Sylvia laughed good-humouredly at this championship.
"A very excellent person, no doubt," she said, "but an ungovernable tongue. She never ceased talking while we were there. No wonder himself died peacefully. How he must have longed for death—and peace!"
"You don't understand——," Kathleen began.
"I don't profess to understand. I belong to another school to you. My set detests the prosaic and commonplace; we must have the clever and original. Platitudes are detestable to us, unless they come clothed in a brilliant metaphor. Homely virtues I neither pretend to understand or admire. I much prefer eccentricity, even clever vice."
Kathleen laughed tolerantly, recognising that further argument or expostulation was vain.
"Shall we try the lower bridge?" she asked.
"Of course we must. Denis Quirk is to meet us, and I wouldn't disappoint him for anything. Now, there is a man after my own heart, strikingly ugly, so ugly as to be beautiful, and wonderfully clever, sometimes so rude as to be quite original, full of a sardonic humour—an absolutely unique type. Denis Quirk is the sort of man I might condescend to love, and if ever I do love it will be like that river in flood down there."
The road ran high above a rocky gorge, through which the Grey was rushing in a turbulent torrent of water. It roared as it went, and leaped up angrily at the rocks on either side, foaming and bubbling, swirling into small whirlpools, as if in an impotent passion at the constraint.
Kathleen looked at the flood, and then at Sylvia's sleepy face and dreamy eyes.
"I wonder if you could love?" she asked.
"I wonder, too. Sometimes I scoff at the very thought of such a thing, and sometimes I believe that I could be as wild and turbulent as the river is to-day."
Beyond the gorge the river widens out into a broad estuary before it enters the sea. It is across this estuary that the lower bridge has been built. Just below it is the bar, where river and sea were battling in a wild confusion.
When Kathleen saw that the bridge was half submerged, and that the current was still strong, though not to be compared in violence with the maelstrom that poured through the gorge, she reined her horse in.
"We must turn round and ride home the way we came," she said.
"Turn around? Why should we? I intend to cross. I can see Denis Quirk on the farther bank."
"And he is warning us to turn back," said Kathleen.
"The more reason to go on. Follow me if you dare."
Seeing that Sylvia was determined to cross, Kathleen urged her own horse alongside of Sylvia's, and seized her friend's rein.
"You shall not go on!" she cried.
"Let go of my reins!" said Sylvia.
Kathleen recognised the note of anger in the voice, and saw that the customarily sleepy eyes were flashing, and that there was a line of determination on the usually smooth forehead. But this did not influence her.
"No. I will not let go," she replied.
Sylvia Jackson raised her whip. Once it fell smartly on Kathleen's hand, leaving a red wheal; still Kathleen held on. But when the blow was repeated more viciously than before, with a cry of pain she released the rein.
"Do you imagine you can stop me, with Denis Quirk on the other side?" Sylvia asked, and urged her horse on to the flooded bridge. I have already said that Sylvia was not an expert rider; her horse realised the fact, and faced the water with a snort of terror. The handrail of the bridge alone appeared above the muddy stream; even this was submerged occasionally as a wave rolled up from the turbulent bar, barely one hundred yards below the bridge.
The horse began to rear in terror, threatening every moment to plunge over the rail of the bridge into the stream. Kathleen, behind, could do nothing but follow, while from the further bank a small collection of men and women watched in a panic that prevented action. But Denis Quirk was quick of thought and prompt to do; he sprang from his horse and dashed along the flooded bridge towards Sylvia.
"Sit still!" he cried. "Keep your rein loose, and get your feet free from the stirrups."
Scarcely realising what she was doing, Sylvia obeyed him. He attempted to seize the horses' rein, but the animal was maddened with terror, and kept turning away from him. At last, however, Denis managed to throw his arm around Sylvia and drag her from the saddle. Immediately after, whether still further frightened by his action or bewildered by the water, the horse reared over the handrail into the flooded river. He was washed almost to the bar, but managed to reach the further shore, and gallop home to his stable at "Layton."
Denis Quirk carried Sylvia across the bridge, followed by Kathleen, whose horse went quietly through the flood secure in his rider's composure. On reaching the farther side, Denis realised that Sylvia had fainted. There was, however, a small hotel close at hand, and here Denis left the girl, safe in a kindly landlady's care.
He found Kathleen dismounting from her horse, her face very pale from the anxiety that Sylvia's danger had caused her.
"Why did you allow her to do such a foolish thing?" he asked, abruptly.
Kathleen held her hand, with the marks of the whip still on it, out of his sight. It was not for her to tell him how her attempts to restrain Sylvia had been received.
"It was against my wish that she crossed the bridge," she answered.
"Even for you it was a madcap thing to do," he said. "You can never trust a horse in such a flood as this. I have telephoned for the motor; you and she had better go home in it, while I take charge of your horse. You have caused me a terrible anxiety."
He turned away, leaving Kathleen scarcely able to control her mortification and annoyance. Denis Quirk had, she told herself, disregarded her danger, and spoken to her like a disobedient child. By what right did he lecture her or hold her responsible for Sylvia's wilfulness? When the landlady came to ask if she would come to her friend, it was on the tip of her tongue to refuse but she restrained herself by a great effort, and went into the room.
Sylvia was sitting on a couch, very pale, but smiling placidly. As Kathleen entered, tears came into her eyes, and she asked in a penitent voice:
"Can you ever forgive me? I can't forgive myself for striking you. But no one has ever attempted to prevent me from having my own way, and I was resolved to go on. I have been sufficiently punished."
"Never mind about it now," said Kathleen. "You did not realise the risk."
"I shall never forget it! Let me look at your hand. Did I do that? Oh, how cruel of me to strike you! You won't tell Denis Quirk that I did it?"
Kathleen, who had begun to feel her anger slowly evaporating, became suddenly as indignant towards Sylvia as she had been prior to the latter's apology. It was evident to her that it was not because of the injury Sylvia had done her, but lest she should complain to Denis Quirk, that Sylvia was asking forgiveness.
"I have no intention of telling Denis Quirk," she answered, coldly.
"Now, don't be angry, Kathleen—please. I am a spoiled girl, I know. Everybody has conspired to spoil me. I am impulsive and passionate, but no one has checked me. Let that be my excuse."
She put her arm around Kathleen and drew her down on the couch beside her.
"Kiss me," she said, "and say you forgive me. There, that's a dear! Now tell me exactly what happened. It is a blank to me."
Kathleen told her exactly what had taken place, Sylvia listening with intense interest.
"Isn't he brave?" she asked. "And he took me in his arms, and never thought of you! What if your horse had gone over the bridge after mine?"
"Denis Quirk knows that I can ride 'Douglas' anywhere," Kathleen answered.
"I suppose so," said Sylvia; "but he might have made sure of the fact. I think he is splendid. All those other men stood gaping on the bank, and he was the only one to act. It is a moment like that that proves a man. Scores of admirers have told me what they would do for me, but only one man has done—only one," she added, dreamily.
That evening Kathleen was restless; the day's adventure had disturbed her more than she was aware of. After tea, having made Mrs. Quirk comfortable, she slipped on a thin lace shawl and went quietly into the garden. Walking about in the evening stillness, her accustomed composure returned to her. Presently she slipped into a summer-house, and sat down to think placidly.
As she sat there, she heard voices, and, to her surprise, Denis Quirk and Sylvia paused directly in front of the summer-house. The very thought of eavesdropping was repugnant to her, but they were speaking so quickly and earnestly that she had heard part of their conversation before she could interrupt it. Remembering Sylvia Jackson's passion, possibly fearing an outburst of malice, Kathleen kept very quiet, resolved never to give a sign of what she knew.
"You saved my life," Sylvia said, "and I could refuse you nothing. Ask anything of me in return."
"Nonsense!" Denis answered, laughingly. "You exaggerate what I have done."
"You say that because you are brave. Brave men laugh at their own courage, as you do. But I know, and I worship you!"
The last words were spoken almost in a whisper, and in the tender voice that Sylvia Jackson was mistress of. But for once the words rang true. Kathleen held her breath, wondering what any man could do when so spoken to by such a woman as Sylvia.
Denis answered curtly, almost rudely:
"My dear young lady, please don't weave any absurd romances about me. I am an ordinary and very commonplace man, not accustomed to soft words from pretty women. Take my advice and go home to your parents; forget about me as quickly as you can. I have no intention of ever marrying, and I don't pretend to be a lady's man. Now, go inside, like a good girl, and forget to-day."
"Forget!" Kathleen noted a change in Sylvia's voice. "I shall never forget to-night."
Their voices and steps grew fainter, until they were finally lost to Kathleen's ears. After a few minutes she also went towards the house. Denis Quirk stood higher in her estimation than ever he had done before. He had been severely tempted, and had put the temptation behind him. Sylvia Jackson was what is termed a man's woman, but Kathleen could realise the fascination she was mistress of. She had been courted by many men; to-night she had thrown herself at Denis Quirk's feet, and he had resisted where other men might have succumbed. With these thoughts in her mind, Kathleen greeted Denis Quirk kindly when he met her near the house.
"I am afraid I was rude to you to-day," he said, without preamble. "I spoke without thinking. I want you to excuse me."
"I do," she answered, simply.
"Naturally, you were hurt," he said. "Believe me when I say that I would rather offend anyone than you. I place very few women among the heroines, but you are one of them. For any other I would have been afraid in the flood; I knew that you were safe. That was the reason why I offered you no help. My fears were for your friend. I am fully forgiven?"
"Fully," she answered.
"Thank you! That is all I want. Good-night!"
He turned on his heel, and went down the avenue on his way to "The Mercury" office.
DESMOND GOES UNDER.
In the period of pique and disappointment, when she realised that Denis Quirk was impervious to her attractions, Sylvia Jackson suddenly awoke to a new interest in life. At the moment she was hesitating between an interesting decline and a fearful vendetta. But this did not deter her from attending the Grey Town Intellectual Society's lecture on Art and Artists, which was delivered by George Custance, R.A., nor did it prevent the lecturer from fascinating the impressionable girl.
Until that moment Grey Town was unaware that Custance existed. A few of the townspeople had occasionally noticed a man in a grey suit, who was living at the "Fisherman's Retreat," near the mouth of the Grey River. They had seen him handling a rod from the banks of the river, and had sometimes observed him with a sketch-book in his hand, transferring a view of the coast to paper.
But he was so quiet and unobtrusive that few persons paid any great attention to him. It was indeed entirely by chance that the Intellectual Society secured his services. The secretary wrote to an artist friend in Melbourne, suggesting a lecture; the answer was short and concise: "Sorry I cannot find time to amuse you. Try Claude Custance; he knows more about art than any other man in Australia."
"Try Custance! Who the dickens is Custance?" the secretary asked the president.
"Blessed if I know. Ask Gurner; he is sure to know," the president answered.
In the club Gurner was nicknamed the Grey Town Directory. He was regarded as a local Burke, who could fire off the pedigrees and performances of every family in the district.
The secretary discovered him in the club, taking a novice down at billiards.
"Do you know a man of the name of Custance?" the secretary began.
Gurner prided himself on his knowledge. To be unable to point out the identity of any person in the town was to ruin a reputation. He paused abruptly from the stroke he was contemplating.
"Custance, did you say?"
"Yes; Custance, an artist."
"There is a grey man of that name at the 'Fisherman's Retreat.' He is a bit of an artist, they tell me. I will ask Cowley," he said.
A few days later he found the secretary in his office.
"I have found out all about that artist man," he said.
"Custance? Does he know anything about art?"
"Do you know anything about law? He's a classic winner, the very deuce of a top-notcher. He's been hung over and over again. You can't teach him anything about art," replied Gurner.
"I wonder if he would lecture for us?"
"Leave him to me. A nice fellow; we fraternised over fishing, with a whisky and soda to wash it down. He began to tell me tall stories, and I added six inches to everyone he produced. I will secure him for you."
This he did the following day, for Custance was quite an obliging man, and a personal friend of the artist who had refused the invitation.
The news spread, as it usually does in a country town, and interest in the lecture became phenomenally keen. The intellectuals had for once secured public support. They promptly raised their charge for admission from sixpence to one shilling, with an additional sixpence for booking. They advertised the attraction in capital letters and created a furore. The consequence was that the learned and those who assumed the virtue combined to fill the hall to overflowing.
Custance was an ideal lecturer. He took possession of the platform and audience in an easy, unassuming manner, and delivered an address amusing and learned, yet understandable. And well he might, for he was not a mere painter, but one who had lectured on art to select audiences, and had sold pictures at fabulous prices. At this very moment London was asking, "Where is Custance?" and here he was in Grey Town.
The town would have made much of him had he permitted it. But he was there for work and quiet. A shoal of invitations were fired at him and refused; he preferred to lapse into obscurity. A few of the more obtrusive attempted to force their society on him: to these he was frankly rude. The more tactful fell in with his humour, and were content to nod to him.
Sylvia Jackson was introduced, but beyond a passing glance of admiration Custance relegated her to forgetfulness. She was, however, determined to know him, and she engineered a second meeting with her usual diplomacy.
"A picnic to the beach would be ideal," she suggested. "Not to the frequented part, but to that quiet little beach near the mouth of the Grey. Just ourselves, Mrs. Quirk, you and Kathleen, and I."
She knew that Custance was sketching a seascape not far from that spot.
"Why not?" asked Mrs. Quirk. "What more should we want? You and Kathleen are all I need—with Denis to come to tea, if he has the time."
"Sorry to disappoint you," said Denis Quirk, "but I must be at the office all day. Cairns is away on holiday, and not a man with any initiative but Tim O'Neill to support me."
Denis Quirk's absence was a great relief to Sylvia Jackson. She still entertained a tender admiration for him, but, as he continued to resist her fascinations, she preferred that he should not be present to frustrate or ridicule her plans. Mrs. Quirk and Kathleen were easily duped, but she feared the penetration of Denis Quirk. Nevertheless she made pretence of a great disappointment.
"We counted on you," she remarked in an agonised voice.
"Never count on a paper man. We are the most unreliable people in the world," he answered. "Make the old mother happy, and don't keep her out too late."
With these words he went down the avenue whistling the air of a melody that Kathleen had sung the night before.
Sylvia had studied her plans with the greatest care, and she put them into action when they were safely arrived at the strip of beach that lies beyond the river bar.
"You and Granny prefer to be alone," she told Kathleen. "I intend to take my sketch book and see what I can do with the view round the point."
Therewith she sauntered away, giving them no time to protest. The spot she had chosen for her sketch is one of the most magnificent on the coast.
It is a small patch of sand, terminated towards the east by black precipitous rocks, against which the sea is perpetually pounding in great breakers. On this day the sea was a wonderful dark blue, and very peaceful, save where it thundered at the base of the cliffs. On the horizon a bank of grey clouds rested on the water like a remote island crowned with mounts and peaks. The smoke of a distant steamer rose in an almost straight line upwards; nearer the shore a small fishing boat was moving gently backwards and forwards, its sails barely filled by the gentle breeze. There was a sense of rest in the scene, as if the ocean were slumbering after the strife of a few days previously.
Here Sylvia found the artist, working quietly at a picture that he had almost completed. He had caught the vivid colouring of the ocean, the grey bank of clouds and the distant smoke, and had transferred them to his canvas.
Sylvia approached and stood behind him, but he did not recognise her presence, for he was absorbed in his work.
"How do you contrive——," Sylvia began.
Custance turned towards her with a quick start, for, like other artists, he had nerves that were peculiarly sensitive and reacted acutely to impressions. Seeing that the questioner was a beautiful girl, he regarded her with a kindly smile.
"Forgive my rudeness," said Sylvia, "the question was almost involuntary."
"The question is not yet completed. How do I contrive——?" he asked.
"How do you contrive to snatch up the colours of nature and place them on your canvas?"
"I have all the colours there," he said, pointing to his palette, "and so has every painter; but some of us approach nearer to Nature. I have never yet succeeded in quite pleasing myself. I have the deep blue of the sea, but not the representation of infinite depth and infinite power."
"You approach very closely to it," she answered. "Now sit down and paint, and let me watch you. I am a painter myself; not an artist like you, but one who dabbles a little in an amateur fashion."
"May I see your sketch book?" he asked, and took it from her hand. "Very good!" he cried. "Shall I tell you what I think?"
"You might be an artist, if you were content with that alone; but you are too versatile. Am I right? The result is great possibilities that will never be realised unless you concentrate your power on one thing."
"Let me watch you," she said, "and I will resolve to do nothing but paint."
She sat on a sand bank behind him, and he painted his picture, turning occasionally to speak to her.
At last she rose unwillingly.
"I must go, or my friends will fancy I am lost. May I come here again and take a few more lessons?"
"Certainly, if you will. I shall be delighted. But when this picture is completed I pack up my effects and go. It is a pity you do not live in Melbourne," he added regretfully.
"But I do," she answered.
"Then you must come to me and study the finishing touches of your art. You need only a few more details and you will be an artist."
"Oh, you are too kind!" she cried.
"Not at all. It is a privilege to encourage talent," he answered. Nevertheless had she not been an attractive woman, he would not have offered his assistance so willingly.
"I suppose your parents will not object?" he asked. "You can assure them I am a most trustworthy young man."
"My parents allow me to do exactly what I wish," she answered. "You see, they can trust me," she added, smilingly.
"Naturally. Then it is a promise."
This was their first meeting. Subsequently it became her custom to ride out alone after breakfast. She chose the morning, when Kathleen was busy and could not accompany her, and she took her sketching book; but most of her time was spent in watching Custance, and absorbing his art.
When her teacher left Grey Town she suddenly realised that her parents and friends in Melbourne needed her society, and, after an affectionate parting from Kathleen and the Quirks, was carried out of Grey Town life by the train that is termed an express.
In Melbourne, an indulgent father and mother, who fondly believed that she was perfect, readily consented to her improving her talent under the teaching of the great artist, and she made rapid progress in her art. But this was not the chief result of her lessons. Slowly she became infatuated with the personality of Custance, while he, having begun to play the game of love simply for the excitement it afforded him, finally found himself involved in a grand passion. This he declared to her in language suggested by his artistic temperament, and she responded in a similar strain.
Then came a pause, when he asked himself: "Is it fair that any woman shall link her fate to mine?" He looked at the small syringe on the mantelpiece and the tiny little bottle beside it. He thought of the marks on his arm, of the passing inspirations he thus found, and of the subsequent fits of remorse.
The following day, while they were working in the studio, Sylvia painting and he criticising her work, he asked:
"If I were a drunkard, would you still care for me?"
She did not so much as turn while she answered:
"Whatever you are, I have given myself to you."
"There are worse things than drink," he said, as if communing with himself. "There are drugs that enslave and debase a man; drugs that lead him into the gardens of pleasure and raise him to the heights of delight, so that he believes himself to be a superman, and," he almost groaned, "lower him to the uttermost depths. Supposing——."
She turned to face him smilingly. "I refuse to suppose," she answered. "I have resigned myself to you, and I am ready to accept and condone everything. I love you, and that is sufficient for me."
What could a man such as he, who had never denied himself anything, do under these circumstances? He threw his scruples to the winds and made love in a feverish manner, regardless of the cost. Sylvia introduced him to her parents, and he was made welcome by the hospitable and kindly old people. At last he offered himself to Mr. Jackson as a husband for Sylvia. But here he met with a check, for the old man had a strange antipathy for artists; his capable, matter-of-fact business mind mistrusted the emotional, and he firmly believed that artists were governed by the emotions. He was willing that Custance should be a friend; he refused him as Sylvia's husband.
Custance was prepared to accept this as an adverse judgment, and to bow to Mr. Jackson's decision; for he was a man of honour. But, when he announced his intention to Sylvia, she refused to accept it.
"By what right," she asked, "does my father take my happiness in his hands? I can best judge the husband I need, and I refuse to give you up. It is too late for him to interfere now."
"You must remember——," he began.
"I will remember nothing but that I love you, and that you have told me you love me. That is the only thing that counts. You do love me, Claude?" she answered.
"Love you! I worship you," he answered, "but your father has done so much for you——."
"I grant that. There is no father like him. If he had stopped me in the beginning I would have accepted his commands. Now it is too late. I can't obey him now."
"I feel myself bound by honour——," he said.
"You are bound by honour to me. My father has no right to tell me who I shall marry. I refuse to be treated as a child; I am a woman, capable of choosing my own husband."
Thus did she urge him on against his better judgment, and one day they were missing. For better or worse Sylvia Jackson was married to Claude Custance, brilliant, erratic, a slave to morphia. For his sake she forgot her duty to her parents, the love and kindness they had lavished on her. The day that she left them a cloud came and rested over their home. For her, marriage proved a cruel and bitter disillusionment, for no woman can ever rival that deadly mistress, morphia.
The night before Sylvia's elopement, Desmond O'Connor had dined with the Jacksons. Mr. Jackson had hoped to displace Custance with the handsome young fellow whom he loved, and Sylvia had made use of Desmond to conceal her infatuation for the artist. They had sat together out on the verandah, and she had given him a rose.
"A rose for constancy," she said, as he held it in his hand and inhaled the perfume. "You deserve it."
"Shall my constancy be rewarded?" he asked eagerly.
"What a handsome boy you are!" she laughed. "I wonder will it be rewarded?"
"Why do you tease me?" he asked. "If you could read my heart——?"
"I can read it in your eyes. I know every word they say. Come inside and sing to me."
In his fine tenor voice he sang, at her request, Tosti's "Good-bye." That was his farewell to Sylvia Jackson.
The following morning Mr. Jackson failed to appear at business. This was an almost unprecedented event, and caused quite a flutter of excitement in the office; but it was not until the afternoon that Desmond learned the reason. He was summoned into the Chief's office to find Mr. Jackson, grey-faced and worn, a broken man.
"I have ill news, my boy," he said very kindly to Desmond. "Sylvia has run away with Custance."
Desmond made no reply. Suddenly the world had altered for him; he had passed out of the light into an impenetrable blackness. He sat with his head bent down, changed in a moment from a light-hearted boy to a despairing man.
"I want you to come home and fill the place that she had. Mrs. Jackson and I love you, and we need a child." Mr. Jackson continued.
"I can't do it," cried Desmond. "I should be thinking of her all the time. I have lost all faith."
And so the world believed; for Desmond O'Connor, while he eschewed the coarser vices and worked relentlessly, renounced for a period the religion that his father's life should have made dear to him, and went on his way a professed disbeliever.
THE VIRTUE OF GREY TOWN.
The City Fathers who governed the municipality of Grey Town were not unlike the councillors in other towns and cities. They laid no claim to a pre-eminence in wisdom, professing to be merely ordinary men of business, of sound common sense, and strictly honest for the greater part.
Councillor Garnett was perhaps the single exception to this rule of honesty. The other councillors worked from a sense of duty, possibly urged by a worthy ambition. Councillor Garnett occasionally dipped his hand in the municipal purse, and brought from it as many golden guineas as he could clutch. Yet he had led the Council for many years, and was still regarded by the Conservative element as a worthy leader. In all probability he would have continued to rule the civic affairs of Grey Town had not Denis Quirk come to the town to turn things upside down and sweep away certain municipal cobwebs.
The question as to the purchase of a block of land in the town for the erection of Council stables and cart houses was made a test question by both parties as to who should control the future destinies of Grey Town.
It had already been decided to erect the necessary buildings. Councillor Garnett had then moved that a certain vacant section in one of the streets should be purchased, when Denis Quirk rose to his feet.
Immediately there was a certain electrical excitement in the Council Chambers, that was reflected in the alert faces of the councillors. They sat attentively with expectant ears as he began to speak.
"Sir," he said, "I am here to oppose anything that approaches municipal corruption."
"I object to that word," growled Garnett.
"You object to the word and I object to the deed," Denis replied, quietly. "We are not here to line our own pockets, or, if we are here for that purpose, we are in the wrong place. Our purpose should be to act as watch-dogs for the ratepayers, to guard their interests. What if the dogs start to worry the sheep? I accuse Councillor Garnett in this matter of abusing his position as a councillor. I accuse him of disingenuousness that borders on fraud."
"Oh, come, come," said an elderly councillor, who was constantly scandalised by Denis Quirk's want of municipal decorum. "Fraud is an unpleasant word."
"Undoubtedly," Denis continued. "But it amounts to that. Councillor Garnett is directly interested in the land that he is urging the Council to purchase at a false price."
The words were spoken quietly, and with a certain deliberation that was impressive.
"That is a lie!" cried Councillor Garnett, now aroused to fury.
"Order! Order!" cried the Mayor. "I ask Councillor Garnett to withdraw that word."
"Let Councillor Quirk withdraw his accusation first," suggested another councillor.
"I intend to prove it," answered Denis. "Will Councillor Garnett tell me who is George Haynes?"
"How should I know?" replied Councillor Garnett, doggedly thrusting his hands in his trousers pockets and tilting his chair backwards.
"Who should know better than you? George Haynes is a dummy, a former clerk in your office, who has been made to appear the owner of this land to cover you in this transaction. I have the copy of a deed here that directly proves my statement."
"How did you obtain it?" asked Garnett, when someone plucked his sleeve and thrust a paper in to his hands.
"Turn the tables on him. Ask him why he left Goldenvale; has he been divorced; and what about the funds of the Goldenvale Investment Society which he was accused of embezzling?" he read; but, when he turned to see the messenger, the latter had vanished.
"Never mind how I obtained it. May I read it?" Denis asked the Mayor.
"One minute first. Let us have the credentials of this reformer before we listen to his accusation. I refuse to be judged by a dissolute ruffian, a divorced man and one accused of embezzling the funds of an investment society. Why did Councillor Quirk leave Goldenvale?" cried Councillor Garnett, triumphantly.
This accusation came as a thunderbolt to the Council, when those who were friendly to Garnett were pondering how they should act in view of Denis Quirk's charges; and those who stood opposed to Garnett were rejoicing in his discomfort. To the former his counter charges came as a relief; to the latter they brought doubt and consternation. Only one man seemed perfectly composed and he was the person accused.
"My past history does not concern the Council if I can prove my present statement," he said very quietly.
"It concerns the Council vitally. How can we believe a man with your reputation?" asked Garnett.
"The latter part of that charge is false."
Again a paper was thrust into Garnett's hand. This time Denis Quirk noted the action, and the face of Gerard, the messenger. He smiled grimly.
Garnett glanced at the paper and read the heading.
"Quirk in Court. Accused of misappropriating the funds of the Investment Society. Case part heard."
"Does Councillor Quirk know this paper?" he asked. "The 'Goldenvale Investigator?'"
"I used to know it. It was a rival of my own paper, 'The Firebrand,' and a most unscrupulous paper."
"Perhaps you remember this?"
Garnett handed the paper across the table to Denis.
Denis read the heading aloud to the Council, ending with the last lines: "Case part heard."
"Have you the next issue of this rag?" he asked. "If so, you will find that the result of this case was a complete vindication. I was triumphantly acquitted. A month later you will find an abject apology from 'The Investigator.' This was a trumped-up affair, the work of my enemies. To-morrow I shall publish the full details in 'The Mercury.'"
But the Council were determined that he should no longer be heard. When he asked again:
"May I read this document?" the Mayor replied:
"I do not think it is in order."
"I intend to read it," cried Denis.
"I rule you out of order," answered the Mayor.
Denis began to read slowly and deliberately, but the opposing councillors prevented him with a babel of cries. The meeting finally broke up in great disorder, after Denis had attempted to make himself heard and had been escorted from the Council Chambers by the Town Clerk.
The following day he began his battle with Grey Town, a fight in which all fair-minded and right-thinking men conceded him a victory. He published the full account of the proceedings in the Goldenvale Court, ending in a triumphant acquittal, and the subsequent apology in "The Investigator." He also published the document purporting to be signed by George Haynes. It was an acknowledgment of the loan of a sum of money, equivalent to that which Haynes had paid for the land under offer to the Council, and a promise to repay the money at an exorbitant rate of interest to Garnett. Very few impartial men doubted the real meaning of the transaction.
But Garnett knew Grey Town. It was not a particularly moral town, but there were periods when it arose in virtuous indignation to punish the evil-doer, and it generally selected as its victim the man who was the least guilty. Denis Quirk was made the object of one of these outbursts of public morality. He was a man of dissolute morals, divorced under peculiar circumstances. Denis Quirk must be booted out of Grey Town.
The Quirks were at breakfast on the day that followed the scene in the Council Chambers; only Denis was absent. Samuel Quirk was reading "The Mercury" when his son's name caught his eye.
"What is this about Denis?" he cried; but as he read he wished he had not spoken, for he loved and respected his wife, notwithstanding his professed scorn for her.
"And what is it?" she asked.
"Never you mind. Denis can fight for himself," he answered.
"Just read it to me," she urged.
"What for would a woman be wanting to hear such things?" he answered, and thrust the paper in his pocket as he went out.
But Mrs. Quirk was determined to know. She had noted the frown on her husband's face, and gathered from it that he was reading ill news.
"Just slip out, Honey, and ask Joe for his copy. I must know the worst," she said to Kathleen.
"Mr. Quirk does not wish you to know," Kathleen suggested.
"Not knowing is worse than the very illest news. I will be in a fever until I hear. Just run away and do what I ask of you."
Kathleen recognised that Mrs. Quirk was determined, and wisely obeyed without further hesitation. But when she saw the nature of the charges she paused before reading them aloud to the old lady.
Denis Quirk, with his customary straightforwardness and honesty, had printed the account of the scene in the Council Chambers word for word. There it stood—his own accusation and the counter-charges urged against him. He had attempted neither palliation nor excuse. But in the same issue of "The Mercury" he had reproduced the account of the proceedings in the Golden Vale Court, that had ended in his acquittal. More than this, he had reprinted the apology of "The Investigator," as it had appeared in that paper.
But to Kathleen and to Mrs. Quirk the account of the divorce proceedings was the most serious indictment against Denis, and here he offered neither denial nor excuse. Both women held firmly to the belief that marriage is sacred and irrevocable, and that no human power—nothing short of death—can annul the bond uniting man and wife.
Fearing to hurt her old friend, Kathleen attempted to avoid this part of the accusation. But she was a bad dissembler, and Mrs. Quirk very keen.
"There is something more, Honey. Let me hear all that those backbiters found to say," she urged.
When she had learned the full account of the charges, she burst out into lamentation.
"To think of it!" she cried. "Denis, the apple of my eye, to be in that Divorce Court! It is, for sure, the wickedest place ever invented by man—and him there!"
"But he did not appear," said Kathleen.
"And them saying all those things against him! Where was he, then, if not giving them back the lie? I don't believe it, not one word of it all. He has his enemies, and they have invented this. Oh, why isn't Father Healy here to advise me?"
"Why not go and ask Denis?" suggested Kathleen. "He will tell you the truth."
"Do you believe he did what they say of him?"
Kathleen looked out at the bright sky flecked with white clouds, at the green lawns, and the masses of colour in the flower-beds. The sun was shining brightly, scores of birds uniting in melody, music, brightness and peace everywhere.
"I would almost as soon believe that this world was not created by Almighty God," she answered, without disrespect, for she had a profound trust in Denis Quirk.
"God bless you, Honey! Then why should I be doubting him? I will go and speak to the boy. Sure, he never yet lied to me. If he has sinned, the Lord forgive him. And what am I to judge him?"
The motor was ordered at once, and in a short space of time it carried Mrs. Quirk and Kathleen to "The Mercury" office. Tim O'Neill was in the outer office, bright-faced and very busy, as was his custom. He welcomed the ladies with a smile.
"Is Denis in?" asked Mrs. Quirk.
"Mr. Quirk? Yes, he is in. Were you wanting to see him?" Tim replied.
"Who else?" said Mrs. Quirk.
"I will stay here and talk to Tim," suggested Kathleen. "That is, if Tim can spare the time."
Tim was a gallant youth, and he answered blushingly that it was an honour and pleasure to speak to Miss O'Connor. Meanwhile Mrs. Quirk entered her son's room.
Denis Quirk was reckoning up the consequences of the last night's proceedings, and considering the best method of carrying on the campaign. As his mother entered he looked up with a frown, that changed into a smile when he saw who his visitor was.
He had constantly urged her to inspect the office, but she had always refused to come.
"Sure, you are busy; and what would you be doing with an old body like me?" she was accustomed to say.
"So you have come to visit me at last?" he cried.
"I have come to talk to you, because I could not wait until you had come home," she answered. "What is this in the paper?"
He had hoped that she might not hear of his trouble, knowing how seldom she interested herself in the contents of a paper.
"Who has been telling you?" he asked.
"Who but himself at first, and when he would not satisfy me I ordered Kathleen to read it to me," she answered. "Oh, Denis, the shame of it! That anyone should dare say that you were a divorced man!"
"It's the truth, mother," he answered through his teeth.
"You, the son I was always proud of, to be going into a place like that! It is a shame that there should be such iniquitous places in a Christian land!" she cried.
Denis put his hand very gently on her shoulder in a caressing manner that was out of keeping with his accustomed attitude.
"See here, mother," he answered, "a man can only be judged in the light of the Eternal Truth. In that light I am innocent."
"Then why not prove them liars that have spoken these things against you?" she asked.
"Someone had to suffer, and I could best bear it. I am a man, a strong, hard piece of humanity, and well able to stand a few bad names. But there are others, weak and frail, who would be destroyed by the scandal of bitter tongues. Better the world should abuse me than them. Some day I shall stand innocent in the eyes of the world as in the sight of God."
"Then it is all lies?" she asked, looking into his brave, ugly face.
"It is true that I was divorced, and true that I am innocent," he answered.
"I believe you," she cried, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him. "My heart is light again. Little I care what people may say or think when I know it is false. Sure, there is only one that can truly judge us, Almighty God, and to Him I will go and return thanks."
She went smilingly out of the office, and Kathleen recognised that Denis Quirk had proved his innocence to his mother's satisfaction.
Ebenezer Brown seized the opportunity for reviving "The Observer" with Gerard as editor. In capability and brilliance he was not to be compared with Cairns, but the public marked its disapprobation of Denis Quirk by supporting "The Observer" and neglecting its rival. Day by day the circulation and the advertisements of "The Mercury" dwindled until at last Denis Quirk summoned a meeting of those interested in his paper.
"If we intend to win out, I must go," he said. "The public has awoke to a sense of virtue and selected me for punishment. It has blundered on the wrong man, but that does not make the case any better. When I have gone, "The Mercury" will return to its own and destroy 'The Observer'."
"I say stay in Grey Town and fight it out," said Dr. Marsh. "I am prepared to put my last penny into the paper."
Samuel Quirk was there with Dr. Marsh, Cairns, and the staff of the paper, right down to Tim O'Neill.
"Would you be running away?" Samuel Quirk asked indignantly, "with me to help you fight the blackguards? You, an Irishman, whose fathers have battled for independence in the dark days as in the fine ones? No, Denis you will remain here and trample 'The Observer' under your feet once again."
"I don't need any pay, sir," said Tim O'Neill. "I'll work for nothing, just for the love of you and the old 'Mercury'."
"Good boy, Tim! You are gold from the hair of your head to the soles of your feet. But I shall go to Melbourne and open out there. Once I am out, 'The Mercury' will have a fair run, and Ebenezer Brown, Gerard, and Garnett will be sorry they invested their money in a hopeless cause. You shall buy me out, Dad."
The day before Denis Quirk's departure he found Kathleen alone in the dining room.
"Miss O'Connor," he said, speaking less confidently than was his custom. "I am not an idealist. As a general rule I class men and women as bad or indifferent, but I have a great respect for you, and I want you to believe in me."
"I do," cried Kathleen eagerly.
"Men have been tried and convicted on false evidence," he went on. "The world judges us by results, but I want you to disregard the past and take my word that I am innocent."
"I have always believed it," she said.
"Thank you," he said, and was turning away when Kathleen said:
"You are going to Melbourne, Mr. Quirk. I place Desmond in your hands. Bring him back to the Faith."
"I shall do my best, but no man can constrain another. Desmond must work out his own salvation," he answered.
When his business was completed, Denis Quirk departed from Grey Town. But Ebenezer Brown and his satellites discovered that his absence made things even more uncomfortable for them than had been the case during his presence in the town. "The Mercury" rose buoyantly to resume its old power; and in a month's time it had crippled its rival beyond recovery. Samuel Quirk took his son's place on the Council, and there asserted himself so triumphantly that Councillor Garnett recognised that it was time for him to retire. Grey Town awoke to sudden municipal vigour, and the town put on a modern, up-to-date appearance, in keeping with a new commercial activity. Those who had flourished under the old system retired to their holes, impotently cursing the new regime. Their triumph over Denis Quirk had proved a veritable disaster to Ebenezer Brown and his companions in evil.
FATHER HEALY'S MISSION.
It was a warm night, and Father Healy was entertaining his friends in the garden of the Presbytery. They sat together on the green lawn that faces the town and the distant ocean. In a quiet and secluded place, just within earshot of their conversation, Molly Healy sat on the lawn, her back supported by a big pine tree. Near her a kitten was playing with Mollie's collie dog. Father Healy had returned from Goldenvale, and his cronies had gathered together to greet him, and hear from his lips the account of his travels. Dr. Marsh asked, abruptly, almost impatiently:
"Your mission was a failure, Father Healy?"
"Not entirely a failure," answered the priest. "I have brought back no evidence to prove Denis Quirk innocent, but I am convinced that he is."
"You went away with a bias in his favour," suggested Clark.
"I did, and I come home still more biassed. I saw the priest who wrote to me, a good man, but to my mind a poor student of human nature. He received me kindly, and made me welcome. In the evening we talked of Denis Quirk. He told me what a great man Denis had been before the divorce case. There never was such a scandal in Goldenvale. I asked him what sort of a woman was Mrs. Quirk. 'A splendid lady,' said he, 'clever and talented. She was under instruction for the Church at the time, but, naturally, she did not go on after divorcing her husband.' 'And how do you reconcile a good man, going to his duties regularly, doing the things Denis was accused of?' said I, quoting the old Latin proverb, 'No one becomes suddenly altogether base.' 'That was where the scandal was,' he answered me. 'Did he leave Goldenvale in disgrace?' I asked him. 'No, he stayed on, and went and talked the Bishop over. The Bishop wrote to me; I have his letter, and you may see it,' said this good priest."
"And what did the Bishop say?" asked Mr. Green, who had listened attentively.
"He just told Father Richardson that Denis had seen him, and that there was no valid reason to prevent him from the Sacraments."
"Did you meet Gerard there by any chance?" Dr. Marsh asked.
"I did, and never were two men more surprised than when we ran into each other's arms round a corner. Gerard began to explain why he was there. You see, he had a maiden aunt in the town," said Father Healy, smiling all over his face, "and I had a cousin, which was true, for I discovered him soon after my arrival there. The next day Gerard called on me, and began to tell me about Denis Quirk. He was grieved over it, the poor man! It was as bad as if his great grandmother had just died." At this sally the company laughed.
"I told him," continued Father Healy, "it did not surprise me. It is a wicked world, and it would not astonish me to hear that you yourself were not quite perfect, said I."
"Not quite perfect," growled Dr. Marsh. "If ever there was a thief, Gerard is the man."
"How do you prove that, Doctor?" asked Clark.
"From the company he keeps. To be hand in glove with Ebenezer Brown is certain proof of a man's criminality."
"Merely presumptive evidence," replied Clark.
"Did you make further enquiries?" asked Mr. Green of Father Healy.
"I saw Mrs. Quirk—that used to be—and Mrs. Clarence that is now."
Dr. Marsh grunted, as was his way when anyone of whom he disapproved was mentioned.
"And what did you think of her?" he asked.
"That divorce is a failure. If ever there was an unhappy woman, Mrs. Clarence is that one. I sent up my card to her; presently she sent down a message: 'Would Father Healy come up?' I went up three stories in a lift to the prettiest little flat you can imagine. A nice, tidy maid showed me into a charming little room, and there I found the lady. She is an artist, and a clever one, they tell me; a pretty woman, and agreeable; but unhappy, if I am any judge of happiness. I told her where I had come from, and what do you think she asked me, 'Did I know Denis Quirk?' 'Know him,' said I, 'of course I do; a fine man, and honest.' Then she began to praise him, until at last I asked her: 'Did you know him?' The lady was lost in confusion, but at last she answered: 'We were married.' 'And what are you now?' I asked her."
"That was not like your customary caution," said Mr. Green.
"It was a mistake, but I was hot with indignation at her asking for Denis. She shut up at once like the blade of a knife. But before I left her she said to me, 'Will you give Denis Quirk a message?' 'Certainly I will,' I answered her. 'Tell him I shall never forget his nobility,' she said. What do you make of that?"
"It was not the message of a deeply-wronged woman," said Mr. Green.
"Precisely my opinion, but I wasted no more words on her, merely, 'Good day, Madam.' As I was leaving the flat I met a man at the door, short, stout, with bloodshot eyes, and baggy eyelids. 'What are you doing here?' said he. 'Paying a morning call,' I answered. Thereupon he began to call me unpleasant names, but I brushed him on one side, and went home to wash my hands. I pity that poor lady, that has leaped from the frying pan into the fire."
"And there your enquiries ended?" suggested Clark.
"I paid my respects to his Lordship, a kindly old man, with plenty of common sense. 'I know nothing of Denis Quirk,' said he, because, as I understood, his lips were closed by the seal of Confession. 'But,' he asked me, 'what do you think of him?' 'I believe he is innocent,' I answered. 'Speaking as a man who has carefully reviewed the case, I believe you are right,' said he. What do you think of my mission, Mr. Green?"
"With you, I consider it not altogether a failure," the clergyman answered; then, as an afterthought, "If all Roman Catholics were like you, we would all be Roman Catholics."
"There are many better than I, and a few worse. You must make allowances for the weaknesses of human nature," the priest answered. "Come inside now and play bridge."
"Did you see Desmond O'Connor on your way home?" asked Dr. Marsh.
Molly Healy, from her secluded place, strained her ears to catch her brother's answer.
"Naturally I did," he said. "Desmond is a great man now, a partner in the firm of Jackson and Company, and coining money, they tell me."
With this he intended to content them, but Dr. Marsh asked, inquisitively:
"Did you bring him back to your Church?"
"I did not try. There are seasons to speak and seasons to say nothing. It was not the time to argue with him."
"Why not the time? You could have put him on the broad of his back," said Dr. Marsh.
"To what purpose? I was not there to quarrel with him. The boy will come round.... Let us get to bridge!"
Molly Healy, in the quiet of the garden, turned her eyes towards the dark, limitless ocean. She could not see it, but its droning was in her ears. To it she often turned in her moments of depression, when she walked in those lower depths of melancholy that are occasional with natures which mount to the heights of happiness and merriment. It seemed to her that the ocean was responsive to her moods, that it answered back her mirth, and whispered sadly when she was depressed. Looking towards it now, she whispered:
"Desmond O'Connor will win through. Sure, I will start Bridget Malone praying for him. They say she never failed to get what she asked for."
Therewith she followed the men inside, to find them playing their game in the silence of strict bridge.
THROUGH THE GORGE.
Kathleen O'Connor had been spending the day with Mrs. Sheridan, and was returning slowly, laden with the gossip of the countryside, her rein hanging loosely on Douglas' neck.
She had many things to trouble her young mind at that moment. The thought of Desmond was always with her; she could not reconcile herself to his professed want of faith. Though Father Healy told her to have no fear, and Mrs. Quirk bade her trust in God, she carried a heavy heart for her brother.
Only the day previously yet another sorrow had been confided to her. She had accompanied her dear old friend, her second mother as she called her, to Dr. Marsh. After the examination the doctor had called her back into his surgery.
"I give her six months to live," he said; "but you must keep it to yourself. Old Samuel Quirk has a heart that might stop at any moment. He must not know."
"I may write to Denis Quirk?" she asked, anxious to share the burden with someone.
"By all means. But tell him not to come back until I send for him," the doctor answered.
She had accordingly written to Denis Quirk, confiding the ill news to him. The prospect of separation from Mrs. Quirk was hard to bear, for she was a mother, and "Layton," a home, to the girl.
The road from Mrs. Sheridan's farm to the lower bridge now dips down beside the river, and now rises high above, where it runs through the Gorge. It was at a spot where the river banks are low that Kathleen heard her name called from the river. Looking towards the spot whence the voice came, she saw Gerard seated in a boat that he had moored to the bank. He had been fishing, pipe in mouth, for with the failure of the "Observer," he had returned to desultory journalism and idleness.
Kathleen reined her horse in, and he scrambled out of the boat and came towards her. He was wearing a low-necked shirt; his face and neck were tanned by the sun, as were the arms, bare to the elbow. Without doubt he was a handsome man, and the bold, devil-may-care expression on his face did not make him the less attractive. Kathleen knew that many a girl in the district, well-to-do and not bad looking, would have welcomed the attentions of Gerard.
But, ever since his return from Goldenvale, Kathleen had recognised that the old feeling for him had died out of her heart. He had expected to resume the old, intimate relations, but she had held him at arm's length. Two things were accountable for this—a dread of the influence he had once exerted over her, and resentment of the part he had played in the downfall of Denis Quirk. Gerard had not accepted the girl's change of attitude with philosophy, although he had given no sign that it affected him. He smiled pleasantly as he stood beside her horse's head, one hand stroking the satiny skin, the other on the bridle rein.
"This is quite a pleasant chance," he said. "We never meet one another now."
Kathleen murmured something about being so very busy.
"It is my loss," he answered. "But there is no reason why we should not make the most of this chance meeting. There is my boat. Tie your horse to a tree and allow me to scull you up the river."
"I have no time," Kathleen replied. "I must hurry home to Mrs. Quirk."
"Nonsense," he answered; "Mrs. Quirk can wait for once. You can't refuse me the last favour I shall ever ask of you."
"I can and I will," Kathleen answered; then she added, with a laugh: "You can find any number of girls only too willing to take my place."
"Undoubtedly, but I am a man of caprice. If I order turkey for dinner, I will have turkey or nothing. To-day I intend that you shall do what I ask. If you will do it gracefully, I shall accept it as a great favour; if you refuse, I shall be compelled to insist."
Kathleen became frightened. She cast a glance at his face, careless and bold, staring up into her own with an ardent admiration, and a second glance around her. The place was lonely and unfrequented; only occasionally did a farmer's cart or gig drive along the road. On the further bank of the river a line of pine trees hid them from the distant farm-houses. Under these circumstances it was wisest to temporise.
"If I accept, how long will you keep me?" she asked.
"That depends entirely on the amount of entertainment I find in your society."
"Then I will accept. Will you kindly tie my horse to that tree?"
She dismounted quickly, refusing the help he offered her. Then she threw the reins in to his hands. The nearest tree was some yards distant, and she waited until Gerard had approached it. Then she suddenly made a run towards the boat, and, unhitching the rope, stepped in, and pushed out from the shore. Gerard, seeing what she had done, ran towards the river with a loud curse.
Kathleen could row, and she put the oars in the rowlocks, and sat down to scull. At the same moment Gerard sprang from the bank into the stream, and began swimming towards the boat. Kathleen strained at the oars, and little by little the distance between them increased, although Gerard was a strong swimmer.
But there are sand-spits on the Grey, and on one of these the boat stranded. With a loud shout, Gerard welcomed the fact, while he made stronger exertions to gain the boat. Kathleen seized an oar, and stood up, attempting to free the boat from the obstruction. The boat began to yield to her exertions, but Gerard came nearer and nearer. Just as she had set the boat free his hands were on the gunwale of the boat, but she raised the oar and brought it down smartly across his knuckles. With a fresh curse he let go, and a moment later the boat was drifting further and further from him.
It is a dangerous passage, even for a skilled oarsman, through the Gorge of the Grey River. In times of flood no man who laid claims to sanity would attempt the feat; but, even when the river is low and flows quietly if swiftly, there are rocks and snags that obstruct the passage. To strike one of these would mean a total wreck.
On either side of the river the masses of grey rock ascend steep and slippery from the surface of the water. The stream is deep to the very edges of the cliff, offering but little foothold to one who would climb from the water to firm land. Here and there the caves break the even surface of the rocks, and in yet other places great masses jut out in fantastic shapes above the water. It is always dark and cool in the Gorge, for the sun never penetrates there excepting in stray beams; a pleasant place of a hot summer's day, with an expert oarsman and coxswain to make a safe passage, but full of peril to a young girl alone in a skiff.
Kathleen O'Connor was, however, so glad to be freed from Gerard, not so much because she feared physical violence as on account of the uncanny influence he had over her, that she faced the passage of the Gorge almost with equanimity. She recognised the danger, for more than one narrow escape from drowning was chronicled in connection with the place, and she crouched in the bow of the boat with an oar in her hand, watching anxiously for rock and snags. Now and then she used the blade of her oar as a paddle to prevent the boat from turning broadside to the current. In this manner she was carried safely through the Gorge.
Kathleen O'Connor's passage down the Grey is recorded as the first occasion on which a woman accomplished the feat alone. Others have done it since then from bravado and a desire for notoriety. Kathleen was compelled to be the pioneer among women by fear. The following day she had a paragraph to herself in both papers, and Grey Town was led to believe that she had made the passage merely from a love of adventure. This story was never contradicted, but, like many other tales of adventure, it is untrue.
At last she found herself safe in the wider expanse of water below the Gorge, an object of interest and admiration to the fishers and boating men who frequent that part of the Grey. Of them Kathleen took little notice. She scrambled back to the sculler's seat, and after a short pull found herself beside the boat shed.
Tomkins, who kept the boat shed, was smoking his pipe on the landing stage when Kathleen drifted out from the Gorge. Shading his eyes with a big, rough hand, he stood watching her in amazement.
"It's Miss O'Connor," he muttered to a man beside him, "and she's come through alone. She's the last woman I'd have expected to do such a thing!"
"You never can tell what a woman will do these times. We'll be taking a back seat in the kitchen before long," answered the other.
"But Miss O'Connor's not that sort," said Tomkins. "What I can't make out is this: I let that boat to Gerard. What's become of him?"
As Kathleen stepped from the boat, Tomkins greeted her with applause, seasoned with advice.
"You've done something, miss, that no other woman ever did before. But never you try it again. Next time you and the boat may come drifting down, the one after the other."
"I have no intention of trying the Gorge again," answered Kathleen. "Thank God, I am safe!"
As she was about to leave the shed, to make her amazement more complete, Gerard rode up on her horse and reined in. His clothes were damp and clung to him, but he disregarded that. "You have won your wager, Miss O'Connor!" he cried; "but you went with your life in your hands."
Kathleen was too much astounded by his audacity to reply. He dismounted and lifted her into the saddle holding her rein for one short moment, while he said in a low voice:
"You have nothing more to fear from me. You have taught me a lesson, and, by Jove! you are a well-plucked one."
She did not pause to answer him, but, giving Douglas a cut with the whip, rode away at a smart canter to "Layton."
Denis Quirk was a man of courage and energy. He had an almost heroic disregard of public opinion; if those few whom he loved would give him their faith, the rest of the world might praise or condemn him at will. Had it not been that the future of "The Mercury" was imperilled by his presence, and that Dr. Marsh was interested in the success of the paper, he would have remained at Grey Town to fight on until the tide had turned or want of funds compelled him to close down. As it was, he sold his share to his father for no more than he had originally invested in the paper, and went to Melbourne to start a weekly magazine, "The Freelance."
In this undertaking, he was able to ensure success by his own ability and, perhaps to a still greater degree, by the assistance of Jackson and O'Connor, who were at that time the leading advertising firm in Melbourne.
Prior to giving him support, Jackson stepped into Desmond O'Connor's room to debate Denis Quirk's credentials with his junior.
"See here, Desmond," he said, "you know more about Quirk than I. We were together on "The Golden Eagle" at Fenton before he went to America, and we have continued friends right down to to-day, but his ability is an unknown quantity to me."
Desmond O'Connor heard this remark with considerable interest.
"Do you also know Gerard?" he asked.
"Never heard the name."
"Then I have to thank Denis Quirk for your interest in me?"
Jackson had forgotten Denis Quirk's letter, with its request to keep the latter's name a secret from Desmond. He answered readily:
"Partly Quirk; but largely yourself. Quirk sent me to you and I liked you. That was my reason for helping you in the beginning; later on you helped yourself."
"I have done Quirk an injustice, and now I can help him. Well he deserves it. Quirk is a born journalist. He understands the public as no other man does, and knows what to say to them and how to say it. This paper of his is a certain success."
"Then we will support him. Put the 'Freelance's' name down for a regular column of advertisement," said Jackson.
"I will slip round and see Quirk," suggested Desmond.
Denis Quirk was in his office, busy in putting his ideas into effect with a piece of foolscap in front of him, and the telephone receiver close at hand.
"Jackson and O'Connor re advertisement," he read on his list.
"I may as well try them; probably they will say: 'Prove yourself, and we will support you.'"
He rang the bell, and had the receiver at his ear, when Desmond entered.
"It is all right, Exchange," he cried. "I will ring up again. Hullo, O'Connor! Glad to see you. I was just ringing the office up. Take a seat."
Desmond sat down.
"Quirk," he said; "I owe you a good deal."
"That old chatterbox, Jackson! Has he been bleating?" Denis asked.
"Inadvertently he opened the bag, and out jumped the cat. You are a little bit old-fashioned, Quirk. If every man hid his virtues as you do, Jackson and O'Connor would be forced to close down. I have been crediting Gerard with your balance in my gratitude ledger."
"Gerard!" cried Denis. "What made you select him?"
"He professed so much. If I had all Gerard promised me I would be a multi-millionaire. But I am not ungrateful. Jackson and I can help you a little; count on us!"
"Thanks, Desmond. At present you are invaluable to me, as much because of the weight you carry with the public as for the L s. d. I don't think you are making a mistake because I intend to succeed, and I haven't drawn a blank yet."
"Oh, you'll succeed, Quirk; that's a foregone conclusion.... Are you looking for rooms?" Desmond asked.
"At present I am staying at the 'Exchange,' but there's no privacy there. Do you know of a quiet, respectable place?"
"I can offer you a share in my flat in Collins Street," said Desmond. "I have the best man in Melbourne, miles ahead of any woman ever born; a self-respecting fellow, who expects good wages and earns them. He keeps the flat in A1 order, cooks well enough to content even you——."
"Hang it! I am not a gourmand," Denis Quirk interjected.
"I am not accusing you of gluttony, my friend! I know from experience you like your work well done, even if it happens to be the preparation of an omelette on a Friday. I suppose you still hold to your old prejudice against meat on a Friday?" asked Denis with a smile.
"Undoubtedly! Not from any objection to meat, but as a mark of loyalty and obedience," Denis replied.
"I avoid it myself; merely from a health point of view. I have thrown the old traditions and superstitions to the winds. I am a free man," said Desmond.
"Do you wear a hat in the street?" Denis asked laughingly; "and a coat; or have you descended to the habits of your ancestors and eschewed clothes on a hot day?"
"No, my good man, and for an excellent reason. I have no desire to run counter to the law," replied Desmond.
"Precisely my reason for abstinence on Friday; but my law is a moral one, and my justice of the peace that stern fellow, conscience. Don't talk to me of traditions and superstitions. You, free men, are more bound by superstitions than we who profess to be servants to a kindly mistress.... I will share your flat and your wonderful man; and give you the benefit of my beauty and my intelligent conversation on one condition. We will swear a truce of God, neither shall run atilt at the other's convictions until he is invited to do so. Is it an understanding?" said Denis.
"Agreed! Go your own way and leave me in peace," said Desmond.
Thus did it come about that these two men shared the same flat and lived on a hearty brotherly footing, although their views were diametrically opposed. Around them they gathered a Bohemian band of companions, of all creeds and every condition of life. Lawyers, doctors, actors, journalists, and politicians; if they were decent, straight-living men, with something to give in thought for that which they received, the Bachelors' flat in Collins Street, as it was termed, was open to them all. Denis Quirk lived strenuously as was his way, making "The Freelance" a power in the land. He set himself to found a school of journalists who wrote for the love of truth and scorned the mean and paltry things of life. As with "The Mercury," Denis Quirk made his new organ a censor of all that is contemptible.
Desmond O'Connor, for his part, lived the parti-coloured life of other men, business and pleasure in equal portions. Occasionally he assisted Quirk with a black and white sketch for "The Freelance." He still retained his old power as an artist, and Denis Quirk turned to him in preference to the regular staff when he desired a particularly striking sketch.
"Just sit down, Desmond, and illustrate this article. The initials, D. O'C., are always appreciated," he would say.
"So I have every reason to believe. I am a genius and I know it. But anything, even undesired artistic fame, to oblige you," Desmond would answer.
He had a heartfelt admiration for Denis Quirk, whose fate it was to win the love or hate of those who knew him. None who came in contact with him failed to appreciate the strength of his personality, and he threw himself resolutely on the side of truth. Those who lived on injustice and untruth would willingly have destroyed him because he exposed them relentlessly to public odium; the honest and straightforward placed him on a pedestal as a just man. "Good old Quirk" was a synonym for strength and uprightness of life in those days.
GREAT IS THE TRUTH.
"Bachelors' Flat," in Collins Street, was peculiarly silent. The customary visitors paused in the hall downstairs and did not venture to ascend to the third floor of the mansions. Merely a sympathetic message to the caretaker, a few parting words of hope, or a shake of the head, and they passed on into the busy world outside.
In the flat itself men and women walked with quiet feet and spoke to one another in whispers, saving in the darkened room where Desmond O'Connor chattered unceasingly, and now shouted or laughed in the wildness of delirium. A nurse was installed in his room, a quiet and gentle little lady, never hurried yet never slow; always patient, with a coaxing manner and a soft voice. When he was sensible Desmond called her the Angel of Mercy; in his delirium he spoke to her always as Sylvia. Even in his wildest ravings, when he muttered and shouted sentences he had heard from the lips of others and never sullied his own lips with, he was always respectful to her.
Kathleen O'Connor and Molly Healy were with her as untrained auxiliaries to take her place and implicitly follow her directions when sleep could no longer be denied. To them she gave the highest praise in her power when she remarked approvingly:
"You should have been nurses, both of you."
Denis Quirk had resigned his room to the nurses, and when he slept stretched himself out on the couch in the dining-room. He was watching anxiously for his friend's moment of softening when Desmond would need and ask for a priest. By a special arrangement the Archbishop had granted to Father Healy the permission to attend Desmond, if he desired a confessor. Then, day or night, as soon as the telephone carried the expected message, the parish priest of Grey Town was prepared to hasten in a motor car to Melbourne.
But the fever had gone on to the dread third week, where death crouches beside the patient's sick bed, and Desmond had made no sign. The doctor came and went frequently, having the brand of anxiety plainly printed on his face; the nurse had curtailed her hours of sleep to the minimum of possibility, and the message had not been sent.
"Why will he not surrender?" sighed Kathleen O'Connor. "I have asked him to see Father Healy, and he always answers, 'No.'"
"The good God is just trying us," said Molly Healy. "He wishes to see how far our faith will go. But I am hoping that mine will stretch a little further yet; for it needs to be elastic in times like this."
Denis Quirk came in from his work, a little older and more tired-looking than he had been, but just as warm-hearted and humorous as when life was moving like a well-oiled machine.
"Any improvement?" he asked.
Kathleen shook her head, while tears filled her eyes.
"We are so weak and powerless," she said.
"But brave of heart," he answered cheerfully. "Things are at their worst just now, but there is always a glimmer of light in the East. Keep your eyes that way and you will soon see the sun rising to send the shadows and the black thoughts helter skelter back into the darkness.... May I see him?"
"I will ask nurse," said Kathleen. "She is the commander-in-chief."
"Oh, you great-hearted women—angels of self-sacrifice," said Denis, after she had left the room. "You make me feel such a mean and contemptible worm."
Molly laughed at this outburst.
"Sure you are not so bad—for a man," she said. "The Lord gave you the physical strength, and us poor women the moral virtues. You can't help it that you were not made a woman. Just do your best to put up with yourself."
In a few minutes Kathleen returned.
"Nurse says you may go in to him for five minutes. He is quiet and sensible now," she said.
Denis entered the sick room very quietly. It was darkened and cool; about it there was the scent of fresh flowers brought daily from Jackson's garden. The bed linen was scrupulously white, and the room itself bare of furniture, but exceedingly tidy. Desmond O'Connor was lying in a peaceful doze, low in the bed, in the prostration that had followed a period of wild delirium. As Denis entered he opened his eyes and smiled.
"Is it you, Dad?" he asked. "I fancied you would come to me. I have been a disgrace to you!"
Denis did not answer, fearing to break the chain of thought that had taken his friend back to his childish days.
"A disgrace to you and to the O'Connors," Desmond continued. "Didn't you tell me that in the dark days the O'Connors clung to the Faith; that never a one of them ever fell away? Well, I have been the first; just from pique, dad; pique and pride.... Why don't you speak to me?"
Still did Denis refrain from answering him, and Desmond continued:
"But I begin to see again. It was all darkness for a time ... after Sylvia had left me hopeless.... Where is Sylvia?"
He turned his head to search the room.
The nurse, hearing the name by which he addressed her, entered the room, and stood beside his bed.
"Ah, there she is! Don't go away from me, Sylvia."
"Only into the next room," she answered.
"Yes, that will do.... Isn't she splendid, dad?... I intend to come round, when I am well again, to make my peace with God, and live like an O'Connor.... Why don't you send for a priest?" he asked, in an irritable voice.
"You shall have a priest!" cried Denis.
But Desmond relapsed into a half sleep, broken by a rambling delirium, like to a fragmentary nightmare. The word had been spoken, and when Denis Quirk had called the nurse and left her in charge, he hastened to the nearest telephone exchange and sent the long-delayed message to Father Healy. In half an hour's time the big motor car from the Grey Town garage was starting on the long journey to Melbourne.
Through the evening and night the good priest sat silently beside the chauffeur, but his lips were moving constantly, his fingers passing the rosary beads as he prayed for the boy he loved. The chauffeur, who knew him well, had never found the priest so self-absorbed. As a general rule, Father Healy made the longest journey short; to-night he could only pray silently. For he had seen Desmond grow up from infancy to manhood, and had prepared him for the Sacraments. His downfall had been a calamity; his return to the Faith would mean a triumph over the powers of evil. Thus did the car rush through the night, its bright headlights picking out the road in front of it; blackness around; the horn now sounding its deep note as they dashed past a township, while Father Healy was praying for the sick man in Melbourne.
It was three o'clock in the morning when the car entered the sleeping city, where darkness and quiet held possession. Here and there a light shone from a window, telling its tale of sickness; now and again they passed a night wanderer or policeman; but Melbourne lay in placid sleep, reinvigorating itself for the busy day.
In the flat Denis Quirk was sitting in an armchair anxiously expecting the sound of the motor. His quick ears heard it as it came up Collins Street, and he was at the door to admit Father Healy.
"I suppose you are tired and hungry?" he asked.
"Neither," the priest replied. "But my friend here has had a long drive. He would appreciate a cup of tea—eh, Jack?"
"No thank you, Father. I will take the car to the garage, and get to bed," the chauffeur answered. Therewith he started post haste for the garage and bed.
"How is Desmond?" Father Healy asked anxiously.
"At his very worst, the doctor tells me. If he comes through the next few days there is hope; at present it might go either way," Desmond answered.
"Can I see him?"
"I will ask the nurse," said Denis. "We do nothing without consulting her. Sit down and eat while I find her. Ah! here is Miss O'Connor," he added, as Kathleen entered the room.
"Father, I am so pleased to see you," said Kathleen. "I have been waiting so long for you, until at last I began to lose hope."
"I have been as anxious as you," he answered. "Is the boy asleep?"
"I will ask nurse," said Kathleen, and went quietly out of the room.
Desmond had just awakened from a quiet sleep. He was fully conscious, more so than he had been for many days. When Kathleen entered the nurse stole over and looked at him.
"Awake?" she asked, in a low voice.
"Very much so," he answered. "All the queer things have gone, leaving me at peace."
"Father Healy is here," she said.
"Did I send for him? I have a faint idea I did ... a sort of half dream that the dad came to me and told me to see the Father," he answered.
"Will you see him?" she asked.
"Give me something to pull me together first. I am in a mortal dread," he whispered.
"Would you rather wait?" she asked.
"No; it has to be gone through. Just a mouthful of nourishment; then send him in!"
In the quiet of the sick room priest and penitent conferred together in whispers; Desmond O'Connor pouring the story of his fall and the subsequent history resulting from it into the good Father's kindly ears. And when it was completed there was a great joy in the two hearts and a peace in Desmond's that had not been there for many years.
"You are tired, my son," said Father Healy kindly.
"Tired, but glad, Father. I have come out of the ocean of darkness and doubt into the old harbour of peace and certainty."
A few minutes after Father Healy had left him he was again sleeping as peacefully as a child. The nurse, looking into his thin, pale face, where black lines encircled the eyes, found a gentle smile on it.
"Oh, these Catholics!" she said to herself; "what a satisfaction their religion is to them! I believe he will come through now."
Yet, strangely enough, although she was a good little woman, she did not realise that there must be something superhuman in a religion that can give perfect peace to the soul and increased strength to the body.
In this manner began Desmond O'Connor's progress towards recovery. Slowly the fever began to abate, leaving him prostrate and feeble after the severe struggle he had maintained for weeks. During the first days of convalescence he was so weak that death seemed preferable. But inch by inch he fought his way back to health; until he was allowed to sit in an armchair. After that his recovery was more rapid.
As he became stronger Desmond found himself a prey to the most dreadful spiritual desolation. The Faith that he had again found and accepted as a great gift, with an outburst of thanksgiving, seemed to be withdrawn from him. For days and days doubts and misgivings troubled him so that he walked as a blind man, gropingly. And with the doubts there came a myriad of evil thoughts to torment him. He could not read nor pray; he had to cling blindly to Acts of Faith and resignation.
It was fortunate for him in those days that Father Healy had left him under the care of an old Jesuit Father. Day after day the old priest visited him, and while he was with him Desmond was at peace. But no sooner was the good Father out of the room than the blackness of desolation closed around him.
"Is this to go on for ever?" he asked the priest.
"No, my son. You are weak in body and new to the Faith. You have weakened yourself during the years of doubt. In a short time you will find your feet again and walk confidently. Go frequently to the Sacraments, and trust in God."
Thus did it happen with Desmond. Slowly the doubts and difficulties left him, so that he wondered that they had ever caused him uneasiness. But daily in his Acts of Thanksgiving he praised his Divine Redeemer who had lifted him from the valley of desolation to an absolute certainty of Faith.
This was the beginning of a new life to him. During his convalescence he entered more deeply into his religion than he had ever done before. Slowly its great beauty unfolded itself to him; he found it so wonderful in its perfection, so satisfying that he marvelled at his previous lukewarmness. It was just at this time that a visitor came to see him.
Desmond was sitting up in an easy chair; the nurse had gone to another patient while Father Healy and Molly were in Grey Town. Kathleen, having made her brother comfortable, had slipped out for a short breath of air, leaving Desmond in charge of Black, the incomparable man-servant. A ring at the door bell, a vision of a beautiful face and a graceful figure becomingly dressed, conquered Black. His orders were to admit no visitors, but he was so fascinated by the apparition that he carried the card in to Desmond, and a moment later Sylvia Custance was sitting beside the sick man's chair.
Desmond looked up as she entered to judge how the years had treated her. Older and more mature, but otherwise unaltered, he decided as he took her hand and shook it.
"You poor man! How pale you are!" she cried. "I only returned home last week to hear that you had been so desperately ill."
"Home?" he asked, in a puzzled voice.
"The only home I have ever known. I have been miserable since I left it," she explained.
"And Custance?" he questioned.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"He is impossible," she said. "I have done my utmost for him, but at last there came a time when I could not go on. We have separated."
"With his consent?" he asked.
"Custance cares for nothing now but that cursed drug. Oh, what a fool I have been," she almost moaned.
There came a painful silence, broken at last by her.
"But now I intend to return to the old life and the old friends. I shall forget the horror of what I have endured.... You will help me to forget?"
He was very weak and weary. As he watched her the old passion began to return to him. But it so happened that he looked towards a picture given him that very day by the old Jesuit Father. It was a simple painting of the Sacred Heart, with no attempt at artistic beauty. That very day, however, the old priest had spoken so eloquently of the mystery of love portrayed by that poor picture that Desmond valued it better than if it had been a treasure of art.
"I have done with the old life," he said.
"You fancy that now. But wait until you are strong and feel again the joy of life," she said. "Then you will alter your mind."
"Tell me about your trouble," he suggested.
"No. Not that, please. It is bad enough to have lived it. It was pure misery and hopelessness. I prefer to talk of anything but that."
They were still talking when Kathleen returned. She concealed the dismay and dread that she felt in finding Sylvia Custance with Desmond. She feared the old influence that had so vitally helped to ruin her brother's life and drive him from his Faith. At present he was weak in body, and like an infant in religion. The slightest obstacle might turn him again to his former state of doubt. At this critical stage Sylvia Custance was a great danger. But it flashed into her mind that Desmond must fight his own fight unaided. If he succumbed again it was not her fault. She could only pray for him.
That evening when she bade him good-night, he said to her:
"I think I will go down to Grey Town to-morrow, Kath."
"Are you strong enough?" she asked.
"I don't want to see Sylvia Custance again. The old life must die, Kath. It seems rather hard, but it must be done. Make all arrangements like a dear girl."
The next morning as they travelled towards Grey Town she recognised that he had not slept well, but she made him comfortable with rugs and cushions, and watched him drop into a quiet sleep. Denis Quirk, who had insisted on accompanying them, brought them refreshments at every possible opportunity and watched over them with untiring zeal. When they arrived at Grey Town the "Layton" motor was waiting to carry them to the Quirks' home. Here they found Mrs. Quirk, very enfeebled, but smiling a glad welcome, and old Samuel Quirk, to greet them warmly.
"It is like home to me," cried Kathleen, as she kissed the kindly, withered old face.
"And home it is, honey, when you are here; but it is a lonely home without yourself and Denis," said Mrs. Quirk.
THE BISHOP'S SOLUTION.
Denis Quirk, at Grey Town, threw away all thoughts of work, and laid himself out to make the time pass pleasantly for Desmond and Kathleen O'Connor. During his fortnight at "Layton" he was only in the town for Mass on the two Sundays, and once when he paid a visit to Cairns at the "Mercury" Office. That visit he curtailed to a brief fifteen minutes.
When he entered the old office, to find everything as he had left it—the old faces, the same order, even his own room arranged as it had been in his day—he felt that he could not stay for any length of time. This was home to him, and he an exile.
"I had to see you," he said to Cairns, "but it breaks me up to visit the old place."
"It is waiting for you, Quirk, and we miss you every day. When are you coming back?" the editor asked.
"When I can thrust my innocence in the town's face—perhaps to-morrow, possibly never," Denis answered.
"Nonsense! The scandal is dead and buried. We never realised what you were until you had left us. We want your initiative, Quirk."
"It's very good of you to say that. Lord, how I miss you Cairns—you and the old paper! The 'Freelance' is all right, but it never can be the 'Mercury.' And Grey Town, too! I love it for its very shortcomings," Denis replied.
He interviewed the staff, and parted after a few friendly words with each. The remainder of his time in Grey Town was spent at "Layton" and in the country around the town. His friends were invited to meet him at dinner—Father Healy, Mr. Green, Dr. Marsh, and a few others. Not that he feared to face the town, but because he could not bear to enter it as a mere visitor; to stand, as it were, on one side, as an onlooker and not as a worker.
"You have done wonders, they tell me," he remarked to his father, "but I feel that there is more to be accomplished, and my fingers are itching to be doing it."
"I am just keeping your seat on the Council warm for you. Say the word, and it is yours," remarked Samuel Quirk.
"When the word comes to me, I will send it along to you. Meanwhile, keep firing at them, Dad. Grey Town is yawning and rubbing its eyes. The town is beginning to realise what it is to be awake. In time it will be awake and moving briskly."
"I'll keep on pinching them, until they must be moving just to be quit of my fingers," Samuel Quirk replied complacently. "By the time you are back with us this town will be a young city."
The time passed pleasantly and swiftly at "Layton." Every day brought some new pleasure or excitement for the O'Connors, and Denis Quirk did his utmost to make them forget the strain that they had just been through. He proved that he could play as strenuously as he was accustomed to work, and that he was still a young man in his mind.
One morning Kathleen O'Connor attempted to thank him for his kindness. They were in the garden, old Mrs. Quirk resting placidly in an easy-chair under a large oak tree, Kathleen seated beside her, and the two men sprawled out at full length on the lawn. Desmond lay far apart, out of earshot, while Mrs. Quirk was fast asleep.
"I don't know how to thank you——," Kathleen began.
"There is no occasion to thank me. The gratitude is on my side, Miss O'Connor. You have made my mother happy, as no one else could have done. No payment or reward could represent what I owe you," he answered.
"But I am a paid companion," she protested, half-laughingly.
"Money cannot buy a friend, nor pay her for her friendship," he said. "And please not to forget that I am enjoying myself as much as you are. It seems to me that I have never been young until now. I went from school into a hard world, and I have been battling with it ever since. It is only now I realise that there is something else beyond work to make the world pleasant. Until now it has been a case of fighting hard and keeping myself straight by means of religion. Once I was tempted to drift—that was after my trouble, over there in Golden Vale—but I was fortunate enough to find an old friend, a Father, who put things before me in their proper light."
It was the first time he had spoken to her of the dark days in Goldenvale. She had often wondered to herself as to how he had accepted what must have been a terrible experience. Now that he had confided in her, she wished to hear more.
"A priest?" she asked him.
"The Bishop. I wish you knew him."
"I do," she answered. "We have a Bishop like that."
"Then I must know him. Will you take me to him and introduce me?"
"It is a long journey from Grey Town to Millerton," she answered laughingly.
"Nothing to a motor on a fine day and good roads. We will start early in the morning, and be there for lunch, see your Bishop, and return here for dinner. Desmond shall come—but what about the Mother?"
Mrs. Quirk had awakened, and lay very quietly, with closed eyes, listening to their conversation. She knew the Bishop well, for he came to visit her whenever he chanced to be in Grey Town. His very name brought a smile to her face, but she refused to place his Lordship before his reverence the parish priest.
"Never mind me," she said. "What is one day to me? But it may mean a good deal to Denis—and still more to Desmond."
They turned in surprise to look towards the spot where Desmond O'Connor lay, apparently asleep.
"To Desmond?" Kathleen asked, in a puzzled voice.
"Sure, you don't know the boy as I do. He comes to me, and we talk together, Desmond and I. The seed is working in the boy's soul—I am thinking he will be a priest."
"A priest!" cried Kathleen so clearly that Desmond rolled over lazily and faced them.
"What's that?" he asked. "You three look as if you were conspiring together. No secrets are allowed in this establishment—excepting Mrs. Quirk's and my own. Now, what is it, Kath.?"
"We are going to see the Bishop to-morrow," said Denis. "I intend to put his Lordship to a severe test. He shall be placed alongside my Bishop, and judged in that comparison."
"Six to four on his Lordship," said Desmond, still lazily.
"Will you come?" Kathleen asked.
"Of course I will. I have a spiritual conundrum of my own to be answered, and no one can find the solution but he. Book a seat for me in the car."
"May we take Molly Healy?" Kathleen asked.
"Who better? Molly Healy would make the longest road short and the roughest one smooth. If we puncture or blow out, she will cause us to forget the trials that pursue the tyres of a motor car."