"I expect you'll like to stay with him for a bit," she said pleasantly.
Anthony thanked her, and she left him alone.
For Patch's sake, Anthony sat very still.
Considering that he had been afoot since half-past five, it is not surprising that after a little space he fell asleep.
Queer idiotic fancies bestrode his dreams: what was impossible came naturally to pass: earth became wonderland, and no one wondered. Patch and Miss French lay in sick beds upon respective mantelpieces: Lord Pomfret had come to mend the telephone, and his tool-bag was full of roses—the scent of them filled the room. Anthony himself was forging a two-pound note upon a page of Bradshaw, and was terribly afraid that it would not pass muster: something weighty depended on this, and all the time the scent of the roses was hindering his efforts: it came between him and the paper, so that he could not see: he brushed it away angrily, but it came back....
He awoke suddenly, for no reason.
Patch was lying very still, breathing more easily. His eye met Anthony's, and the tip of a red tongue came into view.
The faintest suggestion of perfume was in the air. This was so slight and fleeting that Anthony, after a little, charged it to his imagination and thought no more of it.
Presently he rose and, setting his hat on the chair, where Patch could see it and so expect his return, strolled out on to the veranda.
From the depths of an easy-chair Valerie French lifted her eyes from The Times and smiled very charmingly.
"I'm glad you've come out," she said. "I think it's a mistake to sit there too long at a time."
That Lyveden felt perfectly at ease with her, and neither started nor spoke constrainedly, is worthy of note. It is, in fact, the best possible evidence that his belief in their affinity was well founded.
"You're quite right," he said. "After all, the great thing is to be on the spot. I'm afraid this means that your dog is ill."
Valerie looked away.
"He's worse than Patch," she said slowly.
"I'm awfully sorry."
As he spoke, Anthony remembered how the dogs had met in the drive a week ago. That, then, was how Patch had come by the sickness. Her dog had infected him.
Valerie looked up suddenly.
"I'm afraid I was awfully rude at the inn that day," she said quietly. "It was rotten of me."
"No, it wasn't," said Lyveden quickly. "You were startled and upset and——"
"I've said all that to myself—several times. But it won't wash. It was just rotten, and I'm very sorry."
Had she been other than my lady, Anthony would have felt like a beggar whose feet a queen was washing. As it was, he felt like a king.
"I knew you never meant it," he said.
"Because it wasn't like you."
"How could you know that?" said Valerie.
"I don't know. I suppose I guessed. I suppose..." Anthony hesitated, and the colour came into his cheeks. "I think I know you too well."
Valerie French nodded, as if she had received a reply which she knew to be correct.
"You're very fond of your dog," she said.
"He's all I've got."
"All? Haven't you a single friend?"
"Not one," said Anthony.
A little cough came to her vigilant ears, and Valerie rose to her feet. As she came to the window, she stopped and looked at Anthony with a quiet smile.
"I don't think you ought to say that," she said gently. "Not since you know me so well."
Long after she had passed in, Lyveden stood gazing at the threshold from which she had spoken....
The veterinary surgeon was with Patch.
After a tender examination, he rose to his feet, and Anthony introduced himself.
"He's a fine little dog," said the other. "And he makes a good patient, but I'm afraid he's in for a bad time." He turned to the kennel-man. "Have you warned Williams and Minter?"
"I have, sir."
"That's right. From now on, he mustn't be left."
"Will he have some brandy, sir?"
In answer to Anthony's questions, the surgeon spoke plainly.
"He's getting steadily worse. That will go on for anything from six to twelve hours. Then one of two things will become apparent—either that he will recover, or that he can't."
"What about my being with him?"
"If you like to be near, sir, yes. As to being in the room—he's a highly-strung little fellow, and in the circumstances I don't advise it. Of course, if there was any sudden change ..."
"I'm in your hands," said Anthony. "I'll leave my hat here. Then he'll know that I'm at hand."
"You couldn't do better, sir."
The surgeon was patently glad of an owner who would do as he said.
Anthony stooped to touch the damp muzzle....
Then he stole gently away.
Out on the verandah he made his plans. Not for fifty Marquesses would he leave ere the change had come. He decided to telegraph to the butler. Perhaps they would understand. Any way, it could not be helped. If he were to be dismissed, he would try again. Only the fear of unemployment had kept him in Eaton Square. The very thought of Lord Pomfret made his blood boil. Perhaps, even if they said nothing, it would be better to leave.
He picked up my lady's Times....
The trouble was that the demand for men-servants seemed rather small. Married couples, apparently, were all the rage. Of course he was getting good wages. The substance might not be toothsome, but it was better than shadow. At least, you could get your teeth into it.
WANTED.—A gentleman-footman: country: good wages: would be allowed to keep dog. BOX Y779, c/o The Times, E.C.4.
Anthony stared at the lines as if they were unreal....
Then came the flutter of a frock and herself stepped on to the veranda. Mechanically Anthony set down the paper as if it had been contagious.
Valerie did not speak of her terrier, nor did she ask after Patch. Instead—
"If we went up to the house," she said gravely, "I think they would give us some tea." Together they left the veranda and passed through the pleasant grounds. "I've got a room in the village," she added, "and I've sent for some things for the night. Will—will you have to go?"
"No. I shall stay. I can make shift." He smiled. "The Army's a good school."
"Do you wish you were back?" said Valerie.
"I don't think so. A school has its drawbacks. If I were back in the Army, I couldn't be staying tonight."
"You like to be your own master?" said the girl, and could have bitten her tongue in sunder.
Anthony winced. Then—
"Yes," he said slowly, "I do."
Valerie thought frantically. Then—
"That's the best of being a man," she said. "Take our two cases. You have your own establishment—at least, I suppose you have—-your own chambers, your own servant. I live with an aunt. If I broke away and set up a separate menage, I should be talked about. To be her own mistress and excite no remark, a girl must be in penury."
Anthony's heart seemed to have stopped beating. The murder was out. From my lady's words it was plain that she did not know his calling. She had not recognized him, then, that night with his livery on. Fool! He might have known that she would not—could not hobnob with a lackey.
Instead of combating her statement, he made some knock-kneed reply....
For setting wheels within wheels, you cannot match Fortune. After all, she has made trochilics her hobby through all the ages. Look at her handiwork here. Jill knows Jack for a flunkey and seeks to dissemble her knowledge, for fear of bruising his heart. As for Jack, when Jill stumbles upon his secret, he curses his luck: now that he believes it inviolate, he is in despair.
Tea was served to them in a quiet parlour. It being their first meal together, their friendship should have grown fat. Instead, it lost weight steadily. They were ill at ease—both of them. To make things worse, Anthony began to feel that he was an impostor.
He walked with her to the village and sent his telegram. Later they dined together. They dared not go far away, and the landlord of a neighbouring inn was persuaded to serve eggs and bacon. This he did with an ill grace, and, that there might be no mistake about his annoyance, charged for it in the bill. Anthony paid the amount as if it were nothing, and Valerie French writhed....
Afterwards they strolled in the garden and sat upon the veranda. The hours which should have been so wonderful went by lack-lustre. Between the two a phantom barrier had been set up.
As ten o'clock was striking, Valerie was fetched.
When the summons came, they were in the garden, and she left Anthony without a word. Desperately sorry for her, miserably fearful for himself, he followed as far as the steps of the veranda....
Twenty-five minutes passed, perhaps half an hour. Then there was movement in the chamber. A door was opened. The lights, which had been low, were turned up.
A moment later Valerie appeared at the window, putting on her gloves.
As she came to the steps, Anthony rose out of the shadows.
"May I see you back to the village?" he said.
She just inclined her head.
They passed in silence out of the starlit garden on to a pale grey road. The hedgerows on either side loomed up out of the darkness, blacker than night. A lane led down to the village, leaving the road on the left. It was the shortest path. As Lyveden started to turn, Valerie laid a hand on his arm.
"Not that way," she said unsteadily. "It was our last walk together—Joe's and mine."
Then she burst into tears.
In a flash the barrier that had stood between them was done away.
Anthony put his arm about her instinctively. She caught at his shabby lapel and clung to it, sobbing piteously. They must have stood so for five minutes or more.
When she was better, they walked on slowly, Anthony talking as naturally as if she had been his sister. All his constraint was gone.
"Don't I know how you feel? Oh, my dear, I'm so grieved for you. I know, I know.... Everything you do, every way you turn, calls up some piteous memory. But it'll pass, dear, very soon.... Time's very merciful...."
They came to the sleeping village and the door of the house where she was to pass the night.
"Sleep well," said Anthony, and put her hand to his lips.
Valerie dared not speak. For a second she hesitated, inarticulate. Then she leaned over and set her cheek against his.
The next instant she was gone.
* * * * *
Patch turned the corner of danger just before cock crow.
With his heart singing, Lyveden went for a walk. He chose the old way—the way he had trod so often with Patch by his side and Valerie in his heart. My lady had filled his cup. The knowledge that Patch would live had set it brimming. He saw the dawn up and felt jubilant. He found new beauties of Nature at every step. His sympathy with my lady was a thing detached. It could not cloud his happiness. Eaton Square was forgotten. There were only she and he and Patch in all the world....
He came to The Leather Bottel, borrowed a razor of an old groom, and presently took a bath under a pump. Later he sat long over a joyous breakfast.
When he came back to the Home, there was Valerie. She just ran to meet him.
"I'm so glad, I'm so glad," she said. Then her lip quivered, and she turned away.
Anthony's heart smote him for his late selfishness. For as good cause to congratulate her, he would have given anything.
They went up to Town together by the same train.
The feverish haste with which she climbed into "a third" was almost comical.
Arrived at the terminus, Lyveden handed her out. Since it was Sunday morning, the station was quiet. Indeed, except for a crowd of "theatricals"——
Anthony remembered the roses which Lord Pomfret had told him to purchase with an unpleasant shock.
As if a switch had been turned, all the uncertainty of his future rose up in a cold black wave. The hopelessness of their friendship stood out brutally. The thought that he was an impostor came pelting back, to set his ears burning and—the barrier that had stood between them crashed again into place.
Mechanically he saw her into a cab and told the driver to go to a house in Mayfair. Then he took off his hat.
"I hope," he said lamely, "I hope you'll get home all right."
Valerie looked at him curiously. Then she put out her hand.
"I shall never forget your kindness," she said gently.
When Anthony, some fifty minutes later, opened the front door to admit Lord Pomfret into his father's house, he saw that his hour was come.
For a moment the youth glared at him with the eyes of a snake. Then—
"Oh, you're back, are you?" he snarled.
He entered the house, and Anthony closed the door.
"I'm very sorry, my lord, about the roses." He held out the two pound notes. "I entirely forgot them."
Lord Pomfret snatched the notes out of his hand.
Anthony turned to go.
"Here!" Anthony stopped in his stride, hesitated, and then turned back. "What d'you mean, 'you forgot'? It's a lie. This is the second time you've let me down, you wash-out. And if you think——"
"My lord, I tell you——"
"Don't dare to answer me," raved the other. "I won't have it. Listen to me. My mother doesn't approve of servants who stay out all night—even if they are gentlemen. I'll bet you're ready to pitch a hell of a tale, but it's no good, Lyveden. D'you hear? It's no good. You see, I answered the telephone on Friday, when your lady-friend rang up about the dog.... I know that dog, Lyveden, I've had one myself. And, what's more, I happened to be at Marylebone this morning.... Yes. That was a bit of bad luck, wasn't it? So next time you want a week-end——"
Anthony hit him full on the mouth.
The other reeled backward, tripped over a rug, and fell heavily. He was up in an instant, and came at Anthony, bellowing like a madman.
Anthony, who was now quite cool, hit him between the eyes.
For the second time Lord Pomfret went down.
Again he got up, to hurl himself at his assailant, mouthing obscenity.
Anthony side-stepped and hit him under the jaw as hard as he could.
Lord Pomfret fell flat on his back and lay perfectly still....
The silence was broken by the sound of a dry laugh.
Anthony swung on his heel, to see the Marquess of Banff in the library doorway.
"He's got a lot to learn yet," observed that nobleman, glancing at his recumbent offspring. "A deuce of a lot." He put up his eyeglasses and stared at Anthony. "If I'd known you could box, you should have given him a hour a day. Too late now. You'll have to go, of course. What are your wages?"
"Six pounds a month, my lord," stammered Anthony.
The Marquess took out a note-case and extracted six notes.
"Does he owe you anything?" he said, peering.
"No, my lord."
In silence the money passed.
"Better get out at once," said the Marquess shortly.
"I'm—I'm very sorry, my lord, that this should have happened."
"Tck! I heard what he said. I don't blame you. If you want a reference, you can give my name. That'll do."
Anthony bowed and left him. The sprawling figure was showing signs of life. He passed through the hall quickly.
Half an hour later, his baggage in hand, he descended the kitchen stairs.
At the foot of these he encountered the second footman.
"'Elp!" said the latter. "Don' say you've got the bird, mate?"
"Got it in one," said Anthony.
The fellow exploded.
"It's a perishin' shame!" he cried. "It's a——"
Anthony stopped him.
"No. He treated me handsomely. I—I bought it."
"You didn't never sauce 'im, mate?"—incredulously.
"Not exactly. You'll see." He put out his hand. "So long."
The other stared at the fingers before accepting them. Then—
"So long, mate," he said dazedly.
Anthony let himself out.
The second footman's inability to comprehend the matter continued until a quarter-past one. It was at that hour that he did as he had been told, and carried Lord Pomfret's luncheon up to his room....
The condition of his lordship's countenance was most illuminating.
THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE
Sitting in the garden of the little Hertfordshire inn, Anthony drafted his application with the utmost care. All the time he tried to keep a tight hand upon his hopes—unruly and mettlesome fellows, which more than once had carried him into the meadow of Expectation before he knew where he was. There the going was splendid—till you came to the sunk fence....
His letter, when finally settled, was comprehensive enough.
c/o "The Leather Bottel." Nr. Malory, Herts.
SIR (OR MADAM),
I beg to offer myself for the situation advertised in yesterday's issue of "The Times."
I am twenty-nine, unmarried, a little over six feet in height, healthy and very strong. I have no physical defects.
I have just quitted the service of the Marquess of Banff. My departure was directly due to my inability to give such satisfaction as one member of his lordship's household required of me, but the Marquess, who is familiar with the facts, was so good as to say that, if and when I needed a "character," he would himself speak for me.
I left the service of my previous employer because that gentleman was going abroad, and so had no further need of a footman. That was my first situation.
I am accustomed to wait at table, answer the door, go out with the car, take care of silver, clean boots and knives, and carry coals: and I am ready to do anything that may be required of a man-servant. I have no objection to wearing powder.
I have been receiving seventy-two pounds per annum, but since, if I come to you, I may bring my dog with me, I shall be content with a much lower wage.
The dog in question—a Sealyham—is now recovering from distemper, and will not be fit to travel for another week, by which time I shall be ready to enter your service.
Should you desire to see me, I will come for an interview at your convenience.
I enclose a stamped addressed envelope, and shall be very grateful if you will inform me without delay if you are already suited.
I am, Sir (or Madam), Yours obediently, A. LYVEDEN.
Sunday, July 25th.
That he was an ex-officer, Lyveden deliberately omitted to mention; that he was a gentleman, he trusted that his style and handwriting would suggest. Had it been possible, he would have applied in person, not of self-confidence, but because he could have made plain one point, at any rate, upon which in a letter he feared to insist. This was that to have his dog with him he was willing to do his work for a shilling a day.
It was not until after his tea that Anthony fair-copied his letter. When it was signed and sealed, he slid it into a pocket and, telling the mistress of the inn that he would like his supper at eight, took up his hat from the settle and strolled out into the sweet-scented lanes.
Half a mile distant a pillar of lichened bricks stood by itself at a corner where two ways met. Here was enshrined a miniature once-red door—a toy of a door, to gladden a child's heart and set his fancies whirling, and be remembered, with another half-dozen of trifles, so long as he lived. A slot in the door received His Majesty's mails. Anthony, who had used the box before, strolled leisurely in its direction, and, as he went, contemplated, first, the sweetness of emancipation, and, secondly, the drawbacks of having but four pounds seven shillings and a penny between himself and thraldom.
A painstaking adder of figures, I have audited the gentleman's accounts and found them correct to the farthing. He must pay for his terrier's sickness and have four guineas in hand against the dog's board and lodging, in case, after all, he was to stay at the Dogs' Home. For a shilling he gave to a beggar, because he was poorer than himself, I can find no receipt, but hope it is filed in heaven. An eight-shilling meal stands out, among eightpenny teas, as a rare extravagance....
Lyveden was about to commit his dispatch to the posting-box—in fact, his hand was outstretched—when, to the amazement of a cock-robin who frequented the pillar for company's sake, and had seen more letters posted than there were feathers upon his back, he hesitated, exclaimed, stared at the letter with knitted brow, and then thrust it back into his pocket.
The truth was that Lyveden had thought of the lady.
He strolled no farther, but walked—and that furiously. There were times when he strode. By the time he had covered eight miles and was on his way back, he was tramping wearily. He visited the Home and learned that his dog was mending. For fear of exciting the patient, he would not go in, but promised to come the next day. Then he passed on, hardly noticing whither he went, but turning mechanically, when he had covered five miles, wrestling with arguments, grappling with circumstances, and finally setting himself by the ears for a lovesick fool and a varlet in coat-armour.
Her dog, housed at the Dogs' Home, had brought her to Hertfordshire. Now that the poor little fellow was dead, Anthony flattered himself that he (Lyveden) might possibly bring her so far. And if he were to take this situation in the country—Heaven only knew where—she would come to seek him in vain, and would go empty away. That even if he stayed and she found him, and came to care for him, she would eventually go still more empty away, was a still uglier reflection.... Anthony was honourable, and there was the rub of rubs. That the shoe which Fate had tossed him was a misfit was nothing: that his sense of honour was chafed was intolerable.
"Now, Naaman ... was a great man with his master and honourable ... but he was a leper."
After some consideration, Anthony decided grudgingly that, on the whole, leprosy was worse than footmanhood, though less degrading. After further consideration, he decided that, until he could be rid of his uncleanness, he was in honour bound to see my lady no more.
That it took him seven miles to work out this simple problem may seem ridiculous. Possibly it is. In any case it is highly illuminating, for it shows that the love which he bore Miss Valerie French was worth having.
When he posted his letter at a quarter to eight, the cock-robin, who had been brooding over his late transilience, was greatly relieved.
* * * * *
Upon the second day of August the one-fifteen from Waterloo, or what was left of it, rumbled in the wake of three other coaches—country cousins, these, that had never seen London—up the long blue-brown valley at the end of which lay the station of Mockery Dale. It was tremendously hot, for the afternoon sun was raking the valley from stem to stern, and since what little breeze there was blew from the south-east, the fitful puffs passed over the dip in the moorland and left it windless. This suited the butterflies admirably. Indeed, from all the insects an unmistakable hum of approval of the atmosphere rose steadily. Anthony could not hear it, any more than he could hear the lark which was singing merrily at a vast height above the shining rails, for the rumble of the composite train, but he saw and marked the sleepy smile of the valley, noted with satisfaction its comfortable air of contentment to be no part or parcel of a frantic world, and held his terrier Patch to the dusty window, that he might witness the antics of a couple of forest ponies, which were galloping away from the train and kicking up contemptuous heels at the interloper in an ecstasy of idle menaces, clown-like in their absurdity.
Patch saw the impudent frolic and, panting with excitement, evinced an immediate desire to leave the carriage and deal summarily with the irreverence, but a second later the sudden demands of a French bull-dog, sitting pert in a dog-cart which at a level-crossing was awaiting the passage of the train, superseded the ponies' claim upon his displeasure. The alien was scolded explosively.
A moment later the train had pulled into the station, and Lyveden and Patch got out. They were, it appeared, the only passengers to descend.
The only vehicle outside the station was a Ford car, rather the worse for wear. Sitting as drowsily at the wheel as the exigencies of the driver's seat would permit was a man of some thirty summers. From his appearance he might have been a member of the club to which, till recently, Anthony had belonged. His soft felt hat was cocked extravagantly over one eye to keep the sun at bay, and his country suit was, fortunately, of a cloth which age cannot wither nor custom stale, but whose like has not been woven since the ill-favoured and lean-fleshed kine came up out of the river of War.
As Lyveden appeared, carrying his luggage and preceded by Patch—
"No need to ask if you're for The Shrubbery," said the driver of the Ford lazily. "Shove your things in the back, will you?"
Anthony set down his suit-case and touched his hat. "Very good, sir," he said.
"Here," came the airy reply, "you mustn't 'sir' me. I'm the comic chauffeur—your fellow-bondsman, to wit. Name of Alison." He extended a firm brown hand. "Not to put too fine a point upon it, I'm overwhelmed to meet you. With the slightest encouragement, I shall fall upon your neck. The last footman was poor company, and took two baths in three months. My wife didn't try to like him. She's the parlour-maid."
Anthony took the other's hand like a man in a dream.
"I can't believe it," he said simply. "Is this a leg-pull?"
"No blinkin' fear," said Alison. "We're all in the same boat. What a topping dog!"
Anthony felt inclined to fling his hat upon the ground and yell with delight. Instead, he thrust his baggage into the car and, stepping in front of the bonnet, took hold of the starting-handle.
"Is it safe?" he said, straddling. "Or will she go round with my hand?"
"Well, we do usually get some one to stand on the step," said Alison, "but, if you like to risk it ..."
A moment later they were hurtling along a white-brown ribbon of road that sloped sideways out of the valley and on to the top of the moor.
Alison chattered away light-heartedly.
"You see in me," he said, "the complete chauffeur. With my livery on and two thousand five hundred pounds' worth of Rolls-Royce all round me, I'm simply it. My only fear is that, when you turn out beside me, the whole perishin' concern will be caught up to heaven. However, I really think you'll be happy."
"I believe you," said Lyveden.
"Of course, I don't do much indoors, but Betty says the housework's nothing. Anne agrees. She combines the duties of housemaid and my sister. Oh, we're all in it, I warn you. Of course, we do old Bumble and Mrs. Bumble proud. They deserve it. They're very kindly and easy-going, and we always try and give them just a shade more than they have a right to expect. He's a retired grocer and proud of it. Plenty of money, no children. Very little entertaining. We have more visitors in the servants' hall than they do in the drawing-room...."
The lazy voice purled on contentedly till the car leapt into a village gathered about the road.
"Hawthorne, I take it," said Lyveden.
"Brother," said Alison, "I will not deceive you. This is indeed that bourn from which no commercial traveller returns, for the most potent reason that none ever comes here. Thank Heaven, it's off their beat. The Shrubbery's half a mile on."
Two minutes later they swept up a shady drive, past the creepered front of a well-built house, and into a small courtyard.
As the emotions of the car subsided, a Cocker spaniel made her appearance, squirming with affection and good-will, and offering up short barks of thanksgiving by way of welcome.
"Hush, Jose, hush!" cried a pleasant voice, and the next moment Mrs. Alison appeared in a doorway, wearing the traditional habiliments of a smart maid-servant with a perfectly natural air.
When her sister-in-law, similarly attired, followed her into the yard, Anthony felt as if he had been pushed on to a stage in the middle of a musical comedy....
Not until his introduction was over, Mrs. Alison had shown him his room—a simple sweet-smelling apartment, all pale green and white and as fresh as a daisy—and they were all four seated in a cool parlour about a hearty tea, did the feeling of unreality begin to wear off.
"There'll be just us four," said the housemaid. "The cook's a villager, and doesn't sleep in. She and her daughter, the kitchenmaid, feed together in the kitchen. They're a very nice pair, and seem to think more of us than they do of the Bumbles. It's really as good as a play. We pay the girl a shilling a week on the top of her wages, and for that she lays our table and serves our meals. I expect George has told you about the Bumbles. They're really two of the best."
"By the way," said Anthony, "oughtn't I to be reporting for duty?"
"Plenty of time," said Mrs. Alison. "I'll ask when I clear away tea. They'll want to see you, just to say they hope you'll be happy more than anything else. And now do ask some questions. I'm sure there must be hundreds of things you're simply pining to know."
"To be absolutely frank," he replied, "I'm still a little bit dizzy. I've been on my beam ends so long that to suddenly fall on my feet, like this, is disconcerting. I've sort of lost my balance."
"Of course you have," said Alison, lighting a pipe. "Bound to. I feel rather overwrought myself. Let's go and cry in the garage."
"Don't take any notice of the fool," said his wife. "By the way, there's one thing I ought to tell you, and that is that Christian names are the order of the day. Off duty it's natural; on parade, since we three glory in the same surname, it's unavoidable. I'm known as Betty, my sister-in-law's Anne, and that with the pipe is George."
"And I," said Lyveden, "am Anthony—at your service. This with the hungry look"—he picked up the Sealyham—"is Patch. As the latter is convalescent, all his days lately have been red-letter, and celebrated by the addition to his rations of a small dish of tea. Whether such a scandalous practice is to be followed this afternoon must rest with his hostess."
"I think," said Betty, "as he's a bonafide traveller..."
Jose, the soft-eyed spaniel, profited by the Sealyham's privilege. It was impossible that she should not receive equal consideration.
"You must forgive my staring," said George Alison, gazing upon Anthony, "but you just fascinate me. To think that you're not going to suck wind when drinking, or clean your nails with a fork, is too wonderful. Your predecessor's habits at table were purely Johnsonian."
Betty shuddered at the allusion.
"If he'd been decent," said Anne, "I could have borne it. But he was just odious. The idea that we'd come down in the world fairly intoxicated him."
"It's true," said George. "And when Val wrote and——"
A vicious kick upon his ankle silenced him abruptly.
"I beg your pardon," said Anthony, who had been busy with Patch.
"I was saying that—er—if you value your dog, and he's only just over distemper, I shouldn't let him run loose just yet. Jose's a terrible huntress, and she's sure to lead him astray. Stays out all night sometimes."
"Right oh!" said Anthony cheerfully.
It was manifest that Patch was going to have the time of his life.
When Betty returned from ushering their new footman into the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, she reviled her husband as he deserved.
"I forgot," he pleaded.
"Forgot!"—indignantly. "Well, if you forget and mention her name again, I'll—I'll prick your tires."
"Any way," said George, "my withdrawal was little short of brilliant. You'll admit that? Incidentally, her protege's an improvement on little Halbert, isn't he? I think we ought to have an appropriate supper to-night in his honour. What about killing the padded calf?"
Betty kissed him behind the left ear.
* * * * *
Long before Anthony had received his livery from the tailor at Brooch, he had settled down to his nice new life with heartfelt gratitude. The old zest of living had returned to him to stay. It was no longer necessary to make the best of things. From labouring in the trough of oppression he had been swept into waters more smooth than any he had dreamed of riding—a veritable lagoon of security and content.
At first, so long had he been mishandled by Fortune, that, like a cur that has been accustomed to ill-treatment, he viewed her present bounty with suspicion. Had she poured for him the wine of comfort to dash the cup from his lips ere it was empty? That would be just like the jade. He scanned the sky anxiously for a sign of the coming storm, and, finding it cloudless, saw in this calm some new miracle of treachery, and feared the worst. He was afraid, selfishly, for Mr. Bumble's health. The man was pink and well nourished. Anthony thought of apoplexy, and, had a medical book been available, would have sought a description of that malady's favourite prey. Mrs. Bumble was also well covered. Anthony hoped that her heart was sound. On these two lives hung all his happiness. He reflected that motoring was not unattended by peril, and the idea stayed with him for half a day. Had he not been ashamed, he would have laid the facts before George and besought him to drive carefully....
As the days, however, went placidly by and brought no evil, the smoking flax of his faith began to kindle, and his suspicions to wilt. His mind shook off its sickness and began to mend rapidly. Very soon it was as sound as a bell.
His temporary lapse from grace, above related, was so innocuous that it need not be counted to his discredit. His was the case of the pugilist who slipped on a piece of peel and felt unable to rise: had the place been a ring, instead of a pavement, he would have been up and dancing within ten seconds. So with Anthony—had Fortune frowned, he would have laughed in her face. It was her smile that made him cower. And, so long as she smiled, what mattered it if he cowered? Had Homer never nodded, gentlemen, till it was past his bed-time, neither you nor I would ever have heard of it.
If Betty had indeed affirmed that the housework to be done at The Shrubbery was nothing, she was guilty of hyperbole. All the same, the house was an easy one, and such labour as its upkeep entailed melted, beneath the perfectly organized attention of herself, Anne, and Lyveden, as snow beneath the midday sun. The three had more legitimate leisure than any three servants in England, and no residence in Europe was better kept. Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, of course, were in clover. It followed that Anthony Lyveden had much time to himself. Naturally companionable, he spent most of this with his colleagues; nevertheless, there were days when he liked to change his clothes, call Patch, and walk off into the forest with only the little dog for company. It was then that he could think of my lady....
He always associated her with the open air. Never once did he picture her cribbed in a room. For him she was a creature of the country-side, sun-kissed, folded in the arms of the wind, with the pure red wine of Nature singing through her delicate veins.... Thinking of veins, he recalled the faint exquisite blue of those which lay pencilled upon the back of her cold little hand. He remembered the line of them perfectly.
The vein, then, gave him the hand; the hand, the arm; the arm, the shoulder. He reconstructed her piecemeal with a rare faithfulness, till by the time he was on the moorland overlooking the smiling valley, where the railroad went shining away into the old world, there stood his lady beside him, complete, glorious, the freshening breeze behind her moulding her soft raiment to the shape of her beautiful limbs, her eyes shining, her lips parted, one little hand touching her dark hair—just Valerie.
So for a brief second she stood by his side. Once she swayed towards him before the mirror of Imagination shivered, but only once. Mostly it flew to flinders almost before she was come.
Anthony hungered for a sight of the girl desperately. Had this been offered him upon the understanding that he appeared to her in livery, he would still have jumped at the chance. From this may be gauged the degree of his hunger. He was, in fact, starving.
Consequently, when one ripe September morning—all dew and mellow sunshine and the lowing of cows—Betty tapped a letter with a significant forefinger and announced that it contained an invitation to a quiet little dance, Anthony, amid the general enthusiasm, displayed no more interest than politeness demanded and no curiosity at all.
Betty addressed herself to him.
"It's from Lady Touchstone. I was at school with her niece. They live at Bell Hammer, a beautiful place about five miles from here. You're included, of course. I saw her last week, so she knows all about you. It's because of her niece's birthday. Only about eight couples, she says, and no strangers."
"Except me," said Anthony.
"You won't feel strange long," said George. "Berry and Co. are sure to be there, for one thing, and they'll wrap their arms about you in about two minutes. They live at White Ladies. Some of them came to tea here the day you went over to Brooch."
"I don't think I'd better go," said Anthony. "It's very kind of Lady Touchstone, but I'm not much of a dancer, and——"
His protest was overruled uproariously.
"And he can't say he hasn't any clothes," said George, "because I've seen them."
This was true. Out of the spoliation of his wardrobe Lyveden had clung to a dress-suit, much as the orphan who lugs her carpet to the pawnshop clings pitifully to an old miniature, remembering happier days.
Anthony coloured at the allusion, and Betty came flying to his assistance.
"What a shame!" she cried. "Why should he go if he doesn't want to? And, for all we know, none of us may be able to accept. We've got to get leave first, and then we've got to ask if we can have the Ford." She paused to glance at the time. "Ten to eight, and you haven't washed the yard yet. Don't sit there, George. Get a move on. You chauffeurs!" She fairly drove him about his business.
All the same, before the day was over she had wheedled a promise from Anthony that, master and mistress permitting, he would go to the dance.
The Bumbles were duly approached, and consented readily to the projected exodus, asking solicitously if a quarter to ten would be early enough for the four to leave The Shrubbery, and offering the use of the Ford before this was sought. Considering that they were not upon the visiting list of Lady Touchstone, or, for that matter, upon that of any other of their domestics' friends, their readiness to facilitate the excursion must be accounted to them for righteousness of a calibre rare indeed.
The night of the dance came, and the stars with it. All the company of heaven twinkled and flashed out of a windless sky. No solitary breath of air rustled the silence of the woods. Summer was dying hard. Yet in the bottoms there lay—sure sign of Autumn—little hoary pools of mist, just deep enough to swathe the Ford and its complement of would-be revellers in a wet rush of frozen smoke, and make the girls thrust their pink fingers beneath the rug, and Anthony his hands into his coat-pockets.
For all that, for Lyveden the five miles to Bell Hammer were covered too soon. He liked to feel the rush of the wings of Night upon his temples, to mark the untroubled slumber of the country-side, gaze at the velvet dome fretted with silver. Moreover, he was almost dreading the dance. Had he not given his word a week ago, he would—speaking vulgarly—have stuck his toes in and seen his companions to the edge of the pit before he followed them into the mansion.
For a mansion it was.
Though the night was moonless, Anthony could see that. That it was a beautiful specimen of a "Queen Anne" residence he could not perceive. Indeed, almost before the car had been berthed close to the shadowy elegance of a tremendous cedar, the front door was opened, and a great shaft of light streamed out into the darkness.
The guests passed in.
The monstrous deference of the footman who received Anthony's coat and hat gave a disconcerting fillip to the latter's uneasiness. As a respectful butler preceded the party upstairs, he felt as if he were being conducted to a scaffold.
"Captain and Mrs. Alison, Miss Alison, Major Lyveden."
Anthony braced himself.
The next moment—
"How d'ye do?" said Valerie, with a quiet smile. "I'm so glad you could come. How's Patch?"
With a whirling brain, Anthony tried to say that Patch was very well.
"Let me introduce you to my aunt," said Valerie, turning to a lady whom Anthony seemed to have seen before. "Aunt Harriet, this is Major Lyveden—Lady Touchstone."
Anthony bowed dazedly.
"You were very good to Valerie," said the lady, "a little while ago. I've heard about it. And how do you like service? I always said that, if my father had put his money into railways instead of ships, I should have become a cook-housekeeper."
"It all depends," said Anthony, "on whose service you're in. I like yours very much."
Lady Touchstone laughed.
"You'd make a good equerry," she said. Then she turned to glance down the gallery. "You must meet Mrs. Pleydell," she added. "Ah, there she is. Come." They stepped to the side of a tall dark girl with a most attractive smile. "Daphne, my dear, this is Major Lyveden—from The Shrubbery. Amuse him, and he'll flatter you. You see." The tall fair man who had been sitting with Mrs. Pleydell offered Lady Touchstone his arm. She put it aside with a frown. "I'm not so old as all that, Jonah," she said. "You may take me to the hearth, if you please, but not like a grandmother."
With a crash an alcove belched music, and in a moment all the winking length of the gallery was throbbing with ragtime.
Mrs. Pleydell and Anthony trod the measure with a will.
When it was over, she led him to a tall window with a deep-cushioned seat.
"You were out," she said, "when I came the other day. To make up for it, you must come to White Ladies. It's a pretty walk, and we'll take you back in the car."
"You're very kind," said Anthony.
"If you talk like that," said Daphne, "I shall invite you for the week-end. And now would you like to talk shop, or shall I tell you about my new dress?"
Anthony hesitated, and the girl laughed merrily.
"I'm a past-mistress of blackmail," she said. "My husband taught me."
Anthony joined in her merriment before clearing his throat.
"My first place," he said, "was in Lancaster Gate."
"I know," said Daphne eagerly. "North of the Park. Go on."
Before they parted, they had danced two more dances together.
Then he spent a quarter of an hour with Betty and another like period with Anne. After that, before he could get to Valerie, he was handed to a little fair damsel, all big grey eyes and masses of golden hair.
"Major Lyveden—Miss Mansel."
"Isn't Daphne nice?" said that lady. "I saw you dancing with her. She's my cousin."
"I envy you both," said Anthony.
Jill Mansel stared at him gravely.
"That's very nice of you. Yes, I'd love to dance this. Look. There's Adele. Isn't she lovely? I think she's like a flower. She's going to marry my cousin. She's an American without an accent. You are tall, aren't you? You're all tall here to-night, except me. It makes me feel a dwarf."
"And us, ogres," said Anthony.
Jill laughed delightedly.
"You are nice," she said. "Valerie said you were. Look at Berry dancing with Daphne, and pretending he's bored stiff. When are you coming to White Ladies?"
She prattled on contentedly, asking questions innumerable, but requiring no answers.
Lyveden enjoyed himself.
After they had sat out a little, Valerie came towards them with the man called Jonah.
"Since you won't ask me," she said to Anthony, "I must throw myself at your head." She turned, smiling, to Jill. "Jonah is bored with me, dear, so I'm going to heap coals of fire on his head and restore him to his little sister." She returned to Anthony. "Now, then." Thus addressed, he offered her his arm soberly enough. "There's some supper, I know, downstairs, because I ordered it myself."
They made for the great doors, Anthony tongue-tied, and she hailing others to follow them.
As they passed down the broad staircase, he remembered the reason of the party, and begged to congratulate her. My lady thanked him with a quiet smile.
"We've got a lot to talk about," she said. "You and I. And there'll be too much noise at supper, so it must wait. Afterwards I'll send for a coat, and we'll walk in the garden. That's the best of a birthday. I can do as I please."
Her promise of his peaceful possession after supper made the meal, so far as Lyveden was concerned, an Olympian banquet. The assemblage, indeed, was remarkable, and the hostess—a very Demeter—must have been the oldest present by some twenty years. The sprightliness of Hermes alone, in the guise of the man called Berry, kept a lively table in roars of laughter.
Yet, full as his cup was, for Anthony the old Falernian was to come....
As good as her word, when the others were straying back to the gallery in response to the lure of a lullaby valse, Valerie led Lyveden to a lobby and let him help her into a chamois-leather coat. A cloak of Irish frieze was hanging there, and she bade him put it about his shoulders against the night air. Anthony protested, but she just stamped her foot.
"It's my birthday," she flashed.
Anthony donned the garment, and she opened a garden-door. A moment later they were walking upon a wide terrace at the back of the house.
"Well?" said Valerie.
"It is my bounden duty," said Anthony, "to remind you that I am a footman. Now that you know, it's very easy to tell you."
"And what if you are?"
"Well, if we happened to visit the same house, I should go in by the tradesmen's entrance."
Valerie tossed her head.
"You might go in by the back, but if you weren't shown out of the front door, I shouldn't visit that house again."
"Then your visiting-list would shrink," he said, "out of all knowledge. How did you know my calling?"
"Did you think I didn't recognize you that night?"
"At first I was uncertain. That I thought you must have. Then you misled me, and made me think you hadn't. Why did you do that?"
"I don't know," said Valerie. She could not tell him the truth. "It seemed easier. How did you come to The Shrubbery?"
"I wasn't happy where I was, and I saw the Bumbles' advertisement. It seemed meant for me."
That it was meant for him, and that she and not the Bumbles had paid for its insertion, Valerie thought it unnecessary to state.
"We're fated to be brought together," she said.
"How did you know I was at The Shrubbery?"
Valerie raised her eyebrows.
"Betty's my oldest friend," she replied.
Lyveden swallowed the suggestio falsi without a thought. Indeed, so soon as she had spoken, his mind sped back, bee-like, to suck the honey of her previous words: "We're fated to be brought together." Fated....
The moon was up now, and he lifted his eyes and gazed at its clear-cut beauty. A power, then, greater than he had ruled against his resolve. Why? To what end? It was very kind of the power—at least, he supposed it was—but what was to come of it?
He had wandered straight into her arms. Very good. But—he and she could not stroll upon this terrace for ever. The relentless rubric of Life insisted that he must move—whither he chose, of course, but somewhither. The truth was, he did not know which way to turn. His heart pointed a path, certainly—a very precious path, paved all with silk, hung with the scent of flowers, shadowed by whispering plumage.... His head, however, beyond denouncing his heart as a guide, pointed no way at all.
Anthony wanted desperately to do the right thing. Fortune, it seemed, was at her old tricks. Here she was handing a palace to a beggar who had not enough money to maintain a hovel. It would not have been so hopeless if he had possessed "prospects." With these in his pack, he might have essayed the way his heart showed him. They were, however, no part of a footman's equipment....
Anthony began to wonder what became of old footmen. One or two, perhaps, became butlers. As for the rest...
Valerie, too, was in some perplexity. She was wondering, now that she had her man here, how best to deal with him. Pride and honour make up a ground which must be trodden delicately. One false step on her part might cost them both extremely dear. Her instinct was to take the bull by the horns, Anthony by the arm, and Time by the forelock. The last of these was slipping away—slipping away. She was actually twenty-six. In a short fourteen years she would be actually forty. Forty! For a moment she was upon the very edge of exercising the privilege of a sovereign lady who has fallen in love. All things considered, she would, I think, have been justified. Something, however, restrained her. It was not modesty, for modesty had nothing to do with the matter. It was not the fear of rejection, for she was sure of her ground. It was probably a threefold influence—a rope, as it were, of three stout strands. The first was consideration for Anthony's pride; the second, an anxiety lest she should beggar him of that which he prized above rubies, namely, his self-respect; the third, an innate conviction that while the path of Love may look easy, it is really slippery and steep out of all conscience.
Thus absorbed in the delicacy of their relationship, they stepped the length of the terrace in silence. Then—
"I don't know what you're thinking about," said Valerie, "but I should like to."
Anthony shook his head.
"I'll tell you a story instead," he said. "If you like, that is."
She turned and leaned her arms upon the stone balustrade, overlooking dim lawns and, beyond, the pale ghost of a great park that seemed to stretch and roll unlimited into the depths of a distance which Night had bewitched.
"There was once," said Anthony, "a frog. He wasn't much of a frog, as frogs go. In fact, with the exception that he had no home and no friends, he was a very ordinary frog indeed. One day when he was sick and tired of being alone, he went out and bought a tame minnow. Considering how poor he was, it was very reckless, because it meant that there were now two mouths to feed instead of one, but the minnow and the frog became such great friends that that didn't seem to matter. At last, sure enough, the day of reckoning arrived. The larder was empty, the minnow's appetite was as healthy as ever, and the frog was down to his last penny. So, after a lot of thought, he left the minnow playing in a quiet pool, and went out to earn some flies. By dint of toiling very hard all day, he managed to earn enough to keep the minnow and himself, but it meant that the two had very little time together, and that was a shame.
"Well, one day the frog got back to the pool a little earlier than usual, and, chancing to lift up his eyes, there seated upon the bank he saw a real live Princess. What the frog thought, when he saw her, may be imagined. What he felt doesn't matter. Enough that he was profoundly moved. So moved that he almost forgot to give the minnow his flies. And long after the Princess had risen and gone away, the frog kept thinking of her, and thinking, and thinking.... And then, all of a sudden, he began to wish, as he had never wished before, that he wasn't a frog.
"Now, vain desires are the most persistent of all.
"The frog wished and wished, and cursed himself for a fool, and wished again.... At last he could bear it no longer, so he went to a water-rat who was so old that he was said to be wise, and sought his advice.
"The water-rat was painfully outspoken. 'Once a frog, always a frog,' he said.
"'Always. Unless you can find a Princess and persuade her to kiss you.' And, being an old rat, he chuckled at his own joke.
"But the frog didn't see anything to laugh at. He just became so excited that he could hardly float, and then he turned round and started to swim back to the pool as hard as ever he could....
"By the next morning his excitement had somewhat abated. Of course he was tremendously lucky to have found a Princess. (Being an optimist, you see, he assumed that she would reappear.) But it was quite another matter to persuade her to kiss him. Still, he didn't give up hope, and every day he raced and tore after the flies, so as to get back early to the pool.
"Then one day the impossible thing happened.
"There was the Princess again on the bank of the pool, and when the frog put up his nose and fixed her with a bulging and glassy eye, she smiled at him. Very haltingly the frog swam to land and crouched at her feet, and, before he knew where he was, she had stooped and kissed him.
"The frog just shut his eyes in ecstasy and gloated upon the fulfilment of his desire. It had happened. His wish had been gratified. The change had come. He was no longer a frog. For the first time he began to wonder what he was. Probably a Prince. Oh, undoubtedly a Prince. All clad in gold and silver, with a little fair moustache. He hoped very much that he had a fair moustache. But he wouldn't put up his hand and feel, for fear of spoiling it. He wanted to look at himself gradually, beginning with his feet and working upwards. He began to wonder what sort of boots he had on. He decided that he was wearing soft gold boots, with silver laces....
"Cautiously he opened one eye and glanced at his right foot. He was quite wrong. It wasn't a gold boot at all. It was a queer-looking boot, all smooth and shiny and shaped—well, rather like—like a frog's foot. In fact, if he hadn't known that he was no longer a frog, he would have said—— A frightful thought came to him, and he opened both eyes, staring frantically.... Then he sprang to the edge of the pool and looked himself in the face.... He stood gazing so long that the minnow, who had been watching him, thought he was ill, and leaped out of the water to attract his attention. At last the frog pulled himself together and flopped back into the pool anyhow....
"And, after many days, during all of which the minnow was a great comfort, he came to realize that frogs should know better than to lift up their eyes, and should busy themselves with fly-earning, and be thankful for the air and the sun and the mud at the bottom of pools, and, last of all, look forward to that sun-bathed marsh where the flies are fat and plenteous, and there is no winter, and whither, at the end of their lives, all good frogs go."
There was a long silence. Then—
"Poor frog," said Valerie, standing upright and turning.
"It's very nice of you to say so," said Anthony, falling into step. "But he richly deserved it."
"And what happened to the Princess?"
"Oh, she went the way Princesses go, and enriched the memories of all who saw her, and in due season she married a Prince."
"Didn't she ever think any more of the frog?"
"No," said Anthony.
"Then why did she kiss him?"
They had come to the garden door by now, and, as she spoke, Valerie set a hand on the latch.
"Out of pity," said Anthony. "She had a sweet, kind heart, and she was sorry for him because he was a frog."
"I don't believe it was out of pity at all," said Valerie. "I'm—I'm sure it wasn't."
"It must have been," said Anthony. "Why on earth else should a Princess——"
"Because it pleased her to kiss him," said Valerie, with the air of a queen.
Anthony looked at her with undisguised admiration.
"You're a real Princess," he said, "any way."
Valerie let go the door-handle and laid her hand on his shoulder.
"Why did she kiss him?" she demanded.
"Out of—because it pleased her."
The hand touched his cheek, and Anthony caught it and put it to his lips. As he let it go, the slight fingers caught his and, before he could stop her, Valerie had stooped and kissed them.
The next instant the door was open, and she was inside.
* * * * *
Mr. Albert Morgan was working feverishly.
Time was getting on, and the plate-chest had proved unexpectedly stubborn. To know where it was had been a great help, of course, but during his service at The Shrubbery it had been kept unlocked. Somewhat unfairly, he cursed the parlourmaid, who, he assumed, was doing his work, for "a suspicious ——."
Curiously enough he had no idea that his late colleagues were not in the house. He believed them to be sleeping peacefully in the servants' quarters. For considerately placing the pantry distant from these, it might have been thought that the architect of the house would receive Mr. Morgan's commendation. On the contrary, of his zeal appropriately to execrate the former's memory, the ex-footman employed most regrettable language, and this for the simple reason that the stone sill of the pantry window projected rather farther from the wall than Mr. Morgan, when in the act of lifting his knee, had believed to be the case.
With the exception of this painful incident, his ingress had been effected with the acme of ease. This was due to the foresight, patience, and unremitting care with which he had severed the bars and removed the spring of the window-catch during his last fortnight in Mr. Bumble's employ.
After the refractory plate-chest had been made to disgorge, Mr. Morgan had visited the drawing-room. By the time he had garnered what precious metal was there, his two capacious bags had become extremely heavy. So much so, that he almost regretted that he had not brought a friend. The reflection, however, that to present a coadjutor with half the proceeds of a robbery which his brain alone had conceived and made possible, would undoubtedly have shortened his life, made him feel better. Cautiously he made for the stairs and, guiding himself with his torch, began to ascend.
There were some snuff-boxes in a cabinet which stood on the landing. It was unthinkable that he should go without these. The piece was kept locked, but he had often gazed at them through the glass. One of them was of silver-gilt—possibly of gold. Mr. Morgan licked his thick lips.
It was upon the door of this cabinet, then, that, torch in mouth, he was working feverishly. Time was getting on....
As if in answer to the subdued crack with which the door at length yielded came the noise of the insertion of a key into the lock of the front door. Mr. Morgan started violently, thrust his torch into a pocket, and stood extremely still.
The door opened and the admitted moonlight showed him the entrance of one—two feminine apparitions, followed by that of a man. For a moment they stood in the hall, speaking with one another in an undertone. What they said Mr. Morgan could not hear—their voices, too, were too low to be recognized—but he had no doubt at all regarding their identity. Seven weeks of their fellowship had blessed (or cursed) him with a familiarity with their style and proportions such as no manner of wraps and tricksy half-lights could subvert. With a full heart and twitching lips, Mr. Morgan dwelt blasphemously upon the several destinies for which, to his mind, their untimely appearance had qualified them.
"What are you going to do about the door?" whispered Betty. "We can't leave it open."
"Well, we can't shut it," said George, "can we?"
"Put it to," Anne suggested. "He won't be more than a minute or two, and when he comes he can just push it open."
The truth of the matter was that Jose and Patch, who had gone a-hunting, had not returned when the party had left for Bell Hammer. It was possible that, during their absence, the dogs had come back, and Anthony did not like to think that truant Patch might be wandering around the house, seeking admission in vain. Consequently, after the car had been noiselessly bestowed—out of consideration for their employers' rest, the four had alighted before they left the road and had man-handled a silent Ford up the drive and into the garage—Lyveden had bidden the others go on, and had started off upon a visiting patrol, the objectives of which were the several entrances to the residence. If Patch was anywhere, he would be crouched upon one of the doorsteps....
Anne's suggestion seeming reasonable, her brother secured the Yale lock so that its tongue was engaged, and, quietly closing the door, followed his wife and sister a-tiptoe through the hall and past the baize door which led to the servants' quarters.
As they passed the foot of the stairs, Betty remarked the shaft of moonlight shining upon the landing, and Mr. Morgan's black heart stood still. When her husband reminded her that in less than four hours it would be her privilege to prepare Mrs. Bumble's tea, and added that, if she felt lyrical, he felt tired and footsore, Mr. Morgan, had his emotions included gratitude, would have thanked his stars.
Such devotion, however, would have been premature.
Though he did not know it, his stars in their courses were fighting against him.
The moment the baize door had closed behind his late colleagues, he made silently for the stairs. Of the snuff-boxes he thought no more. The man was rattled. His one idea was to pick up his traps and be gone. He was even afraid any more to employ his torch. Besides, the moonlight, to which Betty had drawn his attention, was asserting itself fantastically.
Step by step he descended the staircase, trying frantically to remember which of the treads would creak under his weight. Faithfully to ascertain which of them possessed this important peculiarity had been one of the last things he did before quitting Mr. Bumble's service. Was it the fifth or sixth? He hesitated, then avoided the fifth gingerly, and hoped for the best.... Beneath the increased pressure the sixth stair fairly shrieked. Mr. Morgan skipped on to the seventh and broke into a cold sweat. Again he was confronted with the choice of the eighth or ninth. After a moment of agonized indecision, he decided to miss them both.... Man but proposes. In his anxiety he missed the tenth also and slithered incontinently into the hall....
More than a minute passed before the knave dared to pick himself up. The last five stairs had been rough with his hinder parts, but his physical pain was nothing to the paroxysm of mental torment which the noise of his fall had induced.
Trembling with apprehension, he groped his way to his bags. Of these, one had to be strapped, for the catch of its lock was broken. He knelt down with his back to the door, fumbling....
A sudden step upon the gravel immediately outside the front door almost congealed his blood. That peril could blow from that quarter he had never imagined. Once again he remained where he was, as still as death. Unless the new-comer was there because his suspicions were aroused, there was a chance that Mr. Morgan might yet escape notice. Who the new-comer might be, he had no time to speculate, for, without being unlocked, the door was pushed open. Mr. Morgan marked the phenomenon, and his hair rose. Then a man stepped inside and stood still....
Mr. Morgan held his breath until his lungs were bursting and his head swam, but the man never moved.
The fact was that Anthony was staring at the same shaft of light which had attracted Betty's attention. This, however, was no longer appearing upon the landing, but in the hall, which, with the exception of that corner which contained the crouching ex-footman, it was doing much to illuminate. From this it would appear that the arresting beam, so far from emanating from the moon, was none other than Mr. Morgan's evil genius, following him about wherever he went. It was, in fact, his torch, which in his confusion he had thrust glowing into his pocket the wrong way up. That one end must protrude, he knew, for the brand was longer than the pocket was deep. He had, of course, no idea at all that it was advertising his presence and slightest movement so very faithfully....
It became impossible for Mr. Morgan any longer to restrain his breath. He therefore expelled it as gently as he possibly could, inhaling a fresh supply with the same caution, and wondering dully whether it was to be his last. The suspense was unbearable.
Anthony, of course, was perfectly satisfied that the light was thrown by a torch. The source of the latter, however, was shrouded, not only in mystery, but in a darkness which the very light of the beam served to intensify. He continued to stand still.
There never was such a case.
Anthony, who knew the value of waiting, was prepared to stay still indefinitely. Mr. Morgan was afraid to do anything else. Clearly, if they were not to remain where they were until dawn, there was need of a deus ex machina.
He arrived then and there in the shape of a little white dog with a black patch. He was extremely wet, and there were burrs in his coat and mud upon his beard. His tail was up, however, and his gait as sprightly as ever.
As if it was upon his account that the door had been set open at this unlawful hour, he entered boldly, passed by Anthony in the gloom, and then stood still like his master, staring at the mysterious beam. But not for long. For Patch, curiosity was made to be satisfied. Stepping warily, he moved forward to investigate....
When first Mr. Morgan realized that something was smelling him from behind, he made ready to die. Then, so tenacious is the hold we mortals have upon life, he gave an unearthly shriek and sprang from his bended knees for the drawing-room doorway....
When Mr. Bumble and his chauffeur, the one in his night attire and the other in a vest and a pair of dress trousers, appeared upon the scene, Anthony was kneeling upon Mr. Morgan, who was lying face downwards upon the drawing-hearth and dealing as fluently as a sheep-skin rug would permit with Anthony's birth, life, death and future existence. As for Patch, his services no longer required, he was rolling upon the sofa in an absurd endeavour to remove the burrs from his coat.
All of which, gentlemen, must undeniably go to show that the master who suffers his servants to go a-junketing will have his reward; that a woman knows better than a man what course he should shape; and that there is much virtue in hunting, even though it keep the hunter afoot till four of the morning.
THE GOLDEN BOWL
With Monseigneur Forest, other than in his capacity of uncle and counsellor to Miss Valerie French, we are not concerned. It is necessary, however, to record that the dignitary was no fool. He was, in fact, a very wise man, able to understand most men and women better than they understood themselves. With such understanding, naturally enough, went a rare kindness of heart; the addition to these things of a fine sense of humour argued a certain favouritism on the part of a Providence which bestows upon ninety-and-nine mortals but one virtue apiece, and to the hundredth but two. Monseigneur Forest was, I suppose, a man in a million.
A letter of some importance, which his niece had sent him, reached him in Rome ere October was old.
DEAR UNCLE JOHN,
I want to see and talk to you very badly, but I can't leave England just now. I suppose you guess what is coming. I can see you smile. You're quite right. I've fallen in love.
Listen. I was out with poor little Joe in the country, and went to an inn for tea. And there was a man in the garden. I didn't know he was there till his dog and Joe started scrapping, and then he ran up to separate them. The moment I saw him—I don't know how to tell you. I just felt floored.... Then—instinctively, I suppose, for I hardly knew what I was doing—I tried to cover up this feeling. I was furious with him for knocking me out. Can you ever understand? And I was pretty rude. He took it wonderfully and just apologized—Heaven knows what for—and cleared out. The moment he was gone, I could have torn my hair. I actually went again to the inn, to try and find him, though what I should have done if I had I don't know....
Then I saw him again—not to speak to—as I was coming away from the Opera. Now hold on to something—tight! He was in livery—a footman's livery.
Yes. It made me jump, mentally, for the moment. Of course, I'd never dreamed of that. And then I realized that he must be down on his luck, and I felt so sorry for him I could have cried. As a matter of fact, I did cry. And then, all of a sudden, I knew that I loved him.
We met properly a week or two later by accident—on his part. You must forgive me. If you knew him, you would. And now we know one another properly, and he's in service quite close to Bell Hammer, with George and Betty Alison—didn't you meet them at Christmas? Lost all their money, and went out as chauffeur and parlourmaid. Anne, George's sister, is there, too. And he came to dinner the other night, and Aunt Harriet likes him, and we're—well, great friends.
And I don't know what to do. You see, he's terribly proud and honourable, and, to him, being a footman matters very much indeed. Of course it doesn't really matter in the least, but he would never look at it that way. And all my money, instead of making everything possible, as it might, only makes things worse.
What is to be done?
I can't blame him. Indeed, I'd hate him to feel any other way, and yet.... If only the positions were reversed. Then it would be too easy. As things are, it's a deadlock. And I love him so, Uncle John. I suppose you couldn't possibly come. I have a feeling that you would straighten things out.
Your loving niece, VALERIE.
P.S.—I'm so terribly afraid he'll disappear or something. He's like that.
Monseigneur Forest read the letter with a grave smile. Then he read it again very carefully, looking to see if there was anything unwritten between the lines. Only once did he raise his eyes from the note-paper. This he did meditatively. Before returning to the letter, he went farther and raised his eyebrows....
The cause of this elevation is worthy of note. It was, in fact, none other than the reference to Anne—and yet not so much the reference itself as the manner in which this was made. The prelate, you will remember, was no fool.
For that matter, he was not a god, either. Consequently, the counsel which he presently offered his niece had to be communicated by the material channel of the "common or garden" post, and was, in fact, nearing Modane when Valerie rounded the edge of a belt of Scotch firs in Hampshire to come upon Anthony Lyveden regarding an old finger-post in some perplexity.
As my lady came up, Lyveden uncovered and pointed to a weather-beaten arm, upon which the words FRANCE 4 MILES were still discernible.
"Can you help me?" he said.
"I think so. This is a very old post—over a hundred years old. You know Hawthorne?"
"I ought to."
"Well, once upon a time the village was called France. But during the Napoleonic wars the name was changed. For obvious reasons."
"And they forgot to alter this?" said Anthony, nodding at the cracked grey wood.
Valerie shook her head.
"No one would do the work. You know they used to bury suicides at the cross-roads? Well, one was buried here. That was when—when the post was set up...."
A little shiver accompanied her words.
"I see," said Anthony. "The body was staked, wasn't it? What a barbarous old world it was! I don't wonder they were afraid of the place."
"It's supposed to have been an old usurer who came from these parts and had ruined all sorts of people in his time."
"And why did he kill himself?" said Anthony.
"I forget. There was some mystery about it. I remember an old, old shepherd telling me some of the tale, when I was a little girl, and my nurse came up in the middle and scolded him and snatched me away."
"Quite right, too," said Anthony. "And if she was here now, History would probably repeat itself." With a sweep of his arm he indicated the country-side. "Was this your nursery?"
"In the summer." She hesitated. "I'll show you my window, if you like. It's the best part of a mile, though."
Anthony laughed and turned to summon his terrier.
"Patch and I," he said, "have at least one afternoon a week. As long as I'm back in time to lay the table...."
A moment later he was stepping along by her side.
It had not occurred to him to ask what "her window" might be. If she had offered to show him the mouth of hell, he would have assented as blindly. Whither he went and what he saw did not matter at all, so he was to be in her company. All the same, his instinct pulled him by the sleeve. Hazily he reflected that to retrace such steps as you have taken along the path of Love is a bad business, and that the farther you have elected to venture, so much the more distressing must be your return. And he would have to return. In the absence of a miracle, that journey could not be avoided. For an instant the spectre of Reckoning leaned out of the future.... Then Patch flushed a stray pig, and Valerie laughed joyously, and—the shadow was gone. Cost what it might, Anthony determined to pluck the promise of the afternoon with an unsparing hand.
He had walked in the direction of Bell Hammer for the same reason that had caused Valerie French to bend her young steps towards Hawthorne. Each drew the other magnetically. It was not at all strange, therefore, that they should have met. Neither, since the attraction was mutual, is it surprising that the effect of each other's company was exhilarating to a degree. Together, they were at the very top of their bent. If the man trod upon air, the maid was glowing. His lady's breath sweetened the smell of autumn; the brush of her lord's jacket made the blood pelt through her veins. Grey eyes shone with the light that blue eyes kindled. Each found the other's voice full of rare melody—music to which their pulses danced in a fierce harmony. The world was all glorious....
Here was no making of love, but something finer—nothing less, indeed, than the jewel natural, uncut, unworked, unpolished, blazing out of a twofold crown that sat, yoke-like, upon their heads for all to see. Since, however, they met no one, the diadem was unobserved....
So Jack and Jill passed with full hearts by yellow lanes into the red-gold woods, and presently along a bridle-path that curled mysteriously into a great sunlit shoulder of forest, where the driven leaves fussed over their footsteps, and the miniature roar of a toy waterfall strove to make itself heard above the swish and crackle of the carpet the trees had laid.
"I'll tell you one thing I've learned," said Lyveden.
"What?" said Valerie.
"That what you do doesn't matter half as much as who you do it with. I found that out in the Army. The work didn't matter. The discomfort, the food, didn't count—comparatively. It was the company you had to keep that made the difference."
"'Better is a dinner of herbs,'" quoted Valerie.
"Exactly. And it's the same now. I don't say I'd pick out a footman's job, but there's nothing the matter with the work. Everything depends on the other servants. My first two places nearly broke my heart: with the Alison crowd——"
He hesitated, and Valerie completed the sentence.
"Everything in the garden is lovely," she said slowly.
"Comparatively—yes. Of course, it's—it's only a back garden."
"Entered by the back door and approached by the back stairs. You can't get away from it."
"I can," said Valerie. "Speak for yourself. It's you who can't—won't get away from it. They say that in Russia there are noblemen sweeping the streets. If one of them was a friend of yours, would you turn him down because he carried a broom? Of course you wouldn't."
"The first duty of a servant," said Anthony, "is to know his place."
Valerie stood still and looked at him.
"I wonder you don't call me 'miss,'" she said, shaking her head gravely.
"Very good, miss," said Lyveden.
"That's better," said Miss French contentedly, slipping an arm through his. "And now, if we leave the path and bear to the right, in about two minutes we shall come to my window."
The two had been climbing steadily, but another fifty paces in the direction Miss French had indicated brought them to the foot of a steeper ascent than ever. This was, in fact, a broad natural bank, some thirty feet high. The careful negotiation of a tiny path, followed by a plunge into a thicket, where the stubborn protests of boughs had to be overruled, landed them in a dwarf clearing, which the density of the surrounding bocage rendered a fastness.
Valerie stepped to the far side and parted the branches.
"Look," she said.
They were upon the lip of a heather-edged bluff which fell sheer for perhaps two hundred feet into a pinewood. Beyond, by mammoth terraces, the glory of the forest sank step by colossal step into the purple distance, from which distant in turn a thread of silver argued the ocean. There never was such a staircase. The grandeur of its proportions diminished the rolling world. The splendour of its covering made colour pale.
Anthony gazed spellbound. At length—
"I didn't know there was such a view in all England," he said.
Miss French smiled. Then she moved cautiously forward, till she was clear of the bushes, there to sit down upon a billowing cushion of heather which grew conveniently about as close to the edge of the bluff as it was prudent to venture. Abstractedly Anthony followed her and, after a glance about him, took his seat by her side upon a patch of gravel.
"I'm in your debt," he said simply. "Deeper than I was before."
Valerie nodded at the wonder of landscape.
"I'll make you a present of this," she said. "What else do you owe me for?"
Anthony spread out his hands.
"Your society," he said.
"You've paid for that—with your own."
"Your pity, then."
"I've never pitied you," said Valerie.
"You've stooped," said Anthony.
"I've not stooped," was the fierce reply.
"We won't argue it," said Anthony. "I owe you for your—your interest, at any rate. You've been good enough to interest yourself in my——"
"Aren't—you—interested?" said Valerie, staring into the distance and seeing nothing.
For a long minute the man sat motionless, not seeming to breathe. Then—
"Yes," he said slowly, "I am. And that's the devil of it." With a sudden jerk he was on one knee beside her and had caught her hand. "Oh, lady, don't you see? That's what kills everything. Am I interested? Good God, I'm—I'm crazy! I can think of nothing else. You blot out everything in the world. Whatever I do, or say, or think, you're always there. There's nothing but you, you, you! And you ask if I'm interested!"
A wandering puff of salt air swooped out of the windless sky, ruffled his thick dark hair, and was gone, panting. A gull sailed close to them, circled, dipped and sped seaward with a smooth rush. The league-long shadow of a cloud swept stately over the gleaming woods, driving the sunlight before it, itself driven before the twin of its prey.... The silver wire of silence became more and more tense. Each second gave another turn to the screw. Valerie began to tremble....
"And that," said Lyveden at last, "that's why we can't be friends. I can't be your friend because I love you; and I mustn't love you because——"
"Because it's out of the question," he flashed. "Don't tempt me, Valerie. You know it is. I'm crying for something that's utterly, hopelessly, laughably out of my reach. I haven't the right to the moonlight, and I want—the moon."
He stopped suddenly and dropped his head, ashamed that he had let his passion ride him so recklessly, limp after his outburst, sick at heart for the truth of his words.
Valerie sat very still, exultation and anxiety fighting for a grip on her heart. Anthony had told his love, raved of her, called her by name. (Anxiety's claw-like fingers began to yield.) The very intensity of his utterance declared his conviction that he must give her up. The exceeding bitterness of his tone rang too true to be ill-founded. (Exultation's clutch weakened, and Anxiety took a fresh hold.) Of a sudden Valerie felt persuaded that Time could win her battle, could she but gain his aid. As if to establish this persuasion, the reflection that the old fellow had straightened more crookedness than any other minister of love came to her hotfoot, and then and there she made up her mind to court him. She yearned to put her arms about her man's neck, but felt that somehow that way lay ruin. Anthony being what he was, it was all-important that she should not show him her hand. He had seen—should see a card or two, certainly. That the rest were the same, card for card, as those he had just flung down, in his present mood he must on no account realize. Such knowledge were fatal. He would, presumably, kiss her, and then call Patch and walk out of her life for ever. So long, however, as he did not believe her lovesick, he would—well, he would not disappear, at any rate. There are who lay hold on hopelessness rather faster than they lay hold on life....
"Anthony, dear," said Valerie, "let's—please don't let go of my hand—let's look for a way out. You know, I think——"
What she would have said should not matter to us. We have peered into her brain-pan. The sentence, however, was never completed, and that for a reason which shall pass muster.
On perceiving that Valerie and he were moving, Anthony for a moment of time suspected an earthquake. Almost instantaneously he appreciated that, while it affected him pretty closely, it was a much smaller matter—nothing more, in fact, than the giving way of that portion of the cliff upon which the two were disposed. It was typical of the man that he neither swore nor cried out, and of the soldier that he thought and acted simultaneously.... By the mercy of Heaven, he was, as you know, upon one knee. Had he been sitting, like his companion, they must have gone with the avalanche. As it was, they were able, after a painful silence, to hear this crash evilly with a dull roar into the pinewood.
The echoes rumbled curiously into the distance, and a startled medley of cries rose from all manner of birds, which soared out of their shelter, dismayed and whirling. One bird was fairly gibbering. Miss French and Lyveden both noticed it. Valerie found herself wondering whether it had lost its wits.
For the perfection to which their senses focussed these and other very ordinary things, their plight was responsible. It has been said that the faculty of observation is never so pronounced as when the observer is face to face with Death. Anthony and the lady were looking him in the eyes. The pair of them was, in fact, hanging in space, dangling two hundred feet up, with an inch and a half of ash-plant between them and Eternity.
With his right hand Lyveden was grasping the slender trunk of a sapling which grew three feet to an inch from the new edge of the bluff. As he was, arm and all, at full length, it follows that from the breast-bone downwards the whole of him was over the cliff. Valerie was altogether in mid-air. She was directly suspended, with her back flat against Anthony, by the latter's left arm, which if he had released she would have fallen plumb into the pinewood....
In a quiet voice Lyveden was speaking.
"Try and free your right arm."
Providentially, the girl's elbow was on a level with the edge, and at the expense of a torn sleeve she was able to work the arm free and on to the heather. This, when pulled, came away in her hand. Her fingers scratched upon the gravel frantically. No handfast was there. After a moment they abandoned the search.
"Now the other arm."
This was pinioned by her supporter's. By dint, however, of almost dislocating her shoulder, she managed to disengage it.
Again she waited for instructions.
None came, however, for Anthony could not think what to do. She could not turn, and he could not turn her. Neither could he haul them both up. He had not the strength. As it was, the strain upon his two arms was frightful—too frightful to last.... If she could have held herself for five seconds, he could have dragged himself up and the girl after him; but she could get no shadow of hold upon the ground. And all the time his arms were tiring—both of them—tiring rapidly....
The muscles under his arm-pits were aching unbearably, and there was a queer tingling in his right wrist.
As he looked at this, he saw how it was quivering. His left arm was quivering, too. He could feel it. He realized with a shock that this was a movement over which he had no control. Nature, apparently, was rebelling against his will.... And his fingers, crooked about the trunk of the sapling, were getting hot—making the bark greasy....
Convulsively he sought foothold for the thirtieth time, but, except for tweaking the agony in his chest, the effort was vain. Desperately he blinked the sweat out of his eyes....
Patch appeared upon the scene, snuffing the ground casually enough. His surprise to see his master in so strange an attitude was unmistakable. After a moment's reflection he decided that the position was that required by the rules of a new game in which he was intended to participate. He therefore made ready to play, and, lowering his head to his paws, put up his nose and barked joyously.
"Come here, Patch," said Anthony.
The tone was not that of the playground, and the terrier obeyed mechanically—circumspectly, too, though, for he disliked heights.
Anthony addressed his companion.
"When he's near enough, take hold of his collar. Hang on like grim death. Listen! My arm's giving out. I'm going to let you go while I pull myself up. It's the only chance. You're light, and he'll stick his toes in. Put a strain on him now, so that he's ready."
"I shall pull him over," said Valerie.
"No, you won't, dear. Do as I say. Quick!"
He almost screamed the last word.
The moment he felt the strain, the terrier resisted wildly. Planting his forefeet against the heather-roots, he refused with all the instinctive terror of the dumb animal, straining every muscle of his little thick-set frame to avoid a closer acquaintance with that horrible brink....
Very gently Anthony lowered his companion till her arm was resting upon the turf and the edge of the cliff was in her arm-pit. Then—
"Only a second, sweet," he said quietly, and let her go....
With a frightful heave he was on his stomach ... on his thighs ... his knees ... feet. He turned, staggering.
His back hunched like a cat's, Patch was sliding forward.
In a flash Lyveden had stooped, caught Valerie's arm with both hands, dug in his heels and flung himself backward....
The three landed in a heap anyhow.
The moment he was at length detached from Valerie, Patch retired a good score of paces from the edge of the bluff. He had had enough of cliffs for the rest of his life. His master's interpretation of games was usually brilliant. This last was an exception. He could see nothing in it.
* * * * *
Betty Alison laid her hand orderly upon the green baize, with the complacent air of the player who is presenting his or her partner with all the essential factors of Grand Slam.
After staring fixedly at the display, her husband put his cards face downwards upon the table and covered his eyes.
"I suppose," he said brokenly, "I suppose you had a reason for overbidding me. I confess I can't see it, but I expect that's because it's too subtle."
"What d'you mean?" was the indignant reply. "Look at those"—and Betty pointed proudly to a queen-high flush of six diamonds.
"But you called hearts!"
Betty started. Then—
"So I did," she said guiltily. "I meant diamonds."
"I see," said her husband grimly. "After all, they're both red, aren't they?"
Here the laughter which Anne and Anthony had been endeavouring to restrain broke out tempestuously. Betty's procedure and bearing at the Bridge table would have unhinged an enthusiast, but since the four domestics played for amusement and a penny a hundred her short-comings hurt nobody and were highly diverting.
With a sorrowful look at his opponents, George proceeded laboriously to amass three tricks.
With the game went the rubber, and by mutual consent the party broke up. It was half-past nine, and all had duties to do. Anne went singing to fill Mrs. Bumble's hot-water bottle, and Betty to heat the milk which it was her mistress's practice to consume at bed-time. Mr. Bumble, as became his sex, favoured something more substantial, and light refreshment in the shape of a ham sandwich and a bottle of beer before retiring suited him admirably. In Anthony he had a conscientious victualler. The sandwich was invariably fresh, the bottle of beer untasted, the glass clean. Mr. Bumble had marked these qualities and hugged himself.
This night, when Anthony entered the dressing-room, his master was sitting coatless upon a chair.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Lyveden, "I hope you've not been waiting."
"No, no," was the cheery reply. "Not your fault, me boy. I'm early. There now! Maria!" Mrs. Bumble appeared in her doorway in a red dressing-gown. "Look at that there tray, me dear. Ain't it a treat?"
"Deluscious!" said Mrs. Bumble.
"The very look," continued Mr. Bumble, "o' that sanwidge makes me that 'ungry you wouldden believe."
"May I cut you another one, sir?" said Anthony.
"'Ark at the boy," said his employer. "Wants ter kill me with kindness. Why, I could eat sixty, I could. But one's too many, reelly, at my time o' life."
"Joo drink beer, Tony?" inquired Mrs. Bumble.
"Then go an' 'ave a nice bottle," she said, beaming.
"Thank you very much, madam."
"Yes, an' give George one," said Mr. Bumble, not to be outdone in generosity.
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't mention it," was the agreeable reply.
Anthony bade them "Good night" and left them breathing good-will.
As he descended the stairs, the particular verity of the adage which Valerie had quoted upon a memorable afternoon nearly three weeks ago appealed to him forcibly. "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is." Certainly he was leading the humble life. Born and educated to administer, if not to rule, here was he fetching and carrying, a hewer of ham and a drawer of corks. He wondered if there were any other footmen who were also Companions of the Distinguished Service Order. That there were no other footmen who were so comfortably housed, he was sure. And Patch was in clover. Anthony reflected that he had much to be thankful for. A dinner of herbs was infinitely better than none at all. He was, you observe, unconsciously converting the proverb to his own use. Stalled oxen, with or without hatred, were not nowadays in his line. He had quite forgotten what they were like, and cared as little. Indeed, but for Valerie, his Ambition would have been dead. Even now it lay very sick. High stomachs are easily upset. But a nodding acquaintance with Hunger will make Ambition turn her face to the wall.