The Obstacle Race
Ethel M. Dell
Part 4 out of 7
"My dear!" he said.
He let her go with the words, and she clasped her hands about her knees
and looked out to sea. She was still trembling a little, but as he sat
beside her in unbroken silence she grew gradually calmer, and presently
she spoke without any apparent difficulty.
"You've taken a good deal for granted, Dick, haven't you? You don't know
me very well."
"Don't I?" he said.
"No. You've been--dreadfully headlong all through." She smiled
faintly, with a touch of sadness. "You've skipped all the usual
preliminaries--which isn't always wise. Don't you teach your boys to
look before they leap?"
"When there's time," he said. "But you know, dear, you gave the word
for--the final plunge."
She nodded slowly once or twice. "Yes. But I didn't expect
quite--quite--Well, never mind what I expected! The fact remains, we
haven't known each other long enough. No, I know we can't go back now
and begin again. But, Dick, I want you--and it's for your sake as much
as for my own--I want you, please, to be very patient. Will you? May I
count on that?"
He put out his hand to her and gently touched her shoulder. "Don't talk
to me like a slave appealing to a sultan!" he said.
She made a little movement towards him, but she did not turn. "I don't
want to hurt you," she said. "But I'm going to ask of you something that
you won't like--at all."
"Well, what is it?" he said.
"I want you--" she paused, then turned and resolutely faced him--"I want
you to be--just friends with me again," she said.
His eyes looked straight into hers. "In public you mean?" he said.
"In private too," she answered.
"For how long?" Swiftly he asked the question, his eyes still holding
hers with a certain mastery of possession.
She made a slight gesture of pleading. "Until you know me better," she
His brows went up. "That's not a business proposition, is it? You don't
really expect me to agree to that. Now do you?"
"Ah! But you've got to understand," she said rather piteously. "I'm not
in the least the sort of woman you think I am. I'm not--Dick, I'm not--a
specially good woman."
She spoke the words with painful effort, her eyes wavered before his. But
in a moment, without hesitation, he had leapt to the rescue.
"My darling, don't tell me that! I can see what you are. I know! I know!
I don't want your own valuation. I won't listen to it. It's the one point
on which your opinion has no weight whatever with me. Please don't say
any more about it! It's you that I love--just as you are. If you were one
atom less human, you wouldn't be you, and my love--our love--might never
She sighed. "It would have saved a lot of trouble if it hadn't, Dick."
"Don't be silly!" he said. "Is there anything else that matters
half as much?"
She was silent, but her look was dubious. He drew suddenly close to her,
and slipped his hand through her arm.
"Is there anything else that really matters at all, Juliet? Tell me! I've
got to know. Does--Robin matter?"
She started at the question. It was obviously unexpected. "No! Of course
not!" she said.
"Thank you," he said steadily. "I loved you for that before you said it."
She laid her hand upon his and held it. "That's--one of the things I
love you for, Dick," she said, with eyes downcast. "You are
"Sweetheart!" he said softly. "There's no virtue in that."
Her brows were slightly drawn. "I think there is. Anyway it appeals to me
tremendously. You would stick to Robin--whatever the cost."
"Well, that, of course!" he said. "I flatter myself I am necessary to
Robin. But with Jack it is otherwise. I've kicked him out."
"Dick!" She looked at him in sharp amazement.
He smiled, a thin-lipped smile. "Yes. It had to be. I've put up with him
long enough. I told him so last night."
"You--quarrelled?" said Juliet.
"No. We didn't quarrel. I gave him his marching orders, that's all."
"But wasn't he very angry?"
"Oh, pshaw!" said Dick. "What of it?"
She was looking at him intently, for there was something merciless about
his smile. "Do you always do that, I wonder," she said, "with the people
who make you angry?"
"Do what?" he said.
"Kick them out." Her voice held a doubtful note.
He turned his hand upwards and clasped hers. "My darling, it was a
perfectly just sentence. He deserved it. Also--though I admit I have only
thought of this since--it's the best thing that could happen to him. He
can make his own way in life. It's high time he did so. I didn't kick him
out because I was angry with him either."
"But you were angry," she said. "You were nearly white-hot."
He laughed. "I kept my hands off him anyhow. But I can't be answerable
for the consequences if anyone sets to work to bait Robin persistently.
It's not fair to the boy--to either of us."
"Do you think Robin might do him a mischief?" she asked.
"I think--someone might," he answered grimly. "But never mind that now!
You don't regard Robin as a just cause and impediment. What's the next
obstacle? My profession?"
"No," she said instantly and emphatically. "I like that part of you.
There's something rather quaint about it."
His quick smile flashed upon her. "Oh, thanks awfully! I'm glad I'm
quaint. But I didn't know it was a quality that appealed to you.
I've been laying even odds with myself that I'd make you have me in
spite of it."
She coloured a little. "It doesn't really count one way or the other with
me, Dick, any more than it would count with you if I hawked stale fish in
the street for cat's meat. You see I haven't forgotten that pretty
compliment of yours. But--"
"But?" he said, frowning whimsically. "We'll have the end of that
sentence, please. It's the very thing I want to get at. What is
"Go on!" he commanded.
"Don't be a tyrant, Dick!" she said.
"My beautiful princess!" He touched her shoulder with his lips. "Then
don't you--please--be a goose! Tell me--quick!"
"And if I can't tell you, Dick? If--if it's just an instinct that says,
Wait? We've been too headlong as it is. I can't--I daren't--go on at this
pace." She was almost tearful. "I must have a little breathing-space
indeed. I came here for peace and quietness, as you know."
He broke into a sudden laugh. "So you did, dear. You were playing
hide-and-seek with yourself, weren't you? I'll bet you never expected to
find the other half of yourself in this remote corner, did you? Well,
never mind! Don't cry sweetheart--anyhow till you've got a decent excuse.
I don't want to rush you into anything against your will. Taken properly,
I'm the meekest fellow in creation. But we must have things on a sensible
footing. You see that, don't you?"
"If we could be just friends," she said.
"Well, I'm quite willing to be friends." He laughed into her eyes. "Why
so distressful? Don't you like the prospect?"
She drew his hand down into her lap and held it between her own, looking
gravely down at it. "Dick!" she said.
His smile passed. "Well, dear? What is it? You're not going to be
afraid of me?"
She did not answer him. "I want you to leave me free a little
longer," she said.
"But you are not free now," he said.
She threw him a brief, half-startled glance. "I don't mean that," she
said rather haltingly. "I mean I want you--not to ask any promise of
me--not to insist upon any bond between us--not to--not to--expect a
formal engagement--until,--well, until--"
"Until you are ready to marry me," he suggested quietly.
A quick tremor went through her. "That won't be for a long time," she
"How long?" he said.
"I don't know. Dick. I haven't the least idea. I had almost made up my
mind never to marry at all."
"Really?" he said. "Do you know, so had I. But I changed it the moment I
met you. When did you change yours?"
She laughed, but without much mirth. "I'm not sure that--"
"No, don't you say that to me!" he interrupted. "It's not cricket. You
are--quite sure, though you rather wish you weren't. Isn't that the
position? Honestly now!"
"Honestly," she said, "I can't be engaged to you yet."
"All right," he said unexpectedly. "You needn't call it that if you
don't want to. Facts are facts. We may not be engaged, but we
are--permanently--attached. We'll leave it at that."
Again swiftly she glanced towards him. "No, but, Dick--"
"Yes, but, Juliet--" His hand moved suddenly, imprisoning both of hers.
"You can't get away," he said, speaking very rapidly, "any more than I
can. If you put the whole world between us, we shall still belong to each
other. That is irrevocable. It isn't your doing, and it isn't mine. It's
a Power above and beyond us both. We can't help ourselves."
He spoke with fierce earnestness, a depth of concentration, that gripped
her just as his music had gripped her the night before. She sat
motionless, bound by the same spell that had bound her then. She did not
want to meet his eyes, but they drew irresistibly. In the end she did so.
For a space not reckoned by time she surrendered herself to a mastery
that would not be denied. She met the kindling flame of his worship, and
was strangely awed and humbled thereby. She knew now beyond all question
that this man was not as most men. He came to her with the first,
untainted offering of his love. No other woman had been before her in
that inner sanctuary which he now flung wide for her to enter. There was
a purity, a primitive simplicity, about his passion which made her
realize that very clearly. He was no boy. He had lived a life of hard
self-discipline and had put his youth behind him long since. But he
brought all the intensity of a boy's adoration to back his manhood's
strength of purpose, and before it she was impotent and half-afraid. The
men of her world had all been of a totally different mould. She was
accustomed to cynicism and the half-mocking homage of jaded experience.
But this was new, this was wonderful--a force that burned and dazzled
her, yet which attracted her irresistibly none the less, thrilling her
with a rapture that had never before entered her life. Whatever the risk,
whatever the penalty, she was bound to go forward now.
She spoke at last, her eyes still held by his. "I think you are right. We
can't help it. But oh. Dick, remember that--remember that--if ever there
should come a time when you wish you had done--otherwise!"
"If ever I do what?" he said. "Do you mind saying that again?"
She shook her head. "But I'm not laughing. Dick. You've carried me out of
my depth, and--I'm not a very good swimmer."
"All right, darling," he said. "Lean on me! I'll hold you up."
She clasped his hand tightly. "You will be patient?" she said.
He smiled into her anxious face. "As patient as patient" he said. "That,
I take it, means I'm not to tell anybody, does it?"
She bent her head. "Yes, Dick."
"All right," he said. "I won't tell a soul without your consent. But--"
he leaned nearer to her, speaking almost under his breath--"when I am
alone with you, Juliet--I shall take you in my arms--and kiss you--as I
have done to-day."
Again a swift tremor went through her. She looked at him no longer. "Oh,
but not--not without my leave," she said.
"You will give me leave," he said.
She was silent for a space. He was drawing her two hands to him, and she
tried to resist him. But in the end he had his way, and she yielded with
a little laugh that sounded oddly passionate.
"I believe you could make me give you anything," she said.
"But you can't give me what is mine already," he made quiet answer, as he
pressed the two trembling hands against his heart. "That is understood,
isn't it? And when you are tired of working for your living, you will
come to me and let me work for you."
"Perhaps," she said, with her head bent.
"Only perhaps?" he said.
His voice was deeply tender. He was trying to look into the veiled eyes.
"Only perhaps?" he said again.
She made a little movement as if she would free herself, but checked it
on the instant. Then very slowly she lifted her face to his, but she did
not meet his look. Her eyes were closed.
"Some day," she said with quivering lips,--"some day--I will."
He took her face between his hands, and held it so as if he waited for
something. Then, after a moment, "Some day--wife of my heart!" he said
very softly, and kissed the eyes that would not meet his own.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
The annual flower-show at Fairharbour was one of the chief events of the
district, and entailed such a gathering of the County as Vera Fielding
would not for worlds have missed. It also entailed the donning of
beautiful garments which was an even greater attraction than the first.
She had not been well during the sultry weather that had prevailed
throughout the early part of June, and Fielding had been considering the
advisability of taking her away for a change. But though her energy for
many of the amusements which she usually followed with zest had waned
with the lassitude that hot weather had brought upon her, she had set her
heart upon attending the flower-show, and, in obedience to the new policy
which Juliet by every means in her power persuaded him to pursue, the
squire had somewhat impatiently yielded the point. The show was to take
place in the grounds of Burchester Park. It was an immense affair, and
everyone of any importance was sure to attend.
Juliet herself would gladly have stayed away, but Mrs. Fielding, partly
as a natural consequence of her poor health and chiefly from a selfish
desire to feel herself an object of solicitude, would not hear of leaving
her behind. As Dick had predicted, she had come to lean upon Juliet, and
her dependence became every day more pronounced. At times she was even
childishly exacting, and though Juliet still maintained her right to
direct her own movements, she found her liberty considerably curtailed.
If she went down to the shore with Robin she usually met with a
querulous, and sometimes tearful, reception on her return, and though
she steadily refused to admit that there was any reason on Vera's part
for assuming this attitude, it influenced her none the less. Moreover,
Vera could be genuinely pathetic upon occasion, and there was no
disputing the fact that she stood in need of care--such care as only a
woman could give.
"I don't want a nurse," she would say plaintively. "I only want
companionship and sympathy. Motoring is my only consolation, and I can't
go motoring alone."
And then the squire would draw her aside and beg her to bear with Vera's
whims as far as possible since loneliness depressed her and she was the
only person he knew whose company did not either tire her out or irritate
her beyond endurance. It was not an easy position, but Juliet filled it
to the best of her ability and with no small self-sacrifice.
Yet in a sense it made her life the simpler, for she was still at that
difficult stage when it is easier to stand still than to go forward. She
saw Green when he came to the house, but they had not been alone together
since the morning on the shore when her love had betrayed her. She had a
feeling that he was biding his time. He had promised to be patient, and
she knew he would keep his promise. Also, his time, like hers, was very
fully occupied. Till the holidays came he would not have much liberty,
and in her secret soul Juliet was thankful that this was so. For the
present it was enough for her to hold this new joy close, close to her
heart, to gaze upon it only in solitude,--a gift most precious upon
which no other eyes might look. It was enough for her to feel the tight
grasp of his hand when they met, to catch for an instant the quick gleam
of understanding in his glance, the sudden flash of that smile which was
for her alone. These things thrilled her with a gladness so strangely
sweet that there were times when she marvelled at herself, and sometimes,
trembling, wondered if it could possibly last. For nought in life had
ever before shone so golden as this perfect dream. The very atmosphere
she breathed was subtly charged with its essence. She was absurdly,
"I believe this place suits you," the squire said to her once. "You look
years younger than when you came."
She received the compliment with her low, soft laugh. "I am--years
younger," she said.
He gave her a sharp look. "You are happy here? Not sorry you came?"
"Oh, not in the least sorry," said Juliet.
He nodded. "That's all right. You've done Vera a lot of good. She's
getting almost docile. But as soon as this flower-show business is over,
I want you to use all your influence to get her away. We'll go North and
see if we can get a little strength into her." Again he looked at her
shrewdly. "You won't mind coming too?"
"But of course not," said Juliet. "I shall love it."
He was on his way out of the room, but a sudden thought seemed to strike
him and he lingered. "Shall I make Green come to the flower-show with
us?" he asked.
"I shouldn't," said Juliet quietly. "He probably wouldn't have time, and
certainly Mrs. Fielding wouldn't want him."
He frowned. "Would you like him?" he asked abruptly.
"I?" She met his look with a baffling smile. "Oh, don't ask him on my
account! I am quite happy without a cavalier in attendance."
And Fielding went out, looking dissatisfied. But when the day arrived and
they were on the point of departure he surprised them both by the sudden
announcement that Green was to be picked up at the gates. It was a
Saturday afternoon, and for once he was at liberty.
"Oh, really, Edward!" Mrs. Fielding protested. "Now you've spoilt
"On the contrary," smiled the squire. "I have merely completed the
"I'm sure Miss Moore doesn't want him!" she declared petulantly.
"I am afraid Miss Moore will have to put up with him nevertheless," said
Fielding, unperturbed. "For he is coming."
"You always do your best to spoil my pleasure," Vera flung at him.
Juliet saw the squire's mouth take an ominous downward curve, but to her
relief he kept his temper in check. He was driving the car himself which
was an open one. Somewhat grimly he turned to Juliet. "I hope you have no
objection to sharing the back-seat with Mr. Green?"
She felt her pulses give a swift leap at the question, but with a hasty
effort she kept down her rising colour. "Of course not!" she said.
He gave her a brief smile of approval. "Then you will sit in front with
me, Vera. That is settled. Let us have no more argument!"
"It's too bad!" Vera declared stormily on the verge of indignant tears.
"My dear," he said, "don't be silly! Has it never occurred to you that I
may like to have my wife to myself occasionally?"
It evidently had not, for Vera gave him a look of sheer amazement and
yielded the point as if she had no breath left for further discussion.
He settled her in her place, and tucked the rug around her with more than
usual care. As he finished, she leaned forward and touched his shoulder
with a slightly uncertain smile.
He glanced up. "All right?"
"Quite, thank you," she said.
And Juliet in the back-seat drew a breath of relief. The squire was
becoming quite an adept at the game.
They shot down the avenue at a speed that brought them very rapidly in
sight of the gates. A figure was waiting there, and again Juliet was
conscious of the hard beating of her heart. Then she knew that the car
was stopping, and looked forth with an impersonal smile of welcome.
He came forward, greeted the squire and Mrs. Fielding, and in a moment
was getting in beside her.
"Good afternoon, Miss Moore!" he said.
She gave him her hand and felt his fingers close with a spring-like
strength upon it, while his eyes laughed into hers. Then the car was in
motion again, and he dropped into the seat.
"By Jove, this is a treat!" he said. "I had the greatest difficulty in
the world to get away, made Ashcott take my place. It isn't a very
important match, and he's a better bowler than I am anyway."
"Do you want any rug?" she said, still battling to keep back the
overwhelming flush of gladness from her face.
He accepted her offer at once, and in a moment his hand had caught and
imprisoned hers beneath its shelter.
She made a sharp movement to free herself, and the blush she had so
valiantly resisted flamed over face and neck as she felt his hold
tighten as sharply, and heard him laugh at her impotence. But he went on
talking as though nothing had happened, considerately covering her
agitation, and to her relief neither Fielding nor his wife looked round
till it had subsided.
It was barely half-an-hour's run to Burchester Park which was thrown open
to the public for the great occasion. The Castle also was open on that
day, and visitors thronged thither from every quarter.
A long procession of conveyances stood outside the great iron gates of
the Park, but the squire, owing to an acquaintanceship with Lord
Saltash's bailiff, held a permit that enabled him to drive in. They went
up the long avenue of firs that led to the great stone building, but ere
they reached it the strains of a band told them that the flower-show was
taking place in an open space on their right close to the entrance to the
terraced gardens which occupied the southern slope in front of the house.
Fielding ran the car into a deep patch of shade beside the road, and
stopped. "We had better get out here," he said.
Juliet's hand slipped free. Dick threw her a smile and jumped out.
"Will the car be all right?" he said, as he turned to help her down.
"Oh, right enough," the squire said. "There is no traffic along here."
"I am hoping to go into the house," said Vera. "But I suppose it will be
crammed with people."
"We'll do the flower-show first anyhow," said Fielding.
He led the way with her, and it seemed quite natural to Juliet that
Green should fall in beside her. It was a cloudless day, and she had an
almost childish feeling of delight in its splendour. She was determined
to enjoy herself to the utmost.
They entered the first sweltering tent and in the throng she felt again
the touch of Dick's hand at he came behind. "We mustn't lose each other,"
he said, with a laugh.
The midsummer madness was upon her, and, without looking at him she
squeezed the fingers that gripped her arm.
In a moment his voice spoke in her ear. "Look here! Let's get away! Let's
get lost! It's the easiest thing in the world. We can't all hang together
in this crowd."
This was quite evident. The great marquee was crammed with people, and
already Fielding was piloting his wife to the opening at the other end.
"We must just look round," murmured Juliet, "for decency's sake."
"All right, my dear, look!" he said. "And when you've quite finished
we'll go out by the way we came and explore the gardens."
She threw him a glance that expressed acquiescence and a certain mead of
amused appreciation. For somehow Dick Green in his blue serge and straw
hat managed to look smarter if less immaculate than any of the
white-waistcoated band of local magnates around them. So--for decency's
sake--she prowled round the tent with Dick at her shoulder, admiring
everything she saw and forgetting as soon as she had admired. She told
herself that it was a day of such supreme happiness as could not come
twice in any lifetime, and because of it she lingered, refusing to hasten
the moment for which Dick had made provision.
"Haven't you had enough of it?" he said, at last.
And she answered him with a quivering laugh. "No, not nearly. I'm
spinning out every single second."
"Ah, but they won't wait," he said. "Come! I think we're safely lost now.
Let us go!"
She turned obediently from a glorious spread of gloxinias, and he made a
way for her through the buzzing crowd to the entrance. When Dick spoke
with the voice of authority, it was her pleasure to submit.
She felt her pulses tingle as she followed him, to be alone with him
again, to feel herself encompassed by the fiery magic of his love, to
yield throbbing surrender to the mastery that would not be denied. Yet
when he turned to her outside in the hot sunshine with the blaring band
close at hand she almost shrank away, she almost voiced a pretext for
continuing their unprofitable wandering through the stifling tents. For,
strangely, though he smiled at her, there was about him in that moment a
quality that went near to scaring her. Something untamed, something
indomitable, looked out at her from his glittering eyes. It was almost
like a challenge, as if he dared her to dispute his right.
"That's better," he said, drawing a deep breath. "Now we can get away."
"We shan't get away from the people," she said.
He threw a rapid glance around. "Yes, we shall--with any luck. Come
along! I know the way. There's a little landing-stage place down by
the lake. We'll go there. There may even be a boat handy--if the gods
The gods were kind. They skirted the terraced gardens, which were not
open to the public, and plunged down a winding walk through a shrubbery
that led somewhat sharply downwards, away from the noise and the crush
into cool green depths of woodland through which at last there shone up
at them the gleam of water.
Juliet was panting when at length her guide paused. "My darling, what a
shame!" he said. "But hang on to me! There are some steps round the
corner, and they may be slippery. We'll soon be down now, and there's not
a soul anywhere. Look! There's a fairy barque waiting for us!"
She caught sight of a white skiff, lying in the water close to the bank.
As he had predicted, the final descent was a decided scramble, but he
held her up until the mossy bank was reached; and would have held her
longer, but with a little breathless laugh she released herself.
"My shoes are ruined," she remarked.
As they were of light grey suede, and the precipitous path they had
travelled was a mixture of clay and limestone the ruin was palpable and
very thorough. Dick surveyed them with compunction.
"I say, they're wet through! You must take them off at once. Get into
"No, no!" She laughed again with more assurance. "I am not going to take
them off. We couldn't dry them if I did, and I should never get them on
again. Do you think we ought to get into the boat? Suppose the owner
"The owner? Lord Saltash, do you mean?" He scoffed at the idea. "Do you
really imagine he would come within a hundred leagues of the place on
such a day as this. No, he is probably many salt miles away in that
ocean-going yacht of his. Lucky dog!"
"Oh, do you envy him?" she said.
He gave her a shrewd glance. "Not in the least. He is welcome to his
yacht--and his Lady Jo--and all that is his."
"Dick!" She made a swift gesture of repudiation. "Please don't repeat
He raised his brows with a faintly ironical smile. "Are you still giving
her the benefit of the doubt?" he said. "I imagine no one else does."
The colour went out of her face. She stood quite motionless, looking
not at him but at a whirl of dancing gnats on the gold-flecked water
"She went to Paris," she said, in the tone of one asserting a fact that
no one could dispute.
"So did he," said Green. "The yacht went round to Bordeaux to pick him up
afterwards. I understand that he was not alone."
She turned on him in sudden anger. "Why do you repeat this horrible
gossip? Where do you hear it?"
He held out his hand to her. "Juliet, I repeat it, because I want you to
know--you have got to know--that she is unworthy of your friendship,
and--you shall never touch pitch with my consent. I have heard it from
various sources,--from Ashcott, from the agent here, Bishop, and others.
My dear, you have always known her for a heartless flirt. You broke with
her because she jilted the man she was about to marry. Now that she has
gone to another man, surely you have done with her!"
He spoke without anger, but with a force and authority that carried far
more weight. Juliet's indignation passed. But she did not touch the
outstretched hand, and in a moment he bent and took hers.
"Now I've made you furious," he said.
She looked at him somewhat piteously, assaying a smile with the lips
that trembled. "No, I am not furious. Only--when you talk like that you
make me--rather uneasy. You see, Lady Jo and I have always been--birds
of a feather."
"Don't," he said, and suddenly gripped her hand so that she gasped with
pain. "Oh, did I hurt you, sweetheart? Forgive me. But I can't have you
talk like that--couple yourself with that woman whose main amusement for
years has been to break as many hearts as she could capture. Forget her,
darling! Promise me you will! Come! We're not going to let her spoil this
He was drawing her to him, but she sought to resist him, and even when
his arms were close about her she did not wholly yield. He held her to
him, but he did not press for a full surrender.
And--perhaps because of his forbearance--she presently lifted her face to
his and clung to him with all her quivering strength. "Just for to-day,
Dick!" she whispered tremulously. "Just for to-day!"
Their lips met upon the words. And, "For ever and ever!" he made
passionate answer, as he held her to his heart.
The sunshine was no less bright or the day less full of summer warmth
when they floated out upon the lake a little later. But Juliet's mood had
changed. She leaned back on Dick's coat in the stern of the boat,
drifting her fingers through the rippling water with a thoughtful face.
Once or twice she only nodded when Dick spoke to her, and he, bending to
his sculls, soon fell silent, content to watch her while the golden
The lake was long and narrow, surrounded by woodland trees with coloured
water-lilies floating here and there upon its surface--a fairy spot,
mysterious, green as emerald. The music of the band sounded distant here,
almost like the echoes of another world. They reached the middle of the
lake, and Dick suffered his sculls to rest upon the water, sending
feathery splashes from their tips that spread in widening circles all
As if in answer to an unspoken word, Juliet's eyes came up to his.
She faintly smiled. "Have you brought that woodland pipe of yours?"
He smiled back at her. "No, I am keeping that for another occasion."
She lifted her straight brows interrogatively, without speaking.
He answered her still smiling, but with that in his voice that brought
the warm colour to her face. "For the day when we go away, together,
sweetheart, and don't come back."
Her eyes sank before his, but in a moment or two she lifted them again,
meeting his look with something of an effort. "I wonder, Dick," she said
slowly, "I wonder if we ever shall."
He leaned towards her. "Are you daring me to run away with you?"
She shook her head. "I should probably turn into something very hideous
if you did, and that would be--rather terrible for both of us."
"That's a parable, is it?" He was still looking at her keenly, earnestly.
She made a little gesture of remonstrance, as if his regard were too much
for her. "You can take it as you please. But as I have no intention of
running away with you, perhaps it is beside the point."
He laughed with a hint of mastery. "Our intentions on that subject may
not be the same. I'll back mine against yours any day."
She smiled at his words though her colour mounted higher. After a
moment she sat up, and laid a hand upon his knee. "Dick, you're getting
too managing--much. I suppose it's the schoolmaster part of you. I
daresay you find it gets you the upper hand with a good many, but--it
won't with me."
His hand was on hers in an instant, she thrilled to the electricity of
his touch. "No--no!" he said. "That's just the soul of me, darling,
leaping all the obstacles to reach and hold you. You're not going to tell
me you have no use for that?"
"But you promised to be patient," she said.
"Well, I will be. I am. Don't look so serious! What have I done?"
His eyes challenged her to laughter, and she laughed, though somewhat
uncertainly. "Nothing--yet, Dick. But--I don't feel at all sure of you
to-day. You make me think of a faun of the woods. I haven't the least
idea what you will do next."
"What a mercy I've got you safe in the boat!" he said. "I didn't know you
were so shy. What shall I do to reassure you?"
His hand moved up her wrist with the words, softly pushing up the lacy
sleeve, till it found the bend of the elbow, when he stooped and kissed
the delicate blue veins, closely with lips that lingered.
Then, his head still bent low, very tenderly he spoke. "Don't be afraid
of my love, sweetheart! Let it be your--defence!"
She was sitting very still in his hold save that every fibre of her
throbbed at the touch of his lips. But in a moment she moved, touched his
shoulder, his neck, with fingers that trembled, finally smoothed the
close black hair.
"Why did you make me love you?" she said, and uttered a sharp sigh that
caught her unawares.
He laughed as he raised his head. "Poor darling! You didn't want to, did
you? Hard lines! I believe it's upset all your plans for the future."
"It has," she said. "At least--it threatens to!"
"What a shame!" He spoke commiseratingly. "And what were your plans--if
it isn't impertinent of me to ask?"
She smiled faintly. "Well, marriage certainly wasn't one of them. And I'm
not sure that it is now. I feel like the girl in _Marionettes_--Cynthia
Paramount--who said she didn't think any women ought to marry until she
had been engaged at least six times."
"That little beast!" Dick sat up suddenly and returned to his sculls.
"Juliet, why did you read that book? I told you not to."
Her smile deepened though her eyes were grave. She clasped her fingers
about her knees. "My dear Dick, that's why. It didn't hurt me like _The
Valley of Dry Bones._ In fact I was feeling so nice and superior when I
read it that I rather enjoyed it."
Dick sent the boat through the water with a long stroke. His face was
stern. After a moment Juliet looked at him. "Are you cross with me
because I read it, Dick?"
His face softened instantly. "With you! What an idea!"
"With the man who wrote it then?" she suggested. "He exasperates me
intensely. He has such a maddeningly clear vision, and he is so
"And yet you persist in reading him!" Dick's voice had a faintly
"And yet I persist in reading him. You see, I am a woman, Dick. I haven't
your lordly faculty for ignoring the people I most dislike. I detest Dene
Strange, but I can't overlook him. No one can. I think his character
studies are quite marvellous. That girl and her endless flirtations, and
then--when the real thing comes to her at last--that unspeakable man of
iron refusing to take her because she had jilted another man, ruining
both their lives for the sake of his own rigid code! He didn't deserve
her in any case. She was too good for him with all her faults." Juliet
paused, studying her lover's face attentively. "I hope you're not that
sort of man, Dick," she said.
He met her eyes. "Why do you say that?"
"Because there's a high-priestly expression about your mouth that rather
looks as if you might be. Please don't tell me if you are because it will
spoil all my pleasure! Give me a cigarette instead and let's enjoy
"You'll find the case in my coat behind," he said. "But, Juliet, though
I wouldn't spoil your pleasure for the world, I must say one thing. If
a woman engages herself to a man, I consider she is bound in honour to
fulfil her engagement--unless he sets her free. If she is an
honourable woman, she will never free herself without his consent. I
hold that sort of engagement to be a debt of honour--as sacred as the
marriage vow itself."
"Even though she realizes that she is going to make a mistake?" said
Juliet, beginning to search the coat.
"Whatever the circumstances," he said. "An engagement can only be broken
by mutual consent. Otherwise, the very word becomes a farce. I have no
sympathy with jilts of either sex. I think they ought to be kicked out of
Juliet found the cigarettes and looked up with a smile. "I think you and
Dene Strange ought to collaborate," she said. "You would soon put this
naughty world to rights between you. Now open your mouth and shut your
eyes, and if you're very good I'll light it for you!"
There was in her tone, despite its playfulness, a delicate finality that
told him plainly that she had no intention of pursuing the subject
further, and, curiously, the man's heart smote him for a moment. He felt
as if in some fashion wholly inexplicable he had hurt her.
"You're not vexed with me, sweetheart?" he said.
She looked at him still smiling, but her look, her smile, were more
of a veil than a revelation. "With you! What an idea!" she said,
"Ah, don't!" he said. "I'm not like that, Juliet!"
She held up the cigarette. "Quite ready? Ah, Dick! Don't--don't upset
For the sculls floated loose again in the rowlocks. He had her by the
wrists, the arms, the shoulders. He had her, suddenly and very closely,
against his heart. He covered her face with his kisses, so that she
gasped and gasped for breath, half-laughing, half-dismayed.
"Dick, how--how disgraceful of you! Dick, you mustn't! Someone--someone
will see us!"
"Let them!" he said, grimly reckless. "You brought it on yourself. How
dare you tell me I'm like a high priest? How dare you, Juliet?"
"I daren't," she assured him, her hand against his mouth, restraining
him. "I never will again. You're much more like the great god Pan. There,
now do be good! Please be good! I am sure someone is watching us. I can
feel it in my bones. You're flinging my reputation to the little fishes.
He held the appealing hand and kissed it very tenderly. "I can't resist
that," he said. "So now we're quits, are we? And no one any the worse.
Juliet, you'll have to marry me soon."
She drew away from his arms, still panting a little. Her face was
burning. "Now we'll go back," she said. "You're very unmanageable to-day.
I shall not come out with you again for a long time."
"Yes--yes, you will!" he urged. "I shouldn't be so unmanageable if I
She laughed rather shakily. "You're absurd and extravagant. Please row
back now, Dick! Mr. and Mrs. Fielding will be wondering where we are."
"Let 'em wonder!" said Dick.
Nevertheless, moved by something in her voice or face, he turned the boat
and began to row back to the little landing-stage. Juliet rescued the
cigarettes from the floor, and presently placed one between his lips and
lighted it for him. But her eyes did not meet his during the process, and
her hand was not wholly steady. She leaned back in the stern and smoked
her own cigarette afterwards in almost unbroken silence.
"Don't you want a water-lily?" Dick said to her once as they drew
near a patch.
She shook her head. "No, don't disturb them! They're happier where
"Impossible!" he protested. "When they might be with you!"
She raised her eyes to his then, and looked at him very steadily. "No,
that doesn't follow, Dick," she said.
"I think it does," he said. "Never mind if you don't agree! Tell me
when you are coming to sing at one of my Saturday night concerts at
"Oh, I don't know, Dick." She looked momentarily embarrassed. "You know
we are going away very soon, don't you?"
"Where to?" he said.
"I don't know. Either Wales or the North. Mrs. Fielding needs a change,
"You're coming back?" he said.
"I suppose so--some time. Why?" She looked at him questioningly.
He leaned forward, his black eyes unswervingly upon her. "Because--if you
don't--I shall come after you," he said, with iron determination.
She laughed a little. "Pray don't look so grim! I probably shall come
back all in good time. I will let you know if I don't, anyway."
"You promise?" he said.
"Of course I promise." She flicked her cigarette-ash into the water. "I
won't disappear without letting you know first."
"Without letting me know where to find you," he said.
She glanced over his shoulder as if measuring the distance between the
skiff and the landing-stage. "No, I don't promise that. It wouldn't be
fair. But you will be able to trace me by Columbus. He will certainly
accompany the cat's-meat cart wherever it goes. Oh, Dick! There's someone
there--waiting for us!"
He also threw a look behind him. "Shall I put her about? I don't see
anyone, but if you wish it--"
"No, no, I don't! Row straight in! There is someone there, and you'll
have to apologize. I knew we were being watched."
Juliet sat upright with a flushed face.
Dick began to laugh. "Dear, dear! How tragic! Never mind, darling! I
daresay it's no one more important than a keeper, and we will see if we
can enlist his sympathy."
He pulled a few swift strokes and the skiff glided up to the little
landing-stage. He shipped the sculls, and held to the woodwork with
"Will you get ashore, dear, and I'll tie up. There's no one here, you
"No one that matters," said a laughing voice above him, and suddenly a
man in a white yachting-suit, slim, dark, with a monkey-like activity of
movement, stepped out from the spreading shadow of a beech.
"Hullo!" exclaimed Dick, startled.
"Hullo, sir! Delighted to meet you. Madam, will you take my hand?
Ah--_et tu, Juliette!_ Delighted to meet you also."
He was bowing with one hand extended, the other on his heart. Juliet,
still seated in the stern of the boat, had gone suddenly white to the
She gasped a little, and in a moment forced a laugh that somehow sounded
desperate. "Why, it is Charles Rex!" she said.
Dick's eyes came swiftly to her. "Who? Lord Saltash, isn't it? I thought
so." His look flashed back to the man above him with something of a
challenge. "You know this lady then?"
Two eyes--one black, one grey--looked down into his, answering the
challenge with gay inconsequence. "Sir, I have that inestimable
privilege. _Juliette,_ will you not accept my hand?"
Juliet's hand came upwards a little uncertainly, then, as he grasped it,
she stood up in the boat. "This is indeed a surprise," she said, and
again involuntarily she gasped. "Rumour had it that you were a hundred
miles away at least."
"Rumour!" laughed Lord Saltash. "How oft hath rumour played havoc with my
name! Not an unpleasant surprise, I trust?"
He handed her ashore, laughing on a note of mockery. Charles
Burchester, Lord Saltash, said to be of royal descent, possessed in
no small degree the charm not untempered with wickedness of his
reputed ancestor. His friends had dubbed him "the merry monarch" long
since, but Juliet had found a more dignified appellation for him which
those who knew him best had immediately adopted. He had become Charles
Rex from the day she had first bestowed the title upon him. Somehow,
in all his varying--sometimes amazing--moods, it suited him.
She stood with him on the little wooden landing-stage, her hand still in
his, and the colour coming back into her face. "But of course not!" she
said in answer to his light words, laughing still a trifle breathlessly.
"If you will promise not to prosecute us for trespassing!"
"_Mais, Juliette_!" He bent over her hand. "You could not trespass if you
tried!" he declared gallantly. "And the cavalier with you--may I not have
the honour of an introduction?"
He knew how to jest with grace in an awkward moment. Dick realised that,
as, having secured the boat, he presented himself for Juliet's low-spoken
"Mr. Green--Lord Saltash!"
Saltash extended a hand, his odd eyes full of quizzical amusement. "I've
heard your name before, I think. And I believe I've seen you somewhere
too. Ah, yes! It's coming back! You are the Orpheus who plays the flute
to the wild beasts at High Shale. I've been wanting to meet you. I
listened to you from my car one night, and--on my soul--I nearly wept!"
Dick smiled with a touch of cynicism. "Miss Moore was listening that
night too," he said.
"Yes," Juliet said quickly. "I was there."
Saltash looked at her questioningly for a moment, then his look returned
to Dick. "I am the friend who never tells," he observed. "So it was--Miss
Moore--you were playing to, was it? Ah, _Juliette_!" He threw her a
sudden smile. "I would I could play like that!"
She uttered her soft, low laugh. "No; you have quite enough
accomplishments, _mon ami_. Now, if you don't mind, I think we
had better walk back and find Mr. and Mrs. Fielding. Perhaps you
know--or again perhaps you don't--they live at Shale Court. And I
am with them--as Mrs. Fielding's companion. I--" she hesitated
momentarily--"have left Lady Jo."
"Oh, I know that," said Saltash. "I've missed you badly. We all have.
When are you coming back to us?"
"I don't know," said Juliet.
He gave her one of his humorous looks. "Next week--some time--never?"
She opened her sun-shade absently. "Probably," she said.
"Rather hard on Lady Jo, what?" he suggested. "Don't you miss her at
"No," said Juliet. "I can't--honestly--say I do."
"Oh, let us be honest at all costs!" he said. "Do you know what Lady Jo
is doing now?"
Juliet hesitated an instant, as if the subject were distasteful to her.
"I can guess," she said somewhat distantly.
"I'll bet you can't," said Saltash, with a twist of the eyebrows that
was oddly characteristic of him. "So I'll tell you. She's running in an
obstacle race, and--to be quite, quite honest--I don't think she's
going to win."
There was a moment's pause. Then the man on Juliet's other side spoke,
briefly and with decision. "Miss Moore is no longer interested in Lady
Joanna Farringmore's doings. Their friendship is at an end."
Juliet made a slight gesture of remonstrance, but she spoke no word in
A gleam of malice danced in Saltash's eyes; it was like the turn of a
rapier in a practised hand. "Most wise and proper!" he said. "_Juliette_,
I always admired your discretion."
"You were always very kind, Charles Rex," she made grave reply.
They went back up the winding glen, and as they went Lord Saltash talked,
superbly at his ease, of the doings of the past few weeks, "since you and
that naughty Lady Jo dropped out," as he expressed it to Juliet. He had
just recently been to Paris, had motored across France, had just returned
by sea from Bordeaux in his yacht, the _Night Moth._
"Landed to-day--forgot this unspeakable flower-show--had to put in to
get her cleaned up for Cowes--though it's quite possible I shan't go near
Cowes when all's said and done. She's quite seaworthy, warranted not to
kick in a gale. If anyone wanted her for a cruise--she's about the best
They reached the shrubbery to be nearly deafened by the band.
"Come through the gardens!" said Saltash, with a shudder. "We must get
out of this somehow."
"But my people!" objected Juliet.
"Oh, Mr. Green will go and find them, won't you, Mr. Green?" Saltash
turned a disarming smile upon him.
But Green looked straight back without a smile. "Miss Moore is under my
escort," he observed. "If she agrees, I think we had better go together."
"And do you agree, _Juliette_?" enquired Saltash with interest.
Juliet met the mocking eyes with a smile that was certainly
unintentional. "They may be in the Castle," she said. "I know they
meant to go."
"Good!" he ejaculated. "Then come to the Castle! I will get you tea in my
own secret den if such a thing is to be had--tea or a cocktail, _ma
"Will you lead the way?" said Juliet, and for a second--only a
second--her hand pressed Dick's arm with a quick, confidential
pressure that was not without its appeal. "We always follow Charles
Rex!" she said.
Saltash chuckled. Plainly the adventure amused him.
They entered the trim gardens, escaping thankfully from the wandering
crowd of sight-seers. Saltash led the way with a certain unconscious
arrogance of bearing. Somehow, his ugliness notwithstanding, he fitted
his surroundings perfectly, save that the white yachting-suit ought to
have been fashioned of satin, and a sword should have dangled at his
side. The old stone turrets that towered above the blazing parterres
gleamed in the hot sunlight--a mediaeval castle of romance.
"What a glorious old place!" said Juliet.
He turned to her. "You have never seen it before?"
"Never," she answered.
He made her a bow that was slightly foreign. There was French blood in
his veins. "I give you welcome, _maladi_," he said, "I and my poor castle
are all yours to command."
He made a gallant figure there on his stone terrace. The girl's eyes
shone a little, but they turned almost immediately to the other man
at her side.
"Beautiful, isn't it, Dick?" she said.
He met her look, and she was conscious of a chill. She had never seen
him look so aloof, so cynical. "A temple of delight!" he said.
His manner offended her. She turned deliberately away from him. And again
Lord Saltash chuckled, as though at some secret joke.
They entered by a narrow door at the head of a flight of steps. "This
at least is private," declared Saltash, as he took a key from an
"Does no one ever come in here when you are away?" Juliet asked.
"Not by this entrance," he said. "There is another into the Castle itself
which is known to a few. It leads into the music room whence Mr. Green
will be able to start upon his search."
He threw a mischievous glance at Green who met it with a look so direct,
and so unswerving that the odd eyes blinked and turned away.
But curiously a spirit of perversity seemed to have entered into Juliet.
She also looked at Dick. "I wish you would go and find them," she said.
"I know they will be wondering where we are."
His brows went up. She thought he was going to refuse. And then quite
suddenly he yielded. "Certainly if you wish it!" he said. "And when they
"Oh, dump them in the great hall!" said Saltash. "To be left till
"Charles!" protested Juliet.
He grinned at her--a wicked, monkeyish grin, and threw open the door,
disclosing a steep and winding stone stair.
"Will you be pleased to enter!" he said, in the tone of one issuing a
But she hung for a moment, looking back with a strange wistfulness at the
man she was leaving. The imprisoned air came out into the hot sunshine
like a cold vapour. She shivered a little.
"Dick!" she said.
He stopped at the foot of the outside steps looking up at her. His
eyes were extremely bright, and something within her shrank from
their straight regard. It conveyed possession, dominance; almost it
conveyed a menace.
"When you have found them, come and--tell me!" she said.
He lifted his hat to her with punctilious courtesy, and turned away. "I
will," he said.
"That's a masterful sort of person," observed Saltash, as they mounted
the dimly-lit turret stair. "What does he do for a living?"
Juliet hesitated, conscious of a strong repugnance to discuss her
lover with this man from her old world whom, strangely, at that
moment, she felt that she knew so infinitely better. But she could not
withhold an answer to so ordinary a question. Moreover Saltash could
be imperious when he chose, and she knew instinctively that it was not
wise to cross him.
"By profession," she said slowly at length, "he is--a village
Saltash's laugh stung, though it was exactly what she had expected. But
he qualified it the next moment with careless generosity.
"Quite a presentable cavalier, _ma Juliette_! And a fixed occupation is
something of an advantage at times, _n'est-ce-pas?--Je t'aime, tu
l'aime_! And how soon do you ride away? Or is that question premature?"
Juliet's face burned in the dimness, but she was in front of him and
thankfully aware that he could not see it. "I am not answering any more
questions, Charles," she said. "Now that you have got me into your
ogre's castle, you must be--kind."
"I will be kindness itself," he assured her. "You know I am the soul of
hospitality. All I have is yours."
The narrow stair ended at a small stone landing on which was a door.
Juliet stepped aside as she reached it, and waited for her host. "It's
rather like a prison," she said.
"You won't think so when you get through that door," he said. "By Jove!
To think that I've actually got you--you of all people!--here in my
stronghold! Do you realize that without my permission you can't possibly
get out again?"
Juliet's laugh was absolutely spontaneous. She faced him in that narrow
space with the poise and confidence of a queen. The light from a window
that pierced the wall above shone down upon her. In that moment she was
endowed with an extraordinary beauty that was more of being, of
personality, than of feature.
"It is exactly this that I have played for, Charles Rex," she said. "You
hold all the cards, _mon ami_. But--the game is mine."
"How so?" He was looking at her curiously, a dancing demon in his eyes.
She put out her hand to him, and as he took it, sank to the stone floor
in a superb curtsy. "Because I claim your gracious protection, my lord
the king. I ask your royal favour."
He lifted her hand to his lips as she rose. "You are--as ever--quite
irresistible, _ma Juliette_," he smiled. "But--do you really contemplate
marrying this fortunate young man? Because there are limits--even to my
generosity. I am not sure that I can permit that."
Her eyes looked straight into his. "You can do--anything you choose to
do, Charles Rex," she said; "except one thing."
He made a grimace at her. "I am king in my own castle anyway," he
observed, watching her. "And you are at my mercy."
"It is your mercy that I am waiting for," she said, a faint smile at the
corners of her lips.
"Ah!" he said, stood a moment longer, contemplating her, then turned
abruptly and flung open the door against which he stood.
It led into a winding passage of such a totally different character
from the stone staircase they had just mounted that Juliet stood gazing
down it for some seconds before she obeyed his mute gesture to pass
through. It was thickly carpeted, deadening all sound, and the walls
were hung with some heavy material, in the colour of old oak. It was
lighted by three long perpendicular slits of windows, let into a
twelve-foot thickness of wall. Juliet had a glimpse of many pine trees
as she passed them.
The passage ended in heavy curtains of the same dark-brown material. She
stopped and looked at her companion.
"What is it?" he said, with a laugh. "Are you afraid of my inner
He parted the curtains, disclosing a tall oak door. She saw no latch upon
it, but his hand went up behind the curtain, and she heard the click of a
spring. In a moment the tall door opened before her.
"Go in!" he said easily.
She entered a strange room, oak-panelled, shaped like a cone, lighted
only by a glass dome in the roof. It was the most curious chamber she
had ever seen. She trod on a tiger-skin as she entered, and noted that
the floor was covered with them. There was no chair anywhere, only a
long, deep couch, also draped with tiger-skins. Tiger faces glared at
her from all directions. She heard the door click behind her and
turning realized that it had disappeared in the oak panelling against
which her host was standing.
He laughed at her quizzically, "I believe you are frightened."
She looked around her, seeing no exit anywhere. "It is just the sort of
freak apartment I should expect you to delight in," she said.
"You wouldn't have come if you had known, would you?" he said, a faint
note of jeering in his voice.
"Of course I should!" said Juliet.
"Of course!" he mocked. "I am such a peculiarly safe person, am I not?
Every member of your charming sex trusts me instinctively."
She turned and faced him. "Don't be ridiculous, Charles! You see, I
happen to know you."
He looked at her with something of the air of a monkey that contemplates
snatching some forbidden thing. "Why did you run away?" he said.
She hesitated. "That's a hard question, isn't it?"
"Oh, don't mind me!" he said. "I don't flatter myself I was the cause."
Her dark brows were slightly drawn. "No, you were not," she said. "It was
just--it was Lady Jo herself, Charlie. No one else."
"Ah!" His goblin smile flashed out at her. "Poor erring Lady Jo! Don't be
too hard on her! She has her points."
She laid her hand quickly on his arm. "Don't try to defend her! She is
quite despicable. I have done with her."
His hand was instantly on hers. He laughed into her eyes. "I'll wager you
have a lingering fellow-feeling for her even yet."
"Not since she was reported to have run away with you," countered Juliet.
He laughed aloud. "Ah! She forfeited your sympathy there, did she? Mais,
Juliette--" his voice sank suddenly upon a caressing note, "there are few
women to whom I could not give happiness--for a time."
"I know," said Juliet, and drew her hand away. "That is why we all admire
you so. But even you, most potent Charles, couldn't satisfy a woman who
was wanting--some one else."
"You don't think I could make her forget?" he said.
She shook her head, smiling. "When the real thing comes along, all shams
must go overboard. It's the rule of the game."
"And this is the real thing?" he questioned.
She made a little gesture as of one who accepts the inevitable. "_Je le
crois bien_," she said softly.
Lord Saltash made a grimace. "And I am to give you up without a thought
to this bounder?"
"You would," she replied gently, "if I were yours to give."
"If you were Lady Jo for instance?" he suggested.
"Exactly. If I were Lady Jo." She looked at him with the faint
smile still at her lips. "It won't cost you much to be generous,
Charles," she said.
"How do you know what it costs?" He frowned at her suddenly. "You'll
accuse me of being benevolent next. But I'm not benevolent, and I'm not
going to be. I might be to Lady Jo, but not to you, _ma cherie_,--never
to you!" His grin burst through his frown. "Come! Sit down! I'll get
you a drink."
She turned to the deep settee, and sank down among tigerskins with a
sigh. He opened a cupboard in the panelling of the wall, and there
followed the chink of glasses and the cheery buzz of a syphon. In a few
moments he came to her with a tall glass in his hand containing a frothy
drink. "Look here, _Juliette_!" he said. "Come to France with me in the
_Night Moth_, and we'll find Lady Jo!"
She accepted the drink and lay back without looking at him. "You always
were an eccentric," she said. "I don't want to find Lady Jo."
He sat on the head of the settee at her elbow. "It's quite a fair offer,"
he said, as if she had not spoken. "You will--eventually--return from
Paris, and no one will ever know. In these days a woman of the world
pleases herself and is answerable to none. _Mais, Juliette_!" He reached
down and coaxingly held her hand. "_Pourquoi pas_?"
She lifted her eyes slowly to his face. "I have told you," she said.
"You're not in earnest!" he protested.
She kept her look steadily upon him. "Charles Rex, I am in earnest."
His fingers clasped hers more closely. "But I can't allow it. We can't
spare you. And you--yourself, _Juliette_--you will never endure life in a
backwater. You will pine for the old days, the old friends, the old
lovers,--as they will pine for you."
"No, never!" said Juliet firmly.
He leaned down to her. "I say you will. This is--a midsummer madness.
This will pass."
She started slightly at his words. The sparkling liquid splashed over.
She lifted the glass to her lips, and drank. When she ceased, he took it
softly from her, and put it to his own. Then he set down the empty glass
and slipped his arm behind her.
"_Juliette_, I am going to save you," he said, "from yourself."
She drew away from him. "Charles, I forbid that!"
She was breathing quickly but her voice was quiet. There was indomitable
resolution in her eyes.
He paused, looking at her closely. "You deny--to me--what you were
permitting with so much freedom barely half-an-hour ago to the village
schoolmaster?" he said.
Her face flamed. "I have always denied you--that!" she said.
He smiled. "Times alter, Juliette. You are no longer in a position
to deny me."
She kept her eyes upon him. "You mean I have trusted you too far?" she
said, a deep throb in her voice. "I might have known!"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Life is a game of hazard, is it not? And you
were always a daring player. But, Juliette, you cannot always win. This
time the luck is against you."
She was silent. Very slowly her eyes left his. She drooped forward
as she sat.
He leaned down to her again, his face oddly sympathetic. "After all,--you
claimed my protection," he said.
She made a sudden movement. She turned sharply, almost blindly. She
caught him by the shoulders. "Oh, Charles!" she said. "Charles Rex! Is
there no mercy no honour--in you?"
There was a passion of supplication in her voice and action. As she held
him he could have clasped her in his arms. But he did not. He sat
motionless, looking at her, his expression still monkey-like,
"Well, you shouldn't tempt me, Juliette," he said. "It isn't fair to a
miserable sinner. You were always the cherry just out of reach.
Naturally, I'm inclined to snatch when I find I can."
Juliet was trembling, but she controlled her agitation.
"No, that isn't allowed," she said. "It isn't the game. And you
never--seriously--wanted me either."
"But I'm never serious!" protested Saltash. "Neither are you. It's your
one solid virtue."
"I am serious now," she said.
He looked at her quizzically. "Somehow it suits you. Well, listen,
_Juliette_! I'll strike a bargain with you. When you are through with
this, you will come with me for that cruise in the _Night Moth_.
"But I am not--quite mad, Rex!" she said.
He lifted his hands to hers and lightly held them. "It is no madder a
project than the one you are at present engaged upon. What? You won't?
You defy me to do my worst?"
"No, I don't defy you," she said.
He flashed a smile at her. "How wise! But listen! It's a bargain all the
same. You put me on my honour. I put you on yours. Go your own way!
Pursue this bubble you call love! And when it bursts and your heart is
broken--you will come back to me to have it mended. That is the price I
put upon my mercy. I ask no pledge. It shall be--a debt of honour. We
count that higher than a pledge."
"Ah!" Juliet said, and suppressed a sudden tremor.
He stood up, gallantly raising her as he did so. "And now we will go
and look for your friends," he said. "Is all well, _ma cherie_? You
She forced herself to smile. "You are a preposterous person, Charles
Rex," she said. "Yes, let us go!"
She turned with him towards the panelling, but she did not see by what
trick he opened again the door by which they had entered. She only saw,
with a wild leap of the heart, Dick Green, upright, virile, standing
against the dark hangings of the passage beyond.
He was breathing hard, as if he had been hurrying. He spoke to her
exclusively, ignoring the man at her side.
"Will you come at once? Mrs. Fielding has been taken ill."
She started forward. "Dick! Where is she?"
"Downstairs." Briefly he answered her. "She collapsed in one of the
tents. They brought her into the house. She is in the library."
Juliet hastened along the passage. Like Dick, she seemed no longer aware
of Saltash's presence. He came behind, a speculative expression on his
"Let me go first!" Dick said, as they reached the head of the
Juliet gave place to him without a word. They descended rapidly.
At the foot the door stood open to the terrace. They came again into the
blazing sunshine, and here Juliet paused and looked back at Saltash.
He came to her side. "Don't look so alarmed! It's probably only the heat.
Do you know the way to the library? Through that conservatory over there
is the shortest cut. I suppose I may come with you? I may be of use."
"Of course!" said Juliet. "Thank you very much."
Dick barely glanced over his shoulder. He was already on his way.
They entered the Castle again by the conservatory that Saltash had
indicated. It was a mass of flowers, but the public were evidently not
admitted here, for it was empty. In the centre a nymph hung over a
marble basin under a tinkling fountain. They passed quickly by to an
open glass door that led into the house. Here Dick stopped and drew
back, looking at Juliet.
"I will wait here," he said.
She nodded and went swiftly past him into the room.
It was a dark apartment, book-lined, chill of atmosphere, with heavy,
ancient furniture, and a sense of solitude more suggestive of some
monastic dwelling than any ordinary habitation. The floor was of polished
oak that shone with a sombre lustre.
Juliet paused for a moment involuntarily upon entering. It was as if a
sinister hand had been laid upon her, arresting her. The gloom blinded
her after the hot radiance outside. Then a voice--Fielding's voice--spoke
to her, and she went forward gropingly.
He met her, took her urgently by the shoulder. "Thank heaven, you're here
at last!" he said.
Looking at him, she saw him as a man suddenly stricken with age. His face
was grey. He led her to a settee by the high oak fireplace, and
there--white, inanimate as a waxen figure--she found Vera Fielding.
Fear pierced her, sharp as the thrust of a knife. She freed herself from
Fielding's grip, and knelt beside the silent form. For many awful seconds
she watched and listened, not breathing.
"Is she gone?" asked Fielding in a hoarse whisper at last.
She looked up at him. "Get brandy--hot bottles--quick! Send
Dick--he's in the conservatory. No, stay! Send Saltash! He's there
too. He'll know where to find things. Tell Dick to come here! Have
you sent for a doctor?"
"There's been no one to send," he answered frantically. "Some man helped
to bring her in here, but she didn't faint till after we got in, and
then I couldn't leave her. He went off to look after the crowd going
round the Castle."
"All right," Juliet said. "Lord Saltash will see to that. Ask them
to come in!"
She was unfastening the filmy gown with steady fingers. Whatever the
dread at her heart there was no sign of it apparent in her bearing. She
moved without haste or agitation.
At a touch on her shoulder she looked up and saw Dick at her side. "Ah,
there you are!" she said. "We want a doctor. Will you see to it? No doubt
there's a telephone somewhere. Ask Lord Saltash!"
"In the gun-room," said Saltash. "Door next to this on the left. Name of
Rossiter. Shall I see to it?"
"No--no," she said. "You get some brandy, please--at once!"
They obeyed her orders with promptitude. Dick went straight from the
room. Saltash turned to the fireplace, and pressed an electric bell three
times very emphatically.
Then he came to Juliet's side. "You ought to lay her flat, _Juliette_. I
know this sort of seizure. Heart of course! My mother died of it."
"Help me to lift her!" said Juliet.
They raised her between them with infinite care and flattened the
cushions beneath her. Then Saltash, his queer face full of the most
earnest concern began to chafe one of the nerveless hands.
Fielding tramped ceaselessly up and down the room, his head on his chest.
Every time he drew near his wife he glanced at her and swung away again,
as one without hope.
After a brief interval the door opened to admit a silent footed butler
bearing a tray. Saltash turned upon him swiftly.
"Brandy, Billings? That's right. And look here! Find Mrs. Parsons!
Tell her a lady has been taken ill in the library! She had better get
a bed ready, and have some boiling water handy. Anything else?" He
looked at Juliet.
She shook her head. "No, nothing till the doctor comes. I hope he
won't be long."
Saltash poured out some brandy. Fielding came to a standstill behind
Juliet, and stood looking on.
"We won't lift her again," whispered Juliet. "Try a spoon!"
He gave it to her, and she slipped it between the white lips. But there
was no sign of life, no attempt to swallow.
"She is dead!" said Fielding heavily.
Saltash glanced at him. "I think not," he said gently. "I'm nearly
certain I felt her pulse move just now."
The door opened again, and Dick entered. He went straight to the squire,
and put his arm round his bent shoulders. "There'll be a doctor here in
ten minutes," he said.
Fielding seemed barely to hear the words. "Do you think she'll ever speak
again, Dick?" he said.
"Please God she will, sir," said Dick very steadily.
He kept his arm round Fielding, and in a few moments succeeded in
drawing him aside. He put him into a chair by the table, poured out
some brandy and water, and made him drink it. Looking up a moment
later, he found Saltash's odd eyes curiously upon him. He returned the
look with a conscious sense of antagonism, but Saltash almost
immediately turned away.
There followed what seemed an interminable space of waiting, during which
no change of any sort was apparent in the silent figure on the settee.
The blatant bray of the band still sounded in the distance with a
flaunting gaiety almost intolerable to those who waited. Saltash frowned
as he heard it, but he did not stir from Juliet's side.
Then, after an eternity of suspense, the sombre-faced butler opened the
door again and ushered in the doctor. Saltash went to meet him and
brought him to the settee. Fielding got up and came forward.
Dick stood for a moment, then turned and went back to the conservatory,
where a few seconds later Saltash joined him.
"I should like to burn that damn band alive!" he remarked as he did so.
Dick shrugged his shoulders and said nothing.
Again Saltash's eyes dwelt upon him with curiosity. "I want to know you,"
he said suddenly. "I hope you don't object?"
"I am vastly honoured by your notice," said Dick.
Saltash nodded. "Well, don't be an ass about it! I am a most inoffensive
person, I assure you. And it isn't my fault that I was on friendly terms
with _Mademoiselle Juliette_ before she forsook the world, etc., etc.,
and turned to you to fill the void. Do you flatter yourself you are going
to marry her by any chance?"
A swift gleam shot up in Dick's eyes. He stiffened involuntarily. "That
is a subject I cannot discuss--even with you," he said.
Saltash smiled good-humouredly. "Well, I expected that. But your
courtship on the lake this afternoon was so delightfully ingenuous that
I couldn't help wondering what your intentions were."
Dick's mouth became a simple hard line. He looked the other man up and
down with lightning rapidity ere he replied with significance. "My
intentions, my lord, are--honourable."
Saltash bowed with his hand on his heart and open mockery in his eyes.
"_La pauvre Juliette_! And have you told her yet? No, look here! Don't
knock me down! There's no sense in taking offence at a joke you can't
understand. And it would be bad manners to have a row, with that poor
soul in there at death's door. Moreover, if you really want to marry the
princess _Juliette_, it'll pay you to be friends with me."
"I doubt if anything would induce me to be that," said Dick curtly.
"Oh, really? What have I done? No, don't tell me! It would take too long.
I am aware I'm a by-word for wickedness in these parts, heaven alone
knows why. But at least I've never injured you." Saltash's smile was
suddenly disarming again.
"Never had much opportunity, have you?" said Dick.
"No, but I've got one now--quite a good one. I could put an end to this
little idyll of yours for instance without the smallest difficulty--if I
felt that way."
"I don't believe you!" flashed Dick.
"No? Well, wait till I do it then!" There was amused tolerance in
Saltash's rejoinder. "You'll pipe another tune then, I fancy."
"Shall I?" Dick said. He paused a moment, his eyes, extremely bright,
fixed unwaveringly upon the swarthy face in front of him. "If I
do--you'll dance to it!" he said with grim assurance.
Saltash smothered a laugh. "Well done, I say! You've scored a point at
last! I was waiting for that. You'll like me better now, most worthy
cavalier. I daren't suggest a drink under the circumstances, but I'll owe
you one." He extended his hand with a royal air. "Will you shake?"
Dick held back. "Will you play the game?" he said.
Saltash grinned. "My own game? Certainly! I always do."
Dick's hand came out to him. Somehow he was hard to refuse. "A straight
game?" he said.
Saltash's brows expressed amused surprise. "I always play straight--till
I begin to lose,--chevalier," he said.
"And then--you cheat?" questioned Dick.
"Like the devil," laughed Saltash. "We all do that. Don't you?"
"No," Dick said briefly.
"You don't? You always put all your cards on the table? Come now! Do
Dick hesitated, and Saltash's grin became more pronounced. "All right!
You needn't answer," he said lightly. "Do you know I thought you weren't
quite as simple as you appeared at first sight. Just as well perhaps.
_Juliette's_ cavalier mustn't be too rustic." He stopped to look at Dick
appraisingly. "Yes, I'm glad on the whole that your intentions are
honourable," he ended with a smile. "I rather doubt if you pull 'em off.
But you may--you may."
He turned sharply with the words as if a hand had touched him and faced
round upon Juliet as she came out on to the step.
Her face had an exhausted look, but she smiled faintly at the two men as
she joined them.
"She is still living," she said. "The doctor gives just a shade of hope.
But--" She looked at Saltash--"he absolutely forbids her being moved--at
all. I hope it won't be a terrible inconvenience to you."
"It will be a privilege to serve you--or your friends--in any way,"
"Thank you," she said. "I am sure Mr. Fielding will be very grateful to
you. The doctor is going to send in a nurse. Of course I shall not leave
her. She has come to depend upon me a good deal. And we thought of
telephoning to her maid to bring everything necessary from Shale Court."
"Of course!" said Saltash kindly. "Look here, my dear! Don't for heaven's
sake feel you've got to ask my permission for everything you do! Treat
the place and everyone in it as your own!"
"Thank you," she said again. "Then, Charles, if you're sure you don't
mind, I'll send for my dog as well."
"What! Christopher Columbus? You've got him with you, have you?"
Saltash's smile lighted his dark face. "Lucky animal! Have him over by
all means! I shall be delighted to see him."
"You are very kind," she said, and turned with a hint of embarrassment to
Dick. "Mr. Fielding says that you will want to be getting back and there
is no need to wait. Will you take the little car back to the Court?"
"Certainly," Dick said. "Would you care to give me a list of the things
you want the maid to bring?"
"How kind of you!" she said, and hesitated a moment, looking at him. "But
I think I needn't trouble you. Cox is very sensible. I can make her
understand on the telephone."
He looked back at her, standing very straight. "In that case--I will go,"
he said. "Good-bye!"
She held out her hand to him. "I--shall see you again," she said, and
there was almost a touch of pleading in her voice.
His fingers closed and held. "Yes," he said, and smiled into her eyes
with the words--a smile in which determination and tenderness strangely
mingled. "You will certainly see me again."
And with that he was gone, striding between the massed flowers without
"Exit Romeo!" murmured Saltash. "Enter--Kismet!"
But Juliet had already turned away.
THE DRIVING FORCE
That Saturday night concert at High Shale entailed a greater effort on
Dick's part than any that had preceded it. He forced himself to make it a
success, but when it was over he was conscious of an overwhelming
weariness that weighed him down like a physical burden.
He said good-night to the men, and prepared to depart with a feeling that
he was nearing the end of his endurance. It was not soothing to nerves
already on edge to be waylaid by Ashcott and made the unwilling recipient
of gloomy forebodings.
"We shan't hold 'em much longer," the manager said. "They're getting
badly out of hand. There's talk of sending a deputation to Lord
Wilchester or--failing him--Ivor Yardley, the K.C. chap who is in with
him in this show."
"Yardley!" Dick uttered the name sharply.
"Yes, ever met him? He took over a directorship when he got engaged to
Lord Wilchester's sister--Lady Joanna Farringmore. They're rather pinning
their hopes on him, it seems. Do you know him at all?"
"I've met him--once," Dick said. "Went to him for advice--on a matter of
"Any good?" asked Ashcott.
"Oh yes, shrewd enough. Hardest-headed man at the Bar, I believe.
I didn't know he was a director of this show. They won't get much
out of him."
"I fancy they're going to ask you to draw up a petition," said Ashcott.
"Me!" Dick turned on him in a sudden blaze of anger. "I'll see 'em damned
first!" he said.
Ashcott shrugged his shoulders. "It's your affair. You're the only man
who has any influence with 'em. I'm sick of trying to keep the peace."
Dick checked his indignation. "Poor devils! They certainly have some
cause for grievance, but I'm not going to draw up their ultimatum for
them. I've no objection to speaking to Yardley or any other man on their
behalf, but I'm hanged if I'll be regarded as their representative.
They'll make a strike-leader of me next."
"Well, they're simmering," Ashcott said, as he prepared to depart.
"They'll boil over before long. If they don't find a responsible
representative they'll probably run amuck and get up to mischief."
"Oh, man, stop croaking!" Dick said with weary irritation and went away
down the hill.
He took the cliff-path though the night was dark with storm-clouds.
Somehow, instinctively, his feet led him thither. There were no
nightingales singing now, and the gorse had long since faded in the
fierce heat of summer. The sea lay leaden far below him, barely visible
in the dimness. And there was no star in the sky.
Heavily he tramped over the ground where Juliet had lingered on that
night of magic in the spring, and as he went, he told himself that he
had lost her. Whatever the outcome of to-day's happenings, she would
never be the same to him again. She had passed out of his reach. Her own
world had claimed her again and there could be no return. He recalled the
regret in her eyes at parting. Surely--most surely--she had known that
that was the end. For her the midsummer madness was over, burnt away like
the glory of the gorse-bushes about him. With a conviction that was
beyond all reason he knew that they had come to a parting of the ways.
And there was no bond between them, no chain but that which his love had
forged. She had pleaded to retain her freedom, and now with bitter
intuition he knew wherefore. She had always realized that to which he in
his madness had been persistently blind. She had known that there were
obstacles insurmountable between them and the happy consummation of their
love. She had faced the fact that the glory would depart.
Again he felt the clinging of her arms as he had felt it only that
afternoon. Again against his lips there rose her quivering whisper, "Just
for to-day, Dick! Just for to-day!" Yes, she had known even then. Even
then for her the glory had begun to fade.
He clenched his hands in sudden fierce rebellion. It was unbearable. He
would not endure it. This stroke of destiny--he would fight it with all
the strength of his manhood. He would overthrow this nameless barrier
that had arisen between them. He would sacrifice all--all he had--to
reach her. Somehow--whatever the struggle might cost--he would clasp her
again, would hold her against all the world.
And then--like a poisoned arrow out of the darkness--another thought
pierced him. What if she were indeed of those who loved for a space and
passed smiling on? What if the fatal taint of the world from which she
had come to him had touched her also, withering the heart in her, making
true love a thing impossible? What if she had indeed been fashioned in
the same mould as the worthless woman whom she sought to defend?
But that was unthinkable, intolerable. He flung the evil suggestion from
him, but it left a burning wound behind. There was no escape from the
fact that she was on terms of intimacy with the man with whom that
woman's name had been shamefully associated. And--remembering the
discomfiture she had betrayed at their meeting--he told himself bitterly
that she would have given much to have concealed that intimacy had it
But here his loyalty cried out that he was wronging her. Juliet--his
Juliet of the steadfast eyes and low, sincere voice--was surely
incapable of double dealing! Whatever her life in the past had been,
however frivolous, however artificial, it had been given to him--perhaps
to him alone--to know her as she was. A great wave of self-reproach went
over him. How had he dared to doubt her?
The sea moaned with a dreary sound along the shore. A few heavy drops of
rain fell around him. Mechanically he quickened his pace. He came at
length down the steep cliff-path to the gate that led to the village.
And here to his surprise a shuffling footstep told him of the presence of
another human being out in the desolate darkness. Dimly he discerned a
bulky shape leaning against the rail.
He came up to it. "Robin!" he said sharply.
A low voice answered him in startled accents. "Oh, Dicky! I thought you
were never coming!"
"What are you doing here?" Dick said.
He took the boy by the shoulder with the words and Robin cowered away.
"Don't be cross! Dicky, please don't be cross! I only came to look for
you," he said with nervous incoherence. "I didn't mean to be out late. I
couldn't help it. Don't be cross!"
But Dick was implacable. "You know you've no business out at this hour,"
he said. "I warned you last time--when you went to The Three Tuns--" He
paused abruptly. "Have you been to The Three Tuns to-night?"
"No!" said Robin eagerly.
Dick's hand pressed upon him. "Is that the truth?"
Robin became incoherent again. "I only came to meet you. I didn't think
you'd be so late. And it was so hot to-night. And my head ached." He
broke off. "Dicky, you're hurting me!"
"You have told me a lie," Dick said.
Robin shrank at his tone. "How did you know?" he whispered awestruck.
Dick did not answer. He shifted his hold from Robin's shoulder to his arm
and turned him about. Robin went with him, shuffling his feet and
Dick led him in grim silence down the path to the village-road, past
the Ricketts' cottage, now in darkness, up the hill beyond that led to
Robin went with him submissively enough, but he stumbled several times
on the way. As they neared the end of the journey he began to talk again
"I didn't mean to go, Dicky, but I was so hot and thirsty. And I met Jack
and I went in with him. There were a lot of fellows there and Jack
treated me, but I didn't have very much. My head ached so, and I sat down
in a corner and went to sleep till it was closing time. Then old Swag
made me get out, so I came to wait for you. I didn't hit him or anything,
Dicky. I was quite quiet all the while. So you won't be cross, will
you,--not like last time?"
"I am going to punish you if that's what you mean," Dick said, as he
opened the garden-gate.
Robin shrank again, shivering like a frightened dog. "But, Dicky, I
"Broke the rule and lied about it," his brother said uncompromisingly.
"You know the punishment for that."
Robin attempted no further appeal. He went silently into the house and
blundered up to his room. There was only one thing left to do, and that
was to pay the penalty--of which Dick's wrath was infinitely the hardest
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