"They are our beasts," he said in a voice of relief, and a minute later he called down to the soldier in charge. He spoke in the Dinka language and the soldier replied in the same tongue. Hillyard understood enough of it now to learn that the women had arrived safely at Senaar without any incident or annoyance.
"That's good," said Colin Rayne. He turned to Hillyard. "Luttrell's a long time. Shall we go and find him?"
Both Blacker and Dr. Mayle looked up with surprise, but Hillyard had risen quickly, and they raised no objection. Rayne walked down the stairs first and led the way towards the rear of the building across an open stretch of ground. The moon had not yet risen, and it was pitch dark so that Hillyard had not an idea whither he was being led. Colin Rayne stopped at a small, low door in a high big wall and knocked. A heavy key grated in a lock and the door was opened by a soldier. Hillyard found himself standing inside a big compound, in the midst of which stood some bulky, whitish erection, from which a light gleamed.
Colin Rayne led the way towards the light. It was shining through the doorway of a chamber of new wood planks with a flat roof and some strange, dimly-seen superstructure. Hillyard looked through the doorway and saw a curious scene. Two Sudanese soldiers were present, one of whom carried the lantern. The other, a gigantic creature with a skin like polished mahogany, was stripped to the waist and held poised in his hands a huge wooden mallet with a long handle. He stood measuring his distance from the stem of a young tree which was wedged tightly between a small square of stone on the ground and the flat roof above. Standing apart, and watching everything with quiet eyes was Harry Luttrell.
Even at this first glance in the wavering light of the lantern Hillyard realised that a change had come in the aspect of his friend. It was not a look of age, but authority clothed him as with a garment. Rayne and Hillyard passed into the chamber. Luttrell turned his head and welcomed Hillyard with a smile. But he did not move and immediately afterwards he raised his face to the roof.
"Are you ready up there?"
An English voice replied through the planks.
"Yes, sir," and immediately afterwards a dull and heavy weight like a full sack was dumped upon the platform above their heads.
Luttrell turned towards the giant.
"Are you ready? And you know the signal?"
The Sudanese soldier grinned in delighted anticipation, with a flash of big white teeth, and took a firmer grip of his mallet and swung it over his shoulder.
"Good. Now pay attention," said Luttrell, "so that all may be well and seemly done."
The Sudanese fixed his eyes upon Luttrell's foot and Luttrell began to talk, rapidly and rather to himself than to his audience. Hillyard could make neither head nor tail of the strange scene. It was evident that Luttrell was rehearsing a speech, but why? And what had the Sudanese with the mallet to do with it?
A sudden and rapid sequence of events brought the truth home to him with a shock. At a point of his speech Luttrell stamped twice, and the Sudanese soldier swung his mallet with all his force. The head of it struck the great support full and square. The beam jumped from its position, hopped once on its end, and fell with a crash. And from above there mingled with the crash a most horrid clang, for, with the removal of the beam, two trap-doors swung downwards. Hillyard looked up; he saw the stars, and something falling. Instinctively he stepped back and shut his eyes. When he looked again, within the chamber, midway between the floor and roof, two sacks dangling at the end of two ropes spun and jerked—as though they lived.
Rayne had stepped back and stood quivering from head to foot by Hillyard's side; Hillyard himself felt sick. He knew very well now what he was witnessing—the rehearsal of an execution. The Sudanese soldiers were grinning from ear to ear with delight and pride. The one person quite unmoved was Harry Luttrell, whose ingenuity had invented the device.
"Let it be done just so," he said to the soldiers. "I shall not forgive a mistake."
They saluted, and he dismissed them and turned at last to Martin Hillyard.
"It's good to see you again," he said, as he shook hands; and then he looked sharply into Hillyard's face and laughed. "Shook you up a bit, that performance, eh? Well, they bungled things in Khartum a little while ago. I can't afford awkwardness here."
Senga was in the centre of that old Khalifa's tribe which not so many years ago ruled in Omdurman. It was always restless, always on the look-out for a Messiah.
"Messiahs are most unsettling," said Luttrell, "especially when they don't come. The tribe began sharpening its spear-heads a few weeks ago. Then two of them got excited and killed. That's the consequence," and he jerked his head towards the compound, from which the two friends were walking away.
Hillyard was to hear more of the matter an hour later, as they all sat at dinner in the mess-room. There were thousands of the tribe, all in a ferment, and just half a battalion of Sudanese soldiers under Luttrell's command to keep them in order.
"Blacker thinks we ought to have temporised, and that we shall get scuppered," said Luttrell. He was the one light-hearted man at that table, though he was staking his career, his life, and the life of the colony on the correctness of his judgment. Sir Charles Hardiman would never have recognised in the man who now sat at the head of the mess table the young man who had been so torn by this and that discrimination in the cabin of his yacht at Stockholm. There was something of the joyous savage about him now—a type which England was to discover shortly in some strength amongst the young men who were to officer its armies.
"I don't agree. I have invited the chiefs to see justice done. I am going to pitch them a speech myself from the scaffold—cautionary tales for children, don't you know—and then, if old Fee-Fo-Fum with the mallet don't get too excited and miss his stroke, everything will go like clockwork."
Hillyard wondered how in the world he was going to deliver Stella Croyle's message—a flimsy thing of delicate sentimentality—to this man concerned with life and death, and discharging his responsibilities according to the just rules of his race, without fear and without too much self-questioning. Indeed, the Luttrell, Acting-Governor of Senga, was a more familiar figure to Hillyard than he would have been to Stella Croyle. For he had shaken off, under the pressure of immediate work and immediate decisions, the thin and subtle emotions which were having their way with him two years before. He had recaptured the high spirit of Oxford days, and was lit along his path by that clear flame.
But there were tact and discretion too, as Hillyard was to learn. For Mr. Blacker still croaked at the other end of the table.
"It's right and just and all that of course. But you are taking too high a risk, Luttrell."
The very silence at the table made it clear to Hillyard that Luttrell stood alone in his judgment. But Luttrell only smiled and said:
"Well, old man, since I disagree, the only course is to refer the whole problem to our honorary member."
And at once every countenance lightened, and merriment began to flick and dance from one to other of that company like the beads on the surface of champagne. Only Hillyard was mystified.
"Your honorary member!" he inquired.
Luttrell nodded solemnly, and raised his glass.
"Gentlemen, the Honorary Member of the Senga Mess—Sir Chichester Splay."
The toast was drunk with enthusiasm by all but Hillyard, who sat staring about him and wondering what in the world the Mecaenas of the First Nights had in common with these youthful administrators far-flung to the Equator.
"You don't drink, Martin," cried Luttrell. A Socialist at a Public Dinner who refused to honour the Royal Toast could only have scandalised the chairman by a few degrees more than Hillyard's indifference did now.
"I beg your pardon," said Hillyard with humility. "I repair my error now. It was due to amazement."
"Amazement!" Colin Rayne repeated, as Hillyard drained his glass.
"Yes. For I know the man."
There was the silence that follows some stupendous happening; eyes were riveted upon Hillyard in admiration; and then the silence burst.
"He knows him!"
"Actually knows him!"
And suddenly above the din Blacker's voice rose warningly.
"Don't let's lose our heads! That's the great thing! Let us keep as calm as we can and think out our questions very carefully lest the Heaven-sent Bearer of Great Tidings should depart without revealing all he knows."
Chairs were hitched a little closer about Hillyard. The care which had brooded in that room was quite dispelled.
"Have some more port, sir," said the youngest of that gathering, eagerly pushing across the bottle. Hillyard filled his glass. Port was his, and prestige too. He might write a successful play. That was all very well. He might go shooting for eight months along by the two Niles and the Dinder. That was all very well too. He was welcome at the Senga Mess. But he knew Sir Chichester Splay! He acquired in an instant the importance of a prodigy.
"But, since he is an honorary member of your mess, you must know him too," cried Hillyard. "He must have come this way."
"My dear Martin!" Luttrell expostulated, as one upbraiding a child. "Sir Chichester Splay out of London! The thing's inconceivable!"
"Inconceivable! Why, he lives in the country."
A moment of consternation stilled all voices. Then the Doctor spoke in a whisper.
"Is it possible that we are all wrong?"
"He lives at Rackham Park, in Sussex."
Mr. Blacker fell back in relief.
"I know the house. He is a new resident. It is near to Chichester. He went there on the Homoeopathic principle."
The conjecture was actually true. Sir Chichester Splay, spurred by his ambition to be a country gentleman with a foot in town, had chosen the neighbourhood on account of his name, so that it might come to be believed that he had a territorial connection.
"Describe him to us," they all cried, and, when Hillyard had finished:
"Well, he might be like that," Luttrell conceded. "It was not our idea."
"No," said Colin Rayne. "You will remember I always differed from all of you, but it seems that I am wrong too. I pictured him as a tall, melancholy man, with a conical bald head and with a habit of plucking at a black straggling beard—something like the portraits of Tennyson."
"To me," said Luttrell, "he was always fat and fussy, with white spats."
"But why are you interested in him at all?" cried Hillyard.
"We will explain the affair to you on the balcony," answered Luttrell, as he rose.
They moved into the dark and coolness of this spacious place, and, stretching themselves in comfort on the long cane chairs, they explained to Hillyard this great mystery. Rayne began the tale.
"You see, we don't get a mail here so very often. Consequently we pay attention when it comes. We read the Searchlight, for instance, with care."
Mr. Blacker snatched the narrative away at this point.
"And Sir Chichester Splay occurs in most issues and in many columns. At first we merely noticed him. Some one would say, 'Oh, here's old Splay again,' as if—it seems incredible now—the matter was of no importance. It needed Luttrell to discover the real significance of Sir Chichester, the man's unique and astounding quality."
Harry Luttrell interrupted now.
"Yes, it was I," he said with pride. "Sir Chichester one day was seen at a Flower Show in Chelsea. On another he attended the first performance of a play. On a third day he honoured the Private View of an Exhibition of Pictures. On a fourth he sat amongst the Distinguished Strangers in the Gallery of the House of Commons. But that was all! This is what I alone perceived. Always that was all!"
Luttrell leaned back and relit his cigar.
"When other people come to be mentioned in the newspapers day after day, sooner or later some information about them slips out, some characteristic thing. If you don't get to know their appearance, you learn at all events their professions, their opinions. But of Sir Chichester Splay—never anything at all. Yet he is there always, nothing can happen without his presence, a man without a shadow, a being without a history. To me, a simple soldier, he is admirable beyond words. For he has achieved the inconceivable. He combines absolute privacy of life with a world-wide notoriety. He may be a stamp-collector. Do I know that? No. All I know is that if there were an Exhibition of Stamp Collections, he would be the first to pass the door." Luttrell rose from his chair.
"Therefore," he added in conclusion, "Sir Chichester is of great value to us at Senga. We elected him to the mess with every formality, and some day, when we have leisure, we shall send a deputation up the Nile to shoot a Mrs. Grey's Antelope to decorate Rackham Park." He turned to Hillyard. "We have a few yards to walk, and it is time."
The two friends walked down the stairs and turned along the road, Hillyard still debating what was, after all, the value of Sir Chichester Splay to the Senga mess. It had seemed to him that Luttrell had not wished for further questions on the balcony, but, now that the two were alone, he asked:
"I don't see it," he said; and Luttrell stopped abruptly and turned to him.
"Don't you, Martin?" he asked gently. All the merriment had gone from his face and voice. "If you were with us for a week you would. It's just the value of a little familiar joke always on tap. Here are a handful of us. We eat together, morning, noon, and night; we work together; we play polo together—we can never get away from each other. And in consequence we get on each other's nerves, especially in the months of hot weather. Ill-temper comes to the top. We quarrel. Irreparable things might be said. That's where Sir Chichester Splay comes in. When the quarrel's getting bitter, we refer it to his arbitration. And, since he has no opinions, we laugh and are saved." Luttrell resumed his walk to the Governor's house.
"Yes, I see now," said Hillyard.
"You had an instance to-night," Luttrell added, as they went in at the door. "It's a serious matter—the order of a Province and a great many lives, and the cost of troops from Khartum, and the careers of all of us are at stake. I think that I am right, and it is for me to say. They disagree. Yes, Sir Chichester Splay saved us to-night, and"—a smile suddenly broke upon his serious face—"I really should like to meet him."
"I will arrange it when we are both in London," Hillyard returned.
He did not forget that promise. But he was often afterwards to recall this moment when he made it—the silent hall, the door open upon the hot, still night, the moon just beginning to gild the dark sky, and the two men standing together, neither with a suspicion of the life-long consequences which were to spring from the casual suggestion and the careless assent.
"You are over there," said Luttrell, pointing to the other side of the hall. He turned towards his own quarters, but a question from Hillyard arrested him.
"What about that message for me?"
"I know nothing about it," Luttrell answered, "beyond what I wrote. The telegram came from Khartum. No doubt they can tell you more at Government House. Good night!"
IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN
Just outside Senga to the north, in open country, stands a great walled zareba, and the space enclosed is the nearest approach to the Garden of Eden which this wicked world can produce. The Zoological Gardens of Cairo and Khartum replenish their cages from Senga. But there are no cages at Senga, and only the honey-badger lives in a tub with a chain round his neck, like a bull-dog. The buffalo and the elephant, the wart-hog and the reed-buck, roam and feed and sleep together. Nor do they trouble, after three days' residence in that pleasant sanctuary, about man—except that specimen of man who brings them food.
All day long you may see, towering above the wall close to the little wooden door, the long necks and slim heads of giraffes looking towards the city and wondering what in the world is the matter with the men to-day, and why they don't come along with the buns and sugar. Once within the zareba, once you have pushed your way between the giraffes and got their noses out of your jacket-pockets, you have really only to be wary of the ostrich. He, mincing delicately around you with his little wicked red eye blinking like a camera shutter, may try with an ill-assumed air of indifference to slip up unnoticed close behind you. If he succeeds he will land you one. And one is enough.
Into this zareba Harry Luttrell led Martin Hillyard on the next morning. Luttrell had an hour free, and the zareba was the one spectacle in Senga. He kicked the honey-badger's tub in his little reed-house and brought out that angry animal to the length of his strong chain and to within an inch of his own calves.
"Charming little beast, isn't he? See the buffalo in the middle? The little elephant came in a week ago from just south of the Khor Galagu. You had something private to say to me? Now's your time. Mind the ostrich, that's all. He looks a little ruffled."
They were quite alone in the zareba. The giraffes had fallen in behind and were following them, and level with them, on Hillyard's side, the ostrich stepped like a delicate lady in a muddy street. Hillyard found it a little difficult to concentrate his thoughts on Stella Croyle's message. But he would have delivered it awkwardly in any case. He had seen enough of Harry Luttrell last night to understand that an ocean now rolled between those two.
"On the first night of my play, 'The Dark Tower,'" he began, and suddenly faced around as the ostrich fell back.
"Yes!" said Luttrell, and he eyed the ostrich indifferently. "That animal's a brute, isn't he?"
He took a threatening step towards it, and the ostrich sidled away as if it really didn't matter to him where he took his morning walk.
"Yes?" Luttrell repeated.
"I went to a supper-party given by Sir Charles Hardiman."
Luttrell's voice was careless enough. But his eyes went watchfully to Hillyard's face, and he seemed to shut suddenly all expression out of his own.
"Hardiman introduced me to a friend of yours."
"She was well?"
"In health, yes!"
"I am very glad." Unexpectedly some feeling of relief had made itself audible in Luttrell's voice. "It would have troubled me if you had brought me any other news of her. Yes, that would have troubled me very much. I should not have been able to forget it," he said slowly.
"But she is unhappy."
Luttrell walked on in silence. His forehead contracted, a look of trouble came into his face. Yet he had an eye all the while for the movements of the animals in the zareba. At last he halted, struck out at the ostrich with his stick, and turned to Hillyard with a gesture of helplessness.
"But what can one do—except the single thing one can't do?"
"She gave me a message, if I should chance to meet you," answered Hillyard.
Luttrell's face hardened perceptibly.
"Let me hear it, Martin."
"She said that she would like you to have news of her, and that from time to time she would like to have a little line from you."
"That was all?"
Harry Luttrell nodded, but he made no reply. He walked back with Hillyard to the door of the zareba, and the ostrich bore them company, now on this side, now on that. The elephant was rolling in the grass like a dog, the giraffes crowded about the little door like beggars outside a restaurant. The two friends walked back towards the town in an air shimmering with heat. The Blue Nile glittered amongst its sand-banks like so many ribands of molten steel. They were close upon the house before Luttrell answered Stella Croyle's message.
"All that," he cried, with a sharp gesture as of a man sweeping something behind him, "all that happened in another age when I was another man."
The gesture was violent, but the words were pitiful. He was not a man exasperated by a woman's unseasonable importunity, but angry with the grim, hard, cruel facts of life.
"It's no good, Martin," he added, with a smile. "Not all the king's horses nor all the king's men——"
Hillyard was sure now that no little line would ever go from Senga to the house in the Bayswater Road. The traditions of his house and of his regiment had Harry Luttrell in their keeping. Messages? Martin Hillyard might expect them, might indeed respond to and obey them, and with advantage, just because they came out of the blue. But the men of tradition, no! The messenger had knocked upon the doors of their fathers' houses before ever they were born.
At the door of the Governor's house Harry Luttrell stopped.
"I expect you'll want to do some marketing, and I shall be busy, and to-night we shall have the others with us. So I'll say now," and his face brightened with a smile, as though here at all events were a matter where the bitter laws of change could work no cruelties, "it has been really good to see you again."
Certain excellent memories were busy with them both—Nuneham and Sanford Lasher and the Cherwell under its overhanging branches. Then Luttrell looked out across to the Blue Nile and those old wondrous days faded from his vision.
"I should like you to get away bukra, bukra, Martin," he said. "Half-past one at the latest, to-morrow morning. Can you manage it?"
"Why, of course," answered Hillyard in surprise.
"You see, I postponed that execution, whilst you were here. I think it'll go off all right, but since it's no concern of yours, I would just as soon you were out of the way. I have fixed it for eight. If you start at half-past one you will be a good many miles away by then."
He turned and went into the house and to his own work. Martin Hillyard walked down the road along the river bank to the town. Harry Luttrell had said his last word concerning Stella Croyle. Of that he was sure and was glad, though Stella's tear-stained face would rise up between his eyes and the water of the Nile. Sooner or later Harry Luttrell would come home, bearing his sheaves, and then he would marry amongst his own people; and a new generation of Luttrells would hold their commissions in the Clayfords. He had said his last word concerning Stella Croyle.
But Hillyard was wrong. For in the dark of the morning, when he had bestridden his donkey and given the order for his caravan to march, he was hailed by Luttrell's voice. He stopped, and Luttrell came down in his pyjamas from the door of the house to him.
"Good luck," he said, and he patted the donkey's neck. "Good luck, old man. We'll meet in England some time."
"Yes," said Hillyard.
It was not to speak these words that Harry Luttrell had risen, after wishing him good-bye the night before. So he waited.
Luttrell was still, his hand on the little donkey's neck.
"You'll remember me to our honorary member, won't you?"
Nor was it for this reminder, either. So Hillyard still waited, and at last the words came, jerkily.
"One thing you said yesterday.... I was very glad to hear it. That Stella was well—quite well. You meant that, didn't you? It's the truth?"
"Yes, it's the truth."
"Thank you ... I was a little afraid ... thank you!"
He took his hand from the donkey's neck, and Hillyard rode forward on the long and dreary stage to the one camping ground between Senga and Senaar.
For a little while he wondered at this insistence of Harry Luttrell upon the physical health of Stella Croyle, and why he had been afraid. But when the dawn came his thoughts reverted to his own affairs. The message delivered to him in the forest of the River Dinder! It might mean nothing. It was the part of prudence to make light of his hopes and conjectures. But the hopes would not be stilled, now that he was alone. This was the Summons, the great Summons for which, without his knowledge, the experiences of his life, detail by detail, had builded him.
HILLYARD HEARS NEWS OF AN OLD FRIEND
At Khartum, however, disappointment awaited him. He was received without excitement by a young aide-de-camp at the Palace.
"I heard that you had come in last night. A good trip? Dine with me to-night and you shall show me your heads. The Governor-General's in England."
"There's a telegram."
"Oh yes. It came up to us from Cairo. Some one wanted to know where you were. They'll know about it at Cairo. We just pushed it along, you know," said the aide-de-camp. He dined with Hillyard, admired his heads, arranged for his sleeping compartment, and assured him that the execution had gone off "very nicely" at Senga.
"Luttrell made a palaver, and his patent drop worked as well as anything in Pentonville, and every one went home cheered up and comfortable. Luttrell's a good man."
Thus Hillyard took the train to Wadi Haifa in a chastened mood. Obviously the message was of very little, if indeed of any, importance. A man can hardly swing up to extravagant hopes without dropping to sarcastic self-reproaches on his flightiness and vanity. He was not aware that the young aide-de-camp pushed aside some pressing work to make sure that he did go on the train; or that when the last carriage disappeared towards the great bridge, the aide-de-camp cried, "Well, that's that," like a man who has discharged one task at all events of the many left to his supervision.
One consequence of Hillyard's new humility was that he now loitered on his journey. He stayed a few days at Assouan and yet another few in Luxor, in spite of the heat, and reached Cairo in the beginning of June when the streets were thick with dust-storms and the Government had moved to Alexandria. Hillyard was in two minds whether to go straight home, but in the end he wandered down to the summer seat of government.
If Khartum had been chilly to the enthusiast, Alexandria was chillier. It was civil and polite to Hillyard and made him a member of the Club. But it was concerned with the government of Egypt, and gently allowed Hillyard to perceive it. Khartum had at all events stated "There is a cablegram." At Alexandria the statement became a question: "Is there a cablegram?" In the end a weary and indifferent gentleman unearthed it. He did not show it to Hillyard, but held it in his hand and looked over the top of it and across a roll-top desk at the inquirer.
"Yes, yes. This seems to be what you are asking about. It is for us, you know"—this with a patient smile as Hillyard's impatient hand reached out for it. "Do you know a man called Bendish—Paul Bendish?"
"Bendish?" cried Hillyard. "He was my tutor at Oxford."
"Ah! Then it does clearly refer to you. Bendish has a friend who needs your help in London."
"Do you mean to say that I was sent for from the borders of Abyssinia because Bendish has a friend in London who wants my help?"
The indifferent gentleman stroked his chin.
"It certainly looks like it, doesn't it? But I do hope that you didn't cut your expedition short on that account." He looked remorsefully into Hillyard's face. "In any case, the rainy season was coming on, wasn't it?"
"Yes, my expedition was really ended when the message reached me," Hillyard was forced to admit.
"That's good," said the indifferent gentleman, brightening. "You will see Bendish, of course, in England. By what ship do you sail? It's not very pleasant here, is it?"
"I shall sail on the Himalaya in a week's time."
"Right!" said the official, and he nodded farewell and dipped his nose once more into his papers.
Hillyard walked to the door, conscious that he looked the fool he felt himself to be. But at the door he turned in a sort of exasperation.
"Can't you tell me at all why Bendish's friend wants my help?" he asked.
It was at this moment that the indifferent gentleman had the inspiration of his life.
"I haven't an idea, Mr. Hillyard," he replied. "Perhaps he has got into difficulties in the writing of a revue."
The answer certainly drove Hillyard from the room without another word. He stood outside the door purple with heat and indignation. Hillyard neither overrated nor decried his work. But to be dragged away from the buffalo and the reed-buck of the Dinder River in order to be told that he was a writer of revues. No! That was carrying a bad joke too far.
Hillyard stalked haughtily along the corridor towards the outer door, but not so fast but that a youth passed him with a sheet of paper in his hand. The youth went into the room where Government cablegrams were coded. The sheet of paper which he held in his hand was inscribed with a message that Martin Hillyard would leave Alexandria in a week's time on the s.s. Himalaya. And the message strangely enough was not addressed to Paul Bendish at all. It was headed, "For Commodore Graham. Admiralty." The great Summons had in fact come, although Hillyard knew it not.
He travelled in consequence leisurely by sea. He started from Alexandria after half the month of June had gone, and he was thus in the Bay of Biscay on that historic morning of June the twenty-eighth, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia Duchess of Hohenberg, were murdered in the streets of Saravejo. London, when he reached it, was a choir of a million voices not yet tuned to the ringing note of one. It was incredible that the storm, foreseen so often over the port wine, should really be bursting at last. Mediation will find a way. Not this time; the moment has been chosen. And what will England do? Ride safe in the calm centre of the hurricane? No ship ever did, and England won't.
A few degenerate ones threw up their hands and cried that all was over—they knew.
Of these a gaunt-visaged man, stubborn and stupid and two generations back a German, held forth in the hall of Hillyard's club.
"German organisation, German thoroughness and German brains—we are no match for them. The country's thick with spies—wonderful men. Where shall we find their equals?"
A sailor slipped across the hall and dropped into a chair by Hillyard's side.
"You take no part in these discussions? The crackling of thorns—what?"
"I have been a long time away."
"Thought so," continued the sailor. "A man was inquiring for you yesterday—a man of the name of Graham."
Hillyard shook his head.
"I don't know him."
"No, but he is a friend of a friend of yours."
Hillyard sat up in his chair. He had been four days in London, and the engrossing menace of those days had quite thrust from his recollections the telegram which had, as he thought, befooled him.
"The friend of mine is possibly Paul Bendish," he said stiffly.
"Think that was the name. Graham's the man I am speaking of," and the sailor paused. "Commodore Graham," he added.
Hillyard's indignation ebbed away. What if he had not been fooled? The quenched hopes kindled again in him. There was all this talk of war—alarums and excursions as the stage-directions had it. Service! Suddenly he realised that ever since he had left Senga, a vague envy of Harry Luttrell had been springing up in his heart. The ordered life of service—authority on the one hand, the due execution of details on the other! Was it to that glorious end in this crisis that all his life's experience had slowly been gathering? He looked keenly at his companion. Was it just by chance that he had crossed the hall in the midst of all this thistle-down discussion and dropped in the chair by his side?
"But what could I do?"
He spoke aloud, but he was putting the question to himself. The sailor, however, answered it.
He wrote an address upon a sheet of notepaper and handed it to Hillyard. Then he looked at the clock which marked ten minutes past three.
"You will find him there now."
The sailor went after his cap and left the club. Hillyard read the address. It was a number in a little street of the Adelphi, and as he read it, suspicion again seized upon Hillyard. After all, why should a Commodore want to see him in a little street of the Adelphi. Perhaps, after all, the indifferent official of Alexandria was right and the Commodore had ambitions in the line of revues!
"I had better go and have it out with him," he decided, and, taking his hat and stick, he walked eastwards to Charing Cross. He turned into a short street. At the bottom a stone arch showed where once the Thames had lapped. Now, beyond its grey-white curve, were glimpses of green lawns and the cries of children at their play. Hillyard stopped at a house by the side of the arch. A row of brass plates confronted him, but the name of Commodore Graham was engraved on none of them. Hillyard rang the housekeeper's bell and inquired.
"On the top floor on the left," he was told.
He climbed many little flights of stairs, and at the top of each his heart sank a little lower. When the stairs ended he confronted a mean, brown-varnished door; and he almost turned and fled. After all, the monstrous thing looked possible. He stood upon the threshold of a set of chambers. Was he really to be asked to collaborate in a revue? He rang the bell, and a young woman opened the door and barred the way.
"Whom do you wish to see?" she asked.
"Commodore Graham?" she repeated with an air of perplexity, as though this was the first time she had ever heard the name.
Across her shoulder Hillyard looked into a broad room, where three other girls sat at desks, and against one wall stood a great bureau with many tiny drawers like pigeon-holes. Several of these drawers stood open and disclosed cards standing on their edges and packed against each other. Hillyard's hopes revived. Not for nothing had he sat from seven to ten in the office of a shipping agent at Alicante. Here was a card-index, and of an amazing volume. But his interlocutor still barred the way.
"Have you an appointment with Commodore Graham?" she asked, still with that suggestion that he had lunched too well and had lost his way.
"No. But he sent for me across half the world."
The girl raised a pair of steady grey eyes to his.
"Will you write your name here?"
She allowed him to pass and showed him some slips of paper on a table in the middle of the room. Hillyard obeyed, and waited, and in a few moments she returned, and opened a door, crossed a tiny ante-room and knocked again. Hillyard entered a room which surprised him, so greatly did its size and the wide outlook from its windows contrast with the dinginess of its approach. A thin man with the face of a French abbe sat indolently twiddling his thumbs by the side of a big bureau.
"You wanted to see me?"
Commodore Graham nodded to the girl, and Hillyard heard the door close behind him.
"Won't you sit down? There are cigarettes beside you. A match? Here is one. I hope that I didn't bring you home before your time."
"The season had ended," replied Hillyard, who was in no mood to commit himself. "In what way can I help you?"
"Bendish tells me that you know something of Spain."
"Spain?" cried Hillyard in surprise. "Spain means Madrid, Bilbao, and a host of places, and a host of people, politicians, merchants, farmers. What should I know of them?"
"You were in Spain for some years."
"Three," replied Hillyard, "and for most of the three years picking up a living along the quays. Oh, it's not so difficult in Spain, especially in summer time. Looking after a felucca while the crew drank in a cafe, holding on to a dinghy from a yacht and helping the ladies to step out, a little fishing here, smuggling a box of cigars past the customs officer there—oh, it wasn't so difficult. You can sleep out in comfort. I used to enjoy it. There was a coil of rope on the quay at Tarragona; it made a fine bed. Lord, I can feel it now, all round me as I curled up in it, and the stars overhead, seen out of a barrel, so to speak!"
Hillyard's face changed. He had the spark of the true wanderer within him. Even recollections of days long gone could blow it into clear, red flame. All the long glowing days on the hot stones of the water-side, the glitter of the Mediterranean purple-blue under the sun, the coming of night and the sudden twinkling of lights in the cave-dwellings above Almeria and across the bay from Aguilas, the plunge into the warm sea at midnight, the glorious evenings at water-side cafes when he had half a dozen coppers in his pocket; the good nature of the people! All these recollections swept back on him in a rush. The actual hardships, the hunger, the biting winds of January under a steel-cold sky, these things were all forgotten. He remembered the freedom.
"There weren't any hours to the day," he cried, and spoke the creed of all the wanderers in the world. "I saw the finest bull-fights in the world, and made money out of them by selling dulces and membrilla and almond rock from Alicante. Oh, the life wasn't so bad. But it came to an end. A shipping agent at Alicante used me as a messenger, and finally, since I knew English and no one else in his office did, turned me into a shipping clerk."
Hillyard had quite forgotten Commodore Graham, who sat patiently twiddling his thumbs throughout the autobiography, and now came with something of a start to a recognition of where he sat. He sprang up and reached for his hat.
"So, you see, you might as well ask a Chinaman at Stepney what he knows of England as ask me what I know of Spain. I am just wasting your time. But I have to thank you," and he bowed with a winning pleasantness, "for reviving in me some very happy recollections which were growing dim."
The Commodore, however, did not stir.
"But it is possible," he said quietly, "that you do know the very places which interest me—the people too."
Hillyard looked at the Commodore. He put down his hat and resumed his seat.
"Islands sixty miles from Valencia."
"With a lighthouse," interrupted Graham.
"And a little tumble-down inn with a vine for an awning."
"Oh! I didn't know there was an inn," said Graham. "Already you have told me something."
"I fished round the Columbretes all one summer," said Hillyard, with a laugh.
Graham nodded two or three times quickly.
"And the Balearics?"
"I worked on one of Island Line ships between Barcelona and Palma through a winter."
"There's a big wireless," said Commodore Graham.
"At Soller. On the other side of Mallorca from Palma. You cross a wonderful pass by the old monastery where Georges Sand and Chopin stayed and quarrelled."
The literary reminiscence left Commodore Graham unmoved.
"Did you ever go to Iviza?"
"For a month with a tourist who dug for ancient pottery."
Graham swung round to his bureau and drummed with the tips of his fingers upon the leather pad. He made no sign which could indicate whether he was satisfied or no. He lit a cigarette and handed the box to Hillyard.
"Did you ever come across a man called Jose Medina?"
Eleven years had passed since the strange days in Spain, and those eleven years not without their sharp contrasts and full hours. Hillyard's act of memory was the making of a picture. One by one he called up the chain of coast cities wherein he had wandered. Malaga, with its brown cathedral; Almeria and its ancient castle and bright blue-painted houses glowing against the brown and barren hills; Aguilas, with its islets; Cartagena, Gandia, Alicante of the palms; Valencia—and under the trees and on the quays, the boatmen and the captains and the resplendent officials whom he had known! They took shape before him and assumed their names. He dived amongst them for one Jose Medina.
"Yes," he replied at last, "there was a Jose Medina. He was a young peasant of Mallorca. He always said jo for yo."
Graham's eyes brightened and his lips twitched to a smile. He glanced aside to his bureau, whereon lay a letter written by Paul Bendish at Oxford.
"He probably has a larger acquaintance with the queer birds of the Mediterranean ports than any one else in England. But he does not seem to be aware of it. But if you persist in sitting quiet his knowledge will trickle out."
Commodore Graham persisted, and facts concerning Jose Medina began to trickle out. Jose's father had left him, the result of a Spanish peasant's thrift, a couple of thousand pesetas. With this Jose Medina had gone to Gibraltar, where he bought a felucca, with a native of Gibraltar as its nominal owner; so that Jose Medina might fly the flag of Britain and sleep more surely for its protection. At Gibraltar, with what was left of his two thousand pesetas and the credit which his manner gained him, he secured a cargo of tobacco.
"Gibraltar's a free port, you see," said Hillyard. "Jose ran the cargo along the coast to Benicassim, a little watering-place with a good beach about thirty kilometres east of Valencia. He ran the felucca ashore one dark night." Suddenly he stopped and smiled to himself. "I expect Jose Medina's in prison now."
"On the contrary," said Graham, "he's a millionaire."
Hillyard stared. Then he laughed.
"Well, those were the two alternatives for Jose Medina. But I am judging by one night's experience. I never saw him again."
Commodore Graham touched with his heel a bell by the leg of his bureau. The bell did not ring, but displaced a tiny shutter in front of the desk of his secretary in the ante-room; and Hillyard had hardly ended when the girl was in the room and announced:
Commodore Graham looked annoyed.
"What a nuisance! I am afraid that I must see him, Mr. Hillyard."
"Of course," said Hillyard. "Admirals are admirals."
"And they know it!" said Commodore Graham with a sigh.
Hillyard rose and took his hat.
"Well, I am very grateful to you, Mr. Hillyard," said Graham. "I can't say anything more to you now. Things, as you know, are altogether very doubtful. We may slip over into smooth water. On the other hand," and he twiddled his thumbs serenely, "we may be at war in a month. If that were to be the case, I might want to talk with you again. Will you leave your address with Miss Chayne?"
Hillyard was led out by another door, no doubt so that he might not meet the impatient admiral. He might have gone away disheartened from that interview with its vague promises. But there are other and often surer indications than words. When Miss Chayne took down his address, her manner had quite changed towards him. She had now a frank and pleasant comradeship. The official had gone. Her smile said as plainly as print could do: "You are with us now."
Meanwhile Commodore Graham read through once more the letter of Paul Bendish. He turned from that to a cabled report from Khartum of the opinion which various governors of districts had formed concerning the ways and the discretion of Martin Hillyard. Then once more he rang his bell.
"There was a list of suitable private yachts to be made out," he said.
"It is ready," replied Miss Chayne, and she brought it to him.
Over that list Commodore Graham spent a great deal of time. In the end his finger rested on the name of the steam-yacht Dragonfly, owned by Sir Charles Hardiman, Baronet.
ENTER THE HEROINE IN ANYTHING BUT WHITE SATIN
Goodwood in the year nineteen hundred and fourteen! There were some, throwers of stones, searchers after a new thing on which to build a reputation, who have been preaching these many years past that the temper of England had changed, its solidity all dissolved into froth, and that a new race of neurotics was born on Mafeking night. Just ninety-nine years before this Goodwood meeting, when Napoleon and the veterans of the Imperial Guard were knocking at the gates of Brussels, a famous ball was given. Goodwood of the year nineteen-fourteen, mutatis mutandis, did but repeat that scene, the same phlegmatic enjoyment of the festival, the same light-heartedness and sure confidence under the great shadow, and the same ending.
The whispered word went round so that there should be no panic or alarm, and of a sudden every officer was gone. Goodwood of nineteen fourteen and a July so perfect with sunlight and summer that it seemed some bird at last must break the silence of the famed beech-grove! All the world went to it. The motor-cars and the coaches streamed up over Duncton Hill and wound down the Midhurst Road to pleasant Charlton, with its cottages and gardens of flowers. Martin Hillyard went too.
As he walked away from Captain Graham's eyrie he met Sir Chichester Splay in Pall Mall.
"Where have you been these eight months?" inquired Sir Chichester. "'The Dark Tower' is still running, I see. A good play, Mr. Hillyard."
"But not a great play, of course," said Martin, his lips twitching to a smile.
"I have been looking for you everywhere," remarked Sir Chichester. "You must stay with us for Goodwood. My wife will never forgive me if I don't secure you."
Hillyard gladly consented. It would be his first visit to the high racecourse on the downs—and—and he might find Stella Croyle among the company. It would be a little easier for him and for her too, if they met this second time in a house of many visitors. He had no comfortable news to give to her, and he had shrunk from seeking her out in the Bayswater Road. Wrap the truth in words however careful, he could not but wound her. Yet sooner or later she must hear of his return, and avoidance of her would but tell the story more cruelly than his lips.
"Yes, I will gladly come," he said, "if I may come down on the first day."
He was delayed in London until midday, and so motored after luncheon through Guildford and Chiddingfold and Petworth to Rackham Park. The park ran down to the Midhurst Road, and when Hillyard was shown into the drawing-room he walked across to the window and looked out over a valley of fields and hedges and low, dark ridges to the downs lying blue in the sunlight and the black forests on their slopes.
From an embrasure a girl rose with a book in her hand.
"Let me introduce myself, Mr. Hillyard. I am Joan Whitworth, and make my home here with my aunt. They are all at Goodwood, of course, but they should be back at any moment."
She rang the bell and ordered tea. Somewhere Hillyard realised he had seen the girl before. She was about eighteen years old, he guessed, very pretty, with a wealth of fair hair deepening into brown, dark blue eyes shaded with long dark lashes and a colour of health abloom in her cheeks.
"You have been in Egypt, uncle tells me."
"In the Sudan," Hillyard corrected. "I have been shooting for eight months."
Joan Whitworth's eyes were turned on him in frank disappointment. "The author of 'The Dark Tower'—shooting!"
There was more than disappointment in her voice. There was a hint of disdain.
Hillyard did not pursue the argument.
"I knew that I had seen you before. I remember where now. You were with Sir Chichester at the first performance of 'The Dark Tower.' I peeped out behind the curtain of my box and saw you."
Joan's face relaxed.
"Oh, yes, I was there."
"But——" Hillyard began, and caught himself up. He had been on the point of saying that she had a very different aspect in the stalls of the Rubicon Theatre. But he looked her up and down and held his peace. Yet what he did substitute left him in no better case.
"So you have not gone to the races," he said, and once more her lip curled in disdain. She drew herself up to her full height—she was not naturally small, but a good honest piece of English maidenhood.
"Do I look as if I were likely to go to the races?" she asked superbly.
She was dressed in a sort of shapeless flowing gown, saffron in colour, and of a material which, to Hillyard's inexperienced eye, seemed canvas. It spread about her on the ground, and it was high at the throat. A broad starched white collar, like an Eton boy's, surmounted it, and a little black tie was fastened in a bow, and scarves floated untidily around her.
"No, upon my word you do not," cried Hillyard, nettled at last by her haughtiness, and with such a fervour of agreement, that suddenly all her youth rose into Joan Whitworth's face and got the better of her pose. She laughed aloud, frankly, deliciously. And her laugh was still rippling about the room when motor-horns hooted upon the drive.
At once the laughter vanished.
"We shall be amongst horses in a minute," she observed with a sigh. "I can smell the stables already," and she retired to her book in the embrasure of the window.
A joyous and noisy company burst into the room. Sir Chichester, with larger mother-of-pearl buttons on his fawn-coloured overcoat than ever decorated even a welshing bookmaker on Brighton Downs, led Hillyard up to Lady Splay.
"My wife. Millie, Mr. Hillyard."
Hints of Lady Splay's passion for the last new person had prepared Hillyard for a lady at once gushing and talkative. He was surprised to find himself shaking hands with a pleasant, unassuming woman of distinct good looks. Hillyard was presented to Dennis and Miranda Brown, a young couple two years married, and to Mr. Harold Jupp, a man of Hillyard's age. Harold Jupp was a queer-looking person with a long, thin, brown face, and a straight, wide mouth too close to a small pointed chin. Harold Jupp carried about with him a very aura of horses. Horses were his only analogy; he thought in terms of horses; and perhaps, as a consequence, although he could give no reasons for his judgments upon people, those judgments as a rule were conspicuously sound. Jupp shook hands with Hillyard, and turned to the student at the window.
"Well, Joan, how have you lived without us? Aren't you bored with your large, beautiful self?"
Joan looked at him with an annihilating glance, and crossed the room to Millie Splay.
"Bored! How could I be? When I have so many priceless wasted hours to make up for!"
"Yes, yes, my dear," said Millie Splay soothingly. "Come and have some tea."
"That's it, Joan," cried Jupp, unrepressed by the girl's contempt. "Come and have tea with the barbarians."
Joan addressed herself to Dennis Brown, as one condescending from Olympus.
"I hope you had a good day."
"Awful," Dennis Brown admitted. "We ought to have had five nice wins on form. But they weren't trying, Joan. The way Camomile was pulled. I expected to see his neck shut up like a concertina."
"Never mind, boys," said Sir Chichester. "You'll get it back before Friday."
Harold Jupp shook his head doubtfully.
"Never sure about flat-racing. Jumping's the only thing for the poor and honest backer."
Joan Wentworth looked about her regretfully.
"I understand now why you have all come back so early."
Miranda Brown ran impulsively to her. She was as pretty as a picture, and spoke as a rule in a series of charming explosions. At this moment she was deeply wronged.
"Yes, Joan," she cried. "They would go! And I know that I have backed the winner for the last race."
Dennis Brown contemplated his wife with amazement.
"Miranda, you are crazy," he cried. "He can't win."
Harold Jupp agreed regretfully.
"He's a Plater. That's the truth. A harmless, unnecessary Plater. I sit at the feet of Miranda Brown, Joan, but as regards horses, she doesn't know salt from sugar."
Miranda looked calmly at her watch.
"He has already won."
Tea was brought in and consumed. At the end of it Dennis Brown observed to Harold Jupp:
"We ought to arrange what we are going to do to-morrow."
Both men rose, and each drew from one pocket a programme of the next day's events, and from the other a little paper-covered volume called "Form at a Glance." Armed with their paraphernalia, they retired to a table in a window.
"Come and live the higher life with us, Joan," cried Harold Jupp. "What are you reading?"
"Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society," Joan returned icily. But pride burned through the ice, and was audible.
"He sounds just like a Plater," replied Harold Jupp.
Meanwhile Dennis Brown was immersed in his programme.
"The first race is too easy," he announced.
"Yes," said Jupp. "It's sticking out a foot. Peppercorn."
Dennis Brown stared at his friend.
"Don't be silly! Simon Jackson will romp home."
Harold Jupp consulted his little brown book.
"Peppercorn ran second to Petronella at Newbury, giving her nine pounds. Petronella met Simon Jackson at even weights at Newcastle, and Simon Jackson was left in the country. Peppercorn must win."
"Let us hear the names of the others," interrupted Miranda, running up to the table.
Harold Jupp read out the names.
"Smoky Boy, Paper Crown, House on Fire, Jemima Puddleduck——" and Miranda clapped her hands.
"Jemima Puddleduck's going to win."
Both the young men stared at her, then both plunged their noses into their books.
"Jemima Puddleduck," Dennis Brown read, "out of Side Springs, by the Quack."
"Oh, what a pedigree!" cried Miranda. "She must win."
Jupp wrinkled his forehead.
"But she's done nothing. Why must she win?" asked Dennis.
Miranda shrugged her shoulders at the ineffable stupidity of the young man with whom she was linked.
"Listen to her name! Jemima Puddleduck! She can't lose!"
Both the young men dropped their books and gazed at one another hopelessly. Here was the whole scientific business of spotting winners, through research into pedigrees, weights, records, the favourite distances and race courses of this or that runner, so completely disregarded that racing might really be a matter of chance.
"I'll tell you, Miranda," said Harold Jupp. "Jemima Puddleduck's a Plater."
The awful condemnation had no sooner been pronounced than the butler, with his attendant footman, appeared to remove the tea.
"We have just heard over the telephone, sir," he said to Sir Chichester, "the winner of the last race."
"Oh!" cried Miranda breathlessly. "Which was it?"
Miranda swept round to her husband, radiant. "There, what did I tell you? Chewing Gum. What were the odds, Harper?" She turned again to the butler. "Oh, you do know, don't you?"
"Yes, madam, twelve to one. They say he rolled home."
Miranda Brown jumped in the air.
"Oh, I have won a hundred and twenty pounds."
Harold Jupp was sympathetic and consolatory.
"Of course it's a mistake, Miranda. I am awfully sorry! Chewing Gum ran nowhere to Earthly Paradise in the Newberry Stakes this year, and Earthly Paradise, all out to win, was beaten a month ago by seven lengths at Warwick, by Rollicking Lady. And Rollicking Lady was in this race too. So you see it's impossible. Chewing Gum's a Plater."
Miranda wrung her hands.
"But, Harold, he did win; didn't he, Harper?"
"There's no doubt about it, madam," replied the butler with dignity. "I 'av verified the hinformation from other sources."
He left the two experts blinking. Dennis was the first to recover from the blow.
"What on earth made you back him, Miranda?"
Miranda sailed to the side of Joan Whitworth.
"You are both of you so very unpleasant that I am seriously inclined not to tell you. But I always back horses with the names of things to eat."
The two scientists were dumb. They stared open-mouthed. Somewhere, it seemed, a religion tottered upon its foundations. Sacrilege itself could hardly have gone further than Miranda Brown had gone.
"But—but," Harold Jupp stammered feebly, "you don't eat chewing gum."
Miranda flattened him out with a question.
"What becomes of it, then?" and there was no answer. But Miranda was not content with her triumph. She must needs carry the war unwisely into the enemy's camp.
"After all, what in the world can have possessed you, Dennis, to back a silly old mare like Barmaid?"
Dennis Brown saw his opportunity.
"I always back horses with the names of things to kiss," he declared.
Jupp laughed aloud; Sir Chichester chuckled; Miranda looked as haughty as good-humour and a dainty personality enabled her to do.
"Vulgar, don't you think?" she asked of Joan. "But racing men are vulgar. Oh, Joan! have you thought out your book to-day? Can you now begin to write it? Will you write it in the window, with the South Downs in front of your eyes? Oh, it'll be wonderful!"
"What ho!" cried Mr. Jupp. "Miranda has joined the highbrows."
Dennis Brown was too seriously occupied to waste his time upon Miranda's enthusiasms.
"It's a pity we can't get the evening papers," he said gloomily. "I should dearly like to see the London forecasts for to-morrow."
"I brought some evening papers down with me," said Hillyard, and "Did you?" cried Sir Chichester, and his eyes flashed with interest. But Harold Jupp was already out of the room. He came back from the hall with a bundle of newspapers in his hands, pink and white and yellow and green. He carried them all relentlessly past Sir Chichester to the table in the window. Sir Chichester to a newspaper, was a needle to a magnet; and while Dennis Brown read out the selections for the morrow's races of "The Man of Iron" in the Evening Patriot, and "Hitchy Koo" in The Lamppost, Sir Chichester edged nearer and nearer.
Lady Splay invited Hillyard to play croquet with her in the garden; and half-way through the game Hillyard approached the question which troubled him.
"I was wondering whether I should meet Mrs. Croyle here."
Millicent Splay drove her ball before she answered, and missed her hoop.
"What a bore!" she cried. "Now I shall have to come back again. I didn't know that you had met Stella."
"I met her only once. I liked her."
Millie Splay nodded.
"I am glad. There's always a room here for Stella. I told her so immediately after I met her, and she took me at my word, as I meant her to do. But she avoids Goodwood week and festivals generally, and she is wise. For though I would take her anywhere myself, you know what long memories people have for other people's sins. There might be humiliations."
"I understand that," said Hillyard, and he added, "I gathered from Mrs. Croyle that you had remained a very staunch friend."
Millie Splay shrugged her shoulders.
"I am a middle-aged woman with a middle-aged woman's comprehension. There are heaps of things I loathe more and more each day, meanness, for instance, and an evil tongue. But, for the other sins, more and more I see the case for compassion. Stella was hungry of heart, and she let the hunger take her. She had her blind, wild hour or two; she was a fool; she was—well, everything the moralists choose to call her. But she has been paying for her hour ever since, and will go on paying. Now, if I can only hit your yellow ball from here, I shall have rather a good game on."
Lady Splay succeeded and, carrying the four croquet balls with her, went round the rest of the hoops and pegged out.
"I must go in and change," she said, and suddenly, in a voice of melancholy, she cried, "Oh, I do wish——" and stopped.
"Oh, it doesn't matter," she answered. But her eyes were upon the window, where Joan Whitworth stood in full view in all her disfiguring panoply. Lady Splay wrung her hands helplessly. "Oh, dear, dear, if she weren't so thorough!" she moaned.
When they returned into the drawing-room, Sir Chichester was still standing near to Harold Jupp and Dennis Brown, shifting from one foot to another, and making little inarticulate sounds in his throat.
"Haven't you two finished yet?" asked Millicent Splay.
"Just," said Dennis Brown, rubbing his hands together with a laugh, "and we ought to have four nice wins to-morrow."
"Good!" said Sir Chichester. "Then might I have a newspaper?"
"But of course," said Dennis Brown, and he handed one over the table to him. "You haven't been waiting for it all this time, Sir Chichester?"
"Oh no, no, no," exclaimed Sir Chichester, quickly. He glanced with a swift and experienced eye down the columns, and tossed the paper aside.
"Might I have another?"
"But of course, sir."
The second paper was disposed of as rapidly as the first, and the others followed in their turn.
"Nothing in them," said Sir Chichester with a resigned air. "Nothing in them at all."
Millie Splay laughed.
"All that my husband means is that his name is not to be found in any one of them."
"The occurrence seems so rare that he has no great reason to complain," said Hillyard; and, in order to assuage any disappointment which might still be rankling in the baronet's bosom, Hillyard related at the dinner-table, with the necessary discretions, his election to the mess at Senga.
Sir Chichester was elated. "So far away my name is known! Really, that is very pleasant hearing!"
There was no offence to him in the reason of his honorary membership of the Senga mess, which, however carefully Hillyard sought to hide it, could not but peep out. Sir Chichester neither harboured illusions himself as to his importance nor sought to foster them in others. There was none of the "How do these things get into the papers?" about him.
"I am not a public character. So I have to take trouble to keep myself in print. And I do—a deuce of a lot of trouble."
"Now, why?" asked Harold Jupp, who possessed an inquiring mind and was never satisfied by anything but the most definite statements.
"Because I like it," replied Sir Chichester. "I am used to it, and I like it. Unless I see my name in real print every morning, I have all day the uncomfortable sensation that I am not properly dressed."
Millie Splay and the others round the table, with the exception of one person, laughed. To that one person, Sir Chichester here turned good-humouredly:
"All right, you can turn your nose up, Joan. It seems extraordinary to you that I should like to see my name in print. I can tell you something more extraordinary than that. The public likes it too. Just because I am not a public character, every reference to me must be of an exclusively personal kind. And that's just the sort of reference which the public eats. It is much more thrilled by the simple announcement that a Sir Chichester Splay, of whom it has never heard, has bought a new pair of purple socks with white stripes than it would be by a full account of a Cabinet crisis."
Once more the company laughed at Sir Chichester's apology for his foible.
Lady Splay turned to Hillyard.
"And who is the ingenious man who discovered this way of keeping the peace at Senga?"
Hillyard suddenly hesitated.
"A great friend of mine," he answered with his eyes on Millie Splay's face. "He was with me at Oxford. A Captain Luttrell."
But it was clear almost at once that the name had no associations in Lady Splay's mind. She preferred to entertain her friends in the country than to live in town. She knew little of what gossip might run the streets of London; and since Luttrell was, as yet, like Sir Chichester, in that he was not a public character, there had been no wide-run gossip about Stella Croyle or himself which Millicent Splay was likely to meet.
Hillyard thought at first, that with a woman's self-control she turned a blank face to him of a set purpose. But one little movement of hers reassured him. Her eyes turned towards Joan Whitworth, as though asking whether this Harry Luttrell was a match for her, and she said:
"You must bring your friend down to see us, when he comes back to England. We are almost acquainted as it is."
No! Millicent Splay did not connect Harry Luttrell with Stella Croyle. It would have been better if Hillyard, that very night, had enlightened her. But he was neither a gossip nor a meddler. It was not possible that he should.
It is curious to recollect how smoothly the surface water ran during that last week of peace. Debates there were, of course, and much argument across the table. It was recognised that great changes, social, economic, military, would come and great adaptations have to be made. But, meanwhile, to use the phrase which was soon to be familiar in half a million mouths, people carried on. The Brown couple, for instance. Each morning they set out gaily, certain of three or four nice wins; each evening they returned after a day which was "simply awful." Harold Jupp was at hand with his unfailing remedy.
"We'll go jumping in the winter and get it all back easily. Flat racing's no good for the poor. The Lords don't come jumping."
Joan Whitworth carried on too, in her sackcloth and sashes. She was moved by the enthusiastic explosions of Miranda Brown to reveal some details of the great novel which was then in the process of incubation.
"She insists on being married in a violet dress," said Joan, "with the organ playing the 'Funeral March of a Marionette.'"
"Oh, isn't that thrilling!" cried Miranda.
"But why does she insist upon these unusual arrangements?" asked Harold Jupp.
Joan brushed his question aside.
"It was symbolical of her."
"Yes. Linda would have done that," said Miranda. "I suppose her marriage turns out very unhappily?"
"It had to," said Joan, quite despondent over this unalterable necessity.
"Now, why?" asked Jupp in a perplexity.
"Her husband never understood her."
"What ho!" cried Dennis Brown, looking up from his scientific researches into "Form at a Glance."
"I expect that he talked racing all day," said Miranda.
Dennis Brown treated the rejoinder with contempt. His eyes were fixed sympathetically on the young writer-to-be.
"I hate crabbing any serious effort to elevate us, Joan, but, honestly, doesn't it all sound a little conventional?"
He could have used no epithet more deplorable. Joan shot at him one annihilating glance. Miranda bubbled with indignation.
"Don't notice them, Joan dear! They don't know the meaning of words. They are ribald, uneducated people. You call your heroine Linda? Linda—what?"
Mr. Jupp supplied a name.
"Linda Spavinsky," said he. "She comes of the ancient Scottish family of that name."
"Pig! O pig!" cried Joan, routed at last from her superior serenity; and a second afterwards her eyes danced and with a flash of sound white teeth she broke into honest laughter. She did her best to suppress her sense of fun, but it would get the better of her from time to time.
This onslaught upon Joan Whitworth took place on the Wednesday evening. Sir Chichester came into the room as it ended, with a telegram in his hand.
"Mario Escobar wires, Millie, that he is held up in London by press of work and will only be able to run down here on Friday for the night."
Hillyard looked up.
"Do you know him?" asked Millie Splay.
"Slightly," answered Hillyard. "Press of work! What does he do?"
"Runs about with the girls," said Dennis Brown.
Sir Chichester Splay would not have the explanation.
"Nonsense, my dear Dennis, nonsense, nonsense! He has a great many social engagements of the most desirable kind. He is, I believe, interested in some shipping firms."
"I like him," said Millie Splay.
"And so do I," added Joan, "very much indeed." The statement was defiantly thrown at Harold Jupp.
"I think he is charming," said Miranda.
Harold Jupp looked from one to the other.
"That seems to settle it, doesn't it? But——"
"But what?" asked Sir Chichester.
"Need we listen to the ridiculous exhibitions of male jealousy?" Miranda asked plaintively.
"But," Harold Jupp repeated firmly, "I do like a man to have another address besides his club. Now, I will lay a nice five to one that no one in this room knows where Mario Escobar goes when he goes home."
A moment's silence followed upon Harold Jupp's challenge. To the men, the point had its importance. The women did not appreciate the importance, but they recognised that their own menfolk did, and they did not interrupt.
"It's true," said Sir Chichester, "I always hear from him with his club as his address. But it simply means that he lives at an hotel and is not sure that he will remain on."
Thus the little things of every day occupied the foreground of Rackham Park. Millicent Splay had her worries of which Joan Whitworth was the cause. She loved Joan; she was annoyed with Joan; she admired Joan; she was amused at Joan; and she herself could never have told you which of these four emotions had the upper hand. So inextricably were they intermingled.
She poured them out to Martin Hillyard, as they drove through the Park at Midhurst on the Thursday morning.
"What do you think of Joan?" she asked. "She is beautiful, isn't she, with that mass of golden hair and her eyes?"
"Yes, she is," answered Hillyard.
"And what a fright she is making of herself! She isn't dressed at all, is she? She is just—protected by her clothes."
Hillyard laughed and Millicent Splay sighed. "And I did hope she would have got over it all by Goodwood. But no! Really I could slap her. But I might have known! Joan never does things by halves."
"She seems thorough," said Hillyard, although he remembered, with some doubts as to the truth of his comment, moments now and again when more primitive impulses had bubbled up in Joan Whitworth.
"Thorough! Yes, that's the word. Oh, Mr. Hillyard, there was a time when she really dressed—dressed, you understand. My word, she was thorough then, too. I remember coming out of the Albert Hall on a Melba afternoon, when we could get nothing but a hansom cab, and a policeman actually had to lift her up into it like a big baby because her skirt was so tight. And look at her now!"
Millicent Splay thumped the side of the car in her vexation.
"But you mustn't think she's a fool." Lady Splay turned menacingly on the silent Hillyard.
"But I don't," he protested.
"That's the last thing to say about her."
"I never said it," declared Martin Hillyard.
"I should have lost my faith in you, if you had," rejoined Millicent Splay, even now hardly mollified.
But she could not avoid the subject. Here was a new-comer to Rackham Park. She could not bear that he should carry away a wrong impression of her darling.
"I'll tell you the truth about Joan. She has lived her sheltered life with us, and no real things have yet come near her. No real troubles, no deep joys. Her parents even died when she was too young to know them. But she is eighteen and alive to her finger-tips. Therefore she's—expectant."
"Yes," Hillyard agreed.
"She is searching for the meaning, for the secrets of life, sure that there is a meaning, sure that there are secrets, if only she could get hold of them. But she hasn't got hold of them. She runs here. She runs there. She explores, she experiments. That's why she's dressed like a tramp and thinking out a book where the heroine gets married to the Funeral March of a Marionette. Oh, my dear person, it just means, as it always means with us poor creatures, that the right man hasn't come along."
Millie Splay leaned back in her seat.
"When he does!" she cried. "When he does! Did you see the magnolia this morning? It burst into flower during the night. Joan! I thought once that it might be Harold Jupp. But it isn't."
Lady Splay spoke with discouragement. She had the matchmaking fever in her blood. Martin Hillyard remembered her glance when he had casually spoken of Harry Luttrell. Then she startled him with words which he was never to forget, and in which he chose to find a real profundity.
"The right man has not come along. So Joan mistakes anything odd for something great, and thinks that to be unusual is to be strong. It's a mood of young people who have not yet waked up."
They drove to the private stand and walked through into the paddock. Millie Splay looked round at the gay and brilliant throng. She sighed.
"There she is, moping in the drawing-room over Prince Hohenstiel—whatever his name is. She won't come to Goodwood. No, she just won't."
Yet Joan Whitworth did come to Goodwood that year, though not upon this day.
No one in that household had read the newspapers so carefully each day as Martin Hillyard. As the prospect darkened each morning, he was in a distress lest a letter should not have been forwarded from his flat in London, or should have been lost in the post. Each evening when the party returned from the races his first question asked whether there was no telegram awaiting him. So regular and urgent were his inquiries that the house-party could not be ignorant of his preoccupation. And on the afternoon of the Thursday a telegram in its orange envelope was lying upon the hall-table.
"It's for you, Mr. Hillyard," said Lady Splay.
Hillyard held it in his hands. So the summons had come, the summons hoped for, despaired of, made so often into a whip wherewith he lashed his arrogance, the summons to serve.
"I shall have to go up to town this evening," he said.
Anxious faces gathered about him.
"Oh, don't do that!" said Harold Jupp. "We have just got to like you."
"Yes, wait until to-morrow, my dear boy," Sir Chichester suggested. Even Joan Whitworth descended to earth and requested that he should stay.
"It's awfully kind of you," stammered Martin. "But I am afraid that this is very important."
Lady Splay was practical.
"Hadn't you better see first?" she asked.
Hillyard, with his thoughts playing swiftly in the future like a rapier, was still standing stock-still with the unopened telegram in his hand.
"Of course," he said. "But I know already what it is."
The anxious little circle closed nearer as he tore open the envelope. He read:
"I have refused the Duke. Money is cash—I mean trash. Little one I am yours.—LINDA SPAVINSKY."
The telegram had been sent that afternoon from Chichester.
Hillyard gazed around at the serious faces which hemmed him in. It became a contest as to whose face should hold firm longest. Joan herself was the first to flee, and she was found rocking to and fro in silent laughter in a corner of the library. Then Hillyard himself burst into a roar.
"I bought that fairly," he admitted, and he went up several points in the estimation of them all.
The last day of the races came—all sunshine and hot summer; lights and shadows chasing across the downs, the black slopes of Charlton forest on the one side, parks and green fields and old brown houses, sloping to the silver Solent, upon the other; and in the centre of the plain, by Bosham water, the spire of Chichester Cathedral piercing the golden air. Paddock and lawn and the stands were filled until about two in the afternoon. Then the gaps began to show to those who were concerned to watch. Especially about the oval railings in the paddock, within which, dainty as cats and with sleek shining skins, the racehorses stepped, the crowd grew thin. And in a few moments, the word had run round like fire, "The officers had gone."
Hillyard stood reflecting upon the stupendous fact. Never had he so bitterly regretted that physical disqualification which banned him from their company. Never had he so envied Luttrell. He was in the uttermost depression when a small, brown-gloved hand touched his arm. He turned and saw Joan Whitworth at his side, her lovely face alive with excitement, her eyes most friendly. It was hardly at all the Joan he knew. Joan had courage, but to face Goodwood in the clothes she affected at Rackham Park was beyond it. From her grey silk stockings and suede shoes to the little smart blue hat which sat so prettily on her hair, she was, as Millicent Splay would have admitted, really dressed.
"There is a real telegram for you," she said. She held it out to him enclosed in an envelope which had been already opened.
"Please come to see me—Graham," he read, and the actual receipt of the message stirred within him such a whirl of emotion that, for a moment or two, Joan Whitworth spoke and he was not aware of it. Suddenly, however, he understood that she was speaking words of importance.
"I hope I did right to open it," she said. "Colonel Brockley rode over this morning to tell us that his son had been recalled to his battalion by a telegram. I knew you were expecting one. When this one came, I thought that it might be important and that you ought to have it at once. On the other hand it might be another telegram," and her face dimpled into smiles, "from Linda Spavinsky. I didn't know what to do about it. But Mario Escobar was quite certain that I ought to open it."
"Mario Escobar?" cried Hillyard.
"Yes. He had just arrived. He was quite certain that we ought to open it, so we did."
"We?" A note of regret in his voice made her ask anxiously:
"Was I wrong?"
Hillyard hastened to reassure her.
"Not a bit. Of course you were quite right, and I am very grateful."
Joan's face cleared again.
"You see, I thought that if it was important I could bring it over and drive you back again."
"Will you?" Hillyard asked eagerly. "But now you are here you ought to stay."
Joan would not hear of the proposal, and Hillyard himself was in a fever to be off. They found Sir Chichester and his wife in the paddock, and Hillyard wished his hosts good-bye. Mario Escobar, who had driven over with Joan Whitworth, was talking to them. Escobar turned to Martin Hillyard.
"We met at Sir Charles Hardiman's supper party. You have not forgotten? You are off? A new play, I hope, to go into rehearsal."
He smiled and bowed, and waved his hands. Hillyard went away with Joan Whitworth and mounted beside her into a little two-seated car which she had been accustomed to drive in her unregenerate days. She had not forgotten her skill, and she sent the little car spinning up and down the road into the hills. It was an afternoon of blue and gold, with the larks singing out of sight in the sky. The road wound up and down, dark hedges on one side, fields yellow with young wheat upon the other, and the scent of the briar-rose in the air. Joan said very little, and Hillyard was content to watch her as she drove, the curls blowing about her ears and her hands steady and sure upon the wheel as she swung the car round the corners and folds of the hills. Once she asked of him:
"Are you glad to go?"
He made no pretence of misunderstanding her.
"Very," he answered. "If the great trial is coming, I want to fall back into the rank and file. Pushing and splashing is for peace times."
"Oh, I understand that!" she cried.
These were the young days. The jealousies of Departments, the intrigues to pull this man down and put that man up, not because of his capacity or failure, but because he fitted or did not fit the inner politics of the Office, the capture of honours by the stay-at-homes—all the little miseries and horrors that from time immemorial have disfigured the management of wars—they lay in the future. With millions of people, as with this couple speeding among the uplands, the one thought was—the great test is at hand.
"You go up to London to-night, and it may be a long while before we see you," said Joan. She brought the car to a halt on the edge of Duncton Hill. "Look for luck and for memory at the Weald of Sussex," she cried with a little catch in her throat.
Fields and great trees, and here and there the white smoke of a passing train and beyond the Blackdown and the misty slopes of Leith Hill—Hillyard was never to forget it, neither that scene nor the eager face and shining eyes of Joan Whitworth against the blue and gold of the summer afternoon.
"You will remember that you have friends here, who will be glad to hear news of you," she said, and she threw in the clutch and started the car down the hill.
STELLA RUNS TO EARTH
"You have been back in England long?" asked Stella Croyle.
"A little while," said Hillyard evasively.
It was the first week of September. But since his return from Rackham Park to London his days had been passed in the examination of files of documents; and what little time he had enjoyed free from that labour had been given to quiet preparations for his departure.
"You might have come to see me," Stella Croyle suggested. "You knew that I wished to see you."
"Yes, but I have been very busy," he answered. "I am going away."
Stella Croyle looked at him curiously.
"You too! You have joined up?"
Hillyard shook his head.
"No good," he answered. "I told you my lungs were my weak point. I am turned down—and I am going abroad. It's not very pleasant to find oneself staying on in London, going to a little dinner party here and there where all the men are oldish, when all of one's friends have gone."
Stella Croyle's face and voice softened.
"Yes. I can understand that," she said.
Hillyard watched her narrowly, but there was no doubt that she was sincere. She had received him with an air of grievance, and a hard accent in her voice. But she was entering now into a comprehension of the regrets which must be troubling him.
"I am sorry," she continued. "I never cared very much for women. I have very few friends amongst them. And so I am losing—every one." She held out her hand to him in sympathy. "But if I were a man and had been turned down by the doctors, I don't think that I could stay. I should go like you and hide."
She smiled and poured out two cups of tea.
"That is a habit of yours, even though you are not a man," Hillyard replied.
"What do you mean?"
"You run away and hide."
Stella looked at her visitor in surprise.
"Who told you that?"
"Sir Charles Hardiman."
Stella Croyle was silent for a few moments.
"Yes, that's true," and she laughed suddenly. "When things go wrong, I become rather impossible. I have often made up my mind to live entirely in the country, but I never carry the plan out."
She let Hillyard drink his tea and light a cigarette before she approached the question which was torturing her.
"You had a good time in the Sudan!" she began. "Lots of heads?"
"Yes. I had a perfect time."
"And your friend? Captain Luttrell. Did you meet him?"
Hillyard had pondered on the answer which he would give to her when she asked that question. If he answered, "Yes,"—why, then he must go on, he must tell her something of what passed between Luttrell and himself, how he delivered his message and what answer he received. Let him wrap that answer up in words, however delicate and vague, she would see straight to the answer. Her heart would lead her there. To plead forgetfulness would be merely to acknowledge that he slighted her; and she would not believe him. So he lied.
"No. I never met Luttrell. He was away down in Khordofan when I was on the White Nile."
Stella Croyle had turned a little away from Hillyard when she put the question; and she sat now with her face averted for a long while. Nothing broke the silence but the ticking of the clock.
"I am sorry," said Hillyard.
No doubt her disappointment was bitter. She had counted very much, no doubt, on this chance of the two men meeting; on her message reaching her lover, and a "little word" now and again from him coming to her hands. Some morning she would wake up and find an envelope in the familiar writing waiting upon the tray beside her tea—that, no doubt, had been the hope which she had lived on this many a day. Hillyard was not fool enough to hold that he understood either the conclusions at which women arrived, or the emotions by which they jumped to them. But he attributed these hopes and thoughts with some confidence to Stella Croyle—until she turned and showed him her face. The sympathy and gentleness had gone from it. She was white with passion and her eyes blazed.
"Why do you lie to me?" she cried. "I met Harry this morning."
Hillyard was more startled by the news of Luttrell's presence in London than confused by the detection of his lie.
"Harry Luttrell!" he exclaimed. "You are sure? He is in England?"
"Yes. I met him in Piccadilly outside Jerningham's"—she mentioned the great outfitters and provision merchants—"he told me that he had run across you in the Sudan. What made you say that you hadn't?"
Hillyard was taken at a loss.
"Well?" she insisted.
Hillyard could see no escape except by the way of absolute frankness.
"Because I gave him your message, Mrs. Croyle," he replied slowly, "and I judged that he was not going to answer it."
Stella Croyle was inclined to think that the world was banded against her, to deceive her and to do her harm. They had all been engaged, Hardiman and the rest of them, in keeping Harry Luttrell away from her: in defending him, whether he wished it or not, from the wiles of the enchantress. Stella Croyle was quick enough in the up-take where her wounded heart was not concerned, but she was never very clear in any judgment which affected Harry Luttrell. Passion and disappointment and hope drew veils between the truth and her, and she dived below the plain reason to this or that far-fetched notion for the springs of his conduct. Almost she had persuaded herself that Harry Luttrell, by the powerful influence of friends, was being kept against his will from her side. Her anger against Hillyard had sprung, not from the mere fact that he had lied to her, but from her fancy that he had joined the imaginary band of her enemies. She understood now that in this she had been wrong.
"I see," she said gently. "It was to spare me pain?"
Suddenly Stella Croyle laughed—and with triumph. She showed to Hillyard a face from which all the anger had gone.
"You need not have been so anxious to spare me. Harry is coming here this afternoon."
She saw the incredulity flicker in Hillyard's eyes, but she did not mind.
"Yes," she asserted. "He goes down this evening to a camp in the New Forest where his battalion is waiting to go to France. He starts at six from Waterloo. He promised to run in here first."
Hillyard looked at the clock. It was already half-past four. He had not the faintest hope that Luttrell would come. Stella had no doubt pressed him to come. She had probably been a little importunate. Luttrell's promise was an excuse, just an excuse to be rid of her—nothing more.
"Luttrell has probably a great deal to do on this last afternoon," he suggested.
"Of course, he won't be able to stay long," Stella Croyle agreed. "Still, five minutes are worth a good deal, aren't they, if you have waited for them two years?"
She was impenetrable in her confidence. It clothed her about like armour. Not for a moment would she doubt—she dared not! Harry was coming back to the house that afternoon. Would he break something—some little china ornament upon the mantel-shelf? He generally knocked over something. What would it be to-day, the mandarin with the nodding head, or the funny little pot-bellied dwarf which she had picked up at Christie's the day before? Stella smiled delightedly as she selected this and that of her little treasures for destruction. Oh, to-day Harry Luttrell could sweep every glass or porcelain trinket she possessed into the grate—when once he had passed through the doorway—when once again he stood within her room. She sat with folded hands, hope like a rose in her heart, sure of him, so sure of him that she did not even watch the hands of her clock.
But the hands moved on.
"I will stay, if I may," said Hillyard uncomfortably. "I will go, of course, when——" and he could not bring himself to complete the sentence.
Stella, however, added the words, though in a quieter voice and with less triumph than she had used before.
"When he comes. Yes, do stay. I shall be glad."
Slowly the day drew in. The sunlight died away from the trees in the park. In the tiny garden great shadows fell. The dusk gathered and Hillyard and Stella Croyle sat without a word in the darkening room. But Stella had lost her pride of carriage. On the mantelpiece the clock struck the hour—six little tinkling silvery strokes. At that moment a guard was blowing his whistle on a platform of Waterloo and a train beginning slowly to move.
"He will have missed his train," said Stella in an unhappy whisper. "He will be here later."
"My dear," replied Hillyard, and leaning forward he took and gently shook her hand. "Soldiers don't miss their trains."
Stella did not answer. She sat on until the lamps were lit in the streets outside and in this room the dusk had changed to black night.
"No, he will not come," she said at last, in a low wail of anguish. She rose and turned to Hillyard. Her face glimmered against the darkness deathly white and her eyes shone with sorrow.
"It was kind and wise of you to wish to spare me," she said. "Oh, I can picture to myself how coldly he heard you. He never meant to come here this afternoon."
Stella Croyle was wrong, just as Hillyard had been. Harry Luttrell had meant to pay his farewell visit to Stella Croyle, knowing well that he was unlikely ever to come back, and understanding that he owed her it. But an incident drove the whole matter from his thoughts, and the incident was just one instance to show how wide a gulf now separated these two.
He had called at a nursing home close to Portland Place where a Colonel Oakley lay dying of a malignant disease. Oakley had been the chief spirit of reviving the moral and the confidence of the disgraced Clayfords. He had laboured unflinchingly to restore its discipline, to weld it into one mind, with dishonour to redeem, and a single arm to redeem it. He had lived for nothing else—until the internal trouble laid him aside. Luttrell called at half-past three to tell him that all was well with his old battalion, and was met by a nurse who shook her head.
"The last two days he has been lying, except for a minute here and there, in a coma. You may see him if you like, but it is a question of hours."
Luttrell went into the bedroom where the sick man lay, so thin of face and hand, so bloodless. But it seemed that the Fates wished to deal the Colonel one last ironic stroke, before they let him die. For, while Luttrell yet stood in the room, Colonel Oakley's eyes opened. This last moment of consciousness was his, the very last; and while it still endured, suddenly, down Portland Place, with its drums beating, its soldiers singing, marched a battalion. The song and the music swelled, the tramp of young, active, vigorous soldiers echoed and reached down the quiet street. Colonel Oakley turned his face to his pillow and burst into tears; the bitterness of death was given him to drink in overflowing measure. It seemed as though a jibe was flung at him.
The tramp of the battalion had not yet died away when Oakley sank again into unconsciousness.
"It was pretty rough that he should just wake up to hear that and to know that he would never have part in it, eh?" said Luttrell, speaking in a low voice more to himself than to the nurse. "What he did for us! Pretty hard treatment, eh?"