The Obstacle Race
Ethel M. Dell
Part 6 out of 7
the old apple-tree, in full and throbbing surrender to his love.
But when at last his hold relaxed, when he had made her pay, she took his
hand and pressed a deep, deep kiss into his palm. "That is--a free gift,
Dicky," she said. "And it is worth more than all the having and holding
in the world."
It was on a misty evening of autumn that Vera Fielding entered her
husband's house once more like a bride returning from her wedding-trip.
There was something of the petted air of a bride about her as she came in
on the squire's arm throwing her greetings right and left to the
assembled servants, and certainly there was in her eyes more of the
shining happiness of a bride than they had ever held before. Her face was
flushed with a pretty eagerness, and the petulant lines about her mouth
were far less apparent than of old. Her laugh had a gay spontaneous ring,
and though her voice still had a slightly arrogant inflection it was not
without softer notes when she addressed the squire.
"I feel as if we had been away for years and years," she said to him, as
they stood together before the blazing fire in the drawing-room. "Isn't
it strange, Edward? Only three months in reality, and such a difference!"
He was lifting the heavy coat from her shoulders, but she turned with it
impulsively and caught him round the neck.
"My dear!" he said, and clasped her coat and all.
"It is going to last, isn't it?" she said, her breath coming quickly.
"You promised--you promised--to love me just as much if I got well!"
He kissed her with reassuring tenderness. "Yes, my girl, yes! It's going
to last all right. We're going to make a happy home of it, you and I."
She clung to him for a few seconds, then broke away with a little laugh.
"You'll have to hunt this winter, Edward. You're getting stout."
"And shoot too," said the squire. "There promises to be plenty of birds.
We'd better have a party if you feel up to it."
She looked at him with kindling eyes. "I'm up to anything. I should love
it. Do you think Lord Saltash would come?"
"We must certainly ask him," said, the squire. "But you're not to work
too hard, mind! That's an order. Let people look after themselves'"
"I'll get Juliet to come and help me," she said. "She must have lots of
spare time. By the way, they'll be here to dine in another hour. I must
go and dress."
"Have some tea first!" he said. "They won't mind waiting."
She slipped her hand through his arm. "Come and have it upstairs! It
really is late. We'll have a cosy time together afterwards--when
He smiled upon her indulgently. They had grown very near to one another
during their cruise in the _Night Moth_. To him also their home-coming
held something of bridal gladness. He had never seen her so glowing with
happiness before. The love that shone in her eyes whenever they met his
own stirred him to the depths. He had never deemed her capable of such
affection in the old days. It had changed his whole world.
They went upstairs together closely linked. They entered Vera's room from
which she imperiously dismissed her maid. They sat down on the couch
beside the fire.
"Do you remember that awful day when we quarrelled about Dick Green?"
said Vera suddenly.
He kept her hand in his. "Don't!" he said. "Don't remind me of it!"
Her laugh had in it a thrill that was like a caress. "Wasn't I a pig,
Edward? And weren't you a tyrant? I haven't seen you in one of your royal
rages since. I always rather admired them, you know."
"I know you hated me," he said, "and I'm not surprised."
She made a face at him. "Silly! I didn't. I thought you the finest
monster I had ever seen. So you were--quite magnificent." She put up a
hand and stroked his iron-grey hair. "Well, we shan't quarrel about young
Green any more," she said.
"I wonder," said the squire, not looking at her.
"I don't." She spoke with confidence. "I'm going to be tremendously nice
to him--not for Juliet's sake--for yours."
"Thank you, my dear," he said, with an odd humility of utterance that
came strangely from him. "I shall appreciate your kindness. As you
know--I am very fond of Dick."
"You were going to tell me why once," she said.
He took her hand and held it for a moment. "I will tell you
to-night," he said.
The maid came in again with a tea-tray, and they had no further intimate
talk. The squire became restless and walked about the room while he
drank his cup. When he had finished, he went away to his own, and Vera
was left to dress.
Her maid was still putting the final touches when there came a low knock
at the door. She turned sharply from her mirror.
"Is that you, Juliet? Come in! Come in!"
Quietly the door opened, and Juliet entered.
"My dear!" said Vera, and met her impulsively in the middle of the room.
"I had to come up," Juliet said. "I hope you don't mind, but neither Dick
nor I can manage to feel like ordinary guests in this house."
She was smiling as she spoke. The white scarf was thrown back from her
hair. The gracious womanliness of her struck Vera afresh with its charm.
She held her and looked at her. "My dear Juliet, it does me good to see
you. How is Dick? And how is Columbus?"
"They are both downstairs," Juliet said, "and one is working too hard
and the other not hard enough. I had to bring dear Christopher. You
"Of course not, my dear. I would have sent him a special invitation if I
had thought. Come and take off your coat! We got in rather late or I
should have been downstairs to receive you."
"Tell me how you are!" Juliet said. "I don't believe I have ever seen you
looking so well."
"I haven't felt so well for years," Vera declared. "But I have promised
Edward all the same to go up to town and see his pet doctor and make sure
that the cure is complete. Personally I am quite sure. But Edward is such
a dear old fusser. He won't be satisfied with appearances."
She laughed on an indulgent note, and Juliet smiled in sympathy.
"Well, you've given him good cause for that, haven't you? And you enjoyed
the cruise? I am so glad you had good weather."
"It was gorgeous," said Vera. "I must write and tell Lord Saltash. He has
given me the time of my life. Have you seen anything of him by the way?"
"Only once," said Juliet. "He came over to congratulate us. But that is
some time ago. He may be at the other end of the world by this time."
"No, I think not," Vera said. "I believe he is in England. Was he--at all
upset by your marriage, Juliet?"
Juliet laughed a little. "Oh, not in the least. He keeps his heart in a
very air-tight compartment I assure you. I have never had the faintest
glimpse of it."
"But you are fond of him," said Vera shrewdly.
"Oh yes, quite fond of him," Juliet's eyes had a kindly softness. "I have
never yet met the woman who wasn't fond of Charles Rex," she said.
"Does--your husband like him?" asked Vera.
Juliet shook her head quizzically. "No. Husbands don't as a rule."
"Something of a poacher?" questioned Vera.
"Oh, not really. Not since he grew up. I believe he was very giddy in
his youth, and then a girl he really cared for disappointed him. So
the story runs. I can't vouch for the truth of it, or even whether he
ever seriously cared for her. But he has certainly never been in
"What about Lady Joanna Farringmore?" said Vera suddenly.
Juliet was standing before the fire. She bent slightly, the warm glow
softly tinging her white neck. "I should have thought that old fable
might have died a natural death by this time," she said.
Vera gave her a sharp look. There was not actual distaste in Juliet's
tone, yet in some fashion it conveyed the impression that the subject was
one which she had no desire to discuss.
Vera abandoned it forthwith. "Suppose we go downstairs," she said.
They went down to find Dick and Columbus patiently waiting in the hall.
Vera's greeting was brief but not lacking in warmth. The thought of
Juliet married to the schoolmaster had ceased to provoke her indignation.
She even admitted to herself that in different surroundings Dick might
have proved himself to possess a certain attraction. She believed he was
clever in an intellectual sense, and she believed it was by this quality
that he had captivated Juliet. The fiery force of the man, his almost
fierce enthusiasms, she had never even seen.
But she was immediately aware of a subtle and secret link between the two
as they all met together in the genial glow of the fire. Dick's eyes that
flashed for a second to Juliet and instantly left her, told her very
clearly that no words were needed to establish communion between them.
They were in close sympathy.
She gave Dick a warmer welcome than she had ever extended to him before,
and found in the instant response of his smile some reason for wonder at
her previous dislike. Perhaps contact with Juliet had helped to banish
the satire to which in the old days she had so strongly objected. Or
perhaps--but this possibility did not occur to her--he sensed a
cordiality in the atmosphere which had never been present before.
When the squire came down they were all chatting amicably round the
fire, and he smiled swift approval upon his wife ere he turned to greet
"Hullo, Dick!" he said, as their hands met. "Still running the same
"For the present, sir," said Dick.
They had not met since the occasion of Dick's and Juliet's marriage when
the squire had come over immediately before the sailing of the _Night
Moth_ to be present, and to give her away. He had been very kind to them
both during the brief hour that he had spent with them, and the memory
of it still lingered warmly in Juliet's heart. She had grown very fond of
There were no awkward moments during that dinner which was more like a
family gathering than Juliet had thought possible. The change in Vera
amazed her. She was like a traveller who after long and weary journeying
in shady places had come suddenly into bright sunshine. And she was
younger, more ardent, more alive, than Juliet had ever seen her.
The same change was visible, though not so noticeable, in the squire. He
too had come into the sun, but he trod more warily as one who--though
content with the present--was by no means certain that the fair weather
would last. His manner to his wife displayed a charming blend of
tenderness and self-restraint; yet in some fashion he held his own with
her, and once, meeting Juliet's eyes, he smiled in a way that reminded
her of the day on which she had dared to give him advice as to the best
means of securing happiness.
Dick was apparently in good spirits that night, and he was plainly at his
ease. Having taken his cue from his hostess, he devoted himself in a
large measure to her entertainment, and all went smoothly between them.
When she and Juliet left the table she gave him a smiling invitation to
come and play to them.
"I haven't brought the old banjo," he said, "but I'll make my wife sing.
She is going to help me this winter at the Club concerts."
"Brave Juliet!" said Vera, as she went out. "I wouldn't face that crowd
of roughs for a king's ransom."
"She has nothing to be afraid of," said Dick with quick confidence. "I
wouldn't let her do it if there were any danger."
"They seem to be in an ugly mood just now," said the squire.
"Yes, I know." Dick turned back to him, closing the door. "But, taken the
right way, they are still manageable. There is just a chance that we may
keep them in hand if that fellow Ivor Yardley can be induced to see
reason. The rest of the Wilchester crew don't care a damn, but he has
more brains. I'm counting on him."
"How are you going to get hold of him?" questioned Fielding.
"I suppose I must go up to town some week-end. I haven't told Juliet yet.
Unlike the average woman, she seems to have a holy hatred of London and
all its ways. So I presume she will stay behind."
"Perhaps we could get him down here," suggested the squire.
Dick gave him a swift look. "I've thought of that," he said.
"Well?" said Fielding.
Dick hesitated for a moment. "I'm not sure that I want him," he said.
"He and Saltash are friends for one thing. And there are
"You don't like Saltash?" said the squire.
Dick laughed a little. "I don't hate him--though I feel as if I ought to.
He's a queer fish. I don't trust him."
"You're jealous!" said Fielding.
Dick nodded. "Very likely. He has an uncanny attraction for women. I
wanted to kick him the last time we met."
"And what did Juliet say?"
"Oh, Juliet read me a lecture and told me I wasn't to. But I think the
less we see of each other the better--if I am to keep on my best
behaviour, that is."
"It's a good thing someone can manage you," remarked Fielding. "Juliet
is a wonderful peacemaker. But even she couldn't keep you from coming to
loggerheads with Jack apparently. What was that fight about?"
Dirk's brows contracted. "It wasn't a fight, sir," he said shortly. "I've
never fought Jack in my life. He did an infernal thing, and I made him
quit, that's all."
"What did he do?" asked the squire. Then as Dick made a gesture of
refusal: "Damn it, man, he was in my employment anyway! I've a right to
know why he cleared out."
Dick pushed back his chair abruptly and rose. He turned his back on the
squire while he poked the blazing logs with his foot. Then: "Yes, you've
a perfect right to know," he said, speaking jerkily, his head bent. "And
of course I always meant to tell you. It won't appeal to you in the
least. But Juliet understands--at least in part. He was responsible
for--my boy's death. That's why I made him go."
It was the first time that he had voluntarily spoken of Robin since the
day that he and Juliet had followed him to his grave. He brought out the
words now with tremendous effort, and having spoken he ceased to kick at
the fire and became absolutely still.
The squire sat at the table, staring at him. For some seconds the silence
continued, then irritably he broke it.
"Well? Go on, man! That isn't the whole of the story. What do you mean
by--responsible? He didn't shove him over the cliff, I suppose?"
"No," Dick said. "He didn't do that. I almost wish he had. It would have
been somehow--more endurable."
Again he became silent, and suddenly to the squire sitting frowning at
the table there came a flash of intuition that told him he could not
continue. He got up sharply, went to Dick, still frowning, and laid an
impulsive arm across his shoulders.
"I'm sorry, my lad," he said.
Dick made a slight movement as if the caress were not wholly welcome,
but after a moment he reached up and grasped the squire's hand.
"It hit me pretty hard," he said in a low voice, not lifting his hand.
"Juliet just made it bearable. I shall get over it, of course. But--I
never want to see Jack again."
Again for a space he stopped, then with a sudden fierce impatience
"You may remember saying to me once--no; a hundred times over--that I
should never get anywhere so long as I kept my boy with me--never find
success--or happiness--never marry--all that sort of rot. It was rot. I
always knew it was. I've proved it. She would have come to me in any
case. And as for success--it doesn't depend on things of that sort. I've
proved that too. But he--Jack--got hold of the same infernal parrot-cry.
Oh, I'm sorry, sir," he glanced upwards for a second with working lips.
"I can't dress this up in polite language. Jack said to my boy Robin what
you had said to me. And he--believed it--and so--made an end."
He drew his breath hard between his teeth and straightened himself,
putting Fielding's arm quietly from his.
"Good God!" said Fielding. "But the boy was mad! He never was normal. You
"Oh, no, sir." With grim bitterness Dick interrupted. "He just took the
shortest way out, that's all. He wasn't mad."
"Committed suicide!" ejaculated the squire.
Dick's hands were clenched. "Do you call it that," he said, "when a man
lays down his life for his friends?"
He turned away with the words as if he could endure no more, and walked
to the end of the room.
Fielding stood and watched him dumbly, more moved than he cared to show.
At length, as Dick remained standing before a bookcase in heavy silence,
he spoke, his tone an odd mixture of peremptoriness and persuasion.
Dick jerked his head without turning or speaking.
"Are you blaming me for this?" the squire asked.
Dick turned. His face was pale, his eyes fiercely bright. "You, sir! Do
you think I'd have sat at your table if I did?"
"I don't know," the squire said sombrely. "You're fond of telling me I
have no claim on you, but I have--for all that. There is a bond between
us that you can't get away from, however hard you try. You think I
can't understand your feelings in this matter, that I'm too sordid in
my views to realize how hard you've been hit. You think I'm only
pleased to know that you're free from your burden, at last, eh, Dick,
and that your trouble doesn't count with me? Think I've never had any
of my own perhaps?"
He spoke with a half-smile, but there was that in his voice that made
Dick come swiftly back to him down the long room; nor did he pause
when he reached him. His hand went through the squire's arm and
gripped it hard.
"I'm--awfully sorry, sir," he said. "If you understand--you'll
"I do understand, Dick," the squire said with great kindness. "I know
I've been hard on you about that poor boy. I'm infernally sorry for the
whole wretched business. But--as you say--you'll get over it. You've
"Yes, thank God!" Dick said. "I don't know how I should endure life
without her. She's all I have."
The squire's face contracted a little. "No one else, Dick?" he said.
Dick glanced up. "And you, sir," he amended with a smile. "I'm afraid I'm
rather apt to take you for granted. I suppose that's the bond you spoke
of. I haven't--you know I haven't--the least desire to get away from it."
"Thank you," Fielding said, and stifled a sigh. "Life has been pretty
damnable to us both, Dick. We might have been--we ought to have
been--much more to each other."
"There's no tie more enduring than friendship," said Dick quickly. "You
and I are friends--always will be."
Fielding's eyes had a misty look. "The best of friends, Dick lad," he
said. "But will--friendship--give me the right to offer you help without
putting up your pride? I don't want to order your life for you, but you
can't go on with this village _domini_ business much longer. You were
made for better things."
"Oh, that!" Dick said, and laughed. "Yes, I'm going to chuck that--but
not just at once. Listen, sir! I have a reason. I'll tell you what it is,
but not now, not yet. As to accepting help from you, I'd do that
to-morrow if I needed it, but I don't. I've no pride left where you are
concerned. You're much too good to me and I'm much too grateful. Is that
He gave the squire a straight and very friendly look, then wheeled round
swiftly at the opening of the door.
They were standing side by side as Vera threw it impatiently wide. She
stood a second on the threshold staring at them. Then: "Are you never
coming in?" she said. "I thought--I thought--" she stammered suddenly and
turned white. "Edward!" she said, and went back a step as if something
had frightened her.
Dick instantly went forward to her. "Yes, Mrs. Fielding. We're coming
now," he said. "Awfully sorry to have kept you waiting. We've had things
to talk about, but we've just about done. You're coming, aren't you, sir?
Take my arm, I say! You look tired."
He offered and she accepted almost instinctively. Her hand trembled on
his arm as they left the room, and he suddenly and very impulsively laid
his own upon it.
It was a protective impulse that moved him, but a moment later he
adjusted the position by asking a favour of her--for the first time in
the whole of their acquaintance.
"Mrs. Fielding, please, after to-day--give me the privilege of numbering
myself among your friends!"
She looked at him oddly, seeking to cover her agitation with a quivering
assumption of her old arrogance. But something in his face deterred her.
It was not this man's way to solicit favours, and somehow, since he had
humbled himself to ask, she had it not in her to refuse.
"Very well, Dick," she said, faintly smiling. "I grant you that."
"Thank you," he said, and gently released her hand.
It was the swiftest and one of the most complete victories of his life.
It was nearly two hours later that Vera sitting alone before her fire
turned with a slight start at the sound of her husband's step in the room
beyond. She was wearing a pale silk dressing-gown and her hair hung in a
single plait over her shoulder, giving her a curiously girlish look. The
slimness of her figure as she leaned among the cushions accentuated the
fragility which her recent illness had stamped upon her. Her eyes were
ringed with purple, and they had a startled expression that the sound of
the squire's step served to intensify. At the soft turning of the handle
she made a movement that was almost of shrinking. And when he entered she
looked up at him with a small pinched smile from which all pleasure was
He was still in evening dress, and the subdued light falling upon him
gave him the look of a man still scarcely past his prime. He stood for a
moment, erect and handsome, before he quietly closed the door behind him
and moved forward.
"Still up?" he said.
Again at his approach she made a more pronounced movement of shrinking.
"But, I've been waiting for you," she said rather hopelessly.
He came to her, stood looking down at her, the old bitter frown
struggling with a more kindly expression on his face. He was obviously
waiting for something with no pleasant sense of anticipation.
But Vera did not speak. She only sat drawn together, her fingers locked
and her eyes downcast. She was using her utmost strength to keep
herself in hand.
"Well?" he said at length, a faint ring of irritation in his voice, "Have
you nothing to say to me now I have come?"
Her lips quivered a little. "I don't think--there is anything to be
said," she said. "I knew--I felt--it was too good to last."
"It's over then, is it?" he said, the bitterness gaining the upper hand
because of the misery at his heart. "The indiscretions of my youth have
placed me finally beyond the pale. Is that it?"
She gripped her hands together a little more tightly. "I think you have
been--you are--rather cruel," she said, her voice very low. "If you had
He made a gesture of exasperation. "My dear girl, for heaven's sake,
look at the thing fairly if you can! How long have I known you well
enough to let you into my secrets? How long have you been up to hearing
them? I meant to tell you--as you know. I've been on the verge of it
more than once. It wasn't cowardice that held me back. It was
consideration for you."
She glanced at him momentarily. "I see," she said in that small quivering
voice of hers that told so little of the wild tumult within her.
"Well?" he said harshly. "And that is my condemnation, is it? Henceforth
I am to be thrust outside--a sinner beyond redemption. Is that it?"
Her eyelids fluttered nervously, but she did not raise them again. She
leaned instead towards the fire. Her shoulders were bent. She looked
crushed, as if her vitality were gone, and yet so slender, so young, in
her thin wrap. He clinched his hands with a sharp intake of the breath,
and his frown deepened.
"So you won't speak to me?" he said. "It's beyond words, is it? It's to
be an insurmountable obstacle to happiness for the rest of our lives? We
go back to the old damnable existence we've led for so long! Or
perhaps--" his voice hardened--"perhaps you think we should be better
apart? Perhaps you would prefer to leave me?"
She flinched at that--flinched as if he had struck her--and then
suddenly she lifted her white face to his, showing him such an anguish of
suffering as he had not suspected.
"Oh, Edward," she said, "why did this have to happen? We were so
That pierced him--the utter desolation of her--the pain that was too deep
for reproach. He bent to her, all the bitterness gone from his face.
"My dear," he said in a voice that shook, "can't you see how I loathe
myself--for hurting you--like this?"
And then suddenly--so suddenly that neither knew exactly how it
happened--they were linked together. She was clinging to him with a rush
of piteous tears, and he was kneeling beside her, holding her fast
pressed against his heart, murmuring over her brokenly, passionately,
such words of tenderness as she had never heard from him before. When in
the end she lifted her face to kiss him, it was wet with tears other than
her own, and somehow that fact did more to ease her own distress than any
consolation he could find to offer.
She slipped her arm about his neck and pressed her cheek to his. "I'm
thankful I know," she told him tremulously. "Oh, Edward darling,
don't--don't keep anything from me ever again! If I'd only known sooner,
things might have been so different. I feel as if I have never known you
"Have you forgiven me?" he said, his grey head bent.
She turned her lips again to his. "My dear, of course--of course!"
And in a lower voice, "Will you--tell me about her? Did she mean very
much to you?"
His arm tightened about her. "My darling, it's nearly twenty-three years
ago that she died. Yes, I loved her. But I've never wanted her back. Her
life was such an inferno." He paused a moment, then as she was silent
went on more steadily. "She was eighteen and I was twenty-two when it
began. I was home for a summer vacation, and she had just come to help
her aunt as infant teacher at the school. All the men were wild about
her, but she had no use for any of 'em till I come along. We met along
the shore or on the cliffs. We met constantly. We loved each other like
mad. It got beyond all reason--all restraint. We didn't look ahead,
either of us. We were young, and it was so infernally sweet. I'm not
offering any excuse--only telling you the simple truth. You won't
understand of course."
She pressed closer to him. "Why shouldn't I understand?"
He leaned his head against her. "God bless you, my dear! You're very good
to me--far better than I deserve. I was a blackguard, I know. But I never
meant to let her down. That was almost as much her doing as mine--poor
little soul! We were found out at last, and there was a fearful row with
my people. I wanted to take her away then and there, and marry her. But
she wouldn't hear of it--neither would her aunt--a hard, proud woman! I
didn't know then--no one knew--that she was expecting a child, or I'd
have defied 'em all. Instead, she urged and entreated me to go away for a
few weeks--give her time to think, she said. I hoped even then that she
would give in and come to me. But the next thing I knew, she was married
to a brute called Green--skipper of a filthy little cargo-steamer, who
had been after her for some time. She went with him on one or two short
voyages. Heaven knows what she endured in that time. Then the baby was
born--Dick. They called him a seven-months child. But I knew--I guessed
at once. One day I met her--told her so. I saw then--in part--what her
life was like. She was terrified--said Green would kill her if he ever
found out. The man was a great hulking bully--a drunkard perpetually on
shore. He used to beat her as it was. She implored me not to come up
against him, and--for her sake alone--I never did. Then--it was nearly a
year after--he went off on a voyage and didn't come back. The boat was
reported lost with all hands. I think everyone rejoiced so far as he was
concerned. She went back to work at the school, supporting herself and
the child. I never induced her to accept any help from me, but gradually,
as the years went on and my uncle died and I became my own master, I got
into the position of intimate friend. I was allowed to interfere a bit in
Dick's destinies. But for a long, long while she permitted no more than
that. I don't know exactly what made me stick to her. I used to go away,
but I always came back. I couldn't give her up. And at last--twelve years
after Green's disappearance--I won her over. She promised to marry me.
The very day afterwards, that scoundrel Green came back! And her
martyrdom began again."
"Oh, Edward, my dear!" Vera's hand went up to his face, stroking,
caressing. The suppressed misery of his voice was almost more than she
could bear. "How you suffered!" she whispered.
He was silent for a moment or two, controlling himself. "It's over now,"
he said then. "Thank God, it's a long time over! She died--less than a
year after--when Jack and Robin were born. Her husband fell over the
cliff on the same night in a fit of drunkenness and was killed. That's
all the story. You know the rest. I'm sorry--I'm very sorry--I hadn't the
decency to tell you before we married."
"You--needn't be sorry, dear," she said very gently.
He looked at her. "Do you mean that, Vera? Do you mean it makes no
difference to you?"
She met his eyes with a shining tenderness in her own that gave her a
womanliness which he had never seen in her before. "No," she said, "I
don't mean that. I mean that I'm glad nothing happened to--to prevent my
marrying you. I mean--that I love you ten times more for telling me now."
He gathered her impulsively close in his arms, kissing her with lips that
trembled. "My own girl! My own generous wife! I'll make up to you," he
vowed. "I'll give you such love as you've never dreamed of. I've been a
brute to you often--often. But that's over. I'll make you happy now--if
it kills me!"
She laughed softly, with a quivering exultation, between his kisses.
"That wouldn't make me happy in the least. And I don't think you will
find it so hard as that either. You've begun already--quite nicely. Now
that we understand each other, we can never make really serious
Thereafter, they sat and talked in the firelight for a long time,
closely, intimately, as friends united after a long separation. And in
that talk the last barrier between them crumbled away, and a bond that
was very sacred took its place.
In the end the striking of the clock above them awoke Vera to the
lateness of the hour. "My dear Edward, it's to-morrow morning already!
Wouldn't it be a good idea to go to bed?"
"Of course," he said. "You must be half dead. Thoughtless brute that I
am!" He let her go out of his arms at last, but in a moment paused,
looking at her with an odd wistfulness. "You're sure you've forgiven me?
Sure you won't think it over and find you've made a mistake?"
Her hands were on his shoulders. Her eyes looked straight into his. "I am
quite sure," she said.
He began to smile. "What makes you so generous, I wonder? I never thought
you had it in you."
She leaned towards him, a great glow on her face which made her wonderful
in his sight. "Oh, my dear," she said, "I never had before. But I can
afford to be generous now. What does the past matter when I know that the
present and the future are all my own?"
His smile passed. He met her look steadfastly. "As long as I live," he
said, "so shall it be."
And the kiss that passed between them was as the sealing of a vow.
Juliet and Columbus sat in a sheltered nook on the shore and gazed
thoughtfully out to sea. It was a warm morning after a night of tempest,
and the beach was strewn with seaweed after an unusually high tide.
Columbus sat with a puckered brow. In his heart he wanted to be pottering
about among these ocean treasures which had a peculiar fascination for
his doggy soul. But a greater call was upon him, keeping him where he
was. Though she had not uttered one word to detain him, he had a strong
conviction that his mistress wanted him, and so, stolidly, he remained
beside her, his sharp little eyes flashing to and fro, sometimes watching
the great waves riding in, sometimes following the curving flight of a
sea-gull, sometimes fixed in immensely dignified contemplation upon the
quivering tip of his nose. His nostrils worked perpetually. The air was
teeming with interesting scents; but not one of them could lure him from
his mistress's side while he sensed her need of him. His body might be
fat and bulging, but his spirit was a thing of keen perceptions and
ardent, burning devotion, capable of denying every impulse save the love
that was its mainspring.
Juliet was certainly very thoughtful that day. She also was watching the
waves, but the wide brow was slightly drawn and the grey eyes were not
so serene as usual. She had the look of one wrestling with a difficult
problem. The roar of the sea was all about her, blotting out every other
sound, even the calling of the gulls. Her arm encircled Columbus who was
pressed solicitously close to her side. They had been sitting so, almost
without moving, for over half-an-hour.
Suddenly Columbus turned his head sharply, and a growl, swelled through
him. Juliet looked round, and in a moment she had started to her feet. A
man's figure, lithe and spare, with something of a monkey's agility of
movement, was coming to her over the stones. They met in a shelving
hollow of shingle that had been washed by the sea.
"Oh, Charles!" she said impulsively. "It is good of you to come!"
He glanced around him as he clasped her hand, his ugly face brimming with
mischief. "It is rather--considering the risk I run. I trust your
irascible husband is well out of the way?"
She laughed, though not very heartily. "Yes, he has gone to town. I
didn't want him to. I wish I had stopped him."
He looked at her shrewdly. "You've got an attack of nerves," he observed.
She still sought to smile--though the attempt was a poor one. "To be
quite honest--I am rather frightened."
"Frightened!" He pushed a sudden arm around her, looking comical and
tender in the same moment. "And so you sent for me! Then it's Ho for
the _Night Moth_, and when shall we start?"
She gave him a small push as half-hearted as her laugh had been. "Don't
talk rubbish, please, Charles--if you don't mind! I don't see myself
going on the _Night Moth_ with the sea like that; do you?"
"Depends," he said quizzically. "You might be persuaded if the devil
were behind you."
"What! In your company!" Her laugh was more normal this time; she gave
his arm a kindly touch and put it from her.
"But I'm as meek as a lamb," protested Saltash.
She met his look with friendly eyes. "Yes, I know--a lamb in wolf's
clothing--rather a frisky lamb, Charles, but comparatively harmless. If I
hadn't realized that--I shouldn't have asked you to come."
"I like your qualification," he said. "With whom do I compare thus
favourably? The redoubtable Dick?"
The colour came swiftly into her face and he laughed, derisively but
"It's a new thing for me--this sort of job. Are you sure my lamb-like
qualities will carry me through? Do you know, dear, I've never seen you
look so amazing sweet in all my life before? I never knew you could bloom
like this. It's positively dangerous."
He regarded her critically, his head on one side, an ardour half-mocking,
half-genuine, in his eyes.
Juliet uttered a sigh. "I feel a careworn old hag," she said. "My own
fault of course. Things are in a nice muddle, and I don't know which
way to turn."
"One slip from the path of rectitude!" mocked Saltash. "Alas, how fatal
this may prove!"
She looked away from him. "Do you always jeer at your friends when they
are in trouble?" she said somewhat wearily.
"Always," said Saltash promptly. "It helps 'em to find their feet--like
lighting the fire when the chimney-sweep's boy got stuck in the chimney.
It's a priceless remedy, my _Juliette_. Nothing like it."
"I shall begin to hate you directly," remarked Juliet with her
He laughed, not without complacence. "Do you good to try. You won't
succeed. No one ever does. I gather the main trouble is that Dick has
gone to town when you didn't want him to. Husbands are like that
sometimes, you know. Are you afraid he won't come back--or that he will?"
"He will come back--to-day," she said. "You know--or perhaps you
don't know--there is going to be a concert to-night for the miners.
He is going to talk to them afterwards. He has gone up to-day to
"What ho!" said Saltash. "This is interesting. And what does he hope to
get out of him?"
"I don't know," she said. "I had no idea who he was going to see till
yesterday evening. Mr. Ashcott came in and they were talking, and the
name came out. I am not sure that he wanted me to know--though I don't
know why I think so."
"And so you sent me an S.O.S.!" said Saltash. "I am indeed honoured!"
She turned towards him very winningly, very appealingly. "Charles Rex, I
sent for you because I want a friend--so very badly. My happiness is in
the balance. Don't you understand?"
Her deep voice throbbed with feeling. He stretched out a hand to her with
a quick, responsive gesture that somehow belied the imp of mischief in
his eyes. "_Bien, ma Juliette_! I am here!" he said.
"Thank you," she said very earnestly. "I knew I could count on you--that
you would not withdraw your protection when once you had offered it."
"Would you like my advice as well?" he questioned.
She met his quizzing look with her frank eyes. "What is your
advice?" she said.
He held her hand in his. "You haven't forgotten, have you, the sole
condition on which I extended my protection to you? No. I thought not. We
won't discuss it. The time is not yet ripe. And, as you say, the _Night
Moth_ in this weather, though safe, might not be a very comfortable
abiding-place. But--don't forget she is quite safe, my _Juliette_! I
should like you to remember that."
He spoke with a strange emphasis that must in some fashion have conveyed
more than his actual words, for quite suddenly her throat worked with a
sharp spasm of emotion. She put up her hand instinctively to hide it.
"Thank you," she said. "If I need--a city of refuge--I shall know which
way to turn. Now for your advice!"
"My advice!" He was looking at her with those odd, unstable eyes of his
that ever barred the way to his inner being. "It depends a little on the
condition of your heart--that. When it comes to this in an obstacle race,
there are three courses open to you. Either you refuse the jump and drop
out--which is usually the safest thing to do. Or you take the thing at
full gallop and clear it before you know where you are. Or you go at it
with a weak heart and come to grief. I don't advise the last anyway. It's
so futile--as well as being beastly humiliating."
She smiled at him. "Thank you, Charles! A very illuminating parable!
Well, I don't contemplate the first--as you know. I must have a try at
the second. And if I smash,--it's horribly difficult, you know--I may
smash--" Sudden anguish looked at him out of her eyes, and a hard
shiver went through her as she turned away. "Oh, Charles!" she said. "Why
did I ever come to this place?"
He made a frightful grimace that was somehow sympathetic and shrugged
his shoulders. "If you smash, my dearly-beloved, your faithful comrade
will have the priceless privilege of picking up the pieces. Why you came
here is another matter. I have sometimes dared to wonder if the proximity
of my poor castle--No? Not that? Ah, well then, it must be that our
destinies are guided by the same star. To my mind that is an even more
thrilling reflection than the other. Think of it, my _Juliette_, you and
I--helplessly kicking like flies in the cream-jug--being drawn to one
another, irresistibly and in spite of ourselves, even leaving some of our
legs behind us in the desperate struggle to be calm and reasonable and
quite--quite moral! And then a sudden violent storm in the cream-jug, and
we are flung into each other's unwilling arms where we cling for safety
till the crack of doom when all the milk is spilt! It's no use fighting
the stars, you know. It really isn't. The only rational course is to make
the stars fight for you."
He peered round at her to see how she was taking his foolery; and in a
moment impulsively she wheeled back, the distress banished from her face,
the old steadfast courage in its place.
"Oh, Charles, thou king of clowns!" she said. "What a weird
comforter you are!"
"King of philosophers you mean!" he retorted. "It's taken me a long while
to achieve my wisdom. I don't often throw my pearls about in this
She laughed. "How dare you say that to me? But I suppose I ought to be
humbly grateful. I am as a matter of fact intensely so."
"Oh, no!" he said. "Not that--from you!"
His eyes dwelt upon her with a sort of humorous tenderness; she met
them without embarrassment. "You've done me good, Charles," she said.
"Somehow I knew you would--knew I could count on you. You will go on
He executed a deep bow, his hand upon his heart. _"Maintenant et
toujours, ma Juliette_!" he assured her gallantly. "But don't forget the
moral of my parable! When you jump--jump high!"
She nodded thoughtfully. "No, I shan't forget. You're a good friend,
"I may be," said Saltash enigmatically.
Juliet lunched at the Court in Dick's absence. They thought her somewhat
graver and quieter than usual, but there was a gentle aloofness about her
that checked all intimate enquiry.
"You are not feeling anxious about the miners?" Vera asked her once.
To which Juliet replied, "Oh no! Not in the least. Dick has such a
wonderful influence over the men. They would never do any brawling with
"He has no business to drag you into it all the same," said the squire.
She looked at him, faintly smiling. "Do you imagine for one moment that I
would stay behind? Besides, there is really no danger. His only fear is
possible friction between the miners and the fishermen. They never have
loved each other, and in their present mood it wouldn't take much to set
the miners alight."
"I'd let 'em burn!" said the squire.
"They have some cause for grievance," she urged. "At least Dick
"Well, and who hasn't, I should like to know?" he returned with warmth.
"How many people are there in the world who don't feel that if they had
their rights they'd be a good deal better off in one respect or another
than they are? But there's no sense in trying to stop the world going
round on that account. That's always the way with these miner chaps.
What's the rest of the community matter so long as they get all they
want? They're not sportsmen. They hit below the belt every time."
"That's just it," Juliet said. "Dick is trying to teach them to be
"Oh, Dick!" said the squire. "He'd reform the world if he could. But he's
wasting his time. They won't be satisfied till they've had their fling.
Lord Wilchester is a wise man to keep out of the way till it's over."
"I'm afraid I don't agree with you there," Juliet said, flushing a
little. "He might at least hear what they have to say. But they can't get
hold of him. He is abroad."
"But Yardley is left," said the squire. "I suppose he has power to act."
"Perhaps," she said, the moment's animation passing. "But it is
Wilchester's business--not his. He shirks his duty."
"I notice you never have a good word for any of the Farringmore family,"
said the squire quizzically.
She shook her head. "They are all so selfish. It's the family failing,
"You don't share it anyhow," said Vera.
"Ah! You don't know me," said Juliet.
They went for a long motor-ride when the meal was over, but at the end of
it, it seemed to Vera that they had talked solely of her affairs
throughout. She knew Juliet's quiet reticence of old and made no attempt
to pierce it. But, thinking it over later, it seemed to her that there
was something more than her usual reserve behind it, and a vague sense
of uneasiness awoke within her. She wondered if Juliet were happy.
They had tea on their return, but Juliet would not stay any later. She
must be back, she said, to meet Dick and be sure that the supper was
ready in good time. So, regretfully, still with that inexplicable feeling
of doubt upon her, Vera let her go.
Just at the last she detained her for a moment to say with an effort that
was plainly no light one, "Juliet, don't forget I am here if--if you ever
need a friend!"
And then Juliet surprised her by a sudden, close embrace and a
low-spoken, "I shall never forget you--or your goodness to me."
But a second later she was gone, and Vera was left to wonder.
As for Juliet, she hastened away as one in a fever to escape, yet
before she reached the end of the avenue her feet moved as if weighted
A mist was creeping up from the sea and through it there came the long
call of a distant syren. The waves were no longer roaring along the
shore. The sound of them came muffled and vague, and she knew that the
storm had gone down.
There was something very desolate in that atmosphere of dimmed sight and
muted sound. It was barely sunset, but the chill of the dying year was in
the air. The thought came to her, suddenly and very poignantly, of that
wonderful night of spring, when she had first wandered along the cliff
with the scent of the gorse-bushes rising like incense all around her,
when she had first heard that magic, flute-like call of youth and love. A
deep and passionate emotion filled and overfilled her heart with the
memory. As she went up the little path to the school-house, her face was
wet with tears.
Dick had not returned, and she went into the little dining-room and
busied herself with laying the cloth for supper. Their only indoor
servant--a young village girl--was out that evening, but she could hear
Mrs. Rickett who often came up to help moving about the kitchen. She did
not feel in the mood for the good woman's chatter and delayed going in
her direction as long as possible.
So it came about that, pausing for a few moments at the window before
doing so, she heard the click of the gate and saw the old postman coming
up the path.
He moved slowly and with some difficulty, being heavily laden as well as
bowed with age and rheumatism. She went quickly to the outer door, and,
accompanied by the growling Columbus, moved to meet him.
"Evening, ma'am! Here's a parcel for you!" the old man said. "It's books,
and it's all come to bits, but I don't think as I've dropped any of 'em.
You'd best let me bring 'em straight in for I'm all fixed up with 'em
now, and they'll only scatter if you tries to take 'em."
She led the way within, commiserating him on the weight of his burden
which he thumped down without ceremony on the white cloth that she had
just spread. The parcel was certainly badly damaged, and books in white
covers began to slide out of it the moment they were released.
"I'll leave you to sort 'em, ma'am," he said airily. "Daresay as they're
not much the worse. Schoolmaster's truck I've no doubt. If there was
fewer books in the world, the postman would have an easier life than what
he does and no one much worse off than they be now--except the clever
folks as writes 'em! Well, I'll be getting along to the Court, ma'am, and
I wish you a very good-night."
He stumped away, and in the failing evening light Juliet began to gather
up the confusion he had left behind. She found it was not a collection
of paper-backed school-books as she had at first imagined, and since the
contents of the parcel were very thoroughly scattered she glanced at them
with idle curiosity as she laid them together.
Then with a sudden violent start she picked up one of the volumes and
looked at it closely. The title stood out with arresting clearness on the
white paper jacket: _Gold of the Desert_ by _Dene Strange_. Author of
_The Valley of Dry Bones, Marionettes_, etc.
She caught her breath. Something sprang up within her--something that
clamoured grotesque and incoherent things. Her heart was beating so fast
that it seemed continuous like the dull roar of the sea. The volumes were
all alike--all copies of one book.
A sheet of paper fluttered from the one she held. She snatched at it
with a curious desperation--as though, sinking in deep waters, she
clutched at a straw.
_Author's Copies_--_With Compliments_, were the words that stood out
before her widening gaze. She remained as one transfixed, staring at
them. It was as if a thunderbolt had fallen in the quiet room....
It must have been many minutes later that she came to herself and found
herself huddled in a chair by the table, shivering from head to foot. She
was conscious of a horrible feeling of sickness, and her heart was
beating slowly, with thick, uneven strokes.
The room was growing dark. The chill desolation of the world outside
seemed to have followed her in. She could not remember that she had ever
felt so deadly cold before. She could not keep her teeth from chattering.
Something moved close to her, and she realized what had roused her.
Columbus was standing up by her side, his forepaws against her, his
grizzled nose nudging her arm. She stirred stiffly, and put the arm
"Oh--Christopher!" she said, and gasped as if she had not breathed for a
long time. "Oh--Christopher!"
He leaned up against her, stretching his warm tongue to reach her cheek,
his whole body wriggling with gushing solicitude under her hand.
She looked down at him with the dazed eyes of one who has received a
stunning blow. "I don't know what we shall do, my doggie," she said.
And then very suddenly she was on her feet, tense, palpitating, her
head turned to listen. The gate had clicked again, and someone was
coming up the path.
It was Dick, and he moved with the step of an eager man, reached the
door, opened it, and entered. She heard him in the passage, heard his
tread upon the threshold, heard his voice greeting her.
"Hullo, darling! All alone in the dark? I've had a beast of a day away
His hands reached out and clasped her. She was actually in his arms
before she found her voice.
"Dick! Dick! Please! I want to speak to you," she said.
He clasped her close. His lips pressed hers, stopping all utterance for a
while with a mastery that would not be held in check. She could not
resist him, but there was no rapture in her yielding. His love was like a
flame about her, but she was cold--cold as ice. Suddenly, with his face
against her neck, he spoke: "What's the matter, Juliet?"
She quivered in response, made an attempt to release herself, felt his
arms tighten, and was still. "I have--found out--something," she said,
her voice very low.
"What is it?" he said.
She did not answer. A great impulse arose in her to wrench herself
from him, to thrust him back but she could not. She stood--a
prisoner--in his hold.
He waited a moment, still with his face bent over her, his lips close to
her neck. "Is it anything that--matters?" he asked.
She felt his arms drawing her and quivered again like a trapped bird.
"Yes," she whispered.
"Yes," she said again.
"Then you are angry with me," he said.
She was silent.
He pressed her suddenly very close. "Juliet, you don't hate me, do you?"
She caught her breath with a sob that sounded painfully hard and dry.
"I--couldn't have married you--if I had known," she said.
He started a little and lifted his head. "As bad as that!" he said.
For a space there was silence between them while his eyes dwelt sombrely
upon the litter of books upon the table, and still his arms enfolded her
though he did not hold her close. When at last she made as if she would
release herself, he still would not let her go.
"Will you listen to me?" he said. "Give me a hearing--just for a minute?
You have forgiven so much in me that is really bad that I can't feel this
last to be--quite unpardonable. Juliet, I haven't really wronged you. You
have got a false impression of the man who wrote those books. It's a
prejudice which I have promised myself to overcome. But I must have time.
Will you defer judgment--for my sake--till you have read this latest
book, written when you first came into my life? Will you--Juliet, will
you have patience till I have proved myself?"
She shivered as she stood. "You don't know--what you have done," she
He made a quick gesture of protest. "Yes, I do know. I know quite well.
I have hurt you, deceived you. But hear my defence anyway! I never meant
to marry you in the first place without telling you, but I always wanted
you to read this book of mine first. It's different from the others. I
wanted you to see the difference. But then I got carried away as you
know. I loved you so tremendously. I couldn't hold myself in. Then--when
you came to me in my misery--it was all up with me, and I fell. I
couldn't tell you then, Juliet, I wasn't ready for you to know. So I
waited--till the book could be published and you could read it. I am
infernally sorry you found out like this. I wanted you--so badly--to
read it with an open mind. And now--whichever way you look at it--you
certainly won't do that."
There was a whimsical note in his voice despite its obvious sincerity as
he ended, and Juliet winced as she heard it, and in a moment with
resolution freed herself from his hold.
She did it in silence, but there was that in the action that deeply
wounded him. He stood motionless, looking at her, a glitter of sternness
in his eyes.
"Juliet," he said after a moment, "you are not treating this matter
reasonably. I admit I tricked you; but my love for you was my excuse. And
those books of mine--especially the one I didn't want you to read--were
never intended for such as you."
She looked back at him with a kind of frozen wonder. "Then who were they
meant for?" she said.
He made a slight movement of impatience. "You know. You know very well.
They were meant for the people whom you yourself despise--the crowd you
broke away from--men and women like the Farringmores who live for nothing
but their own beastly pleasures and don't care the toss of a halfpenny
for anyone else under the sun."
She went back against the table and stood there, supporting herself while
she still faced him. "You forget--" she said, her voice very low,--"I
think you forget--that they are my people--I belong to them!"
"No, you don't!" he flung back almost fiercely. "You belong to me!"
A great shiver went through her. She clenched her hands to repress it. "I
don't see," she said, "how I can--possibly--stay with you--after this."
"What?" He strode forward and caught her by the shoulders. She was aware
of a sudden hot blaze of anger in him that made her think of the squire.
He held her in a grip that was merciless. "Do you know what you are
saying?" he asked.
She tried to hold him from her, but he pressed her to him with a
dominance that would not brook resistance.
"Do you?" he said. "Do you?"
His face was terrible. She felt the hard hammer of his heart against her
own, and a sense of struggling against overwhelming odds came upon her.
She bowed her head against his shoulder. "Oh, Dick!" she said. "It is
His hold did not relax, and for a space he said no word, but stood
breathing deeply as a man who faces some deadly peril.
He spoke at length, and in his voice was something she had never heard
before--something from which she shrank uncontrollably, as the victim
shrinks from the branding-iron.
"And so you think you can leave me--as lightly as Lady Joanna
Farringmore left that man I went to see today?"
She lifted her head with a gasp. "No!" she said. "Oh, no!
His eyes pierced her with their appalling brightness. "No, not quite like
that," he said, with awful grimness. "There is a difference. An engaged
woman can cut the cable and be free without assistance. A married woman
needs a lover to help her!"
She shrank afresh from the scorching cynicism of his words. "Dick!" she
said. "Have I asked for--freedom?"
"You had better not ask!" he flashed back. "You have gone too far
already. I tell you, Juliet, when you gave yourself to me it was
irrevocable. There's no going back now. You have got to put up with
me--whatever the cost."
"Ah!" she whispered.
"Listen!" he said. "This thing is going to make no difference between
us--no difference whatever. You cared for me enough to marry me, and I am
the same man now that I was then. The man you have conjured up in your
own mind as the writer of those books is nothing to me--or to you now. I
am the man who wrote them--and you belong to me. And if you leave
me--well, I shall follow you--and bring you back."
His lips closed implacably upon the words; he held her as though
challenging her to free herself. But Juliet neither moved nor spoke. She
stood absolutely passive in his hold, waiting in utter silence.
He waited also, trying to read her face in the dimness, but seeing only a
pale still mask.
At last: "You understand me?" he said.
She bent her head. "Yes--I understand."
He stood for a moment longer, then abruptly his hold tightened upon her.
She lifted her face then sharply, resisting him almost instinctively, and
in that instant his passion burst its bonds. He crushed her to him with
sudden mastery, and, so compelling, he kissed her hotly, possessively,
dominatingly, holding her lips with his own, till she strained against
him no longer, but hung, burning and quivering, at his mercy.
Then at length very slowly he put her down into the chair from which she
had risen at his entrance, and released her. She leaned upon the table,
trembling, her hands covering her face. And he stood behind her,
breathing heavily, saying no word.
So for a space they remained in darkness and silence, till the
brisk opening of the kitchen-door brought them back to the small
things of life.
Dick moved. "Go upstairs!" he said, under his breath.
She stirred and rose unsteadily. He put out a hand to help her. She did
not take it, did not seem even to see it.
Gropingly, she turned to the door, went out slowly, still as if
feeling her way, reached the narrow stairs and went up them, clutching
at the rail.
He followed her to the foot and stood there watching her. As she reached
the top he heard her sob.
An impulse caught him to follow her, to take her again--but how
differently!--into his arms,--to soothe her, to comfort her, to win her
back to him. But sternly he put it from him. She had got to learn her
lesson, to realize her obligations,--she who talked so readily of leaving
him! And for what?
A wave of hot blood rose to his forehead, and he clenched his hands. He
went back into the room, knowing that he could not trust himself.
When Mrs. Rickett entered with a lamp a few moments later, he was
gathering up the litter of books and paper from the table, his face white
and sternly set. He gave her a brief word of greeting, and went across to
the school with his burden.
COALS OF FIRE
It was nearly half-an-hour later that Mrs. Rickett ascended the stairs
and knocked at Juliet's door.
"Supper's been in this long time," she called. "And Mr. Green's still
over at the school."
There was a brief pause, then Juliet's quiet movement in the room. She
opened the door and met her on the threshold.
"Why, you haven't got a light!" said Mrs. Rickett. "Is there anything the
matter, ma'am? Aren't you well?"
"Yes, quite, thank you," Juliet said in her slow gentle voice. "I am
afraid I forgot the time. I will put on my hat before I come down."
Mrs. Rickett's eyes regarded her shrewdly for a moment or two, then
looked away. "Shall I fetch you a candle?" she said.
Juliet turned back into the room. "I have one, thank you. Perhaps you
wouldn't mind going to find Mr. Green while I dress."
Mrs. Rickett hastened away, and Juliet lighted her candle and surveyed
herself for a second, standing motionless before the glass.
Several minutes later she descended the stairs and went quietly into the
dining-room. She was wearing a large-brimmed hat that shadowed her face.
Dick, standing by the mantelpiece, waiting for her, gave her a hard and
piercing look as she entered.
"I am sorry I am late," she said.
He moved abruptly as if somehow the conventional words had an edge. He
drew out a chair for her. "I am afraid there isn't a great deal of
time," he said.
She sat down with a murmured word of thanks. He took his place, facing
her, very pale, but absolutely his own master. He served her silently,
and she made some pretence of eating, keeping her head bent, feeding
Columbus surreptitiously as he sat by her side.
Her plate was empty when at length very resolutely she looked up and
spoke. "Dick, I want you to understand one thing. I did not open that
parcel of yours. It was open when it came."
Instantly his eyes were upon her with merciless directness. "I gathered
that," he said.
She met his look unflinchingly, but her next words came with an effort.
"Then you can't--with justice--blame me for surprising your secret."
"I don't," he said.
"And yet--" She made a slight gesture of remonstrance, as if the piercing
brightness of his eyes were more than she could bear.
He pushed back his chair and rose. He came to her as she sat, bent over
her, his hand on her shoulder, and looked at her intently.
"Juliet," he said, "I don't like you with that stuff on your face. It
She kept her face steadily upturned, enduring his look with no sign of
shrinking. "You are meeting--the real me--for the first
time--to-night," she said.
His mouth curved cynically. "I think not. I have never worshipped at the
shrine of a painted goddess."
Something rose in her throat and she put up a hand to hide it. "I doubt
if--Dene Strange--was ever capable of worshipping anything," she said.
His hand closed upon her. "Does that mean that you hate him more than you
love me?" he said.
A faint quiver crossed her face. She passed the question by. "Do you
remember--Cynthia Paramount--your heroine?" she said. "The woman you
dissected so cleverly--stripped to the naked soul--and exposed to public
ridicule? You were terribly merciless, weren't you, Dick? You didn't
expect--some day--to find yourself married--to that sort of woman."
His face hardened. "In what way do you resemble her?" he said. "I have
never seen it yet."
"Can't you see it--now?" she returned, lifting her face more fully to
He was silent for several seconds, looking at her. Then very suddenly his
attitude changed. He knelt down by her side and spoke, urgently,
"Juliet--for God's sake--let us remember what we are to each other--and
put the rest away!"
His arm encircled her. He would have drawn her close, but she held back
with a sharp sound that was almost a cry of pain.
"Dick, wait--wait a moment! You don't know--don't understand! Ah,
wait--please wait! Take your arm away--just for a moment--please--just
for a moment! I have something to tell you, but I can't say it like this.
I can't--I can't! Ah! What is that?"
She broke off, gasping, almost fighting for breath, as the sudden rush
and hoot of a car sounded at the gate.
Dick got to his feet. His face was white. "Are you expecting
someone?" he said.
She clasped her hands tightly upon her breast to still her agitation.
"No, I'm not expecting--anyone. But--but--someone--has come."
"Evidently," said Dick.
He turned towards the door, but in a moment she had sprung up, reaching
it before him. "Dick, if it is Saltash--"
"Why should it be Saltash?" he said, with that in his voice that arrested
her as compelling as if he had laid a hand upon her.
She faced him standing at the door, striving desperately for
self-control. "It may be Saltash," she said, speaking more quietly. "I
saw him this morning, and he knows about the concert to-night. Dick--"
she caught her breath involuntarily--"Dick, why do you look at me
He made a curious jerky movement--as if he strove against invisible
bonds. "So," he said, "you are expecting him!"
She stiffened at his words. "I have told you I am expecting no one, but
that is no reason why Saltash should not come."
For a second he looked at her with something that was near akin to
contempt in his eyes, then suddenly an awful flame leapt up in them
consuming all beside. He took a swift step forward, and caught her
between his hands.
"Juliet!" he said sternly. "Stop this trifling! What are you hiding from
me? What is it you were trying to tell me just now?"
She shrank from the fire of his look. "I can't tell you now, Dick. It's
impossible. Dick, you are hurting me!"
He spoke between his teeth. "I've got to know! Tell me now!"
Someone was knocking a careless tattoo upon the outer door. Juliet turned
her head sharply, but she kept her eyes upon her husband's face.
"No, Dick," she said after a moment, and with the words something of her
customary quiet courage came back to her. "I can't--possibly--tell you
now. Do this one thing for me--wait till to-night!"
"And then?" he said.
"I promise that you shall know--everything--then," she said.
"Please--give me till then!"
There was earnest entreaty in her voice, but she had subdued her
agitation. She met the scorching intensity of his look with eyes that
never wavered, and in spite of himself he was swayed by her
"Very well," he said, and set her free. "Till to-night!"
She turned from him in silence and opened the door. He stood motionless,
with hands clenched at his sides, and watched her.
She went down the passage without haste and reached the outer door. She
opened it without fumbling, and in a moment Saltash's debonair accents
came to him.
"Ah, _Juliette_! You are ready? Has your good husband got back yet? Ah,
there you are, sir! I have called to offer you and _madame_ a lift. I am
going your way."
He came sauntering up the passage with the royal assurance characteristic
of him, and held out his hand to Dick with malicious cordiality.
"I come as a friend, Romeo. Do you know you're very late? Have you only
just got back?"
Juliet's eyes were upon Dick. She saw his momentary hesitation before he
took the proffered hand.
Saltash saw it also and grinned appreciatively. "Well, what news? What
did Yardley have to say?"
"I didn't see him," Dick said briefly.
"No? How was that?"
Dick shrugged his shoulders. "Merely because he wasn't there. I can't
tell you why, for I don't know. I waited about all day--to no purpose."
"Drew a blank!" commented Saltash. "No wonder you're feeling a bit
savage! What are you going to do now?"
Dick faced him, grimly uncommunicative. "Oh, talk, I suppose. What else?"
"And you're taking Juliet?" pursued Saltash.
"Have you any objection?" said Dick sharply.
"None," said Saltash smoothly. "She is your wife, not mine--perhaps
fortunately for her." He threw a gay glance at Juliet. "Are you ready,
_ma chere_? Come along, _mon ami_! It will amuse me to hear
Juliet went upstairs to fetch her cloak, and Dick took his coat from the
peg in the hall, and began to put it on. Saltash watched him with
"Are you going to be there to-night then?" Dick asked him suddenly.
"I am proposing to give myself that pleasure," he returned. "That is, of
course, if you on your part have no objection."
Dick's black eyes surveyed him keenly. "I am quite capable of protecting
my wife single-handed," he said. "Not that there will be any need."
Saltash executed a smiling bow. "I am delighted to hear you say so. Have
you got a cigarette to spare?"
Dick took out his case and held it to him. Saltash helped himself, the
smile still twitching the corners of his mouth.
"Thanks," he said lightly. "So you have no anxieties about to-night!"
"None," said Dick.
"You think the men will come to heel?"
"They haven't broken away yet," Dick reminded him curtly.
Saltash raised his eyes suddenly. "When they do--what then?" he said.
"What do you mean?" said Dick.
He laughed mischievously. "I suppose you know that you are credited with
being at their head?"
Dick, in the act of striking a match, paused. He looked at the other man
with raised brows. "At their head?" he questioned. "What do you mean?"
Without the smallest change of countenance Saltash enlightened him. "As
strike-leader, agitator, and so on. You have achieved an enviable
reputation by your philanthropy. Didn't you know?"
Dick struck the match with an absolutely steady hand, and held it to his
cigarette. "I did not," he said.
Saltash puffed at the cigarette, peering at him curiously through the
smoke. "Which may account for your failure to find Ivor Yardley," he
suggested after a moment.
"In what way?" said Dick.
Saltash straightened himself. "I imagine he is not a great believer
in--philanthropy," he said.
Dick's eyes shone with an ominous glitter. "From my point of view these
insinuations are not worth considering," he said, "though no doubt it has
given you a vast amount of enjoyment to fabricate them."
"I!" said Saltash.
"You!" said Dick.
There was a moment's silence, then Saltash began to laugh. "My dear chap,
you don't really think that! You'd like to--but you can't!"
Dick looked at him, thin-lipped, uncompromising, silent.
"You actually do?" questioned Saltash. "You really think I care a
twopenny damn what anybody thinks about you or anyone else under the sun?
I say, don't be an ass. Green, whatever else you are! It's too tiring for
all concerned. If you really want to know who is responsible--"
"Well?" said Dick.
"Well," Saltash sent a cloud of smoke upwards, "look a bit nearer home,
man! Haven't you got--a brother somewhere?"
Dick gave a sudden start. "I have not!" he said sternly.
Saltash nodded. "Ah! Well, I imagine Yardley knows him if you don't. He
is the traitor in the camp, and he's out to trip you if he can." He
laughed again with careless humour. "I don't know why I should give you
the tip. It is not my custom to heap coals of fire. Pray excuse them on
this occasion! I suppose you are quite determined to take _Juliette_ to
the meeting to-night?"
"I am quite determined to go," said Juliet quietly, as she came down the
stairs. "Will you have anything, Charles? No? Then let us start! It is
getting late. You are driving yourself?"
He threw open the door for her with a deep bow. "I always drive myself,
_Juliette_, and--I always get there," he said.
Her faint laugh floated back to Dick as he followed them out.
It was a dumb and sullen crowd that Dick Green faced that night in the
great barn on the slope of High Shale.
A rough platform had been erected at one end of the place and this, with
the deal table and lamp and one or two chairs, was all that went to the
furnishing of his assembly-room. The men stood in a close crowd like
herded cattle, and the atmosphere of the place was heavy with the reek of
humanity and coarse tobacco-smoke. There was a door at each end, but the
night was still and dark and there was little air beyond the vague chill
of a creeping sea-mist.
Dick, entering at the door at the platform end of the building instead of
passing straight up through the crowd as was his custom, was aware of a
curious influence at work from the first moment--an influence adverse if
not directly hostile that reached him he knew not how. He heard a vague
murmur as Juliet and Saltash followed him, and sharply he turned and drew
Juliet to his side. In that instant he realized that she was the only
woman in the place.
He faced the crowd, his hand upon her arm. "Well, men," he said, his
words clean-cut and ready, "so you've left your wives behind, have
you? I on the contrary have brought mine, and she has promised to give
you a song."
The mutter died. Some youths at the back started applause, which spread,
though somewhat half-heartedly, through the crowd, and for a space the
ugly feeling died down.
"We'll get to business," said Dick, and took out his banjo.
The concert began, Ashcott came up on to the platform and under cover of
Dick's jangling ragtime spoke in a low voice and urgently to Saltash.
The latter heard him with a laugh and a careless grimace, but a little
later he leaned towards Juliet who sat behind the table and touched her
unobtrusively. She looked round at him almost with reluctance, and he
whispered to her in rapid French.
She listened to him with raised brows, and then shook her head with a
smile. "No, of course not! I am going to sing to them directly. I am here
to help--not to make things worse."
He shrugged his shoulders and said no more. In a few minutes Dick's
cheery banjo thrummed into silence and he turned round.
"Are you ready?" he said to Juliet.
She rose and came forward, tall and graceful, bearing the unmistakable
stamp of high-breeding in every delicate movement. She might have been on
the platform of a London concert-hall as she faced her audience under the
They stared at her open-mouthed, spellbound, awed by the quiet dignity of
her. And in the hush that fell before her, Juliet began to sing.
Her voice was low, highly trained, exquisitely soft. She sang an old
English ballad with a throbbing sweetness that held her hearers with its
charm. And behind her Dick leaned against the table with his banjo and
very softly accompanied her.
His face was in shadow also as he bent over the instrument. Not once
throughout the song did he look up.
When she ended, there came that involuntary pause which is the highest
tribute that can be paid by any audience, and then such a thunder of
applause as shook the building. Saltash stepped forward to hand her back
to her chair, but the men in front of her yelled so hoarse a protest
that, laughing, he retired.
And Juliet sang again and again, thrilling the rough crowd as Dick had
never thrilled them, choosing such old-world melodies as reach the hearts
of all. Saltash watched her with keen appreciation on his ugly face. He
was an accomplished musician himself. But Dick with his banjo, though
he responded unerringly to every shade of feeling in the beautiful voice,
never raised his head.
It was he who at last came forward and led Juliet back to her chair, but
by that time the temper of the men had completely changed. They shouted
good-humoured comments to him and bandied jokes among themselves. The
whole atmosphere of the place had altered. The heavy sullenness had
passed like a thunder-cloud, and Ashcott no longer smoked his pipe in the
doorway with an air of gloomy foreboding.
Dick laid aside his banjo and came to the front of the platform. There
was absolute confidence in his bearing, a vital strength that imparted a
mastery that yet was largely compounded of comradeship.
He began to speak without effort--as a man speaks to his friends.
"I have something to say to you chaps," he said, "and I hope you will
hear me out fairly, even though it may not be the sort of thing you like
to listen to. I think you know that I care a good deal about your
welfare, and I am doing my level best to secure a decent future for you.
I haven't accomplished very much at present, but I'm sticking to it,
and I believe I shall win out some day. It won't be my fault if I don't,
and I hope it won't be yours. What?" as a murmur broke out in the
background. "Oh, shut up, please, till I've done, then if anyone wants to
talk he shall have his chance. It might be your fault if I failed
because I'm counting on you to back me up in a legal and orderly way.
And if you don't, well, I'm knocked out for good and all. For I'm no
strike-leader, and any man who strikes can go to blazes so far as I'm
concerned. I wouldn't lift a finger to stop him going or to get him out
when there; in fact it's the best place for him. No, boys, listen! Wait
till I've done! A strike is a deadly thing. It's like a spreading poison
in this country, and the beastly root of it is just selfishness. It
will choke the very life out of the nation if it isn't stopped. It's a
weapon that no self-respecting man should smirch his hands with. I know
very well there are heaps of reforms needed, heaps of abuses to be
stopped, but you don't cure evil with evil. You're only feeding the
monster that will devour you in the end, and you're feeding him with
human sacrifice moreover. Have you ever thought of that? And another
thing! Do you ever look ahead--right ahead--beyond your own personal
wants and grievances? Do you ever ask yourselves if strikes and violence
are going to bring forth justice and equity? Do you ever work the thing
out to its proper values--see it as it really is? This continual striving
for money, for power,--this overthrowing of all established control--do
you call it a fight for liberty by any chance? I tell you, men, that
it's a struggle for the most hideous slavery that ever disfigured this
earth. This perpetual fight for self will end in self-destruction. It
always does. It's the law of creation. The thing that strikes rebounds
upon the striker. The man who deliberately injures another injures
himself tenfold more seriously. Isn't there something in the Bible about
he who takes the sword perishes with the sword? That's justice--God's
justice--and there's no getting away from that. You can overthrow every
institution that was ever made, but you will never set up in its place a
Government that will bring again the order you have destroyed. You can
pull the Empire to pieces with dissensions and conspiracies, but--once
down--you will never build it up again.
"Grievances? Yes, of course you have grievances--heaps of 'em. Who
hasn't. And you've a right to try for better conditions. But in heaven's
name, don't strike for them! Don't turn the whole world upside down
because you want something you can't get! Be sportsmen and play a decent
game! Stick to the rules and you may win! I tell you I'm fighting for
you--I'm fighting hard. And I shan't rest so long as I have a decent
crowd to fight for. But if you're going to follow the rotten example of
the fellows who sacrifice the whole community to their own beastly
greed--who strike like a herd of sheep because a few damned traitors urge
'em to it--who fling duty and honour to the winds on the chance of
grabbing a little worldly advantage--in short, if you're not going to
observe the rules of the game, I've done with the whole show.
"That's the position, men, and I want you to get hold of it, see it as it
really is. Nothing on this earth worth having was ever gained by
disloyalty. Think it out for yourselves! Don't be led by the nose by a
parcel of agitators! Give the matter your own sane and deliberate
thought! Form your own conclusions! Throw off this tyranny of other men's
notions, and be free! If only every man in the kingdom would take this
line and think for himself instead of giving his blind allegiance to a
power that is out to ruin the nation, there would pretty soon be such a
strike against strikes as would kill 'em outright. They're a hindrance to
civilization and a curse to the world at large. They are selfishness
incarnate and a stumbling-block to all national progress. And if there's
any pride of race in you, any sense of an Englishman's honour, any desire
for the nation's welfare (which is at a pretty low ebb just now) join
with me and do your level best to cast out this evil thing!"
He ended as he had begun with clear and spontaneous appeal to the higher
instincts of his hearers. He knew them well, knew their weakness and
their strength; and he knew his own power over them and wielded it with
The hard-breathing silence that succeeded his words dismayed him not
at all. He waited quite calmly for the question he had checked at
It came very gruffly from a burly miner immediately in front of him.
"It's all very well," the man said. "But how are we to get our rights any
"Oh, you'll get 'em all right," Dick made answer. "This isn't an age of
serfdom. You won't be downtrodden to that extent. You stick to your guns
and have a little patience! Things are not standing still. State your
grievances--if they're bad enough--and then give the owners a chance! But
don't forget that there's got to be give and take between you! If you
want fair play and consideration from the owners, you must give them the
same. Don't forget that you sink or swim together! If you ruin them you
ruin yourselves. Disloyalty means disruption, all the world over. So play
the game like men!"
It was at this point that Ashcott touched him on the shoulder with a
muttered word that made him turn sharply.
"Mr. Ivor Yardley!" the manager muttered uneasily. "He's waiting to
speak to you--says he'll address the men if you'll allow him. Think
Dick frowned. "Of course it's safe! Where is he? Wait! I'll speak to him
first. I'll get my wife to sing again while I do it." He turned round to
Juliet sitting at the table behind him and bent to speak to her. "Can you
give them another song--to fill in time? I've got to speak to a man
outside." His eyes travelled swiftly on the words to the open doorway
where a tall man, wearing a motor-mask and a leather coat, stood waiting.
Juliet's look followed his. She stood up quickly. "Dick! Who is it?"
Something in her voice brought his eyes back to her in sudden close
scrutiny. For that instant he forgot the crowd of men and the need of
the moment, forgot the man who waited in the background whom he had
desired so urgently to see, forgot the whole world in the wide-eyed
terror of her look.
Instinctively he stretched an arm behind her, but in the same moment
Saltash came swiftly forward to her other side, and it was Saltash who
spoke with the quick, intimate reassurance of the trusted friend.
"It's all right, _Juliette_. I'm here to take care of you. Give them one
more song, won't you? Afterwards, if you've had enough of it, I'll take
She turned her face towards him and away from Dick whose arm fell from
her unheeded; but her gaze did not leave the figure that stood waiting
in the dim doorway, upright, grim as Fate, watching her with eyes she
could not see.
"Don't be afraid!" urged Saltash in his rapid whisper. "Anyhow, don't
show it! I'll see you through."
"Are you ready?" said Dick on her other side.
His voice was absolutely steady, but it fell with an icy ring, and a
great quiver went through her. She made a blind gesture towards Saltash,
and in an instant his hand gripped her elbow.
"Can't you do it?" he said. "Are you going to drop out?"
She recovered herself sharply, as though something in his words had
pierced her pride. The next moment very quietly she turned back to Dick.
"I am quite ready," she said.
He took her hand without a word, and led her forward. Someone raised
a cheer for her, and in a second a shout of applause thundered to
Dick smiled a brief smile of gratitude, and lifted a hand for silence.
Then, as it fell, he stepped back.
And Juliet stood alone before the rough crowd.
Those who saw her in that moment never forgot her. Tall and slender, with
that unconsciously regal mien of hers that marked her with so indelible a
stamp, she stood and faced the men below her. But no song rose to her
lips, and those who were nearest to her thought that she was trembling.
And then suddenly she began to speak in a full, quiet voice that
penetrated the deep hush with a bell-like clearness.
"Men," she said, "it is very kind of you to cheer me, but you will never
do it again. I have something to tell you. I don't know in the least how
you will take it, but I hope you will manage to forgive me if you
possibly can. Mr. Green is your friend, and he knows nothing about it, so
you will acquit him of all blame. The deception is mine alone. I deceived
him, too. I know you all hate the Farringmores, and I daresay you have
reason. You have never spoken to any of them face to face, before,
because they haven't cared enough to come near you. But--you can do
so to-night if you wish. Men, I am--Lord Wilchester's sister. I
She ceased to speak with a little gesture of the hands that was quite
involuntary and oddly pathetic, but she did not turn away from her
audience. Throughout the deep silence that followed that amazing
confession she stood quite straight and still, waiting, her face to the
throng. A man was standing immediately behind her and she was aware of
him, knew without turning that it was Saltash; but the one being in all
the crowded place for whose voice or touch in that moment she would have
given all that she had neither spoke nor moved. And her brave heart died
within her. If he had only given some sign!
A hoarse murmur broke out at the back of the great barn, spreading like
a wave on the sea. But ere it reached the men in front who stood
sullenly dumb, staring upwards, Saltash's hand closed upon Juliet's arm,
drawing her back.
"After that, _ma chere_," he said lightly into her ear, "you would be
wise to follow the line of least resistance."
She responded to his touch almost mechanically. The murmur was swelling
to a roar, but she scarcely heard it. She yielded to the hand that
guided, hardly knowing what she did.
As Saltash led her to the back of the platform she had a glimpse of
Dick's face white as death, with lips hard-set and stern as she had never
seen them, and a glitter in his eyes that made her think of onyx. He
passed her by without a glance, going forward to quell the rising storm
as if she had not been there.
The man in the leather coat was with him. He had taken off his mask, and
he paused before Juliet--a cynical smile playing about his face. It was
a face of iron mastery, of pitiless self-assertion. The eyes were as
points of steel.
He bent towards her and spoke. "I thought I should find you sooner or
later, Lady Jo. I trust you have enjoyed your game--even if you have lost
She spoke no word in answer, but she made a slight, barely perceptible
movement towards the man whose hand upheld her.
And Yardley laughed--an edged laugh that was inexpressibly cruel.
"Oh, go to the devil!" said Saltash with sudden fire. "It's where
Yardley's cold eyes gleamed with icy humour. "_Eh tu, Brute_!" he said
with sneering lips. "I wish you--joy!"
He passed on. Saltash's arm went round Juliet like a coiled spring. He
impelled her unresisting to the door. Her hand rested on his shoulder as
she stepped down from the platform. She went with him as one in a dream.
The air smote chill as they left the heated atmosphere, and a great
shiver went through her.
She stood still for a moment, listening. The tumult had died down. A
man's voice--Dick's voice--clear and very steady, was speaking.
"Come away!" said Saltash in her ear.
But yet she lingered in the darkness. "He will be safe?" she said.
"Of course he will be safe! They treat him like a god. Come away!"
His arm was urging her. She yielded, shivering.
He hurried her up the slope to the place where he had left his car. It
stood at the side of the rough road that led to High Shale Point.
They reached it. Juliet was gasping for breath. The sea-mist was like
rain in their faces.
"Get in!" he said.
She obeyed, sinking down with a vague thankfulness, conscious of
But as he cranked the engine and she felt the throb of movement, she sat
"Charles, what am I doing? Where are you taking me?"
He came round to her and his hands clasped hers for a moment in a grip
that was warm and close. He did not speak at once.
Then, lightly, "I don't know what you'll do afterwards, _ma Juliette_,"
he said. "But you are coming with me now!"
She caught her breath as if she would utter some protest, but something
checked her--perhaps it was the memory of Dick's face as she had last
seen it, stony, grimly averted, uncompromisingly stern. She gripped his
hands in answer, but she did not speak a word.
And so they sped away together into the dark.
OUT OF THE NIGHT
It was very late that night, and the sea-mist had turned to a drifting
rain when the squire sitting reading in his library at the Court was
startled by a sudden tapping upon the window behind him.
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