The Obstacle Race
Ethel M. Dell
Part 7 out of 7
So unexpected was the sound in the absolute stillness that he started
with some violence and nearly knocked over the reading-lamp at his elbow.
Then sharply and frowning he arose. He reached the window and fumbled at
the blind; but failing to find the cord dragged it impatiently aside and
peered through the glass.
"Who is it? What do you want?"
A face he knew, but so drawn and deathly that for the moment it seemed
almost unfamiliar, peered back at him. In a second he had the window
unfastened and flung wide.
"Dick! In heaven's name, boy,--what's the matter?"
Dick was over the sill in a single bound. He stood up and faced the
squire, bare-headed, drenched with rain, his eyes burning with a
"I have come for my wife," he said.
"Your wife! Juliet!" The squire stared at him as if he thought him
demented. "Why, she left ages ago, man,--soon after tea!"
"Yes, yes, I know," Dick said. He spoke rapidly, but with decision. "But
she came back here an hour or two ago. You are giving her shelter.
Saltash brought her--or no--she probably came alone."
"You are mad!" said Fielding, and turned to shut the window. "She hasn't
been near since she left this evening."
"Wait!" Dick's hand shot out and caught his arm, restraining him. "Do you
swear to me that you don't know, where she is?"
The squire stood still, looking full and hard into the face so near his
own; and so looking, he realized, what he had not grasped before, that it
was the face of a man in torture. The savage grip on his arm told the
same story. The fiery eyes that stared at him out of the death-white
countenance had the awful look of a man who sees his last hope shattered.
Impulsively he laid his free hand upon him. "Dick--Dick, old
chap,--what's all this? Of course I don't know where she is! Do you think
I'd lie to you?"
"Then I've lost her!" Dick said, and with the words some inner vital
spring seemed to snap within him. He flung up; his arms, freeing himself
with a wild gesture. "My God, she has gone--gone with that scoundrel!"
"Saltash?" said the squire sharply.
"Yes. Saltash!" He ground the name between his teeth. "Does that surprise
you so very much? Don't you know the sort of infernal blackguard he is?"
The squire turned again to shut the window. "Damn it, Dick! I don't
believe a word of it," he said with vigour. "Get your wind and have a
drink, and let's hear the whole story! Have you and Juliet been
Dick ignored his words as if he had not spoken. "You needn't shut the
window," he said. "I'm going again. I'm going now."
It was the squire's turn to assert himself, and he seized it. He shut the
window with a bang. "You are not, Dick! Don't be a fool! Sit down! Do
you hear? Sit down! You're not going yet--not till you've told me the
whole trouble. So you can make up your mind to that!"
Dick looked at him for a moment as if he were on the verge of fierce
resistance, but Fielding's answering look held such unmistakable
resolution that after the briefest pause he turned aside.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, and tramped heavily across to the hearth. "Put
up with me if you can! God knows I'm up against it hard enough to-night."
He rested his arms on the mantelpiece and laid his head down upon them,
and so stood motionless, in utter silence.
The squire came to him in a few seconds with a glass in his hand. "Here
you are, Dick! This is what you're wanting. Swallow it before you talk
Dick reached out in silence and took the glass. Then he stood up and
drank, keeping his face averted.
Fielding waited till at last, without turning, he spoke. "I've always
known it might come to this, but I never realized why. I suppose anyone
but a blind fool would have seen through it long ago."
"What are you talking about?" said the squire. "I'm utterly in the dark,
Dick's hands were clenched. "I'm talking of Juliet and--Saltash. I've
always known there was some sort of understanding between them. He
flaunted it in my face whenever we met. But I trusted her--I trusted
her." The words were like a muffled cry rising from the depths of the
man's wrung soul.
"Sit down!" said the squire gruffly, and taking him by the shoulders
pushed him into the chair from which he himself had so lately risen.
Dick yielded, with the submission of utter despair, his black head bowed
against the table.
Fielding stooped over him, still holding him. "Now, boy, now! Don't let
yourself go! Tell me--try and tell me!"
Dick drew a hard breath. "You'll think I'm mad, sir. I thought I was
myself at first. But it's true--it must be true. I heard it from her own
lips. Juliet--my wife--my wife--is--was--Lady Joanna Farringmore!"
"Great heavens!" said the squire. "Dick, are you sure?"
"Yes, quite sure. She was caught--caught by Yardley at the meeting
to-night. She couldn't escape--so she told the truth--told the whole
crowd--and then bolted--bolted with Saltash."
"Great heavens!" said the squire again. "But--what was Saltash
"Oh, he came to protect her. He knew--or guessed--there was something
in the wind. He came to support her. I know now. He's the subtlest devil
that ever was made."
"But why on earth--why on earth did she ever come here?"
"She was hiding from Yardley of course. He's a cold vindictive brute,
and I suppose--I suppose she was afraid of him, and came to me--came to
me--for refuge." Dick was speaking through his hands. "That's how he
regards it himself. She was always playing fast and loose till she got
engaged to him. It was just the fashion in that set. But he--I imagine
no one ever played with him before. He swears--swears he'll make her
suffer for it yet."
"Pooh!" said Fielding. "How does he propose to do that? She's your
"My wife--yes." Slowly Dick raised his head, stared for a space in front
of him, then grimly rose. "My wife--as you say, sir. And I am going to
"I'm coming with you," said Fielding.
"No, sir, no!" Dick looked at him with a tight-lipped smile that was
somehow terrible. "Don't do that! You won't want to be--a witness
"Pooh!" said the squire again. "I may be of use to you before it comes to
that. But before we start let me tell you one thing, Dick! She married
you because she loved you--for no other reason."
A sharp spasm contracted Dick's hard features; he set his lips and
"That's the truth," the squire proceeded, watching him. "And you know it.
She might have bolted with Saltash before if she had wanted to. She had
Dick's hands clenched at his sides, but still he said nothing.
"She loved you," the squire said again. "Lady Jo--or no Lady Jo--she
loved you. It wasn't make-believe. She was fairly caught--against her
will possibly--but still caught. She's run away from you now--run away
with another man--because she couldn't stay and face you. Is that
convincing proof, do you think, that she has ceased to love you? It
wouldn't convince me."
Dick's clenched hands were beating impotently against his sides.
"I--can't say, sir," he said, between his set teeth.
The squire moved impulsively, laid a hand on his shoulder. "Dick, I've
seen a good deal--suffered a good deal--in my time; enough to know the
real thing when I see it. She's loved you as long as she's known you,
and it's been the same with you. You're not going to deny that? You
can't deny it!"
Dick made a quick gesture of protest. For a moment the tortured soul
of the man looked out of his eyes. "Does that make it any better?" he
"In my opinion, yes." Fielding spoke with decision. "She may have taken
refuge with Saltash, but that doesn't prove anything--except that the
poor girl had no one else to turn to. You had failed her--or anyhow you
didn't offer to stand by."
"I couldn't!" The words came jerkily, as if wrung from him by main
force. "For one thing--the men were out of hand, and it was as much as
I could do to hold them. She told them, I tell you--stood up and told
them straight out--who she was. And they loathe the whole crowd. It
"Pretty sublime madness!" commented the squire. "And then Saltash took
her away. Was that it?"
"Yes." Dick spoke with intense bitterness. "It was the chance he was
waiting for. Of course he seized it. Any blackguard would."
"But you thought she might have come here?" pursued the squire.
"I thought it possible, yes. I told Yardley it was so. He of course
sneered at the bare idea. I nearly choked him for it. But I might have
known he was right. She wouldn't risk--my following her. She wanted to
"Why? Is she afraid of you then?" Fielding's voice was stern.
Dick threw up his head with the action of a goaded animal. "Yes."
"Then you've given her some reason?"
"Yes. I have given her reason!" Fiercely he flung the words. "You want to
know--you shall know! This evening she found out something about me which
even you don't know yet--something that made her hate me. I was going to
tell her some day, but the time hadn't come. She said if she had known of
it she would never have married me. I didn't realize then--how could
I?--how hard it hit her. And I made her understand that having married
me--it was irrevocable. That was why she ran away with Saltash. She
didn't--trust me--any longer."
"But, my good fellow, what in heaven's name is this awful thing that even
I don't know?" demanded the squire. "Don't tell me there has ever been
any damn trouble with another woman!"
"No--no!" Dick broke into a laugh that was inexpressibly painful to hear.
"There has never been any other woman for me. What do I care for women?
Do you think because I've made a blasted fool of myself over one woman
"Shut up, Dick!" Curtly the squire checked him. "You're not to say
it--even to me. Tell me this other thing about yourself--the thing I
"Oh, that! That's nothing, sir, nothing--at least you won't think it so.
It's only that during the past few years some books have been published
by one named Dene Strange that have attracted attention in certain
"I've read 'em all," said the squire. "Well?"
"I wrote them," said Dick; "that's all."
"You!" Fielding stared. "You, Dick!"
"Yes, I. I meant to have told you, but so long as my boy lived, my job
seemed to be here, so I kept it to myself. And then--when she came--she
told me she hated the man who wrote those books for being cynical--and
merciless. So I wrote another to make her change her mind about me before
she knew. It is only just published. And she found out before she read
it. That's all," Dick said again with the shadow of a smile. "She found
out this evening. It was a shock to her--naturally. It's been a
succession of obstacles all through--a perpetual struggle against odds.
Well, it's over. At least we know what we're up against now. There will
be no more illusions of any sort from to-day on." He paused, stood a
moment as if bracing himself, then turned. "Well, I'm going, sir. Come if
you really must, but--I don't advise it."
"I am coming," said the squire briefly. His hand went from Dick's
shoulder to his arm and gave it a hard squeeze. "Confound you! What do
you take me for?" he said.
Dick's hand came swiftly to his. "I take you for the best friend a man
ever had, sir," he said.
"Pooh!" said the squire.
THE FREE PARDON
Ten minutes later they went down the dripping avenue in the squire's
little car. The drifting fog made an inky blackness of the night, and
progress was very slow under the trees.
"We should be quicker walking," said Dick impatiently.
"It'll be better when we reach the open road," said Fielding, frowning at
The light at the lodge-gates flung a wide glare through the mist, and
he steered for it with more assurance. They passed through and turned
into the road.
And here the squire pulled up with a jerk, for immediately in front of
them another light shone.
"What the devil is that, Dick?"
"It's another car," said Dick and jumped out. "Hullo, there! Anything the
matter?" he called.
"Damnation, yes!" answered a voice. "I've run into this infernal wall and
damaged my radiator. Lost my mascot, too, damn it! Sort of thing that
always happens when you're in a hurry."
"Who is it?" said Dick sharply.
He was standing almost touching the car, but he could not see the speaker
who seemed to be bent and hunting for something on the ground.
A sound that was curiously like a chuckle answered him out of the
darkness, but no reply came in words.
Dick stood motionless. "Saltash!" he said incredulously. "Is it Saltash?"
"Why shouldn't it be Saltash?" said a voice that laughed. "Thank you,
Romeo? Come and help me out of this damn fix! Oh, I'm fed up with
playing benevolent fool. It gives me indigestion. Curse this fog!
Afraid I've knocked a few chips off your beastly wall. Ah! Here's the
mascot! Now perhaps my infernal luck will turn! What are you keeping so
quiet about? Aren't you pleased to see me? Not that you can--but
that's a detail."
"Are you--alone?" Dick said, an odd tremor in his voice.
"Of course I'm alone! What did you expect? No, no, my Romeo, I may be a
fool, but I'm not quite such a three-times-distilled imbecile as that
amounts to. Have you got a gun there?"
"No!" Dick's voice sounded half-strangled, as though he fought against
some oppression that threatened to overwhelm him. "What have you come
back for? Tell me that!"
"I'll tell you anything you like," said Saltash generously; "including
what I think of you, if you will help me to shove this thing into a more
convenient locality and then take me in and give me a drink."
"You'd better get the car up the drive here," came Fielding's voice out
of the darkness. "You can see more or less what you're doing under the
lamp. Wait while I get my own out of the way!"
"Excellent!" said Saltash. "I'm immensely grateful to you, sir, for not
smashing me up. What, Romeo? Did I hear you say you wished he had? I
didn't? Then I must have sensed battle, murder and sudden death in
But whatever Dick's silence expressed he refused stubbornly to break it.
When the squire had manoeuvred his car out of the way, he lent his help
to pushing Saltash's across the road and up the drive into safety, but he
did not utter a single word throughout the performance.
"A thousand thanks!" gibed Saltash. "Now for the great reckoning! I say,
you will give me a drink, won't you, before you send me to my account?
The villain always has a drink first. He's entitled to that, at least."
Again Fielding's voice came through Dick's silence. "Yes, come up to the
schoolhouse!" he said. "We can't talk here. Have you got the key, Dick?
Ah, that's right."
He found Dick and thrust a hand through his arm, leading him, stiffly
unresponsive, across the road.
At the gate Dick stopped and spoke. "Let him go in front!" he said.
"With pleasure," laughed Saltash. "I'm lucky to have met you here. I was
wondering how I should manage to break in."
He went up the path before them with his careless tread, and waited
whistling while Dick opened the door.
The lamp in the little hall was burning low, but it shone upon his ugly
face as he entered, and showed him the only one of the three who felt at
ease. With royal assurance he turned to Dick.
"Well? Have you got a table and pistols for two? Great Scott, man! You
look like a death-mask! Come along and let's get it over! Then perhaps
you'll feel better."
Dick stood upright by Fielding's side, listening to the taunting words
with a face that was indeed like a death-mask--save for the eyes that
glowed vividly, terribly, with something of a tigerish glare.
He spoke at last with deadly quietness through lips that did not seem to
move. "Where have you taken my wife?"
"Oh, she's quite safe," said Saltash; and smiled with a fox-like flash
of teeth. "I am taking every care of her. You need have no anxiety
"I asked--where you had taken her," Dick said, his words low and
distinct, wholly without emotion.
Saltash's odd eyes began to gleam. "I heard you, _mon ami_. But since the
lady is under my protection at the present moment, I am not prepared to
answer that question off-hand--or even at all, until I am satisfied as to
the kindness--or otherwise--of your intentions. When I give my protection
to anyone--I give it."
"Is that what you came back to say?" said Dick, still without stirring
hand or feature.
"By no means," said Saltash airily. "I didn't come to see you at all. I
came--to fetch Columbus!"
He turned with the words, hearing a low whine at the door behind him, and
opening it released the dog who ran out with eager searching. Saltash
stooped to fondle him.
Something that was like an electric thrill went through Dick. He took a
sudden step forward.
"Damn you!" he said, and gripped Saltash by the collar. "Tell me where
she is! Do you hear? Tell me!"
Saltash straightened himself with a lightning movement. They looked into
each other's eyes for several tense seconds. Then, though no word has
passed between them, Dick's hand fell.
"That's better," said Saltash. "You're getting quite civil. Look here, my
bully boy! I'll tell you something--and you'd better listen carefully,
for there's a hidden meaning to it. You're the biggest ass that ever
trod this earth. There!"
He put up a hand to his crumpled collar and straightened it, still with
his eyes upon Dick's face.
"Got that?" he asked abruptly. "Well, then, I'll tell you something else.
I've got a revolver in my pocket. I put it there in case the miners
needed any persuasion, but you shall have it to shoot me with--and no
doubt Mr. Fielding will kindly turn his back while you do it--if you
will answer--honestly--one question I should like to put to you first.
Is it a deal?"
Dick was breathing quickly. He stood close to Saltash, urged by a deadly
enmity and still on the verge of violence, but restrained by something
about the other man's attitude that he could not have defined.
"Well?" he said curtly at length. "What do you want to know?"
Saltash's lips twisted in a faintly sardonic smile. "Just one thing," he
said. "Don't speak in a hurry, for a good deal depends upon it! If some
kind friend--like myself for instance--had come to you, say, the night
before your wedding and told you that you were about to marry Lady Jo
Farringmore, would you have gone ahead with it--or not?"
He asked the question with a certain wariness, as a player who stakes
more on a move than he would care to lose. The glint of the gambler shone
in his curious eyes. His right hand was thrust into his pocket.
Fielding was watching that right hand narrowly, but Dick's look, grim and
unwavering, never left his opponent's face.
"Why do you want to know?" he demanded.
Saltash's smile deepened, became a grimace, and vanished.
"I will tell you when you have answered me," he said. "But whatever you
say will be used against you,--mind that!"
"What do you mean?" Dick said.
"Never mind what I mean! Just answer me! Answer me now! Would you have
married her under those circumstances? Or would you--have thrown her
Dick's eyes blazed. "You damn blackguard! Of course I should have
"You are sure of that?" Saltash said.
"Damn you--yes!" With terrific force Dick answered him. He stood like an
animal ready to spring, goaded to the end of his endurance, yet
waiting--waiting for something, he knew not what.
If Saltash had smiled then he would have been upon him in an instant. But
Saltash did not smile. He knew the exact value of the situation, and he
handled it with a sure touch. With absolute gravity he took his hand from
Fielding took a swift step forward, but with an odd twist of the
brows Saltash reassured him. He held out a revolver to Dick on the
palm of his hand.
"Here you are!" he said. "It's fully loaded. If you want to shoot a
friend, you'll never have a better chance. Mr. Fielding, will you kindly
look the other way?"
Dead silence followed his words. The lamplight flickered on Dick's face,
throwing into strong relief every set grim feature. His lips were tightly
compressed--a single straight line across his stern face. His eyes never
varied; they were almost unbearably bright. They held Saltash's with a
tensity of purpose that was greater than any display of physical force.
It was as if the two were locked in silent combat.
It lasted for many seconds, that mute and motionless duel, then very
suddenly from a wholly unexpected quarter there came an interruption.
Columbus, sensing trouble, pushed his stout person between the two men
and leapt whining upon Dick, pawing at him imploringly with almost
It put an end to the tension. Dick looked down involuntarily and meeting
the dog's beseeching eyes, relaxed in spite of himself. Saltash uttered a
curt laugh and returned the revolver to his pocket.
"That settles that," he observed. "Columbus, my acknowledgments--though I
am quite well aware that your eloquent appeal is not made on my behalf!
You know what the little beggar is asking for, don't you?"
Dick laid a soothing hand on the grizzled head. "All right,
Columbus!" he said.
Saltash's smile leapt out again. "Oh, it's all right, is it? I am to have
a free pardon then for boosting you over your last fence?"
Again Dick's eyes came to him, and a very faint, remote smile shone in
them for an instant in answer. Then, very steadily, without a word, he
held out his hand.
Saltash's came to meet it. They looked each other again in the eyes--but
with a difference. Then Saltash began to laugh.
"Go to her, my cavalier! You'll find her--waiting--on the _Night Moth_."
"Waiting?" Dick said.
"For Columbus," said Saltash with his most derisive grin, and tossed
Dick's hand away.
THE LAST FENCE
A chill breeze sprang up in the dark of the early morning and blew the
drifting fog away. The stars came out one by one till the whole sky shone
and quivered as if it had been pricked by a million glittering
spear-points. The tide turned with a swelling sound that was like a vast
harmony, formless, without melody, immense. And in the state-cabin of the
_Night Moth_, the woman who had knelt for hours by the velvet couch
lifted her face to the open port-hole and shivered.
She had cast her hat down beside her, and the cold night-wind that yet
had a faint hint of the dawn in it ruffled the soft hair about her
temples. Her face was dead-white, drawn with unspeakable weariness, with
piteous lines about the eyes that only long watching can bring. She
looked hopeless, beaten.
The shaded light that gleamed down upon her from the cabin-roof seemed
somehow to hurt her, for after a second or two she leaned to one side
without rising from her knees and switched it off. Then with her hands
tightly clasped, she gazed out over the dim, starlit sea. The mystery of
it, the calm, the purity, closed round her like a dream. She gazed forth
into the great waste of rippling waters, her chin upon her hands.
Softly the yacht lifted and sank again to the gentle swell. The wild
waves of a few hours before had sunk away. It was a world at peace. But
there was no peace in the eyes that dwelt upon that wonderful night
scene. They were still with the stillness of despair.
The cold air blew round her and again she shivered as one chilled to the
heart, but she made no move to pick up the cloak that had fallen from her
shoulders. She only knelt there with her face to the sea, staring out in
dumb misery as one in whom all hope is quenched.
From somewhere on shore there came the sound of a clock striking the hour
in clear bell-like notes. One, two, three! And then silence, with the
murmur and splash of the rising tide spreading all around.
And then suddenly out of the utter quietness there came a sound--the
scuttle of scampering feet and an eager whining at the door behind
her. It stabbed like a needle through her lethargy. In a moment she
was on her feet.
The door burst in upon her as she opened it, and immediately she was
sprung upon and almost borne backwards by the wriggling, ecstatic figure
of Columbus. He flung himself into her arms with yelps of extravagant
joy, as if they had been parted for months instead of hours, and when,
somewhat overwhelmed with this onslaught, she sat down with him on the
couch, he scrambled all over her, licking wildly whatever part of her his
tongue could reach.
It took some time for his rapturous greetings to subside, but finally he
dropped upon the couch beside her, pressed to her, temporarily exhausted,
but still wriggling spasmodically whenever her hand moved upon him. And
then Juliet, for some odd reason that she could not have explained, found
herself crying in the darkness as she had not cried all through that
night of anguish.
Columbus was deeply concerned. He crept closer to her, pawed at her
gently, stood up and licked her hair. But she wept on helplessly for many
seconds with her hands over her face.
It was Columbus who told her by a sudden change of attitude that someone
had entered at the open door and was standing close to her in the dark.
She started upright very swiftly as the dog jumped down to welcome the
intruder. Vaguely through the dimness she saw a figure and leapt to her
feet, her hands tight clasped upon her racing heart.
"Charles! Why have you come here?"
There was an instant of stillness, then a swift movement and a man's arms
caught her as she stood and she was a prisoner.
She made a wild struggle for freedom. "No--no!" she panted. "Let me go!"
But he held her fast,--so fast that she gasped and gasped for
breath,--saying no word, only holding her, till suddenly she cried out
sharply and her resistance broke.
She hid her face against him. "You!" she said. "You!"
He held her yet in silence for a space, and through the silence she heard
the beat of his heart; quick and hard, as if he had been running a race.
Then over her bowed head he spoke, his voice deep, vibrant, seeming to
hold back some inner leaping force.
"Didn't I tell you I should follow you--and bring you back?"
She shrank at his words. "I can't come--I can't come!" she said.
"You will come, Juliet," he said quietly.
"No--no!" She lifted her head in sudden passionate protest. "Not to
be tortured! I can't face it! Before God I would rather--I would
He answered her with flame that leaped to hers. "And don't you think I
would rather die than let you go?"
"Ah!" she said, and no more; for the fierce possession of his hold
checked all remonstrance.
She sought to hide her face again, but he would not suffer it, and in the
end with an anguished sound she ceased to battle with him and sank down
in utter weakness in his hold.
He lifted her then, but he did not kiss her. He found the sofa and
laid her down upon it. Then she heard him feeling along the wall for
She reached out a quivering hand and pressed it, then as the light glowed
she turned from him, covering her eyes from his look. He stood for a few
seconds gazing down at her, almost as if at a loss.
And while he so stood, there arose a sudden deep throbbing that mingled
with the splash of water, and the yacht ceased to rise and fall and
thrilled into movement.
Juliet gave a great start. "Dick! What are they doing? Oh, stop
He stooped and caught her outflung hands. His eyes looked deeply into
hers. "They are obeying--my orders," he said.
"Yours?" She gazed up at him incredulously, shivering all over as if
in an ague.
His face told her nothing. It was implacable, granite-like, save for
the eyes, and from those she shrank uncontrollably as though they
"Yes, mine," he said sombrely. "I have--something to teach you,
Juliet--something that you can only learn--alone with me. And till you
have learnt it, there will be no going back."
She bent her head to avoid the unwavering directness of his look.
"You--are going to hurt me--punish me," she said under her breath.
His hands still held hers, and strangely there was something sustaining
as well as relentless in their grasp.
"It may hurt you," he said. "I don't feel I know you well enough to
judge. As to punishing you--" he paused a moment--"well, I think you have
punished yourself enough already."
Again a great tremor went through her,--a tremor that ended in a sob. She
bent her head a little lower to hide her tears. But they fell upon his
hands and she could not check them. Her throat worked convulsively,
resisting all her efforts and self-control. She became suddenly blinded
and overwhelmed by bitter weeping.
"Ah, Juliet--Juliet!" he said, and went down on his knees before her,
folding her closely, closely to his breast...
It seemed to her a very long time later that she found herself lying
exhausted against the sofa-cushions, feeling his arm still about her and
poignantly conscious of his touch. His other hand was pressed upon her
forehead, and her tears had ceased. She could not remember that he had
spoken a single word since he had taken her into his arms, neither had he
kissed her, but all her fear of him was gone.
Through the open port-hole there came to her the swish of water, and she
heard the throb and roar of the engines like the sound of a distant train
in a tunnel. Moved by a deep impulse that came straight from her soul,
she took the hand that lay upon her brow and drew it downwards first to
her lips, holding it there with closed eyes while she kissed it, then
softly to her heart while she turned her eyes to his.
"Oh, Dick," she said, "are you sure--are you quite sure--that--that--I am
"I am quite sure I am going to keep you," he answered very steadily.
Her two hands closed fast upon his. "Not--not as a prisoner?" she
whispered, wanly smiling.
"Yes, a prisoner," he said, not without a certain grimness, "that is,
until you have learnt your lesson."
"What lesson?" she asked him wonderingly.
"That you can't do without me," he said, a note of challenge in
Something in his look hurt her. She freed one hand and laid it
pleadingly, caressingly, against his neck. "Oh, Dicky," she said, "try to
His face changed a little, and she thought his mouth quivered ever so
slightly as he said. "It's now or never, Juliet. If I don't come to a
perfect understanding with you to-night, we shall be strangers for the
rest of our lives."
She shivered at the finality of his words, but they gave her light. "I
have hurt you--horribly!" she said.
He was silent.
She pressed herself to him with a sudden passionate gesture. "Dick--my
husband--will you forgive me--can you forgive me--before you
Her eyes implored him, yet just for a second he hesitated. Then very
swiftly he gathered her closely, closely against his heart, and kissed
her pleading, upturned face over and over. "Yes!" he said. "Yes!"
She clung to him with all her quivering strength. "I love you,
darling! I love you,--only--only--you!" she whispered brokenly.
"You believe that?"
"Yes," he said again between his kisses.
"And if I tried to do without you it was only because--only because--I
loved you so," she faltered on. "Your anger is just--the end of the
world for me, Dick. I can't face it. It tears my very self."
"My darling! My own love!" he said.
"And then--and then--I had such an awful doubt of you, Dicky. I thought
your love was dead, and I thought--and I thought I couldn't hope to
hold you--after that. I'd got to free you somehow. Oh, Dicky, what agony
love can be!"
"Hush, darling, hush!" he said.
She lay in his arms, her eyes looking straight up to his. "I never meant
to do it, dear,--never meant to win your love in the first place. I
always knew I wasn't worthy of it. I think I told you so. Dicky, listen!
I've had a horrid life. My mother was divorced when Muff and I were
youngsters at school. My father died only a year after, and no one ever
cared what happened to us after that. We had an aunt--Lady Beatrice
Farringmore--and she launched me in society when I left school. But she
never cared--she never cared. She was far too busy with her own concerns.
I just went with the crowd and pleased myself. No one ever took anything
seriously in our set. It was just a mad rush of gaiety from morning till
night. We were like a lot of empty-headed, mischievous children, horribly
selfish of course, but not meaning any harm--at least not most of us.
Everyone had a nickname. It was the fashion. It was Saltash who first
called me Juliet. He said I was so tragically in earnest--which was
really not true in those days. And I called him Charles Rex."
She paused, for Dick's arms had tightened about her.
"Go on!" he said, in a low voice. "I suppose he--made love to you, did
"Everyone did that," she said. "He was just a specimen of the
rest--except that I always somehow knew he had more heart. It was just a
game with us all. It used to frighten me rather at first till--till I got
used to it. When I was quite young I had rather a bitter lesson. I began
to care for a man who I thought was in earnest, and I found he wasn't.
After that, I never needed another. I played the game with the rest.
Sometimes I hurt people, but I didn't care. I always said it was their
fault for being taken in."
"That doesn't sound like you," he said.
"That was me," she returned, with a touch of recklessness, "till I read
that first book of yours--_The Valley of Dry Bones_. That brought me up
short. It shocked me horribly. You cut very deep, Dicky. I'm carrying the
He bent without words and set his lips to her forehead, keeping them
there in mute caress while she went on.
"I had just begun to play with Ivor Yardley. He was my latest catch,
and--I was rather proud of him. He didn't trouble to pursue many women.
And then--after reading that book--I felt so evil, so unspeakably
ashamed, that, when I knew he was really in earnest, I didn't throw him
off like the rest. I accepted him."
She shuddered suddenly and twined her arm about her husband's neck.
"Dicky, I--went through hell--after that. I tried--I tried very
hard--to be honourable--to keep my word. But--when the time drew
near--I simply couldn't. He always knew--he must have known--I didn't
love him. But he just wanted me, and he didn't care. And so--almost at
the last moment--I let him down--I ran away. And, oh, Dicky, the peace
of this place after all that misery and turmoil! You can't imagine what
it was like. It was heaven. And I thought--I thought it was going to be
quite easy to be good!"
"And then I came and upset it all," murmured Dick, with his lips
against her hair.
Her hold tightened. "It's been one perpetual struggle against appalling
odds ever since," she said. "If it hadn't been for--Robin--I should never
have married you."
"Yes, you would," he said quietly. "That was meant. I've realized
"I am not sure," she said. "If you hadn't been so miserable, I should
have told you the truth. You wouldn't have married me then."
"Yes, I should," he said.
She drew a little away to look into his face. "Dick, are you sure of
"I am quite sure," he said, and faintly smiled. "It's just because I am
sure, that I am with you now--instead of Saltash. It was his own test."
Her eyes met his unflinching. "Dick, you believe that Saltash and I are
"I believe it," he said.
"And you are not angry with him?"
"No." He spoke with slight effort. "I am--grateful to him."
"But you don't like him?" she said.
He hesitated momentarily. "Do you?"
"Yes, of course." Her brows contracted a little. "I can't help it. I
always have," she said rather wistfully.
He bent abruptly and kissed them. "All right, darling. So do I," he said.
She smiled at him, clinging closely. "Dicky, that's the most generous
thing you ever did!"
"Oh, I can afford to be generous," he said, "now that I know your secrets
and you know mine. Will you tell me something else now, Juliet?"
"Yes, dear," she whispered.
He laid his cheek against hers. "I was going to tell you my secret
when you had read that last book of mine. When were you going to tell
"Oh, Dicky!" she said in some confusion, and hid her face against his
"No, tell me!" he said. "I want to know."
But Juliet only clung a little faster to him and buried her face a
"Weren't you ever going to tell me?" he said, after a moment.
"Oh, yes--some time," she murmured from his breast.
"Well, when?" he persisted. "Just--any time?"
"No, dear, of course not!" A muffled sound that was half-sob and
half-laugh came with the words.
Dick waited for a space, and then very gently began to feel for the
hidden face. She tried to resist him, then, finding he would not be
resisted, she took his hand and pressed it over her eyes, holding it as a
shield between them.
"Won't you tell me?" he said.
She trembled a little in his hold. "That--that--is another secret,
Dicky," she said very softly.
"Mayn't I--share it, sweetheart?" he said.
She uncovered her eyes with a little tremulous laugh, and lifted them to
his. "Oh, I'm a coward, Dicky, a horrid coward. I thought--I thought I
would tell you everything when--when you were holding your son in your
arms. I thought you would have to--forgive me then."
"Oh, Juliet--Juliet!" he said, and tried to smile in answer, but
could not. His lips quivered suddenly, and he laid his head down upon
And so, with her arms around him and the warm throbbing of her heart
against his face, he came to the perfect understanding.
They saw the morning break through a silver mist, standing side by side
on deck with the water sweeping snow-white from their keel.
Juliet, within the circle of her husband's arm, looked up and broke the
silence with a sigh and a smile.
"Good morning, Romeo! And now that I've learnt my lesson, hadn't we
better be going home?"
He kissed her, and drew her cloak more closely round her. "Do you want to
go home?" he said.
She looked at him with a whimsical frown. "Well, I think I am at home
wherever you are. But you are such a busy man. You can't be spared."
"They've got to spare me for to-day," he said.
"Ah! And to-morrow?"
"To-morrow too, Juliet. I'm giving up my work at Little Shale."
"But you can't give it up at a moment's notice," she said.
"The squire is managing it. They can close the school for a week anyway.
Then he can find a substitute."
Juliet pondered this. Then, "Let's go back till the end of the term,
Dicky!" she said.
He looked at her. "You want to, my Lady Joanna?"
She shook her head at him. "You're not to call me that. Yes, I'd like to
go back and finish there, but only as your wife--nothing else."
"My lady wife!" he said, patting her cheek.
She leaned her head against his shoulder. "Yes, and there are the miners
to settle. Do you think they'll ever be friends with me, Dick?"
"Of course they will," he said. "By the way, Juliet, I've a piece of news
for you. You know what Yardley came for?"
"No, I don't," she said, looking momentarily startled.
His hand reassured her. "No, not for you, darling. He didn't expect to
find you. No, he came because he had been told--by Jack, if you want to
know--that I was doing the work of an agitator among the men."
"Dick!" she said, with quick indignation. "How dared he?"
His touch restrained her. "It doesn't matter. He came to see for himself,
and he knows better now. He told me after the meeting that I could take
over his share of the concern if I liked. And I took him at his word then
and there. I've got some money put by, and the squire can put up the
rest. Do you think your brother will mind?"
"Muff!" she said. "Oh no! He never minds anything."
"I'll buy him out too then some day, and we'll make that mine a going
concern, Juliet. I'll teach those men to use their brains instead of
being led by these infernal revolutionists. They shall learn that those
who fight for themselves alone never get there. I'll teach 'em the rules
of the game. They shall learn to be sportsmen."
Juliet's eyes were shining. "Bravo, Dick!" she said softly.
He met her look. "You'll have to help me, sweetheart," he said.
She gave him her hands. "I will help you in all that you do,
Dick," she said.
It was at this point that Columbus, who had been sitting a little apart
with his back turned, got up, shook himself vigorously as if to give
warning of his approach, and went to Juliet.
He set his paws against her with a loud pathetic yawn.
She bent over him. "Oh, poor Columbus! He's so bored! Do you want to go
home, my Christopher?"
"Poor chap!" said Dick. "It is rather hard to be dragged away on someone
else's honeymoon whether you want to or not. Had enough of it, eh? Think
it's high time we took the missis home?"
Columbus snuffled into his hand, and wagged himself from the tail
Juliet put her arms round him and kissed him. "Dear old fellow, of course
he does! He thinks we are just the silliest people alive. Perhaps--from
some points of view--we are."
Columbus said nothing, but he surveyed them both with a look of twinkling
humour, and then smothered a laugh with a sneeze.
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