The Obstacle Race
Ethel M. Dell
Part 5 out of 7
part to bear.
He crouched down on the floor by the bed to wait. The light from the
passage shone in through the half-open door and the great lamp at the
lodge-gates of the Court opposite, which was kept burning all night,
glared in at the unblinded window, but there was no light in the room.
There was something almost malignant to Robin's mind about the searching
brilliance of this lamp. He hid his eyes from it, huddling his face in
the bed-clothes, listening intently the while for Dick's coming but
hearing only the dull thumping of his own heart.
There was no one in the house except the two brothers. A woman came in
every day from the village to do the work of the establishment. Now that
Jack had found quarters elsewhere there was not a great deal to be done
since Robin was accustomed also to making himself useful in various
ways. It occurred to him suddenly as he crouched there waiting that Dick
had been too hurried to eat much supper before his departure for High
Shale that evening. The thought had been in his brain before, but
subsequent events had dislodged it. Now, with every nerve alert and
pricking with suspense, it returned to him very forcibly. Dicky was
hungry perhaps--or consumed with thirst, as he himself had been. And he
would certainly go empty to bed unless he, Robin, plucked up courage to
go down and wait upon him.
It needed considerable courage, for his instinct was always to hide when
he had incurred Dick's anger. Judicial though it invariably was, it was
the most terrible thing the world held for him. It shook him to the
depths, and to go down and confront it again with the penalty still
unpaid was for a long time more than he could calmly contemplate. But as
the minutes crept on and still Dick did not come, it was gradually borne
in upon him that this, and this alone, was the thing that must be done.
It was his job, forced upon him by an inexorable fate. Dick would
probably be much more angry with him for doing it, but somehow in a
vague, unreasoning fashion he realized that it had got to be done.
Even then it took him a long time to screw himself up to the required
pitch of nervous energy required. He ached for the sound of Dick's step
on the stairs, but it did not come. And so at last he knew there was no
help for it. Whatever the cost, he must fulfil the task that had been
laid upon him.
With intense reluctance he uncovered his face, flinching from the stark
glare of the lamp across the road, and dragged himself to his feet. It
was difficult to move without noise, but he made elaborate efforts to do
so. He reached the head of the stairs and hung there listening.
Had he heard a movement below he would have stumbled headlong back to
cover, but no sound of any sort reached him. The compelling force urged
him afresh. He gripped the stair-rail and crept downward like a
The stairs creaked alarmingly. More than once he paused, prepared for
precipitate retreat, but still he heard no sound, and gradually a certain
desperate hope came to him. Perhaps Dicky was asleep! Perhaps the power
that drove him would be satisfied if he collected some things on a tray
and left them in the little hall for Dicky to find when he finally came
up! If this could be done--and he could get back safe to the sheltering
darkness before he found out! He would not mind the subsequent caning, if
only he need not meet Dicky face to face again beforehand. Dicky's eyes
when they looked at him sternly were anguish to his soul. And they
certainly would not hold any kindness for him until the punishment was
over. So argued poor Robin's anxious brain as he reached the foot of the
stairs and stood a moment under the lamp dimly burning there, summoning
strength to creep past the open door of the dining-room.
A candle was flickering on the table, so he was sure Dick must be there.
Would he see him pass? Would he call him in? Robin's heart raced with
terror at the thought. But no! The urging force drove him in sickening
apprehension past the door, and still there was no sound.
He was at the kitchen-door at the end of the passage, his fingers
fumbling at the latch when suddenly he remembered that he had no candle.
There was no candle to be had! The only one available downstairs was the
one Dick had taken into the dining-room. He could not go upstairs again
to get another. He had no matches wherewith to explore the kitchen. He
stood struck motionless by this fresh problem.
But Dicky was doubtless asleep or he must have heard those creaking
stairs! Then there was still a chance. He might creep into the room and
take the candle without waking him. He was gaining confidence by the
prolonged silence. Dicky must certainly be fast asleep.
With considerably greater steadiness than he had yet achieved he returned
to the open door and peeped stealthily in.
Yes, Dick was there. He had flung himself down at the table on which he
had set the candle, and he was lying across it with his head on his arms.
Asleep of course! That could be the only explanation of such an attitude.
Yet Robin in the act of advancing, stopped in sudden doubt with a scared
backward movement, his eyes upon one of Dick's hands that was clenched
convulsively and quivering as if he were in pain. It certainly did not
look like the hand of a man asleep.
The next moment Robin's ungainly form had knocked against the door-handle
and Dick was sitting upright looking at him. His face was grey, he looked
unutterably tired, his mouth had the stark grimness of the man who
endures, asking nothing of Fate.
"Hullo, boy!" he said. "Why aren't you in bed?" Then seeing Robin's
unmistakably hang-dog air, "Oh, I forgot! Go on upstairs! I'm coming."
Robin turned about like a kicked dog. But the driving force stopped him
on the threshold. He stood a second or two, then turned again with a
species of sullen courage.
"May I have the candle?" he said, not looking at Dick.
"What for?" said Dick. "Haven't you got one upstairs?"
Robin stood a moment or two debating with himself, then made a second
movement to go. "All right. I'll fetch it."
"Wait a minute!" Dick's voice compelled. "What do you want a candle down
Robin backed against the door-post with a kind of heavy defiance. "Want
to get something--out of the kitchen," he muttered.
"What do you want to get?" said Dick.
Robin was silent, stubbornly, insistently silent, the fingers of one hand
working with agitated activity.
It was the voice of authority. He had to respond to it. He made a
lumbering gesture towards the speaker, but his eyes remained obstinately
lowered under the shag of hair that hung over his forehead.
Dick sat for a few seconds looking at him, then with a sudden sigh that
caught him unawares he got up.
"What did you come down for? Tell me!" he said.
His tone was absolutely quiet, but something in his utterance or the
sigh that preceded it--or possibly some swiftly-piercing light of
intuition--seemed to send a galvanizing current through Robin. With
clumsy impulsiveness he came to Dick and stood before him.
"I was going--to get you--something to eat," he said, speaking with
tremendous effort. "You must be--pretty near starving--and I forgot." He
paused to fling a nervous look upwards. "I thought you were asleep. I
didn't know--or I wouldn't have done it. I--didn't mean to get in the
way." His voice broke oddly. He began to tremble. "I'll go now," he said.
But Dick's hand came out, detaining him. "You came down to get me
food?" he said.
"Yes," muttered Robin, with his head down. "Thought I'd--put it in the
hall--so you'd find it--before you came up."
Dick stood silent for a space, looking at him. His eyes were very gentle
and the grimness had gone from his mouth, but Robin could not see that.
He stood humped and quivering, expectant of rebuke.
But he recognized the change when Dick spoke. "Thought you'd provide me
with the necessary strength to hammer you, eh?" he said, and suddenly his
arm went round the misshapen shoulders; he gave Robin a close squeeze.
"Thanks, old chap," he said.
Robin looked up then. The adoring devotion of a dumb animal was in his
eyes. He said nothing, being for the moment beyond words.
Dick let him go. A clock on the mantelpiece was striking twelve. "You get
to bed, boy!" he said. "I don't want anything to eat, thanks all the
same." He paused a moment, then held out his hand. "Good-night!"
It was tacit forgiveness for his offence, and as such Robin recognized
it. Yet as he felt the kindly grasp his eyes filled with tears.
"I'm--I'm sorry, Dicky," he stammered.
"I'm sorry too," Dick said. "But that won't undo it. For heaven's sake,
Robin, never lie to me again! There! Go to bed! I'm going myself as soon
as I've had a smoke. Good-night!"
It was a definite dismissal, and Robin turned away and went stumblingly
from the room.
His brother looked after him with a queer smile in his eyes. It was
Juliet who had taught Robin to say he was sorry. He threw himself into an
easy-chair and lighted a pipe. Perhaps after all in his weariness he had
exaggerated the whole matter. Perhaps--after all--she might yet find that
she loved him enough to cast her own world aside. Recalling her last
words to him, he told himself that he had been too quick to despair. For
she loved him--she loved him! Not all the fashionable cynics her world
contained could alter that fact.
A swift wave of exultation went through him, combating his despair.
However heavy the odds,--however formidable the obstacles--he told
himself he would win--he would win!
Going upstairs a little later, he was surprised to hear a low sound
coming from Robin's room. He had thought the boy would have been in bed
and asleep some time since. He stopped at the door to listen.
The next moment he opened it and quietly entered, for Robin was sobbing
as if his heart would break.
There was no light in the room save that which shone from the park-gates
opposite and the candle he himself carried. Robin was sunk in a heap
against the bed still fully dressed. He gave a great start at his
brother's coming, shrinking together in a fashion that seemed to make him
smaller. His sobbing ceased on the instant. He became absolutely still,
his claw-like hands rigidly gripped on the bedclothes, his face wholly
hidden. He did not even breathe during the few tense seconds that Dick
stood looking down at him. He might have been a creature carved in
granite. Then Dick set down his candle, went to him, sat on the low bed,
and pulled the shaggy head on to his knee.
"What's the matter, old chap?" he said.
All the tension went out of Robin at his touch. He clung to him in
Dick's heart smote him. Why had he left the boy so long? He laid a very
gentle hand upon him.
"Come, old chap!" he said. "Get a hold on yourself! What's it all about?"
Robin's shoulders heaved convulsively; his hold tightened. He murmured
some inarticulate words.
Dick bent over him. "What, boy? What? I can't hear. You haven't been up
to any mischief, have you? Robin, have you?" A sudden misgiving assailed
him. "You haven't hurt anybody? Not Jack, for instance?"
"No," Robin said. But he added a moment later with a concentrated passion
that sounded inexpressibly vindictive, "I hate him! I do hate him! I wish
he was dead!"
"Why?" Dick said. "What has he been doing?"
But Robin burrowed lower and made no answer.
Dick sat for a space in silence, waiting for him to recover himself. He
knew very well that he had good reason for his rooted dislike for Jack.
It was useless to attempt any argument on that point. But when Robin had
grown calmer, he returned to the charge very quietly but with
"What has Jack been doing or saying? Tell me! I've got to know."
Robin stirred uneasily. "Don't want to tell you, Dicky," he said.
Dick's hand pressed a little upon him. "You must tell me," he said. "When
did you meet him?"
Robin hesitated in obvious reluctance. "It was after supper," he said.
"My head ached, and I went outside, and he came down the drive. And
he--and he laughed about--about you coming home alone from Burchester,
and said--said that your game was up anyhow. And I didn't know what he
meant, Dicky--" Robin's arms suddenly clung closer--"but I got angry,
because I hate him to talk about you. And I--I went for him, Dicky." His
voice dropped on a shamed note, and he became silent.
"Well?" Dick said gravely. "What happened then?"
Very unwillingly Robin responded to his insistence. "He got hold of
me--so that I couldn't hurt him--and then he said--he said--" A great sob
rose in his throat choking his utterance.
"What did he say?"
There was a certain austerity in Dick's question. Robin shivered as it
With difficulty he struggled on. "Said that only--a fool--like
me--could help knowing that--you hadn't--a chance--with any woman--so
long as--so long as--" He choked again and sank into quivering silence.
Dick's hand found the rough head and patted it very tenderly. "But you're
not fool enough to take what Jack says seriously, are you?" he said.
Robin stifled a sob. "He said that--afterwards," he whispered. "And he
took me along to The Three Tuns--to make me forget it."
"You actually drank with him after that!" Dick said.
"I didn't know what I was doing, Dicky," he make apologetic answer.
"It--knocked the wind out of me. You see, I--I'd never thought of
He began to whimper again. Dick swallowed down something that tried to
"A bit of an ass, aren't you, Robin?" he said instead. "You know as well
as I do that there isn't a word of truth in it. Anyhow--the woman I
love--isn't--that sort of woman."
Robin shifted his position uneasily. There was that in the words that
vaguely stirred him. Dick had never spoken in that strain before. Slowly,
with a certain caution, he lifted his tear-stained face and peered up at
his brother in the fitful candle-light.
"You do--want to marry Miss Moore then, Dicky?" he asked diffidently.
Dick looked straight back at him; his eyes shone with a sombre gleam
that came and went. For several seconds he sat silent, then very
steadily he spoke.
"Yes, I want her all right, Robin, but there are some pretty big
obstacles in the way. I may get over them--and I may not. Time
His lips closed upon the words, and became again a single hard line. His
look went beyond Robin and grew fixed. The boy watched him dumbly with
Suddenly Dick moved, gripped him by the shoulders and pulled him upwards.
"There! Go to bed!" he said. "And don't take any notice of what Jack says
for the future! Don't fight him either! Understand? Leave him alone!"
Robin blundered up obediently. Again there looked forth from his eyes the
dog-like worship which he kept for Dick alone. "I'll do--whatever you
say, Dicky," he said earnestly. "I--I'd die for you--I would!" He spoke
with immense effort, and all his heart was in the words.
Dick smiled at him quizzically. "Instead of which I only want you to show
a little ordinary common or garden sense," he said. "Think you can do
that for me?"
"I'll try, Dicky," he said humbly.
"Yes, all right. You try!" Dick said, and got up, more moved than he
cared to show. He turned to go, but paused to light Robin's candle from
his own. "And don't forget I'm--rather fond of you, my boy!" he said,
with a brief smile over his shoulder as he went away.
No, Robin was not likely to forget that, seeing that Dick's love for him
was his safeguard from all evil, and his love for Dick was the
mainspring of his life. But--though his development was stunted and
imperfect--there were certain facts of existence which he was beginning
slowly but surely to grasp. And one of these--before but dimly
suspected--he had realized fully to-night, a fact beyond all questioning
learnt from Dick's own lips.
Dick's words: "The woman I love," had sunk deep--deep into his soul. And
he knew with that intuition which cannot err that his love for Juliet was
the greatest thing life held for him--or ever could hold again.
And the driving force gripped Robin's soul afresh as he lay wide-eyed to
the smothering gloom of the night. Whatever happened--whoever
suffered--Dicky must have his heart's desire.
THE SISTER OF MERCY
For five days after that burning afternoon of the flower-show Juliet
scarcely left Vera Fielding's side. During those five days Vera lay
at the point of death, and though her husband was constantly with her
it was to Juliet that she clung through all the terrible phases of
weakness, breathlessness, and pain that she passed. Through the dark
nights--though a trained nurse was in attendance--it was Juliet's hand
that held her up, Juliet's low calm voice that reassured her in the
Valley of the Shadow through which she wandered. Often too spent for
speech, her eyes would rest with a piteous, child-like pleading upon
Juliet's quiet face, and--for Juliet at least--there was no resisting
their entreaty. She laid all else aside and devoted herself body and soul
to the tender care of the sick woman.
Edward Fielding regarded her with reverence and a deep affection that
grew with every day that passed. She was always so gentle, so capable, so
undismayed. He knew that her whole strength was bent to the task of
saving Vera's life, and even when he most despaired he found himself
leaning upon her, gathering courage from the resolute confidence with
which she shouldered her burden.
"She never thinks of herself at all," he said once to Saltash between
whom and himself a friendship wholly unavoidable on his part and also
curiously pleasant had sprung up. "I suppose in her position of companion
she has been more or less trained for this sort of thing. But her
devotion is amazing. She is absolutely indispensable to my wife."
"_Juliette_ seems to have found her vocation," observed Saltash with a
lazy chuckle. "But no, I should not say that she was specially trained
for this sort of thing, though certainly it seems to suit her passing
well. All the same, you won't let her carry it too far, will you? Now
that Mrs. Fielding is beginning to rally a little it might be a good
opportunity to make her take a rest."
"Yes, you're right. She must rest," Fielding agreed. "She is so
marvellous that one is apt to forget she must be nearly worn out."
It was the fifth day and Vera had certainly rallied. She lay in the
sombre old library, that had been turned into the most luxurious bedroom
that Saltash's and Juliet's ingenuity could devise, listening to the
tinkle of the water in the conservatory and watching Juliet who sat in a
low chair by her side with a book in her lap ready to read her to sleep.
There was a couch in the conservatory itself on which sometimes on rare
occasions Juliet would snatch a brief rest, leaving the nurse to watch.
Columbus regarded this couch as his own particular property, but he
always gave his beloved mistress an ardent welcome and squeezed himself
into as small a compass as possible at the foot for her benefit.
Otherwise, he occupied the middle with an arrogance of possession which
none disputed. The door into the garden was always open, and Columbus was
extremely happy, being of supremely independent habits and quite capable
of trotting round to the kitchen premises of the castle for his daily
portion without disturbing anyone en route. How he discovered the kitchen
Juliet never knew. Doubtless his exploring faculty stood him in good
stead. But his appearance there was absolutely regular and orderly, and
he always returned to the conservatory when he had been fed with the
bustling self-importance of one whose time was of value. He never entered
the sick-room except on invitation, and he never raised his voice above a
whisper when in the conservatory. It was quite evident that he fully
grasped the situation and accommodated himself thereto. All he asked of
life was to be near his beloved one, and the snuffle of his greeting
whenever she joined him was ample testimony to the joy of his simple
soul. Just to see her, just to hear her voice, just sometimes to kiss and
be kissed, what more could any dog desire?
Certainly an occasional scamper after rabbits in the park made a salutary
change, but Columbus was prudent and he never suffered himself to be
drawn very far in pursuit. A sense of duty or expediency always brought
him back before long to the couch in the conservatory to lie and watch,
brighteyed, for the only person who counted in his world.
He was watching for her now, but without much hope of her coming. She
seldom left Vera's bedside in the afternoon for it was then, in the heat
of the day, that she usually suffered most. But to-day she had been
better. Today for the first time she was able to turn her head and smile
and even to murmur a few sentences without distress. Her eyes dwelt upon
Juliet's quiet face with a wistful affection. She had come to lean upon
her strength with a child's dependence.
"Quite comfortable?" Juliet asked her gently.
"Quite," Vera made whispered reply. "But you--you look so tired."
Juliet smiled at her. "I dare say I shall fall asleep if you do," she
"You ought to have a long rest," said Vera, and then her heavy eyes
brightened and went beyond her as her husband's tall figure came softly
in from the conservatory.
He came to her side, stooped over her, and took her hand. Her fingers
closed weakly about his.
"Send her to bed!" she whispered. "She is tired. You come instead!"
He bent and kissed her forehead with a tenderness that made her cling
more closely. "Shall I do instead?" he asked her gently.
She offered him her lips though she was panting a little. "Yes, I want
you. Make Juliet--go to bed!"
He turned to Juliet, his wife's hand still in his. All the hard lines
were smoothed out of his face. There was something even pathetic about
"Will you go to bed, Juliet," he said in that new gentle voice of his,
"and leave me in charge?"
She got up. "I will lie down in the conservatory," she said.
"No--no!" He put his free hand on her arm with a touch of his customary
imperiousness. "That won't do. You're to go to bed properly--and sleep
till you can't sleep any longer. Yes, that's an order, see?" He smiled
again at her, his sudden transforming smile. "Be a good child and do as
I tell you! Cox is within call. We'll certainly fetch you if we find we
can't do without you."
Juliet's eyes went to Vera.
"Yes, she wants to get rid of you too," said the squire. "We're pining to
be alone. No, we won't talk. We won't do anything we ought not, eh, Vera,
my dear? Nurse will be getting up in another hour so we shan't have it to
ourselves for long."
He had his way. He could be quite irresistible when he chose. Juliet
found herself yielding without misgiving, though till then he had only
been allowed at Vera's bedside for a few minutes at a time. Vera was
certainly very much better that day, and she read in her eyes the desire
to meet her husband's wishes. She paused to give him one or two
directions regarding medicine, and then went quietly to the door of the
Columbus sprang to greet her with a joy that convulsed him from head to
tail, and she gathered him up in her arms and took him with her, passing
back through the library in time to see the squire lay his face down upon
the slender hand he held and kiss it.
In the great hall outside she found Saltash loitering. He came at once to
meet her, and had taken Columbus from her before she realized his
"He is too heavy for you, _ma cherie_," he said, with his quizzing smile.
"Lend him to me for this afternoon! He's getting disgracefully fat. I'll
take him for a walk."
Relieved of Columbus' weight, she became suddenly and overpoweringly
aware of a dwindling of her strength. She said no word, but her face
must have betrayed her, for the next thing she knew was Saltash's arm
like a coiled spring about her, impelling her towards the grand
"I'll take you to your room, _Juliette_," he said. "You might miss the
way by yourself. You're awfully tired, aren't you?"
It was absurd, but a curious desire to weep possessed her.
"Yes, I know," said Saltash, with his semi-comic tenderness. "Don't mind
me! I knew you'd come to it sooner or later. You're not used to playing
the sister of mercy are you, _ma mie_, though it becomes you--vastly
"Don't, Charles!" she murmured faintly.
"My dear, I mean no harm," he protested, firmly leading her upwards. "I
am only--the friend in need."
She took him at his word though half against her will. He guided her up
the branching staircase to the gallery above, bringing her finally to a
tall oak door at the further end.
"Here is your chamber of sleep, _Juliette_! Now will you make me a
She left his supporting arm with an effort. "Well, what is it?"
"That you will go to bed in the proper and correct way and sleep
till further notice," he said. "You can't go for ever, believe me.
And you need it."
He was looking at her with a softness of persuasion that sat so oddly on
his mischievous monkey-face that in spite of herself, with quivering
lips, she smiled.
"You're very good, Charles Rex," she said. "I wonder how much longer you
will manage to keep it up."
He bowed low. "Just as long as I have your exemplary example before me,"
he said. "Who knows? We may both fling our caps over the windmill before
we have done."
She shook her head, made as if she would enter the room, but paused. "You
will take care of Columbus?" she said.
"Every care," he promised. "If I fail to bring him back to you intact you
will never see my face again."
She had opened the door behind her, but still she paused. "Charles!"
Her voice held an unutterable appeal. A grin of sheer derision gleamed
for a second in his eyes and vanished. "They ring up from the Court every
day, _Juliette_. Presumably he gets the news by that channel. He has not
troubled to obtain it in any other way."
"How could he?" Juliet said, but her face was paler than before; it had a
grey look. "He is busy with his work all day long. What time has he
"Exactly, _ma cherie_! One would not expect it of him. Duty
first--pleasure afterwards, is doubtless his motto. Very worthy--and
very appropriate, for one of his profession. Unquestionably, it will
become yours also--in time."
A faint, sad smile crossed Juliet's face. She made no response, and in a
moment Saltash bent and swept up Columbus under his arm.
"_Adieu_, sister of mercy!" he said lightly. "I leave you to your
He went away along the gallery, and she entered the room and shut
For a second or two she stood quite motionless in the great luxurious
apartment. Then slowly she went forward to the wide-flung window, and
stood there, gazing blankly forth over the distant fir-clad park. He had
said that he would see her again. It seemed so long ago. And all through
this difficult time of strain and anxiety he had done nothing--nothing.
She did not realize until that moment how much she had counted upon the
memory of those last words of his.
Ah well! Perhaps--as Charles Rex hinted--it was better. Better to end it
all thus, that midsummer madness of theirs that had already endured too
long! They had lived such widely sundered lives. How could they ever have
hoped ultimately to bridge the gulf between?
Charles was right. His shrewd perception realized that dwelling as they
did in separate spheres they were bound to be fundamentally strangers
to one another. Surely Dick himself had foreseen it long since down on
that golden shore when first he had sought to dissuade her from going
to the Court!
Her heart contracted at the memory. How sweet those early days had
been! But the roses had faded, the nightingales had ceased to sing. It
was all over now--all over. The dream was shattered, and she was weary
"I expect it's one of them abscies again," said Mrs. Rickett
sympathetically. "Have you been to the doctor about it, my dear?"
Robin, sitting heaped in the wooden arm-chair in her kitchen,
looked at her with a smouldering glow in his eyes. "Don't like
doctors," he muttered.
Mrs. Rickett sighed and went on with her ironing. "No more do I, Robin.
But we can't always do without 'em. Have you told your brother now?"
Robin, sullenly rocking himself to and fro, made no reply for several
seconds. Then very suddenly: "He asked me if I'd got a headache and I
told him No," he flung out defiantly. "What's the good of bothering him?
He can't do anything."
"The doctor might, you know," Mrs. Rickett ventured again, with a glance
through the window at Freddy who had been sent out to amuse himself and
was staggering with much perseverance in the wake of an elusive chicken.
"It's wonderful what they can do now-a-days to make things better."
"Don't want to be better," growled Robin.
She turned and looked at him in astonishment. "You didn't ought to say
that, my dear," she said.
Again he raised his heavy eyes to hers and something she saw in
them--something she was quite at a loss to define--went straight to
"Robin, my dear, what's the matter?" she said. "Is there something that's
Again Robin was silent for a space. His eyes fell dully to the ground
between his feet. At last, in a tone of muttered challenge, he spoke.
"Don't want it to get better. Want it to end."
"Sakes alive!" said Mrs. Rickett, shocked. "You don't know what
He did not contradict her or lift his eyes again, merely sat there like a
hunched baboon, his head on his chest, his monstrous body slowly rocking.
There followed a lengthy silence. Mrs. Rickett ironed and folded, ironed
and folded, with a practised hand, still keeping an eye on the small
After several minutes, however, the boy's utter dejection of attitude
moved her to attempt to divert his thoughts. "I wonder when our young
lady will be coming to see us again," she said.
Robin uttered a queer sound in his throat; it was almost like the moan of
an animal in pain. He said nothing.
She gave him an uneasy glance, but still kind-heartedly she persevered in
her effort to lift him out of his depression. "She was always very
friendly-like," she said. "You liked her, didn't you Robin?"
Robin shifted his position with a sharp movement as though he winced at
some sudden dart of pain. "What should make her come back?" he said.
"She'll stay away now she's gone."
"Oh, I expect we shall be seeing her again some day," said Mrs. Rickett,
"when poor Mrs. Fielding is a bit stronger. She's busy now, but she'll
come back, you'll see."
Again almost violently Robin moved in his chair. "She won't!" he flung
out in a fierce undertone. "Tell you she won't!"
"How can you possibly know?" reasoned Mrs. Rickett.
"I do know," he said doggedly. "She won't come back,--anyhow not
till--" his utterance trailed off into an unintelligible murmur in his
throat and he became silent.
Mrs. Rickett shook out a small damp garment, and spread it upon the table
with care. "I don't see how anyone is to say as she won't come back," she
said. "Of course I know she's a lady born, but that don't prevent her
making friends among humbler folk. She's talked of this place more than
once as if she'd like to settle here."
"She won't then!" growled Robin. "She'll never do that, not
while--." Again he became inarticulate, muttering deeply in his throat
like an animal goaded to savagery.
Mrs. Rickett turned from her ironing to regard him. She had never found
Robin hard to understand before, but there was something about him to-day
which was wholly beyond her comprehension. He was like some wild creature
that had received a cruel wound. Dumb resentment and fiery suffering
seemed to mingle in his half uttered sentences. As he sat there, huddled
forward with his hands pathetically clenched she thought she had never
seen a more piteous sight.
"Lor', Robin, my dear!" she said. "What ever makes you know such a lot?
Why shouldn't she come back then? Tell me that!"
He shook his shaggy head, but more in protest than refusal.
Mrs. Rickett bent down over him, her kindly red face full of the most
"What's troubling you, Robin?" she said. "You aren't--fretting for
her, are you?"
He threw her one of his wild, furtive looks, and again in his eyes she
caught a glimpse of something that deeply moved her. She laid a
comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Is that it, lad? Are you wanting her? Ah, don't fret then--don't fret!
She'll surely come back--some day."
The boy's face quivered. He looked down at his clenched hands, and at
length jerkily, laboriously, he spoke, giving difficult and bitter
utterance to the trouble that gnawed at his heart.
"It's--Dicky that wants her. But she won't come--she won't come--while
I'm here." A sudden hard shiver went through him, he drew his breath
through his set teeth, with a desperate sound. "No woman would," he said
with hard despair.
And then abruptly, as if with speech his misery had become unendurable,
he blundered to his feet with outflung arms, making the only outcry
against fate that his poor stunted brain had ever accomplished. "It isn't
fair!" he wailed. "It isn't right! I'm going to God--to tell Him so!"
He turned with the words, the impulse of the stricken creature urging
him, and ignoring the remonstrance which Mrs. Rickett had barely begun he
made headlong for the door, dragged it open, and was gone.
He went past his little playmate in the yard, shambling blindly for the
open, deaf to the baby's cry of welcome, insensible to everything but the
bitter burden of his pain. He slammed the gate behind him and set off at
a lumbering run down the glaring road.
The evening sun smote full in his face as he went; but it might have been
midnight, for he neither saw nor felt. Instinct alone guided him--the
instinct of the wild creature, hunted by disaster, wounded to the heart,
that must be alone with its agony and its fruitless strife against fate.
He went up the cliff-path, but he did not follow it far. Something drew
him down the narrow cleft that led to the spot where first he had seen
her lying on the shingle dreaming with her head upon her arm. He turned
off the path to the place where he had crouched among the gorse-bushes
and flung stones to scare her away, and stood there panting and gazing.
The memory of her, the gracious charm, the quick sympathy, went through
him, pierced him. He caught his breath as though he listened for the
beloved sound of her voice. She had not been really angry with him for
the wantonness of those stones. She had been very ready with her
forgiveness, her kindly offer of friendship. She had never been other
than kind to him ever since. She had awakened in him the deepest, most
humble gratitude and devotion. She had even once or twice shielded him
from Dicky's never unjust wrath. And he had come to love her second only
to Dicky who must for ever hold the foremost place in his heart.
He had come to love her--and he stood between her and happiness. He did
not reason the matter. He had small reasoning power. He recognized that
Jack's brain was superior to his, and Jack had made known to him this
monstrous thing. True, Dicky had denied it, but somehow that denial had
not been so convincing as Jack's statement had been. The corrosive poison
had already done its work, and there was no antidote. He knew that Dicky
loved Juliet, knew it from his own lips. "The woman I love--the woman I
love--" How often had the low-spoken words recurred to his memory! And
Dicky was not happy. He had watched him narrowly ever since that night.
Dicky was not really hopeful for the winning of his heart's desire. He
had said there were many obstacles. What they were, Robin could but
vaguely conjecture--save one! And that one stood out in the darkness of
his soul, clear as a cross against the falling night. Dicky had no chance
of winning any woman so long as he--the village idiot--the hideous
abortion--stood in his way. That was the truth as he saw it--the bitter,
unavoidable truth. O God, it wasn't fair--it wasn't fair!
The evening shadows were lengthening. The waves splashed softly against
the fallen rocks forty to fifty feet below. They seemed to be calling to
him. It was almost like a summons from far away--almost like a bugle-call
heard in the mists of sleep. Somehow they soothed him, lessening the
poignancy of his anguish, checking his wild rebellion, making him aware
of a strangely comforting peace.
As if God had spoken and stilled his inarticulate protest, the futile
agony of his striving died down. He began to be conscious vaguely that
somewhere within his reach there lay a way of escape. He stared out over
the silver-blue of the sea with strained and throbbing vision. The sun
had gone down behind High Shale, and the quiet shadows stretched towards
him. He had the feeling of a hunted man who has found sanctuary. Again,
more calmly, his tired brain considered the problem that had driven him
forth in such bitterness of soul.
There was Dicky--Dicky who loved him--whom he worshipped. Yes, certainly
Dicky loved him. He had never questioned that. He was the only person in
the world who had ever wanted him. But a deeper love, a deeper want, had
entered Dicky's life with the coming of Juliet. He wanted her with a
great heart-longing that Robin but dimly comprehended but of which he was
keenly conscious, made wise by the sympathy that linked them. He
knew--and this without any bitterness--that Dicky wanted Juliet as he had
never wanted him. It was an overmastering yearning in Dicky's soul, and
somehow--by some means--some sacrifice--it must be satisfied. Even
Dicky, it seemed, would have to sacrifice something; for he could not
have them both.
Yes, something would have to be sacrificed. Somehow this obstacle must be
cleared out of Dicky's path. Juliet could not come to Dicky while he was
there. He did not ask himself why this should be, but accepted it as
fact. He then was the main obstacle to Dicky's happiness, to the
fulfilment of his great desire. Then he must go. But whither? And leave
Dicky--and leave Dicky!
Again for a spell the anguish woke within him, but it did not possess
him so overwhelmingly as before. He had begun to seek for a way out,
and though it was hard to find, the very act of seeking brought him
comfort. His own misery no longer occupied the forefront of his poor
He sat for a long, long time up there on the cliff while the
shadows lengthened and the day slowly died, turning the matter over
and over while the flame of sacrifice gradually kindled in the
darkness of his soul.
It was probably the growth of many hours of not too coherent
meditation--the solution of that problem; but it came upon him very
suddenly at the last, almost like the swift wheeling of a flashlight over
the calm night sea.
He had heard the church clock strike in the distance, and was turning to
leave when that first vision of Juliet swooped back upon him--Juliet in
her light linen dress springing up the path towards him. He saw her as
she had stood there, leaving the path behind her, poised like a young
goddess against the dazzling blue of the spring sky. Her face had been
stern at first, but all the sternness had gone into an amazing kindness
of compassion when her look had lighted upon him. She had not shrunk from
him as shrank so many. And then--and then--he remembered the sudden fear,
the sharp anxiety, that had succeeded that first look of pity.
He had been standing on the brink of the cliff as he had stood many a
time before--as he stood now. That cliff had been the tragedy of his
ruined life. And yet he loved it, had never known any fear of it. But she
had been afraid for his sake. He had seen the fear leap into her eyes.
And the memory of it came to him now as a revelation. He had found the
way of escape at last!
The sea was crooning behind him over the half-buried rocks. He stood
again on the brink with his poor worn face turned to the sky. He had come
to the end of his reasoning. The tired brain had ceased to grapple with
the cruel problem that had so tortured it. He knew now what he would do
to help Dicky. And somehow the doing did not seem hard to him, somehow he
did not feel afraid.
One step back and the cliff fell away behind him. Yet for a space he went
neither forward nor back. It was as though he waited for a word of
command, some signal for release. The first star was gleaming very far
away like a lamp lighted in a distant city. His eyes found it and dwelt
upon it with a wistful wonder. He had always loved the stars.
He was not angry or troubled any more. All resentment, all turmoil, had
died out of his heart for ever. That strange peace had closed about him
again, and the falling night held no terrors. Rather it seemed to spread
wings of comfort above him. And always the crooning of the sea was like a
voice that softly called him.
It came very suddenly at the last--the sign for which he waited. Someone
had begun to mount the cliff-path, and--though he was out of sight--he
heard a low, summoning whistle in the darkness. It was Dicky's whistle.
He knew it well. Dicky was coming to look for him.
For a second every pulse--every nerve--leaped to answer that call.
For a second he stood tense while that surging power within him
sprang upwards, and in sheer amazing fire of sacrifice consumed the
Then it was over. His arms went wide to the night. Without a cry, without
a tremor, he flung himself backwards over the grassy edge.
The crooning sea and the overhanging cliff muffled the sound of his fall.
And no one heard or saw--save God Who seeth all.
From the day that Juliet relinquished her perpetual vigil, the
improvement in Vera Fielding was almost uninterrupted. She recovered her
strength very slowly, but her progress was marked by a happy certainty
that none who saw her could question. She still leaned upon Juliet, but
it was her husband alone who could call that deep content into her eyes
which was gradually finding a permanent abiding-place in her heart. The
nearness of death had done for them what no circumstance of life had ever
accomplished. They had drawn very close together in its shadow, and as
they gradually left it behind the tie still held them in a bond that had
become sacred to them both. It was as if they had never really known each
other till now.
All Vera's arrogance had vanished in her husband's presence, just as his
curt imperiousness had given place to the winning dominance which he knew
so well how to wield. "You'll do it for me," was one of his pet phrases,
and he seldom uttered it in vain. She gave him the joyful sacrifice of
"I wonder if we shall go on like this when I'm well again," she said to
him on an evening of rose-coloured dusk in early August when he was
sitting by her side with her long thin hand in his.
"Like what?" said Edward Fielding.
She smiled at him from her pillow. "Well, spoiling each other in this
way. Will you never be overbearing and dictatorial? Shall I never be
furious and hateful to you again?"
"I hope not," he said. "In fact, I think not."
He spoke very gravely. She stirred, and in a moment her other hand
came out to him also. He clasped it closely. Her eyes were shining
softly in the dusk.
"You are--so good to me, Edward--my darling," she said.
His head was bent over her hands. "Don't!" he muttered huskily.
Her fingers closed on his. "Edward, will you tell me something?" she
"I don't know," he said.
"Yes, but I want you to. I'd rather hear it from you. The doctors don't
think I shall ever be fit for much again, do they?"
She spoke steadily, with a certain insistence. He looked up at her
sharply, with something of a glare in his eyes.
"You're not going to die--whatever they say!" he declared in a fierce
"No--no, of course not!" She spoke soothingly, still smiling at him,
for that barely checked ferocity of his sent rapture through her soul.
"Do you suppose I'd be such an idiot as to go and die just when I'm
beginning to enjoy life? I'm not the puny heroine of a lachrymose
novel. I hope I've got more sense. No, dear, what I really meant
was--was--am I ever going to be strong enough--woman enough--to give
you--what you want so much?"
"Vera--my dear!" He leaned swiftly to her, his arm pillowed her head.
"Do you suppose--do you really suppose--I'd let you jeopardize your sweet
life--after this--after this?"
He was holding her closely to him, and though a little spasm of
breathlessness went through her she gave herself to him with a pulsing
gladness that thrilled her whole being. It was the happiest moment she
had ever known.
"Oh, Edward," she said, "do you--do you really feel like that?"
His cheek was against her forehead. He did not speak for a few seconds.
Then, with something of an effort, "Yes," he said. "It's like that with
me now, my dear. I've been through--a good deal--these last days. Now
I've got you back--please God, I'll keep you!"
She pressed her face against him. "Ah, but Edward, you know you've always
"Oh, damn my wants!" he broke in impatiently. "I don't want anything
but you now."
She raised her lips to kiss his neck. "That's the loveliest thing you
ever said to me, darling," she said, with a throb in her voice. "I love
being an invalid--with you to spoil me. But--if you'll
promise--promise--promise--to love me quite as much--if I get well, I
will get well--really well--for your sake."
Again she was panting. He felt it as he held her, and after a moment or
two very tenderly he laid her back.
"God bless you, my dear!" he said. "You needn't be afraid. I've learnt my
lesson, and I shan't forget it."
"The lesson of love!" she murmured, holding his hand against her thumping
"Yes. Juliet began the teaching. A wonderful girl that. She seems to
know everything. I wonder where she learnt it."
"She is wonderful," Vera agreed thoughtfully. "I sometimes think she has
had a hard life. She says so little about herself."
"She has moved among a fairly rapid lot," observed the squire. "Lord
Saltash is intimate enough to call her by her Christian name."
"Does he ever talk about her?" asked Vera, interested.
"Not much," said the squire.
"You think he is fond of her at all?"
"I don't know. He doesn't see much of her. I haven't quite got his
measure yet. He isn't the sort of man I thought he was anyway."
"Then it wasn't true about Lady Joanna Farringmore?" questioned Vera.
Fielding hesitated. "I don't know," he said again. "I have a suspicion
that that report was not entirely unfounded. But however that may be, she
isn't with him now."
"You don't think she is--on board the yacht?" suggested Vera.
"No, I don't. The yacht is being done up for a voyage. A beautiful boat
from all accounts. He is very proud of her. I am to go over her with him
one of these days, when she's ready--which will be soon."
Vera uttered a short sigh. "I wish we'd get a yacht, Edward," she said.
"Do you? Why?" He was looking at her attentively, a smile in his eyes.
She coloured faintly. "I don't know. It's just a fancy, I suppose--a sick
fancy. But I believe I could get well much quicker if I went for a voyage
"You'd be bored to death," said Fielding.
She looked at him through sudden tears. "Bored! With you!" she said.
He patted her cheek gently. "Wouldn't you be bored? Quite sure? Suppose
we were to borrow that yacht, do you think you'd really like it?"
Her eyes shone through the tears. "Of course I should love it!" she said.
"Is there--is there any chance of such a thing?"
"Every chance," said Fielding. "Saltash most kindly placed her, with the
captain and crew, at my disposal only last night."
"Oh, Edward! How tremendously kind!" She looked at him with an eagerness
that seemed to transform her. "But--but would you like it too? Wouldn't
you--wouldn't you feel it was an awful waste of time?"
"Waste of time! With you!" smiled Fielding.
She lifted his hand with a shy movement and put it to her lips.
"Edward--darling, you get dearer every day," she murmured. "What makes
you so good to me?"
He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I happen to have found
out--quite by accident--that I love you, my dear," he said.
She smiled at him. "What a happy accident! Then we are really going for
that voyage together? What about--Juliet?"
"Don't you want Juliet?" he said.
"Yes, if she would come. But I have a feeling--I don't know why--that she
will not be with us very long. I should be sorry to part with her for we
owe her so much. But--somehow she doesn't quite fit, does she? She would
be much more suitable as--Lady Saltash for instance."
Fielding laughed. "Saltash isn't the only fish in the sea," he remarked.
"You are thinking of--Mr. Green?" she questioned, with slight hesitation
before the name. "You know, Edward--" she broke off.
"Well, my dear?" he said.
She turned to him impulsively. "I'm sorry I've not been nicer about that
young man. I'm going to try and like him better, just to please you.
But, Edward, you wouldn't want Juliet to marry--that sort of man? You
don't, do you?"
Fielding had stiffened almost imperceptibly. "It doesn't much matter what
I want," he said, after a moment. "It doesn't rest with me. Neither Dick
nor Juliet are likely to consult my feelings in the matter."
"I don't want her to throw herself away--like that," said Vera.
"I don't think you need be afraid," he said. "Juliet knows very well what
she is about. And Dick--well Dick's fool enough to sacrifice the heart
out of his body for the sake of that half-witted boy."
"How odd of him!" Vera said. "What a pity Robin ever lived to grow up!"
"He's been the ruin of Dick's life," the squire said forcibly. "He's
thrown away every chance he ever had on account of Robin. He doesn't
fit--if you like. He's absolutely out of his sphere and knows it. But
he'll never change it while that boy lives. That's the infernal part of
it. Nothing will move him." He stopped himself suddenly. "I mustn't
excite you, my dear, and this is a subject upon which I feel very
strongly. I can't expect you to sympathize because--" he smiled
whimsically--"well, mainly because you don't understand. We had better
talk of something else."
Vera was looking at him with a slight frown between her eyes. "I didn't
mean to be--unsympathetic," she said, a faint quiver in her voice.
"Of course not! Of course not!" Hastily he sought to make amends. "I
don't know how we got on the subject. You must forgive me, my dear. I
believe I hear Juliet in the conservatory. We won't discuss this
He would have risen, but she detained him. "Edward, just a moment! I want
to ask you something."
"Well?" Reluctantly he paused.
"I--only want to know," she spoke with some effort, "what there is
about--Mr. Green that--that makes you so fond of him."
"Oh, that!" He stood hesitating. But there were certainly footsteps in
the conservatory; he heard them with relief. "I'll tell you some other
time, my dear," he said gently. "Here comes Juliet to turn me out!"
He turned to the window as she entered and greeted her with a smile. Vera
was still clinging to his hand.
"May I come in?" said Juliet, stopping on the threshold.
"Yes, of course, come in!" Vera said. "We have been talking about you,
Juliet. Will you come for a voyage with us in Lord Saltash's yacht?"
Juliet came slowly forward. Her face was pale. She was holding a
letter in her hand. She looked from one to the other for a second or
two in silence.
"Are you sure," she said, in her low quiet voice, "that you wouldn't
rather go alone?"
"Not unless you would rather not come," said the squire.
"Thank you," she said. "May I--think about it?"
The squire was looking at her attentively. "What is the matter?" he
She met his look steadily, though he felt it to be with an effort. Then
quietly she turned to Vera.
"I have just had a letter," she said, "from a friend who is in trouble.
Do you think you can spare me--for a little while?"
Vera stretched a hand to her. "My dear Juliet, I am so sorry. Of course
you shall go. What is it? What has happened?"
Juliet came to her, took and held the hand. "You are very kind," she
said. "But I don't want you to be troubled too. There is no need. You are
sure you will be all right without me?"
"You will come back to me?" Vera said.
"I will certainly come back," Juliet made steadfast answer, "even if I
can't stay. But now that you are able to sit up, you will need me less.
You will take care of her, Mr. Fielding?" looking up at him.
He nodded. "You may be sure of that--the utmost care. When must you go?"
He was still looking at her closely; his eyes deeply searching.
Juliet hesitated. "Do you think--to-night?" she said.
"Certainly. Then you will want a car. Have you told Lord Saltash?" He
turned to the door.
"No, I have only just heard. I believe he has gone to town." Juliet
gently laid down the hand she was holding. "I will come back," she said
again, and followed him.
He drew the door closed behind them. They faced each other in the dimness
of the hall. The squire's mouth was twitching uncontrollably. "Now,
Juliet!" His voice had a ring of sternness; he put his hand on her
shoulder, gripping unconsciously. "For heaven's sake--" he said--"out
with it! It isn't--Dick?"
"No--Robin!" she said.
"Ah!" He drew a deep breath and straightened himself, his other hand
over his eyes. Then in a moment he was looking at her again. His grip
relaxed. "Forgive me!" he said. "Did I hurt you?"
She gave him a faint smile. "It doesn't matter. You understand, don't
you? I must go--to Dick."
He nodded. "Yes--yes! Is the boy--dead?"
"No. It was a fall over the cliff. It happened last night. They didn't
find him for hours. He is going fast. Jack brought me this." She glanced
down at the letter in her hand.
He made a half-gesture to take it, checking himself sharply. "I beg your
pardon, Juliet, I hardly know what I'm doing. It's from Dick, is it?"
Very quietly she gave it to him. "You may read it. You have a right to
know," she said.
He gave her an odd look. "May I? Are you sure?"
"Read it!" she said.
He opened it. His fingers were trembling. She stood at his shoulder and
read it with him. The words were few, containing the bald statement, but
The squire read them, breathing heavily. Suddenly he thrust his arm round
Juliet and held her fast.
"Juliet! You'll be good to my boy--good to Dick?"
Her eyes met his. "That is why I am going to him," she said. She took the
note and folded it, standing within the circle of his arm.
"I'd go to him myself--if I could," Fielding went on unevenly. "He'll
feel this--damnably. He was simply devoted to that unfortunate boy."
"I know," said Juliet.
Again he put his hand to his eyes. "I've been a beast about Robin. Ask
him to forgive me, Juliet! Tell him I'm awfully sorry, that I'll come as
soon as I can get away. And if there's anything he wants--anything under
the sun--he's to have it. See? Make him understand!"
"He will understand," Juliet said quietly.
He looked at her again. "Don't let him fret, Juliet!" he said urgently.
"You'll comfort him, won't you? I know I'm always rating him, but he's
such a good chap. You--you love him, don't you?"
"Yes," she said.
"God bless you for that!" he said earnestly. "I can't tell you what he is
to me--can't explain. But--but--"
"I--understand," she said
"What?" He stared at her for a moment. "What--do you understand?"
"I know what he is to you," she said gently. "I have known--for a long
time. Never mind how! Nobody told me. It just came to me one day."
"Ah!" Impulsively he broke in. "You see everything. I'm afraid of
you, Juliet. But look here! You won't--you won't--make him
suffer--for my sins?"
Her hand pressed his arm. "What am I?" she said. "Have I any right to
judge anyone? Besides--oh, besides--do you think I could possibly go
to him if I did not feel that nothing on earth matters now--except
She spoke with deep emotion. She was quivering from head to foot. He bent
very low to kiss the hand upon his arm.
"And you will have your reward," he said huskily. "Don't forget--it's
the only thing in life that really counts! There's nothing
Juliet stood quite still looking down at the bent grey head. "I wonder,"
she said slowly, "I wonder--if Dick--in his heart--thinks the same!"
The August dusk had deepened into night when the open car from the Court
pulled up at the schoolhouse gate. The school had closed for the summer
holidays a day or two before. No lights shone in either building.
"Do you mind going in alone?" whispered Jack. "I can't show here. But
I'll wait inside the park-gates to take you back."
"You needn't wait," Juliet said. "I shall spend the night at the
Court--unless I am wanted here."
She descended with the words. She had never liked Jack Green, and she was
thankful that the rapid journey was over. She heard him shoot up the
drive as she went up the schoolhouse path.
In the dark little porch she hesitated. The silence was intense. Then,
as she stood in uncertainty, from across the bare playground there
came a call.
She turned swiftly. He was standing in the dark doorway of the school.
The vague light of the rising moon gleamed deathly on his face. He did
not move to meet her.
She went to him, reached out hands to him that he did not take, and
clasped him by the shoulders. "Oh, you poor boy!"
His arms held her close for a moment or two, then they relaxed.
"I don't know why I sent for you," he said.
"You didn't send for me, Dick," she made gentle answer. "But I think you
wanted me all the same."
He groaned. "Wanted you! I've--craved for you. You told the squire?"
"Yes. He said--"
He broke in upon her with fierce bitterness. "He was pleased of course! I
knew he would be. That's why I couldn't send the message to him. It had
to be you."
"Dick! Dick! He wasn't pleased! You don't know what you're saying. He was
most terribly sorry." She put her arm through his with a very tender
gesture. "Won't you take me inside and tell me all about it?" she said.
He gave a hard shudder. "I don't know if I can, Juliet. It's been--so
awful. He suffered--so infernally. The doctor didn't want to give him
morphia--said it would hasten the end." He stamped in a sort of impotent
frenzy. "I stood over him and made him. It was just what I wanted to do.
It was--it was--beyond endurance."
"Oh, my dear!" she said.
He put his hands over his face. "Juliet,--it was--hell!" he said
brokenly. "When I wrote that note to you--I thought the worst was over.
But it wasn't--it wasn't! He was past speaking--but his eyes--they kept
imploring me to let him go.--O God, I'd given my soul to help him! And I
could do--nothing--except see him die!"
Again a convulsive shudder caught him. Juliet's arms went around him. She
held his head against her breast.
"It's over now," she whispered. "Thank God for that!"
He leaned upon her for a space. "Yes, it's over. At least he died in
peace," he said, and drew a hard, quivering breath. Then he stood up
again. "Juliet, I'm so sorry. Come inside! I'll light the lamp. I
couldn't stand that empty house--with only my boy's dead body in it. Mrs.
Rickett has been there, but she's gone now." He turned and pushed open
the door. "Wait a minute while I light up!"
She did not wait, but followed him closely, and stood beside him while
he lighted a lamp on the wall. He turned from doing so and smiled at
her, and she saw that though his face was ghastly, he was his own
"How did you get here?" he said. "Who took the note? The doctor promised
to get it delivered."
"Jack brought it," she said. "I came back with him."
"Jack!" His brows drew together suddenly. She saw his black eyes gleam.
For a moment he said nothing further. Then: "If--Jack comes anywhere near
me to-night, I shall kill him!" he said very quietly.
"Dick!" she said in amazement.
There was a certain awful intentness in his look. "I hold him responsible
for this," he said.
She gazed at him, assailed by a swift wonder as to his sanity.
In a second he saw the doubt and replied to it, still with that deadly
quietness that seemed to her more terrible than violence. "I know what I
am saying. He is--directly responsible. My boy died for my sake, because
he believed what Jack told him--that no woman would ever consent to marry
me while he lived."
"Oh, Dick! You don't mean--he did it--on purpose!" Juliet's voice was
quick with pain. "Dick, surely--surely--it wasn't that! You are making
"No. It is no mistake," he said, with sombre conviction. "I know it. Mrs.
Rickett knows it too. It's been preying on his mind ever since. He hasn't
been well. He's suffered with his head a good deal lately. He--" He
stopped himself. "There's no need to distress you over this. Thank you
for coming. I didn't really expect you. Is he--is Jack--waiting to take
"No," said Juliet quietly.
His brows went up. "You are sleeping at the Court? I'll take you there."
"I'm not going yet, Dick," she said gently, "unless you turn me out."
His face quivered unexpectedly. He turned from her. "There's--nothing to
wait for," he said.
But Juliet stood motionless. Her eyes went down the long bare room with
its empty forms and ink-splashed desks. She thought it the most desolate
place she had ever seen.
After an interval of blank silence Dick spoke again. "Don't you stay! I'm
not myself to-night. I can't--think. It was awfully good of you to come.
"Dick!" she said.
At sound of her voice he turned. His eyes looked at her out of such a
depth of misery as pierced her to the heart. She saw his hands clench
against his sides. "O my God!" he said under his breath.
"Dick!" she said again very earnestly. "Don't send me away! Let me
"You can't," he said. "You've been too good to me--already."
"You wouldn't say that to me if I were--your wife," she said.
He flinched sharply. "Juliet! Don't torture me! I've had--as much as I
can stand to-night."
She held out her hand to him with a gesture superbly simple. "My dear, I
will marry you to-morrow if you will have me," she said.
He stood for a long second staring at her. Then she saw his face change
and harden. The ascetic look that she had noticed long ago came over it
like a mask.
"No!" he said. "No!"
Again he turned from her. He went away up the long room, the bare boards
echoing to the tramp of his feet with a dull and hopeless sound. He came
to a stand before the writing-table at the further end, and from there he
spoke to her, his words brief, as it were edged with steel.
"Can you imagine how Cain felt when he said that his punishment was
greater than he could bear? That's how I feel to-night. I am like Cain.
Whatever I touch is cursed."
The words startled her. Again for a second she wondered if the suffering
through which he had passed had affected his brain. But she felt no fear.
She kept her purpose before her, clear and steadfast as a beacon shining
in the dark.
"You are not like Cain," she said. "And even if you were, do you think I
should love you any the less?"
He made a desperate gesture. "Would you love me if I were a
murderer?" he said.
"I love you--whatever you are," she made unfaltering reply.
He turned upon her, almost like an animal at bay. "I am--a murderer,
Juliet!" he said, a terrible fire in his eyes.
In spite of herself she flinched, so awful was his look. "Dick, what do
He flung out a hand as if to keep her from him though she had not moved.
"I will tell you what I mean, and then--you will go. On the night Robin
was born,--I killed his father!"
"Dick!" she said.
He went on rapidly. "I was a boy at the time, but I had a man's purpose.
My mother was dying. They sent me to fetch him. I loathed the man. So did
she. He was at The Three Tuns--drinking. I hung about till he came out.
He was blind drunk, and the night was dark. He took the wrong path that
led to the cliff, and I let him go. In the morning they found him on the
rocks, dead. I might have saved him. I didn't. I went back to my mother,
and stayed with her--till she died."
"Oh Dick--my dear!" she said.
He stood stiffly facing her. "I never repented. I'd do the same again
now--or worse, to such a man as that. He was a brute beast. But--I
suppose God doesn't allow these things. Anyway, I've been
punished--pretty heavily. I got fond of the boy. He was the only thing
left to care for. He took the place of everything else. And now--because
of a damnable lie--" Something seemed to rise in his throat, he paused,
struggling with himself, finally went on jerkily, with difficulty. "One
more thing--you'd better know. It'll help you to--forget me. The man I
killed was not my own father--except in name. My mother refused to marry
the man she loved because she thought it would injure his career--his
people threatened to disown him. She gave herself instead to--the
scoundrel whose name I bear--just to set him free."
Again he stopped. Juliet had moved. She was coming up the long room to
him, not quickly, but with purpose. He stood, still facing her, his
breathing short and hard.
Quietly, with that regal bearing that was so supremely her own, she drew
near. And her eyes were shining with a light that made her beautiful. She
reached him and stood before him.
"Dick," she said, "I am not like your mother. I've been fighting against
it, but it's too strong for me. I have got to marry--the man I love."
He made an impotent gesture, and she saw that he was trembling.
She stood a moment, then reached out, took his arms, and drew them
gently round her. "Are you still trying to send me away?" she said.
"Because--it's stronger than both of us, Dick--and I'm not going--I'm
He looked into the shining, steadfast eyes, and suddenly the desperate
strain was over. His resistance snapped. "God forgive me!" he said under
his breath, and caught her passionately close.
There was that in his hold--perhaps because of the fulness of her
surrender--that had never been before,--something flaming, something
fiercely electric, in his swift acceptance of her. As he clasped her, she
felt the wild throbbing of his heart like the pulsing force of a racing
engine. He kissed her, and in his kiss there was more than the lover's
adoration. It held the demand and mastery of matehood. By it he claimed
and sealed her for his own.
When his hold relaxed, she made no effort to withdraw herself. She leaned
against him gasping a little, but her eyes--with the glory yet shining in
them--were still raised to his.
"So that's settled, is it?" she said, with a quivering smile. "You are
quite sure, Dick?"
His hands were clasped behind her. His look had a certain burning quality
as if he challenged all the world for her possession.
"What am I to say to you, Juliet?" he said, his words low, deeply
vibrant. "I can't deny--my other self--can I?"
"I don't know," she said. "You were very near it, weren't you? I thought
you had--all these weeks."
"Ah!" His brows contracted. "Will you forgive me, Juliet? I've had--an
"Yes. I know," she said gently.
"No, dear, you don't know. How could you? Your life hasn't been one
perpetual struggle against overwhelming odds like mine." He paused. "Look
here, darling! I'm rather a fool to-night. I can't explain things. But
you've been very wonderful to me. You've lighted a torch in the dark. I
kept away because--it didn't seem fair to you to do anything else. You
were back in your own inner circle, and I was miles outside. And you
never wanted to be bound. When I saw you with--Lord Saltash--I knew why."
"My dear!" she said. "You didn't imagine I was in love with
"No--no!" he said. "I knew you weren't. And yet--somehow--I felt you
were nearer to his world than mine. I realized it more and more as the
days went on. And my boy was ill--I couldn't leave him. Juliet--" a hint
of entreaty crept into his voice--"I can't explain. But somehow here on
my own ground it's--different. I feel you belong to me here. I know I can
win and hold you. But there--there--you are--leagues and leagues above
me--far out of reach."
"Oh, Dick!" she said. "I thought you had more sense! Don't you
realize--yet--that your world is the world I want to be in? I want to
forget that other world--just to blot it out of my life--if only you will
make that possible."
"If I will!" he said, with a deep breath. And then suddenly he took her
face between his hands, looking closely into her eyes. "Don't you care
about--all the horrible things I've told you?" he said. "Does it make no
difference at all to you?"
She was still smiling--a tremendous smile. "It doesn't seem much like
it, does it?" she said. "I'm not such a saint myself, Dick. Moreover, I
knew about--some things--before I came."
"What things?" he said.
She made a very winning gesture towards him. "Don't think me a Paul Pry,
dear! But I couldn't help knowing--ages ago--what made the squire--so
fond of you."
"Juliet!" He gazed at her. "How on earth did you find out?"
She coloured deeply under his look. "You--are rather alike--in some
ways," she said. "It was partly that and partly being--well, rather
interested in you, I suppose. And Mrs. Rickett told me as much of your
family history as she knew before I ever met you. So, you see, I didn't
have much to fill in."
"And still it makes no difference?" he said.
She shook her head. "None whatever. I'm just glad for your sake that the
man you hated so was not your father. But I think you go rather far,
Dick, when you say you killed him."
The hard onyx glitter shone again in his eyes. "No, it was not an
exaggeration," he said. "I was a murderer that night. I meant him to go
to his death. When he was dead I was glad. He had tortured the only being
I loved on earth. I believed he was my father for quite a long time
after--till the squire came home, and I told him the whole story.
Then--in an impulsive moment--he told me the truth. He cared about my
mother's death--cared badly. They would have been married by that time if
her husband hadn't turned up again. It was two lives spoilt."
"And what about yours?" she said.
"Mine!" He smiled rather bitterly. "Well, I've never expected much of
life. I've stuck to my independence and been satisfied with that. He'd
have bossed my destiny if I'd have let him. But I wouldn't. I was
cussed on that point, though if it hadn't been for Robin, I shouldn't
have bothered. I stayed on here for the boy's sake. He wouldn't have
been happy anywhere else. Well," he uttered a weary sigh, "that
She pressed his arm. "Dick, we might never have met but for that."
"Oh, we might have met," he said. "But--you'd probably have detested
me--under any other circumstances."
She smiled at him with a touch of wistfulness. "And you me, Dick. Neither
of us would have looked below the surface if we'd met in the general
hurly-burly. We shouldn't have had time. So we have a good deal to be
thankful for, haven't we?"
He drew her to him again. The desperate misery had passed from his face,
but he looked worn out. "What on earth should I do without you?" he said.
"I don't know, dear," she answered tenderly. "I hope you are not going to
try any longer, are you?"
His lips were near her own. "Juliet, will you stay--within reach--till
after the funeral?"
"Yes," she breathed.
"And then--then--will you--marry me?" His whisper was even lower than
hers. The man's whole being pulsed in the words.
Her arms went round his neck. "I will, dearest."
His breath came quickly. "And if--if--later--you come upon some things
that hurt you--things you don't understand--will you remember how I've
been handicapped--and--forgive me?"
Her eyes looked straight up to his. They held a shadowy smile. "Dick,--I
was just going--to say that--to you!"
He pressed her to his heart. "Ah, my Juliet!" he said. "Could anything
matter to us--anything on earth--except our love?"
In the deep silence her lips answered his. There was no further need
THE FREE GIFT
"I'm not quite sure that I call this fair play," said Saltash with a
comical twist of the eyebrows. "I didn't expect all these developments in
so short a time."
"There are no further rules to this game," said Juliet, squeezing
Columbus around his sturdy shoulders as he sat on the bench beside her.
"Whoever wins--or loses--no one has any right to complain."
She spoke without agitation, but her face was flushed, and there was
something about the clasp of her arm that made Columbus look up with
"If that's so," said Saltash, "I can withdraw my protection without
She smiled. "No doubt you can, most puissant Rex! But it really wouldn't
answer your purpose. You've nothing to gain by treachery to a friend, and
it would give you a horrid taste afterwards."
He made a face at her. "That's your point of view. And what am I to say
when I meet Muff and all the rest of the clan again?"
She gave a slight shrug. "Do you think it matters? They are much too
busy chasing after their own affairs to give me a second thought. If
I were Lady Jo, they might be interested--for half-an-hour--not a
Saltash made a mocking sound. "I know one person whose interest would
last a bit longer than that--if you were Lady Jo."
"Indeed?" said Juliet.
"Yes--indeed, _ma Juliette_! I met him the other day at the Club before I
went North, and it may interest you to know that he is determined to find
her--and marry her--or perish in the attempt."
"It doesn't interest me in the least," said Juliet.
"No? Hard-hearted as ever!" Saltash's grin was one of sheer mischief.
"Well, he seemed to share the popular belief that I know where the
elusive Lady Jo is to be found. I really can't think what I've done to
deserve such a reputation. I was put through a pretty stiff
cross-examination, I can tell you."
"I have no doubt you were more than equal to it," said Juliet.
Saltash broke into a laugh. "It was such a skilful fencing-match that I
imagine we left off much as we began. But I don't flatter myself that I
am cleared of suspicion. In fact it wouldn't surprise me at all to find I
was being shadowed--not for the first time in my disreputable career."
"I wonder when you will marry and turn respectable," said Juliet.
He made an appalling grimace. "Follow your pious example? May
She looked at him, faintly smiling. "Wait till the real thing comes to
you, Charles Rex! You won't feel so superior then."
"Do you know how old I am?" said Saltash.
"Thirty-five," said Juliet idly.
Again his brows went up. "How on earth do you know these things
Her grey eyes were quizzical. "You are quite young enough yet to be
happy--if only the right woman turns up."
He leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his head, and contemplated
her with a criticism that lasted several seconds. His dark face wore its
funny, monkeyish look of regret, half-wistful and half-feigned.
"I wish--" he said suddenly--"I wish I'd come down here when you first
began to rusticate."
"Why?" said Juliet, with her level eyes upon him.
He laughed and sprang abruptly to his feet. "_Quien sabe_? I might have
turned rustic too--pious also, my _Juliette_! Think of it! Life isn't
fair to me. Why am I condemned always to ride the desert alone?"
"Mainly because you ride too hard," said Juliet. "None but you can keep
up the pace. Ah!" She turned her head quickly, and the swift colour
flooded her face.
"Ah!" mocked Saltash softly, watching her. "Is it Romeo's step
that I hear?"
Columbus wagged his tail in welcome as Dick Green came round the corner
of the Ricketts' cottage and walked down under the apple-trees to join
them. He greeted Saltash with the quiet self-assurance of a man who
treads his own ground. There was no hint of hostility in his bearing.
"I've been expecting you," he said coolly.
"Have you?" said Saltash, a gleam of malicious humour in his eyes. "I
thought there was something of the conquering hero about you. I have
come--naturally--to congratulate you on your conquest."
"Thank you," said Dick, and seated himself on the bench beside Juliet and
Columbus. "That is very magnanimous of you."
"It is," agreed Saltash. "But if I had known what was in the wind I
might have carried it still further and offered you Burchester Castle for
"How kind of you!" said Juliet. "But we prefer cottages to castles, don't
we, Dick? We might have had the Court. The squire very kindly suggested
it. But we like this best--till our own house is in order."
"Still rusticating!" commented Saltash. "I should have thought your
passion for that would have been satisfied by this time. I seem to have
got out of touch with you all during my stay in Scotland. I never meant
to go there this year, but I got lured away by Muff and his crowd. Mighty
poor sport on the whole. I've often wished myself back. But I pictured
you far away on the Night Moth with Mr. and Mrs. Fielding, and myself
bored to extinction in my empty castle. And so I hung on. I certainly
never expected you to get married in my absence, ma Juliette. That was
the unkindest cut of all. Why didn't you write and tell me?"
"I didn't even know where you were," said Juliet. "You disappeared
without warning. We expected you back at any time."
"Bad excuses every one of 'em!" said Saltash. "You know you wanted to get
it over before I came back. Very rash of you both, but it's your funeral,
not mine. Is this all the honeymoon you're going to have?"
Juliet laughed a little. "Well, my dear Rex, it doesn't much matter where
you are so long as you are happy. We spend a good deal of our time on the
sea and in it. We also go motoring in the squire's little car. And we
superintend the decorating of our house. At the same time Dick is within
reach of the miners who are being rather tiresome, so every one--except
the miners--is satisfied."
"Oh, those infernal miners!" said Saltash, and looked at Dick. "How long
do you think you are going to keep them in hand?"
"I can't say," said Dick somewhat briefly. "I don't advise Lord
Wilchester or any of his people to come down here till something has been
done to settle them."
Saltash laughed. "Oh, Muff won't come near. You needn't be afraid of
that. He's deer-stalking in the Highlands. He's a great believer in
leaving things to settle themselves."
"Is he?" said Dick grimly. "Well, they may do that in a fashion he won't
care for before he's much older."
"Are you organizing a strike?" suggested Saltash, a wicked gleam of
humour in his eyes.
Dick's eyes flashed in answer. "I am not!" he said. "But--I'm damned if
they haven't some reason for striking--if he cares as little as that!"
"How often do you tell 'em so?" said Saltash.
Juliet's hand slipped quietly from Columbus's head to Dick's arm. "May I
have a cigarette, please?" she said.
He turned to her immediately and his fire died down. He offered her his
cigarette-case in silence.
Juliet took one, faintly smiling. "Do you know," she said to Saltash, "it
was Dick's cigarettes that first attracted me to him? When I landed on
this desert island, I had only three left. He came to the rescue--most
nobly, and has kept me supplied ever since. I don't know where he gets
them from, but they are the best I ever tasted."
"He probably smuggles 'em," said Saltash, offering her a match.
"No, I don't," said Dick, rather shortly. "I get them from a man in town.
A fellow I once met--Ivor Yardley, the K. C.--first introduced me to
them. I get them through his secretary who has some sort of interest in
A sudden silence fell. Juliet's cigarette remained poised in the act of
kindling, but no smoke came from her lips. She had the look of one who
listens with almost painful intentness.
The flame of the lighted match licked Saltash's fingers, and he dropped
it. "Pardon my clumsiness! Let's try again! So you know Yardley, do you?"
He flung the words at Dick. "Quite the coming man in his profession.
Rather a brute in some ways, cold-blooded as a fish and wily as a
serpent, but interesting--distinctly interesting. When did you meet him?"
"Early this year. I consulted him on a matter of business. I have no
private acquaintance with him." Dick was looking straight at Saltash with
a certain hardness of contempt in his face. "You evidently are on terms
of intimacy with him."
"Oh, quite!" said Saltash readily. "He knows me--almost as well as you
do. And I know him--even better. I was saying to _Juliette_ just now
that I believe he shares the general impression that I have got Lady Jo
Farringmore somewhere up my sleeve. She did the rabbit trick, you know,
a week or two before the wedding, and because I was to have been the
best man I somehow got the blame. Wonder if he'd have blamed you if
you'd been there!"
Dick stiffened. "I think not," he said.
"Not disreputable enough?" laughed Saltash.
"Not nearly," said Juliet, coming out of her silence. "Dick has rather
strong opinions on this subject, Charles, so please don't be flippant
about it! Will you give me another match?"
He held one for her, his eyebrows cocked at a comical angle, open
derision in the odd eyes beneath them. Then, her cigarette kindled, he
sprang up in his abrupt fashion.
"I'm going. Thanks for putting up with me for so long. I had to come and
see you, Juliette. You are one of the very few capable of appreciating me
at my full value."
"I hope you will come again," she said.
He bowed low over her hand. "If I can ever serve you in any way," he
said, "I hope you will give me the privilege. Farewell, most estimable
Romeo! You may yet live to greet me as a friend."
He was gone with the words with the suddenness of a monkey swinging off a
bough, leaving behind him a silence so marked that the fall of an unripe
apple from the tree immediately above them caused Columbus to start and
jump from his perch to investigate.
Then Juliet, very quiet of mien and level of brow, got up and went to
Dick who had risen at the departure of the visitor. She put her hand
through his arm and held it closely.
"You are not to be unkind to my friends, Richard," she said. "It is the
one thing I can't allow."
He looked at her with some sternness, but his free hand closed at once
upon hers. "I hate to think of you on terms of intimacy with that
bounder," he said.
She smiled a little. "I know you do. But you are prejudiced. I can't give
up an old friend--even for you, Dick."
He squeezed her hand. "Have you got many friends like that, Juliet?"
She flushed. "No. He is the only one I have, and--"
"And?" he said, as she stopped.
She laid her cheek with a very loving gesture against his shoulder.
"Ah, don't throw stones!" she pleaded gently. "There are so few of us
His arm was about her in a moment, all his hardness vanished. "My own
girl!" he said.
She held his hand in both her own. "Do you know--sometimes--I lie awake
at night and wonder--and wonder--whether you would have thought of
me--if you had known me in the old days?"
"Is that it?" he said very tenderly. "And you thought I was sleeping like
a hog and didn't know?"
She laughed rather tremulously, her face turned from him. "It isn't
always possible to bury the past, is it, however hard we try? I hope
you'll make allowances for that, Dick, if ever I shock your sense of
"I shall make allowances," he said, "because you are the one and only
woman I worship--or have ever worshipped--and I can't see you in any
"How dear of you, Dicky!" she murmured. "And how rash!"
"Am I such an unutterable prig?" he said. "I feel myself that I have got
extra fastidious since knowing you."
She laughed at that, and after a moment turned with impulsive sweetness
and put her cigarette between his lips. "You're not a prig, darling. You
are just an honourable and upright gentleman whom I am very proud to
belong to and with whom I always feel I have got to be on my best
behaviour. What have you been doing all this time? I should have come to
look for you if Saltash hadn't turned up."
Dick's brows were slightly drawn. "I've been talking to Jack," he said.
"Jack!" She opened her eyes. "Dick! I hope you haven't been quarrelling!"
He smiled at her anxious face, though somewhat grimly. "My dear, I don't
quarrel with people like Jack. I came upon him at the school. I don't
know why he was hanging round there. He certainly didn't mean me to catch
him. But as I did so, I took the opportunity for a straight talk--with
the result that he leaves this place to-morrow--for good."
"My dear Dick! What will the squire say?"
"I can manage the squire," said Dick briefly.
She smiled and passed on. "And Jack? What will he do?"
"I don't know and I don't care. He's the sort of animal to land on his
feet whichever way he falls. Anyhow, he's going, and I never want to
speak or hear of him again." Dick's thin lips came together in a hard,
"Are you never going to forgive him?" said Juliet.
His eyes had a stony glitter. "It's hardly a matter for forgiveness," he
said. "When anyone has done you an irreparable injury the only thing left
is to try and forget it and the person responsible for it as quickly as
possible. I don't thirst for his blood or anything of that kind. I simply
want to be rid of him--and to wipe all memory of him out of my life."
"Do you always want to do that with the people who injure you?"
He looked at her, caught by something in her tone. "Yes, I think so.
"Oh, never mind why!" she said, with a faint laugh that sounded
oddly passionate. "I just want to find out what sort of man you are,
She would have turned away from him with the words, but he held her with
a certain dominance. "No, Juliet! Wait! Tell me--isn't it reasonable to
want to get free of anyone who wrongs you--to shake him off, kick him off
if necessary,--anyway, to have done with him?"
"I haven't said it was unreasonable," she said, but she was trembling as
she spoke and her face was averted.
"Look at me!" he said. "What? Am I such a monster as all that?
Juliet,--my dear, don't be silly! What are you afraid of? Surely
not of me!"
She turned her face to him with a quivering smile. "No! I won't be silly,
Dick," she said. "I'll try to take you as I find you and--make the best
of you. But, to be quite honest, I am rather afraid of the hard side of
you. It is so very uncompromising. If I ever come up against it--I
believe I shall run away!"
"Not you!" he said, trying to look into the soft, down-cast eyes. "Or if
you do you'll come back again by the next train to see how I am bearing
up. I've got you, Juliet!" He lifted her hand, displaying it exultantly,
closely clasped in his. "And what I have--I hold!"
"How clever of you!" said Juliet, and with a swift lithe movement
His arms went round her in a flash. "I'll make you pay for that!" he
vowed. "How dare you, Juliet? How dare you?"
She resisted him for a second, or two, holding him from her,
half-mocking, half in earnest. Then, as his hold tightened, encompassing
her, she submitted with a low laugh, yielding herself afresh to him under
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