A. E. W. Mason
Part 4 out of 5
Garratt Skinner? That was the mystery. But he must unravel it without
doing any hurt to Sylvia. He could not go too warily--of that he had been
sure, ever since Kenyon had refused to speak of it. There might be some
hidden thing which for Sylvia's sake must not be brought to light.
Therefore he must find out the truth without help from any one. He
wondered whether unconsciously Sylvia herself was going to give him the
clue. Was she to tell him what she did not know herself--why Gabriel
Strood was now Garratt Skinner? "Well?" he repeated.
"As we continued up the hill," she resumed, "my father cut up the tobacco
into small pieces with his pocket knife. 'Why are you doing that?' I
asked, and he laughed and said, 'Wait, you will see.' At the top of the
hill we got out of the carriage and walked across the open plateau. In
front of us, rising high above a little village, stood out a hideous
white building. My father asked if I knew what it was. I said I guessed."
"It was the prison," Chayne interrupted, quickly.
"You went to it?"
Upon the answer to the question depended whether or no Chayne was to
unravel his mystery, to-day.
"No," replied Sylvia, and Chayne drew a breath. Had she answered "Yes,"
the suspicion which had formed within his mind must needs be set aside,
as clearly and finally disproved. Since she answered "No," the suspicion
gathered strength. "We went, however, near to it. We went as close to it
as the quarries. It was five o'clock in the afternoon, and as we came to
the corner of the wall which surrounds the quarries, my father said,
'They have stopped work now.'"
"He knew that?" asked Chayne.
"Yes. We turned into a street which runs down toward the prison. On one
side are small houses, on the other the long wall of the Government
quarries. The street was empty; only now and then--very seldom--some one
passed along it. On the top of the wall, there were sentry-boxes built at
intervals, for the warders to overlook the convicts. But these were empty
too. The wall is not high; I suppose--in fact my father said--the quarry
was deep on the other side."
"Yes," said Chayne, quietly. "And then?"
"Then we walked slowly along the street, and whenever there was no one
near, my father threw some tobacco over the wall. 'I don't suppose they
have a very enjoyable time,' he said. 'They will be glad to find the
tobacco there to-morrow.' We walked up the street and turned and came
back, and when we reached the corner he said with a laugh, 'That's all,
Sylvia. My pockets are empty.' We walked back to the carriage and drove
home again to Weymouth."
Sylvia had finished her story, and the mystery was clear to Chayne. She
had told him the secret which she did not know herself. He was sure now
why Gabriel Strood had changed his name; he knew now why Gabriel Strood
no longer climbed the Alps; and why Kenyon would answer no question as to
the disappearance of his friend.
"I have told you this," said Sylvia, "because you accused my father of
unkindness and want of thought. Would you have thought of those poor
prisoners over there in the quarries? If you had, would you have taken so
much trouble just to give them a small luxury? I think they must have
blessed the unknown man who thought for them and showed them what so many
want--a little sympathy and a little kindness."
Chayne bowed his head.
"Yes," he said, gently. "I was unjust."
Indeed even to himself he acknowledged that Garratt Skinner had shown an
unexpected kindness, although he was sure of the reason for the act. He
had no doubt that Garratt Skinner had labored in those quarries himself,
and perhaps had himself picked up in bygone days, as he stooped over his
work, tobacco thrown over the walls by some more fortunate man.
"I am glad you acknowledge that," said Sylvia, but her voice did not
relent from its hostility. She stood without further word, expecting him
to take his leave. Chayne recollected with how hopeful a spirit he had
traveled down from London. His fine diplomacy had after all availed him
little. He had gained certainly some unexpected knowledge which convinced
him still more thoroughly that the sooner he took Sylvia away from her
father and his friends the better it would be. But he was no nearer to
his desire. It might be that he was further off than ever.
"You are returning to London?" she asked.
"Yes. I have to call at the War Office to-morrow."
Sylvia had no curiosity as to that visit. She took no interest in it
whatever, he noticed with a pang.
"And then?" she asked slowly, as she crossed the hall with him to the
door. "You will go home?"
Chayne smiled rather bitterly.
"Yes, I suppose so."
She opened the door, and as he came out on to the steps she looked at him
with a thoughtful scrutiny for a few moments. But whether her thoughts
portended good or ill for him, he could not tell.
"When I was a boy," he said abruptly, "I used to see from the garden of
my house, far away in a dip of the downs, a dark high wall standing up
against the sky. I never troubled myself as to how it came to have been
built there. But I used to wonder, being a boy, whether it could be
scaled or no. One afternoon I rode my pony over to find out, and I
discovered--What do you think?--that my wall was a mere hedge just three
feet high, no more."
"Well!" said Sylvia.
"Well, I have not forgotten--that's all," he replied.
"Good-by," she said, and he learned no more from her voice than he had
done from her looks. He walked away down the lane, and having gone a few
yards he looked back. Sylvia was still standing in the doorway, watching
him with grave and thoughtful eyes. But there was no invitation to him to
return, and turning away again he walked on.
Sylvia went up-stairs to her room. She unclenched her hand at last. In
its palm there lay a little phial containing a colorless solution. But
there was a label upon the phial, and on the label was written "cocaine."
It was that which had struck at her influence over Walter Hine. It was to
introduce this drug that Archie Parminter had been brought down from
London and the West End clubs.
"It's drunk a good deal in a quiet way," Archie had said, as he made a
pretence himself to drink it.
"You leave such drugs to the aristocracy, Walter," Garratt Skinner had
chimed in. "Just a taste if you like. But go gently."
Sylvia had not been present. But she conjectured the scene, and her
conjecture was not far from the truth. But why? she asked, and again fear
took hold of her. "What was to be gained?" There were limits to Sylvia's
knowledge of the under side of life. She did not guess.
She turned to her mirror and looked at herself. Yes, she looked tired,
she looked ill. But she was not grateful for having the fact pointed out
to her. And while she still looked, she heard her father's voice calling
her. She shivered, as though her fear once more laid hold on her. Then
she locked the bottle of cocaine away in a drawer and ran lightly down
BOTH SIDES OF THE QUESTION
Chayne's house stood high upon a slope of the Sussex Downs. Built of
stone two centuries ago, it seemed gradually to have taken on the brown
color of the hill behind it, subduing itself to the general scheme, even
as birds and animals will do; so that strangers who searched for it in
the valley discovered it by the upward swirl of smoke from its wide
chimneys. On its western side and just beneath the house, there was a
cleft in the downs through which the high road ran and in the cleft the
houses of a tiny village clustered even as at the foot of some old castle
in Picardy. On the east the great ridge with its shadow-holding hollows,
its rounded gorse-strewn slopes of grass, rolled away for ten miles and
then dipped suddenly to the banks of the River Arun. The house faced the
south, and from its high-terraced garden, a great stretch of park and
forest land was visible, where amidst the green and russet of elm and
beach, a cluster of yews set here and there gave the illusion of a black
and empty space. Beyond the forest land a lower ridge of hills rose up,
and over that ridge one saw the spires of Chichester and the level flats
of Selsea reaching to the sea.
Into this garden Chayne came on the next afternoon, and as he walked
along its paths alone he could almost fancy that his dead father paced
with the help of his stick at his side, talking, as had been his wont, of
this or that improvement needed by the farms, pointing out to him a
meadow in the hollow beneath which might soon be coming into the market,
and always ending up with the same plea.
"Isn't it time, Hilary, that you married and came home to look after it
Chayne had turned a deaf ear to that plea, but it made its appeal to him
to-night. Wherever his eyes rested, he recaptured something of his
boyhood; the country-side was alive with memories. He looked south, and
remembered how the perished cities of history had acquired reality for
him by taking on the aspect of Chichester lying low there on the flats;
and how the spires of the fabled towns of his storybooks had caught the
light of the setting sun, just as did now the towers of the cathedral.
Eastward, in the dip between the shoulder of the downs, and the trees of
Arundel Park, a long black hedge stood out with a remarkable definition
against the sky--the hedge of which he had spoken to Sylvia--the great
dark wall of brambles guarding the precincts of the Sleeping Beauty. He
recalled the adventurous day when he had first ridden alone upon his pony
along the great back of the downs and had come down to it through a
sylvan country of silence and ferns and open spaces; and had discovered
it to be no more than a hedge waist-high. The dusk came upon him as he
loitered in that solitary garden; the lights shone out in cottage and
farm-house; and more closely still his memories crowded about him weaving
spells. Some one to share them with! Chayne had no need to wait for old
age before he learnt the wisdom of Michel Revailloud. For his heart
leaped now, as he dreamed of exploring once more with Sylvia at his side
the enchanted country of his boyhood; gallops in the quiet summer
mornings along that still visible track across the downs, by which the
Roman legions had marched in the old days from London straight as a die
to Chichester; winter days with the hounds; a rush on windy afternoons in
a sloop-rigged boat down the Arun to Littlehampton. Chayne's heart leaped
with a passionate longing as he dreamed, and sank as he turned again to
the blank windows of the empty house.
He dined alone, and while he dined evoked Sylvia's presence at the
table, setting her, not at the far end, but at the side and close, so
that a hand might now and then touch hers; calling up into her face her
slow hesitating smile; seeing her still gray eyes grow tender; in a word
watching the Madonna change into the woman. He went into the library
where, since the night had grown chilly, a fire was lit. It was a place
of comfort, with high bookshelves, deep-cushioned chairs, and dark
curtains. But, no less than the dining-room it needed another presence,
and lacking that lacked everything. It needed the girl with the tired
and terror-haunted face. Here, surely the fear would die out of her
soul, the eyes would lose their shadows, the feet regain the lightness
of their step.
Chayne took down his favorite books, but they failed him. Between the
pages and his eyes one face would shape itself. He looked into the fire
and sought as of old to picture in the flames some mountain on which his
hopes were set and to discover the right line for its ascent. But even
that pastime brought no solace for his discontent. The house oppressed
him. It was empty, it was silent. He drew aside the curtains and looking
down into the valley through the clear night air watched the lights in
cottage and farm with the envy born of his loneliness.
In spite of the brave words he had used, he wondered to-night whether the
three-foot hedge was not after all to prove the unassailable wall. And it
was important that he should know. For if it were so, why then he had not
called at the War Office in vain. A proposal had been made to him--that
he should join a commission for the delimitation of a distant frontier. A
year's work and an immediate departure--those were the conditions. Within
two days he must make up his mind--within ten days he must leave England.
Chayne pondered over the decision which he must make. If he had lost
Sylvia, here was the mission to accept. For it meant complete severance,
a separation not to be measured by miles alone, but by the nature of the
work, and the comrades, and even the character of the vegetation. He went
to bed in doubt, thinking that the morning might bring him counsel. It
brought him a letter from Sylvia instead.
The letter was long; it was written in haste, it was written in great
distress, so that words which were rather unkind were written down. But
the message of the letter was clear. Chayne was not to come again to the
House of the Running Water; nor to the little house in London when she
returned to it. They were not to meet again. She did not wish for it.
Chayne burnt the letter as soon as he had read it, taking no offence at
the hasty words. "I seem to have worried her more than I thought," he
said to himself with a wistful smile. "I am sorry," and again as the
sparks died out from the black ashes of the letter he repeated: "Poor
little girl. I am very sorry."
So the house would always be silent and empty.
Sylvia had written the letter in haste on the very evening of Chayne's
visit, and had hurried out to post it in fear lest she might change her
mind in the morning. But in the morning she was only aware of a great
lightness of spirit. She could now devote herself to the work of her
life; and for two long tiring days she kept Walter Hine at her side. But
now he sought to avoid her. The little energy he had ever had was gone,
he alternated between exhilaration and depression; he preferred, it
seemed, to be alone. For two days, however, Sylvia persevered, and on the
third her lightness of spirit unaccountably deserted her.
She drove with Walter Hine that morning, and something of his own
irritability seemed to have passed into her; so that he turned to her
"What have I done? Aren't you pleased with me? Why are you angry?"
"I am not angry," she replied, turning her great gray eyes upon him. "But
if you wish to know, I miss something."
So much she owned. She missed something, and she knew very well what it
was that she missed. Even as Chayne in his Sussex home had ached to know
that the house lacked a particular presence, so it began to be with
Sylvia in Dorsetshire.
"Yet he has been absent for a longer time," she argued with herself, "and
I have not missed him. Indeed, I have been glad of his absence." And the
answer came quickly from her thoughts.
"At any time you could have called him to your side, and you knew it. Now
you have sent him away for always."
During the week the sense of loss, the feeling that everything was
unbearably incomplete, grew stronger and stronger within her. She had no
heart for the losing battle in which she was engaged. A dangerous
question began to force itself forward in her mind whenever her eyes
rested upon Walter Hine. "Was he worth while?" she asked herself: though
as yet she did not define all that the "while" connoted. The question was
most prominent in her mind on the seventh day after the letter had been
sent. She had persuaded Walter Hine to mount with her on to the down
behind the house; they came to the great White Horse, and Hine, pleading
fatigue, a plea which during these last days had been ever on his lips,
flung himself down upon the grass. For a little time Sylvia sat idly
watching the great battle ships at firing-practice in the Bay. It was an
afternoon of August; a light haze hung in the still air softening the
distant promontories; and on the waveless sparkling sea the great ships,
coal-black to the eye, circled about the targets, with now and then a
roar of thunder and a puff of smoke, like some monstrous engines of
heat--heat stifling and oppressive. By sheer contrast, Sylvia began to
dream of the cool glaciers; and the Chalet de Lognan suddenly stood
visible before her eyes. She watched the sunlight die off the red rocks
of the Chardonnet, the evening come with silent feet across the snow, and
the starlit night follow close upon its heels; night fled as she dreamed.
She saw the ice-slope on the Aiguille d'Argentiere, she could almost hear
the chip-chip of the axes as the steps were cut and the perpetual hiss as
the ice-fragments streamed down the slope. Then she looked toward Walter
Hine with the speculative inquiry which had come so often into her eyes
of late. And as she looked, she saw him furtively take from a pocket a
tabloid or capsule and slip it secretly into his mouth.
"How long have you been taking cocaine?" she asked, suddenly.
Walter Hine flushed scarlet and turned to her with a shrinking look.
"I don't," he stammered.
"Yet you left a bottle of the drug where I found it."
"That was not mine," said he, still more confused. "That was Archie
Parminter's. He left it behind."
"Yes," said Sylvia, finding here a suspicion confirmed. "But he left
it for you?"
"And if I did take it," said Hine, turning irritably to her, "what can it
matter to you? I believe that what your father says is true."
"What does he say?"
"That you care for Captain Chayne, and that it's no use for any one else
to think of you."
"Oh, he says that!"
She understood now one of the methods of the new intrigue. Sylvia was in
love with Chayne; therefore Walter Hine may console himself with cocaine.
It was not Garratt Skinner who suggested it. Oh, no! But Archie Parminter
is invited for the night, takes the drug himself, or pretends to take it,
praises it, describes how the use of it has grown in the West End and
amongst the clubs, and then conveniently leaves the drug behind, and no
doubt supplies it as it is required.
Sylvia began to dilate upon its ill-effects, and suddenly broke off. A
great disgust was within her and stopped her speech. She got to her feet.
"Let us go home," she said, and she went very quickly down the hill. When
she came to the house she ran up-stairs to her room, locked the door and
flung herself upon her bed. Walter Hine, her father, their plots and
intrigues, were swept clean from her mind as of no account. Her struggle
for the mastery became unimportant in her thoughts--a folly, a waste. For
what her father had said was true; she cared for Chayne. And what she
herself had said to Chayne when first he came to the House of the Running
Water was no less true. "If I loved, I think nothing else would count at
all except that I loved."
She had judged herself aright. She knew that, as she lay prone upon
her bed, plunged in misery, while the birds called upon the boughs in
the garden and the mill stream filled the room with its leaping music.
In a few minutes a servant knocked upon the door and told her that tea
was ready in the library; but she returned no answer. And in a few
minutes more--or so it seemed, but meanwhile the dusk had come--there
came another knock and she was told that dinner had been served. But
to that message again she returned no answer. The noises of the busy
day ceased in the fields, the birds were hushed upon the branches,
quiet and darkness took and refreshed the world. Only the throbbing
music of the stream beat upon the ears, and beat with a louder
significance, since all else was still. Sylvia lay staring wide-eyed
into the darkness. To the murmur of this music, in perhaps this very
room, she had been born. "Why," she asked piteously, "why?" Of what
use was it that she must suffer?
Of all the bad hours of her life, these were the worst. For the yearning
for happiness and love throbbed and cried at her heart, louder and
louder, just as the music of the stream swelled to importance with the
coming of the night. And she learned that she had had both love and
happiness within her grasp and that she had thrown them away for a
shadow. She thought of the letter which she had written, recalling its
phrases with a sinking heart.
"No man could forgive them. I must have been mad," she said, and she
huddled herself upon her bed and wept aloud.
She ran over in her mind the conversations which she and Hilary Chayne
had exchanged, and each recollection accused her of impatience and paid a
tribute to his gentleness. On the very first day he had asked her to go
with him and her heart cried out now:
"Why didn't I go?"
He had been faithful and loyal ever since, and she had called his
faithfulness importunity and his loyalty a humiliation. She struck a
match and looked at her watch and by habit wound it up. And she drearily
wondered on how many, many nights she would have to wind it up and
speculate in ignorance what he, her lover, was doing and in what corner
of the world, before the end of her days was reached. What would become
of her? she asked. And she raised the corner of a curtain and glanced at
the bright picture of what might have been. And glancing at it, the
demand for happiness raised her in revolt.
She lit her candle and wrote another letter, of the shortest. It
contained but these few words:
"Oh, please forgive me! Come back and forgive. Oh, you must!--SYLVIA."
And having written them, Sylvia stole quietly down-stairs, let herself
out at the door and posted them.
Two nights afterward she leaned out of her window at midnight, wondering
whether by the morrow's post she would receive an answer to her message.
And while she wondered she understood that the answer would not come that
way. For suddenly in the moonlit road beneath her, she saw standing the
one who was to send it. Chayne had brought his answer himself. For a
moment she distrusted her own eyes, believing that her thoughts had
raised this phantom to delude her. But the figure in the road moved
beneath her window and she heard his voice call to her:
THE SHADOW IN THE ROOM
Sylvia raised her hand suddenly, enjoining silence, and turned back into
the room. She had heard a door slam violently within the house; and now
from the hall voices rose. Her father and Walter Hine were coming up
early to-night from the library, and it seemed in anger. At all events
Walter Hine was angry. His voice rang up the stairway shrill and violent.
"Why do you keep it from me? I will have it, I tell you. I am not a
child," and an oath or two garnished the sentences.
Sylvia heard her father reply with the patronage which never failed to
sting the vanity of his companion, which was the surest means to provoke
a quarrel, if a quarrel he desired.
"Go to bed, Wallie! Leave such things to Archie Parminter! You are
His voice was friendly, but a little louder than he generally used, so
that Sylvia clearly distinguished every word; so clearly indeed, that had
he wished her to hear, thus he would have spoken. She heard the two men
mount the stairs, Hine still protesting with the violence which had grown
on him of late; Garratt Skinner seeking apparently to calm him, and
apparently oblivious that every word he spoke inflamed Walter Hine the
more. She had a fear there would be blows--blows struck, of course, by
Hine. She knew the reason of the quarrel. Her father was depriving Hine
of his drug. They passed up-stairs, however, and on the landing above she
heard their doors close. Then coming back to the window she made a sign
to Chayne, slipped a cloak about her shoulders and stole quietly down the
dark stairs to the door. She unlocked the door gently and went out to her
lover. Upon the threshold she hesitated, chilled by a fear as to how he
would greet her. But he turned to her and in the moonlight she saw his
face and read it. There was no anger there. She ran toward him.
"Oh, my dear," she cried, in a low, trembling voice, and his arms
enclosed her. As she felt them hold her to him, and knew indeed that it
was he, her lover, whose lips bent down to hers, there broke from her a
long sigh of such relief and such great uplifting happiness as comes but
seldom, perhaps no more than once, in the life of any man or woman. Her
voice sank to a whisper, and yet was very clear and, to the man who heard
it, sweet as never music was.
"Oh, my dear, my dear! You have come then?" and she stroked his face, and
her hands clung about his neck to make very sure.
"Were you afraid that I wouldn't come, Sylvia?" he asked, with a low,
She lifted her face into the moonlight, so that he saw at once the tears
bright in her eyes and the smile trembling upon her lips.
"No," she said, "I rather thought that you would come," and she laughed
as she spoke. Or did she sob? He could hardly tell, so near she was to
both. "Oh, but I could not be sure! I wrote with so much unkindness," and
her eyes dropped from his in shame.
"Hush!" he said, and he held her close.
"Have you forgiven me? Oh, please forgive me!"
"Long since," said he.
But Sylvia was not reassured.
"Ah, but you won't forget," she said, ruefully. "One can forgive, but one
can't forget what one forgives," and then since, even in her remorse,
hope was uppermost with her that night, she cried, "Oh, Hilary, do you
think you ever will forget what I wrote to you?"
And again Chayne laughed quietly at her fears.
"What does it matter what you wrote a week ago, since to-night we are
here, you and I--together, in the moonlight, for all the world to see
that we are lovers."
She drew him quickly aside into the shadow of the wall.
"Are you afraid we should be seen?" he asked.
"No, but afraid we may be interrupted," she replied, with a clear trill
of laughter which showed to her lover that her fears had passed.
"The whole village is asleep, Sylvia," he said in a whisper; and as he
spoke a blind was lifted in an upper story of the house, a window was
flung wide, and the light streamed out from it into the moonlit air and
spread over their heads like a great, yellow fan. Walter Hine leaned his
elbows on the sill and looked out.
Sylvia moved deeper into the shadow.
"He cannot see us," said Chayne, with a smile, and he set his arm about
her waist; and so they stood very quietly.
The house was built a few yards back from the road, and on each side of
it the high wall of the garden curved in toward it, making thus an open
graveled space in front of its windows. Sylvia and her lover stood at one
of the corners where the wall curved in; the shadow reached out beyond
their feet and lay upon the white road in a black triangle; they could
hardly be seen from any window of the house, and certainly they could not
be recognized. But on the other hand they could see. From behind Walter
Hine the light streamed out clear. The ceiling of the room was visible
and the shadow of the lamp upon it, and even the top part of the door in
the far corner.
"We will wait until he turns back into the room," Sylvia whispered; and
for a little while they stood and watched. Then she felt Chayne's arm
tighten about her and hold her still.
"Do you see?" he cried, in a low, quick voice. "Sylvia, do you see?"
"The door. Look! Behind him! The door!" And Sylvia, looking as he bade
her, started, and barely stifled the cry which rose to her lips. For
behind Walter Hine, the door in the far corner of the room was
opening--very slowly, very stealthily, as though the hand which opened it
feared to be detected. So noiselessly had the latch been loosed that
Walter Hine did not so much as turn his head. Nor did he turn it now. He
heard nothing. He leaned from the window with his elbows on the sill, and
behind him the gap between the door and the wall grew wider and wider.
The door opened into the room and toward the window, so that the two
people in the shadow below could see nothing of the intruder. But the
secrecy of his coming had something sinister and most alarming. Sylvia
joined her hands above her lover's arm, holding her breath.
"Shout to him!" she whispered. "Cry out that there's danger."
"Not yet!" said Chayne, with his eyes fixed upon the lighted room; and
then, in spite of herself, a low and startled cry broke from Sylvia's
lips. A great shadow had been suddenly flung upon the ceiling of the
room, the shadow of a man, bloated and made monstrous by the light. The
intruder had entered the room; and with so much stealth that his
presence was only noticed by the two who watched in the road below. But
even they could not see who the intruder was, they only saw the shadow
on the ceiling.
Walter Hine, however, heard Sylvia's cry, faint though it was. He leaned
forward from the window and peered down.
"Now!" said Sylvia. "Now!"
But Chayne did not answer. He was watching with an extraordinary
suspense. He seemed not to hear. And on the ceiling the shadow moved, and
changed its shape, now dwindling, now growing larger again, now
disappearing altogether as though the intruder stooped below the level of
the lamp; and once there was flung on the white plaster the huge image of
an arm which had something in its hand. Was the arm poised above the
lamp, on the point of smashing it with the thing it held? Chayne waited,
with a cry upon his lips, expecting each moment that the room would be
plunged in darkness. But the cry was not uttered, the arm was withdrawn.
It had not been raised to smash the lamp, the thing which the hand held
was for some other purpose. And once more the shadow appeared moving and
changing as the intruder crept nearer to the window. Sylvia stood
motionless. She had thought to cry out, now she was fascinated. A spell
of terror constrained her to silence. And then, suddenly, behind Walter
Hine there stood out clearly in the light the head and shoulders of
"My father," said Sylvia, in relief. Her clasp upon Chayne's arm relaxed;
her terror passed from her. In the revulsion of her feelings she laughed
quietly at her past fear. Chayne looked quickly and curiously at her.
Then as quickly he looked again to the window. Both men in the room were
now lit up by the yellow light; their attitudes, their figures were very
clear but small, like marionettes upon the stage of some tiny theater.
Chayne watched them with no less suspense now that he knew who the
intruder was. Unlike Sylvia he had betrayed no surprise when he had seen
Garratt Skinner's head and shoulders rise into view behind Walter Hine;
and unlike Sylvia, he did not relax his vigilance. Suddenly Garratt
Skinner stepped forward, very quickly, very silently. With one step he
was close behind his friend; and then just as he was about to move
again--it seemed to Sylvia that he was raising his arm, perhaps to touch
his friend upon the shoulder--Chayne whistled--whistled sharply, shrilly
and with a kind of urgency which Sylvia did not understand.
Walter Hine leaned forward out of the window. That was quite natural. But
on the other hand Garratt Skinner did nothing of the kind. To Sylvia's
surprise he stepped back, and almost out of sight. Very likely he thought
that he was out of sight. But to the watchers in the road his head was
just visible. He was peering over Walter Hine's shoulder.
Again Chayne whistled and, not content with whistling, he cried out in a
feigned bucolic accent:
"I see you."
At once Garratt Skinner's head disappeared altogether.
Walter Hine peered down into the darkness whence the whistle came,
curving his hands above his forehead to shut out the light behind him;
and behind him once more the shadow appeared upon the ceiling and the
wall. A third time Chayne whistled; and Walter Hine cried out:
"What is it?"
And behind him the shadow vanished from the ceiling and the door began to
close, softly and stealthily, just as softly and stealthily as it had
Again, Hine cried out:
"Who's there? What is it?"
And Chayne laughed aloud derisively, as though he were some yokel
practising a joke. Hine turned back into the room. The room was empty,
but the door was unlatched. He disappeared from the window, and the
watchers below saw the door slammed to, heard the sound of the slamming
and then another sound, the sound of a key turning in the lock.
It seemed almost that Chayne had been listening for that sound. For he
turned at once to Sylvia.
"We puzzled them fairly, didn't we?" he said, with a smile. But the smile
somehow seemed hardly real, and his face was very white.
"It's the moonlight," he explained. "Come!"
They walked quietly through the silent village where the thick eaves of
the cottages threw their black shadows on the white moonlit road, past
the mill and the running water, to a gate which opened on the down.
They unlatched the gate noiselessly and climbed the bare slope of
grass. Half way up Chayne turned and looked down upon the house. There
was no longer any light in any window. He turned to Sylvia and slipped
his arm through hers.
"Come close," said he, and now there was no doubt the smile was real.
"Shall we keep step, do you think?"
"If we go always like this, we might," said Sylvia, with a smile.
"At times there will be a step to be cut, no doubt," said he.
"You once said that I could stand firm while the step was being cut," she
answered. Always at the back of both their minds, evident from time to
time in some such phrase as this, was the thought of the mountain upon
which their friendship had been sealed. Friendship had become love here
in the quiet Dorsetshire village, but in both their thoughts it had
another background--ice-slope and rock-spire and the bright sun over all.
ON THE DOWN
Sylvia led the way to a little hollow just beneath the ridge of the
downs, a sheltered spot open to the sea. On the three other sides bushes
grew about it and dry branches and leaves deeply carpeted the floor. Here
they rested and were silent. Upon Sylvia's troubled heart there had
fallen a mantle of deep peace. The strife, the fears, the torturing
questions had become dim like the small griefs of childhood. Even the
incident of the lighted window vexed her not at all.
"Hilary," she said softly, lingering on the name, since to frame it and
utter it and hear her lips speaking it greatly pleased her, "Hilary," and
her hand sought his, and finding it she was content.
It was a warm night of August. Overhead the moon sailed in a cloudless
summer sky, drowning the stars. To the right, far below, the lamps of
Weymouth curved about the shore; and in front the great bay shimmered
like a jewel. Seven miles across it the massive bluff of Portland pushed
into the sea; and even those rugged cliffs were subdued to the beauty of
the night. Beneath them the riding-lights shone steady upon the masts of
the battle ships. Sylvia looked out upon the scene with an overflowing
heart. Often she had gazed on it before, and she marveled now how quickly
she had turned aside. Her eyes were now susceptible to beauty as they had
never been. There was a glory upon land and sea, a throbbing tenderness
in the warm air of which she had not known till now. It seemed to her
that she had lived until this night in a prison. Once the doors had been
set ajar for a little while--just for a night and a day in the quiet of
the High Alps. But only now had they been opened wide. Only to-night had
she passed through and looked forth with an unhindered vision upon the
world; and she discovered it to be a place of wonders and sweet magic.
"They were true, then," she said, with a smile on her lips.
"Of what do you speak?" asked Chayne.
"My dreams," Sylvia answered, knowing that she was justified of them.
"For I have come awake into the land of my dreams, and I know it at last
to be a real land, even to the sound of running water."
For from the hollow at her feet the music of the mill stream rose to her
ears through the still night, very clear and with a murmur of laughter.
Sylvia looked down toward it. She saw it flashing like a riband of silver
in the garden of the dark quiet house. There was no breath of wind in
that garden, and all the great trees were still. She saw the intricate
pattern of their boughs traced upon the lawn in black and silver.
"In that house I was born," she said softly, "to the noise of that
stream. I am very glad to know that in that house, too, my great
happiness has come to me."
Chayne leaned forward, and sitting side by side with Sylvia, gazed down
upon it with rapture. Oh, wonderful house where Sylvia was born! How much
the world owed to it!
"It was there!" he said with awe.
"Yes," replied Sylvia. She was not without a proper opinion of herself,
and it seemed rather a wonderful house to her, too.
"Perhaps on some such night as this," he said, and at once took the words
back. "No! You were born on a sunny morning of July and the blackbirds on
the branches told the good news to the blackbirds on the lawn, and the
stream took up the message and rippled it out to the ships upon the sea.
There were no wrecks that day."
Sylvia turned to him, her face made tender by a smile, her dark eyes kind
"Hilary!" she whispered. "Oh, Hilary!"
"Sylvia!" he replied, mimicking her tone. And Sylvia laughed with the
clear melodious note of happiness. All her old life was whirled away upon
those notes of laughter. She leaned to her lover with a sigh of
contentment, her hair softly touching his cheek; her eyes once more
dropped to the still garden and the dark square house at the down's foot.
"There you asked me to marry you, to go away with you," she said, and she
caught his hand and held it close against her breast.
"Yes, there I first asked you," he said, and some distress, forgotten in
these first perfect moments, suddenly found voice. "Sylvia, why didn't
you come with me then? Oh, my dear, if you only had!"
But Sylvia's happiness was as yet too fresh, too loud at her throbbing
heart for her to mark the jarring note.
"I did not want to then," she replied lightly, and then tightening her
clasp upon his hand. "But now I do. Oh, Hilary, I do!"
"If only you had wanted then!"
Though he spoke low, the anguish of his voice was past mistaking. Sylvia
looked at him quickly and most anxiously; and as quickly she looked away.
"Oh, no," she whispered hurriedly.
Her happiness could not be so short-lived a thing. Her heart stood still
at the thought. It could not be that she had set foot actually within the
dreamland, to be forthwith cast out again. She thought of the last week,
its aching lonely hours. She needed her lover at her side, longed for him
with a great yearning, and would not let him go.
"I'll not listen, Hilary," she said stubbornly. "I will not hear! No";
and Chayne drew her close to his side.
"There is bad news, Sylvia."
The outcry died away upon her lips. The words crushed the rebellion in
her heart, they were so familiar. It seemed to her that all her life
bad news had been brought to her by every messenger. She shivered and
was silent, looking straight out across the moonlit sea. Then in a
small trembling voice, like a child's, she pleaded, still holding her
"Don't go away from me, Hilary! Oh, please! Don't go away from me now!"
Her voice, her words, went to Chayne's heart. He knew that pride and a
certain reticence were her natural qualities. That she should throw aside
the one, break through the other, proved to him indeed how very much she
cared, how very much she needed him.
"Sylvia," he cried, "it will only be for a little while"; and again
silence followed upon his words.
Since bad news was to be imparted, strength was needed to bear it; and
habit had long since taught Sylvia that silence was the best nurse of
strength. She did not turn her face toward her lover; but she drooped her
head and clenched her hands tightly together upon her knees, nerving
herself for the blow. The movement, slight though it was, stirred Chayne
to pity and hurt him with an intolerable pain. It betrayed so
unmistakably the long habit of suffering. She sat silent, motionless,
with the dumb patience of a wounded animal.
"Oh, Sylvia, why did you not come with me on that first day?" he cried.
"Tell me your bad news, dear," she replied, gently.
"I cannot help it," he began in broken tones. "Sylvia, you will see that
there is no escape, that I must go. An appointment was offered to me--by
the War Office. It was offered to me, pressed on me, the day after I last
came here, the day after we were together in the library. I did not know
what to do. I did not accept it. But it seemed to me that each time I
came to see you we became more and more estranged. I was given two days
to make up my mind, and within the two days, my dear, your letter came,
telling me you did not wish to see me any more."
"Oh, Hilary!" she whispered.
"I accepted the appointment at once. There were reasons why I welcomed
it. It would take me abroad!"
"Abroad!" she cried.
"Yes, I welcomed that. To be near you and not to see you--to be near you
and know that others were talking with you, any one, every one except
me--to be near you and know that you were unhappy and in trouble, and
that I could not even tell you how deeply I was sorry--I dreaded that,
Sylvia. And yet I dreaded one thing more. Here, in England, at each turn
of the street, I should think to come upon you suddenly. To pass you as a
stranger, or almost as a stranger. No! I could not do it!"
"Oh, Hilary!" she whispered, and lifting his hand she laid it against
"So for a week I was glad. But this morning I received your second
letter, Sylvia. It came too late, my dear. There was no time to obtain a
Sylvia turned to him with a startled face.
"When do you go?"
The words had to be spoken.
"To-morrow morning. I catch the first train from Weymouth to Southampton.
We sail from Southampton at noon."
Habit came again to her assistance. She turned away from him so that he
might not see her face, and he went on:
"Had there been more time, I could have made arrangements. Some one else
could have gone. As it is--" He broke off suddenly, and bending toward
her cried: "Sylvia, say that I must go."
But she could not bring herself to that. She was minded to hold with both
hands the good thing which had come to her this night. She shook her
head. He sought to turn her face to his, but she looked stubbornly away.
"And when will you return?" she asked.
"In a few months, Sylvia."
"In June." And she counted off the months upon her fingers.
"So after to-night," she said, in a low voice, "I shall not see you any
more for all these months. The winter must pass, and the spring, too. Oh,
Hilary!" and she turned to him with a quivering face and whispered
piteously: "Don't go, my dear. Don't go!"
"Say that I must go!" he insisted, and she laughed with scorn. Then the
laughter ceased and she said:
"There will be danger?"
"None," he cried.
"Yes--from sickness, and--" her voice broke in a sob--"I shall not be
"I will take great care, Sylvia. Be sure of that," he answered. "Now that
I have you, I will take great care," and leaning toward her, as she sat
with her hands clasped upon her knees, he touched her hair with his lips
"Oh, Hilary, what will I do? Till you come back to me! What will I do?"
"I have thought of it, Sylvia. I thought this. It might be better if, for
these months--they will not pass quickly, my dear, either for you or me.
They will be long slow months for both of us. That's the truth, my dear.
But since they must be got through, I thought it might be better if you
went back to your mother."
Sylvia shook her head.
"It would be better," he urged, with a look toward the house.
"I can't do that. Afterward, in a year's time--when we are together, I
should like very much for us both to go to her. But my mother forbade it
when I went away from Chamonix. I was not to come whining back to her,
those were her words. We parted altogether that night."
She spoke with an extreme simplicity. There was neither an appeal for
pity nor a hint of any bitterness in her voice. But the words moved
Chayne all the more on that account. He would be leaving a very lonely,
friendless girl to battle through the months of his absence by herself;
and to battle with what? He was not sure. But he had not taken so lightly
the shadow on the ceiling and the opening door.
"If only you had come with me on that first day," he cried.
"I will have to-night to look back upon, my dear," she said. "That will
be something. Oh, if I had not asked you to come back! If you had gone
away and said nothing! What would I have done then? As it is, I will know
that you are thinking of me--" and suddenly she turned to him, and held
him away from her in a spasm of fear while her eyes searched his face.
But in a moment they melted and a smile made her lips beautiful. "Oh,
yes, I can trust you," she said, and she nestled against him contentedly
like a child.
For a little while they sat thus, and then her eyes sought the garden and
the house at her feet. It seemed that the sinister plot was not, after
all, to develop in that place of quiet and old peace without her for its
witness. It seemed that she was to be kept by some fatality
close-fettered to the task, the hopeless task, which she would now gladly
have foregone. And she wondered whether, after all, she was in some way
meant to watch the plot, perhaps, after all, to hinder it.
"Hilary," she said, "you remember that evening at the Chalet de Lognan?"
"Do I remember it?"
"You explained to me a law--that those who know must use their knowledge,
if by using it they can save a soul, or save a life."
"Yes," he said, vaguely remembering that he had spoken in this strain.
"Well, I have been trying to obey that law. Do you understand? I want you
to understand. For when I have been unkind, as I have been many times, it
was, I think, because I was not obeying it with very much success. And I
should like you to believe and know that. For when you are away, you will
remember, in spite of yourself, the times when I was bitter."
Her words made clear to him many things which had perplexed him during
these last weeks. Her friendship for Walter Hine became intelligible, and
as though to leave him no shadow of doubt, she went on.
"You see, I knew the under side of things, and I seemed to see the
opportunity to use the knowledge. So I tried to save"; and whether it was
life or soul, or both, she did not say. She did not add that so far she
had tried in vain; she did not mention the bottle of cocaine, or the
dread which of late had so oppressed her. She was careful of her lover.
Since he had to go, since he needs must be absent, she would spare him
anxieties and dark thoughts which he could do nothing to dispel. But even
so, he obtained a clearer insight into the distress which she had
suffered in that house, and the bravery with which she had borne it.
"Sylvia," he said, "I had no thought, no wish, that what I said should
stay with you."
"Yet it did," she answered, "and I was thankful. I am thankful even now.
For though I would gladly give up all the struggle now, if I had you
instead; since I have not you, I am thankful for the law. It was your
voice which spoke it, it came from you. It will keep you near to me all
through the black months until you come back. Oh, Hilary!" and the brave
argument spoken to enhearten herself and him ended suddenly in a most
wistful cry. Chayne caught her to him.
"Oh, Sylvia!" and he added: "The life is not yet saved!"
"Perhaps I am given to the summer," she answered, and then, with a
whimsical change of humor, she laughed tenderly. "Oh, but I wish I
wasn't. You will write? Letters will come from you."
"As often as possible, my dear. But they won't come often."
"Let them be long, then," she whispered, "very long," and she leaned her
head against his shoulder.
"Lie close, my dear," said he. "Lie close!"
For a while longer they talked in low voices to one another, the words
which lovers know and keep fragrant in their memories. The night, warm
and clear, drew on toward morning, and the passage of the hours was
unremarked. For both of them there was a glory upon the moonlit land and
sea which made of it a new world. And into this new world both walked for
the first time--walked in their youth and hand in hand. Each for the
first time knew the double pride of loving and being loved. In spite of
their troubles they were not to be pitied, and they knew it. The gray
morning light flooded the sky and turned the moon into a pale white disk.
"Lie close, my dear," said he. "It is not time."
In the trees in the garden below the blackbirds began to bustle amongst
the leaves, and all at once their clear, sweet music thrilled upward to
the lovers in the hollow of the down.
"Lie close, my dear," he repeated.
They watched the sun leap into the heavens and flash down the Channel in
"The night has gone," said Chayne.
"Nothing can take it from us while we live," answered Sylvia, very
softly. She raised herself from her couch of leaves.
Then from one of the cottages in the tiny village a blue coil of smoke
rose into the air.
"It is time," said Chayne, and they rose and hand in hand walked down the
slope of the hill to the house. Sylvia unlatched the door noiselessly and
went in. Chayne stepped in after her; and in the silent hall they took
farewell of one another.
"Good-by, my dear," she whispered, with the tears in her eyes and in her
voice, and she clung to him a little and so let him go. She held the door
ajar until the sound of his footsteps had died away--and after that. For
she fancied that she heard them still, since, she so deeply wished to
hear them. Then with a breaking heart she went up the stairs to her room.
CHAYNE COMES TO CONCLUSIONS
"Six weeks ago I said good-by to the French Commission on the borders of
a great lake in Africa. A month ago I was still walking to the rail head
through the tangle of a forest's undergrowth," said Chayne, and he looked
about the little restaurant in King Street, St. James', as though to make
sure that the words he spoke were true. The bright lights, the red
benches against the walls, the women in their delicate gowns of lace, and
the jingle of harness in the streets without, made their appeal to one
who for the best part of a year had lived within the dark walls of a
forest. June had come round again, and Sylvia sat at his side.
"You shall tell me how these months have gone with you while we dine,"
said he. "Your letters told me nothing of your troubles."
"I did not mean them to," replied Sylvia.
"I guessed that, my dear. It was like you. Yet I would rather have
Only a few hours before he had stood upon the deck of the Channel packet
and had seen the bows swing westward of Dover Castle and head toward the
pier. Would Sylvia be there, he had wondered, as he watched the cluster
of atoms on the quay, and in a little while he had seen her, standing
quite alone, at the very end of the breakwater that she might catch the
first glimpse of her lover. Others had traveled with them in the carriage
to London and there had been no opportunity of speech. All that he knew
was that she had been alone now for some weeks in the little house in
"One thing I see," he said. "You are not as troubled as you were. The
look of fear--that has gone from your eyes. Sylvia, I am glad!"
"There, were times," she answered--and as she thought upon them, terror
once more leapt into her face--"times when I feared more than ever, when
I needed you very much. But they are past now, Hilary," and her hand
dropped for a moment upon his, and her eyes brightened with a smile. As
they dined she told the story of those months.
"We returned to London very suddenly after you had gone away," she began.
"We were to have stayed through September. But my father said that
business called him back, and I noticed that he was deeply troubled."
"When did you notice that?" asked Chayne, quickly. "When did you first
Sylvia reflected for a moment.
"The day after you had gone."
"Are you sure?" asked Chayne, with a certain intensity.
Chayne nodded his head.
"I did not understand the reason of the hurry. And I was perplexed--and
also a little alarmed. Everything which I did not understand frightened
me in those days." She spoke as if "those days" and all their dark events
belonged to some dim period of which no consequence could reach her now.
"Our departure had almost the look of a flight."
"Yes," said Chayne. For his part he was not surprised at their flight. He
had passed more than one wakeful night during the last few months arguing
and arguing again whether or no he should have disclosed to Sylvia the
meaning of that softly opening door and the shadow on the ceiling as he
read it. He might have been wrong; if so, he would have added to Sylvia's
burden of troubles yet another, and one more terrible than all the rest.
He might have been right; and if so, he might have enabled Sylvia to
avert a tragedy. Thus the argument had revolved in a circle and left him
always in the same doubt. Now he understood that his explanation of the
incident had been confirmed. The loud whistle from the darkness of the
road, the yokel's cry, which had driven Garratt Skinner from the room, as
noiselessly as he had entered it, had done more than that--they had
driven him from the neighborhood altogether. Some one had seen him--had
seen him standing just behind Walter Hine in the lighted room--and on the
next day he had fled!
"I was right," he said, absently, "right to keep silent." For here was
Sylvia at his side and the dreaded peril unfulfilled. "Well, you returned
to London?" he added, hastily.
"Yes. There is something of which I did not tell you, that night when we
were together on the downs. Walter Hine had begun to take cocaine."
"Cocaine!" he cried.
"Yes. My father taught him to take it."
"Your father," said Chayne, slowly, trying to fit this new and astounding
fact in with the rest. "But why?"
"I think I can tell you," said Sylvia. "My father knew quite well that he
had me working against him, trying to rescue Walter Hine out of his
hands. And I was beginning to get some power. He understood that, and
destroyed it. I was no match for him. I thought that I knew something of
the under side of life. But he knew more, ever so much more, and my
knowledge was of no avail. He taught Walter Hine the craving for cocaine,
and he satisfied the craving--there was his power. He provided the drug.
I do not know--I might perhaps have fought against my father and won. But
against my father and a drug I was helpless. My father obtained it in
sufficient quantity, withheld it at times, gave it at other times, played
with him, tantalized him, gratified him. You can understand there was
only one possible result. Walter Hine became my father's slave, his dog.
I no longer counted in his thoughts at all. I was nothing."
"Yes," said Chayne.
The device was subtle, diabolically subtle. But he wondered whether it
was only to counterbalance and destroy Sylvia's influence that Garratt
Skinner had introduced cocaine to Hine's notice; whether he had not had
in view some other end, even still more sinister.
"I saw very little of Mr. Hine after our return to London," she
continued. "He did not come often to the house, but when he did come,
each time I saw that he had changed. He had grown nervous and violent of
temper. Even before we left Dorsetshire the violence had become
"Oh!" said Chayne, looking quickly at Sylvia. "Before you left
"Yes; and my father seemed to me to provoke it, though I could not guess
why. For instance--"
"Yes?" said Chayne. "Tell me!"
He spoke quietly enough, but once again there was audible a certain
intensity in his voice. There had been an occasion when Sylvia had given
to him more news of Garratt Skinner than she had herself. Was she to do
so once more? He leaned forward with his eyes on hers.
"The night when you came back to me. Do you remember, Hilary?" and a
smile lightened his face.
"I shall forget no moment of that night, sweetheart, while I live," he
whispered; and blushes swept prettily over her face, and in a sweet
confusion she smiled back at him.
"Oh, Hilary!" she said.
"Oh, Sylvia!" he mimicked; and as they laughed together, it seemed there
was a danger that the story of the months of separation would never be
completed. But Chayne brought her back to it.
"Well? On that night when I came back?"
"I saw you in the road from my window, and then motioning you to be
silent, I disappeared from the window."
"Yes, I remember," said Chayne, eagerly. He began to think that the
cocaine was after all going to fit in with the incidents of that night.
"Walter Hine and my father were going up to bed. I heard them on the
stairs. They were going earlier than usual."
"You are sure?" interrupted Chayne. "Think well!"
"Much earlier than usual, and they were quarreling. At least, Walter Hine
was quarreling; and my father was speaking to him as if he were a child.
That hurt his vanity and made him worse."
"Your father was provoking him?"
Sylvia's forehead puckered.
"I could not say that, and be sure of it. But I can say this. If my
father had wished to provoke him to a greater anger, it's in that way
that he would have done it."
"Yes. I see."
"They were speaking loudly--even my father was--more loudly than
usual--especially at that time. For when they went up-stairs, they
usually went very quietly"; and again Chayne interrupted her.
"Your father might have wanted you to hear the quarrel?" he suggested.
Sylvia turned to him curiously.
"Why should he wish that?" she asked, and considered the point. "He might
have. Only, on the other hand, they were earlier than usual. They would
not be so careful to go quietly; I was likely to be still awake."
"Exactly," said Chayne.
For in the probability that Sylvia would be still awake, would hear the
violent words of Hine, and would therefore be an available witness
afterward, Chayne found the reason both of the loudness of Garratt
Skinner's tones and his early retirement for the night.
"Did you hear what was said? Can you repeat the words?" he asked.
"Yes. My father was keeping something from Mr. Hine which he wanted. I
have no doubt it was the cocaine," and she repeated the words.
"Yes," said Chayne. "Yes," in the tone of one who is satisfied. The
incident of the lighted room and the shadow on the ceiling were clear to
him now. A quarrel of which there was a witness, a quarrel all to the
credit of Garratt Skinner since it arose from his determination to hinder
Walter Hine from poisoning himself with drugs--at least, that is how the
evidence would work out; the quarrel continued in Walter Hine's bedroom,
whither Garratt Skinner had accompanied his visitor, a struggle begun for
the possession of the drug, begun by a man half crazy for want of it, a
blow in self-defence delivered by Garratt Skinner, perhaps a fall from
the window--that is how Chayne read the story of that night, as fashioned
by the ingenuity of Garratt Skinner.
But on one point he was still perplexed. The story had not been told out
to its end that night: there had come an unexpected shout, which had
interrupted it, and indeed forever had prevented its completion on that
spot. But why had it not been completed afterward, during the next few
months, somewhere else? It had not been completed. For here was Sylvia
with all her fears allayed, continuing the story of those months.
"But violence was not the only change in Walter Hine. There were some
physical alterations which frightened me. Mr. Hine, as I say, came very
seldom to our house, though my father saw a great deal of him. Otherwise
I should have noticed them before. But early this year he came and--you
remember he was fair--well, his skin had grown dark, quite dark, his
complexion had changed altogether. And there was something else which
shocked me. His tongue was black, really black. I asked him what was the
matter? He grew restless and angry and lied to me, and then he broke down
and told me he could not sleep. He slept for a few minutes only at a
time. He really was ill--very ill."
Was this the explanation, Chayne asked himself? Having failed at the
quick process, the process of the lighted room and the open window, had
Garratt Skinner left the drug to do its work slowly and surely?
"He was so weak, so broken in appearance, that I was alarmed. My father
was not in the house. I sent for a cab and I took Mr. Hine myself to a
doctor. The doctor knew at once what was amiss. For a time Mr. Hine said
'No,' but he gave in at the last. He was in the habit of taking thirty
grains of cocaine a day."
"Thirty grains!" exclaimed Chayne.
"Yes. Of course it could not go on. Death or insanity would surely
follow. He was warned of it, and for a while he went into a home. Then he
got better, and he determined to go abroad and travel."
"Who suggested that?" asked Chayne.
"I do not know. I know only that he refused to go without my father, and
that my father consented to accompany him."
Chayne was startled.
"They are away together now?" he cried. A look of horror in his eyes
betrayed his fear. He stared at Sylvia. Had she no suspicion--she
who knew something of the under side of life? But she quietly
returned his look.
"I took precautions. I told my father what I knew--not merely that Mr.
Hine had acquired the habit of taking cocaine, but who had taught him the
habit. Yes, I did that," she said simply, answering his look of
astonishment. "It was difficult, my dear, and I would very much have
liked to have had you there to help me through with it. But since you
were not there, since I was alone, I did it alone. I thought of you,
Hilary, while I was saying what I had to say. I tried to hear your voice
speaking again outside the Chalet de Lognan. 'What you know, that you
must do.' I warned my father that if any harm came to Walter Hine from
taking the drug again, any harm at all which I traced to my father, I
would not keep silent."
Chayne leaned back in his seat.
"You said that--to Garratt Skinner, Sylvia!" and the warmth of pride and
admiration in his voice brought the color to her cheeks and compensated
her for that bad hour. "You stood up alone and braved him out! My dear,
if I had only been there! And you never wrote to me a word of it!"
"It would only have troubled you," she answered. "It would not have
helped me to know that you were troubled!"
"And he--your father?" he asked. "How did he receive it?"
Sylvia's face grew pale, and she stared at the table-cloth as though she
could not for the moment trust her voice. Then she shuddered and said in
a low and shaking voice--so vivid was still the memory of that hour:
"I thought that I should never see you again."
She said no more. From those few words, and from the manner in which she
uttered them, Chayne had to build up the terrible scene which had taken
place between Sylvia and her father in the little back room of the house
in Hobart Place. He looked round the lighted room, listened to the ripple
of light voices, and watched the play of lively faces and bright eyes.
There was an incongruity between these surroundings and the words which
he had heard which shocked him.
"My dear, I'll make it up to you," he said. "Trust me, I will! There
shall be good hours, now. I'll watch you, till I know surely without
a word from you what you are thinking and feeling and wanting. Trust
"With all my heart and the rest of my life," she answered, a smile
responding to his words, and she resumed her story:
"I extracted from my father a promise that every week he should write to
me and tell me how Mr. Hine was and where they both were. And to that--at
last--he consented. They have been away together for two months, and
every week I have heard. So I think there is no danger."
Chayne did not disagree. But, on the other hand, he did not assent.
"I suppose Mr. Hine is very rich?" he said, doubtfully.
"No," replied Sylvia. "That's another reason why--I am not afraid." She
chose the words rather carefully, unwilling to express a deliberate
charge against her father. "I used to think that he was--in the
beginning when Captain Barstow won so much from him. But when the bets
ceased and no more cards were played--I used to puzzle over why they
ceased last year. But I think I have hit upon the explanation. My
father discovered then what I only found out a few weeks ago. I wrote
to Mr. Hine's grandfather, telling him that his grandson was ill, and
asking him whether he would not send for him. I thought that would be
the best plan."
"Well, the grandfather answered me very shortly that he did not know his
grandson, that he did not wish to know him, and that they had nothing to
do with one another in any way. It was a churlish letter. He seemed to
think that I wanted to marry Mr. Hine," and she laughed as she spoke,
"and that I was trying to find out what we should have to live upon. I
suppose that it was natural he should think so. And I am so glad that I
wrote. For he told me that although Mr. Hine must eventually have a
fortune, it would not be until he himself died and that he was a very
healthy man. So you see, there could be no advantage to any one--" and
she did not finish the sentence.
But Chayne could finish it for himself. There could be no advantage to
any one if Walter Hine died. But then why the cocaine? Why the incident
of the lighted window?
"Yes," he said, in perplexity, "I can corroborate that. It happened that
my friend John Lattery, who was killed in Switzerland, was also
connected with Joseph Hine. He also would have inherited; and I knew
from him that the old man did not recognize his heirs. But--but Walter
Hine had money--some money, at all events. And he earned none. From whom
did he get it?"
Sylvia shook her head.
"I do not know."
"Had he no other relations, no friends?"
"None who would have made him an allowance."
Chayne pondered over that question. For in the answer to it he was
convinced he would find the explanation of the mystery. If money was
given to Walter Hine, who had apparently no rich relations but his
grandfather, and certainly no rich friends, it would have been given with
some object. To discover the giver and his object--that was the problem.
"Think! Did he never speak of any one?"
Sylvia searched her memories.
"No," she said. "He never spoke of his private affairs. He always led us
to understand that he drew an allowance from his grandfather."
"But your father found that that was untrue when you were in Dorsetshire,
ten months ago. For the card-playing and the bets ceased."
"Yes," Sylvia agreed thoughtfully. Then her face brightened. "I
remember a morning when Mr. Hine was in trouble. Wait a moment! He had
a letter. We were at breakfast and the letter came from Captain
Barstow. There was some phrase in the letter which Mr. Hine repeated.
'As between gentlemen'--that was it! I remember thinking at the time
what in the world Captain Barstow could know about gentlemen; and
wondering why the phrase should trouble Mr. Hine. And that morning Mr.
Hine went to London."
"Oh, did he?" cried Chayne. "'As between gentlemen.' Had Hine been losing
money lately to Captain Barstow?"
"Yes, on the day when you first came."
"The starlings," exclaimed Chayne in some excitement. "That's it--Walter
Hine owes money to Captain Barstow which he can't pay. Barstow writes for
it--a debt of honor between gentlemen--one can imagine the letter. Hine
goes up to London. Well, what then?"
"My father went to London two days afterward."
"Are you sure?"
It seemed to Chayne that they were getting hot in their search.
"Quite sure. For I remember that after his return his manner changed.
What I thought to be the new plot was begun. The cards disappeared, the
bets ceased, Mr. Parminter was brought down with the cocaine. I remember
it all clearly. For I always associated the change with my father's
journey to London. You came one evening--do you remember? You found me
alone and afraid. My father and Walter Hine were walking arm-in-arm in
the garden. That was afterward."
"Yes, you were afraid because there was no sincerity in that friendship.
Now let me get this right!"
He remained silent for a little while, placing the events in their due
order and interpreting them, one by the other.
"This is what I make of it," he said at length. "The man in London who
supplies Walter Hine with money finds that Walter Hine is spending too
much. He therefore puts himself into communication with Garratt Skinner,
of whom he has doubtless heard from Walter Hine. Garratt Skinner travels
to London, has an interview, and a concerted plan of action is agreed
upon, which Garratt Skinner proceeds to put in action."
He spoke so gravely that Sylvia turned anxiously toward him.
"What do you infer, then?" she asked.
"That we are in very deep and troubled waters, my dear," he replied, but
he would not be more explicit. He had no doubt in his mind that the
murder of Walter Hine had been deliberately agreed upon by Garratt
Skinner and the unknown man in London. But just as Sylvia had spared him
during his months of absence, so now he was minded to spare Sylvia. Only,
in order that he might spare her, in order that he might prevent shame
and distress greater than she had known, he must needs go on with his
questioning. He must discover, if by any means he could, the identity of
the unknown man who was so concerned in the destiny of Walter Hine.
"Of your father's friends, was there one who was rich? Who came to the
house? Who were his companions?"
"Very few people came to the house. There was no one amongst them who
fits in"; and upon that she started. "I wonder--" she said, thoughtfully,
and she turned to her lover. "After my father had gone away, I found a
telegram in a drawer in one of the rooms. There was no envelope, there
was just the telegram. So I opened it. It was addressed to my father. I
remember the words, for I did not know whether there was not something
which needed attention. It ran like this: 'What are you waiting for?
"Was it signed?" asked Chayne.
"Yes. 'Jarvice,'" replied Sylvia.
"Jarvice," Chayne repeated; and he spoke it yet again, as though in some
vague way it was familiar to him. "What was the date of the telegram?"
"It had been sent a month before I found it. So I put it back into
"'What are you waiting for? Hurry up. Jarvice,'" said Chayne, slowly, and
then he remembered how and when he had come across the name of Jarvice
before. His face grew very grave.
"We are in deep waters, my dear," he said.
There had been trouble in his regiment, some years before, in which the
chief figures had been a subaltern and a money-lender. Jarvice was the
name of the money-lender--an unusual name. Just such a man would be
likely to be Garratt Skinner's confederate and backer. Chayne ran over
the story in his mind again, by this new light. It certainly strengthened
the argument that the Mr. Jarvice who sent the telegram was Mr. Jarvice,
the money-lender. Thus did Chayne work it out in his thoughts:
"Jarvice, for some reason unknown, pays Walter Hine an allowance. Walter
Hine gives it out that he receives it from his grandfather, whose heir
he undoubtedly is, and being a vain person much exaggerates the amount.
He falls into Garratt Skinner's hands, who, with the help of Barstow and
others, proceeds to pluck him. Walter Hine loses more than he has and
applies to Jarvice for more. Jarvice elicits the facts, and instead of
disclosing who Garratt Skinner is, and the obvious swindle of which Hine
is the victim, takes Garratt Skinner into his confidence. What happened
at the interview between Mr. Jarvice and Garratt Skinner in London the
subsequent facts make plain. At Jarvice's instigation the plot to
swindle Walter Hine becomes a cold-blooded plan to murder him. That plan
has been twice frustrated, once by me in Dorsetshire, and a second time
So far the story worked out naturally, logically. But there remained two
questions. For what reason did Mr. Jarvice make Walter Hine an allowance?
And how would Walter Hine's death profit him? Chayne pondered over those
two questions and then the truth flashed upon him. He remembered how the
subaltern had been extracted from his difficulties. Money had been raised
by a life insurance. Again Chayne ranged his facts in order.
"Walter Hine is the heir to great wealth. But he has no money now. Mr.
Jarvice makes him an allowance, the money to be repaid with a handsome
interest on the grandfather's death. But in order to insure Jarvice
from loss, if Walter Hine should die first, Walter Hine's life is
insured for a large sum. Thus Mr. Jarvice makes his position tenable
should his conduct be called in question. Having insured Walter Hine's
life, he arranges with Garratt Skinner to murder him. The attempt
failed the first time, the slower method is then adopted by Garratt
Skinner, and as a result comes the impatient telegram: 'What are you
waiting for? Hurry up!'"
The case was thus so far clear. But anxiety remained. Was the plan
abandoned altogether, now that Sylvia had stood bravely up and warned her
father that she would not keep silent? So certainly Sylvia thought. But
then she did not know all that Chayne knew. It seemed that she had not
understood the incident of the lighted window. Nor was Chayne surprised.
For she was unaware of what was in Chayne's eyes the keystone of the
whole argument. She did not know that her father had worked as a convict
in the Portland quarries.
"So they are abroad together, your father and Walter Hine," said
"Yes!" replied Sylvia, with a smile. "Guess where they are now!" and she
turned to him with a tender look upon her face which he did not
"I can't guess."
She saw her lover flinch, his face grow white, his eyes stare in horror.
And she wondered. For her the little town, overtopped by its tumbled
glittering fields of snow and tall rock spires was a place apart. She
cherished it in her memories, keeping clear and distinct the windings of
its streets, where they narrowed, where they broadened into open spaces;
yet all the while her thoughts transformed it, and made of its mere
stones and bricks a tiny city magical with light and grace. For while she
stayed in it her happiness had dawned and she saw it always roseate with
that dawn. It seemed to her that plots and thoughts of harm could there
hardly outlive one starlit night, one sunlit day. Had she mapped out her
father's itinerary, thither and nowhere else would she have sent him.
"You are afraid?" she asked. "Hilary, why?"
Chayne did not answer her question. He was minded to spare her, even as
she had spared him. He talked of other things until the restaurant grew
empty and the waiters began to turn out the lights as a hint to these two
determined loiterers. Then in the darkness, for now there was but one
light left, and that at a little distance from their table, Chayne leaned
forward and turning to Sylvia, as they sat side by side:
"You have been happy to-night?"
"Very," she answered, and there was a thrill of joyousness in her clear,
low voice, as though her heart sang within her. Her eyes rested on his
with pride. "No man could quite understand," she said.
"Well then, why should we wait longer, Sylvia?" he said. "We have waited
long enough, my dear. We have after all no one but ourselves to please. I
should like our marriage to take place as soon as possible."
Sylvia answered him without affectation.
"I, too," she whispered.
"To-morrow then! I'll get a special license to-morrow morning, and make
the arrangements. We can go away together at once."
Sylvia smiled, and the smile deepened into a laugh.
"Where shall we go, Hilary?" she cried. "To some perfect place."
"To Chamonix," he answered. "That was where we first met. There could be
no better place. We can just go and tell your father what we have done
and then go up into the hills."
It was well done. He spoke without wakening Sylvia's suspicions. She had
never understood the episode of the lighted window; she did not know
that her father was Gabriel Strood, of whose exploits in the Alps she
had read; she believed that all danger to Walter Hine was past. Chayne
on the other hand knew that hardly at any time could Hine have stood in
greater peril. To Chamonix he must go; and to Chamonix he must take
Sylvia too. For by the time when he could reach Chamonix, he might
already be too late. There might be publicity, inquiries, and for
Garratt Skinner ruin, and worse than ruin. Would Sylvia let her lover
share the dishonor of her name? He knew very surely she would not.
Therefore he would have the marriage.
"By the way," he said, as he draped her cloak about her shoulders. "You
have that telegram from Jarvice?"
"That's good," he said. "It might be useful."
Never that familiar journey across France seemed to Chayne so slow. Would
he be in time? Would he arrive too late? The throb of the wheels beat out
the questions in a perpetual rhythm and gave him no answer. The words of
Jarvice's telegram were ever present in his mind, and grew more sinister,
the more he thought upon them. "What are you waiting for? Hurry up!"
Once, when the train stopped over long as it seemed to him he muttered
the words aloud and then glanced in alarm at his wife, lest perchance she
had overheard them. But she had not. She was remembering her former
journey along this very road. Then it had been night; now it was day.
Then she had been used to seek respite from her life in the shelter of
her dreams. Now the dreams were of no use, since what was real made them
by comparison so pale and thin. The blood ran strong and joyous in her
veins to-day; and looking at her, Chayne sent up his prayers that they
might not arrive in Chamonix too late. To him as to her Walter Hine was a
mere puppet, a thing without importance--so long as he lived. But he must
live. Dead, he threatened ruin and dishonor, and since from the beginning
Sylvia and he had shared--for so she would have it--had shared in the
effort to save this life, it would be well for them, he thought that they
should not fail.
The long hot day drew to an end, and at last from the platform at the end
of the electric train they saw the snow-fields lift toward the soaring
peaks, and the peaks purple with the after glow stand solitary and
beautiful against the evening sky.
"At last!" said Sylvia, with a catch in her breath, and the clasp of her
hand tightened upon her husband's arm. But Chayne was remembering certain
words once spoken to him in a garden of Dorsetshire, by a man who lay
idly in a hammock and stared up between the leaves. "On the most sunny
day, the mountains hold in their recesses mystery and death."
"You know where your father is staying?" Chayne asked.
"He wrote from the Hotel de l'Arve," Sylvia replied.
"We will stay at Couttet's and walk over to see him this evening," said
Chayne, and after dinner they strolled across the little town. But at
the Hotel de l'Arve they found neither Garratt Skinner nor his friend,
"Only the day before yesterday," said the proprietor, "they started for
the mountains. Always they make expeditions."
Chayne drew no satisfaction from that statement. Garratt Skinner and his
friend would make many expeditions from which both men would return in
safety. Garratt Skinner was no blunderer. And when at the last he
returned alone with some flawless story of an accident in which his
friend had lost his life, no one would believe but that here was another
mishap, and another name to be added to the Alpine death-roll.
"To what mountain have they gone?" Chayne asked.
"To no mountain to-day. They cross the Col du Geant, monsieur, to
Courmayeur. But after that I do not know."
"Oh, into Italy," said Chayne, in relief. So far there was no danger. The
Col du Geant, that great pass between France and Italy across the range
of Mont Blanc, was almost a highway. There would be too many parties
abroad amongst its ice seracs on these days of summer for any deed which
needed solitude and secrecy.
"When do you expect them back?"
"In five days, monsieur; not before." And at this reply Chayne's fears
were all renewed. For clearly the expedition was not to end with the
passage of the Col du Geant. There was to be a sequel, perhaps some
hazardous ascent, some expedition at all events which Garratt Skinner had
not thought fit to name.
"They took guides, I suppose," he said.
"One guide, monsieur, and a porter. Monsieur need not fear. For Monsieur
Skinner is of an excellence prodigious."
"My father!" exclaimed Sylvia, in surprise. "I never knew."
"What guide?" asked Chayne.
"Pierre Delouvain"; and so once again Chayne's fears were allayed. He
turned to Sylvia.
"A good name, sweetheart. I never climbed with him, but I know him
by report. A prudent man, as prudent as he is skilful. He would run
The name gave him indeed greater comfort than even his words expressed.
Delouvain's mere presence would prevent the commission of any crime. His
great strength would not be needed to hinder it. For he would be there,
to bear witness afterward. Chayne was freed from the dread which during
the last two days had oppressed him. Perhaps after all Sylvia was right
and the plot was definitely abandoned. Chayne knew very well that Garratt
Skinner's passion for the Alps was a deep and real one. Perhaps it was
that alone which had brought him back to Chamonix. Perhaps one day in the
train, traveling northward from Italy, he had looked from the window and
seen the slopes of Monte Rosa white in the sun--white with the look of
white velvet--and all the last twenty years had fallen from him like a
cloak, and he had been drawn back as with chains to the high playground
of his youth. Chayne could very well understand that possibility, and
eased of his fears he walked away with Sylvia back to the open square in
the middle of the town. Darkness had come, and both stopped with one
accord and looked upward to the massive barrier of hills. The rock peaks
stood sharply up against the clear, dark sky, the snow-slopes glimmered
faintly like a pale mist, and incredibly far, incredibly high, underneath
a bright and dancing star, shone a dim and rounded whiteness, the
snow-cap of Mont Blanc.
"A year ago," said Sylvia, drawing a breath and bethinking her of the
black shadows which during those twelve months had lain across her path.
"Yes, a year ago we were here," said Chayne. The little square was
thronged, the hotels and houses were bright with lights, and from here
and from there music floated out upon the air, the light and lilting
melodies of the day. "Sylvia, you see the cafe down the street there by
"A year ago, on just such a night as this, I sat with my guide, Michel
Revailloud. I was going to cross the Col Dolent on the morrow. He had
made his last ascent. We were not very cheerful. And he gave me as a
parting present the one scrap of philosophy his life had taught him. He
said: 'Take care that when the time comes for you to get old that you
have some one to share your memories. Take care that when you go home in
the end, there shall be some one waiting in the room and the lamp lit
against your coming.'"
Sylvia pressed against her side the hand which he had slipped
through her arm.
"But he did more than give advice," Chayne continued, "for as he went
away to his home in the little village of Les Praz-Conduits, just across
the fields, he passed Couttet's Hotel and saw you under the lamp talking
to a guide he knew. You were making your arrangements to ascend the
Charmoz. But he dissuaded you."
"He convinced you that your first mountain should be the Aiguille
d'Argentiere. He gave you no doubt many reasons, but not the real one
which he had in his thoughts."
Sylvia looked at Chayne in surprise.
"He sent you to the Aiguille d'Argentiere, because he knew that so you
and I would meet at the Pavilion de Lognan."
"But he had never spoken to me until that night," exclaimed Sylvia.
"Yet he had noticed you. When I went up to fetch down my friend Lattery,
you were standing on the hotel step. You said to me, 'I am sorry.' Michel
heard you speak, and that evening talked of you. He had the thought that
you and I were matched."
Sylvia looked back to the night before her first ascent. She pictured
to herself the old guide coming down the narrow street and out of the
darkness into the light of the lamp above the doorway. She recalled
how he had stopped at the sight of her, how cunningly he had spoken.
He had desired that her last step on to her first summit should bring
to her eyes and soul a revelation which no length of after years could
dim. That was the argument, and it was just the argument which would
prevail with her.
"So it was his doing," she cried, with a laugh, and at once grew serious,
dwelling, as lovers will, upon the small accident which had brought them
together, and might so easily never have occurred. An unknown guide
speaks to her in a doorway, and lo! for her the world is changed, dark
years come to an end, the pathway broadens to a road; she walks not
alone. Whatever the future may hold--she walks not alone. Suppose there
had been no lamp above the doorway! Suppose there had been a lamp and she
not there! Suppose the guide had passed five minutes sooner or five
"Oh, Hilary!" she cried, and put the thought from her.
"I was thinking," he said, "that if you were not tired we might walk
across the fields to Michel's house. He would, I think, be very happy
if we did."
A few minutes later they knocked upon Michel's door. Michel Revailloud
opened it himself and stood for a moment peering at the dim figures in
the darkness of the road.
"It is I, Michel," said Chayne, and at the sound of his voice Michel
Revailloud drew him with a cry of welcome into the house.
"So you have come back to Chamonix, monsieur! That is good"; and he
looked his "monsieur" over from head to foot and shook him warmly by the
hand. "Ah, you have come back!"
"And not alone, Michel," said Chayne.
Revailloud turned to the door and saw Sylvia standing there. She was on
the threshold and the light reached to her. Sylvia moved into the
low-roofed room. It was a big, long room, bare, and with a raftered
ceiling, and since one oil lamp lighted it, it was full of shadows. To
Chayne it had a lonely and a dreary look. He thought of his own house in
Sussex and of the evening he had passed there, thinking it just as
lonely. He felt perhaps at this moment, more than at any, the value of
the great prize which he had won. He took her hand in his, and, turning
to Michel, said simply:
"We are married, Michel. We reached Chamonix only this evening. You are
the first of our friends to know of our marriage."
Michel's face lighted up. He looked from one to the other of his visitors
and nodded his head once or twice. Then he blew his nose vigorously. "But
I let you stand!" he cried, in a voice that shook a little, and he
bustled about pushing chairs forward, and of a sudden stopped. He came
forward to Sylvia very gravely and held out his hand. She put her hand
into his great palm.
"Madame, I will not pretend to you that I am not greatly moved. This is a
great happiness to me," he said with simplicity. He made no effort to
hide either the tears which filled his eyes or the unsteadiness of his
voice. "I am very glad for the sake of Monsieur Chayne. But I know him
well. We have been good friends for many a year, madame."
"I know, Michel," she said.
"And I can say therefore with confidence I am very glad for your sake
too. I am also very glad for mine. A minute ago I was sitting here
alone--now you are both here and together. Madame, it was a kind thought
which brought you both here to me at once."
"To whom else should we come?" said Sylvia with a smile, "since it was
you, Michel, who would not let me ascend the Aiguille des Charmoz when I
Michel was taken aback for a moment; then his wrinkled and
weatherbeaten face grew yet more wrinkled and he broke into a low and
very pleasant laugh.
"Since my diplomacy has been so successful, madame, I will not deny it.
From the first moment when I heard you with your small and pretty voice
say on the steps of the hotel 'I am sorry' to my patron in his great
distress, and when I saw your face, too thoughtful for one so young, I
thought it would be a fine thing if you and he could come together. In
youth to be lonely--what is it? You slip on your hat and your cloak and
you go out. But when you are old, and your habits are settled, and you do
not want to go out at nights to search for company, then it is as well to
have a companion. And it is well to choose your companion in your youth,
madame, so that you may have many recollections to talk over together
when the good of life is chiefly recollection."
He made his visitors sit down, fetched out a bottle of wine and offered
them the hospitalities of his house, easily and naturally, like the true
gentleman he was. It seemed to Chayne that he looked a little older, that
he was a little more heavy in his gait, a little more troubled with his
eyes than he had been last year. But at all events to-night he had the
spirit, the good-humor of his youth. He talked of old exploits upon peaks
then unclimbed, he brought out his guide's book, in which his messieurs
had written down their names and the dates of the climbs, and the
photographs which they had sent to him.
"There are many photographs of men grown famous, madame," he said,
proudly, "with whom I had the good fortune to climb when they and I and
the Alps were all young together. But it is not only the famous who are
interesting. Look, madame! Here is your husband's friend, Monsieur
Lattery--a good climber but not always very sure on ice."
"You always will say that, Michel," protested Chayne. "I never knew a man
Michel Revailloud smiled and said to Sylvia:
"I knew he would spring out on me. Never say a word against Monsieur
Lattery if you would keep friends with Monsieur Chayne. See, I give you
good advice in return for your kindness in visiting an old man.
Nevertheless," and he dropped his voice in a pretence of secrecy and
nodded emphatically: "It is true. Monsieur Lattery was not always sure on
ice. And here, madame, is the portrait of one whose name is no doubt
known to you in London--Professor Kenyon."
Sylvia, who was turning over the leaves of the guide's little book,
looked up at the photograph.
"It was taken many years ago," she said.
"Twenty or twenty-five years ago," said Michel, with a shrug of the
shoulders, "when he and I and the Alps were young."
Chayne began quickly to look through the photographs outspread upon the
table. If Kenyon's portrait was amongst Revailloud's small treasures,
there might be another which he had no wish for his wife to see, the
portrait of the man who climbed with Kenyon, who was Kenyon's "John
Lattery." There might well be the group before the Monte Rosa Hotel in
Zermatt which he himself had seen in Kenyon's rooms. Fortunately however,
or so it seemed to him, Sylvia was engrossed in Michel's little book.
MICHEL REVAILLOUD'S FUEHRBUCH
The book indeed was of far more interest to her than the portrait of any
mountaineer. It had a romance, a glamour of its own. It was just a
little note-book with blue-lined pages and an old dark-red soiled
leather cover which could fit into the breast pocket and never be
noticed there. But it went back to the early days of mountaineering when
even the passes were not all discovered and many of them were still
uncrossed, when mythical peaks were still gravely allotted their
positions and approximate heights in the maps; and when the easy
expedition of the young lady of to-day was the difficult achievement of
the explorer. It was to the early part of the book to which she turned.
Here she found first ascents of which she had read with her heart in her
mouth, ascents since made famous, simply recorded in the handwriting of
the men who had accomplished them--the dates, the hours of starting and
returning, a word or two perhaps about the condition of the snow, a warm
tribute to Michel Revailloud and the signatures. The same names recurred
year after year, and often the same hand recorded year after year
attempts on one particular pinnacle, until at the last, perhaps after
fifteen or sixteen failures, weather and snow and the determination of
the climbers conspired together, and the top was reached.
"Those were the grand days," cried Sylvia. "Michel, you must be proud of
"I value it very much, madame," he said, smiling at her enthusiasm.
Michel was a human person; and to have a young girl with a lovely face
looking at him out of her great eyes in admiration, and speaking almost
in a voice of awe, was flattery of a soothing kind. "Yes, many have
offered to buy it from me at a great price--Americans and others. But I
would not part with it. It is me. And when I am inclined to grumble, as
old people will, and to complain that my bones ache too sorely, I have
only to turn over the pages of that book to understand that I have no
excuse to grumble. For I have the proof there that my life has been very
good to live. No, I would not part with that little book."
Sylvia turned over the pages slowly, naming now this mountain, now that,
and putting a question from time to time as to some point in a climb
which she remembered to have read and concerning which the narrative had
not been clear. And then a cry of surprise burst from her lips.
Chayne had just assured himself that there was no portrait of Gabriel
Strood amongst those spread out upon the table.
"What is it, madame?" asked Michel.
Sylvia did not answer, but stared in bewilderment at the open page.
Chayne saw the book which she was reading and knew that his care lest she
should come across her father's portrait was of no avail. He crossed
round behind her chair and looked over her shoulder. There on the page in
her father's handwriting was the signature: "Gabriel Strood."
Sylvia raised her face to Hilary's, and before she could put her question
he answered it quietly with a nod of the head.
"Yes, that is so," he said.
"I have known for a long time," he replied.
Sylvia was lost in wonder. Yet there was no doubt in her mind. Gabriel
Strood, of whom she had made a hero, whose exploits she knew almost by
heart, had suffered from a physical disability which might well have
kept the most eager mountaineer to the level. It was because of his
mastery over his disability that she had set him so high in her esteem.
Well, there had been a day when her father had tramped across the downs
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