
her friends.

He seized upon the unwilling admission. “You knew? How did you know?”

She had to answer him. “One of the men on the farm told me. He didn’t
say why—merely that you were in danger—that I had better warn you to
go.”

“And then you decided to come with me?” said Rotherby.

“I decided that I couldn’t stay any longer,” she told him steadily. “You
came up at the right moment, that was all.”

“What?” His eyes searched her again, his expression slowly changing.
“You were running away too, were you?”

She wondered that he did not press the point of the mysterious attack
upon him further, but was thankful that he refrained. She turned from
the subject with relief. “I had to get away,” she said again.

“You’re not going back?” he questioned.

Something rose in her throat. Again she was conscious of that
intolerable pain. She forced her utterance. “Never, no, never!” she
said.

He made no comment, but turned away from her and paced the length of the
room before he spoke again. Then, with his back to her, he paused.

“And yet you would sooner work yourself to death than marry me!”

She answered him immediately with feverish insistence. “Yes, I must
work. I must work. I can’t go on being dependent. I can’t endure it.”

He turned round. “Perhaps—if you were independent—you might regard me
differently,” he said.

She was silent.

He came slowly back to her. “Circe! May I hope for that?”

She looked at him helplessly.

He stood before her. “I swear to you,” he said forcibly, “that no one on
this earth wants you as I do.”

A curious tremor of feeling went through her. She was stirred in spite
of herself.

He put out his hand to her. “Circe!” His voice came oddly uncontrolled.
“Won’t you—can’t you——”

She did not know what moved her—his obvious earnestness or her own
utter friendlessness. But somehow her mood answered his. Her hand went
into his grasp.

“But I must be independent first,” she said. It was the last effort of
her pride. “You’ll help me to be that?”

“I’ll help you,” he said.


                              CHAPTER III
                          THE TURN OF THE TIDE

The days that succeeded her flight from Tetherstones left an
ineradicable impression upon Frances. She maintained her steady refusal
to accompany Rotherby to London, but she did not remain at _The Man in
the Moon_. She found a bedroom over the little Post Office at
Fordestown, and here she established herself, after collecting her few
belongings from her former lodging at Brookside. She had very little
money left, but she built on the hope that her sketches might find a
market. Rotherby had undertaken to do his best to dispose of the one
which he had taken with him, and she had plans for making more while the
golden weather lasted.

On the second day of her sojourn at Fordestown she wrote to Dolly at
Tetherstones. She found it impossible to give any adequate reason for
her abrupt departure, so she barely touched upon it beyond begging her
to believe that in spite of everything she was and would ever be deeply
grateful for all the kindness that they had shown her. She ended the
letter with a request that the next time Oliver had to come to
Fordestown he might bring her sketching materials to her. She posted her
letter and went out on to the moor for the rest of the day.

The solitude of the great heather-clad space that she loved brought
soothing to her tired spirit. She was at last able to review the
situation deliberately and dispassionately; but the more she meditated
upon it, the more did she feel that the disposition of the future was no
longer in her own control.

Very curiously, and now it seemed inextricably, had her life been bound
up with Montague Rotherby’s. Neither attraction nor repulsion were
factors that counted any more. He had laid claim to her so persistently
that she had almost begun to feel at last that he had a claim. In any
case she was too tired, too dazed by the blows of Fate, to battle any
further. She who had fought so hard for her freedom was compelled to own
herself vanquished at last. Like a stormy dawn romance had come to her,
and by its light she had seen the golden vision of love. But the light
had swiftly faded and the vision fled. And she was left—a slave.

“I will never have any more dreams,” she said to herself, as she gazed
through tears at the dim blue tors. “None but a fool could ever imagine
that the stones could be made bread.”

And then she sought to brace herself with the thought that she had not
greatly suffered.

“It can’t have gone very deep,” she told herself very resolutely, “in so
short a time.”

But yet she knew—as we all know—that it is not by time or any other
circumstance that Love the Immeasurable can be measured, and that no
power on earth can ever obliterate the memory of Love.

Of Montague personally she thought but little during those days. Of
Arthur Dermot she thought ceaselessly. Against her will the
individuality of the man imposed itself upon her. Night and day she
thought of him, puzzled, distressed, humiliated, seeking vainly for a
solution to the mystery in which all his actions were wrapped. Why had
he misjudged her thus? What madness had driven him to attempt the other
man’s life? Was he actually mad, she asked herself? It might have
accounted for much, and yet somehow she did not believe it. The man’s
melancholy philosophy was the philosophy of reason, his cynical
acceptance of life the deliberate and trained conclusion of a balanced
mind. His love for herself she found harder to understand, but it moved
her to the depths, appealing to her as nothing had ever appealed before.
His violence, his brutality, had shocked her unspeakably, so that she
prayed passionately that she might never see him again. But yet,
strangely, the appeal still held. By that alone, he had entered the
inner shrine of her heart, and, strive as she might, she could not cast
him out. His love for her might be dead. Never for a moment did she
imagine that it could have survived that awful night. But the memory of
it—ah, the memory of it—it would go with her all through her life,
just as she would remember the purple flower upon the coping in the
Palace garden, a thing of beauty beloved for a while and then lost—the
gift that the gods had offered only to snatch away ere she had grasped
it.

Those days of waiting were as the days spent by a prisoner awaiting
trial, only there was no hope on the horizon. Like one of the prisoners
of old of whom Arthur had told her, she was tethered to her stone and
the first effort she made for freedom would crush her. Though to a great
extent she had regained her strength, she knew that she was not equal to
hard work—such work as she had done for the Bishop. There were times of
faintness and inertia when she felt that the very heart within her must
be worn out, times of overwhelming depression also, when for hours the
tears would well up and fall and she lacked the power to restrain them.

No one knew what she was enduring. There was no one at hand to help her.
Chained to her stone, she waited day by day, not for deliverance but for
the coming of her fate.

And then one day there came a letter from Rotherby, and in that letter
was an enclosure that sent the blood tingling through her veins. He had
sold her sketch for five guineas, and he could dispose of more if she
cared to send them. “Couldn’t you do a companion picture to the
stepping-stones?” he said in conclusion.

His letter held no endearments. It was the most business-like epistle
she had ever received from him, and her gratitude was intense. She sent
him all the sketches she had by the next post, and with them a note
expressing her earnest thanks and asking how he fared.

Then she sat down to think. It seemed to her in the first flush of
excitement that this was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened
to her. It was like a tonic to her drooping spirits. Surely it was the
turning-point at last!

The bleatings and patterings of a flock of sheep passing up the street
brought to her mind the fact that it was market-day. She went to the
window with an eagerness she had not known for long with the thought
that Oliver might be coming at any time with her sketching materials.
She longed to take up her beloved pastime again. If indeed it were to
give her back her cherished independence, with what gladness would she
spend her utmost effort to achieve her best. But it seemed too good to
be true.

She looked in vain for Oliver or for any face she knew, and at length,
disappointed, she turned away. But Rotherby’s letter was close to her
hand, and she sat down to read it afresh.

It was while she was thus employed that she heard the trampling of a
horse’s hoofs outside, and looked forth once more in time to see Dr.
Square just rolling off his old white horse.

Her heart gave a leap at the sight, but the next moment she told herself
that he had patients in Fordestown and it was not likely that he had
come thither to seek her.

Nevertheless she listened anxiously, and presently heard the sound of
his heavy step upon the stairs. She went to her door then and opened it,
meeting him on the narrow landing outside.

She saw in a moment that his big face lacked its usual cheeriness though
he greeted her with outstretched hand. “Ah, here you are, Miss Thorold!
Dolly told me where to look for you, and they sent me up from
downstairs. May I come in?”

“Please do!” she said, and led the way back into her room. Her first
instinctive feeling of pleasure at sight of him had given way to one of
misgiving. She turned very quickly and faced him. “Please tell me what
is the matter! Something is wrong.”

He did not attempt to deny it. “They’re in bad trouble at Tetherstones,”
he said. “And when Dolly told me you were here, I said I’d come over and
see you.”

“Oh, what is the matter?” she said.

His kindly eyes looked into hers with a hint of concern. “Don’t you
upset yourself, Miss Thorold!” he said. “You’re not too strong,
remember. It’s the little girl—little Ruth. She’s had an accident, and
she’s very ill.”

“Oh, poor mite!” said Frances. “How did it happen?”

“It’s difficult to say. The child was lost for some hours the day after
you left. Then they found her up at the Stones. She had been looking for
you, she said. And that was all they could get out of her. She had had a
bad fall off the Rocking Stone, and couldn’t move.”

“Oh, poor little girl!” Frances’ voice was quick with anxiety. “Is she
much hurt?”

Dr. Square nodded slowly once or twice. “She has no strength—and I’m
afraid—very much afraid—there is some mischief to the spine. She keeps
on asking for you, Miss Thorold. I said I’d come and tell you.”

“Ah!” Frances said.

It came upon her like a blow—the cudgel-stroke of Fate. So there was to
be no escape after all! A sense of suffocation came upon her, and she
turned sharply to the window, instinctively seeking air. Blind for a
moment, she leaned there, gathering her strength.

Behind her she heard the doctor’s voice. “Now take it quietly! Don’t let
yourself be overcome! There’s no need. The little one isn’t suffering,
and—please God—she won’t suffer. It’s only her anxiety about you
that’s worrying her. She’s not used to worry, you know. She’s only a
baby.” His voice shook a little. “But if you could just go to her—set
her mind at rest—you’d never be sorry. You’ve had a hard life, Miss
Thorold, but you’ve got a soft heart. And sometimes, you know, when we
are throwing a line to others, the tide turns in our favour and we find
we’re drifting in to our own desired haven as well.”

His words reached her through a great chaos of emotions. She leaned
against the window-frame with closed eyes, seeing herself as driftwood
upon the tide of which he spoke. To go back to Tetherstones, to face
again the torment from which she had barely escaped, to feel the grey
walls enclosing her once more and all the sinister influences that had,
as it were, stretched out and around her to draw her down! She lifted
her face to the soft grey sky with an inarticulate prayer for help.

She heard again the doctor’s voice behind her, and realized that he was
pleading for something very near his heart. Was not little Ruth near to
the hearts of all who knew her?

“It won’t be for very long,” he was saying. “She’s fretting her heart
out for you because she had got hold of the idea that you are in
danger—frightened—unhappy. No one can set her mind at rest except you,
and it would be a kindness to them all at Tetherstones to go and do it.
You would like to do them a kindness, Miss Thorold?”

That moved her. Very suddenly all her doubt and hesitation were swept
away. To do them a kindness—these people who had brought her back from
the gates of death, who had sheltered her, cared for her, comforted her
in her extremity! What mattered anything besides? What was her pride
compared with this? What though her very heart were pierced by the
ordeal? She could not shirk it now. It was as though an answer had come
to that half-formed prayer of hers. Whatever the outcome, she had no
choice but to go back.

With a sharp, catching breath, she turned. “I will go—of course,” she
said. “How can I get there?”

He smiled at her with instant relief, and she realized that he had
hardly expected to gain his point. She wondered how much he knew
regarding her sudden departure. It was evident that he understood that
she had a very strong reason for not wishing to return.

He got up. “Well, as I said, you’ll never regret it,” he said. “As to
getting there, Oliver’s in the town now with the cart. Do you mind going
back with him? It may be for a few days, you know. You’re prepared for
that?”

“I will stay as long as little Ruth wants me,” she said.

“That’s right. That’s like you.” He held out his hand to her, “Good-bye,
Miss Thorold! You’re looking better. I believe the tide has turned
already.”

She tried to smile in answer, but she found no words. Driftwood!
Driftwood! And even if the tide turned, whither could it land her now?


                               CHAPTER IV
                                  RUTH

“Pleased to see you, Miss Thorold,” Oliver touched his hat with his whip
and gave her his friendly smile of welcome. “A bad business this about
the little girl. They’re all very upset at Tetherstones.”

“I am sure they must be,” Frances said. “What a terribly sad business,
Oliver! Who was it found her?”

“I found her,” said Oliver. “But we thought she was with you and no one
missed her at first. She’d been lying there all night and a good part of
the day before she was missed. We’d been busy, you see—” he jerked the
reins—“busy with other things. Then Maggie came out to me and said you
were gone and the little one couldn’t be found, and I went straight away
to the Stones to look for her. She was lying just under the Rocking
Stone unconscious, and I carried her back. She’s come to herself since,
but they say she’s somehow different—that she’ll never be the same
again—that she—” He broke off to cough and flicked the horse’s ears
with his whip. They clattered over the rough stones of the street for
some distance in silence. After a while he spoke again. “She’s only a
child—a bit of a baby—but she isn’t like others I’ve ever seen. Maggie
is just breaking her heart over her.”

“Poor Maggie!” said Frances gently.

“Yes.” He nodded acquiescence. “Maggie and Nan—Ruth’s mother—were
always the pals, you see. There was only a year between them. Nan was
Arthur’s favourite sister too. He’s feeling it pretty badly—though he’d
sooner die than let anyone know.”

Frances felt her heart contract. She said nothing.

They were out upon the open moor road before Oliver volunteered anything
further. Then, somewhat abruptly, with a sidelong glance at her, he
said, “It’s decent of you to come back to us after the fright you had.”

“I am only coming for little Ruth’s sake,” Frances said.

“Yes, I know. The doctor told me. I didn’t think he’d get you to come,”
said Oliver frankly. “You’d had a pretty bad scare. But it might have
been worse, I suppose. The fellow wasn’t much damaged, was he?”

There was curiosity in his tone tempered with a reticence that she was
quick to detect. A sharp sense of anger surged within her.

“It was no thanks to—to—the man who shot him that he wasn’t killed,”
she said.

“No. I know,” said Oliver. He added after a moment, “Anyway I did my
best to prevent it. It wasn’t my fault that it happened.”

She turned upon him. “But—surely you didn’t know it was going to
happen?” she said.

He lifted his shoulders. “No, I didn’t know, Miss Thorold. But I did
know the chap was in danger. I told you so, didn’t I?”

“But why—why?” said Frances.

He gave her again that sidelong glance. “Can’t always account for
things,” he said. “We’re a good long way from towns and civilization
here.”

“But he might have been killed!” she said.

He nodded. “So he might. But he wasn’t. That’s all that matters. Where
is he now?”

“He has gone to town,” she said.

“Then, if he’s a wise man, he’ll stop there,” said Oliver with finality,
and whipped up his horse.

The day was soft and cloudy, the tors wrapped in mist. There was a
feeling of rain in the air and the sweetness of rain-filled streams. She
heard the rushing of unseen water as they trotted over the winding
moorland road. It filled her with a great sadness, a longing
indescribable to which she could give no name.

She asked no more questions of Oliver, for she knew instinctively that
she would receive no actual enlightenment from him. Moreover, something
within her shrank from discussing Arthur Dermot and Arthur Dermot’s
motives with a third person. Any explanation, she felt, must come from
the man himself.

They drove on up the stony road, drawing nearer and nearer to the great
boulder-strewn tors, hearing the vague bleatings of sheep in the
desolation but seeing no living thing upon their way. Again the eeriness
of the place began to possess Frances. It was a relief to her when
Oliver said abruptly, “We won’t go by the Stones.”

She believed it to be the quicker route, but it was rough, and she was
thankful that he proposed to avoid it. Her dread of Tetherstones was
growing with every yard they covered, but there was no turning back now.
She could only go forward to whatever might be in store.

The mist gradually descended to meet them and turned to a small rain,
drifting in their faces. The chill of the moor laid a clammy touch upon
them. Frances shivered in spite of herself.

Oliver shot her his shrewd glance. “They’ll be awfully pleased to see
you,” he said, and added, “We’re nearly there.”

Yes, they were nearly there. The atmosphere of Tetherstones seemed to be
reaching out to receive them—the old grey place from which she had fled
as from a prison.

They turned down the steep lane, and the scent of wet honeysuckle came
to Frances mingling with the bog-myrtle of the moors. Something rose in
her throat and she turned her face aside. She had fled from the place as
from a prison, yet, returning, that exquisite scent came back to her as
the breath of home.

They reached the white gate, standing wide to receive them, and drove
through to the garden where Roger met them with extravagant antics of
delight. His welcome sent a warmth to her heart that in some fashion
eased the unacknowledged pain there. She approached the old stone
doorway with more assurance.

Oliver saluted and turned the horse; she heard him driving round to the
stables as she entered.

The door stood open according to custom. The passage was dark, but she
heard someone moving in the kitchen and directed her steps thither,
Roger bounding by her side. Then as she turned a corner there came the
sudden tread of feet, and she drew back sharply. She was face to face
with Arthur Dermot.

He also checked himself abruptly, and in a moment stood back against the
wall to let her pass.

He did not attempt to address her, but she could not pass him so in his
own house. She stood still.

But for a second or two her voice refused to serve her, and he made an
odd movement as if to compel her to pass on. Then with a sharp effort
she spoke.

“Little Ruth—I have come to see her. Is she—is she——”

“Dying—yes,” he said. “It was—good of you to come. Nell and Lucy are
in the kitchen. If you like, I will tell them you are here.”

“Oh no,” she said. “No. I will go to them.”

She passed him quickly, thankful to escape, hearing his heavy tread as
he went on, with that old fateful feeling at her heart. She wondered
what he really thought of her for returning thus.

She found the two girls in the kitchen, very subdued and troubled though
they gave her a ready welcome.

“We’ve missed you dreadfully,” said Nell. “And little Ruth has hardly
left off crying for you all these days.” Her lip quivered. “Dr. Square
said he should go and tell you after your letter came—but I didn’t
think you’d come.”

“I had to come,” Frances said.

“I thought you would if you really knew how badly you were wanted,” said
Lucy.

“I didn’t,” said Nell. “I knew you wouldn’t stay that day of the row. I
told you so, didn’t I? And I never thought you’d come back. I told
Arthur you wouldn’t. Only you would have done it.”

She looked at Frances with warm admiration in her eyes.

“You’re a brick,” she said. “And we’ll none of us forget it. You might
run and tell Dolly, Lucy. Now sit down, Miss Thorold, and I’ll get you a
glass of milk.”

She bustled round the old raftered kitchen, and Frances, sitting in the
horsehair arm-chair, tried to forget that awful night when she had
awaked as from a nightmare to find herself lying before the great
fireplace—a prisoner.

“Where are your mother and Maggie?” she asked, when Nell brought her the
milk.

“Mother is in the study with the old man,” said Nell. “Maggie is out
somewhere. She and Elsie were getting hay down from the loft a few
minutes ago. The work has got to go on, you know, whoever lives or
dies.” She checked a sob upon the words.

Frances leaned forward and held her hand. “Tell me about little Ruth!”
she said.

“Oh, there isn’t much to tell. She went to look for you the night you
left. You had a fright, didn’t you? So did we. There was a frightful row
after you were gone, and we all of us forgot to wonder where she was
till the morning. Then Oliver found her—found her—” Nell choked and
recovered herself. “It was up by the Stones. She’d been there heaps of
times before and never come to any harm. But this time she must have
gone right up on to the Rocking Stone and overbalanced. She was lying
under it, and she’d been there for twelve hours or more, poor little
darling. She was unconscious when Oliver found her, but she hadn’t been
all the time. She keeps on talking about it, about being a prisoner
under that stone and begging God to set her free so that she can go to
you. She has got a rooted idea that you are in trouble. You’re not, are
you? Everything’s all right with you?” She looked down at Frances
piteously, through tears.

“Don’t you bother your head about me, my dear!” said Frances. “My
affairs don’t count now.” She paused a moment, then, with some
hesitation: “Will you tell me why there was such a disturbance after I
went?” she asked.

“Oh, that!” said Nell, and also hesitated. “That’s one of the things
we’re not supposed to talk about,” she said, after a moment. “You don’t
mind, Miss Thorold? You’ll try to understand?”

“My dear, don’t you trouble!” said Frances very kindly. “I shall always
try to understand.”

But even as she spoke she felt again that cold misgiving at her heart.
What species of monster was this whom they all combined to shield?

Lucy came running down again with an eager message. Dolly said would she
go up at once? Little Ruth was in their mother’s room. She would show
her where it was.

Then, as they mounted the stairs together, she drew close to Frances and
slipped a shy hand into her arm. “We have missed you so much,” she said.

Frances patted the hand without speaking. The warmth of her welcome
touched her very deeply.

They traversed two or three rambling passages before they reached Mrs.
Dermot’s room. It was over the kitchen, a low, oak-raftered apartment
with an uneven floor. It contained two beds, and in one of these, close
to a narrow, ivy-grown window, lay Ruth.

Her face was turned towards the door, and—it came upon Frances with a
curious sense of shock—the eyes that had always till then been closed
were open, wide open, and burning with a fire so spiritual, so
unearthly, that for a moment she halted almost as one afraid. In that
moment she realized very fully and beyond all possibility of doubt that
little Ruth was dying.

Lucy’s soft touch drew her forward. She was aware of Dolly, pale and
restrained, somewhere in the background, but she did not actually see
her. She went to the child’s bedside as if she were entering a
sanctuary.

Ruth greeted her instantly, but she lay like a waxen image with tiny
hands folded on her breast.

“Have you come back at last, dear Miss Thorold?” she said, a thrill of
gladness in her voice. “God told me you would in a dream last night.”

Frances knelt down by the bed and closely clasped the little folded
hands that never stirred to her touch. “My little darling!” she said
softly. “Have you been wanting me?”

The burning eyes were fixed upon her. It was as though in them alone the
living spirit lingered. She was sure that the spirit saw her in that
hour.

“Yes, I have wanted you,” the child said. “I have been calling
you—crying for you—ever since that night. You said that you were
coming then, but you never came.”

“I couldn’t,” whispered Frances.

“No. You had to go,” Ruth agreed, in her tired voice. “I knew that. But
why didn’t you go to the Stones? You meant to go there, didn’t you?”

“I can’t tell you now, darling,” Frances said.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Ruth. “I think God didn’t want you to go. But
I didn’t know that when I went to look for you. I thought you might be
lost and frightened again—like you were that first night that I found
you. And then—when you weren’t there—I was afraid something had
happened to you. Did anything happen, dear Miss Thorold?”

“Nothing dreadful, sweetheart,” she answered softly.

“Then God took care of you,” Ruth said, with conviction. “There was
something dreadful very near you—very near you; but He sent it away.”

Those blind eyes—the eyes of a visionary—kindled afresh with the
words, and a sudden sense as of something vividly remembered smote
Frances. She had seen those eyes before. Where? Where? Then it came to
her—like a rending flash of lightning across a dark sky. The Bishop of
Burminster had had that inner flame as of prophecy in his eyes on the
night that he had denounced her. A great wave of feeling went through
her. She had an overwhelming desire to shield herself, shrinking as one
shrinks from the unsparing beam of a searchlight.

“We won’t talk of it now, darling,” she said almost pleadingly. “Try to
go to sleep!”

“I don’t want to sleep,” said the child. “I want to give you a message,
but it hasn’t come yet. And if I go to sleep, I shall forget it.”

“We will give her something to make her sleep presently,” said Dolly
gently. “She isn’t in any pain—only a little tired. Take this chair,
Miss Thorold! You must be tired too.”

So Frances sat down beside the bed to wait, as all in that house were
waiting, for the coming of the Angel of Death.


                               CHAPTER V
                               THE EXILE

Late in the afternoon Maggie came in, her plump, rosy face drawn and
sad. She came and hung over the bed for a space in silence. Ruth was
lying as she had lain throughout, with her eyes fixed upwards, as though
waiting for a sign, and still they burned with that fire of inner sight
which to Frances had been somehow terrible. Maggie straightened herself
at last with a deep sigh. She looked across at Frances with the glimmer
of a welcoming smile, but she did not speak. Softly she crept away.

The next to come was the white-haired mother, and to her Ruth spoke the
moment she entered the room though her entrance made no sound.

“My dear Granny!” she said.

Frances rose quickly and proffered her chair; but Mrs. Dermot shook her
head.

“No, no! I have only come for a moment.” She bent over the child. “Are
you happier now, my baby? Can you go to sleep?”

“Yes, I am quite happy,” said little Ruth, “now that Miss Thorold is
here. But I can’t go to sleep till I get the message for her. I might
die, dear Granny, and I shouldn’t be able to give it her then. We can
only send our love—after we are dead.”

“But Miss Thorold can’t stay here all the time, darling,” said Mrs.
Dermot, with a tender touch upon the child’s brow. “She will get so
tired sitting here. She has been ill, you know. She will want to rest.”

“Someone will call her when the message comes,” said Ruth. “I know she
won’t mind. She is always so good. Will you go and rest, please, Miss
Thorold? It won’t come yet.”

“Please do!” said Mrs. Dermot. “My son asks me to say that he hopes you
will regard Tetherstones as your home for as long as you care to stay in
it. I think I need not speak for myself, or tell you how grateful we all
are to you for coming back to set our little one’s mind at rest.”

There was infinite pathos to Frances in the quiet utterance. Mrs. Dermot
was looking at her with eyes that seemed too tired for tears.

“How she has suffered!” was the thought that passed through Frances’
mind, as she met them.

“You are much more than kind—as you always have been,” she said very
earnestly, as she rose to go. “Please remember that I am here to help,
if there is anything whatever that I can do! Don’t hesitate—ever—to
make use of me!”

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Dermot. “I should like you to rest now. Your room
is quite ready for you. Perhaps—perhaps—in the night we may need you.”

Frances knew what she meant. She stooped to kiss little Ruth and turned
to go. “I shall be ready at any time,” she said.

In the doorway she encountered Dolly entering with a cup of milk in her
hand. Dolly stopped.

“Are you going downstairs for some tea? That’s right. It’s in the
kitchen. Maggie is there. She will look after you. We are so glad you
have come back.”

She passed on into the room, and Frances went out alone.

The old house was full of shadows. She could hear the shrill cries of
swallows wheeling about the eaves. The scent of honeysuckle was
everywhere. How had she ever thought of it as a prison?

Slowly she went down the stairs, and turned towards the kitchen. As she
did so, she heard a sudden sound in the recess in which she had hidden
on the night of her flight, and started to see two figures emerge. They
were very closely locked together, and she saw that in the dimness she
was not observed. Involuntarily almost, she drew back.

“Don’t fret, sweetheart!” It was Oliver’s voice, pitched very low.
“It’ll be all right, you’ll see.”

“Oh dear, I do hope so,” came back in a whisper from Maggie. “It doesn’t
feel right though I suppose it is.”

“It is right,” the man confidently asserted. “If we can’t choose our
circumstances we must adapt ourselves to them. It’s the only way to
live.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Maggie somewhat dubiously.

They passed down the passage to the kitchen, leaving Frances standing at
the foot of the stairs.

So standing, down the passage to her left that led to the study, she
heard a voice—an old man’s voice, broken, pathetic, piteously pleading.

“I assure you—” it said—“I assure you—you are wrong. It is difficult
to conceive how you can permit yourself to harbour these monstrous and
terrible ideas. I sometimes think your brain is not normal. You are
causing the greatest grief both to your mother whom you profess to
love—and to myself, for whom I know but too well that all filial
affection has long ceased to exist. I am an old man and helpless. Your
behaviour is breaking my heart. I shall go down to my grave with the
knowledge that my son—my only son—will rejoice to see me laid there.”

There followed an agonized sound that pierced Frances like the cry of a
child. Almost before she knew what she was doing, she had turned in the
direction of the study. She went down the passage swiftly to the door
that stood half-open and knocked upon it quickly and nervously.

“Can I come in?” she said.

It was the impulse to help, to protect, that moved her, and though she
knew who was in the study with old Mr. Dermot, she did not hesitate.
Only as she entered did he realize that her heart was thumping almost
unendurably.

She paused just within the room. “Can I come in?” she said again, and
felt her breath come sharply with the words. It needed all her
resolution to control it.

A startled silence followed her appearance, and then very kindly and
courteously the old man greeted her.

“Come in, Miss Thorold! Come in! I am delighted to see you!”

He was sitting in a leathern armchair in the failing light, and she was
struck afresh by his frailty and the deathly whiteness of his face.

“Will you excuse my getting up?” he said. “I have had one of my bad
attacks and they leave my heart very weak. Come and sit down, Miss
Thorold, and give me the pleasure of a chat with you.”

She went forward, keenly aware of Arthur standing motionless before the
fireplace, but not glancing at him as she passed. She reached Mr.
Dermot, and took the hand he extended. It was icy-cold and trembling,
and it seemed to her that there was something almost appealing in the
way it clung to hers.

“I am so sorry you have been ill,” she said.

“Yes, we are a sad household—a sad household,” he made answer. “I am
told the little one is very ill—the little blind girl who lives with
us. Can you tell me what is the matter with her? Some childish ailment,
I suppose?”

As it were against her will, Frances glanced at Arthur. His eyes looked
straight back at her from under frowning brows. He spoke briefly,
coldly.

“I think you have been informed before, sir, that the child would not
live to grow up. Perhaps under the circumstances it is hardly to be
desired that she should.”

“Under what circumstances?” said Mr. Dermot, and his voice was as cold
as his son’s, but with an edge of satire that was to Frances even more
unbearable than the studied indifference of the younger man’s utterance.
“Since when, may I ask, have you been a qualified judge as to the
relative values of life and death?”

Arthur made a very slight movement that might have denoted either
protest or exasperation. “I referred to her infirmity,” he said.

Mr. Dermot laughed, a soft, bitter laugh, and Frances shivered. She felt
the tension between the two men to be so acute as to be near the
snapping point, and wondered desperately what mistaken impulse had
brought her thither and how she might escape. But in a moment the old
man addressed her again, and there came to her a curious conviction that
in some fashion she was needed.

“Will you not sit down, Miss Thorold,” he said, “and take tea with me? I
do not have my meals with my family as, on account of the weakness of my
heart, quiet is essential to me. You were just going”; he turned very
pointedly to his son; “will you be good enough to ask Elsie to bring tea
for Miss Thorold as well as for myself?”

He spoke with frigid politeness as if addressing a menial, but there was
a quaver in his voice that betrayed him. Frances realized very clearly
in that instant which of the two men had the upper hand, and the
realization was as a heavy weight laid upon her. She shook it off with
conscious effort, telling herself that it mattered nothing to her at
least since she had gained her freedom.

Arthur made no move of any sort in response to his father’s request. He
stood as before, grim as a gaoler, looking straight across at her.

Very steadily, with a certain stateliness that was hers upon occasion,
she took the chair the old man had indicated. “That is very kind of
you,” she said to him. “I should like it very much.”

His smile of pleasure warmed her heart. “I assure you it will be the
greatest treat to me,” he said. “It is hard to have to lead the life of
a hermit. I have my books, and I am also writing—or I should say I have
collected material to write—an exhaustive treatise upon the Stones. I
think I told you of my intention the last time we met, and you very
kindly offered to help me.”

“I would gladly do anything in my power,” said Frances, moved, as she
had been moved before, by a certain forlornness in his attitude.

“Ah!” He nodded with obvious gratification. “That is kind of you. And I
am sure you would be interested. There is so much that is strange and
indeed almost uncanny about this subject.” He turned again to his son
with elaborate courtesy. “We need not detain you here. I am aware that
this matter is one that holds no appeal for a brain like yours, and I
have no desire to bore you with it.”

“Very good, sir.” Arthur made a sudden movement as one who has come to a
decision. “I will go.” He went to the door, and there paused, looking
back, almost as if irresolute, then abruptly wheeled again. “I will send
in tea,” he said, and was gone.

They heard him tramp heavily down the passage, and it seemed to Frances
that a shudder went through the frail old man lying back in the
armchair. He made a weary movement with one hand as one who would
dismiss a distasteful subject.

“Tell me a little more about your book!” she said gently.

He looked at her, and she saw his eyes kindle in the dimness.

“I am going to ask you to tell me something first,” he said. “It all
bears upon the same subject. This illness of the little blind girl which
they say is so serious, is it in any way connected with the Stones—with
any so-called accident that occurred there?”

He leaned slowly forward with the words, and though they were
deliberately uttered there was an eagerness vibrating in them that made
her wonder.

“Has no one told you about it?” she said.

“No one—no one. I am treated as a nonentity always.” He spoke
fretfully, querulously. “I believe it is on account of my health, but I
often think my health would improve if I were allowed to lead a more
normal life. My son has relegated to himself the rulership of this
establishment, and everyone is made to bow down to him. I am
told—nothing. I am consulted—never.”

“He leads a hard life,” Frances said. “Perhaps it has made him hard.”

“No, no! It isn’t that. It is just the passion for ruling. Let me warn
you against him, Miss Thorold! Never allow him to attain any sort of
influence over you, for he is a difficult man to thwart. You would not
like to be bound to him for life. It would break your heart.” He paused
a moment and made again that gesture as of dismissing an unpleasant
topic. “But now,” he said, “about the little girl—you were going to
tell me. Something happened to her up at the Stones. What was it? Do you
know what it was?”

Frances looked at him. His voice was tremulous, and yet she had a
curious conviction that it was not solely anxiety for little Ruth that
made it so. She considered for a moment before replying.

“She had a fall,” she said then.

“Ah! Was it near the Rocking Stone?” Mr. Dermot sat slowly forward. “You
will tell me,” he said. “I am sure you will tell me.”

Again Frances hesitated. If the details of Ruth’s accident had purposely
been kept from him, was she justified in enlightening him?

“I only know what I have been told since,” she said. “They found her
lying unconscious, and it was evident that she had had a fall.”

“And that is all you know? You cannot tell me who found her or why she
went?” Suppressed excitement sounded in the words. Mr. Dermot was
gripping the arm of his chair, and the bones of his knuckles stood out
sharply. “I am very anxious to know all,” he said. “They try to keep it
from me, but it is wrong—it is wrong. She had a fall, you say? Was
she—was she—alone when she fell?”

“I believe so,” Frances said. “In fact, I am sure of it, for they say
she was not found for some hours after.”

“Ah!” The old man relaxed so suddenly that he almost fell back into his
chair. “That is what I wanted to know. She was alone. They say so.” He
broke off, panting a little; but in a moment or two recovered himself
sufficiently to smile at her. “Now that,” he said, “gives colour, does
it not, to the local rumour that the powers of evil are in some
mysterious way permitted to haunt the Stones. This is a very interesting
point, Miss Thorold. Can her fall have been due to something of this
nature? Are you a believer in the occult?”

“Not to that extent,” said Frances, suppressing a chill shiver. “I think
it was perfectly easy for the poor mite to fall, considering her
blindness.”

“Ah, yes. They should not have let her wander so far. There is always
the danger of a false step. But she is young. She may recover—she may
recover. While there is life, there is hope; and if not,—there is the
life beyond.”

He spoke gently, a faint smile on his grey features, and again Frances
was touched in a fashion she could hardly have explained. He was so old,
so tired, so near to the life beyond of which he spoke.

She said nothing, and in a few moments Elsie came in with a tea-tray.
She looked at Frances, round-eyed, as she sat it down, but somewhat to
her surprise she gave her no word of greeting.

“Arthur said you would like your tea in here,” she said. “Is that
right?”

“Yes, Miss Thorold is my guest to-night,” said the old man. “Will you
pour out, Miss Thorold?”

Frances complied. Elsie hovered about the room as if uncertain whether
to go or to remain.

Mr. Dermot paid no attention to her for some seconds, then very suddenly
he seemed to awake to the fact of her presence. He turned in his chair.

“Pray return to your work in the farmyard!” he said. “I am sure you have
no time to spare for the ordinary civilities of life.”

His tone was quite quiet, but the words amazed Frances. The girl to whom
they were addressed merely nodded and turned to the door. She went out
in silence, leaving it open behind her.

“They always do that,” said Mr. Dermot, with a sort of weary patience.
“I wonder, might I trouble you to shut it?”

Frances rose to do so, her mind still full of wonder at the curious
attitude he had adopted towards his daughter.

“You think it strange,” he said, as she sat down again, “that there
should be so great a lack of sympathy between certain members of my
family and myself. But I assure you it did not originate with me. I am a
student, Miss Thorold, and perhaps it is not surprising that those who
devote the whole of themselves to manual labour on a farm should find it
difficult to keep in touch with me. It is said that if you associate
with the animals you will in time assimilate their characteristics. This
has already happened to Arthur, and some of the girls are following in
his footsteps. Milly is the only one who has shown no outward sign of
deterioration since we came to Tetherstones. It is a very insidious
evil, and it spreads—it spreads.” He sighed. “I foresaw it before we
came here. I was never in favour of the scheme, but—I was overruled. We
have a tyrant among us whose will is law.”

“Then you don’t like Tetherstones?” Frances said.

She saw again an extraordinary gleam in his eyes as he made reply. “You
might ask a convict how he likes Princetown,” he said. “My place is at
Oxford, but I have been torn from it and made to endure life in the
desert all these years.”

“But a very beautiful desert,” suggested Frances.

He made a wide gesture of repudiation. “What is that to an exile? When
you have been made to eat stones for bread, you will not notice if they
are beautiful to look at.”

“I can understand that,” she said. “Yet a sense of beauty is sometimes a
help. At least I found it so when I was at Burminster.”

“Ah! Burminster!” He repeated the name thoughtfully. “Did you ever meet
anyone there of the name of Rotherby?”

“Why, yes.” She started a little, remembering Arthur’s attitude. “I was
with Dr. Rotherby who is the Bishop of Burminster.”

“Yes—yes.” He nodded gravely. “We were at Oxford together. He left and
I remained. So he is at Burminster! You were not happy with him?”

Frances hesitated. “Not very,” she admitted.

He nodded again. “A hard man—a hard man! And did you ever meet his
nephew—Montague?”

She felt the colour leap to her face. “Yes, I have met him,” she said.

“Ah! He is a friend of yours,” said the old man, with quiet conviction.
“A close friend?”

She did not know how to answer him. No words would come. But in that
moment to her intense relief she heard a step outside. The door opened,
and Mrs. Dermot entered.

“Arnold,” she said, “I am sorry to disturb you, but Dr. Square is here.
He will be down immediately to see you. May he come in?”

The old man turned towards her with a fond smile. “My dear,” he said,
“any pretext is welcome that brings you to my side.”

Frances got up, thankful for the interruption. “I will go to the kitchen
if I may,” she said. “Maggie is there.”

“We need not drive you away,” protested Mr. Dermot.

But she was already at the door. “Perhaps—later,” she said, and was
gone before he could say any more. The closing of the door behind her
gave her a sense of escape from something terrible which she told
herself was utterly unreasonable.


                               CHAPTER VI
                               THE CHAIN

The kitchen-door was half-open. She pushed it open and entered. Then
sharply she drew back. It was raining and the place was in
semi-darkness. Only a red glow from the great open fireplace lighted it,
throwing into strong relief the old black rafters. And in this glow,
seated at the table facing her, but with his head upon his hands, was a
man.

He did not stir at her entrance. It was evident he did not hear her, and
for a moment her impulse was to go as suddenly and silently as she had
come. But something in that bowed silvered head checked her. She stood
still, and in a second a whine of greeting from under the table betrayed
her. Arthur sat upright with a jerk, and Roger came smiling out from his
place at his master’s feet to welcome her.

It was Roger who saved the situation. She stooped to fondle him, and in
so doing recovered her self-possession. Standing up again, she found
that Arthur also was on his feet. They faced each other once more in the
firelight, and the beating of the rain upon the thick laurel bushes
outside mingled with the dirge-like monotony of the dripping eaves
filled in that poignant pause.

Arthur spoke, his voice low and constrained. “Come and sit down! I’m
just going.”

The awful pallor of his face, the misery of the eyes that avoided hers,
went straight to her heart. She moved forward, urged by the instinct to
help, forgetful of everything else in the rush of pity that surged
through her.

“Don’t go because I am here!” she said.

He had turned already to the outer door. He paused with his back to her,
and took up his cap from a chair.

“It was not my fault you were sent for,” he said. “It was done against
my wish—without my knowledge.”

The words were curt, emotionless. Why did she feel as though she were in
the presence of a sorely-wounded animal?

“Don’t go!” she said again, and somehow the words seemed to utter
themselves; she was not conscious of any effort of her own by which they
were spoken. “There is no need for you to go.”

“No need!” He still stood with his back to her. His hand was on the
door, but he did not go. “Did you say that?” he said, after a moment.

“Yes.” She came forward slowly, and still it did not seem to be of her
own volition that she moved or spoke. “I haven’t come back to make
trouble—only to try and help—if I can.”

“Yes. I understand,” he said, and his voice came half-strangled, as
though he fought some obstruction in his throat. “Square told me.”

She stopped at the table. “Have you been having tea? I thought Maggie
was here.”

“She has gone out with Elsie. Milly went upstairs to Dolly. I don’t know
where the others are.”

Again curiously something in his voice pierced her. It had a deadened
quality—was it utter weariness—or smothered pain?

“Have you had tea?” she asked.

His hand wrenched at the door-handle. The door opened and a drift of
rain blew in. But still he paused.

“I haven’t had mine,” said Frances.

He turned almost with violence and the door shut behind him. “Why
haven’t you had yours? I thought Elsie brought it to you. I told her
to.”

He looked at her, heavily scowling, for a moment, then again averted his
eyes.

“Don’t be angry!” she said gently. “She did bring it, but I didn’t stay
to drink it because your mother said the doctor was here. Do you mind if
I have some now?” She looked round the table that had been cleared, then
turned to the fire. “The kettle is quite hot. It will soon boil.”

He came back into the room. There was something about him at that moment
upon which she could not look. He went to the dresser, and she heard the
clatter of cups and saucers. She knew he was laying the table behind
her, but she remained with her face to the fire.

Suddenly he was beside her. He took up the simmering kettle and forced
it down into the heart of the fire, keeping his hand upon it.

“You will burn yourself!” she said.

He answered nothing, merely stood doggedly bent over the glow till the
kettle spluttered and boiled. Then he lifted it, and turned back to the
table.

Frances turned also. Mutely she watched him pour water into the old
metal tea-pot. The haggardness of his face, the grim endurance of his
set jaw, struck her afresh. She wondered if he were ill.

He set down the kettle and drew up the horse-hair chair with the wooden
arms that she so well remembered.

“Sit down!” he said.

She obeyed him, finding no words.

He cut a slice from a loaf and began to toast it, Roger pressing closely
against his gaitered legs.

Very suddenly his voice came back to her again, hollow, strained, oddly
vibrant. “I should like you to know one thing. Though you have come back
here against my will, you have—nothing to fear. I recognize it was—an
act of—charity—and, so far as I am concerned, you are safe. I will
never get in your way.”

“Thank you,” Frances said quietly. “I am not afraid of that.”

He made a jerky movement, but instantly checked himself, and turning the
bread upon the fork, maintained his silence. She wondered what was
passing behind that tensely restrained front, what torment was at work
within him to produce the anguish of suffering which she sensed rather
than saw. But he gave her no clue of any sort. He remained bent and
silent till his task was finished.

Then he brought the toast and set it before her. “Can you pour out your
own tea?” he said.

She looked up at him, gravely resolute. “Mr. Dermot, please join me!”

He made a sharp gesture that was more of protest than refusal. “Afraid I
can’t stay. I’ve got to see Oliver.”

“You can if you will,” she said steadily. “That isn’t your reason. You
can see Oliver afterwards.”

He gave in abruptly, in a fashion that surprised her. He dropped down on
to the wooden chair he had occupied at her entrance, and propped his
head on his hands.

“My God!” he said, under his breath. “My God!”

Then she knew that his endurance was very near the breaking-point, and
the woman’s soul in her rose up in strength to support his weakness.

She got up to take another cup from the dresser, then poured out some
tea and took it to him on the other side of the table. He did not
attempt to stir at her coming, but the hands that supported his head
were clenched and trembling.

She bent over him, all thought of fear gone from her. “Here is your
tea,” she said. “Can you drink it?”

He moved then, reached out suddenly and grasped her wrist, drawing her
hand over his face till her palm was tightly pressed upon his eyes.

“My God!” he said again, almost inarticulately. “Oh, my God—my God!”

A dreadful sob broke from him, and he caught his breath and held it
rigidly till the veins in his temples stood out like cords.

Frances looked on mutely till she could bear it no longer. Then very
gently she laid her other hand upon his shoulder.

“Ah, don’t!” she said. “Don’t! Let it come! It will be easier to bear
afterwards. And what do I matter?”

She felt a great shiver go through him. His hold upon her hand was as
the clutch of a drowning man, and suddenly she felt his tears, slow and
scalding, oozing between her fingers. He bent his head lower and lower,
striving with himself, and she instinctively turned her eyes away,
averting them from his agony.

So, for what seemed an interminable space of time, they remained. Then
at last the man spoke, jerkily, with difficulty, yet with returning
self-mastery.

“It’s no good crying out. It’s got to be endured to the end.” He paused;
then: “I don’t often cry out,” he said and she thought she caught a note
that was almost of appeal in his voice.

“We are all human,” she said.

“Are we?” He raised himself abruptly with the words, and leaned back in
his chair, looking straight up at her, her hand still grasped in his.
“Are you human?” he said, as if challenging her. “I don’t believe you
are.”

His eyes were burning. They had the strained look that comes from lack
of sleep. A brief misgiving assailed her, but she put it firmly away.
She met his look unflinching.

“Yes, I am human,” she said.

“Then how you must hate me!” he said.

She shook her head in silence.

“Why do you do that?” he said. “Are you afraid to tell me so?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t hate you.”

“Why not?” he said.

She hesitated momentarily. Then: “It may be because I don’t know you
well enough,” she said.

There was something in his eyes that besought her. Again involuntarily
she thought of a wounded animal. “Not well enough to hate me?” he said.

“Not well enough to judge,” she answered quietly.

She saw his throat move spasmodically. His eyes left hers. “I would
rather be hated—than tolerated—by you,” he said, almost under his
breath.

His hold upon her had slackened; she slipped her hand away. “Won’t you
have your tea?” she said. “I am sure you will feel the better for it.”

He made an odd sound that might have been an effort at laughter, and
stretched out his hand for the cup.

She stood beside him while he drank, and took it from him when he had
finished. “Eat some toast while I pour you out some more!” she said.

“I made the toast for you,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter,” she returned.

“It does matter.” He leaned across the table for the loaf. “Bread will
do for me. And you will drink some tea yourself before you give me any
more.”

She heard the dominant note returning in his voice. “I shall do as I
think best,” she said, but she complied, for something in the glance of
those fevered eyes compelled.

They ate and drank together thereafter in unbroken silence until he rose
to go. Then, his cap once more in his hand, he paused, looking across at
her.

“So you have decided to reserve judgment for the present?” he said.

She met his look steadily, though her heart quickened a little.

“For the present—yes,” she said.

He still looked at her. “And if you find—some day—that I can behave
other than as a brute-beast, will you perhaps—manage to forget?”

To forget! The word, uttered so humbly, brought the quick tears to her
eyes. She turned her face aside.

“Why don’t you ask me to—forgive?” she said, her voice very low.

“Because I won’t ask the impossible,” he answered. “Because you tell me
you are human, and—well, some things are past forgiveness. I know
that.”

He swung round with the words. She heard him open the door, heard again
the drip and patter of the rain outside, heard the heavy tread of his
feet as he went out.

Then, when she knew that she was alone, her strength went from her. She
covered her face and wept.

In that hour she knew that she was chained indeed, beyond all hope of
escape. Brute-beast as he described himself—murderer at heart as she
believed him to be—yet had he implanted that within her heart which she
could never cast out. Whatever he was, whatever he did, could make no
difference now. She loved him.


                              CHAPTER VII
                              THE MESSAGE

“The doctor says it can’t possibly go on much longer.”

“But if it does—if it does——”

“Oh, Lucy, do stop crying! What’s the good? You’ll make yourself ill,
child, if you go on.”

“I can’t help it—I can’t help it. Mother looked like death just now.”

“That’s only because of something the Beast said. Oliver told me——”

The voice sank to a lower whisper as in the old days behind the screen,
and Frances, seated in a low chair beside the bed, tried not to strain
her ears to listen. She wished the two girls would leave the adjoining
room and go to bed, but they had been placed there by Dolly while she
snatched a brief rest, and she did not like to intervene. So she sat
there motionless, watching a great moth that had come in from the night
and was fluttering round and round the ceiling in the arc of light cast
upwards by the shaded lamp at her side, and listening to Lucy’s fitful
sobbing in the other room and Nell’s somewhat rough and ready efforts to
comfort her.

The very thought of tears seemed out of place in that quiet room, for
Ruth was as still and as peaceful as an effigy upon a tomb. She was not
asleep; of that Frances was fully convinced. But she was utterly at
rest, content so long as her friend remained beside her to lie in that
trance-like repose and wait.

The soft night air blew softly in upon them, laden with the scent of the
moors. The magic of it went to Frances’ inmost soul. She felt as if in
some fashion the message of which the child had spoken was being wafted
in from those star-lit spaces, but as yet it had no words. Only the
burden of it was already in her heart.

A long time passed thus; then there came a movement in the adjoining
room. The whispering was renewed for a moment, and ceased. The
white-haired mother entered, and as before, Ruth spoke.

“My dear Granny!” she said softly.

Mrs. Dermot motioned to Frances not to move. She came to the other side
of the bed and knelt down. “Shall we say our prayers, darling?” she
said.

Abruptly Frances realized that someone else had entered also, though she
had heard no sound, and looking up she saw Arthur standing just within
the doorway between the two rooms.

He stood there motionless until his mother began to murmur the Lord’s
Prayer, then noiselessly he crept forward and knelt close to the foot of
the bed.

It came to Frances then, and she never questioned the impulse, to slip
to her knees beside him. And in the hush of that quiet room, she prayed
as she never prayed before.

Mrs. Dermot’s gentle voice went unfaltering on to the evening hymn.

    “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,
     The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide,
     When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
     Help of the helpless, O, abide with me.”

Verse after verse very softly she repeated to the dying child, and at
the last Ruth’s voice joined hers, low and monotonous, murmuring the
words.

    “Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes,
     Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies,
     Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee,
     In life—in death—O Lord, abide with me.”

The two voices ceased, and there fell a deep silence. How long it lasted
Frances never knew. She was as one kneeling in a holy place, too near to
the spiritual to reck of time. But gradually, as she knelt, there dawned
upon her the consciousness of another presence in that chamber of Death.
It did not surprise her when Ruth’s voice, quiet and confident, spoke in
the stillness. “This is my mother!” she said. “She came to me that night
at the Stones and stayed with me so as I shouldn’t be frightened. She
said she would come again if God would let her. Isn’t He kind?” An odd
little quiver of rapture ran through the words.

“He is always kind to His little ones, my darling,” said Mrs. Dermot
very tenderly. “‘He shall gather the lambs with His arm and carry them
in His bosom.’”

“That is what my mother told me,” said the child. “She says—she
says—that if we only knew how beautiful it is on beyond, we should
never mind going, or cry—ever—for those who went. You won’t cry when
I’ve gone, dear Granny, will you?”

“Not for you, darling,” Mrs. Dermot whispered back.

“Nor for my mother any more,” said little Ruth. “She is quite happy. Do
you see her? She is standing close to you and smiling. Don’t you see
her, Granny?”

“I know that she is here,” said Mrs. Dermot.

“She is very, very pretty,” said Ruth in a hushed voice, “much prettier
than anyone else I know. Her hair is dark, and her eyes are lovely, like
hare-bells. No one else has eyes like that.” Again the thrill of
gladness was in her voice. “I can see her, Granny! I can see her!” said
little Ruth. Then in a lower voice, slightly mystified: “I wonder why
Uncle Arthur and Miss Thorold are so unhappy. I can see them too, but
they are not so clear. I wish they were happy. I should see them more
easily then.”

Frances raised her head, but the blue eyes were fixed upwards; it was
the eyes of the soul that saw her, the voice of the soul that spoke.

“Miss Thorold,” said the child, “the Stones are waiting for you. Don’t
ever be afraid! They are going to give you something that you’re
wanting—something that you’ve wanted always. I don’t know what it is,
but that doesn’t matter. You’ll know it when you find it, because it’s
very big—bigger even than the Rocking Stone. And if you can’t find it
by yourself, Uncle Arthur will help you. Only you’ll have to ask
him—because it’s the only way.” Her voice began to drag a little. “He’s
so lonely and so sad, and he never thinks anybody wants him. Often when
you think he is cross, he is just unhappy. He has been unhappy for ever
so long, and it’s getting worse. Grandpa doesn’t understand, but then he
is so often away now. He has been away ever since that night I went to
look for you at the Stones. I don’t know where he goes to, do you?”

Frances hesitated, but at once Mrs. Dermot spoke in answer.

“Granny knows where he is, darling. He is coming back soon. Don’t
trouble your little head about him!”

“Give him my love!” said Ruth. “I shan’t see him again, but he is too
old to mind, and I am not big enough to matter. Will you ask Uncle
Arthur to come quite close to me just for a minute? I want—I want to
tell him something.”

Arthur rose from his knees and moved to the head of the bed. His arm
went round his mother as he stooped to the child.

“I am here, Ruth. What is it?”

There came a little gasp from the bed. “Will you—hold my hand?” said
Ruth. “I—can’t see you quite well yet. Thank you, Uncle Arthur. Now I
can tell you. Do you remember that night I found my dear Miss
Thorold—up by the Stones—when she was frightened—and lost?”

“I remember,” he said.

“I found her—for you,” said the child. “God sent me and I went. I
brought her back to Tetherstones—for you. I told her it was home
because you were here—because I knew—somehow—that you wanted her. You
do want her, don’t you, Uncle Arthur?”

“It doesn’t matter what I want,” he said.

“It does matter,” said Ruth very earnestly. “Because when people want
each other and haven’t got each other they are very unhappy—same as
you, Uncle Arthur. And I don’t think she’ll ever find that big thing by
the Stones unless you help her. You see—you see—” again the child’s
voice flagged, she seemed to seek for words—“You see, there is—someone
else. And if—if anyone else helps her, p’raps they won’t find the real
thing at all, but something—something quite different. Don’t you see,
Uncle Arthur? Don’t you understand? It’s hidden, and you’ll have to hunt
and hunt before you find it. I shall know when you find it. But I shan’t
be able to tell you how pleased I am. I shall only—be able—to send
you—my love.”

The tired voice trailed off drowsily. Frances was anxiously watching the
little white face on the pillow, but suddenly something drew her look
upwards. She met the man’s eyes across the bed, and was conscious of a
sense of shock. They were grim with a desperate endurance that pierced
her like a cry. Though they met her own, they were fixed and desolate.
Scarcely even did they seem to see her.

Then again Ruth spoke with that soft thrill of gladness that made her
think of the first faint call of a bird in the dawning.

“My mother is waiting for me,” she said. “She is going to take me out to
the stars. Do you mind if I go, dear Granny? I would like to go so
much.”

There was a brief pause. Then: “I don’t mind, my darling,” Mrs. Dermot
answered very softly, and added as if to herself, “God knows best.”

“I shall always be happy with my mother,” said little Ruth. “And when
you come, we shall all be happy together.”

She sank into silence again, and for a space no one moved or spoke.
Frances realized that Ruth’s breathing was getting feebler, but there
was no distress of any sort. Like the flame of a spent candle the little
life was slowly flickering out.

She heard the soft stirring of the night-wind in the trees of the garden
and the patter of falling rain-drops. And the great peace in which the
world was wrapped came into the quiet room like a benediction, so that
presently she was scarcely aware of any other presence there than that
of the Angel upon the threshold.

It seemed to her a long while before Ruth spoke again, and then it was
to utter her own name.

“Dear Miss Thorold, are you there?”

She rose up quickly. “Yes, darling, yes. What is it?”

The blue eyes with their mysterious fire gazed straight up to hers.
“You’ll find it up by the Stones,” said the child, “where the giant
hare-bells grow. That is the message, dear Miss Thorold. And when you
find it, keep it—always—always—always!” Her breath caught suddenly,
stopped, went on again with a gasp. “Because God sent it for you—and He
wants you to have it. Do you understand? If you don’t, it doesn’t
matter—so long as you keep on looking. You’ll know it when you find it,
because it’s—it’s the most precious thing in the world.” She broke off,
and for a few seconds it was as if she had forgotten to breathe, so
still was she, so utterly without any suggestion of pain. Then, very
faintly, her voice came again.

“I’m very tired. Is my dear Granny there?”

“I am here, darling,” came the patient answer from the bedside.

“Will you kiss me good night?” said little Ruth. “I am going to sleep
now.”

On either side of the bed the man and the woman drew back, making way
for the older woman. She bent and kissed the child, clasping her
closely, murmuring fond words.

So for a time they remained. Then there came a soft, fluttering sigh,
and afterwards a great silence. And Frances knew that the child was
asleep.


                              CHAPTER VIII
                              THE MIRACLE

“You won’t leave us?” said Maggie tremulously. “Please, you won’t leave
us?”

“If I can be of the slightest use here of course I will stay,” Frances
answered, “for a time at least. But I can’t live on your kindness any
longer. That is absolutely certain. I am beginning to make money by my
sketches, and I must be allowed to pay my way.”

“You will talk that over with Mother, won’t you?” said Maggie. “I know
she doesn’t want you to go. None of us do.” She smiled tearfully.
“Somehow we feel as if all the luck of Tetherstones would go with you,
and there’s never very much of it at any time, as you may have noticed.”

“I shouldn’t say that,” said Frances. “Fortune favours the brave, you
know. You mustn’t let yourself lose heart.”

“I try not,” said Maggie. “But it’s very difficult sometimes. That night
you went away to Fordestown was so terrible, and then—and then losing
little Ruth! We thought there would have to be an inquest, but Dr.
Square is so good, and he managed everything for us. Of course our
darling was not like other children. We all knew that, and that we
shouldn’t have her always. But that doesn’t make it any easier, does
it?”

“My dear, don’t cry!” said Frances gently. “I am sure there is a happy
time in front of you. Just keep looking up! You will see very soon that
the clouds are breaking.”

“I wonder,” whispered Maggie. “Well, I must go. There’s heaps to be
done. Poor Mother is so tired when Father is ill.”

“Is he better this morning?” Frances asked.

“No, not much. He fainted three times during the night. Dolly of course
is splendid. She and Mother and Arthur divide the nursing between them.
At least, Arthur—or Oliver—is always within call in case of need. But
the rest of us are not much good. So we just run round the farm,” said
Maggie, preparing to depart.

“Is he fretting for little Ruth?” asked Frances.

Maggie’s eyes opened wide; she looked startled for a moment. Then: “Oh,
no! I doubt if he even thinks about her,” she said. “He never loved her
as we did. He doesn’t love anybody except Mother. That’s what makes it
so difficult.”

“I wonder if I could help with him,” said Frances.

“Oh, don’t think of it!” said Maggie. “It wouldn’t be fit for you.”

But Frances did think of it notwithstanding. The serious illness of the
old man, so quickly following the death of little Ruth, had stirred her
deepest pity for them all, and she longed to be of any use. They had
done so much for her in her hour of need, and it seemed to her a
heaven-sent opportunity to make some return.

The work of the farm went on as usual now that little Ruth had been laid
to rest. The general routine was unchanged. There was no sign of
mourning. It was only in their hearts that the child’s passing had left
a blank. The girls whispered together of her and sometimes wept, but no
special corner was empty because of her. Like a will-o’-the-wisp she had
dwelt with them and now had flitted away. All had loved her, all had
cared for her, all missed her. But now that she was gone not one of
them, save perhaps the white-haired grandmother, could say that the
removal of her daily presence had made any material difference. She had
ever been a thing of the spirit, flower-like, contented, asking nothing
of those around her, clinging closely only to one. And that one was the
least likely of all to make any outcry. Patient and steadfast, she went
her quiet way, and if she suffered, none knew it.

Frances had come to regard her with a deep reverence. She understood now
something of the nature of the bond that existed between mother and son.
They were cast in the same mould. They faced life with the same
determined fortitude. But whereas the one had definitely passed the age
of rebellion and unrest, the other was still in the prime of life,—a
gladiator to whom defeat was cruelly hard to bear. He might come to it
in time, that stillness of resignation, but not till the fires of life
had died down in his veins and there was nought of paramount importance
left to live for. Then she could imagine such a state of mind
supervening, but her whole soul revolted at the thought. And there were
times when she was fiercely glad that he had not been able to hide his
suffering from her.

She saw but little of him during that time, but on the day of her talk
with Maggie, she came upon him unexpectedly towards evening, leaning
upon the garden-gate in the gloaming, his pipe in his mouth.

He straightened himself to let her pass, and, the last glow of the
sunset being upon him, she saw again that sleepless look in his eyes
that had before so moved her.

She paused with the half-formed intention of making some casual remark;
but words that were wholly different from those she had intended to
utter came to her lips instead.

“How tired you are!” she said.

She saw his mouth take the old cynical curve. “But still not down and
out,” he said.

She realized at once that the subject was unwelcome, but she did not
turn from it. Some impulse moved her in the face of his distaste.

“I am wondering,” she said, “if perhaps I could be of use—relieve you
and your mother a little. I should be very proud if you would let me
try.”

He caught at the word as though it stung him. “Proud! Miss Thorold, your
pride is easily satisfied!”

She faced him steadily. “Mr. Dermot, I mean what I say—always. I owe
you a debt. I should like to repay it. But if you refuse to accept
payment, I will at least not add to it any further. If you will not
allow me to be of use to you, I shall leave to-morrow.”

His attitude altered on the instant, so suddenly that she was
disconcerted. He leaned towards her with an odd gesture of surrender.
“It is not a question of my allowing or disallowing,” he said. “You have
me in the dust. Do whatever seems good to you—now and always. You come
or go at Tetherstones exactly as you will.”

His manner had a baffling quality, but she did not question the
sincerity of his words; for she sensed a certain anxiety behind them
that thrilled her strangely.

“In that case,” she said, “will you let me stay—and help you?”

He did not answer immediately, and in the brief silence she realized
that he was putting strong restraint upon himself. Then: “You will
stay,” he said, “if you will deign to do so. As to helping me—as to
helping me—” he paused as if at a loss.

Something moved her to fill in the gap. “If you will trust me in the
sick-room,” she said, “I think I could be of use. May I not try?”

He drew a hard breath and turned half from her as though he would go
away. Roger, standing by and eagerly watching his every movement,
prepared to accompany him, and then, realizing his mistake, drooped his
head dejectedly and resigned himself to further inactivity.

Arthur spoke with his face averted. “It is not a question of trust, Miss
Thorold. It is you yourself that I have to consider. You don’t quite
know what you are asking, and it is difficult for me to tell you.”

“You need not mind telling me,” she said.

He made a gesture of impotence. “I’ve got to tell you. That’s the hell
of it. If you stay here, you’ve got to understand one thing. My father
is suffering from heart-disease, and, as you know, the heart and brain
are very closely connected. His brain is affected.”

“I am not surprised at that,” Frances said. “In fact, I had suspected it
before.”

He turned upon her with that goaded expression which but for its
suffering, might have intimidated her.

“What made you do that? What has he said to you?”

“Oh, nothing very much,” she answered gently. “I have thought him a
little vague from time to time. I noticed that he never seemed to regard
little Ruth as an actual belonging, for one thing.”

“Go on!” he said grimly. “You have noticed more than that.”

She faced him candidly. “‘Yes, I have. I have noticed a great lack of
sympathy between him and his family for which I could not imagine they
were to blame.”

“You never blamed me?” he said.

She hesitated. “I think I always knew that you were very heavily
handicapped in some way,” she said.

He nodded. “Yes, damnably. But I won’t attempt to deceive you of all
people, so far as I am concerned. I have a brutal temper, and I hate
him! I hate him from the bottom of my soul—just as he hates me!”

“Oh, stop!” Frances said, shocked beyond words by the deadly emphasis
with which he spoke.

He uttered a sound that was half-laugh and half-groan. “You’ve got to
know it. Yes, he is my father, but I only endure him for my mother’s
sake. I have wished him dead for years. I wish it more than ever now.”

“Oh, hush!” Frances said. “Please don’t say it! Don’t think it! You will
be so sorry afterwards.”

“Why should I be sorry?” he said sombrely. “Do you think I shall ever
regret him? He who has all my life stood in the way of my gaining
anything I hold worth having? It’s too late now. My chances are gone.
And I don’t complain—even to you. As I say, his brain is affected. He
suffers from delusions. I have got to bear with him to the end. So what
is the good?”

She could not answer him. Only, after a few seconds, she said quietly,
“I think I should be too sorry for him to—hate him.”

“I wonder,” said Arthur.

He stood for a few moments looking at her. Then, very abruptly: “Is that
by any chance the reason why you don’t hate me?” he said.

She met his look unflinching. “No,” she said. “At least not entirely.”

“There is another reason?” he questioned.

She bent her head.

“And I am not to know what it is?” His voice was low but it held
urgency.

Her hand was on the catch of the gate, but still she met his look. “Mr.
Dermot,” she said, “there is a French saying that applies very closely
to you and to me. Do you know what it is?”

“‘_Tout comprendre est tout pardonner_,’” he said.

She opened the gate. “Even so,” she said. “When that happens, you will
know why I have not hated you.”

She left him with the words, but not before the sudden fire of his look
had reached her soul. As she went away down the garden-path, she knew
that her limbs were trembling. But there was that in her heart which
filled her with a burning exultation. The stones were turning to bread
indeed.


                               CHAPTER IX
                              THE INVALID

“Don’t take any notice of anything he says!” whispered Nurse Dolly.
“Just sit beside him and keep him quiet! He’s got some queer fancies,
poor old man. Sure you won’t mind them?”

“Of course not,” Frances murmured back.

“That’s right. And give him some bromide if he gets tiresome! Otherwise,
that digitalis stuff. You understand, don’t you?”

“Perfectly,” said Frances.

“Then I’ll go,” said Dolly. “Be sure to call if you want anyone! I shall
only be in the next room. I expect he’ll be quite good. He likes you.
But don’t stand any nonsense from him! Because if once he gets the upper
hand, he’s difficult.”

“I am sure he will be good,” Frances whispered, with a pitying glance
towards the pallid face on the pillow.

“I daresay he will,” said Dolly. “He’s tired now. He may get a little
sleep. It’s very good of you, Miss Thorold. He won’t stand anyone else
near him, you know, except Mother. And it’s killing work for her.”

“If you only knew how glad I am to be of some use to you at last!”
Frances said.

Dolly smiled. “You’ve made all the difference to this establishment
already. There, I’ll go. Sure you’ve got everything you want?”

“Everything,” said Frances.

“Then good-bye! I’ll be back in two hours unless you call me sooner.”

She nodded a cheery farewell and departed, softly closing the door
behind her, leaving Frances to wonder at her endurance. For it did not
take more than the most casual glance to tell her that the girl’s eyes
were drooping with weariness.

“They are all amazing,” she said to herself, as she sat down in a low
chair within sight of the bed. “They never give in.”

It was the afternoon of the following day and she had gained her end
after a very brief talk with Mrs. Dermot who, somewhat to her surprise,
had put but slight obstacle in her way. The fact that she herself was
nearly dropping with fatigue possibly had some influence with her, but
Frances was inclined to think that Arthur had already given his vote in
her favour. For she had shown no surprise, only a wan gratitude that
went to her heart.

So for that afternoon the invalid was in her charge, and Frances was
strangely elated by the trust reposed in her. The grimness of
Tetherstones seemed to be mellowing day by day into a homely warmth that
was infinitely precious to her.

She had another reason also for elation on that golden afternoon of late
summer, though with regard to this her feelings were decidedly mixed. A
letter had been forwarded to her from Fordestown bearing a London
postmark, containing a further cheque for ten pounds from Montague
Rotherby, and a few words scrawled within telling her that her sketches
were sold and that the purchaser desired to see her in town with a view
to commissioning more. The message was of the briefest, wholly
business-like in tone. He wrote from a club, but he gave her an address
in Mayfair at which his friend—a Mr. Hermon—was to be found, and
offered to meet her himself and conduct her thither if she would fix a
date convenient to her.

It was an offer which she well knew she could not afford to refuse,
though she would have given much to have received it from any other
quarter. But since the means could not be of her choosing, since,
moreover, it was inevitable that she should meet and finally convince
Montague Rotherby that the concession he had so hardly won from her must
be relinquished, she braced herself to face the situation with a stout
heart.

“They are all so brave here,” she said to herself. “I mustn’t be the one
to shirk.”

And then rather wistfully she smiled at the thought of classing herself
as one of the inmates of Tetherstones—she who had fled in terror not so
very long before. She wondered how it was that they had all with one
consent refrained from any species of questioning upon that night’s
doings. Arthur again, no doubt! But Arthur himself—how had he come to
change his mind concerning her? Arthur who in his fury had so nearly
taken another man’s life!

She lacked the key to the puzzle and it was futile to turn it over and
over. The fact remained that in some fashion she had been vindicated,
and Arthur’s remorse was a thing upon which she could not bear to dwell.
She wondered if she would ever understand all, but she knew that already
she had pardoned.

The afternoon sunlight slanted in at the open window. From where she sat
she could see the steep rise of the moor that led up to the Stones. She
pictured them in their stark grandeur—those mystic signs of a bygone
age—the tetherstones of the prisoners and the terrible Rocking Stone
that none might move out of its place, but that even a child might sway.
How many of those striving ones had been ground to death in their
desperation, she wondered? And now the sun shone upon that fatal place
of sacrifice, and the giant harebells bloomed where the child who had
never known darkness had wandered and lain down to sleep. Her thoughts
dwelt tenderly upon little Ruth and her harebells—the flowers she had
never seen yet knew and loved so dearly—the flowers to which she had
likened her mother’s eyes!

A feeble voice spoke in the stillness and her mind flashed back to her
surroundings.

“Nan, my dear, is that you?” it said.

She heard the words and sat motionless, uncertain as to whether they
were intended for her or not. Then she saw that the tired old eyes were
looking straight at her, and she softly rose and went to the bed.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.

He looked up at her, frowning a little, as if there were something about
her that he could not wholly understand. “Yes, dear, yes,” he said
finally. “Bring your little sketching-block and sit down beside me! I
should like to lie and watch you.”

“I haven’t been doing any to-day,” she said. “But I have a book here.
Would you like me to read to you?”

He shook his head restlessly. “No, no, no! I am too tired for books.
Bring your sketching! I should like that better than anything. The light
is good enough, isn’t it?”

“Oh, quite,” she said, “if you really wish it. But—” She stood
hesitating, uncertain whether to comply with his request; for the sketch
upon which she was just then engaged was one of little Ruth in the
corn-field. She was making it while the memory was still fresh within
her, and she planned to give it to Mrs. Dermot.

The old man broke in upon her irresolution. “Go and fetch it! Go and
fetch it! You know how I love to see you at work. They have kept you
away from me for a very long time, my darling. Run and fetch it and come
straight back!”

His manner was urgent though he smiled upon her with the words. She
decided swiftly that, whatever his delusion, it was better to humour
him. She went quickly from the room, and ran down the passage to her
own. Here she hastily collected her sketching materials, and was back
again within two minutes of her departure.

She found him anxiously watching the door, and she saw his eyes kindle
afresh at the sight of her. “How like you, my dear!” he said. “There is
no one else in the family who would have left me alone for a single
second. They are always watching me, always watching me. I don’t know
why.”

He spoke querulously.

She returned to her seat by his side.

“I expect they think you might want something and there would be no one
to give it to you,” she said. “Do you really want to see my latest
sketch? You are sure it interests you?”

“Yes—yes.” A touch of impatience sounded in the answer, but the next
moment a thin old hand came out and patted hers. “My little daughter!”
he said very fondly. “I can’t spare you to that brother of mine again.
He keeps you too long—too long.”

“I am very glad to be back,” said Frances gently.

She looked down at the ivory-coloured hand with its nervous, clutching
fingers, and was irresistibly reminded of the talons of a bird. When it
closed upon her own, she was conscious of a sense of chill that almost
amounted to shrinking. But still pity was uppermost in her mind, pity
for this frail old man whose hold on life was so weak and yet who seemed
to cling to it with such persistence.

His clasp relaxed after a moment. “Well, dear, let me see what you have
been doing!” he said wearily. “I must not talk very much to-day. My
heart is very tired. Have you more than one to show me?”

“No, only one,” she said. “There hasn’t been a great deal of time just
lately.”

“Ah!” He smiled. “The pomps and vanities! Is that it? You have been very
gay, I hear? And that handsome youngster—your cousin—what has he to
say for himself? You will never contenance any serious attention from
him, my darling, promise me! He is in love with you, of course. They all
are. You are so lovely—so lovely. But cousins, you know, cousins are
only brothers and sisters once removed. Uncle Theodore would never
permit it for a moment. Neither would I, dear. You know that. You are so
beautiful. You will look higher than a near relation with a wild record
like his. Pshaw! I am talking nonsense. You would never dream of
marrying him.”

“Never!” said Frances very decidedly, as he paused for her assurance.

“Thank you, dear, thank you,” he said. “Now let me see your sketch!”

She held it up in front of him, propped as he was upon the pillows, and
there fell a long silence while he scrutinized it. The picture was of
Ruth standing among the sheaves in the sunlight, with her flower-like
face upraised, and in her little hands a trailing bunch of the golden
corn.

The old man looked at it intently with drawn brows. Finally, with a
deliberation that was almost painful, he looked at her.

“Who is that child?” he said.

She hesitated for a second; then: “Don’t you remember little—Ruth?” she
said gently.

His frown deepened. “Little Ruth! You mean the blind child, I think—the
little girl who lives with us?”

“Yes,” said Frances.

“And this is that child?” He turned again to the sketch, gazing at it
fixedly. “But why have you made her like Nan?” he said, in a troubled
voice. “Nan wasn’t blind. She had eyes like bluebells.” His look came
back to her. “Thank you, Miss Thorold,” he said courteously. “You have a
very charming talent. Some day I hope you will allow me to conduct you
to the Stones. I should much like to see a sketch of them from your
brush, most especially of the Rocking Stone, regarding which there are
some very interesting traditions. You have heard of some of them
perhaps?”

“I have indeed,” said Frances, laying her sketch out of sight with a
feeling of relief. “I think it is rather a gruesome spot myself.”

“It is—it is,” agreed Mr. Dermot. “The Rocking Stone has even been
called the Slaughter Stone before now. If you ever visit it at sunset
you will see a curious phenomenon. It is streaked here and there with
crimson strata, to which the sunset light gives the appearance of
freshly shed blood.”

“Shall we talk of something else?” said Frances quietly.

He lifted his brows. “Certainly,” he said, with a touch of hauteur. “I
have no desire to discuss anything distasteful to you. In fact, our
worthy doctor has warned me that conversation of any description should
not be indulged in too freely. So pray take up your sketch and work, and
I will lie and watch you.”

There was a certain imperiousness in his tone which reminded her of
Arthur. She would gladly have left her sketch untouched, but she
realized that to do so would not make for peace. She took it up again
therefore without further words, and opening her box prepared to put in
some minute touches.

The consciousness of the old man closely watching her did not tend to
help her, but after a few minutes the fascination of her art asserted
itself, and she began to forget him. She worked for some time without
looking up, and the little blue-clad figure in the corn-field began to
stand out in delicate outline. She knew, as her brush moved dexterously
fashioning the image of her brain, that this was the best work she had
ever done, and the delight of it quickened her blood. The thought of
Rotherby’s letter came to her, and she made a mental note that she would
answer it that very day and accept the suggestion he had made. Now that
her chance had come to her, she could not afford to let it slip. She
must seize and hold it with both hands.

Her thoughts wandered back over the random words that old Mr. Dermot had
just uttered. The name of Theodore had stirred her memory. It was the
name of the Bishop of Burminster. She remembered how once in
conversation with Arthur she had spoken of him and discovered that he
knew him. Was it possible that they were related?

Another memory suddenly flashed across her—a vivid and strangely
compelling memory. The eyes of the blind child with their deep blue fire
of the spirit—the eyes of a visionary which had so pierced her that she
had almost turned away! She felt as if a scroll, hitherto sealed, were
being unrolled before her eyes; and so strong was the impression that
her fingers ceased from their task and she looked up.

In a moment she was aware of a startling change in the old man in her
charge. He had sunk down on the pillows, and his face was ghastly.

She got up quickly, seizing a bottle of restorative as she did so. Then
she saw that his lips were moving and was partially reassured.

As she poured a dose into the medicine-glass, he spoke aloud. “You need
not be alarmed. My heart is a little tired—a little tired. But it will
not stop yet.”

She bent over him, holding the glass to his pallid lips.

He drank and paused. “I shall soon be better,” he said, and gasped for
breath. A faint colour began to show once more in his face. He smiled at
her and drank again.

“I am so sorry,” she said, with deep self-reproach. “I ought to have
seen.”

“No—no,” he said, in his kindly, courteous fashion. “You must not blame
yourself for that. I think I will have a little sleep. I shall not last
much longer, but I shall live to see the Stones again—just once
again—my Stones—the place of sacrifice—where my three-fold vow has
been accomplished.” His voice began to trail off indistinctly. He closed
his eyes. “The place of sacrifice—” he murmured again, and then
followed an odd jumble of words in which “mother, father, and child”
came with unintelligible frequency until his utterance ceased
altogether.

Frances stood by his side, listening to his uncertain breathing while
other words sprang up all-unbidden in her mind, almost finding their way
to her lips.

“From all evil and mischief, from sin, from the crafts and assaults of
the devil,—Good Lord deliver us!”


                               CHAPTER X
                           THE WOMAN’S RIGHT

“He is still sleeping very peacefully,” said Mrs. Dermot, with a
grateful look at Frances. “You had a very composing effect upon him this
afternoon. I hope it did not tire you very badly.”

It was supper-time, and they had met at the table in the old
farm-kitchen, which Lucy and Nell had been spreading with the home
produce. It was the one meal of the day at which the whole family as a
rule assembled, but Dolly and Milly were absent on this occasion in the
sick-room, and Arthur and Maggie had not entered.

“It did not tire me at all,” Frances answered. “I was very, very glad to
be of any use. I hope you will let me do it again.”

“You are very good,” said Mrs. Dermot. “He will be better after this for
a time. A long, unbroken sleep always brings him back. Won’t you sit
down?”

“Did you sleep?” Frances asked.

“Oh, yes, Mother slept,” said Lucy. “I took in her tea, and she never
even knew.”

“She needed it badly enough,” put in Elsie. “She’s been up three nights
running.”

“Ah, well, I expect I shall rest to-night,” said Mrs. Dermot, with her
tired smile. “Oh, there you are, Arthur! I was just wondering. And
Maggie,—where is she?”

He had entered from the scullery. He stopped beside her chair. “Maggie?
I don’t know where Maggie is. Somewhere about, no doubt. How are you,
Mother? Better?”

She looked up into his face, and Frances saw the flash of sympathy
between them, realized for an instant the closeness of the bond at which
till then she had only guessed, and felt as if she had looked upon
something sacred.

“I am all right, dear,” said Mrs. Dermot. “I have had a most refreshing
sleep, thanks to Miss Thorold’s kindness. Your father will be much
better when he wakes.”

“Sit down, Arthur!” said Nell. “We want to begin.”

He glanced round with a quick frown. “Where is everybody?
Maggie—Oliver! Why don’t they come in? Go and call them, Elsie!”

“I don’t know where they are,” said Elsie. “I’ve milked the cows and fed
the horses and locked up. They went to market this morning, and I
haven’t seen them since.”

“Oh, rot!” he said. “They must have come back long ago. They are
probably dawdling round somewhere. Has no one seen them? Nell, haven’t
you?”

Nell shook her head. “We’ve been busy in the dairy, Lucy and I. Only
came in in time to get the supper. What’s it matter? They’ll turn up.”

He turned again to Elsie. “You say you locked up. Was the brown cob
back?”

“I didn’t go that way,” she said, with a touch of defiance. “It was only
the cart-horses I saw to. Joe was there too. Oliver always does the
cob.”

“What does it matter?” Nell said again. “Maggie can have her supper when
she comes in. There’s no reason to wait for her.”

“It does matter,” he returned sternly. “I won’t have any of you out on
the moors after dark, and you know it.”

“My good man!” said Nell. “What do you think we’re made of?”

He whirled upon her in a sudden tempest of wrath. “Don’t you dare to
gainsay me! I mean it. I—will—not—have—you—out—after—dark. Is
that plain enough? Damn it! Do you think I’ll be defied to my face?”

“My dear!” said Mrs. Dermot very gently.

He looked down at her and curbed himself. “I’m sorry, Mother. But a chit
like that—not eighteen!”

“I am eighteen,” asserted Nell, crimson-cheeked. “And I won’t be kept in
order by you. So there!”

He turned his eyes upon her, and she shrank in spite of herself. “You
will be kept in order by me,” he said. “You will go up to your room
now—do you hear?—and stay there for the rest of the night.”

“I!” said Nell. “What—now?” She stood gripping the back of the chair in
which she had been about to seat herself. Her face had gone from red to
white. Her eyes stared straight across the table at her brother.

He answered her without moving, but his single word fell like a blow.
“Now!”

There followed a terrific silence, during which it seemed to Frances
that the wills of the man and the girl were in visible conflict though
neither stirred or spoke. In the end there came a faint gasp from Nell,
and she turned to obey.

Lucy started up with hysterical crying. “I’m going too, then—I’m going
too!”

“You will stay where you are,” Arthur said, without turning his gaze
from the younger sister.

She dropped back sobbing in the chair, and Nell went wordlessly to the
door. Slowly she opened it, slowly passed out and closed it again.

Mrs. Dermot looked up at her son. “Elsie may take up her supper,” she
said.

He shrugged his shoulders. “She can do as she likes.” He moved to his
own place and sat down. His look came to Frances. “Sorry to treat you to
this exhibition,” he said. “But discipline must be maintained.”

She met his look with the utmost directness. “Did you say discipline or
tyranny?” she said.

She expected anger, was prepared for it, even desired it. But he only
smiled.

“Yes, you may call it that,” he said. “But it’s in a good cause. Nell is
getting above herself. She has got to learn. Lucy, sit up and behave
yourself! You’ve nothing whatever to cry about. Good heavens, child! Why
all this fuss?”

Lucy sobbed some inarticulate words into her handkerchief, and abruptly
Frances leaned forward. She spoke in a low tone, very urgently, to
Arthur.

“Let her run after Nell and fetch her back!” she said.

She could not have said exactly what prompted the request. It was not
primarily pity for either of the two girls. It was the man himself who
held her attention at that moment, and an overwhelming desire to move
that iron will out of its undeviating course.

But his reception of her interference was disconcerting. Instead of
displaying the opposition she had anticipated, he spoke again to the
still sobbing girl.

“Dry your eyes, you silly girl, and go tell Nell to come back!”

Lucy looked up with a gasp of sheer amazement, and Frances found herself
gasping too at the utter unexpectedness of his action. Arthur’s face
wore a cynical expression, but he showed no sign of impatience. “Go on!”
he said. “Go and fetch her back and be quick about it!”

Lucy got up and slipped from the room.

“Miss Thorold, may I give you some ham?” said Arthur.

Their eyes met, and she caught a quizzical gleam in his that sent an odd
feeling as of tension relaxed through her.

“Thank you,” she said.

He proceeded to carve the ham in silence, and as he did so there came
the sound of wheels and a horse’s feet outside.

“Here they are!” said Mrs. Dermot in a tone of relief.

“I knew they wouldn’t be long,” said Elsie.

Arthur’s face took an inscrutable look. He said nothing whatever.

Elsie carried round the plates and they began the meal. After a brief
pause Nell and Lucy came back into the room and silently resumed their
places; but a considerable interval elapsed before the opening of the
outer door into the scullery told of the entrance of the latest comers.

Maggie came in looking flushed and nervous. Oliver entered behind her,
swaggering a little, his bold eyes somewhat fierce.

“Hullo!” he said. “That’s right. I said you’d begin. We’d better sit
down as we are.”

Maggie’s place was next to her mother. He pulled out the chair for her,
and she dropped into it speechlessly.

“What have you been doing?” said Arthur.

He spoke quietly, but his tone was ominous. Maggie threw him one swift
glance and then lowered her eyes.

“Everything’s all right,” said Oliver, with a touch of aggressiveness.
“We thought we’d make a day of it. I’ll tell you all about it
presently.”

“You’ll tell me now,” Arthur said.

“Oh, all right.” Oliver stood with his hand upon the back of Maggie’s
chair. He bent suddenly over her. “Sure you want me to tell, Maggie?” he
said.

She put up a trembling hand in answer. Abruptly he stooped lower and
kissed her before them all.

The violent overturning of Arthur’s chair as he sprang to his feet
brought him upright again with a jerk. He broke in upon the other’s
furious oath with quick speech that yet was not wholly uncontrolled.

“Yes, you can damn as much as you please,” he said. “It won’t make a
ha’porth of difference now. She is mine—for better for worse—and you
can’t undo it. We were married to-day at Fordestown—after we’d sold the
pigs.”

“Married!” The single word fell with frightful force from Arthur’s lips.
He put his hand suddenly to his head.

Maggie crouched against her mother, and Mrs. Dermot, pale as death, put
her arm about her without a word.

Then across the silence, shrill as the piping of a bird, came Nell’s
voice. “Well played, Oliver! I wish you luck!”

He turned to her with his winning boyish smile and gripped her
outstretched hand across the table.

“Thanks, little ’un! You’re a brick, and I’ll always remember it.”

Elsie left her end of the table and came round to Maggie. Lucy cowered
in her chair and hid her face.

Arthur’s hand fell and clenched at his side. He spoke—not to Oliver,
but to Maggie.

“Is this true?”

She looked up at him with an effort. Through quivering lips she answered
him. “Yes.”

“You are—actually married—to this—damned—clod?”

Oliver straightened himself sharply. “I’ll answer that question,” he
said. “Come outside and I’ll show you the exact stuff he’s made of!”

But at that Maggie left her mother’s sheltering arm and got up. She
stood between the two men, breathing very fast.

“You shan’t fight about me,” she said. “You’ve nothing to fight about,
for I belong to Oliver and always shall, from now on. I’ve the right—as
every woman has—to choose my own mate, and I’ve chosen. That’s all
there is to it.”

There was a simple dignity about her as she uttered the words that
carried an irresistible appeal to Frances. Shaking as she was with
agitation, the girl asserted her right of womanhood with a decision that
none might question.

Arthur did not attempt to question it. He merely lifted a hand and
pointed to the door.

“All right,” he said. “You can go—you and your mate. And you will never
enter Tetherstones again.”

He did not look at Oliver. He had scarcely looked at him from the
outset. But at that the young man’s wrath boiled over, and he compelled
attention.

“You think that you and your blasted Tetherstones count a couple of
damns with either of us, do you?” he said. “You think that because poor
Nan broke her heart here, we’d be pining to do the same! You’re a damn’
fool, Arthur, that’s what you are. And now I’ve got what I want, I take
pleasure in telling you so. You’re too grand a swell to fight the likes
of me. You don’t fight your own labourers! No, I thought not. But you
can’t prevent ’em telling you the truth or taking a woman out of your
family and giving her happiness—common or garden happiness—in place of
this infernal mass of corruption you’re pleased to call your family
honour. I’ve got my honour too, but it’s not your sort, thank God. I’m
just a plain man, and I’ve no frills of any kind. But I’ve got the right
to marry the girl who loves me, and there’s no one on this earth can
come between us now. If they think they can, well, let ’em try, that’s
all. Just let ’em try!”

He moved with the words, and pulled Maggie to him, pressing her close to
his side. But his eyes remained upon Arthur, hot with anger and superbly
contemptuous of the other man’s superior strength.

Arthur stood motionless. His look was turned upon Oliver, but he made no
attempt whatever to check the fierce torrent of words so forcibly poured
out. To Frances he had the look of the gladiator sorely wounded yet
holding his ground for the sake of that honour which Oliver so bitterly
denounced. And her heart went out to the man in sudden wild rush of
sympathy that seemed to sweep away all rational thought. She found
herself on her feet and quivering with a burning desire to help him in
some way, though how she knew not. The deadly pallor of his face, the
awful fixity of his eyes, were more than she could bear.

He spoke—this time to Oliver but he did not deign to waste a single
word in answer to the furious challenge hurled at him.

“Let me see your marriage certificate!” he said.

His words fell with the utmost calm and Frances wondered if she were the
only one in the room who knew how cruelly deep was his wound.

Oliver drew a hard angry breath, as though he found himself unexpectedly
held in check by some force unknown. He stared for a moment, then with a
sullen air thrust a hand inside his coat. He brought out a paper which
he flung down in front of Arthur.

“There you are. You’ll find it all in order,” he said. “You won’t undo
that knot in a hurry.”

Arthur picked up the document, opened and scanned it, then held it in
silence before his mother. She laid an imploring hand upon his.

“Arthur—Arthur!” she said, an anguished break in her voice. “Don’t do
anything in a hurry! I can’t lose another of my girls like my darling
Nan.”

“I’m afraid you have lost her, Mother,” he replied, with a species of
grim gentleness, “since she has chosen to go.”

“I haven’t chosen to go!” burst from Maggie. She turned and flung her
arms closely about her mother. “If I have to go, it’ll be your doing,
not mine and not Oliver’s. He’s willing to stay. He’s told me so. In
fact, he was willing to go on here in the same old way, and not to tell,
only I felt I couldn’t bear it. He’s thought of me and my happiness all
through—all through. And we’ve loved each other for years. You don’t
know what love is. You can never possibly understand. But Mother
knows—Mother knows.”

“Yes, I know,” said Mrs. Dermot, and the tragedy of the quiet utterance
was as though she stood beside one dead.

There was a brief pause as of involuntary reverence, then Oliver spoke,
his voice steady and deferential. “It was only for the mother’s sake we
came back,” he said. “I’d sooner have gone to the other end of the world
myself. But—well, Maggie’s happiness was at stake, so I couldn’t.”

“Maggie’s happiness!” An exceedingly bitter note sounded in Arthur’s
voice. “Was it for Maggie’s happiness, may I ask, that you persuaded her
to do this thing?”

Oliver’s look flashed back to him. He stiffened himself afresh for
battle. Couldn’t he see, Frances asked herself desperately? Were they
all blind to the agony of this man’s soul?

“Yes, it was,” he flung back hotly. “It was for her happiness. Don’t you
dare to question that, Arthur Dermot! You’re not in a position to
question it. There’s not a woman on this earth who would trust her
happiness to you. And you know it.”

The blow went home. Frances felt as if it had been directed against
herself. She did not need to see the stricken look in Arthur’s eyes. She
knew without seeing, and on the instant she acted, for further inaction
was unedurable.

Before he could make any reply to the thrust, she was in the lists
beside him.

“You are wrong!” she said, and her voice rang clear and triumphant
before them all. “You are utterly wrong! I would!”

She turned to him quivering with the greatness of the moment to find his
eyes upon her with that in them which thrilled her to the soul.

She stretched forth a trembling hand. “I would!” she repeated, and this
time she spoke to him alone. “You know I would!”

He caught her hand and closely held it. “Yes, I know—I know!” he said.
Then curtly to Oliver, “That’s enough for the present. Sit down and have
some supper, you and Maggie too! We’ll discuss this thing in the
morning. Frances, sit here!”

He pulled forward a chair and she sat beside him at the head of the
table. But save for that one brief command he did not speak to her or
look in her direction again.

No one else ventured to address a word to her. Only Mrs. Dermot leaned
forward and gently pressed her hand.


                               CHAPTER XI
                            THE PERFECT GIFT

The thing was done. Frances stood alone in the old ivy-covered porch
looking out into the faint starlight and asked herself how she had come
to do it. It had been the impulse of the moment, and she well knew that
if she had taken time to consider she would never have acted upon it.
But a power that was infinitely greater than herself had urged her, and
she had had no choice.

Now it was over. The inspiration had departed, and she waited with a
certain chill apprehension for the coming of the man she loved. He had
gone up to the sick-room with his mother, and she had slipped away from
the rest, for she wanted to be alone when he came. He generally smoked
his pipe upon the porch when the day’s work was done, and evidently
Roger expected him to-night; for he shared her vigil, alert and
friendly, his head within reach of her hand.

It was a very peaceful evening, full of that wonderful moorland
fragrance so dear to her heart, so quiet that she could hear the
cart-horses munching the hay in their mangers in the stable across the
yard. From the kitchen quarters in the house behind her came the homely
clatter of dishes being washed up, accompanied by the chattering of
girlish voices. Elsie, Lucy and Nell were evidently discussing the
dramatic events of the evening. She wondered what they all thought of
her, if Maggie and Oliver imagined that she had made that amazing
declaration for their sakes. She wondered what Arthur thought. . . . A
curious feeling of depression came upon her. She felt as if she were
faced by an immensity too great to gauge. What had she done? What had
she done? Ah! His step at last! She turned with a hard-beating heart and
met him face to face.

She could not read his expression in the dimness, but she realized in an
instant that there was none of the lover’s ardour in his coming. And the
soul within her shrank like a frightened child. She stood before him
trembling.

He came to her and paused. “Shall we go into the garden?” he said. His
voice was low, constrained. She turned mutely, and they passed down the
winding path between the hollyhocks and sunflowers side by side.

On they went and on in utter silence till they came to the door in the
wall that led to the lawn and the cedar-tree. He opened it and she
passed through. The door closed with a thud and he walked beside her
again.

The silence widened and became a gulf between them. The dew lay like a
silver veil upon the lawn. She turned aside to the path leading to the
nut-trees. And here at last in deepest shadow he spoke.

“Frances!”

She paced on, as though some remorseless Fate compelled. She knew
then—it seemed to her that she had known all along—that the gulf was
such as could not be bridged.

She answered him with absolute steadiness. “You needn’t say any more.
Let us go back!”

He made a gesture with one hand that was almost violent. “It isn’t
always possible—to go back,” he said.

“It is quite possible in this case,” she said quietly. “Perhaps it will
make matters easier if I tell you that I found out by accident some time
ago that Maggie and Oliver were contemplating this step, and my
sympathies have been entirely with them all through.”

He gave a sharp start. “Maggie! Oliver! But why tell me this?”

“Doesn’t it make it easier for you?” she said.

“Why should it?” he demanded. And then abruptly, realizing the loophole
she had made for him, “Oh, damn it, Frances! Are you trying to throw
dust in my eyes—at this stage?”

“Not in the least,” she returned, and now her pride came back to her and
she lifted it grandly like a banner. “I am telling you the truth. My
sympathies are, and always have been, entirely with Maggie and Oliver. I
may be very presumptuous, but I can’t stand by and see a great wrong
done without making a very great effort to avert it. I have made my
effort, and whether successful or not I have at least managed to prevent
your acting in this matter without consideration. That is all I have to
say.”

She was holding her banner bravely now, masking her own humiliation and
his anguish of spirit also. For herein, it seemed to her, lay salvation
for them both. If she could check the flood-tide of passion which she
sensed in his restraint, if she could hold back the wild words that were
fighting for utterance, she would be doing him service. And in serving
him, she served herself. For thus has Love the Omnipotent ordained, that
in the service of another we should find our own deliverance.

Again the silence fell between them. They were walking more slowly now
in the gloom of the nut-trees. She realized that the tension was
partially relaxed, but she did not dare to lower her flag.

He spoke at last, his voice very quiet and sombre, with something of the
old iron ring. “What do you want me to do?”

They reached the end of the nut-walk and she turned. Her agitation was
wholly past, but her heart felt deadly cold within her.

“I want you,” she said, “to try to understand that Maggie and Oliver
have done no wrong, and to treat them with kindness.”

“Is that all?” he said.

She did not understand his tone. “Is it too much to ask?” she said.

“No, it is very little—less than nothing. Do you think I care a damn
what happens to either of them now?” His voice shook a little.

She turned her face towards him as she walked. “Yes, you do care,” she
said. “And that’s why it isn’t easy. But, Arthur, listen! There is no
one on this earth who has the shadow of a right to interfere between a
man and woman who love each other. When I say love, I don’t mean the
mere physical attraction which so many mistake for love. I mean that
holy thing, the love of the spirit, which nothing can ever change or
take away. That is too sacred to be tampered with, and no third person
should ever presume to touch it. It comes from God, and it should
command our utmost reverence,—even our homage.”

She spoke very earnestly, for somehow—in spite of that terrible
coldness at her heart—it seemed essential that he should see this thing
with her eyes. It lay with her—she knew it lay with her—to save him
from committing a great wrong, and to avert another sorrow from
Tetherstones.

But as they paced on towards the open starlight in front of them, his
silence seemed to hold but little hope. And the coldness grew and spread
within her, paralysing her. She knew if this effort failed, she could
not make another.

Arthur spoke at last. “Are you suggesting that they should go on exactly
as if this had not happened? If my father came to know of it,—it would
drive him crazy.”

“Your father need not know,” she said. “He is an old man. It rests with
you, not with him.”

“Ah!” He stood still suddenly. “That’s true. He can’t live for ever. How
many years have I told myself that, and yet I always forget it.
Frances!” His voice thrilled suddenly, and then as suddenly he stopped
himself. “No! I won’t say that to you. I’ll say just this. I see your
point, and—I’ll act on it if I find I can. Does that satisfy you?”

“Thank you,” she said.

“Don’t!” he said sharply, and swung round to go on. “Don’t ever thank
me! Just—believe in me—if you can!”

“I can,” she said. “And I do.”

They came out upon the path that wound about the dewy lawn, and walked
back along it in silence.

To Frances it was as if there were nothing more to be said, and yet it
was in the words that had been left unspoken that the true meaning of
the interview lay. In some fashion she felt that a chapter in her life
had been closed. She knew what lay before her. Her only course was to
go, and she would not flinch from taking it. She would meet unswervingly
the difficulties and trials of the way. She would keep her banner
flying. For in that one word, her own name spoken as he had spoken it,
the coldness had melted from about her heart, and whatever came to her
now, she knew that, though inexplicably bound hand and foot like the
prisoners of the tetherstones, he had poured out to her that which is
greater than all things—the love of his whole soul—the perfect gift.


                              CHAPTER XII
                              THE PARTING

“I’ll never forget what you’ve done for us,” said Maggie. “And I’m very
sorry you’re going.” She spoke with great earnestness but the lilt had
come back to her voice and the light to her eyes. She held Frances’ hand
very tightly between her own. “You’ll come back some day?” she said.

“I shall certainly come back to the moors,” Frances said, “to make my
sketches.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said Maggie. “Then you’ll let us know where you
are. I couldn’t bear not to. You’re going up to London now?”

“Only for a day or two—to see a friend who has found a purchaser for my
work. I shan’t stay,” said Frances.

“A friend?” Maggie gave her a curious look. “Is it—it isn’t—the friend
you went away to see at Fordestown?”

“Why shouldn’t it be?” said Frances.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Maggie coloured suddenly and vividly. “I just
wondered, that’s all. And then you’re coming back? You will come back,
won’t you?”

“I shouldn’t wonder if I came back to Mrs. Hearn,” said Frances. “But,
Maggie, tell me what makes you ask about Mr. Rotherby! What do you know
about him?”

“Oh, I can’t tell you that,” said Maggie quickly. “I shouldn’t have
asked. But Arthur knows him—and hates him. Please don’t let’s talk
about him—and I wouldn’t go to see him if I were you. He’s a bad man.
Ah, here comes Oliver to fetch you! Good-bye, dear Frances, and just a
hundred thousand thanks for everything.”

She responded warmly to Frances’ embrace, and returned to her
butter-making with a song on her lips and gladness in her eyes.

“Yes, I should just think we are grateful,” said Oliver, as he followed
Frances out. “Arthur has been as decent as he knows how, and it’s all
thanks to you. Hope you’ll make a match of it before long, Miss Thorold,
when better times come. You won’t want to wait as long as we did.”

They all treated her thus, as if her marriage to Arthur were a foregone
conclusion, cheerily disregarding the fact that neither she nor Arthur
had given them any justification for so doing. They had in fact barely
seen one another since that night in the garden, now two days past; and
she had even begun to wonder if he would let her go without a word of
farewell. Old Mr. Dermot was better, would soon be downstairs again,
they said, and his son had returned to his work on the farm, appearing
only at meals and then for very brief intervals.

She had taken leave of everyone else, save Oliver who was to drive her
to the station, and time was too short for lingering. She gave up hope
at last, as she climbed into the cart. Roger was nowhere to be seen, so
evidently his master was not in the vicinity. Perhaps he had not grasped
the fact that she was going! Perhaps he had forgotten the hour!
Perhaps—and somehow this was a supposition to which she clung
instinctively for comfort—perhaps he had decided that he could not face
the parting. In any case, he was not there, and her heart was heavy as
they trotted out on to the moorland road. She felt she could have
endured anything more easily than to be suffered to go without a sign.

The sky was dark with clouds that drove rapidly but unendingly before a
west wind. The chill of coming rain was in the air, and the great heads
of the tors were wrapped in drifting mist-wreaths. The scent of the bogs
came to Frances with a poignant sense of regret.

“I shall be home-sick for this when I get away,” she said.

“It does take hold of you, doesn’t it?” said Oliver.

Homely words that almost brought the tears to her eyes! Yes, it did take
hold of her. She was bound with a chain that she could never break. She
could not speak in answer. Her heart was too full.

She had said to Maggie that she expected to be in town for but a few
days, but a strong conviction was upon her that her absence would be
much longer than this. She even wondered if she would ever return. The
future was as a blank wall before her which she was utterly powerless to
penetrate. But she had regained her health, and she knew that courage
would return as soon as the last of her farewells was spoken.

So they trotted on over the moor with the clouds gathering thickly on
every side.

Rounding the curve of a hill, they came at length within sight of the
spot where she and Roger had sat together on that summer morning that
seemed so long ago, and she had first seen Roger’s master. Vivid as a
picture actually before her eyes, came the memory of that day, of the
solitary horseman riding in the blinding sunlight, of the brief incident
that had been their first introduction. She remembered her
indignation—her sweeping condemnation of the man. But he had done worse
things since, infinitely worse. Did she condemn him now? As if in
answer, another memory smote her—the memory of this man bowed to the
earth by a burden too great to be borne—the dumb agony of which she had
been a witness—and his tears—his tears!

Her own eyes suddenly swam in them. She turned her face away. She must
not break down now. She must not.

Some seconds passed before she could command herself to look again. They
were nearing the bend in the road by which she and Roger had sat.

“Hullo!” said Oliver suddenly.

She started. “What is it? Ah!”

A great wave of feeling, tumultuous, overwhelming, surged through her
and she could say no more. Arthur was waiting on his horse, motionless
as a statue, at the very spot that meant so much to her. Roger was with
him with pricked, expectant ears.

Oliver gave a chuckle and checked the cob. “Somehow I thought—” he
said. “Have I got to pull up?”

She did not answer him, for Arthur with an imperious wave of the hand
did that for her. He walked his horse forward as Oliver reined into a
standstill.

“You can ride my animal back,” he said. “I will take Miss Thorold to the
station.”

“You haven’t too much time,” said Oliver.

“Then get down and be quick about it!” said Arthur briefly.

To Frances he said nothing, and she attempted no word of greeting, even
when he mounted to the seat beside her.

A hasty farewell to Oliver, the starting forward of the cob, a cheery
bark from Roger scudding in front, and they were rounding the bend of
the road and alone. Before them, the drifting clouds parted suddenly
like a rent curtain, and a great shaft of light descended. They drove
straight into the brightness; but as they reached it the clouds drew
together again, and they were once more in gloom. The moor stretched all
about them like a wilderness.

Arthur spoke at last. “Why are you going?”

His voice was quiet; it held no special thrill of interest. She even
wondered as she made reply if he were greatly interested.

“It is better for me to go,” she said. “I am going to take up work in
earnest. I have had some encouragement. Several of my sketches have been
bought.”

“I have seen the one you gave to my mother,” he said. “It was good of
you to part with it.”

“I did it for her,” said Frances simply.

He nodded. “Nothing could have pleased her more. You say you have found
a purchaser for the others. You are hoping to get commissioned work?”

“I am hoping,” said Frances.

“And if you succeed, that will bring you back?” he said.

She hesitated. His tone told her so little.

“It might,” she said at length.

He drove on for some distance in silence. Then, with a restraint so
evident that she could not fail to realize that he was putting strong
force upon himself, he said, “I hope you will succeed. I hope you will
make your fortune. It’s a difficult world, but there are always some
lucky ones. You may be one of them. In any case, whether you are or not,
may I give you one word of advice?”

“What is it?” she said.

He answered her briefly, with a certain recklessness that somehow hurt
her. “Forget you ever met me! It’s no good—no good! Don’t weight
yourself with a burden that can only handicap you! If it’s your fate, as
well as mine, to grind your bread from stones, you’ll need all your
strength to do it. People like you and me can’t afford to waste any time
over—dreams.”

He cut the horse a savage flick over the ears with the last word and
they went forward on a downward slant at a startling pace.

Frances attempted no rejoinder of any sort. She understood him too well.
He had warned her not to return, at what cost to himself she would never
know, though possibly it was for his own sake as well as for hers that
he had done it. There was an insuperable barrier between them, and he
was not a man with whom any compromise would be possible. There were in
his nature fires which, it was evident, even he could not always keep
under control. Perhaps he realized that he could not. But he had spoken,
and she felt that he had spoken finally. It was not for her to question
his decision. She could only go onward now through a wilderness of utter
desolation.

Not till they had reached the outskirts of Fordestown and the grey moors
were left behind, did he speak again, and then it was to say in his
customary, clipped style, “We’ll not make a tragedy of this. Life’s too
short. It’s just good-bye and good luck! And that’s all.”

She forced herself to smile. “Except many, many thanks!” she said.

He stopped her quickly. “No, not that! Never that! Do you mind if I
don’t get down at the station? I don’t like to leave the horse.”

“Of course not,” she said.

They finished the journey in silence. He did not so much as help her to
descend. A porter came for her baggage, and at the last moment she stood
on the path, looking up at him.

“Good-bye!” she said.

He looked down at her, his face like an iron mask. “Good-bye—and good
luck! You haven’t any time to spare.”

He did not see the hand she began to offer, and it fell instantly. He
touched his cap with his whip and lifted the reins. In another moment he
was driving swiftly out of the yard.

She turned into the station with a curious sense of groping her way, and
heard the porter’s cheery voice at her shoulder. “It’s all right, miss.
You’ve got ten minutes to spare.”

“Thank you,” said Frances, and drew a hard, deep breath.

Ten minutes to spare! And then to take up the burden of life again!



                                PART IV


                               CHAPTER I
                           THE LAND OF EXILE

London and a cold grey pall of fog! Frances looked forth from the
carriage-window and suppressed a shiver. The grim ugliness of the great
buildings that bordered the line seemed to lay a clammy hand upon her.
The sordid poverty of the streets was as a knell sounding in her heart.
Somehow it seemed to her that there was a greater loneliness here than
could be found in any solitude of the moors. It was like a gaunt
spectre, menacing her.

The autumn day was fading into twilight, and a dreary drizzle had begun
to descend from the smoke-laden sky. She saw the gleam of it on the
platforms as the train ran into the teeming terminus. And the spectre at
her elbow drew closer. This was the land of exile.

She shook herself free, summoning to her aid that practical spirit which
had stood her in such good stead in the old days of her slavery. Was she
weaker now than she had been then, she asked herself? But she did not
stay to answer the question, for something within her uttered swift
warning. She knew that there were weak joints in her armour of which she
had never been aware before.

In any case it was not the moment to examine them. The long journey was
over, and she had reached her destination. The time for action had
arrived. She had made her plans, and it now remained for her to carry
them out. With the money that Rotherby had sent for her sketches, she
had enough to provide for that night at a hotel, and in the morning she
was determined to find a cheap lodging where she could remain pending
the settlement of the business that had brought her thither. Beyond
that, her plans were vague, but if the matter went favourably she hoped
to leave London again immediately. To live somewhere in the
country—anywhere in the country—where she could breathe pure air and
work; this was all she asked of Fate now. The reek of the town nauseated
her; it filled her with an intolerable sense of imprisonment. She had an
almost unbearable longing to turn and go back whence she had come. And
then suddenly a voice spoke at her side, greeting her, and she looked
round with a start.

“Didn’t you expect me?” said Rotherby.

He smiled his welcome in the glare and noise of the great station, and
two utterly antagonistic sensations possessed Frances at the sight of
him, a feeling of dread and a feeling that was almost gladness. Little
as she had desired to see him, the unexpected appearance of a familiar
face in all that host of strangers sent a quick thrill of relief through
her. The spectre that haunted her drew a little away.

She smiled back at him, and after a moment gave him her hand. “I never
expected you. What made you come?”

He laughed with a hint of exultation. His hand-clasp was close and
possessive. She drew her own away with a sudden, stabbing memory of that
which had been denied her that morning.

“You said you were coming,” he said.

“Yes, but I never said the train.”

He laughed again. “There was no need. Come along! Any luggage? I’ve got
a car waiting.”

“My things are all here,” she said. “But I am not going any further
to-night. I am going to get a room at the station hotel. To-morrow I can
find something cheaper.”

“Splendid!” he said lightly. “I’ll come and see you safely installed,
may I?”

She could not refuse, but she made her acceptance of his escort as
business-like as possible. Not for worlds would she have had him know
that any company just then was preferable to that of the spectre of her
desolation that stalked so close behind.

They went into the hotel, and she booked a room for the night, Rotherby
standing by her side, amused, not, it seemed, greatly interested, until
the business was accomplished.

Then, as she turned, he became at once alert and ready. She thought the
cynical lines were more deeply marked than ever about his mouth and
eyes, but his smile was wholly friendly.

“Look here!” he said. “You must dine with me and we’ll do a theatre
to-night. You’re looking like the maiden all forlorn, though I’m
relieved to see you’ve left the cow behind! I’ll be round about seven.
Will that do?”

She hesitated. “Do you know I think I would rather have a quiet talk
with you somewhere?” she said, with something of an effort. “I want to
hear all there is to hear—about my work.”

“Oh, there’s plenty of time,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the dealer
chap isn’t in town at the moment. I heard on the ’phone this morning.
He’ll soon be back though, so you needn’t be anxious.”

The news chilled her. “I had hoped to see him to-morrow,” she said.

“He’ll soon be back,” said Rotherby again, with careless confidence.
“Now what about this theatre? You’ll come? It’ll pass the time away.”

It was in her mind to refuse. She would have preferred to refuse. But in
the end she accepted. Perhaps it was the dread of a long evening of
solitary speculation and its attendant misgivings that actuated her.
Perhaps his insistence weighed with her; or perhaps like a child she was
overwhelmed by the sheer loneliness of her position. Whatever the
motive, she yielded, and having yielded, she thrust all regrets away. It
was as though after her long journey she had entered another world, and
she determined almost fiercely to take the advice that had been offered
her that morning and fling all handicaps aside. He had said it was no
good. He had told her not to return. Then she would go forward on this
new path and stifle the pain at her heart. It might be that in time she
would forget. O God, if she could but forget!

She parted from Rotherby in the vestibule of the hotel and went up to
her room. They were to meet again in little more than an hour, and she
spent the time in a feverish effort to banish thought and to banish also
that appearance of forlornness of which he had jestingly spoken.

She was very tired, but she would not own it, and when she met him again
she had captured that reserve of strength which dwells at the back of
jaded nerves, and an almost reckless charm was hers.

He gave her flowers, carnations and lilies, and she pinned them at her
breast, revelling in their sweetness, exotic though she knew them to be.
He took her to a restaurant, and the feeling of unreality followed her
thither, throwing a strange glamour over all things. He did not again
taunt her with being forlorn; for she held herself like a queen, and not
even the simplicity of her attire could make her insignificant.

“Gad!” he said to her once. “How wonderful you are!”

And she uttered a little laugh that surprised herself. “It is all
make-believe,” she said.

He did not ask her to explain, but his eyes followed her perpetually
with a kindling flame which mounted steadily higher, and when they left
the table his hand closed for a moment upon her arm.

She shook it off with a laugh and a shrug. “Every game has its rules,”
she said.

He laughed also, answering her mood. “Every woman makes her own,” he
said.

They went out into the gleaming streets and entered the waiting car. The
unaccustomed luxury was like a dream to Frances. It was no longer an
effort to put the past away from her. It had sunk of itself into the far
dim distance. Very curiously the only memory that remained active in her
mind was that of the purple flower that bloomed upon the coping of the
cloisters in the Bishop’s garden. The vision of that was fantastically
vivid, as it had been on that day of her first talk with Montague
Rotherby.

The pain at her heart had wholly ceased, and she wondered a little,
barely realizing that she had stilled it temporarily with this
anæsthetic of unreality. But a sub-conscious dread of its return made
her steep herself more and more deeply in its oblivion. After all, to
whom did it matter except herself? This man with his cynical eyes was
too experienced a player to be made a loser in one night. And she had so
little left to lose.

She sat in a box with him at the theatre, and though she quickly
absorbed herself in the play, she was aware of his undivided attention
from the beginning.

It even exasperated her at last, so that she turned to him after the
first act with a movement of impatience. “Does it interest you so
little,” she said, “that you can’t even be bothered to glance at the
stage?”

“I have seen it already three times,” he made answer, “and I am more
interested at the present moment in watching the effect it has upon
you.”

She uttered a laugh, but the words gave her an odd feeling of shock. The
play was a fashionable one, but though it compelled her deepest
interest, it held moments of disgust for her as well.

“I should never want to see this more than once,” she said at the end of
the second act.

Whereat he laughed. “Your education has been neglected,” he said. “We
all think like this now-a-days. The puritanical atmosphere of
Tetherstones has spoilt your taste.”

She was silent. Somehow the very word sent a pang to her heart.

He leaned slightly towards her, looking at her. “Tell me about your
sojourn at Tetherstones!” he said. “Were the farm people decent to you?
Were you happy there?”

There was a slighting note in his voice that she found intolerable. She
turned deliberately and met his look.

“You know the Dermots,” she said. “You know quite well that they are not
just—farm-people. Why should you conceal the fact?”

He made a careless gesture. “I know that one of them shot me in mistake
for a rabbit that night I waited for you,” he said. “I was never more
scared in my life. That was the son, I presume? Did he ever mention that
episode to you?”

“Never,” she said.

“No? Perhaps he wasn’t very proud of it. Perhaps he realized that the
rabbit fallacy wouldn’t carry him very far in a court of law. I fancy he
imagined that I was poaching on his preserves.” Rotherby spoke with a
sarcastic drawl. “Very unreasonable of him, what?”

She felt the burning colour rise in her face under his eyes, and she
averted her own. “Not being in his confidence, I really can hardly give
an opinion,” she said.

“Oh, you’re not in his confidence?” said Rotherby. “Somehow I didn’t
think you were, or you would hardly be so ready to take up the cudgels
in his defence. He’s a curious fellow. I knew him years ago. He had
brains as a young man, then somehow he got touched in the upper story
and got condemned to the simple life. That was how he came to take up
farming. An awful blow to the old man, I believe! I heard he was never
the same again afterwards. That is about as far as my information takes
me. I must admit that from a personal point of view I am not vastly
interested in the family. Did you find them interesting?”

“They were kinder to me than I can possibly say,” Frances said.

The careless information he had given her was like an obnoxious draught
that she had been compelled to swallow. But somehow, in spite of
herself, she had assimilated it. It explained so much which before had
been inexplicable. She remembered how she had more than once asked
herself if the lonely gladiator on that Devon moor were always wholly
responsible for his actions. And was this why he had told her only that
morning that it was no good—no good—that her love was nought but a
handicap to be overcome and cast aside?

Again she was conscious of the pain she had stifled waking within her.
Again she felt the chill presence of the haunting spectre. Then
Rotherby’s voice came to her again, and she turned almost with relief.

“They were decent to you, were they?” he said. “I presume that was why
you went back to them from Fordestown?”

She thrust her pain away out of sight of his mocking eyes. “No,” she
said quietly. “I went back to be with the little girl before she died.
She wanted me.”

He gave a slight start. “What? The blind child that used to run about
the lane? Is she dead? What from?”

“She was very fragile,” Frances said, and instinctively she spoke with
reverence. “She had a fall which caused an abscess at the base of the
brain, affecting the spine. The doctor had always known it might happen
at any time. She didn’t suffer—dear little soul.”

“A tragic family!” commented Rotherby, and dropped into silence.

He leaned back in his chair with his face in shadow, and for a space she
felt that his attention was no longer focussed upon her.

It gave her a certain sense of relief, for her thoughts would turn back
to those few cynical words of his and she needed time to recover from
the shock of them. Was it true? Was it true? Was this the key to the
riddle that had so often baffled her? Was it for this that she had seen
him writhing in agony of soul?

The curtain went up, and she jerked herself back to her surroundings.
She tried to immerse herself anew in the play, but her interest was
gone. The glamour had faded, and she knew that she was terribly,
overwhelmingly tired. A desire for solitude came upon her and with it,
inseparable from it, an intolerable sense of exile, a longing that was
almost anguish for the peace of the open moors, for the scent of the
bog-myrtle, and the rain. . . . She closed her eyes, and drew her
memories about her like a mantle. . . .


                               CHAPTER II
                             THE NIGHTMARE

Someone was speaking to her. A hand touched her. She looked up with a
start.

Rotherby was leaning over her. His eyes met hers closely, lingeringly,
with a caress in them which her tiredness barely comprehended.

“How tired you are!” he said. “Shall I take you home?”

Home! For a few moments her weary brain clung piteously about the word.
Then the pressure of his hand brought swift awakening. She sat up with a
jerk.

“Oh, is it over? Yes, I am very tired. Forgive me! Let us go!”

His hand still held her. He slipped it under her elbow, helping her to
rise.

She got up quickly, and freed herself. He put her cloak about her in
silence. They passed out of the box into the crowd that filled the
corridor.

“It’s pouring with rain,” said Rotherby, as they emerged into the
vestibule. “Wait while I get the car!”

He left her, and she took her stand at a corner of the steps, idly
watching the press of people that thronged past her on to the pavement.
Her sleep had left her slightly dazed, physically cold. The thought of
the dear Devon she had left only that morning had sunk very far below
the surface of her consciousness. It was as if years as well as distance
separated her from it, and all she knew now was the ache of weariness
and a certain dull disgust with everything about her. A man on the
pavement below her, wearing an ulster with a cap drawn down over his
eyes, evidently waiting for a conveyance, caught her passing attention
because the set of his shoulders was somewhat reminiscent to her of the
lonely horseman who had awaited her coming on the moor, but she was too
apathetic to bestow more than a cursory glance upon any, and she shrank
at the moment with something like panic from all things that might pain
her. She was too tired to endure any more that night.

Out of the press of hurrying people Rotherby detached himself and came
to her. “It’s all right. Take my arm! The car is just here.”

She obeyed him, for the throng was great, and her only desire to escape
the vortex of humanity and find the rest she so sorely needed. He
piloted her through the crowd. For a few seconds she felt the rain
beating upon her uncovered head, and then she was sunk upon the cushions
in the darkness of the car with Rotherby beside her, and the glittering
streets slipping past with kaleidoscopic rapidity.

The slashing of the rain upon the window-panes penetrated her
consciousness. “What a wet night!” she murmured.

“Yes, fiendish,” said Rotherby. “But I’ll soon have you out of it.
You’re dead beat, aren’t you?”

“Very, very tired,” she answered, and dropped back into silence.

The car slid on through the night. They turned out of the glaring
streets, and in the dimness Frances closed her eyes again. She did not
want to talk; and Rotherby’s mood seemed to coincide with hers, for he
sat in utter silence by her side.

She was hardly aware that the car had stopped when suddenly he spoke.
“You’ll come in here for a few minutes? I’ll tell the man to wait.”

She roused herself. “In where?”

He was opening the door. “It’s a half-way house where you can get some
supper. I have ordered it specially for you.”

“Supper!” She echoed the word, slightly startled. “Oh, really I don’t
want any. I would rather go straight back.”

He was already out of the car. He stood in the doorway, laughing.
“Please don’t keep me here in the rain to argue! Let’s do it inside! I
can’t let you go supperless to bed. It’s against my principles.”

He took her hand with the words, and his own had an imperative touch to
which she yielded almost before she realized it.

“I really don’t want anything,” she protested, but she was getting out
of the car as she spoke. “I never thought of such a thing.”

“Nonsense!” said Rotherby. “Then it’s a good thing I’m here to think for
you. I’ve got something rather interesting to tell you too. I’ve been
saving it up all the evening. Confound this rain! Let’s get into
shelter!”

He spoke a word to the man, and then took her arm and led her swiftly up
some steps to a lighted portico. They were actually inside before
Frances found her breath to speak again. “What is this place?”

“It’s a hotel of sorts,” he answered lightly. “I hope it meets with your
approval. It’s somewhat after the French style. Come up in the lift!”

She went with him, still possessed by that feeling of unreality which
had held her tired senses in thrall throughout the evening. The flowers
at her breast were crushed and faded, but the scent of them had all the
sweetness of a dream. Certain words floated through her memory—had she
heard them only that morning? “People like you and me can’t afford to
waste any time over—dreams.” Ah well, the night would soon be gone, and
she would wake in the morning to the old grim struggle. But till
then—like the memory of the purple flower upon the wall in the days of
her slavery—she would hold to her dream.

She passed out of the lift with Rotherby, and he unlocked a door that
led into a tiny hall.

“Take off your cloak!” he said; then, as she fumbled, unfastened it
himself and slipped it from her shoulders.

She felt his eyes upon her again, and was stabbed, as a dreamer is
sometimes stabbed, by a curious feeling of insecurity. Then he had
turned away, and was taking off his own hat and coat.

He closed the door by which they had entered and she heard the snap of a
patent lock. “We don’t want anyone else in,” he said.

She paused. “But isn’t it public? I thought you said it was a hotel.”

He opened another door, and switched on a light that showed her a
luxurious red-curtained apartment, with a polished table spread with
refreshments of all kinds, and an electric stove that burned with a hot
glow before a deep settee.

“This isn’t public,” he said. “It belongs to me.”

“Belongs to you!” She looked at him with eyes that were beginning to see
that which her numbed brain till then had failed to grasp. “What do you
mean?”

He made an airy gesture. “I mean that I have paid for it, that’s all.
See what a disappointment you would have given me if you had refused to
come in to supper!”

She stood staring at him. “I—don’t understand. You said—you did
say—it was a public place?”

He smiled his scoffing smile. “Did I? I don’t seem to remember it. It
doesn’t matter, does it? Sit down and have something! I prepared this as
a little surprise, my Circe. You’re not vexed?”

“Vexed!” she said, and paused, considering. “But—it’s so extraordinary.
I never dreamed——”

“No?” he said. “Well, you’ve been dreaming hard enough all the evening
anyway. Come, sit down! Sit down and let’s enjoy ourselves! There’s no
law against that, is there? Let’s see if I can open this champagne!”

He proceeded to open it, and she watched him pour it foaming into two
glasses on the table. The feeling that she had in some fashion been
tricked was gaining ground with her, and yet in his careless demeanour
she could detect no reason for alarm. He so evidently regarded the whole
affair as a joke.

He turned round to her suddenly. “I say, don’t look so shocked! There
really is no need. You can always marry me afterwards, you know, if you
feel so disposed. In fact, I think you are practically committed to
that, so let’s make the best of it!”

“What do you mean?” she said.

He lifted his brows cynically. “That’s what I have brought you here to
explain. But never mind that now! Drink some of this stuff! You’ll find
it quite good.”

He motioned her to the table, but she held back. If she had dreamed all
the evening, she was awake now, most suddenly and terribly awake. Her
brain felt strangely clear, as if it had been focussed upon one thing
only till it had crystallized to an amazing penetration. The vision upon
which she had gazed uncomprehendingly for so long had resolved itself
into a thing of horror which filled the whole of her consciousness.

She saw herself helpless as a prisoner chained to a rock, but superbly
she gathered her strength to meet the situation. She faced him like a
queen.

“You have made a mistake,” she said. “Let me go!”

He straightened himself sharply. She saw an ugly look cross his
face—the look of a man who is debating at which point to drive his
weapon home. Then again, carelessly, he laughed.

“Do let’s have supper first!” he said. “We can talk afterwards for any
length of time. I am sure you will find that sound advice. A good meal
is always a help.”

She stood motionless, her eyes unwaveringly upon him. “Let me go!” she
said again.

He came to her then, and though the smile was still upon his face, she
knew that, like herself, he was braced for battle.

“Why this tragic attitude?” he said. “And to what end? Don’t spoil the
occasion, my Circe! We are going to enjoy ourselves to-night.”

She flung down the gauntlet with a supreme disregard of consequences.
“You hound!” she said.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I like you for that. Yes, I am a hound, but
I don’t appreciate an easy prey. I’ll conquer you now I’ve got you. But
I’m in no hurry. Sit down and let’s talk it over!”

Somehow that weakened her more than any violence. His utter assurance,
his easy acceptance of her contempt, his almost philosophical attitude
in the matter, all made her realize the hopelessness of her position. He
had deliberately trapped her, and he was not ashamed that she should
know it. She stood before him speechless.

“That’s better,” he said. “You’re getting a grasp of the situation,
bringing that business-like mind of yours to bear upon it. Now listen to
me! I love you. I can’t tell you why, but I do. I’ve always wanted you,
and I made up my mind a long while ago that I would have you. We began
well, and then you broke away. But you won’t break away this time. You
belong to me, and I am going to enforce my claim. Is that quite clear?”

“You have no claim,” she said through white lips.

“That is merely your point of view,” he rejoined, “and I do not share
it. You gave yourself to me, remember, and I never gave you any cause to
regret your action. If you had behaved reasonably, we should have been
married by this time, and all your troubles would have been at an end.
As it is,—” He paused.

“Well?” she said.

She saw his face harden. “As it is,” he said, “you have tried my
patience to the utmost limit, till I have come to the pitch when I will
stand no more trifling. Do you understand? To-night I am your master.
To-night—for the last time—I ask you, will you marry me? Think well
before you decide! To-morrow—possibly—you may be not only willing, but
anxious, but,” he shrugged his shoulders again—“I may have other plans
by that time.”

“Ah!” she said, and put a hand to her head.

The floor had begun to sway under her feet. His face, with its cruel,
set smile, had receded into distance. She was cold from head to foot,
with an icy coldness, and she thought her heart had ceased to beat. She
felt herself totter.

And then there came the grasp of his hand, holding her back as it seemed
on the very edge of the abyss. And instinctively she clung to the
support he offered, with gasping incoherent entreaty.

“Oh, hold me up! Save me! Don’t let me fall!”

“Sit down!” he said. “Here is a chair! Now drink! It’s all right. You’ll
be better in a minute.”

She felt the rim of a glass against her chattering teeth, and she drank
with her head against his arm.

The wine was like fire in her veins; the awful numbness passed.

“Better?” said Rotherby. “Come, this is rather a terrible fuss to make,
isn’t it? Drink a little more!”

She drank again, and then, as he released her, bent forward over the
table, hiding her face. A great shiver went through her and passed. She
sat bowed and silent.

After a few seconds he spoke again, his tone quite friendly, but with
that hint of mastery which made her realize how completely she was at
his mercy.

“Sit up and have some supper! You will feel much better for it.
Afterwards we will sit by the fire and talk.”

She raised herself slowly, propping her chin on her hands. She spoke,
haltingly, with difficulty, almost as if it were in a foreign language.

“If I give my promise—to—to—to—marry—you, will you—let me—go?”

“To-night?” he said.

“Yes, to-night.” She did not look at him; she was staring before her at
a picture on the opposite wall—a picture of heather-clad moors and
running streams—but with eyes that saw not.

There was a brief pause, then very suddenly the man behind her moved. He
bent and took her head between his hands, compelling her to face him.

“Why should I do that?” he said.

She met his look, though an irrepressible shudder went through her at
his touch. “Because,” she said, in the same slow, uncertain way, “you
are a man—and I—am a woman. I am at your mercy—now, but I shall not
always be. If you want to—to—hold me by any means—except
force—then—you will be merciful. No! Listen! I am at your mercy. I
know it. I own it. But—you are not all beast. If you will let me go, I
will promise to marry you—as soon as you wish. If you will not let me
go, you will have your way to-night. But after to-night—after
to-night——”

“Well?” he said, awed in spite of himself by her voice, her words, her
look, yet half-mocking still. “After to-night?”

“After to-night,” she said, and drew herself from his hold, facing him
with a gesture of freedom that was even regal, “you will never see me
again, because I swear to you—before God—that I shall be dead.”

He blenched a little, but in a moment recovered himself. “Pshaw! Words
are easy—especially with women. That threat doesn’t move me.”

“No.” She got up from her chair with a strange calmness. “It may
not—yet. But it will—it will. If you were all beast, you might not
care. But you are a man at heart, and so you will never forget it. And
you will care—terribly—afterwards.”

She turned from him with the words, walked to the settee before the
stove, and sat down, holding her hands to the warmth, ignoring his
presence utterly.

He did not follow her. There was that about her that made it impossible
just then. He had not thought that she had the strength so to dominate
the situation. It had been completely in his own hands, but somehow it
had passed out of his control. Wherefore? The sight of her weakness had
made the conquest seem so easy that he had almost despised her for it.
And now?

He turned sullenly from her, took up a glass and drank.

After many seconds he spoke. “The last time I saw you, you gave me to
understand that it was only your pride that kept you from marrying me.
That is not the reason you want to back out now.”

“I gave you my reason then,” she made answer, without turning. “I did
not love you.”

“You loved me once,” he rejoined, “before you threw me over.”

She uttered a short, hard sigh. “I hadn’t even begun to know the meaning
of the word.”

He flung round savagely. “There’s someone else in the field. I suspected
it before. Who is it? That maniac at Tetherstones?”

She leaned forward a little further to the glow. “It doesn’t really
matter,” she said. “Even if it were so, it wouldn’t really count, would
it?”

“It would not,” he rejoined curtly.

“So why discuss it?” said Frances.

Her weariness sounded again in her voice, but there was no weakness with
it, rather a species of solitary majesty upon which he could not
intrude. Yet, baffled, he still sought to penetrate her defences.

“You loved me once,” he repeated doggedly. “What did I ever do to
forfeit your love?”

She turned suddenly as she sat, and faced him, pale, with burning eyes
of accusation.

“I will tell you what you did. You desecrated my love. You killed it at
birth. You treated me then—as you are treating me now—dishonourably.
You gave me stones for bread, and you are doing it still. I think you
are incapable of anything else. Love—real love—is out of your reach!”

The fire of her words scorched him; he drew back. “Gad!” he said. “If
you’d lived in the old days, you’d have been burnt as a witch.”

“There are worse fates than that,” she answered very bitterly.

“There are!” he returned with a flash of anger. “And hotter hells! Well,
you’ve made your conditions. I accept them. You are free to go.”

He flung the words with a force and suddenness that struck her like a
blow. She sat for a few moments, staring at him. Then, with an effort,
she rose.

“Do you mean that?”

He came close to her. His face was drawn. Somehow she felt as though she
were looking at an animal through the iron bars of a cage.

He spoke, between his teeth. “Yes, I mean it. I will let you go—just to
show you that—as you kindly remarked just now—I am not—all—beast.
But—I hold you to your promise. Is that understood? You will marry me.”

She lifted her head with a certain pride. “I have said it,” she said,
and turned from him.

He thrust out a hand and grasped her shoulder. “You will say it again!”
he said.

She stopped. That grip of his sent panic to her heart, but she stilled
it with a desperate sense of expediency. Yet, for the moment she could
not speak, so terrible was the strain, and in that moment, as she stood
summoning her strength, there came the sound of an electric bell
cleaving the dreadful silence so suddenly that she cried out and almost
fell.

“Damnation!” Rotherby said. “See here! I shall have to go to the door.
You don’t want to be seen here. You’d better go into the other room.”

He indicated a door at the further end of the one in which they stood,
and she turned towards it instinctively.

He went with her, and opened it, switching on a light. She glanced
within, and drew back.

“Go in!” he urged. “I can’t help it. It’s only for a few seconds. I
won’t let anyone in. Quick! It’s the only way.”

She turned to him like a hunted creature, wildly beseeching quarter.
“You will let me go afterwards? You promise it? You swear it?”

“Of course I will let you go,” he said. “There goes that damn’ bell
again. You’ll be all right here, and I won’t keep you long.”

He almost pushed her into the room, and shut the door upon her. The bell
was pealing imperatively. She sank into a chair at the foot of the bed,
and wondered if this nightmare would ever pass.


                              CHAPTER III
                             THE AWAKENING

The door was shut, but there came to her the sound of voices in the
distance, and she listened intently, holding her breath. At any moment
he might return, at any moment the dread struggle might be resumed. He
had given her his word, but she did not trust him. She never had trusted
him; and the memory of his grip upon her shoulder gave her small cause
for confidence now. She glanced around her for a possible means of
escape, but the only other door in the room led into the little hall in
which even now Rotherby was parleying with his unwelcome visitor. The
impulse came to her to brave all risk of observation and walk straight
out while he was thus occupied, but a more wary instinct bade her pause.
If the visitor were an old friend, he might enter uninvited, and if that
happened the outer door would be left unguarded, and she could make her
escape unobserved, before Rotherby could get rid of him. This would be
far the easier course, and would offer fewer difficulties later. So,
with stretched nerves, prepared for immediate flight, she waited.

The opportunity came even sooner than she expected. Very suddenly she
heard the tramp of feet in the room she had just quitted, and in a
second she was on her feet.

But in that second she heard a voice raised abruptly like the blare of
an angry bull, and she stood rooted to the spot, listening, listening,
listening, with her hands clasped tight upon her heart.

Words reached her through the tumult of sound, words and the sounds of a
fierce struggle.

“Damn you, I’ll have an answer! I’ll kill you if you don’t speak. What?
You infernal skunk, do you think I’d stick at killing you? There’s
nothing I’d enjoy more.”

There followed a dreadful series of sounds as of something being banged
against the wall by which she stood, and then suddenly there came a
terrific blow against the door itself. A cry followed the blow—a
gurgling terrible cry, and it did for Frances what nothing else could
have done; it gave her strength to act.

She could have made her escape in that moment, but the bare thought was
gone from her mind. She sprang to the door, and threw it open. Then she
saw that which she had already beheld that evening, but with unseeing
eyes—the big man in the ulster who had waited just below her in the
rain at the theatre steps half-an-hour before.

He was holding Rotherby between his hands as he might have held a sack
of meal, and banging his head against everything hard in the vicinity.
Rotherby was struggling with gasping, broken oaths for freedom, but he
was utterly outmatched. As Frances flung open the door he fell backwards
at her feet, and the man who gripped him proceeded furiously to stand
over him and bang his head upon the floor.

“Oh, stop!” Frances cried in horror. “Oh, for God’s sake, stop!”

He stopped. Her voice seemed to have an almost miraculous effect upon
him. He stopped. But he knelt upon Rotherby, holding him down, and his
face, suffused with passion, was to her the most appalling sight she had
ever beheld.

There followed an awful silence, during which he remained quite
motionless, bent over his enemy. Rotherby was bleeding profusely at the
nose, but he was half-stunned and seemed unaware of it. His arms were
flung wide, and his hands opened and shut convulsively, in a manner that
made the onlooker shudder.

How long that fearful silence lasted she never knew. It seemed to
stretch out interminably into minutes so weighted with dread that each
was like an hour.

At last, when she could endure no longer, huskily, with tremendous
effort, she spoke. “Do you want—to kill him?”

He raised his head slowly and looked at her. His eyes were bloodshot and
the veins of his temples visibly throbbing, but the rest of his face was
ghastly white.

He looked at her, and she felt a quick, piercing pain at her heart that
made her catch her breath.

“I have wanted to kill him for years,” he said. “Do you value his life?
If not——”

It was terrible, it was monstrous; but it was real. He was asking
her—actually asking her, as a victorious gladiator in the arena—for
permission to despatch his victim. And even as he spoke, she saw his
right hand move towards the throat of the prostrate man.

She cried out wildly at the sight, in an anguish of horror. “Arthur,
no—no—no! That’s murder! Arthur,—stop!”

“He is worse than a murderer,” Arthur said in the same fatalistic tone.

“Ah, no!” she made gasping answer. “And you! And you!”

“And—you!” he said, with terrible emphasis.

She broke in upon him desperately, for the need was great. “He has done
me no harm. Let him go! You must—you must let him go.”

“Why?” he said.

“Because I ask you—I beg you—because—because—” She halted,
frantically searching for adequate words. “Oh, wait!” she besought him.
“Wait!”

His eyes regarded her immovably. “For your sake?” he said at last.

She wrung her hands together. “Yes—yes!”

He got slowly to his feet. “For your sake then!” he said. “Now tell
me—what you are doing here? And why did you cry out just now when I
rang the bell?”

His manner was absolutely quiet, but there was that in his look that
warned her that the danger was not past. She did not dare to tell him
the truth.

“I cried out,” she said, “because—I was startled. I hid in this room
for the same reason.”

“And—you came here—for what?” he said.

She glanced away to the spread table, for she could not meet his eyes.
“We had been to the theatre. I came in—for supper.”

“And he has behaved towards you absolutely as a gentleman should?” he
questioned, in the same level voice that made her think of a weapon
poised for striking.

“Yes—oh, yes!” she answered.

He was silent for a moment or two, and she knew that his look searched
her unsparingly. Then: “I don’t believe you are telling me the truth,”
he said. “But I shall soon know.”

He turned abruptly to the man on the floor. “Get up!” he said.

Rotherby had drawn his hands over his face. He rolled on to his side as
the curt command reached him, and in a few seconds, grabbing at a chair,
he dragged himself to his feet. But his face was ashen and he could not
stand. He dropped into the chair with a groan.

Frances went to the washing-stand, squeezed out a sponge in cold water
and brought it to him. He took it in a dazed fashion and mopped the
blood from his nose and mouth.

Arthur stood by, massive and motionless, his face set in iron lines. He
was like an executioner, grim as doom, waiting for his victim. He made
no comment when Frances brought towel and basin to Rotherby’s side and
helped him.

But at length, as Rotherby began to show signs of recovery, he waved her
to one side.

“Now, you! Let’s have your version! What are you and Miss Thorold doing
here?”

Rotherby looked at him through narrowed lids. His face was very evil as
he made reply. “I chance to live here.”

“I know that. And you’ll die here without any chance about it if you
don’t choose to give me a straight answer to my questions. What did you
bring her here for?”

“What the devil is that to you?” said Rotherby sullenly. “You go to
hell!”

Though he was beaten so that he could hardly lift his head, he showed no
fear, and for that Frances, who knew something of the temperament of the
man who had beaten him, accorded him a certain admiration. To be
punished as he had been punished, and yet to refuse submission proved a
strength with which she had hardly credited him.

At Arthur’s swift gesture of exasperation, she moved forward,
intervening. “Let me speak!” she said. “I will answer your questions.”

She stood between the two men, and again, vesting her with a majesty
which was not normally hers, there came to her aid the consciousness of
standing for the right. Whatever the outcome, she recognized that the
protection of Rotherby must somehow be accomplished. To save the one man
from death and the other from committing a murder, she braced herself
for the greatest battle of her life.

Arthur’s look came back to her. He regarded her sombrely, as though he
recognized in her a factor that must be dealt with.

“You say he brought you here for supper,” he said. “Did he give you no
reason for believing that he meant to keep you here all night?”

She faced him steadfastly. The man’s life hung in the balance. It rested
with her—it rested with her.

“I was on the point of leaving when you arrived,” she said.

“Is that the truth?” he said.

“It is the truth,” she answered quietly.

“You honestly believe he meant to let you go?”

“Yes.” Her eyes looked straight into his with the words. She realized
that the tension was slackening, but she dared not relax her own
vigilance. The danger was not yet past. Not yet had she accomplished her
end.

“He has never given you any cause to distrust him?” Arthur said.

She hesitated momentarily. “I am trusting him now,” she said finally.

“Why?” He flung the word with a touch of fierceness. “You are saying
this to bluff me. It is not true.”

“It is true,” she said resolutely, paused a second, then very firmly
made her position secure. “I am trusting him because—because I have
promised to be his wife.”

The declaration fell between them like a bombshell. She did not know how
she uttered it, and having done so, there came a mist before her eyes
which seemed to fog all her senses, making it impossible for her to
gauge the result—to realize in any sense the devastation she had
wrought. She thought she heard him draw the breath between his teeth as
though he repressed some sign of suffering. But she was not sure even of
this, so desperate for the moment was her own extremity.

It could not have lasted for long, that wild tumult of emotion, but when
it passed she was trembling from head to foot as though she had merged
from some frightful conflict. She wanted to protest for very anguish
that she could not endure any more, she could not—she could not! But
her voice was gone. She stood waiting, wondering how soon her strength
would utterly fail.

Arthur’s voice came to her at last, low, hoarse with restraint. “So that
is why you came to town!”

She could not answer him. There was no reproach in his tone, but the
pain of it was more agonizing to her than any suffering of her own. As
in a vision she saw him beaten and thrust aside—the mighty gladiator to
whom, for some mysterious reason, victory was eternally denied. Her
whole soul cried out against the fate that dogged him, but she stifled
the cry. She could not—dared not—give it utterance.

She yet stood between him and his victim, and she must continue to
stand. She clung to that thought before all else. To save him from
himself—it was all that counted with her just then.

He spoke again at length, and in his voice was a subtle difference that
told her the end was within sight—the battle almost won.

“I am beginning to understand,” he said. “I thought—somehow I
thought—I had misjudged you—that night at Tetherstones—you remember?
Well, I know better now. I shall never make that mistake again. If he
marries you, no doubt you will consider yourself lucky. But—just in
case you don’t know—I had better warn you that he doesn’t stick at
letting a woman down if it suits his purpose.”

His voice grew harder, colder; it had a steely edge. “You may have heard
of a sister of mine who died some years ago—Nan? He ruined her
deliberately, intentionally. He never meant to make good. She was young.
She didn’t know the world as you know it. She—actually loved him. And
she paid the penalty. We all paid to a certain extent. That is why—”
his tone suddenly deepened,—“I have sworn to kill him if he ever comes
my way again—as I would kill a poisonous reptile. Perhaps it seems
unreasonable to you. Your ideas are different. But—the fact remains.”

He ceased to speak, and still she stood between them, past speech,
almost past feeling, yet steadfast in her resolve. The battle was nearly
over—the end within sight.

Again there fell a silence, and she counted the seconds, asking herself
how long—how long? Somewhere within her she seemed to hear the echo of
the words that he had spoken on that terrible night at Tetherstones. “I
loved you—I—loved you!” And now as then she felt that the fires of
hell were very near. But she would not faint this time. O God, she must
not faint!

He spoke again—for the last time—and there was a sound of dreadful
laughter in his voice.

“It seems I have come on a fool’s errand,” he said. “I can only
apologize for my intrusion, and withdraw. No doubt you know best how to
play your own game. I only regret that I did not realize sooner what it
was.”

That was all. He turned from her with the words, and she knew that the
awful battle was over. Because of her, he would let his enemy go free.

But as she stood numbly listening to the heavy tread of his feet as he
went away, she knew no sense of conquest or even of relief. The battle
was over, but she herself was wounded past all hope. And she thought her
heart must die within her, so bitter was the pain.


                               CHAPTER IV
                              THE VICTORY

He was gone. The clang of the outer door spoke of his departure.

He was gone, and the dread struggle was past.

She came to herself like a dazed mariner flung ashore by the breakers,
hardly believing that the peril was over. A great weakness was upon her
and she knew that she could not stand against it. Of Rotherby’s very
existence at the moment she was unaware. Mechanically, gropingly, she
made her way to the settee before the stove and sank down upon it. She
was shivering violently.

The warmth came about her, and she stretched out her hands to it,
seeking its comfort, thankful for the physical relief of it, yet hardly
conscious of her surroundings.

“It is dead—it is dead!” she kept saying to herself over and over. “It
is quite—quite dead!”

But for a long time she could not bring herself to realize why she said
it or what it was that was dead.

At last by slow and painful degrees it began to dawn upon her that there
was a meaning to the words. Something was dead. Something had died by
her hand in that very room. What was it?

Now it came to her in all its immensity, crushing her down. She had
slain his love. She had killed her own romance. From that night onwards
he would never think of her again save with reviling and bitterness of
soul. She had taken that which was holy and flung it in the dust. She
had desecrated the perfect gift, had made a hideous travesty of that
high vision which had been vouchsafed to her. More, she had dragged the
man she loved down to the very gates of hell, and had made him know the
tortures of the damned.

The warmth was beginning to ease her exhausted body, but her spirit
found no comfort. Almost she preferred that numbness of all her
faculties. For the misery that was taking its place was more than she
could bear.

She still sat with her hands outstretched, but hot tears were rolling
down her face, unheeded, unchecked, the tears of a great despair.

“It is dead,” she said to herself over and over in the desolation of her
soul. “It is dead. It is dead.”

There came a voice behind her—Rotherby’s voice, and she started
slightly, remembering him. It was curious how little he counted now.

“Frances,” he said, and with her outer consciousness she noticed an odd
embarrassment in his tone and faintly wondered. “I’ve made a pretty poor
show of this. Don’t cry! You’re perfectly safe.”

“Am I crying?” she said, and put a hand to her face.

He came and sat beside her. “Listen!” he said “I’ve been a damned cad.
And you’re a topper. I never knew you had it in you—or any woman had
for the matter of that. There’s nothing I won’t do for you after this.
Understand?”

“I don’t want you to do anything,” she said wearily.

He made an odd sound as of some irony suppressed. “You’re nearly dead,”
he said. “So am I. Come and have supper! And trust me—will you trust
me?”

Something in his tone reached her. She turned slowly and looked at him.
His face was very pale, and his eyes looked drawn and strained; but
except for this she saw no traces about him of the recent struggle. He
met her gaze with a faint smile.

“I’ve had all the nonsense knocked out of me for to-night,” he said.
“But I suppose I’m damned lucky to be here at all. That fellow has the
strength of an ox. The back of my head is like a jelly, damn him!”

“I thought he meant to kill you,” she said dully.

“He did,” said Rotherby. “You saved my life.”

“Did I?” Her look fell away from him. “It wasn’t for your sake,” she
said, after a moment. “It was for his.”

“I gathered that,” said Rotherby. “That’s what makes you so wonderful.”

“I don’t feel wonderful,” she said.

He leaned towards her. “Don’t cry!” he said again. “You are wonderful.
And you’ve made me feel a cur of the very first magnitude. That’s
something to accomplish, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking of you.”

“You’re worn out,” he said. “Have some food, and I’ll take you back.
You’re going to trust me, aren’t you? I swear I won’t let you down after
this. You’re not afraid of me?”

“Oh no, I am not afraid of you,” she said.

In a detached, impersonal fashion, out of the depths of her despair, she
wondered how he could imagine that he or his actions had the slightest
importance for her. Could anything in the world really matter after this
cataclysm? He might have been a total stranger, ministering to her, so
small was his significance now.

But she was in a vague fashion grateful for his kindness, and when he
brought her food, she forced herself to eat lest he should think her
unappreciative. It revived her also, lifting the awful weight of inertia
from her senses, so that after a while she was capable of coherent
thought again.

“That’s better,” Rotherby said presently. “Look here! You won’t believe
me, but I’m most damnably sorry for all this.”

“I do believe you,” she said, with a wan smile.

“Oh, I don’t mean the hammering,” he said. “I’m actually thinking of you
for a change. I’ve been a rotter all my life, and I don’t count. But
you—you’re straight. I always knew you were. And I’ve found out
something more about you to-night. I’ve found out why you turned me
down.”

He got up abruptly, and began to walk about the room.

“I half-guessed it long ago. I know it now. You love this hairy-heeled
chap who nearly killed me to-night. You needn’t bother to deny it. You
love him and he loves you. And yet—and yet—you let him believe—that
of you! Good God! There isn’t another woman on earth would have done
it.”

“I had to do it,” Frances said with simplicity. “He would have killed
you.”

“Yes, he would have killed me—and swung for it. You didn’t want him to
swing. Listen!” He came suddenly to her and knelt by her side. “You told
me a little while ago that I was not all beast, that I was a man at
heart. And you’re right. I am—I am. Frances, I swear to you—I’ll never
let you down after this.”

The earnestness of his tone moved her somewhat. She put out a hand to
him. “I know,” she said.

He gripped her hand fast. “You don’t know what a brute I am,” he said.
“I’m going to tell you. That fellow—Arthur Dermot as he styles
himself—is my cousin. His father is Dr. Rotherby’s brother. We were
friends once, he and I—sort of brothers, you understand. He had a
sister—a lot of sisters—one in particular—a lovely girl—Nan.” He
paused. “Somehow you have always reminded me of Nan, so dainty, so
queenly in your ways, so quick of sympathy—so full of charm. Well, I
loved her—she loved me. It was a midsummer madness—one of those
exquisite dreams that one revels in like a draught of wine, and then
forgets.”

“That isn’t love,” said Frances.

He lifted his shoulders. “Isn’t it? Well, perhaps you are right. I never
wholly forgot. But we were young. She was only twenty. No one suspected
us of falling in love until the thing was done. Then there was an
outcry—first cousins—no marriage. We hadn’t even begun to think of
marriage, but I swear—I swear—I never meant to let her down. If they
had left us alone, the thing would probably have fizzled out, but the
fuss somehow worked us up to fever pitch. We met—by stealth—at night.
She was young and very ardent. I was a damned cad. I own it. But
she—she was like a flame, and in the end—well, you know what happened
in the end. We came to our senses very early one summer morning. She was
scared, and when I tried to calm her she flew into a passion. I got
angry too. We quarrelled and separated. That very day the old Bishop, my
trustee he was then, sent for me and told me he had a mission for me to
execute in Australia. It was a trumped-up job. I knew it at the time.
But I was hot-headed, and there had been talk of foreign travel before.
I took it for granted that our dream had come to an end. I accepted and
went.”

“How could you?” Frances said.

He raised his shoulders again. “I told you I was a brute. But at the
time it seemed the only thing to do. The dream was over. One doesn’t sit
over the cards in broad daylight.”

The cynicism habitual to him sounded in the last words. She shrank a
little and withdrew her hand.

“Yes, I know,” he said. “You are a woman. You take the woman’s point of
view. But I’m not defending myself. I’m just telling you the plain
truth. I didn’t know when I went about poor Nan’s trouble. I had a
letter from her three months after, telling me. She wanted to run away,
to come and join me. It was a wild, hysterical sort of letter. It had
taken six weeks to reach me, and it seemed likely she had changed her
mind by that time. In any case I was just starting for an expedition
into the Blue Mountains. I put her letter on one side to answer, but
somehow I never did answer it. I thought she had probably exaggerated
the whole thing. So I hoped for the best and let it slide.”

“How wicked!” Frances said. “How contemptible!”

The condemnation in her voice was all the deeper for its quietness. She
sat before him cold, impersonal as a judge, her eyes fixed straight
before her.

A curious shiver went through the man. He got up to cover it, and
resumed his pacing of the room.

“I was away for over two years,” he went on, speaking as one impelled.
“I never heard from her during that time. I almost forgot her. Then I
came home. I found they had left Oxford. Did I tell you old Dermot
Rotherby had held a professorship there, and Arthur was reading for the
Bar? No one seemed to know where they were. Old Theodore, the Bishop,
had been appointed to Burminster. I went to him, asked him for news. He
said Dermot’s health had broken down, and they had taken a farm in the
country. They had never been much to one another. He spoke very vaguely
of them. It was Aunt Dorothea who let it out. She told me Nan had died
mysteriously—that there had been a child—that they had changed their
name in consequence—and then she got badly scared and begged me not to
let the Bishop know she had told me, and not to dream of going near them
as it was more than my life was worth. I must admit I didn’t feel drawn
that way, since poor Nan was past help. So I decided to let sleeping
dogs lie, and cleared out of the country again. I stayed away for some
time, sometimes drifting back to London, but never for long. Then at
last I got tired of wandering and came home. I went to Burminster, and
met—you. You caught me then. You’ve held me ever since. And I could
have won you—I could have won you—” He stopped abruptly. “What’s the
good of talking? I’ve lost you now, haven’t I? You’ll never look at me
again.”

“Never,” Frances said.

Her hands were clasped as she sat. There was no longer any agitation
about her. She might have been a carven image, so still was she, so
utterly aloof and removed from all emotion.

He glanced at her once or twice as he walked, and finally came and stood
before her.

“I haven’t told you quite everything even now,” he said. “There’s one
thing I’m almost afraid to tell you. Shall I go on—or shall I hold my
peace?”

“Go on!” she answered in the same dead-level voice.

“You think nothing matters now,” he said. “You think you won’t care.
You’re wrong. You will care—horribly.”

“I think I have got to know,” she said, “whatever it is.”

“All right,” he said recklessly. “You shall know. After some damnable
fate had taken you to Tetherstones, after they had tried to murder me
and failed, after that night at Fordestown when you refused to come with
me, the devil entered into me, and I made up my mind I’d get you—at any
cost. And so I played you a trick. I lied to you.” He bent down, trying
to read her impassive face. “Do you understand? I tricked you—to get
you up here.”

She did not flinch or give any sign of feeling. “Do you mean about my
sketches?” she said.

“Yes. That’s just what I do mean. I have got them all here. No one has
seen them but myself.”

A faint frown drew her forehead. “But you paid for them,” she said.

“I know. That was part of my damned scheme to get you into my power. You
were always so independent. I thought when once you realized that you
had been living on my money, it would break your spirit.”

“How—odd!” she said.

And that was all. No word of reproach or condemnation; yet the man
winced as if he had been struck in the face.

“My God!” he said. “If you would only curse me! Any other woman would.”

“But why?” she said. “The fault was mine. I always knew—in my
heart—that you were—that sort of man.”

“My God!” he said again. “You haven’t much mercy.”

She looked up at him. “I am sorry for you,” she said. “But—I don’t
blame you. You were made that way.”

He struck his fist into his hand. “Frances, I swear to you—I swear to
you—No, what’s the good of swearing? I’ll show you. Look here! We won’t
talk any more to-night. We’re both dead beat. I’ll take you back to your
hotel. And in a day or two—if you will trust me—I’ll show you that I
am not—that sort of man. Will you trust me, Frances? Give me this one
chance of making good? I’m a blackguard, I own it; but I can play the
game if I try. Will you trust me?”

There was a hint of desperation in his voice, and, because she was a
woman, that reached her where mere protestations had failed.

She held out her hand to him mutely, and as he took it she rose to her
feet, looking him straight in the eyes. But she did not utter one word.
She had spoken her condemnation and there was nothing left to say.

Out of her despair, tragically but fearlessly, she faced him. And to the
man in his abasement there came a sense of greatness such as he had
never before known.

Not by strength and not by strategy, but by purity of heart, she had
conquered the devil in his soul.


                               CHAPTER V
                               THE VISION

London skies and ceaseless rain, and the roar and swish of London
traffic over the streaming roads! The tramp of many hurrying feet, the
echo of careless voices vaguely heard, and the grey, grim river flowing
out to sea! How terrible it was! How inevitable! How—lonely!

She stood—a slim dark, figure—in the recess of the bridge leaning
against the stone balustrade while the crowds passed by unheeding, and
looked down into the dark-flowing water.

How long would it take, she wondered, how long a struggle in those
dreadful depths before the soul rose free? And then—even then—would it
be freedom, or slavery of another kind, a striving against yet more
awful odds, a sinking into yet more fearful depths? Her tired mind
wandered to and fro over the problem. So easy to die, if that were all!
But after death—what then? Having shirked the one issue, could she
possibly hope to be in any sense better equipped for that which lay
beyond? Having failed hopelessly to prove herself in the one life, could
there be any possibility of making a better bargain for herself in the
next? Her brain recoiled from the thought. No, deliverance did not lie
that way.

Perhaps it did not lie anywhere, she told herself drearily. Perhaps
there was no deliverance. Like the prisoners of old, shackled to that
stone of fate, perhaps it was her lot to wait until it descended upon
her. She had sought so desperately for a way of escape, and now every
channel was closed to her. Further seeking—further striving—were
useless. God alone could help her now.

She looked up at the grey sky and felt the cold rain beating down upon
her. Who was it who had once said: “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and
ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you”? Strange that such
words as those could ever be forgotten! They came upon her now almost as
if they had been uttered aloud. And with them, very suddenly, came the
memory of her prayer from the Tetherstones on the night of her great
need. “From all evil and mischief, from sin, from crafts and assaults of
the devil, Good Lord deliver us!” And how wonderful—how God-sent—had
been her deliverance! The thought of little Ruth shot across her mind
like a ray of light. Again the childish fingers seemed to clasp her own,
closely, confidingly, lovingly. It was like a message to her soul—the
angel of her deliverance!

It was then that the power to pray came to Frances, there on the open
crowded bridge between the grey skies and the grey river with the grey
stone to support her. She could not have said whence or how it came, but
it possessed her for a space to the exclusion of all else. And she
prayed—as she had prayed by little Ruth’s death-bed—with a fervour and
a depth of faith that amazed herself. Not for deliverance, not for a way
of escape, only for strength in her weakness—only for sustenance, lest
the journey be too great for her! And when she ceased to pray, when the
great moment passed—all too quickly, as such moments always must—when
she woke again to physical misery and physical exhaustion, to the
dripping skies and the leaden world and the dank uncleanness of the
atmosphere, though no sign of any sort came in answer, yet she knew that
her prayer was heard.

She turned and left the bridge, still with the feeling of that little
hand in hers, and a sense of relief that was almost rejoicing in her
heart. Though she had lost everything, though she trod the stones of the
wilderness and the way before her was dark and steep and wholly
unfamiliar, yet her fear had gone. The burden was lifted. For she knew
that she was not alone. She went back through the rain-soaked streets,
and still it seemed to her that that angel-presence went with her,
guiding her feet. She had come out to seek a cheap lodging, but now that
purpose had gone from her. She returned to the great station and the
vast hotel as one led.

She passed in under the echoing glass roof where the shrieking of trains
mingled with the noise of the scurrying multitudes. Everyone was in a
hurry, it seemed, except herself, and she—she moved without haste and
without lingering to a destination unknown.

She turned in to the hotel vestibule, leaving the noise and the seething
crowds, conscious of a great quietness that came as it were to meet her
and folded her round. It was late afternoon, and her intention had been
to give up her room, but she had not done so, and she did not now turn
to the office. She went instead to a settee in a corner and sat down
there as one who waited. A few people passed to and fro, but no one
accosted her. The place was dim and restful. She took no interest in
them, or they in her.

Somewhere in the distance a page-boy was calling a number in a raucous
voice. No one responded to it, and she vaguely wished he would stop; for
he intruded upon the peace of the atmosphere like a yapping dog heard in
the silent hours of the night. Now he was drawing nearer and becoming
more obtrusive. Why did not someone stop him? If he had a message why
couldn’t someone take it and send him away? Or if he couldn’t find the
person for whom it was intended, where was the use of continuing that
untuneful yell?

“_Two—four—nine! Two—four—nine!_” Now he had left the lounge and was
coming down the corridor to the vestibule! The thing was beginning to
get upon her nerves. She drew further back into the corner as he
approached. Quite a small boy, with the sharp rat-like features of his
type, and gleaming brass buttons all down his front that reflected
little knobs of light from a distant lamp! His voice was stupendous,
shattering the peace, piercing her brain with its insistence,
pulverizing the vision that had brought her thither.

“_Two—four—nine! Two—four—nine!_” He came close to her, paused,
yelled the number straight at her so that she shrank, and then passed on
to the almost empty vestibule where he continued his intolerable cry
without result.

His voice began to pass into the distance, to merge into the vague
sounds that penetrated from without. Now she heard it no longer, and she
breathed a sigh of thankfulness, and tried to return to the state of
quiescent waiting which he had so rudely disturbed. But something had
happened. She realized it with almost a sense of calamity. The little
fingers no longer clasped her own, the feeling of peace had left her.
The vision had fled.

She made a desperate attempt to call it back, to force her mind to grasp
afresh the power that had so magically inspired her. But it was gone.
The outer darkness came down upon her once more. The blackness of
despair entered into her soul.

She sat for a space in blank hopelessness. Then it was all a myth, that
strength so wonderfully bestowed, the trick of an overwrought brain—no
more! Her prayer had been in vain. She was alone and sinking—sinking! A
sound of great waters suddenly filled her ears. She saw again the grim,
dark river flowing to the sea—so deep, so cold, so terrible! She lifted
her face, gasping, as though those awful waters were overwhelming her.
Her heart had ceased to beat. It felt like a stone within her, and she
was cold to the very soul of her.

Ah, God, what was that? A cry in the distance—a voice that called! What
was it? What was it? She grabbed her failing faculties to listen. It
might be even yet the salvation for which she had prayed and waited. It
might be—ah, what was it and why did it hold her so?

Breathlessly she listened, and for those moments she was like a prisoner
on the very brink of death, hearing afar off the arresting cry that
meant—that might mean—a reprieve. Now it grew nearer, it grew louder,
it filled the world,—the universe—like a trumpet that could not be
ignored. Words came to her through the wild chaos of her mind—three
short words flung like a challenge far and wide—now a demand, now a
menace—so that all must surely stop to listen!

“_Two—four—nine! Two—four—nine!_” That page with the fiery buttons
was returning!

Along the corridor he came, and she caught back a burst of terrible
laughter that rose from her stone-cold heart at the sight. A minute
figure with a brazen voice that bawled trumpet-wise, and bearing a brass
salver with a telegram upon it. Now he approached her again, and she
marvelled at the noise he made. Surely he was made of brass, this
messenger whom no one heeded!

“_Two—four—nine! Two—four—nine!_” He came to her, he stopped again.
He shouted his challenge full at her. Then he ceased.

He thrust the salver towards her, and spoke in a husky, confidential
undertone. “Ain’t that your number, miss?”

She stared at him, amazed rather by the unexpected cessation of the
noise than by the words he spoke.

He thrust the salver a little nearer. “Ain’t that your number?” he said
again. “Two—four—nine! Thorold! Ain’t that your name?”

She put out a hand mechanically. “Is it? Can it be? Yes, my name is
Thorold.”

Her voice came mechanically too; it had a deadened sound.

The boy’s sharp eyes scanned her with pert curiosity. As she took the
telegram, he pursed his lips to a whistle, but no sound issued from
them.

She read the message in a sort of suspended silence that was peculiarly
intense.

    “_I am in need of secretarial help if you care to resume your
    position here as a temporary measure. Please come to-night or
    wire. Rotherby. The Palace. Burminster._”

A voice out of the void! A forgotten voice, but none the less clear! She
looked up as it were through thinning mists and saw the boy’s bright
eyes watching her. Why was he interested, she wondered? What could it
matter to him?

“Any answer, miss?” he suggested helpfully, and now she saw a gleam in
the little rat-keen eyes and understood.

“No, none,” she said, “none. I shall answer it in person.”

He looked pinched for a moment, and then he grinned cheerily,
impudently, philosophically.

“That’s right, miss,” he said. “Don’t you lose no more time about it!
Time’s money to most of us.”

And with that he turned to go, but sharply, on impulse, she stayed him.
“Boy, wait!”

He waited at once. “Yes, miss? Anything I can do for you?”

“No, nothing,” she said, “nothing. You have already done—much more than
you know.” She pushed a hand down into the pocket of her rain-coat and
found a halfpenny that had been there ever since the coat had been new.
“I’ve carried this for luck,” she said, and managed to smile. “It’s all
I can offer you. Will you have it?”

He stared at her for a second, then his shrewd grin reappeared. “Not
unless you’ll toss me for it,” he said. “There’d be no luck without.”

She accepted the sporting suggestion. Strangely, in that moment, it
appealed to her. She needed trivialities as never before.

“You can toss if you like,” she said.

He took the coin and spun it, caught it deftly, and looked at her.
“Heads, miss?” he questioned.

“Yes, heads,” she agreed.

He slapped it forthwith on to the tray and handed it to her. “Heads it
is—and I wish you good luck!” he said.

She picked up her halfpenny, for there was a compelling look in his eye
which warned her that she was expected to play the game.

“Thank you,” she said, finding nothing else to say.

He drew himself up with a comic assumption of the grand manner. His
little beady eyes twinkled humorous appreciation of her action.

“You’re welcome, miss,” he said ceremoniously, and turning, tramped away
with his salver under his arm.

He left her laughing in a fashion that eased the tension of her nerves
and took from her that terrible hysterical feeling of being off her
balance that had so nearly overwhelmed her. She returned the halfpenny
to her pocket and sat motionless for a few seconds to recover.

Yes, her vision had departed, but her prayer was answered. A way was
opened before her, and, stony and difficult though it might be, she knew
that the needed strength to take it would be given. Her heart was
beating again and alive with a great thankfulness. It was not the way
she would have chosen, but what of that? It was not for her to choose.

And so, as her normal powers returned to her, she did not stay to
question. She rose to obey.


                               CHAPTER VI
                             THE INQUISITOR

“I have been given to understand,” said the Bishop, “that circumstances
have arisen which have made you not unwilling to return to me for a
time.”

“Yes, that is so,” Frances said, “if you care to make use of me.”

She stood before him in the book-lined study where so many of her hours
had been spent in bitter bondage of body and spirit. The table with its
typewriter was in its accustomed position in the window, and beyond the
window she caught a glimpse of the grey stone of the cloister-arch, no
longer decked in purple but splashed with the crimson of autumn leaves.
The morning sun shone warmly upon it. It was a glorious day.

She had travelled down by a night-train, and not till the official hour
of ten o’clock had the Bishop accorded her an interview. His austere
countenance displayed no vestige of welcome even now, yet she had a
curious conviction that he was not wholly displeased by her prompt reply
to his invitation. His greeting of her, though cold, had been without
acidity.

“Pray sit down!” he said, indicating a chair. “I have a few questions to
ask you before we proceed any further. I beg that you will reply to them
as concisely as possible.”

“I will do my best,” Frances said.

She took the seat facing him, the morning-light unsparingly upon her,
and she knew that he looked at her with a closer attention than he had
ever before bestowed upon her, as she did so.

“I will came to the point,” he said, in his curt, uncompromising way.
“You realize of course that my message to you was not the result of
chance, that I was actuated by a motive other than the mere desire to
suit my own convenience?”

“Yes, I guessed that,” she answered quietly.

He nodded, and she thought that the ascetic lines of his face became a
shade less grim as he proceeded. “I will not disguise from you the fact
that as a secretary I have not yet found your equal, but that was not my
reason for sending you that message. Now, Miss Thorold, kindly pay
attention to what I am going to say, for time is short. I am due to
conduct the service in the Cathedral in less than half-an-hour. I have a
question to ask you primarily to which I must have a simple and
unequivocal answer. When I discharged you some three months ago from my
employment, I believed that an intrigue of an unworthy nature existed
between my nephew and yourself. I ask you now—and you will answer me as
before God—has there ever been any justification for that belief either
before or since?”

He spoke with great solemnity and emphasis. His eyes—those fanatical
deep-set eyes—were fixed upon her with an intensity that seemed to burn
her.

“You will answer me,” he said again, “as before God.”

And Frances answered him with the simplicity of one to whom shame was
unknown. “There has never been the smallest justification.”

Something of tension went out of the Bishop’s attitude, but he kept his
eyes upon her with a scrutiny that never varied. “That being the case,”
he said, “on the assumption that you have nothing to hide, I am going to
ask you to give me a brief—really a brief account, Miss Thorold, of all
that has occurred between the date of your dismissal and the present
time.”

He spoke with the precision of one accustomed to instant obedience, but
Frances stiffened at the request.

“I am sorry,” she said. “But I am not prepared to do anything of the
kind.”

He lifted his thin brows. “You think my demand unreasonable?”

“Not only that. I think it impertinent,” Frances said, and still she
spoke with that simplicity which comes from the heart.

“In—deed!” said the Bishop.

There would have followed a difficult pause, but very quietly she filled
it. “You see, there are some parts of one’s life so sacred, that no man
or woman on earth has any right to trespass there. In fact, I personally
could not admit you even if I wished to do so. If I gave you the key,
you would not know how to use it.”

“You amaze me!” said the Bishop. He got up and began jerkily to pace the
room, much as his nephew had done on the night that she had sat in
judgment upon him. “Are you aware,” he said after a moment, “that many
men and women also have come to me with their confessions and have eased
their souls thereby of many burdens?”

She watched him with her clear eyes as he moved, and in her look was
something faintly quizzical. “Yes,” she said, “I can believe that many
people find relief in throwing their burdens upon someone else. With me,
it is not so. I prefer to bear my own.”

He stopped and confronted her. “You presume to treat this subject with
levity!” he said.

“Oh, believe me, no!” She rose quickly and faced him. “I have been
through too much for that. But what I have been through only God—who
has kept me safe—will ever know. I could not even begin to tell an
outsider that.”

The earnestness of her speech carried weight in spite of him. His face
softened somewhat. “You are a strange woman, Miss Thorold,” he said.
“But I am willing to believe that your motives are genuine though your
methods do not always commend themselves to me. Sit down again, and
kindly answer the few questions I shall put to you, which, you may as
well be assured, are dictated neither by curiosity nor impertinence. I
have been placed in a very peculiar position towards you, and I am doing
what I conceive to be my duty.”

That moved her also. Perhaps for the first time in her life, she looked
at him with a certain respect. “I will answer your questions to the best
of my ability, my lord,” she said.

“Enough!” said the Bishop, and waved her back to her chair prior to
reseating himself. “First then, when you left me, was it alone?”

“Quite alone,” said Frances.

“And you went—where?”

“I went to a village on the moors called Brookside. It is a few miles
from Fordestown. I found a lodging there.”

“Ah! And my nephew knew your whereabouts?”

“Certainly he did. He had offered to find me employment. I had
practically promised to be his secretary in the event of his writing a
book.”

“You did not consider that in any sense an indiscreet thing to do?”
questioned the Bishop.

She felt herself colour slightly, but she answered him without
hesitation. “Yes, I did. But beggars can’t be choosers. I tried to keep
things on a business footing. I thought he was merely sorry for me. I
did not realize—” she stopped abruptly.

“That he was strongly attracted by you?” suggested the Bishop.

“I did not think that I was sufficiently attractive for that to be
possible,” she answered with simplicity.

The flicker of a smile crossed his hard features. “You do not know human
nature very well,” he observed. “But to continue! You went to Brookside.
And then?”

“He came to see me there,” Frances said.

“And made love to you?”

“Yes.”

“Against your will?” asked the Bishop.

She met his look with great directness. “No, it was not—at
first—against my will. But I misunderstood him. And he misunderstood
me. Afterwards—very soon afterwards—I found out my mistake. That is
all I have to say upon that subject. It is over and done with now, and I
do not wish to think of it again.”

“I fear it has led to various complications,” said the Bishop, “which
make it impossible to dismiss the matter in that fashion. However, we
will pass on. May I ask you to give me the bald details of what
followed?”

She hesitated. That he was already in possession of most of the
circumstances attending her sojourn at Tetherstones was a fact which she
did not question, but she had a strong repugnance to discussing them
with him.

He read it, and in a moment, with a courtesy that surprised her, he
tried to set her at her ease.

“You need not scruple,” he said, “to speak freely to me upon this
matter. Nothing that you may tell me will go beyond this room.”

“Thank you,” she said, but still she hesitated. She could not tell him
of that terrible night with Montague upon the moors. At last, with an
effort, “I had an unpleasant adventure,” she said. “I was lost in a fog.
A little blind girl from a farm near by called Tetherstones found me,
and took me home with her. I was ill after that, and they nursed me.”

“They?” queried the Bishop.

“The Dermots,” she said.

“Ah!” said the Bishop.

He sat for a space lost in thought, his eyes still fixed upon her.

“Tell me about them!” he said at length. “Of what does the family now
consist?”

She told him, and he listened with close attention.

“What is the father like?” he asked then.

“He is an invalid,” she said. “The son works the farm, and the girls all
help. The mother spends most of her time looking after the old man.”

“Is he very old?” asked the Bishop.

“Very, I should say,” she answered.

“And the child—she is blind, you say?”

“Not now,” said Frances gently. “She is dead.”

He bent his head. “How did she come to die?”

“It was an accident,” Frances said. “It happened one night——”

She stopped. He was looking at her strangely, almost as if he suspected
her of trying to deceive him.

“You are sure it was an accident?” he said.

She gazed back at him in amazement. “How could it have been anything
else?”

He made a peculiar gesture as if to check her questioning. “And the old
man? Tell me more about him! What form does his malady take?”

His manner was compelling. She found herself answering, though wonder
still possessed her. “He suffers with his heart, and at times his brain
wanders a little. He gave me the impression of being worn out, but I did
not see a great deal of him.”

“You never saw him when he was ill?” said the Bishop.

“Yes, once.” She paused.

“Once?” repeated the Bishop.

“Yes. He was not quite himself at the time. I sat with him for an
afternoon. He spoke rather strangely, I remember. He—” Again she
paused. Memory was crowding back upon her. The inexplicable horror with
which that day she had been inspired returned to her. And suddenly a
strange thing happened. It was as if a curtain had been rent aside,
showing her in a single blinding moment of revelation the phantom of
terror from whose unseen presence she had so often shrunk in fear.

She uttered a sharp gasp, and turned from the hard eyes that watched
her. “That is all I can tell you,” she said.

He made no comment of any sort, refraining from pressing her upon the
subject with a composure that left her completely at a loss as to his
state of mind. Her own mind at the moment was in chaos, so sudden and so
overwhelming had been her discovery. She marvelled at her previous
blindness, but she asked no question even in her bewilderment. Her
loyalty to her friends at Tetherstones held her silent.

She was conscious of an urgent desire to be alone, to trace this thing
to its source, to sort and arrange the many odd memories that now chased
each other in wild confusion through her brain, to fit together once and
for all this puzzle, the key to which had just been so amazingly given
her.

But the Bishop still sat before her, an uncompromising inquisitor who
would not suffer her to go until he had obtained the last iota of
information that he desired.

He spoke, with cold peremptoriness. “Well, Miss Thorold, there remains
the matter of your further adventures with my nephew. Your sojourn at
Tetherstones at the time of your illness did not—apparently—terminate
these. Do you object to telling me under what circumstances you left the
Dermots?”

“I left them finally to get work,” she said.

“And in the first place?” said the Bishop.

She met his look again. “In the first place I left them at night with
your nephew. We went to an inn at Fordestown. He went up to town the
next day, and I took a lodging in the place. I went back to Tetherstones
about a week later at the request of old Dr. Square who attended them.
The little girl was ill and wanted me. She died that night.”

“And you stayed on?” said the Bishop.

“I stayed on until two days ago, when I also went to town in the hope of
selling some of my sketches. Your nephew had offered to help me.”

“And that was your sole reason for going?” he said.

“No, not my sole reason.” She spoke deliberately, and said no more.

“But the only one you are prepared to give me?” he said.

“Yes,” she answered with decision.

He looked at his watch. “And you are not disposed to tell me how you
came to run away—at night—with my nephew, a man with whom you wish me
to believe that you had no desire to be associated?”

“No,” said Frances quietly.

“My opinion in the matter carries no weight?” he suggested.

She knitted her brows a little. “I would certainly rather you believed
in me,” she said. “But—I cannot give you any convincing reason for so
doing.”

“You can if you wish,” said the Bishop.

She shook her head. “I am afraid not.”

He rose. “By answering two questions which concern yourself alone.
First, why are you not willing to marry my nephew?”

She looked at him, slightly startled. “Because I don’t love him,” she
said.

“Thank you,” said the Bishop. “And is there any other man whom you would
be willing to marry?”

His eyes held her. She felt the blood surge over her face, but she could
not turn away. He waited inexorably for her reply.

For a space she did battle with him, then very suddenly, almost
whimsically, she yielded.

“Yes, my lord,” she said, and she spoke with a certain pride.

He held out his hand to her abruptly; there was even a glimmer of
approval in his look. “Miss Thorold, you have convinced me,” he said. “I
have misjudged you, and I will make amends.”

It was not an apology. There was not a shadow of regret in his words,
scarcely even of kindness, yet, oddly, they sent a rush of feeling to
her heart that swept away her self-control. She stood speechless,
fighting her emotion.

“Enough!” said the Bishop, turning aside. “I must go to prepare for the
service. Perhaps you would like to walk in the garden and find
refreshment there. I will ask you later to resume your secretarial
duties.”

He was gone. She heard the door shut definitely behind him, and the
garden with its old-world peace seemed to call her. Storm-tossed and
weary, she went out into the warm sunlight, thanking God with her tears.


                              CHAPTER VII
                               FAIR PLAY

The deep tones of the Cathedral organ thrilled across the quiet garden.
There came the chanting of boys’ voices, and then a silence. She
wandered on through the enchanted stillness, past the cloister arch, and
so by winding paths down to the haunted water whither her Fate had led
her on that summer night that seemed so long ago.

Her tears had ceased. She walked like a nun, her hands folded before
her. The pain in her heart was wonderfully stilled. She was not thinking
of herself any more, but of Tetherstones, and the grim secret that had
so suddenly been bared to her gaze. She saw it all now—or nearly
all—that skeleton which they kept so closely locked away, and she
marvelled at her blindness. To have lived among them, and to have seen
so little!

The gentle white-haired mother with her patient silence—the chattering
girls darkly hinting yet never revealing—the sombre prematurely-aged
man who ruled them all, grinding the stones for bread, bitterly
trampling all his ambitions underfoot, refusing to eat of the tree of
life lest he should fail in that to which he had set his hand! And
little Ruth—little Ruth—who had lived and died among them in her
innocence—the child whom none had wanted but all had loved,—the child
whose passing had wrung those terrible tears from the man who had never
seemed to care!

Yes, she held the key to it all—that agony of despair, that extremity
of suffering. The Bishop’s question: “You are sure it was an accident?”
The old man’s halting enquiries—his relief at her reply—and then later
his wandering words that had awakened such horror within her! His
three-fold vow! What had he meant by that? And the place of
sacrifice—the place of sacrifice! Again she seemed to hear the mumbled
words. And her mind, leaping from point to point, caught detail after
detail in a stronger light.

Now the picture of that terrible night stood out vividly before her.
That shot in the moonlight, and her own conviction of tragedy! The
coming of little Ruth to her deliverance—the banging of the door! Only
Grandpa! The child’s words rushed back upon her. Only Grandpa! He had
come in after those shots, had gone to the kitchen. How she remembered
his weary, dragging gait! And she had fled—and she had fled! Again
little Ruth’s words came back to her: “Oh, please come!” Ah, why had she
not stayed with Ruth that night?

And the child had set out to seek her. Possibly she had gone to the old
man first to see if she had returned to the kitchen, and not finding
her, had hastened out to the Stones to search.

She tried to turn her imagination at this point, but a power stronger
than herself urged it on. She saw the child flitting like a spirit
through the night, over the lawn and through the nut-trees, pausing
often to listen, but always flitting on again. She saw a dark shadow
that followed, avoiding the open spaces, but never pausing at all. And
she remembered the eyes that once had glared at her through those
nut-trees and she had deemed them a dream!

Now she saw Ruth again out in the corn-field, hastening over the
stubble, drawing near to the Stones—that place where the giant
harebells grew. And the Stones themselves rose up before her, stark in
the moonlight, and the great Rocking Stone which a child could set in
motion from below but which none might overthrow. And the flitting form
was climbing it to find her—ah, why had she left little Ruth that
night?

The place of sacrifice! The place of sacrifice! The words ran with a
mocking rhythm through her brain. She saw it all—the childish figure
poised in the moonlight—the lurking shadow behind—a movement at first
imperceptible, gathering in weight and strength as the great Stone
swayed forward—and perhaps a faint cry. . . . She covered her eyes to
blot out the dreadful vision. Ah, little Ruth! Little Ruth!

When she looked up again, it had passed. Yet for a space her mind dwelt
upon the old man and his helplessness—his pathetic dignity—his
loneliness. And the mother with the eyes that were too tired to weep!
She could understand it all now. Piece by piece the puzzle came
together. She did not wonder any longer at the devotion that had
inspired them all to sacrifice. They had done it for the mother’s sake.
Ah, yes, she could understand!

She reached the yew-tree by the lake where she and Montague had hidden
together and stood still. The dark boughs hanging down screened the
further side from her view, but the small fizz of a cigarette-end
meeting the water awakened her very swiftly from her reverie. She drew
herself together with an instinctive summoning of her strength to meet
him.

But when he came round the great tree and joined her, she knew no fear,
only a sense of the inevitableness of the interview.

He spoke at once, without greeting of any sort. “I’ve been waiting for
you. You’ve seen the Bishop?”

“Yes,” she made answer. “He has been—very good to me.”

“I can hardly imagine that,” said Rotherby dryly. “But he means well.
Look here! I don’t know whether you’ll be angry, but I’ve told him
everything. It was the only thing to do.”

She stood before him with grave eyes meeting his. “Why should I be
angry?” she said. “I think it was—rather brave of you.”

“Brave!” he echoed, and his lips twisted a little as though they wanted
to sneer. “Would you say that of the cur that takes refuge behind your
skirt? No, wait! I’m not here to torment you with that sort of
platitudes. It doesn’t matter what you think of me. I don’t count.
You’ll never see me again after this show is over. I promise you that.
I’ve led you a devil’s dance, but I’m nearly done. There’s only one
figure left, and you’ve got to step that whether you want to or not.”

“What do you mean?” Frances said, arrested rather by the recklessness of
his speech than by the words he spoke.

“I’ll tell you,” said Rotherby. “It’ll be something of a shock, I warn
you. But you have pluck enough for a dozen. First then, I’ve got to own
up to a lie. You remember that affair at Tetherstones—when I was shot
waiting for you?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “Yes.” She knew what was coming, yet she waited for
it with an odd breathlessness. Somehow so much seemed to hang upon it.

“It was not Arthur Dermot who fired that shot,” Rotherby said. “It was
the old man, and he meant murder too. But Arthur and Oliver were both
there and that put him off. They turned up unexpectedly from different
directions and chased him, but somehow he got away. I bolted—with my
usual bravery.” Again she saw his twisted smile. He went on, scarcely
pausing. “I didn’t tell you the truth for several reasons. I daresay you
can guess what they were. Arthur is sane enough except when he sees red.
But the old man—well, the old man is a raving lunatic at times, though
he has his lucid intervals, I believe. He ought to be shut up of course,
but his wife has never been able to face it. Some women are like that.
You would be. They keep him shut up when he goes off the rails. I
believe he has only got one serious mania, and that is to kill me. So it
has been fairly easy to guard against that until lately. It was poor
Nan’s trouble that sent him off his head in the first place, but if I
had kept out of the way he would probably have remained harmless. You
understand that, do you?”

“I am beginning to understand—many things,” Frances said. But she could
not speak of little Ruth to him.

He also seemed glad to pass on. “Well we needn’t discuss that any
further. He got wind of my coming, and he did his best to out me. He
didn’t succeed—perhaps fortunately, perhaps otherwise. Now to come to
Arthur! He would have left me alone if it hadn’t been for you. You
realize that, of course?”

“Oh yes,” Frances said, wondering with a faint impatience why he harped
upon the matter.

He saw the wonder and grimly smiled at it. “I realized that too,” he
said. “It has simplified matters considerably. I told you I would play
the game. Well, I’ve played it. After I had got down here yesterday and
seen the Bishop, I wrote to Arthur. I told him the whole truth from
beginning to end. He hasn’t any illusions left by this time concerning
you—or me either.”

“Ah, what made you do that?” Frances said.

Strangely in that moment, deeply as his words concerned her, it was not
of herself she thought, but of the man before her, with his drawn,
haggard face in which cynicism struggled to veil suffering.

“I don’t know why you did that,” she said. “It was not necessary. It was
not wise.”

“It was—fair play,” he said, and still with set lips he smiled. “I did
more than that, and I shall do more still—unless you relieve me of the
obligation.”

“What do you mean?” she said. “What can you mean?”

A growing sense of uneasiness possessed her. Did he know Arthur Dermot’s
nature? Was it not madness to dare again that tornado of fury from which
she had so strenuously fought to deliver him? It had not been an easy
thing, that deliverance. She had sacrificed everything to accomplish it,
and now he had refuted all. “I think you must be mad,” she said. “Tell
me what you mean!”

The bitter lines deepened about his mouth. “I will tell you,” he said,
“and once more seek the refuge of your generous protection. I told him
that I should go to-day to Fordestown, and from Fordestown I would meet
him at the Stones at any hour that he cared to appoint, to give him such
further satisfaction as he might wish to demand.”

“Montague!” The name broke from her, little accustomed as she was to
utter it. “Are you really mad?” she said. “Are you quite, quite mad?”

“I am not,” he answered briefly.

“But—but he will kill you if you meet again!”

She gasped the words breathlessly. This thing must be stopped. At all
costs it must be stopped.

He was still smiling in that odd, drawn way. She did not understand his
look. He raised his shoulders at her words.

“He may. What of it?”

“Oh, you mustn’t go!” she said. “It would be madness—madness.”

“I have had my answer,” said Rotherby.

“You have?” She stared at him. “What is it? Quick! Tell me!”

He pulled a telegram from his pocket and gave it to her. She opened it
with shaking hands. Three words only—brief, characteristic,
uncompromising! “_To-night at ten._” No signature of any sort—only the
bald reply!

She gazed at it in silence. And before her inward sight there rose a
vision of the man himself as she had seen him last, terrible in his
wrath, overwhelming in his condemnation. Yet her heart leapt to the
vision. He was the man she loved.

She looked up. “You mustn’t go,” she said. “Or if you do—I shall come
too.”

“No,” said Rotherby.

She met his look. “Why do you say that? What do you mean?”

“I mean that you will never go anywhere with me again,” he said.

“But—but—” she stumbled over the words, hearing other words ringing
like hammer-strokes in her brain,—“he will kill you—he has sworn to
kill you if you go his way again.”

“Do you think you could prevent it,” said Rotherby.

She crumpled the paper in her hand. “Yes, I could—I would—somehow.”

“Very well. You can,” he said.

His manner baffled her. She looked at him uncertainly. “Tell me what you
mean!” she said again.

He made a curious gesture, as of a player who tosses down his last card
knowing himself a loser. “I mean,” he said, “that you can go in my
place. Either that—or I go alone.”

Then she understood him, read the strategy by which he had sought to
prove himself, and a deep pity surged up within her, blotting out all
that had gone before.

“But I couldn’t possibly go,” she said. “It wouldn’t really help either,
though—” she halted a little—“I know quite well what made you do
it—and—I am grateful.”

“One of us will go,” Rotherby said with decision. “That I swear to God.
It is for you to decide which.”

There was indomitable resolution in his voice. Very suddenly she
realized that the way before her was barred. She drew back
instinctively.

“But that is absurd,” she said. “You know quite well that there is
nothing to be gained by going.”

“Except a modicum of self-respect,” said Rotherby. “It may not be worth
much, but, strange to say, I value it. I will forego it for your sake,
but for no other consideration under the sun.”

He was immovable; she saw it. Yet in despair she made another effort to
move him. “But how could I go?” she protested. “It is utterly out of the
question. You know it is out of the question.”

“Do I know it?” said Rotherby, with his faint half-scoffing smile.

“If you think at all, you must,” she said. “I couldn’t possibly face it.
Not after—after——”

“After he has been told the truth in such a fashion that he cannot
possibly doubt you,” said Rotherby. “Forgive me, but I
thought—love—was capable of anything. If it isn’t, well—as I said
before—I go alone. That is quite final, so we needn’t argue about it.
There is a train to Fordestown at five this afternoon. I shall go by
that, and pick up a conveyance at the station.”

“There are none,” she said, clutching at a straw.

“Then I shall go to The Man in the Moon for one. Anyway, I shall keep my
appointment—with time to spare,” said Rotherby. “You might give us a
thought before you turn in. It’ll be an interesting interview—even more
so than our last.”

He swung upon his heel with the words, but Frances threw out a hand,
grasping his arm.

“Montague,—please—you’re not in earnest! You can’t be! I mean—it’s so
utterly preposterous.”

He stood still, the smile gone from his face. Very suddenly he threw
aside the cloak of irony in which he had wrapped himself, and met her
appeal with absolute sincerity.

“I am in earnest,” he said. “And it is not preposterous. Can’t you
realize that a time may come in a man’s life when just for his own
soul’s sake he has got to prove to himself that he is not an utter
skunk? It doesn’t matter what other people think. They can think what
they damn’ well please. But he himself—the thing that goes with him
always, that sleeps when he sleeps and wakes when he wakes—do you think
he can afford to be out with that? By God, no! Life isn’t worth having
under those conditions. I’d sooner die and be damned straight away.”

He laughed upon the words, but it was a laugh of exceeding bitterness.
And there came to Frances in that moment the conviction that what he
said was right. No power on earth can ever compensate for the loss of
self-respect.

Somehow that passionate utterance of his went straight to her heart. If
she had not forgiven him before, her forgiveness was now complete and
generous. She saw in him in the hour of his repentance the man whom once
she could have loved, and she was deeply moved thereby.

“Are you satisfied?” he said. “Have I convinced you that I am playing
the game—or trying to?”

She met his eyes though she knew that her own were wet. “Yes, I am
convinced,” she said. “I am satisfied.”

“And what are you going to do?” he questioned.

Very simply she made answer. “I will go to Tetherstones.”

He drew a hard breath. “You’re not afraid?”

“No,” she said.

He put an urgent hand on her shoulder. “Frances,” he said, “you must
make him understand.”

“He will understand,” she said.

He bent towards her. His voice came huskily. “It isn’t only—for
myself,” he said. “You know that?”

“I know,” she said.

“I want to win your forgiveness,” he said, and there was appeal in the
pressure of his hand. “Have I got that?”

“Yes,” she said.

“You are sure?” Voice and touch alike pleaded with her.

She felt the tears welling to her eyes. “From my very heart,” she said.
“Yes, I am sure.”

She offered him both her hands, and he took and held them closely for a
space, then abruptly he let them go.

“You will never love me,” he said, “but it may please you some day to
remember that you taught me how to love.”

And with that he turned and walked away from her, not suffering himself
to look back. She knew even as she watched him go that he would keep his
word and that she would never see him again.

Out of sheer pity it came to her to call him back, but a stronger
impulse held her silent. She became aware very suddenly of the crumpled
paper in her hand, and, as the solitude of the place came about her with
his going, she spread it open once again and read.


                              CHAPTER VIII
                         THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE

An owl was hooting in the moonlit distance, and the ripple, ripple,
ripple of running water filled in the silences. A vast loneliness—the
loneliness of the moors at night which is somehow like an unseen
presence—wrapped the whole world as in a mantle which the weird cry of
the wandering bird pierced but could not lift. The scent of wet
bog-myrtle with now and then a waft of late honeysuckle was in the air.
And from the east, silver, majestic, wonderful, a moon that was nearly
full mounted upwards to her throne above the earth.

The rough track that led to the Stones was clearly defined in its
radiance, and the Stones themselves stood up like sentinels on the hill.
A wonderful place! Yes, a wonderful place, but how desolate, and
barbaric in its desolation!

A woman stood at the gate that opened from the lane on to that steep
track. She had walked up from the village in the moonlight, and before
her it was as clear as day, but she stood as one hesitating to emerge
from the shadows. Her hands were folded together as if in prayer.

A vagrant breeze stirring the high hedges that bordered the lane made
her turn her head sharply to listen, and a faint, vague sound from down
the hill brought a further movement of attention from her. But the sound
ceased—it might have been some scurrying wild thing—the wind died
down, sighing sadly away, and all was quiet again, save for that unseen,
trickling water, and the far, haunting cry of the owl on the hill-side.

But her own movement had given her courage, or perhaps she feared to
remain; for she paused no longer at the gate. Noiselessly she opened it
and passed through. Then closing it, she stood for a moment, looking
back. Down the lane a light glimmered, fitfully, seen through
tree-branches—Tetherstones.

Her eyes sought it with a certain wistfulness, dwelt upon it, then
resolutely, with a sigh half-checked she turned and mounted the hill,
walking rapidly and soundlessly over the short grass beside the track.
Nearer and nearer she drew to the Stones in their gaunt splendour, and
the spell of the place encompassed her like an enchantment; but she
hesitated no more. Firmly, steadfastly, she pursued her way.

Once indeed she gave a great start as a horned creature blundered
suddenly up in front of her, and dashed away with clattering feet over
the scattered stones, but she checked her instinctive alarm with swift
self-assertion. It was only a goat more startled than herself. What was
there to fear?

She came at last into the great circle, pushing through coarse
straggling grass till she reached the smooth, boulder-strewn turf where
the sheep and the goats had grazed. And here she stopped and looked
around her in the moonlight with the feeling strong upon her that she
was being watched.

Again, with an effort of will, she dismissed the thought. It was the
stark emptiness of the place that induced it; of that she was certain.
For there was no sign of movement anywhere; only the great Tether Stones
standing round, a grim challenge to the centuries. She turned slowly
after a time and faced the Rocking Stone. More than ever now in the
moonlight had it the appearance of rolling towards her, as though set in
motion by some unseen hand. And she shuddered as she watched it. The
eeriness of the place was beginning to fold itself around her
irresistibly, almost suffocatingly.

“Why should I be afraid?” she whispered to herself, clenching her hands
desperately to keep down the panic that was knocking at her heart.
“There is nothing here to hurt me. They are only stones.”

Only stones! Yet they seemed to threaten her by their very immobility,
their coldness, their silence. She was an intruder in their midst, and
whichever way she turned that sensation of being watched went with her,
oppressed her. The hooting of the owl in the distance was somehow like
the calling of a lost spirit, wandering to and fro, seeking rest—and
finding none. . . . There was no other sound in all the world, though
her ears were strained to listen. Even the music of the streams was
hushed up here.

“They are only stones,” she said to herself again, and began to walk
down the centre of the circle towards the Rocking Stone, defying that
engulfing, fateful silence with all her strength. Within a dozen yards
of it something stopped her, as surely as if a hand had caught her back.
She stood still, not breathing.

Was it fancy? Was it reality? The monstrous thing was moving! Like a
seated giant giving her salutation it swayed slowly forward. And what
were those long, crimson streaks upon it that gleamed as if wet in the
moonlight?

She stood as one transfixed, possessed by horror. A devil’s paradise!
The words rushed meteor-like through her brain. Surely this gruesome
place was haunted by devils!

Fascinated, she watched the great stone. Would it leave its
resting-place, roll down to her, annihilate her? Had it started upon its
dread course she knew she could not have avoided it. She was paralyzed
by terror, possibly the more intense because of its utter unreason.

That some animal might have set the thing in motion was a possibility
that did not even cross her mind. She knew, without any proof, that some
evil influence was at work. She could feel it with every gasping breath
she drew.

Downwards and yet further downwards rocked the great Stone, and at the
last there came a grinding noise as though some substance were being
pulverized beneath it. It was unutterably horrible to the looker-on, but
still she could not turn and flee. She was as much a prisoner as though
she were indeed tethered to one of those grim monsters that stood about
her.

Spell-bound as one in a nightmare, she stood and watched, quaking and
powerless, saw the thing begin to lift again like some prehistoric beast
of prey rising from its slaughtered victim, saw it roll slowly back
again soundlessly, as if on hinges, with the inevitable poise which
alone kept it in its place, saw the dreadful crimson streaks and patches
that dripped down its scarred front. And suddenly the bond that held her
snapped. She turned from the dreadful sight and fled through the ghastly
solitude as if she fled for her life.

Again the cry of the owl sounded, much nearer now, and she thought it
was the shriek of a pursuing demon. Through that grass-grown place of
sacrifice she tore like the wind, so goaded by fear as to be hardly
conscious of direction. And now the shriek of the demon had become a
yell of mocking laughter that died away with dreadful echoes among the
Stones. . . .

She reached the open hill-side beyond that awful Circle, and here
abruptly she was stayed. A maddening pain awoke in her side and she
could go no further. The pain was acute for a few seconds, and she
crouched in the grass in her extremity, fighting for breath. Then,
gradually recovering, she began to tell her racing heart that she had
fled from shadows. Yet it was no shadow that had moved that Rocking
Stone.

Her strength returned to her at last and she stood up. But she could not
return to that terrible trysting-place. Her knees were shaking still.
There was only one course left if she would keep her tryst, and though
her whole soul shrank from the thought of it, yet was she in honor bound
to fulfil that pledge. Since she could not return, she must wait on the
hill-side till he came. The appointed time must be drawing near now, and
if she knew him he would not be late.

Even with the thought there rose a sound from the valley below her,—a
clear and beautiful sound that went far to dispel that sense of lurking
evil that so oppressed her—the church-clock striking ten. It renewed
her courage, it stilled that wild, insensate fear within her. It gave
her the power that belongs to purity.

No longer weak and stumbling, she left the spot where she had crouched
and walked across the grass towards the track by which he would come.
And as she went, there came to her the clang of the gate that led out of
the lane. He was coming!

She realized abruptly that she could not stand and await him in the full
moonlight. The shadows of the Stones fell densely not fifty yards away,
and, conquering that instinct that urged her in the opposite direction,
she directed her steps towards them. The consciousness of another human
presence went far to disperse the ghostly influence of the place. The
definite effort that lay before her drove the thought of forces less
concrete into the background. At the very entrance to the arena,
screened by the shadow of the first great Tether Stone she waited for
him.

Immediately below her was the cattle-shed with its thatched roof, within
which she and Montague Rotherby had found shelter on that night of fog
when deliverance had so wonderfully come to her. Her mind dwelt upon the
memory for a moment, then swiftly flashed back to the present, for,
distinct in the stillness, there came to her the sound of his feet upon
the track. Her heart gave a wild bound of recognition. How well she knew
that sound!

Slow and regular and unfalteringly firm, they mounted the steep ascent
while she stood waiting in the shadow. Now she could see him, a dark and
powerful figure, walking with bent head, coming straight towards her,
pursuing his undeviating course. Now he was close at hand. And now—

What moved her suddenly to look towards the cattle-shed—the flash of
something that gleamed with a steely brightness in the moonlight, or an
influence more subtle and infinitely more compelling. She knew not, but
in that moment she looked, and looking, sprang forward with a cry. For
in the entrance, clear against the blackness behind, she saw a face,
corpse-like in its whiteness, but alive with a murderous malice,—the
face of a devil.

Her cry arrested the man upon the path. He stood still, and she rushed
to him with arms outspread, intervening between him and the evil thing
that lurked in the shed.

She reached him, flung her arms around him. “Arthur—Arthur! For God’s
sake—come away from this dreadful place—this dreadful place!”

Wildly she poured forth the words, seeking with frantic urgency to turn
him from the path. But he stood like a rock, resisting her.

“What are you doing here?” he said.

She tried to tell him, but explanation failed. “I came to meet you,
but—there is—there is something dreadful in the barn. Don’t go near!
Come away! Oh, come away!”

But still he stood, resisting her desperate efforts to move him. “I have
come to meet Rotherby,” he said. “You go—and let me meet him alone!”

The curt words steadied her somewhat, but she could not let him go.
“Arthur, please,—listen!” she urged. “He isn’t here. I came in his
place. But there is something terrible in the shed. I don’t know what. I
only know—I only know—that the whole place is full of evil, and the
thing I saw—the thing I saw—is probably one of many.”

She was trembling violently, and his hand came up and supported her.
“Oh, why did you come?” he said, and his tone held more of reproach than
questioning.

She answered him notwithstanding. “I had to come. There was no choice.
But don’t let us stay! I have seen the Rocking Stone move. I have
seen—a thing like a devil in the barn.”

“How long have you been here?” he said.

She was shivering still. “I don’t know—a long time. But that awful
thing——”

He turned towards the barn. “Your nerves have been playing you tricks,”
he said. “There is nothing here.”

She hung back, still clinging to him, reassured by his confidence in
spite of herself, yet afraid beneath her reassurance.

“It couldn’t have been fancy. I am not fanciful. Arthur, don’t go! Don’t
go!”

He stopped and looked at her, and in his eyes was that which strangely
moved her, stilling her entreaty, overwhelming her fear, banishing every
thought in her heart but the one great rapture of her soul as it leaped
to his.

So for a long moment they stood, then his arm went round her. He turned
aside.

“We will go to the Stones,” he said, “and leave these banshees to look
after themselves. It was probably a goat you saw.”

She went with him, almost convinced that he was right and that her fancy
had tricked her. She would have gone with him in that moment if all the
ghosts of the centuries had awaited them among the Stones.

As they passed into the great arena, he uttered a groan, and his arm
relaxed and fell. “This is absolute madness,” he said. “I told you
before. I am tied. I am a prisoner. I shall never be free.” The iron of
despair was in his voice.

“Then I will be a prisoner too,” she said.

“No—no! Why did that scoundrel send you to me? Why didn’t he come
himself?” He flung the words passionately, as though the emotions
surging within him were greater than he could control.

But she answered him steadfastly, without agitation. “Arthur, listen! He
sent me to you because he is ashamed of all that has gone before—and
because he wished to make amends. He has gone out of my life. But I have
forgiven him, and—some day—I hope you will forgive him too.”

“Never!” he said. “Never! I would have killed him with my naked hands if
I had had the chance.”

She suppressed a shiver at the memory his words called up. “That is not
worthy of you. Forgiveness is a greater thing than revenge—oh, so much
greater. And love is greater than all. You won’t believe it, but—he was
capable of love.”

“He was capable of anything,” Arthur said, “except playing a straight
game.”

“You are wrong,” she said earnestly. “You are wrong. He has played a
straight game now in telling you the truth and in sending me to you. He
made me come, do you understand? I didn’t want to—I would rather have
done anything than come. But he would have come himself if I hadn’t. And
so——”

“You came to save his life?” suggested Arthur, with a bitter sneer.

She answered him with the simplicity that is above bitterness. “I came
to save you both.”

He looked at her with a certain grimness. “And why didn’t you want to
come?”

Again with absolute directness she answered him. “Because I knew how it
would hurt you to send me away again.”

He swung away from her and again she heard him groan. “This is well
named the place of sacrifice,” he said. “Do you remember the day I first
brought you here? I loved you then, and I knew it was hopeless—utterly
hopeless. It is more so than ever now. I can’t go on. I won’t go on.
This thing has got to stop. God knows I have fought it. You have got to
fight it too,—go on fighting till it dies.”

“It will rise again,” she said.

His hands clenched. “I’ve never been beaten yet,” he said.

To which she made no answer, for she knew, as he did, that there is no
power in earth or heaven so omnipotent as the power of Love.

They went on together, side by side down that great arena, the gaunt
Stones all around them like monstrous idols in a forgotten place of
worship. They drew near to the Rocking Stone, and very suddenly Arthur
stopped.

He stood before it in utter silence, and she wondered what was passing
in his mind. The moonlight shone full upon the face of the Stone. She
saw again those strange red streaks of which old Mr. Dermot had told
her. But her fear was gone, swallowed up in that which was infinitely
greater—her love for the man at her side.

How long they stood thus she did not know. She began to realize that he
was bracing himself anew for sacrifice, that he was battling desperately
for the mastery against odds such as even he had never faced before. She
saw him once more as a gladiator, terrible in his resolution,
indomitable as the Stone he faced, invincible so long as the breath
remained in his body. His last words kept hammering in her brain with
the swing and rhythm of a haunting refrain: “I’ve never been beaten
yet—I’ve never been beaten yet.” And through them, faint, thread-like
as a far-off echo, she heard another voice—whether of child or angel
she knew not: “You’ll find it up by the Stones, where the giant
hare-bells grow. It’s the most precious thing in the world, and when you
find it, keep it—always—always—always!”

The giant hare-bells! There they grew at the foot of that grim Stone
where the child had lain all night, unafraid because God was there. She
saw them, pale in the moonlight, and in memory of little Ruth she
stooped to gather one.

It was then that it happened,—so suddenly, so appallingly,—with a
crash as if the heavens were rent above her. A blinding red flame seemed
to spring from the very ground in front of her, the smell of burning
choked her senses. The whole world rocked and burst into a blaze. She
went backwards, conscious of Arthur’s arms around her, conscious that
they fell together . . . or were they hurled into space among the
wandering star-atoms to drift for evermore hither and thither—spirits
without a home?

“From all evil and mischief, from sin, from the crafts and assaults of
the devil, from Thy wrath—and from everlasting damnation” (that
dreadful irremediable doom in which she had never believed), “Good Lord,
deliver us.”


                               CHAPTER IX
                    WHERE THE GIANT HARE-BELLS GROW

Who was that whispering behind the screen—Lucy and Nell, could it be,
audible as ever, though hidden from sight? It was like a long-forgotten
story, begun years since and never finished.

“Dr. Square says she may just drift away and never recover consciousness
at all; but her heart is a little stronger than it was, and she is able
to take nourishment, so she may rally and sleep it off. I wonder if she
will remember anything if she does.”

“Oh, I hope—I hope she won’t!” This was surely Lucy’s voice, hushed and
tearful. “She may have seen him lying dead, all torn by the explosion.
It would be dreadful for her to remember that.”

“Well, thank God he is dead!” Nell spoke stoutly, as one expectant of
rebuke. “The life we have led has been enough to kill us all. Whatever
happens, things must get better now.”

“Oh, hush!” imploringly from Lucy. “It is wrong—it must be wrong to
talk like that.”

“I don’t see why,” combatively from Nell. “God must have arranged it
all. And when you’ve carried a burden that’s too big for you, it can’t
be wrong to be thankful when He takes it away.”

“But think of Mother!” Lucy’s whisper was broken with tears.

“I do think of her. And I know she is thankful too. My dear, you are
thankful yourself. Why disguise it? It isn’t wrong to be thankful.” Nell
spoke with vigorous decision. “If only _she_ gets over this—and I don’t
see why she shouldn’t, for it’s only shock, nothing else—why, all our
troubles will be over. The inquest was the simplest thing in the
world—nothing but sympathy and condolences, no tiresome questions at
all. I’m ashamed of you, Lucy, for having so little spirit. Don’t you
see what it means to us? Why, we’re free—we’re free—we’re free!”

To which, sighing, Lucy could only answer, “It doesn’t seem right. And
she hasn’t got over it yet, and even if she does——”

“Which she will!” Nell’s voice arose above a whisper and ran with
confidence. “Which she shall and will! How I would like to know what
brought her there! I wonder if she will ever tell us.”

“I wonder,” murmured Lucy.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Thereafter for a space there was silence, and then there began that
gradual groping towards the light which comes to a brain awakening. Who
was it who was lying dead among the Stones? And why were they all so
thankful? Then at last she opened her eyes to the soft sunshine of late
autumn and awoke from her long, trance-like sleep.

Someone rose to minister to her, and she saw the white-haired mother
with her patient eyes bending over her. She smiled upon her with a great
tenderness.

“So you are awake!” she said, and Frances knew that she was glad. “Don’t
try to move too quickly! Just wait till your strength comes back!”

“Am I ill then?” Frances asked her, wondering.

And she answered gently, “No, dear. Only tired. You will be quite all
right presently. Just lie still!”

So Frances lay still and pondered, fitting the puzzle piece by piece,
slowly, painfully, till at length with returning memory the picture was
complete. But who was lying dead among the Stones? And why—oh,
why—were they thankful?

She could not ask the quiet woman by her side. The sad face bent over
her work somehow held her silent, so deep were its lines of suffering.
But the need to know was strong upon her. Someone was lying dead.
Someone had been killed. Who? Oh, who? And what had caused that
frightful explosion up there among the Stones?

There came to her again the memory of Arthur’s arms holding her. And
they had gone out together into the star-wide spaces. How was it that
she had returned—alone?

Something awoke within her, urging her. She sat up, not conscious of any
effort.

Mrs. Dermot came to her. “What is it, dear? Are you wanting something?”

Frances looked at her, but still she could not ask that dread question.
Her lips refused to frame it. Not of anyone could she have borne to ask
that which so earnestly she desired to know. She must find out for
herself. She must go to the Stones. If he were dead—and in her heart
she knew he must be—she would meet his spirit there.

And she must go alone.

She met Mrs. Dermot’s gentle questioning very steadfastly. “I want to
get up, please,” she said. “I am going to the Stones—to look for
something.”

She expected opposition, but she met with none. Mrs. Dermot seemed to
understand.

“Whatever you wish, dear,” she said. “But don’t overtax your strength!”

She helped her to dress, but she did not offer to accompany her. And so
presently Frances found herself out in the misty sunshine, hastening
with a desperate concentration of will towards the place of sacrifice.

She never remembered any stages of her journey later, so fixed was she
upon reaching her destination. But as she sped up the steep track, her
heart was racing within her, and, conscious of weakness, she had to
pause ere she reached the top to give herself breathing-space.

Then she pressed on, never once looking back, passing the cattle-shed
without a glance, reaching the Stones at length and moving fearlessly in
among the long shadows cast by the setting sun.

A warm glow lay everywhere, softening the dread desolation of the place.
She walked straight down the great circle, looking neither to right nor
to left, straight to that point whence she had stood and watched the
ghostly Rocking Stone sway before her like a prehistoric monster in dumb
salute. And here she stood again, arrested by a sight that made her
suddenly cold. The Rocking Stone was gone,—crumbled into a shattered
heap of grey stones, around which the giant hare-bells still flowered in
their purple splendour!

She caught her breath. This was where he was lying dead. This was where
she would meet his spirit.

Again little Ruth’s message ran like a silvery echo through the seething
uncertainty of her soul. “You’ll find it up by the Stones, where the
giant hare-bells grow—something that you’re wanting—that you’ve wanted
always—very big—bigger even than the Rocking Stone. If you can’t find
it by yourself, Uncle Arthur will help you. You’ll know it when you find
it—because it’s the most precious thing in the world.”

The echo sank away, and the loneliness that was like an unseen presence
came close about her. The silence was intense, so intense that she heard
her own heart jerking and stopping, jerking and stopping, as the hope
that had inspired her slowly died.

She stood motionless before that tragic heap of stones, and the unseen
presence drew closer, closer yet. Then, rising clear from the valley,
there came to her the sound of the church-clock striking the hour.

That released her from the spell. She lifted her clasped hands above the
ruin before her and prayed,—prayed aloud and passionately, pouring
forth the anguish of her soul.

“O God, let him come to me—only once—only once! O God, send his spirit
back to me,—if only for one moment—that we may know that our love is
eternal—that holy thing—that nothing—can ever change—or take away!”

The agony of her appeal went up through the loneliness, and she stood
with closed eyes and waited for her answer. For she knew that an answer
would be sent. Already, deep within her, was the certainty of his
coming. Had she not told him on this very spot that their love would
rise again?

And so she waited for that unseen presence among the barren and desolate
stones, felt it drawing near to her, felt the surge and quiver of her
heart at its nearness. And then—very suddenly—a great wave of
exaltation that was almost more than she could bear caught her, uplifted
her, compelled her. She turned by no volition of her own,—and met him
face to face. . . .

“Arthur!” she said.

And heard his answering voice, deeply moved, deeply tender. “Frances!
Frances! Frances!”

She was in his arms, she was clinging to him, before she knew that it
was flesh and blood that had answered her cry. But she knew it then. His
lips upon her own dispelled all doubt, banished all questioning. The
rapture of those moments was the rapture which few may ever know on
earth. He had come back to her, as it were, from the dead. Later, it
seemed to her that no words at all could have passed between them during
that wonderful re-union. Surely there are no words that can express the
joy of those who love when at last they meet again! Is there in earth or
Heaven any language that can utter so great a gladness?

She only remembered that when speech again was possible they were
walking side by side through the chequered spaces of sunlight and shadow
that lay between the Stones. And the desolation was gone for ever from
her heart.

His arm was about her. He held her very closely.

“Why did you come up here?” he asked her.

And when she answered, “To find you,” he drew her closer still.

“My mother told me. I followed you. She would have told you everything
if you had asked, but the doctor said it must come gradually. She was
afraid of giving you a shock.”

“I was afraid to ask,” said Frances.

He looked down at her. “You’re not afraid now. Shall I tell you
everything?”

She met his look. “I know a good deal. I know about—Nan, and about your
father,—at least in part.”

“You have got to know—everything,” he said, and stopped where he had
stopped once before to gaze out between the Stones to the infinite
distance. “And you are to understand, Frances, that what has passed
between us now can be wiped out—as if it had never been, if you so
desire it. You know about—my sister Nan.” His voice dropped. “I can’t
talk about her even to you, except to tell you that you are somehow like
her. That was what made my father take to you. He didn’t take to any
strangers as a rule. Neither did I.” Again she was conscious of the
close holding of his arm, but he did not turn his eyes towards her. He
went sombrely on. “We gave up everything and came here because the
trouble over Nan had turned his brain. He wanted to tear across the
world and kill my cousin. So did I—once. But—my mother—well, you know
my mother. You realized long ago that all we did was for her sake. And
so—since so far as we knew, my father had only the one mania and was
sane on all other points—we came here. Nan’s baby was born here. We
settled down. My father never liked the life, but he got better. We
hoped his brain was recovering. Then—one winter night—the madness
broke out again. I was away on business. He got up in the early morning,
went to Nan’s room, and ordered her out of the house with her child. He
terrified her, and she went. The next morning she was found up by the
Stones in deep snow, dead. The child was living, but she was always a
weakling, and she lost her sight. My father had a seizure when he heard
that Nan was dead. In his delirium he told them what he had done. But
when he came to himself he had forgotten, and his distress over the loss
of Nan was heart-rending. Of course he ought to have been sent away. My
uncle, Theodore Rotherby, had urged it from the outset; but my poor
mother would not hear of it. And I—well, I hadn’t the heart to insist.
After that, I never left home again. Either Oliver or I kept guard day
and night. But except for occasional outbursts of unreasonable anger he
became much better, almost normal. He regarded me as his gaoler and
hated me, but he always worshipped my mother. I believe it would have
killed him to be parted from her. Better if it had perhaps, but—it’s
too late now. What I did, I did for the best.” He uttered a heavy sigh.
“It brutalized me. I couldn’t help it. It didn’t seem to matter. Nothing
ever mattered till you came. I was harsh with the girls, I was harsh
with everyone—except my mother. Life was so damnable. There were times
when the burden seemed past bearing. The perpetual strain, year in, year
out,—only God knows what it was.”

“I can guess,” whispered Frances.

His brooding eyes softened somewhat, but still he did not look at her.
“Then you came. You changed everything. But that letter—you remember
that lost letter? My father found it, recognized the writing, knew that
my cousin was in the neighbourhood. That brought everything back.
Somehow from the first he always connected you with Nan. There is a
resemblance, though I can’t tell you where it lies. On the night my
cousin came to meet you at the Stones—that ghastly night—he broke out.
I think you know what happened. He tried to murder him, but he got away.
Oliver was there, but he ought to have been earlier. I blamed him for
that. The mischief might have been avoided. However, my cousin got away,
and my father dodged us and came back to the house. There he left his
gun, thinking he had killed his man. Then he must have seen the child.
Possibly she spoke to him. I don’t know. But the lust for murder was on
him that night. He followed her to the Stones, dodging us again, and saw
her climb on to the Rocking Stone. He had made a great study of the
Stones, and it was he who had discovered how to make the thing move. He
used his knowledge on that occasion, and—and—well, you know what
happened.” His arm tightened about her convulsively.

“Oh, don’t tell me any more!” Frances said.

He bit his lip and continued. “It all came out afterwards in his
ravings, but we suspected foul play before. I was practically sure of
it. Frances, it nearly killed my mother. I shall never forget her agony
as long as I live.”

“My dear—my dear!” Frances said. But she was thinking of the man’s own
agony which she had witnessed in the farm-kitchen on the night of little
Ruth’s death.

He drew a hard breath between his teeth. “Then, as you know, he was
taken ill. And I hoped he would die. My God! How I hoped he would die!
That night with you in the garden—do you remember? The night you
offered yourself to me! I could have fallen at your feet and worshipped
you that night. But—I had to turn away. You understood, didn’t you? You
knew?” A passionate note sounded in his voice.

“Oh yes, I knew,” Frances said.

He went on with an effort. “I was nearly mad with trouble myself after
that. And afterwards—when you were gone and I heard from Maggie that
you had been inveigled into going up to town alone to meet that
scoundrel, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to follow you. I went
to his rooms and I dogged him that night. I was like a man possessed—as
much a murderer at heart as my father had ever been. If you hadn’t
stopped me, I should have killed him. But—oh, Frances,—” his deep
voice broke—“nothing was worth while after that lie of yours. If it
hadn’t been for my mother I should have put an end to myself.”

She laid her cheek against his shoulder. “Arthur! Do you think I found
it easy—to lie? It nearly killed me too.”

“Wait!” he said. “Hear it all! I came back. I found my father better.
But I was at the end of my endurance. I couldn’t go on. I told my mother
so. I told her he must be certified insane and put away. She said I was
quite right, though I know it would have broken her heart to have done
it. I told her I must go right away too—to save my own sanity. And
she—God bless her—she understood without any words. She just told me
to go. Then I had my cousin’s letter, telling me everything, vindicating
you. I shouldn’t have believed him if I hadn’t known you. But—knowing
you—I knew it was true. He asked for a meeting, and I agreed. Somehow I
couldn’t help it. It seemed inevitable. You know how sometimes one is
pushed by Fate. I was bound to agree. I don’t know what would have
happened if I had met him. I might have killed him. I can’t say. But I
had only my hands to do it with. I didn’t set out to kill him. And
then—you came instead. You were frightened. You thought you had seen a
devil. Do you know what it was you saw?”

“Your father!” she whispered.

“My father, yes. He had been wandering among the Stones, and I can only
think that he had remembered about the child, and in a fit of mad
remorse he had made up his mind to destroy the Rocking Stone,—possibly
himself also. It is all surmise now. Anyhow, when you saw the Stone
move, he must have been putting the charge underneath. And
afterwards—when you and I were standing there—the murderous impulse
must have seized him again. Perhaps he took me for Montague, and he may
have thought you were Nan. I don’t know. It is impossible to say.
Anyway, he fired the fuse, and blasted the Stone. God only knows how we
escaped unhurt. But he—but he——”

“He was killed?” said Frances.

“Yes, instantly. When I came to myself, you were unconscious and he was
lying dead among the stones. Oliver and some of the men heard the noise
and came up. We carried you back. I thought you were dead, but Dr.
Square said it was only shock, that in a few days, given absolute quiet,
you might recover.”

“A few days!” said Frances, wonderingly.

“It happened a week ago,” he said. “You were semi-conscious once or
twice, and then you seemed to sleep. That was what brought you back.”

“How amazing!” she said.

He turned for the first time and looked down into her upraised face. “I
thought you would never come back,” he said, and in voice and look she
gauged the misery to which he gave no words. “I never had any hope.”

The tears sprang to her eyes. She clung to him voicelessly for a few
seconds. Then: “And I thought you were dead!” she whispered. “That was
why I didn’t dare to ask!”

He took her shoulders between his hands, holding her slightly from him.
“Frances, listen!” he said. “I’m going to be fair to you. I won’t take
you—like this. You don’t know what I am—a hard man, melancholy,
bitter, the son of a murderer, not fit for any woman to love, much less
marry. I am going away—as I said. Maggie and Oliver will run the farm.
My mother will stay on with them. The girls will either stay or find
their own way in the world. I’ve come to see that it isn’t for me to
hold them in any longer. Maggie made me realize that—you too. But I
always had the thought of Nan before me. That was what made me so hard
with them. But I’m going away now. And you will go back to the Bishop.
He wants you. I believe he will be decent to you. I have heard from him
about you. Some day—some day—you will find a man worthy of you. Not
me—not Montague—someone you can give your whole heart to—and trust.”

He paused a moment. His face was quivering. She saw him again—a
gladiator fighting his desperate battle, conquered yet still not beaten
to earth, holding her from him, defying the irresistible, ready to make
the last and utmost sacrifice, that she might suffer no hurt.

And then, with a gesture of renunciation, he dropped his hands from her
and let her go.

“That’s all,” he said, and there was a tremor in his voice which
thrilled her through and through. “You are free. I am going. Good-bye!”

He turned away from her with the words. He would have gone. But in that
instant Frances spoke—in the language that comes from the heart and
speaks to the heart alone.

“I am not free,” she said, “and you can never make me so. I am yours—as
you are mine—for ever and ever. Nothing can ever alter that,
because—God made it so.”

Then, as he stood motionless, she went close to him, twining her arm in
his, drawing him to her.

“Ah, don’t you understand?” she said. “I love you—I have always loved
you—I shall love you till I die.”

And then he yielded. He turned with a low, passionate sound that was
almost of pain, and held her to him, bowing his head against her, beaten
at last.

“You are sure?” he said, and she felt the sob he stifled. “Frances, you
are sure? Before God—this is for your own sake—not for mine?”

She held him to her, so that the throbbing of her heart was against his
own. “But you and I are one,” she said. “God made us so.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

The church-clock struck the hour again, and they looked at one another
with the dismay of lovers for whom time flies on wings. Down the hill at
the farm they heard Roger’s voice uplifted in cheery admonition. The
cows were being driven back to pasture for the night, and Maggie’s song
came lilting through the gloaming.

“Shall we go back to Tetherstones?” Arthur said.

And Frances nodded silently.

They left the place of sacrifice hand in hand.

                                THE END



                         _A Selection from the_
                             _Catalogue of_

                          G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

                        Complete Catalogues sent
                             on application



                           Lew Tyler’s Wives
                                   By
                             Wallace Irwin

    Women often wonder just how much they mean in the lives of the
    men they marry, and how deeply they touch the hearts of the men
    they love. In “Lew Tyler’s Wives” Wallace Irwin shows us a very
    human American man, as full of frailty as of charm, and the
    women who loved him, Jessie, Coleen, Virginia. How he loved each
    of them, how much and how truly, is told with an understanding
    which men will envy, women long for if they’re Jessies, smile at
    if they’re Virginias, and resent if they’re Coleens.

                 *        *        *        *        *

                          G. P. Putnam’s Sons
New York                                                          London



                          The Luck of the Kid
                                   By
                            Ridgwell Cullum
                    Author of “The Heart of Unaga,”
                    “The Man in the Twilight,” etc.

    This new Cullum novel is a tale of pioneer life on the
    Yukon-Alaska frontier; it has all the author’s familiar
    qualities—strength of story, vividness of description, rapidity
    of action, and sure development of character.

    Bill Wilder, the Canadian gold-king, is one of Cullum’s finest
    creations, and the reader will follow him breathlessly in his
    adventures with the fur trappers and gold prospectors, and in
    his search for “the lost white girl,” who proves to be “The
    Kid.” The story of the English missionary who loses his life on
    the gold trail, and the Indian servant who lives only to avenge
    his death, is a thrilling one, which gains in interest on every
    page.

                 *        *        *        *        *

                          G. P. Putnam’s Sons
New York                                                          London



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.





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