"If you wish it, dear. But Trevor wants to say something rather private. Really, you have nothing to be afraid of."
His kindly eyes looked down reassuringly into hers. They seemed to reason with her, to persuade and soothe at the same time.
But Chris's hands clung to his. "Don't—don't go!" she said. "I want you—I want you, Jack."
"Suppose we sit down," said Jack practically. "Trevor, I wish you'd kick that boy downstairs. It would do him good and me too. This isn't a family conclave."
"Noel can stay," Mordaunt answered quietly. He was still looking towards his wife, but he did not seem to be regarding her very intently. "You are mistaken in thinking that I have anything to say to Chris in private. I have only come to tell her what I have already told you, that Bertrand is at Valpre, ill and wanting her. I will take her to him—if she will come."
"Trevor!" She turned to him with eyes of sudden horror—horror so definite that it swamped all her personal shrinking. "How is he ill? You—you have hurt him!"
"I have done nothing to him," Mordaunt answered. "He is suffering from heart-disease, and cannot be moved. I must start from Charing Cross in an hour. Will you come with me?"
"To go to him?" Her eyes were still dilated, but they did not waver from his.
"To go to him." He repeated the words with precision, and waited for her answer.
But Chris sat in silence, her hands in Jack's.
"Look here," Noel broke in abruptly, "if Chris goes, I go."
"Very well," Mordaunt said. "If Chris desires it, you may."
Chris came out of her silence with a little shudder, and turned to the man beside her. "Jack, tell me what to do!"
"I think you had better go, dear," Jack said.
"But if—but if—oh, is he very ill?" She looked again at her husband.
"He is very ill indeed," Mordaunt said.
"You think I ought to go?" She asked the question with an obvious effort.
"I have come to fetch you," he said.
"Then—he is dying!" she said, with sudden conviction.
Mordaunt was silent.
Abruptly she left Jack and went up to him. "Trevor," she said, "would you want to take me to him if—if—"
"If—?" he repeated quietly.
"If you thought I was doing wrong to go?"
He made a slight movement, as if the question were unexpected. "I should have explained to you," he said, "that your brother Max is in charge of him, so that when I am not with you—and, as you know, I am attending the Rodolphe trial—you will not be alone."
"Oh, Max is there!" she said, with relief. "But what is he doing at Valpre?"
"He went there with Bertrand."
"But I thought Bertrand could not go to France," she hazarded.
"He went in disguise."
"Why?" Her lips trembled upon the word.
"Because he had something to say to me." With the utmost calmness his answer came.
"Ah!" She started and turned so white that he put out a hand to steady her.
She laid her own within it, as it were instinctively, because she needed support.
"What was it?" she whispered.
He looked at her gravely. "Are you afraid to be alone with me?" he said.
"Then—quick march!" said Jack, with his hand through Noel's arm.
They went out together, Noel glancing back for the smallest sign from his sister to remain.
But she made none. She stood quite still, with her hand in her husband's, waiting.
As the door closed Mordaunt spoke. "Have you been ill?"
"No," she said faintly. "Not—not really ill."
She was aware of his close scrutiny for a moment, but she made not the slightest attempt to meet it.
"You want to know what Bertrand said to me," he said. "And you have a right to know. He told me the whole history of your friendship from the beginning to the end."
"He told you about—about Valpre?" Her eyelids quivered, as if she wished to raise them but dared not.
"Then you know—" Her hand fluttered in his.
"I know everything," he said.
Her white face quivered piteously. "And you—you are still angry?"
"No, I am not angry." He led her back to the sofa. "Sit down a minute," he said. "I don't think you are quite fit for this, and if you are going back with me to Valpre, you will need to reserve your strength."
He sat down beside her, both her hands firmly clasped in his, as if thereby he would impart to her the strength she lacked.
"You mean me to go, then?" murmured Chris.
"Don't you want to go?" he asked.
"If he really wants me—" she faltered. "And if you—you wish it, too."
"My dear," he said, "do my wishes make any real difference?"
She caught her breath sharply, and bent her head that he might not see her face. "Yes," she whispered, under her breath.
"Very well," he said, "I wish it, too."
She was silent, but suddenly her tears began to fall upon the strong hands that held hers. She would have given anything to have repressed them at that moment. With her whole soul she shrank from showing him her weakness, but it overpowered her. She bowed her head lower still, and wept.
He sat quite motionless for seconds, so that even in the depth of her distress she marvelled at his patience. But at last, very gently, he moved, let her hands go, and rose.
He stood awhile turned from her, his face to the window, though the sun-blind was all that could have met his view; finally, with grave kindness, he spoke.
"I think I had better leave you to prepare for the journey. There is not much time at your disposal, and you will probably need it all. It is settled that Noel is to go with us?"
"You won't mind?" she whispered.
"I think it a very good plan," he answered.
He turned round and came back to her. She had commanded herself to a certain extent, but still she could not raise her face. She waited tensely as he approached, possessed by a sudden, almost delirious longing to feel the touch of his lips.
Her desire surged into leaping hope as he stopped beside her. Would he—could he? But he did not stoop. He only laid his hand for a moment upon her head.
"Chris," he said, "try to think of me as a friend—and don't be afraid."
She thrilled at the low-spoken words. In another moment she would have conquered all hesitation and sprung up to feel his arms about her, to hide her face against him, to open to him all her quivering heart. But for that moment he did not wait.
With the utterance of the words his hand fell, and he moved away.
The opening and the closing of the door told her he had gone.
"Ah, but what a night for dreams!"
The cool salt air came in from the sea like a benediction, blowing softly about the sick man by the window, sending a gleam of life into eyes grown weary with long suffering. He leaned back upon his pillows for the first time in many hours.
"It is as if the door of heaven had opened," he said.
"You're not going yet, old chap!" Max answered, a curious blending of grimness and tenderness in his voice.
"But no—not yet—not yet." Softly Bertrand made answer, but resolution throbbed in his words also. "I must not fail her—my little pal—my bird of Paradise. But the night is very long, Max, mon ami. And the darkness—the darkness—"
Max's hand came quietly down and closed upon his wrist. "I'll see you through," he said.
"Yes—yes. You will help me. You are one of those created to help. That is why you will be great. The great men are always—those who help."
The words came slowly, sometimes with difficulty, but the young medical student made no attempt to check them. He only sat with shrewd eyes upon the sick man's face and alert finger on his wrist, marking the waning strength while he listened. For he knew that the night was long.
Years afterwards it came to be said of him that his patients never died until his back was turned. It was not strictly true, but it conveyed something of the magnetism with which he wrought upon them. He knew the crucial moment by instinct, when to grapple and when to slacken his hold, and he never went by rule.
And so on that his second night of vigil by the side of a dying man, though he recognized speech as a danger, he made no effort to silence him. He knew that weariness of the spirit that finds no vent was a greater danger still.
"So you think I have a future before me?" he said.
"I am sure of it." Bertrand spoke with conviction. "It will not be an easy future, mon ami. Perhaps it will not be happy. Those who climb have no time to gather the flowers by the way. But—it will be great. You desire that, yes?"
"In a fashion," Max said. "I don't know that I consider greatness in itself as specially valuable. Do you?"
"I?" said Bertrand. "But I have passed all that. There was a time when ambition was to me as the breath of life. I thought of nothing else. And then"—his voice dropped a little—"there came a greater thing—the greatest of all. And I knew that I had climbed above ambition. I knew success and fame as a procession that passes—that passes—the mirage in the desert—the dream in the midst of our great Reality. I knew all this before my ruin came. It was as if a light had suddenly been held up, and I saw the work of my life as pictures in the sand. Then the great tide rushed up, and all was washed away. But yet"—his voice vibrated, he looked at Max and smiled—"the light remained. For a time, indeed, I was blind, but the light came back to me. And I know now that it was always there."
He paused, and turned his head sharply.
"What is it?" said Max.
"I heard a sound."
"There are plenty of sounds in this place," Max pointed out.
"Ah! but this was different. It sounded like—" He stopped with a gasp that made Max frown.
Undoubtedly there was a sound outside, the tread of feet, the jingle of a sword. Max got up, still frowning, and went to the door.
He had barely reached it before there came a loud knock upon the panels, and a voice cried: "Ouvrez!"
Max's knowledge of French was exceedingly limited, but that fact by no means dismayed him. He turned round to Bertrand for a moment.
"I'm going to have a talk with this johnny. Don't agitate yourself. You are not to move till I come back."
"Ouvrez!" cried the voice again.
"All right?" questioned Max.
Bertrand was leaning forward. His eyes were very bright, his breathing very short. "They have come—to take me," he said.
"I'll see them damned first," said Max. "You keep still, and leave it to me."
His hand was on the door with the words. A moment more he stood, thick-set and British, looking back. Then with a curt nod, he opened the door, and passed instantly out, pulling it after him.
Half a dozen soldiers filled the passage. The one who had knocked—an officer—stood face to face with him.
"Now what do you want?" asked Max.
He stood, holding the door-handle, his red brows drawn, a glint of battle in the green eyes beneath them. And so, during a brief silence, they measured each other.
Then quite courteously the Frenchman spoke. "Monsieur, my duty brings me here. Will you have the goodness to open that door?"
"It's a good thing you can speak English," Max remarked, with his one-sided smile. "What do you want to go in there for? The room is mine."
"And you are entertaining a friend there, monsieur." The Frenchman still spoke suavely; he even smiled an answering smile.
"That is so," Max said. "Do you know his name?"
"It is Bertrand de Montville." There was no hesitation in the reply. He looked as if he expected the Englishman to move aside, as he made it. But Max stood his ground.
"And what is your business with him?" he asked.
The officer's brows went up. "Monsieur?"
"You have come to arrest him?" Max questioned.
The Frenchman hesitated for a moment, then: "I must do my duty," he said.
The green eyes contemplated him thoughtfully for a space. Then, "I suppose you know he is dying?" Max said slowly.
"Dying, monsieur!" The tone was sharp, the speaker plainly incredulous.
Max explained without emotion. "He is suffering from an incurable disease of the heart, caused by hardship and starvation. If you go in and agitate him now, I won't give that for his chances of lasting through the night."
He snapped his fingers without taking his eyes from the other's face.
"Is it true?" the Frenchman said.
"It is absolutely true." Max spoke quietly, but there was force behind his words. "You can do what you like to safeguard him, though he is quite incapable of getting away. You can surround the house and post sentries at the door. But unless you want to kill him outright, you won't take him away from here. You can send one of your own doctors to certify what I say. You don't want to kill him, I presume?"
The Frenchman was listening attentively. It was evident that Max Wyndham was making an impression.
"My orders are to arrest him and to take him to the fortress," he said.
"Dead or alive?" asked Max.
"But certainly not dead, monsieur. All France will be calling for him to-morrow."
"That's the funny part of it," said Max. "France should have thought of that before. Well, sir, if you want him to live, all you can do is to wait. I will keep him going through the night, and you can send a doctor round in the morning."
"You are a doctor?" asked the Frenchman keenly.
"No. I am a medical student."
"And you are friends, hein?"
"Yes, we are friends. It was I who brought him here."
"But what a pity, monsieur!" There was a touch of kindly feeling in the words.
"Yes," Max acknowledged grimly. "It was a pity. But his reason for coming was urgent. And, after all, it made little difference. It has only hastened by a few weeks the end that was bound to come."
"You think that he will die?"
"Yes." Max spoke briefly. His tone was one of indifference.
The Frenchman looked at him curiously. "And what was his reason for coming?"
"It was a strictly private one," Max said. "This trial had nothing to do with it. It will certainly never be made public, so I am not at liberty to speak of it."
"And has he done—that which he left England to do?"
"Not yet, sir, but he may do it—if he lives long enough." Again Max's tone was devoid of all feeling. He still stood planted squarely against the closed door.
"And you think he will not do that?"
"On the contrary," said Max, "I think he will—if I am with him to keep him going."
He spoke with true British doggedness, and a gleam of humour crossed the Frenchman's face. He made a brief bow.
"M. de Montville is fortunate to possess such a friend," he said.
The corner of Max's mouth went down. "As to that," he said dryly, "he might do a good deal better, and a very little worse. Now, sir, what are you going to do?"
The Frenchman looked quizzical. "It seems that I must take your advice, monsieur, or risk very serious consequences. I shall leave a guard here during the night, and I must ask you to give me the key of this door. Apres cela"—he shrugged his shoulders—"nous verrons."
Max turned without protest, opened the door, and withdrew the key. He stood a moment listening before he turned back and laid it in the officer's hand. His face was grave.
"I think I must go to him," he said. "You will see to it that he is not disturbed?"
"No one will enter without your permission," the Frenchman answered. "And you, monsieur, will remain with him until I return."
"I see," said Max. Again, for an instant, the fighting gleam was in his eyes, then carelessly he laughed. "Well, I shan't try to run away. He and I are down in the same lot. You would find it harder to turn me out than to keep me here."
"I believe it, monsieur." There was no irony in the words or in the bow that accompanied them. "And I repeat, he is a happy man who possesses your friendship."
"Oh, rats!" said Max, and suddenly turned scarlet. "You are talking through your hat, sir. If you've quite done, I'll go."
It was the most boyish utterance he had permitted himself, and as he gave vent to it he was so obviously ill at ease that the Frenchman smiled.
"But you are younger than I thought," he said. "Will you shake hands?"
Max gave his customary hard grip. They looked into each other's eyes for a moment, and separated with mutual respect.
Five seconds later Max had returned to his self-appointed task of helping a dying man to live through the night.
"How dark it is!" said Chris. "And how we are crawling!"
She turned her white face from the carriage-window with the words. They were the first she had uttered since leaving Paris.
Neither of her two companions responded at once. Noel was curled up in the farther corner asleep, and her husband sitting opposite was writing rapidly in a notebook. He stopped to finish his sentence before he looked up. She was conscious of a little sense of chill because he did so.
"Why don't you try to get a sleep?" he said then. "We shall not reach Valpre for another two hours."
"I can't sleep," she said.
Her eyes avoided his instinctively. They were more nearly alone together at this moment than they had been since their brief interview that morning at the Davenants' flat. It seemed weeks ago to Chris already.
"Have you tried?" he asked.
He did not make the obvious rejoinder, but glanced again at his writing, added something, and put it away. Then, with his usual deliberation of movement, he left his seat and came over to her side.
She had a moment of desperate shyness as he sat down. "Don't let me interrupt you," she said nervously.
He ignored the words, as if he considered them foolish "I should like you to get a little sleep," he said. "You have had a long day. Look at that fellow over there, setting the good example."
"He hasn't so much to think about," said Chris, with a smile that quivered in spite of her.
"Are you thinking very hard?" he asked.
"Yes." She brought out the word with an effort, for suddenly she wanted to cry again, and she was determined to keep back her tears this time.
He made no comment, but sat and looked at the blank darkness of the window.
After a time she mastered herself, and stole a glance at his grave face.
"You—I suppose you will be busy at the court again to-morrow?" she said.
"Yes." He turned to her in his quiet way. "It will be the last day in all probability."
"You think the verdict will be made known?"
She shivered a little. "And the sentence?"
"The sentence will probably not be disclosed till later."
She shivered again, and he reached forward and drew the window a little higher.
"I'm not cold," she said quickly. "Trevor, aren't you—just a little—sorry for him?"
"For the prisoner—for—for Captain Rodolphe." She stammered the name with downcast eyes.
"No." Very calmly and very decidedly came his answer. "I have no pity for a man of that sort. I think he should be shot."
"Oh, do you?" she said with a gasp.
"Yes, I do. A treacherous scoundrel like that is worse than a murderer in my opinion. So is anyone who is fundamentally untrustworthy."
"Oh, but—but—Trevor—," she said, and suddenly there was a note of pleading in her halting words, "that includes the weak people with the wicked. Don't you think—that is rather hard?"
"Quite possibly." He made the admission in a tone she did not understand, and relapsed into silence.
She felt as if the subject were closed, and did not venture to pursue it.
But after a moment he surprised her by a quiet question: "Why don't you try to convince me that I am wrong?"
She looked up at him quickly, as if compelled. His eyes were waiting for hers, met them, held them.
"I am not suggesting that you should defend Rodolphe," he said. "You were not thinking of him. He is not one of the weak."
"I was thinking of myself," she said. "And—and—and—" She wavered and stopped.
"Rupert?" he suggested.
She caught her breath. "What made you think of him?"
"You were thinking of him, were you not?"
She made a gesture of helplessness. "Yes."
"I see," he said. "But you needn't be anxious about Rupert. He came to me long ago and told me the truth."
She opened her eyes wide. "What made him do that?"
"He heard that Bertrand was bearing the blame for his misdeeds, and he had the decency to be ashamed of himself."
"Oh!" said Chris. She was silent for a moment, still meeting his steady gaze. Suddenly her mouth quivered and she turned from them. "Trevor, I—I am ashamed too."
"Hush!" he said.
The word was brief, it sounded stern; but in the same instant his hand found hers and held it very tightly.
She mastered herself with a great effort in response to his insistence. "Were you very angry with him?" she whispered.
"You didn't—punish him in any way?"
"No. I told him to forget it and said I should do the same. As a matter of fact, I had forgotten it until this moment." Mordaunt's tone was unemotional; he released her hand as he was speaking, and again she was conscious of that small sense of chill.
"You forgave him, then?" she said.
"Yes, I did." He paused a moment; then: "By and bye," he said, "Rupert will take on the management of the Kellerton estate, and I think he will probably be a great help to me."
Chris's eyes shot upwards in amazement. "Trevor! Not really?"
He smiled a little. "Yes, really. It is the sort of life that suits him best; and he will be pretty busy, so it ought to keep him out of mischief."
"Oh, but, Trevor—" she said, and stopped short.
"Well?" he said gently.
"I didn't think you would do that," she murmured in confusion. "I didn't think you would ever trust any of us again."
"You think I may regret it?" he said.
She turned her face to the window and made no answer.
He sat beside her for a little longer in silence, then rose, bundled up a travelling-rug to form a cushion, and arranged it in her corner. "Lean against that," he said kindly. "I know you can sleep if you don't try not to."
She thanked him with trembling lips, and as he turned away she caught his hand for a moment and held it to her cheek.
He withdrew it at once though with absolute gentleness. He did not speak a word.
Thereafter she closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but the drumming of the train was in her ears perpetually, and she could not forget it. Present also was the consciousness of her husband's quiet watchfulness. Though he held aloof from her, his care surrounded her unceasingly. Not once had she felt it relax since she had placed herself in his charge. Did he guess? she asked herself, and trembled inwardly. He was being very kind to her in a distant, measured fashion. Was that the reason for it? Could it be?
Her thoughts went back to her talk with her cousin, to the bitter words she had uttered. Would he really care if she were to die? Would he? Would he? She longed to know.
But of course he would not, or he could not be so cold. For Bertrand's sake he had come to fetch her. He had evidently forgiven Bertrand just as he had forgiven Rupert. He forgave everybody but her, she thought to herself forlornly. For his wife alone he could not make allowances.
Again the hot tears welled up, and her closed lids could not keep them back. The dumb anxiety that had gnawed at her heart all through the day returned upon her overwhelmingly, became a burden too heavy to be borne. She covered her face and sobbed.
"Chris!" Her husband's voice came down to her in the depths of her distress. His hand pressed her head. "Leave off crying," he said. "You mustn't cry."
She turned her face upwards, all blinded with tears. "Trevor, I know—I know we shan't be in time!"
They were not the words she wanted to say to him, but they came uppermost and were uttered almost before she knew. She wondered if they would make him angry, but it was too late to recall them. She reached out her hands to him imploringly.
"Oh, forgive me for caring so much!"
"Hush!" he said again very gently. "I understand."
He put the hair back from her forehead, and dried her eyes. There was something almost maternal in his touch.
"You mustn't cry," he said again. "I think you will be in time, and if you are, you will need all your strength; so you mustn't waste it now. Come, you are going to be brave?"
"I'll try," she said faintly.
"See if you can get to sleep," he said.
"But I know I can't," whispered Chris.
"I think you can." He spoke with grave conviction.
"Will you—will you hold my hand?" faltered Chris.
He took it at once. She felt his fingers close steadily upon it, and a sense of comfort stole over her. She clasped them very tightly, and closed her eyes.
The train drummed on through the night, bearing her back to Valpre, back to the old enchantments, to the sands, the caves, and the rocks. She began to hear again the long, low wash of the sea. Or was it the sound of wheels that raced over the metals? Before her inner vision came the spreading line of foam that had rushed how often to catch her dancing feet. And the quiet pools crystal-clear among the rocks, with the sunshine that turned their pebbly floors to gold, so that they became palaces of delight, draped with exquisite curtains of rose and palest green, peopled with scuttling crabs that were not really crabs at all, but the spellbound retinue of the knight who dwelt in the Magic Cave.
She looked towards the Gothic archway, expectant, with quickening breath. Surely he would be coming soon! Ah, now she saw him—a radiant, white-clad figure, with the splendour of eternal youth upon him and the Deathless Magic in his eyes.
And suddenly her own eyes were opened, so that she knew beyond all doubting that the spell that bound him—that bound them both—was the spell of Immortality, the Divine Passport—Love the Indestructible.
Thereafter came a wondrous peace, solacing her, calming her, wrapping her round. Once she stirred, and was conscious of a quiet hand holding hers, lulling her to a more assured restfulness. And so at last she slipped into the quiet of a deep slumber, and the throbbing anxiety sank utterly away.
When she opened her eyes again it was in answer to her husband's voice. She awoke quite naturally to find him bending over her.
"We are at Valpre," he said.
She sat up quickly. "Why, I have been asleep!"
"Yes," he said. "And you will be the better for it. Noel has gone to secure a conveyance. The place is crammed, as you know. You are feeling all right?"
Again for a moment she felt his scrutiny, and her heart quickened under it. But she mustered a smile.
"Yes, quite. You will let me come with you, Trevor? You won't go on first?"
"I shall not leave you," he said.
He gave her his hand to descend from the train, and she clung to it while they threaded their way through the noisy, gesticulating crowd that thronged the platform.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she found herself at last in the ramshackle fiacre which Noel by strenuous effort had managed to commandeer. The din bewildered her. But for her husband's protecting presence she would have felt like a lost child.
As they rumbled away over the stones of Valpre he spoke. "We are in time, Chris."
Her heart gave a great throb. "Are we? But how do you know?"
"Everyone is talking of him," he said quietly. "And I gather that he has been arrested."
"Oh, Trevor!" she breathed in dismay.
"Max is with him," he reminded her. "I don't think they would get rid of him very easily. We shall know more when we get there."
They clattered on to the plage, and the cold sea wind blew in upon them.
Noel snuffed it appreciatively. "Smells decent, anyway. Wonder if they're still running the same old show. I say, Chris, do you remember the Goat?"
Chris did. With her face to the dark sea and the sound of its waves in her ears, she recalled the old light-hearted days and the shrill admonitions of Mademoiselle Gautier. How often had she prophesied disaster for her charge among the rocks of Valpre! Chris smiled a little piteous smile. Ah, well!
The fiacre jerked and jolted over the stones. They left the plage behind and came to a standstill with a violent swerve.
"Now what?" said Noel.
They seemed to have come suddenly upon a crowd of people. Late though it was, all Valpre apparently was awake and abroad.
They staggered on again at a snail's pace, hearing voices all about them, now and then catching glimpses of faces in the light of the carriage-lamps.
"Feels like a funeral procession!" observed Noel jocularly.
"Shut up!" said Mordaunt curtly.
Chris squeezed his hand very hard and said nothing.
Slowly, slowly they drew near to the hotel. A glare of lights shone upon them. The whole place was a buzz of excitement.
They turned into the courtyard, passing two soldiers on guard at the gate. No one spoke to them, or attempted to delay their progress. They stopped before the swing-doors.
An obsequious official came forward to greet them as they descended, and Mordaunt entered into conversation with him. Two soldiers were on guard here also, standing like images on each side of the entrance. Noel studied them with frank interest. Chris stood and waited as one in a dream.
At last her husband turned to her. He introduced the obsequious one, who bowed very low and declared himself enchanted. And then she found herself moving through the vestibule, where a great many men of all nationalities looked at her curiously and a great babble of voices hummed like some immense machinery.
She turned to the man beside her with a touch of nervousness, and at once his hand closed upon her arm.
"Bertrand is still living," he said.
She looked up at him imploringly. "Can't we go to him?"
"Yes, we are going now. He is upstairs. They wanted to take him to the fortress, but he is too ill to be moved."
They went on together. He led her into a lift, and they passed out of reach of the staring crowd.
A familiar figure was awaiting them above, and greeted Chris deferentially as she stepped into the corridor.
"Why, Holmes!" she said, and held out her hand to him.
He took it with reverence. For the first time in her memory she detected a hint of emotion on his impassive face.
"He—hasn't gone, Holmes?" she whispered breathlessly.
"No, madam. He is waiting for you," Holmes made answer, very gently.
Waiting for her! She smiled piteously in her relief. Bertrand de Montville would be her perfect knight to the last.
As they went on down the long corridor she missed the grasp of her husband's fingers, and stopped like a child to slip her hand back into his.
He looked down at her gravely, saying nothing. And so they came at last to the door of Bertrand's room.
Two soldiers were on guard here also. The door was closed.
Holmes went quietly forward and showed a paper to one of the sentries.
Chris waited with a beating heart. Suddenly, with a sob, she turned and clung to her husband's arm. "Trevor, I—I am afraid!"
"There is no need," he said.
"I have never seen death," she whispered. "Will he seem—different?"
He looked at her for a second in such a way that her eyes fell from his.
"Would you like me to go in first?" he asked.
"No—no. Only, Trevor, hold my hand! You won't let go? Promise!"
He did not promise, but somehow without words he reassured her. The door opened before them, and they entered.
Within the room all was dim.
An arm-chair piled with many pillows stood facing the open window, and as her eyes became accustomed to the twilight Chris discerned the outline of a figure that reclined in it. At the same moment there came to her the sound of a voice, husky and difficult, yet how strangely familiar.
"Ah, but the tide—the tide!" it said. "Can we not hold it back my dear Max—a little longer? It rushes up so fast—so fast. Soon all will be gone. Only a picture in the sand, you say? But no, it is more than that. See, it is greater than all the things in the world—greater than the Sphinx, ma petite—greater than your Cleopatra's Needle. Ah, you laugh, because you have no need of it. But yet it is your own, and so will it always be. Do you hear the tide among the rocks, mignonne? It is there that my heart is buried. Come with me, and I will show you the place—if the tide permit."
There came a gasp, and silence.
Some one guided Chris gently forward till she stood behind the great chair at the window, looking down upon the black head that rested against the pillow. Her fear had passed, but yet she drew no nearer. Instinctively she stood and waited.
Suddenly, and more clearly, the voice spoke again.
"We must climb, cherie, we must climb. We dare not stay upon these rocks. It is steep for your little feet, but to remain here is to die. Alors, we will say our prayers and go. Le bon Dieu will keep us safe. And we have been—pals—since so long."
A softer note in the last sentence made her aware that he was smiling. She bent a little above him. But still she waited.
"Comment?" he said. "You are afraid? But why, my bird of Paradise? Is it life that you fear—this little life of shadows? Or Death—which is the gateway to our great Reality? Listen, mignonne! I am a prisoner while I live, but the gate opens to me. Soon I shall be free. No, no! I cannot take you with me. I would not, cherie, if I could. Your place is here. But remember—always—that I love you still. And my love is stronger than death. It stretches into eternity."
He paused, and made a slight gesture of refusal. "Ah, no!" he said. "I do not want a priest. My sins are all known—and pardoned. I only want—one thing now."
"What is it, old chap?" It was Max Wyndham's voice, but pitched so low that Chris scarcely recognized it.
The head on the pillow moved, turning towards the speaker. "So, mon ami, you are still there?"
"What is it you are wanting?" Max said.
Bertrand drew a breath that was cut short and ended in a gasp. "Mon ami, I only want—to hold her little hand in mine—and to hear her say—that she is—happy."
And then it was that Chris moved forward, as if impelled by a volition not her own, and knelt down by Bertrand's side.
"Do you want me, Bertie?" she said. "I've come, dear! I've come!"
He put out his hand to her at once, but slowly, as though feeling his way. "Christine!" he said.
She took the groping hand, and held it fast pressed between her own. "Yes, dear?" she murmured.
"You are really here?" he said. "It is not—a dream?"
"No, Bertie, no! It is I myself, here with you at Valpre."
She felt his hand close within her own. "You are come—to say good-bye to me?" he said. "And Mr. Mordaunt—is he here also?"
"He brought me," whispered Chris.
"Ah!" She heard the relief in his voice. "Then—Christine, all is right between you?"
But she was silent, for she could not answer him.
He stirred. He leaned slowly forward. "Tell me," he said, very earnestly, "tell me that all is well between you."
But Chris said no word. She only bowed her head over the hand she held.
There was a brief silence. Bertrand was bending over her. He seemed to be trying to see her face. He moved at last, passed his free arm around her, and spoke. "Mr. Mordaunt—is he here?"
"Yes, I am here." Very steadily came Mordaunt's answer. Mordaunt himself took Max's place beside him.
Bertrand looked up at him. "Monsieur—" he said, and hesitated.
"Ask him what he wants," muttered Max, gripping his brother-in-law's elbow with tense insistence.
"Do you want anything?" He uttered the question at once, quite clearly, without emotion.
"Monsieur," Bertrand said again, and there was entreaty in his voice, "out of your great goodness of heart you have brought la petite to say adieu to me. Will you not—extend that goodness—a little farther? Will you not—now that you understand—now that you understand"—he repeated the phrase insistently—"remove the estrangement of which I have been—the so unhappy cause?"
"Bertie, no—no!" There was sharp pain in Chris's voice. She raised herself quickly. "You don't understand, dear, and I—can't explain. But you are not to ask that of him. I can't bear it."
There was a quiver of passion in the last words. It was as though they were uttered in spite of her.
Mordaunt stood motionless, in utter silence. His face was in shadow.
Bertrand turned to the kneeling girl. "Will you, then, plead for yourself, cherie?" he said. "He will not refuse you. He knows all."
"No, no; he doesn't," said Chris.
"But you will tell him," urged Bertrand gently. "See, I cannot leave you—my two good friends—thus. Since I have caused so much trouble between you, I must do my possible to redress the evil. Cherie, promise me—that you will go back to him. Not otherwise shall I die happy."
"I can't!" whispered Chris. "I can't!"
"But why not?" he said. "You love him, yes?"
But Chris was silent. She was trembling from head to foot.
"I know that you love him," Bertrand said, with confidence. "And for that—you will go back to him. You cannot live your life apart from him. You belong to him, Christine, and he—he belongs to you. Mr. Mordaunt—my dear friend—is it not so?"
But before he could answer, feverishly Chris again broke in. "Bertie, hush—hush! It isn't right! It isn't fair! Oh, forgive me for saying it! But can't you see that it isn't? He has forgiven me, and we are friends. But you mustn't ask any more than that, because—because it's no use." A sudden sob rose in her throat. She swallowed it with an immense effort. "He has been kind to me—for your sake," she said, "not my own. I have done nothing to deserve his kindness. I have never been worthy of him, and he knows it. I married him, loving you. Oh no, I didn't know it, but I ought to have known. And when I did know, I would have left him and gone with you. Nothing can ever alter that. And do you suppose he will ever forget it? Because I know—I know—that he never can!"
She ceased abruptly, and turned aside to battle with her agitation. Bertrand's hand stroked hers very tenderly, but his eyes were raised to the man who stood like a statue by his side.
He spoke after a moment very softly, almost as if to himself. "Neither will he forget," he said, "that our love was a summer idyll that came to us unawares in the days when we were young, and that though the idyll will come to an end, our love is a gift immortal—imperishable—indestructible—a flame that burns upwards and always upwards—reaching the Divine. And because he remembers this, he will understand, and think no evil. Christine," he turned to her again very persuasively, "you love him. You have need of him. I know it well. You are sad. You are lonely. Your heart cries out for him. Little Christine, will you not listen to it? Will you not go back to him?"
The man's whole soul was in the words. They quivered with the intensity of his appeal. Yet they went into silence. Chris was turned away from him. Only by the convulsive holding of her hand did he know that they had reached her heart.
The silence lengthened, became oppressive, became a burden too heavy to be borne.
"Christine!" He was becoming exhausted. His voice was no more than a whisper, but it throbbed with earnest entreaty.
Yet Chris remained silent still, for she could not speak in answer.
Several seconds passed. It seemed that the appeal would go unanswered. But at length the man who stood on Bertrand's other side made a quiet movement, bending down a little.
"You need not distress yourself, Bertrand," he said, very steadily, and as he spoke his hand was on the Frenchman's shoulder. "Chris will never leave me again."
"Ah!" Eagerly Bertrand looked up at him. He had begun to gasp again, and his words were hurried and difficult of utterance. "And you, monsieur—you will not—leave her?"
Mordaunt made no verbal answer, but their eyes must have met in the dimness and some message have passed between them, for there was a tremor of sheer relief in his voice when Bertrand spoke again.
"Oh, my friend!" he said. "My dear friend!" And, yielding to the hand that gently pressed him back, he reclined upon his pillows and became passive.
Mordaunt remained beside him for several seconds longer, but he did not speak again. When he straightened himself at length, he glanced round for Max, and motioned him away.
They went together into the adjoining room and softly closed the door.
And so Chris and her preux chevalier were left alone by the open window to end their summer idyll to the music of the rising tide that crooned and murmured among the rocks of Valpre that had seen its beginning.
THE END OF THE VOYAGE
How the sun was shining on the water! What a glorious morning for a bathe! Chris laughed to herself—a happy little, inconsequent laugh.
But she must be quick or Mademoiselle Gautier would catch her and forbid her to go! Poor old Mademoiselle, who had been brought up in a convent and thought all nice things were improper!
Would Bertie be there with his boat, a white-clad, supple figure, with his handsome olive face, and his dark eyes with their friendly laugh? Surely it was the flash of his oars in the sunlight that dazzled her so! She would swim to him through the crystal water, and he would stretch out his hands to her, and she would go up to him like a bird from the sea, and perch upon the stern. He would scold her a little for swimming out so far, but what of that? She liked being scolded by Bertie!
How warmly the sun shone down upon them! And how she loved to watch the slim activity of him as he bent to his work! She wished they did not move quite so fast, even though the speed was so delicious, for they were nearing the rocks. Oh no, she was not afraid! Who could be afraid with Bertie in the boat? But when they reached the rocks, it would be the end of the voyage, and she did not want it to end.
Ah! now she could catch the sparkle of the sand, and there away in the distance a powdery whirl which was all she could see of Cinders. He was evidently digging for dear life, and again Chris laughed.
And now she stood with her back to the glittering sea, and her face to the mysterious granite of the ages. Where had he gone—her preux chevalier? Was he hidden in the dark recesses of the Magic Cave? She would go in search of him. He would not hide long from her, for she possessed the secret of the spell that would draw him forth.
But the rocks were slippery under her feet, and more than once she stumbled. She found herself confronted by obstacles such as had never before obstructed her path. A little tremor of distress went through her. Why had she quitted that sunny sea? Why had she ever suffered herself to be beguiled into the boat?
It became increasingly difficult, wellnigh impossible, to go forward. She turned aside. Ah! there was Bertie, after all, out on the sand, waiting for her. He held a naked sword in his hand. Evidently he was drawing pictures. She knew what they would be before she reached him: St. George and the Dragon, that "beast enormous with eyes of fire"; the Sphinx, and Cleopatra's Needle. She saw them all; and soon the great tide would race up with a mighty roaring and wash them all away. Was it not the destiny of all things—save one?
Stay! Was it the sand on which he was expending his skill thus? Why, then, did his sword move so swiftly, like lightning-flashes, where the sun caught it? Ah, now she saw more clearly. It was a duel. He was fighting with every inch of him, steadfast, unflinching, in her cause. How splendidly he controlled himself! The clear grace of his every movement held her spellbound.
For a while she watched him, not heeding his adversary, watched the glint of the crossed swords, the pass, the thrust, and the return. And then, by some mysterious influence, her eyes were drawn upward to the face of his opponent, and it was as if one of those flashing blades had found her heart. For Bertrand de Montville was fighting the grey-eyed, level-browed Englishman who was her husband!
With a cry she sprang forward to intervene. She flung herself between them in an agony. One of them—Trevor—caught her in his arms. The other staggered backwards and fell upon the sand. She saw his dead face as he lay....
"Oh, Trevor!" she cried in anguish. "Trevor! Trevor!"
He held her closely to him. She felt his hand laid in soothing on her head. Gasping, she opened her eyes upon his face.
"That's better," he said gently. "You've had a bad dream."
"Was it a dream?" she asked him wildly. "Was it a dream?"
And then she remembered that Bertrand had fallen asleep in the very early hours of the morning, and that they had led her away to another room to rest. Worn out in mind and body, she had yielded. She marvelled now that she had been so easily persuaded.
She turned within the circle of her husband's arm. "Trevor, you promised you would call me if he waked."
His hand was still upon her head; its touch was sustaining, subtly comforting. "He did not wake, dear," he said.
The words were few, but in a flash she knew the truth. Her eyes grew wide and dark. Her clinging hands tightened upon his arm. She made no sound of any sort. She even ceased to breathe.
He drew her head down upon his shoulder, and held her fast pressed against his breast. "Don't be afraid," he said.
But she remained tense in his arms, till her rigidity and silence alarmed him. He began to rub her cold cheek.
"Chris, speak to me!"
She turned her face into his breast, and with relief he heard her begin to breathe again. But she did not speak. She only lay there dumbly in crushed stillness.
For a while he waited, but at last, as she made no movement, he spoke again. "Chris, would you like me to leave you?"
That reached her. She turned her face quickly upwards. "No, Trevor."
The wide, strained look was still in her eyes, but they did not flinch from his.
"I knew he was dead," she said, speaking very quickly, "when I woke up just now. I thought—I thought—" She broke off, as if she could not continue. "And afterwards—directly I saw you by my side—I knew it was true. Trevor"—the piteous note sounded again in her voice—"why are you not afraid of death?"
"Because I don't believe in it," he said.
"But yet—but yet—" Her words faltered away into silence.
He laid his hand again upon her head. "My dear, death is purely physical. You know it in your heart as well as I do. Death is the passing of the spirit—no more than that."
She uttered a deep sigh. "Oh, Trevor, I wish I wasn't so wicked."
His hand began to caress her hair. "I don't think you know what wickedness is, dear," he said.
"But I do—I do!" she protested. "I—I am almost terrified sometimes when I realize it. And I feel as if—as if—Bertie wouldn't have been taken away—if I hadn't loved him so." Her voice sank, she hid her face a little lower.
"But you make a mistake," he said gently. "There is no sin in love—so long as it is love and nothing else. A good many sins masquerade in the form of love, but love itself—what you and I call love—is sinless. And it is that—and that alone—that can never die." He paused a moment, and his hand ceased to stroke her bright hair and became still. "It is bad enough," he said, his voice sunk very low, "that I could ever misunderstand you; but, my dear, don't make things harder by misunderstanding yourself."
She moved at that as though it touched her very nearly, and suddenly she slipped from his arms, and knelt beside him. "Trevor," she said, with quivering lips, "don't be too kind to me! I can't bear it."
He looked down at her very sadly. "It would be a new experience for you, my Chris, if I were," he said.
"No—no." She bent her face quickly, and laid it against his hand. "I've deceived you a hundred times—yes, and lied to you. You bore with me over and over again, even when you knew I wasn't being straight. You did your very utmost to keep me true. You trusted me even when you knew I was cheating. Oh, I don't wonder that I killed your love at last. The wonder was that it lived so long."
She stopped, for his hand had clenched upon itself at her words. But he said nothing. He seemed to be waiting for her to continue. She went on quickly—
"I know you feel you must be kind to me now because"—she caught her breath—"Bertie is gone, and he wished it so. But—but—I shan't expect—a great deal. I—I shall be quite grateful—if I may have—a little friendship. I don't want you to think that—that—"
"That you want my love?" he said.
"Oh, I didn't mean that!" She looked up at him in distress, but she could not see his face with any distinctness.
His elbow was on the arm of his chair, and his hand shaded it.
"I know I forfeited all that," she said. "And I want you to feel that I—understand, and shall never expect to have it again. That is what I mean when I say, don't be too kind to me. You have been that, and much more than that, already. But I won't trade on your generosity. I am not a child any longer to need support and protection. I am old enough to stand alone."
"And what of my promise to Bertrand?"
He asked the question quite quietly, as though it were of no special moment to him, but she flinched before it, and turned her face aside.
"Oh, I don't think he would want you to be kind to me for his sake—if he knew how much it hurt?"
Mordaunt was silent for a moment, then: "And you have no use for my love?" he said.
She made a movement almost convulsive. "Trevor, don't—torture me!"
"My child," he said, "I only ask because I need to know."
She laid a trembling hand on his. "If I thought—you loved me—" She stopped, battling desperately for self-control, and after a few seconds began again. "If I thought—you wanted me—"
"I do want you, Chris," he said.
She cast a startled look into his face. "Oh, but you only say that because—because—"
"Because it is the truth," he said.
"But is it the truth?" she asked, a little wildly. "Is it? Is it? Oh, Trevor, if you knew—if you knew—" Her voice failed. She began to sob. "I can't bear it," she whispered. "I can't! I can't!" And with that she broke down utterly, bowing her head upon his knee in a passion of weeping more violent than he had ever before witnessed.
"Chris! Chris!" he said.
He would have lifted her, but she sank lower, as one crushed to the earth by a burden too heavy to be borne.
For a while her weeping was the only sound in the room, but at length he spoke again over her bowed head.
"Chris—my darling—do you know—I can't bear it either if you cry like this?"
His voice was low and not very steady. It appealed to her even in the depth of her distress. She stretched up a trembling hand, and clasped his.
Gradually her sobbing grew less violent, and at length it ceased; but she remained crouched against his knee with her face hidden for many minutes.
Trevor said no more. Only at last he bent and laid his lips upon her hair.
She moved then sharply, and for a single instant she saw his face. It was enough, more than enough for her quick heart. In a moment the barrier between them was down. She raised herself and threw her arms around his neck.
"My dear! My dear!" she said.
"It's all right," he whispered back.
Her arms tightened. She clung to him passionately. "Trevor—darling, I didn't know! I didn't understand!"
"It's all right," he said again.
She pressed her face to his. "Trevor, don't fret, dear! I'm not worth it. And I—I'm coming back to you—if you will have me."
"I want you," he answered simply.
"Not just for his sake?" she pleaded. "Or even for mine?"
"For my own," he said.
She was silent for a little. Then impulsively, with something of her old, quick charm of movement, she turned her lips to his. "Trevor, I believe I should die without you."
"Poor child!" he said gently.
"No—no! Don't pity me! Love me—love me!"
He pressed her closer. "My Chris, no one ever loved you more."
"Yes," she whispered. "I know that now. And I shall never forget it. Trevor, I love you, too. You believe that?"
"I know it, dear," he said.
"And because I love you," she said, "I'm not afraid of you any more. Trevor, let us promise each other that nothing shall ever come between us again."
"Nothing ever shall," he said steadily.
"Nothing ever shall," she repeated softly. "And—and—Trevor—" She suddenly hid her face against his shoulder and became silent again.
"But you are not afraid of me?" he said.
"No, dear, no; not afraid." Her voice quivered notwithstanding. "Only foolish, you know, and—and—a little doubtful lest—lest—when I've told you—something—you shouldn't be quite—pleased."
"I am—quite pleased, dear," he said.
She raised her head. "Trevor! You know?"
He took her face between his hands. "My darling, yes."
She opened her eyes wide, searching his face. "But that—that wasn't your reason for—wanting me back?"
He looked straight down into her eyes, still holding her. "I wonder if I need answer that question," he said slowly.
She was silent for a moment, then stretched her hands to him with a gesture of complete confidence. "No, dear, you needn't. Just forgive me for asking—that's all."
He stooped at once without speaking, and the kiss that passed between them was the seal of a perfect understanding.
Not till some time later did the request he was expecting her to make find utterance. He had been giving her a few details of Bertrand's illness and death.
"He simply went in his sleep," he said, "scarcely an hour after you left him. Max and I were both with him, but he went so easily that we neither of us knew when it was. There was no suffering or distress of any sort. He just passed."
He spoke with great gentleness. He was keenly anxious to remove her fear of death. But he knew by the way her arm tightened about his neck that something of the awe of it was upon her even while he spoke.
"Trevor," she said, in a very low voice, "I almost think I would like to see him."
"But—I can't go alone," she said. "Will you come too?"
"Of course," he said.
She rose to her feet. "Let's go now."
He rose also with her hand in his. "There is some stuff here Max gave me for you," he said. "Drink that first."
"Where is Max?" she asked.
"I sent him to bed, and Noel too."
"And you have been sitting up with me ever since?"
"It was only three hours," he said.
He gave her Max's draught with the words, as if to check all comment on his action, and Chris submissively said no more. But she held his hand very tightly as they went out together.
The dawn was just spreading golden over the sea when they entered the room where Bertrand lay asleep. The light of it poured in at the open window like a benediction. Outside, the two sentries still stood on guard. But within was no earthly presence, only the scent and sound of the sea, only the growing splendour of the day, only the quiet dead waiting for the Resurrection....
Chris's hand trembled within her husband's as she drew near. But later, when she looked upon the dear, familiar face, the awe went out of her own.
For Bertrand's sleep was very easy, serenely natural. It seemed to Chris that the man's vanished youth had come back to beautify his rest. For all the weariness she had grown accustomed to see had passed away. She even thought he smiled.
Back on a rush of memory came his words: "I know that all Love is eternal, and Death is only an incident in eternity."
Till that moment they had never recurred to her. From that moment she carried them perpetually in her heart.
She drew a little nearer. She bent above him. And it was to her as if the dead lips spoke: "Though I shall not be with you, you will know that I am loving you still. It will be as an Altar Flame that burns for ever. Believe me, Christine, Death is a very small thing compared with Love."
"I know it, I know it," whispered Chris.
When she stood up again, though her eyes were shining through tears, she was smiling also.
"Your friend and mine, Trevor," she murmured. "May I—may I kiss him just once? I never have before."
"Of course you may," he said.
She bent again, bent till her lips just touched the dead man's brow.
"I won't disturb you, preux chevalier," she whispered. "Only good-night, dear! Good-night!"
For a little while she stood looking down upon the dead man's rest; but at length she turned away, drawing her husband with her, and went to the open window.
Hand in hand they looked out upon a world in which "all things were made new." They spoke no word. They thought the same thoughts together, and no words were needed.
Only when they turned at length from the shimmering sunlight back into the quiet room, their eyes met. And in the silence Trevor Mordaunt bent with reverence and kissed the living, as she had kissed the dead.
THE PROCESSION UNDER THE WINDOWS
Tramp! tramp! tramp! tramp! The procession was passing under the windows.
Bertrand de Montville, the vindicated hero, was being borne to his soldier's grave on the hill by the fortress. Soldiers preceded him. Soldiers followed him. A mixed crowd of journalists—men from all parts of Europe—came after. And from the window above, his little pal looked down.
Max Wyndham stood beside her, the corners of his mouth drawn down and a very peculiar expression in his green eyes. He had amazed his French friend by refusing to follow the cortege. Even Chris did not know why, for he had clothed himself in an impenetrable cloak of reserve since Bertrand's death, and he was not apparently minded to lift it even for her benefit.
Yet she was glad to have him with her, for Noel had elected to go with Mordaunt; and though she was quite willing to be left alone, she found Max's presence a help. She had seen but little of him until the moment that they stood together looking down upon the passing procession.
It was a grey day. Down on the shore the long waves rolled in to break in wide lines of surf up the rock-strewn beach. The thunder of their breaking mingled with the roll of muffled drums. The full honours of a soldier's funeral were to be accorded to the man who had died before France could make amends.
Slowly the procession wound along the plage, and back upon Chris's memory flashed the day when she and Cinders had waited at the garden gate to see the soldiers pass. She saw again the handsome face of the young officer marching behind his men, the sudden animation leaping into it at sight of her, the eagerness with which he turned to greet her, his momentary hesitation at her request, his smiling surrender. What would have happened, she asked herself, if he had managed to resist her that day? Had that been the beginning of his downfall? Might he otherwise have passed on unscathed?
A sudden sense of coldness assailed her. The street below was empty. She stood alone. She leaned her head against the window-frame. How grey it was!
"Sit down!" said Max practically.
She started. "Oh, Max!" she said weakly.
"Here you are," he said, and guided her down into a chair. "That's the way. Now lean back and shut your eyes."
She obeyed him, without question, as she always did. A vague sense of consolation began to steal through her. His hand, holding hers, dispelled the loneliness.
After a while she opened her eyes and found him watching her. "Oh, Max," she said, "I'm so glad you are here."
"It seems as well," he rejoined, rather grimly. "Don't you think it's time you began to behave rationally?"
"Have I been very silly?" she asked.
"Very, I should say." He sat down on the arm of her chair, and drew her head to lean against him, a very rare demonstration with him.
She relaxed with a sigh. "I can't help it," she said wistfully. "I used to think life was just splendid—it was good to be alive. And now—I sometimes wish I'd never been born."
"Which is a mistake," said Max. "There's no time for that sort of thing. Besides, it's futile. Now, don't cry! That's futile, too, when there is anything else to be done. I don't suppose Trevor will be feeling particularly jolly when he gets back from this show—though there's something rather funny about it to my mind—and you'll have to cheer him up. I suppose you won't be upset if I smoke?"
"What can you see funny in it?" questioned Chris.
He lighted his cigarette before replying. "My dear girl," he said then, "I can't endow you with a sense of humour if you don't possess one. But all this pomp and circumstance has got its funny side, I assure you. Bertrand saw that; he was a philosopher. If he were here now, he would snap his fingers and laugh."
"He might," Chris admitted. "At least, he called it a dream in the midst of a great Reality."
"Which it is," said Max. "Get outside it all. Get above it if you can. And you will see. Come, you mustn't grizzle. You don't seriously suppose you've lost anything, do you?" He looked down at her suddenly, with a smile in his shrewd eyes. "I say, you must get rid of that idea," he said. "Even I know better than that. I believe in my own way I was almost as fond of him as you were. But I knew he was going long ago, and that nothing on earth could stop him. He knew it too. Between ourselves, I don't think he much wanted to stop. But there was nothing unwholesome about him. He wasn't a shirker. He played the game. And now you're going to play it, eh? You're going to buck up. You're going to give Trevor a sample of what the Wyndhams can do. I know we're a rotten tribe, but we've got our points. In Heaven's name, let's make the most of 'em!"
He bent abruptly and kissed her.
"Life's all right," he said. "And so's the world. But you've got to get used to the idea that it's not a place to stay in. It's no good sitting down by the wayside to cry. You've got to look on ahead and keep moving. It's the only possible way. If you don't, you get buried in every sand-storm."
Chris reached up her arms and clasped him very tightly. "Max, tell me Love doesn't die!"
"It doesn't," said Max stoutly.
"You are sure? You are sure?"
"Yes, I am sure."
"How do you know? Tell me—tell me!"
Chris's voice was piteous. Yet for a moment he was silent. Then, "I know," he said, "by the way that chap faced death."
"Because he wasn't afraid?" she whispered. "Because he died so easily?"
"Because he didn't die," said Max.
* * * * *
Late that night the clouds passed, and a new moon rose behind the fortress and threw a golden shimmer over the sea. The waves were washing over the rocks with a deep, mysterious murmuring. To Chris, kneeling at her window, it was as if they were trying to tell her a secret. She had knelt down to pray, but her thoughts had wandered, and somehow she could not call them back. Almost in spite of herself, she went in spirit over the rocks till she came to the Magic Cave. And here she would have entered, but could not, for the tide was rising and barred her out.
"Not there, mignonne," said a soft voice at her side.
She turned her head. Surely he had spoken in the stillness! Surely it was no dream!
But the action brought her back, back to the shadowy room, and the moonlit sea, and the prayer that was still little more than a vague longing in her heart.
She uttered a brief sigh, and rose. And in that moment she found herself face to face with her husband.
"Trevor!" she said, startled.
He was standing close to her, and suddenly she knew that he had been there for some time, waiting for her to rise.
Her first impulse was one of nervous irresolution, but it possessed her for a moment only. With scarcely a pause she went straight into his arms.
"I'm so glad you've come," she whispered. "Isn't the sea lovely? Have you—have you seen the new moon?"
He held her in silence, and she heard the beating of his heart, strong and steady, where she had pillowed her head. She turned her face upwards after a little.
"Trevor, do you remember, long ago, how we saw the new moon together—and you wished? Have you wished this time?"
"It is always the same wish with me," he said.
"What! Hasn't it come true yet?" She leaned her head back to see his face the better. "Trevor," she said, "are you sure it hasn't come true?"
She saw his faint smile in the moonlight. "I think I should know if it had, dear."
"I'm not so sure," said Chris. "Men are very silly. They never see anything that isn't absolutely in black and white, and not always then. Tell me what it was you wished for."
But he shook his head. "That isn't fair, is it? If the gods hear, it will be struck off the list at once."
"Never mind the gods," said Chris despotically. "I'll get it for you somehow—even if they do. Now tell me! Whisper!" She drew down his head and waited expectantly.
"What a ghastly predicament!" he said.
"Trevor! Don't laugh! I'm not laughing."
"I'm sorry," he said. "But really I can't afford to run any risks of that sort."
"Then you still think you may get it?" questioned Chris.
"I think it possible—if the gods are kind."
"My dear," she said suddenly, "let's leave off joking. If it's something you're wanting very badly, why don't you—pray for it?"
"I am praying for it, sweetheart," he said.
"Oh, Trevor, tell me! And I'll pray, too."
She wound her arms persuasively about his neck. Her face was very sweet in the moonlight. The deep-sea eyes were very tender.
He looked into them and yielded. "Chris, I am praying for the love of the woman I love."
"Oh, but, Trevor—Trevor—"
"Yes," he said, and his voice vibrated upon a deeper note—a note that was passionate. "I want more than a little, my Chris. But I will be patient. I will wait all my life long if I must. Only—O God, let me win it at last!"
He stopped. She was looking at him strangely, and there was something about her that he had never seen before—something that compelled.
"But, Trevor dearest," she said, "it was yours long—long ago. Oh, don't you understand? How shall I make you understand?"
She clasped him closer. The moonlight was shining in her eyes—the eyes of a woman who had come through suffering into peace.
"My darling," she said, "before God, I am telling you the truth. If you hadn't come back to me, I should have broken my heart."
He took her head between his hands. He bent his face to hers, looking deep into those shining, unswerving eyes.
"Won't you believe me?" she pleaded. "Dear, I couldn't lie to you if I tried. Must I put it more plainly still? Then listen! You are more to me now than Bertie ever was. I do not say more than he might have been. But we can't put back the clock. I wouldn't if I could. No—no, not even to live again those old happy days. Trevor, do you understand now, dear? For if you don't, not even Aunt Philippa could be harder to convince. I am yours. I am yours. The other was a dream that can only come true in Paradise. But this is our Reality—yours and mine. And I can't live without you. I want you so. I love you so. Trevor—my husband!"
Her lips quivered suddenly, but in that moment his found them and possessed them. She gave herself to him in complete surrender, as she had given herself on their wedding-night. Yet with a difference. For she throbbed in his arms; she thrilled to his touch. She opened to him the doors of her soul, and drew him within...
"And now you understand?" she whispered to him later.
"Yes—I understand," he said.
She laid her head again upon his breast. "To understand all is to forgive all," she said.
To which he answered softly, "But there is nothing to forgive."
By Ethel M. Dell
The Way of an Eagle The Hundredth Chance The Knave of Diamonds The Safety Curtain The Rocks of Valpre Greatheart The Swindler The Lamp in the Desert The Keeper of the Door The Tidal Wave Bars of Iron The Top of the World Rosa Mundi The Odds and Other Stories The Obstacle Race Charles Rex