The Rocks of Valpre
by Ethel May Dell
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It was nearing midnight when his man came softly in with a cup of beef-tea.

"All right, Holmes! I'll see to him. You can go to bed," he said then.

Holmes paused. "I've made up the bed in the spare-room, sir," he said.

"Oh, thanks! I shall not want it though. I will sleep on the sofa here."

"Very good, sir." Holmes still paused. He never expressed surprise at anything his master saw fit to do; he only did his utmost to give his proceedings as normal an aspect as possible. His acquaintance with Mordaunt also dated from a South African battlefield; they knew each other very well indeed.

"I was only thinking to myself," he said, in answer to Mordaunt's look, "I could just as easy attend to the gentleman as you could, sir. I'm more or less up in night duty, as you might say, and I'll guarantee as he wants for nothing if you'll put him in my charge."

Holmes had been a hospital orderly in his time, and Mordaunt knew him to be absolutely trustworthy in a responsible position. Nevertheless he declined the offer.

"Very good of you, Holmes! But I would rather you went to bed. I shouldn't be turning in yet in any case. I have work to do. I don't fancy he will give any trouble. If he does, I will call you."

Holmes withdrew without further argument, and a few minutes later Mordaunt, armed with the beef-tea, went to his guest's bedside.

He found him dozing, but he awoke at once, looking up with fever-bright eyes to greet him.

"Ah! but you are too good—too good," he said. "And I have no hunger now. I am only yet a little fatigued. I shall repose myself, and I shall find myself well."

"Yes, you will be better after a sleep," Mordaunt said. "You shall settle down when you have had this, and sleep the clock round."

He was aware once more of the Frenchman's puzzled eyes watching him as he submissively took the nourishment, but he paid no heed to them. It was not his intention to encourage any discussion just then.

Outside, the rain pattered incessantly, beating against the windows. At a sudden gust of hail de Montville shivered.

"Monsieur," he said, choosing his words with care, "your great kindness is such as I can never hope to repay, but permit me to assure you that my gratitude will constrain me to regard myself your debtor till death. If it is ever in my power to serve you, I will render that service, cost what it may. You have called me by my name. It appears that you know me?"

He paused for an answer.

"Yes, I know you," Mordaunt said.

"And for that you extend to me the hand of friendship?" questioned the Frenchman, his quick eyes still searching the Englishman's quiet face.

Mordaunt's eyes looked gravely back. "I also happen to believe in you," he said. "Otherwise I should probably have helped you because you needed it; but I most certainly should not have brought you here."

"Ah!" Sudden understanding flashed into de Montville's face; he leaned forward, stuttering with eagerness. "You—you—I know you now! I know you! You are the English journalist, the man who believed in me even against reason, against evidence—in spite of all! I remember you well—well! I remember your eyes. They sent me a message. They gave me courage. They told me that you knew—that you were my friend—the only friend, monsieur, that was not ashamed of me. And I thanked le bon Dieu that night—that terrible night—simply because I had looked into your eyes."

He broke off in quivering agitation. Trevor Mordaunt's hand was on his shoulder. "Easy—easy!" the quiet voice said. "You are exciting yourself, my dear fellow, and you mustn't. You must go to sleep. This matter will very well keep till morning."

De Montville's face was hidden in his shaking hands. "If I could thank you—if I could make you comprehend—" he murmured brokenly.

"I do comprehend. I comprehend perfectly." Mordaunt's voice was soothing now, almost motherly. He stroked the bent shoulders with a consoling touch. "Come, man! You are used up; you are ill. Lie down and rest."

He coaxed his forlorn guest down upon the pillows again and drew the bedclothes over him. Then for a space he sat beside him, divining that he would recover his self-command more quickly with him there than left to his own devices.

A nervous hand, bony as a skeleton's, came hesitatingly forth to him at length, and he gripped and held it for several quiet seconds more.

Finally he rose. "I'll leave you now. If you are wanting anything, you have only to ask for it. I shall be in the next room. Quite comfortable?"

Yes, he was quite comfortable. He assured him of this in unsteady tones, and begged that Mr. Mordaunt would give himself no further trouble on his account. He would sleep—he would sleep.

As the assurance was uttered somewhat incoherently, through lips half closed, Mordaunt judged that he could be trusted to carry out this intention, and so left him, to return to his writing-table in the adjoining room.

Ten minutes later he crept back noiselessly and found him in a deep sleep. He stood a moment to watch him, and noted with compassion a faint, pathetic smile that rested on the worn features.

But he did not guess that Bertrand de Montville had returned in his dreams to a land of enchantment, where the sun was always shining, and the sea was at peace, even that land where first he had forgotten the great goal of his ambition and had halted by the way to listen to a girl's light laughter while he drew for her his pictures in the sand.



"My dear Trevor, do let me warn you against making yourself in any way responsible for Chris's brothers."

Mrs. Forest spoke impressively. She was rather fond of warning people. It was in a fashion her attitude towards life.

"You will find," she continued, "that Chris herself will need a firm hand—a very firm hand. Though so young, she is not, I fear, very pliable. I have known her do the most unheard-of things, chiefly, I must admit, from excess of spirits. They all suffer from that upon occasion. It is a most difficult thing to cope with."

"But not a very serious failing," said Mordaunt, with his tolerant smile.

"It leads to very serious complications sometimes," said Mrs. Forest, in the tone of one who could reveal much were she so minded.

But Mordaunt did not seem to hear. His eyes had wandered to a light figure in the doorway—a girl with wonderful hair that shimmered like burnished copper, and eyes that were blue as a summer sea. It was a Sunday afternoon, and several people had dropped in to tea. The engagement had been announced the previous day, and Mordaunt had dropped in also to give his young fiancee the benefit of his support. Chris, however, was not, to judge by appearances, needing any support. She seemed, in fact, to be frankly enjoying herself. The high spirits which her aunt deplored were very much in evidence at that moment. Her gay laugh reached him where he sat. Being engaged was evidently the greatest fun.

"They are all like that," continued Mrs. Forest, with her air of one fulfilling an unpleasant duty—"all except Max, who is frankly objectionable. Gay, debonnaire, fascinating, I grant you, but so deplorably unstable. Those boys—well, I have never dared to encourage them here, for I know too well what it would mean. If you are really thinking of buying their old home for yourself and Chris, do be on your guard or you will never keep them at arms' length."

"Kellerton Old Park will be Chris's property exclusively," Mordaunt replied gravely. "If she cares to have her brothers there, she will be quite at liberty to do so."

"My dear Trevor, you are far too kind," protested Mrs. Forest. "I see you are going to spoil them right and left. They will simply live on you if you do that. You won't find yourself master in your own house."

"No?" said Mordaunt, with a smile.

Chris was coming towards him. He rose to meet her.

"Oh, Trevor," she said eagerly, "I can go down to Kellerton with you to-morrow, and Max has written to say he will join us there. I am so glad he can get away. I haven't seen him since Christmas."

"Isn't he coming to your birthday party?" asked Jack Forest, strolling up at that moment.

He addressed Chris, but he looked at his mother, who, after the briefest pause, made reply, "Of course Chris can ask whom she likes."

"Oh, can I?" exclaimed Chris. "How heavenly! Then I will get Rupert to come too. I wish Noel might, but I suppose he is out of the question."

She slipped a hand surreptitiously inside Jack's arm as her aunt moved away, and squeezed it. She knew quite well that the party itself had been of his devising—an informal dance to celebrate her twenty-first birthday, which was less than a fortnight away.

Jack smiled upon her indulgently. "Are you going to ask me to your birthday party, Chris?"

"No," said Chris. "I shall never ask you anywhere. You have a free pass always so far as I am concerned."

He made her a low bow. "You listening, Trevor? I'll bet she never said that to you."

But Chris turned swiftly away towards her fiance. "There is no need to say anything of that sort to Trevor," she said, in her quick way. "He understands without."

"Thank you," said Trevor quietly.

Jack laughed. "One to you, my boy! I admit it frankly. By the way, I heard a funny story about you yesterday. Someone said you were turning your rooms in Clive Street into a home for sick organ-grinders. Is it true by any chance?"

"Not strictly," said Mordaunt.

"Nor strictly untrue either," commented Jack. "I know the sort of thing. You are always doing it. Was it a child or a woman or a monkey this time?"

"It was a man," said Mordaunt.

"A man! A friend of yours, I suppose?" Jack smiled over the phrase. He had heard it on Mordaunt's lips more than once.

"Exactly. A friend of mine." The tone of Mordaunt's reply did not encourage further inquiries.

Chris, glancing at him, saw a slight frown between his brows, and promptly changed the subject.

"It's really rather good of Aunt Philippa to let me have the boys here," she said later, when they were alone together for a moment just before he took his departure. "She never gets on with them, especially Max. Of course it's partly his fault. I hope you will like each other, Trevor."

By which sentence Trevor divined that this was her favourite brother.

"We shall get on all right," he said.

"It isn't everyone that likes Max," she said. "But he's tremendously nice really, and very clever. What time will you be here to-morrow? I must try not to keep you waiting."

But of course when the morning came she did keep him waiting. With the best intentions, Chris seldom managed to be ready for anything. And Mordaunt had nearly half an hour to wait before she joined him.

She raced down at last with airy apology. "I'm very sorry really. But it was Cinders' fault. We went to be photographed, and I couldn't get him to sit at the right angle. And then when I got back I had to dress, and everything went wrong."

She was carrying Cinders under her arm and evidently meant him to join their expedition. She did not look as if everything had gone wrong with her, neither did she look particularly penitent. She laughed up at him merrily, and he—because he could not help it—drew her to him and kissed her.

"Oh, but you should kiss Cinders too," she said. "I love kissing Cinders. He is like satin."

"If we don't start we shall never get there," observed Mordaunt.

"What an obvious remark!" laughed Chris. "Let's start at once. I hope you are going to scorch. Wouldn't it be funny if the motor broke down and we had to spend the night under a hedge? We should enjoy that, shouldn't we, Cinders? We would pretend we were gipsies or organ-grinders. Oh, Trevor, it is a sweet motor! Do let me drive!"

"While I sit behind with Cinders?" he said. "Thanks very much, but I'd rather not. Do you think we want Cinders, by the way?"

She opened her eyes wide in astonishment. Her motor-bonnet gave her a very babyish appearance. She hugged her favourite to her as she might have hugged a doll.

"Of course we want Cinders! Why, he has been looking forward to it for ever so long. Kellerton is home to him, you know."

"Oh, very well! Jump in," said Mordaunt, with resignation. "Are you going to sit beside me?"

"Of course we are. We can see better in front. Oh, Trevor, I am horrid. I quite forgot to thank you for that lovely, lovely ring. I'm wearing it round my neck, because I had to wash Cinders this morning, and I was afraid of hurting it. I've never worn a ring before. And it was so dear of you to remember that I liked turquoise and pearl. I was furious with Aunt Philippa because—" She broke off abruptly.

Mordaunt was starting the motor, but as they skimmed smoothly away he spoke. "Aunt Philippa thought it ought to have been diamonds, I suppose?"

"Well, yes," Chris admitted, turning very red. "But I—I didn't agree with her. Diamonds are not to be compared with pearls."

"You are not old enough for diamonds, dear," he said. "I will give you diamonds later."

"Oh, but I don't want any." Shyly her hand pressed his knee. "Please don't give me too much, Trevor," she said. "I shall never dare to ask for the things I really want if you do. Aunt Philippa thinks I'm getting horribly spoilt as it is."

"I don't," he said.

"How nice of you, Trevor! Do you know I'm so happy to-day, I want to sing."

"You may sing to your heart's content when we get out into the country," he said.

She laughed. "No, no! Cinders would howl. How cleverly you drive! You will teach me some day, won't you? Do you know, I dreamt I was driving your organ-grinder last night. Do tell me about him. Is he really a friend of yours?"

"Yes, really, Chris."

"How exciting!" said Chris, keenly interested. "And what are you going to do with him?"

"I haven't decided at present. He has had a pretty bad spell of starvation. I don't know yet what he is fit for."

"It must be dreadful to starve," said Chris soberly. "It's bad enough not to have any pocket-money. But to starve—Is he ill, then?"

"He has been. He is getting better."

"And you are taking care of him?"

"Yes, I'm housing him for the present."

"Trevor, it was good of you not to send him to the workhouse."

Mordaunt frowned. "It was not a case for the workhouse. He would probably have died before he came to that."

"Oh, how dreadful!" A shadow crossed her vivid face. "But—he won't die now, you think?"

"Not now, no!"

"And you won't let him go organ-grinding any more?"


"That's all right; though I don't think it would be at all bad on fine days in the country, if one had a nice little donkey to pull the organ."

"Nice little donkeys have to be fed," Mordaunt reminded her.

"Oh yes. But they eat grass and thistles and things. And they never die. Isn't that extraordinary? One would think the world would get overrun with them, wouldn't one?"

"So it is, more or less," observed Mordaunt.

"Trevor! What a disgusting insinuation!" The merry laugh pealed out. "I've a good mind to turn round and go straight back."

"If you think you could," he said.

"Of course I could!" Chris leaned forward and laid a daring hand on the wheel.

"Yes," he said. "But that won't do it, you know."

"But if I were in earnest?" she said, a quick note of pleading in her voice. "If I really wanted you to turn round?"

He kept his eyes fixed ahead. "Are you ever really in earnest, Chris?" he said.

"Of course I am!"

Mordaunt was silent. They were crossing a crowded thoroughfare, and his driving seemed to occupy his full attention.

Chris waited till he had extricated the car from the stream of traffic, then impulsively she spoke—

"Trevor, I didn't think you were like Aunt Philippa. I thought you understood."

She saw his grave face soften. "Believe me, I am not in the least like your Aunt Philippa," he said.

"No; but—"

"But, Chris?"

"I think you needn't have asked me that," she said, a little quiver in her voice. "Even Cinders knows me better than that."

"Cinders ought to know you better than anyone," remarked Mordaunt. "His opportunities are unlimited."

She laughed somewhat dubiously. "I knew you would think me horrid as soon as you began to see more of me."

He laughed also at that. "My dear, forgive me for saying so, but you are absurd—too absurd to be taken seriously, even if you are serious—which I doubt."

"But I am," she asserted. "I am. I—I am nearly always serious."

Mordaunt turned his head and looked at her with that in his eyes which she alone ever saw there, before which instinctively, almost fearfully, she veiled her own.

"You—child!" he said again softly.

And this time—perhaps because the words offered a way of escape of which she was not sorry to avail herself—Chris did not seek to contradict him. She pressed her cheek to Cinders' alert head, and said no more.



Rupert's description of Kellerton Old Park, though unflattering, was not far removed from the truth. The thistles in the drive that wound from the deserted lodge to the house itself certainly were abnormally high, so high that Mordaunt at once decided to abandon the car inside the great wrought-iron gates that had been the pride of the place for many years.

"That nice little donkey of yours would come in useful here," he observed, as he handed his fiancee to the ground.

She tucked her hand engagingly inside his arm. "Ah! but isn't the park lovely? And look at all those rabbits! No, no, Cinders! You mustn't! Trevor, you do like it?"

"I like it immensely," he answered.

His eyes looked out over the wide, rough stretch of ground before him that was more like common land than private property, dwelt upon a belt of trees that crowned a distant rise, scanned the overgrown carriage-road to where it ended before a grey turret that was half-hidden by a great cedar, finally came back to the sparkling face by his side.

"So this is to be our—home, Chris?" he said.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she said proudly. "Oh, Trevor, you don't know what it means to me to feel it isn't going to be sold after all."

He smiled. "I understood it was going to be sold and presented to my wife for a wedding-gift."

She turned her face up to his. "Trevor, you don't think I'm ungrateful too, do you?"

"My darling," he said, "I think that gratitude between you and me is out of place at any time. Remember, though I give you this and a thousand other things, you are giving me—all you have."

She pressed his arm shyly. "It doesn't seem very much, does it?" she said.

He laid his hand upon hers. "You can make it much," he said very gently.

"How, Trevor?"

"By marrying me," he said.

"Oh!" Her eyes fell instantly, and he saw the hot colour rise and overspread her face. "Oh, but not yet!" she said, almost imploringly. "Please, not yet!"

His own face changed a little, hardened almost imperceptibly, but he gave no sign of impatience. "In your own time, dear," he said quietly. "Heaven knows I should be the last to persuade you against your will."

"Aunt Philippa is always worrying me about it," she told him, with a catch in her voice. "And I—I—after all, I'm only twenty-one."

"What does she worry you for?" he said, a hint of sternness in his voice.

She glanced at him nervously. "Because—because I've no money. She says—she says—"

"Well, dear, what does she say?"

"I don't want to tell you," whispered Chris.

"I think you had better," he said.

"Yes—I suppose so. She says that as I am bringing you nothing, I have no right to—to keep you waiting—that beggars can't be choosers, and—and things like that."

"My dear Chris!" he said. "And you take things like that to heart!"

"You see, they are true!" murmured Chris.

"They are not true. But all the same"—he began to smile again—"I can't for the life of me imagine why you won't marry me and get it over."

"No?" Chris suddenly looked up again; she was clinging to his arm very tightly with both hands. "It does seem rather silly, doesn't it?" she said, with resolute eyes raised to his. "Trevor, I—I'll think about it."

"Do!" he said. "Think about it quietly and sanely. And don't let yourself get frightened at nothing. As you say, it's silly."

"But you won't—press me?" she faltered. "You—you promised!"

"I keep my promises, Chris," he said.

But he was frowning slightly as he said it, and she was quick to note the fact. "Ah! don't be vexed with me," she pleaded very earnestly. "I know I'm foolish. I can't help it. It's the way I'm made."

She was on the verge of tears, and at once his hand closed with a warm and comforting pressure upon hers. "Chris! Chris! When will you learn not to be afraid of me?" he said. "I am not vexed with you, child. I am only wondering."

"Wondering?" she said.

"Wondering if I had better go away for a spell," he answered.

"Go away!" she echoed blankly.

"And give you time to know your own mind," he said.

"Trevor!" She turned suddenly white, so white that he thought for an instant that she was in physical pain; and then, feeling her clinging to him, he understood. "Oh, no!" she said vehemently. "No, no! Trevor, you won't? Say you won't! I—I couldn't bear that. Please, Trevor!"

"My dear," he said, "I shall never go away while you want me. But the question is, do you want me?"

"I do!" she declared, almost passionately. "I do!"

"You are quite sure?" He looked suddenly deep into her eyes, so suddenly that she could not avoid the look.

She quivered under it, but he did not release her. He searched her upturned face closely, persistently, relentlessly, till, with a movement of entreaty, she stretched up one hand and tremblingly covered his eyes.

"I am—quite sure," she said in a whisper. "And I—I don't like you to look at me like that."

He stood still, suffering himself to be so blinded, till, gaining confidence, she took her hand away.

"You won't ask me again, please, Trevor?" she said.

He smiled at her very kindly, but his voice, as he made answer, was grave. "No, dear, I shall never ask you that again."

She took his arm once more with evident relief. "Let us go up to the house," she said. "I expect Max is there already, waiting for us."

So they went up the weed-grown drive, and presently came into full sight of the house. It was a large, rambling building of stone, some of it very ancient, most of it covered with immense stacks of ivy. Another pair of iron gates divided park from garden, and as they approached these a lounging figure sauntered into view and came through to meet them.

Chris uttered a squeak of delight, and sprang forward. "Max!"

"Hullo!" said the new-comer.

He was a thick-set youth, with heavy red brows and a somewhat offhand demeanour. His eyes were green and very shrewd. They surveyed Mordaunt with open criticism. He was smoking a very foul-smelling cigarette.

Chris was very rosy. "Max," she said, "this is Trevor!"

"Hullo!" said Max again.

He extended a careless hand and gave his future brother-in-law a hard grip. There was no particular friendliness in the action, it was evidently his custom to grip hard.

"Come to investigate your new abode?" he said. "Are you going to pull it down?"

"It is not my present intention," Mordaunt said.

"Of course he isn't!" said Chris. "Don't be absurd, Max. It is going to be made lovely inside and out, and we are all going to live here."

"Are we?" said Max, with a sudden grin. "Who says so?"

He glanced at Mordaunt with the words, and it was Mordaunt who answered him—

"I hope you and your brothers will continue to look upon it as your home until you have homes of your own."

"Very rash of you!" commented Max, swinging round again to the gate. "Well, come inside and see it."

They went within, went from room to room of the old place, Max with the air of a sardonic showman, Mordaunt gravely attentive to details, Chris light-footed, eager with many ideas for its reformation. The mildewed walls and partially dismantled rooms, with their moth-eaten furniture and threadbare carpets, had no damping effect upon her spirits. She had a boundless faith in her fiance's power to transform her ancient home into a palace of delight.

"If you really mean to buy it as it stands, I should recommend you to make a bonfire of the contents," said Max presently, as they stood all together in the deep bay window of a room on the first floor that looked out upon the park, with a glimpse beyond of distant hills. "But the place itself is an absolute ruin. I can't imagine how you are going to patch it up."

"I think it can be done," Mordaunt said. He was staring out somewhat absently, and spoke as if his thoughts were wandering.

Both brother and sister glanced at him. Then, "When are you going to get married?" asked Max.

Mordaunt came out of his reverie. "That," he said deliberately, "has still to be decided."

"Who is going to decide? You or Chris?" Max lighted another cigarette and pitched the match, still burning, from the window.

"Oh, Max!" exclaimed Chris. "How dangerous! Look! There is Cinders sniffing along the terrace! He is sure to burn his nose!"

She was gone with the words, and Max, with a brief laugh, returned to the charge.

"I conclude the decision rests with her."

"Well?" said Mordaunt. He spoke curtly; perhaps he resented the boy's interference, or perhaps he had had enough of the subject for that day.

"Look here," said Max. "I know Chris. She will keep you dangling for the next ten years if you will put up with it. If you want to be married soon, you will have to assert yourself."

Mordaunt was silent.

Max waited. Below them Chris flashed suddenly into view, darting with a butterfly grace of movement to the rescue of her pet.

Abruptly Mordaunt spoke. "I sometimes wonder if she is too young to be married."

"What?" Max removed his cigarette and stared at him. "She is as old as I am!"

Mordaunt looked back, faintly smiling. "Yes, I know. But—well, that's no argument, is it?"

"I suppose not. All the same"—Max leaned back nonchalantly against the window-frame—"if you mean to wait till she grows up, you'll wait a precious long time, and she will probably run away with another fellow while you are thinking about it."

Mordaunt clapped a restraining hand on his shoulder. "My friend," he said, "I don't permit that sort of thing to be said of Chris."

Maxwell's green eyes twinkled. "You don't, eh? That's rather decent of you. But, you know, there is such a thing as being too trusting. And the family of Wyndham are not conspicuously famous for their honourable scruples. Now, Chris is as much a Wyndham as the rest of us, and—I'm going to say it whether you like it or not, it's the truth also—she is a deal more likely to keep out of mischief if she marries young. You are no fool by the look of you. You know there is reason in what I say."

"You have said enough," Mordaunt said, with a touch of sternness.

"All right. The subject is closed. But—just tell me this. Do you—or do you not—want to marry her before the summer is over?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because I want to know."

"Well"—Mordaunt's eyes studied him for a few seconds—"it is an unnecessary question."

"Because I know the answer?" questioned Max.


"Very well." He straightened himself with a smile. "I think I can manage that for you."

"Wait!" Mordaunt said. "You mean well, but—I would rather you didn't attempt it. I would rather that Chris were left to settle this matter for herself."

"So she will. I know what I'm about, bless your heart! Chris always asks my advice and generally takes it. She will marry you all right before the end of the season. You leave it to me."

He turned from the window with the words, still smiling. "Give me five minutes alone with her," he said.

And Mordaunt, though more than half against his will, yielded the point, and let him go.

They lunched in the old oak-beamed dining-room—a meal presided over by Max, who played the host with a half-mocking air, while Chris, still eager upon the renovations, poured out plans, practicable and otherwise, for her fiance's consideration.

"What a pity we have to get back!" she said regretfully when the time for departure drew near. "I want to begin right away, Trevor. Why can't we spend the night here? Wire to Aunt Philippa, Max. Say we are busy."

Max grinned. "What says Trevor?"

"Quite impossible," said Mordaunt, with a smile at her ardent face. "There isn't a bed for you to sleep on."

"I could sleep on the sofa with Cinders," she said. "We can sleep anywhere."

"They've slept on a heap of stones before now," remarked Max.

"I'm sure we haven't!" She whisked round upon him with a suddenness that was almost a challenge. "We haven't, Max!" she repeated.

He stuck a cigarette into his mouth. "All right, my dear girl. My mistake, no doubt. I thought you had."

"Don't be absurd!" ordered Chris, colouring vividly "We never did anything so—so disreputable." She twined her arm impulsively in Mordaunt's. "Don't believe him, Trevor!"

"I don't," he said, with his quiet eyes upon her upturned face.

Max laughed aloud. "Why don't you tell him the joke, Chris?"

"Because there isn't any joke, and you're very horrid," she returned with spirit. "Trevor, let's go!"

"I am ready," he said.

"Very well, then." Chris turned round with relief in her face and hastily tied her veil. "Please find Cinders, Max," she said. "And bring Trevor's coat. It's in the billiard-room. I suppose we really must go back this time, but you will bring me again, won't you, Trevor?"

"As often as you care to come," he said.

"Ah, yes! Only I'm so full of engagements just now. It's such a nuisance. One can never get away."

"What! Tired of London?" he said.

"Oh no, not really. But I want to be here, too. I love this place. You won't do anything in it without me, will you?"

"Not without your approval, certainly," he promised.

She turned back to him with her quick smile. "Trevor, thank you! I—I've decided to marry you as soon as ever I can—as soon as Hilda comes back from her honeymoon."

He was smoking a cigarette. He took it from between his lips and dropped it into an ash-tray. For a moment his face was turned from her. He seemed to be watching the smouldering ash. Then, "Really, Chris?" he said, looking down at her again.

She was tugging at her gloves. She thrust her hand out to him. "Button it, please!" she said, rather breathlessly, as if the exertion had exhausted her somewhat.

He took it, bent over it, suddenly pressed his lips to the soft wrist.

"Oh, don't!" said Chris, and snatched it from him.

When Max came back she was standing by the window, still fumbling at her glove, with her back turned, while her fiance leaned against the mantelpiece, finishing his cigarette.



Wearily Bertrand de Montville turned his head upon the sofa-cushion, and opened his heavy eyes. He seemed to be listening for something, but evidently he considered that he had listened in vain, for his eyelids began to droop again almost immediately. He seemed to drift into a state of semi-consciousness.

The evening sunlight was screened from his face by blinds, but even so its deep shadows were painfully distinct. He looked unutterably tired.

There came a slight sound at the door, and again his eyes were open. In a moment, with incredible briskness, he was off the couch and half-way across the room before, seized with sudden dizziness, he began to falter.

Trevor Mordaunt, entering, made a dive forward, and held him up.

"Now, my friend, lie down again," he said, "and stay down till further orders."

"Ah, pardon me!" the Frenchman murmured, clutching vaguely for support. "I am strong, more strong than you think. I—I—"

"Lie down," Trevor reiterated. "You don't give yourself a chance, man. You forget you have been a helpless invalid for the past ten days. There! How's that? Comfortable?"

"You are always so good—so good!" panted de Montville very earnestly. "I know not how to thank you—how to repay."

"Just obey orders, that's all," said the Englishman, faintly smiling. "I want to get you well. No, you are not well yet—say what you like, you're not. I've let you get up for an experiment, but if you don't behave yourself back you go. Now lie still, quite still, while I open my letters. When you have quite recovered your breath we will have a talk."

He had assumed this tone of authority from the outset, and de Montville had submitted, in the first place because he was too ill to do otherwise, and later because, somewhat to his surprise, he found himself impelled thereto by his own inclination. It did not in any fashion wound his pride, this kindly mastery. He wondered at himself for tolerating it, and yet he offered no resistance. It was too great a thing to resist.

So, still panting a little, he subsided obediently upon Mordaunt's sofa while the latter busied himself with his correspondence.

There was a considerable pile of letters. Mordaunt opened one after another with the deliberation that marked most of his actions, but the pile dwindled very quickly notwithstanding. Some letters he dropped at once into a waste-paper basket, upon others he scribbled a few notes; two or three he laid aside for further consideration.

The last of all he held in his hand for several seconds unopened. The envelope was a large one and stiff, as if it contained cardboard. It was directed in an irregular, childish scrawl. Mordaunt, sitting at his writing-table, with his back to his guest, studied it gravely, thoughtfully. Finally very quietly he broke the seal.

There was a crackle of tissue-paper, and he drew out a photograph—the photograph of a laughing girl with a diminutive terrier of doubtful extraction clasped in her arms. Without any change of countenance he studied this also.

He laid it at last upon his table, and turned in his chair. "Have you had anything to drink?"

De Montville looked slightly disconcerted by the question. "But no!" he said. "I have not—that is to say, I would not—"

Mordaunt stretched a hand to the bell. "Holmes should have seen to it. What do you drink? Afraid I can't offer you absinthe."

"But I never drink it, monsieur."

"No? Whisky and soda, then?"

"What you will, monsieur."

"Very well. Whisky and soda, Holmes, and be quick about it." Mordaunt glanced at the clock, looked again at the photograph at his elbow, finally rose. "I want a talk with you, M. de Montville," he said, "if you feel up to it. Don't get up, please. There is no necessity."

But de Montville apparently thought otherwise, for he drew himself to a sitting position and faced his benefactor.

"I also," he said, "have desired to talk with you since long."

Mordaunt pulled up a chair. "Do you mind if I talk first?" he said.

"But certainly, monsieur." With quick courtesy the Frenchman made reply. His dark eyes were very intent. He fixed them upon the Englishman's face and composed himself to listen.

"It's just this," Mordaunt said. "I think we know each other well enough to dispense with preliminaries, so I will come to the point at once. Now you have probably realized by this time that I am a very busy man—have been for several years past. In my profession there is not much time for sitting still, nor, till lately, have I wanted it. But there comes a time in most men's lives when they feel that they would like to get out of the rash and enjoy a little leisure, take it easy—in short, settle down and grow old in comfort."

De Montville nodded several times with swift intelligence. "Alors, monsieur contemplates marriage," he said.

Mordaunt laughed a little. "Exactly, mon ami, and that speedily."

He broke off at the entrance of his servant, and for the next few seconds busied himself with the mixing of drinks. De Montville continued to watch him with keen interest. As Mordaunt handed him his glass he clutched the sofa-head and stood up.

"I drink to your future happiness," he said, with a sudden smile and bow, "and to the lady who will be so fortunate as to share it!"

Mordaunt held out his hand. "Thank you. Much obliged. But sit down, my dear fellow. I haven't quite finished what I want to say. And you are too shaky to be bobbing up and down. I was just going to point out where you come in."

De Montville gripped his hand with all his strength. "I can serve you, then? You have only to speak."

But Mordaunt would not speak till he was recumbent again. Then very quietly he came to the point.

"The upshot of it is that I want a secretary to take things off my hands a bit, and since I would rather have a pal than a stranger in that capacity I am wondering if you will take on the job."

"I!" Utter amazement sounded in de Montville's voice. He sat bolt upright for a space of seconds, staring into the impassive British face before him. "But you—you—joke!" he said at last, his voice very low.

"No, I am quite in earnest." Gravely Mordaunt returned his look. "I believe we might pull together very well. Think it over, M. de Montville, and if you feel inclined to give it a trial—"

"I wish that you would call me Bertrand," de Montville broke in unexpectedly. "It would be more convenient. My name is known in England, and—I do not like publicity. As for your—so generous—suggestion, monsieur, I have no words. I am your debtor in all things. I know well that it is of my welfare that you think. For myself I do not need to consider for a moment. I would accept with joy and gratitude the most profound. But, I ask you, are you altogether wise in thus reposing your confidence in a man of whom you know nothing, except that he was tried and condemned for an offence of which you had the goodness to believe him innocent? I repeat, monsieur, are you altogether wise?"

"From my own point of view—absolutely." Mordaunt spoke with a smile. He held up his glass. "You accept, then?"

"How could I do other than accept?" protested the Frenchman, with outspread hands.

"Then drink with me to the success of our alliance," said Mordaunt. "I believe it will work very well."

He prepared to drink, but de Montville made a swift movement to arrest him. "But one moment! First, monsieur, you will give me your promise that if in any manner I fail to satisfy you, you will at once inform me of it?"

Mordaunt paused, regarding him steadily. "Yes, I will promise you that," he said.

"Ah! Good! Then I drink with you, monsieur, to the success of our compact. It will be my pleasure and privilege to serve you to the utmost of my ability."

He drank almost with reverence, and set down his glass with a hand that trembled.

Mordaunt got up. "That is settled, then. By the way, the question of salary does not seem to have occurred to you. I don't know if you have any ideas upon the subject. Four hundred pounds per annum is what I thought of offering."

"Four hundred pounds!" De Montville stared at him in amazement. "Four hundred pounds!" he repeated, in rising agitation. "But no, monsieur! It is too much! I will not—I cannot—take—even from you—a gift so great. I—I—"

He waxed unintelligible in his distress, and would have risen, but Mordaunt's hand upon his shoulder kept him down. Mordaunt bent over him, very quiet and friendly, very sure of himself and of the man he addressed.

"That's all right, mon ami. It is not too much. It's a perfectly fair bargain, and—to please me if you like—I want you to accept it. You will find there is plenty to do, possibly more than you anticipate. So—suppose we consider it settled, eh?"

De Montville was silent.

"We'll call it done," Mordaunt said. "Have a cigarette!"

He held his case in front of the Frenchman, and after a moment de Montville took one. But he only balanced it in his fingers, still saying nothing.

"A light?" suggested Mordaunt.

He made a jerky movement, and glanced up for an instant. "Mr. Mordaunt," he said, speaking with evident difficulty, "what is—a pal?"

"A pal," Mordaunt said, smiling slightly, "is a special kind of friend, Bertrand—the best kind, the sort you open your heart to in trouble, the sort that is always ready to stand by."

"Such a friend as you have been to me?" questioned de Montville slowly.

"Well, if you like to say so," Mordaunt said. "I almost think we might call ourselves pals by this time. What say you?"

"I, monsieur?" He reached up and grasped the hand that rested on his shoulder. "For myself I ask no better," he said, in a voice that quivered beyond control, "than to be to you what you have been to me. And I will sooner die by my own hand than give you cause to regret your kindness."

"Which you never will," Mordaunt said. "Come, light up, man! Here's a match!"

He held it up, and de Montville had perforce to place the cigarette between his lips. His throat was working spasmodically, but with a valiant effort he managed to inhale a mouthful of smoke. He choked over it badly the next moment, however, and Mordaunt patted his back with much goodwill till he was better.

"There, my dear fellow, lie down now and take it easy. I'm dining out; but Holmes has special orders to look after you; and if you are wanting anything, in the name of common-sense ask for it."

With that he turned from the sofa, took up the photograph that lay upon his writing-table, hesitated an instant, then thrust it into his breast-pocket, and strolled out of the room.



"So you don't like my photograph!" said Chris.

"Why do you say that?"

"I could see you didn't. What's the matter with it? Isn't it pretty enough? It's just like me."

"Yes, it's just like you," Mordaunt admitted.

"Then you don't like me?" suggested Chris.

He smiled at that. "Yes, I like you very much. But—"

"Well?" said Chris, her deep-sea eyes full of eager curiosity. "Go on, please!"

"Well," he said, "that photograph is not one that I could show to my friends."

"But why not—if it's just like me?"

He took her chin and turned her face gently to the light. "Try again," he said, "without Cinders."

"Without Cinders!" She stared at him mystified, then began to laugh. "Trevor, I believe you are jealous of Cinders!"

"Perhaps," he said. "Anyhow, I should prefer your portrait without him. You look like a baby of six cuddling a toy."

"I wonder what makes you so anxious to marry me," said Chris unexpectedly.

Mordaunt still smiled at her. "Strange, isn't it?" he said.

"Yes, I can't understand it in the least." She shook her head with a puzzled expression. "It's a pity you don't like that photograph. I'm sure Cinders has come out beautifully. And he isn't a bit like a toy."

"Yes, but I don't want Cinders."

Chris looked at him with sudden misgiving. "But, Trevor, when—when we are married—"

"Oh, of course," he said at once. "I didn't mean that. I haven't the smallest wish to part you from him. It's only his photograph I have no use for."

Her face cleared magically. "Dear Trevor, I quite understand. And I would go and be done again to-morrow if I had the money, but I haven't."

"Are you very hard up?" he asked.

She nodded. "Horribly. I'm very extravagant, too—at least, Aunt Philippa says so. I can't bear asking her for money. In fact, I—I—"

She hesitated, avoiding his eyes. "Shall I tell you something, Trevor?" she said in a whisper. "It's something I haven't told anyone else!"

"Of course tell me!" He took her two hands into his, holding them up against his heart.

"Well—it's a secret, you know—I—I—" She raised her face in sudden pleading. "Promise you won't be cross, Trevor."

"I promise, dear," he answered gravely.

"Well, I'm afraid it's rather bad of me. I haven't been paying for things lately. I simply couldn't. London is a dreadful place for spending money, isn't it? It's all quite little things, but they mount up shockingly. And—and—Aunt Philippa is bound to give me some money presently for my—my trousseau. So I thought—I thought—" She came nearer to him; she laid her cheek coaxingly against his breast. "Trevor, you said you wouldn't be cross."

He put his hand on her bright hair. "I am not cross, dear. I am only sorry."

Chris was inclined to be a little tearful. She did not quite know what had led her to tell him—it had been the impulse of a moment—but it was a vast relief to feel he knew.

"I'm not a very good manager, I'm afraid," she said. "But there are certain things one must have, and they do add up so. I believe it's the odd halfpennies and farthings that do it. Don't you ever find that?"

"I can quite imagine it," he said.

"Yes, they're so deceptive. I wonder why two-and-elevenpence three-farthings sound so much less than three shillings. It's a snare and a delusion. I don't think it ought to be allowed." She raised her head with her April smile. "I'm very glad I told you, Trevor. You're very nice about things. I was afraid you would be like Aunt Philippa, but you are not in the least."

"Thank you, Chris. Now I want to say something very serious to you. Will you listen—and take it seriously?"

She gave a little sigh. "I know exactly what it is."

"No, you don't know." Mordaunt looked at her with eyes that were gravely kind. "You are not to jump to conclusions where I am concerned," he said. "You don't know me well enough. What I have to say is this. I can't have you in difficulties for want of a little money. Those debts of yours must be settled at once."

"But, Trevor, Aunt Philippa—"

"Never mind Aunt Philippa. It has nothing to do with her. It is a matter between you and me. We will settle it without her assistance."

"Oh, Trevor, but—"

"There is no 'but,' Chris," he said, interrupting her almost sternly. "I am nearer to you than your aunt. Tell me—as nearly as you can—what those debts amount to."

Chris was looking a little startled. "But I—I don't know," she said.

"Well, find out and tell me." He smiled at her again. "It's all right, dear. Don't be afraid of me. I know it's hard to keep within bounds when there is a shortage of means. But I don't like debts. You won't run up any more?"

Chris still looked at him somewhat doubtfully. "I won't if I can help it," she said.

"You will be able to help it," he rejoined.

"Yes, but, Trevor, please let me say it. I don't think you ought to—to give me money before—before—Oh, do understand!" she broke off helplessly. "You generally do."

"I quite understand," he said, his hand on her shoulder. "But, my child, I think, considering all things, that you need not let that scruple trouble you. Since we are to be married in six weeks—"

"In six weeks, Trevor!" Again that startled look that was almost one of consternation.

"In six weeks," he repeated, with quiet emphasis. "Your cousin will probably be back from her honeymoon, and it will be the end of the season. Since, then, our marriage is to take place in six weeks, and that I shall then be responsible for you, I do not think you need be troubled about letting me help you out of this difficulty now. No one will know of it. It will set your mind at rest—and mine also."

"Ah, but, Trevor—" Chris spoke somewhat breathlessly—she was rubbing her hand nervously up and down his sleeve—"I'm not quite sure that—that it will set my mind at rest. I'm not sure that—that I want you to do it, or that I ought to let you even if I did, because, you see, because—"

"Because—?" he said.

She turned her head aside, avoiding his direct look. "Don't be angry, will you? But just—just supposing something happened, and—and—and we didn't get married after all?"

She ended rather desperately, in an undertone. But for the quiet hand on her shoulder she would have moved away from him; she might even have been tempted to flee altogether. As it was, she stood still, trembling a little, wondering if she had outrun his patience at last or if he had it in him still to bear with her.

He did not speak at once. She waited with a beating heart.

"Well?" he said, and at the sound of his voice she thrilled with relief. "It's as well to look all round a thing, I admit. We will consider that supposition if you like. Say something happens to prevent our marriage. What then? Is it to put an end to our friendship also?"

She turned slightly towards him. "I might never be able to repay you," she murmured.

"I see. And that would trouble you—even though we remained friends?"

She was silent.

"It has always been a puzzle to me," he said, "why money—which is the most ordinary thing in life—is the one thing that friends scruple to accept from each other. Gifts of any other description, all sorts of sacrifices, down to life itself, are offered and taken with no scruple of pride. But when it comes to money, which is of very small value in comparison, people begin to worry. Why, Chris, what are pounds, shillings, and pence between you and me? Surely we have climbed above that sort of thing, haven't we?"

The tenderness of his tone moved her, in a fashion compelled her. She went into his arms impulsively, she clung about his neck. Yet even then her scruples were not quite laid to rest.

"But—Trevor dear—just supposing we quarrelled? We might, you know, about Cinders or anything. And then—and then—"

"My dear," he said, "we certainly shall not quarrel about Cinders. I can't for the life of me picture myself quarrelling with you under any circumstances whatsoever. And even if we did, I don't think you would hate me so badly as to grudge me the satisfaction of knowing that I had been of use to you at an awkward moment. Don't you think we are getting rather morbid, Chris?"

"I don't know," she said, clinging closer. "I only know that you are miles and miles too good for me. And whatever makes you want me I can't think."

He put his hand under her chin, and turned her face up to his own. "I'll tell you another time. At the present moment I want to talk about—getting married."

He spoke the last two words very softly, holding her close lest she should shrink away.

But Chris, with her eyes on his, kept still and silent in his arms. Only she turned rather white.

He continued with the utmost gentleness. "Your cousin is going to be married on the fifteenth of this month. Can't we arrange our wedding for the fifteenth of next?"

"The fifteenth!" said Chris. "Isn't that St. Swithin's Day?"

She spoke so briskly that even Mordaunt was for the moment taken by surprise.

"St. Swithin's Day!" he echoed. "Well, what of it?"

She broke into her gay laugh. "Oh, please not St. Swithin's Day! Just imagine if it rained!"

"Chris!" he said. "You're incorrigible!"

His arms had slackened, and she drew away from him, breathing rather quickly.

"No, but really, wouldn't it be tragic? I shouldn't like a wet honeymoon, should you? Hadn't we better wait till August? Or shall you be wanting to go to Scotland?"

"No," he said. "I am not going to Scotland this year."

His eyes were still upon her, gravely watchful, but they expressed nothing of impatience or exasperation. Very quietly he waited.

"Shall we say August, then?" said Chris, in a small, shy voice, not looking at him.

"Will your aunt remain in town for August?" he asked.

"But we are not obliged to be married in town," she pointed out.

"Nor are we obliged to have a honeymoon, Chris," he said. "Shall we say St. Swithin's Day, and forego the honeymoon—if it rains?"

"Go straight home, you mean?" She turned back to him eagerly. "Oh, Trevor, I should like that! I do want to superintend everything there. Yes, let's do that, shall we? I always did think honeymoons were rather silly, didn't you?"

He smiled in spite of himself. "I daresay they are—from some points of view. It is settled, then—St. Swithin's Day?"

She nodded. "Yes. And we will go straight to Kellerton afterwards, and work—like niggers. It won't matter a bit then whether it rains or not. And Noel can spend his holidays with us and help. How busy we shall be!"

She laughed up at him, all shining eyes and dimples.

Again—in spite of himself—he laughed back, pinching her cheek. "Will that please you, my little Chris?"

"Oh, ever so!" said Chris.

He stooped and lightly kissed her hair. "Then—so let it be!"



It was raining—one of those sudden, pelting showers that descend from June thunder-clouds, brief but drenching. It was also very dark, and Bertrand had switched on the light. He was seated at Mordaunt's writing-table, his black head bent over a pile of letters. The pen he held moved busily, but not very quickly. He was writing with extreme care. It was evident that he meant his first day's work to be a success. He scarcely noticed the heavy downpour, being profoundly intent upon the work he had in hand. Only at a sharp clap of thunder did he glance up momentarily and shrug his shoulders. But he was at once immersed again in his occupation, so deeply immersed that at the opening of the door he did not turn his head.

Holmes paused just inside the room. "If you please, sir—"

"Ah, put it down, put it down!" said the Frenchman impatiently. "I am busy."

But Holmes, being empty-handed, did not comply with the request. He remained hesitating, obviously doubtful, till with a sharp jerk de Montville turned in his chair.

"What is it, then? I have told you—I am busy."

Holmes looked apologetic. He found the abrupt ways of the new secretary somewhat disconcerting. "It's a young lady, sir," he explained rather diffidently. "It's Miss Wyndham. She run in here for shelter, and, seeing as Mr. Mordaunt be out, I didn't know whether you would wish me to show her up or not, sir."

Bertrand was on his feet in a moment. "A young lady! Miss Wyndham! Who is—Miss Wyndham?"

"It's the young lady as Mr. Mordaunt is a-going to marry," said Holmes, dropping his voice confidentially. "I told her as Mr. Mordaunt weren't in, and she said as she'd like to wait. Didn't know quite what to do, sir. Would you like me to show her up?"

"But certainly!" De Montville's eyebrows had gone up an inch, but he lowered them hastily and smiled. Doubtless it was an English custom, this; he must not display surprise. "Beg her to ascend," he said. "Mr. Mordaunt may return at any moment. He would not wish his fiancee to remain below."

"Very good, sir." Holmes withdrew, leaving the door ajar.

Bertrand remained upon his feet, watching it expectantly.

At the sound of voices on the stairs he smiled involuntarily. But how they were droll—these English ladies! Would he ever accustom himself—

"Miss Wyndham, sir!" It was Holmes again, opening the door wide to usher in the unexpected visitor.

Bertrand bowed low.

The visitor paused an instant on the threshold, then came briskly forward. "Oh," she said, "are you the organ-grinder?"

He straightened himself with a jerk; he looked at her. And suddenly a cry rang through the room—a cry that came straight from a woman's heart, inarticulate, thrilled through and through with a rapture beyond words. And in a moment Bertrand de Montville, outcast and wanderer on the face of the earth, had shed the bitter burden that weighed him down, had leaped the dark dividing gulf that separated him from the dear land of his dreams, and stood once more upon the sands of Valpre, with a girl's hands fast clasped in his.

"Mignonne!" he gasped hoarsely. "Mignonne!" And again "Mignonne!"

Her answering voice had a break in it—a sound of unshed tears. "Bertie—dear! Bertie—dear!"

The door closed discreetly, and Holmes departed to his own premises. It was no affair of his, he informed himself stolidly; but it was a rum go, and he couldn't help wondering what the master would make of it.

"But why wasn't I told?" said Chris, yet hovering between tears and laughter. "They—Bertie—they said you were an organ-grinder!"

He let her hands go, but his dark eyes still shone with the wonder and the joy of the encounter.

"Ah!" he said. "And they told me—they told me—that you were—" He stopped abruptly with the dazed expression of a man suddenly hit in a vital place. All the light went out of his face. He became silent.

"Why—what is it?" said Chris.

He did not answer at once, and in the pause that ensued he resumed his burden, he re-crossed the gulf, and the sands of Valpre were left very, very far away.

In the pause also she saw him as he was—a man broken before his prime, haggard and tired and old, with the fire of his genius quenched for ever in the bitter waters of adversity.

With an effort he spoke. "It is nothing, cherie. You are the same. But with me—all is changed."

"Changed, Bertie? But how?"

He looked at her. His eyes dwelt upon the vivid, happy face, but all the spontaneous gladness had died out of his own; it held only an infinite melancholy.

"He—Mr. Mordaunt—has not told you?"

"No one has told me anything," she said. "What is it, Bertie? Have things gone wrong with you? Tell me! Was it—was it the gun?"

He bent his head.

"Oh, but I'm so sorry," she said. "Was it a failure, after all?"

She drew near to him. She laid a sympathetic hand upon his arm.

A sharp tremor went through him. He stooped very low and kissed it. "It was—worse than that," he said, his voice choked, barely audible. "It was—it was—dishonour."

"Dishonour!" She echoed the word, uncomprehending, unbelieving.

He remained bent over her hand. She could not see his face. "Have you never heard," he said, "of ex-Lieutenant de Montville—the man whom all France execrated three years ago as a traitor?"

"Yes," said Chris. "I've heard of him, of course. But"—doubtfully—"I don't read the papers much. I didn't know what he was supposed to have done. I only knew that everyone in England said he hadn't."

The Frenchman sighed heavily. "The people in England did not know," he said.

"No? Then you think he was guilty?"

He stood up sharply and faced her. "I know that he was innocent," he said. "But it could not be proved. That is what the English could never realize. And—cherie—I was that man. I was Lieutenant de Montville."

Chris was gazing at him in amazement. "You!" she said incredulously.

"I," he said. "They accused me of treason. They thought that I would sell my own gun—my own gun. They sent me to prison—mon Dieu! I know not how I survived. I suffered until it seemed that I could suffer no more. And then they gave me my liberty—they banished me from France. I came to England—and I starved."

"You starved, Bertie!" Her blue eyes widened with horrified pity. "You!" she said. "You!"

He smiled with wistful humour. "Men more worthy than I have done the same," he said.

"Oh, but you, my own preux chevalier!" Chris's voice trembled upon the words.

He made a quick, restraining gesture. "But no—not that!" he said. "Your friend always, petite, but your preux chevalier—never again!"

Chris smiled, with quivering lips. "You will never be anything but my preux chevalier so long as you live," she said. "Oh, Bertie, I'm so distressed—so grieved—to think of all you have had to bear. I never dreamt of its being you. You know, I never heard your name. We went away so suddenly from Valpre. I had no time to think of anything. I—I was very miserable—afterwards." Her voice sank; her eyes were full of tears. "I knew you would think I had forgotten, but indeed, indeed it wasn't that!"

"Ah, pauvre petite!" he said gently.

"And you didn't know my name either, did you?" she said. "I kept telling myself you would find out somehow and write—but you never did."

He spread out his hands. "But what could I do? Your name was not known. And I—I could not leave Valpre to seek you. My duties kept me at the fortress. And so—and so—I said that I would wait until my fortune was well assured, and then—then—" He stopped. "But that is past," he said, with an odd little smile that somehow cut her to the heart. "Et maintenant tell me of yourself, petite, of all your affairs. Much may arrive in four years. But first—you are happy, yes?"

Eagerly the dark eyes sought hers as he asked the question.

Chris looked back at him with a little frown. "Yes, I am happy, Bertie. At least—I should be happy—if it weren't for thinking of you. Oh, Bertie, that horrid gun! I always hated it!"

Again her voice quivered on the verge of tears, and again with a quick gesture he stayed her.

"We will speak of it no more," he said. "See! We turn another page in the book of life, and we commence again. Let us remember only, Christine, that we are good comrades, you and I. But it is a good thing, this camaraderie. It gives us pleasure, yes?"

She gave him her hands impulsively. "Bertie!" she cried. "We shall always be pals—always—all our lives; but don't—dear, don't smile at me like that! I can't bear it!"

He held her hands very tightly; he had wholly ceased to smile. But still gallantly he shielded her from the danger she had not begun to see. He did it instinctively, because of the love he bore her, and because of the innocence in her eyes.

"But what is it?" he said. "It is necessary that we smile sometimes, cherie, since to weep is futile, and laughter is always more precious than tears. Ah! that is better. You smile yourself. It is always thus that I remember my little friend of Valpre. She was ever too brave for tears."

He pressed her hands encouragingly, and again he let them go. But the strain was telling upon him. There was one subject which he could not trust himself to broach.

And for some reason Chris could not broach it either. She took refuge in every-day affairs; she told him of the giddy doings that kept her occupied from morning till night, of Cinders (the mention of whose name kindled a reminiscent gleam in the Frenchman's eyes), of the coming birthday dance, which he must promise to attend.

He shook his head over that; such gaieties were not for him. But Chris pressed the point with much persistence. Of course he must come. It would be no fun without him. Did he remember that birthday picnic at Valpre, and—and the night they had passed in the Magic Cave? She spoke of it with heightened colour and a hint of defiance which was plainly not directed against him.

"And I was afraid of the dragon," she said. "And you held my hand. I remember it so well. And afterwards I went to sleep, and slept all night long with my head on your shoulder."

"You were but a child," he said softly.

"But it seems like yesterday," she answered.

And then it was that the door opened very quietly, and Trevor Mordaunt came in upon them, sitting together in the gloom.



There was nothing hurried in his entrance, nothing startling; but yet a sudden silence fell.

Out of it almost immediately came Bertrand's voice. "Ah, Mr. Mordaunt, you return to find a visitor. Miss—Wyndham is here. She came to seek you, but she found only—" he spread out his hands characteristically—"the organ-grinder."

He had risen with the words; so also had Chris. She went forward, but without her usual impetuosity.

"I have found an old friend, Trevor," she said, speaking quickly, as if embarrassed. "I have known Mr.—Mr.—what did you say your name was?" turning towards him again.

He shrugged his shoulders. "I am called Bertrand, mademoiselle."

She smiled in her quick way. "I have known—Bertrand—for years. At least, we used to know each other years ago, and—and we knew each other again the moment we met. It was a great surprise to me—to us both."

"And a great pleasure," said Bertrand, with a bow.

"An immense pleasure," said Chris, with enthusiasm.

"But, my dear girl," Mordaunt said, his quiet voice falling almost coldly upon their explanations, "what on earth made you come here of all places?"

"Oh," said Chris, leaping to this new point almost with relief, "it was raining, and thundering too. I hadn't an umbrella and I knew I should be drenched, and this was the nearest shelter I could think of, so I just came. It seemed the most sensible thing to do. I thought perhaps you would be pleased to see me. I even fancied you might give me tea."

There was a faint note of wistfulness in her voice though she was smiling. She stood before him with something of the air of a culprit.

"Of course Aunt Philippa wouldn't approve," she said. "I know that. But—you always say you are not like Aunt Philippa, Trevor."

He took her hand very gently but with evident purpose into his own.

"I will give you tea with pleasure," he said, "but not here. Holmes shall call a taxi. I am afraid you must say good-bye to your friend now, unless—" he paused momentarily—"unless, Bertrand, you care to accompany us."

"Oh do, Bertie!" she said eagerly. "I want you. Please come!"

But Bertrand's refusal was instant and final.

"It is impossible," he declared. "I thank you a thousand times, but I have yet many letters to write, and the post will not wait."

"Letters?" said Chris curiously.

"M. Bertrand is my secretary," said Mordaunt quietly.

"Oh, is he? And you never told me! But what a splendid idea!" Chris stood between the two men, flushed, eager, charming. "I'm so glad, Bertie," she said impulsively. "You may think yourself very lucky. Mr. Mordaunt is quite the nicest man in the world."

Bertrand bowed low. "I believe it," he said simply.

"Then we shall see quite a lot of each other," went on Chris. "That will be great fun—just like old times. Oh, must I really go? I don't want to at all, and nothing will make me sorry that I came." She threw a gay smile at her fiance, and withdrew her hand to give it to the friend of her childhood. "Au revoir, preux chevalier! You will come to my birthday party? Promise!" Then, as he still shook his head: "Trevor, if you don't bring him, I shall come all by myself and fetch him."

"No, you mustn't do that," Mordaunt answered with decision.

"Then will you bring him?"

"I will do my best," he promised gravely.

"Will you really? Oh, thank you, Trevor. I shall expect you then, Bertie. Good-bye!"

Her hand lay for a couple of seconds in his, and he bent low over it, but he did not speak in answer.

She went out of the room with the silent Englishman. He heard her laughing as they went downstairs. He heard her gay young voice a while longer in the hall below. Then came the throb of a motor and the closing of the street door. She was gone.

He stood quite motionless, listening to the taxi as it whirred away. And even after he ceased to hear it he did not move. He was gazing straight before him, and his eyes were the eyes of a man in a dream. They saw naught.

Stiffly at last he moved, and something like a shudder went through him. He crossed the room heavily, with the gait of one stricken suddenly old. He sat down again at the writing-table, and took up the pen that he had dropped—how long ago!

He even wrote a few words slowly, laboriously, still with that fixed look in his eyes. Then quite suddenly he was assailed by a violent tremor. He pushed back his chair with a sharp exclamation, half-rose, then as swiftly flung himself forward and lay across the table, face downwards, gasping horribly, almost choking. His hands were clenched, and hammered upon the papers littered there. The pen rolled unheeded over the polished wood and fell upon the floor.

Seconds passed into minutes. Gradually the bony fists ceased their convulsive tattoo. The laboured breathing grew less agonized. The man's rigid pose relaxed. But still he lay with his arms outspread and his head bowed between them, a silent image of despair.

Slowly the minutes crawled by. Down in the street below a newsboy was yelling unintelligibly, and in the distance a barrel-organ jangled the latest music-hall craze; but he was deep, deep in an abyss of suffering, very far below the surface of things. There was something almost boyishly forlorn in his attitude. With his face hidden, he looked pathetically young.

The sound of the opening door recalled him at last, and he started upright. It was Holmes with the evening paper.

The man spied the pen upon the floor and stooped for it. Bertrand stretched out a quivering hand, took it from him, and made as if he would resume his writing. But the pen only wandered aimlessly over the paper, and in a moment fell again from his nerveless fingers.

Holmes paused. Bertrand sat with his head on his hand as if unaware of him.

"Can I get you anything, sir?" he ventured.

Bertrand made a slight movement. "If I might have—a little brandy," he said, speaking with obvious effort.

"Brandy? I'll get it at once, sir," said Holmes, and was gone with the words.

Returning, he found Bertrand so far master of himself as to force a smile, but his face was ghastly. There was a blue, pinched look about his mouth that Holmes, reminiscent of his hospital days, did not like. He had seen that look before.

But the first taste of spirit dispelled it. Very courteously Bertrand thanked him.

"You are a good man, Holmes. And I think that you are my friend, yes?"

"Very pleased to do anything I can for you, sir," said Holmes.

"Ah! Then I will ask of you one little thing. It is that you remember that this weakness—this malady of a moment—remain a secret between us two—between—us—two. Vous comprenez; non?"

His eyes, very bright and searching, looked with a certain peremptoriness into the man's face, and Holmes, accustomed to obey, made instinctive response.

"You mean as I am not to mention it to Mr. Mordaunt, sir?"

"That is what I mean, Holmes."

"Very good, sir," said Holmes. "You're feeling better, I hope, sir?"

Very slowly de Montville rose to his feet, and stood, holding to the back of his chair.

"I am—quite well," he said impressively.

"Very good, sir," said Holmes again, and withdrew, shaking his head dubiously as soon as he was out of the Frenchman's sight.

As for de Montville, he went slowly across to the window and, leaning against the sash, gazed down upon the empty street.

Not until he heard Mordaunt's step outside more than half an hour later did he move, and then very abruptly he returned to the writing-table and seized the pen anew. He was writing with feverish rapidity when Mordaunt entered.

Very quietly Mordaunt came up and looked over his shoulder. "My boy," he said, "I am very sorry, but that is not legible."

His tone was unreservedly kind, and Bertrand jerked up his head as if surprised.

He surveyed the page before him with pursed lips, then flashed a quick look into Mordaunt's face.

"It is true," he admitted, with a rueful smile. "I also am sorry."

"Leave it," Mordaunt said. "You are looking fagged, Yes, I mean it. It will keep."

"But I have done nothing!" Bertrand protested, with outspread hands.

"No? Well, I don't believe you ought to be doing anything at present. Come and sit down." Then, peremptorily, as Bertrand hesitated: "I won't have you overworking yourself. Understand that! I have had trouble enough to get you off the sick list as it is."

He spoke with that faint smile of his that placed most men at their ease with him. Bertrand turned impulsively and grasped his hand.

"You have been—you are—more than a brother to me, monsieur," he said, with feeling. "And I—I—ah! Permit me to tell you—I—am glad that Mademoiselle has placed herself in your keeping. It was a great surprise, yes. But I am glad—from my heart. She will be safe—and happy—with you."

He spoke with great earnestness; his sincerity was shining in his eyes. Mordaunt, looking straight down into them, saw no other emotion than sheer friendliness, a friendliness that touched him, coming from one who was so nearly friendless.

"I shall do my best to make her so," he made grave reply. "She has been telling me about you, Bertrand."

"Ah!" The Frenchman's eyes interrogated him for a moment and instantly fell away. "I am surprised," he said, "to be remembered after so long. No, I had not forgotten her; but that is different, n'est-ce pas? I think that no one would easily forget her." He smiled as though involuntarily at some reminiscence. "Christine et le bon Cinders!" he said in his soft voice. "We were all friends together. We were—" again his eyes darted up to meet the Englishman's level scrutiny—"what you call 'pals,' monsieur."

Mordaunt smiled. "So I gathered. It happened at Valpre, I understand."

Bertrand nodded. His eyes grew dreamy, grew remote. "Yes," he said slowly, "it happened at Valpre. The little one was lonely. We made games in the sand. We chased the crabs; we explored the caves; we played together—as children." He stifled a sudden sigh, and rose. "Eh bien," he said, "we cannot be children for ever. We grow up—some quick—some slow—but all grow up at last."

He broke off, and took up the evening paper to cut the leaves.

Mordaunt watched him in silence—a silence through which in some fashion he conveyed his sympathy; for after a moment Bertrand spoke again, still dexterously occupied with his task.

"Ah! you understand," he said. "I have no need to explain to you that this meeting with my little friend who belonged to the happy days that are past has given me almost as much of pain as of pleasure. I do not try to explain—because you understand."

"You will get over it, my dear fellow," Mordaunt said, with quiet conviction.

"You think it?" Bertrand glanced up momentarily.

"I do," Mordaunt answered, with a very kindly smile. "In fact, I think, with all due respect to you, that you are younger than you feel."

"Ah!" There was not much conviction in Bertrand's response. He stood up and handed the paper to Mordaunt with a quick bow. "But—all the same—you understand?" he questioned, with a touch of anxiety.

"Of course I understand," Mordaunt answered gently.



"At last!" said Chris.

It was her birthday party, and she stood at the head of the stairs by her aunt's side, receiving her guests.

Very young she looked, a child still, despite her twenty-one years, and supremely happy. Her aunt, one of those ladies whose very smile is in itself an act of condescension, was treating her with unusual graciousness that night, and there was not a star awry in Chris's firmament.

She had just caught a glimpse of her fiance in the crowd below her, and a hasty second glance had shown her that he was not unaccompanied. A slight man, olive-skinned, with a very small, black moustache and quick eyes that searched upwards restlessly, was ascending the stairs with him. In the instant that she looked those eyes found her, and flashed their quick recognition.

Chris waved her fan in eager greeting. "Ah, there he is!" she cried aloud.

"My dear child!" said Aunt Philippa.

Impetuously Chris turned to her. "He is a friend of mine, and Trevor's secretary. I told Trevor to bring him. He is French, and his name is Bertrand."

Her cheeks were flushed with excitement as she made this hasty explanation. She had purposely left it till a crowded moment, for Aunt Philippa was apt to be very searching in her inquiries, and Chris shrank at all times from being catechized by this somewhat formidable relative of hers.

"Trevor knows all about him; they are friends," she added, in response to a slight drawing of the brows, with which she was tragically well acquainted.

"All?" murmured Max in her ear from her other side, with a mischievous twinkle in his green eyes.

Chris ignored him, but she turned a vivid crimson, and the hand she stretched to Mordaunt was quivering with agitation. But in his quiet grasp it became still. She looked up into his eyes and smiled a welcome with recovered self-possession.

"Oh, Trevor, here you are! And you've brought Bertie as you promised." She gave her other hand to Bertrand with the words, but she did not speak to him—she went on talking to her fiance. "I've had a tremendous day, and thank you a million times for—you know what. It's a good thing you booked your dances beforehand, for I haven't any left."

"Not one for me?" murmured Bertrand, as he bent over her hand.

She turned to him with a radiant smile. "Yes, yes, of course! Should I be likely to forget all old pal like you? Trevor, will you introduce him to Aunt Philippa?"

"My friend Mr. Bertrand," said Mordaunt promptly.

Mrs. Forest acknowledged the introduction with extreme chilliness. She strongly disapproved of Chris's faculty for developing unexpected friendships. The child was so regrettably free-and-easy in all her ways. Of course, if Trevor Mordaunt approved of their intimacy, and apparently he did, there was nothing to be said, but she herself could not regard it with favour. Once more she congratulated herself that her responsibilities where Chris was concerned were nearly at an end.

But if her greeting were cold, Bertrand scarcely had time to remark it, for his attention was instantly diverted by the red-haired youth who lounged behind her. Max, whose presence had been annoying his aunt all day, thrust out a welcoming hand to the new-comer.

"Hullo!" he said. "You, is it?"

Bertrand raised his brows. He gave his hand, after an instant's hesitation, with a non-committing, "Myself—yes."

Max drew him aside out of the crowd. "It's all right. I'm Chris's brother, and I shan't give you away. But how long do you expect to remain incog., I wonder? I knew your face the moment I saw you on the stairs."

"You know me?" said Bertrand, drawing back a little.

"Of course I know you. Who could help it? Your face is one of the best known in Europe. So you are the hero that Chris used to worship at Valpre! She mentioned the one fact to me, but not the other. She knows, I suppose?"

"Ah, yes, but it is a secret." Bertrand spoke wearily, as if reluctant to discuss the matter. "It is not my desire to be recognized. She knows that also."

"I never knew Chris could keep a secret before," commented Max.

A quick gleam shot up in the Frenchman's eyes. "Then you do not know her very well," he said.

Max smiled shrewdly, but did not contest the point. He seldom argued, and Chris herself at this moment intervened.

"Bertie, I've saved the supper extras for you. Don't forget. Max, you know most of the people here. Do introduce him, or find Jack—he will. I'm dancing the first with Trevor. Good-bye!"

She flashed her smile upon him, and was gone. Bertrand stood and watched her as she went away through the throng with Trevor Mordaunt. Everyone watched her, and nearly everyone smiled. She was so naively, so sublimely happy.

Her gay young laugh rang out as they began to dance. "Isn't it fun?" she said; and then, with her eyes turned to his, "Trevor, I've such a crowd of things to thank you for that I don't know where to begin."

"Then, my dear child, don't begin!" he said, with his indulgent smile.

She frowned at him. "You are not to call me 'child' any longer. I'm grown-up."

His smile remained. "Since when?" he said.

"That's a rude question which I am not going to answer. But, Trevor, you—you shouldn't have sent me all that money. It's much more than I want."

"I'm glad to hear it," he said; and, after a moment, "I hope you will spend it profitably."

"Oh, yes." Eagerly she made reply. "I've bought a new collar for Cinders—such a beauty, with bells! I thought it would be so useful if he went rabbiting."

"What! To warn the rabbits?"

"Oh, no! I never thought of that! Poor Cinders! It would spoil his sport, wouldn't it? And he's such a sportsman. I suppose I shall have to keep it for Sundays after all. What a pity! I thought it would help us to find him if he got lost."

"But he always turns up again," said Mordaunt consolingly.

Her blue eyes flashed their sunshine. "Yes, yes, of course. And another thing I did which ought to please you very much."

The indulgence turned to approval on Mordaunt's face. "I can guess what that was," he said.

"Can you?" Chris looked delighted. "Well, you mustn't tell Aunt Philippa, because she would call it shocking extravagance, and I really only did it to please you."

"Oh! Then I am afraid I haven't guessed right." Mordaunt's expression became one of grave doubt.

Chris laughed aloud. "You will have to guess again. No, please go on dancing. One only gets hotter standing still."

"But, Chris," he said, "I want to know."

His tone was perfectly kind, as gentle as it always was when he addressed her, and yet the quick glance that she threw him was not without a hint of misgiving. The slender young body stiffened ever so slightly against his arm.

"I wonder if Bertie has found a partner," she said. "Do you think we ought to go and see?"

He guided her towards the entrance. A good many people were standing about, and one after another accosted Chris. She answered blithely enough, her hand still upon her fiance's arm, but yet there was that about her that made him aware that she was not wholly at her ease. When he drew her towards a room beyond that led to a conservatory, she hung back.

"I want to find Bertie. Where is he?"

Jack Forest appeared at that moment, and she turned to him with evident relief. "Oh, Jack, where is Mr. Bertrand? I told Max to hand him over to you. He knows no one, and I do want him to have a good time."

"Be easy, my child," said Jack, with a cheery grin. "He is having the time of his life. The mater has taken him under her wing."

"Jack!" Chris stood aghast.

"Don't agitate yourself," said Jack. "It's all serene. He is thoroughly enjoying himself. Where are you two off to? Going to sit out in the dark? Shall I come and mount guard?"

"Oh, don't be ridiculous!" protested Chris. "Jack, remember our dance is the next."

Jack bowed with his hand on his heart. "I don't forget such things. Make the most of your time, Trevor. It's nearly up."

He departed with a careless swagger, and Chris turned to her quiet companion and gave a little shiver. "Why did we leave off dancing? I'm cold."

He led her across the hall to a settee. Someone had thrown a scarf upon it. He put it round her shoulders.

"It isn't mine," she said, "and it isn't that sort of cold either. I hope Aunt Philippa isn't teasing Bertie. Do you think she is?"

"I think he can take care of himself," Mordaunt said.

"Do you? I don't. Aunt Philippa is sure to say horrid things to him. I think we ought to go and find them—really."

There was a note of pleading in her voice, but Mordaunt did not respond to it. He sat and contemplated her, as if his thoughts were elsewhere.

He leaned forward at last and spoke very quietly. "Chris," he said, "forgive me for asking, but—you have paid your debts?"

The colour surged up all over her fair face. She began to pluck restlessly at her fan. But she said no word. Only as he took it gravely from her, she glanced up as though compelled, and for a single instant sheer panic looked at him out of her eyes.

"My dear," he said, "will you attend to the matter to-morrow?"

But still she was silent, quiveringly, piteously silent. The colour had gone out of her face now; she was as white as the dress she wore.

"You will?" he said gently.

She made a little sound that was like a repressed sob, and put her hand sharply to her throat.

"You will?" he said again.

"Yes," she whispered.

He dismissed the matter instantly, opened the fan he had taken from her, and began to admire it.

"Jack gave it to me," she said. "It's a birthday present. He always gives me nice things. So do you, Trevor. Your pendant is the loveliest thing I have ever seen."

He had sent her a pendant of turquoise and pearl, and it hung upon her neck at the moment. She fingered it lovingly.

"I shall go to bed in it," she said, "so as to have it all night long. It feels so delicious. I wish I could see it. It was the very thing I saw in Bond Street a few weeks ago, and wanted to wear at Hilda's wedding." She broke off with a sudden sigh. "It will be horrid when Hilda's married."

"Will it?" he said.

"Yes, horrid," she repeated with vehemence. "Aunt Philippa is going to turn all her attention to me then. Of course, I know she is very kind, but—well, I feel as if this is my last week of freedom. I shall be almost glad when—" She broke off abruptly. "Do let us go and rescue Bertie," she said, "before we get swallowed up in the crowd."

He got up at once and silently offered his arm. She slipped her hand within it, and gave it a little squeeze.

"We'll dance to the finale next time," she said lightly. "It's much more fun than talking."

She added carelessly, as they moved away together: "By the way, I had my photograph taken this morning. I don't know if you will like it. Shall I send you one?"

"Do," he said. And after a moment, smiling faintly: "Was that the thing that was to please me?"

She nodded, not looking at him.

He laid his hand for an instant upon hers. "Thank you, Chris," he said.

She turned instantly and smiled upon him. "You can give it to Bertie if you don't like it," she made blithe response.



"Ah! now for a good talk," said Chris. "We have got at least half an hour. Are you tired, Bertie, or only bored?"

But he was neither, he assured her. He had enjoyed his evening greatly. No, he had not danced. He had found it enough diverting to look on tranquilly in a corner. Mais oui, everybody had been most kind, including his hostess, to whom he paid a special tribute of appreciation. He had found her as gracious as she was beautiful.

"Did she try to pump you?" asked Chris.

He raised his brows in humorous bewilderment. But to pump—what was it? To ask questions? Ah yes, she had asked him several questions. He had not answered all of them. He feared she had found him a little stupid. But she had been very patient with him, ah! so patient—he spread out his hands, with the old, quick smile, and Chris's peal of laughter echoed far and wide.

"Bertie, you're too heavenly for words! Then she didn't find out about Valpre? She thinks—I suppose she thinks—that Trevor introduced us to each other."

"I do not know what she thinks," the Frenchman made answer. "But no, we did not speak of Valpre! That is a secret, hein?"

"Not exactly a secret. I told Max. But Aunt Philippa—oh, she is so different. She never understands things," said Chris. "I daresay she will find out from Trevor as it is; but I hope she won't—I do hope she won't!"

He smiled comprehendingly. "But Mr. Mordaunt—he understands, yes?" he said.

She hesitated. "I never told even him about that night in the Magic Cave, Bertie."

"No?" he said, his quick eyes upon her. "But why not?"

She shook her head with vehemence. "I couldn't. Everyone—even Jack—made such a fuss at the time—as if—as if"—she turned crimson—"I had done something really wicked. I'm sure I don't know why. I always said so."

There was defiance as well as distress in her voice. Bertrand leaned a little towards her.

"Mr. Mordaunt would not think like that," he said, with conviction.

She looked at him dubiously. "I'm not so sure. He has extraordinary views on some things. I never quite know how he will take anything. Other people are the same. You are the only person I am quite sure of."

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