Sirs, this poor scrap of a dog errs in good company.
The April days slipped by, smiling, or shrill, or tearful, as the mood took them.
A letter which Valerie had received from Peter Every, written and posted at Girdle upon the last day of March, had set her mind at rest about Anthony's stewardship of Gramarye. Apart from the action of the Law, that book had been closed as gently and firmly as mortal man could close it. By the removal of the steward, neither men nor beasts engaged there had been left one penny the worse. The former, indeed, were well out of a bad business. Incidentally, they would very soon be well out of Anthony's way. Never had money been so advantageously spent. Valerie had written to Every a letter of heartfelt thanks.
By the courtesy of the Bumbles, their chauffeur came to Bell Hammer two or three times a week. He did not always see his late colleague, but Alison was no fool, and points were constantly arising upon which Valerie was glad of his advice. It was he who went through Anthony's wardrobe with the utmost care, saying which of the garments he had seen before and which had been acquired since their owner's departure from Hawthorne. The latter were carefully destroyed. Lyveden's few personal effects were subjected to a similar scrutiny and partial destruction. Nothing was left to chance. If George was uncertain, Betty and Anne were sent for. If no one could be sure, whatever it was, the article in question went to the furnace. Never was the high-road of convalescence more faithfully reconnoitred.
Less actively, Lady Touchstone and Forest contributed according to their means. These were substantial. The electric personality of the one, the gentle charm of the other, were better than physic. The one stimulated; the other composed. A twinkling hour of Lady Touchstone's company was like a glass of champagne. A talk with the Monseigneur rivalled the quality of old Madeira. Wisely administered, the wine built up the wasted tissues of the mind. The latter's digestion being sound, Lyveden throve upon the diet. His brain put on weight daily.
So far as his body was concerned, no one had any anxiety at all. Anthony's fine constitution and the open-air life which he had led at Gramarye stood him in splendid stead. So much so, that when, upon St. George's Day, Patch came trotting with a red rose in his mouth, he found the bed empty and his master sitting cheerfully upon a sofa before the fuss and worry of a bright wood fire. It was clear that a new era had begun. Patch dropped the rose and fairly hurled himself at a small log lying conveniently in a corner beside an old prie-Dieu.
* * * * *
A mischievous look came into Valerie's eyes.
"You haven't heard a word," she said, bubbling, "of what I've been saying. You know you haven't."
Anthony laughed guiltily.
"Yes, I have," he protested. "You were saying you'd half a mind to give up having hydrangeas and—and—er—not have them at all," he concluded lamely.
Valerie uttered a little crow of triumph.
"Scandalous," she said. "Simply scandalous. It's no good pretending. I know perfectly well what you were thinking about. You were thinking of Gramarye. That old dream of yours ..."
Mark, sirs, how the mighty may fall and how familiarity may breed contempt. Gramarye had lost her sting. Spoiled of her puissance, she had sunk to the level of "Boney"—fare for the ears of children, food for a jest.
"No, I wasn't," said Anthony, smiling. "At least, not directly. I was thinking of an argument the Monseigneur put up about my dream."
"What did he say?"
"Well, his contention was this. You know, if, for instance, a bell rings when you're asleep and dreaming, as likely as not the noise is introduced—not necessarily in the same form—into your dream, isn't it? Very well. That shows the senses are working. The message arrives distorted, but it arrives. Well, he said that in his opinion practically everything that came to pass in my dream was originally suggested by some outside influence. Water being poured into a basin suggests a brook. A sewing-machine becomes a train. The hiss of a burning log escaping steam. So much for the ears. Now for the eyes. A maid helps the nurse to move a sofa—I see timber being hauled. The doctor shakes his thermometer, and there's Winchester wielding an axe.... It's a pretty theory, and the more you study it, the sounder it seems." He crossed his legs and started to fill a pipe. "All the same, I must have a fertile imagination. I think I always had. As a child I was left alone a great deal, and I fancy that helped."
It was a lazy Sunday morning—the fourth in the month of May. John Forest had been gone a month, and Lady Touchstone was properly at church. Greenwich would have told you that it was ten o'clock, and the gorgeous tapestry of Summer was still wrought with the brilliant embroidery of a heavy dew. Lawns, flower-borders, and stiff box charactery sparkled and shone in the hot sunshine. The sky was cloudless: a haze kept to itself the distant promise of the park: there was no wind. The sleepy hum of insects, a rare contented melody, tilted the hat of Silence over that watchman's eyes. The wandering scent of hawthorns offered the faultless day a precious button-hole.
Sitting easily among the cushions of a teak-wood chair, Anthony let his eyes ramble luxuriously over the prospect. In a chaise longue by his side Valerie was engaged in the desultory composition of a letter to her uncle in Rome. Stretched blinking upon the warm flags, Patch watched the two vigilantly for any sign of movement.
"Did I ever have a red-haired nurse?" said Anthony suddenly.
Valerie shook her head.
"No," she said. "You had the same two all the time. Why?"
"I dreamed of a red-haired girl." Valerie sat very still. "Andre, her name was. I met her first in the road... I remember she knew me. She'd been hunting and looked like a Bacchanal. She turned up again later on—one night. I was just going to bed." He frowned at the recollection. "I wonder I didn't chatter about that. I was worried to blazes...."
"That—that's the worst of dreams," said Valerie slowly. "You're impotent."
With a shock she realized that she had written ANDRE in capitals in the middle of her letter, and, below it again, BACCHANAL. Casually she scratched out the words till her pen ploughed up the sodden paper.
"It's a wretched feeling," said Anthony. "I dreamt she—cared for me. And I—I never got there. She had to tell me right out.... Oh, Valerie, it was awful."
Miss French felt as though her heart had stopped beating. She could have screamed to Anthony to go on. Instead—
"Poor old chap," she said gently.
She had her reward.
"When she saw there was nothing doing, she went.... And then Winchester appeared with Patch, as I was putting her into her car. I remember he called her 'Andre'—that's how I knew her name.... And then he cursed me, because she was his fiancee, and she fairly tore him up. Then she chucked down his ring and drove off. There must have been a car leaving Bell Hammer just then. I can hear her changing the gears now." He passed a hand over his eyes. "I can't remember any more, except that Winchester was shouting...."
For a long moment the two sat very still. Then Valerie scrambled to her feet and put her head on one side. Her eyes were just dancing.
"You and your red-haired sirens," she said reproachfully. "And now come along, and I'll pick you a buttonhole."
The cloud poor Peter Every had found so menacing had discharged rain of pure gold. Love had emerged from the shower, refreshed, glistening. The two could not know that, while they passed down the steps into the sunlit flower-garden, a girl with auburn hair was pushing a frantic three-year-old through the Scotch mist of Donegal, and wondering at every bank whether she would have the good fortune to break her neck.
Still, though their rain be golden, clouds beget shadows. If Lyveden responded to Valerie's invitation, he did not rise to her mood. The throwback to Gramarye had set him thinking....
"Valerie," he said slowly, knitting his brows.
The girl had been upon the point of stopping to pick a rose. His serious tone, however, made her look up. The bloom was spared.
"When I went down—in November—there was something wrong. I mean, we were at variance."
With difficulty the girl repressed a shiver.
For a while she had hourly dreaded an allusion to the grim episode. Then, when the weeks went by and none was made, she began, at first feebly, to hope that it was buried. Gradually the hope had swelled into belief. Lately she had made sure that upon the first day, when Anthony had wept in her arms, he and she had been treading upon its grave. And now here it was—like a river full in their path, a swift-flowing treacherous stream which they must ford together. She would have given anything for a moment to collect her thoughts, but Anthony had started across. Already he was up to his knees....
To be frank, she was in a tight place. The issues she had to deal with were clogged. Her treatment of them was to be governed by ruthless premises. Finally, if she made a false step, her fortunes and those of Anthony would be again in the melting-pot.
For an instant her brain zig-zagged. The next moment she had it in hand.
"Yes," she said slowly, "we were. I hoped you'd forgotten. You see, I'm very much ashamed. And, when my eyes were opened, I was just terrified. I felt as if I'd committed murder."
As she spoke, her brain fairly flashed through the rules which must govern this talk.
Everything hinged upon one mighty postulate—that Anthony had collapsed precisely at one-fifteen upon the 16th of November. He had, of course, done nothing of the sort. But that did not matter.
From that hour, for four months and a half, he had lain in a trance. This was the second article, which except Anthony believed, he could not be saved.
Anthony's memory, however, was a faithful servant—not to be tampered with. To reconcile the servant's report with the articles of his faith, a third tenet became essential. This was that what Anthony remembered was the burthen of a dream.
There go the governing principles.
Now for the issues.
Her sudden—perhaps excusable—jealousy of Anne Alison, her barbarous dismissal of Anthony, her quite inexcusable failure to give any reason for such treatment, her subsequent enlightenment by Anne herself—there is the skeleton whose dry bones he and she are to pick over—a gruesome business which has already been dispatched ... upon the twentieth day of February, gentlemen, up in the Cotswold Hills. They both remember it perfectly. Yet Valerie must forget it, while Anthony must think it was a dream ... must....
Neither by word nor look must Valerie suggest that the highly delicate ground she knows so well has ever been broken before.
Think, sirs, what a slip on her part will do.
It will plainly knock the three precious articles aforementioned into a cocked hat. Thence they will be retrieved to be turned against her—used to her condemnation by Anthony frantic. As for their love, the fragments of this that remain will not be worth taking up....
Anthony passed a hand across his forehead.
"Shall I tell you what I dreamed?"
"Yes," said Valerie.
"I dreamed that you came to me to make it up. And I was afraid. I tried to keep off the subject. I'd come such an awful cropper that I didn't want any more falls. But you would have it out.... And you said—don't laugh—that you'd turned me down because of Anne Alison." He stopped still and looked at her. "What was the real reason?"
Leaning her back against a green box wall, Valerie moistened her lips. Then—
"It's perfectly true," she said quietly.
"Listen. You remember the meet at Saddle Tree Cross?"
"When we spoke of my 'window,' and you said the spot meant so much to you that you couldn't keep away?"
"D'you remember I said I was going away the next day?"
"It fell through, and I didn't go. There wasn't time to tell you, so I went—to the 'window.'" Anthony started. "That's right. I found you there with Anne Alison."
"I know, I know. Anne told me, after you'd gone—down." The slip she had so nearly made set the girl sweating—literally. "I was mad, Anthony, mad," she panted. "I couldn't think straight. I nearly jumped over the cliff. I think the shock sent me blind. I'd always grudged her being so much with you. I want you to know the truth. She was always at the back of my mind. And when I saw you together—there, at our window——" She buried her face in her hands. "I know it was vile of me, dear. You see what I'm like. And if, now that you know, you'd like to go to an hotel..."
"But, Valerie, why didn't you give me a chance?"
"I was mad," she wailed, "mad. I loved you so wildly, Anthony, that I was stunned. And, in spite of it all, I loved you just as much. And that made me so furious, I could have torn my hair. I wanted to hurt you cruelly, and when I did, I bruised my own heart."
"I was too proud. You'd dared to touch my pride"—she laughed hysterically—"my precious, sacred pride—my Ark of the Covenant. D'you remember how Uzzah died because he touched the Ark? Well, you had to die.... And now"—she spread out her arms pathetically—"it's the pride that's dead, Anthony. Dead ... dried up ... shrivelled.... And I know what I'm worth."
Out of the neighbouring silence floated the comfortable note of a wood-pigeon. Clear of the shadow of the green box wall two butterflies flitted and whirled in the hot sunshine, while a fat bumble-bee hummed with excitement before the promise of a tall blue flag.
With his face in his hands, Anthony never moved.
"And that's all I've got to say. When I found I was wrong—well, I didn't know there was such agony in this world.... I deserved it, I know. Don't think I'm complaining. I deserve anything. But ... if tears count, then I've paid—some of the score...."
The man's hands were quivering.
Looking upon him, Valerie could see that he was gazing between his fingers.
"I'm afraid to speak," he said uncertainly. His voice was trembling with excitement. "I'm afraid to go on. Don't think I haven't forgiven you. I have, Valerie. I did—oh, ages ago. But ... we're skating on terribly thin ice—terribly thin. We must go frightfully carefully, Valerie. You've no idea how carefully." The girl stared at him. This was uncanny—as if he could read her thoughts. He went on breathlessly. "My dream, dear. This is what happened in my dream.... You reproached yourself in just the same handsome way. You used the same phrases." Valerie started. "And then—after all—something went wrong.... What it was, I don't know. I can't remember. And that's the trouble. I can't remember what happened. But it's been the same so far, and then—something went wrong...."
Valerie stood paralyzed. If Anthony was afraid to continue, she was terrified.
With an ungracious buzz the fat bee emerged clumsily from the tall blue flag and sailed noisily out of earshot. The sudden snap of jaws suggested that Patch, who was waiting patiently for the walk to proceed, forgave the flies no trespasses.
"You can't understand, dear. But you must take my word for it. I've trodden this way before. And presently—very soon now—there's a snare—a hole in the road. And if we go in, Valerie, it's—it's all up. I know it. It happened in my dream.... And I'm afraid to go on."
The tremulous misery of his tone wrung the girl's heart.
Instinctively she stretched out a hand.
Anthony recoiled with a cry.
"Don't! Don't touch me! I remember. You took my arm." Head back, he clawed at his temples. "That's right. And we started to walk. We had been standing. We started to walk back towards the cottage. And I felt absurdly happy—all of a sudden.... That was just before the end. And then—— Oh, if I could only remember...."
The agony of desire in his tone seared Valerie's brain into action. With a shock she realized that there she was standing like a dolt, quietly watching Lyveden cudgelling his brains for the password back to Insanity. Any second he might stumble upon it. For once, mercifully, his memory was sluggish—would not respond. And there he was flogging it, to extract that hideous fatal delusion that he was pledged to Gramarye....
Frantically she sought for a distraction. Her brain, however, was away, with the bit in its teeth. She could do nothing with it. The only thing she could think of was that dreadful pass, which Anthony was straining every nerve to recall. This rose up vivid. His reference to the kiss he had given her—her soft reply—the way he had taken her in his arms—then that mischievous breeze that had come whispering out of the silence, remindful, suggestive—the start he had given at its touch—the hoarse cry—the terrible light in his eyes....
Anthony gave a great shout.
"I know," he panted jubilantly. "I know.... It's coming back, darling, it's coming back—bit by bit. Then I spoke of that kiss. I said how sorry I was and asked your forgiveness. And you said——" He stopped suddenly and clapped a hand over his mouth. After a moment, "'Sh," he said shakily. "I mustn't repeat your words. That'd be moving. And we mustn't move, Valerie. We're just at the edge of the pit. We mustn't move an inch till I can see where it is. Don't be frightened, dear. It's all right. All our happiness depends upon my remembering, and—it's coming back...."
His voice faded, and in an instant he was deep in thought.
Eyes narrowed, his under-lip caught between his teeth, he stared fixedly ahead, making a supreme effort—plainly.
Valerie stood spellbound.
A pompous hum argued that the fat bee had decided to revisit the vicinity.
Far in the distance there was a movement—leaves shaken with the wind. A breeze was passing. The timber of the park murmured the news faintly.... With a sigh the tall elms of the avenue confirmed the park's report. A breeze was passing ... coming ... a little mischievous breeze....
For one long moment Valerie's heart stood still.
Then she threw back her head and began to sing.
"Where the bee sucks, there suck I; In a cowslip's bell I lie...."
Anthony stared at her open-mouthed. Her throat felt as though it had steel bands about it. She just smiled and sang on.
"There I couch when owls do cry, When owls do cry, When owls do cry...."
The leaves of the lime-trees beyond the green box wall were trembling—she could see them—beginning to bob up and down. The boughs themselves were beginning to sway elastically. Valerie sang like a book.
"On a bat's back do I fly, After sunset, merrily, merrily, After sunset merrily...."
The lime-trees had stopped trembling. The breeze had passed.... An exultant note swept into the melody.
"Merrily, merrily, shall I live now, Under the blossom that hangs on the bough— Merrily, merrily, shall I live now, Under the blossom that hangs on the bough— Under the blossom that hangs on the bough."
With a fine, happy smile, Lyveden heard the song out.
Then he stepped to my lady and caught her two hands.
"Exquisite," he said, glowing. "Exquisite, Valerie. I never knew you had such a lovely voice."
As he spoke, the girl's knees sagged, and he was just in time to catch her before she fell....
Her collapse was momentary. She was not, I suppose, unconscious for more than five seconds. It was, indeed, at her bidding that Anthony set her down upon a low stone seat.
It was natural that he should be greatly concerned.
"Oh, my sweet, it was my fault. I frightened you. I know I did. Lean your head back. That's right. I was all worked up about that rotten dream. I'll never mention it again. I'm so very sorry, dear. I wouldn't have upset you for anything. And you sang so beautifully.... Why did you sing, Valerie?"
"I—I don't know. I heard a bee humming, and that made me think of the song. It was very silly."
"It was very sweet, lass. And I just loved it. And, oh, my lady, please never think of our misunderstanding again. I felt I wanted just to know, but that was all. D'you feel better now?" Valerie nodded. "Are you sure?"
"Shall I get you some water?"
"No, thanks, lad. I'm all right now."
Kneeling on one knee beside her, Anthony patted her hand.
"I'm so thankful.... I can't get over your singing like that ... I felt—carried away. I shall remember it always." He sighed happily. "I've got so many happy memories to take away."
Valerie sat up straight.
"To take away?" she breathed.
"My dear, I've been here nearly six months already. It's only with an effort that I can remember that I'm your guest. I don't want to go. Drifting along like this is simply perfect, but ... there's such a lot to be done ... heaps."
"There's plenty of time."
"I know, but—well, look at my clothes, for one thing. I'm not fit to be seen."
The girl breathed again. Then—
"Oh, yes, you are, old chap. Fitter than you think. Besides, you don't have to stay in London because you're going to a tailor."
"I know," said Anthony slowly. "I know. But it isn't only that. You see, my lady, when I came here to your house, it was as a footman.... And I think I'd better leave it as—well, no more than a friend. That's a big enough step, in all conscience. After a little—a very little—I shall come, again, Valerie...."
His fingers closed about hers.
"You never came here as a footman," said the girl. "You came as my beloved. You went out of the garden of The Leather Bottel that very first day—my lord. What does it matter what else you were—are—will be? Oh, Anthony, you dear, honourable child...."
With his disengaged hand Lyveden covered his eyes.
"I meant to be so strong," he said humbly. "God forgive me, I'm very weak. You see—I love you so." His head bowed, he took hold of her other hand. "My lady, my beautiful lady, will you marry this lover of yours—this irresolute child?"
"Yes," said Valerie, "I will."
Anthony fell upon both knees.
"I worship you," he said simply. "Ever since that first day at the inn, you've had my heart in your hands. Sleeping, waking, your voice has rung in my ears; and my eyes have seen you in the background—a tall dark girl, with the air of a queen ... always ... always.... You've lighted pantries, you've honoured servants' halls, you've turned a third-class carriage into a bower.... And, when I came to know you, the face of the earth was changed. I didn't know there was such a being in all the world. I don't think you ever were born: I think you stepped out of a fairy tale some midsummer eve." He stopped to lay his head reverently upon the blue silk knees. "And you—are—to be—my wife.... In a few short weeks' time you're going to take my name—stand all in white by my side—put off your glorious girlhood for the last time, and go away—to live with me—for ever...." The cool firm fingers laid hold of his. "Wherever I am, your footfalls will be about me, your perfume will be in the air, your smile will gladden my eyes.... Oh, Valerie, my love, my darling, my queen—you've made me a king...."
Slowly Valerie led the strong rough palms up to her throat.
"If I've made you a king, lad," she breathed, "you mustn't kneel to me."
Getting upon his feet, Anthony pressed his lips to the slight fingers.
Valerie rose also.
"If I've made you a king, lad, you mustn't kiss my hand."
Anthony took her in his arms and looked into her eyes.
"I was wrong," he said, smiling. "You didn't step out of your fairy tale. You never left it. You've just invited me in."
Valerie put up her mouth.
* * * * *
Nineteen days had slipped by—careless, halcyon days, the matchless morning of a golden festival.
Jack and Jill were beyond imagination happy.
Lyveden had been prevailed upon to stay in Hampshire, and when he must visit London, to return the same night. I am not certain that these days were not the best of all. Valerie saw him off in the morning: the two had all day to think upon their state; his home-coming at even delivered a perfect reverie.
The last of these flying visits must be recorded, for it was unlike its fellows, and, though I cannot answer for Lyveden, Valerie will remember it always.
There is no doubt at all that Anthony was growing quite accustomed to the liberal atmosphere of Lincoln's Inn Fields. As he bent his steps westward, he found the huge square admirable. For comfortable dignity, no other square he could remember compared with it. This, he decided, was because its sides were not too high for its area. London, as a whole, had grown up. Had she grown outward instead, perhaps... He remembered suddenly that she had grown outward as well—out of all conscience, since Pepys had taken pleasure in Lincoln's Inn Fields. With a contented sigh Lyveden reflected that by nine-thirty that evening he would be back at Bell Hammer. The sweet smell of the country, the song of the wind in tree-tops—above all, the abundance of cool soft air, seemed to have become essential to his life. For the present, at any rate, he had no use for Town. It choked him. He was glad, however, that his solicitor's office was in Lincoln's Inn Fields....
Some clock announced the hour—a quarter to four. The ex-officer quickened his pace. Savile Row had to be visited, and Pall Mall. Most important of all, a coupe had to be proved.... Anthony's heart beat faster. The car was for Valerie.
As he left Kingsway behind, the gross belch of an 'Alarum' demanded passage. Anthony fell to wondering whether his sweet would not prefer some other usher. An 'Alarum' got there, of course; but it was Rabelaisian. Perhaps ...
The sound of a collision between two pedestrians disturbed his musing.
It was nothing. Chin on shoulder, an errand-boy had collided with a man in a silk hat. Anthony was so close to the latter he could have touched him.
The boy muttered an apology, and the man laughed.
"My fault as much as yours," he said lazily, and passed on.
It was Dr. Heron.
Anthony reeled against the wall.
Observing his movement, two typists squeaked with pretended alarm, and then, giving him a wide berth, lurched on, convulsed with mirth and clutching one another.
To the poor woman who approached him and asked if he were ill, Anthony at first said nothing at all. Then he replied dazedly that he was "all right," and moved uncertainly away.
Arrived at the corner of Drury Lane, he hesitated, looking round helplessly, as if he were not sure of his way. Immediately opposite, a large efficient-looking ironmonger's shop presented a plain, well-kept, familiar face....
Anthony stared at it with a dropped jaw.
The errand-boy, who had found his demeanour promising, and had been loitering in the hope of developments, took up a good position in the gutter and fairly drank Lyveden in. Almost at once another of his species joined him.
After a prolonged stare—
"Wot's 'e doin' of?" said the new-comer. "Sayin' 'is prares?"
The other sniggered.
The noise aroused Anthony. With an effort he straightened himself.... Then he walked unsteadily across the street and into the shop.
The manager came forward.
"Have those mattocks come in?"
For a second the man peered at him. Then—
"Oh, Major Lyveden, isn't it? Yes, sir. Six 'Lightnin'' mattocks, it was. I sent you a card, sir, three weeks ago. I've got the six on one side for you, sir."
"I'll take them now."
"Certainly, sir." He turned to an assistant and gave directions. Then: "Excuse me, sir. Jim!"
A boy came at a run.
"Fetch me that envelope off of the top o' my blottin'-pad. It's pinned there." He turned to Lyveden. "When you was 'ere last time, sir, you dropped your ticket. I kept it by, in case you come in again, thinkin' you might be glad of it. It ain't six months yet, sir, since you was 'ere, so it's still good."
A moment later Lyveden was looking fixedly at the return half of a third-class ticket which had been issued at Chipping Norton.
"Thanks," he said slowly, slipping it into his pocket. "I'm much obliged."
He paid for the goods and waited whilst a taxi was fetched.
Then he followed the mattocks into the cab, and told the surly driver to go to Paddington....
Five hours later he staggered, rather than walked, along the wasted track and up to the cottage door.
There had been no man to meet him, and the mattocks had made their weight felt after the first two miles. He laid them down thankfully.
For a moment he looked about him.
Behind him—over towards Girdle—the sun had just gone down. And Gramarye ... Gramarye had never looked one half so beautiful.... All her hard lines were gone. Every sacred twig of her had put on a wedding garment. The wild mystery of the place had been exquisitely veiled. The majesty of desolation was in full dress. Far as the eye could reach, the toss of the glorious woods had become unspeakably enriched... maddening....
His eyes glittering, Lyveden hugged himself in a paroxysm of glee. The man was just gloating....
Then he strode to the wood-shed.
"Well, Patch," he said cheerily. "Has Patch been a good little——"
The sentence snapped off short.
For a moment Anthony stared at the empty staple.
Then he turned on his heel.
"Patch!" he cried sharply. "Patch!"
After listening intently for a moment, he stepped hastily on to the wasted track and began to whistle....
Presently, trembling with anxiety, he started to stumble along the trail, whistling frantically....
* * * * *
Seated in the hall at Bell Hammer, Valerie looked at the clock. As she did so, the faint crunch of wheels upon gravel told that the car was leaving to meet the down train. An instant later the clock struck nine. Miss French threaded her needle thoughtfully....
Curled by her side upon the sofa, a little white dog with a black patch breathed stertorously.
A door opened, and a servant appeared with a letter. This had been expressed. Valerie laid down her work, and, after a glance at the envelope, opened it curiously.
Do you know anything of Peter? We only got back from America two days ago, and when we rang up his club—he was living there while we were away—they said they hadn't seen him since March. Of course we're frightfully worried. He had the car with him, and we're trying to trace that. Oh, Valerie, father's just come in and said that the car's been found at Carlisle. In a garage there, and that two men left it to be seen to a month ago, but the police think he bought it from them and is afraid. Please wire if you——
With a crash the small table by her side upset its complement of violets on to the parquet, there was a wild scrabble of paws, and Patch was at the front door, snuffing the sill and whining tremulously....
Valerie got upon her feet.
"What is it, Patch?" she said. "He isn't here yet."
For a second the terrier listened.
The next moment he was almost beating himself against the woodwork.
Letter in hand, Valerie crossed the hall and opened the door.
The dog rushed out into the drive.
For a moment he stood there, plainly straining his ears.
An instant later he was flying down the avenue....
* * * * *
The glow of the sunset faded. Evening gave way to dusk. Night stole into her throne-room.... One by one, men, spent with their labour, went to their rest. Pillowed upon the bosom of the country-side, villages fell asleep. And through them, while they slept, a little white dog went pelting breathlessly under the cold moonlight—now running, now dropping to a fast walk, now hesitating, now plunging on desperately, sometimes to the east, sometimes to the west, but in the main northward ... due north, sirs ... in the direction of the Cotswold Hills.