The Slave Of The Lamp
Henry Seton Merriman
Part 2 out of 5
exceptional--nothing to take note of--and Vellacott only remembered the
limpness of Frederick Farrar's grasp. He thought of this too
persistently and magnified it. And this being the only mental note made,
was rather hard on the young squire of St. Mary Eastern.
Vellacott thought of these things while he dressed, he thought of them
intermittently during the unsettled, noisy, country breakfast, and when
he found himself walking beside the moat with Hilda later on he was
still thinking of them.
They had not yet gathered into their hands the threads which had been
broken years before. At times they hit upon a topic of some slight
common interest, but something hovered in the air between them. Hilda
was gay, as she had always been, in a gentle, almost purring way; but a
certain constrained silence made itself felt at times, and they were
both intensely conscious of it.
Vellacott was fully aware that there was something to be got over, and
so instead of skipping round it, as a woman might have done, he went
blundering on to the top of it.
"Hilda," he said suddenly, "I have never congratulated you."
She bent her head in a grave little bow which was not quite English; but
she said nothing.
"I can only wish you all happiness," he continued rather vaguely.
Again she made that mystic little motion of the head, but did not look
towards him, and never offered the assistance of smile or word.
"A long life, a happy one, and your own will," he added more lightly,
looking down into the green water of the moat.
"Thank you," she said, standing quite still beside him.
And then there followed an awkward pause. It was Vellacott who finally
broke the silence in the only way left to him.
"I like Farrar," he said. "I am sure he will make you happy. He--is a
At the end of the walk that ran the whole length of that part of the
moat which had been allowed to remain intact, she made a little movement
as if to turn aside beneath the hazel trees and towards the house. But
he would not let her go. He turned deliberately upon his heel and waited
for her. There was nothing else to do but acquiesce. They retraced their
steps with that slow reflectiveness which comes when one walks backwards
and forwards over the same ground.
There is something eminently conversational in the practice of walking
to and fro. For that purpose it is better than an arm-chair and a pipe,
or a piece of knitting.
Occasionally Vellacott dropped a pace behind, apparently with a purpose;
for when he did so he raised his eyes instantly. He seemed to be slowly
detailing the maiden, and he frowned a little. She was exactly what she
had promised to be. The singularly golden hair which he had last seen
flowing freely over her slight young shoulders had acquired a
decorousness of curve, although the hue was unchanged. The shoulders
were exactly the same in contour, on a slightly larger scale; and the
manner of carrying her head--a manner peculiarly her own, and suggestive
of a certain gentle wilfulness--was unaltered.
And yet there was a change: that subtle change which seems to come to
girls suddenly, in the space of a week--of one night. And this man was
watching her with his analytical eyes, wondering what the change might
He was more or less a bookworm, and he possibly thought that this
subject--this pleasant young subject walking beside him in a blue cotton
dress--was one which might easily be grasped and understood if only one
gave one's mind to it. Hence the little frown. It denoted the gift of
his mind. It was the frown that settled over his eyes when he cut the
pages of a deep book and glanced at the point of his pencil.
He had read many books, and he knew a number of things. But there is one
subject of which very little can be learnt in books--precisely the
subject that walked in a blue cotton dress by Christian Vellacott's side
at the edge of the moat. If any one thinks that book-learning can aid
this study, let him read the ignorance of Gibbon, comparing it with the
learning of that cheery old ignoramus Montaigne. And Vellacott was
nearer to Gibbon in his learning than to Montaigne in his careless
ignorance of those things that are written in books.
He glanced at her; he frowned and brought his whole attention to bear
upon her, and he could not even find out whether she was pleased to
listen to his congratulations, or angry, or merely indifferent. It was
rather a humiliating position for a clever man--for a critic who knew
himself to be capable of understanding most things, of catching the
drift of most thoughts, however imperfectly expressed. He was vaguely
conscious of defeat. He felt that he was nonplussed by a pair of soft
round eyes like the eyes of a kitten, and the dignified repose of a pair
of demure red lips. Both eyes and lips, as well as shoulders and golden
hair, were strangely familiar and strangely strange by turns.
With one finger he twisted the left side of his moustache into his
mouth, and, dragging at it with his teeth, distorted his face in an
unbecoming if reflective manner, which was habitually indicative of the
While reflecting, he forgot to be conversational, and Hilda seemed to be
content with silence. So they walked the length of the moat twice
without speaking, and might have accomplished it a third time, had
little Stanley Carew not appeared upon the scene with the impulsive
energy of his thirteen years, begging Christian to bowl him some really
"Ah! It goes. It goes already!"
The speaker--the Citizen Morot--slowly rubbed his white hands one over
He was standing at the window of a small house in an insignificant
street on the southern side of the Seine. He was remarkably calm--quite
the calmest man within the radius of a mile; for the insignificant
little street was in an uproar. There was a barricade at each end of it.
Such a barricade as Parisians love. It was composed of a few overturned
omnibuses; for the true Parisian is a cynic. He likes overturned things,
and he loves to see objects of peace converted to purposes of war. He is
not content that ploughshares be beaten into swords. He prefers
altar-rails. And so this little street was blocked at either end by a
barricade of overturned omnibuses, of old hampers and empty boxes, of a
few loads of second-hand bricks and paving-stones brought from the scene
of some drainage operations round the corner.
In the street between the barricades, surged, hooted, and yelled that
wildest and most dangerous of incomprehensibles--a Paris mob.
Half-a-dozen orators were speaking at once, and no one was listening to
them. Here and there amidst the rabble a voice was raised at times with
"_Vive le Roi!_" it cried. "Long live the King!"
A few took up the refrain, but the general tone was negative. It was not
so much a question of upholding anything as of throwing down that which
was already up.
"Down with the Republic!" was the favourite cry. "Down with the
President! Down with everything!"
And each man cried down his favourite enemy.
The Citizen Morot listened, and his contemptuous mouth was twisted with
a delicate, subtle smile.
"Ah!" he muttered. "The voice of the people. The howling of the wolves.
Go on, go on, my braves. Cry 'Long live the King,' and soon you will
begin to believe that you mean it. They are barking now. Let them bark.
Soon we shall teach them to bite, and then--then, who knows?"
His voice dropped almost to a whisper, and he stood there amidst the din
and hubbub--dreaming. At last he raised his hand to his forehead--a
prominent, rounded forehead, flat as the palm of one's hand from eyebrow
to eyebrow, and curving at either side, sharply, back to deep-sunken
"Ah!" he exclaimed, with a little laugh; and he drew from an inner
pocket a delicately scented pocket-handkerchief, with which he wiped his
brow. "If I get excited now, what will it be when they begin--to bite?"
All this while the orators were shouting their loudest, and the voices
dispersed throughout the crowd raised at intervals their short, sharp
"Long live the King!"
And the police? There were only two agents attached to the immediate
neighbourhood, and they were smoking cigars and drinking absinthe in two
separate cellars, with the door locked on the outside. They were
prisoners of war of the most resigned type. The room in which stood the
Citizen Morot was dark, and wisely so. For the Parisian street
politician can make very pretty practice of a lighted petroleum-lamp
with an empty bottle or half a brick. The window was wide open, and the
wooden shutters were hooked back.
The attitude of the man was interested and slightly self-satisfied. It
suggested that of the manager of a theatre looking down from an
upper-tier box upon a full house and a faultless stage. At the same time
he was keeping what sailors call a very "bright look-out" towards either
end of the street. From his elevated position he was able to see over
the barricades, and he watched with intense interest the movements of
two women (or perhaps men disguised as such) who stood in the centre of
the street just beyond each obstruction.
There was something dramatic in the motionless attitude of these two
women, standing guard alone in the deserted street, on the wrong side of
At times Morot leant well out of the window and listened. Then he stood
back again and contemplated the crowd.
Each orator was illuminated by a naphtha "flare," which, being held in
unsteady hands, flickered and wavered, casting strange gleams of light
over the evil faces upturned towards it. At times one speaker would
succeed in raising a laugh or extracting a groan, and when he did so
those listening to his rivals turned and surged towards him. There was
plenty of movement. It was what the newspapers call an animated
scene--or a disgraceful scene--according to their political bias.
The Citizen Morot could not hear the jokes nor distinguish the cause of
the groaning. But he did not seem to mind much. The speeches were not of
the description to be given in full in the morning papers. There were,
fortunately, no reporters present. It was the frank eloquence of the
slaughter-house--the unclad humour of the market.
Suddenly one of the women--she who was posted at the southern end of the
street--raised both her arms, and the Citizen leant far out of the
window. He was very eager, and his hawk-like eyes blinked perpetually.
His hand was raised to his mouth, and the lights of the orators gleamed
on something that he held in his fingers--something that looked like
The woman held her two arms straight up into the air for some moments,
then she suddenly crossed them twice, turning at the same moment and
scrambling over the barricade. A long shrill whistle rang out over the
heads of the mob, and its effect was almost instantaneous. The "flares"
disappeared like magic. Dark figures swarmed up the lamp-posts and
extinguished the feeble lights. The voice of the orator was still.
Silence and darkness reigned over that insignificant little street on
the southern side of the Seine. Then came the clatter of cavalry--the
rattle of horses' feet, and the ominous clank of empty scabbards against
spur and buckle. A word of command, and a scrambling halt. Then silence
again, broken only by the shuffling of feet (not too well clad) in the
darkness between the barricades.
The Citizen Morot leant recklessly out of the window, peering into
the gloom. He forgot to make use of the delicately scented pocket-
handkerchief now, and the drops of perspiration trickled slowly down
The soldiers shuffled in their saddles. Some of the spirited little
Arabs pawed the pavement. One of them squealed angrily, and there was a
slight commotion somewhere in the rear ranks--an equine difference of
opinion. The officers had come forward to the barricade and were
consulting together. The question was--what was there behind that
barricade? It might be nothing--it might be everything. In Paris one can
never tell. At last one of them determined to see for himself. He
scrambled up, putting his foot through the window of an omnibus in
passing. Against the dim light of the street-lamp beyond, his slight,
straight figure stood out in bold relief. It was a splendid mark for a
man with chalked sights to his rifle.
"Ah!" muttered the Citizen, "you are all right this time--master, the
young officer. They are only barking. Next time perhaps it will be quite
The officer turned and disappeared. After the lapse of a few moments a
dozen words of command were shouted, and upon them followed the sharp
click of hilt on scabbard as the sabres fell home.
After a pause it became evident that the barricade was being destroyed.
And then lights flashed here and there. In a compact column the cavalry
advanced at a trot. The street was empty.
Citizen Morot turned away and sat down on a chair that happened to be
placed near the window. His finely-drawn eyebrows were raised with a
"Pretty work!" he ejaculated. "Pretty work for--my father's son! So
grand, so open, so noble!"
He waited there, in the darkness, until the cavalry had been withdrawn
and the local firemen were at work upon the barricade. Then, when order
was fully restored, he left the house, walking quietly down the length
of the insignificant little street.
Ten minutes later he entered the tobacco-shop in the Rue St. Gingolphe.
Mr. Jacquetot was at his post, behind the counter near the window, with
the little tin box containing postage-stamps in front of him upon his
desk. He was always there--like the poor. He laid aside the _Petit
Journal_ and wished the new-comer a courteous, though breathless,
The salutation was returned gravely and pleasantly. The Citizen Morot
lingered a moment and remarked that it was a warm evening. He never
seemed to be in a hurry. Then he passed on into the little room behind
There he found Lerac, the foreman of the slaughter-house. The butcher
was pale with excitement. His rough clothing was dishevelled; his
stringy black hair stood up uncouthly in the centre of his head, while
over his temples it was plastered down with perspiration and suet
"Well?" he exclaimed, with triumphant interrogation.
"Good," said Morot. "Very good. It marches, my friend. It marches
"Ah! But you are right. The People see you--it is a power!"
"It is," acquiesced Morot fervently.
How he hated this man!
"And you stayed to the last?" inquired Lerac. He was rather white about
the lips for a brave man.
"Till the last," echoed Morot, taking up some letters addressed to him
which lay on the table.
"And the street was quite clear before they broke through the barrier?"
"Quite--the People did not wait." He seemed to resign himself to
conversation, for he put the letters into his pocket and sat down. "Had
you," he inquired, "any difficulty in getting them away?"
"Oh no," somewhat loftily and quite unsuspicious of irony. "The passages
were narrow, of course; but we had allowed for that in our organisation.
Organisation and the People, see you--"
"Yes," replied Morot. "Organisation and the People." Like Lerac, he
stopped short, apparently lost in the contemplation of the vast
possibilities presented to his mental vision by the mere thought of such
"Well!" exclaimed the butcher energetically, "I must move on. I have
meetings. I merely wished to hear from you that all was right--that no
one was caught."
He was bubbling over with excitement and the sense of his own huge
The Citizen Morot raised his secretive eyes.
"Good-night," he said, with an insolence far too fine for the butcher's
"Well--good-night. We may congratulate ourselves, I think, Citizen!"
"I congratulate you," said Morot. "Good-night."
It is probable that, had Lerac looked back, there would have been murder
done in the small room behind the tobacco-shop. But the contemptuous
smile soon vanished from the face of the Citizen Morot. No smile
lingered there long. It was not built upon smiling lines at all.
Then he took up his letters. There were only two of them: one bearing
the postmark of a small town in Morbihan, the other hailing from
He replaced the first in his pocket unread; the second he opened. It was
written in French.
"There are difficulties," it said. "Can you come to me? Cross from
Cherbourg to Southampton--train from thence to this place, and ask for
Signor Bruno, an Italian refugee, living at the house of Mrs. Potter, a
The Citizen Morot rubbed his chin thoughtfully with the back of his
hand, making a sharp, grating sound.
"That old man," he said, "is getting past his work. He is losing nerve;
and nerve is a thing that we cannot afford to lose."
Then he turned to the letter again.
"Ah!" he exclaimed suddenly; "St. Mary Western. He is there--how very
strange. What a singular coincidence!"
He fell into a reverie with the letter before him.
"Carew is dead--but still I can manage it. Perhaps it is just as well
that he is dead. I was always afraid of Carew."
Then he wrote a letter, which he addressed to "Signor Bruno, care of
Mrs. Potter, St. Mary Western, Dorset."
"I shall come," he wrote, "but not in the way you suggest. I have a
better plan. You must not know me when we meet."
He purchased a twenty-five centime stamp from Mr. Jacquetot, and posted
the letter with his own hand in the little wall-box at the corner of the
Rue St. Gingolphe.
There was, however, no cricket for Stanley Carew that morning. When
they came within sight of the house Mrs. Carew emerged from an open
window carrying several letters in her hand. She was not hurrying, but
walking leisurely, reading a letter as she walked.
"Just think, Hilda dear," she said, with as much surprise as she ever
allowed herself. "I have had a letter from the Vicomte d'Audierne. You
"Yes," said the girl; "I remember him, of course. He is not the sort of
man one forgets."
"I always liked the Viscount," said Mrs. Carew, pensively looking at the
letter she held in her hand. "He was a good friend to us at one time. I
never understood him, and I like men whom one does not understand."
"Yes," she answered vaguely.
"Your father admired him tremendously," Mrs. Carew went on to say. "He
said that he was one of the cleverest men in France, but that he had
fallen in a wrong season, and would not adapt himself. Had France been a
monarchy, the Vicomte d'Audierne would have been in a very different
Vellacott did not open his own letters. He seemed to be interested in
the conversation of these ladies. He was not a reserved man, but a
secretive, which is quite a different thing. Reserve is natural--it
comes unbidden, and often unwelcome. Secretiveness is born of
circumstances. Some men find it imperative to cultivate it, although
their soul revolts within them. In professional or social matters it is
often merely an expediency--in some cases it almost feels like a crime.
There are some secrets which cannot be divulged; there are some
deceptions which a certain book-keeper will record upon the credit side
of our account.
Like most young men who have got on in their calling, Christian
Vellacott held his career in great respect. He felt that any sacrifice
made for it carried its own reward. He thought that it levelled scruples
and justified deceptions.
He knew this Vicomte d'Audierne by reputation; he wished to hear more of
him; and so he feigned ignorance--listening.
"What has he written about?" inquired Hilda.
"To ask if he may come and see us. I suppose he means to come and stay."
Vellacott looked what the French call "contraried."
"When?" asked the girl.
"On Monday week."
And then Mrs. Carew turned to her other letters. Vellacott took the
budget addressed to him, and walked away to where an iron table and some
chairs stood in the shade of a deodar.
In a few minutes he looked still more put out. He had learnt of the
disturbances in Paris, and was reading a rather panic-stricken letter
from Mr. Bodery. The truth was that there was no one in the office of
the _Beacon_ who knew anything whatever about French home politics
but Christian Vellacott.
A continuance of these disturbances would necessarily assume political
importance, and might even lead to a crisis. This meant an instant
recall for Vellacott. In a crisis his presence in London or Paris was
absolutely necessary to the _Beacon_.
His holiday had barely lasted twenty-four hours, and there was already a
question of recall. It happened also that within that short space a
considerable change had come over Vellacott. The subtle influence of a
country life, and possibly the low, peaceful song of the distant sea,
were already beginning to make themselves felt. He actually detected a
desire to sit still and do nothing--a feeling of which he had not
hitherto been conscious. He was distinctly averse to leaving St. Mary
Western just yet. But there is one task-master who knows no mercy and
makes no allowances. Some of us who serve him know it to our cost, and
yet we would be content to serve no other. That task-master is the
Vellacott was a public servant, and he knew his position.
Somewhat later in the morning Molly and Hilda found him still seated at
the table, writing with that concentrated rapidity which only comes with
"I am sorry," he said, looking up, "but I must send off a telegram. I
shall walk in to the station."
"I was just coming," said Hilda, "to ask if you would drive me in. I
want to get some things."
"And," added Molly, "there are some domestic commissions--butcher,
Vellacott expressed his entire satisfaction with the arrangement, and by
the time he had finished his letter the dog-cart was waiting at the
Several of the family were standing round the vehicle talking in a
desultory manner, and Vellacott learnt then for the first time that
Frederick Farrar had left home that same morning to attend a midland
It was one of those brilliant summer days when it is quite impossible to
be pessimistic and exceedingly difficult to compass preoccupation. The
light breeze bowling over the upland from the sea had just sufficient
strength to blow away all mental cobwebs. Also, Christian Vellacott had
suddenly given way to one of those feelings which sometimes come to us
without apparent reason. The present was joyous enough without the aid
of the ever-to-be-bright future, and Vellacott felt that, after all,
French politics and Frederick Farrar did not quite monopolise the world.
Hilda was on this occasion more talkative than usual. There was in her
manner a new sense of ease, almost of familiarity, which Vellacott could
not understand. He noticed that she spoke invariably in generalities,
avoiding all personal matters. Of herself she said no word, though she
appeared willing enough to answer any question he might ask. She led him
on to talk of himself and his work, listening gravely to his account of
the little household at Chelsea. He made the best of this topic, and
even treated it in a merry vein; but her smile, though sincere enough,
was of short duration and not in itself encouraging. She appeared to see
the pathos of it instead of the humour. Suddenly, in the middle of a
particularly funny story about Aunt Judith, she interrupted him and
changed the conversation entirely. She did not again refer to his home
As they were returning in the full glare of the midday sun, they
descried in front of them the figure of an old man; he was walking
painfully and making poor progress. Carefully dressed in black
broadcloth, he wore a soft felt hat of a shape seldom seen in England.
"I believe," said Hilda, as they approached him, "that is Signor Bruno.
Yes, it is. Please pull up, Christian. We must give him a lift!"
Christian obeyed her. He thought he detected a shade of annoyance in
Hilda's voice, with which he fully sympathised.
On hearing the sound of the wheels, the old man looked up in surprise,
as a deaf person might have been expected to do. This movement showed a
most charming old face, surrounded by a halo of white hair and beard.
The features were almost perfect, and might in former days have been a
trifle cold, by reason of their perfection. Now, however, they were
softened by the touch of years, and Signor Bruno was the living
semblance of guilelessness and benevolence.
"How do you do, Signor Bruno?" said Hilda, speaking rather loudly and
very distinctly. "You are back from London sooner than you expected, are
"Ah! my dear young lady," he replied, courteously removing his hat and
"Ah! now indeed the sun shines upon me. Yes, I am back from London--a
most terrible place--terrible--terrible--terrible! As I walked along
just now I said to myself: 'The sun is warm, the skies are blue; yonder
is the laughing sea, and yet, Bruno, you sigh for Italy.' This is Italy,
Miss Hilda--Italy with a northern fairy walking in it!"
Hilda smiled her quick, surprising smile, and hastened to speak before
the old gentleman recovered his breath.
"Allow me to introduce to you Sidney's friend, Mr. Vellacott, Signor
Sidney's friend, Mr. Vellacott, was by this time behind her. He had
alighted, and was employed in arranging the back seat of the dog-cart.
When Signor Bruno looked towards him, he found Christian's eyes fixed
upon his face with a quiet persistence which might have been
embarrassing to a younger man. He raised his hat and murmured something
unintelligible in reply to the Italian's extensive salutation.
"Sidney Carew's friends are, I trust, mine also!" said Signor Bruno, as
he replaced his picturesque hat.
Christian smiled spasmodically and continued arranging the seat. He then
came round to the front of the cart and made a sign to Hilda that she
should move into the right-hand seat and drive. Signor Bruno saw the
sign, and said urbanely:
"You will, if you please, resume your seat. I will place myself behind!"
"Oh, no! You must allow me to sit behind!" said Christian.
"But why, my dear sir? That would not be correct. You are Mr. Carew's
guest, and I--I am only a poor old Italian runaway, who is accustomed to
back seats; all my life I have occupied back seats, I think, Mr.
Vell'cott. There is no reason why I should aspire to better things now!"
The old fellow's voice was strangely balanced between pathos and a
peculiar self-abnegating humour.
"If we were both to take our hats off again, I think it would be easy to
see why you should sit in front!" said Christian with a laugh, which
although quite genial, somehow closed the discussion.
"Ah!" replied the old gentleman with outspread hands. "There you have
worsted me. After that I am silent, and--I obey!"
He climbed into the cart with a little senile joke about the stiffness
of his aged limbs. He chattered on in his innocent, childish way until
the village was reached. Here he was deposited on the dusty road at the
gate of a small yellow cottage where he had two rooms. The seat was
re-arranged, and amidst a volley of thanks and salutations, Hilda and
Christian drove away. Presently Hilda looked up and said:
"Is he not a dear old thing? I believe, Christian, in all the various
local information I have given you, I have never told you about Signor
Bruno. I shall reserve him for the next awkward pause that occurs."
"Yes," replied Christian quietly. "He seems very nice."
Something in his tone seemed to catch her attention. She half turned as
if to hear more, but he said nothing. Then she raised her eyes to his
face, which was not expressive of anything in particular.
"Christian," she said gravely, "you do not like him?"
Looked upon as a mere divination of thought, this was very quick; but he
seemed in no way perturbed. He turned and looked down with a smile at
her grave face.
"No," he replied. "Not very much."
"I do not know. There is something wrong about him, I think!"
She laughed and shook her head.
"What do you mean?" she asked. "How can there be anything wrong with
him--anything that would affect us, at all events?"
He shrugged his shoulders, still smiling.
"He says he is an Italian?"
"Yes," she replied.
"I say he is a Frenchman," said Christian, suddenly turning towards her.
"Italians do not talk English as he talks it."
She looked puzzled.
"Do you know him?" she asked.
"No; not yet. I know his face. I have seen it or a photograph of it
somewhere, and at some time. I cannot tell when or where yet, but it
will come to me."
"When it does come," said Hilda, with a smile, "you will find that it is
some one else. I can assure you Signor Bruno is an Italian, and beyond
that he is the nicest old gentleman imaginable."
"Well," replied Christian. "In the meantime I vote that we do not
trouble ourselves about him."
The subject was dropped, and not again referred to until after they had
reached home, when Hilda informed her mother that Signor Bruno had
"Oh, indeed," was the reply. "I am very glad. You must ask
him to dinner to-morrow evening. Is he not a nice old man, Christian?"
"Very," replied Christian, almost before the words were out of her lips.
"Yes, very nice." He looked across the table towards Hilda with an
absolutely expressionless composure.
During the following day, which he passed with Sidney and Stanley at sea
in a little cutter belonging to the Carews, Christian learnt, without
asking many questions, all that Signor Bruno had vouchsafed in the way
of information respecting himself. It was a short story and an old one,
such as many a white-haired Italian could tell to-day. A life, income,
and energy devoted to a cause which never had much promise of reward.
Failure, exile, and a life closing in a land where the blue skies of
Italy are known only by name, where Maraschino is at a premium, and long
black cigars almost unobtainable.
Hilda was engaged on this day to lunch and spend the afternoon with Mrs.
Farrar, at Farrar Court. Molly and Christian were to drive over for her
in the evening. This programme was carried out, but the young people
lingered rather longer at Farrar Court listening to the quaint,
old-world recollections of its white-haired hostess than was allowed
for. Consequently they were late, and heard the first dinner-bell
ringing as they drove up the lane that led in a casual way to their
home. (This lane was characteristic of the house. It turned off
unobtrusively from the high road at right angles with the evident
intention of leading nowhere.) A race upstairs ensued and a hurried
toilet. Molly and Christian met on the stairs a few minutes later.
Christian had won the race, for he was ready, while Molly struggled with
a silver necklace that fitted closely round her throat. Of course he had
to help her. While waiting patiently for him to master the intricacies
of the old silver clasp, Molly said:
"Oh, Christian, there is one place you have not seen yet. Quite close at
"Ye--es," he replied absently, as he at length fixed the clasp. "There,
it is done!"
As he held open the drawing-room door, he said: "What is the place I
have to see?"
Signor Bruno, who was seated at the far end of the room with Mrs. Carew,
rose as he heard the door opened, and advanced to meet Molly.
"Porton Abbey," she said over her shoulder as she advanced into the
room. "You must see Porton Abbey."
The Italian shook hands with the new-comers and made a clever, laughing
reference to Christian's politeness of the previous day. At this moment
Hilda entered, and as soon as she had returned Signor Bruno's courteous
salutation Molly turned towards her.
"Hilda," she said, "we have never shown Christian Porton Abbey."
"No," was the reply. "I have been reserving it for some afternoon when
we do not feel very energetic. Unfortunately, we cannot get inside the
Abbey now, though."
"Why?" asked Christian, without looking towards Hilda. He had discovered
that Signor Bruno was attempting to keep up a conversation with his
hostess, while he took in that which was passing at the other end of the
room. The old man was seated, and his face was within the radius of
light cast by a shaded lamp. Christian, who stood, was in the shade.
"Because it is a French monastery," replied Molly. "Here," she added,
"is a flower for your coat, as you say the button-hole is warped by
constant pinning in of stalks."
"Thanks," he replied, stooping a little in order that she could reach
the button-hole of his coat. She was in front of him, directly between
him and Signor Bruno; but he could see over her head. "What sort of
monastery is it?" he continued conversationally. "I did not know that
there were any establishments of that sort in England."
Hilda looked up rather sharply from an illustrated newspaper she
happened to be studying. She knew that he was not adhering strictly to
the truth. From her point of vantage behind the newspaper she continued
to watch Christian, and she realised during the minutes that followed,
that this was indeed the brilliant young journalist of whose fame Farrar
had spoken as already known in London.
Signor Bruno's conversation with Mrs. Carew became at this moment
"There, you see," said Molly vivaciously, "we endeavour to interest him
by retailing the simple annals of our neighbourhood, and his highness
simply disbelieves us!"
"Not at all," Christian hastened to add, with a laugh. "It simply
happened that I was surprised. It shall not occur again. But tell me,
what sort of monastery is it? Dominican? Franciscan? Carmelite?--"
"Oh, goodness! I do not know."
"Perhaps," said Christian, advancing towards the Italian--"perhaps
Signor Bruno can tell us."
"What is that, Mr. Vell'cott?" asked the old gentleman, making a
movement as if about to raise his curved hand to his ear, but
restraining himself upon second thoughts.
Hilda noticed that, instead of raising his voice, Christian spoke in the
same tone, or even lower, as he said:
"We want some details of the establishment at Porton Abbey, Signor
The old gentleman made a little grimace expressive of disgust, at the
same time spreading out his hands as if to ward off something hurtful.
"Ach!" he said, "do not ask me. I know nothing of such people, and wish
to learn no more. It is to them that my poor country owes her downfall.
No, no; leave them alone. I always take care of myself against--
against--what you say--_ces gens-la_!"
Christian awaited the answer in polite silence, and, when Signor Bruno
had again turned to Mrs. Carew, he looked across the room towards Hilda
with the same expression of vacant composure that she had noticed on a
previous occasion. The accent with which Signer Bruno had spoken the few
words of French was of the purest Parisian, entirely free from the
harshness which an Italian rarely conquers.
After dinner Hilda went out of the open window into the garden alone.
Christian, who had seated himself at a small table in the drawing-room,
did not move. Sidney and his mother were talking with the Italian.
The young journalist was stooping over a book, a vase of flowers stood
in front of him, but by the movement of his arm it appeared as if he
were drawing instead of reading. Presently a faint, low whistle came
from the garden. Though soft, the sound was very clear, and each note
distinctly given. It was like the beginning of a refrain which broke off
suddenly and was repeated. Signor Bruno gave a little start and a quick
"What is that?" he asked, with a little laugh, as if at the delicacy of
his own nerves.
"Oh," replied Mrs. Carew, "the whistle, you mean. That is our family
signal. The children were in the habit of calling each other by that
means in bygone years. I expect they are in the garden now, and wish us
to join them."
Mrs. Carew knew that Molly was not in the garden, but in making this
intentional mistake she showed the wisdom of her kind.
"It seems to me," said Signor Bruno, "that the air--the refrain, one
might call it--is familiar."
Christian Vellacott smiled suddenly behind his screen of flowers, but
did not move or look up.
"I expect," explained Sidney, "that you have heard the air played upon
the bugle. It is the French 'retraite,' played by the patrol in garrison
towns at night."
In the meantime Christian had cut the fly-leaf from the book before him,
and, after carefully folding it, he placed the paper in his
breast-pocket. Then he rose and passed out of the open window into the
Immediately Signor Bruno asked his hostess a few polite questions
regarding her guest--what was his occupation, how long he was going to
stay, and whether she did not agree with him in considering that their
young friend had a remarkably interesting face. In the course of his
remarks the old gentleman rose and crossed to the table where Christian
had been sitting. There was a flower there which he had not seen in
England before. Absently he took up the book which Christian had just
been studying, and very naturally turned to the title-page. The fly-leaf
was gone! When he laid the volume down again he replaced it in the
identical position in which he had found it.
When Christian left the drawing-room he walked quickly down the
moss-grown path to the moat. Hilda was standing at the edge of the dark
water, and as he joined her she turned and walked slowly by his side.
"You are a most unsatisfactory person," she said gravely after a few
He looked down at her without replying. His eyes softened for a moment
into a smile, but his lips remained grave.
"You deliberately set yourself," she continued, "to shatter one illusion
after another. You have made me feel quite old and worldly to-night, and
the worst of it is that you are invariably right. It is most annoying."
Her voice was only half-playful. There was a shade of sadness in it.
Christian must have divined her thoughts, for he said:
"Do not let us quarrel over Signor Bruno. I dare say I am wrong
She looked slowly round. Her eyes rested on the dark surface of the
water, where the shadows lay deep and still; then she raised them to the
trees, clearly outlined against the sky.
"I suppose that such practical, matter-of-fact people as you are proof
against mere outward influences."
"So I used to imagine, but I am beginning to find that outward things
are very important after all. In London it seemed only natural that
every one should live in a hurry, with no time for thought, pushing
forward and trying to outstrip their neighbours; but in the country it
seems that things are different. Intellectual people live quiet,
thoughtful, and even dreamy lives. They get through somehow without
seeing the necessity for doing something--trying to be something that
their neighbours cannot be--and no doubt they are happier for it. I am
beginning to see how they are content to go on with their uneventful
lives from year to year until the end even comes without a shock."
"But you yourself would never reach that stage, Christian."
"No, no, Hilda. I can understand it in others, but for me it is
different. I have tasted too deeply of the other life. I should get
"You are getting restless already," she interrupted gravely, "and you
have not been here two days!"
They were interrupted by Sidney's clear whistle, and a moment later
Molly came tripping down the path.
"Come along in," she said; "the old gentleman is going. I was just
stealing away to join you when Sidney whistled."
When Signor Bruno reached his home that evening, he threw his hat upon
the table with some considerable force. His aged landlady, having left
the lamp burning, had retired to bed. He sank into an armchair, and
contemplated the square toes of his own boots for some moments. Then he
scratched his head thoughtfully.
"Sacre nom d'un chien!" he muttered; "where have I seen that face
Signor Bruno spoke French when soliloquising, which was perhaps somewhat
peculiar for an Italian. However proficient a man may be in the mastery
of foreign tongues, he usually dreams and talks to himself in the
language he learnt at his mother's knee. He may count fluently in a
strange tongue, but he invariably works out all mental arithmetic in his
own. Likewise he prays--if he pray at all--in one tongue only. On the
other hand, it appears very easy to swear in an acquired language.
Probably our forefathers borrowed each other's expletives when things
went so lamentably wrong over the Tower of Babel. Still muttering to
himself, Signor Bruno presently retired to rest with the remembrance of
a young face, peculiarly and unpleasantly strong, haunting his dreams.
Shortly after Signor Bruno's departure, Christian happened to be left
alone in the drawing room with Hilda. He promptly produced from his
pocket the leaf he had cut from a book earlier in the evening. Unfolding
the paper, he handed it to her, and said:--
"Do you recognise that?"
She looked at it, and answered without hesitation--
The drawing was slight, but the likeness was perfect. The face was in
profile, and the reproduction of the intelligent features could scarcely
have been more lifelike in a careful portrait. Christian replaced the
paper in his pocket.
"You remember Carl Trevetz, at Paris," continued he, "his father
belonged to the Austrian Embassy!"
"Yes, I remember him!"
"To-morrow I will send this to him, simply asking who it is."
"When the answer comes, Hilda, I will write on the outside of the
envelope the name that you will find inside--written by Trevetz."
For a moment she looked across the table at him with a vague expression
of wonder upon her face.
"Even if you are right," she said, "will it affect us? Will it make us
cease to look upon him as a friend?"
"I think so."
"Then," she said slowly, "it has come. You remember now?"
"Yes; I remember now--but it may be a mistake yet. I would rather have
my memory confirmed by Trevetz before telling you what I know--or think
I know--about Bruno!"
Hilda was about to question him further when Molly entered the room, and
the subject was perforce dropped.
The next morning there came a letter for Christian from Mr. Bodery. It
was short, and not very pleasant.
"DEAR VELLACOTT,--Sorry to trouble you with business so early in your
holiday, but there has been another great row in Paris, as you will see
from the papers I send you. It is hinted that the mob are mere tools in
the hands of influential wire-pullers, and the worst of it is that they
were armed with English rifles and bayonets of a pattern just superseded
by the War Office. How these got into their hands is not yet explained,
but you will readily see the gravity of the circumstance in the present
somewhat strained state of affairs. Several of the 'dailies' refer to
us, as you will see, and express a hope that our 'exceptional knowledge
of French affairs' will enable us to throw some light upon the subject.
Trevetz is giving us all the information he can gather; but, of course,
he is only able to devote a portion of his time to us. He hints that
there is plenty of money in the background somewhere, and that a strong
party has got up the whole affair--perhaps the Church. We must have
something to say (something of importance) next week, and with this in
view I must ask you to hold yourself in readiness to go to Paris on
receipt of a telegram or letter from me.--Yours,
"C. C. BODERY."
Christian folded the letter, and replaced it in the envelope. Suddenly
his attention was attracted to the latter. Upon the back there was a rim
round the adhesive portion, and within this the glaze was gone from the
paper. The envelope had been tampered with by a skilful manipulator. If
Mr. Bodery had been in the habit of using inferior stationery, no trace
would have been left upon the envelope.
Christian slipped the letter into his pocket, and, glancing round, saw
that his movements had passed unobserved.
"Anything new?" asked Sidney, from the head of the table.
"Well, yes," was the reply. "There has been a disturbance in Paris. I
may have to go over there on receipt of a telegram from the office;" he
stopped, and looked slowly round the table. Hilda's attention was taken
up by her plate, upon which, however, there was nothing. He leant
forward, and handed her the toast-rack. She took a piece, but forgot to
thank him. "I am sorry," he continued simply, "very sorry that the
disturbances should have taken place just at this time."
His voice expressed natural and sincere regret, but no surprise. This
seemed to arouse Molly's curiosity, for she looked up sharply.
"You do not seem to be at all surprised," she said.
"No," he replied; "I am accustomed to this sort of thing, you see. I
knew all along that there was the chance of being summoned at any time.
This letter only adds to the chance--that is all!"
"It is a great shame," said Molly, with a pout. "I am sure there are
plenty of people who could do it instead of you."
Christian laughed readily.
"I am sure there are," he replied, "and that is the very reason why I
must take the opportunities that fortune offers."
Hilda looked across the table at him, and noted the smile upon his lips,
the light of energy in his eyes. The love of action had driven all other
thoughts from his mind.
"I suppose," she said conversationally, "that it will in reality be a
good thing for you if the summons does come."
"Yes," he replied, without meeting her glance; "it will be a good thing
"Is that consolatory view of the matter the outcome of philosophy, or of
virtue?" inquired Molly mischievously.
"Of virtue," replied Christian gravely, and then he changed the subject.
After breakfast he devoted a short time to the study of some newspaper
cuttings inclosed in Mr. Bodery's letter. Then he suddenly expressed his
determination of walking down to the village post office.
"I wish," he said, "to send a telegram, and to get some newspapers,
which have no doubt come by the second post. After that you will be
troubled no more about my affairs."
"Until a telegram comes," said Hilda quietly, without looking up from a
letter she held in her hand. She received one daily from Farrar.
Christian glanced at her with his quick smile.
"Oh," he said, "I do not expect a telegram. It is not so serious as all
that. In fact, it is not worth thinking about."
"You have a most enviable way of putting aside disagreeable subjects,"
persisted Hilda, "for discussion at a vague future period."
Christian was steadily cheerful that morning, imperturbably practical.
"That," he said, "is the outcome--not of virtue--but of philosophy. Will
you come to the post office with Stanley and me? I am sure there is no
possible household duty to prevent you."
Together they walked through the peaceful fields. Stanley never lingered
long beside them; something was for ever attracting him aside or ahead,
and he ran restlessly away. Christian could not help noticing the
difference in Hilda's manner when they were alone together. The
semi-sarcastic _badinage_ to which he had been treated lately was
completely dropped, and her earnest nature was allowed to show itself
undisguised. Still she was a mystery to him. He was by habit a close
observer, but her changing moods and humours were to him unaccountable.
At times she would make a remark the direct contradiction of which was
shining in her eyes, and at other times she remained silent when mere
politeness would seem to demand speech. Who knows? Perhaps at all times
and in all things they understood each other. When their lips were
exchanging mere nothings--the very lightest and emptiest of
conversational chaff--despite averted eyes, despite indifferent manner,
their souls may have been drawn together by that silent bond of sympathy
which holds through fair and foul, through laughter and tears, through
life and beyond death.
Christian was not in the habit of allowing himself to become absorbed by
any passing thoughts, however deep they might be. His mind had adapted
itself to the work required of it, as the human mind is ever ready to
do. No deep meditating was required of it, but a quick grasp and a
somewhat superficial treatment. Journalism is superficial, it cannot be
otherwise; it must be universal and immediate, and therefore its touch
is necessarily light. There is nothing permanent about it except the
ceaseless throb of the printing machine and the warm smell of ink. That
which a man writes one day may be rendered useless and worthless the
next, through no carelessness of his, but by the simple course of
events. He must perforce take up his pen again and write against
himself. He may be inditing history, and his words may be forgotten in
twelve hours. There is no time for deep thought, even if such were
required. He who writes for cursory reading is wise if he writes
Mr. Bodery's communication in no manner disturbed Christian. He was
ready enough to talk and laugh, or talk and be grave, as Hilda might
dictate, while they walked side by side that morning, but she was
strangely silent. It thus happened that little passed between them until
they reached the post office. There, he was formally introduced to the
spry little postmistress, who looked at him sharply over her spectacles.
"I wish, Mrs. Chalder," he said cheerily, as he scribbled off his
message to Mr. Bodery, while Hilda made friendly overtures to the
official cat, "I wish that you would forget to send me the disagreeable
letters, and only forward the pleasant ones. There was one this morning,
for instance, which you might very easily have mislaid. Instead of which
you carefully sent it rather earlier than usual and spoilt my
His voice unconsciously followed the swing of his pencil. It seemed
certain that he was making conversation with the sole purpose of
entertaining the old woman. With a pleased laugh and a shake of her grey
curls she replied:
"Ah, I wish I could, sir. I wish I could burn the bad letters and send
on only the good ones--but they're all alike on the outside. It's as
hard to say what's inside a letter as it is to tell what's inside a man
by lookin' on his face."
"Yes," replied Christian, reading over what he had just written. "Yes,
Mrs. Chalder, you are right."
"But the reason of your letter gettin' earlier this morning was that
Seen'yer Bruno said he was goin' past the Hall, sir, and would just
leave the letters at the Lodge. It is a bit out of the carrier's way,
and that man _do_ have a long tramp every day, sir."
"Ah, that accounts for it," murmured the journalist, without looking up.
He was occupied in crossing his t's and dotting his i's. He felt that
Hilda was looking at him, and some instinct told him that she saw the
motive of his conversation, but still he played his part and wore his
mask of carelessness, as men have done before women, knowing the
futility of it, since the world began. She never referred to the
incident, and made no remark whatever with a view to his doing so, but
he knew that it would be remembered, and in after days he learnt to
build up a very castle of hope upon that frail foundation.
Hilda had not been paying much attention to what he was saying until
Signor Bruno's name was mentioned. The old man had hitherto occupied a
very secondary place in her thoughts. He was no one in her circle of
possibly interesting people, beyond the fact of his having passed
through a troubled political phase--a fighter on the losing side. Now he
had, as it were, assumed a more important _role_. The mention of his
name possessed a new suggestion: and all this, forsooth, because
Christian Vellacott opined that the benevolent old face was known to
She began to entertain exaggerated ideas concerning the young
journalist's thoughts and motives. Twice had she obtained a glimpse into
the inner chamber of his mind, and on each occasion the result had been
a vague suggestion of some mental conflict, some dark game of
cross-purposes between him and Signor Bruno. Remembering this, she, in
her intelligent simplicity, began to ascribe to Christian's every word
and action an ulterior motive which in reality did not perhaps exist.
She noted Christian's calm and direct way of reaching the end he
desired, and unconsciously she yielded a little to the influence of his
strength--an influence dangerously fascinating for a strong woman. Her
strength is so different from that of a man that there is no real
conflict--it seeks to yield, and glories over its own downfall.
After paying for the telegram, Christian took possession of the bulky
packet of newspapers addressed to him, and they left the post office.
ON THE SCENT
It appeared to Stanley, on the way home that morning, that the
conversation flagged somewhat. He therefore set to himself the task of
"Christian," he began conversationally, "is there any smuggling done
now? Real smuggling, I mean."
"No, I think not," replied Christian. He evidently did not look upon
smuggling as a fruitful topic at that moment.
"Why do you ask?" interposed Hilda goodnaturedly.
"Well, I was just wondering," replied the boy. "It struck me yesterday
that our boat had been moved."
"But," suggested Christian, "it should be very easy to see whether it
has been dragged over the sand or not."
"Three strong men could carry it bodily into the water and make no marks
whatever on the sand," argued little Stanley, determined not to be
cheated out of his smugglers.
"Perhaps some one has been out for a row for his own pleasure and
enjoyment," suggested Christian, without thinking much of what he was
"Then how did he get the padlock open?"
"Smugglers, I suppose," said Hilda, smiling down at her small brother,
"would be provided with skeleton keys."
"Of course," replied Stanley in an awestruck tone.
"I will tell you what we will do, Stanley," said Christian. "To-morrow
morning we will go and have a bathe; at the same time I will look at the
boat and tell you whether it has been moved."
"Unless," added Hilda, "a telegram comes today."
"Unless," he said gravely, "the world comes to an end this evening."
It happened during the precise moments occupied by this conversation,
that Mr. Bodery, seated at his table in the little editor's room, opened
the flimsy brown envelope of a telegram. He spread out the pink paper,
and Mr. Morgan, seated opposite, raised his head from the
closely-written sheets upon which his hand was resting.
"It is from Vellacott," said the editor, and after a moment's thought he
read aloud as follows:--
"Letter and papers received; believe I have dropped into the clue of the
whole affair. Will write particulars."
Mr. Morgan caressed his heavy moustache with the end of his penholder.
"That young man," he said, "goes about the world with his eyes
remarkably wide open, ha-ha!"
Mr. Bodery rolled the telegram out flat with his pencil silently.
* * * * *
Stanley Carew was so anxious that the inspection of the boat should not
be delayed, that an expedition to the Cove was arranged for the same
afternoon. Accordingly the five young people walked across the bleak
tableland together. Huge white clouds were rolling up from the
south-west, obscuring every now and then the burning sun. A gentle
breeze blew gaily across the bleak upland--a very different breath from
that which twisted and gnarled the strong Scotch firs in winter-time.
"You would not care about climbing _down_ there, I should think,"
observed Sidney, when they had reached the Cove. "It is a very different
matter getting up."
He was standing, gazing lazily up at the brown cliffs with his straw hat
tilted backwards, his hands in his pockets, and his whole person
presenting as fair a picture as one could desire of lazy, quiescent
strength--a striking contrast to the nervous, wiry townsman at his side.
"Hardly," replied Christian, gazing upwards at the dizzy height. "It is
rather nasty stuff--slippery in parts and soft."
He turned and strolled off by Hilda's side. With a climber's love of a
rocky height he looked upwards as they walked, and she noted the
direction of his gaze.
Presently they sat on the edge of the boat over which Stanley's sense of
proprietorship had been so grievously outraged.
"What do you know, Christian, or what do you suspect about Signor
Bruno?" asked Hilda suddenly.
Stanley was running across the sands towards them, and Christian, seeing
his approach, avoided the question by a generality.
"Wait a little longer," he said. "Let me have Trevetz's answer to
confirm my suspicions, and then I will tell you. Suspicions are
dangerous things to meddle with. In imparting them to other people it is
so difficult to remember that they _are_ suspicions and nothing more."
At this moment Stanley arrived and threw himself down breathlessly on
the warm sand.
"Chris!" he exclaimed, "come down here and look at these seams in the
boat--the damp is there still."
The boat was clinker-built, and where the planks overlapped a slight
appearance of dampness was certainly discernible. Christian lay lazily
leaning upon his elbow, sometimes glancing at the boat in obedience to
Stanley's accusatory finger, sometimes looking towards Hilda, whose eyes
were turned seawards.
Suddenly he caught sight of some words pencilled on the stern-post of
the boat, and by the merest chance refrained from calling Stanley's
attention to them. Drawing nearer, he could read them easily enough.
"It certainly looks," he said rising, "as if the boat had been in the
water, but it may be that the dampness is merely owing to heavy dew. The
boat wants painting, I think."
He knew well enough that little Stanley's suspicions were correct. There
was no doubt that the boat had been afloat quite recently; but Christian
knew his duty towards the _Beacon_ and sacrificed his strict sense of
truth to it.
On the way home he was somewhat pre-occupied--as much, that is to say,
as he was in the habit of allowing. The pencil scrawl supplied food
enough for conjectural thought. The writing was undoubtedly fresh, and
this was the 26th of the month. Some appointment was made for midnight
by the words pencilled on the boat, and the journalist determined that
he would be there to see. The question was, should he go alone? He
watched Sidney Carew walking somewhat heavily along in front of him, and
decided that he would not seek aid from that quarter. There was no time
to communicate with Mr. Bodery, so the only course open to him was to go
In a vague manner he had connected the Jesuit party with the
disturbances in Paris and the importation of the English rifles
wherewith the crowd had been armed. The gay capital was at that time in
the hands of the most "Provisional" and uncertain Government imaginable,
and the home politics of France were completely disorganised. It was
just the moment for the Church party to attempt a retrieval of their
lost power. The fire-arms had been recognised by the English authorities
as some of a pattern lately discarded. They had been stored at Plymouth,
awaiting shipment to the colonies, where they were to be served out to
the auxiliary forces, when they had been cleverly removed. The robbery
was not discovered until the rifles were found in the hands of a Paris
mob, still fresh and brutal from the horrors of a long course of
military law. Some of the more fiery of the French journals boldly
hinted that the English Government had secretly sold the firearms with a
view to their ultimate gain by the disorganisation of France.
Christian knew as much about affairs in Paris as most men. He was fully
aware that in the politics of a disturbed country a deed is either a
crime or a heroism according to circumstances, and he was wise enough to
await the course of events before thrusting his opinion down the public
throat. But now he felt that the crisis had supervened, and unwillingly
he recognised that it was not for him to be idle amidst those rapid
These thoughts occupied his mind as he walked inland from the Cove, and
rendered his answers to Stanley's ceaseless flow of questions upon all
conceivable subjects somewhat vague and unreliable. Hilda was walking
with them, and divided with Christian the task of supplying her small
brother with varied information.
As they were approaching the Hall, Christian discerned two figures upon
the smooth lawn, evidently coming towards them. At the same moment
Stanley perceived them.
"I see Fred Farrar and Mr. Signor Bruno," he exclaimed.
Christian could not resist glancing over the little fellow's head
towards Hilda, though he knew that it was hardly a fair action. Hilda
felt the glance but betrayed no sign. She was looking straight in front
of her with no change of colour, no glad smile of welcome for her
"I wonder why she never told me," thought Christian.
Presently he said, in an airy, conversational way: "I did not know
Farrar was coming back so--so soon."
He knew that by this early return Farrar was missing an important day of
the race-meeting he had been attending, but did not think it necessary
to remark upon the fact.
"Yes," replied Hilda. "He does not like to leave his mother for many
days together." The acutest ears could have detected no lowering of the
voice, no tenderness of thought. She was simply stating a fact; but she
might have been speaking of Signor Bruno, so cool and unembarrassed was
"I am glad he is back," said Christian thoughtlessly. It was a mere
stop-gap. The silence was awkward, but he possessed tact enough to have
broken it by some better means. Instantly he recognised his mistake, and
for a moment he felt as if he were stumbling blindfold through an
unknown country. He experienced a sudden sense of vacuity as if his mind
were a blank and all words futile. It was now Stanley's turn to break
the silence, and unconsciously he did it very well.
"I wonder," he said speculatively, "whether he has brought any chocolate
Hilda laughed, and the smile was still hovering in her eyes when she
greeted the two men. Stanley ran on into the house to open a parcel
which Farrar told him was awaiting inspection. It was only natural that
Hilda should walk on with the young squire, leaving Bruno and Christian
together. The old man lingered obviously, and his companion took the
hint readily enough, anticipating some enjoyment.
"To you, Mr. Vellacott," said the Italian, with senile geniality, "to
you whose life is spent in London this must be very charming, very
peaceful, and--very disorganising, I may perhaps add."
Christian looked at his companion with grave attention.
"It is very enjoyable," he replied simply.
Signor Bruno mentally trimmed his sails, and started off on another
"Our young friends," he said, indicating with a wave of his expressive
hand Hilda and Farrar, "are admirably suited to each other. Both young,
both handsome, and both essentially English."
"Yes," answered Christian, with a polite display of interest: "and,
nevertheless, the Carews were all brought up and educated in France."
"Ah!" observed the old man, stopping to raise the head of a "Souvenir de
Malmaison," of which he inhaled the odour with evident pleasure. The
little ejaculation, and its accompanying action, were admirably
calculated to leave the hearer in doubt as to whether mere surprise was
expressed or polite acquiescence in the statement of a known fact.
"Yes," added Christian, deliberately. He also stooped and raised a white
rose to his face, thus meeting Signor Bruno upon his own ground. The
Italian looked up, and the two men smiled at each other across the rose
bush; then they turned and walked on.
"You also know France?" hazarded Signor Bruno.
"Yes; if I were not an Englishman I should choose to be a Frenchman."
"Now with me," said Signor Bruno frankly, "it is different. If I were
not an Italian (which God forbid!) I think--I think, yes, I am sure, I
would by choice have been born an Englishman."
"Ah!" observed Christian gravely, and Signor Bruno turned sharply to
glance at his face. The young Englishman was gazing straight in front of
him earnestly, with no suspicion upon his lips of the incredulous smile
which seemed somehow to have lurked there when he last spoke. The
Italian turned away dissatisfied, and they walked on a few paces in
silence, until he spoke again, reflectively:--
"Yes," he said, "there is a quality in the English character which to me
is very praiseworthy. It is a certain directness of purpose. You know
what you wish to do, and you proceed calmly to do it, without stopping
to consider what your neighbours may think of it. Now with the Gallic
races--for I take this virtue of straightforwardness as Teutonic--and in
my own country especially, men seek to gain their ends by less open
They were now walking up a gentle incline to the house, which was built
upon the buried ruins of its ancient predecessor, and Signor Bruno was
compelled to pause in order to gain breath.
"But," interposed Christian softly, "you are now talking not so much of
the people as of the Church."
Again the Italian looked sharply up, and this time he met his
companion's eyes fixed quietly on his face. He shrugged his shoulders
deprecatingly and spread out his delicate hands.
"Perhaps you are right," he said, with engaging frankness. "I am afraid
you are. But you must excuse a little ill-feeling in a man such as I,
with a past such as mine has been, and loving his country as I do."
"I am afraid," continued Christian, "that foreigners find our bluntness
very disagreeable and difficult to meet; but I know that they frequently
misjudge us on the same account. It is to our benefit, so we cannot
"In what way do we misjudge you?" asked Signor Bruno genially. They were
almost on the threshold of the drawing-room window, which stood
invitingly open, and from which came the sounds of cups and saucers
"You give us credit for less intelligence than we in reality possess,"
said Christian with a smile, as he stood aside to let his companion pass
Whatever influences may have been at work among those congregated at the
Hall during the half-hour or so occupied by afternoon tea, no sign
appeared upon the surface. Molly as usual led the chorus of laughter.
Hilda smiled her sweet "kittenish" smile. Signor Bruno surpassed himself
in the relation of innocent little tales, told with a true southern
"verve" and spirit, while Fred Farrar's genial laugh filled in the
interstices reliably. Grave and unobtrusive, Christian moved about among
them. He saw when Molly wanted the hot water, and was invariably the
first to detect an empty cup. He laughed softly at Signor Bruno's
stories, and occasionally capped them with a better, related in a
conciser and equally humorous manner. It was to him that Farrar turned
for an encouraging acquiescence when one of his latest Newmarket
anecdotes threatened to fall flat, and with it all he found time for an
occasional spar with Signor Bruno, just by way of keeping that inquiring
gentleman upon his guard.
As Christian walked rapidly across the uneven turf towards the sea at
midnight, his thoughts were divided between a schoolboy delight in the
adventurous nature of his expedition and an uncomfortable sensation of
surreptitiousness. He was not accustomed to this sort of work, and felt
remarkably like a thief. If by some mischance his absence was discovered
at the Hall, it would be difficult to account for it unless he played
the part of a temporary lunatic. Fortunately his window communicated
easily enough with the garden by means of a few stone steps, but
visitors are not usually in the habit of leaving their bedrooms in order
to take the air at midnight. Thinking over these things in his rapid and
rather superficial way, he unconsciously quickened his pace.
The night was clear and starlit; the air soft and very pleasant, with a
faint breath of freshness from the south-west. The moon, being well upon
the wane, would not rise for an hour or more, but the heavens were
glowing with the gentler light of stars, and on earth the darkness was
of that transparent description which sailors prefer to the brightest
Christian Vellacott had worked out most problems in life for himself.
Taken as a whole, his solutions had been fairly successful--as
successful as those of most men. If his views upon things in general
were rather photographic--that is to say, hard, with clearly defined
shadows--it was owing to his father's somewhat cynical training and to
the absence of a mother's influence. Elderly maiden ladies, with
sufficient time upon their hands to manage other people's affairs in
addition to their own, complained of his want of sympathy, which may be
read in the sense of stating that he neither sought theirs nor asked
advice upon questions connected with himself. This self-reliance was the
inevitable outcome of his life at home and at the office of the
_Beacon_. Admirable as it may be, independence can undoubtedly be
carried to an unpleasant excess--unpleasant that is for home life. Women
love to see their men-folk a trifle dependent upon them.
Christian was in the midst of a problem as he walked across the
tableland that stretched from St. Mary Western to the sea. That problem
absorbed more of his attention than the home politics of France; it
required a more careful study than any article he had ever penned for
the _Beacon_. It gave him greater anxiety than Aunt Judy and Aunt Hester
combined. Yet it was comprised in a single word. A single arm could
encompass the whole of it. The single word--Hilda.
Leaving the narrow road, he presently struck the little pathway leading
to the Cove. Suddenly he stopped, and stood motionless. There--not
twenty yards from him--was the still figure of a man. Behind Christian
the land rose gradually to some considerable height, so that he stood in
darkness, while against the glowing sky the figure of this watcher was
clearly defined in hard outline. Instinctively crouching down and
seeking the covert of a few low bushes, Christian decreased the
intervening distance by a few yards. The faint hope that it might prove
to be a coastguard was soon dispelled. The heavy clothing and loose
thigh-boots were those of a fisherman. The huge "cache-nez" which lay in
coils upon his shoulders and completely protected the neck and throat,
was such as is worn by the natives of the Cotes-du-Nord.
The sea boomed forth its melancholy song, far down in the black depths
beyond. The tide was high, and the breeze freshening every moment.
Christian could have crept up to the man's very feet without being
detected. Lying still upon the short, dry grass, he watched for some
From the man's clumsy attitude it was almost possible to divine his
slow, mindless nature--for there is expression in the very turn of a
man's leg as he stands--and it was easy to see that he was guarding the
little path down the cliff to the Cove.
He had been posted there, and evidently meant to stay till called away.
There was only one way, now, to the Cove, and that was down the face of
the cliff: the way that Christian had that very afternoon pronounced so
hazardous. By day it was dangerous enough; by night it was almost an
He crept noiselessly along to the eastward, so that the watcher stood
upon the windward side of him, and reaching the brink he peered over
into the darkness. Of course he could discern nothing. The sea rose and
fell with a monotonous roar; overhead the stars twinkled as merrily as
they have twinkled over the strifes of men from century to century.
Quietly he knelt upright and buttoned his coat with some care. Then
without a moment's hesitation he crept to the edge and cautiously
disappeared into the grim abyss of darkness. Slowly and laboriously he
worked his way down, feeling for each foothold in advance. Occasionally
he muttered impatiently to himself at the slowness of his progress. He
knew that the strata of soft sandstone trended downwards at an easy
angle, and with consummate skill took full advantage of his knowledge.
Occasionally he was forced to progress sideways with his face to the
rock and hands outstretched till his fingers were cramped, and the
feeling known as "pins and needles" assailed his arms. Then he would
rest for some moments, peering into the darkness below him all the
while. Once or twice he dropped a small stone cautiously, holding it at
arm's length. When the tiny messenger touched earth soon after leaving
his hand, he continued his downward progress. Once, no sound followed
for some seconds, and then it was only a distant concussion far down
beside the sea. With an involuntary shudder, the climber turned and made
his way upwards and sideways again, before venturing to descend once
For half an hour he continued his perilous struggle, till his strong
arms were stiff and his fingers almost powerless. With marvellous
tenacity he held to his purpose. Never since leaving the summit had he
been able to rest both hands at once. With a dogged, mechanical
endurance which is essentially characteristic of climbers and
mountaineers, he lowered himself, inch by inch, foot by foot. Louder and
louder sang the sea, as if in derision at his petty efforts, but through
his head there rushed another sound infinitely more terrible: a
painful, continuous buzz, which seemed to press upon his temples. A dull
pain was slowly creeping up the muscles of his neck towards his head.
All these symptoms the climber knew. The buzzing in his ears would never
cease until he could lie down and breathe freely with every muscle
relaxed, every sinew slack. The dull ache would creep up until it
reached his brain, and then nothing could save him--no strength of will
could prevent his fingers from relaxing their hold.
"Sish--sish, sish--sish!" laughed the waves below. Placidly the stars
held on their stately course--each perhaps peopled by millions of its
own--young and old, tame and fiery--all pursuing shadows as we do here.
"This is getting serious," muttered Christian, with a pitiful laugh. The
perspiration was running down his face, burning his eyes, and dripping
from his chin. With straining eyes he peered into the night. Close
beneath him there was a ledge of some breadth. It was not flat, but
inclined upwards from the face of the cliff, thus forming a shelf of
solid stone. For some seconds he stared continuously at this, so as to
reduce to a minimum the chance of being mistaken. Then with great
caution he slid down the steep incline of smooth stone and landed
safely. The glissade lasted but a moment, nevertheless it recalled to
his mind a picture which was indelibly stamped in his memory. Years
before he had seen a man slide like this, unintentionally, after a false
step. Again that picture came to him--unimpressionable as his life had
rendered him. Again he saw the glittering expanse of snow, and on it the
broad, strong figure of the Vaudois guide sliding down and down, with
madly increasing speed--feet foremost, skilful to the last. Again he
felt the thrill which men cannot but experience at the sight of a man,
or even of a dumb beast, fighting bravely for life. Again he saw the
dull gleam of the uplifted ice-axe as the man dealt scientific blow
after blow on the frozen snow, attempting to arrest his terrible career.
And again in his mind's eye the pure expanse of spotless white lay
before him, scarred by one straight streak, marking where the taciturn
mountaineer had vanished over the edge of the precipice to his certain
Christian lay like a half-drowned man upon the shelving ledge, slowly
realising his position. He calculated that he could not yet be half-way
down, and his strength was almost exhausted. Yet, as he lay there, no
thought of waiting for daylight, no question of retreat entered his
stubborn West-country brain. The exploit still possessed for him the
elements of a good joke, to be related thereafter in such a manner as
would enforce laughter.
Suddenly--within the softer sound of the sea below--a harsh, grating
noise struck his ears. It was to him like the sound made by a nailed
boot upon rock. It was as if another were following him down the face of
the cliff. In a second he was upon his feet, his weariness a thing
forgotten. Overhead, against the starlit sky, he could define the line
of rock with its sharp, broken angles and uncouth turns. Not thirty feet
above him something was moving. His first feeling was one of intense
fear. Every climber knows that it is easier to pass a difficult corner
than to stand idle, watching another do it. Slowly the dark form came
downwards, and suddenly, with a quick sense of unutterable relief,
Christian saw the black line of a tightened rope. When it was barely ten
feet above him he saw that the object was no man, but a square case. In
a flash of thought he divined what the box contained, and unhesitatingly
ran along the ledge towards it. As it descended he seized it with both
hands and swung it in towards himself. With pendulum-like motion it
descended, and at last touched the rock at his feet. As this took place
he grasped the rope with both hands and threw his entire weight upon it,
hauling slowly in, hand over hand. So quickly and deftly was this
carried out that those lowering overhead were deceived, and continued to
pay out the rope slowly. Steadily Christian hauled in, the slack falling
in snake-like coils at his feet. Only being able to guess at his
position on the cliff, it was no easy matter to calculate how much rope
it was necessary to take in in order to carry out the deception.
At length he ceased abruptly, and proceeded to untie the knots round the
bale. Then, after the manner of a sailor who is working out of sight
with a life-line, he jerked the rope, which immediately began to ascend
rapidly and with irregularity. Coil after coil ran easily away, and at
last the frayed end passed into the darkness above Christian's head. He
stood there watching it, and when it had disappeared he burst into a low
hoarse laugh which suddenly broke off into a sickening gurgle, and he
fell sideways and backwards on to the box, clutching at it with his
When he recovered his faculties his first sensation was one of great
cold. The breeze had freshened with the approach of dawn, and blowing
full upon him as he lay bathed in perspiration, the effect was like that
of a refrigerator. He moved uneasily, and found that he was lying on the
stone ledge _outside_ the box, from which he had fallen. After a moment,
he rose rapidly to his feet as if desirous of dismissing the memory of
his own collapse, and turned his attention to the bundle. Beneath the
rough covering of canvas, which was not sewn but merely lashed round, it
was easy enough to detect the shape of the case.
"What luck--what wonderful luck," he muttered, as he groped round the
surface of the bundle.
Indeed it seemed as if everything had arranged itself for his special
benefit and advantage.
The three men whose duty it had been to lower the case coiled up their
rope and started off on foot inland, after telling the sentinel
stationed at the head of the little path to rejoin his boat. This the
man was only too willing to do at once. He was a semi-superstitious
Breton of no great intelligence, who vastly preferred being afloat in
his unsavoury yawl to climbing about unknown rocks in the dark. On the
beach, he found his two comrades, to whom he gruffly imparted the
information that they were to go on board.
"Had the 'monsieur' said nothing else?"
"No, the 'monsieur' said nothing else."
The Breton intellect is not, as a rule, acute. Like sheep the three men
proceeded to carry up from the water's edge Stanley's boat, which was
required to carry the heavy case, their own dinghy being too small. This
done, they rowed off silently to the yawl, which was rolling lazily in
the trough of the sea, a quarter of a mile from the shore. Once on board
they were regaled with some choice French profanity from the lips of a
large man in a sealskin cap and a dirty woollen muffler. This gentleman
they addressed as the "patron," and, with clumsy awe, informed him that
they had waited at the same spot as before, but nothing had come, until
at length Hoel Grall arrived with instructions from the "monsieur" to go
on board. Whereupon further French profanity, followed by unintelligible
orders, freely interlarded with embellishments of a forcible tenor.
As the yawl swung slowly round and stood out to sea, Christian turned to
climb up Bury Bluff. He found that he had in reality made very little
progress in descending. Before leaving the case, he edged it by degrees
nearer to the base of the ledge, which would render it invisible from
the beach. The ascent was soon accomplished, and after a cautious search
he concluded that no one was about, so set off home at a rapid pace.
Before he reached the Hall the light of coming day was already creeping
up into the eastern sky. All nature was stirring, refreshed with the
balmy dew and coolness of the night. Far up in the higher branches of
the Weymouth pines, the wrens were awake, calling to each other with
tentative twitter, and pluming themselves the while for another day of
sunshine and song.
Like a thief Christian hurried on, and creeping into his bedroom window,
was soon sleeping the dreamless, forgetful sleep of youth.
By seven o'clock he was awake with all the quick realisation of a
Londoner. In the country men wake up slowly, and slowly gather together
their senses after an all-sufficing sleep of ten hours. In cities, five,
four, or even three are sufficient for the unfatigued body and the
restless mind. Men wake up quickly, and are at once in full possession
of their faculties. It is, after all, a mere matter of habit.
Christian had slept sufficiently. He rose quite fresh and strong, and
presently sat down, coatless to write.
Page after page he wrote, turning each leaf over upon its face as it was
completed--never referring back, never hesitating, and only occasionally
raising his pen from the paper. Line after line of neat, small writing,
quite different from what his friends knew in letters or on envelopes,
flowed from his pen. It was his "press" handwriting, plain, rapid, and
as legible as print. The punctuation was attended to with singular care:
the commas broad and heavy, the colons like the kisses in a child's
letter, round and black. Once or twice he smiled as he wrote, and
occasionally jerked his head to one side critically as he re-read a
In less than two hours it was finished. He rose from his seat, and
walked slowly to the window. Standing there he gazed thoughtfully across
the bare, unlovely tableland towards the sea. He had written many
hundreds of pages, all more or less masterly; he had read criticisms
upon his own work saying that it was good; and yet he knew that the
best--the best he had ever written--lay upon the table behind him. Then
he turned and shook the loose leaves together symmetrically. Pensively
he counted them. He was young and strong; the world and life lay before
him, with their infinite possibilities--their countless opportunities to
be seized or left. He looked curiously at the written pages. The writing
was his own; the form of every letter was familiar; the heavy
punctuation and clean, closely written lines such as the compositor
loved to deal with; and while he turned the leaves over he wondered if
ever he would do better, for he knew that it was good.
A WARNING WORD
As the breakfast-bell echoed through the house Christian ran downstairs.
He met Hilda entering the open door with the letters in her hand.
"Down already?" he exclaimed.
"Yes," she replied incautiously, "I wished to get the letters early."
"And, after all, there is nothing for you?"
"No," she replied. "No, but--"
She stopped suddenly and handed him two letters, which he took slowly,
and apparently forgot to thank her, saying nothing at all. There was a
peculiar expression of dawning surprise upon his face, and he studied
the envelopes in his hand without reading a word of the address.
Presently he raised his eyes and glanced at Hilda. She was holding a
letter daintily between her two forefingers, cornerwise, and with little
puffs of her pouted lips was spinning it round, evidently enjoying the
infantile amusement immensely.
He dropped his letters into the pocket of his jacket, and stood aside
for her to pass into the house; but she, abruptly ceasing her windmill
operations, looked at him with raised eyebrows and stood still.
"Well?" she said interrogatively.
"And Mr. Trevetz's answer--I suppose it is one of those letters?"
"Oh yes!" he replied. "I had forgotten my promise."
He took the letters from his pocket, and looked at the addresses again.
"One is from Trevetz," he said slowly, "and the other from Mrs. Strawd."
"Nothing from Mr. Bodery?" asked she indifferently.
He had taken a pencil from his pocket, and, turning, he held Trevetz's
letter against the wall while he wrote across it. Without ceasing his
occupation, and in a casual way, he replied:--
"No, nothing from Mr. Bodery; so I am free as yet."
"I am very glad," she murmured conventionally.
"And I," he said, turning with a polite smile to hand her the letter.
She took the envelope, and holding it up in both hands examined it
"M-a-x," she read; "how badly it is written! Max--Max Talma--is that
"Yes," he answered gravely, "that is it."
With a little laugh and a shrug of her shoulders she proceeded to open
the envelope. It contained nothing but the sketch made upon the fly-leaf
of a novel. Christian was watching her face. She continued to smile as
she unfolded the paper. Then she suddenly became grave, and handed the
open sketch to him. At the foot was written:--
"Max Talma--look out! Avoid him as you would the devil!
"In haste, C.T."
Christian read it, laughed carelessly, and thrust the paper into his
pocket. "Trevetz writes in a good forcible style," he said, turning to
greet Molly, who came, singing, downstairs at this moment. For an
instant her merry eyes assumed a scrutinising, almost anxious look as
she caught sight of her sister and Christian standing together.
"Are you just down?" she asked carelessly.
"Yes," answered Christian, still holding her hand.
"I have just come down."
As usual the day's pleasure was all prearranged. A groom rode to the
station at Christian's request with a large envelope on which was
printed Mr. Bodery's name and address. This was to be given to the
guard, who would in his turn hand it to a special messenger at
Paddington, and the editor of the _Beacon_ would receive it by four
o'clock in the afternoon.
The day was fine, with a fresh breeze, and the programme of pleasure was
satisfactorily carried out. But with sunset the wind freshened into a
brisk gale, and heavy clouds rolled upwards from the western horizon.
This was the first suggestion of autumn, the first sigh of dying summer.
The lamps were lighted a few minutes earlier that night, and the family
assembled in the drawing-room soon after dark, although the windows were
left open for those who wished to pass in and out.
Mrs. Carew's grey head was, as usual, bent over some simple needlework,
while Molly sat near at hand. According to her wont she also was busy,
while around her the work lay strewed in picturesque disorder. Sidney
was reading in his own room--reading for a vague law examination which
always appeared to have been lately postponed till next October.
Christian was seated at the piano, playing by snatches and turning over
the brown leaves of some very old music, unearthed from a lumber-room by
Mrs. Carew for his benefit. He waited for no thanks or comment;
sometimes he read a few bars only, sometimes a page. He appeared to have
forgotten that he had an audience. Presently he rose, leaving the music
in disorder. Hilda had been called away some time before by an old
village woman requiring medicaments for unheard-of symptoms. Christian
looked slowly round the room, then raising his hand he dexterously
caught a huge moth which had flown past his face.
As he crossed the room towards the open window, with a view of
liberating the moth, a low whistle reached his ear. The refrain was that
of the familiar "retraite." Hilda had evidently gone out to the moat by
another door. Bowing his head, he passed between the muslin curtains and
disappeared in the darkness. The sound of his footsteps died away almost
immediately amidst the rustle of branch and leaf already crisp with
It was Stanley's bed-time. Mechanically, Molly kissed her brother,
continuing to work thoughtfully.
In a few minutes the door opened and Hilda entered the room. She came up
to the table, and standing there with her hands resting upon some pieces
of Molly's work, she gave a graphic description of the old woman's
complaints and maladies. She stood quite close to Molly, and told her
story to Mrs. Carew merrily, failing to notice that her sister had
ceased sewing, and was listening with a surprised look in her eyes. When
the symptoms had been detailed and laughed over, Hilda turned quietly
and passed out into the garden. With fearless familiarity she ran
lightly down the narrow pathway towards the moat, but no signal-whistle
greeted her. The leaves rustled and whispered overhead; the water lapped
and gurgled at her feet, but there was no sign or sound of life.
Silent and motionless she stood, a tall fair form clad in white, amidst
the universal, darkness. So silent and so still that it might have been
the shade of some fair maid of bygone years mourning the loss of her
true knight, who in all the circumstances of war had crossed that same
moat never to return.
Presently a sudden feeling of loneliness, a new sense of fear, came over
Hilda. All around was so forbidding. The water at her feet was so black
and mysterious. She gave a soft low whistle identical with that which
had called Christian out twenty minutes before, but it remained
unanswered, and through the rustling leaves she sped towards the house.
From the open window a glow of rosy light shone forth upon the flowers,
imparting to all alike a pallid pink, and dimly defining the grey
tree-trunks across the lawn. As Hilda stepped between the curtains, the
servants entered the drawing-room in solemn Indian file for evening
Mrs. Carew looked up from the Bible which lay open before her, and said
"Where is Christian?"
"I don't know, mother; he is not in the garden," answered the girl,
crossing the room to her own particular chair.
Sidney rose from his seat, and going to the window, sent his loud clear
whistle away into the night. His broad figure remained motionless for
some minutes, almost filling up the window; then he silently resumed his
Mrs. Carew smoothed down the silken book-marker, and began reading in a
low voice. It is to be feared that the Psalmist's words of joy were not
heard with understanding ears that night. A short prayer followed;
softly and melodiously Mrs. Carew asked for blessings upon the bowed
heads around her, and the servants left the room.
"Have you not seen Christian since you went to see Mrs. Sender, Hilda?"
asked Molly, at once.
"No," replied Hilda, arranging the music into something like order upon
"He went out about half an hour ago, in answer to your whistle."
Hilda turned her head as if about to reply hastily, but checked herself,
and resumed her task of setting the music in order.
"How could I whistle," she asked gently, "when I was in the kitchen
doling out medicated cotton-wool to Mrs. Sender?"
Molly looked puzzled.
"Did _you_ whistle, Sidney?" she asked.
"I--no; I was half-asleep over a law-book in my own room."
"I expect he has gone for a stroll, and forgotten the time," suggested
Mrs. Carew reassuringly, as she sat down to work again.
"But what about the whistle; are you sure you heard it, Molly?" asked
Hilda, speaking rather more quickly than was habitual with her. She
walked towards the window and drew aside the curtain, keeping her back
turned towards the room.
"Yes," answered Molly uneasily. "Yes--I heard it, and so did he, for he
went out at once."
Sidney stood awkwardly with his shoulder against the mantelpiece,
listening in a half-hearted way to his sisters' conversation. With a
heavy jerk he threw himself upright and slowly crossed the room. He
stood for some moments immediately behind Hilda without touching her.
Then he raised his hand and with gentle, almost caressing pressure round
her waist, he made her step aside so that he could pass out. He was a
singularly undemonstrative man, rarely giving way to what he considered
the weakness of a caress. Fortunately, however, for their own happiness,
his womenfolk understood him, and especially between himself and Hilda
there existed a peculiar unspoken sympathy.
In the ordinary way he would have mumbled--
On this occasion he touched her waist gently, and the caress almost
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