He made no attempt to claim her after tea; but when the church bells began to ring from across the park, and she had to go to play for the evening service, he joined the little party of women—the Clinton men went to church once on Sundays, but liked their women to go twice—and sat opposite to her in the chancel pew, sometimes fixing her with a penetrating look, sometimes with his head lowered on his broad chest, thinking inscrutable thoughts, while the dusk crept from raftered roof to stone floor, and the cheap oil lamps and the glass-protected candles in the pulpit and reading-desk plucked up yellow courage to keep off the darkness.
The congregation sang a tuneful, rather sentimental evening hymn in the twilight. They sang fervently, especially the maids and men in the chancel pews. Their minds were stirred to soothing and vaguely aspiring thoughts. Such hymns as this at the close of an evening service were the pleasantest part of the day's occupations.
The villagers went home to their cottages, talking a little more effusively than usual. The next morning their work would begin again. The party from the great house hurried home across the park. The sermon had been a little longer than usual. They would barely have time to dress for dinner.
Jim Graham's dog-cart came round at half-past ten. The Squire, who had been agreeably aroused from his contented but rather monotonous existence by his unusual guest, pressed them to send it back to the stable for an hour. "The women are going to bed," he said—they were always expected to go upstairs punctually at half-past ten—"we'll go into my room."
But Mackenzie refused without giving Jim the opportunity. "I have a lot of work to do to-night," he said. "Don't suppose I shall be in bed much before four; and I must leave early to-morrow."
So farewells were said in the big square hall. Mrs. Clinton and Cicely were at a side-table upon which were rows of silver bedroom candlesticks, Mrs. Clinton in a black evening dress, her white, plump neck and arms bare, Cicely, slim and graceful, in white. The men stood between them and the table in the middle of the hall, from which Dick was dispensing whisky and soda water; the Squire, big and florid, with a great expanse of white shirt front, Jim and Mackenzie in light overcoats with caps in their hands. Servants carried bags across from behind the staircase to the open door, outside of which Jim's horse was scraping the gravel, the bright lamps of the cart shining on his smooth flanks.
The Squire and Dick stood on the stone steps as the cart drove off, and then came back into the hall. Mrs. Clinton and Cicely, their candles lighted, were at the foot of the staircase.
"Well, that's an interesting fellow," said the Squire as the butler shut and bolted the hall door behind him. "We'll get him down to shoot if he's in England next month."
"And see what he can do," added Dick.
Cicely went upstairs after her mother. The Squire and Dick went into the library, where a servant relieved them of their evening coats and handed them smoking-jackets, and the Squire a pair of worked velvet slippers.
When Cicely had allowed the maid who was waiting for her to unfasten her bodice, she sent her away and locked the door after her. During the evening she had sketched in her mind a portrait of herself sitting by the open window and thinking things over calmly. It seemed to be the thing to do in the circumstances.
But she could not think calmly. She could not even command herself sufficiently to go on with her undressing. The evening had been one long strain on her nerves, and now she could only throw herself on her bed and burst into tears. She had an impulse to go in to her mother and tell her everything, and perhaps only the fact that for the moment her physical strength would not allow her to move held her back.
After a time she became quieter, but did not regain the mastery of her brain. She seemed to be swayed by feeling entirely. The picture of her mother, calm and self-contained, kneeling at her long nightly devotions, faded, and in its place arose the image of the man who had suddenly shouldered his way into her life and with rude hands torn away the trappings of convention that had swathed it.
He attracted her strongly. He stood for a broad freedom, and her revolt against the dependence in which she lived was pointed by his contempt for the dull, easy, effortless life of the big country house. Her mind swayed towards him as she thought of what he had to offer her in exchange—adventure in unknown lands; glory, perhaps not wholly reflected, for there had been women explorers before, and her strong, healthy youth made her the physical equal of any of them; comradeship in place of subjection. She weighed none of these things consciously; she simply desired them.
There came to her the echo of her brother's speech as she had come up the stairs: "And let us see what he can do." He stood before her in his rugged strength, not very well dressed, his greying head held upright, his nostrils slightly dilated, his keen eyes looking out on the world without a trace of self-consciousness; and beside him stood Dick in his smart clothes and his smoothed down hair, coolly ignoring all the big things the man had done, and proposing to hold over his opinion of him till he saw whether he could snap off a gun quickly enough to bring down a high pheasant or a driven partridge. If he could pass that test he would be accepted without further question as "a good fellow." His other achievements, or perhaps more accurately the kind of renown they had brought him, would be set against his lack of the ordinary gentleman's upbringing. If he could not, he would still be something of an outsider though all the world should acclaim him. Dick's careless speech—she called it stupid—affected her strangely. It lifted her suitor out of the ruck, and made him bulk bigger.
She got up from her bed and took her seat by the open window, according to precedent. She had seen herself, during the evening, sitting there looking out on to the moonlit garden, asking herself quietly, "What am I going to do?" weighing the pros and cons, stiffening her mind, and her courage. And she tried now to come to a decision, but could not come anywhere near to laying the foundation of one. She had not the least idea what she was going to do, nor could she even discover what she wanted to do.
She got up and walked about the room, but that did not help her. She knelt down and said her prayers out of a little well-worn book of devotions, and made them long ones. But it was nothing more than repeating words and phrases whose meaning slipped away from her. She prayed in her own words for guidance, but none came. There existed only the tumult of feeling.
She heard her father and brother come up to bed and held her breath in momentary terror, then breathed relief at the thought that if they should, unaccountably, break into her room, which they were not in the least likely to do, they could not know what was happening to her, or make her tell them. They went along the corridor talking loudly. She had often been disturbed from her first sleep by the noise the men made coming up to bed. She heard a sentence from her father as they passed her door. "They would have to turn out anyhow if anything happened to me."
Dick's answer was inaudible, but she knew quite well what they were discussing. It had been discussed before her mother and herself, and even the twins and Miss Bird, though not before the servants, during the last few days. Lord and Lady Alistair MacLeod, she a newly wed American, had motored through Kencote, lunched at the inn and fallen in love with the dower-house. Lady Alistair—he would have nothing to do with it—had made an offer through the Squire's agent for a lease of the house, at a rental about four times its market value. The Squire did not want the money, but business was business. And the MacLeods would be "nice people to have about the place." All that stood in the way was Aunt Ellen and Aunt Laura. They could not be turned out unless they were willing to go, but the Squire knew very well that they would go if he told them to. There was a nice little house in the village which would be the very thing for them if he decided to accept the tempting offer. He would do it up for them. After all, the dower-house was much too large and there were only two of them left. So it had been discussed whether Aunt Ellen, at the age of ninety-three, and Aunt Laura, at the age of seventy-five, should be notified that the house in which they had spent the last forty years of their lives, and in which their four sisters had died, was wanted for strangers.
That was not the only thing that had been discussed. The question of what would be done in various departments of family and estate business when the Squire should have passed away—his prospective demise being always referred to by the phrase, "if anything should happen to me"—was never shirked in the least; and Dick, who would reign as Squire in his stead, until the far off day when something should happen to him, took his part in the discussion as a matter of course. These things were and would be; there was no sense in shutting one's eyes to them. And one of the things that would take place upon that happening was that Mrs. Clinton, and Cicely, if she were not married, and the twins, would no longer have their home at Kencote, unless Dick should be unmarried and should invite them to go on living in his house. He would have no legal right to turn Aunt Ellen and Aunt Laura out of the dower-house, if they still remained alive, but it had been settled ever since the last death amongst the sisters that they would make way. It would only be reasonable, and was taken for granted.
And now, as it seemed, her father and brother had made up their minds to exercise pressure—so little would be needed—to turn out the poor old ladies, not for the sake of those who might have a claim on their consideration, but for strangers who would pay handsomely and would be nice people to have about the place. Cicely burned with anger as she thought of it.
* * * * *
Two o'clock struck from the clock in the stable turret. Cicely opened her door softly, crept along the corridor and through a baize door leading to a staircase away from the bedrooms of the house. At the foot of it was a door opening into the garden, which she was prepared to unlock and unbolt with infinite care to avoid noise. But the carelessness of a servant had destroyed the need of such caution. The door was unguarded, and with an unpleasant little shock she opened it and went out.
The night was warm, and the lawns and trees and shrubs of the garden lay in bright moonlight. She hurried, wrapped in a dark cloak, to the place from which she had fled from Mackenzie in the afternoon. She felt an impulse of shrinking as she saw his tall figure striding up and down on the grass, but she put it away from her and went forward to meet him.
He gave a low cry as he turned and saw her. "My brave little girl!" he said, and laid his hands on her shoulders for a moment, and looked into her face. He attempted no further love-making; his tact seemed equal to his daring. "We have come here to talk," he said. "When we have made our arrangements you shall go straight back. I wouldn't have asked you to come out here like this if there had been any other way."
She felt grateful. Her self-respect was safe with him. He understood her.
"Will you come with me?" he asked, and she answered, "Yes."
A light sprang into his eyes. "My brave little queen of girls!" he said, but held himself back from her.
"What time can you get out of the house without being missed for an hour or two?" he asked.
She stood up straight and made a slight gesture as if brushing something away, and thenceforward answered him in as matter-of-fact a way as he questioned her.
"In the afternoon, after lunch," she said.
"Very well. There is a train from Bathgate at four o'clock. Can you walk as far as that?"
"You can't go from here, and you can't drive. So you must walk. Is there any chance of your being recognised at Bathgate?"
"I am very likely to be recognised."
He thought for a moment. "Well, it can't be helped," he said. "If there is any one in the train you know you must say you are going up to see Mrs. Walter Clinton. Graham has told me all about her and your brother."
"I shan't be able to take any luggage with me," she said.
"No. That is a little awkward. We must trust to chance. Luck sides with boldness. You can buy what you want in London. I have plenty of money, and nothing will please me better than to spend it on you, little girl." His tone and his eyes became tender for a moment. "I shall be on the platform in London to meet you," he said. "I shall be surprised to see you there until you tell me there is nobody to fear. I hate all this scheming, but it can't be helped. We must get a start, and in two days we shall be married. Don't leave any word. You can write from London to say you are going to marry me. I'll do the rest when we are man and wife."
Cicely's eyes dropped as she asked, "Where shall I be till—till——"
"Till we're married? My little girl! It won't be very long. There is a good woman I know. I'll take you there and she will look after you. I shall be near. Leave it all to me and don't worry. Have you got money for your journey?"
"Yes, I have enough."
"Very well. Now go back, and think of me blessing the ground you walk on. You're so sweet, and you're so brave. You're the wife for me. Will you give me one kiss?"
She turned her head quickly. "No," he said at once. "I won't ask for it; not till you are mine altogether."
But she put up her face to him in the moonlight. "I'm yours now," she said. "I have given myself to you," and he kissed her, restraining his roughness, turning away immediately without another word to stride down the grass path into the darkness of the trees.
Cicely looked after him for an instant and then went back to the house and crept up to her room.
Mackenzie met her at the London terminus. She had seen no one she knew either at the station at Bathgate or in the train. She was well dressed, in a tailor-made coat and skirt and a pretty hat. She got out of a first-class carriage and looked like a young woman of some social importance, travelling alone for once in a way, but not likely to be allowed to go about London alone when she reached the end of her journey. She was quite composed as she saw Mackenzie's tall figure coming towards her, and shook hands with him as if he were a mere acquaintance.
"I have seen nobody I know," she said, and then immediately added, "I must send a telegram to my mother. I can't leave her in anxiety for a whole night."
He frowned, but not at her. "You can't do that," he said, "you don't want the post-office people to know."
"I have thought of that. I will say 'Have come up to see Muriel. Writing to-night.' It isn't true, but I will tell them afterwards why I did it."
"Will that satisfy them?"
"I am deceiving them anyhow."
"Oh, I don't mean that. Will they think it all right—your coming up to your sister-in-law?"
"No, they will be very much surprised. But the post-office people will not gather anything."
"They will wire at once to your brother. You had much better leave it till to-morrow."
"No, I can't do that," she said. "I will wire just before eight o'clock. Then a return wire will not go through before the morning."
"Yours might not get through to-night."
"Oh yes, it will. They would take it up to the house whatever time it came."
"Very well," he said. "Now come along," and he hailed a hansom.
"Please don't think me tiresome," she said, when they were in the cab, "but there is another thing I must do. I must write to my mother so that she gets my letter the very first thing to-morrow morning."
He gave an exclamation of impatience. "You can't do that," he said again. "The country mails have already gone."
"I can send a letter by train to Bathgate. I will send it to the hotel there with a message that it is to be taken over to Kencote the first thing in the morning."
"You are very resourceful. It may give them time to get on to our track, before we are married."
"I have promised to marry you," she said simply. It was she who now seemed bold, and not he.
"I don't see how they could get here in time," he said grudgingly. "Graham only knows the address of my club, and they don't know there where I live." He brightened up again. "Very well, my queen," he said, smiling down at her. "You shall do what you like. Write your letter—let it be a short one—when you get in, and we will send that and the wire when we go out to dinner."
They drove to a dingy-looking house in one of the smaller squares of Bloomsbury. During the short journey he became almost boisterous. All the misgivings that had assailed her since they had last parted, the alternate fits of courage and of frightened shrinking, had passed him by. This was quite plain, and she was right in attributing his mood partly to his joy in having won her, partly to his love of adventure. It was an added pleasure to him to surmount obstacles in winning her. If his wooing had run the ordinary course, the reason for half his jubilation would have disappeared. She felt his strength, and, woman-like, relinquished her own doubts and swayed to his mood.
"You have begun your life of adventure, little girl," he said, imprisoning her slender hand in his great muscular one, and looking down at her with pride in his eyes. She had an impulse of exhilaration, and smiled back at him.
The rooms to which he took her, escorted by a middle-aged Scotswoman with a grim face and a silent tongue, were on the first floor—a big sitting-room, clean, but, to her eyes, inexpressibly dingy and ill-furnished, and a bedroom behind folding doors.
"Mrs. Fletcher will give you your breakfast here," he said, "but we will lunch and dine out. We will go out now and shop when you are ready."
She went into the bedroom and stood by the window. Fright had seized her again. What was she doing here? The woman who had come from her dark, downstairs dwelling-place to lead the way to these dreadful rooms, had given her one glance but spoken no word. What must she think of her? She could hear her replying in low monosyllables to Mackenzie's loud instructions, through the folding doors.
Again the assurance and strength and determination which he exhaled came to her aid. She had taken the great step, and must not shrink from the consequences. He would look after her. She washed her hands and face—no hot water had been brought to her—and went back to the sitting-room. "I am hoping you will be comfortable here, miss," the woman said to her. "You must ask for anything you want."
She did not smile, but her tone was respectful, and she looked at Cicely with eyes not unfriendly. And, after all, the rooms were clean—for London.
Mackenzie took her to a big shop in Holborn and stayed outside while she made her purchases. She had not dared to bring with her even a small hand-bag, and she had to buy paper on which to write her letter to her mother.
"I lived in Mrs. Fletcher's rooms before I went to Tibet," Mackenzie said as they went back to the house. "I tried to get them when I came back—but no such luck. Fortunately they fell vacant on Saturday. We'll keep them on for a bit after we're married. Must make ourselves comfortable, you know."
She stole a glance at him. His face was beaming. She had thought he had taken her to that dingy, unknown quarter as a temporary precaution. Would he really expect her to make her home in such a place?
She wrote her letter to her mother at the table in the sitting-room. Mrs. Fletcher had brought up a penny bottle of ink and a pen with a J nib suffering from age. Mackenzie walked about the room as she wrote, and it was difficult for her to collect her thoughts. She gave him the note to read, with a pretty gesture of confidence. It was very short.
"My own darling Mother,—I have not come to London to see Muriel, but to marry Ronald Mackenzie. I said what I did in my telegram because of the post-office. I am very happy, and will write you a long letter directly we are married.—Always your very loving daughter,
"Brave girl!" he said as he returned it to her.
She gave a little sob. "I wish I had not had to go away from her like that," she said.
"Don't cry, little girl," he said kindly. "It was the only way."
She dried her eyes and sealed up the note. She had wondered more than once since he had carried her off her feet why it was the only way.
They carried through the business of the letter and the telegram and drove to a little French restaurant in Soho to dine. The upstairs room was full of men and a few women, some French, more English. Everybody stared at her as she entered, and she blushed hotly. And some of them recognised Mackenzie and whispered his name. The men were mostly journalists, of the more literary sort, one or two of them men of note, if she had known it. But to her they looked no better than the class she would have labelled vaguely as "people in shops." They were as different as possible from her brothers and her brothers' friends, sleek, well-dressed men with appropriate clothes for every occasion, and a uniform for the serious observance of dinner which she had never imagined a man without, except on an unavoidable emergency. She had never once in her life dined in the same frock as she had worn during the day and hardly ever in the company of men in morning clothes.
This cheap restaurant, where the food and cooking were good but the appointments meagre, struck her as strangely as if she had been made to eat in a kitchen. That it did not strike Mackenzie in that way was plain from his satisfaction at having introduced her to it. "Just as good food here as at the Carlton or the Savoy," he said inaccurately, "at about a quarter of the price; and no fuss in dressing-up!"
She enjoyed it rather, after a time. There was a sense of adventure in dining in such a place, even in dining where nobody had thought of dressing, although dressing for dinner was not one of the conventions she had wished to run away from; it was merely a habit of cleanliness and comfort. Mackenzie talked to her incessantly in a low voice—they were sitting at a little table in a corner, rather apart from the rest. He talked of his travels, and fascinated her; and every now and then, when he seemed furthest away, his face would suddenly soften and he would put in a word of encouragement or gratitude to her. She felt proud of having the power to make such a man happy. They were comrades, and she wanted to share his life. At present it seemed to be enough for him to talk to her. He had not as yet made any demand on her for a return of confidence. In fact, she had scarcely spoken a word to him, except in answer to speech of his. He had won her and seemed now to take her presence for granted. He had not even told her what arrangements he had made for their marriage, or where it was to be; nor had he alluded in any way to the course of their future life or travels, except in the matter of Mrs. Fletcher's room in Bloomsbury.
"When are we going to Tibet again?" She asked him the question point blank, as they were drinking their coffee, and Mackenzie was smoking a big briar pipe filled with strong tobacco.
He stared at her in a moment's silence. Then he laughed. "Tibet!" he echoed. "Oh, I think now I shan't be going to Tibet for some months. But I shall be taking you abroad somewhere before then. However, there will be plenty of time to talk of all that." Then he changed the subject.
He drove her back to her rooms and went upstairs with her. It was about half-past nine o'clock. "I have to go and meet a man at the Athenaeum at ten," he said. "Hang it! But I will stay with you for a quarter of an hour, and I dare say you won't be sorry to turn in early."
He sat himself down in a shabby armchair on one side of the fireless grate. He was still smoking his big pipe. Cicely stood by the table.
He looked up at her. "Take off your hat," he said, "I want to see your beautiful hair. It was the first thing I noticed about you."
She obeyed, with a blush. He smiled his approval. "Those soft waves," he said, "and the gold in it! You are a beautiful girl, my dear. I can tell you I shall be very proud of you. I shall want to show you about everywhere."
He hitched his chair towards her and took hold of her hand. "Do you think you are going to love me a little bit?" he asked.
She blushed again, and looked down. Then she lifted her eyes to his. "I don't think you know quite what you have made me do," she said.
He dropped her hand. "Do you regret it?" he asked sharply.
She did not answer his question, but her eyes still held his. "I have never been away from home in my life," she said, "without my father or mother. Now I have left them without a word, to come to you. You seem to take that quite as a matter of course."
The tears came into her eyes, although she looked at him steadily. He sprang up from his chair and put his hand on her shoulder. "My poor little girl!" he said, "you feel it. Of course you feel it. You've behaved like a heroine, but you've had to screw up your courage. I don't want you to think of all that. That is why I haven't said anything about it. You mustn't break down."
But she had broken down, and she wept freely, while he put his arm round her and comforted her as he might have comforted a child. Presently her sobbing ceased. "You are very kind to me," she said. "But you won't keep me away from my own people, will you—after—after——"
"After we are married? God bless me, no. And they won't be angry with you—at least, not for long. Don't fear that. Leave it all to me. We shall be married to-morrow. I've arranged everything."
"You have not told me a word about that," she said forlornly.
"I didn't mean to tell you a word until to-morrow came," he said. "You are not to brood."
"You mean to rush me into everything," she said. "If I am to be the companion to you that I want to be, you ought to take me into your confidence."
"Why, there!" he said, "I believe I ought. You're brave. You're not like other girls. You can imagine that I have had a busy day. I have a special license, signed by no less a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury. Think of that! And we are going to be married in a church. I knew you would like that; and I like it better too. You see I have been thinking of you all the time. Now you mustn't worry any more." He patted her hand. "Go to bed and get a good sleep. I'll come round at ten o'clock to-morrow morning, and we're to be married at eleven. Then a new life begins, and by the Lord I'll make it a happy one for you. Come, give me a smile before I go."
She had no difficulty in doing that now. He took her chin in his fingers, turned her face up to his and looked into her eyes earnestly. Then he left her.
She had finished her breakfast, which had been cleared away, when he came in to her the next morning. She was sitting in a chair by the empty grate with her hands in her lap, and she looked pale.
Mackenzie had on a frock coat, and laid a new silk hat and a new pair of gloves on the table as he greeted her with unsentimental cheerfulness.
"Will you sit down?" she said, regarding him with serious eyes. "I want to ask you some questions."
He threw a shrewd glance at her. "Ask away," he said in the same loud, cheerful tone, and took his seat opposite to her, carefully disposing of the skirts of his coat, which looked too big even for his big frame.
"I have been thinking a great deal," she said. "I want to know exactly what my life is to be if I marry you."
"If you marry me!" he took up her words. "You are going to marry me."
"You said something last night," she went on, "which I didn't quite understand at the time; and I am not sure that you meant me to. Are you going to take me with you to Tibet, and on your other journeys, or do you want to leave me behind—here?" There was a hint of the distaste she felt for her surroundings in the slight gesture that accompanied the last word. But she looked at him out of clear, blue, uncompromising eyes.
He did not return her look. "Here?" he echoed, looking round him with some wonder. "What is the matter with this?"
"Then you do mean to leave me here."
"Look here, my dear," he said, looking at her now. "I am not going to take you to Tibet, or on any of my big journeys. I never had the slightest intention of doing so, and never meant you to think I had. A pretty thing if I were to risk the life of the one most precious to me, as well as my own, in such journeys as I take!"
"Then what about me?" asked Cicely. "What am I to do while you are away, risking your own life, as you say, and away perhaps for two or three years together?"
"Would you be very anxious for me?" he asked her, with a tender look, but she brushed the question aside impatiently.
"I am to live alone, while you go away," she said, "live just as dull a life as I did before, only away from my own people, and without anything that made my life pleasant in spite of its dulness. Is that what you are offering me?"
"No, no," he said, trying to soothe her. "I want you to live in the sweetest little country place. We'll find one together. You needn't stay here a minute longer than you want to, though when we are in London together it will be convenient. I want to think of you amongst your roses, and to come back to you and forget all the loneliness and hardships. I want a home, and you in it, the sweetest wife ever a man had."
"I don't want that," she said at once. "You are offering me nothing that I didn't have before, and I left it all to come to you—to share the hardships and—and—I would take away the loneliness."
"You are making too much of my big journeys," he broke in on her eagerly. "That is the trouble. Now listen to me. I shall be starting for Tibet in March, and——"
"Did you know that when you told me you were going in a fortnight?" she interrupted him.
"Let me finish," he said, holding up his hand. "It is settled now that I am going to Tibet in March, and I shan't be away for more than a year. Until then we will travel together. I want to go to Switzerland almost directly to test some instruments. You will come with me, and you can learn to climb. I don't mind that sort of hardship for you. At the end of October we will go to America. I hadn't meant to go, but I want money now—for you—and I can get it there. That's business; and for pleasure we will go anywhere you like—Spain, Algiers, Russia—Riviera, if you like, though I don't care for that sort of thing. When I go to Tibet I'll leave you as mistress of a little house that you may be proud of, and you'll wait for me there. When I get back we'll go about together again, and as far as I can see I shan't have another big job to tackle for some time after that—a year, perhaps two years, perhaps more."
She was silent for a moment, thinking. "Come now," he said, "that's not stagnation. Is it?"
"No," she said unwillingly. "But it isn't what I came to you for." She raised her eyes to his. "You know it isn't what I came to you for."
His face grew a little red. "You came to me," he said in a slower, deeper voice, looking her straight in the eyes, "because I wanted you. I want you now and I mean to have you. I want you as a wife. I will keep absolutely true to you. You will be the only woman in the world to me. But my work is my work. You will have no more say in that than I think good for you. You will come with me wherever I think well to take you, and I shall be glad enough to have you. Otherwise you will stay behind and look after my home—and, I hope, my children."
Her face was a deep scarlet. She knew now what this marriage meant to him. What it had meant to her, rushing into it so blindly, seemed a foolish, far off thing. Her strongest feeling was a passionate desire for her mother's presence. She was helpless, alone with this man, from whom she felt a revulsion that almost overpowered her.
He sat for a full minute staring at her downcast face, his mouth firmly set, a slight frown on his brows.
"Come now," he said more roughly. "You don't really know what you want. But I know. Trust me, and before God, I will make you happy."
She hid her face in her hands. "Oh, I want to go home," she cried.
He shifted in his chair. The lines of his face did not relax. He must set himself to master this mood. He knew he had the power, and he must exercise it once for all. The mood must not recur again, or if it did it must not be shown to him.
And there is no doubt at all that he would have mastered it. But as he opened his mouth to speak, Cicely sitting there in front of him, crying, with a white face and strained eyes, there were voices on the stairs, the door opened, and Dick and Jim Graham came into the room.
Cicely had not been missed from home until the evening. At tea-time she was supposed to be at the dower-house, or else at the Rectory. It was only when she had not returned at a quarter to eight, that the maid who waited upon her and her mother told Mrs. Clinton that she was not in her room.
"Where on earth can she be?" exclaimed Mrs. Clinton. Punctuality at meals being so rigidly observed it was unprecedented that Cicely should not have begun to dress at a quarter to eight. At ten minutes to eight Mrs. Clinton was convinced that some accident had befallen her. At five minutes to, she tapped at the door of the Squire's dressing-room. "Edward," she called, "Cicely has not come home yet."
"Come in! Come in!" called the Squire. He was in his shirt sleeves, paring his nails.
"I am afraid something has happened to her," said Mrs. Clinton anxiously.
"Now, Nina, don't fuss," said the Squire. "What can possibly have happened to her? She must be at the dower-house, though, of course, she ought to be home by this time. Nobody in this house is ever punctual but myself. I am always speaking about it. You must see that the children are in time for meals. If nobody is punctual the whole house goes to pieces."
Mrs. Clinton went downstairs into the morning-room, where they were wont to assemble for dinner. Dick was there already, reading a paper. "Cicely has not come home yet," she said to him.
"By Jove, she'll catch it," said Dick, and went on reading his paper.
Mrs. Clinton went to the window and drew the curtain aside. It was not yet quite dark and she could see across the park the footpath by which Cicely would come from the dower-house. But there was no one there. Mrs. Clinton's heart sank. She knew that something had happened. Cicely would never have stayed out as late as this if she could have helped it. She came back into the room and rang the bell. "I must send down," she said.
Dick put his paper aside and looked up at her. "It is rather odd," he said.
The butler came into the room, and the Squire immediately behind him. "Edward, I want some one to go down to the dower-house and see if Cicely has been there," Mrs. Clinton said. "I am anxious about her."
The Squire looked at her for a moment. "Send a man down to the dower-house to ask if Miss Clinton has been there this afternoon," he said, "and if she hasn't, tell him to go to the Rectory."
The butler left the room, but returned immediately with Cicely's telegram. It was one minute to eight o'clock. He hung on his heel after handing the salver to Mrs. Clinton and then left the room to carry out his previous instructions. It was not his place to draw conclusions, but to do as he was told.
Mrs. Clinton read the telegram and handed it to the Squire, searching his face as he read it. "What, the devil!" exclaimed the Squire, and handed it to Dick.
The big clock in the hall began to strike. Porter threw open the door again. "Dinner is served, ma'am," he said.
"You needn't send down to the dower-house," Dick said, raising his eyes from the paper. "Miss Clinton has gone up to stay with Mrs. Walter." Then he offered his arm to his mother to lead her out of the room.
"Shut the door," shouted the Squire, and the door was shut. "What on earth does it mean?" he asked, in angry amazement.
"Better have gone in to dinner," said Dick. "I don't know."
Mrs. Clinton was white, and said nothing. The Squire turned to her. "What does it mean, Nina?" he asked again. "Did you know anything about this?"
"Of course mother didn't know," said Dick. "There's something queer. It's too late to send a wire. I'll go up by the eleven o'clock train and find out all about it. Better go in now." He laid the telegram carelessly on a table.
"Don't leave it about," said the Squire.
"Better leave it there," said Dick, and offered his arm to his mother again.
They went into the dining-room, only a minute late.
"Tell Higgs to pack me a bag for two nights," said Dick when the Squire had mumbled a grace, "and order my cart for ten o'clock. I'm going up to London. I shan't want anybody."
Then, as long as the servants were in the room they talked as usual. At least Dick did, with frequent mention of Walter and Muriel and some of Cicely. The Squire responded to him as well as he was able, and Mrs. Clinton said nothing at all. But that was nothing unusual.
When they were alone at last, the Squire burst out, but in a low voice, "What on earth does it mean? Tell me what it means, Dick."
"She hasn't had a row with any one, has she, mother?" asked Dick, cracking a walnut.
Mrs. Clinton moistened her lips. "With whom?" she asked.
"I know it's very unlikely. I suppose she's got some maggot in her head. Misunderstood, or something. You never know what girls are going to do next. She has been rather mopy lately. I've noticed it."
"She has not seen Muriel since she was married," said Mrs. Clinton. "She has missed her."
"Pah!" spluttered the Squire. "How dare she go off like that without a word? What on earth can you have been thinking of to let her, Nina? And what was Miles doing? Miles must have packed her boxes. And who drove her to the station? When did she go? Here we are, sitting calmly here and nobody thinks of asking any of these questions."
"It was Miles who told me she had not come back," said Mrs. Clinton. "She was as surprised as I was."
"Ring the bell, Dick," said the Squire.
"I think you had better go up, mother, and see what she took with her," said Dick. "Don't say anything to anybody but Miles, and tell her to keep quiet."
Mrs. Clinton went out of the room. Dick closed the door which he had opened for her, came back to the table, and lit a cigarette. "There's something queer, father," he said, "but we had better make it seem as natural as possible. I shouldn't worry if I were you. I'll find out all about it and bring her back."
"Worry!" snorted the Squire. "It's Cicely who is going to worry. If she thinks she is going to behave like that in this house she is very much mistaken."
Dick drove into Bathgate at twenty minutes to eleven. He always liked to give himself plenty of time to catch a train, but hated waiting about on the platform. So he stopped at the George Hotel and went into the hall for a whisky-and-soda.
"Oh, good evening, Captain," said the landlord, who was behind the bar. "If you are going back to Kencote you can save me sending over. This letter has just come down by train." He handed Dick a square envelope which he had just opened. On it was his name and address in Cicely's writing, and an underlined inscription, "Please send the enclosed letter to Kencote by special messenger as early as possible to-morrow morning." Dick took out the inner envelope which was addressed to his mother, and looked at it. "All right," he said, "I'll take it over," and slipped it into the pocket of his light overcoat. He ordered his whisky-and-soda and drank it, talking to the landlord as he did so. Only a corner of the bar faced the hall, which was otherwise empty, and as he went out he took the letter from his pocket and opened it.
"The devil you will!" he said, as he read the few words Cicely had written. Then he went out and stood for a second beside his cart, thinking.
"I'm going to Mountfield," he said as he swung the horse round and the groom jumped up behind. The groom would wonder at his change of plan and when he got back he would talk. If he told him not to he would talk all the more. Wisest to say nothing at present. So Dick drove along the five miles of dark road at an easy pace, for he could catch no train now until seven o'clock in the morning and there was no use in hurrying, and thought and thought, as he drove. If he failed in stopping this astonishing and iniquitous proceeding it would not be for want of thinking.
Mountfield was an early house. Jim himself unbarred and unlocked the front door to the groom's ring. The chains and bolts to be undone seemed endless. "Take out my bag," said Dick, as he waited, sitting in the cart. "I'm going to stay here for the night. There'll be a note to take back to Mrs. Clinton. See that it goes up to her to-night."
He spoke so evenly that the groom wondered if, after all, there was anything going on under the surface at all.
"Hullo, old chap," Dick called out, directly Jim's astonished face appeared in the doorway. "Cicely has bolted off to see Muriel, and the governor has sent me to fetch her back. I was going up by the eleven o'clock train, but I thought I'd come here for to-night, and take you up with me in the morning. There's nothing to hurry for."
Then he got down from the cart and gave the reins to the groom. "I just want to send a note to the mater so that she won't worry," he said, as he went into the house.
He went across the hall into Jim's room, and Jim, who had not spoken, followed him. "Read that," he said, putting the letter into his hand.
Jim read it and looked up at him. There was no expression on his face but one of bewilderment.
"You think it over," said Dick, a little impatiently, and went to the writing-table and scribbled a note.
"Dear Mother,—I thought I would come on here first on the chance of hearing something, and glad I did so. There is a letter from Cicely. It is all right. Jim and I are going up to-morrow morning. Don't worry.
Then, without taking any notice of Jim, still standing gazing at the letter in his hand with the same puzzled expression on his face, he went out and despatched the groom, closing the hall door after him.
He went back into the room and shut that door too. "Well!" he said sharply. "What the devil does it mean?"
Jim's expression had changed. It was now angry as well as puzzled. "It was when he went after her on Sunday," he said. "Damn him! I thought——"
"Never mind what you thought," said Dick. "When did he see her alone?"
"I was going to tell you. When we came over yesterday afternoon he saw her over the wall, and directly we got to the house he bolted off after her. He said he had promised to show her some sketches."
"But he didn't find her. He said so at tea-time—when she came out."
Jim was silent. "Perhaps that was a blind," said Dick. "How long was it before he came back and said he couldn't find her?"
"About half an hour, I should think. Not so much."
"He must have found her. But, good heavens! he can't have persuaded her to run away with him in half an hour! He had never been alone with her before."
"And he didn't see her alone afterwards."
Jim's face suddenly went dark. "He—he—went out after we went up to bed," he said.
"He asked me to leave the door unlocked. He said he might not sleep, and if he didn't he should go out."
The two men looked at one another. "That's a nice thing to hear of your sister," said Dick bitterly.
"It's a nice thing to hear of a man you've treated as a friend," said Jim.
"How long have you known the fellow?"
"Oh, I told you. I met him when I was travelling, and asked him to look me up. I haven't seen him since until he wrote and said he wanted to come for a quiet Sunday."
"Why did he want to come? I'll tell you what it is, Jim. She must have met him in London, and you were the blind. Yes, that's it. She's been different since she came back. I've noticed it. We've all noticed it."
"I don't believe they met before," said Jim slowly.
"I don't believe they did. Dick, do you think they can be married already? Is there time to stop it?"
"Yes, there's time. I've thought it out. We'll go up by the seven o'clock train. Where does the fellow live?"
Jim thought a moment. "I don't know. He wrote from the Royal Societies Club."
"Well, we'll find him. I'm not going to talk about it any more now. I'm too angry. Cicely! She ought to be whipped. If it is too late, she shall never come to Kencote again, if I have any say in the matter, and I don't think my say will be needed. Let's go to bed. We shall have plenty of time to talk in the train."
"I'll go and get hold of Grove," said Jim. "He must get a room ready, and see that we get to the station in the morning," and he went out of the room.
Dick walked up and down, and then poured himself out whisky-and-soda from a table standing ready. He lit a cigarette and threw the match violently into the fireplace. When Jim returned he said, "I've managed to keep it pretty dark so far. The governor would have blurted everything out—everything that he knew. I'm glad I intercepted that letter to the mater. I haven't any sort of feeling about opening it. I'm going to see to this. If we can get hold of her before it's too late, she must go to Muriel for a bit; I must keep it from the governor as long as I can—until I get back and can tackle him. He'll be so furious that he'll give it away all round. He wouldn't think about the scandal."
"Pray God we shan't be too late," said Jim. "What a fool I've been, Dick! I took it all for granted. I never thought that she wasn't just as fond of me as I was of her."
Dick looked at him. "Well, I suppose that's all over now," he said, "a girl who behaves like that!"
Jim turned away, and said nothing, and by and by they went up to bed.
They drove over to Bathgate the next morning and caught the seven o'clock train to Ganton, where they picked up the London express. Alone in a first-class smoking-carriage they laid their plans. "I have an idea that is worth trying before we do anything else," said Jim. "When we were travelling together that fellow told me of some rooms in Bloomsbury he always went to when he could get them."
"Do you know the address?"
"Yes," said Jim, and gave it. "He said they were the best rooms in London, and made me write down the address. I found it last night."
"Why on earth didn't you say so before?"
"I had forgotten. I didn't suppose I should ever want to take rooms in Bloomsbury."
"It's a chance. We'll go there first. If we draw blank, we will go to his club, and then to the Geographical Society. We'll find him somewhere."
"We can't do anything to him," said Jim.
"I'm not thinking much of him," Dick confessed. "It would be a comfort to bruise him a bit—though I dare say he'd be just as likely to bruise me. He's got an amazing cheek; but, after all, a man plays his own hand. If she had behaved herself properly he couldn't have done anything."
He flicked the ash of his cigar on to the carpet and looked carelessly out of the window, but turned his head sharply at the tone in which Jim said, "If I could get him alone, and it couldn't do her any harm afterwards, I'd kill him." And he cursed Mackenzie with a deliberate, blasphemous oath.
Dick said nothing, but looked out of the window again with an expression that was not careless.
Jim spoke again in the same low voice of suppressed passion. "I told him about her when I was travelling. I don't know why, but I did. And after you dined on Friday we spoke about her. He praised her. I didn't say much, but he knew what I felt. And he had got this in his mind then. He must have had. He was my friend, staying in my house. He's a liar and a scoundrel. For all he's done, and the name he's made, he's not fit company for decent men. Dick, I'd give up everything I possess for the chance of handling him."
"I'd back you up," said Dick. "But the chief thing is to get her away from him."
"I know that. It's the only thing. We can't do anything. I was thinking of it nearly all night long. And supposing we don't find him, or don't find him till too late."
"We won't think of that," said Dick coolly. "One thing at a time. And we'll shut his mouth, at any rate. I feel equal to that."
They were silent for a time, and then Jim said, "Dick, I'd like to say one thing. She may not care about seeing me. I suppose she can't care for me much—now—or she wouldn't have let him take her away. But I'm going to fight for her—see that? I'm going to fight for her, if it's not too late."
Dick looked uncomfortable in face of his earnestness. "If you want her," he began hesitatingly, "after——"
"Want her!" echoed Jim. "Haven't I always wanted her? I suppose I haven't shown it. It isn't my way to show much. But I thought it was all settled and I rested on that. Good God, I've wanted her every day of my life—ever since we fixed it up together—years ago. I wish I'd taken her, now, and let the beastly finance right itself. It wouldn't have made much difference, after all. But I wanted to give her everything she ought to have. If I've seemed contented to wait, I can tell you I haven't been. I didn't want to worry her. I—I—thought she understood."
"She's behaved very badly," said Dick, too polite to show his surprise at this revelation. Jim had always been rather a queer fellow. "If you want her still, she ought to be precious thankful. The whole thing puzzles me. I can't see her doing it."
"I couldn't, last night," said Jim, more quietly. "I can now. She's got pluck. I never gave her any chance to show it."
They were mostly silent after this. Every now and then one of them said a word or two that showed that their thoughts were busy in what lay before them. The last thing Jim said before the train drew up at the same platform at which Cicely had alighted the day before was, "I can't do anything to him."
They drove straight to the house in Bloomsbury. Mrs. Fletcher opened the door to them. "Mr. Mackenzie is expecting us, I think," said Dick suavely, and made as if to enter.
Mrs. Fletcher looked at them suspiciously, more because it was her way than because, in face of Dick's assumption, she had any doubts of their right of entrance. "He didn't say that he expected anybody," she said. "I can take your names up to him."
"Oh, thanks, we won't trouble you," said Dick. "We will go straight up. First floor, as usual, I suppose?"
It was a slip, and Mrs. Fletcher planted herself in the middle of the passage at once.
"Wait a moment," she said. "What do you mean by 'as usual'? Neither of you have been in the house before. You won't go up to Mr. Mackenzie without I know he wants to see you."
"Now, look here," said Dick, at once. "We are going up to Mr. Mackenzie, and I expect you know why. If you try to stop us, one of us will stay here and the other will fetch the policeman. You can make up your mind at once which it shall be, because we've no time to waste."
"Nobody has ever talked to me about a policeman before; you'll do it at your peril," she said angrily, still standing in the passage, but Dick saw her cast an eye towards the door on her left.
"I'm quite ready to take the consequences," said Dick, "but whatever they are it won't do you any good with other people in your house to have the police summoned at half-past ten in the morning. Now will you let us pass?"
She suddenly turned and made way for them. Dick went upstairs and Jim followed him. The door of the drawing-room was opposite to them. "I'll do the talking," said Dick, and opened the door and went in.
Mackenzie sprang up and stood facing them. His face had changed in a flash. It was not at all the face of a man who had been caught and was ashamed; it was rather glad. Even his ill-made London clothes could not at that moment disguise his magnificent gift of virility. So he might have looked—when there was no one to see him—face to face with sudden, unexpected danger in far different surroundings, dauntless, and eager to wrest his life out of the instant menace of death.
Dick had a momentary perception of the quality of the man he had to deal with, which was instantly obliterated by a wave of contemptuous dislike—the dislike of a man to whom all expression of feeling, except, perhaps, anger, was an offence. He had looked death in the face too, but not with that air. Assumed at a moment like this it was a vulgar absurdity. He met Mackenzie's look with a cool contempt.
But the challenge, and the reply to it, had occupied but a moment. Cicely had looked up and cried, "O Dick!" and had tried to rise from her chair to come to him, but could not. The tone in which she uttered that appeal for mercy and protection made Jim Graham wince, but it did not seem to affect her brother. "Go and get ready to come with us," he said.
Jim had never taken his eyes off Cicely since he had entered the room, but she did not look at him. She sat in her chair, trembling a little, her eyes upon her brother's face, which was now turned toward her with no expression in it but a cold authority.
She stood up with difficulty, and Jim took half a step forward. But Mackenzie broke in, with a gesture towards her. "Come now, Captain Clinton," he said. "You have found us out; but I am going to marry your sister. You are not going to take her away, you know." He spoke in a tone of easy good humour. The air, slightly theatrical, as it had seemed, with which he had faced their intrusion, had disappeared.
Dick took no notice of him whatever. "I am going to take you up to Muriel," he said to Cicely. "There's a cab waiting. Have you anything to get, or are you ready to come now?"
She turned to go to her room, but Mackenzie interposed again. "Stay here, please," he said. "We won't take our orders from Captain Clinton. Look here, Clinton, I dare say this has been a bit of a shock to you, and I'm sorry it had to be done in such a hurry. But everything is straight and honest. I want to marry your sister, and she wants to marry me. She is of age and you can't stop her. I'm going to make her a good husband, and she's going to make me the best of wives."
He still spoke good-humouredly, with the air of a man used to command who condescends to reason. He knew his power and was accustomed to exercise it, with a hand behind his back, so to speak, upon just such young men as these; men who were socially his superiors, and on that very account to be kept under, and taught that there was no such thing as social superiority where his work was to be done, but only leader and led.
But still Dick took no notice of him. "Come along, Cicely," he said, with a trifle of impatience.
Mackenzie shrugged his shoulders angrily. "Very well," he said, "if you've made up your mind to take that fool's line, take it and welcome. Only you won't take her. She's promised to me. My dear, tell them so."
He bent his look upon Cicely, the look which had made her soft in his hands. Dick was looking at her too, standing on the other side of the table, with cold displeasure. And Jim had never looked away from her. His face was tender and compassionate, but she did not see it. She looked at Dick, searching his face for a sign of such tenderness, but none was there, or she would have gone to him. Her eyes were drawn to Mackenzie's, and rested there as if fascinated. They were like those of a frightened animal.
"Come now," said Mackenzie abruptly. "It is for you to end all this. I would have spared you if I could—you know that; but if they must have it from you, let them have it. Tell them that I asked you to come away and marry me, and that you came of your own accord. Tell them that I have taken care of you. Tell them that we are to be married this morning."
She hesitated painfully, and her eyes went to her brother's face again in troubled appeal. He made no response to her look, but when the clock on the mantelpiece had ticked half a dozen audible beats and she had not spoken, he turned to Mackenzie.
"I see," he said. "You have——"
"Oh, let her speak," Mackenzie interrupted roughly, with a flashing glance at him. "You have had your say."
"It is quite plain, sir," proceeded Dick in his level voice, "that you have gained some sort of influence over my sister."
"Oh, that is plain, is it?" sneered Mackenzie.
"Excuse me if I don't express myself very cleverly," said Dick. "What I mean is that somehow you have managed to bully her into running away with you."
They looked into one another's eyes for an instant. The swords were crossed. Mackenzie turned to Cicely. "Did I do that?" he asked quietly.
"If I might suggest," Dick said, before she could reply, "that you don't try and get behind my sister, but speak up for yourself——"
"Did I do that?" asked Mackenzie again.
"O Dick dear," said Cicely, "I said I would come. It was my own fault."
"Your own fault—yes," said Dick. "But I am talking to this—this gentleman, now."
Mackenzie faced him again. "Oh, we're to have all that wash about gentlemen, are we? I'm not a gentleman. That's the trouble, is it?"
"It is part of the trouble," said Dick. "A good big part."
"Do you know what I do with the gentlemen who come worrying me for jobs when I go on an expedition, Captain Clinton—the gentlemen who want to get seconded from your regiment and all the other smart regiments, to serve under me?"
"Shall we stick to the point?" asked Dick. "My cab is waiting."
Mackenzie's face looked murderous for a moment, but he had himself in hand at once. "The point is," he said, "that I am going to marry your sister, with her consent."
"The point is how you got her consent. I am here in place of my father—and hers. If she marries you she marries you, but she doesn't do it before I tell her what she is letting herself in for."
"Then perhaps you will tell her that."
"I will." Dick looked at Cicely. "I should like to ask you to begin with when you first met—Mr. Mackenzie," he said.
"Dear Dick!" cried Cicely, "don't be so cruel. I—I—was discontented at home, and I——"
"We met first at Graham's house," said Mackenzie, "when you were there. I first spoke to her alone on Sunday afternoon, and she promised to come away and marry me on Sunday night. Now go on."
"That was when you told Graham that you couldn't sleep, I suppose, in the middle of the night."
"I walked over from Mountfield, and she came to me in the garden, as I had asked her to. We were together about three minutes."
Dick addressed Cicely again, still with the same cold authority. "You were discontented at home. You can tell me why afterwards. You meet this man and hear him bragging of his great deeds, and when he takes you by surprise and asks you to marry him, you are first of all rather frightened, and then you think it would be an adventure to go off with him. Is that it?"
"It's near enough," said Mackenzie, "except that I don't brag."
"I've got my own ears," said Dick, still facing Cicely. "Well, I dare say the sort of people you're used to don't seem much beside a man who gets himself photographed on picture postcards, but I'll tell you a few of the things we don't do. We don't go and stay in our friends' houses and then rob them. You belonged to Jim. You'd promised him, and this man knew it. We don't go to other men's houses and eat their salt and make love to their daughters behind their backs. We don't tell mean lies. We don't ask young girls to sneak out of their homes to meet us in the middle of the night. We respect the women we want to marry, we don't compromise them. If this man had been a fit husband for you, he would have asked for you openly. It's just because he knows he isn't that he brings all his weight to bear upon you, and you alone. He doesn't dare to face your father or your brothers."
Cicely had sunk down into her chair again. Her head was bent, but her eyes were dry now. Mackenzie had listened to him with his face set and his lips pressed together. What he thought of the damaging indictment, whether it showed him his actions in a fresh light, or only heightened his resentment, nobody could have told. "Have you finished what you have to say?" he asked.
"Not quite," replied Dick. "Listen to me, Cicely."
"Yes, and then listen to me," said Mackenzie.
"What sort of treatment do you think you're going to get from a man who has behaved like that? He's ready to give you a hole-and-corner marriage. He wants you for the moment, and he'll do anything to get you. He'll get tired of you in a few weeks, and then he'll go off to the other side of the world and where will you be? How much thought has he given to your side of the bargain? He's ready to cut you off from your own people—he doesn't care. He takes you from a house like Kencote and brings you here. He's lied to Jim, who treated him like a friend, and he's behaved like a cad to us who let him into our house. He's done all these things in a few days. How are you going to spend your life with a fellow like that?"
Cicely looked up. Her face was firmer, and she spoke to Mackenzie. "We had begun to talk about all these things," she said. "I asked you a question which you didn't answer. Did you know when you told me you were going back to Tibet in a fortnight and there wasn't time to—to ask father for me, that you weren't going until next year?"
"No, I didn't," said Mackenzie.
"When did he tell you that?" asked Dick.
"I can find that out for you easily enough. I shouldn't take an answer from him."
Again, for a fraction of a second, Mackenzie's face was deadly, but he said quietly to Cicely, "I have answered your question. Go on."
"You know why I did what you asked me," she said. "I thought you were offering me a freer life and that I should share in all your travels and dangers. You told me just before my brother came in that you didn't want me for that."
"I told you," said Mackenzie, speaking to her as if no one else had been in the room, "that you would have a freer life, but that I shouldn't risk your safety by taking you into dangerous places. I told you that I would do all that a man could do to protect and honour his chosen wife, and that's God's truth. I told you that I would make you happy. That I know I can do, and I will do. Your brother judges me by the fiddling little rules he and the like of him live by. He calls himself a gentleman, and says I'm not one. I know I'm not his kind of a gentleman. I've no wish to be; I'm something bigger. I've got my own honour. You know how I've treated you. Your own mother couldn't have been more careful of you. And so I'll treat you to the end of the chapter when you give me the right to. You can't go back now; it's too late. You see how this precious brother of yours looks at you, after what you have done. You'll be sorry if you throw yourself into his hands again. Show some pluck and send him about his business. You can trust yourself to me. You won't regret it."
The shadow of his spell was over her again. She hesitated once more and Dick's face became hard and angry. "Before you decide," he said, "let me tell you this, that if you do marry this fellow you will never come to Kencote again or see any of us as long as you live."
"You won't see your eldest brother," said Mackenzie. "I'll take care of that. But you will see those you want to see. I'll see to that too. It's time to end this. I keep you to your word. You said you were mine, and you meant it. I don't release you from your promise."
Cicely's calm broke down. "Oh, I don't know what to do," she cried. "I did promise."
"I keep you to your promise," said Mackenzie inexorably.
Then Jim, who had kept silence all this time, spoke at last. "Cicely," he said, "have you forgotten that you made me a promise?"
"O Jim," she said, without looking at him, "don't speak to me. I have behaved very badly to you."
"You never wanted to marry him," said Mackenzie roughly. "He's not the husband for a girl of any spirit."
Jim made no sign of having heard him. His face was still turned towards Cicely. "It has been my fault," he said. "I've taken it all for granted. But I've never thought about anybody else, Cicely."
Mackenzie wouldn't allow him to make his appeal as he had allowed Dick. "He has had five years to take you in," he said. "He told me so. And he hasn't taken you because he might have less money to spend on himself, till he'd paid off his rates and taxes. He told me that too. He can afford to keep half a dozen horses and a house full of servants. He can't afford a wife!"
He spoke with violent contempt. Dick gazed at him steadily with contemptuous dislike. "This is the fellow that invited himself to your house, Jim," he said.
"Let me speak now, Dick," said Jim, with decision. "He can't touch me, and I don't care if he does. He's nothing at all. I won't bother you. Cicely, my dear. I've always loved you and I always shall. But——"
"No, he won't bother you," interrupted Mackenzie with a sneer. "He's quite comfortable."
"But you will know I'm there when you are ready to be friends again. If I haven't told you before I'll tell you now. I've kept back all I've felt for you, but I've never changed and I shan't change. This won't make any difference, except that——"
"Except that he's lost you and I've won you," Mackenzie broke in. "He's had his chance and he's missed it. You don't want to be worried with his drivel."
Cicely looked up at Mackenzie. "Let him speak," she said, with some indignation. "I have listened to all you have said."
Mackenzie's attitude relaxed suddenly. After a searching glance at her he shrugged his shoulders and turned aside. He took up his grey kid gloves lying on the table and played with them.
"I don't blame you for this—not a bit," said Jim, "and I never shall. Whatever you want I'll try and give you."
"O Jim, I can't marry you now," said Cicely, her head turned from him. "But you are very kind." She broke into tears again, more tempestuous than before. Her strength was nearly at an end.
"I've told you that I shan't worry you," Jim said. "But you mustn't marry this man without thinking about it. You must talk to your mother—she'll be heart-broken if you go away from her like this."
"Oh, does she want me back?" cried Cicely.
"Yes, she does. You must go up to Muriel now. She'll want you too. And you needn't go home till you want to."
"I shall never be able to go home again," she said.
Mackenzie threw his gloves on to the table. "Do you want to go home?" he asked her. His voice had lost that insistent quality. He spoke as if he was asking her whether she would like to take a walk, in a tone almost pleasant.
"I want to go away," she said doggedly.
"Then you may go," said Mackenzie, still in the same easy voice. "I wanted you, and if we had been in a country where men behave like men, I would have had you. But I see I'm up against the whole pudding weight of British respectability, and I own it's too strong for me. We could have shifted it together, but you're not the girl to go in with a man. I'll do without you."
"You had better come now, Cicely," said Dick.
Mackenzie gave a great laugh, with a movement of his whole body as if he were throwing off a weight.
"Shake hands before you go," he said, as she rose obediently. "You're making a mistake, you know; but I don't altogether wonder at it. If I'd had a day longer they should never have taken you away. I nearly got you, as it was."
Cicely put her hand into his and looked him squarely in the face. "Good-bye," she said. "You thought too little of me after all. If you had really been willing for me to share your life, I think I would have stayed with you."
His face changed at that. He fixed her with a look, but she took her hand out of his and turned away. "I am ready, Dick," she said, and again he shrugged his broad shoulders.
"I wish I had it to do over again," he said. "Well, gentlemen, you have won and I have lost. I don't often lose, but when I do I don't whine about it. You can make your minds easy. Not a word about this shall pass my lips."
Dick turned round suddenly. "Will you swear that?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, if you like. I mean it."
Dick and Cicely went out of the room. "Well, Graham, I hope you'll get her now I've lost her," said Mackenzie.
Jim took no notice of him, but went out after the other two.
AFTER THE STORM
Cicely had an air at once ashamed and defiant as she stepped up into the cab. Dick gave the cabman the address. "See you to-night, then," he said to Jim. It had been arranged between them that when Cicely had been rescued Jim should fall out, as it were, for a time. "Good-bye, Cicely," he said. "Give my love to Walter and Muriel," and walked off down the pavement.
"You can tell me now," said Dick, when the cab had started, "what went wrong with you to make you do such a thing as that."
"I'm not going to tell you anything," said Cicely. "I know I have made a mistake, and I know you will punish me for it—you and father and the boys. You can do what you like, but I'm not going to help you."
Tears of self-pity stood in her eyes, and her face was now very white and tired, but very childish too. Dick was struck with some compunction. "I dare say you have had enough for the present," he said, not unkindly. "But how you could!—a low-bred swine like that!"
Cicely set her lips obstinately. She knew very well that this weapon would be used freely in what she had called her punishment. Men like Dick sifted other men with a narrow mesh. A good many of those whom a woman might accept and even admire, if left to herself, would not pass through it. Certainly Mackenzie wouldn't. She would have had to suffer for running away, but she would suffer far more for running away with "a bounder." And what made it harder was that, although she didn't know it yet, in the trying battle that had just been waged over her, the sieve of her own perceptions had narrowed, and Mackenzie, now, would not have passed through that. She would presently be effectually punished there, if Dick and the rest should leave her alone entirely.
Dick suddenly realised that he was ravenously desirous of a cigarette, and having lit one and inhaled a few draughts of smoke, felt the atmosphere lighter.
"By Jove, that was a tussle," he said. "He's a dangerous fellow, that. You'll thank me, some day, Cicely, for getting you away from him."
"You didn't get me away," said Cicely. "You had nothing whatever to do with it."
"Eh?" said Dick.
"If you had been just a little kind I would have come with you the moment you came into the room. I was longing for some one from home. You made it the hardest thing in the world for me to come. If I had stayed with him it would have been your fault. I'll never forgive you for the way you treated me, Dick. And you may do what you like to me now, and father may do what he likes. Nothing can be worse than that."
She poured out her words hurriedly, and only the restraint that comes with a seat in a hansom cab within full view of the populace of Camden Town prevented her bursting into hysterical tears.
Dick would rather have ridden up to the mouth of a cannon than drive through crowded streets with a woman making a scene, so he said, "Oh, for God's sake keep quiet now," and kept quiet himself, with something to think about.
Presently he said, "No one knows at home yet that you aren't with Muriel. You've got me to thank for that, at any rate."
Cicely blushed with her sudden great relief, but went pale again directly. "I wrote to mother," she said. "She would get the letter early this morning."
"I've got the letter in my pocket," said Dick. "She hasn't seen it."
"You opened my letter to mother!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, I did, and lucky for you too. It was how we found you."
She let that pass. It was of no interest to her then to learn by what chance they had found her. "Then do you really mean that they don't know at home?" she asked eagerly.
"They know you have gone to Muriel—you'll be there in half an hour—and nothing else."
"O Dick, then you won't tell them," she cried, her hand on his sleeve. "You can't be so cruel as to tell them."
She had the crowded streets to thank for Dick's quick answer, "I'm not going to tell them. Do, for Heaven's sake, keep quiet."
She leant back against the cushions. She had the giddy feeling of a man who has slipped on the verge of a great height, and saved himself.
"You'll have plenty to answer for as it is," said Dick, with a short laugh. "You've run away, though you've only run away to Muriel. You won't get let down easily."
She was not dismayed at that. The other peril, surmounted, was so crushingly greater. And there had been reasons for her running away, even if she had not run away to Mackenzie. She stood by them later and they helped her to forget Mackenzie's share in the flight. But now she could only lean back and taste the blessed relief that Dick had given her.
"Do Walter and Muriel know I am coming?" she asked.
"I sent them a wire from Ganton this morning to say that I should probably bring you, and they weren't to answer a wire from home, if one came, till they had heard from me. You've made me stretch my brains since last night, Cicely. You'd have been pretty well in the ark if it hadn't been for me."
"You didn't help me for my own sake though," said Cicely.
Both of them spoke as if they were carrying on a conversation about nothing in particular. Their capacity for disturbing discussion was exhausted for the time. Cicely felt a faint anticipatory pleasure in going to Muriel's new house, and Dick said, "This must be Melbury Park. Funny sort of place to find your relations in!"
But Adelaide Avenue, to which the cabman had been directed, did not quite bear out the Squire's impressions, nor even the Rector's, of the dreary suburb; and lying, as it did, behind the miles of shop-fronts, mean or vulgarly inviting, which they had traversed, and away from the business of the great railway which gave the name of Melbury Park, its sole significance to many besides the Squire, it seemed quiet, and even inviting. It curved between a double row of well-grown limes. Each house, or pair of houses, had a little garden in front and a bigger one behind, and most of the houses were of an earlier date than the modern red brick suburban villa. They were ugly enough, with their stucco fronts and the steps leading up to their front doors, but they were respectable and established, and there were trees behind them, and big, if dingy, shrubs inside their gates.
Walter's house stood at a corner where a new road had been cut through. This was lined on each side with a row of two-storied villas behind low wooden palings, of which the owner, in describing them, had taken liberties with the name of Queen Anne. But Walter's house and the one adjoining it in the Avenue, though built in the same style, or with the same lack of it, were much bigger, and had divided between them an old garden of a quarter of an acre, which, although it would have been nothing much at Kencote, almost attained to the dignity of "grounds" at Melbury Park.
There was a red lamp by the front gate, and as they drew up before it, Muriel came out under a gabled porch draped with Virginia creeper and hurried to welcome them to her married home.
She looked blooming, as a bride should, even on this hot August day in London. She wore a frock of light holland, and it looked somehow different from the frocks of holland or of white drill which Cicely had idly observed in some numbers as she had driven through the streets and roads of the suburb. She had a choking sensation as she saw Muriel's eager face, and her neat dress, just as she might have worn it at home.
"Hullo, Dick," said Muriel. "Walter will be in to lunch. O Cicely, it is jolly to see you again. But where's your luggage? You've come to stay. Why, you're looking miserable, my dear! What on earth's the matter? And what did Mr. Clinton's telegram mean, and Dick's? We haven't wired yet, but we must."
They had walked up the short garden path, leaving Dick to settle with the cabman, who had been nerving himself for a tussle, and was surprised to find it unnecessary.
"I'm in disgrace, Muriel," said Cicely. "I'll tell you all about it when we are alone, if Dick doesn't first."
Muriel threw a penetrating look at her and then turned to Dick, who said, with a grin, "This is the drive, is it, Muriel?"
"You are not going to laugh at my house, Dick," said Muriel. "You'll be quite as comfortable here as anywhere. Come in. This is the hall."
"No, not really?" said Dick. "By Jove!"
It was not much of a hall, the style of Queen Anne as adapted to the requirements of Melbury Park not being accustomed to effloresce in halls; but a green Morris paper, a blue Morris carpet, and white enamelled woodwork had brought it into some grudging semblance of welcoming a visitor. The more cultured ladies of Melbury Park in discussing it had called it "artistic, but slightly bizarre," a phrase which was intended to combine a guarded appreciation of novelty with a more solid preference for sanitary wallpaper, figured oilcloth and paint of what they called "dull art colours."
"Look at my callers," said Muriel, indicating a china bowl on a narrow mahogany table that was full to the brim with visiting cards. "I can assure you I'm the person to know here. No sniffing at a doctor's wife in Melbury Park, Dick."
"By Jove!" said Dick. "You're getting into society."
"My dear Dick, don't I tell you, I am society. Oh, good gracious, I was forgetting. Walter told me to send a telegram to Kencote the very moment you came. Mr. Clinton wired at eight o'clock this morning and it's half-past twelve now."
Cicely turned away, and Dick became serious again. "Where's the wire?" he asked. "I'll answer it."
"Come into Walter's room," said Muriel, "there are forms there."
"I wonder he hasn't wired again," said Dick, and as he spoke a telegraph boy came up to the open door.
"Cannot understand why no reply to telegram. Excessively annoyed. Wire at once.—Edward Clinton," ran the Squire's second message, and his first, which Muriel handed to Dick: "Is Cicely with you. Most annoyed. Wire immediately.—Edward Clinton."
"I'll soothe him," said Dick, and he wrote, "Cicely here. Wanted change. Is writing. Walter's reply must have miscarried.—Dick." "Another lie," he said composedly.
"I want some clothes sent, please, Dick," said Cicely in a constrained voice.
"Better tell 'em to send Miles up," said Dick, considering.
"No, I don't want Miles," said Cicely, and Dick added, "Please tell Miles send Cicely clothes for week this afternoon."
"I suppose you can put her up for a week, Muriel," he said.
"I'll put her up for a month, if she'll stay," said Muriel, putting her arm into Cicely's, and the amended telegram was despatched.
"Now come and see my drawing-room," said Muriel, "and then you can look after yourself, Dick, till Walter comes home, and I will take Cicely to her room."
The drawing-room opened on to a garden, wonderfully green and shady considering where it was. The white walls and the chintz-covered chairs and sofa had again struck the cultured ladies of Melbury Park as "artistic but slightly bizarre," but the air of richness imparted by the numberless hymeneal offerings of Walter's and Muriel's friends and relations had given them a pleasant subject for conversation. Their opinion was that it was a mistake to have such valuable things lying about, but if "the doctor" collected them and took them up to put under his bed every night it would not so much matter.
"They all tell me that Dr. Pringle used this room as a dining-room," said Muriel. "It is the first thing they say, and it breaks the ice. We get on wonderfully well after that; but it is a pretty room, isn't it, Dick?"
She had her arm in Cicely's, and pressed it sometimes as she talked, but she did not talk to her.
"It's an uncommonly pretty room," said Dick. "Might be in Grosvenor Square. Where did you and Walter get your ideas of furnishing from, Muriel? We don't run to this sort of thing at Kencote and Mountfield. Content with what our forefathers have taught us, eh?"
"Oh, we know what's what, all right," said Muriel. "We have seen a few pretty rooms, between us. Now I'm going to take Cicely upstairs. You can wander about if you like, Dick, and there are cigarettes and things in Walter's room."
"I'll explore the gay parterre," said Dick. Then he turned to Cicely and took hold of her chin between his thumb and finger. "Look here, don't you worry any more, old lady," he said kindly. "You've been a little fool, and you've had a knock. Tell Muriel about it and I'll tell Walter. Nobody else need know."
She clung to him, crying. "O Dick," she said, "if you had only spoken to me like that at first!"
"Well, if I had," said Dick, "I should have been in a devil of a temper now. As it is I've worked it off. There, run along. You've nothing to cry for now." He kissed her, which was an unusual attention on his part, and went through the door into the garden. Muriel and Cicely went upstairs together.
Dick soon exhausted the possibilities of the garden and went into the house again and into Walter's room. It had red walls and a Turkey carpet. There was a big American desk, a sofa and easy-chairs and three Chippendale chairs, all confined in rather a small space. There was a low bookcase along one wall, and above it framed school and college photographs; on the other walls were prints from pictures at Kencote. They were the only things in the room, except the ornaments on the mantelpiece, and a table with a heavy silver cigarette box, and other smoking apparatus, that lightened its workmanlike air. But Dick was not apt to be affected by the air of a room. He sat down in the easy-chair and stretched his long legs in front of him, and thought over the occurrences of the morning.
He was rather surprised to find himself in so equable a frame of mind. His anger against Cicely had gradually worked up since the previous evening until, when he had seen her in the room with Mackenzie, he could have taken her by the shoulders and shaken her, with clenched teeth. She had done a disgraceful thing; she, a girl, had taken the sacred name of Clinton in her hands and thrown it to the mob to worry. That he had skilfully caught and saved it before it had reached them did not make her crime any the less.