The Top of the World
Ethel M. Dell
Part 4 out of 8
a quivering grasp. There was something in that grasp that seemed
to plead for understanding. He flashed her a swift look from eyes
that burned with a fitful, feverish fire out of deep hollows. How
well she remembered his eyes! But they had never before looked at
her thus. With every moment that passed she realized that the
change in him was greater than that first glance had revealed.
"Of course I want to speak to you!" she said gently. "I forgave
you long ago--as, I hope, you have forgiven me."
"I!" he said. "My dear girl, be serious!"
Somehow his tone pierced her. There was an oddly husky quality in
his voice that seemed to veil emotion. The tears sprang to her
eyes before she was aware.
"Whatever happens then, we are friends," she said. "Remember that
always, won't you? It--it will hurt me very much if you don't."
"Bless your heart!" said Guy, and smiled a twisted smile. "You
were always generous, weren't you? Too generous sometimes. What
did you want to rake me out of my own particular little comer of
hell for? Was it a mistaken idea of kindness or merely curiosity?
I wasn't anyhow doing you any harm there."
His words, accompanied by that painful smile, went straight to her
heart. "Ah, don't--don't!" she said. "Did you think I could
forget you so easily, or be any thing but wretched while you were
He looked at her again, this time intently, "What can you be made
of, Sylvia?" he said. "Do you mean to say you found it easy to
She dashed the tears from her eyes. "I don't remember that I was
ever--angry with you," she said. "Somehow I realized--from the
very first--that--that--it was just--bad luck."
"You amaze me!" he said.
She smiled at him. "Do I? I don't quite see why. Is it so
amazing that one should want to pass on and make the best of
things? That is how I feel now. It seems so long ago, Guy,--like
another existence almost. It is too far away to count."
"Are you talking of the old days?" he broke in, in a voice that
grated. "Or of the time a few weeks ago when you got here to find
She made a little gesture of protest. "It wasn't for long. I
don't want to think of it. But it might have been much worse.
Burke was--is still--so good to me."
"Is he?" said Guy. He was looking at her curiously, and
instinctively she turned away, avoiding his eyes.
"Come and have some lunch!" she said. "He ought to be in directly."
"He is in," said Guy. "He went round to the stable."
It was another instance of Burke's goodness that he had not been
present at their meeting. She turned to lead the way within with a
warm feeling at her heart. It was solely due to this consideration
of his that she had not suffered the most miserable embarrassment.
Somehow she felt that she could not possibly have endured that
first encounter in his presence. But now that it was over, now
that she had made acquaintance with this new Guy--this stranger
with Guy's face, Guy's voice, but not Guy's laugh or any of the
sparkling vitality that had been his--she felt she wanted him. She
needed his help. For surely now he knew Guy better than she did!
It was with relief that she heard his step, entering from the back
of the house. He came in, whistling carelessly, and she glanced
instinctively at Guy. That sound had always made her think of him.
Had he forgotten how to whistle also, she wondered?
She expected awkwardness, constraint; but Burke surprised her by
his ease of manner. Above all, she noticed that he was by no means
kind to Guy. He treated him with a curt friendliness from which
all trace of patronage was wholly absent. His attitude was rather
that of brother than host, she reflected. And its effect upon Guy
was of an oddly bracing nature. The semi-defiant air dropped from
him. Though still subdued, his manner showed no embarrassment. He
even, as time passed, became in a sardonic fashion almost jocose.
In company with Burke, he drank lager-beer, and he betrayed not the
smallest desire to drink too much. Furtively she watched him
throughout the meal, trying to adjust her impressions, trying to
realize him as the lover to whom she had been faithful for so long,
the lover who had written those always tender, though quite
uncommunicative letters, the lover, who had cabled her his welcome,
and then had so completely and so cruelly failed her.
Her ideas of him were a whirl of conflicting notions which utterly
bewildered her. Of one thing only did she become very swiftly and
surely convinced, and that was that in failing her he had saved her
from a catastrophe which must have eclipsed her whole life.
Whatever he was, whatever her feelings for him, she recognized that
this man was not the mate her girlish dreams had so fondly
pictured. Probably she would have realized this in any case from
the moment of their meeting, but circumstances might have compelled
her to join her life to his. And then------
Her look passed from him to Burke, and instinctively she breathed a
sigh of thankfulness. He had saved her from much already, and his
rock-like strength stood perpetually between her and evil. For the
first time she was consciously glad that she had entrusted herself
At the end of luncheon she realized with surprise that there had
not been an awkward moment. They went out on to the _stoep_ to
smoke cigarettes when it was over, and drink the coffee which she
went to prepare. It was when she was coming out with this that she
first heard Guy's cough--a most terrible, rending sound that filled
her with dismay. Stepping out on to the _stoep_ with her tray, she
saw him bent over the back of a chair, convulsed with coughing, and
stood still in alarm. She had never before witnessed so painful a
struggle. It was as if he fought some demon whose clutch
threatened to strangle him.
Burke came to her and took the tray from her hands. "He'll be
better directly," he said. "It was the cigarette."
With almost superhuman effort, Guy succeeded in forcing back the
monster that seemed to be choking him, but for several minutes
thereafter he hung over the chair with his face hidden, fighting
Burke motioned to Sylvia to sit down, but she would not. She stood
by Guy's side, and at length as he grew calmer, laid a gentle hand
upon his arm.
"Come and sit down, Guy. Would you like some water?"
He shook his head. "No--no! Give me--that damned cigarette!"
"Don't you be a fool!" said Burke, but he said it kindly. "Sit
down and be quiet for a bit!"
He came up behind Guy, and took him by the shoulders. Sylvia saw
with surprise the young man yield without demur, and suffer himself
to be put into the chair where with an ashen face he lay for a
space as if afraid to move.
Burke drew her aside. "Don't be scared!" he said, "It's nothing
new. He'll come round directly."
Guy came round, sat slowly up, and reached a shaking hand towards
the table on which lay his scarcely lighted cigarette.
"Oh, don't!" Sylvia said quickly. "See, I have just brought out
some coffee. Won't you have some?"
Burke settled the matter by picking up the cigarette and tossing it
Guy gave him a queer look from eyes that seemed to bum like red
coals, but he said nothing whatever. He took the coffee Sylvia
held out to him and drank it as if parched with thirst.
Then he turned to her. "Sorry to have made such an exhibition of
myself. It's all this infernal sand. Yes, I'll have some more,
please. It does me good. Then I'll get back to my own den and
have a sleep."
"You can sleep here," Burke said unexpectedly. "No one will
disturb you. Sylvia never sits here in the afternoon."
Again Sylvia saw that strange look in Guy's eyes, a swift intent
glance and then the instant falling of the lids.
"You're very--kind," said Guy. "But I think I'll get back to my
own quarters all the same."
Impulsively Sylvia intervened. "Oh, Guy, please,--don't go back to
that horrible little shanty on the sand! I got a room all ready
for you yesterday--if you will only use it."
He turned to her. For a second his look was upon her also, and it
seemed to her in that moment that she and Burke had united cruelly
to bait some desperate animal. It sent such a shock through her
that she shrank in spite of herself.
And then for the first time she heard Guy laugh, and it was a sound
more dreadful than his cough had been, a catching, painful sound
that was more like a cry--the hunger-cry of a prowling beast of the
He got up as he uttered it, and stretched his arms above his head.
She saw that his hands were clenched.
"Oh, don't overdo it, I say!" he begged. "Hospitality is all very
well, but it can be carried too far. Ask Burke if it can't!
Besides, two's company and three's the deuce. So I'll be
going--and many thanks!"
He was gone with the words, snatching his hat from a chair where he
had thrown it, and departing into the glare of the desert with
never a backward glance.
Sylvia turned swiftly to her husband, and found his eyes upon her.
"With a gasping cry she caught his arm. Oh, can't you go after
him? Can't you bring him back?"
He freed the arm to put it round her, with the gesture of one who
comforts a hurt child. "My dear, it's no good," he said. "Let him
"But, Burke--" she cried. "Oh, Burke----"
"I know," he made answer, still soothing her. "But it can't be
done--anyhow at present. You'll drive him away if you attempt it.
I know. I've done it. Leave him alone till the devil has gone out
of him! He'll come back then--and be decent--for a time."
His meaning was unmistakable. The force of what he said drove in
upon her irresistibly. She burst into tears, hiding her face
against his shoulder in her distress.
"But how dreadful! Oh, how dreadful! He is killing himself. I
think--the Guy--I knew--is dead already."
"No, he isn't," Burke said, and he held her with sudden closeness
as he said it. "He isn't--and that's the hell of it. But you
can't save him. No one can."
She lifted her face sharply. There was something intolerable in
the words. With the tears upon her cheeks she challenged them.
"He can be saved! He must be saved! I'll do it somehow--somehow!"
"You may try," Burke said, as he suffered her to release herself.
"You won't succeed."
She forced a difficult smile with quivering lips. "You don't know
me. Where there's a will, there's a way. And I shall find it
He looked grim for an instant, then smiled an answering smile.
"Don't perish in the attempt!" he said. "That do-or-die look of
yours is rather ominous. Don't forget you're my partner! I can't
spare you, you know."
She uttered a shaky laugh. "Of course you can't. Blue Hill Farm
would go to pieces without me, wouldn't it? I've often thought I'm
"You are to me," said Burke briefly; and ere the quick colour had
sprung to her face, he also had gone his way.
Sylvia meant to ride round to Guy's hut in search of him that
evening, but when the time came something held her back.
Burke's words, "You'll drive him away," recurred to her again and
again, and with them came a dread of intruding that finally
prevailed against her original intention. He must not think for a
moment that she desired to spy upon him, even though that dreadful
craving in his eyes haunted her perpetually, urging her to action.
It seemed inevitable that for a time at least he must fight his
devil alone, and with all her strength she prayed that he might
In the end she rode out with Burke, covering a considerable
distance, and returning tired in body but refreshed in mind.
They had supper together as usual, but when it was over he
surprised her by taking up his hat again.
"You are going out?" she said.
"I'm going to have a smoke with Guy," he said. "You have a game of
Patience, and then go to bed!"
She looked at him uncertainly. "I'll come with you," she said.
He was filling his pipe preparatory to departure. "You do as I
say!" he said.
She tried to laugh though she saw his face was grim. "You're
getting rather despotic, partner. I shall have to nip that in the
bud. I'm not going to stay at home and play Patience all by
He raised his eyes abruptly from his task, and suddenly her heart
was beating fast and hard. "All right," he said. "We'll stay at
His tone was brief, but it thrilled her. She was afraid to speak
for a moment or two lest he should see her strange agitation.
Then, as he still looked at her, "Oh no, partner," she said
lightly. "That wouldn't be the same thing at all. I am much too
fond of my own company to object to solitude. I only thought I
would like to come, too. I love the _veldt_ at night."
"Do you?" he said. "I wonder what has taught you to do that."
He went on with the filling of his pipe as he spoke, and she was
conscious of quick relief. His words did not seem to ask for an
answer, and she made none.
"When are you going to take me to Ritzen?" she asked instead.
"To Ritzen!" He glanced up again in surprise. "Do you want to go
"Or Brennerstadt," she said, "Whichever is the best shopping
"Oh!" He began to smile. "You want to shop, do you? What do you
want to buy?"
She looked at him severely. "Nothing for myself, I am glad to say."
"What! Something for me?" His smile gave him that look--that
boyish look--which once she had loved so dearly upon Guy's face.
She felt as if something were pulling at her heart. She ignored it
"You will have to buy it for yourself," she told him sternly.
"I've got nothing to buy it with. It's something you ought to have
got long ago--if you had any sense of decency."
"What on earth is it?" Burke dropped his pipe into his pocket and
gave her his full attention.
Sylvia, with a cigarette between her lips, got up to find the
matches. She lighted it very deliberately under his watching eyes,
then held out the match to him. "Light up, and I'll tell you."
He took the slender wrist, blew out the match, and held her, facing
"Sylvia," he said. "I ought to have gone into the money question
with you before. But all I have is yours. You know that, don't
She laughed at him through the smoke. "I know where you keep it
anyhow, partner," she said. "But I shan't take any--so you needn't
"Afraid!" he said, still holding her. "But you are to take it.
Understand? It's my wish."
She blew the smoke at him, delicately, through pursed lips. "Good
my lord, I don't want it. Couldn't spend it if I had it. So now!"
"Then what is it I am to buy?" he said.
Lightly she answered him. "Oh, you will only do the paying part.
I shall do the choosing--and the bargaining, if necessary."
"Well, what is it?" Still he held her, and there was something of
insistence, something of possession, in his hold.
Possibly she had never before seemed more desirable to him--or more
elusive. For she was beginning to realize and to wield her power.
Again she took a whiff from her cigarette, and wafted it at him
through laughing lips.
"I want some wool--good wool--and a lot of it, to knit some
socks--for you. Your present things are disgraceful."
His look changed a little. His eyes shone through the veil of
smoke she threw between them, "I can buy ready-made socks. I'm not
going to let you make them--or mend them."
Sylvia's red lips expressed scorn. "Ready-made rubbish! No, sir.
With your permission I prefer to make. Then perhaps I shall have
less mending to do."
He was drawing her to him and she did not actively resist, though
there was no surrender in her attitude.
"And why won't you have any money?" he said. "We are partners."
She laughed lightly. "And you give me board and lodging. I am not
He looked her in the eyes. "Are you afraid to take too much--lest
I should want too much in return?"
She did not answer. She was trembling a little in his hold, but
her eyes met his fearlessly.
He put up a hand and took the cigarette very gently from her lips.
"Sylvia, I'm going to tell you something--if you'll listen."
He paused a moment. She was suddenly throbbing from head to foot.
"What is it?" she whispered.
He snuffed out the cigarette with his fingers and put it in his
pocket. Then he bent to her, his hand upon her shoulder.
His lips were open to speak, and her silence waited for the words,
when like the sudden rending of the heavens there came an awful
sound close to them, so close that is shook the windows in their
frames and even seemed to shake the earth under their feet.
Sylvia started back with a cry, her hands over her face. "Oh,
what--what--what is that?"
Burke was at the window in a second. He wrenched it open, and as
he did so there came the shock of a thudding fall. A man's
figure, huddled up like an empty sack lay across the threshold. It
sank inwards with the opening of the window, and Guy's face white
as death, with staring, senseless eyes, lay upturned to the
Something jingled on the floor as his inert form collapsed, and a
smoking revolver dropped at Burke's feet.
He picked it up sharply, uncocked it and laid it on the table.
Then he stooped over the prostrate body. The limbs were twitching
spasmodically, but the movement was wholly involuntary. The
deathlike face testified to that. And through the grey flannel
shirt above the heart a dark stain spread and spread.
"He is dead!" gasped Sylvia at Burke's shoulder.
"No," Burke said.
He opened the shirt with the words and exposed the wound beneath.
Sylvia shrank at the sight of the welling blood, but Burke's voice
"Get some handkerchiefs and towels," he said, "and make a wad! We
must stop this somehow."
His quietness gave her strength. Swiftly she moved to do his
Returning, she found that he had stretched the silent figure full
length upon the floor. The convulsive movements had wholly ceased.
Guy lay like a dead man.
She knelt beside Burke. "Tell me what to do and I'll do it! I'll
"All right," he said. "Get some cold water!"
She brought it, and he soaked some handkerchiefs and covered the
"I think we shall stop it," he said. "Help me to get this thing
under his shoulders! I shall have to tie him up tight. I'll lift
him while you get it underneath."
She was perfectly steady as she followed his instructions, and even
though in the process her hands were stained with Guy's blood, she
did not shrink again. It was no easy task, but Burke's skill and
strength of muscle accomplished it at last. Across Guy's body he
looked at her with a certain grim triumph.
"Well played, partner! That's the first move. Are you all right?"
She saw by his eyes that her face betrayed the horror at her heart.
She tried to smile at him, but her lips felt stiff and cold. Her
look went back to the ashen face on the floor.
"What--what must be done next?" she said.
"He will have to stay as he is till we can get a doctor," Burke
answered. "The bleeding has stopped for the present, but--" He
"Child, how sick you look!" he said. "Here, come and wash!
There's nothing more to be done now."
She got up, feeling her knees bend beneath her but controlling them
with rigid effort. "I--am all right," she said. "You--you think
he isn't dead?"
Burke's hand closed upon her elbow. "He's not dead,--no! He may
die of course, but I don't fancy he will at present,--not while he
lies like that."
He was drawing her out of the room, but she resisted him suddenly.
"I can't go. I can't leave him--while he lives. Burke, don't,
please, bother about me! Are you--are you going to fetch a doctor?"
"Yes," said Burke.
She looked at him, her eyes wide and piteous. "Then please go
now--go quickly! I--will stay with him till you come back."
"I shall have to leave you for some hours," he said.
"Oh, never mind that!" she answered, "Just be as quick as you can,
that's all! I will be with him. I--shan't be afraid."
She was urging him to the door, but he turned back. He went to the
table, picked up the revolver he had laid there, and put it away in
a cupboard which he locked.
She marked the action, and as he came to her again, laid a
trembling hand upon his arm. "Burke! Could it--could it have been
"No. It couldn't," said Burke. He paused a moment, looking at her
in a way she did not understand. She wondered afterwards what had
been passing in his mind. But he said no further word except a
Ten minutes later, she heard the quick thud of his horse's hoofs as
he rode into the night.
Was it a voice that spoke in the overwhelming silence, or was it
the echo in her soul of a voice that would never speak again?
Sylvia could not decide. She had sat for so long, propped against
a chair, watching that still figure on the floor, straining her
senses to see or hear some sign of breathing, trying to cheat
herself into the belief that he slept, and then with a wrung heart
wondering if he were not better dead.
All memory of the bitterness and the cruel disappointment that he
had brought into her life had rolled away from her during those
still hours of watching. She did not think of herself at all; only
of Guy, once so eager and full of sparkling hope, now so tragically
fallen in the race of life. All her woman's tenderness was awake
and throbbing with a passionate pity for this lover of her youth.
Why, oh why had he done this thing? The horror of it oppressed her
like a crushing, physical weight. Was it for this that she had
persuaded Burke to rescue him from the depths to which he had sunk?
Had she by her rash interference only precipitated his final
doom--she who had suffered so deeply for his sake, who had yearned
so ardently to bring him back?
Burke had been against it from the beginning; Burke knew to his
cost the hopelessness of it all. Ah, would it have been better if
she had listened to him and refrained from attempting the
impossible? Would it not have been preferable to accept failure
rather than court disaster? What had she done? What had she done?
Surely the old Guy was speaking to her! Those pallid lips could
make no sound; the new, strange Guy was dead.
As in a dream, she answered him through the silence, feeling as if
she spoke into the shadows of the Unknown.
"Yes, Guy? Yes? I am here."
"Will you--forgive me," he said, "for making--a boss shot!"
Then she turned to the prostrate form beside her on the floor, and
saw that the light of understanding had come back into those
She knelt over him and laid her hand upon his rough hair. "Oh,
Guy, hush--hush!" she said. "Thank God you are still here!"
A very strange expression flitted over his upturned face, a look
that was indescribably boyish and yet so sad that she caught her
breath to still the intolerable pain at her heart.
"I shan't be--long." he said. "Thank God for that--too! I've
been--working myself up to it--all day."
"Guy!" she said.
He made a slight movement of one hand, and she gathered it close
into her own. It seemed to her that the Shadow of Death had drawn
very near to them, enveloping them both.
"It had--to be," he said, in the husky halting voice so unfamiliar
to her. "It--was a mistake--to try to bring me back.
I'm--beyond--redemption. Ask Burke;--he knows!"
"You are not--you are not!" she told him vehemently. "Guy!" She
was holding his hand hard pressed against her heart; her words came
with a rush of pitying tenderness that swept over every barrier.
"Guy! I want you! You must stay. If you go now--you--you will
break my heart."
His eyes kindled a little at her words, but in a moment the emotion
passed. "It's too late, my dear;--too late," he said and turned
his head on the pillow under it as if seeking rest. "You
don't--understand. Just as well for me perhaps. But I'm better
gone--for your sake, better gone."
The conviction of his words went through her like a sword-thrust.
He seemed to have passed beyond her influence, almost, she fancied,
not to care. Yet why did the look in his eyes make her think of a
lost child--frightened, groping along an unknown road in the dark?
Why did his hand cling to hers as though it feared to let go?
She held it very tightly as she made reply. "But, Guy, it isn't
for us to choose. It isn't for us to discharge ourselves. Only
God knows when our work is done."
He groaned. "I've given all mine to the devil. God couldn't use
me if He tried."
"You don't know," she said. "You don't know. We're none of us
saints, I think He makes allowances--when things go wrong with
us--just as--just as we make allowances for each other."
He groaned again. "You would make allowances for the devil
himself," he muttered. "It's the way you're made. But it isn't
justice. Burke would tell you that."
An odd little tremor of impatience went through her. "I know you
better than Burke does," she said. "Better, probably--than anyone
else in the world."
He turned his head to and fro upon the pillow. "You don't know me,
Sylvia. You don't know me--at all."
Yet the husky utterance seemed to plead with her as though he
longed for her to understand.
She stooped lower over him. "Never mind, dear! I love you all the
same," she said. "And that's why I can't bear you--to go--like
this." Her voice shook unexpectedly. She paused to steady it.
"Guy," she urged, almost under her breath at length, "you will
live--you will try to live--for my sake?"
Again his eyes were upon her. Again, more strongly, the flame
kindled. Then, very suddenly, a hard shudder went through him, and
a dreadful shadow arose and quenched that vital gleam. For a few
moments consciousness itself seemed to be submerged in the most
awful suffering that Sylvia had ever beheld. His eyeballs rolled
upwards under lids that twitched convulsively. The hand she held
closed in an agonized grip upon her own. She thought that he was
dying, and braced herself instinctively to witness the last
terrible struggle, the rending asunder of soul and body.
Then--as one upon the edge of an abyss--he spoke, his voice no more
than a croaking whisper.
"It's hell for me--either way. Living or dead--hell!"
The paroxysm spent itself and passed like an evil spirit. The
struggle for which she had prepared herself did not come. Instead,
the flickering lids closed over the tortured eyes, the clutching
hand relaxed, and there fell a great silence.
She sat for a long time not daring to move, scarcely breathing,
wondering if this were the end. Then gradually it came to her,
that he was lying in the stillness of utter exhaustion. She felt
for his pulse and found it beating, weakly but unmistakably. He
had sunk into a sleep which she realized might be the means of
saving his life.
Thereafter she sat passive, leaning against a chair, waiting,
watching, as she had waited and watched for so long. Once she
leaned her head upon her hand and prayed "O dear God, let him
live!" But something--some inner voice--seemed to check that
prayer, and though her whole soul yearned for its fulfilment she
did not repeat it. Only, after a little, she stooped very low, and
touched Guy's forehead with her lips.
"God bless you!" she said softly. "God bless you!"
And in the silence that followed, she thought there was a
THE DESIRE TO LIVE
In the last still hour before the dawn there came the tread of
horses' feet outside the bungalow and the sound of men's voices.
Sylvia looked up as one emerging from a long, long dream, though
she had not closed her eyes all night. The lamp was burning low,
and Guy's face was in deep shadow; but she knew by the hand that
she still held close between her own that he yet lived. She even
fancied that the throb of his pulse was a little stronger.
She looked at Burke with questioning, uncertain eyes as he entered.
In the dim light he seemed to her bigger, more imposing, more
dominant, than he had ever seemed before. He rolled a little as he
walked as if stiff from long hours in the saddle.
Behind him came another man--a small thin man with sleek black hair
and a swarthy Jewish face, who moved with a catlike deftness,
making no sound at all.
"Well, Sylvia?" Burke said. "Is he alive?"
He took the lamp from the table, and cast its waning light full
upon her. She shrank a little involuntarily from the sudden glare.
Almost without knowing it, she pressed Guy's inert hand to her
breast. The dream was still upon her. It was hardly of her own
volition that she answered him.
"Yes, he is alive. He has been speaking. I think he is asleep."
"Permit me!" the stranger said.
He knelt beside the still form while Burke held the lamp. He
opened the shirt and exposed the blood-soaked bandage.
Then suddenly he looked at Sylvia with black eyes of a most amazing
brightness. "Madam, you cannot help here. You had better go."
Somehow he made her think of a raven, unscrupulous, probably wholly
without pity, possibly wicked, and overwhelmingly intelligent. She
avoided his eyes instinctively. They seemed to know too much.
"Will he--do you think he win--live?" she whispered.
He made a gesture of the hands that seemed to indicate infinite
possibilities. "I do not think at present. But I must be
undisturbed. Go to your room, madam, and rest! Your husband will
come to you later and tell you what I have done--or failed to do."
He spoke with absolute fluency but with a foreign accent. His
hands were busy with the bandages, dexterous, clawlike hands that
looked as if they were delving for treasure.
She watched him, speechless and fascinated, for a few seconds.
Then Burke set the lamp upon the chair against which she had leaned
all the night, and bent down to her.
"Let me help you!" he said.
A shuddering horror of the sight before her came upon her. She
yielded herself to him in silence. She was shivering violently
from head to foot. Her limbs were so numb she could not stand. He
raised her and drew her away.
The next thing she knew was that she was sitting on the bed in her
own room, and he was making her drink brandy and water in so
burning a mixture that it stung her throat.
She tried to protest, but he would take no refusal till she had
swallowed what he had poured out. Then he put down the glass,
tucked her feet up on the bed with an air of mastery, and spread a
rug over her.
He would have left her then with a brief injunction to remain where
she was, but she caught and held his arm so that he was obliged to
"Burke, is that dreadful man a doctor?"
"The only one I could get hold of," said Burke. "Yes, he's a
doctor all right. Saul Kieff his name is. I admit he's a
scoundrel, but anyway he's keen on his job."
"You think he'll save Guy?" she said tremulously. "Oh, Burke, he
must be saved! He must be saved!"
An odd look came into Burke's eyes. She remembered it later,
though it was gone in an instant like the sudden flare of lightning
across a dark sky.
"We shall do our best," he said. "You stay here till I come back!"
She let him go. Somehow that look had given her a curious shock
though she did not understand it. She heard the door shut firmly
behind him, and she huddled herself down upon the pillow and lay
She wished he had not made her drink that fiery draught. All her
senses were in a tumult, and yet her body felt as if weighted with
lead. She lay listening tensely for every sound, but the silence
was like a blanket wrapped around her--a blanket which nothing
seemed to penetrate.
It seemed to overwhelm her at last, that silence, to blot out the
clamour of her straining nerves, to deprive her of the power to
think. Though she did not know it, the stress of that night's
horror and vigil had worn her out. She sank at length into a deep
sleep from which it seemed that nought could wake her. And when
more than an hour later, Burke came, treading softly, and looked
upon her, he did not need to keep that burning hunger-light out of
his eyes. For she was wholly unconscious of him as though her
spirit were in another world.
He looked and looked with a gaze that seemed as if it would consume
her. And at last he leaned over her, with arms outspread, and
touched her sunny, disordered hair with his lips. It was the
lightest touch, far too light to awaken her. But, as if some happy
thought had filtered down through the deeps of her repose, she
stirred in her sleep. She turned her face up to him with the faint
smile of a slumbering child.
"Good night!" she murmured drowsily.
Her eyes half-opened upon him. She gave him her lips.
And as he stooped, with a great tremor, to kiss them, "Good night,
dear--Guy!" Her voice was fainter, more indistinct. She sank back
again into that deep slumber from which she had barely been roused.
And Burke went from her with the flower-like memory of her kiss
upon his lips, and the dryness of ashes in his mouth.
It was several hours later that Sylvia awoke to full consciousness
and a piercing realization of a strange presence that watched by
She opened her eyes wide with a curious conviction that there was a
cat in the room, and then all in a moment she met the cool,
repellent stare of the black-browed doctor whom Burke had brought
A little quiver of repugnance went through her at the sight,
swiftly followed by a sharp thrill of indignation. What was he
doing seated there by her side--this swarthy-faced stranger whom
she had disliked instinctively at first sight?
And then--suddenly it rushed through her mind that he was the
bearer of evil tidings, that he had come to tell her that Guy was
dead. She raised herself sharply.
"Oh, what is it? What is it?" she gasped. "Tell me quickly! It's
better for me to know. It's better for me to know."
He put out a narrow, claw-like hand and laid it upon her arm. His
eyes were like onyxes, Oriental, quite emotionless.
"Do not agitate yourself, madam!" he said. "My patient is better.
I think, that with care--he may live. That is, if he finds it
"What do you mean?" she said in a whisper.
That there was a veiled meaning to his words she was assured at the
outset. His whole bearing conveyed something mysterious, something
sinister, to her startled imagination. She wanted to shake off the
hand upon her arm, but she had to suffer it though the man's bare
touch revolted her.
He was leaning slightly towards her, but yet his face was utterly
inanimate. It was obvious that though he had imposed his
personality upon her with a definite end in view, he was personally
totally indifferent as to whether he achieved that end or not.
"I mean," he said, after a quiet pause, "that the desire to live is
sometimes the only medicine that is of any avail. I know Guy
Ranger. He is a fool in many ways, but not in all. He is not for
instance fool enough to hang on to life if it holds nothing worth
having. He was born with an immense love of life. He would not
have done this thing if he had not somehow lost this gift--for it
is a gift. If he does not get it back--somehow--then," the black,
stony eyes looked into hers without emotion--"he will die."
She shrank at the cold deliberation of his words. "Oh no--no! Not
like this! Not--by his own hand!"
"Ah!" He leaned towards her, bringing his sallow, impassive
countenance close to hers, repulsively close, to her over-acute
sensibilities. "And how is that to be prevented? Who is to give
him that priceless remedy--the only medicine that can save him?
Can I?" He lifted his shoulders expressively, indicating his own
helplessness. And then in a voice dropped to a whisper, "Can you?"
She did not answer him. There was something horrible to her in
that low-spoken question, something that yet possessed for her a
species of evil fascination that restrained her from open revolt.
He waited for a while, his eyes so immovably fixed upon hers that
she had a mild wonder if they were lidless--as the eyes of a
Then at last, through grim pale lips that did not seem to move, he
spoke again. "Madam, it lies with you whether Guy Ranger lives or
dies. You can open to him the earthly paradise or you can hurl him
back to hell. I have only Drought him a little way. I cannot keep
him. Even now, he is slipping--he is slipping from my hold. It is
you, and you alone, who can save him. How do I know this thing?
How do I know that the sun rises in the east? I--have--seen. It
is you who have taken from him the desire to live--perhaps
unintentionally; that I do not know. It is you--and you alone--who
can restore it. Need I say more than this to open your eyes?
Perhaps they are already open. Perhaps already your heart has been
in communion with his. If so, then you know that I have told you
the truth. If you really desire to save him--and I think you
do--then everything else in life must go to that end. Women were
made for sacrifice, they say." A sardonic flicker that was
scarcely a smile touched his face. "Well, that is the only way of
saving him. If you fail him, he will go under."
He got up with the words. He had evidently said his say. As his
hand left hers, Sylvia drew a deep hard breath, as of one emerging
from a suffocating atmosphere. She had never felt so oppressed, so
fettered, with evil in the whole of her life. And yet he had not
urged her to any line of action. He had merely somewhat baldly,
wholly dispassionately, told her the truth, and the very absence of
emotion with which he had spoken had driven conviction to her soul.
She saw him go with relief, but his words remained like a stone at
the bottom of her heart.
When Sylvia went to Guy a little later, she found him installed in
Burke's room. Burke himself was out on the farm, but it was past
the usual hour for luncheon, and she knew he would be returning
Kieff rose up noiselessly from the bedside at her entrance, and she
saw that Guy was asleep. She was conscious of a surging,
passionate longing to be alone with him as she crept forward. The
silent presence of this stranger had a curious, nauseating effect
upon her. She suppressed a shudder as she passed him.
He stood behind her in utter immobility as she bent over the bed.
Guy was lying very still, but though he was pale, the deathly look
had gone from his face. He looked unutterably tired, but very
Lying so, with all the painful lines of his face relaxed, she saw
the likeness of his boyhood very clearly on his quiet features, and
her heart gave a quick hard throb within her that sent the hot
tears to her eyes. The sight of him grew blurred and dim. She
just touched his black hair with trembling fingers as she fought
back a sob.
And then quite suddenly his eyes were open, looking at her. The
pupils were enormously enlarged, giving him an unfamiliar look.
But at sight of her, a quick smile flashed across his face--his old
glad smile of welcome, and she knew him again. "Hullo--darling!"
She could not speak in answer. She could only lay her hand over
his and hold it fast.
He went on, his speech rapid, slightly incoherent. Guy had been
like that, she remembered, in moments of any excitement or stress.
"I've had a beastly bad dream, sweetheart. Thought I'd lost
you--somehow I was messing about in a filthy fog, and there were
beastly precipices about. And you--you were calling
somewhere--telling me not to forget something. What was it? I'm
dashed if I can remember now."
"It--doesn't matter," she managed to say, though her voice was
He opened his eyes a little wider. "Are you crying, I say? What's
the matter? What, darling? You're not crying for me? Eh? I
shall get over it. I always come up again. Ask Kelly! Ask Kieff!"
"Yes, you always come up again," Kieff said, in his brief,
Guy threw him a look that was a curious blend of respect and
disgust. "Hullo, Lucifer!" he said. "What are you doing here?
Come to show us the quickest way to hell? He's an authority on
that, Sylvia. He knows all the shortest cuts."
He broke off with a sudden hard breath, and Sylvia saw again that
awful shadow gather in his eyes. She made way for Kieff, though
not consciously at his behest, and there followed a dreadful
struggling upon which she could not look. Kieff spoke once or
twice briefly, authoritatively, and was answered by a sound more
anguished than any words. Then at the end of several unspeakable
seconds she heard Burke's footstep outside the door. She turned to
him as he entered, with a thankfulness beyond all expression.
"Oh, Burke, he is suffering--so terribly. Do see if you can help!"
He passed her swiftly and went to the other side of the bed.
Somehow his presence braced her. She looked again upon Guy in his
He was propped against Kieff's shoulder, his face quite livid, his
eyes roaming wildly round the room, till suddenly they found and
rested upon her own. All her life Sylvia was to remember the
appeal those eyes held for her. It was as if his soul were crying
aloud to her for freedom.
She came to the foot of the bed. The anguish had entered into her
also, and it was more than she could bear.
She turned from Burke to Kieff. "Oh, do anything--anything--to
help him!" she implored him. "Don't let him suffer--like this!"
Kieff's hand went to his pocket. "There is only one thing," he
Burke, his arm behind Guy's convulsed body, made an abrupt gesture
with his free hand. "Wait! He'll come through it. He did before."
And still those tortured eyes besought Sylvia, urged her, entreated
She left the foot of the bed, and went to Kieff. Her lips felt
stiff and numb, but she forced them to speak.
"If you have anything that will help him, give it to him now!
Don't wait! Don't wait!"
Kieff the impassive, nodded briefly, and took his hand from his
"Wait! He is better," Burke said.
But, "Don't wait! Don't wait!" whispered Sylvia. "Don't let him
Kieff held out to her a small leather case. "Open it!" he said.
She obeyed him though her hands were trembling. She took out the
needle and syringe it contained.
Burke said no more. Perhaps he realized that the cause was already
lost. And so he looked on in utter silence while Sylvia and Kieff
between them administered the only thing that could ease the awful
suffering that seemed greater than flesh and blood could bear.
It took effect with marvellous quickness--that remedy of Kieff's.
It was, to Sylvia's imagination, like the casting forth of a demon.
Guy's burning eyes ceased to implore her. He strained no longer in
the cruel grip. His whole frame relaxed, and he even smiled at her
as they laid him back against the pillows.
"That's better," he said.
"Thank God!" Sylvia whispered.
His eyes were drooping heavily. He tried to keep them open. "Hold
my hand!" he murmured to her.
She sat on the edge of the bed, and took it between her own.
His finger pressed hers. "That's good, darling. Now I'm happy.
Wish we--could go on like this--always. Don't you?"
"No," she whispered back. "I want you well again."
"Ah!" His eyes were closing; he opened them again. "You mean
that, sweetheart? You really want me?"
"Of course I do," she said.
Guy was still smiling but there was pathos in his smile. "Ah, that
makes a difference," he said, "--all the difference. That means
you've quite forgiven me. Quite, Sylvia?"
"Quite," she answered, and she spoke straight from her heart. She
had forgotten Burke, forgotten Kieff, forgotten everyone in that
moment save Guy, the dear lover of her youth.
And he too was looking at her with eyes that saw her alone. "Kiss
me, little sweetheart!" he said softly. "And then I'll know--for
It was boyishly spoken, and she could not refuse. She had no
thought of refusing.
As in the old days when they had been young together, her heart
responded to the call of his. She leaned down to him instantly and
very lovingly, and kissed him.
"Sure you want me?" whispered Guy.
"God knows I do," she answered him very earnestly.
He smiled at her and closed his eyes. "Good night!" he murmured.
"Good night, dear!" she whispered back.
And then in the silence that followed she knew that he fell asleep.
Someone touched her shoulder, and she looked up. Burke was
standing by her side.
"You can leave him now," he said. "He won't wake."
He spoke very quietly, but she thought his face was stern. A faint
throb of misgiving went through her. She slipped her hand free and
She saw that Kieff had already gone, and for a moment she
hesitated. But Burke took her steadily by the arm, and led her
from the room.
"He won't wake," he reiterated. "You must have something to eat,"
They entered the sitting-room, and she saw with relief that Kieff
was not there either. The table was spread for luncheon, and Burke
led her to it.
"Sit down!" he said. "Never mind about Kieff! He can look after
She sat down in silence. Somehow she felt out of touch with Burke
at that moment. Her long vigil beside Guy seemed in some
inexplicable fashion to have cut her off from him. Or was it those
strange words that Kieff had uttered and which even yet were
running in her brain? Whatever it was, it prevented all intimacy
between them. They might have been chance-met strangers sitting at
the same board. He waited upon her as if he were thinking of other
Her own thoughts were with Guy alone. She ate mechanically, half
unconsciously watching the door, her ears strained to catch any
"He will probably sleep for hours," Burke said, breaking the
She looked at him with a start. She had almost forgotten his
presence. She met his eyes and felt for a few seconds oddly
disconcerted. It was with an effort she spoke in answer.
"I hope he will. That suffering is so terrible."
"It's bad enough," said Burke. "But the morphia habit is worse.
She drew a sharp breath. She felt almost as if he had struck her
over the heart. "Oh, but surely--" she said--"surely--having it
just once--like that----"
"Do you think he is the sort of man to be satisfied with just once
of anything?" said Burke.
The question did not demand an answer, she made none. With an
effort she controlled her distress and changed the subject.
"How long will Dr. Kieff stay?"
Burke's eyes were upon her again. She wished he would not look at
her so intently. "He will probably see him through," he said.
"How long that will take it is impossible to say. Not long, I
"You don't like him?" she ventured.
"Personally," said Burke, "I detest him. He is not out here in his
professional capacity. In fact I have a notion that he was kicked
out of that some years ago. But that doesn't prevent him being a
very clever surgeon. He likes a job of this kind."
Sylvia caught at the words. "Then he ought to succeed," she said.
"Surely he will succeed!"
"I think you may trust him to do his best," Burke said.
They spoke but little during the rest of the meal. There seemed to
be nothing to say. In some curious fashion Sylvia felt paralyzed.
She could not turn her thought in any but the one direction, and
she knew subtly but quite unmistakably that in this they were not
in sympathy. It was a relief to her when Burke rose from the
table. She was longing to get back to Guy. She had an almost
overwhelming desire to be alone with him, even though he lay
unconscious of her. They had known each other so long ago, before
she had come to this land of strangers. Was it altogether
unnatural that meeting thus again the old link should have been
forged anew? And his need of her was so great--infinitely greater
now than it had ever been before.
She lingered a few moments to set the table in order for Kieff;
then turned to go to him, and was surprised to find Burke still
standing by the door.
She looked at him questioningly, and as if in answer he laid his
hand upon her shoulder, detaining her. He did not speak
immediately, and she had a curious idea that he was embarrassed.
"What is it, partner?" she said, withdrawing her thoughts from Guy
with a conscious effort.
He bent slightly towards her. His hold upon her was not wholly
steady. It was as if some hidden force vibrated strongly within
him, making itself felt to his very finger-tips. Yet his face was
perfectly composed, even grim, as he said, "There is one thing I
want to say to you before you go. Sylvia, I haven't asserted any
right over you so far. But don't forget--don't let anyone induce
you to forget--that the right is mine! I may claim it--some day."
That aroused her from preoccupation very effectually. The colour
flamed in her face. "Burke! I don't understand you!" she said,
speaking quickly and rather breathlessly, for her heart was beating
fast and hard. "Have you gone mad?"
"No, I am not mad," he said, and faintly smiled.
"I am just looking after our joint interests, that's all."
She opened her eyes wide. "Still I don't understand you," she
said. "I thought you promised--I thought we agreed--that you were
never to interfere with my liberty."
"Unless you abused it," said Burke.
She flinched a little in spite of herself, so uncompromising were
both his tone and attitude. But in a moment she drew herself
erect, facing him fearlessly.
"I don't think you know--quite--what you are saying to me," she
said. "You are tired, and you are looking at things--all crooked.
Will you please take a rest this afternoon? I am sure you need it.
And to-night--" She paused a moment, for, her courage
notwithstanding, she had begun to tremble--"to-night,"--she said
again, and still paused, feeling his hand tighten upon her, feeling
her heart quicken almost intolerably under its weight.
"Yes?" he said, his voice low, intensely quiet, "Please finish!
What am I to do to-night?"
She faced him bravely, with all her strength. "I hope," she said,
"you will come and tell me you are sorry."
He threw up his head with a sharp gesture. She saw his eyes kindle
and burn with a flame she dared not meet.
A swift misgiving assailed her. She tried to release herself, but
he took her by the other shoulder also, holding her before him.
"And if I do all that," he said, a deep quiver in his voice that
thrilled her through and through, "what shall I get in return? How
shall I be rewarded?"
She gripped her self-control with a great effort, summoning that
high courage of hers which had never before failed her.
She smiled straight up at him, a splendid, resolute smile. "You
shall have--the kiss of peace," she said.
His expression changed. For a moment his hold became a grip that
hurt her--bruised her. She closed her eyes with an involuntary
catch of the breath, waiting, expecting she knew not what. Then,
very suddenly, the strain was over. He set her free and turned
"Thank you." he said, in a voice that sounded oddly strangled.
"But I don't find that--especially satisfying--just now."
His hands were clenched as he left her. She did not dare to follow
him or call him back.
THE NEW ERA
Looking back later, it almost seemed to Sylvia that the days that
followed were as an interval between two acts in the play of life.
It was a time of transition, though what was happening within her
she scarcely realized.
One thing only did she fully recognize, and that was that the old
frank comradeship between herself and Burke had come to an end.
During all the anxiety of those days and the many fluctuations
through which Guy passed, Burke came and went as an outsider,
scarcely seeming to be interested in what passed, never
interfering. He never spoke to Kieff unless circumstances
compelled him, and with Sylvia herself he was so reticent as to be
almost forbidding. Her mind was too full of Guy, too completely
occupied with the great struggle for his life, to allow her
thoughts to dwell very much upon any other subject. She saw that
Burke's physical wants were attended to, and that was all that she
had time for just then. He was sleeping in the spare hut which she
had prepared for Guy with such tender care, and she was quite
satisfied as to his comfort there. It came to be something of a
relief when every evening he betook himself thither. Though she
never actually admitted it to herself, she was always more at ease
when he was out of the bungalow.
She and Kieff were fighting inch by inch to save Guy, and she could
not endure any distractions while the struggle lasted. For it was
a desperate fight, and there was little rest for either of them.
Her first sensation of repugnance for this man had turned into a
species of unwilling admiration, His adroitness, his resource, the
almost uncanny power of his personality, compelled her to a curious
allegiance. She gave him implicit obedience, well knowing that,
though in all else they were poles asunder, in this thing they were
as one. They were allied in the one great effort to defeat the
Destroyer. They fought day and night, shoulder to shoulder, never
yielding, never despairing, never slacking.
And very gradually at last the tide that had ebbed so low began to
turn. Through bitter suffering, often against his will, Guy Ranger
was drawn slowly back again to the world he had so nearly left.
Kieff never let him suffer for long. He gave him oblivion whenever
the weakened endurance threatened to fail. And Sylvia, seeing that
the flickering strength was always greater under the influence of
Kieff's remedy, raised no protest. They fought death with the
weapon of death. It would be time enough when the battle was won
to cast that weapon aside.
During those days of watching and conflict, she held little
converse with Guy. He was like a child, content in his waking
hours to have her near him, and fretful if she were ever absent.
Under Kieff's guidance, she nursed him with unfailing care,
developing a skill with which she had never credited herself. As
gradually his strength returned, he would have her do everything
for him, resenting even Kieff's interference though never actively
resisting his authority. He seemed to stand in awe of Kieff,
Sylvia noticed, a feeling from which she herself was not wholly
free. For there was a subtle mastery about him which influenced
her in spite of herself. But she had put aside her instinctive
dislike of the man because of the debt she owed him. He had
brought Guy back, had wrenched him from the very jaws of Death, and
she would never forget it. He had saved her from a life-long
And so, as slowly Guy returned, she schooled herself to subdue a
certain distrust of him which was never wholly absent from her
consciousness. She forced herself to treat him as a friend. She
silenced the warning voice within her that had bade her so
constantly beware. Perhaps her own physical endurance had begun to
waver a little after the long strain. Undoubtedly his influence
over her was such as it could scarcely have become under any other
circumstances. Her long obedience to his will in the matter of Guy
had brought her to a state of submission at which once she would
have scoffed. And when at last, the worst of the battle over, she
was overtaken by an overpowering weariness of mind and body, all
things combined to place her at a hopeless disadvantage.
One day, after three weeks of strenuous nursing, she quitted Guy's
room very suddenly to battle with a ghastly feeling of faintness
which threatened to overwhelm her. Kieff, who had been present
with Guy, followed her almost immediately to her own room, and
found her with a deathly face groping against the wall as one
He took her firmly by the shoulders and forced her down over the
back of a chair, holding her so with somewhat callous strength of
purpose, till with a half-hysterical gasp she begged him to set her
free. The colour had returned to her face when she stood up, but
those few moments of weakness had bereft her of her self-control.
She could not restrain her tears.
Kieff showed no emotion of any sort. With professional calm, he
put her down upon the bed, and stood over her, feeling her pulse.
"You want sleep," he said.
She turned her face away from him, ashamed of the weakness she
could not hide. "Yes, I know. But I can't sleep. I'm always
listening. I can't help it. My brain feels wound up.
Sometimes--sometimes it feels as if it hurts me to shut my eyes."
"There's a remedy for that," said Kieff, and his hand went to his
She looked at him startled. "Oh, not that! Not that! I couldn't.
It would be wrong."
"Not if I advise it," said Kieff, with a self-assurance that seemed
to knock aside her resistance as of no account.
She knew she ought to have resisted further, but somehow she could
not. His very impassivity served to make opposition impossible.
It came to her that the inevitable was upon her, and whatever she
said would make no difference. Moreover, she was too tired greatly
She uttered a little cry when a few seconds later she felt the
needle pierce her flesh, but she submitted without a struggle.
After all, what did it matter for once? And she needed rest so much.
With a sigh she surrendered herself, and was amazed at the swift
relief that came to her. It was like the rolling away of an
immense weight, and immediately she seemed to float upwards,
upwards, like a soaring bird.
Kieff remained by her side, but his presence did not trouble her.
She was possessed by an ecstasy so marvellous that she had no room
for any other emotion; She was as one borne on wings, ascending,
ever ascending, through an atmosphere of transcendent gold.
Once he touched her forehead, and bringing his hand slowly
downwards compelled her to close her eyes. A brief darkness came
upon her, and she uttered a muffled protest. But when he lifted
his hand again, her eyes did not open. The physical had fallen
from her, material things had ceased to matter. She was free--free
as the ether through which she floated. She was mounting upwards,
upwards, upwards, through celestial morning to her castle at the
top of the world. And the magic--the magic that beat in her
veins--was the very elixir of life within her, inspiring her,
uplifting her. For a space she hovered thus, still mounting, but
imperceptibly, caught as it were between earth and heaven. Then
the golden glamour about her turned to a mystic haze. Strange
visions, but half comprehended, took shape and dissolved before
her. She believed that she was floating among the mountain-crests
with the Infinite all about her. The wonder of it and the rapture
were beyond all utterance, beyond the grasp of human knowledge; the
joy exceeded all that she had ever known. And so by exquisite
phases, she entered at last a great vastness--a slumber-space where
all things were forgotten, lost in the radiance of an unbroken
She folded the wings of her enchantment with absolute contentment
and slept. She had come to a new era in her existence. She had
reached the top of the world. . . .
It was long, long after that she awoke, returning to earth with the
feeling of one revisiting old haunts after half a lifetime. She
was very tired, and her head throbbed painfully, but at the back of
her brain was an urgent sense of something needed, something that
must be done. She raised herself with immense effort,--and met the
eyes of Burke seated by her side.
He was watching her with a grave, unstirring attention that did not
waver for an instant as she moved. It struck her that there was a
strange remoteness about him, almost as if he belonged to another
world. Or was it she--she who had for a space overstepped the
boundary and wandered awhile through the Unknown?
He spoke, and in his voice was a depth that awed her.
"Do you know me?" he said.
She gazed at him, bewildered, wondering. "But of course I know
you! Why do you ask? Are you--changed in any way?"
He made an odd movement, as if the question in her wide eyes
pierced him. He did not answer her in words; only after a moment
he took her hand and pushed up the sleeve as though looking for
She lay passive for a few seconds, watching him. Then suddenly,
blindly, she realized what was the object of his search. She made
a quick, instinctive movement to frustrate him.
His hand tightened instantly upon hers; he pointed to a tiny mark
upon the inside of her arm. "How did you get that?" he said.
His eyes looked straight into hers. There was something pitiless,
something almost brutal, in their regard. In spite of herself she
flinched, and lowered her own.
"Answer me!" he said.
She felt the hot colour rush in a guilty flood over her face. "It
was only--for once," she faltered. "I wanted sleep, and I couldn't
"Kieff gave it you," he said, his tone grimly insistent.
She nodded. "Yes. He meant well. He saw I was fagged out."
Burke was silent for a space, still grasping her hand. Her head
was throbbing dizzily, but she would not lower it to the pillow
again in his presence. She felt almost like a prisoner awaiting
"Did he give it you against your will?" he asked at length.
"Not altogether." Her voice was almost a whisper. Her heart was
beating with hard, uneven strokes. She felt sick and faint.
Burke moved suddenly, releasing her hand. He rose with that
decision characteristic of him and walked across the room. She
heard the splash of water in a basin, and then he came back to her.
As if she had been a child, he raised her to lean against him, and
proceeded very quietly to bathe her face and head with ice-cold
She shrank at the chill of it, but he persisted in his task, and
very soon she began to feel refreshed.
"Thank you," she murmured at last. "I am better now. I will get
"You had better lie still for the present," he said. "I will send
you in some supper later."
His tone was repressive. She could not look him in the face. But,
as he made as if he would rise, something impelled her to lay a
detaining hand upon his arm.
"Please wait a minute!" she said,
He waited, and in a moment, with difficulty, she went on.
"Burke, I have done wrong, I know. I am sorry. Please don't be
angry with me! I--can't bear it."
There was a catch in her voice that she could not restrain. She
had a great longing to hide her face on his shoulder and burst into
tears. But something--some inner, urgent warning--held her back.
Burke sat quite still. There was a touch of rigidity in his
attitude. "All right," he said at last. "I am not angry--with
Her fingers closed upon his arm. "Please don't quarrel with Dr.
Kieff about it!" she said nervously. "It won't happen again."
She felt him stiffen still further at her words. "It certainly
won't," he said briefly, "Tell me, have you got any of the infernal
stuff by you?"
She glanced up at him, startled by the question. "Of course I
haven't!" she said.
His eyes held a glitter that was almost bestial. She dropped her
hand from, his arm as if she had received an electric shock. He
got up instantly.
"Very well. I will leave you now. You had better go to bed."
"I must see Guy first," she objected.
"I am attending to Guy," he said.
That opened her eyes. She started up, facing him, a sudden sharp
misgiving at her heart. "Burke! You! Where--is Dr. Kieff?"
He uttered a grim, exultant sound that made her quiver. "He is on
his way back to Ritzen--or Brennerstadt. He didn't mention which."
"Ah!" Her hands were tightly clasped upon her breast. "What--what
have you done to him?" she panted.
Burke had risen to his feet. "I have--helped him on his way,
that's all," he said.
She tried to stand up also, but the moment she touched the ground,
she reeled. He caught her, and held her, facing him. His eyes
shone with a glow as of molten metal,
"Do you think," he said, breathing deeply, "that I would suffer
that accursed fiend to drag my wife--my wife--down into that
She was trembling from head to foot; her knees doubled under her,
but he held her up. The barely repressed violence of his speech
was perceptible in his hold also. She had no strength to meet it.
"But what of Guy?" she whispered voicelessly. "He will die!"
"Guy!" he said, and in the word there was a bitterness
indescribable. "Is be to be weighed in the balance against you?"
She was powerless to reason with him, and perhaps it was as well
for her that this was so, for he was in no mood to endure
opposition. His wrath seemed to beat about her like a storm-blast.
But yet he held her up, and after a moment, seeing her weakness, he
"There! Lie down again!" he said, and lowered her to the bed.
"I'll see to Guy. Only remember," he stooped over her, and to her
strained senses he loomed gigantic, "if you ever touch that stuff
again, my faith in you will be gone. And where there is no trust,
you can't expect--honour."
The words seemed to pierce her, but he straightened himself the
moment after and turned to go.
She covered her face with her hands as the door closed upon him.
She felt as if she had entered upon a new era, indeed, and she
feared with a dread unspeakable to look upon the path which lay
When Sylvia saw Guy again, he greeted her with an odd expression in
his dark eyes, half-humorous, half-speculative. He was lying
propped on pillows by the open window, a cigarette and a box of
matches by his side.
"Hullo, Sylvia!" he said. "You can come in. The big _baas_ has
set his house in order and gone out."
The early morning sunshine was streaming across his bed. She
thought he looked wonderfully better, and marvelled at the change.
He smiled at her as she drew near. "Yes, I've been washed and fed
and generally made respectable. Thank goodness that brute Kieff
has gone anyway! I couldn't have endured him much longer. What
was the grand offence? Did he make love to you or what?"
"Make love to me! Of course not!" Sylvia flushed indignantly at
Guy laughed; he seemed in excellent spirits. "He'd better not,
what? But the big _baas_ was very angry with him, I can tell you.
And I can't think it was on my account. I'm inoffensive enough,
He reached up a hand as she stood beside him, and took and held
"You're a dear girl, Sylvia," he said. "Just the very sight of you
does me good. You're not sorry Kieff has gone?"
"Sorry! No!" She looked down at him with doubt in her eyes.
"Only--we owe him a good deal, remember. He saved your life."
"Oh, that!" said Guy lightly. "You may set your mind quite at rest
on that score, my dear. He wouldn't have done it if he hadn't felt
like it. He pleases himself in all he does. But I should like to
have witnessed his exit last night. That, I imagine, was more
satisfactory from Burke's point of view than from his.
He--Burke--came back with that smile-on-the-face-of-the-tiger
expression of his. You've seen it, I daresay. It was very much in
evidence last night."
Sylvia repressed a sudden shiver. "Oh, Guy! What do you think
He gave her hand a sudden squeeze. "Nothing to worry about, I do
assure you. He's a devil of a fellow when he's roused, isn't he?
But--so far as my knowledge goes--he's never killed anyone yet.
Sit down, old girl, and let's have a smoke together! I'm allowed
just one to-day--as a reward for good behaviour."
"Are you being good?" said Sylvia.
Guy closed one eye. "Oh, I'm a positive saint to-day. I've
promised--almost--never to be naughty again. Do you know Burke
slept on the floor in here last night? Decent of him, wasn't it?"
Sylvia glanced swiftly round. "Did he? How uncomfortable for him!
He mustn't do that again,"
"He didn't notice," Guy assured her. "He was much too pleased with
himself. I rather like him for that, you know. He has a wonderful
faculty for--what shall we call it?--mental detachment? Or, is it
physical? Anyway, he knows how to enjoy his emotions, whatever
they are, and he doesn't let any little personal discomfort stand
in his way."
He ended with a careless laugh from which all bitterness was
absent, and after a little pause Sylvia sat down by his side. His
whole attitude amazed her this morning. Some magic had been at
work. The fretful misery of the past few weeks had passed like a
cloud. This was her own Guy come back to her, clean, sane, with
the boyish humour that she had always loved in him, and the old
quick light of understanding and sympathy in his eyes.
He watched her with a smile. "Aren't you going to light up, too?
Come, you'd better. It'll tone you up,"
She looked back at him. "Had you better smoke?" she said. "Won't
it start your cough?"
He lifted an imperious hand. "It won't kill me if it does. Why
are you looking at me like that?"
"Like what?" she said.
"As if I'd come back from the dead." He frowned at her abruptly
though his eyes still smiled. "Don't!" he said.
She smiled in answer, and picked up the matchbox. It was of silver
and bore his initials.
"Yes," Guy said, "I've taken great care of it, haven't I? It's
been my mascot all these years."
She took out a match and struck it without speaking. There was
something poignant in her silence. She was standing again in the
wintry dark of her father's park, pressed close to Guy's heart, and
begging him brokenly to use that little parting gift of hers with
thoughts of her when more than half the world lay between them.
Guy's cigarette was in his mouth. She stooped forward to light it.
Her hand was trembling. In a moment he reached up, patted it
lightly, and took the match from her fingers. The action said more
than words. It was as if he had gently turned a page in the book
of life, and bade her not to look back.
"Now don't you bother about me!" he said. "I'm being good--as you
see. So go and cook the dinner or do anything else that appeals to
your housekeeper's soul! That is, if you feel it's immoral to
smoke a cigarette at this early hour. Needless to say, I shall be
charmed if you will join me."
But he did not mean to talk upon intimate subjects, and his tone
conveyed as much. She lingered for a while, and they spoke of the
farm, the cattle, Burke's prospects, everything under the sun save
personal matters. Yet there was no barrier in their reserve. They
avoided these by tacit consent.
In the end she left him, feeling strangely comforted. Burke had
been right. The devil had gone out of Guy, and he had come back.
She pondered the matter as she went about her various tasks, but
she found no solution thereof. Something must have happened to
cause the change in him; she could not believe that Kieff's
departure had effected it. Her thoughts went involuntarily to
Burke--Burke whose wrath had been so terrible the previous night.
Was it due to him? Had he accomplished what neither Kieff's skill
nor her devotion had been able to achieve? Yet he had spoken of
Guy as one of his failures. He had impressed upon her the fact
that Guy's, case was hopeless. She had even been convinced of it
herself until to-day. But to-day all things were changed. Guy had
The thought of her next meeting with Burke tormented her
continually, checking all gladness. She dreaded it unspeakably,
listening for him with nerves on edge during the busy hours that
She made the Kaffir boy bring the camp-bed out of the guest-hut
which Burke had occupied of late and set it up in a corner of Guy's
room. Kieff had slept on a long-chair in the sitting-room, taking
his rest at odd times and never for any prolonged spell. She had
even wondered sometimes if he ever really slept at all, so alert
had he been at the slightest sound. But she knew that Burke hated
the long-chair because it creaked at every movement, and she was
determined that he should not spend another night on the floor.
So, while with trepidation she awaited him, she made such
preparations as she could for his comfort.
Joe, the house-boy, was very clumsy in all his ways, and Guy,
looking on, seemed to derive considerable amusement from his
performance. "I always did like Joe," he remarked. "There's
something about his mechanism that is irresistibly comic. Oh, do
leave him alone, Sylvia! Let him arrange the thing upside down if
he wants to!"
Joe's futility certainly had something of the comic order about it.
He had a dramatic fashion of rolling his eyes when expectant of
rebuke, which was by no means seldom. And the vastness of his
smile was almost bewildering. Sylvia had never been able quite to
accustom herself to his smile.
"He's exactly like a golliwog, isn't he?" said Guy. "His head will
split in two if you encourage him."
But Sylvia, hot and anxious, found it impossible to view Joe's
exhibition with enjoyment. He was more stupid in the execution of
her behests than she had ever found him before, and at length,
losing patience, she dismissed him and proceeded to erect the bed
She was in the midst of this when there came the sound of a step in
the room, and Guy's quick,
"Hullo!" told her of the entrance of a third person. She stood up
sharply, and met Burke face to face.
She was panting a little from her exertions, and her hand went to
her side. For the moment a horrible feeling of discomfiture
overwhelmed her. His look was so direct; it seemed to go straight
"What is this for?" he said.
She mastered her embarrassment with a swift effort. "Guy said you
slept on the floor last night. I am sure it wasn't very
comfortable, so I have brought this in instead. You don't mind?"
with a glance at him that held something of appeal.
"I mind you putting it up yourself," he said briefly. "Sit down!
Where's that lazy hound, Joe?"
"Oh, don't call Joe!" Guy begged. "He has already reduced her to
exasperation. She won't listen to me either when I tell her that I
can look after myself at night. You tell her, Burke! She'll
listen to you perhaps."
But Burke ended the matter without further discussion by putting
her on one side and finishing the job himself. Then he stood up.
"Let Mary Ann do the rest! You have been working too hard. Come,
and have some lunch! You'll be all right, Guy?"
"Oh, quite," Guy assured him. "Mary Ann can take care of me.
She'll enjoy it."
Sylvia looked back at him over her shoulder as she went out, but
she did not linger. There was something imperious about Burke just
They entered the sitting-room together. "Look here!" he said.
"You're not to tire yourself out. Guy is convalescent now. Let
him look after himself for a bit!"
"I haven't been doing anything for Guy," she objected. "Only I
can't have you sleeping on the floor."
"What's it matter," he said gruffly, "where or how I sleep?" And
then suddenly he took her by the shoulders and held her before him.
"Just look at me a moment!" he said.
It was a definite command. She lifted her eyes, but the instant
they met his that overwhelming confusion came upon her again. His
gaze was so intent, so searching. All her defences seemed to go
down before it.
Her lip suddenly quivered, and she turned her face aside.
"Be--kind to me, Burke!" she said, under her breath.
He let her go; but he stood motionless for some seconds after as if
debating some point with himself. She went to the window and
nervously straightened the curtain. After a considerable pause his
voice came to her there.
"I want you to rest this afternoon, and ride over with me to the
Merstons after tea. Will you do that?"
She turned sharply. "And leave Guy? Oh, no!"
Across the room she met his look, and she saw that he meant to have
his way. "I wish it," he said.
She came slowly back to him. "Burke,--please! I can't do that.
It wouldn't be right. We can't leave Guy to the Kaffirs."
"Guy can look after himself," he reiterated. "You have done
enough--too much--in that line already. He doesn't need you with
him all daylong."
She shook her head. "I think he needs--someone. It wouldn't be
right--I know it wouldn't be right to leave him quite alone.
Besides, the Merstons won't want me. Why should I go?"
"Because I wish it," he said again. And, after a moment, as she
stood silent, "Doesn't that count with you?"
She looked up at him quickly, caught by something in his tone, "Of
course your wishes count with me!" she said. "You know they do.
But all the same--" She paused, searching for words.
"Guy comes first," he suggested, in the casual voice of one stating
an acknowledged fact.
She felt the hot colour rise to her temples. "Oh, it isn't fair of
you to say that!" she said.
"Isn't it true?" said Burke.
She collected herself to answer him. "It is only because his need
has been so great. If we had not put him first--before everything
else--we should never have saved him."
"And now that he is saved," Burke said, a faint ring of irony in
his voice, "isn't it almost time to begin to consider--other needs?
Do you know you are looking very ill?"
He asked the question abruptly, so abruptly that she started. Her
nerves were on edge that day.
"Am I? No, I didn't know. It isn't serious anyway. Please don't
bother about that!"
He smiled faintly. "I've got to bother. If you don't improve very
quickly, I shall take you to Brennerstadt to see a decent doctor
"Oh, don't be absurd!" she said, with quick annoyance. "I'm not
going to do anything so silly."
He put his hand on her arm. "Sylvia, I've got something to say to
you," he said.
She made a slight movement as if his touch were unwelcome. "Well?
What is it?" she said.
"Only this." He spoke very steadily, but while he spoke his hand
closed upon her. You've gone your own way so far, and it hasn't
been specially good for you. That's why I'm going to pull you up
now, and make you go mine."
"Make me!" Her eyes flashed sudden fire upon him. She was
overwrought and weary, and he had taken her by surprise, or she
would have dealt with the situation--and with him--far otherwise.
"Make me!" she repeated, and in second, almost before she knew it,
she was up in arms, facing him with open rebellion. "I'll defy you
to do that!" she said.
The moment she had said it, the word still scarcely uttered, she
repented. She had not meant to defy him. The whole thing had come
about so swiftly, so unexpectedly, hardly, she felt, of her own
volition. And now, more than half against her will, she stood
committed to carry through an undertaking for which even at the
outset, she had no heart. For there was no turning back. The
challenge, once uttered, could not be withdrawn. She was no
coward. The idea came to her that if she blenched then she would
for all time forfeit his respect as well as her own.
So she stood her ground, slim and upright, braced to defiance,
though at the back of all her bravery there lurked a sickening fear.
Burke did not speak at once. His look scarcely altered, his hold
upon her remained perfectly steady and temperate. Yet in the pause
the beating of her heart rose between them--a hard, insistent
throbbing like the fleeing feet of a hunted thing.
"You really mean that?" he asked at length.
"Yes." Straight and unhesitating came her answer. It was now or
never, she told herself. But she was trembling, despite her utmost
He bent a little, looking into her eyes. "You really wish me to
show you who is master?" he said.
She met his look, but her heart was beating wildly, spasmodically.
There was that about him, a ruthlessness, a deadly intention, that
appalled her. The ground seemed to be rocking under her feet, and
a dreadful consciousness of sheer, physical weakness rushed upon
her. She went back against the table, seeking for support.
But through it all, desperately she made her gallant struggle for
freedom. "You will never master me against my will," she said.
"I--I--I'll die first!"
And then, as the last shred of her strength went from her she
covered her face with her hands, shutting him out.
"Ah!" he said. "But who goes into battle without first counting
He spoke sombrely, without anger; yet in the very utterance of the
words there was that which made her realize that she was beaten.
Whether he chose to avail himself of the advantage or not, the
victory was his.
At the end of a long silence, she lifted her head. "I give you
best, partner," she said, and held out her hand to him with a
difficult smile. "I'd no right--to kick over the traces--like
that. I'm going to be good now--really."
It was a frank acceptance of defeat; so frank as to be utterly
disarming. He took the proffered hand and held it closely, without
She was still trembling a little, but she had regained her
self-command. "I'm sorry I was such a little beast," she said.
"But you've got me beat. I'll try and make good somehow."
He found his voice at that. It came with an odd harshness.
"Don't!" he said. "Don't!--You're not--beat. The battle isn't
always to the strong."
She laughed faintly with more assurance, though still somewhat
shakily. "Not when the strong are too generous to take advantage,
perhaps. Thank you for that, partner. Now--do you mind if I take
Guy his nourishment?"
She put the matter behind her with that inimitable lightness of
hers which of late she had seemed to have lost. She went from him
to wait upon Guy with the tremulous laugh upon her lips, and when
she returned she had fully recovered her self-control, and talked
with him upon many matters connected with the farm which he had not
heard her mention during all the period of her nursing. She
displayed all her old zest. She spoke as one keenly interested.
But behind it all was a feverish unrest, a nameless, intangible
quality that had never characterized her in former days. She was
elusive. Her old delicate confidence in him was absent. She
walked warily where once she had trodden without the faintest
When the meal was over, she checked him as he was on the point of
going to Guy. "How soon ought we to start for the Merstons?" she
He paused a moment. Then, "I will let you off to-day," he said.
"We will ride out to the _kopje_ instead."
He thought she would hail this concession with relief, but she
shook her head instantly, her face deeply flushed.
"No, I think not! We will go to the Merstons--if Guy is well
enough. We really ought to go."
She baffled him completely. He turned away. "As you will," he
said. "We ought to start in two hours."
"I shall be ready," said Sylvia.
"Well!" said Mrs. Merston, with her thin smile. "Are you still
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