Anthony's task was less simple. Apart from his compliance with the Law—a painful and embarrassing ordeal, which Mr. Plowman fussily stage-managed, dressing every detail with such importance that the layman's wonder melted gradually to a profound contempt—there was much to be learned. That all was in beautiful order saved the situation. And a letter, addressed to him in Winchester's bold handwriting, proved a master-key to the mysteries of income and outgoings.
... There's three hundred on deposit at the Bank. That's to cover the immediate expense of putting me away. Now look at Sheet 7. That's last year's balance-sheet. That'll show you I was well within my income. All the same, expenses will have to be cut—to provide for me. The wages must stand, and so must the "Horses and Stalling" (Book 2). Don't part with the roan. There'll be times when you'll have to go to Town, as I did, for odd accessories. "Tools and Materials" (Book 3) will have to suffer, but we're well set up now, so you ought to pull through....
There was an invitation, too, to live at the mansion, which Anthony did not accept. Twice a week he would visit the office and work there faithfully, but he could not bring himself to live in the house.
Apart from the manner in which the blow had been dealt him, he felt the loss of his employer most bitterly. He found the tragedy even more piteous than terrible. That so rude an axe should have been laid so untimely to the root of so glorious a tree filled him with sorrow. That the tree should have heard the step of the woodman on his way to the felling, haunted his memory.
So far, however, as Lyveden's health of mind was concerned, itself grievously inopportune, the catastrophe could not have happened at a more opportune moment. Trading upon the heels of his encounter with Valerie, it made a terrific counter-irritant to the violent inflammation which that meeting had set up. Yet if the back of the sickness was broken, disorder and corrective, alike so drastic, were bound seriously to lower the patient's tone. His splendid physical condition supported its brother Mind and saw him well of his faintness, but the two red days left their mark. Looking back upon them later, Anthony found them made of the stuff of which dreams are woven—bitter, monstrous dreams, wherein the impossible must be performed lest a worse thing befall and a malignant eye peers beneath stones which even Misery herself would leave unturned. How he had parted with Valerie he was uncertain. He could not remember her going. Of her coming he knew nothing at all. She had appeared and, he supposed, disappeared. Of Winchester's attack upon him, and the subsequent chase, his memory was clearer. How he had escaped, however, at the foot of the brier-clad slope, he could not conceive. He could have sworn that for the last thirty paces the man was not three feet behind....
He was thankful to get back to work, and plainly immensely relieved to find that, during his absence, the others had made such progress with the paling that the scene of his employer's seizure had been left well behind.
A week had elapsed since that cloud-burst, and, as before, Lyveden was finishing his lunch, when he noticed that Stokes, the second carpenter, had not returned. The fellow had gone to his quarters, to fetch some implement, nearly an hour before. When another half-hour had gone by, Anthony, in some impatience, dispatched Blake for the tool. Twenty minutes later the latter returned, chisel in hand, but with no news of his mate. When it was five o'clock and there was still no sign of Stokes, Anthony struck work and ordered an organized search. It seemed rather hopeless, but, on the whole, the best thing to do. The man was missing. If possible, more zealous than any, it was unthinkable that he was playing truant. He could not have been spirited away. Anthony supposed gloomily that he had met with a mishap. There was, indeed, no other solution.
It was getting quite dark when they found him down in a little dell upon a patch of greensward. Considering that he was a joiner, and not a sexton, he had made remarkable progress with a very creditable grave, which, he explained, was to receive the dead with which the woods were distributed. He added that it was a disgrace to leave so many corpses lying about, and pointed out that he had removed his boots for fear of treading upon them.
When they sought to humour him, he became suspicious and violent, and there was quite a struggle before he was overpowered.
THE POWER OF THE DOG
The accident was inevitable.
Everybody present, except the driver of the green taxi, saw that. And he was so fearful lest the driver of the red omnibus should lose one withering participle of the apostrophe he had provoked, that he could not be bothered with the exigencies of traffic and the Rule of the Road.
Everybody, including Mr. Justice Molehill, shouted impotently; a small page, on his way to the postoffice, stood agonizedly upon one leg; and a moment later there was a splintering crash, the blue taxi shed a cabin-trunk and a suit-case on to the pavement, and then, after a paralyzing moment of indecision, came heavily to rest against the panels of its aggressor.
Now, his lordship had no desire to become embroiled in a dispute which might easily beget a subpoena. Still, because of his elevation to the Bench, he had not resigned the fellowship of Man, and, since he was the nearest individual to the blue taxi, he stepped to it quickly and opened the door.
A man of about sixty years emerged gratefully. His cassock and the purple about his hat argued him a prelate of the Catholic Church.
"Thank you so much ... No, I'm not hurt at all. I sat still because——"
"Good heavens!" cried the Judge. "I know you." The other peered at him in the half-light. "My name's Molehill. We met at Rome—over a deathbed will."
The prelate started. Then recollection came twinkling into his gentle eyes.
"Of course," he said, putting out his hand. "I remember perfectly. Before the War. How very strange that——"
"It's Fate," said the Judge excitedly. "Or Providence. For the last three months I've been racking my brain for your name, so that I could get into——".
"Forest," said the other.
Sir Giles Molehill slapped himself upon the thigh.
"That's right!" he cried. "Forest! John Forest!"
The presence of a rapidly increasing crowd and four constables at once discountenanced any further ebullition of glee, and emphasized the discretion of withdrawal.
The Judge thought rapidly.
"Look here," he continued, "my club's just over there." He nodded across the street. "If you'll wait a moment, I'll fetch the commissionaire. He can take charge of your luggage, and then, if you'll come in and have some tea with me, I shall be delighted."
"You're very good," said the other.
Mr. Justice Molehill hastened away....
Ten minutes later the two men were seated before a comfortable fire, absorbed in each other's conversation.
"That will," said the Judge, "which you and I witnessed in 1914 has never been proved."
"That," said his guest, "is, I fear, my fault. At the present moment it's lying in a drawer of my writing-table at Rome."
"No?" cried his lordship, twittering.
Monseigneur Forest nodded.
"If you remember," he said, "after you and I had witnessed the old gentleman's signature, I took charge of it."
"That's right. You were going to take it to the British Consulate, to see if——"
"They'd stamp it. Exactly. Well, I was too late that day. I attended the next morning, and, after a little difficulty, they consented, for what it was worth, to put a seal on it. Then I went back to the hotel. When I asked whether the testator was still alive, they told me he'd gone."
"Gone?" cried the Judge incredulously. "But the man was dying."
"Dying or not, he'd left for Paris that morning. To the amazement of the manager he had quietly walked into the office, asked for his bill, and ordered a cab to be sent for and his luggage to be brought down. Apparently the doctor attending him had tried to protest, and had been sent away with a flea in his ear. I can only assume that the old fellow was subject to some violent malady, which comes and goes suddenly, one of whose attacks he has been warned will prove fatal."
"What an amazing thing!" said his lordship. "It never occurred to me that he would survive the night. However, as it happens, it doesn't affect the validity of that will. He's dead now. He died in 1917. But the will that was proved and is lying at Somerset House was made in 1910."
"You mean to say that the will we witnessed supersedes it?"
The prelate covered his eyes.
"Dear me," he said. "Dear me. I blame myself very much. I should have sent the document after him, of course. His address was there. I quite intended to. But I had to leave for Vienna very suddenly upon the next day. Instead of the days I had expected, I was away for months. I only returned upon the eve of the explosion——"
"And, naturally, you forgot all about it. So did I. The merest accident brought the whole thing to my mind."
"Accidents all the way," said the priest.
The Judge smiled.
"It looks like it," he agreed. "To be short, I came across the man in whose favour our will was made. Such a nice-looking fellow—obviously without a penny. Earning his living as a servant. Lyveden, his name was—Anthony Lyveden. Don't let me raise your hopes. I've lost him again—utterly. But everything's happening in the right order. It was no good finding him just to make his mouth water."
"But the other will," said his guest. "What about that? Haven't its provisions been given effect to?"
"That," said Sir Giles, tapping him on the shoulder, "is the beauty of it. We're upsetting nobody. The other will leaves Lyveden every penny, provided he becomes a Knight."
"What an infamous condition!"
"There you have the story. Upon what he believes to be his deathbed, the old fellow repents his harshness. Recovered, our Pharaoh hardens his heart and lets the old will stand. 'The Devil was sick, the Devil a monk would be.'"
"De mortuis," said the prelate. "Besides, now we're going to canonize him, willy nilly."
"With any luck," smiled the Judge. "Can you send for the document?"
Ruefully Monseigneur Forest shook his head.
"I must go for it," he said. "I must return at once. It's the least I can do. 'Without a penny,' you said? Poor fellow. I was going into the country to-morrow, to stay with my niece. But that must wait."
"We haven't found him yet," said his lordship.
"That may be the deuce of a business. Of course, now our hands are free. With the will located, we can advertise. I think, perhaps, though, we'd better wait till we've produced it to the solicitors."
The priest agreed heartily. Then he counted upon his fingers. After a moment's calculation—
"I'm not as young as I was," he said, "but, if all goes well, I'll meet you here a week from to-day with the will in my pocket."
Tea and the comparison of notes upon matters of moment, other than the fortunes of Anthony, occupied another half-hour, when, after exchanging addresses, the two men parted, pledged to meet again in seven days' time.
The Judge walked home thoughtfully.
The queer little play was almost over. The strange human document which it had pleased him to piece together was almost whole. He found himself wondering why he had shown such solicitude. After all, who was this Anthony Lyveden? Why had he been at such pains to set this beggar upon horseback? Perhaps Fate had meant him to walk.... If she had, she was playing a curious game. Thanks to her efforts, the fellow's toe was practically in the stirrup. And he himself—Lyveden—had no idea of it....
Mr. Justice Molehill smiled.
It was really an entertaining little play. Until it was time for his entrance, the leading character would not even know that he was taking part. There he was——
The smile died suddenly, as the reflection lost its savour.
Where? Where was the leading character? Supposing, when the time came, he could not be found.... Into what a dismal fiasco the play would turn. All his interest would have been thrown away. His solicitors would have been investigating a lost cause. Forest would have been sent packing back to Rome upon a fool's errand....
Mr. Justice Molehill gnawed at his lower lip.
There was no doubt about it. For some reason which, for all his prudence, he could not perceive, this Hecuba was a great deal to him.
His bewilderment may be excused. The reason was out of his ken. The truth is, there was a ghost to be laid, and Fate had chosen him for the job. Judge or corner-boy, the man himself did not matter. The lot falling upon him, he had become in this adventure the particular agent of Fate.
King or herdsman, jester or sage, croupier or harridan—lend her what personality you please—Fate hath the reins and so the laugh of the universe. Ever at its rump, her pricks are insensible alike to kicks or kisses. Folly, sceptre or rake in hand, she stands or sprawls upon Eternity, bending the ages to her whim. And we, poor things, at once her instruments and butts, stumble about her business, thinking it ours, setting each other up, bringing each other low, spoking each other's wheels and all the time, wise in our own conceit, basking in the sunshine of our fine free-will, like lack-brains toasting their shanks before an empty cage.
A Napoleon is still-born; a Medici never survives his swaddling-clothes. Into the tiny graves are huddled a million destinies. The sexton's shovel smothers up a Renaissance; soon the daisies will blow above History. Those eyebrows are lifted, that lip curls, and two fair homes go down in sorrow. This man misses a train, to travel with Fortune in the one that follows. A horse is beaten on the post, and the frantic clerk who has backed it goes for five years to gaol. Five years.... What are five years to Fate? A cable-operator nods over the Wheatstone, and a king loses his crown. A witness hesitates, and an estate passes to the bastard and to his heirs for ever....
And so the game goes on.
The living grains of sand go slipping and sliding into place in that gigantic hour-glass, striving and fretting in their vanity, but always impotently falling towards that thin neck, where days are numbered and the punctilious turnstile ushers to those mysterious marches where there is no more Time.
Look at them here.
Judge and maiden jostling a prelate—one upon either side—each of them in a toss about the same Anthony Lyveden, yet neither aware of the other's existence, and all four falling, while they fret, first into place and presently, one by one, towards that thin neck where days are numbered....
What? Have I whipped up a puppet without advising you? Bear with me, sirs. 'Tis but the rustle of a gown—a silk knee against satin—upon the staircase. In another moment I shall have opened the door.
The more Monseigneur Forest thought upon the matter, so suddenly thrust smoking before him, the more uneasy he became. The kindest of men, he found the picture of the poor legatee fighting for existence when, but for another's remissness, he would have had a goodly heritage, inexpressibly distressing. Indeed, could he have started for Rome that night he would have done so. But for the knowledge that he was about to do all in his power to rectify the wrong, he could not have slept. As it was, the reflection that Anthony Lyveden had yet to be found worried him greatly. It was, of course, most unfortunate that the business had not cropped up before. Here he was on his way to Hampshire, in response to a cry so instant that he had set everything on one side, and now, however sore her need of him, his niece, Miss Valerie French, would have to wait. Blood might be thicker than water, but the poor pinched ghost that had been knocking so long upon his door took vaulting precedence of any flesh and blood. In the good man's eyes this stranger, Anthony Lyveden, had earned and must be accorded the privileges of the dead.
Directly he reached his hotel he sat down at his bed-room table and indited a letter.
1st March, 1921.
My DEAR VALERIE,
I am, as you see, in London.
Till an hour ago I was on my way to you. Now I must leave again for Rome to-morrow morning.
By accident there has come to me the knowledge of a grievous wrong, for which I am largely responsible. This, mercifully, it may be in my power to repair. To attempt to do so, however, necessitates my immediate return in quest of a paper which none but I can procure.
You can guess, my dear, how very much distressed I am that I must keep you waiting, but, if I told you the case, you would be the first to hale me to the station.
I shall return straightway to England—that is, so soon as my years permit—and, all being well, I shall be here again one week from to-day, and with you at Bell Hammer one week from to-morrow.
You did not tell me the nature of your trouble, so that I can offer no counsel; if, as I suspect, it concerns the man of whom you have already written to me, remember, for what it is worth, that my faith in him has never wavered from the moment you told me that he had won your love.
Your affectionate uncle, JOHN FOREST.
To the prelate, who framed it, that letter was the best he could do: to Miss Valerie French, who received it, it was a great disappointment: and to an eminent brain-specialist, who had never heard of it, it was worth exactly three guineas.
* * * * *
"I should have come to you before," said Valerie, "but I was expecting my uncle, and wanted to ask his advice before I took such a step. But now he's delayed, and I can't wait any longer."
Sir Willoughby Sperm leaned forward and picked up a pen.
"One moment," he said, taking a sheet from a drawer. "Now then. What is the patient's name?"
"Major Anthony Lyveden, D.S.O.," said Valerie. "L-Y-V-E-D-E-N."
The name was entered.
Valerie hesitated. Then—
"Gramarye, Chipping Norton," she said.
The address went down.
"I think about thirty."
"Not that I know of."
"When did you see him last?"
"Eleven days ago."
"And before that?"
"Not for three months."
"And his demeanour had changed in the interval?"
"Are you engaged to him?"
"Were you engaged to him?"
"And it was broken off?"
"I broke it off."
"I suspected him of inconstancy."
"Did you tell him so?"
"He left the neighbourhood."
"That was three months ago?"
"Was your meeting eleven days ago accidental or by arrangement?"
"I visited him unexpectedly."
"In the hope of reconciliation?"
"How did he take it?"
"The reconciliation was effected?"
"But his demeanour has changed?"
"In what way?"
"He seems infatuated with his work."
"To the exclusion of you?"
"Exactly. It's as if in the interval he'd become a priest, and, although he still loved me, he was no longer free."
"What is his work?"
"Restoring an estate—the place he lives at—Gramarye. It's a very large estate—nearly all woods—and it's been entirely neglected for a number of years. He and some others, including the owner, are working to get it straight—re-making roads, building bridges, cutting down trees. It sounds Quixotic, but I can see the fascination. Besides, he took the work of necessity. He's very poor."
"He seemed to consider himself devoted to the service of the estate?"
"Did he exhibit any one particular mental symptom?"
"He heard things which I could not hear."
"Did he say what they were?"
"When he heard them, his eyes..."
"—were the eyes of a fanatic."
There was a long silence, while the pen was busy upon the broad sheet. Then—
"He should be seen," said Sir Willoughby, "by a specialist without his knowing it. I can't go down. Later, I may be of use. I hope you won't need me. The obvious thing to do is to get him away. But, if you can't do that, no one can—peaceably. D'you think you could try again?"
"I feel it would be waste of time," said Valerie. "You say some one should see him. Can you tell me who to go to?"
"D'you know Dr. Heron?" Valerie shook her head. "He assists me a lot. If he can go, I know of no one better. Would you like me to speak to him?"
"I should be very grateful."
Sir Willoughby pressed a bell. To his secretary, who answered the summons—
"I want to speak to Dr. Heron," he said.
In silence the girl withdrew.
Whilst the two were waiting, the physician spoke very kindly.
"I'm not going to express any opinion, because it would be valueless. It's clear that there's something wrong, but I've seen so many recoveries."
"Which you have brought about," smiled Valerie.
"I can never do more than contribute. I can only advise. It is the executive that works the cure. That's why I'm so hopeful about Major Lyveden."
"Such as the devotion of relatives."
"He has no relatives."
"Or, better still," said the doctor, "the love of a great-hearted lady." The muffled bell of a telephone interrupted. "Excuse me." He picked up the receiver. "Is that you, Heron? ... Can you see a friend of mine this afternoon? ... At four-thirty?" Sir Willoughby looked at Valerie with raised eyebrows. She nodded quickly. "Yes. That'll do ... Miss French. Miss Valerie French ... A case in the country ... Urgent ... She wants your report. I won't say any more. She'll tell you better than I. Ring me up, if you like, before you go. Good-bye." He pushed the instrument away and turned to Valerie. "I'll have another word with him when you've told him your tale."
"Thank you so very much."
Having laid three guineas upon the table under the decent cover of a photograph frame, Valerie rose to her feet. Sir Willoughby rose also and passed to the door. As he held it open, he put out his hand.
Valerie took it and held it.
"Nobody could have been kinder," she said.
The physician smiled.
"Try not to worry," he said. "I haven't seen Gramarye, but I don't think she'll stay the course. Not if you set the pace...."
* * * * *
It was the following Sunday morning that, after considerable hesitation, Lyveden issued an order which he could well have spared. The instruction was addressed to the younger of his two carters, and was touching the man and the dog-cart and a seven-mile drive. In a word, it had become expedient that Major Anthony Lyveden should go up to Town.
His employer had warned him that periodical visits to London would be found indispensable. For all his dislike of the world, Winchester had had to pay them from time to time. Now that the latter was gone from Gramarye, and Anthony reigned in his stead, the duty, when it arose, fell to his lot. Never relishing the idea, he would not have believed that it could become so odious. Ere it had taken shape, it loomed vexatious. Looking it in the face, he found it repulsive. No recluse could have been more reluctant to leave his hermitage. Major Anthony Lyveden felt positively nervous.
Since he had been in charge the man had altered.
He, who in the old days had shouldered with a smile responsibilities which would have set his elders sweating with apprehension, found the light weight of Gramarye a fardel to make him stagger. This was out of all order. Had he lain sick for a month, the work would have gone as steadily. The truth is, he was investing the conduct of a waggoner's team with the nicety requisite to the control of a tandem of thoroughbreds. That Lyveden of all men in the world should make such a costly mistake showed that his nerves were hagridden.
For all his dread of it, however, the visit to London could not conveniently be postponed. The need of some of the items upon his little list of accessories had become urgent, imperilling the work upon the estate. A few hours in the Metropolis would be enough. He knew where to go. Two addresses in the City and another in Drury Lane would see the whole of his pilgrimage....
With a sigh, the ex-officer had locked up the safe and, leaving the cold grey parlour, whence he administered, passed out of the echoing mansion into the careless frolic of a fine March morning.
As he had expected, the younger of the two carters was in the stables, and Anthony gave his order without more ado. Then he whistled to his Sealyham and started for home.
After a wild night the unrepentant winds were full of mischief. A monstrous dignity of fleecy clouds scudded undignified across the blue. The precious park became a tossing waste of woodland, teased into flurried liveliness, full of false starts and misdirection, instantly buffeted for every blunder and bellowing good-natured protests at every cuff. Respectable brown leaves chased one another down the tracks; dark sober pools slapped their confining banks; the steady flow of brooks faltered irresolute.
Nature herself being so roughly used, be sure that man and beast were plagued unconscionably. Anthony's hat was sent whirling, and his terrier's ears were flicked inside out at the first corner. Not that they cared—either of them—for the sunlight leapt with a joy that took the sting out of the horseplay and turned the edge of the devilment. The day was as good as a tonic. By the time they had sighted their cabin the two were revelling.
Not until he was on the point of entering the cottage did Anthony notice the artist. Seated upon the traditional camp-stool, the latter was sketching busily some twenty-five paces away. Apparently absorbed in his work, he never so much as threw the newcomers a glance, and Lyveden was more than half minded to let him be. Patch, however, thought differently. Even as his master turned to the door, there was a low growl, and a moment later the Sealyham was baying the intruder as if he had been a convict.
Calling the dog sharply, Lyveden advanced to apologize.
The lazy brown eyes hardly looked at him, and the slender fingers never left their work for an instant; but a pleasant smile leapt into the stranger's face, and, ere the apology was voiced, he spoke with the utmost good humour.
"Please don't scold him. He's perfectly right. I'm a trespasser and a vagabond. I have no visible means of subsistence, and, if these things are crimes, I'm an habitual criminal. If you really don't want me to draw your cottage, I'll stop. But you must say so right out. And it isn't the cottage so much as the background I'm after. To be frank, this looks a promising place. I'm out for woodland—something that's not too tidy."
Anthony smiled grimly.
"Orderliness," he said, "is hardly our forte at present. The park's been Nature's playground for over a century, and she's made the most of her time."
"You sound," said the other, "as if you had authority. Am I free of the place, or not?"
For a second Anthony hesitated. Strangers were not to his taste. There was, however, a quiet careless indifference about the fellow's manner which was reassuring. Moreover, he liked the look of him, there was nothing monstrous about his attire—he might have stepped off a golf-course—and there was a kindly expression upon the intellectual face. Somehow the droop of a fair moustache subscribed to the suggestion of laziness which the eyes had put forward. Indeed, his whole demeanour argued the simple creed "Live, and let live."
Lyveden had just decided to give the required encouragement when the other knocked out his pipe.
"That's all right," he said lightly. "I never take offence. And I'm a rare believer in privacy. If I had a place in the country I should have a ten-foot wall about it and a guard-room at every lodge. It's not that I'm a misanthrope, but to my mind there's not much point in ownership if you don't——"
"I expect you'd issue some passports," said Anthony. "Any way, please don't go. And, if Gramarye's what you want, you're free to come and work whenever you like. Nobody'll say anything to you; but if they did—I'm going to Town to-morrow—my name's Lyveden, and I'm the—the agent here."
"You're very good," said the artist; and with that he filled his pipe and set to work again.
Anthony went about his business.
By the time he had washed Patch, the stranger was gone.
Dusk was falling ere Lyveden saw him again—a tall, thin figure striding up the track from the depths of Gramarye. As he passed the cottage, the ex-officer hailed him, offering to house his paraphernalia for the night. After a moment's hesitation, the other accepted.... With the interior of the cabin he was plainly delighted, pointing his host a score of engaging features which only an antiquary would have recognized. Anthony gave him some tea, and the two sat smoking for the inside of an hour.
At length the artist rose.
"I must get back to Girdle," he said. "About two miles, isn't it?"
"About that. I won't say 'Good-bye.' If Gramarye suits you, perhaps I shall see you again."
"Thanks to your laisser passer, you may. I want to get on to Woodstock, really; but your woods are worth a day or two. Good night."
He swung off into the darkness, and a minute later Anthony heard his steps upon the metalling of the London road.
It was upon the following afternoon that Lyveden swore under his breath. At the time in question he was standing in a large efficient-looking shop which smelt strongly of cordage and was situate in Drury Lane.
The manager was nervously apologetic.
"They've bin on order a week now, sir, but I can't honestly say as I expects them under three. You know what labour is now. In the ole days it was a matter o' 'phonin', an' hanythin' you liked 'd be 'ere by special messenger in 'alf an hour. But now...."
He threw up his hands helplessly.
"Where else can I try?" said Lyveden.
The man mentioned two or three stores—each of them in the City.
"But I don' think you'll get 'em, sir. You might get an hodd one, but 'alf a dozen o' 'Lightnin'' mattocks at the moment is worth their weight."
With a sigh Anthony bowed to the inevitable.
"There's my address," he said, handing the man a slip of paper. "Send me a card the moment they come in."
"I'll set six aside for you, sir."
He paid for the goods he had purchased, had them placed in a taxi, and drove to Paddington.
He was so ridiculously glad to see the station again that the ordinarily provoking discovery that he had lost the return half of his ticket but twitched the hem of his temper. With a rueful smile he determined to deduct the price of his carelessness from his next week's wages.
The fact that he had broken no bread since breakfast never occurred to him. His one idea was to get back to Gramarye. Not that the dreaded visit had proved exacting. Indeed, as was to be expected, London had roared as gently as any sucking dove. It was with no true sense of relief that he watched the bustling platforms recede. Them and their fellows, the streets, he bore no grudge. Hideously crowded as they were, he felt almost kindly disposed towards them. He could afford to be magnanimous. He was on his way back. An hour or so, and he would stand once more under the grateful shadow of his sanctuary....
He had no newspaper, nor any need of one. The flitting landscape, the regular pounding of the wheels were declaring tidings precious beyond price. A hundred times he wished the compartment empty save for himself, that he might have exulted openly. As it was, he was reduced to hugging himself surreptitiously, to staring upon the window and winking at his elusive reflection, which he could dimly focus in the stout pane. After a while he became pitiful of his fellow-travellers. As like as not, poor devils, they thought they were well off. And here beside them sat one who was bound for Gramarye. Anthony hugged himself anew. Then another station flashed by, before his feverish eyes could read the name, to set him twittering with speculation....
By the time the train steamed into Chipping Norton, the ex-officer was trembling all over.
To Patch, who had spent the day in the wood-shed, his master's return to the cottage was the signal for an undisguised explosion of ecstasy. Herein, as the noise of the roan's hoofs died away, he was unexpectedly joined by Anthony, and for a long two minutes the two wallowed in a pure paroxysm of glee.
It is to be noted, however, that while the terrier presently dispatched a generous supper with every indication of relish, his master left his untasted. Of the cold well-water the latter was undeniably glad, drinking great draughts and presently drawing more and washing luxuriously. Then he drew more and drank again, but he could touch no food. Neither, tired as he was, could he sit still before the fire....
Two hours later he stumbled across his threshold like a drunken man. Another draught of water revived him somewhat, and, after resting a little in the Windsor chair, he mounted the tiny staircase and went shakily to bed.
* * * * *
Eight days later the artist with the lazy eyes rose from his leather-topped table to greet Miss Valerie French.
Handing her to a chair, he resumed his seat, and, after a word or two upon the weather, turned straight to the point.
"I saw Major Lyveden for the first time last Sunday week. We met in the morning, and he gave me tea the same afternoon. The next day he went up to London—on business of some sort—but I saw him on Tuesday and again on Friday and Saturday.
"I don't propose to trouble you with technical terms. All the same, it's not always possible for a medical man to render his language literally into the King's English. Now and again I shall give you rather a free translation, so you mustn't hold me too tight to anything I may say. I tell you this, because I'm going to state facts and not hand you mere expressions of opinion."
Valerie nodded intelligently, and the speaker cleared his throat.
"Now, Miss French, one thing is manifest. If Major Lyveden remains at Gramarye, he will lose his reason." The doctor paused, and for the first time Valerie noticed the sober, methodical tick of a grandfather's clock. This, so far from spoiling, served to enrich the silence investing the latter with an air of couchant dignity which was most compelling. "He is at present the prey of certain malignant forces—the more immediate of them natural; some, I believe, unnatural—and nothing short of his removal from where he is now can set him free. I'm not certain that even removal will be entirely effective. But it's obviously the first step. If a man is down with malaria, the first thing to do is to get him out of the swamp."
Valerie was very pale, but her voice did not tremble.
"And supposing he won't leave...?"
"He must be taken away—forcibly. Listen. At the village inn I picked up a lot of news. All sorts of rumours are current—all touching Gramarye. Most of them are nonsense, and I won't repeat them. Others are founded on hard fact. Have you heard of a Colonel Winchester?"
"Major Lyveden spoke of him as his employer."
"That's right. He owns the estate, and was the working manager of this restoration business."
"Was?" breathed the girl.
"Was. Three weeks ago he went mad." Valerie started violently. "It's said that he tried to kill Lyveden. That I can't answer for, but he's in a private asylum for dangerous lunatics."
There was a painful silence. Then—
"Is—is it the place?" said Valerie faintly.
The specialist rose to his feet and started to pace the room.
"As a doctor, I ought to say 'No'; as a man who has spent the inside of a week there, I'm moved to say 'Yes.' Surroundings can depress or elevate, of course. That's common knowledge. But there's something more than that here. In the village they told me the place was accursed. Nonsense, of course. Yet—— Honestly, Miss French, I don't know how to tell you... There's—there's a dreadful sinister attraction about the park: there's an unearthly magnetism about the woods—a queer, wistful fascination about the wilderness. At Girdle they swore it was birdless. It may be. There are such places. I certainly saw neither bird nor beast while I was there. And that's not natural. But it's not what you see and hear: it's what you feel. It's terribly hard to explain, but the place appeals most powerfully to the emotions. You feel an irresistible impulse to go to Something's assistance. Of course my eyes were skinned, so I saw the treachery. But I felt the appeal." He halted and threw out a hand. "Imagine a serpent disguised as a beautiful woman in distress—that's Gramarye. And if I'd been there a month, instead of a week——" He stopped suddenly, like a man whose tongue has run away and made a fool of its governor. "And now please forget what I've said. It doesn't affect the case. I went down to see whether there was reason to fear for Major Lyveden's sanity. I've found that there is. And I advise that he be taken away forthwith."
"To a home?"
"A private house would be better. If it became necessary, he could be moved. But he shouldn't be allowed to have an inkling that his mind is in danger."
"I'd be thankful to have him at Bell Hammer."
"Yes," said Valerie. "In Hampshire."
The doctor resumed his seat and crossed his legs.
"You're prepared to undertake it?" he said. "I mean, it may be a very trying responsibility."
"Dr. Heron, I hope to become Major Lyveden's wife."
The specialist nodded.
"Good. Do you wish me to arrange his removal?"
"Very well. Have you a closed car?"
Valerie shook her head.
"Because," said Heron, "he will resist. It doesn't matter."
"I've two friends who will help me."
"Young strong men?"
"Can you trust your chauffeur?"
"Good. Now let's see." He turned the page of a diary and then returned it. "To-morrow's Tuesday. I don't want to waste any time, but we can't rush things. Please have a room at Bell Hammer ready on Friday. I'll arrange for two nurses to go to you that afternoon. I shall go back to Girdle to-morrow evening. I hope I shall want your two friends and the chauffeur with the car during the week-end, but I may have to wait. In any event, I shall wire to you at Bell Hammer, giving them twenty-four hours' notice and telling them where to come. Please tell the chauffeur to have enough petrol and spares to go from Girdle to Hampshire without a break."
"Is that everything?" said Valerie.
"Almost. There's just this. We ought to arrive by night; but I want you to leave all instructions and go to bed."
"I can't do that, doctor. I'll promise not to appear, until you send for me, but——"
"That'll do. That's what I want. Don't think I'm being professional. Remember, I've taken Sperm at his word, and spoken more frankly to you than ever I've done in my life."
"I'm more than content," said Valerie. "You and Sir Willoughby have been just wonderful."
"That's the epithet he and I keep for you, Miss French." They rose and shook hands. "And since of your amazing self-control you've asked no questions, I'll make you a present of an answer. In my opinion, he will recover completely."
Valerie caught her breath sharply, began to tremble violently, and then burst into tears.
* * * * *
Order means much to me, gentlemen. Indeed, I believe in the dame. To fall foul of her ruling does not like me at all. Unless, however, I am to play the diarist, there are times when I have no choice but to retrace my steps. This is one of them. Four windy days must be clapped back on to the hasty calendar—four days, sirs, of which three do not matter, while the fourth, or first—whichever way you look at it—concerns us mightily. In a word, it was upon the eleventh day of March that poor Mr. Slumper was also among the prophets.
66 Bedford Row, London, W.C. 11th March, 1921.
Anthony Lyveden, Esq.
We understand that this gentleman was recently in your service.
We have to make to him a communication of the utmost importance, and one which it will be to his great advantage to receive.
Since, however, we have already addressed to him one letter c/o yourself, to which we have had no reply, and since we have reason to believe that he has quitted your service, we shall be much obliged if you will be so good as to inform us where he may now be found, or, failing that, the address to which he proceeded on leaving your house. If you should be unable to give us this information, we shall be grateful for any suggestion you may be in a position to make as to the probability of his present whereabouts.
We are, dear sir, Yours faithfully, BULRUSH & Co.
Joseph Bumble, Esq., The Shrubbery, Hawthorne, Hants.
Mr. Slumper was in the act of preparing to fold the letter before inserting it in the envelope which he had carefully addressed, when he saw the words "Anthony Lyveden."
For a moment he stared at them. Then, glancing furtively round, for it was no business of his to read the letters for whose dispatch he was responsible, he subjected the sheet to a hurried perusal.
What he read excited him. There was no doubt about that. In a moment his nerves were at leapfrog. Fingers and lips and eyelids all flickered and fidgeted in a manner painful to see. Twice he half rose from his chair, only to sink back upon the edge, twittering.... Here was an intention with no drive behind it. The truth is, the back of Mr. Slumper's will was broken in twain.
The exact moment at which the fracture had occurred cannot be stated with any certainty. A sentence of three months' imprisonment in the second division was not responsible. The smash was before that. Probably it came with the realization that he stood beneath the shadow of the Criminal Law. Be that as it may, the ex-financier emerged from prison a broken man. But for the interest of Mr. Blithe, the senior partner of Bulrush & Co., who had had him met at the gates and straightway sent him for a month to the seaside, poor Mr. Slumper must have sunk like a stone. When he was fit to follow an occupation, he was encouraged to accept a living wage, the work of an office-boy, and a tiny room to himself....
Here, then, it was that Mr. Slumper was doing battle. How much it cost the poor sinner to pick up the letter, emerge from his closet, and make his way upstairs to Mr. Blithe's ante-chamber will never be known. That it reduced his overdraft in Heaven goes without saying. Curiously enough, the penetration of the barrier erected upon the obnoxious personality of a managing clerk proved a less formidable business than Mr. Slumper had expected. The very truculence of the fellow stung the derelict to a sudden defiance. This was but a flash in the pan—yet enough for a bully.... After a moment's delay, Mr. Slumper was admitted into the senior partner's room.
Blithe looked up with a kindly smile.
"Yes, Mr. Slumper? You want to see me?"
All his nervousness returned with such a rush as to make the ex-financier break into a sweat. But he found his voice somehow, and fell a-wondering who it was that was speaking his thoughts.
"If you please, sir. It's—it's about this letter."
He laid the sheet upon his employer's table. "I was—thanks to your goodness—addressing the envelope. I take a great interest in the work, sir: and I don't, of course, read the letters, except to obtain the addresses. But the heading of this one, sir, happened to catch my eye. The name being familiar, I took the liberty of reading the text. And—and—I'm very loth to step out of my place, sir, but, if you are seeking the whereabouts of a footman called Lyveden, sir, Anthony Lyveden, I hardly think there can be two of that name. I mean ..."
The solicitor smiled encouragingly.
"Go on, Mr. Slumper," he said.
Mr. Slumper moistened his lips.
"It will seem strange to you, sir, but he—if it is he—was in my service last summer." He passed a trembling hand across his mouth. "He left me right at the last. He was very good to—to us.... And I used to wonder sometimes what had become of him—he was a gentleman, you know. And then I saw him again...."
Blithe leaned forward.
"Last Monday, sir. At Paddington Station. I had the pleasure of fetching a bag for you, sir, from the cloakroom that afternoon." (It may be mentioned that this particular commission should have been executed by the commissionaire attached to the office. As, however, it was raining at the time, that gentleman and the managing clerk aforesaid had seen no good reason why "old Slumper" should not satisfactorily perform the duty and save his betters a wetting. Both paid for their blindness in due season. The principal was dismissed, with the result that, after a heated argument, the accessory before the fact was hit first upon the nose and then upon the left eye with all the principal's might.) "He was having some luggage labelled to go with him by train. There seemed to be some question of over-weight. I was quite close to him. Indeed, it was hearing a voice I knew that made me look at him. I heard him say, 'I'm going to Chipping Norton and on to Girdle.' I very nearly spoke to him, but——"
"You're quite sure it was he, Mr. Slumper?"
"Oh, yes, sir. I've no doubt at all."
"Splendid," said Blithe. "I'm extremely obliged to you. I shall write to Girdle at once. If, as I verily believe, you've found us our man, we shan't forget it. Of course I'll let you know as soon as I hear." The speaker rose to his feet. "So you're getting on all right, are you? I'm so glad. And keeping fairly well? That's right. Come out this way." He opened a private door. "Good morning, and thank you so much."
With a full heart Mr. Slumper passed humbly down the stairs....
Within the hour another letter came to his desk for direction. This he read without any hesitation. Indeed, the pleasurable glow of achievement which it induced ushered a gleam into the dull brown eyes such as they had not known for many a day.
66 Bedford Row, London, W.C., 11th March, 1921.
We have reason to believe that a gentleman of the name of "Anthony Lyveden" is residing in your neighbourhood. We are anxious to obtain his address in order that we may make to him a communication of the highest importance, and one which it will be to his great financial advantage to receive.
If you can furnish us with his address by return of post we shall be greatly obliged; but, if you are unable to do so, kindly cause immediate inquiries to be instituted with a view to locating him, and advise us accordingly.
Our information is that Mr. Lyveden left London for Chipping Norton en route for Girdle on Monday last, the 7th inst.
Yours faithfully, BULRUSH & Co.
S. Plowman, Esq., Solicitor, Girdle, Oxon.
If to be told that the Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice will be prepared to award you a mansion in Town, an estate in Dorsetshire—each of them, as they say, ready to walk into—and nearly three-quarters of a million of money, is to receive a communication to your great financial advantage, then Bulrush & Co. had not overstated their case.
There was no doubt about it, Anthony's ship was signalled. The pilot was going aboard. Very soon the galleon would be in the stream.
If the double journey had proved too much for John Forest, so that the prelate was compelled to rest before returning to England, at least he had sent the will by registered post. This in due season had been produced to the testator's solicitor, a benevolent gentleman of the Old School, who, after an interview with Sir Giles Molehill and Blithe at the Royal Courts of Justice, was entirely satisfied regarding its validity. Indeed, his anxiety to wash his hands of the usurper was almost voluble.
"And I may say, my lord, that I more than once spoke very warmly to my client about that iniquitous proviso which he made me insert. But, as your lordship knows, a testator has always been permitted to indulge his utmost eccentricity, and my words fell upon deaf ears. He was a difficult man, sir, was Jonathan Roach. But when the time came, and I had to break the news to young Lyveden, it was a sorry business. I'm heartily thankful it's going to be put right."
"I hope it is, Mr. Orphan," had replied the Judge. "But we've still got to find our protege. That I must leave to you and Blithe to pull off. I've done my part. But you must keep me informed, for I'm determined to be in at the death."
The two attorneys had promised faithfully, and left the Judge smiling. Benevolence and shrewdness seldom go hand-in-hand, and his lordship's words had contained a subtle instruction to Blithe to shepherd his elderly brother and not to retire from the case. The flick of an eyelid had disclosed Blithe's reception of the hint.
With what result, we know.
And that is the sum of my arrears, gentlemen. Henceforth, if you please, you shall find the street of narrative straight as a French highway, with hill and dale certainly, but none of your hairpin corners to send you doubling upon your tracks.
* * * * *
It was eleven o'clock of a Sunday morning.
Never was an hour more melodiously announced. The diverse tongues of Oxford insisted upon its arrival for fully five minutes. Indeed, the harmonious argument, which had begun as his lordship's car was nearing Magdalen Bridge, was still in progress when the great grey limousine swung out of St. Giles's and on to the Woodstock road.
All three of its occupants were in a holiday humour. The Judge was radiant; Orphan proved splendid company; while Blithe, a brilliant talker, kept the two bubbling with merriment upon a fire of delicate wit. The miles fairly melted beneath their gaiety. Indeed, it was not until the Judge's eye caught the message of an odd finger-post that any one of the three realized that they had passed Blenheim.
"CHIPPING NORTON 8!" cried his lordship. "Gad, gentlemen, we're nearly there. Blithe, you're a stage-manager in a million. The thing's going to pan out like a well-written play. What time did you tell Plowman to expect us?"
"At twelve o'clock," said Blithe. "With any luck we shall just do it nicely."
"Good!" said the Judge. Then: "I think we'd better pick up Plowman and take him with us, don't you, Orphan?"
"I think so. For one thing, he knows Lyveden and can introduce us."
"Quite so." His lordship consulted his watch. "We ought to have landed our fish by a quarter to one. We'd better mark down an hotel and carry him off to lunch. You'd better speak to him first and just make sure he's our man."
"Certainly," said Orphan. "I think if I ask him his mother's maiden name, where he was born, his age, and the name of his uncle's butler, that ought to do."
"Why the name of the butler?" said Blithe. "Is that a catch?"
"Quite right," said Orphan. "Just to make doubly sure. Old Jonathan Roach never would have a man-servant in the house. It was a whim of his. If I get the right answer, I shall be easy for ever. But I don't want to take any risks with the best part of a million at stake."
"I agree," said Sir Giles. "Have you got some cash for him?"
The other nodded and touched his coat.
"One hundred in notes and a cheque-book. I'll take his specimen signature, and put a thousand to his credit to-morrow."
"Good!" said the Judge. "That's the style. I wish poor Forest was here. He'd 've enjoyed it thoroughly. Such a pathetic letter he wrote me when he sent the will. Blames himself out of all reason for keeping the document so long. I sent him a line on Friday to say that we'd found our man. I admit it was rather precipitate, but, all things considered, I think I was justified. By the time the letter reaches him it will be a fait accompli—and I wanted to ease his mind."
"If you ask me," said Blithe, "it's all over but the shouting. The talk I had with Plowman over the telephone settled it. In fact, that was when the shouting began. Which reminds me that the trunk line from London to Girdle requires attention. It was not a conversation at all. It was a joint rhapsody."
"Personally," said the Judge, "I detest the telephone. It's a pomp and a vanity of a wicked world. You can never be sure who you're talking to, nor how many people are listening; there's no record of what you've said and no evidence that you've even said it. The invention is a convenient nuisance, conducive to blasphemy, and should be abated."
The car rolled on.
Presently, though none of them knew it, they slipped past Anthony's cottage and so down Gallowstree Hill to the village they sought.
To say that Mr. Samuel Plowman was ready and waiting in no way describes his condition. The little lawyer was wellnigh beside himself with expectation. The prospect of meeting a Justice of the King's Bench intoxicated. The possibility of entertaining such a one in the flesh and the dining-room of The Nook, Girdle, made tales of Paradise seem tame. A burning discussion with Mrs. Plowman had resulted in a decision not to offer his lordship lunch. That would be attempting too much. Cakes and ale, however, flanked by a dish of sandwiches and a tantalus, made a collation at once independent of service and adaptable to every appetite. Furniture was moved, rugs were transferred, the first floor was spoiled to turn the spare bedroom into Mr. Plowman's conception of a Judge's lavatory. It had been mutually agreed that Mrs. Plowman's presence would be intrusive, but, in the circumstances, to go soberly to church was more than the good lady could stomach. An O. P. was therefore established in the bathroom beside the geyser, to which point of vantage Mrs. Plowman undertook to repair the moment the car was heard....
The Nook standing close to a corner of the London road, seven times was the O. P. occupied and evacuated between half-past eleven and twelve, and three times did Mr. Plowman actually throw open his door and advance, nervous but beaming, into the drive, only to hear the deceitful engine once more gathering speed. The fourth time, however, the purr of the engine fell to a steady mutter, which was maintained. The car was not at the gate, but it was not moving. Possibly its occupants were inquiring for The Nook.... Mr. Plowman tried not to run down the drive. With her heart in her mouth, Mrs. Plowman peered past the geyser to where the branches of a monkey-puzzler maddeningly obstructed her view of the front gate....
Two minutes later the little solicitor reappeared, walking most delicately and attending a tall, distinguished-looking man with every circumstance of veneration. Behind them came two other strangers, who might have been equerries. That, for all his ecstasy, Mr. Plowman remembered to throw a smile up to the bathroom window, literally reduced Mrs. Plowman to tears of joy.
It was no desire for refreshment, but pure kindness of heart that moved Sir Giles Molehill to accept the attorney's invitation. And, as was his way in life, he did the thing handsomely. Did he see beer? Splendid. He would have a bottle of beer. Yes, and a sandwich. Excellent. Just the thing after an eighty-mile run. What excellent roads they kept in Oxfordshire! He never remembered better. And the Cotswold air was magnificent. Really, one had to spend one's days in a stuffy Court in Town to appreciate the country as it deserved.
"Yet we thrive on the atmosphere, bad as it is. Look at the time we live, Mr. Plowman. Who ever heard of a Judge dying? Yes. I really must have another sandwich. They're so excellent. And now we want you to come with us in the car and take us to Mr. Lyveden ... Major Lyveden, is he? Right ... D.S.O.? Good fellow. Wonder what he got that for. And then you'll come on to lunch...."
By the time they were back in the car, Mr. Plowman was upon the edge of praying for an occasion of saving his lordship's life at the expense of his own....
At the south-west corner of Gramarye the guide gave the signal, and the car was stopped. Then Plowman and Orphan alighted and passed up the wasted track. Except for a wreath of smoke curling from the chimney, the cottage might have been deserted....
"I rather expect," said Plowman, "he'll be having his dinner...."
A second later he was tapping upon the door.
For a moment there was a dead silence. Then a stealthy movement made itself heard....
The two men listened intently.
From the London road the Judge and Blithe were watching them closely.
The door remaining fast shut, Mr. Plowman knocked again.
Instantly the movement ceased. After perhaps twenty seconds it was renewed, but with a difference. The stealth had become hasty.
The two men stared at one another. Then—
"Better go in," said Orphan, with his hand on the latch.
This yielded to pressure, and the next moment the door was open.
The atmosphere prevailing in the little chamber was uninviting. There was a fire glowing upon the hearth, and the room was unpleasantly hot. From the reek of a pungent tobacco emerged an unsavoury smell of something which was not fuel, burning. Scattered about the red-brick floor were black feathers without number, and here and there amid the plumage appeared the muddy print of feet. Perched upon the logs was a pot bubbling, and by the side of the hearth an old pair of boots emitted wisps of steam. Lyveden himself was nowhere to be seen.
Plowman looked round wide-eyed, and Orphan blew disgustedly through his nose.
The former raised his voice.
"Major Lyveden," he called, smiling, "may I come in?"
There was no answer.
The two conferred in a whisper. Then Plowman cleared his throat.
"Major Lyveden!" he called. "It's Plowman speaking—Plowman, of Girdle. Can you spare me a moment?"
Still no reply was vouchsafed.
Followed by the other, Orphan advanced into the room and looked behind the door. There was no one there.
He stepped to the foot of the flight of stairs and spoke upward.
"Is Major Lyveden there?"
For a moment it seemed as if he, too, was to go unanswered. Then—
"Nao," said a voice thickly, "'e ain't. 'E's gorn aout, 'e 'as. An' won' be beck till ter-morrer."
Orphan looked sharply at Plowman. The latter shook his head, frowning, as if in denial, and lifted his voice.
"Who's that?" he snapped.
Somebody was heard to swallow. Then—
"I tell yer 'e ain't 'ere," said the voice. "'E's—'e's gorn aout."
"Who has?" said Orphan.
"Majer"—the speaker hesitated—"Major Dibdin."
The hesitancy alone would have proclaimed the impostor, and, while Plowman ran for the others, Orphan told the occupant of the bedroom, first that he was an infernal liar, secondly that he was being addressed by a magistrate, and thirdly that, unless he desired to be given into custody for stealing poultry and housebreaking, he had better descend forthwith and tell the whole truth.
As the Judge and Blithe came up, with Plowman behind them, Orphan stepped backwards out of the doorway.
"Come on," he said roughly. "Out in the air."
Barefoot, of his trepidation still grasping the carcass of what had been a black Orpington, there emerged from the cottage a filthy and evil-smelling tramp. A week's sandy stubble bristled upon his chin, the pendulous lips were twitching, the crafty eyes shifted uneasily from side to side.
The four lawyers stared upon the beastly apparition in disgusted dismay.
The sickly smile of guilty embarrassment upon their vis-a-vis' face had begun to swell into the cringing leer familiarly precedent to an appeal for leniency, when the fellow leaned forward, stared fearfully at the Judge, and, dropping the pullet with a screech, recoiled against the wall.
"I ain't done no 'arm," he cried, whimpering. "I ain't done no 'arm. I never stole that there 'en. She were dead in the way, me lord. Runned over by a cyar, she were. I only come aout last Toosday, me lord, an' tryin' ter run strite an' git a good job o' work, like wot you said, sir. It's gauze trewth I never stole that there bird. She was layin'..."
Out of a bad business the queer recognition stood solitarily opportune. Rhadamanthus' own promise of clemency in return for the truth could not have been more effective. The plain facts, however, were wofully bitter to hear.
The tramp had taken undisputed possession at eight o'clock that morning. The cottage was then empty. The fire was out and the bed in order. Upon the floor of the living-room lay the fragments of a pitcher, with the water, which this had held, settled in a pool upon the bricks. A Windsor chair was fallen, Dagon-like, upon its face, with its legs in the air. What no one could understand was the fact that the lamp, which hung from the ceiling, was still burning.
* * * * *
More or less recovered, but profoundly depressed, Monseigneur Forest reached Hampshire upon the following Thursday. He had visited the Judge in London, and learned from his mouth first the news and then the details of the unpleasant truth. His lordship's contention that Fate was opposed to their endeavours, he found it difficult to dispute. Believing that he was on his way to a triumph, he had come breathless to participate in a rout. For three days he had dandled a new-born joy, to find it stark upon the fourth....
Valerie was not at the station, but Mason was there with the car, and the poor man was glad to be alone. He was mourning a stolen opportunity to repair a great wrong, and would not be comforted. The lost legatee haunted him more tragically than ever.
As the car swept to the house he noticed two girls upon the steps.
They were interrogating the butler.
Observing his arrival they cut their inquiries short. The prelate emerged, however, in time to hear the servant's concluding words.
"No, madam. Only that the improvement was maintained. Thank you, madam."
"Who's ill?" cried Forest sharply.
The butler inclined his head.
"Major Lyveden, sir—a friend of Miss Valerie's. He——"
For all his training the servant jumped.
"Major Lyveden, sir. Major Anthony Lyveden."
Monseigneur Forest looked round helplessly. Then he put a hand to his head and sat down on the steps.
VANITY OF VANITIES
In a quiet, even tone Lyveden was talking.
The pleasant voice went steadily on, now reciting, now commenting, now lending argument, a cool dispassionate gravity that forced the ear. Facts were so clearly stated, conclusions so reasonably drawn, points so firmly made—all without a trace of emotion, yet seriously offered in the most conspicuous good faith—that it was almost impossible to realize that the speaker was insensible. But that is the way of brain-fever....
The voice faltered and stopped.
Fervently Miss French prayed that it and the frantic brain might rest from their labours. She wanted desperately to think—to be mistress of her thoughts—but, so long as the voice prevailed, the impression that she was being addressed prevented her, first because it was so vivid, and then because of its importunity.
It was half an hour since Sir Willoughby Sperm's car had rolled down the curling avenue and slipped past the tall lodge-gates. If all went well, another fortnight would elapse before the great specialist saw the patient again.
The silence continuing, Valerie fell to wondering what the two weeks would bring forth. That the fever would presently abate, and the ex-officer be spared his life, seemed highly probable. In fact, Valerie steadily refused to consider that he might weaken and die. What she was eternally asking was what would happen when the engine of the brain, at present running free, was once more engaged with the system it was used to control. Would the coupling break suddenly, and her man go an idiot for life? That she could not believe. Or would the old balance be restored, perfect as ever? There was doubt in the doctor's eyes. Was he, then, to wake stumbling upon that No Man's Land which lies between sense and idiocy? And, if so, how were his trembling steps to be guided aright? Carefully she started to weigh Sir Willoughby's words....
"What concerns me most is how to deal with his condition of mind when the fever has run its course. From what I've seen, and from what Heron has told me, I'm satisfied that it is vital that Gramarye should never again enter into his life. That park, or estate, or whatever it is, had taken such an unhealthy hold upon his imagination, that he was half-way to insanity. If Gramarye is permitted again to take the helm.... Well, the ship is half-way across—half-way across those narrow straits which divide reason from lunacy. We've got to take the helm and put it over just as hard as ever we can. You understand? In a word, if, for instance, Major Lyveden were to revisit Gramarye, I think the game would be up. That, of course, can't happen. But it is, in my opinion, of the highest importance, not only that no reference to the place should be made before him, but that we should do our utmost to direct his attention to other matters. We can't expunge the last four months from his memory—I wish we could. Half the asylums in England would be empty if we could do that. But we can avert our eyes from the record, and we can try to avert his."
'Try to avert his.' How? Anthony was not an infant, to be beguiled with a rattle when he cried for a blade. And if Gramarye was proposing 'again to take the helm,' who was to stop her? Had Miss French put that question to Sir Willoughby, he would have replied, "Yourself." For that reason she had not asked him. Again and again he had insisted that, if the mischief was to be mended at all, it would be at her hand....
There were times when the thought terrified her, when the panic fear of the condemned sat in her eyes. For Valerie knew it was just. It was she who had brought a gallant gentleman to this pass—she who had smashed the exquisite wonder of melody their hearts had danced to—she who had hacked asunder the silken bridge of love and sent her lover into the arms of Gramarye.
Her solitary visit to the park stood out of the girl's memory like a snow-covered peak, vivid and frozen. There was no mercy there. What was far worse, there was an unearthly appeal. Flesh and blood were one thing, but a wild mystery of woodland, the desolate grandeur of a ruined park, the majestic havoc of a proud estate—these were another matter. Looking upon her rival's face, she found it notable.... Valerie set her white teeth. That its beauty was a mask hiding some dreadful influence, made her heart faint within her....
Yet, if this fainted, it always revived. Valerie French was well-plucked. If it was ordained that she should fight with Black Magic, with Black Magic she would fight. It was her own fault.... It was typical of the girl that the fact that she had already paid very heavily never once occurred to her. She had called the tune without asking how much it would cost. That the piper's bill was so long was due to her recklessness. She did not dispute the account.
For the hundredth time she wondered what line Gramarye would take....
It seemed, mercifully, that the fell influence of the estate was not to have things all its own way. While the sick man in his delirium talked much of Gramarye, he spoke of Valerie too—frequently. For hours together, sometimes, he dwelt upon their love. As a rule, he debated with himself whether it was fair to her to let her see him again. (Listening to these heart-searchings, Valerie's heart burned within her.) Then he would call his Sealyham and speak to him of the lady, asking if she were not wonderful and a sight for sore eyes. "When she calls you, Patch, aren't you proud of your name? And she took your head in her hands to-day. I saw her. Such sweet, pretty hands.... And you looked in her eyes, Patch, and then you licked her nose—very gently, like a good little dog...." Then, again, Anthony's life as a footman was often remembered. Mr. and Mrs. Bumble were gratefully discussed. The Alisons—George especially—figured constantly. Even his life in the Army was sometimes mentioned, and other older days, hard to identify.... Gramarye held a good hand—undoubtedly: but there were other cards in the pack.
The door opened noiselessly, and a fresh-faced nurse stole into the darkened room. Valerie and she exchanged whispers, and, after another glance at the silent figure upon the bed, the lady of Bell Hammer gave place to the professional and made her way slowly downstairs.
* * * * *
It was past three o'clock of a sullen March afternoon when Mr. Peter Every dismissed his parade.
The men turned away listlessly, hollow-eyed.
Only the little lame engineer said anything at all, and that was an inaudible communication to the three great sailors, whose hearing was gone. Gloomily the latter watched his fingers stumble over their rude translation of Every's last words....
"So there you are. Colonel Winchester's gone. Major Lyveden's too ill to ever come back. Without the authority of one of these two, not another penny can be spent on this estate. Obviously the work's got to stop. I know you don't want wages, but you've got to live.... And I've come, as Major Lyveden's friend, to tell you this before the Law steps in—as it will—and does it more bluntly.
"I know it's rough on you, and I'm devilish sorry, but it's got to be faced.... And, as I say, I'm commissioned to offer you all your passage to Canada and fifty pounds apiece to tide you over there till you can get going.
"You chaps think it over.
"I'm staying at The Rose at Girdle, and those who want to accept, report to me there to-morrow morning at ten o'clock. Then I'll tell you the details and fix everything up. Right."
Leaning against the trunk of a fallen beech, Every watched his little audience wade through the weathered fringe of bracken and turn on to the rough brown road that dipped and curled into the heart of Gramarye.
The droop of their shoulders, the heaviness of their steps, the silence in which they went, trumpeted misery. Anything, however, was better than the dull sightless stares with which the news that their work was over had been received. Every, who was no coward, had been prepared for suspicion, defiance, violence. Instead, his service of the warrant had been accepted without a word. He had no shred of authority, but not the slightest attempt had been made to call his bluff. It had been, in fact, a painful walk-over. The seven labourers seemed to expect a death-blow. When it fell, they met it with the apathy of despair. Every felt as though he were sentencing a bunch of forest ponies to the pits, and the dumb hopelessness of their demeanour plucked at his young heart-strings....
For two or three minutes after the little group had passed out of sight the young man stood motionless. Presently his eyes wandered from the trail up a rude bank, all starred with primroses, through the dim breathless magic of a pinewood on to a peering screen of new-born leaves, pale-faced and trembling. After a moment's rest, they turned southward to where the lean brown road went paving a deep corridor, straight, silent, its black walls towering. Distance and gloom lent these a grim symmetry, suggestive of duress; above, a grey ribbon of sky issued a stony comfort, such as prisoners use.... With a shiver, Every turned away his head. To the north the ground fell sharply, and the cut of the road vouchsafed a glimpse of what it led to—woods, woods, woods, swelling, rising, tumbling, bolstering one another up, shouldering one another aside, some with their limbs still bare, others laced with the pale pinafore of spring, all of them dense and orderless, composite regiments of timber, where squire and skip-jack stood back to back, and the whelps of both thrust and quarrelled for a place in the bulging ranks.
Every became suddenly conscious of a silence more tense and death-like than he had ever dreamed of....
Then a wind breathed—miles away ... to the north. He could hear the breath coming, a mere whimper among the tree-tops. The whimper became a whine.... Reaching the pinewood, the note slid into a moan, that rose slowly to a thin wail as the breath fled up the corridor with the towering walls. The wail fell to a sigh....
With straining ears, the man waited for this to fade....
"Mopping up?" said a quiet voice.
Every started violently and turned right about.
Ten paces distant, within the shadow of the beechwood, was a big upstanding grey, with ears pricked, vigilant. Square in the saddle sat a girl, in a habit of dark blue cloth. So dim was the light that Every could not distinguish her features, but he marked how the eyes burned out of a pale face and noted the glint of copper beneath the hard felt hat.
"Mopping up?" she repeated quietly, but this time there was a silkiness in the tone that put the man on his guard.
"That's one way of puttin' it," he said lightly. "I'm sort of windin' up the Company."
"The Garden of Eden Limited," flashed the girl. "History repeats itself." For a moment she hesitated. Then—"Where's Adam?" she said carelessly.
"Done a bunk," said Every, with no idea of what she meant. "Are you a creditor?"
Miss Strongi'th'arm regarded him.
"Either," she said coldly, "you are a liar or else a fool."
Every stared at her speechless.... After a moment the girl shrugged her shoulders. Then a riding-boot flashed, and the grey sprang forward.
As she pulled up beside him—
"By what authority do you dismiss these men?"
Every looked up steadily into the angry eyes. Then he took off his hat.
"Forgive me," he said quietly, "but by what authority do you ask?"
For a second he thought she would strike him. The cold fury of the pale peaked face, the haughty set of the lips, the blaze of the great brown eyes, heralded violence....
Every never moved.
With a sudden movement Andre turned her head to stare into the distance. At length—
"I've lost all I had in this estate—this venture ... and a lot that—that wasn't mine," she said slowly. "Is that good enough?"
Before the weariness of her tone, Every's resentment went down with a rush.
"I'm most awfully sorry," he said gently. "I'd no idea of this. I don't think any one has. Of course, if I'd known for a moment that you were—er—interested, I shouldn't have dreamed of moving in the matter without your consent." He hesitated. Then— "But surely you can recover something. I mean, the place can be sold, and I'm sure the solicitors would see to it that you——"
Andre gave a dry laugh.
"I hardly think they'd allow my claim," she said shortly.
Every swallowed before replying.
"You could try," he said desperately.
"Fool," said the girl contemptuously. "It's not a question of money. It's a question of men." And with that she fell to whistling under her breath.
Every decided that she was mad.
"I'm afraid I don't understand," he said stiffly. "What I'm doing, I'm doing with the approval of Mr. Plowman, solicitor to Colonel Winchester—he's the owner of this park: and, if you apply——"
"Yes, I know that," said Andre quietly. "But for this park, I should be Mrs. Winchester."
The scales fell from Every's eyes. The picture of the giant, of whom Plowman had told him, pacing a madman's cage, rose up before him, and a great wave of pity for his companion swept into his heart. It occurred to him suddenly that, but for the grace of God, Valerie French would stand by this strange girl's side....
"Think you understand, don't you?" sneered Andre. She laughed shortly. "You've got a lot to learn yet. First of all, my friend, this isn't a park. It's a temple. The very place you're standing on is holy ground. And those clowns you're sacking are priests—sworn to moil and toil for Gramarye until she's sucked the brains out of their heads. And you're spoiling her game ... I should go carefully, if I were you, my friend. And if you get safe out of her to-day, I shouldn't come back—if you can help it... I don't want to be rude, but she's brought down bigger game than you—far bigger.... And they were her favourites."
"I'm not afraid," said Every.
"Of course you aren't. If you were, you'd be safe. If Samson had feared Delilah, he wouldn't have lost his eyes." She broke off and shrugged her shoulders. Then—"And now, if you're satisfied with my authority to question you, what's yours for dismissing these men?"
"I have none," said Every. "But the chap who was here—Lyveden——"
"Yes?" breathed Andre.
"Well, he's too ill to——"
With a moan, the girl dropped the reins, flung back her head, and clapped her hands to her temples.
"I knew it," she wailed, "I knew it! First Richard Winchester, and then Anthony ... my darling ... Anthony Lyveden ..."
Every stood spellbound. The tragedy had taken a new—a frightful turn. Valerie—trustful, unsuspecting Valerie—was hideously involved. He wondered if Lyveden delirious would babble of this strange girl. If he did.... And when he recovered—what then?
Hurriedly he reviewed the position.
Under Dr. Heron's direction, Lyveden had been drugged here, at Gramarye, and brought to Bell Hammer. The whole object of his removal was to smash his infatuation for Gramarye, so that he might feel free to worship Valerie. On their joint love the whole thing was founded. Everything had been arranged on that basis. And now ... if Lyveden had been consulted, perhaps he would not have come—not because of Gramarye, but because of a girl—a girl with auburn hair....
"Where is he?"
The words cut his reflections with a clean slash.
Andre Strongi'th'arm's eyes narrowed.
"The high priest," she said.
"D'you mean Major Lyveden?"
Every paled. Whatever might be the other's standing, with him Valerie came first. It might be rough on the girl, but that could not be helped, and would eventually, he supposed, be mended. One thing was plain. Not at any price must she go to Bell Hammer.
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to tell you."
"If you're thinking of visiting him, I assure you——"
"I wish to know where Major Lyveden is."
Every drew himself up.
"I'm very sorry," he said, "but until I've seen those in charge of him, and have their permission to tell you——"
"I have a right to know."
Every winced. Then he looked up boldly.
"As Colonel Winchester's fiancee?" he said.
Andre caught her breath. Then she bowed her head.
"As a most miserable woman," she said brokenly. "Somewhere it says, 'From him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.' ... Well, it's as one of those outcasts ... one of those hopeless double bankrupts——"
"Stop!" cried Every, aghast. "Stop! I don't want to hear.... Listen. I'll be at Girdle till Friday. That day I'll leave a note for you at the inn, with Lyveden's address inside."
He had, I suppose, some vague idea of getting to Hampshire before her.
For a second the girl stared at him with knitted brows. Then—
"You appear," she said coldly, "to be not only a fool, but a poisonous fool. After all, if you won't tell me, I suppose there are other ways...." She picked up the reins. "And so you're a friend of Major Lyveden's? To tell you the truth, I shouldn't have thought he'd have had much use for you."
With her words, the hunter moved forward.... Dazedly Every watched the two pass at a walk into the gloomy corridor and dwindle slowly to a mere blur of blue and grey under the shadow of the towering walls. At last distance and dusk swallowed them, and he could see them no more.
By the evening of the following Thursday the young man's work was gone, and by ten o'clock on Friday morning his car had left Girdle and was flying up Gallowstree Hill.
Provision had been made for the men; the horses in the stables at Gramarye had been disposed of. He had only come, with Valerie's approval, out of sheer pity for helpless men and beasts. His unexpected interview with Andre Strongi'th'arm worried him sorely. He was convinced that between her and Anthony there had been a serious affair. Himself devoted to Valerie, this made him furious; remembering her devotion to Lyveden, it scared him. If, after all that had happened, Valerie was to find, not only that her cake was dough, but that it was not even her cake, but another's, Every verily believed the shock would send her out of her mind. The mortification alone would be enough to unhinge any woman....
The sight of Anthony's cottage at the edge of the park reminded him of his proposal to recover his tobacco-pouch. He had laid it down on the tree-trunk whilst he was addressing the men that memorable Monday afternoon.
Not daring, for fear of thieves, to leave the car upon the highway, he drove her gently on to the wasted track. Even then he was not comfortable, for she could be seen from the road. After a moment's hesitation, he decided to risk it. He could not drive to the spot, for from here, for a furlong or so, the road was in ribbons. They seemed to have been hauling timber. The only thing to do was to be as quick as he could and hope for the best. Going fast, he should be back again in twenty minutes....
There had blown a gale in the night, and Every was not surprised to find one of the tall dark pillars of the gigantic corridor fallen across the lean brown road. It was his haste in surmounting this obstacle that was responsible for the simple but painful fracture of his left leg. The trunk was slippery, and he had jumped untimely to save a fall. Two stout boughs had been waiting, and the rest was easy....
Now, Peter Every was, as we know, no coward; but when, lying there, he reflected that, thanks to his efforts, the estate was now deserted, he became extremely uneasy. And presently, when he remembered Miss Strongi'th'arm's words, he broke into a cold sweat.
'If you get safe out of her to-day, I shouldn't come back—if you can help it.'
* * * * *
"I'm told," said Anthony weakly, "that I'm at Bell Hammer."
Lady Touchstone smiled and nodded.
"That's right," she said gently. "And Valerie should be here to welcome you, but she's asleep. So you must make shift with me."
The truth was, Valerie French had broken down. The strain of waiting and watching for the hour for which she longed, yet dreaded, had proved too much. Only the day before she had fainted suddenly, and, honestly glad of an excuse, the local doctor had ordered her to bed forthwith. Valerie had obeyed dumbly. She knew that she had come to the end of her tether, and so to that of her wit; and since, to deal at all hopefully with Anthony's return to consciousness, her understanding must be on tiptoe, she knew that she was better away. If the change was to come before she was fit for duty, it could not be helped. In her present condition she was, she felt, worse than useless.
Two hours later Anthony had tried to sit up, failed, looked dazedly about him, and when the fresh-faced nurse stole to his side, asked first for some water and then, shakily, to be told where he was. He had promised, in return for the answer, to ask no more questions, but to go quietly to sleep. This promise he had immediately broken by asking anxiously for news of his dog. Learning that Patch was below, and well and happy, he had spoken no more. After eighteen hours he had awaked, greatly refreshed, to find himself the cynosure of three pairs of eyes. These were all kindly and full of cheer. Two pairs were contributed respectively by the nurse and Lady Touchstone, while the third was set in the face of an overgrown cherub, who smelt agreeably of Harris tweed and was gently furbishing his pince-nez with an enormous handkerchief.
"This," continued Lady Touchstone, "is Dr. Gilpin." The cherub grinned reassuringly. "He's extremely pleased with you, and, when you're better, I think you'll return the compliment."
"I've been ill," said the patient stupidly.
The cherub nodded.
"Gave us quite a turn once or twice," he said, smiling. "But you're all right now. And if you'll promise to obey orders, I'll have you out of bed in a fortnight."
Anthony's face fell. Then—
"I'm in your hands, sir," he said. "And I'm very, very grateful for all you've done." His eyes turned to Lady Touchstone. "And you. I don't understand anything yet," he added plaintively.
"Good," said the doctor. "Now we know where we are." He took out his watch. "If you would like it, you and your hostess can have a little chat—for ten minutes only—just to clear matters up. Then Nurse Ford will take over."
"Please," said Anthony.
A moment later the two were alone.
"I don't know how I come to be here," said the patient slowly, "but I'm afraid it must have been a terrible inconvenience and—and expense. You know I've no money."
Subduing an inclination to burst into tears—
"On the contrary," said Lady Touchstone, "you're quite respectably off. Since you've been ill, you've come into money—more than enough to pay for everything. So don't let that worry you."
She felt that it was not the moment to tell him that he was virtually a millionaire.
For a moment the man did not speak. Then—
"How did I get here?" he said.
"You may well ask," was the reply. "If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it possible for George Alison to lift a man of your inches and carry him single-handed right from the front door. I know he rowed for Cambridge, but, all the same, it was the act of a fool. And I told him so. Of course, he only grinned. You know that inane, irresistible grin of his when he's done something he knows is——"
"George Alison?" said Anthony. "George Alison? How on earth——" He stopped short and started up on an elbow. "What month is it?"
"April," said Lady Touchstone. "And now lie down again, there's a dear boy.... And why shouldn't Alison have——"
"But if it's April—— Good God!" he cried hoarsely, raising a trembling hand. "D'you mean to say I've lain here in this house for six months?"
The woman's heart leaped into her mouth.
"And why not?" she said quietly. "I know a case of a man who lay unconscious for over two years—the result of a fall hunting. And when he came to——"
She stopped to peer at the patient.
Then she rang for the nurse—-instantly.
Anthony had fainted.
* * * * *
Thus fell that formidable position upon whose delicate reduction all the science of physic, the love of women, the wisdom of friends, had been feverishly concentrated by day and night for nearly three weeks.
Chance and a woman's instinct had done the trick. As by a miracle the hopeless had come to pass. The helm had been put hard over, and the craft had answered as sweetly as any swish-tailed circus nag. Gramarye and all her works, if not forgotten, had in the twinkling of an eye become the fabric of a dream—mere relics of a fantastic age for a sane mind to marvel at.
For two or three days after the momentous interview Anthony said very little. When he had again seen Lady Touchstone, and the two—blind leading the blind—had satisfactorily fixed the very date of his collapse, George Alison was sent for. Carefully schooled, the latter spent a fruitful five minutes by the sick man's side. Upon the third day came Valerie....
The girl was exalted. Gratitude had set the crown upon the glory of her array. No one had ever seen her look so beautiful. Out of the furnace the fine gold had come refined, dazzling.
My gross pen cannot picture her.
The dark lustre of her hair, the exquisite curve of her lips, her pride of carriage, were things for sonnets. Her small firm hands, the white column of her neck, the colour springing in her cheeks, made three sweet wonders. The style of her was superb. Tall, straight, clean-limbed, her figure remembered graces of a younger age. The simple flowered-silk dress looked as though all who put it on must go in elegance. Silk and satin covered her precious feet. A nosegay of violets, brooched to her gown, echoed the hue, but not the magic of her eyes. Had the poor flowers been blowing still upon their mother bank, all wet with dew, and had a star stooped to prove how sweet they smelled, then, sirs, they should have rendered more faithfully my lady's eyes.
Anthony had wondered when she would come....
A breath of perfume, a swift whisper, the rustle of silk—and there was Valerie by his side.
Miss French fell upon her knees.
Very gently Lyveden put her hand to his lips. Then he turned away his head and began to cry.
With a bursting heart, Valerie almost gathered him in her arms.
"D'you love me, Anthony?"
By way of answer he just clung to her. At length—
"I'm—I'm sorry, my sweet.... It's—I think it's just because ... I love you so much." With an effort he mastered his lips. "And I'm so very sorry, dear, I kissed you like that—the day I went down. I dreamed about it. I dreamed you came to me, and I apologized." With her heart in her mouth, Valerie smoothed his brow. "And you were—so very sweet. You said"—he hesitated—"you spoke so very handsomely."
"I'm so glad, darling."
"And, oh, Valerie,"—he was himself again now—"I've had such a wonderful dream. I've been waiting for you, my darling, before I spoke of it."
"What did you dream, lad?"
"I dreamed that I'd left the Bumbles—I had given notice, you know—and gone, in answer to an advertisement, to a place in the Cotswolds. It's all so real, so vivid, that it's almost impossible to appreciate that it's all a dream. I can remember every detail of the journey—I had Patch with me—down to the faces of my fellow-passengers. A woman with a baby got out at Oxford and left a parcel behind. And I ran after her with it. I can see her scared face now, poor soul, when I touched her on the shoulder...."
The story of the last four months came pelting. Anthony fairly opened his heart. At first, listening to the bare truth told with the confident naivete of disbelief, Valerie felt as though she were cheating the blind. After a little, this sense of shabbiness was suddenly supplanted by a perfect torment of apprehension lest Anthony should detect her hypocrisy. Presently, before her breathless interest in the narrative, the girl's uneasiness slipped unremarked away, and, when the door opened and the gentle nurse appeared to part them, she was following the ingenuous recital with unaffected eagerness.
Valerie nodded her acquiescence in the unspoken order, and the nurse withdrew. As the former rose to her feet—
"Ah, must you go, my lady?"
"Till this evening, dear lad."
Anthony sighed fretfully.
"And I've wasted all our precious time with my old dream. I've hardly spoken of you, and there's so much I want to know."
"We've plenty of time, darling. Think of it. Once we never knew when—if, even, we should ever see one another again. Now ... Oh, Anthony, we're very rich."
"I am," said Anthony, smiling. "And when you say you are—why, then I feel like a king."
Valerie flung up her head. An instant, and she was singing....
"If I were a queen, What would I do? I'd make you a king And I'd wait upon you— If I were a queen."
Never melody knew such tenderness. Poor Anthony could not trust himself to speak....
Valerie stooped and laid a soft cheek against his. Then she pressed his hand to her lips.
The next moment she was gone.
* * * * *
When Sir Willoughby Sperm learned of his patient's progress, he struck the words "Major Lyveden" out of his diary. The action cost him exactly one hundred guineas, and the secretary by his side bit her lip. To keep that Saturday free for his visit to Hampshire, she had refused nine appointments. But, if he was a bad business man, Sperm was a good doctor. Anthony was out of the wood. Very well. Considering the nature of the peril with which the wood had been quick, the less the fugitive saw of strange doctors, the better for him. To insist upon the gravity of his late disorder was most undesirable. Besides, if at this juncture a specialist's visit to Bell Hammer could serve any useful purpose, Heron was the man to pay it. It was he who had walked and talked with Lyveden when the latter's brain had been sick. So he alone of the doctors could compare Philip drunk with Philip sober. Happily no such comparison was necessary. Had it been vital, it could not have been made. For the patient to renew the acquaintance of the artist he had met at Gramarye—and that in the person of a distinguished brain specialist—would hardly have conduced to his health of mind. Indeed, from the moment that Anthony had reached Bell Hammer in safety, so far as the inmates of that house were concerned, the very name of Dr. Heron was, by his own advice, religiously forgotten as though the man had never been. It was natural, however, that one who had done so much to arrest the disorder should care to hear how Anthony was faring. By a mutual arrangement the cherubic Dr. Gilpin wrote to the former faithfully three times a week.
Similar, though less frequent, reports were regularly rendered to Mr. Justice Molehill.
One of these latter I will set out, for it was a wise man that wrote it, and the matter is to the point. I would, sirs, that I could show you the handwriting, so fine and easy to read.
Bell Hammer, nr. Brooch, Hants. April 11th, 1921.
DEAR SIR GILES,
Major Lyveden continues mercifully to make good progress.
I saw him myself yesterday for the first time, and must make haste to confess that I am overjoyed. When I say this, you will understand that he is not only the stranger whom we are helping to the acquisition of a great fortune, but the man whom my niece is delighting to honour. Lyveden is a man of great personal charm and fine character, and I am sure that he will administer his heritage wisely and faithfully, and that he will make Valerie a proud and happy woman. I am glad to say, too, that your memory of his appearance is as true as your judgment. In short, he is a splendid specimen of manhood.
There is, of course, no doubt at all that he is our man, i.e. the only nephew of the late Jonathan Roach. Boldly advancing out of my province, I begged leave to ask him a question or two, to which the most exacting of opponents could not in decency have objected. His replies made me ashamed of the doubts which I never—even officially—harboured.
Of the nature of his brain trouble and of his escape I have already told you. Enough that that wondrous bridge which an Omnipotent Providence threw across the river, while we stood gaping upon the other bank, stands fixed as any rock. As often as he will revisit Gramarye, the patient treads it with a firm, confident step. I do not matter—besides, I must soon return to Rome—but, by my advice, Valerie and those who are and are to be about him are schooling themselves to use this same strange bridge. Future safety, I contend, lies in making it a thoroughfare. So only approached, Gramarye will indeed become 'such stuff as dreams are made on,' and the four months he spent there be 'rounded with a sleep,' for ever.
I have told Major Lyveden the story of the lost will, and of your close interest, to which alone he owes his fortune. His great desire is to thank you personally. My own remissness he forgave in undeservedly generous terms.
I expect to leave for Italy early next week, and while I shall write again before that, I shall hope, if you are then in London, to visit you on my way.
Believe me, Yours very truly, JOHN FOREST.
The prelate was not the man to exaggerate. Anthony's recovery went on amain. His state of independence had, as we know, been broached by Lady Touchstone: it was becoming that the true extent of his fortune should be disclosed by Monseigneur Forest himself.
The sick man received the news with some emotion.
He felt as though suddenly a wand had been set in his hand—a wand beneath whose careless touch the shifting flux of wishes must set and crystallize. For more than eighteen months he had "thought in pennies." Henceforth it would be unnecessary to think at all. The spectre of Ways and Means was laid for ever. Often, when his purse had been lightest—when he had been forced to eat sparingly of the cheapest food—he had been used to remember an old fragment of Virgil that he had learned as a boy. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. Times without number he had been glad of the tag. And now it had served its turn.... Looking back upon his penury, he could not wish that he had been spared those lean, ill-favoured days. And when, because of these, Monseigneur Forest reviled himself, Lyveden refused to listen, declaring that the experience had been invaluable, and must surely stand the camel in good stead when the time came for him to negotiate the needle's eye. For a prelate to withstand such a contention was more than difficult.... Yet if the patient spoke to the point, it was by accident. His thoughts were elsewhere. Childishly excited, he was wanting to use his wand. Ridiculously enough, his romping brain could not furnish a wish to be converted.... Suddenly an idea came to him. His dog, his little faithful dog, had gone in need of a collar for over nine months....
Mercifully the terrier was dumb. Otherwise the prelate's "Bridge of Providence" must have returned unto the air whence it came. As it was, the dog was brought to the sick-room twice every day. The tenderness with which he treated Anthony was wonderful to see. Naturally boisterous, the efforts with which he mastered the frenzy these interviews provoked, were manifest. He knew that Lyveden had been dangerously ill. He knew that he was mending. The twofold consideration set the flame of his devotion flaring. Yet, when he visited his master, the jet must be reduced to a pilot.... The marvel is the dog did not burst. Instead, placed within reach, he would set a quivering foot upon the bed and lick the caressing hand with a touch that would not have broken a bubble. Presently, whimpering with excitement, he would post about the chamber, seeking an object to present to his lord. Of such, the choice which the room afforded was straitly limited, and when for the second time he had selected one of the knobs of a chest of drawers, endeavouring to detach this by dint of biting it off, the fresh-faced nurse was advised of his intention, and a log of wood was procured to be kept in a corner. Thereafter twice a day the billet was brought reverently to the-bedside.
Poor Patch! It was the best his dull wit could devise.
Oh, Patch, could you but see how idle and clumsy is your act, you would hang your small head. Could you perceive the vanity of repetition, your bright brown eyes would fill with tears. Could you be told whence comes the gift which you give Anthony, your little tail would be clapped between your legs.... Yet have I heard tell of a ram caught in a thicket by his horns; of altar steps worn thin by the observance of the same offices; of spikenard that might have been sold and given to the poor....