The duty of George Alison at nine-thirty was to take the dogs for a run. When he returned this evening to find Anthony in the act of setting two bottles of beer upon the table, he lifted up his voice and thanked Heaven that he had at least one friend.
"Thirteen perishing months," he concluded, "have I been in this house, and this is the first time I've ever had an extra rum ration. And that with my own flesh and blood, to say nothing of a lawful wife, running round the Bumbles from morning till night. I admit that on two several occasions your predecessor produced to me my master's liquor, but his ribald reception of my inquiry whether such production was authorized left me no alternative but to refuse to consume it."
"What's that?" said Betty, bustling into the room. "I recognized the tone of abuse, but I couldn't hear the words."
"My love," said George, "I was but remarking that beer is thicker than water. And now will you take my boots off before you clean them? Or clean them first and take them off afterwards?"
Betty Alison seated herself upon the table and raised her husband's glass to her lips.
"I looks," she said, "towards you."
When she set it down, the glass was half empty.
After a moment's silence—
"You've—you've left some," said her husband in a shaking voice.
"I know," she said. "That's because I can't drink any more. I hate beer." She slipped off the table with a yawn. "And now I'm going to bed. Don't let him sit up, Anthony. The car's ordered for nine, and he's got to get a new tire on."
"Where are we going?" said Lyveden.
"First meet of the season," said George. "I forgot to tell you. Buck's Folly, the Bumbles think, but they're not certain. Deuce of a job for me, I tell you. Everybody drives anywhere and anyhow. You're backed into, you're always being called on to stop your engine, you're expected to be able to turn in a six-foot lane and to manoeuvre on a marsh as if it was wood pavement. To do any good, you want something between a gyroscope and a Tank. A car's useless."
"Stacks of people, obviously," said Anthony.
"Unfortunately, yes. Hardened as I am, I'm not looking forward to that side. I suppose you hunted—in the old days."
"At Oxford, and sometimes with the Blackmore Vale. My uncle had a house in Dorset."
"Ah! We used to do a bit with the Pytchley before—before the War."
For a moment nobody spoke.
One and all they had stumbled into the closet of Memory. Pictures of dead days stared at them—days when they had come and gone as they pleased, before there had been a new earth and, seemingly, a new heaven. Old sounds rang in their wistful ears, forgotten scents came floating out of the darkness.... The closet grew into a gallery....
"Good night," said Betty quietly. "Don't sit up late."
She slipped out of the room.
It was a tired face that George Alison raised to Anthony.
"Thank your stars," he said jerkily, "that you aren't married. I don't matter. I don't mean I like service, but I'm well enough off. But Bet—poor Bet. Think what her life should be, and then look at what it is. And her father's worth half a million. He cut her off when she married me. I had enough for two then, so it didn't much matter. But now.... She's wonderful—perfectly marvellous, but—it's hard to see her hands getting rough, man. Very hard. Her hands...."
Anthony crossed the room and touched him upon the shoulder.
"If I were married," he said, "I should feel just the same. And then there'd be two fools instead of one. My dear fellow, if Betty regretted her bargain, then she'd need your sympathy. As it is, so long as she's got you, d'you think she cares whether she wears sables or an apron?"
"But you saw how she dried up just now."
"Shall I tell you why?" said Anthony.
"Because to-morrow morning you're going to a meet in blue, and she's sorry it can't be pink."
The two finished their beer, and George retired somewhat comforted.
As he had predicted, their attendance of the meet the next morning was only effected at the expense of more patience than Alison possessed. He was forced, in fact, to borrow from Anthony. Indeed, he afterwards confessed that, but for the latter's presence, he should undoubtedly have committed an aggravated assault.
The vicinity of Buck's Folly proved to be suspiciously vacant, and upon arrival at the standpoint itself if was instantly and painfully clear that the Bumbles had been mistaken. A passing butcher, when interrogated, grinningly vouchsafed the information that the meet was at Saddle Tree Cross, a spot of which all the occupants of the car had heard, but the way to which no one of them could tell.
Swelling with importance, Mr. Bumble produced a map, and George's face fell. He had seen that map before—from a distance. So had others. No one but Mr. Bumble had ever seen it at close quarters. Unhappily for all concerned, the latter's accomplishments did not include map-reading, an omission distressingly obvious to every one but himself. To follow his directions was fatal. Failure to appreciate his directions was at once easier and more disastrous. What was still more unfavourable was that, in possessing himself of the map, Mr. Bumble became possessed of a devil. There was no doubt about it. From being the most kindly of masters he became a snarling absurdity, whose endeavours simultaneously to study the canvas, observe the configuration of the country-side, and rave into the speaking-tube were consistently vain. George raised his eyes to heaven and prepared for the worst....
This came almost immediately.
After having obediently turned the car round, George was peremptorily advised that, after all, he had been facing the right way. Mr. Bumble rather unfairly added that in his opinion the fool who had made the map ought to be prosecuted. The warmth with which he committed this belief to the speaking-tube rendered it not so much inaudible as incoherent, and George, who believed it to be a further direction, had to ask him to repeat the remark. By the time Mr. Bumble had realized that he was being addressed and had placed his ear to the tube, George had concluded his inquiry and was patiently listening at the opposite end....
With such a beginning, the rest was easy. The wheels of wrath were greased. Thereafter it was no longer a question of revolution, but of speed. At times the velocity attained was appalling.
Seven hideous miles slunk staggering by.
Mrs. Bumble, of course, had been in tears from the outset. Anthony, as we know, was busily engaged in administering comfort, temporal and spiritual. The difficulty was to get George to take the nourishment.
"The fool's like a drowning man," he protested, "with his arms round your neck. Your only chance is to hit him under the jaw. Get out and do it."
Mr. Bumble had just formed and blasphemously announced the horrifying resolve to return to Buck's Folly and start all over again, when Anthony heard a horse whinny. In a flash he was on the running-board and touching his hat.
"I think we're just there, sir," he ventured.
Mr. Bumble hesitated, George set his foot upon the accelerator, and a moment later they swept round a bend to see the familiar medley of cars and dog-carts, bicycles and phaetons, saddle-horses and governess-cars, writhing below them upon a high-road into which the lane they were using almost immediately debouched.
With a sigh of relief, Mr. Bumble dropped the map and proceeded to mop his face....
Comparatively, the chauffeur's troubles were over. After such a drubbing, the nuisance of the congestion to which they were soon contributing was like a flick on the collar, and ten minutes later the car was berthed safely with two or three others upon an apron of turf.
Mr. and Mrs. Bumble alighted, and George and Anthony were left to themselves.
Then another car squirmed out of the ruck of vehicles and came rolling on to the sward. The gentleman ensconced upon its back seat was for the saddle, and plainly glad of it. His careless, handsome face was radiant, his manner full of an easy, inoffensive confidence, his gaiety—to judge from his companions' laughter—infectious. His turn-out was simple, but faultless. Despite the fact that he was sitting between Lady Touchstone and Valerie, Anthony liked the look of him.
Since their experience upon the edge of the cliff, Lyveden had not till now set eyes upon the lady. Unwilling to visit her home, he had inquired by letter how she was doing. After receiving two little notes, each of which assured him that she was not one penny the worse, he wrote no more. Letters and notes were sober and to the point. Any one might have read them. The truth is, the two were love-shy.
Give to a dog a finer and meatier bone than he has ever dreamed of, and mark his reception of your favour. Ten to one he will be afraid of it. He will walk about the fragment delicately; possibly he will touch it with the tip of an envious tongue; presently he will lie down at a respectful distance, watching it with big eyes. The thing is too vast for him. He must have time to become familiar with his stupendous luck.
So with Miss French and Lyveden. The gods had tossed the two title-deeds of a dream so wonderful that they were frightened. The gift was too precious to be handled at once. Like the poor dog they must have time....
You will understand, gentlemen, that this was no ordinary affair of love. Convenience had had no hand in it. My tale had been shorter if she had thrust but the tip of a finger into the pie. Pity, Selfishness, Gratitude—none of the stock emotions went to the making of the foundations of this fabric. It was not founded at all. Neither had it grown out of friendship. It had no infancy. Had the two never met, it is probable that—circumstances permitting—each would some day have fallen in love with somebody else. And that would have been a regular business. Convenience, Friendship, and other hard-working matchmakers would all have put shoulders to the wheel and clapped one another on the back when the banns were published. The fact that the two had met saved, in a way, infinite trouble.
Valerie had many swains, and more than a few women had looked twice at Anthony. Such hearts, however, as had bleated for their sympathy had either bleated altogether in vain, or, finding the sympathy vouchsafed not at all what they wanted, bleated more fiercely than before. All the same, the two were not seraphim. They were mortal enough, and, if more than ordinarily attractive, revealed upon close examination a very ordinary collection of failings. The wonder was not in themselves. The fact that their natures were in just accord, was, at the most, curious. It was true, nevertheless. Each wanted precisely what the other was ready to give. Their personalities agreed like two indentures—proved themselves mutual elixirs. The wonder began and ended when they encountered one another. It was then that the seed of love flashed into bloom. Miracles alone beget miracles. Parallel lines had met.
The sight of Valerie gladdened Anthony's eyes. He sat very still in his seat, staring under the wind screen and wondering whether she would recognize his back. He hoped that it was not because of her mishap that she was not in a habit. He could hardly be expected to divine the true reason. This was, shortly, that the lady, who had expected to see him, could not enjoy a pastime from participation in which footmen are for a variety of reasons so rigorously debarred. Incidentally, she had seen Anthony before he had seen her, and the smile with which he had credited her companion's bonhomie was due to his presence alone. Had this been explained to the young sportsman, as one of Valerie's swains it would have spoiled his day. As it was, he emerged from the car with the genial air of one who is in high favour, and, after a word with a groom who had come up bustling, mounted a good-looking grey and, waving his hat to the ladies, proceeded to join his fellows with his eyes sparkling and his chin on his shoulder.
"Mason," said Lady Touchstone.
The chauffeur, who had descended, sprang to the door.
"Open the door." The man did so, and her ladyship alighted. "I'm going to look at the hounds. You'd better come with me."
"Very good, my lady."
The pair moved off in single file.
Though the office was new to him, the dignity of Mason's demeanour was irreproachable. It was clear that the blood of flunkeys was in his veins. As a matter of fact, one hundred years before, his grandfather had done much escort duty, with a band on his hat and a cane in his hand. Though Mason did not know it, the manner had been bred in his bone.
"'Ere's a lady wants yer."
This was quite true. Miss French had not put it so bluntly, but it was not her fault that the messenger she had selected knew a footman when he saw one.
Major Anthony Lyveden thanked his informant with a smile. Had it been Caliban himself that had growled the message, the smile would have been as ready. Such a summons lost nothing in the telling.
George received the intimation that his colleague would be back in a minute apathetically. He was yet in some dudgeon. Beyond heaving a sigh charged with the resignation of a martyr who remembers that he has left his gloves in the torture-chamber, he evinced no interest at all.
Anthony crossed the turf to where Miss French sat smiling in a brown laudaulette, and touched his hat. Appearances had to be kept up. Valerie inclined her head gravely enough, but the look with which she honoured his action was not of this world. Anthony felt astoundingly rich.
"How are you?" he asked anxiously.
"Perfectly all right."
Valerie nodded, smiling.
"I wasn't even tired the next day," she said. "Were your arms very stiff?"
"Only for a day or two."
"As right as rain."
"Will you be free on Sunday?" said Valerie.
"From two o'clock on."
"Will you come to Bell Hammer?"
"I will," said Anthony.
"I'll come to meet you with the two-seater. To-morrow I'm going away. Aunt Harriet has to go to London. Have—have you been back ... since?"
"To your window?"
"To our window," said Valerie.
"Yes," he said quietly. "I—I can't keep away."
It was true. The place fascinated him. Tremendous happenings had made it a shrine. Already worshipful as Valerie's bower, the ledge was freshly consecrate to two most excellent saints—Love Confessed and Life Triumphant.
"I thought you had," said Valerie. "I saw your footsteps. And—oh, please don't go so close to the edge, Anthony. Promise me you won't. It—it frightens me so."
Love lent the words an earnestness which there was no mistaking. My lady leaned forward, with her hand gripping the woodwork. There was a strained, pleading look upon the beautiful face, the proud lips humbling themselves, the glorious eyes beggars—Royalty upon its knees.
Quite naturally, Anthony's heart answered her.
"I promise, sweet," he said.
The vocative transfigured the lady. Anthony found himself mirrored in two dew-burning stars. To deck her favourite, Nature had robbed the firmament. To see such larceny, it is not surprising that the round world stood still....
With a supreme effort Anthony pulled himself together.
"Patch is too funny," he said. "He'll come as far as the bank—you know, below the thicket—and not a step farther. He just stands there and wags his tail apologetically. And there at the foot of the bank he waits until I return."
Valerie laughed merrily.
"Poor little dog," she said. "It was enough to——"
"I say, Val, did I leave my flask in the car?"
The two had been too much absorbed to observe the return of the fresh-faced youngster, and the latter's words cut their communion short, much as the sudden rasp of curtain-rings scatters the rear of slumber. It was providential that the world was moving again. The suspension of perpetual motion would have been bound to excite remark. As it was, the new-comer was upon the very edge of staring, when—
"Let me introduce Mr. Every—Major Lyveden," said Valerie. The two men nodded mechanically and murmured politeness. "Yes, you did, Peter. Here you are." She plucked the lost property from the bowels of the seat and rose to restore it. "By the way," she added adroitly, "now's your chance. Major Lyveden'll tell you whether you ought to wash a horse's legs."
Thus appealed to—
"Unless," said Anthony, "you've got a groom in a million, I shouldn't advise it. It means mud-fever."
"There you are," said Valerie, doubly triumphant.
The youth's face was a study. Respect was fairly bundling Astonishment out of the way. Anthony had spoken as one having authority, and Every was visibly impressed.
"You really think so, sir?"
With one accord Valerie and Anthony smiled. The employment of the title was at once so irregular and so appropriate. Instinct had shown herself to be above raiment. Surely no manner of man ever was paid so exquisite a compliment.
A motor-horn coughed, and Anthony glanced over his shoulder. Then—
"I must go," he said quietly. "Good-bye."
He touched his cap with a smile and left them. Every gazed after him with his hat in his hand. Then he looked at Valerie with wide eyes.
"But—but he's a footman," he said stupidly.
* * * * *
When upon the following day Anthony admitted that he had never seen the view from The Beacon, the Alisons, all three, cried out upon the omission with no uncertain voice.
The four were breakfasting.
"But," declared Anne, "you simply must see it. It's the most wonderful view in the world."
Anthony doubted this. He did not say so, of course, but he would have staked a month's wages that he could have shown them a finer. As it was, he expressed politely enthusiastic astonishment.
"It is, really," said Betty. "And the tints at this time of year—why, even George raves about it!"
"That's right," said her husband. "Never lose an opportunity of insult. Why 'even George'? Can't a chauffeur have a soul?"
"Who went to sleep at the Russian Ballet?" said Betty.
"Go on," said George. "Rake over the muck-heap. And what if I did? The music suggested slumber. I merely adopted the suggestion."
"Did it also suggest that you should snore?" said his wife. "Or was that your own idea?"
George touched Anthony on the arm and nodded towards the speaker.
"Look at the scorn in that eye," he said. "See? The one that's looking our way."
With an air of unutterable contempt, Betty lighted a cigarette and then hurled the matchbox at her unsuspecting spouse. The missile ricocheted off his chin and fell noisily into the cup of tea which was halfway to his lips....
When order had been restored—
"He must see it at once," said Betty. "Before the leaves fall."
"The view, or the ballet?" said George.
"Idiot!" She turned to Anne. "Why don't you take him this afternoon? It's his day out, and you know you can always go."
"Yes, please do," said Anthony.
He could not very well have said anything else. Besides, Anne was all right. He liked her. There was, of course, but one woman in the world. Still Anne was a good sort, and he would not have hurt her feelings for anything.
The matter was arranged then and there.
Seven hours later the two, with Patch, were tramping over a rising moor towards a dense promise of woodland which rose in a steep slope, jagged and tossing. This day the ragamuffin winds were out—a plaguy, blustering crew, driving hither and thither in a frolic that knew no law, buffeting either cheek, hustling bewildered vanes, cuffing the patient trees into a dull roar of protest that rose and fell, a sullen harmony, joyless and menacing. The skies were comfortless, and there was a sinister look about the cold grey pall that spoke of winter and the pitiless rain and the scream of the wind in tree-tops, and even remembered the existence of snow.
"I wish it was a better day," said Anne. "It's always worth seeing; but you won't see so far to-day, and there's no sun."
Anthony glanced at the sky.
"Unless," he said, "it's worth seeing when the trees are bare, it's just as well we're going there to-day. That sky means mischief. Are you sure you're warm enough?"
"Supposing I said I wasn't," she said, "what would you do about it? Give me your coat?"
Anthony stood still.
"I should take you home—quick," he said gravely.
Honestly he hoped that she would waver. He had never wanted to come. Left to himself, he and Patch would have walked—elsewhither. Had he not known that Valerie was away, he would have excused himself at breakfast. Not for anything in the world would he have forfeited a chance of meeting her. Poor Anne's feelings would have had to rough it.
"I'm as warm as toast," said Miss Alison cheerfully. "And I know you don't want to come," she added, bubbling, "but you've just got to. You'll thank me afterwards."
Fiercely as he protested his innocence, Anthony felt extremely guilty. He had, it seemed, committed a breach of good taste, which must be repaired forthwith. He determined to be very nice to Anne. This should not have been difficult, for she was full of good points.
Fate had not been kind, but Anne found no fault with her heritage. Indeed, her temper was infectiously healthy. For years now Fortune had never piped to her, but that did not keep her from dancing. In the circumstances, that she should have been so good to look upon seemed almost hard....
The two passed on.
It was a way Anthony had never gone, and, once in the thick of the woods, he could not have told where he was. Anne, apparently, knew her line backwards, for she climbed steadily, chattering all the time and taking odd paths and random grass-grown tracks with an unconscious confidence which was almost uncanny. More than once she turned to strike across some ground no foot had charted, each time unerringly to find the track upon the far side waiting to point them upward—sometimes gently, and sometimes with a sharp rise, but always upward.
For all that, the pace his companion set was almost punishing, and Anthony was on the point of pleading a respite, when—
"Almost there now," panted Miss Alison. "Round to the right here, and——"
The rest of the sentence was lost upon Anthony, and is of no consequence to us.
As he was rounding the corner, he had turned to whistle for Patch. For two very excellent reasons the whistle was never delivered. The first was that the Sealyham was only five paces in rear. The second was that he was standing quite still in the middle of the path, wagging his tail apologetically.
For a moment Anthony stared at him. Then he swung round, to find himself face to face with a broad natural bank, some thirty feet high.
* * * * *
When Valerie French, who had come by way of the finger-post, saw Patch dormant at the foot of the broad bank, she could have jumped for joy.
At the last minute rheumatism had laid its irreverent hand upon the patrician muscles of Lady Touchstone's back, and the visit to Town had been summarily postponed. Valerie, who should have been sorry, was undeniably glad. She could not communicate with Anthony, but there was a bare chance that she might do better than that. What afternoons he had free she did not know. How he employed such as he had, he had told her in plain terms. She was, of course, to see him on Sunday, but that was four days away. Besides, she wanted to meet him upon that gravel cliff—that window-sill whose freehold they shared. High matters were on the edge of settlement. It was appropriate that they should there be settled where, in a mad moment, Fate had staked upon one cast all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory—staked them and lost them. That it was now but a question of taking possession of their inheritance, Valerie never doubted. In this she was right. The crooked way of Love had been made straight: only the treading of it remained—a simple business. That he had saved her life did not weigh with Anthony at all. That Death had summoned them, looked in their eyes, and let them go—together, made all the difference. It was as though a hand had written upon the wall....
The sight, then, of the terrier verified hopes which she had been afraid to harbour. She had wanted so much, and it had all come to pass. She had wanted to meet her man, to see him ere he knew she was there, to find him there at the window, to come delicately behind him, to have him turn and see her, to mark the sudden gladdening of his dear grey eyes....
Tremulously she ascended the tiny path and passed a-tiptoe into the thicket....
You would have sworn it an elf that stole across the clearing beyond....
As she glided into cover—
"Rain," said Anthony. "Now we're for it. No coats, no umbrella, no nothing. Anne, you're in for a wetting."
"Won't be the first time," said Anne cheerfully.
"Well, come on, any way," said Anthony. "The woods'll shelter us for a while, and then——"
"I shall have a bath," said Anne. "A nice hot bath directly I get in. You know, all steaming and——"
"Will you come on?" said Anthony, laughing.
The two thrust through the screen and across the clearing. A moment later the thicket had swallowed them up.
As in a dream, Valerie heard their voices getting fainter and fainter....
Presently they died altogether, and she was left alone with the rain. This fairly pelted upon her, but she never moved. The truth is, she never noticed it.
A sudden rush of wind whipped a strand of her dark hair loose and flung it across her lips, but she never moved.
After a little while the wind died too, and for the second time she was left alone with the rain.
AN HIGH LOOK AND A PROUD HEART
Here is a note, gentlemen, on its way to a lady, I have set it out now, that you may be wiser than she—by some twenty-four hours. Such as it is, I like my lookers-on to see the best of the game.
Rome, 14th November.
MY DEAR VALERIE,
I observe from your letter that you have lost faith in the man you love. Now, although I know him not, I trust him implicitly. I do not care what has happened. Shall I tell you why? Because I know that you would never have put your trust in him had he been unworthy.
Love plays such queer tricks with its victims, making the fearless timorous, the proud lowly, the trusting doubtful. Who was it coined that mischievous phrase, "Too good to be true"? He has much to answer for. Nothing is too good to be true. Not even the love of a man for a maid, Valerie. You found it so good that you were thoroughly prepared to find it false. And the moment you saw the clouds, you believed the sun to be dead. That is heathenish and the way of the people who imagine a vain thing.
His explanation will shame you, of course; but take the lesson to heart.
Your affectionate uncle, JOHN FOREST.
* * * * *
The Assize Court was crowded. Even upon the Bench there was little room to spare; and when the High Sheriff disappeared to return a moment later with two ladies, the Judge's clerk eyed the new-comers with something of that impotent indignation with which a first-class passenger regards the violation of his state by belated individuals whose possession of first-class tickets is highly dubious.
The calendar contained no case of unusual interest, but the Red Judge comes to Brooch but three times a year, and the old market-town makes the most of its gaol deliveries.
At the moment of the ladies' entering, Mr. Albert Morgan was in charge of the jury, and the twelve gentlemen were in course of hearkening to evidence which suggested with painful clarity that the prisoner's sins of commission included that of felony. That Mr. Morgan had been caught red-handed had not prevented the rogue from pleading "Not guilty." He had stood in docks before now. Besides, enough money had been found to instruct a member of the Bar—if not a solicitor—to argue his impudent case....
"Anthony Lyveden," said counsel for the Crown.
"Anthony Lyveden!" cried the constable-usher.
"Anthony Lyveden!" bawled his colleague, opening the door of the Court.
Anthony, who was pacing the hall, came quickly. A moment later he had entered the box.
His footman's overcoat accentuated at once his height and his breeding. It suited the figure admirably, but not the man. The handsome, clean-cut face, the excellence of his speech—above all, the personality of the witness—gave the lie to his garb. Moreover, he displayed a quiet dignity of manner which was as different from that of the most exquisite lackey as is sable from civet. From resting upon him the eyes of the Court began to stare...
Lest their owners be thought unmannerly, it is fair to record that the last witness, whilst swearing that he was a chauffeur, had resembled one of the landed gentry of the Edwardian Age, and that the last but one—to wit, the chauffeur's employer—had sworn that he was a retired grocer, and looked exactly like one.
Anthony took the oath and glanced about him.
From the dock Mr. Morgan was regarding him with a malevolent glare. Farther back sat George Alison, upon his face an expression of profound resignation, which was plainly intended to indicate to his colleague the unpleasant nature of his late ordeal. And there, between the High Sheriff and Lady Touchstone, sat Miss Valerie French....
With narrowed eyes and a face impassive as a mask she met the footman's look. By her side her aunt was smiling recognition, but Anthony never saw that. Gazing upon the beauty of that face which he had once transfigured, he found it frozen. That proud red bow of a mouth, that had been his for the taking, might have been graven of precious stone. Here was no vestige of Love. Tenderness was clean gone. Even as he looked, the blue eyes shifted casually to wander around the Court.... The cold wind of Indifference made Anthony's heart shiver within him.
Small wonder that he replied to counsel's questions mechanically, like a man in a dream.
He had, of course, known that he was out of favour.
One perfect Wednesday she had worshipped him to his face: upon the following Sabbath he had been turned away from her doors. For this mysterious fall from grace no reason had been vouchsafed. Moreover, so high was the favour, so eminent the grace, that Anthony had been desperately bruised. For a little he had been stunned. More than once, as he had walked dazedly home, he had tripped and stumbled. And, on reaching the house, he had done what he had never thought to do—surreptitiously poured and swallowed a glass of his master's brandy. As the days marched by, he had in some sort recovered—slowly, if for no other reason because Grief should have air and not be clapped under hatches. And now—here was the lady, pointing in person the unpleasant truth that she had no further use for him....
Had they but told their love before his downfall, his course would have been simple. In that case, to ask an explanation of his dismissal would have been lawful enough. But things had not gone so far. It was while they were yet upon the threshold of harmony that the end had come. Of his honesty Anthony felt that he had no right to question her. The lady had not engaged herself: she was still free to do as she pleased. His cursed footmanhood was an additional embarrassment. To speak vulgarly, it put the lid on. And now—why was she here?
Thus throughout his examination-in-chief the imps of Recollection and Speculation spun and whirled in his brain-pan.
Why on earth was she there?
It is doubtful whether Miss French herself could have answered that question.
You will please believe, gentlemen, that her heart had brought her. It is the plain truth. Though Anthony did not know it, he had taken her faith in his hands and torn it across and across. For all that, she loved him still. She had a strange, pathetic longing to see him once more, and the case of "The King against Morgan" had offered her the chance. She had heard of the matter, and knew he must come to court to give his evidence. In such a place she would be able to study him undisturbed, and, most important of all, any speech between them would be safely impossible. A note to the High Sheriff had arranged her admission.... Incidentally, a burst tire on the way from Bell Hammer had almost spoiled everything. As we have seen, however, the ladies were just in time....
"Yes," purred counsel for the Crown. "And then?"
"Then the prisoner gave a cry and rushed into the drawing-room."
"What did you do?"
"I followed him and seized him. When assistance arrived, he was secured, and in the morning he was handed over to the police."
With a nod, counsel resumed his seat.
Mr. Morgan's representative got upon his feet with a truculent air. As he did so, somebody touched him upon the shoulder, and he turned to see his client leaning out of the dock. With an apologetic smirk at his lordship, the lawyer left his seat....
"What is it? What is it?" he whispered testily.
Mr. Morgan breathed into his ear.
"This is the swine," he said evilly. "Put it acrost 'im. Arsk 'im——"
"You shut yer face," said his adviser. "An' don' try an' teach me my job, or I'll 'ave you in the box."
Before this threat Mr. Morgan subsided, muttering.
Impatiently counsel for the defence returned to his place. Once there, he adjusted his gown, consulted a blank sheet of paper with some acerbity, and then addressed himself to the witness.
"Why did you leave your last place?"
Anthony hesitated. Then—
"I was unable to get on with one member of the household," he said.
"Were you dismissed?"
"As the result of a difference I had."
"Come, come, sir. That's no answer."
"The son of the house insulted me, and I knocked him down."
Such a sensational reply fairly took the wind out of counsel's sails. Amid a stifled murmur of excitement he strove to collect himself.
"Rather hasty, aren't you?"
"I don't think so."
"We shall see. Now, upon the night in question—the night of the burglary with which my client is charged—where had you been?"
"To a private house."
"From which you, a footman, return at four in the morning?"
"Yes," said Anthony.
"Did you have any drinks at the—er, private house?"
"I drank some wine."
"How many hours were you there?"
"You can drink a good deal in five hours?"
"You can," said Anthony.
"How many drinks did you have?"
"I drank two or three glasses of wine."
"What sort of wine?"
"In fact, you had a good evening?"
"I enjoyed myself very much."
"Exactly. And you returned—shall we say, 'happy'?"
"If you are suggesting that I was under the influence of drink——"
"Answer my question, sir."
The Judge interfered.
"Either, Mr. Blink, you are suggesting that the witness was under the influence of drink, or I fail to see the point of your questions."
Hurriedly counsel agreed, announced magnanimously that he would not pursue the matter, and plunged into a series of causeless and empty inquiries in the hope of stumbling upon an answer with which he might first of all hammer the witness and then erect a defence. His efforts went unrewarded, and behind him in the dock Mr. Morgan ground his teeth with vexation. That he was not getting his friends' money's worth was obvious. He did not expect to get off, but if he could have seen Lyveden discredited he would have taken his gruel with a grin. Venomously he gnawed his fingers....
For the twentieth time counsel drew a bow at a venture.
"You're not under notice to leave your present place?"
"Yes," said Anthony, "I am."
Despite herself, Valerie French started, and the chauffeur at the back of the court stared at the witness wide-eyed. The court, which had almost lost interest, pricked up its ears. Hardly disguising his relief, counsel proceeded to develop the impression in his own time-honoured way. Turning his back upon the witness, he elevated his eyebrows and then smiled very pleasantly upon a ventilator immediately above the jury-box.
"Really?" he said. "This is most interesting. Under notice, are you? Dear me.... Why?"
"I have given notice myself."
"Oh, indeed. Why?"
"For private reasons."
Counsel appeared to find this answer so highly diverting that after a moment's hesitation the jury joined in his merriment. As the titter subsided—
"I'm afraid," said Mr. Blink apologetically, "I'm afraid I can't take that."
"I wish," he said, "to leave the neighbourhood."
Anthony hesitated, and the Judge laid down his pen.
"Mr. Blink, I don't wish in any way to embarrass you, but can this affect your case?"
An expert in impudence, Mr. Blink was well aware of the amazing possibilities of consummate audacity.
"My lord," he said solemnly, "my suggestion is that the witness knows considerably more about this burglary than he is willing to admit."
The improvised shaft went home.
For a moment there was dead silence. Then some one gasped audibly, a breeze of emotion rustled over the court, and the jury leaned forward.... Only the Judge, before him a list of the prisoner's previous convictions, sat like an image.
With a spiteful gleam in his eyes, Mr. Morgan moistened his lips. This was more like it.
Counsel, now in his element, addressed the witness.
"Whence," he demanded dramatically, "whence this sudden desire to make yourself scarce?"
Breathlessly the reply was awaited....
None came, however, and counsel took up the running with a dry laugh.
"Very good," he said. "I take your answer."
Anthony stepped down and joined the chauffeur without a word.
Ten minutes later Mr. Blink was fanning the flame of mistrust into a conflagration. What, he asked, did the jury think? They were men of the world. Candidly, had they ever seen such a chauffeur and footman before? Did they look like servants? Of course they had Mr. Bumble's—their master's—confidence. But had they the jury's? He did not wish to usurp the functions of the cinema or the stage, but it was his duty to remind them that sometimes Truth was stranger than Fiction.... Here were two servants, who were obviously not servants at all, giving such overwhelming satisfaction that they were allowed unheard-of liberty—liberty which afforded unrivalled opportunities.... "Out till four in the morning, gentlemen. A latch-key to let them in. A motor-car at their disposal. And now—leaving this comfortable—this perfect situation. Why? No answer. Is it because the game is up, gentlemen? ..."
His lordship, who in his time had seen many juries befooled, summed up rather wearily, and at twenty-five minutes to one Mr. Morgan was found "Not guilty."
That the latter should greet the verdict with a gesture of derision verged, all things considered, upon indecency. It is good to think that the warder who hustled him from the dock, and played full-back for the prison, made this as clear as daylight.
* * * * *
Valerie left the court in some annoyance. She was annoyed that Anthony had been lessened, and she was annoyed to find that she cared whether he had been lessened or not. She would also have liked to know the reason for his proposed departure. Undoubtedly it had to do with Anne Alison. His very reticence proved it. Perhaps she was going, too.... Anne Alison.... At the very thought of the girl, Valerie's resentment welled up anew. Jealousy knows no law. The reflection that it was at her instance that Anthony had gone as footman to the house where Anne was housemaid rode her with a harsh and merciless hand. Often enough, sunk in most bitter contemplation of this fact, she got no further.
That she got no further to-day was due to a timely interruption—nothing less, in fact, than a snort of an intensity too clamorous to be ignored.
Valerie looked up.
"At last," said Lady Touchstone with some asperity. "That's the fourth."
"The fourth what?" said Valerie.
"The fourth snort," said her aunt. "I don't know what's the matter with you nowadays. To snort at all, I must be profoundly moved. You know that as well as I do."
"What's the matter?" said Valerie.
Lady Touchstone stared at her.
"My dear," she said, "what you want is a change. You have just witnessed what I hope is the most flagrant miscarriage of justice of recent years, you have seen twelve fools bamboozled by a knave, you have heard a friend of yours grossly insulted, and you ask me what's the matter." The car swung round a corner, and Lady Touchstone, who was unready, heeled over with a cry. "I wish Mason wouldn't do that," she added testily, dabbing at her toque. "So subversive of dignity. What was I saying? Oh yes. A change. We'd better go to Nice."
Before Miss French could reply, a deafening report from beneath them announced the dissolution of another tire.
Mason brought the car to the side of the road. Then he applied the hand-brake and alighted heavily to inspect the damage.
With a resigned air, Lady Touchstone sat awaiting his report.
Valerie began to laugh.
"Shall I tell you what he's doing?" she said.
Her aunt regarded her.
"I presume he's staring at the wheel," she said shortly. "Though of what interest a deflated tire can be to anybody passes my comprehension."
"Not at all," said her niece. "Mason is trying to make up his mind to tell you that we shall have to walk home. He only brought one spare cover, and we've used that."
Lady Touchstone glanced at her watch.
"And the Billows," she said grimly, "are coming to lunch in twenty minutes." She raised her voice. "All right, Mason. Miss Valerie's broken it to me. Stop the first vehicle that approaches and ask them to give us a lift."
"Very good, my lady."
"Supposing," said Valerie, "it's a milk-float."
"So much the better," replied her aunt. "I've always wanted to ride in a milk-float. It's the survival of the Roman chariot." Placidly she settled herself in her corner and closed her eyes. "Dear me. What a relief it is not to be moving! If only the Billows weren't coming...."
Neither she nor Valerie heard the approach of the Rolls. Indeed, it was not until George Alison, in response to Mason's signals, was bringing the great blue car actually alongside that the ladies realized that help was at hand.
The sight of Anthony Lyveden alighting to take his master's orders chilled Valerie as the breath of a crypt. Her aunt, on the contrary, was plainly as pleased as Punch at the encounter....
So soon as Mr. Bumble appreciated that it was the quality of Bell Hammer who sought his assistance, he took appropriate action. Hat in hand, he descended into the road and, speaking with grave civility, put his car at the ladies' disposal. This being accepted, he handed them out of their own and ushered them into the Rolls. Then he bowed very pleasantly and closed the door.
Valerie started to her feet.
"But, Mr. Bumble," she cried, "of course you're coming. Aunt Harriet, we can't...."
"Of course we can't," said Lady Touchstone. "Mr. Bumble, get in at once."
Humbly their host shook his head.
"Bell 'Ammer is no distance, me lady, an' the car can come back. I shouldden dream o' takin' advantage of an acciden', me lady."
Regretting very much that she had never noticed the ex-grocer before, Lady Touchstone sought desperately to pull the position round.
"Mr. Bumble," she said, "we cannot use your car without you. That we do not know one another is my fault. Please get in. I want to tell you how very sorry we are about your case."
Again Mr. Bumble bowed.
"Your ladyship is most kind. If Mrs. Bumble was 'ere, it'd be different.... But we're both of us proud, me lady, fer you to 'ave the car. An'—an' please don' put yerself out, m'm. I'm in no 'urry."
The quiet determination of his tone was unmistakable. The little man was clearly stoutly resolved not to improve an acquaintance which his wife did not share. Wealth had not clouded his memory nor corrupted his simple heart.
Lady Touchstone hauled down her flag.
"You're one of the old school, Mr. Bumble," she said, "so we won't argue. Will you tell Mrs. Bumble that, if Thursday's quite convenient, we shall call at The Shrubbery and ask her to give us some tea?"
And Valerie put out her hand.
"Good-bye for the present," she said. "Thank you so very much."
The next moment they were gone.
Hat still in hand, the ex-grocer looked after the car.
"Lady by name an' lady by nature," he said softly. Then he put on his hat and turned to Mason. "'Ave a cigar, boy. I 'ate smokin' alone."
As they swept out of sight, Lady Touchstone picked up the speaking tube.
"George Alison!" she cried. Up went the chauffeur's head. "Stop the car, please. Valerie and Major Lyveden will change places. We want to discuss the trial."
George slowed up with a grin.
Jack opened the door for Jill, who descended with an airy nod of greeting which hurt him more than the stoniest disregard. With her head high, she stepped to the seat he had left. As he was closing the high side door upon her, her fur coat intervened, and Jack set it gently aside. Jill felt the touch, turned, glanced down and twitched the garment away....
Anthony's eyes blazed. A short six inches away, Valerie's blazed back....
On the opposite side of the car George and Lady Touchstone were hanging out of their seats, raving concurrent invective against the Laws of England.
For a moment eyes searched eyes steadily. Then, with a faint smile, Anthony leaned forward and kissed the proud red lips. Then he shut the door with infinite care....
Had Miss French's fur coat been less voluminous, the gulf which Error had set between the lovers might have been bridged within the week. But it was a fine wrap, and ample. In an instant the gulf had become a sea of troubles, with the house that Jack had built upon one side, and the castle which Jill had raised upon the other. And, as for a bridge, their labour now was lost that sought to build one. It had become a case for a causeway.
As the car slid forward—
"And why," said Lady Touchstone, "are you going away?"
Anthony laughed jerkily.
"Have a heart, Lady Touchstone," he cried. "I've already risked imprisonment to save my secret."
Her ladyship looked about her.
"This," she said, "appears to be the interior of an expensive limousine landaulette. Very different from a court-house. The seats are softer, for one thing. Besides, from his adviser the client should conceal nothing."
"Are you my adviser?"
"That," said Lady Touchstone, "is my role."
"But am I your client?"
"I advise you to be."
For a long moment Lyveden stared straight ahead. Upon the front seat Miss French was chattering to George Alison with an unwonted liveliness, punctuated with little bursts of merriment. All the while she kept her head so turned that Anthony might miss not a jot of her gaiety....
"I'm sorry," said Lyveden quietly. "You're very kind, Lady Touchstone, and I'm properly grateful. But I can't tell you."
He was, of course, perfectly right. Intervention was not to be thought of, much less encouraged. For one thing, to mutter that Valerie and he were estranged would be to proclaim a previous intimacy. For another, it was an affair, not of hearts only, but of deeps calling. Each lifting up the other's heart, the twain had distilled a music that is not of this world: it was unthinkable that an outsider should be shown a single note of the score. Finally, Anthony wanted no peace-making. What had he to do with peace?
The silver cord was loosed, but he had not loosed it. The golden bowl was broken, but not at his hand. It was she—Valerie French—that had wrought the havoc. That cord and bowl were the property as much of Anthony as of her had not weighed with the lady. As if this were not enough, he was to be used like a leper.... What had he to do with peace?
The thought that he had been able to pick up the glove she had thrown down with such a flourish elated him strangely. To kiss My Lady Disdain upon the mouth—that was an answer. That would teach her to draw upon an unarmed man. For she had thought him weaponless. What footman carries a sword? And then, in the nick of time, Fate had thrust a rapier into the flunkey's hand....
Lady Touchstone was speaking....
"Well, well," she said gently, "perhaps you're right. I'm sorry, you know. I saw two lives smashed once by a clerical error on the part of a florist's assistant. I knew them both, too, but neither would speak. When it was just too late, Eleanor opened her mouth.... Unknown to her, I went to the florist's shop and looked at their order-book. Sure enough, there was the trouble. I never told her, of course. But it's haunted me ever since. Two lives ... smashed.... And they say that silence is golden.... When you do go, will you let me have your address?"
"I can imagine nothing more worthless," said Anthony. "But I think I've been rude enough. I promise to send it you."
For no apparent reason he laughed bitterly. His companion shuddered.
"Don't laugh like that, Major Lyveden. It's bad for my heart. Oh, dear. How fast George is driving! We shall be at Bell Hammer before we know where we are." Suddenly she leaned forward and caught at the footman's sleeve. "Anthony Lyveden, I've shown you my hand. As you love my niece, what is the trouble?"
Anthony set his teeth.
"Can't be done," he said, "Lady Touchstone. We've got to work it out for ourselves."
"Curse your pride," said that lady. "There. Now I've sworn at you. But it's your own fault. And how are you two goats going to work it out for yourselves? With one of you bleating at Nice, and the other—Heaven knows where—in England? D'you go to church, Anthony Lyveden?"
"I used to."
"Then go again. Get to your knees and pray. Pray to be delivered from blindness of heart, Anthony Lyveden. D'you hear? Blindness of heart. From pride, vainglory and hypocrisy. Not that you're hypocritical, but they go together, and it'll do no harm. And I shall make Valerie go, and—and I shall pray for you both."
Anthony slid off his hat and put her hand to his lips....
As he did so, the car sped past a red lodge and into a curling drive.
Lady Touchstone sought for a pocket-handkerchief.
"There's a tear on my nose," she explained. "I can feel it. It's a real compliment, Anthony Lyveden. You're the very first man that's ever made Harriet Touchstone cry."
The car swept to the steps.
Anthony was down in a flash. Tenderly he handed her out....
By the time her aunt had alighted, Valerie was at the top of the steps. Anthony walked up to her steadily. Then he took off his hat.
"I humbly apologize," he said. "It was unpardonable."
"You're right," said Valerie quietly. "That's just what it was."
As she spoke, a servant opened the door.
Valerie turned on her heel and walked into the house.
That same evening, when the others had gone to bed, Anthony called his terrier and set him upon his knee.
"Patch," he said, "I've come back to the fold." As was his habit when mystified, the terrier swallowed apologetically. "Is that too hard for you, my fellow? Let me put it like this. Once there were just you and I, weren't there? A fool and his dog. Caring for nobody, nobody caring for them, but to each other—just everything." The Sealyham licked his face. "Then one day she came ... She. A wonderful, peerless creature, to dazzle the poor fool's eyes. And the fool just fell down and worshipped her. He didn't forget his little dog, Patch. He never did that. But—well, it wasn't the same. Of course not. You must have felt it sometimes.... But you're a good little chap. And I couldn't help it, Patch. She—seemed—so—very—sweet.... I risked your life for her once. I did, really." He paused to stare into the fire. Then he took a deep breath. "By Jove, if you'd gone... I should have been left now, shouldn't I? Properly carted. Well, well, old fellow, it's over now. Never again, Patch. The fool's learned his lesson. You'd never let me down, would you? No. But she has. They say it's a way women have. And I'm going to wash her right out of my life, Patch. Right out. Now."
He set the dog down, stretched out his arms wearily, and got upon his feet. The terrier leaped up and down as if he had been promised a walk.
"So? You're pleased, are you? Ah, well..."
He turned out the gas, and the two passed upstairs.
Anthony was as good as his word.
You cannot kill Memory, but you can send the jade packing. That he did faithfully. By sheer force of will he thrust all thoughts of Valerie out of his head. They returned ceaselessly, to be as ceaselessly rejected. Their rejection took the form of displacement. They were, so to speak, crowded out. All day long he was for ever forcing his attention upon some matter or other to the exclusion of the lady. A thousand times she came tripping—always he fobbed her off. Considering how much of late he had been content to drift with the stream, the way in which his mind bent to the oars was amazing. His output of mental energy was extraordinary. Will rode Brain with a bloody spur. When night came, the man was worn out....
In the circumstances it was hard, though not surprising, that he should have dreamed so persistently of the tall, dark girl. It suggests that Nature is an unscrupulous opponent. Be that as it may, night after night, while the man slept, the tares were sown. Sleep, whom he had counted his ally, proved herself neutral. She was content to knit up the sleeve of care. That her handmaidens as fast unravelled it was none of her business. After a week of this devilry, Anthony groaned. Then he set his teeth, and, pleading insomnia, obtained permission to walk abroad after supper. With Patch at his heels, he covered mile after mile. So, though the mental strain was prolonged, he became physically played out. His determination had its reward. He came to sleep like the dead.
With a sigh for his simplicity, Nature plucked another iron out of the fire....
Anthony began to lose weight.
* * * * *
Thursday afternoon came and went, and with it Lady Touchstone and Valerie. The Bumbles were duly overwhelmed, treating their visitors with an embarrassing deference which nothing could induce them to discard: out of pure courtesy Lady Touchstone ate enough for a schoolboy; thereby doing much to atone for Valerie, who ate nothing at all: the Alisons respectfully observed the saturnalia and solemnly reduced Mason to a state of nervous disorder by entertaining him in the servants' hall: Anthony kept out of the way.
Not so Patch, however, who must, of course, put his small foot into it with a splash.
The visitors were in the act of emerging from the front door, Mrs. Bumble was dropping the second of three tremulous curtsies, and Mr. Bumble was offering the stirrup-cup of humble duty, when the terrier emerged from some laurels and, recognizing Valerie, rushed delightedly to her side. Before she was aware of his presence, he was leaping to lick her face....
To disregard such unaffected benevolence would have been worse than churlish, and Valerie stooped to the Sealyham and gave him her cheek. Patch lay down on his back and put his legs in the air. His tail was going, and there was a shy invitation in the bright brown eyes which was irresistible. Valerie hesitated. Then, on a sudden impulse, she picked up the little white dog and held him close.
"Good-bye, Patch," she whispered. "Good-bye."
She kissed the rough white head and put him down tenderly. Then she stepped into the car with a quivering lip.
It was as the car was turning out of the drive that she burst into tears....
Such consolation as Lady Touchstone sought to administer was gently but firmly declined: and, since her niece would have none of it, neither, gentlemen, shall you.
It was a few hours later—to be exact, at a quarter before ten o'clock—that a gentleman of some distinction laid down The Times.
For a moment or two he sat still, looking into the fire. Then he picked up a pile of depositions and drew a pencil-case from his pocket. For a while the occasional flick of a page argued his awful attention to the recital of crime: then the keen grey eyes slid back to the glowing coals, and the longhand went by the board. It was evident that there was some extraneous matter soliciting his lordship's regard, and in some sort gaining the same because of its importunity.
Mr. Justice Molehill was all alone. He had sent his marshal to the cinema, "lest the boy should grow dull," and, except for the servants, somewhere below stairs, the great gaunt mansion used as the Judge's Lodging, lodged for the nonce no other inmate.
The room in which the Judge sat was enormous. Indeed, the shaded lamp, set upon a table close to his shoulder, did little more than insist upon the depths of the chamber, which to illumine effectively you would have needed a score of lamps slung from the ceiling. For all its size, however, the room was sparsely furnished. At the far end a huge carved writing-table loomed out of the shadows; six high-backed chairs reared themselves here and there against the walls; between prodigious windows a gigantic press lifted its massive head. Reckoning the little table bearing the lamp, and a pair of easy-chairs, that is a ready inventory. A heavy carpet and curtains of the same dull red certainly excluded the draughts. For all that, it was not a chamber in which to sit apart from the fire. The marshal hated the place openly, and, on being rallied by the Judge, had confessed that it "got on his nerves." He had even suggested that it was haunted. Mr. Justice Molehill had laughed him to scorn.
His lordship, then, was gazing upon the fire. After, perhaps, about two minutes of time, he crossed his knees suddenly and flung up his hand in a little gesture of impatience.
"Anthony Lyveden," he muttered. "Where on earth have I heard that name?"
The expression upon his face was that of a man absorbed in searching his memory. He was, indeed, so much engrossed in this occupation that the keen grey eyes went straying whither they listed.
Let us follow those eyes.
From the light of the fire in its cage to the toe of his lordship's pump, up to the chiselled mantel and the cigarette-box—the marshal's—perched on the narrow ledge, down to the heavy bell-pull by the side of the hearth, on to a high-backed chair against the wall, down again to the floor—all black here, for the light is too distant to show the carpet's hue—on into the shadows, where something—the table, of course—shows like a grim bas-relief hewn out of the darkness, on to its ponderous top, where the candles...
It was upon the top of the table that the keen grey eyes came to rest—idly. The next moment his lordship's frame stiffened with a shock.
The radiance of two wax candles was illuminating the bitterness of death upon a man's face. It was an old face, long, gaunt, clean-shaven, and the ill-fitting wig that gaped about the shrunken temples gave it the queer pinched look which tells of a starved belly. Eyes red-rimmed and staring, a long thin nose, and an unearthly pallor made it displeasing: the dropped jaw, showing the toothless gums, made it repulsive.
The hair upon Mr. Justice Molehill's head began to rise.
For a moment the face stayed motionless. Then the grey lids flickered, and a trembling hand stole up out of the darkness to twitch at the lower lip. A paper upon the table appeared to claim the attention of those horrible eyes.... But not for long. Indeed, they had subjected the document to the very barest perusal, when, with a convulsive movement, the creature clawed at the paper, tore it with ravening hands and, clapping the fragments to its distorted mouth, bit and savaged it like a demoniac....
Hardened as he was to the spectacle of Rage dominant his lordship paled before this paroxysm of unearthly passion. All the agony of disappointed avarice, all the torment of mortification in defeat, all the frenzy of impotent fury, blazed in one hideous blend out of that frightful countenance. Could he have moved, the Judge would have crossed himself.
Then suddenly came a change. The passion ebbed out of the face, the paper fluttered out of the loosened fingers, the red-rimmed eyes took on another look. Snail-slow the trembling hand was travelling across the table....
Immediately between the silver candle-sticks lay a horse-pistol. As the fingers approached it, their trembling increased. Twice they hesitated, craven flesh rebelling against a recreant will. They shook so frightfully upon encountering the butt that it seemed as if to grasp it were beyond their power. Once they had seized it, however, the trembling left them and passed into the hand....
With the approach of the weapon, the horror upon the face became unspeakable. The eyes were starting, the mouth working painfully. Resolved to be rid of life, yet terrified to die, the wretch was writhing. There never was seen so loathsome a paradox. Cowardice was gone crusading.
The Judge's tongue clove to the roof of his mouth.
With the assistance of the other hand, the pistol had been turned about, but head and hands were all shaking so violently that the introduction of the muzzle into the gaping mouth was hardly accomplished. Twice cup missed lip, and the steel went jabbing against the ashen cheek. The next moment gums drummed on the metal with a hideous vibration.
With a shock his lordship recognized the sound as one which he and the marshal had heard more than once at this hour, and, after discussion, had attributed to an idiosyncrasy of water under the influence of heat.
That the supreme moment had arrived would have been patent from the eyes alone. Riveted upon the trigger-finger, squinting until the pupils were almost lost to view, they were the orbs of a fiend. Even as the Judge gazed, the light of Insanity took flaming possession. Hell, grown impatient, had sent a sheriff for the usurer's soul....
With a dull crash the fire fell in, and the Judge started to his feet with an oath.
The candles were gone.
The first thing which Mr. Justice Molehill did was to wipe the sweat from his face, and the second, to mix himself and consume the strongest whisky and soda he had swallowed for years. Then, being a man of stout heart, he picked up the lamp and walked to the writing-table at the end of the room. Here all was in order, and the closest scrutiny failed to reveal any trace of the vision. The chair was there, certainly, but its seat was dusty, and upon the table itself there was nothing at all. The curtain behind the chair, when disarranged, disclosed a window, heavily shuttered as usual, but nothing more.
Now, his lordship disliked defeat as much as anybody, but if there was one thing which he detested more than another, it was an inability to prove an excellent case. Looking at it from his point of view, he had here a personal experience at once as interesting and incredible as a man could fairly be expected to relate. The reflection was most provoking. So much so, indeed, that, after a moment's hesitation, the Judge picked up the chair and placed it upon the table. Then he bent down and, thrusting his hands beneath the edge of the carpet, lifted this up from the floor. The fabric was heavy, but he hauled with a will, and a moment later he was standing upon the boards he had uncovered. Thereafter, at the cost of a good deal of exertion, he managed to roll it back from the window as far as the table itself. Holding it in place with his knee, his lordship reached for the lamp....
It was his intention to discover whether the boards did not afford some real evidence of the crime, and it is a matter for regret that, upon perceiving that the floor had been diligently stained all over with some coffee-coloured preparation, for the second time in the evening his lordship swore. He was, in fact, in some dudgeon about to replace the lamp, when the torn edge of paper, showing between two boards, caught his observant eye....
The fine handwriting was faded, but still quite legible.
10th Jan., 1789.
Your letter leaves me no hope but that you have been most grossly betrayed. Should you so desire, I will render you indisputable proofs that the Marquess of Bedlington hath no need of funds, much less hath delivered in any's favour a bond for the vast sum declared in your letter. In a word, though the name subscribed to the bond be that of Bedlington, it was not the Marquess' hand that set it there. Who hath done you this injury, I know not, but Time hath shown that his lordship's twin brother, Lord Stephen Rome, lately decd., with whom the Marquess was justly at variance, more than once scrupled not to assume his brother's person and title to compass his own ends....
At the mention of the twin brother, Mr. Justice Molehill raised his keen grey eyes to stare at the lamp.
"Rome," he said softly. "Rome. That's right. It was at the Grand Hotel. And Anthony Lyveden was the name of the sole legatee. I knew I'd heard it before."
* * * * *
Mrs. Bumble's parlourmaid was counting upon her pink fingers.
"Sunday twenty-eight, Monday twenty-nine, to-day thirty.... Yes. To-morrow's the first of December."
George Alison regarded his wife.
"Let us hope," he said gloomily, "that it's a better month. In the course of the last four weeks I've had seventeen punctures, I've endured a miscarriage of justice which has undoubtedly shortened my life, and I've lost as good a pal as ever I struck."
"To hear you speak," said Betty, "any one would think that Anne and I had enjoyed ourselves. It's been just as bad for us."
The chauffeur shook his head.
"You rave," he said shortly. "In the first place, what have you to do with tires?"
"If we haven't had the punctures," was the reply, "we've heard enough about them."
"Yes," said Anne. "It's been almost as bad as golf. 'What I did at the fourteenth hole.'"
"In the second place," said George, "women adore irregularity. I can conceive nothing more delectable to the feminine appetite than the spectacle of Justice derailed. The apotheosis of our esteemed friend and late colleague, Mr. Albert Morgan, has afforded you two more indirect gratification than anything I can remember."
"Gratification?" almost screamed the two girls.
"Gratification," said George. "If I'd come home and said he'd pleaded guilty and been sent down for five years, you'd have been all depressed. In the third place——"
"Monstrous," said Betty. "Don't laugh, Anne. As if the very thought of that man walking about free didn't make my blood boil."
"It made it run cold last time," observed her husband. "Same principle as a geyser, I suppose.... Well, as I was saying, in the third place, what was Anthony to you?"
"One of the best," said Betty stoutly. "That's what he was."
Her husband wrinkled his nose.
"My point is that he was a man's pal. He was nice to you because he'd been properly brought up, but..."
Mournfully he passed his cup to be refilled.
"Go on," said Betty silkily. "I wouldn't miss this for anything."
Suspiciously George regarded her.
"Well," he said defiantly, "he hadn't much use for women."
Mrs. Alison turned to her sister-in-law and nodded scornfully at her husband.
"Our wiseacre," she said.
"All right," said the chauffeur. "Don't you believe me. He as good as told me so the day before he left, but I suppose that doesn't count."
Gurgling with merriment, his sister rose from the table and, coming behind the speaker, set her hands on his shoulders.
"And I suppose that's why he 'wished to leave the neighbourhood,'" she said, laying her cheek against his. "Betty and I were too much for him. Which reminds me, Bet, you and I ought to go to Bell Hammer and take those books back."
Her brother screwed his head round and looked at her.
"You're not suggesting that Valerie——"
"Sent him away?" said Anne. "Heaven knows. But he's just crazy about her, isn't he, Bet?"
The parlourmaid nodded.
"And she?" queried Alison.
"Loves him to distraction," said Anne.
"Which is why she lets him push off?" said George. "I see. And I suppose, if they'd hated one another like poison, they'd have been married by now. You know, this is too easy."
"Ah," said Betty, with a dazzling smile, "but then, you see, women adore irregularity."
Her husband, who was in the act of drinking, choked with emotion.
That the household was once more without a footman was a hard fact. Major Anthony Lyveden, D.S.O., was gone. His period of service at The Shrubbery had come to an abrupt end upon the previous day. His notice had not expired, but when he received an offer which was conditional upon his immediate departure from Hawthorne, he had laid the facts before Mr. Bumble and left two days later. All efforts to persuade him to leave an address were unavailing. This was a pity, for, ten minutes after he and Patch had left for the station, there had arrived for him a letter from a firm of solicitors that numbered many distinguished clients, and The Honourable Mr. Justice Molehill among them.
Since Anthony will never read that letter, neither will we. We will leave it where it is now, where it will lie, I dare say, until the crack of doom—behind the overmantel in the servants' parlour, gentlemen, with its back to the wall.
Anthony, then, was gone, and Patch with him. The Judge had been gone some time. Mr. Morgan also had left the neighbourhood, and was earning good money in the West End by the simple expedient of wearing the Mons medal, to which, never having seen "service," he was not entitled, and perambulating the gutters of South Kensington with a child in his arms. The child was heavy and cost him sixpence a day, but, as an incentive to charity, it left the rendering of "Abide with Me," upon which Mr. Morgan had previously relied, simply nowhere.
Lady Touchstone and Valerie were still at Bell Hammer. More than once the latter had revived her suggestion of a visit to the South of France. Each time Valerie had applauded the idea and then promptly switched the conversation on to another topic.... Women understand women, and with a sigh her aunt resigned herself to the prospect of a winter in Hampshire. Return to Town she would not. London was not what it had been, and the vanities of the metropolis fell dismally short of the old pre-War standard. You were robbed, too, openly, wherever you went. With tears in their eyes, shopkeepers offered you stones instead of bread, and charged you for fishes. Besides, unemployment was booming, routs were frequent, rioting was in the air.... Lady Touchstone decided that, if she was not to snuff the zephyrs of Nice, the smell of the woods of Bell Hammer was good enough for her nostrils.
If Lyveden had lost weight, Miss French had gained none. The blow that had fallen all but a month ago had hit her as hard as him. Yet, of the two, her plight was less evil. Each of them had dropped in their tracks, which is to say that, while Lyveden had fallen upon the rough ground of bare existence. Miss French had fallen into the lap of luxury.
I am prepared to be told that this should have made no difference—that creature comforts cannot minister to a broken heart. But, sirs, the flesh and the spirit are thicker than that. The iron must have entered uncommon deep into the soul for the body no longer to care whether the bath-water run hot or cold.
For all that, the girl was desperately unhappy. That she should have been bracketed with Anne was bad enough; that they should have been wooed in the same nest, to say the least, smacked more of business than of love: that it was her nest, of which, of her love, she had made the man free, was infamous. It was such treatment as she would not have expected at the hands of a counter-jumper—a deserter—a satyr. Possibly a satyr in a weak moment might have fallen so low. But Anthony was not a satyr. And deserters are not, as a rule, recommended for the D.S.O. To suggest that he was a counter-jumper was equally ridiculous. He was a most attractive gallant gentleman. This made his behaviour infinitely more discreditable. It was a sordid, demoralizing business....
And that, gentlemen, is what a hot bath will do.
Now look on this picture.
Valerie lay as she had flung herself, face downward upon the bed. Save that one satin slipper had fallen off, she was fully dressed. One bare white arm pillowed her brow, covering her eyes—mercifully. Let us touch that gleaming shoulder. See? It is cold as ice. That little slipperless foot.... Cold as any stone. But then it is the month of December, and she has lain so for two hours. Two hours of agony. She can remember every look those steady grey eyes of Lyveden's have ever given her, and in the last two hours she has remembered them all. Inch by inch she has gone over the playground of their hearts: word by word she has recited their conversations: she has gathered great posies of dead blossoms, because they once smelled so sweet: she has trodden the lanes of Memory to her most grievous wounding, because they are still so dear....
Then there were other times, when Pride had her in a strait-jacket, and the very thought of Anthony made her eyes blaze.
She had been walking herself out of one of these moods, and was tramping rather wearily through the twilight and up the long drive, when the cough of a motor-horn behind her made her start to one side. The next moment a car flashed past....
It was the local doctor's Renault.
Valerie's heart stood still.
The next moment she was running like a deer....
The car beat her all ends up, and by the time she had reached the steps, the front door was shut. She pealed the bell frantically....
To the footman who answered it—
"What's the matter?" she panted. "Who's ill?"
"Miss Alison, miss. I think it's a broken leg. She an' Mrs. Alison 'ad been to tea with 'er ladyship, an', as she was leavin', she——"
"Don't keep saying 'she,'" snapped Valerie. "Say 'Miss Alison.' And—and bring me some fresh tea. In the library."
She swept past the bewildered servant and disappeared.
The mills of God were off.
* * * * *
Twenty-four hours had gone by.
All this time the mills had been grinding steadily, and the grain, which had been awaiting their pleasure for exactly one calendar month, was beginning to disappear. After a while Valerie had come to realize that her pride was to be reduced to powder, and that there was nothing for it but to submit to the process with the best grace she could. Not every woman would have reasoned so wisely: few would have given to their decision such faithful effect. You will please remember that any reduction of her pride seemed to Valerie extraordinarily unjust. That there was stuff other than pride in the grist never occurred to her.
It was the evening, then, of the day after the accident, and the two girls were alone in the pleasant bedroom whither Anne had been carried the day before, and where she was like to spend the next six weeks of her existence. The patient was wearing one of Valerie's night-gowns and looking very nice in it. She was also smoking one of Valerie's cigarettes, and, so resilient is youth, chattering merrily between the puffs.
"Lady Touchstone was wonderful. She knew my leg was broken before I did. Almost before I knew where I was, she had my head in her lap and was telling me to lie quite still and hang on to her hand for all I was worth. 'You'll find it a great help,' she said. 'I know I did. And if you know any bad words, say them.' For all the pain, I couldn't help laughing. And then she told me how she'd broken her leg in the hunting field, and the vicar was the first to get to her, and how she hung on to him and made him feed her with bad language till help arrived. And, when I tried to say I was sorry, she said the butler deserved six months for not having the steps sanded, and asked me, if you and she tried to make me comfortable while I was your guest, if I'd try to forgive you...."
"That's the only possible way to look at it," said Valerie. "It's all our servants' fault, and we're only too thankful to be able——"
"You're very sweet," said Anne wistfully. "But to be saddled with me for six weeks——"
"Hush!" said Valerie, with a grave smile. "You promised not to talk like that."
Anne Alison sighed.
"It is unfortunate, though," she said. "I can't think what they'll do at The Shrubbery. If only Anthony hadn't just left.... You knew he'd gone, didn't you?"
Valerie shook her head.
"I knew he was going," she said.
"He left on Monday," said Anne. "We're all heart-broken. He was wonderful to work with, and nobody could help liking him. George is desperate about it. Being a man, you see.... Besides, they were a lot together. On the car, I mean. Off duty we never saw much of him. He liked being alone. I think I'm the only one he went for a walk with all the time he was there. And then Betty sent him. He'd never seen the view from The Beacon, so I took him. He was bored stiff, and we got soaked coming home, but he was very nice and polite about it. He always was. And now, I suppose——"
"The Beacon?" said Valerie faintly. "Where—where's The Beacon?"
"I don't know what its real name is," said Anne. "We always call it 'The Beacon.' You must know it. That very high place in Red King Walk, where the cliff goes sheer down...."
Valerie tried to speak, but no words would come. Something seemed to be gripping her by the throat. The walls of the room, too, were closing in, and there was a strange, roaring noise—like that of mills working....
With a terrific effort she fought unconsciousness away....
Her—their nest then, was, after all, inviolate. He had never taken Anne there. Betty had sent him. And—he had—been bored—stiff....
It was as if a mine had been sprung beneath the spot upon which had been dumped her emotions of the last two months, blowing some to atoms, bringing to light others that had lain buried. Out of the wrack, joy, shame, fear fell at her feet—and a sentence out of a letter was staring her in the face.
"His explanation will shame you, of course, but take the lesson to heart."
"I wonder," she said shakily, "if you could give me Major Lyveden's address."
"I would, like a shot," said Anne heartily, "but he wouldn't leave one."
Again the rumble of those labouring mills came swelling out of the silence into a roar that was thunderous, brain-shaking.... For a moment of time they pounded the understanding mercilessly.... Then, all of a sudden, the machinery stopped.
The corn was ground.
THE COMFORT OF APPLES
Anthony was healthily tired. So much so, in fact, that he was sorely tempted to retire to bed without more ado. On reflecting, however, that at least twenty minutes must elapse before his faithful digestion could also rest from its labours, he lighted a pipe slowly and then—afraid to sit down, lest he should fall asleep—leaned his tired back against a side of the enormous fireplace and folded his arms.
It is probable that the chamber which his eyes surveyed was more than four hundred years old. That it was at once his hall, kitchen, and parlour, is undeniable. One small stout wall contained the front door and the window, a third part of which could be induced to open, but was to-night fast shut. Another hoisted the breakneck staircase which led to the room above. A third stood blank, while the fourth was just wide enough to frame the tremendous fireplace, which, with its two chimney-corners, made up a bay nearly one half the size of the little room it served. The ceiling, itself none too high, was heavy with punishing beams, so that a tall man must pick and choose his station if he would stand upright; and the floor was of soft red brick, a little sunken in places, but, on the whole, well and truly laid.
A cupboard under the stairs served as a larder and store-room; a flap beneath the window made a firm table; in spite of their age, a Windsor and a basket chair, when called upon, satisfactorily discharged the duties for which they were contrived. A battered foot-bath did more. In a word, it received platters and knives and forks which needed cleansing, and in due season delivered them cleansed; of a Sunday morning it became a terrier's tub; and upon one afternoon in the week a vessel in which clothes were washed.
Since this was all the furniture, the place looked bare. As a living-room it left much to be desired; but, since Major Anthony Lyveden did not live in it, that did not trouble him. He used the room, certainly—he was using it now; nightly he slept above it—but he lived in the open air.
This was patent from the look of him.
Wind, rain, and sun set upon their favourites a mark which there is no mistaking. Under the treatment of these three bluff specialists the handsome face had in a short month become a picture. In all his life the ex-officer had never looked so well.
It was when he had given his late master notice and had twenty-one pounds in the world that Lyveden had seen the advertisement—
A solitary existence, hard work, long hours, L3 a week, fuel, a bachelor's unfurnished lodging, and an open-air life is offered to an ex-officer: the job has been considered and abusively rejected by five ex-other ranks on the score that it is "not good enough"; as an ex-officer myself, I disagree with them; incidentally, I can pay no more; sorry to have to add that applicants must be physically fit. Write, Box 1078, c/o "The Times," E.C.4.
Immediately he had applied by telegram, paying for a reply....
Three days later he and Patch had emerged from the London train into the keen night air of Chipping Norton.
There on the platform to meet him had stood his new employer—a tremendous figure of a man, with the eyes of an explorer and the physique of an Atlas, and, after a little delay, Lyveden had found himself seated in a high dog-cart, which, in the wake of an impatient roan, was bowling along over the cold white roads, listening to the steady deep voice foretelling his fate.
"We're going to Girdle. I've taken a room at the inn there for you to-night. Your cottage is two miles from there. I'll show you the way and meet you there in the morning—at half-past eight, please. It's water-tight—I had the thatch tended this year—and it's got its own well—good water. It's in the park, by the side of the London road, so you won't be too lonely. Now, your work. Woodman, road-maker, joiner, keeper, forester, gardener—that's what I want." Anthony's brain reeled. "That's what I am myself. Listen. I've inherited this estate, which has been let go for over a hundred years. There isn't a foot of fencing that isn't rotten, a road that you can walk on, a bridge that is safe. The woods—it's all woodland—have gone to blazes. I want to pull it round.... Fifty R.E.'s and a Labour Battalion is what it wants, but that's a dream. I've tried the obvious way. I asked for tenders for mending a twelve-foot bridge. The lowest was seventy pounds. I did it myself, single-handed, in seven days.... I've saved my stamps since then. Well, I've got a small staff." Anthony heaved a sigh of relief. "Two old carters, two carpenters, three magnificent sailors—all deaf, poor chaps—and a little lame engineer. But I haven't an understudy.... I hope you'll like it, and stay. It's a man's life."
"I like the sound of it," said Lyveden. "What are you on now?"
"Road-making at the moment. The fence is the most important, but the roads are so bad we can't get the timber through. It's all sawn ready—we've got a toy saw-mill—but we can't carry it. You see..."
The speaker's enthusiasm had been infectious. Lyveden had found himself violently interested in his new life before he had entered upon it.
The next day he had accepted the tiny cabin as his future home, and had had a fire roaring upon the hearth before nine o'clock. Colonel Winchester, who had expected to lodge him at Girdle for the best part of a week, had abetted his determination to take immediate possession with a grateful heart, presenting his new tenant with some blankets and an excellent camp-bed, and putting a waggon at his disposal for the rest of the day. Seven o'clock that evening had found Anthony and his dog fairly installed in their new quarters.
And now a month had gone by—to be exact, some thirty-four days, the biggest ones, perhaps, in all Lyveden's life. In that short space of time the man whose faith had frozen had become a zealot.
Five thousand acres of woodland and the fine frenzy of an Homeric Quixote had wrought the miracle. Of course the soil was good, and had been ruthlessly harrowed and ploughed into the very pink of condition to receive such seed. For months Lyveden's enterprise had been stifled: for months Necessity had kept his intellect chained to a pantry-sink: such ambition as he had had was famished. To crown it all, Love had lugged him into the very porch of Paradise, to slam the gates in his face.... Mind and body alike were craving for some immense distraction. In return for board and lodging for his terrier and himself, the man would have picked oakum—furiously: but not in Hampshire. That was the county of Paradise—Paradise Lost.
As we have seen, the bare idea of the employment had found favour in Lyveden's eyes, and, before they had been together for half an hour, the personality of Winchester had taken him by the arm. When, two days later, master and man strode through the splendid havoc of the woods, where the dead lay where they had fallen, and the quick were wrestling for life, where the bastard was bullying the true-born, and kings were mobbed by an unruly rabble—dogs with their paws upon the table, eating the children's bread—where avenues and glades were choked with thickets, where clearings had become brakes, and vistas and prospects were screened by aged upstarts that knew no law; when they followed the broken roads, where fallen banks sprawled on the fairway, and the laborious rain had worn ruts into straggling ditches, where culverts had given way and the dammed streams had spread the track with wasting pools, where sometimes time-honoured weeds blotted the very memory of the trail into oblivion; when they stood before an old grey mansion, with what had once been lawns about it and the ruin of a great cedar hard by its side, its many windows surveying with a grave stare the wreck and riot of the court it kept—then for the first time Anthony Lyveden heard the sound of the trumpets.
The physical attraction, no doubt, of the work to be done was crooking a beckoning finger. To pass his time among these glorious woods, to have a healthy occupation which would never be gone, to enjoy and provide for his dog a peaceful possession of the necessities of life, was an alluring prospect.
Yet this was not the call the trumpets had wound. That distant silvery flourish was not of the flesh. It was the same fanfare that has sent men to lessen the mysteries of the unknown world, travel the trackless earth, sail on uncharted seas, trudge on eternal snows, to sweat and shiver under strange heavens, grapple with Nature upon the Dame's own ground and try a fall with the Amazon—with none to see fair play—for the tale of her secrets.
Anthony's imagination pricked up its flattened ears....
Gazing upon the crookedness about him, he saw it straightened: looking upon the rough places, he saw them made plain. He saw the desolation banished, the wilderness made glad. He saw the woods ordered, the broken roads mended, the bridges rebuilt, streams back in their beds, vistas unshuttered, avenues cleared.... He saw himself striving, one of a little company sworn to redeem the stolen property. Man had won it by the sweat of his brow—his seal was on it yet—that great receiver Nature must give it up. It was not the repair of an estate that they would compass; it was the restoration of the kingdom of man.
Marking the light in his employee's eyes, Colonel Winchester could have flung up his cap. Opening his heart, he spoke with a rough eloquence of the great days the place had seen, of lords and ladies who had slept at the house, of coaches that had rumbled over that broken bridge, of a troop ambushed at the bend of the avenue, of a duel fought upon that sometime sward....
"The world 'd think me mad. In the clubs I used to belong to they'd remember that I was always a bit of a crank. To the Press I should be a curio worth three lines and a photograph of the 'Brigadier Breaks Stones' order. But there's a zest to the job you won't find in Pall Mall. There's an encouragement to go ahead that you seldom strike in this world. There's a gratitude the old place'll hand you that no reporter could ever understand...."
It was true.
As the short days went tearing by, the spirit of the place entered into Anthony's soul. He laboured thirstily, yet not so much laboured as laid his labour as a thank-offering at his goddess's feet. He counted himself happy, plumed himself on his selection for the office, thanked God nightly. But that he needed the pay, he would not have touched it. As it was, a third of it went into his tool-bag. The appalling magnitude of the task never worried him—nor, for the matter of that, his fellow-workers. Master and men went toiling from dawn to dusk under a spell, busy, tireless as gnomes, faithful as knights to their trust. Their zeal was quick with the devotion to a cause that went out with coat-armour. Rough weather might chill one iron, but another was plucked from the fire ere the first was cold. There never was seen such energy. Place and purpose together held them in thrall. Had encouragement been needed, the death of every day showed some material gain. Foot by foot the kingdom was being restored.
Whether the goddess of the estate had charmed Patch also, it is not for me to say. He was certainly a happy fellow. Life had apparently developed into one long, glorious ramble, which nothing but nightfall could curtail. To his delight, too, Anthony and the other men showed an unexpected and eventful interest in stones and boughs and ditches and drains, and sometimes they even dragged trees along the ground for him to bark at. It is to be hoped that he also expressed his gratitude of nights......
If he has not done so this night, it is too late now, for he is stretched upon the warm bricks in a slumber which will allow of no orisons this side of to-morrow.
Let us take his tip, gentlemen. The night is young, I know, but Anthony has been abroad since cock-crow. Besides, I have led you a pretty dance. You have, in fact, tramped for miles—'tis two and an odd furlong to the old grey house alone—and the going is ill, as you know, and the night, if young, is evil. A whole gale is coming, and the woods are beside themselves. The thrash of a million branches, the hoarse booming of the wind, lend to the tiny chamber an air of comfort such as no carpets nor arras could induce. The rain, too, is hastening to add its insolence to the stew. That stutter upon the pane is its advance-guard....