by W. Somerset Maugham
W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
AUTHOR OF THE MOON AND SIXPENCE, OF HUMAN BONDAGE, ETC., ETC.
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY
COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY
THE BAKER &TAYLOR COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
MY DEAR MRS. G. W. STEEVENS
The sea was very calm. There was no ship in sight, and the sea-gulls
were motionless upon its even greyness. The sky was dark with lowering
clouds, but there was no wind. The line of the horizon was clear and
delicate. The shingly beach, no less deserted, was thick with tangled
seaweed, and the innumerable shells crumbled under the feet that trod
them. The breakwaters, which sought to prevent the unceasing
encroachment of the waves, were rotten with age and green with the
sea-slime. It was a desolate scene, but there was a restfulness in its
melancholy; and the great silence, the suave monotony of colour, might
have given peace to a heart that was troubled. They could not assuage
the torment of the woman who stood alone upon that spot. She did not
stir; and, though her gaze was steadfast, she saw nothing. Nature has
neither love nor hate, and with indifference smiles upon the light at
heart and to the heavy brings a deeper sorrow. It is a great irony that
the old Greek, so wise and prudent, who fancied that the gods lived
utterly apart from human passions, divinely unconscious in their high
palaces of the grief and joy, the hope and despair, of the turbulent
crowd of men, should have gone down to posterity as the apostle of
But the silent woman did not look for solace. She had a vehement
pride which caused her to seek comfort only in her own heart; and when,
against her will, heavy tears rolled down her cheeks, she shook her
head impatiently. She drew a long breath and set herself resolutely to
change her thoughts.
But they were too compelling, and she could not drive from her mind
the memories that absorbed it. Her fancy, like a homing bird, hovered
with light wings about another coast; and the sea she looked upon
reminded her of another sea. The Solent. From her earliest years that
sheet of water had seemed an essential part of her life, and the
calmness at her feet brought back to her irresistibly the scenes she
knew so well. But the rippling waves washed the shores of Hampshire
with a persuasive charm that they had not elsewhere, and the broad
expanse of it, lacking the illimitable majesty of the open sea, could
be loved like a familiar thing. Yet there was in it, too, something of
the salt freshness of the ocean, and, as the eye followed its course,
the heart could exult with a sense of freedom. Sometimes, in the dusk
of a winter afternoon, she remembered the Solent as desolate as the
Kentish sea before her; but her imagination presented it to her more
often with the ships, outward bound or homeward bound, that passed
continually. She loved them all. She loved the great liners that sped
across the ocean, unmindful of wind or weather, with their freight of
passengers; and at night, when she recognised them only by the long row
of lights, they fascinated her by the mystery of their thousand souls
going out strangely into the unknown. She loved the little panting
ferries that carried the good folk of the neighbourhood across the
water to buy their goods in Southampton, or to sell the produce of
their farms; she was intimate with their sturdy skippers, and she
delighted in their airs of self-importance. She loved the fishing boats
that went out in all weathers, and the neat yachts that fled across the
bay with such a dainty grace. She loved the great barques and the
brigantines that came in with a majestic ease, all their sails set to
catch the remainder of the breeze; they were like wonderful, stately
birds, and her soul rejoiced at the sight of them. But best of all she
loved the tramps that plodded with a faithful, grim tenacity from port
to port; often they were squat and ugly, battered by the tempest, dingy
and ill-painted; but her heart went out to them. They touched her
because their fate seemed so inglorious. No skipper, new to his craft,
could ever admire the beauty of their lines, nor look up at the
swelling canvas and exult he knew not why; no passengers would boast of
their speed or praise their elegance. They were honest merchantmen,
laborious, trustworthy, and of good courage, who took foul weather and
peril in the day's journey and made no outcry. And with a sure instinct
she saw the romance in the humble course of their existence and the
beauty of an unboasting performance of their duty; and often, as she
watched them, her fancy glowed with the thought of the varied
merchandise they carried, and their long sojourning in foreign parts.
There was a subtle charm in them because they went to Southern seas and
white cities with tortuous streets, silent under the blue sky.
Striving still to free herself of a passionate regret, the lonely
woman turned away and took a path that led across the marshes. But her
heart sank, for she seemed to recognise the flats, the shallow dykes,
the coastguard station, which she had known all her life. Sheep were
grazing here and there, and two horses, put out to grass, looked at her
listlessly as she passed. A cow heavily whisked its tail. To the
indifferent, that line of Kentish coast, so level and monotonous, might
be merely dull, but to her it was beautiful. It reminded her of the
home she would never see again.
And then her thoughts, which had wandered around the house in which
she was born, ever touching the fringe as it were, but never quite
settling with the full surrender of attention, gave themselves over to
* * *
Hamlyn's Purlieu had belonged to the Allertons for three hundred
years, and the recumbent effigy, in stone, of the founder of the
family's fortunes, with his two wives in ruffs and stiff martingales,
was to be seen in the chancel of the parish church. It was the work of
an Italian sculptor, lured to England in company of the craftsmen who
made the lady-chapel of Westminster Abbey; and the renaissance delicacy
of its work was very grateful in the homely English church. And for
three hundred years the Allertons had been men of prudence, courage,
and worth, so that the walls of the church by now were filled with the
lists of their virtues and their achievements. They had intermarried
with the great families of the neighbourhood, and with the help of
these marble tablets you might have made out a roll of all that was
distinguished in Hampshire. The Maddens of Brise, the Fletchers of
Horton Park, the Daunceys of Maiden Hall, the Garrods of Penda, had
all, in the course of time, given daughters to the Allertons of
Hamlyn's Purlieu; and the Allertons of Hamlyn's Purlieu had given in
exchange richly dowered maidens to the Garrods of Penda, the Daunceys
of Maiden Hall, the Fletchers of Horton Park, and the Maddens of Brise.
And with each generation the Allertons grew prouder. The peculiar
situation of their lands distinguished them a little from their
neighbours; for, whereas the Garrods, the Daunceys, and the Fletchers
lived within walking distance of each other, and Madden of Brise,
because of his rank and opulence the most distinguished person in the
county, within six or seven miles, Hamlyn's Purlieu was near the sea
and separated by forest land from other places. The seclusion in which
its owners were thus forced to dwell differentiated their characters
from those of the neighbouring gentlemen. They found much cause for
self-esteem in the number of their acres, and, though many of these
consisted of salt marshes, and more of wild heath, others were as good
as any in Hampshire; and the grand total made a formidable array in
works of reference. But they found greater reason still for
self-congratulation in their culture. No pride is so great as the pride
of intellect, and the Allertons never doubted that their neighbours
were boors beside them. Whether it was due to the peculiar lie of the
land on which they were born and bred, that led them to introspection,
or whether it was due to some accident of inheritance, the Allertons
had all an interest in the things of the mind, which had never troubled
the Fletchers or the Garrods of Penda, the Daunceys or my lords Madden
of Brise. They were as good sportsmen as the others, and hunted or shot
with the best of them, but they read books as well, and had a subtlety
of intelligence which was no less unexpected than pleasing. The fat
squires of the county looked up to them as miracles of learning, and
congratulated themselves over their port on possessing in their midst
persons who combined, in such excellent proportions, gentle birth and a
good seat in the saddle with adequate means and an encyclopedic
knowledge. Everything conspired to give the Allertons a good opinion of
themselves. They not only looked down from superior heights on the
persons with whom they habitually came in contact-that is common
enoughbut these very persons without question looked up to them.
The Allertons made the grand tour in a style befitting their
dignity; and the letters which each son of the house wrote in turn,
describing Paris, Vienna, Dresden, Munich, and Rome, with the persons
of consequence who entertained him, were preserved with scrupulous care
among the family papers. They testified to an agreeable interest in the
arts; and each of them had made a point of bringing back with him,
according to the fashion of his day, beautiful things which he had
purchased on his journey. Hamlyn's Purlieu, a fine stone house goodly
to look upon, was thus filled with Italian pictures, French cabinets of
delicate workmanship, bronzes of all kinds, tapestries, and old Eastern
carpets. The gardens had been tended with a loving care, and there grew
in them trees and flowers which were unknown to other parts of England.
Each Allerton in his time cherished the place with a passionate pride,
looking upon it as his greatest privilege that he could add a little to
its beauty and hand on to his successor a more magnificent heritage.
* * *
But at length Hamlyn's Purlieu came into the hands of Fred Allerton;
and the gods, blind for so long to the prosperity of this house,
determined now, it seemed, to wreak their malice. Fred Allerton had
many of the characteristics of his race, but in him they took a sudden
turn which bore him swiftly to destruction. They had been marked always
by good looks, a persuasive manner, and a singular liberality of mind;
and he was perhaps the handsomest, and certainly the most charming of
them all. But the freedom from prejudice which had prevented the others
from giving way too much to their pride had in him degenerated into a
singular unscrupulousness. His parents died when he was twenty, and a
year later he found himself master of a great estate. The times were
hard then for those who depended upon their land, and Fred Allerton was
not so rich as his forebears. But he flung himself extravagantly into
the pursuit of pleasure. He was the only member of his family who had
failed to reside habitually at Hamlyn's Purlieu. He seemed to take no
interest in it, and except now and then to shoot, never came near his
native county. He lived much in Paris, which in the early years of the
third republic had still something of the wanton gaiety of the Empire;
and here he soon grew notorious for his prodigality and his adventures.
He was an unlucky man, and everything he did led to disaster. But this
never impaired his cheerfulness. He boasted that he had lost money in
every gambling hell in Europe, and vowed that he would give up racing
in disgust if ever a horse of his won a race. His charm of manner was
irresistible, and no one had more friends than he. His generosity was
great, and he was willing to lend money to everyone who asked. But it
is even more expensive to be a man whom everyone likes than to keep a
stud, and Fred Allerton found himself in due course much in need of
ready money. He did not hesitate to mortgage his lands, and till he
came to the end of these resources also, continued gaily to lead a life
At length he had raised on Hamlyn's Purlieu every penny that he
could, and was crippled with debt besides; but he still rode a fine
horse, lived in expensive chambers, dressed better than any man in
London, and gave admirable dinners to all and sundry. He realised then
that he could only retrieve his fortunes by a rich marriage. Fred
Allerton was still a handsome man, and he knew from long experience how
easy it was to say pleasant things to a woman. There was a peculiar
light in his blue eyes which persuaded everyone of the goodness of his
heart. He was amusing and full of spirits. He fixed upon a Miss
Boulger, one of the two daughters of a Liverpool manufacturer, and
succeeded after a surprisingly short time in assuring her of his
passion. There was a convincing air of truth in all he said, and she
returned his flame with readiness. It was clear to him that her sister
was equally prepared to fall in love with him, and he regretted with
diverting frankness to his more intimate friends that the laws of the
land prevented him from marrying them both and acquiring two fortunes
instead of one. He married the younger Miss Boulger, and on her dowry
paid off the mortgages on Hamlyn's Purlieu, his own debts, and
succeeded for several years in having an excellent time. The poor
woman, happily blind to his defects, adored him with all her soul. She
trusted him entirely with the management of her money and only
regretted that the affairs connected with it kept him so much in town.
With marriage and his new connection with commerce Fred Allerton had
come to the conclusion that he had business abilities, and he occupied
himself thenceforward with all manner of financial schemes. With
unwearied enthusiasm he entered upon some new affair which was going to
bring him untold wealth as soon as the last had finally sunk into the
abyss of bankruptcy. Hamlyn's Purlieu had never known such gaieties as
during the fifteen years of Mrs. Allerton's married life. All kinds of
people were brought down by Fred; and the dignified dining-room, which
for centuries had witnessed discussions, learned or flippant, on the
merits of Greek and Latin authors, or the excellencies of Italian
masters, now heard strange talk of stocks and shares, companies,
syndicates, options and holdings. When Mrs. Allerton died suddenly she
was entirely unconscious that her husband had squandered every penny of
the money which had been settled on her children, had mortgaged once
more the broad fields of his ancestors, and was head over ears in debt.
She expired with his name upon her lips, and blessed the day on which
she had first seen him. She had one son and one daughter. Lucy was a
girl of fifteen when her mother died, and George, the boy, was ten.
It was Lucy, now a woman of twenty-five, who turned her back upon
the Kentish sea and slowly walked across the marsh. And as she walked,
the recollection of the ten years that had passed since then was placed
before her as it were in a single Sash.
At first her father had seemed the most wonderful being in the
world, and she had worshipped him with all her childish heart. The love
that bound her to her mother was pale in comparison, for Lucy could not
divide her affections, giving part here, part there; her father, with
his wonderful gift of sympathy, his indescribable charm, conquered her
entirely. It was her greatest delight to be with him. She was
entertained and exhilarated by his society, and she hated the men of
business who absorbed so much of his time.
When Mrs. Allerton died George was sent to school, but Lucy, in
charge of a governess, remained year in, year out, at Hamlyn's Purlieu
with her books, her dogs, and her horses. And gradually, she knew not
how, it was borne in upon her that the father who had seemed such a
paragon of chivalry, was weak, unreliable, and shifty. She fought
against the suspicions that poisoned her mind, charging herself
bitterly with meanness of spirit, but one small incident after another
brought the truth home to her. She recognised with a shiver of anguish
that his standard of veracity was utterly different from hers. He was
not very careful to keep his word. He was not scrupulous in money
matters. With her, honesty, truthfulness, exactness in all affairs,
were not only instinctive, but deliberate; for the pride of her birth
was so great that she felt it incumbent upon her to be ten times more
careful in these things than the ordinary run of men.
And then, from a word here and a word there, by horrified guesses
and by a kind of instinctive surmise, she realised presently the whole
truth of her father's life. She found out that Hamlyn's Purlieu was
mortgaged for every penny it was worth, she found out that there was a
bill of sale on the furniture, that money had been raised on the
pictures; and, at last, that her mother's money, left in her father's
trust to her and George, had been spent. And still Fred Allerton lived
with prodigal magnificence.
It was only very gradually that Lucy discovered these things. There
was no one whom she could consult, and she had to devise some mode of
conduct by herself. It was all a matter of supposition, and she knew
almost nothing for certain. She made up her mind that she would probe
no deeper. But since such knowledge as she had came to her only by
degrees, she was able the better to adapt her behaviour to it. The
pride which for so long had been a characteristic of the Allertons, but
had unaccountably missed Fred, in her enjoyed all its force; and what
she knew now served only to augment it. In the ruin of her ideals she
had nothing but that to cling to, and she cherished it with an
unreasoning passion. She had a cult for the ancestors whose portraits
looked down upon her in one room after another of Hamlyn's Purlieu, and
from their names and the look of them, which was all that remained, she
made them in her fancy into personalities whose influence might somehow
counteract the weakness of her father. In them there was so much
uprightness, strength, and simple goodness; the sum total of it must
prevail in the long run against the unruly instincts of one man. And
she loved her old home, with all its exquisite contents, with its rich
gardens, its broad, fertile fields, above all with its wild heath and
flat sea-marshes, she loved it with a hungry devotion, saddened and yet
more vehement because her hold on it was jeopardised. She set the whole
strength of her will on preserving the place for her brother. Her
greatest desire was to fill him with the determination to reclaim it
from the foreign hands that had some hold upon it, and to restore it to
its ancient freedom.
Upon George were set all Lucy's hopes. He could restore the fallen
fortunes of their race, and her part must be to train him to the
glorious task. He was growing up, and she made up her mind to keep from
him all knowledge of her father's weakness. To George he must seem to
the last an honest gentleman.
Lucy transferred to her brother all the love which she had lavished
on her father. She watched his growth fondly, interesting herself in
his affairs, and seeking to be to him not only a sister, but the mother
he had lost and the father who was unworthy. When he was of a fit age
she saw that he was sent to Winchester. She followed his career with
passion and entered eagerly into all his interests.
But if Lucy had lost her old love for her father, its place had been
taken by a pitying tenderness; and she did all she could to conceal
from him the change in her feelings. It was easy when she was with him,
for then it was impossible to resist his charm; and it was only
afterwards, when he was no longer there to explain things away, that
she could not crush the horror and resentment with which she regarded
him. But of this no one knew anything; and she set herself deliberately
not only to make such headway as she could in the tangle of their
circumstances, but to conceal from everyone the actual state of things.
For presently Fred Allerton seemed no longer to have an
inexhaustible supply of ready money, and Lucy had to resort to a very
careful economy. She reduced expenses in every way she could, and when
left alone in the house, lived with the utmost frugality. She hated to
ask her father for money, and since often he did not pay the allowance
that was due to her, she was obliged to exercise a good deal of
self-denial. As soon as she was old enough, Lucy had taken the
household affairs into her own hands and had learned to conduct them in
such a way as to hide from the world how difficult it was to make both
ends meet. Now, feeling that things were approaching a crisis, she sold
the horses and dismissed most of the servants. A great fear seized her
that it would be impossible to keep Hamlyn's Purlieu, and she was
stricken with panic. She was willing to make every sacrifice but that,
and if she were only allowed to remain there, did not care how
penuriously she lived.
But the struggle was growing harder. None knew what she had endured
in her endeavour to keep their heads above water. And she had borne
everything with perfect cheerfulness. Though she saw a good deal of the
neighbouring gentry, connected with her by blood or long friendship,
not one of them divined her great anxiety. She felt vaguely that they
knew how things were going, but she held her head high and gave no one
an opportunity to pity her. Her father was now absent from home more
frequently and seemed to avoid being alone with her. They had never
discussed the state of their affairs, for he assumed with Lucy a
determined flippancy which prevented any serious conversation. On her
twenty-first birthday he had made some facetious observation about the
money of which she was now mistress, but had treated the matter with
such an airy charm that she had felt unable to proceed with it. Nor did
she wish to, for if he had spent her money nothing could be done, and
it was better not to know for certain. Notwithstanding settlements and
wills, she felt that it was really his to do what he liked with, and
she made up her mind that nothing in her behaviour should be construed
as a reproach.
At length the crash came.
She received a telegram one dayshe was nearly twenty-three
thenfrom Richard Lomas, an old friend of her mother's, to say that he
was coming down for luncheon. She walked to the station to meet him.
She was very fond of him, not only for his own sake, but because her
mother had been fond of him, too; and the affection which had existed
between them, drew her nearer to the mother whom she felt now she had a
little neglected. Dick Lomas was a barrister, who, after contesting two
seats unsuccessfully, had got into Parliament at the last general
election and had made already a certain name for himself by the
wittiness of his speeches and the bluntness of his common sense. He had
neither the portentous gravity nor the dogmatic airs which afflicted
most of his legal colleagues in the house. He was a man who had solved
the difficulty of being sensible without tediousness and pointed
without impertinence. He was wise enough not to speak too often, and if
only he had not possessed a sense of humourwhich his countrymen
always regard with suspicion in an English politicianhe might have
looked forward to a brilliant future. He was a wiry little man, with a
sharp, good-humoured face and sparkling eyes. He carried his seven and
thirty years with gaiety.
But on this occasion he was unusually grave. Lucy, already surprised
at his sudden visit, divined at once from the uneasiness of his
pleasant, grey eyes that something was amiss. Her heart began to beat
more quickly. He forced himself to smile as he took her hand,
congratulating her on the healthiness of her appearance; and they
walked slowly from the station. Dick spoke of indifferent things, while
Lucy distractedly turned over in her mind all that could have happened.
Luncheon was ready for them, and Dick sat down with apparent gusto,
praising emphatically the good things she set before him; but he ate as
little as she did. He seemed impatient for the meal to end, but
unwilling to enter upon the subject which oppressed him. They drank
'Shall we go for a turn in the garden?' he suggested.
After his last visit, Dick had sent down an old sundial which he had
picked up in a shop in Westminster, and Lucy took him to the place
which they had before decided needed just such an ornament. They
discussed it at some length, but then silence fell suddenly upon them,
and they walked side by side without a word. Dick slipped his arm
through hers with a caressing motion, and Lucy, unused to any
tenderness, felt a sob rise to her throat. They went in once more and
stood in the drawing-room. From the walls looked down the treasures of
the house. There was a portrait by Reynolds, and another by Hoppner,
and there was a beautiful picture of the Grand Canal by Guardi, and
there was a portrait by Goya of a General Allerton who had fought in
the Peninsular War. Dick gave them a glance, and his blood tingled with
admiration. He leaned against the fireplace.
'Your father asked me to come down and see you, Lucy. He was too
worried to come himself.'
Lucy looked at him with grave eyes, but made no reply.
'He's had some very bad luck lately. Your father is a man who prides
himself on his business ability, but he has no more knowledge of such
matters than a child. He's an imaginative man, and when some scheme
appeals to his feeling for romance, he loses all sense of proportion.'
Dick paused again. It was impossible to soften the blow, and he
could only put it bluntly.
'He's been gambling on the Stock Exchange, and he's been badly let
down. He was bulling a number of South American railways, and there's
been a panic in the market. He's lost enormously. I don't know if any
settlement can be made with his creditors, but if not he must go
bankrupt. In any case, I'm afraid Hamlyn's Purlieu must be sold.'
Lucy walked to the window and looked out. But she could see nothing.
Her eyes were blurred with tears. She breathed quickly, trying to
'I've been expecting it for a long time,' she said at last. 'I've
refused to face it, and I put the thought away from me, but I knew
really that it must come to that.'
'I'm very sorry,' said Dick helplessly.
She turned on him fiercely, and the colour rose to her cheeks. But
she restrained herself and left unsaid the bitter words that had come
to her tongue. She made a pitiful gesture of despair. He felt how poor
were his words of consolation, and how inadequate to her great grief,
and he was silent.
'And what about George?' she asked.
George was then eighteen, and on the point of leaving Winchester. It
had been arranged that he should go to Oxford at the beginning of the
'Lady Kelsey has offered to pay his expenses at the 'Varsity,'
answered Dick, 'and she wants you to go and stay with her for the
'Do you mean to say we're penniless?' asked Lucy, desperately.
'I think you cannot depend on your father for much regular
Lucy was silent again.
Lady Kelsey was the elder sister of Mrs. Allerton, and some time
after that lady's marriage had accepted a worthy merchant whose father
had been in partnership with hers; and he, after a prosperous career
crowned by surrendering his seat in Parliament to a defeated
cabinet-ministera patriotic act for which he was rewarded with a
knighthoodhad died, leaving her well off and childless. She had but
one other nephew, Robert Boulger, her brother's only son, but he was
rich with all the inherited wealth of the firm of Boulger &Kelsey; and
her affections were placed chiefly upon the children of the man whom
she had loved devotedly and who had married her sister.
'I was hoping you would come up to town with me now,' said Dick.
'Lady Kelsey is expecting you, and I cannot bear to think of you by
'I shall stay till the last moment.'
Dick hesitated again. He had wished to keep back the full brutality
of the blow, but sooner or later it must be given.
'The place is already sold. Your father accepted an offer from
Jarrettyou remember him, he has been down here; he is your father's
broker and chief creditorand everything else is to go to Christy's at
'Then there is no more to be said.'
She gave Dick her hand.
'You won't mind if I don't come to the station with you?'
'Won't you come up to London?' he asked again.
She shook her head.
'I want to be alone. Forgive me if I make you go so abruptly.'
'My dear girl, it's very good of you to make sure that I don't miss
my train,' he smiled drily.
'Good-bye and thank you.'
While Lucy wandered by the seashore, occupied with painful memories,
her old friend Dick, too lazy to walk with her, sat in the drawing-room
of Court Leys, talking to his hostess.
Mrs. Crowley was an American woman, who had married an Englishman,
and on being left a widow, had continued to live in England. She was a
person who thoroughly enjoyed life; and indeed there was every reason
that she should do so, since she was young, pretty, and rich; she had a
quick mind and an alert tongue. She was of diminutive size, so small
that Dick Lomas, by no means a tall man, felt quite large by the side
of her. Her figure was exquisite, and she had the smallest hands in the
world. Her features were so good, regular and well-formed, her
complexion so perfect, her agile grace so enchanting, that she did not
seem a real person at all. She was too delicate for the hurly-burly of
life, and it seemed improbable that she could be made of the ordinary
clay from which human beings are manufactured. She had the artificial
grace of those dainty, exquisite ladies in the Embarquement pour
Cithère of the charming Watteau; and you felt that she was fit to
saunter on that sunny strand, habited in satin of delicate colours,
with a witty, decadent cavalier by her side. It was preposterous to
talk to her of serious things, and nothing but an airy badinage seemed
possible in her company.
Mrs. Crowley had asked Lucy and Dick Lomas to stay with her in the
house she had just taken for a term of years. She had spent a week by
herself to arrange things to her liking, and insisted that Dick should
admire all she had done. After a walk round the park he vowed that he
was exhausted and must rest till tea-time.
'Now tell me what made you take it. It's so far from anywhere.'
'I met the owner in Rome last winter. It belongs to a Mrs. Craddock,
and when I told her I was looking out for a house, she suggested that I
should come and see this.'
'Why doesn't she live in it herself?'
'Oh, I don't know. It appears that she was passionately devoted to
her husband, and he broke his neck in the hunting-field, so she
couldn't bear to live here any more.'
Mrs. Crowley looked round the drawing-room with satisfaction. At
first it had borne the cheerless look of a house uninhabited, but she
had quickly made it pleasant with flowers, photographs, and silver
ornaments. The Sheraton furniture and the chintzes suited the style of
her beauty. She felt that she looked in place in that comfortable room,
and was conscious that her frock fitted her and the circumstances
perfectly. Dick's eye wandered to the books that were scattered here
'And have you put out these portentous works in order to improve
your mind, or with the laudable desire of impressing me with the
serious turn of your intellect?'
'You don't think I'm such a perfect fool as to try and impress an
entirely flippant person like yourself?'
On the table at his elbow were a copy of the Revue des Deux
Mondes and one of the Fortnightly Review. He took up two
books, and saw that one was the Fröhliche Wissenschaft of
Nietzsche, who was then beginning to be read in England by the
fashionable world and was on the eve of being discovered by men of
letters, while the other was a volume of Mrs. Crowley's compatriot,
'American women amaze me,' said Dick, as he put them down. 'They buy
their linen at Doucet's and read Herbert Spencer with avidity. And
what's more, they seem to like him. An Englishwoman can seldom read a
serious book without feeling a prig, and as soon as she feels a prig
she leaves off her corsets.'
'I feel vaguely that you're paying me a compliment,' returned Mrs.
Crowley, 'but it's so elusive that I can't quite catch it.'
'The best compliments are those that flutter about your head like
butterflies around a flower.'
'I much prefer to fix them down on a board with a pin through their
insides and a narrow strip of paper to hold down each wing.'
It was October, but the autumn, late that year, had scarcely
coloured the leaves, and the day was warm. Mrs. Crowley, however, was a
chilly being, and a fire burned in the grate. She put another log on it
and watched the merry crackle of the flames.
'It was very good of you to ask Lucy down here,' said Dick,
'I don't know why. I like her so much. And I felt sure she would fit
the place. She looks a little like a Gainsborough portrait, doesn't
she? And I like to see her in this Georgian house.'
'She's not had much of a time since they sold the family place. It
was a great grief to her.'
'I feel such a pig to have here the things I bought at the sale.'
When the contents of Hamlyn's Purlieu were sent to Christy's, Mrs.
Crowley, recently widowed and without a home, had bought one or two
pictures and some old chairs. She had brought these down to Court Leys,
and was much tormented at the thought of causing Lucy a new grief.
'Perhaps she didn't recognise them,' said Dick.
'Don't be so idiotic. Of course she recognised them. I saw her eyes
fall on the Reynolds the very moment she came into the room.'
'I'm sure she would rather you had them than any stranger.'
'She's said nothing about them. You know, I'm very fond of her, and
I admire her extremely, but she would be easier to get on with if she
were less reserved. I never shall get into this English way of bottling
up my feelings and sitting on them.'
'It sounds a less comfortable way of reposing oneself than sitting
in an armchair.'
'I would offer to give Lucy back all the things I bought, only I'm
sure she'd snub me.'
'She doesn't mean to be unkind, but she's had a very hard life, and
it's had its effect on her character. I don't think anyone knows what
she's gone through during these ten years. She's borne the
responsibilities of her whole family since she was fifteen, and if the
crash didn't come sooner, it was owing to her. She's never been a girl,
poor thing; she was a child, and then suddenly she was a woman.'
'But has she never had any lovers?'
'I fancy that she's rather a difficult person to make love to. It
would be a bold young man who whispered sweet nothings into her ear;
they'd sound so very foolish.'
'At all events there's Bobbie Boulger. I'm sure he's asked her to
marry him scores of times.'
Sir Robert Boulger had succeeded his father, the manufacturer, as
second baronet; and had promptly placed his wealth and his personal
advantages at Lucy's feet. His devotion to her was well known to his
friends. They had all listened to the protestations of undying passion,
which Lucy, with gentle humour, put smilingly aside. Lady Kelsey, his
aunt and Lucy's, had done all she could to bring the pair together; and
it was evident that from every point of view a marriage between them
was desirable. He was not unattractive in appearance, his fortune was
considerable, and his manners were good. He was a good-natured,
pleasant fellow, with no great strength of character perhaps, but Lucy
had enough of that for two; and with her to steady him, he had enough
brains to make some figure in the world.
'I've never seen Mr. Allerton,' remarked Mrs. Crowley, presently.
'He must be a horrid man.'
'On the contrary, he's the most charming creature I ever met, and I
don't believe there's a man in London who can borrow a hundred pounds
of you with a greater air of doing you a service. If you met him you'd
fall in love with him before you'd got well into your favourite
conversation on bimetallism.'
'I've never discussed bimetallism in my life,' protested Mrs.
'All women do.'
'Fall in love with him. He knows exactly what to talk to them about,
and he has the most persuasive voice you ever heard. I believe Lady
Kelsey has been in love with him for five and twenty years. It's lucky
they've not yet passed the deceased wife's sister's bill, or he would
have married her and run through her money as he did his first wife's.
He's still very good-looking, and there's such a transparent honesty
about him that I promise you he's irresistible.'
'And what has happened to him since the catastrophe?'
'Well, the position of an undischarged bankrupt is never
particularly easy, though I've known men who've cavorted about in
motors and given dinners at the Carlton when they were in that
state, and seemed perfectly at peace with the world in general. But
with Fred Allerton the proceedings before the Official Receiver seem to
have broken down the last remnants of his self-respect. He was glad to
get rid of his children, and Lady Kelsey was only too happy to provide
for them. Heaven only knows how he's lived during the last two years.
He's still occupied with a variety of crack-brained schemes, and he's
been to me more than once for money to finance them with.'
'I hope you weren't such a fool as to give it.'
'I wasn't. I flatter myself that I combined frankness with
good-nature in the right proportion, and in the end he was always
satisfied with the nimble fiver. But I'm afraid things are going harder
with him. He has lost his old alert gaiety, and he's a little down at
heel in character as well as in person. There's a furtive look about
him, as though he were ready for undertakings that were not quite above
board, and there's a shiftiness in his eye which makes his company a
'You don't think he'd do anything dishonest?' asked Mrs. Crowley
'Oh, no. I don't believe he has the nerve to sail closer to the wind
than the law allows, and really, at bottom, notwithstanding all I know
of him, I think he's an honest man. It's only behind his back that I
have any doubts about him; when he's there face to face with me I
succumb to his charm. I can believe nothing to his discredit.'
At that moment they saw Lucy walking towards them. Dick Lomas got up
and stood at the window. Mrs. Crowley, motionless, watched her from her
chair. They were both silent. A smile of sympathy played on Mrs.
Crowley's lips, and her heart went out to the girl who had undergone so
much. A vague memory came back to her, and for a moment she was
puzzled; but then she hit upon the idea that had hovered about her
mind, and she remembered distinctly the admirable picture by John Furse
at Millbank, which is called Diana of the Uplands. It had
pleased her always, not only because of its beauty and the fine power
of the painter, but because it seemed to her as it were a synthesis of
the English spirit. Her nationality gave her an interest in the
observation of this, and her wide, systematic reading the power to
compare and analyse. This portrait of a young woman holding two hounds
in leash, the wind of the northern moor on which she stands, blowing
her skirts and outlining her lithe figure, seemed to Mrs. Crowley
admirably to follow in the tradition of the eighteenth century. And as
Reynolds and Gainsborough, with their elegant ladies in powdered hair
and high-waisted gowns, standing in leafy, woodland scenes, had given a
picture of England in the age of Reason, well-bred and beautiful,
artificial and a little airless, so had Furse in this represented the
England of to-day. It was an England that valued cleanliness above all
things, of the body and of the spirit, an England that loved the open
air and feared not the wildness of nature nor the violence of the
elements. And Mrs. Crowley had lived long enough in the land of her
fathers to know that this was a true England, simple and honest; narrow
perhaps, and prejudiced, but strong, brave, and of great ideals. The
girl who stood on that upland, looking so candidly out of her blue
eyes, was a true descendant of the ladies that Sir Joshua painted, but
she had a bath every morning, loved her dogs, and wore a short,
serviceable skirt. With an inward smile, Mrs. Crowley acknowledged that
she was probably bored by Emerson and ignorant of English literature;
but for the moment she was willing to pardon these failings in her
admiration for the character and all it typified.
Lucy came in, and Mrs. Crowley gave her a nod of welcome. She was
fond of her fantasies and would not easily interrupt them. She noted
that Lucy had just that frank look of Diana of the Uplands, and
the delicate, sensitive face, refined with the good-breeding of
centuries, but strengthened by an athletic life. Her skin was very
clear. It had gained a peculiar freshness by exposure to all manner of
weather. Her bright, fair hair was a little disarranged after her walk,
and she went to the glass to set it right. Mrs. Crowley observed with
delight the straightness of her nose and the delicate curve of her
lips. She was tall and strong, but her figure was very slight; and
there was a charming litheness about her which suggested the good
But what struck Mrs. Crowley most was that only the keenest observer
could have told that she had endured more than other women of her age.
A stranger would have delighted in her frank smile and the kindly
sympathy of her eyes; and it was only if you knew the troubles she had
suffered that you saw how much more womanly she was than girlish. There
was a self-possession about her which came from the responsibilities
she had borne so long, and an unusual reserve, unconsciously masked by
a great charm of manner, which only intimate friends discerned, but
which even to them was impenetrable. Mrs. Crowley, with her American
impulsiveness, had tried in all kindliness to get through the barrier,
but she had never succeeded. All Lucy's struggles, her heart-burnings
and griefs, her sudden despairs and eager hopes, her tempestuous
angers, took place in the bottom of her heart. She would have been as
dismayed at the thought of others seeing them as she would have been at
the thought of being discovered unclothed. Shyness and pride combined
to make her hide her innermost feelings so that no one should venture
to offer sympathy or commiseration.
'Do ring the bell for tea,' said Mrs. Crowley to Lucy, as she turned
away from the glass. 'I can't get Mr. Lomas to amuse me till he's had
some stimulating refreshment.'
'I hope you like the tea I sent you,' said Dick.
'Very much. Though I'm inclined to look upon it as a slight that you
should send me down only just enough to last over your visit.'
'I always herald my arrival in a country house by a little present
of tea,' said Dick. 'The fact is it's the only good tea in the world. I
sent my father to China for seven years to find it, and I'm sure you
will agree that my father has not lived an ill-spent life.'
The tea was brought and duly drunk. Mrs. Crowley asked Lucy how her
brother was. He had been at Oxford for the last two years.
'I had a letter from him yesterday,' the girl answered. 'I think
he's getting on very well. I hope he'll take his degree next year.'
A happy brightness came into her eyes as she talked of him. She
apologised, blushing, for her eagerness.
'You know, I've looked after George ever since he was ten, and I
feel like a mother to him. It's only with the greatest difficulty I can
prevent myself from telling you how he got through the measles, and how
well he bore vaccination.'
Lucy was very proud of her brother. She found a constant
satisfaction in his good looks, and she loved the openness of his
smile. She had striven with all her might to keep away from him the
troubles that oppressed her, and had determined that nothing, if she
could help it, should disturb his radiant satisfaction with the world.
She knew that he was apt to lean on her, but though she chid herself
sometimes for fostering the tendency, she could not really prevent the
intense pleasure it gave her. He was young yet, and would soon enough
grow into manly ways; it could not matter if now he depended upon her
for everything. She rejoiced in the ardent affection which he gave her;
and the implicit trust he placed in her, the complete reliance on her
judgment, filled her with a proud humility. It made her feel stronger
and better capable of affronting the difficulties of life. And Lucy,
living much in the future, was pleased to see how beloved George was of
all his friends. Everyone seemed willing to help him, and this seemed
of good omen for the career which she had mapped out for him.
The recollection of him came to Lucy now as she had last seen him.
They had been spending part of the summer with Lady Kelsey at her house
on the Thames. George was going to Scotland to stay with friends, and
Lucy, bound elsewhere, was leaving earlier in the afternoon. He came to
see her off. She was touched, in her own sorrow at leaving him, by his
obvious emotion. The tears were in his eyes as he kissed her on the
platform. She saw him waving to her as the train sped towards London,
slender and handsome, looking more boyish than ever in his whites; and
she felt a thrill of gratitude because, with all her sorrows and
regrets, she at least had him.
'I hope he's a good shot,' she said inconsequently, as Mrs. Crowley
handed her a cap of tea. 'Of course it's in the family.'
'Marvellous family!' said Dick, ironically. 'You would be wiser to
wish he had a good head for figures.'
'But I hope he has that, too,' she answered.
It had been arranged that George should go into the business in
which Lady Kelsey still had a large interest. Lucy wanted him to make
great sums of money, so that he might pay his father's debts, and
perhaps buy back the house which her family had owned so long.
'I want him to be a clever man of businesssince business is the
only thing open to him nowand an excellent sportsman.'
She was too shy to describe her ambition, but her fancy had already
cast a glow over the calling which George was to adopt. There was in
the family an innate tendency toward the more exquisite things of life,
and this would colour his career. She hoped he would become a merchant
prince after the pattern of those Florentines who have left an ideal
for succeeding ages of the way in which commerce may be ennobled by a
liberal view of life. Like them he could drive hard bargains and amass
richesshe recognised that riches now were the surest means of
powerbut like them also he could love music and art and literature,
cherishing the things of the soul with a careful taste, and at the same
time excel in all sports of the field. Life then would be as full as a
man's heart could wish; and this intermingling of interests might so
colour it that he would lead the whole with a certain beauty and
'I wish I were a man,' she cried, with a bright smile. 'It's so hard
that I can do nothing but sit at home and spur others on. I want to do
Mrs. Crowley leaned back in her chair. She gave her skirt a little
twist so that the line of her form should be more graceful.
'I'm so glad I'm a woman,' she murmured. 'I want none of the
privileges of the sex which I'm delighted to call stronger. I want men
to be noble and heroic and self-sacrificing; then they can protect me
from a troublesome world, and look after me, and wait upon me. I'm an
irresponsible creature with whom they can never be annoyed however
exacting I amit's only pretty thoughtlessness on my partand they
must never lose their tempers however I annoyit's only nerves. Oh,
no, I like to be a poor, weak woman.'
'You're a monster of cynicism,' cried Dick. 'You use an imaginary
helplessness with the brutality of a buccaneer, and your ingenuousness
is a pistol you put to one's head, crying: your money or your life.'
'You look very comfortable, dear Mr. Lomas,' she retorted. 'Would
you mind very much if I asked you to put my footstool right for me?'
'I should mind immensely,' he smiled, without moving.
'Oh, please do,' she said, with a piteous little expression of
appeal. 'I'm so uncomfortable, and my foot's going to sleep. And you
needn't be horrid to me.'
'I didn't know you really meant it,' he said, getting up obediently
and doing what was required of him.
'I didn't,' she answered, as soon as he had finished. 'But I know
you're a lazy creature, and I merely wanted to see if I could make you
move when I'd warned you immediately before thatI was a womanly
'I wonder if you'd make Alec MacKenzie do that?' laughed Dick,
'Good heavens, I'd never try. Haven't you discovered that women know
by instinct what men they can make fools of, and they only try their
arts on them? They've gained their reputation for omnipotence only on
account of their robust common-sense, which leads them only to attack
fortresses which are already half demolished.'
'That suggests to my mind that every woman is a Potiphar's wife,
though every man isn't a Joseph,' said Dick.
'Your remark is too blunt to be witty,' returned Mrs. Crowley, 'but
it's not without its grain of truth.'
Lucy, smiling, listened to the nonsense they talked. In their
company she lost all sense of reality; Mrs. Crowley was so fragile, and
Dick had such a whimsical gaiety, that she could not treat them as real
persons. She felt herself a grown-up being assisting at some childish
game in which preposterous ideas were bandied to and fro like answers
in the game of consequences.
'I never saw people wander from the subject as you do,' she
protested. 'I can't imagine what connection there is between whether
Mr. MacKenzie would arrange Julia's footstool, and the profligacy of
the female sex.'
'Don't be hard on us,' said Mrs. Crowley. 'I must work off my
flippancy before he arrives, and then I shall be ready to talk
'When does Alec come?' asked Dick.
'Now, this very minute. I've sent a carriage to meet him at the
station. You won't let him depress me, will you?'
'Why did you ask him if he affects you in that way?' asked Lucy,
'But I like himat least I think I doand in any case, I admire
him, and I'm sure he's good for me. And Mr. Lomas wanted me to ask him,
and he plays bridge extraordinarily well. And I thought he would be
interesting. The only thing I have against him is that he never laughs
when I say a clever thing, and looks so uncomfortably at me when I say
a foolish one.'
'I'm glad I laugh when you say a clever thing,' said Dick.
'You don't. But you roar so heartily at your own jokes that if I
hurry up and slip one in before you've done, I can often persuade
myself that you're laughing at mine.'
'And do you like Alec MacKenzie, Lucy?' asked Dick.
She paused for a moment before she answered, and hesitated.
'I don't know,' she said. 'Sometimes I think I rather dislike him.
But I'm like Julia, I certainly admire him.'
'I suppose he is rather alarming,' said Dick. 'He's difficult to
know, and he's obviously impatient with other people's affectations.
There's a certain grimness about him which disturbs you unless you know
'He's your greatest friend, isn't he?'
Dick paused for a little while.
'I've known him for twenty years now, and I look upon him as the
greatest man I've ever set eyes on. I think it's an inestimable
privilege to have been his friend.'
'I've not noticed that you treated him with especial awe,' said Mrs.
'Heaven save us!' cried Dick. 'I can only hold my own by laughing at
'He bears it with unexampled good-nature.'
'Have I ever told you how I made his acquaintance? It was in about
fifty fathoms of water, and at least a thousand miles from land.'
'What an inconvenient place for an introduction!'
'We were both very wet. I was a young fool in those days, and I was
playing the giddy goatI was just going up to Oxford, and my wise
father had sent me to America on a visit to enlarge my mindI fell
over-board, and was proceeding to drown, when Alec jumped in after me
and held me up by the hair of my head.'
'He'd have some difficulty in doing that now, wouldn't he?'
suggested Mrs. Crowley, with a glance at Dick's thinning locks.
'And the odd thing is that he was absurdly grateful to me for
letting myself be saved. He seemed to think I had done him an
intentional service, and fallen into the Atlantic for the sole purpose
of letting him pull me out.'
Dick had scarcely said these words when they heard the carriage
drive up to the door of Court Leys.
'There he is,' cried Dick eagerly.
Mrs. Crowley's butler opened the door and announced the man they had
been discussing. Alexander MacKenzie came in.
He was just under six feet high, spare and well-made. He did not at
the first glance give you the impression of particular strength, but
his limbs were well-knit, there was no superfluous flesh about him, and
you felt immediately that he had great powers of endurance. His hair
was dark and cut very close. His short beard and his moustache were
red. They concealed the squareness of his chin and the determination of
his mouth. His eyes were not large, but they rested on the object that
attracted his attention with a peculiar fixity. When he talked to you
he did not glance this way or that, but looked straight at you with a
deliberate steadiness that was a little disconcerting. He walked with
an easy swing, like a man in the habit of covering a vast number of
miles each day, and there was in his manner a self-assurance which
suggested that he was used to command. His skin was tanned by exposure
to tropical suns.
Mrs. Crowley and Dick chattered light-heartedly, but it was clear
that he had no power of small-talk, and after the first greetings he
fell into silence; he refused tea, but Mrs. Crowley poured out a cup
and handed it to him.
'You need not drink it, but I insist on your holding it in your
hand. I hate people who habitually deny themselves things, and I can't
allow you to mortify the flesh in my house.'
Alec smiled gravely.
'Of course I will drink it if it pleases you,' he answered. 'I got
in the habit in Africa of eating only two meals a day, and I can't get
out of it now. But I'm afraid it's very inconvenient for my friends.'
He looked at Lomas, and though his mouth did not smile, a look came
into his eyes, partly of tenderness, partly of amusement. 'Dick, of
course, eats far too much.'
'Good heavens, I'm nearly the only person left in London who is
completely normal. I eat my three square meals a day regularly, and I
always have a comfortable tea into the bargain. I don't suffer from any
disease. I'm in the best of health. I have no fads. I neither nibble
nuts like a squirrel, nor grapes like a birdI care nothing for all
this jargon about pepsins and proteids and all the rest of it. I'm not
a vegetarian, but a carnivorous animal; I drink when I'm thirsty, and I
decidedly prefer my beverages to be alcoholic.'
'I was thinking at luncheon to-day,' said Mrs. Crowley, 'that the
pleasure you took in roast-beef and ale showed a singularly gross and
'I adore good food as I adore all the other pleasant things of life,
and because I have that gift I am able to look upon the future with
'Why?' asked Alec.
'Because a love for good food is the only thing that remains with
man when he grows old. Love? What is love when you are five and fifty
and can no longer hide the disgraceful baldness of your pate. Ambition?
What is ambition when you have discovered that honours are to the
pushing and glory to the vulgar. Finally we must all reach an age when
every passion seems vain, every desire not worth the trouble of
achieving it; but then there still remain to the man with a good
appetite three pleasures each day, his breakfast, his luncheon, and his
Alec's eyes rested on him quietly. He had never got out of the habit
of looking upon Dick as a scatter-brained boy who talked nonsense for
the fun of it; and his expression wore the amused disdain which one
might have seen on a Saint Bernard when a toy-terrier was going through
'Please say something,' cried Dick, half-irritably.
'I suppose you say those things in order that I may contradict you.
Why should I? They're perfectly untrue, and I don't agree with a single
word you say. But if it amuses you to talk nonsense, I don't see why
'My dear Alec, I wish you wouldn't use the mailed fist in your
conversation. It's so very difficult to play a game with a spillikin on
one side and a sledge-hammer on the other.'
Lucy, sitting back in her chair, quietly, was observing the new
arrival. Dick had asked her and Mrs. Crowley to meet him at luncheon
immediately after his arrival from Mombassa. This was two months ago
now, and since then she had seen much of him. But she felt that she
knew him little more than on that first day, and still she could not
make up her mind whether she liked him or not. She was glad that they
were staying together at Court Leys; it would give her an opportunity
of really becoming acquainted with him, and there was no doubt that he
was worth the trouble. The fire lit up his face, casting grim shadows
upon it, so that it looked more than ever masterful and determined. He
was unconscious that her eyes rested upon him. He was always
unconscious of the attention he aroused.
Lucy hoped that she would induce him to talk of the work he had
done, and the work upon which he was engaged. With her mind fixed
always on great endeavours, his career interested her enormously; and
it gained something mysterious as well because there were gaps in her
knowledge of him which no one seemed able to fill. He knew few people
in London, but was known in one way or another of many; and all who had
come in contact with him were unanimous in their opinion. He was
supposed to know Africa as no other man knew it. During fifteen years
he had been through every part of it, and had traversed districts which
the white man had left untouched. But he had never written of his
experiences, partly from indifference to chronicle the results of his
undertakings, partly from a natural secrecy which made him hate to
recount his deeds to all and sundry. It seemed that reserve was a
deep-rooted instinct with him, and he was inclined to keep to himself
all that he discovered. But if on this account he was unknown to the
great public, his work was appreciated very highly by specialists. He
had read papers before the Geographical Society, (though it had been
necessary to exercise much pressure to induce him to do so), which had
excited profound interest; and occasionally letters appeared from him
in Nature, or in one of the ethnographical publications, stating
briefly some discovery he had made, or some observation which he
thought necessary to record. He had been asked now and again to make
reports to the Foreign Office upon matters pertaining to the countries
he knew; and Lucy had heard his perspicacity praised in no measured
terms by those in power.
She put together such facts as she knew of his career.
Alec MacKenzie was a man of considerable means. He belonged to an
old Scotch family, and had a fine place in the Highlands, but his
income depended chiefly upon a colliery in Lancashire. His parents died
during his childhood, and his wealth was much increased by a long
minority. Having inherited from an uncle a ranch in the West, his
desire to see this occasioned his first voyage from England in the
interval between leaving Eton and going up to Oxford; and it was then
he made acquaintance with Richard Lomas, who had remained his most
intimate friend. The unlikeness of the two men caused perhaps the
strength of the tie between them, the strenuous vehemence of the one
finding a relief in the gaiety of the other. Soon after leaving Oxford,
MacKenzie made a brief expedition into Algeria to shoot, and the
mystery of the great continent seized him. As sometimes a man comes
upon a new place which seems extraordinarily familiar, so that he is
almost convinced that in a past state he has known it intimately, Alec
suddenly found himself at home in the immense distances of Africa. He
felt a singular exhilaration when the desert was spread out before his
eyes, and capacities which he had not suspected in himself awoke in
him. He had never thought himself an ambitious man, but ambition seized
him. He had never imagined himself subject to poetic emotion, but all
at once a feeling of the poetry of an adventurous life welled up within
him. And though he had looked upon romance with the scorn of his
Scottish common sense, an irresistible desire of the romantic surged
upon him, like the waves of some unknown, mystical sea.
When he returned to England a peculiar restlessness took hold of
him. He was indifferent to the magnificence of the bag, which was the
pride of his companions. He felt himself cribbed and confined. He could
not breathe the air of cities.
He began to read the marvellous records of African exploration, and
his blood tingled at the magic of those pages. Mungo Park, a Scot like
himself, had started the roll. His aim had been to find the source and
trace the seaward course of the Niger. He took his life in his hands,
facing boldly the perils of climate, savage pagans, and jealous
Mohammedans, and discovered the upper portions of that great river. On
a second expedition he undertook to follow it to the sea. Of his party
some died of disease, and some were slain by the natives. Not one
returned; and the only trace of Mungo Park was a book, known to have
been in his possession, found by British explorers in the hut of a
Then Alec MacKenzie read of the efforts to reach Timbuktu, which was
the great object of ambition to the explorers of the nineteenth
century. It exercised the same fascination over their minds as did El
Dorado, with its golden city of Monoa, to the adventurers in the days
of Queen Elizabeth. It was thought to be the capital of a powerful and
wealthy state; and those ardent minds promised themselves all kinds of
wonders when they should at last come upon it. But it was not the
desire for gold that urged them on, rather an irresistible curiosity,
and a pride in their own courage. One after another desperate attempts
were made, and it was reached at last by another Scot, Alexander Gordon
Laing. And his success was a symbol of all earthly endeavours, for the
golden city of his dreams was no more than a poverty-stricken village.
One by one Alec studied the careers of these great men; and he saw
that the best of them had not gone with half an army at their backs,
but almost alone, sometimes with not a single companion, and had
depended for their success not upon the strength of their arms, but
upon the strength of their character. Major Durham, an old Peninsular
officer, was the first European to cross the Sahara. Captain
Clapperton, with his servant, Richard Lander, was the first who
traversed Africa from the Mediterranean to the Guinea Coast. And he
died at his journey's end. And there was something fine in the devotion
of Richard Lander, the faithful servant, who went on with his master's
work and cleared up at last the great mystery of the Niger. And he,
too, had no sooner done his work than he died, near the mouth of the
river he had so long travelled on, of wounds inflicted by the natives.
There was not one of those early voyagers who escaped with his life. It
was the work of desperate men that they undertook, but there was no
recklessness in them. They counted the cost and took the risk; the
fascination of the unknown was too great for them, and they reckoned
death as nothing if they could accomplish that on which they had set
Two men above all attracted Alec Mackenzie's interest. One was
Richard Burton, that mighty, enigmatic man, more admirable for what he
was than for what he did; and the other was Livingstone, the greatest
of African explorers. There was something very touching in the
character of that gentle Scot. MacKenzie's enthusiasm was seldom very
strong, but here was a man whom he would willingly have known; and he
was strangely affected by the thought of his lonely death, and his
grave in the midst of the Dark Continent he loved so well. On that,
too, might have been written the epitaph which is on the tomb of Sir
Finally he studied the works of Henry M. Stanley. Here the man
excited neither admiration nor affection, but a cold respect. No one
could help recognising the greatness of his powers. He was a man of
Napoleonic instinct, who suited his means to his end, and ruthlessly
fought his way until he had achieved it. His books were full of
interest, and they were practical. From them much could be learned, and
Alec studied them with a thoroughness which was in his nature.
When he arose from this long perusal, his mind was made up. He had
found his vocation.
He did not disclose his plans to any of his friends till they were
mature, and meanwhile set about seeing the people who could give him
information. At last he sailed for Zanzibar, and started on a journey
which was to try his powers. In a month he fell ill, and it was thought
at the mission to which his bearers brought him that he could not live.
For ten weeks he was at death's door, but he would not give in to the
enemy. He insisted in the end on being taken back to the coast, and
here, as if by a personal effort of will, he recovered. The season had
passed for his expedition, and he was obliged to return to England.
Most men would have been utterly discouraged, but Alec was only
strengthened in his determination. He personified in a way that deadly
climate and would not allow himself to be beaten by it. His short
experience had shown him what he needed, and as soon as he was back in
England he proceeded to acquire a smattering of medical knowledge, and
some acquaintance with the sciences which were wanted by a traveller.
He had immense powers of concentration, and in a year of tremendous
labour acquired a working knowledge of botany and geology, and the
elements of surveying; he learnt how to treat the maladies which were
likely to attack people in tropical districts, and enough surgery to
set a broken limb or to conduct a simple operation. He felt himself
ready now for a considerable undertaking; but this time he meant to
start from Mombassa.
So far Lucy was able to go, partly from her own imaginings, and
partly from what Dick had told her. He had given her the proceedings of
the Royal Geographical Society, and here she found Alec MacKenzie's
account of his wanderings during the five years that followed. The
countries which he explored then, became afterwards British East
But the bell rang for dinner, and so interrupted her meditations.
They played bridge immediately afterwards. Mrs. Crowley looked upon
conversation as a fine art, which could not be pursued while the body
was engaged in the process of digestion; and she was of opinion that a
game of cards agreeably diverted the mind and prepared the intellect
for the quips and cranks which might follow when the claims of the body
were satisfied. Lucy drew Alec MacKenzie as her partner, and so was
able to watch his play when her cards were on the table. He did not
play lightly as did Dick, who kept up a running commentary the whole
time, but threw his whole soul into the game and never for a moment
relaxed his attention. He took no notice of Dick's facetious
observations. Presently Lucy grew more interested in his playing than
in the game; she was struck, not only by his great gift of
concentration, but by his boldness. He had a curious faculty for
knowing almost from the beginning of a hand where each card lay. She
saw, also, that he was plainly most absorbed when he was playing both
hands himself; he was a man who liked to take everything on his own
shoulders, and the division of responsibility irritated him.
At the end of the rubber Dick flung himself back in his chair
'I can't make it out,' he cried. 'I play much better than you, and I
hold better hands, and yet you get the tricks.'
Dick was known to be an excellent player, and his annoyance was
'We didn't make a single mistake,' he assured his partner, 'and we
actually had the odd in our hands, but not one of our finesses came
off, and all his did.' He turned to Alec. 'How the dickens did you
guess I had those two queens?'
'Because I've known you for twenty years,' answered Alec, smiling.
'I know that, though you're impulsive and emotional, you're not without
shrewdness; I know that your brain acts very quickly and sees all kinds
of remote contingencies; then you're so pleased at having noticed them
that you act as if they were certain to occur. Given these data, I can
tell pretty well what cards you have, after they've gone round two or
'The knowledge you have of your opponents' cards is too uncanny,'
said Mrs. Crowley.
'I can tell a good deal from people's faces. You see, in Africa I
have had a lot of experience; it's apparently so much easier for the
native to lie than to tell the truth that you get into the habit of
paying no attention to what he says, and a great deal to the way he
While Mrs. Crowley made herself comfortable in the chair, which she
had already chosen as her favourite, Dick went over to the fire and
stood in front of it in such a way as effectually to prevent the others
from getting any of its heat.
'What made you first take to exploration?' asked Mrs. Crowley
Alec gave her that slow, scrutinising look of his, and answered,
with a smile:
'I don't know. I had nothing to do and plenty of money.'
'Not a bit of it,' interrupted Dick. 'A lunatic wanted to find out
about some district that people had never been to, and it wouldn't have
been any use to them if they had, because, if the natives didn't kill
you, the climate made no bones about it. He came back crippled with
fever, having failed in his attempt, and, after asserting that no one
could get into the heart of Rofa's country and return alive, promptly
gave up the ghost. So Alec immediately packed up his traps and made for
'I proved the man was wrong,' said Alec quietly. 'I became great
friends with Rofa, and he wanted to marry my sister, only I hadn't
'And if anyone said it was impossible to hop through Asia on one
foot, you'd go and do it just to show it could be done,' retorted Dick
'You have a passion for doing things because they're difficult or
dangerous, and, if they're downright impossible, you chortle with joy.'
'You make me really too melodramatic,' smiled Alec.
'But that's just what you are. You're the most transpontine person I
ever saw in my life.' Dick turned to Lucy and Mrs. Crowley with a wave
of the hand. 'I call you to witness. When he was at Oxford, Alec was a
regular dab at classics; he had a gift for writing verses in languages
that no one except dons wanted to read, and everyone thought that he
was going to be the most brilliant scholar of his day.'
'This is one of Dick's favourite stories,' said Alec. 'It would be
quite amusing if there were any truth in it.'
But Dick would not allow himself to be interrupted.
'At mathematics, on the other hand, he was a perfect ass. You know,
some people seem to have that part of their brains wanting that deals
with figures, and Alec couldn't add two and two together without making
a hexameter out of it. One day his tutor got in a passion with him and
said he'd rather teach arithmetic to a brick wall. I happened to be
present, and he was certainly very rude. He was a man who had a
precious gift for making people feel thoroughly uncomfortable. Alec
didn't say anything, but he looked at him; and, when he flies into a
temper, he doesn't get red and throw things about like a pleasant,
normal personhe merely becomes a little paler and stares at you.'
'I beg you not to believe a single word he says,' remonstrated Alec.
'Well, Alec threw over his classics. Everyone concerned reasoned
with him; they appealed to his common sense; they were appealing to the
most obstinate fool in Christendom. Alec had made up his mind to be a
mathematician. For more than two years he worked ten hours a day at a
subject he loathed; he threw his whole might into it and forced out of
nature the gifts she had denied him, with the result that he got a
first class. And much good it's done him.'
Alec shrugged his shoulders.
'It wasn't that I cared for mathematics, but it taught me to conquer
the one inconvenient word in the English language.'
'And what the deuce is that?'
'I'm afraid it sounds very priggish,' laughed Alec. 'The word
Dick gave a little snort of comic rage.
'And it also gave you a ghastly pleasure in doing things that hurt
you. Oh, if you'd only been born in the Middle Ages, what a fiendish
joy you would have taken in mortifying your flesh, and in denying
yourself everything that makes life so good to live! You're never
thoroughly happy unless you're making yourself thoroughly miserable.'
'Each time I come back to England I find that you talk more and
greater nonsense, Dick,' returned Alec drily.
'I'm one of the few persons now alive who can talk nonsense,'
answered his friend, laughing. 'That's why I'm so charming. Everyone
else is so deadly earnest.'
He settled himself down to make a deliberate speech.
'I deplore the strenuousness of the world in general. There is an
idea abroad that it is praiseworthy to do things, and what they are is
of no consequence so long as you do them. I hate the mad hurry of the
present day to occupy itself. I wish I could persuade people of the
excellence of leisure.'
'One could scarcely accuse you of cultivating it yourself,' said
Dick looked at her for a moment thoughtfully.
'Do you know that I'm hard upon forty?'
'With the light behind, you might still pass for thirty-two,'
interrupted Mrs. Crowley.
He turned to her seriously.
'I haven't a grey hair on my head.'
'I suppose your servant plucks them out every morning?'
'Oh, no, very rarely; one a month at the outside.'
'I think I see one just beside the left temple.'
He turned quickly to the glass.
'Dear me, how careless of Charles! I shall have to give him a piece
of my mind.'
'Come here, and let me take it out,' said Mrs. Crowley.
'I will let you do nothing of the sort I should consider it most
'You were giving us the gratuitous piece of information that you
were nearly forty,' said Alec.
'The thought came to me the other day with something of a shock, and
I set about a scrutiny of the life I was leading. I've worked at the
bar pretty hard for fifteen years now, and I've been in the House since
the general election. I've been earning two thousand a year, I've got
nearly four thousand of my own, and I've never spent much more than
half my income. I wondered if it was worth while to spend eight hours a
day settling the sordid quarrels of foolish people, and another eight
hours in the farce of governing the nation.'
'Why do you call it that?'
Dick Lomas shrugged his shoulders scornfully.
'Because it is. A few big-wigs rule the roost, and the rest of us
are only there to delude the British people into the idea that they're
a self-governing community.'
'What is wrong with you is that you have no absorbing aim in
politics,' said Alec gravely.
'Pardon me, I am a suffragist of the most vehement type,' answered
Dick, with a thin smile.
'That's the last thing I should have expected you to be,' said Mrs.
Crowley, who dressed with admirable taste. 'Why on earth have you taken
Dick shrugged his shoulders.
'No one can have been through a parliamentary election without
discovering how unworthy, sordid, and narrow are the reasons for which
men vote. There are very few who are alive to the responsibilities that
have been thrust upon them. They are indifferent to the importance of
the stakes at issue, but make their vote a matter of ignoble barter.
The parliamentary candidate is at the mercy of faddists and cranks.
Now, I think that women, when they have votes, will be a trifle more
narrow, and they will give them for motives that are a little more
sordid and a little more unworthy. It will reduce universal suffrage to
the absurd, and then it may be possible to try something else.'
Dick had spoken with a vehemence that was unusual to him. Alec
watched him with a certain interest.
'And what conclusions have you come to?'
For a moment he did not answer, then he gave a deprecating smile.
'I feel that the step I want to take is momentous for me, though I
am conscious that it can matter to nobody else whatever. There will be
a general election in a few months, and I have made up my mind to
inform the whips that I shall not stand again. I shall give up my
chambers in Lincoln's Inn, put up the shutters, so to speak, and Mr.
Richard Lomas will retire from active life.'
'You wouldn't really do that?' cried Mrs. Crowley.
'In a month complete idleness will simply bore you to death.'
'I doubt it. Do you know, it seems to me that a great deal of
nonsense is talked about the dignity of work. Work is a drug that dull
people take to avoid the pangs of unmitigated boredom. It has been
adorned with fine phrases, because it is a necessity to most men, and
men always gild the pill they're obliged to swallow. Work is a
sedative. It keeps people quiet and contented. It makes them good
material for their leaders. I think the greatest imposture of Christian
times is the sanctification of labour. You see, the early Christians
were slaves, and it was necessary to show them that their obligatory
toil was noble and virtuous. But when all is said and done, a man works
to earn his bread and to keep his wife and children; it is a painful
necessity, but there is nothing heroic in it. If people choose to put a
higher value on the means than on the end, I can only pass with a shrug
of the shoulders, and regret the paucity of their intelligence.'
'It's really unfair to talk so much all at once,' said Mrs. Crowley,
throwing up her pretty hands.
But Dick would not be stopped.
'For my part I have neither wife nor child, and I have an income
that is more than adequate. Why should I take the bread out of somebody
else's mouth? And it's not on my own merit that I get briefsmen
seldom doI only get them because I happen to have at the back of me a
very large firm of solicitors. And I can find nothing worthy in
attending to these foolish disputes. In most cases it's six of one and
half a dozen of the other, and each side is very unjust and pig-headed.
No, the bar is a fair way of earning your living like another, but it's
no more than that; and, if you can exist without, I see no reason why
Quixotic motives of the dignity of human toil should keep you to it.
I've already told you why I mean to give up my seat in Parliament.'
'Have you realised that you are throwing over a career that may be
very brilliant? You should get an under-secretaryship in the next
'That would only mean licking the boots of a few more men whom I
'It's a very dangerous experiment that you're making.'
Dick looked straight into Alec MacKenzie's eyes.
'And is it you who counsel me not to make it on that account?' he
said, smiling. 'Surely experiments are only amusing if they're
'And to what is it precisely that you mean to devote your time?'
asked Mrs. Crowley.
'I should like to make idleness a fine art,' he laughed. 'People,
now-a-days, turn up their noses at the dilettante. Well, I mean to be a
dilettante. I want to devote myself to the graces of life. I'm forty,
and for all I know I haven't so very many years before me: in the time
that remains, I want to become acquainted with the world and all the
graceful, charming things it contains.'
Alec, fallen into deep thought, stared into the fire. Presently he
took a long breath, rose from his chair, and drew himself to his full
'I suppose it's a life like another, and there is no one to say
which is better and which is worse. But, for my part, I would rather go
on till I dropped. There are ten thousand things I want to do. If I had
ten lives I couldn't get through a tithe of what, to my mind, so
urgently needs doing.'
'And what do you suppose will be the end of it?' asked Dick.
Dick nodded, but did not otherwise reply. Alec smiled faintly.
'Well, I suppose the end of it will be death in some swamp,
obscurely, worn out with disease and exposure; and my bearers will make
off with my guns and my stores, and the jackals will do the rest.'
'I think it's horrible,' said Mrs. Crowley, with a shudder.
'I'm a fatalist. I've lived too long among people with whom it is
the deepest rooted article of their faith, to be anything else. When my
time comes, I cannot escape it.' He smiled whimsically. 'But I believe
in quinine, too, and I think that the daily use of that admirable drug
will make the thread harder to cut.'
To Lucy it was an admirable study, the contrast between the man who
threw his whole soul into a certain aim, which he pursued with a savage
intensity, knowing that the end was a dreadful, lonely death; and the
man who was making up his mind deliberately to gather what was
beautiful in life, and to cultivate its graces as though it were a
'And the worst of it is that it will all be the same in a hundred
years,' said Dick. 'We shall both be forgotten long before then, you
with your strenuousness, and I with my folly.'
'And what conclusion do you draw from that?' asked Mrs. Crowley.
'Only that the psychological moment has arrived for a whisky and
These was some rough shooting on the estate which Mrs. Crowley had
rented, and next day Dick went out to see what he could find. Alec
refused to accompany him.
'I think shooting in England bores me a little,' he said. 'I have a
prejudice against killing things unless I want to eat them, and these
English birds are so tame that it seems to me rather like shooting
'I don't believe a word of it,' said Dick, as he set out. 'The fact
is that you can't hit anything smaller than a hippopotamus, and you
know that there is nothing here to suit you except Mrs. Crowley's
After luncheon Alec MacKenzie asked Lucy if she would take a stroll
with him. She was much pleased.
'Where would you like to go?' she asked.
'Let us walk by the sea.'
She took him along a road called Joy Lane, which ran from the
fishing town of Blackstable to a village called Waveney. The sea there
had a peculiar vastness, and the salt smell of the breeze was pleasant
to the senses. The flatness of the marsh seemed to increase the
distances that surrounded them, and unconsciously Alec fell into a more
rapid swing. It did not look as if he walked fast, but he covered the
ground with the steady method of a man who has been used to long
journeys, and it was good for Lucy that she was accustomed to much
walking. At first they spoke of trivial things, but presently silence
fell upon them. Lucy saw that he was immersed in thought, and she did
not interrupt him. It amused her that, after asking her to walk with
him, this odd man should take no pains to entertain her. Now and then
he threw back his head with a strange, proud motion, and looked out to
sea. The gulls, with their melancholy flight, were skimming upon the
surface of the water. The desolation of that sceneit was the same
which, a few days before, had rent poor Lucy's heartappeared to enter
his soul; but, strangely enough, it uplifted him, filling him with
exulting thoughts. He quickened his pace, and Lucy, without a word,
kept step with him. He seemed not to notice where they walked, and
presently she led him away from the sea. They tramped along a winding
road, between trim hedges and fertile fields; and the country had all
the sweet air of Kent, with its easy grace and its comfortable beauty.
They passed a caravan, with a shaggy horse browsing at the wayside, and
a family of dinglers sitting around a fire of sticks. The sight
curiously affected Lucy. The wandering life of those people, with no
ties but to the ramshackle carriage which was their only home, their
familiarity with the fields and with strange hidden places, filled her
with a wild desire for freedom and for vast horizons. At last they came
to the massive gates of Court Leys. An avenue of elms led to the house.
'Here we are,' said Lucy, breaking the long silence.
'Already?' He seemed to shake himself. 'I have to thank you for a
pleasant stroll, and we've had a good talk, haven't we?'
'Have we?' she laughed. She saw his look of surprise. 'For two hours
you've not vouchsafed to make an observation.'
'I'm so sorry,' he said, reddening under his tan. 'How rude you must
have thought me! I've been alone so much that I've got out of the way
of behaving properly.'
'It doesn't matter at all,' she smiled. 'You must talk to me another
She was subtly flattered. She felt that, for him, it was a queer
kind-of compliment that he had paid her. Their silent walk, she did not
know why, seemed to have created a bond between them; and it appeared
that he felt it, too, for afterwards he treated her with a certain
intimacy. He seemed to look upon her no longer as an acquaintance, but
as a friend.
* * *
A day or two later, Mrs. Crowley having suggested that they should
drive into Tercanbury to see the cathedral, MacKenzie asked her if she
would allow him to walk.
He turned to Lucy.
'I hardly dare to ask if you will come with me,' he said.
'It would please me immensely.'
'I will try to behave better than last time.'
'You need not,' she smiled.
Dick, who had an objection to walking when it was possible to drive,
set out with Mrs. Crowley in a trap. Alec waited for Lucy. She went
round to the stable to fetch a dog to accompany them, and, as she came
towards him, he looked at her. Alec was a man to whom most of his
fellows were abstractions. He saw them and talked to them, noting their
peculiarities, but they were seldom living persons to him. They were
shadows, as it were, that had to be reckoned with, but they never
became part of himself. And it came upon him now with a certain shock
of surprise to notice Lucy. He felt suddenly a new interest in her. He
seemed to see her for the first time, and her rare beauty strangely
moved him. In her serge dress and her gauntlets, with a motor cap and a
flowing veil, a stick in her hand, she seemed on a sudden to express
the country through which for the last two or three days he had
wandered. He felt an unexpected pleasure in her slim erectness and in
her buoyant step. There was something very charming in her blue eyes.
He was seized with a great desire to talk. And, without thinking for
an instant that what concerned him so intensely might be of no moment
to her, he began forthwith upon the subject which was ever at his
heart. But he spoke as his interest prompted, of each topic as it most
absorbed him, starting with what he was now about and going back to
what had first attracted his attention to that business; then telling
his plans for the future, and to make them clear, finishing with the
events that had led up to his determination. Lucy listened attentively,
now and then asking a question; and presently the whole matter sorted
itself in her mind, so that she was able to make a connected narrative
of his life since the details of it had escaped from Dick's personal
* * *
For some years Alec MacKenzie had travelled in Africa with no object
beyond a great curiosity, and no ambition but that of the unknown. His
first important expedition had been, indeed, occasioned by the failure
of a fellow-explorer. He had undergone the common vicissitudes of
African travel, illness and hunger, incredible difficulties of transit
through swamps that seemed never ending, and tropical forest through
which it was impossible to advance at the rate of more than one mile a
day; he had suffered from the desertion of his bearers and the perfidy
of native tribes. But at last he reached the country which had been the
aim of his journey. He had to encounter then a savage king's determined
hostility to the white man, and he had to keep a sharp eye on his
followers who, in abject terror of the tribe he meant to visit, took
every opportunity to escape into the bush. The barbarian chief sent him
a warning that he would have him killed if he attempted to enter his
capital. The rest of the story Alec told with an apologetic air, as if
he were ashamed of himself, and he treated it with a deprecating humour
that sought to minimise both the danger he had run and the courage he
had displayed. On receiving the king's message, Alec MacKenzie took up
a high tone, and returned the answer that he would come to the royal
kraal before midday. He wanted to give the king no time to recover from
his astonishment, and the messengers had scarcely delivered the reply
before he presented himself, unarmed and unattended.
'What did you say to him?' asked Lucy.
'I asked him what the devil he meant by sending me such an impudent
message,' smiled Alec.
'Weren't you frightened?' said Lucy.
'Yes,' he answered.
He paused for a moment, and, as though unconsciously he were calling
back the mood which had then seized him, he began to walk more slowly.
'You see, it was the only thing to do. We'd about come to the end of
our food, and we were bound to get some by hook or by crook. If we'd
shown the white feather they would probably have set upon us without
more ado. My own people were too frightened to make a fight of it, and
we should have been wiped out like sheep. Then I had a kind of
instinctive feeling that it would be all right. I didn't feel as if my
time had come.'
But, notwithstanding, for three hours his life had hung in the
balance; and Lucy understood that it was only his masterful courage
which had won the day and turned a sullen, suspicious foe into a warm
He achieved the object of his expedition, discovered a new species
of antelope of which he was able to bring back to the Natural History
Museum a complete skeleton and two hides; took some geographical
observations which corrected current errors, and made a careful
examination of the country. When he had learnt all that was possible,
still on the most friendly terms with the ferocious ruler, he set out
for Mombassa. He reached it in one month more than five years after he
had left it.
The results of this journey had been small enough, but Alec looked
upon it as his apprenticeship. He had found his legs, and believed
himself fit for much greater undertakings. He had learnt how to deal
with natives, and was aware that he had a natural influence over them.
He had confidence in himself. He had surmounted the difficulties of the
climate, and felt himself more or less proof against fever and heat. He
returned to the coast stronger than he had ever been in his life, and
his enthusiasm for African travel increased tenfold. The siren had
taken hold of him, and no escape now was possible.
He spent a year in England, and then went back to Africa. He had
determined now to explore certain districts to the northeast of the
great lakes. They were in the hinterland of British East Africa, and
England had a vague claim over them; but no actual occupation had taken
place, and they formed a series of independent states under Arab emirs.
He went this time with a roving commission from the government, and
authority to make treaties with the local chieftains. Spending six
years in these districts, he made a methodical survey of the country,
and was able to prepare valuable maps. He collected an immense amount
of scientific material. He studied the manners and customs of the
inhabitants, and made careful observations on the political state. He
found the whole land distracted with incessant warfare, and broad
tracts of country, fertile and apt for the occupation of white men,
given over to desolation. It was then that he realised the curse of
slave-raiding, the abolition of which was to become the great object of
his future activity. His strength was small, and, anxious not to arouse
at once the enmity of the Arab slavers, he had to use much diplomacy in
order to establish himself in the country. He knew himself to be an
object of intense suspicion, and he could not trust even the petty
rulers who were bound to him by ties of gratitude and friendship. For
some time the sultan of the most powerful state kept him in a condition
bordering on captivity, and at one period his life was for a year in
the greatest danger. He never knew from day to day whether he would see
the setting of the sun. The Arab, though he treated him with honour,
would not let him go; and, at last, Alec, seizing an opportunity when
the sultan was engaged in battle with a brother who sought to usurp his
sovereignty, fled for his life, abandoning his property, and saving
only his notes, his specimens, and his guns.
When MacKenzie reached England, he laid before the Foreign Office
the result of his studies. He pointed out the state of anarchy to which
the constant slave-raiding had reduced this wealthy country, and
implored those in authority, not only for the sake of humanity, but for
the prestige of the country, to send an expedition which should stamp
out the murderous traffic. He offered to accompany this in any
capacity; and, so long as he had the chance of assisting in a righteous
war, agreed to serve under any leader they chose. His knowledge of the
country and his influence over its inhabitants were indispensable. He
guaranteed that, if they gave him a certain number of guns with three
British officers, the whole affair could be settled in a year.
But the government was crippled by the Boer War; and though,
appreciating the strength of his arguments, it realised the necessity
of intervention, was disinclined to enter upon fresh enterprises. These
little expeditions in Africa had a way of developing into much more
important affairs than first appeared. They had been taught bitter
lessons before now, and could not risk, in the present state of things,
even an insignificant rebuff. If they sent out a small party, which was
defeated, it would be a great blow to the prestige of the country
through Africathe Arabs would carry the news to Indiaand it would
be necessary, then, to despatch such a force that failure was
impossible. To supply this there was neither money nor men.
Alec was put off with one excuse after another. To him it seemed
that hindrances were deliberately set in his way, and in fact the
relations of England with the rest of Europe made his small schemes
appear an intolerable nuisance. At length he was met with a flat
But Alec MacKenzie could not rest with this, and opposition only
made him more determined to carry his business through. He understood
that it was hard at second hand to make men realise the state of things
in that distant land. But he had seen horrors beyond description. He
knew the ruthless cruelty of the slave-raiders, and in his ears rang,
still, the cries of agony when a village was set on fire and attacked
by the Arabs. Not once, nor twice, but many times he had left some tiny
kraal nestling sweetly among its fields of maize, an odd, savage
counterpart to the country hamlet described in prim, melodious numbers
by the gentle Goldsmith: the little naked children were playing
merrily; the women sat in groups grinding their corn and chattering;
the men worked in the fields or lounged idly about the hut doors. It
was a charming scene. You felt that here, perhaps, one great mystery of
life had been solved; for happiness was on every face, and the mere joy
of living was a sufficient reason for existence. And, when he returned,
the village was a pile of cinders, smoking still; here and there were
lying the dead and wounded; on one side he recognised a chubby boy with
a great spear wound in his body; on another was a woman with her face
blown away by some clumsy gun; and there a man in the agony of death,
streaming with blood, lay heaped upon the ground in horrible disorder.
And the rest of the inhabitants had been hurried away pellmell on the
cruel journey across country, brutally treated and half starved, till
they could be delivered into the hands of the slave merchant.
Alec MacKenzie went to the Foreign Office once more. He was willing
to take the whole business on himself, and asked only for a commission
to raise troops at his own expense. Timorous secretaries did not know
into what difficulties this determined man might lead them, and if he
went with the authority of an official, but none of his
responsibilities, he might land them in grave complications. The
spheres of influence of the continental powers must be respected, and
at this time of all others it was necessary to be very careful of
national jealousies. Alec MacKenzie was told that if he went he must go
as a private person. No help could be given him, and the British
Government would not concern itself, even indirectly, with his
enterprise. Alec had expected the reply and was not dissatisfied. If
the government would not undertake the matter itself, he preferred to
manage it without the hindrance of official restraints. And so this
solitary man made up his mind, single handed, to crush the slave
traffic in a district larger than England, and to wage war, unassisted,
with a dozen local chieftains and against twenty thousand fighting men
The attempt seemed Quixotic, but Alec had examined the risks and was
willing to take them. He had on his side a thorough knowledge of the
country, a natural power over the natives, and some skill in managing
them. He was accustomed now to the diplomacy which was needful, and he
was well acquainted with the local politics.
He did not think it would be hard to collect a force on the coast,
and there were plenty of hardy, adventurous fellows who would volunteer
to officer the native levies, if he had money to pay them. Ready money
was essential, so he crossed the Atlantic and sold his estate in Texas;
he made arrangements to raise a further sum, if necessary, on the
income which his colliery in Lancashire brought him. He engaged a
surgeon, whom he had known for some years, and could trust in an
emergency, and then sailed for Zanzibar, where he expected to find
white men willing to take service under him. At Mombassa he collected
the bearers who had been with him during his previous expeditions, and,
his fame among the natives being widely spread, he was able to take his
pick of those best suited for his purpose. His party consisted
altogether of over three hundred.
When he arrived upon the scene of his operations, everything for a
time went well. He showed great skill in dividing his enemies. The
petty rulers were filled with jealousy of one another and eager always
to fall upon their friends, when slave-raiding for a season was
unsuccessful. Alec's plan was to join two or three smaller states in an
attack upon the most powerful of them all, to crush this completely,
and then to take his old allies one by one, if they would not guarantee
to give up their raids on peaceful tribes. His influence with the
natives was such that he felt certain it was possible to lead them into
action against their dreaded foes, the Arabs, if he was once able to
give them confidence. Everything turned out as he had hoped.
The great state which had aimed at the hegemony of the whole
district was defeated; and Alec, with the method habitual to him, set
about organising each strip of territory which was reclaimed from
barbarism. He was able to hold in check the emirs who had fought with
him, and a sharp lesson given to one who had broken faith with him,
struck terror in the others. The land was regaining its old security.
Alec trusted that in five years a man would be able to travel from end
to end of it as safely as in England. But suddenly everything he had
achieved was undone. As sometimes happens in countries of small
civilisation, a leader arose from among the Arabs. None knew from where
he sprang, and it was said that he had been a camel driver. He was
called Mohammed the Lame, because a leg badly set after a fracture had
left him halting, and he was a shrewd man, far-seeing, ruthless, and
ambitious. With a few companions as desperate as himself, he attacked
the capital of a small state in the North which was distracted by the
death of its ruler, seized it, and proclaimed himself king.
In a year he had brought under his sway all those shadowy lands
which border upon Abyssinia, and was leading a great rabble, mad with
the lust of conquest, fanatic with hatred of the Christian, upon the
South. Consternation reigned among the tribes to whom MacKenzie was the
only hope of salvation. He pointed out to the Arabs who had accepted
his influence, that their safety, as well as his, lay in resistance to
the Lame One; but the war cry of the Prophet prevailed against the call
of reason, and he found that they were against him to a man. His native
allies were faithful, with the fidelity of despair, and these he
brought up against the enemy. A pitched battle was fought, but the
issue was undecided. The losses were great on both sides, and Alec was
himself badly wounded.
Fortunately the wet season was approaching, and Mohammed the Lame,
with a wholesome respect for the white man who for the moment, at
least, had checked his onward course, withdrew to the Northern regions
where his power was more secure. Alec knew that he would resume the
attack at the first opportunity, and he knew also that he had not the
means to withstand a foe who was astute and capable. His only chance
was to get back to the coast, return to England, and try again to
interest the government in the undertaking; if they still refused help
he determined to go out once more himself, taking this time Maxim guns
and men capable of handling them. He knew that his departure would seem
like flight, but he could not help that. He was obliged to go. His
wound prevented him from walking, but he caused himself to be carried;
and, firing his caravan with his own indomitable spirit, he reached the
coast by forced marches.
His brief visit to England was already drawing to its close, and, in
less than a month now, he proposed to set out for Africa once more.
This time he meant to finish the work. If only his life were spared, he
would crush for ever the infamous trade which turned a paradise into a
Alec stopped speaking as they entered the cathedral close, and they
paused for a moment to look at the stately pile. The trim lawns that
surrounded it, in a manner enhanced its serene majesty. They entered
the nave. There was a vast and solemn stillness. And there was
something subtly impressive in the naked space; it uplifted the heart,
and one felt a kind of scorn for all that was mean and low. The soaring
of the Gothic columns, with their straight simplicity, raised the
thoughts to a nobler standard. And, though that place had been given
for three hundred years to colder rites, the atmosphere of an earlier,
more splendid faith seemed still to cling to it. A vague odour of a
spectral incense hung about the pillars, a sweet, sad smell, and the
shadows of ghostly priests in vestments of gold, and with embroidered
copes, wound in a long procession through the empty aisles.
Lucy was glad that they had come there, and the restful grandeur of
the place fitted in with the emotions that had filled her mind during
the walk from Blackstable. Her spirit was enlarged, and she felt that
her own small worries were petty. The consciousness came to her that
the man with whom she had been speaking was making history, and she was
fascinated by the fulness of his life and the greatness of his
undertakings. Her eyes were dazzled with the torrid African sun which
had shone through his words, and she felt the horror of the primeval
forest and the misery of the unending swamps. And she was proud because
his outlook was so clear, because he bore his responsibilities so
easily, because his plans were so vast. She looked at him. He was
standing by her side, and his eyes were upon her. She felt the colour
rise to her cheeks, she knew not why, and in embarrassment looked down.
By some chance they missed Dick Lomas and Mrs. Crowley. Neither was
sorry. When they left the cathedral and started for home, they spoke
for a while of indifferent things. It seemed that Alec's tongue was
loosened, and he was glad of it. Lucy knew instinctively that he had
never talked to anyone as he talked to her, and she was curiously
But it seemed to both of them that the conversation could not
proceed on the strenuous level on which it had been during the walk
into Tercanbury, and they fell upon a gay discussion of their common
acquaintance. Alec was a man of strong passions, hating fools fiercely,
and he had a sardonic manner of gibing at persons he despised, which
caused Lucy much amusement.
He described interviews with the great ones of the land in a broadly
comic spirit; and, when telling an amusing story, he had a way of
assuming a Scottish drawl that added vastly to its humour.
Presently they began to speak of books. Being strictly limited as to
number, he was obliged to choose for his expeditions works which could
stand reading an indefinite number of times.
'I'm like a convict,' he said. 'I know Shakespeare by heart, and
I've read Boswell's Johnson till I think you couldn't quote a
line which I couldn't cap with the next.'
But Lucy was surprised to hear that he read the Greek classics with
enthusiasm. She had vaguely imagined that people recognised their
splendour, but did not read them unless they were dons or
schoolmasters, and it was strange to find anyone for whom they were
living works. To Alec they were a deliberate inspiration. They
strengthened his purpose and helped him to see life from the heroic
point of view. He was not a man who cared much for music or for
painting; his whole æsthetic desires were centred in the Greek poets
and the historians. To him Thucydides was a true support, and he felt
in himself something of the spirit which had animated the great
Athenian. His blood ran faster as he spoke of him, and his cheeks
flushed. He felt that one who lived constantly in such company could do
nothing base. But he found all he needed, put together with a power
that seemed almost divine, within the two covers that bound his
Sophocles. The mere look of the Greek letters filled him with
exultation. Here was all he wanted, strength and simplicity, and the
greatness of life, and beauty.
He forgot that Lucy did not know that dead language and could not
share his enthusiasm. He broke suddenly into a chorus from the
Antigone; the sonorous, lovely words issued from his lips, and
Lucy, not understanding, but feeling vaguely the beauty of the sounds,
thought that his voice had never been more fascinating. It gained now a
peculiar and entrancing softness. She had never dreamed that it was
capable of such tenderness.
At last they reached Court Leys and walked up the avenue that led to
the house. They saw Dick hurrying towards them. They waved their hands,
but he did not reply, and, when he approached, they saw that his face
was white and anxious.
'Thank God, you've come at last! I couldn't make out what had come
'What's the matter?'
The barrister, all his flippancy gone, turned to Lucy.
'Bobbie Boulger has come down. He wants to see you. Please come at
Lucy looked at him quickly. Sick with fear, she followed him into
Mrs. Crowley and Robert Boulger were standing by the fire, and there
was a peculiar agitation about them. They were silent, but it seemed to
Lucy that they had been speaking of her. Mrs. Crowley impulsively
seized her hands and kissed her. Lucy's first thought was that
something had happened to her brother. Lady Kelsey's generous allowance
had made it possible for him to hunt, and the thought flashed through
her that some terrible accident had happened.
'Is anything the matter with George?' she asked, with a gasp of
'No,' answered Boulger.
The colour came to Lucy's cheeks as she felt a sudden glow of
'Thank God,' she murmured. 'I was so frightened.'
She gave him, now, a smile of welcome as she shook hands with him.
It could be nothing so very dreadful after all.
Lucy's uncle, Sir George Boulger, had been for many years senior
partner in the great firm of Boulger &Kelsey. After sitting in
Parliament for the quarter of a century and voting assiduously for his
party, he had been given a baronetcy on the celebration of Queen
Victoria's second Jubilee, and had finished a prosperous life by dying
of apoplexy at the opening of a park, which he was presenting to the
nation. He had been a fine type of the wealthy merchant, far-sighted in
business affairs and proud to serve his native city in every way open
to him. His son, Robert, now reigned in his stead, but the firm had
been made into a company, and the responsibility that he undertook,
notwithstanding that the greater number of shares were in his hands,
was much less. The partner who had been taken into the house on Sir
Alfred Kelsey's death now managed the more important part of the
business in Manchester, while Robert, brought up by his father to be a
man of affairs, had taken charge of the London branch. Commerce was in
his blood, and he settled down to work with praiseworthy energy. He had
considerable shrewdness, and it was plain that he would eventually
become as good a merchant as his father. He was little older than Lucy,
but his fair hair and his clean-shaven face gave him a more youthful
look. With his spruce air and well-made clothes, his conversation about
hunting and golf, few would have imagined that he arrived regularly at
his office at ten in the morning, and was as keen to make a good
bargain as any of the men he came in contact with.
Lucy, though very fond of him, was mildly scornful of his Philistine
outlook. He cared nothing for books, and the only form of art that
appealed to him was the musical comedy. She treated him as a rule with
pleasant banter and refused to take him seriously. It required a good
deal of energy to keep their friendship on a light footing, for she
knew that he had been in love with her since he was eighteen. She could
not help feeling flattered, though on her side there was no more than
the cousinly affection due to their having been thrown together all
their lives, and she was aware that they were little suited to one
another. He had proposed to her a dozen times, and she was obliged to
use many devices to protect herself from his assiduity. It availed
nothing to tell him that she did not love him. He was only too willing
to marry her on whatever conditions she chose to make. Her friends and
her relations were anxious that she should accept him. Lady Kelsey had
reasoned with her. Here was a man whom she had known always and could
trust utterly; he had ten thousand a year, an honest heart, and a
kindly disposition. Her father, seeing in the match a resource in his
constant difficulties, was eager that she should take the boy, and
George, who was devoted to him, had put in his word, too. Bobbie had
asked her to marry him when he was twenty-one, and again when she was
twenty-one, when George went to Oxford, when her father went into
bankruptcy, and when Hamlyn's Purlieu was sold. He had urged his own
father to buy it, when it was known that a sale was inevitable, hoping
that the possession of it would incline Lucy's heart towards him; but
the first baronet was too keen a man of business to make an
unprofitable investment for sentimental reasons. Bobbie had proposed
for the last time when he succeeded to the baronetcy and a large
fortune. Lucy recognised his goodness and the advantages of the match,
but she did not care for him. She felt, too, that she needed a free
hand to watch over her father and George. Even Mrs. Crowley's
suggestion that with her guidance Robert Boulger might become a man of
consequence, did not move her. Bobbie, on the other hand, had set all
his heart on marrying his cousin. It was the supreme interest of his
life, and he hoped that his patience would eventually triumph over
every obstacle. He was willing to wait.
When Lucy's first alarm was stayed, it occurred to her that Bobbie
had come once more to ask her the eternal question, but the anxious
look in his eyes drove the idea away. His pleasant, boyish expression
was overcast with gravity; Mrs. Crowley flung herself in a chair and
turned her face away.
'I have something to tell you which is very terrible, Lucy,' he
The effort he made to speak was noticeable. His voice was strained
by the force with which he kept it steady.
'Would you like me to leave you?' asked Alec, who had accompanied
Lucy into the drawing-room.
She gave him a glance. It seemed to her that whatever it was, his
presence would help her to bear it.
'Do you wish to see me alone, Bobbie?'
'I've already told Dick and Mrs. Crowley.'
'What is it?' she asked.
Bobbie gave Dick an appealing look. It seemed too hard that he
should have to break the awful news to her. He had not the heart to
give her so much pain. And yet he had hurried down to the country so
that he might soften the blow by his words: he would not trust to the
callous cruelty of a telegram. Dick saw the agitation which made his
good-humoured mouth twitch with pain, and stepped forward.
'Your father has been arrested for fraud,' he said gravely.
For a moment no one spoke. The silence was intolerable to Mrs.
Crowley, and she inveighed inwardly against the British stolidity. She
could not look at Lucy, but the others, full of sympathy, kept their
eyes upon her. Mrs. Crowley wondered why she did not faint. It seemed
to Lucy that an icy hand clutched her heart so that the blood was
squeezed out of it. She made a determined effort to keep her clearness
'It's impossible,' she said at last, quietly.
'He was arrested last night, and brought up at Bow Street Police
Court this morning. He was remanded for a week.'
Lucy felt the tears well up to her eyes, but with all her strength
she forced them back. She collected her thoughts.
'It was very good of you to come down and tell me,' she said to
'The magistrate agreed to accept bail in five thousand pounds. Aunt
Alice and I have managed it between us.'
'Is he staying with Aunt Alice now?'
'No, he wouldn't do that. He's gone to his flat in Shaftesbury
Lucy's thoughts went to the lad who was dearest to her in the world,
and her heart sank.
'Does George know?'
Dick saw the relief that came into her face, and thought he divined
what was in her mind.
'But he must be told at once,' he said. 'He's sure to see something
about it in the papers. We had better wire to him to come to London
'Surely father could have shown in two minutes that the whole thing
was a mistake.'
Bobbie made a hopeless gesture. He saw the sternness of her eyes,
and he had not the heart to tell her the truth. Mrs. Crowley began to
'You don't understand, Lucy,' said Dick. 'I'm afraid it's a very
serious charge. Your father will be committed for trial.'
'You know just as well as I do that father can't have done anything
illegal. He's weak and rash, but he's no more than that. He would as
soon think of doing anything wrong as of flying to the moon. If in his
ignorance of business he's committed some technical offence, he can
easily show that it was unintentional.'
'Whatever it is, he'll have to stand his trial at the Old Bailey,'
answered Dick gravely.
He saw that Lucy did not for a moment appreciate the gravity of her
father's position. After the first shock of dismay she was disposed to
think that there could be nothing in it. Robert Boulger saw there was
nothing for it but to tell her everything.
'Your father and a man called Saunders have been running a
bucketshop under the name of Vernon and Lawford. They were obliged to
trade under different names, because Uncle Fred is an undischarged
bankrupt, and Saunders is the sort of man who only uses his own name on
the charge sheet of a police court.'
'Do you know what a bucketshop is, Lucy?' asked Dick.
He did not wait for a reply, but explained that it was a term used
to describe a firm of outside brokers whose dealings were more or less
'The action is brought against the pair of them by a Mrs. Sabidon,
who accuses them of putting to their own uses various sums amounting
altogether to more than eight thousand pounds, which she intrusted to
them to invest.'
Now that the truth was out, Lucy quailed before it. The intense
seriousness on the faces of Alec and Dick Lomas, the piteous anxiety of
her cousin, terrified her.
'You don't think there's anything in it?' she asked quickly.
Robert did not know what to answer. Dick interrupted with wise
'We'll hope for the best. The only thing to do is to go up to London
at once and get the best legal advice.'
But Lucy would not allow herself, even for a moment, to doubt her
father. Now that she thought of the matter, she saw that it was absurd.
She forced herself to give a laugh.
'I'm quite reassured. You don't think for a moment that father would
deliberately steal somebody else's money. And it's nothing short of
'At all events it's something that we've been able to get him
released on bail. It will make it so much easier to arrange the
A couple of hours later Lucy, accompanied by Dick Lomas and Bobbie,
was on her way to London. Alec, thinking his presence would be a
nuisance to them, arranged with Mrs. Crowley to leave by a later train;
and, when the time came for him to start, his hostess suddenly
announced that she would go with him. With her party thus broken up and
her house empty, she could not bear to remain at Court Leys. She was
anxious about Lucy and eager to be at hand if her help were needed.
* * *
A telegram had been sent to George, and it was supposed that he
would arrive at Lady Kelsey's during the evening. Lucy wanted to tell
him herself what had happened. But she could not wait till then to see
her father, and persuaded Dick to drive with her from the station to
Shaftesbury Avenue. Fred Allerton was not in. Lucy wanted to go into
the flat and stay there till he came, but the porter had no key and did
not know when he would return. Dick was much relieved. He was afraid
that the excitement and the anxiety from which Fred Allerton had
suffered, would have caused him to drink heavily; and he could not let
Lucy see him the worse for liquor. He induced her, after leaving a note
to say that she would call early next morning, to go quietly home. When
they arrived at Charles Street, where was Lady Kelsey's house, they
found a wire from George to say he could not get up to town till the
To Lucy this had, at least, the advantage that she could see her
father alone, and at the appointed hour she made her way once more to
his flat. He took her in his arms and kissed her warmly. She succumbed
at once to the cheeriness of his manner.
'I can only give you two minutes, darling,' he said. 'I'm full of
business, and I have an appointment with my solicitor at eleven.'
Lucy could not speak. She clung to her father, looking at him with
anxious, sombre eyes; but he laughed and patted her hand.
'You mustn't make too much of all this, my love,' he said brightly.
'These little things are always liable to happen to a man of business;
they are the perils of the profession, and we have to put up with them,
just as kings and queens have to put up with bomb-shells.'
'There's no truth in it, father?'
She did not want to ask that wounding question, but the words
slipped from her lips against her will. He broke away from her.
'Truth? My dear child, what do you mean? You don't suppose I'm the
man to rob the widow and the orphan? Of course, there's no truth in
'Oh, I'm so glad to hear that,' she exclaimed, with a deep sigh of
'Have they been frightening you?'
Lucy flushed under his frank look of amusement. She felt that there
was a barrier between herself and him, the barrier that had existed for
years, and there was something in his manner which filled her with
unaccountable anxiety. She would not analyse that vague emotion. It was
a dread to see what was so carefully hidden by that breezy reserve. She
forced herself to go on.
'I know that you're often carried away by your fancies, and I
thought you might have got into an ambiguous position.'
'I can honestly say that no one can bring anything up against me,'
he answered. 'But I do blame myself for getting mixed up with that man
Saunders. I'm afraid there's no doubt that he's a wrong 'unand heaven
only knows what he's been up tobut for my own part I give you my
solemn word of honour that I've done nothing, absolutely nothing, that
I have the least reason to be ashamed of.'
Lucy took his hand, and a charming smile lit up her face.
'Oh, father, you've made me so happy by saying that. Now I shall be
able to tell George that there's nothing to worry about.'
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Dick. Fred
Allerton greeted him heartily.
'You've just come in time to take Lucy home. I've got to go out. But
look here, George is coming up, isn't he? Let us all lunch at the
Carlton at two, and get Alice to come. We'll have a jolly little
Dick was astounded to see the lightness with which Allerton took the
affair. He seemed unconscious of the gravity of his position and
unmindful of the charge which was hanging over him. Dick was not
anxious to accept the invitation, but Allerton would hear of no
excuses. He wanted to have his friends gathered around him, and he
needed relaxation after the boredom of spending a morning in his
'Come on,' he said. 'I can't wait another minute.'
He opened the door, and Lucy walked out. It seemed to Dick that
Allerton was avoiding any chance of conversation with him. But no man
likes to meet his creditor within four walls, and this disinclination
might be due merely to the fact that Allerton owed him a couple of
hundred pounds. But he meant to get in one or two words.
'Are you fixed up with a solicitor?' he asked.
'Do you think I'm a child, Dick?' answered the other. 'Why, I've got
the smartest man in the whole profession, Teddie Blakeleyyou know
him, don't you?'
'Only by reputation,' answered Dick drily. 'I should think that was
enough for most people.'
Fred Allerton gave that peculiarly honest laugh of his, which was so
attractive. Dick knew that the solicitor he mentioned was a man of evil
odour, who had made a specialty of dealing with the most doubtful sort
of commercial work, and his name had been prominent in every scandal
for the last fifteen years. It was surprising that he had never
followed any of his clients to the jail he richly deserved.
'I thought it no good going to one of the old crusted family
solicitors. I wanted a man who knew the tricks of the trade.'
They were walking down the stairs, while Lucy waited at the bottom.
Dick stopped and turned round. He looked at Allerton keenly.
'You're not going to do a bolt, are you?'
Allerton's face lit up with amusement. He put his hands on Dick's
'My dear old Dick, don't be such an ass. I don't know about
Saundershe's a fishy sort of customerbut I shall come out of all
this with flying colours. The prosecution hasn't a leg to stand on.'
Allerton, reminding them that they were to lunch together, jumped
into a cab. Lucy and Dick walked slowly back to Charles Street. Dick
was very silent. He had not seen Fred Allerton for some time and was
surprised to see that he had regained his old smartness. The flat had
pretty things in it which testified to the lessee's taste and to his
means, and the clothes he wore were new and well-cut. The invitation to
the Carlton showed that he was in no want of ready money, and
there was a general air of prosperity about him which gave Dick much to
Lucy did not ask him to come in, since George, by now, must have
arrived, and she wished to see him alone. They agreed to meet again at
two. As she shook hands with Dick, Lucy told him what her father had
'I had a sleepless night,' she said. 'It was so stupid of me; I
couldn't get it out of my head that father, unintentionally, had done
something rash or foolish; but I've got his word of honour that nothing
is the matter, and I feel as if a whole world of anxiety were suddenly
lifted from my shoulders.'
* * *
The party at the Carlton was very gay. Fred Allerton seemed
in the best of spirits, and his good-humour was infectious. He was full
of merry quips. Lucy had made as little of the affair as possible to
George. Her eyes rested on him, as he sat opposite to her, and she felt
happy and proud. Now and then he looked at her, and an affectionate
smile came to his lips. She was delighted with his slim handsomeness.
There was a guileless look in his blue eyes which was infinitely
attractive. His mouth was beautifully modelled. She took an immense
pride in the candour of soul which shone with so clear a light on his
face, and she was affected as a stranger might have been by the
exquisite charm of manner which he had inherited from his father. She
wanted to have him to herself that evening and suggested that they
should go to a play together. He accepted the idea eagerly, for he
admired his sister with all his heart; he felt in himself a need for
protection, and she was able to minister to this. He was never so happy
as when he was by her side. He liked to tell her all he did, and, when
she fired him with noble ambitions, he felt capable of anything.
They were absurdly light-hearted, as they started on their little
jaunt. Lady Kelsey had slipped a couple of banknotes into George's hand
and told them to have a good time. They dined at the Carlton,
went to a musical comedy, which amused Lucy because her brother laughed
so heartilyshe was fascinated by his keen power of enjoymentand
finished by going to the Savoy for supper. For the moment all
her anxieties seemed to fall from her, and the years of trouble were
forgotten. She was as merry and as irresponsible as George. He was
enchanted. He had never seen Lucy so tender and so gay; there was a new
brilliancy in her eyes; and, without quite knowing what it was that
differed, he found a soft mellowness in her laughter which filled him
with an uncomprehended delight. Neither did Lucy know why the world on
a sudden seemed fuller than it had ever done before, nor why the future
smiled so kindly: it never occurred to her that she was in love.
When Lucy, exhausted but content, found herself at length in her
room, she thanked God for the happiness of the evening. It was the last
time she could do that for many weary years.
* * *
A few days later Allerton appeared again at the police court, and
the magistrate, committing him for trial, declined to renew his bail.
The prisoner was removed in custody.
During the fortnight that followed, Alec spent much time with Lucy.
Together, in order to cheat the hours that hung so heavily on her
hands, they took long walks in Hyde Park, and, when Alec's business
permitted, they went to the National Gallery. Then he took her to the
Natural History Museum, and his conversation, in face of the furred and
feathered things from Africa, made the whole country vivid to her. Lucy
was very grateful to him because he drew her mind away from the topic
that constantly absorbed it. Though he never expressed his sympathy in
so many words, she felt it in every inflection of his voice. His
patience was admirable.
At last came the day fixed for the trial.
Fred Allerton insisted that neither Lucy nor George should come to
the Old Bailey, and they were to await the verdict at Lady Kelsey's.
Dick and Robert Boulger were subpoenaed as witnesses. In order that she
might be put out of her suspense quickly, Lucy asked Alec MacKenzie to
go into court and bring her the result as soon as it was known.
The morning passed with leaden feet.
After luncheon Mrs. Crowley came to sit with Lady Kelsey, and
together they watched the minute hand go round the clock. Now the
verdict might be expected at any moment. After some time Canon Spratte,
the vicar of the church which Lady Kelsey attended, sent up to ask if
he might see her; and Mrs. Crowley, thinking to distract her, asked him
to come in. The Canon's breezy courtliness as a rule soothed Lady
Kelsey's gravest troubles, but now she would not be comforted.
'I shall never get over it,' she said, with a handkerchief to her
eyes. 'I shall never cease blaming myself. Nothing of all this would
have happened, if it hadn't been for me.'
Canon Spratte and Mrs. Crowley watched her without answering. She
was a stout, amiable woman, who had clothed herself in black because
the occasion was tragic. Grief had made her garrulous.
'Poor Fred came to me one day and said he must have eight thousand
pounds at once. He told me his partner had cheated him, and it was a
matter of life and death. But it was such a large sum, and I've given
him so much already. After all, I've got to think of Lucy and George.
They only have me to depend on, and I refused to give it. Oh, I'd have
given every penny I own rather than have this horrible shame.'
'You mustn't take it too much to heart, Lady Kelsey,' said Mrs.
Crowley. 'It will soon be all over.'
'Our ways have parted for some time now,' said Canon Spratte, 'but
at one period I used to see a good deal of Fred Allerton. I can't tell
you how distressed I was to hear of this terrible misfortune.'
'He's always been unlucky,' returned Lady Kelsey. 'I only hope this
will be a lesson to him. He's like a child in business matters. Oh,
it's awful to think of my poor sister's husband standing in the felon's
'You must try not to think of it. I'm sure everything will turn out
quite well. In another hour you'll have him with you again.'
The Canon got up and shook hands with Lady Kelsey.
'It was so good of you to come,' she said.
He turned to Mrs. Crowley, whom he liked because she was American,
rich, and a widow.
'I'm grateful, too,' she murmured, as she bade him farewell. 'A
clergyman always helps one so much to bear other people's misfortunes.'
Canon Spratte smiled and made a mental note of the remark, which he
thought would do very well from his own lips.
'Where is Lucy?' asked Mrs. Crowley, when he had gone.
Lady Kelsey threw up her hands with the feeling, half of amazement,
half of annoyance, which a very emotional person has always for one who
'She's sitting in her room, reading. She's been reading all day.
Heaven only knows how she can do it. I tried, and all the letters swam
before my eyes. It drives me mad to see how calm she is.'
They began to talk of the immediate future. Lady Kelsey had put a
large sum at Lucy's disposal, and it was arranged that the two children
should take their father to some place in the south of France where he
could rest after the terrible ordeal.
'I don't know what they would all have done without you,' said Mrs.
Crowley. 'You have been a perfect angel.'
'Nonsense,' smiled Lady Kelsey. 'They're my only relations in the
world, except Bobbie, who's very much too rich as it is, and I love
Lucy and George as if they were my own children. What is the good of my
money except to make them happy and comfortable?'
Mrs. Crowley remembered Dick's surmise that Lady Kelsey had loved
Fred Allerton, and she wondered how much of the old feeling still
remained. She felt a great pity for the kind, unselfish creature. Lady
Kelsey started as she heard the street door slam. But it was only
George who entered.
'Oh, George, where have you been? Why didn't you come in to
He looked pale and haggard. The strain of the last fortnight had
told on him enormously, and it was plain that his excitement was almost
'I couldn't eat anything. I've been walking about, waiting for the
damned hours to pass. I wish I hadn't promised father not to go into
court. Anything would have been better than this awful suspense. I saw
the man who's defending him when they adjourned for luncheon, and he
told me it was all right.'
'Of course it's all right. You didn't imagine that your father would
be found guilty.'
'Oh, I knew he wouldn't have done a thing like that,' said George
impatiently. 'But I can't help being frightfully anxious. The papers
are awful. They've got huge placards out: County gentleman at the
Old Bailey. Society in a Bucket Shop.'
George shivered with horror.
'Oh, it's awful!' he cried.
Lady Kelsey began to cry again, and Mrs. Crowley sat in silence, not
knowing what to say. George walked about in agitation.
'But I know he's not guilty,' moaned Lady Kelsey.
'If he's guilty or not he's ruined me,' said George. 'I can't go up
to Oxford again after this. I don't know what the devil's to become of
me. We're all utterly disgraced. Oh, how could he! How could he!'
'Oh, George, don't,' said Lady Kelsey.
But George, with a weak man's petulance, could not keep back the
bitter words that he had turned over in his heart so often since the
brutal truth was told him.
'Wasn't it enough that he fooled away every penny he had, so that
we're simply beggars, both of us, and we have to live on your charity?
I should have thought that would have satisfied him, without getting
locked up for being connected in a beastly bucketshop swindle.'
'George, how can you talk of your father like that!'
He gave a sort of sob and looked at her with wild eyes. But at that
moment a cab drove up, and, he sprang on to the balcony.
'It's Dick Lomas and Bobbie. They've come to tell us.'
He ran to the door and opened it. They walked up the stairs.
'Well?' he cried. 'Well?'
'It's not over yet. We left just as the judge was summing up.'
'Damn you!' cried George, with an explosion of sudden fury.
'Steady, old man,' said Dick.
'Why didn't you stay?' moaned Lady Kelsey.
'I couldn't,' said Dick. 'It was too awful.'
'How was it going?'
'I couldn't make head or tail of it. My mind was in a whirl. I'm an
hysterical old fool.'
Mrs. Crowley went up to Lady Kelsey and kissed her.
'Why don't you go and lie down for a little while, dear,' she said.
'You look positively exhausted.'
* * *
'I have a racking headache,' groaned Lady Kelsey.
'Alec MacKenzie has promised to come here as soon as its over. But
you mustn't expect him for another hour.'
'Yes, I'll go and lie down,' said Lady Kelsey.
George, unable to master his impatience, flung open the window and
stood on the balcony, watching for the cab that would bring the news.
'Go and talk to him, there's a good fellow,' said Dick to Robert
Boulger. 'Cheer him up a bit.'
'Yes, of course I will. It's rot to make a fuss now that it's nearly
over. Uncle Fred will be here himself in an hour.'
Dick looked at him without answering. When Robert had gone on to the
balcony, he flung himself wearily in a chair.
'I couldn't stand it any longer,' he said. 'You can't imagine how
awful it was to see that wretched man in the dock. He looked like a
hunted beast, his face was all grey with fright, and once I caught his
eyes. I shall never forget the look that was in them.'
'But I thought he was bearing it so well,' said Mrs. Crowley.
'You know, he's a man who's never looked the truth in the face. He
never seemed to realise the gravity of the charges that were brought
against him, and even when the magistrate refused to renew his bail,
his confidence never deserted him. It was only to-day, when the whole
thing was unrolled before him, that he appeared to understand. Oh, if
you'd heard the evidence that was given! And then the pitiful spectacle
of those two men trying to throw the blame on one another!'
A look of terror came into Mrs. Crowley's face.
'You don't think he's guilty?' she gasped.
Dick looked at her steadily, but did not answer.
'But Lucy's convinced that he'll be acquitted.'
'What on earth do you mean?'
Dick shrugged his shoulders.
'But he can't be guilty,' cried Mrs. Crowley. 'It's impossible.'
Dick made an effort to drive away from his mind the dreadful fears
that filled it.
'Yes, that's what I feel, too,' he said. 'With all his faults Fred
Allerton can't have committed such a despicable crime. You've never met
him, you don't know him; but I've known him intimately for twenty
years. He couldn't have swindled that wretched woman out of every penny
she had, knowing that it meant starvation to her. He couldn't have been
so brutally cruel.'
'Oh, I'm so glad to hear you say that'
Silence fell upon them for a while, and they waited. From the
balcony they heard George talking rapidly, but they could not
distinguish his words.
'I felt ashamed to stay in court and watch the torture of that
unhappy man. I've dined with him times out of number; I've stayed at
his house; I've ridden his horses. Oh, it was too awful.'
He got up impatiently and walked up and down the room.
'It must be over by now. Why doesn't Alec come? He swore he'd bolt
round the very moment the verdict was given.'
'The suspense is dreadful,' said Mrs. Crowley.
Dick stood still. He looked at the little American, but his eyes did
not see her.
'There are some people who are born without a moral sense. They are
as unable to distinguish between right and wrong as a man who is colour
blind, between red and green.'
'Why do you say that?' asked Mrs. Crowley.
He did not answer. She went up to him anxiously.
'Mr. Lomas, I can't bear it. You must tell me. Do you think
He passed his hands over his eyes.
'The evidence was damnable.'
At that moment George sprang into the room.
'There's Alec. He's just driving along in a cab.'
'Thank God, thank God!' cried Mrs. Crowley. 'If it had lasted longer
I should have gone mad.'
George went to the door.
'I must tell Miller. He has orders to let no one up.'
He leaned over the banisters, as the bell of the front door was
'Miller, Miller, let Mr. MacKenzie in.'
'Very good, sir,' answered the butler.
Lucy had heard the cab drive up, and she came into the drawing-room
with Lady Kelsey. The elder woman had broken down altogether and was
sobbing distractedly. Lucy was very white, but otherwise quite
composed. She shook hands with Dick and Mrs. Crowley.
'It was kind of you to come,' she said.
'Oh, my poor Lucy,' said Mrs. Crowley, with a sob in her voice.
Lucy smiled bravely.
'It's all over now.'
Alec came in, and she walked eagerly towards him.
'Well? I was hoping you'd bring father with you. When is he coming?'
She stopped. She gave a gasp as she saw Alec's face. Though her
cheeks were pale before, now their pallor was deathly.
'What is the matter?'
'Isn't it all right?' cried George.
Lucy put her hand on his arm to quieten him. It seemed that Alec
could not find words. There was a horrible silence, but they all knew
what he had to tell them.
'I'm afraid you must prepare yourself for a great unhappiness,' he
'Where's father?' cried Lucy. 'Where's father? Why didn't you bring
him with you?'
With the horrible truth dawning upon her, she was losing her
self-control. She made an effort. Alec would not speak, and she was
obliged to question him. When the words came, her voice was hoarse and
'You've not told us what the verdict was.'
'Guilty,' he answered.
Then the colour flew back to her cheeks, and her eyes flashed with
'But it's impossible. He was innocent. He swore that he hadn't done
it. There must be some horrible mistake.'
'I wish to God there were,' said Alec.
'You don't think he's guilty?' she cried.
He did not answer, and for a moment they looked at one another
'What was the sentence?' she asked.
'The judge was dead against him. He made some very violent remarks
as he passed it.'
'Tell me what he said.'
'Why should you wish to torture yourself?'
'I want to know.'
'He seemed to think the fact that your father was a gentleman made
the crime more odious, and the way in which he had induced that woman
to part with her money made no punishment too severe. He sentenced him
to seven years penal servitude.'
George gave a cry and sinking into a chair, burst into tears. Lucy
put her hand on his shoulder.
'Don't, George,' she said. 'You must bear up. Now we want all our
courage, now more than ever.'
'Oh, I can't bear it,' he moaned.
She bent down and kissed him tenderly.
'Be brave, my dearest, be brave for my sake.'
But he sobbed uncontrollably. It was a horribly painful sight. Dick
took him by the arm and led him away. Lucy turned to Alec, who was
standing where first he had stopped.
'I want to ask you a question. Will you answer me quite truthfully,
whatever the pain you think it will cause me?'
'You followed the trial from the beginning, you know all the details
of it. Do you think my father is guilty?'
'What can it matter what I think?'
'I beg you to tell me.'
Alec hesitated for a moment. His voice was very low.
'If I had been on the jury I'm afraid I should have had no
alternative but to decide as they did.'
Lucy bent her head, and heavy tears rolled down her cheeks.
Next morning Lucy received a note from Alec MacKenzie, asking if he
might see her that day; he suggested calling upon her early in the
afternoon and expressed the hope that he might find her alone. She sat
in the library at Lady Kelsey's and waited for him. She held a book in
her hands, but she could not read. And presently she began to weep.
Ever since the dreadful news had reached her, Lucy had done her utmost
to preserve her self-control, and all night she had lain with clenched
hands to prevent herself from giving way. For George's sake and for her
father's, she felt that she must keep her strength. But now the strain
was too great for her; she was alone; the tears began to flow
helplessly, and she made no effort to restrain them.
She had been allowed to see her father. Lucy and George had gone to
the prison, and she recalled now the details of the brief interview.
The whole thing was horrible. She felt that her heart would break.
In the night indignation had seized Lucy. After reading accounts of
the case in half a dozen papers she could not doubt that her father was
justly condemned, and she was horrified at the baseness of the crime.
His letters to the poor woman he had robbed, were read in court, and
Lucy flushed as she thought of them. They were a tissue of lies,
hypocritical and shameless. Lucy remembered the question she had put to
Alec and his answer.
But neither the newspapers nor Alec's words were needed to convince
her of her father's guilt; in the very depths of her being,
notwithstanding the passion with which she reproached herself, she had
been convinced of it. She would not acknowledge even to herself that
she doubted him; and all her words, all her thoughts even, expressed a
firm belief in his innocence; but a ghastly terror had lurked in some
hidden recess of her consciousness. It haunted her soul like a
mysterious shadow which there was no bodily shape to explain. The fear
had caught her, as though with material hands, when first the news of
his arrest was brought to Court Leys by Robert Boulger, and again at
her father's flat in Shaftesbury Avenue, when she saw a secret shame
cowering behind the good-humoured flippancy of his smile.
Notwithstanding his charm of manner and the tenderness of his affection
for his children, she had known that he was a liar and a rascal. She
But when Lucy saw him, still with the hunted look that Dick had
noticed at the trial, so changed from when last they had met, her anger
melted away, and she felt only pity. She reproached herself bitterly.
How could she be so heartless when he was suffering? At first he could
not speak. He looked from one to the other of his children silently,
with appealing eyes; and he saw the utter wretchedness which was on
George's face. George was ashamed to look at him and kept his eyes
averted. Fred Allerton was suddenly grown old and bent; his poor face
was sunken, and the skin had an ashy look like that of a dying man. He
had already a cringing air, as if he must shrink away from his fellows.
It was horrible to Lucy that she was not allowed to take him in her
arms. He broke down utterly and sobbed.
'Oh, Lucy, you don't hate me?' he whispered.
'No, I've never loved you more than I love you now,' she said.
And she said it truthfully. Her conscience smote her, and she
wondered bitterly what she had left undone that might have averted this
'I didn't mean to do it,' he said, brokenly.
Lucy looked at his poor, wearied eyes. It seemed very cruel that she
might not kiss them.
'I'd have paid her everything if she'd only have given me time. Luck
was against me all through. I've been a bad father to both of you.'
Lucy was able to tell him that Lady Kelsey would pay the eight
thousand pounds the woman had lost. The good creature had thought of it
even before Lucy made the suggestion. At all events none of them need
have on his conscience the beggary of that unfortunate person.
'Alice was always a good soul,' said Allerton. He clung to Lucy as
though she were his only hope. 'You won't forget me while I'm away,
'I'll come and see you whenever I'm allowed to.'
'It won't be very long. I hope I shall die quickly.'
'You mustn't do that. You must keep well and strong for my sake and
George's. We shall never cease to love you, father.'
'What's going to happen to George now?' he asked.
'We shall find something for him. You need not worry about him.'
George flushed. He could find nothing to say. He was ashamed and
angry. He wanted to get away quickly from that place of horror, and he
was relieved when the warder told them it was time to go.
'Good-bye, George,' said Fred Allerton.
He kept his eyes sullenly fixed on the ground. The look of despair
in Allerton's face grew more intense. He saw that his son hated him.
And it had been on him that all his light affection was placed. He had
been very proud of the handsome boy. And now his son merely wanted to
be rid of him. Bitter words rose to his lips, but his heart was too
heavy to utter them, and they expressed themselves only in a sob.
'Forgive me for all I've done against you, Lucy.'
'Have courage, father, we will never love you less.'
He forced a sad smile to his lips. She included George in what she
said, but he knew that she spoke only for herself. They went. And he
turned away into the darkness.
* * *
Lucy's tears relieved her a little. They exhausted her, and so made
her agony more easy to bear. It was necessary now to think of the
future. Alec MacKenzie must be there soon. She wondered why he had
written, and what he could have to say that mattered. She could only
think of her father, and above all of George. She dried her eyes, and
with a deep sigh set herself methodically to consider the difficult
* * *
When Alec came she rose gravely to receive him. For a moment he was
overcome by her loveliness, and he gazed at her in silence. Lucy was a
woman who was at her best in the tragic situations of life; her beauty
was heightened by the travail of her soul, and the heaviness of her
eyes gave a pathetic grandeur to her wan face. She advanced to meet
sorrow with an unquailing glance, and Alec, who knew something of
heroism, recognised the greatness of her heart. Of late he had been
more than once to see that portrait of Diana of the Uplands, in
which he, too, found the gracious healthiness of Lucy Allerton; but now
she seemed like some sad queen, English to the very bones, who bore
with a royal dignity an intolerable grief, and yet by the magnificence
of her spirit turned into something wholly beautiful.
'You must forgive me for forcing myself upon you to-day,' he said
slowly. 'But my time is very short, and I wanted to speak to you at
'It is very good of you to come.' She was embarrassed, and did not
know what exactly to say. 'I am always very glad to see you.'
He looked at her steadily, as though he were turning over in his
mind her commonplace words. She smiled.
'I wanted to thank you for your great kindness to me during these
two or three weeks. You've been very good to me, and you've helped me
to bear all thatI've had to bear.'
'I would do far more for you than that,' he answered. Suddenly it
flashed through her mind why he had come. Her heart gave a great beat
against her chest. The thought had never entered her head. She sat down
and waited for him to speak. He did not move. There was a singular
immobility about him when something absorbed his mind.
'I wrote and asked if I might see you alone, because I had something
that I wanted to say to you. I've wanted to say it ever since we were
at Court Leys together, but I was going awayheaven only knows when I
shall come back, and perhaps something may happen to meand I thought
it was unfair to you to speak.'
He paused. His eyes were fixed upon hers. She waited for him to go
'I wanted to ask you if you would marry me.'
She drew a long breath. Her face kept its expression of intense
'It's very kind and chivalrous of you to suggest it. You mustn't
think me ungrateful if I tell you I can't.'
'Why not?' he asked quietly.
'I must look after my father. If it is any use I shall go and live
near the prison.'
'There is no reason why you should not do that if you married me.'
She shook her head.
'No, I must be free. As soon as my father is released I must be
ready to live with him. And I can't take an honest man's name. It looks
as if I were running away from my own and taking shelter elsewhere.'
She hesitated for a while, since it made her very shy to say what
she had in mind. When she spoke it was in a low and trembling voice.
'You don't know how proud I was of my name and my family. For
centuries they've been honest, decent people, and I felt that we'd had
a part in the making of England. And now I feel utterly ashamed. Dick
Lomas laughed at me because I was so proud of my family. I daresay I
was stupid. I never paid much attention to rank and that kind of thing,
but it did seem to me that family was different. I've seen my father,
and he simply doesn't realise for a moment that he's done something
horribly mean and shameful. There must be some taint in our nature. I
couldn't marry you; I should be afraid that my children would inherit
the rottenness of my blood.'
He listened to what she said. Then he went up to her and put his
hands on her shoulders. His calmness, and the steadiness of his voice
seemed to quieten her.
'I think you will be able to help your father and George better if
you are my wife. I'm afraid your position will be very difficult. Won't
you give me the great happiness of helping you?'
'We must stand on our own feet. I'm very grateful, but you can do
nothing for us.'
'I'm very awkward and stupid, I don't know how to say what I want
to. I think I loved you from that first day at Court Leys. I did not
understand then what had happened; I suddenly felt that something new
and strange had come into my life. And day by day I loved you more, and
then it took up my whole soul. I've never loved anyone but you. I never
can love anyone but you. I've been looking for you all my life.'
She could not stand the look of his eyes, and she cast hers down. He
saw the exquisite shadow of her eyelashes on her cheek.
'But I didn't dare say anything to you then. Even if you had cared
for me, it seemed unfair to bind you to me when I was starting on this
expedition. But now I must speak. I go in a week. It would give me so
much strength and courage if I knew that I had your love. I love you
with all my heart.'
She looked up at him now, and her eyes were shining with tears, but
they were not the tears of a hopeless pain.
'I can't marry you now. It would be unfair to you. I owe myself
entirely to my father.'
He dropped his hands from her shoulders and stepped back.
'It must be as you will.'
'But don't think I'm ungrateful,' she said. 'I'm so proud that I
have your love. It seems to lift me up from the depths. You don't know
how much good you have done me.'
'I wanted to help you, and you will let me do nothing for you.'
On a sudden a thought flashed through her. She gave a little cry of
amazement, for here was the solution of her greatest difficulty.
'Yes, you can do something for me. Will you take George with you?'
He remained silent for a moment, while he considered the
'I can trust him in your hands. You will make a good and a strong
man of him. Oh, won't you give him this chance of washing out the stain
that is on our name?'
'Do you know that he will have to undergo hunger and thirst and
every kind of hardship? It's not a picnic that I'm going on.'
'I'm willing that he should undergo everything. The cause is
splendid. His self-respect is wavering in the balance. If he gets to
noble work he will feel himself a man.'
'There will be a good deal of fighting. It has seemed foolish to
dwell on the dangers that await me, but I do realise that they are
greater than I have ever faced before. This time it is win or die.'
'The dangers can be no greater than those his ancestors have taken
'He may be wounded or killed.'
Lucy hesitated for an instant. The words she uttered came from
'If he dies a brave man's death I can ask for nothing more.'
Alec smiled at her infinite courage. He was immensely proud of her.
'Then tell him that I shall be glad to take him.'
'May I call him now?'
Alec nodded. She rang the bell and told the servant who came that
she wished to see her brother. George came in. The strain of the last
fortnight, the horrible shock of his father's conviction, had told on
him far more than on Lucy. He looked worn and ill. He was broken down
with shame. The corners of his mouth drooped querulously, and his
handsome face bore an expression of utter misery. Alec looked at him
steadily. He felt infinite pity for his youth, and there was a charm of
manner about him, a way of appealing for sympathy, which touched the
strong man. He wondered what character the boy had. His heart went out
to him, and he loved him already because he was Lucy's brother.
'George, Mr. MacKenzie has offered to take you with him to Africa,'
she said eagerly. 'Will you go?'
'I'll go anywhere so long as I can get out of this beastly country,'
he answered wearily. 'I feel people are looking at me in the street
when I go out, and they're saying to one another: there's the son of
that swindling rotter who was sentenced to seven years.'
He wiped the palms of his hands with his handkerchief.
'I don't mind what I do. I can't go back to Oxford; no one would
speak to me. There's nothing I can do in England at all. I wish to God
I were dead.'
'George, don't say that.'
'It's all very well for you. You're a girl, and it doesn't matter.
Do you suppose anyone would trust me with sixpence now? Oh, how could
he? How could he?'
'You must try and forget it, George,' said Lucy, gently.
The boy pulled himself together and gave Alec a charming smile.
'It's awfully ripping of you to take pity on me.'
'I want you to know before you decide that you'll have to rough it
all the time. It'll be hard and dangerous work.'
'Well, as far as I'm concerned it's Hobson's choice, isn't it?' he
Alec held out his hand, with one of his rare, quiet smiles.
'I hope we shall pull well together and be good friends.'
'And when you come back, George, everything will be over. I wish I
were a man so that I might go with you. I wish I had your chance.
You've got everything before you, George. I think no man has ever had
such an opportunity. All our hope is in you. I want to be proud of you.
All my self-respect depends on you. I want you to distinguish yourself,
so that I may feel once more honest and strong and clean.'
Her voice was trembling with a deep emotion, and George, quick to
'I am a selfish beast,' he cried. 'I've been thinking of myself all
the time. I've never given a thought to you.'
'I don't want you to: I only want you to be brave and honest and
The tears came to his eyes, and he put his arms around her neck. He
nestled against her heart as a child might have done.
'It'll be awfully hard to leave you, Lucy.'
'It'll be harder for me, dear, because you will be doing great and
heroic things, while I shall be able only to wait and watch. But I want
you to go.' Her voice broke, and she spoke almost in a whisper. 'And
don't forget that you're going for my sake as well as for your own. If
you did anything wrong or disgraceful it would break my heart.'
'I swear to you that you'll never be ashamed of me, Lucy,' he said.
She kissed him and smiled. Alec had watched them silently. His heart
was very full.
'But we mustn't be silly and sentimental, or Mr. MacKenzie will
think us a pair of fools.' She looked at him gaily. 'We're both very
grateful to you.'
'I'm afraid I'm starting almost at once,' he said. 'George must be
ready in a week.'
'George can be ready in twenty-four hours if need be,' she answered.
The boy walked towards the window and lit a cigarette. He wanted to
steady his nerves.
'I'm afraid I shall be able to see little of you during the next few
days,' said Alec. 'I have a great deal to do, and I must run up to
Lancashire for the week-end.'
'Won't you change your mind?'
She shook her head.
'No, I can't do that. I must have complete freedom.'
'And when I come back?'
She smiled delightfully.
'When you come back, if you still care, ask me again.'
'And the answer?'
'The answer perhaps will be different.'
A week later Alec MacKenzie and George Allerton started from Charing
Cross. They were to go by P. &O. from Marseilles to Aden, and there
catch a German boat which would take them to Mombassa. Lady Kelsey was
far too distressed to see her nephew off; and Lucy was glad, since it
gave her the chance of driving to the station alone with George. She
found Dick Lomas and Mrs. Crowley already there. When the train steamed
away, Lucy was standing a little apart from the others. She was quite
still. She did not even wave her hand, and there was little expression
on her face. Mrs. Crowley was crying cheerfully, and she dried her eyes
with a tiny handkerchief. Lucy turned to her and thanked her for
'Shall I drive you back in the carriage?' sobbed Mrs. Crowley.
'I think I'll take a cab, if you don't mind,' Lucy answered quietly.
'Perhaps you'll take Dick.'
She did not bid them good-bye, but walked slowly away.
'How exasperating you people are!' cried Mrs. Crowley. 'I wanted to
throw myself in her arms and have a good cry on the platform. You have
Dick walked along by her side, and they got into Mrs. Crowley's
carriage. She soliloquised.
'I thank God that I have emotions, and I don't mind if I do show
them. I was the only person who cried. I knew I should cry, and I
brought three handkerchiefs on purpose. Look at them.' She pulled them
out of her bag and thrust them into Dick's hand. 'They're soaking.'
'You say it with triumph,' he smiled.
'I think you're all perfectly heartless. Those two boys were going
away for heaven knows how long on a dangerous journey, and they may
never come back, and you and Lucy said good-bye to them just as if they
were going off for a day's golf. I was the only one who said I was
sorry, and that we should miss them dreadfully. I hate this English
coldness. When I go to America, it's ten to one nobody comes to see me
off, and if anyone does he just nods and says Good-bye, I hope you'll
have a jolly time.'
'Next time you go I will come and hurl myself on the ground, and
gnash my teeth and shriek at the top of my voice.'
'Oh, yes, do. And then I'll cry all the way to Liverpool, and I
shall have a racking headache and feel quite miserable and happy.'
Dick meditated for a moment.
'You see, we have an instinctive horror of exhibiting our emotion. I
don't know why it is, I suppose training or the inheritance of our
sturdy fathers, but we're ashamed to let people see what we feel. But I
don't know whether on that account our feelings are any the less keen.
Don't you think there's a certain beauty in a grief that forbids itself
all expression? You know, I admire Lucy tremendously, and as she came
towards us on the platform I thought there was something very fine in
'Fiddlesticks!' said Mrs. Crowley, sharply. 'I should have liked her
much better if she had clung to her brother and sobbed and had to be
'Did you notice that she left us without even shaking hands? It was
a very small omission, but it meant that she was quite absorbed in her
They reached Mrs. Crowley's tiny house in Norfolk Street, and she
asked Dick to come in.
'Sit down and read the paper,' she said, 'while I go and powder my
Dick made himself comfortable. He blessed the charming woman when a
butler of imposing dimensions brought in all that was necessary to make
a cocktail. Mrs. Crowley cultivated England like a museum specimen. She
had furnished her drawing-room with Chippendale furniture of an
exquisite pattern. No chintzes were so smartly calendered as hers, and
on the walls were mezzotints of the ladies whom Sir Joshua had painted.
The chimney-piece was adorned with Lowestoft china, and on the silver
table was a collection of old English spoons. She had chosen her butler
because he went so well with the house. His respectability was
portentous, his gravity was never disturbed by the shadow of a smile;
and Mrs. Crowley treated him as though he were a piece of decoration,
with an impertinence that fascinated him. He looked upon her as an
outlandish freak, but his heavy British heart was surrendered to her
entirely, and he watched over her with a solicitude that amused and
Dick thought that the little drawing-room was very comfortable, and
when Mrs. Crowley returned, after an unconscionable time at the
toilet-table, he was in the happiest mood. She gave a rapid glance at
'You're a perfect hero,' she said. 'You've waited till I came down
to have your cocktail.'
'Richard Lomas, madam, is the soul of courtesy,' he replied, with a
flourish. 'Besides, base is the soul that drinks in the morning by
himself. At night, in your slippers and without a collar, with a pipe
in your mouth and a good book in your hand, a solitary glass of whisky
and soda is eminently desirable; but the anteprandial cocktail needs
the sparkle of conversation.'
'You seem to be in excellent health,' said Mrs. Crowley.
'I am. Why?'
'I saw in yesterday's paper that your doctor had ordered you to go
abroad for the rest of the winter.'
'My doctor received the two guineas, and I wrote the prescription,'
returned Dick. 'Do you remember that I explained to you the other day
at length my intention of retiring into private life?'
'I do. I strongly disapprove of it.'
'Well, I was convinced that if I relinquished my duties without any
excuse people would say I was mad and shut me up in a lunatic asylum. I
invented a breakdown in my health, and everything is plain sailing.
I've got a pair for the rest of the session, and at the general
election the excellent Robert Boulger will step into my unworthy
'And supposing you regret the step you've taken?'
'In my youth I imagined, with the romantic fervour of my age, that
in life everything was irreparable. That is a delusion. One of the
greatest advantages of life is that hardly anything is. One can make
ever so many fresh starts. The average man lives long enough for a good
many experiments, and it's they that give life its savour.'
'I don't approve of this flippant way you talk of life,' said Mrs.
Crowley severely. 'It seems to me something infinitely serious and
'That is an illusion of moralists. As a matter of fact, it's merely
what you make it. Mine is quite light and simple.'
Mrs. Crowley looked at Dick reflectively.
'I wonder why you never married,' she said.
'I can tell you easily. Because I have a considerable gift for
repartee. I discovered in my early youth that men propose not because
they want to marry, but because on certain occasions they are entirely
at a loss for topics of conversation.'
'It was a momentous discovery,' she smiled.
'No sooner had I made it than I began to cultivate my powers of
small talk. I felt that my only chance was to be ready with appropriate
subjects at the smallest notice, and I spent a considerable part of my
last year at Oxford in studying the best masters.'
'I never noticed that you were particularly brilliant,' murmured
Mrs. Crowley, raising her eyebrows.
'I never played for brilliancy, I played for safety. I flatter
myself that when prattle was needed, I have never been found wanting. I
have met the ingenuousness of sweet seventeen with a few observations
on Free Trade, while the haggard efforts of thirty have struggled in
vain against a brief exposition of the higher philosophy.'
'When people talk higher philosophy to me I make it a definite rule
to blush,' said Mrs. Crowley.
'The skittish widow of uncertain age has retired in disorder before
a complete acquaintance with the Restoration dramatists, and I have
frequently routed the serious spinster with religious leanings by my
remarkable knowledge of the results of missionary endeavour in Central
Africa. Once a dowager sought to ask me my intentions, but I flung at
her astonished head an article from the Encyclopedia Brittanica. An
American divorcée swooned when I poured into her shell-like ear
a few facts about the McKinley Tariff. These are only my serious
efforts. I need not tell you how often I have evaded a flash of the
eyes by an epigram, or ignored a sigh by an apt quotation from the
'I don't believe a word you say,' retorted Mrs. Crowley. 'I believe
you never married for the simple reason that nobody would have you.'
'Do me the justice to acknowledge that I'm the only man who's known
you for ten days without being tempted by those coal-mines of yours in
Pennsylvania to offer you his hand and heart.'
'I don't believe the coal has anything to do with it,' answered Mrs.
Crowley. 'I put it down entirely to my very considerable personal
Dick looked at the time and found that the cocktail had given him an
appetite. He asked Mrs. Crowley if she would lunch with him, and gaily
they set out for a fashionable restaurant. Neither of them gave a
thought to Alec and George speeding towards the unknown, nor to Lucy
shut up in her room, given over to utter misery.
* * *
For Lucy it was the first of many dreary days. Dick went to Naples,
and enjoying his new-won idleness, did not even write to her. Mrs.
Crowley, after deciding on a trip to Egypt, was called to America by
the illness of a sister; and Lady Kelsey, unable to stand the rigour of
a Northern winter, set out for Nice. Lucy refused to accompany her.
Though she knew it would be impossible to see her father, she could not
bear to leave England; she could not face the gay people who thronged
the Riviera, while he was bound to degrading tasks. The luxury of her
own life horrified her when she compared it with his hard fare; and she
could not look upon the comfortable rooms she lived in, with their
delicate refinements, without thinking of the bare cell to which he was
confined. Lucy was glad to be alone.
She went nowhere, but passed her days in solitude, striving to
acquire peace of mind; she took long walks in the parks with her dogs,
and spent much time in the picture galleries. Without realising the
effect they had upon her, she felt vaguely the calming influence of
beautiful things; often she would sit in the National Gallery before
some royal picture, and the joy of it would fill her soul with quiet
relief. Sometimes she would go to those majestic statues that decorated
the pediment of the Parthenon, and the tears welled up in her clear
eyes as she thanked the gods for the graciousness of their peace. She
did not often listen to music, for then she could remain no longer
mistress of her emotions; the tumultuous sounds of a symphony, the
final anguish of Tristan, made vain all her efforts at
self-control; and when she got home, she could only throw herself on
her bed and weep passionately.
In reading she found her greatest solace. Many things that Alec had
said returned dimly to her memory; and she began to read the Greek
writers who had so profoundly affected him. She found a translation of
Euripides which gave her some impression of the original, and her
constant mood was answered by those old, exquisite tragedies. The
complexity of that great poet, his doubt, despair, and his love of
beauty, spoke to her heart as no modern writer could; and in the study
of those sad deeds, in which men seemed always playthings of the fates,
she found a relief to her own keen sorrow. She did not reason it out
with herself, but almost unconsciously the thought came to her that the
slings and arrows of the gods could be transformed into beauty by
resignation and courage. Nothing was irreparable but a man's own
weakness, and even in shame, disaster, and poverty, it was possible to
lead a life that was not without grandeur. The man who was beaten to
the ground by an outrageous fortune might be a finer thing than the
unseeing, cruel powers that conquered him.
It was in this wise that Lucy battled with the intolerable shame
that oppressed her. In that quiet corner of Hampshire in which her
early years had been spent, among the memories of her dead kindred, the
pride of her race had grown to unreasonable proportions; and now in the
reaction she was terrified lest its decadence was in her, too, and in
George. She could do nothing but suffer whatever pain it pleased the
gods to send; but George was a man. In him were placed all her hopes.
But now and again wild panic seized her. Then the agony was too great
to bear, and she pressed her hands to her eyes in order to drive away
the hateful thought: what if George failed her? She knew well enough
that he had his father's engaging ways and his father's handsome face;
but his father had had a smile as frank and a charm as great. What if
with the son, too, they betokened only insincerity and weakness? A
malicious devil whispered in her ear that now and again she had averted
her eyes in order not to see George do things she hated. But it was
youth that drove him. She had taken care to keep from him knowledge of
the sordid struggles that occupied her, and how could she wonder if he
was reckless and uncaring? She would not doubt him, she could not doubt
him, for if anything went wrong with him there was no hope left. She
could only cease to believe in herself.
When Lucy was allowed to write to her father, she set herself to
cheer him. The thought that over five years must elapse before she
would have him by her side once more, paralysed her pen; but she would
not allow herself to be discouraged. And she sought to give courage to
him. She wanted him to see that her love was undiminished, and that he
could count on it. Presently she received a letter from him. After a
few weeks, the unaccustomed food, the change of life, had told upon
him; and a general breakdown in his health had driven him into the
infirmary. Lucy was thankful for the respite which his illness
afforded. It must be a little less dreary in a prison hospital than in
a prison cell.
A letter came from George, and another from Alec. Alec's was brief,
telling of their journey down the Red Sea and their arrival at
Mombassa; it was abrupt and awkward, making no reference to his love,
or to the engagement which she had almost promised to make when he
returned. He began and ended quite formally. George, apparently in the
best of spirits, wrote as he always did, in a boyish, inconsequent
fashion. His letter was filled with slang and gave no news. There was
little to show that it was written from Mombassa, on the verge of a
dangerous expedition into the interior, rather than from Oxford on the
eve of a football match. But she read them over and over again. They
were very matter of fact, and she smiled as she thought of Julia
Crowley's indignation if she had seen them.
From her recollection of Alec's words, Lucy tried to make out the
scene that first met her brother's eyes. She seemed to stand by his
side, leaning over the rail, as the ship approached the harbour. The
sea was blue with a blue she had never seen, and the sky was like an
inverted bowl of copper. The low shore, covered with bush, stretched
away in the distance; a line of waves was breaking on the reef. They
came in sight of the island of Mombassa, with the overgrown ruins of a
battery that had once commanded the entrance; and there were
white-roofed houses, with deep verandas, which stood in little
clearings with coral cliffs below them. On the opposite shore thick
groves of palm-trees rose with their singular, melancholy beauty. Then
as the channel narrowed, they passed an old Portuguese fort which
carried the mind back to the bold adventurers who had first sailed
those distant seas, and directly afterwards a mass of white buildings
that reached to the edge of the lapping waves. They saw the huts of the
native town, wattled and thatched, nestling close together; and below
them was a fleet of native craft. On the jetty was the African crowd,
shouting and jostling, some half-naked, and some strangely clad, Arabs
from across the sea, Swahilis, and here and there a native from the
In course of time other letters came from George, but Alec wrote no
more. The days passed slowly. Lady Kelsey returned from the Riviera.
Dick came back from Naples to enjoy the pleasures of the London season.
He appeared thoroughly to enjoy his idleness, signally falsifying the
predictions of those who had told him that it was impossible to be
happy without regular work. Mrs. Crowley settled down once more in her
house in Norfolk Street. During her absence she had written reams by
every post to Lucy, and Lucy had looked forward very much to seeing her
again. The little American was almost the only one of her friends with
whom she did not feel shy. The apartness which her nationality gave
her, made Mrs. Crowley more easy to talk to. She was too fond of Lucy
to pity her. The general election came before it was expected, and
Robert Boulger succeeded to the seat which Dick Lomas was only too glad
to vacate. Bobbie was very charming. He surrounded Lucy with a
protecting care, and she could not fail to be touched by his entire
devotion. When he thought she had recovered somewhat from the first
blow of her father's sentence, he sent her a letter in which once more
he besought her to marry him. She was grateful to him for having chosen
that method of expressing himself, for it seemed possible in writing to
tell him with greater tenderness that if she could not accept his love
she deeply valued his affection.
* * *
It seemed to Lucy that the life she led in London, or at Lady
Kelsey's house on the river, was no more than a dream. She was but a
figure in the procession of shadow pictures cast on a sheet in a fair,
and nothing that she did signified. Her spirit was away in the heart of
Africa, and by a vehement effort of her fancy she sought to see what
each day her friend and her brother were doing.
Now they had long left the railway and such civilisation as was to
be found in the lands where white men had already made their mark. She
knew the exultation which Alec felt, and the thrill of independence,
when he left behind him all traces of it. He held himself more proudly
because he knew that thenceforward he must rely on his own resources,
and success or failure depended only on himself.
Often as she lay awake and saw the ghostly dawn steal across the
sky, she seemed borne to the African camp, where the break of day, like
a gust of wind in a field of ripe corn, brought a sudden stir among the
sleepers. Alec had described to her so minutely the changing scene that
she was able to bring it vividly before her eyes. She saw him come out
of his tent, in heavy boots, buckling on his belt. He wore
knee-breeches and a pith helmet, and he was more bronzed than when she
had bidden him farewell. He gave the order to the headman of the
caravan to take up the loads. At the word there was a rush from all
parts of the camp; each porter seized his load, carrying it off to lash
on his mat and his cooking-pot, and then, sitting upon it, ate a few
grains of roasted maize or the remains of last night's game. And as the
sun appeared above the horizon, Alec, as was his custom, led the way,
followed by a few askari. A band of natives struck up a strange and
musical chant, and the camp, but now a scene of busy life, was
deserted. The smouldering fires died out with the rising sun, and the
silent life of the forest replaced the chatter and the hum of human
kind. Giant beetles came from every quarter and carried away pieces of
offal; small shy beasts stole out to gnaw the white bones upon which
savage teeth had left but little; a gaunt hyena, with suspicious looks,
snatched at a bone and dashed back into the jungle. Vultures settled
down heavily, and with deliberate air sought out the foulest refuse.
Then Lucy followed Alec upon his march, with his fighting men and
his long string of porters. They went along a narrow track, pushing
their way through bushes and thorns, or tall rank grass, sometimes with
difficulty forcing through elephant reeds which closed over their heads
and showered the cold dew down on their faces. Sometimes they passed
through villages, with rich soil and extensive population; sometimes
they plunged into heavy forests of gigantic trees, festooned with
creepers, where the silence was unbroken even by the footfall of the
traveller on the bottomless carpet of leaves; sometimes they traversed
vast swamps, hurrying to avoid the deadly fever, and sometimes scrub
jungles, in which as far as the eye could reach was a forest of cactus
and thorn bush. Sometimes they made their way through grassy uplands
with trees as splendid as those of an English park, and sometimes they
toiled painfully along a game-track that ran by the bank of a
At midday a halt was called. The caravan had opened out by then; men
who were sick or had stopped to adjust a load, others who were weak or
lazy, had lagged behind; but at last they were all there; and the rear
guard, perhaps with George in charge of it, whose orders were on no
account to allow a single man to remain behind them, reported that no
one was missing. During the heat of noon they made fires and cooked
food. Presently they set off once more and marched till sundown.
When they reached the place which had been fixed on for camping, a
couple of shots were fired as signals; and soon the natives, men and
women, began to stream in with little baskets of grain or flour, with
potatoes and chickens, and perhaps a pot or two of honey. Very quickly
the tents were pitched, the bed gear arranged, the loads counted and
stacked. The party whose duty it was to construct the zeriba cut
down boughs and dragged them in to form a fence. Each little band of
men selected the site for their bivouac; one went off to collect
materials to build the huts, another to draw water, a third for
firewood and stones, on which to place the cooking-pot. At sunset the
headman blew his whistle and asked if all were present. A lusty chorus
replied. He reported to his chief and received the orders for the next
Alec had told Lucy that from the cry that goes up in answer to the
headman's whistle, you could always gauge the spirit of the men. If
game had been shot, or from scarcity the caravan had come to a land of
plenty, there was a perfect babel of voices. But if the march had been
long and hard, or if food had been issued for a number of days, of
which this was the last, isolated voices replied; and perhaps one,
bolder than the rest, cried out: I am hungry.
Then Alec and George, and the others sat down to their evening meal,
while the porters, in little parties, were grouped around their huge
pots of porridge. A little chat, a smoke, an exchange of sporting
anecdotes, and the white men turned in. And Alec, gazing on the embers
of his camp fire was alone with his thoughts: the silence of the night
was upon him, and he looked up at the stars that shone in their
countless myriads in the blue African sky. Lucy got up and stood at her
open window. She, too, looked up at the sky, and she thought that she
saw the same stars as he did. Now in that last half hour, free from the
burden of the day, with everyone at rest, he could give himself over to
his thoughts, and his thoughts surely were of her.
* * *
During the months that had passed since Alec left England, Lucy's
love had grown. In her solitude there was nothing else to give
brightness to her life, and little by little it filled her heart. Her
nature was so strong that she could do nothing by half measures, and it
was with a feeling of extreme relief that she surrendered herself to
this overwhelming passion. It seemed to her that she was growing in a
different direction. The yearning of her soul for someone on whom to
lean was satisfied at last. Hitherto the only instincts that had been
fostered in her were those that had been useful to her father and
George; they had needed her courage and her self-reliance. It was very
comfortable to depend entirely upon Alec's love. Here she could be
weak, here she could find a greater strength which made her own seem
puny. Lucy's thoughts were absorbed in the man whom really she knew so
little. She exulted in his unselfish striving and in his firmness of
purpose, and when she compared herself with him she felt unworthy. She
treasured every recollection she had of him. She went over in her mind
all that she had heard him say, and reconstructed the conversations
they had had together. She walked where they had walked, remembering
how the sky had looked on those days and what flowers then bloomed in
the parks; she visited the galleries they had seen in one another's
company, and stood before the pictures which he had lingered at. And
notwithstanding all there was to torment and humiliate her, she was
happy. Something had come into her life which made all else tolerable.
It was easy to bear the extremity of grief when he loved her.
After a long time Dick received a letter from Alec. MacKenzie was
not a good letter-writer. He had no gift of self-expression, and when
he had a pen in his hand seemed to be seized with an invincible
shyness. The letter was dry and wooden. It was dated from the last
trading-station before he set out into the wild country which was to be
the scene of his operations. It said that hitherto everything had gone
well with him, and the white men, but for fever occasionally, were
bearing the climate well. One, named Macinnery, had made a nuisance of
himself, and had been sent back to the coast. Alec gave no reasons for
this step. He had been busy making the final arrangements. A company
had been formed, the North East Africa Trading Company, to exploit the
commercial possibilities of these unworked districts, and a charter had
been given them; but the unsettled state of the land had so hampered
them that the directors had gladly accepted Alec's offer to join their
forces with his, and the traders at their stations had been instructed
to take service under him. This increased the white men under his
command to sixteen. He had drilled the Swahilis whom he had brought
from the coast, and given them guns, so that he had now an armed force
of four hundred men. He was collecting levies from the native tribes,
and he gave the outlandish names of the chiefs, armed with spears, who
were to accompany him. The power of Mohammed the Lame was on the wane;
for, during the three months which Alec had spent in England, an
illness had seized him, which the natives asserted was a magic spell
cast on him by one of his wives; and a son of his, taking advantage of
this, had revolted and fortified himself in a stockade. The dying
Sultan had taken the field against him, and this division of forces
made Alec's position immeasurably stronger.
Dick handed Lucy the letter, and watched her while she read it.
'He says nothing about George,' he said.
'He's evidently quite well.'
Though it seemed strange that Alec made no mention of the boy, Dick
said no more. Lucy appeared to be satisfied, and that was the chief
thing. But he could not rid his mind of a certain uneasiness. He had
received with misgiving Lucy's plan that George should accompany Alec.
He could not help wondering whether those frank blue eyes and that
facile smile did not conceal a nature as shallow as Fred Allerton's.
But, after all, it was the boy's only chance, and he must take it.
* * *
Then an immense silence followed. Alec disappeared into those
unknown countries as a man disappears into the night, and no more was
heard of him. None knew how he fared. Not even a rumour reached the
coast of success or failure. When he had crossed the mountains that
divided the British protectorate from the lands that were to all
intents independent, he vanished with his followers from human ken. The
months passed, and there was nothing. It was a year now since he had
arrived at Mombassa, then it was a year since the last letter had come
from him. It was only possible to guess that behind those gaunt rocks
fierce battles were fought, new lands explored, and the slavers beaten
back foot by foot. Dick sought to persuade himself that the silence was
encouraging, for it seemed to him that if the expedition had been cut
to pieces the rejoicing of the Arabs would have spread itself abroad,
and some news of a disaster would have travelled through Somaliland to
the coast, or been carried by traders to Zanzibar. He made frequent
inquiries at the Foreign Office, but there, too, nothing was known. The
darkness had fallen upon them.
But Lucy suffered neither from anxiety nor fear. She had an immense
confidence in Alec, and she believed in his strength, his courage, and
his star. He had told her that he would not return till he had
accomplished his task, and she expected to hear nothing till he had
brought it to a triumphant conclusion. She did her little to help him.
For at length the directors of the North East Africa Trading Company,
growing anxious, proposed to get a question asked in Parliament, or to
start an outcry in the newspapers which should oblige the government to
send out a force to relieve Alec if he were in difficulties, or avenge
him if he were dead. But Lucy knew that there was nothing Alec dreaded
more than official interference. He was convinced that if this work
could be done at all, he alone could do it; and she influenced Robert
Boulger and Dick Lomas to use such means as they could to prevent
anything from being done. She was certain that all Alec needed was time
and a free hand.
But the monotonous round of Lucy's life, with its dreams and its
fond imaginings, was interrupted by news of a different character. An
official letter came to her from Parkhurst to say that the grave state
of her father's health had decided the authorities to remit the rest of
his sentence, and he would be set free the next day but one at eight
o'clock in the morning. She knew not whether to feel relief or sorrow;
for if she was thankful that the wretched man's long torture was ended,
she could not but realise that his liberty was given him only because
he was dying. Mercy had been shown him, and Fred Allerton, in sight of
a freedom from which no human laws could bar him, was given up to die
among those who loved him.
Lucy went down immediately to the Isle of Wight, and there engaged
rooms in the house of a woman who had formerly served her at Hamlyn's
It was midwinter, and a cold drizzle was falling when she waited for
him at the prison gates. Three years had passed since they had parted.
She took him in her arms and kissed him silently. Her heart was too
full for words. A carriage was waiting for them, and she drove to the
lodging-house; breakfast was ready, and Lucy had seen that good things
which he liked should be ready for him to eat. Fred Allerton looked
wistfully at the clean table-cloth, and at the flowers and the dainty
scones; but he shook his head. He did not speak, and the tears ran
slowly down his cheeks. He sank wearily into a chair. Lucy tried to
induce him to eat; she brought him a cup of tea, but he put it away. He
looked at her with haggard, bloodshot eyes.
'Give me the flowers,' he muttered.
They were his first words. There was a large bowl of daffodils in
the middle of the table, and she took them out of the water, deftly
dried their stalks, and gave them to him. He took them with trembling
hands and pressed them to his heart, then he buried his face in them,
and the tears ran afresh, bedewing the yellow flowers.
Lucy put her arm around her father's neck and placed her cheek
'Don't, father,' she whispered. 'You must try and forget.'
He leaned back, exhausted, and the pretty flowers fell at his feet.
'You know why they've let me out?' he said.
She kissed him, but did not answer.
'I'm so glad that we're together again,' she murmured.
'It's because I'm going to die.'
'No, you mustn't die. In a little while you'll get strong again. You
have many years before you, and you'll be very happy.'
He gave her a long, searching look; and when he spoke, his voice had
a hollowness in it that was strangely terrifying.
'Do you think I want to live?'
The pain seemed almost greater than Lucy could bear, and for a
moment she had to remain silent so that her voice might grow steady.
'You must live for my sake.'
'Don't you hate me?' he asked.
'No, I love you more than I ever did. I shall never cease to love
'I suppose no one would marry you while I was in prison.'
His remark was so inconsequent that Lucy found nothing to say. He
gave a bitter, short laugh.
'I ought to have shot myself. Then people would have forgotten all
about it, and you might have had a chance. Why didn't you marry
'I haven't wanted to marry.'
He was so tired that he could only speak a little at a time, and now
he closed his eyes. Lucy thought that he was dozing, and began to pick
up the fallen flowers. But he noticed what she was doing.
'Let me hold them,' he moaned, with the pleading quaver of a sick
As she gave them to him once more, he took her hands and began to
'The only thing for me is to hurry up and finish with life. I'm in
the way. Nobody wants me, and I shall only be a burden. I didn't want
them to let me go. I wanted to die there quietly.'
Lucy sighed deeply. She hardly recognised her father in the bent,
broken man who was sitting beside her. He had aged very much and seemed
now to be an old man, but it was a premature aging, and there was a
horror in it as of a process contrary to nature. He was very thin, and
his hands trembled constantly. Most of his teeth had gone; his cheeks
were sunken, and he mumbled his words so that it was difficult to
distinguish them. There was no light in his eyes, and his short hair
was quite white. Now and again he was shaken with a racking cough, and
this was followed by an attack of such pain in his heart that it was
anguish even to watch it. The room was warm, but he shivered with cold
and cowered over the roaring fire.
When the doctor whom Lucy had sent for, saw him, he could only shrug
'I'm afraid nothing can be done,' he said. 'His heart is all wrong,
and he's thoroughly broken up.'
'Is there no chance of recovery?'
'I'm afraid all we can do is to alleviate the pain.'
'And how long can he live?'
'It's impossible to say. He may die to-morrow, he may last six
The doctor was an old man, and his heart was touched by the sight of
Lucy's grief. He had seen more cases than one of this kind.
'He doesn't want to live. It will be a mercy when death releases
Lucy did not answer. When she returned to her father, she could not
speak. He was apathetic and did not ask what the doctor had said. Lady
Kelsey, hating the thought of Lucy and her father living amid the
discomfort of furnished lodgings, had written to offer the use of her
house in Charles Street; and Mrs. Crowley, in case they wanted complete
solitude, had put Court Leys at their disposal. Lucy waited a few days
to see whether her father grew stronger, but no change was apparent in
him, and it seemed necessary at last to make some decision. She put
before him the alternative plans, but he would have none of them.
'Then would you rather stay here?' she said.
He looked at the fire and did not answer. Lucy thought the sense of
her question had escaped him, for often it appeared to her that his
mind wandered. She was on the point of repeating it when he spoke.
'I want to go back to the Purlieu.'
Lucy stifled a gasp of dismay. She stared at the wretched man. Had
he forgotten? He thought that the house of his fathers was his still;
and all that had parted him from it was gone from his memory. How could
she tell him?
'I want to die in my own home,' he faltered.
Lucy was in a turmoil of anxiety. She must make some reply. What he
asked was impossible, and yet it was cruel to tell him the whole truth.
'There are people living there,' she answered.
'Are there?' he said, indifferently.
He looked at the fire still. The silence was dreadful.
'When can we go?' he said at last. 'I want to get there quickly.'
'We shall have to go into rooms.'
'I don't mind.'
He seemed to take everything as a matter of course. It was clear
that he had forgotten the catastrophe that had parted him from Hamlyn's
Purlieu, and yet, strangely, he asked no questions. Lucy was tortured
by the thought of revisiting the place she loved so well. She had been
able to deaden her passionate regret only by keeping her mind
steadfastly averted from all thoughts of it, and now she must actually
go there. The old wounds would be opened. But it was impossible to
refuse, and she set about making the necessary arrangements. The
rector, who had been given the living by Fred Allerton, was an old
friend, and Lucy knew that she could trust in his affection. She wrote
and told him that her father was dying and had set his heart on seeing
once more his old home. She asked him to find rooms in one of the
cottages. She did not mind how small nor how humble they were. The
rector answered by telegram. He begged Lucy to bring her father to stay
with him. She would be more comfortable than in lodgings, and, since he
was a bachelor, there was plenty of room in the large rectory. Lucy,
immensely touched by his kindness, gratefully accepted the invitation.
Next day they took the short journey across the Solent.
The rector had been a don, and Fred Allerton had offered him the
living in accordance with the family tradition that required a man of
attainments to live in the neighbouring rectory. He had been there now
for many years, a spare, grey-haired, gentle creature, who lived the
life of a recluse in that distant village, doing his duty exactly, but
given over for the most part to his beloved books. He seldom went away.
The monotony of his daily round was broken only by the occasional
receipt of a parcel of musty volumes, which he had ordered to be bought
for him at some sale. He was a man of varied learning, full of remote
information, eccentric from his solitariness, but with a great
sweetness of nature. His life was simple, and his wants were few.
In this house, in rooms lined from floor to ceiling with old books,
Lucy and her father took up their abode. It seemed that Fred Allerton
had been kept up only by the desire to get back to his native place,
for he had no sooner arrived than he grew much worse. Lucy was busily
occupied with nursing him and could give no time to the regrets which
she had imagined would assail her. She spent long hours in her father's
room; and while he dozed, half-comatose, the kindly parson sat by the
window and read to her in a low voice from queer, forgotten works.
One day Allerton appeared to be far better. For a week he had
wandered much in his mind, and more than once Lucy had suspected that
the end was near; but now he was singularly lucid. He wanted to get up,
and Lucy felt it would be brutal to balk any wish he had. He asked if
he might go out. The day was fine and warm. It was February, and there
was a feeling in the air as if the spring were at hand. In sheltered
places the snowdrops and the crocuses gave the garden the blitheness of
an Italian picture; and you felt that on that multi-coloured floor
might fitly trip the delicate angels of Messer Perugino. The rector had
an old pony-chaise, in which he was used to visit his parishioners, and
in this all three drove out.
'Let us go down to the marshes,' said Allerton.
They drove slowly along the winding road till they came to the broad
salt marshes. Beyond glittered the placid sea. There was no wind. Near
them a cow looked up from her grazing and lazily whisked her tail.
Lucy's heart began to beat more quickly. She felt that her father, too,
looked upon that scene as the most typical of his home. Other places
had broad acres and fine trees, other places had forest land and purple
heather, but there was something in those green flats that made them
seem peculiarly their own. She took her father's hand, and silently
their eyes looked onwards. A more peaceful look came into Fred
Allerton's worn face, and the sigh that broke from him was not
altogether of pain. Lucy prayed that it might still remain hidden from
him that those fair, broad fields were his no longer.
That night, she had an intuition that death was at hand. Fred
Allerton was very silent. Since his release from prison he had spoken
barely a dozen sentences a day, and nothing served to wake him from his
lethargy. But there was a curious restlessness about him now, and he
would not go to bed. He sat in an armchair, and begged them to draw it
near the window. The sky was cloudless, and the moon shone brightly.
Fred Allerton could see the great old elms that surrounded Hamlyn's
Purlieu; and his eyes were fixed steadily upon them. Lucy saw them,
too, and she thought sadly of the garden which she had loved so well,
and of the dear trees which old masters of the place had tended so
lovingly. Her heart filled when she thought of the grey stone house and
its happy, spacious rooms.
Suddenly there was a sound, and she looked up quickly. Her father's
head had fallen back, and he was breathing with a strange noisiness.
She called her friend.
'I think the end has come at last,' she said.
'Would you like me to fetch the doctor?'
'It will be useless.'
The rector looked at the man's wan face, lit dimly by the light of
the shaded lamp, and falling on his knees, began to recite the prayers
for the dying. A shiver passed through Lucy. In the farmyard a cock
crew, and in the distance another cock answered cheerily. Lucy put her
hand on the good rector's shoulder.
'It's all over,' she whispered.
She bent down and kissed her father's eyes.
* * *
A week later Lucy took a walk by the seashore. They had buried Fred
Allerton three days before among the ancestors whom he had dishonoured.
It was a lonely funeral, for Lucy had asked Robert Boulger, her only
friend then in England, not to come; and she was the solitary mourner.
The coffin was lowered into the grave, and the rector read the sad,
beautiful words of the burial service. She could not grieve. Her father
was at peace. She could only hope that his errors and his crimes would
be soon forgotten; and perhaps those who had known him would remember
then that he had been a charming friend, and a clever, sympathetic
companion. It was little enough in all conscience that Lucy asked.
On the morrow she was leaving the roof of the hospitable parson.
Surmising her wish to walk alone once more through the country which
was so dear to her, he had not offered his company. Lucy's heart was
full of sadness, but there was a certain peace in it, too; the peace of
her father's death had entered into her, and she experienced a new
feeling, the feeling of resignation.
Now her mind was set upon the future, and she was filled with hope.
She stood by the water's edge, looking upon the sea as three years
before, when she was staying at Court Leys, she had looked upon the sea
that washed the shores of Kent. Many things had passed since then, and
many griefs had fallen upon her; but for all that she was happier than
then; since on that distant dayand it seemed ages agothere had been
scarcely a ray of brightness in her life, and now she had a great love
which made every burden light.
Low clouds hung upon the sky, and on the horizon the greyness of the
heavens mingled with the greyness of the sea. She looked into the
distance with longing eyes. Now all her life was set upon that far-off
corner of unknown Africa, where Alec and George were doing great deeds.
She wondered what was the meaning of the silence which had covered them
'Oh, if I could only see,' she murmured.
She sent her spirit upon that vast journey, trying to pierce the
realms of space, but her spirit came back baffled. She could not know
what they were at.
* * *
If Lucy's love had been able to bridge the abyss that parted them,
if in some miraculous way she had been able to see what actions they
did at that time, she would have witnessed a greater tragedy than any
which she had yet seen.
The night was stormy and dark. The rain was falling, and the ground
in Alec's camp was heavy with mud. The faithful Swahilis whom he had
brought from the coast, chattered with cold around their fires; and the
sentries shivered at their posts. It was a night that took the spirit
out of a man and made all that he longed for seem vain and trifling. In
Alec's tent the water was streaming. Great rats ran about boldly. The
stout canvas bellied before each gust of wind, and the cordage creaked,
so that one might have thought the whole thing would be blown clean
away. The tent was unusually crowded, though there was in it nothing
but Alec's bed, covered with a mosquito-curtain, a folding table, with
a couple of garden chairs, and the cases which contained his more
precious belongings. A small tarpaulin on the floor squelched as one
walked on it.
On one of the chairs a man sat, asleep, with his face resting on his
arms. His gun was on the table in front of him. It was Walker, a young
man who had been freshly sent out to take charge of the North East
Africa Company's most northerly station, and had joined Alec's
expedition a year before, taking the place of an older man who had gone
home on leave. He was a funny, fat person with a round face and a comic
manner, the most unexpected sort of fellow to find in the wildest of
African districts; and he was eminently unsuited for the life he led.
He had come into a little money on attaining his majority, and this he
had set himself resolutely to squander in every unprofitable way that
occurred to him. When his last penny was spent he had been offered a
post by a friend of his family's, who happened to be a director of the
company, and had accepted it as his only refuge from starvation.
Adversity had not been able to affect his happy nature. He was always
cheerful no matter what difficulties he was in, and neither regretted
the follies of his past nor repined over the hardships which had
followed them. Alec had taken a great liking to him. A silent man
himself, he found a certain relaxation in people like Dick Lomas and
Walker who talked incessantly; and the young man's simplicity, his
constant surprise at the difference between Africa and Mayfair, never
ceased to divert him.
Presently Adamson came into the tent. He was the Scotch doctor who
had already been Alec's companion on two of his expeditions; and there
was a firm friendship between them. He was an Edinburgh man, with a
slow drawl and a pawky humour, a great big fellow, far and away the
largest of any of the whites; and his movements were no less deliberate
than his conversation.
'Hulloa, there,' he called out, as he came in.
Walker started to his feet as if he were shot and instinctively
seized his gun.
'All right!' laughed the doctor, putting up his hand. 'Don't shoot.
It's only me.'
Walker put down the gun and looked at the doctor with a blank face.
'Nerves are a bit groggy, aren't they?'
The fat, cheerful man recovered his wits and gave a short laugh.
'Why the dickens did you wake me up? I was dreamingdreaming of a
high-heeled boot and a neat ankle and the swirl of a white lace
'Were you indeed?' said the doctor, with a slow smile. 'Then it's as
well I woke ye up in the middle of it before ye made a fool of
yourself. I thought I'd better have a look at your arm.'
'It's one of the most æsthetic sights I know.'
'Your arm?' asked the doctor, drily.
'No,' answered Walker. 'A pretty woman crossing Piccadilly at Swan &
Edgar's. You are a savage, my good doctor, and a barbarian; you don't
know the care and forethought, the hours of anxious meditation, it has
needed to hold up that well-made skirt with the elegant grace that
'I'm afraid you're a very immoral man, Walker,' answered Adamson
with his long drawl, smiling.
'Under the present circumstances I have to content myself with
condemning the behaviour of the pampered and idle. Just now a camp-bed
in a stuffy tent, with mosquitoes buzzing all around me, has
allurements greater than those of youth and beauty. And I would not
sacrifice my dinner to philander with Helen of Troy herself.'
'You remind me considerably of the fox who said the grapes were
Walker flung a tin plate at a rat that sat up on its hind legs and
looked at him impudently.
'Nonsense. Give me a comfortable bed to sleep in, plenty to eat,
tobacco to smoke; and Amaryllis may go hang.'
Dr. Adamson smiled quietly. He found a certain grim humour in the
contrast between the difficulties of their situation and Walker's
'Well, let us look at this wound of yours,' he said, getting back to
his business. 'Has it been throbbing?'
'Oh, it's not worth bothering about. It'll be as right as rain
'I'd better dress it all the same.'
Walker took off his coat and rolled up his sleeve. The doctor
removed the bandages and looked at the broad flesh wound. He put a
fresh dressing on it.
'It looks as healthy as one can expect,' he murmured. 'It's odd what
good recoveries men make here when you'd think that everything was
'You must be pretty well done up, aren't you?' asked Walker, as he
watched the doctor neatly cut the lint.
'Just about dropping. But I've a devil of a lot more work to do
before I turn in.'
'The thing that amuses me is to think that I came to Africa thinking
I was going to have a rattling good time, plenty of shooting and
practically nothing to do.'
'You couldn't exactly describe it as a picnic, could you?' answered
the doctor. 'But I don't suppose any of us knew it would be such a
tough job as it's turned out.'
Walker put his disengaged hand on the doctor's arm.
'My friend, if ever I return to my native land I will never be such
a crass and blithering idiot as to give way again to a spirit of
adventure. I shall look out for something safe and quiet, and end my
days as a wine-merchant's tout or an insurance agent.'
'Ah, that's what we all say when we're out here. But when we're once
home again, the recollection of the forest and the plains and the
roasting sun and the mosquitoes themselves, come haunting us, and
before we know what's up we've booked our passage back to this
The doctor's words were followed by a silence, which was broken by
'Do you ever think of rumpsteaks?' he asked.
The doctor stared at him blankly, and Walker went on, smiling.
'Sometimes, when we're marching under a sun that just about takes
the roof of your head off, and we've had the scantiest and most
uncomfortable breakfast possible, I have a vision.'
'I would be able to bandage you better if you only gesticulated with
one arm,' said Adamson.
'I see the dining-room of my club, and myself seated at a little
table by the window looking out on Piccadilly. And there's a spotless
table-cloth, and all the accessories are spick and span. An obsequious
menial brings me a rumpsteak, grilled to perfection, and so tender that
it melts in the mouth. And he puts by my side a plate of crisp fried
potatoes. Can't you smell them? And then a liveried flunky brings me a
pewter tankard, and into it he pours a bottle, a large bottle, mind
you, of foaming ale.'
'You've certainly added considerably to our cheerfulness, my
friend,' said Adamson.
Walker gaily shrugged his fat shoulders.
'I've often been driven to appease the pangs of raging hunger with a
careless epigram, and by the laborious composition of a limerick I have
sought to deceive a most unholy thirst.'
He liked that sentence and made up his mind to remember it for
future use. The doctor paused for a moment, and then he looked gravely
'Last night I thought that you'd made your last joke, old man; and
that I had given my last dose of quinine.'
'We were in rather a tight corner, weren't we?'
'This is the third expedition I've been with MacKenzie, and I assure
you I've never been so certain that all was over with us.'
Walker permitted himself a philosophical reflection.
'Funny thing death is, you know! When you think of it beforehand, it
makes you squirm in your shoes, but when you've just got it face to
face it seems so obvious that you forget to be afraid.'
Indeed it was only by a miracle that any of them was alive, and they
had all a curious, light-headed feeling from the narrowness of the
escape. They had been fighting, with their backs to the wall, and each
one had shown what he was made of. A few hours before things had been
so serious that now, in the first moment of relief, they sought refuge
instinctively in banter. But Dr. Adamson was a solid man, and he wanted
to talk the matter out.
'If the Arabs hadn't hesitated to attack us just those ten minutes,
we would have been simply wiped out.'
'MacKenzie was all there, wasn't he?'
Walker had the shyness of his nationality in the exhibition of
enthusiasm, and he could only express his admiration for the commander
of the party in terms of slang.
'He was, my son,' answered Adamson, drily. 'My own impression is, he
thought we were done for.'
'What makes you think that?'
'Well, you see, I know him pretty well. When things are going
smoothly and everything's flourishing, he's apt to be a bit irritable.
He keeps rather to himself, and he doesn't say much unless you do
something he don't approve of.'
'And then, by Jove, he comes down on you like a thousand of bricks,'
Walker agreed heartily. He remembered observations which Alec on more
than one occasion had made to recall him to a sense of his great
insignificance. 'It's not for nothing the natives call him Thunder
'But when things look black, his spirits go up like one o'clock,'
proceeded the doctor. 'And the worse they are the more cheerful he is.'
'I know. When you're starving with hunger, dead tired and soaked to
the skin, and wish you could just lie down and die, MacKenzie simply
bubbles over with good humour. It's a hateful characteristic. When I'm
in a bad temper, I much prefer everyone else to be in a bad temper,
'These last three days he's been positively hilarious. Yesterday he
was cracking jokes with the natives.'
'Scotch jokes,' said Walker. 'I daresay they sound funny in an
'I've never seen him more cheerful,' continued the other, sturdily
ignoring the gibe. 'By the Lord Harry, said I to myself, the chief
thinks we're in a devil of a bad way.'
Walker stood up and stretched himself lazily.
'Thank heavens, it's all over now. We've none of us had any sleep
for three days, and when I once get off I don't mean to wake up for a
'I must go and see the rest of my patients. Perkins has got a bad
dose of fever this time. He was quite delirious a little while ago.'
'By Jove, I'd almost forgotten.'
People changed in Africa. Walker was inclined to be surprised that
he was fairly happy, inclined to make a little jest when it occurred to
him; and it had nearly slipped his memory that one of the whites had
been killed the day before, while another was lying unconscious with a
bullet in his skull. A score of natives were dead, and the rest of them
had escaped by the skin of their teeth.
'Poor Richardson,' he said.
'We couldn't spare him,' answered the doctor slowly. 'The fates
never choose the right man.'
Walker looked at the brawny doctor, and his placid face was clouded.
He knew to what the Scot referred and shrugged his shoulders. But the
doctor went on.
'If we had to lose someone it would have been a damned sight better
if that young cub Allerton had got the bullet which killed poor
'He wouldn't have been much loss, would he?' said Walker, after a
'MacKenzie has been very patient with him. If I'd been in his shoes
I'd have sent him back to the coast when he sacked Macinnery.'
Walker did not answer, and the doctor proceeded to moralise.
'It seems to me that some men have natures so crooked that with
every chance in the world to go straight, they can't manage it. The
only thing is to let them go to the devil as best they may.'
At that moment Alec MacKenzie came in. He was dripping with rain and
threw off his macintosh. His face lit up when he saw Walker and the
doctor. Adamson was an old and trusted friend, and he knew that on him
he could rely always.
'I've been going the round of the outlying sentries,' he said.
It was unlike him to volunteer even so trivial a piece of
information, and Adamson looked up at him.
'All serene?' he asked.
Alec's eyes rested on the doctor as though he were considering
something strange about him. The doctor knew him well enough to suspect
that something very grave had happened, but also he knew him too well
to hazard an inquiry. Presently Alec spoke again.
'I've just seen a native messenger that Mindabi sent me.'
Alec's answer was so curt that it was impossible to question him
further. He turned to Walker.
'How's the arm?'
'Oh, that's nothing. It's only a scratch.'
'You'd better not make too light of it. The smallest wound has a way
of being troublesome in this country.'
'He'll be all right in a day or two,' said the doctor.
Alec sat down. For a minute he did not speak, but seemed plunged in
thought. He passed his fingers through his beard, ragged now and longer
than when he was in England.
'How are the others?' he asked suddenly, looking at Adamson.
'I don't think Thompson can last till the morning.'
'I've just been in to see him.'
Thompson was the man who had been shot through the head and had lain
unconscious since the day before. He was an old gold-prospector, who
had thrown in his lot with the expedition against the slavers.
'Perkins of course will be down for several days longer. And some of
the natives are rather badly hurt. Those devils have got explosive
'Is there anyone in great danger?'
'No, I don't think so. There are two men who are in a bad way, but I
think they'll pull through with rest.'
'I see,' said Alec, laconically.
He stared intently at the table, absently passing his hand across
the gun which Walker had left there.
'I say, have you had anything to eat lately?' asked Walker,
Alec shook himself out of his meditation and gave the young man one
of his rare, bright smiles. It was plain that he made an effort to be
'Good Lord, I quite forgot; I wonder when the dickens I had some
food last. These Arabs have been keeping us so confoundedly busy.'
'I don't believe you've had anything to-day. You must be devilish
'Now you mention it, I think I am,' answered Alec, cheerfully. 'And
thirsty, by Jove! I wouldn't give my thirst for an elephant tusk.'
'And to think there's nothing but tepid water to drink!' Walker
exclaimed with a laugh.
'I'll go and tell the boy to bring you some food,' said the doctor.
'It's a rotten game to play tricks with your digestion like that.'
'Stern man, the doctor, isn't he?' said Alec, with twinkling eyes.
'It won't hurt me once in a way, and I shall enjoy it all the more
But when Adamson went to call the boy, Alec stopped him.
'Don't trouble. The poor devil's half dead with exhaustion. I told
him he might sleep till I called him. I don't want much, and I can
easily get it myself.'
Alec looked about and presently found a tin of meat and some ship
biscuits. During the fighting it had been impossible to go out on the
search for game, and there was neither variety nor plenty about their
larder. Alec placed the food before him, sat down, and began to eat.
Walker looked at him.
'Appetising, isn't it?' he said ironically.
'No wonder you get on so well with the natives. You have all the
instincts of the primeval savage. You take food for the gross and
bestial purpose of appeasing your hunger, and I don't believe you have
the least appreciation for the delicacies of eating as a fine art.'
'The meat's getting rather mouldy,' answered Alec.
He ate notwithstanding with a good appetite. His thoughts went
suddenly to Dick who at the hour which corresponded with that which now
passed in Africa, was getting ready for one of the pleasant little
dinners at the Carlton upon which he prided himself. And then he
thought of the noisy bustle of Piccadilly at night, the carriages and
'buses that streamed to and fro, the crowded pavements, the gaiety of
'I don't know how we're going to feed everyone to-morrow,' said
Walker. 'Things will be going pretty bad if we can't get some grain in
Alec pushed back his plate.
'I wouldn't worry about to-morrow's dinner if I were you,' he said,
with a low laugh.
'Why?' asked Walker.
'Because I think it's ten to one that we shall be as dead as
doornails before sunrise.'
The two men stared at him silently. Outside, the wind howled grimly,
and the rain swept against the side of the tent.
'Is this one of your little jokes, MacKenzie?' said Walker at last.
'You have often observed that I joke with difficulty.'
'But what's wrong now?' asked the doctor quickly.
Alec looked at him and chuckled quietly.
'You'll neither of you sleep in your beds to-night. Another sell for
the mosquitoes, isn't it? I propose to break up the camp and start
marching in an hour.'
'I say, it's a bit thick after a day like this,' said Walker. 'We're
all so done up that we shan't be able to go a mile.'
'You will have had two hours rest.'
Adamson rose heavily to his feet. He meditated for an appreciable
'Some of those fellows who are wounded can't possibly be moved,' he
'I won't answer for their lives.'
'We must take the risk. Our only chance is to make a bold dash for
it, and we can't leave the wounded here.'
'I suppose there's going to be a deuce of a row,' said Walker.
'Your companions seldom have a chance to complain of the monotony of
their existence,' said Walker, grimly. 'What are you going to do now?'
'At this moment I'm going to fill my pipe.'
With a whimsical smile, Alec took his pipe from his pocket, knocked
it out on his heel, filled and lit it. The doctor and Walker digested
the information he had given them. It was Walker who spoke first.
'I gather from the general amiability of your demeanour that we're
in rather a tight place.'
'Tighter than any of your patent-leather boots, my friend.'
Walker moved uncomfortably in his chair. He no longer felt sleepy. A
cold shiver ran down his spine.
'Have we any chance of getting through?' he asked gravely.
It seemed to him that Alec paused an unconscionable time before he
'There's always a chance,' he said.
'I suppose we're going to do a bit more fighting?'
Walker yawned loudly.
'Well, at all events there's some comfort in that. If I am going to
be done out of my night's rest, I should like to take it out of
Alec looked at him with approval. That was the frame of mind that
pleased him. When he spoke again there was in his voice a peculiar
charm that perhaps in part accounted for the power he had over his
fellows. It inspired an extraordinary belief in him, so that anyone
would have followed him cheerfully to certain death. And though his
words were few and bald, he was so unaccustomed to take others into his
confidence, that when he did so, ever so little, and in that tone, it
seemed that he was putting his hearers under a singular obligation.
'If things turn out all right, we shall come near finishing the job,
and there won't be much more slave-trading in this part of Africa.'
'And if things don't turn out all right?'
'Why then, I'm afraid the tea tables of Mayfair will be deprived of
your scintillating repartee for ever.'
Walker looked down at the ground. Strange thoughts ran through his
head, and when he looked up again, with a shrug of the shoulders, there
was a queer look in his eyes.
'Well, I've not had a bad time in my life,' he said slowly. 'I've
loved a little, and I've worked and played. I've heard some decent
music, I've looked at nice pictures, and I've read some thundering fine
books. If I can only account for a few more of those damned scoundrels
before I die, I shouldn't think I had much to complain of.'
Alec smiled, but did not answer. A silence fell upon them. Walker's
words brought to Alec the recollection of what had caused the trouble
which now threatened them, and his lips tightened. A dark frown settled
between his eyes.
'Well, I suppose I'd better go and get things straight,' said the
doctor. 'I'll do what I can with those fellows and trust to Providence
that they'll stand the jolting.'
'What about Perkins?' asked Alec.
'Lord knows! I'll try and keep him quiet with choral.'
'You needn't say anything about our striking camp. I don't propose
that anyone should know till a quarter of an hour before we start.'
'But that won't give them time.'
'I've trained them often enough to get on the march quickly,'
answered Alec, with a curtness that allowed no rejoinder.
The doctor turned to go, and at the same moment George Allerton
George Allerton had changed since he left England. The flesh had
fallen away from his bones, and his face was sallow. He had not stood
the climate well. His expression had changed too, for there was a
singular querulousness about his mouth, and his eyes were shifty and
cunning. He had lost his good looks.
'Can I come in?' he said.
'Yes,' answered Alec, and then turning to the doctor: 'You might
stay a moment, will you?'
Adamson stood where he was, with his back to the flap that closed
the tent. Alec looked up quickly.
'Didn't Selim tell you I wanted to speak to you?'
'That's why I've come,' answered George.
'You've taken your time about it.'
'I say, could you give me a drink of brandy? I'm awfully done up.'
'There's no brandy left,' answered Alec.
'Hasn't the doctor got some?'
There was a long pause. Adamson and Walker did not know what was the
matter; but they saw that there was something serious. They had never
seen Alec so cold, and the doctor, who knew him well, saw that he was
very angry. Alec lifted his eyes again and looked at George slowly.
'Do you know anything about the death of that Turkana woman?' he
George did not answer immediately.
'No. How should I?' he said presently.
'Come now, you must know something about it. Last Tuesday you came
into camp and said the Turkana were very much excited.'
'Oh, yes, I remember,' answered George, unwillingly
'I'm not very clear about it. The woman had been shot, hadn't she?
One of the station boys had been playing the fool with her, and he
seems to have shot her.'
'Have you made no attempt to find out which of the station boys it
'I haven't had time,' said George, in a surly way. 'We've all been
worked off our legs during the last three days.'
'Do you suspect no one?'
'I don't think so.'
'Think a moment.'
'The only man who might have done it is that big scoundrel we got on
the coast, the Swahili beggar with one ear.'
'What makes you think that?'
'He's been making an awful nuisance of himself, and I know he's been
running after the women.'
Alec did not take his eyes off George. Walker saw what was coming
and looked down at the ground.
'You'll be surprised to hear that when the woman was found she
George did not move, but his cheeks became if possible more haggard.
He was horribly frightened.
'She didn't die for nearly an hour.'
There was a very short silence. It seemed to George that they must
hear the furious beating of his heart.
'Was she able to say anything?'
'She said you'd shot her,'
'What a damned lie!'
'It appears that you wereplaying the fool with her. I don't
know why you quarrelled. You took out your revolver and fired point
'It's just like these beastly niggers to tell a stupid lie like
that. You wouldn't believe them rather than me, would you? After all,
my word's worth more than theirs.'
Alec quietly took from his pocket the case of an exploded cartridge.
It could only have fitted a revolver.
'This was found about two yards from the body and was brought to me
'I don't know what that proves.'
'You know just as well as I do that none of the natives has a
revolver. Beside ourselves only one or two of the servants have them.'
George took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. His
throat was horribly dry, and he could hardly breathe.
'Will you give me your revolver,' said Alec, quietly.
'I haven't got it. I lost it this afternoon when we made that
sortie. I didn't tell you as I thought you'd get in a wax about it.'
'I saw you cleaning it less than an hour ago,' said Alec, gravely.
George shrugged his shoulders pettishly.
'Perhaps it's in my tent. I'll go and see.'
'Stop here,' said Alec sharply.
'Look here, I'm not going to be ordered about like a dog. You've got
no right to talk to me like that. I came out here of my own free will,
and I won't let you treat me like a damned nigger.'
'If you put your hand to your hip-pocket I think you'll find your
'I'm not going to give it you,' said George, his lips white with
'Do you want me to come and take if from you myself?'
The two men stared at one another for a moment. Then George slowly
put his hand to his pocket and took out the revolver. But a sudden
impulse seized him. He raised it, quickly aimed at Alec, and fired.
Walker was standing near him, and seeing the movement, instinctively
beat up the boy's hand as pulled the trigger. In a moment the doctor
had sprung forward and seizing him round the waist, thrown him
backwards. The revolver fell from his hand. Alec had not moved.
'Let me go, damn you!' cried George, his voice shrill with rage.
'You need not hold him,' said Alec.
It was second nature with them all to perform Alec's commands, and
without thinking twice they dropped their hands. George sank cowering
into a chair. Walker, bending down, picked up the revolver and gave it
to Alec, who silently fitted into an empty chamber the cartridge that
had been brought to him.
'You see that it fits,' he said. 'Hadn't you better make a clean
breast of it?'
George was utterly cowed. A sob broke from him.
'Yes, I shot her,' he said brokenly. 'She made a row and the devil
got into me. I didn't know what I'd done till she screamed and I saw
He cursed himself for being such a fool as to throw the cartridge
away. His first thought had been to have all the chambers filled.
'Do you remember that two months ago I hanged a man to the nearest
tree because he'd murdered one of the natives?'
George sprang up in terror, and he began to tremble.
'You wouldn't do that to me.'
A wild prayer went up in his heart that mercy might be shown him,
and then bitter anger seized him because he had ever come out to that
'You need not be afraid,' answered Alec coldly. 'In any case I must
preserve the native respect for the white man.'
'I was half drunk when I saw the woman. I wasn't responsible for my
'In any case the result is that the whole tribe has turned against
The chief was Alec's friend, and it was he who had sent him the
exploded cartridge. The news came to Alec like a thunderclap, for the
Turkana were the best part of his fighting force, and he had always
placed the utmost reliance on their fidelity. The chief said that he
could not hold in his young men, and not only must Alec cease to count
upon them, but they would probably insist on attacking him openly. They
had stirred up the neighbouring tribes against him and entered into
communication with the Arabs. He had been just at the turning point and
on the verge of a great success, but now all that had been done during
three years was frustrated. The Arabs had seized the opportunity and
suddenly assumed the offensive. The unexpectedness of their attack had
nearly proved fatal to Alec's party, and since then they had all had to
fight for bare life.
George watched Alec as he stared at the ground.
'I suppose the whole damned thing's my fault,' he muttered.
Alec did not answer directly.
'I think we may take it for certain that the natives will go over to
the slavers to-morrow, and then we shall be attacked on all sides. We
can't hold out against God knows how many thousands. I've sent Rogers
and Deacon to bring in all the Latukas, but heaven knows if they can
arrive in time.'
'And if they don't?'
Alec shrugged his shoulders, but did not speak. George's breathing
came hurriedly, and a sob rose to his throat.
'What are you going to do to me, Alec?'
MacKenzie walked up and down, thinking of the gravity of their
position. In a moment he stopped and looked at Walker.
'I daresay you have some preparations to make,' he said.
Walker got up.
'I'll be off,' he answered, with a slight smile.
He was glad to go, for it made him ashamed to watch the boy's
humiliation. His own nature was so honest, his loyalty so unbending,
that the sight of viciousness affected him with a physical repulsion,
and he turned away from it as he would have done from the sight of some
hideous ulcer. The doctor surmised that his presence too was undesired.
Murmuring that he had no time to lose if he wanted to get his patients
ready for a night march, he followed Walker out of the tent. George
breathed more freely when he was alone with Alec.
'I'm sorry I did that silly thing just now,' he said. 'I'm glad I
didn't hit you.'
'It doesn't matter at all,' smiled Alec. 'I'd forgotten all about
'I lost my head. I didn't know what I was doing.'
'You need not trouble about that. In Africa even the strongest of us
are apt to lose our balance.'
Alec filled his pipe again, and lighting it, blew heavy clouds of
smoke into the damp air. His voice was softer when he spoke.
'Did you ever know that before we came away I asked Lucy to marry
George did not answer. He stifled a sob, for the recollection of
Lucy, the centre of his love and the mainspring of all that was decent
in him, transfixed his heart with pain.
'She asked me to bring you here in the hope that you'd,'Alec had
some difficulty in expressing himself'do something that would make
people forget what happened to your father. She's very proud of her
family. She feels that your good name isbesmirched, and she wanted
you to give it a new lustre. I think that is the object she has most at
heart in the world. It is as great as her love for you. The plan hasn't
been much of a success, has it?'
'She ought to have known that I wasn't suited for this sort of
life,' answered George, bitterly.
'I saw very soon that you were weak and irresolute, but I thought I
could put some backbone into you. I hoped for her sake to make
something of you after all. Your intentions seemed good enough, but you
never had the strength to carry them out.' Alec had been watching the
smoke that rose from his pipe, but now he looked at George. 'I'm sorry
if I seem to be preaching at you.'
'Oh, do you think I care what anyone says to me now?'
Alec went on very gravely, but not unkindly.
'Then I found you were drinking. I told you that no man could stand
liquor in this country, and you gave me your word of honour that you
wouldn't touch it again.'
'Yes, I broke it. I couldn't help myself. The temptation was too
'When we came to the station at Munias, and I was laid up with
fever, you and Macinnery took the opportunity to get into an ugly
scrape with some native women. You knew that that was the one thing I
would not stand. I have nothing to do with moralityeveryone is free
in these things to do as he choosesbut I do know that nothing causes
more trouble with the natives, and I've made definite rules on the
subject. If the culprits are Swahilis I flog them, and if they're
whites I send them back to the coast. That's what I ought to have done
with you, but it would have broken Lucy's heart.'
'It was Macinnery's fault.'
'It's because I thought Macinnery was chiefly to blame that I sent
him back alone. I determined to give you another chance. It struck me
that the feeling of authority might have some influence on you, and so,
when I had to build a boma to guard the road down to the coast,
I put the chief part of the stores in your care and left you in
command. I need not remind you what happened there.'
George looked down at the floor sulkily, and in default of excuses,
kept silent. He felt a sullen resentment as he remembered Alec's anger.
He had never seen him give way before or since to such a furious wrath,
and he had seen Alec hold himself with all his strength so that he
might not thrash him. Alec remembered too, and his voice once more grew
hard and cold.
'I came to the conclusion that it was hopeless. You seemed to me
rotten through and through.'
'Like my father before me,' sneered George, with a little laugh.
'I couldn't believe a word you said. You were idle and selfish.
Above all you were loathsomely, wantonly cruel. I was aghast when I
heard of the fiendish cruelty with which you'd used the wretched men
whom I left with you. If I hadn't returned in the nick of time, they'd
have killed you and looted all the stores.'
'It would have upset you to lose the stores, wouldn't it?'
'Is that all you've got to say?'
'You always believed their stories rather than mine.'
'It was difficult not to believe when a man showed me his back all
torn and bleeding, and said you'd had him flogged because he didn't
cook your food to your satisfaction.'
'I did it in a moment of temper. A man's not responsible for what he
does when he's got fever.'
'It was too late to send you to the coast then, and I was obliged to
take you on. And now the end has come. Your murder of that woman has
put us all in deadly peril. Already to your charge lie the deaths of
Richardson and Thompson and about twenty natives. We're as near
destruction as we can possibly be; and if we're killed, to-morrow the
one tribe that has remained friendly will be attacked and their
villages burnt. Men, women and children, will be put to the sword or
sold into slavery.'
George seemed at last to see the abyss into which he was plunged,
and his resentment gave way to despair.
'What are you going to do?'
'We're far away from the coast, and I must take the law into my own
'You're not going to kill me?' gasped George.
'No,' said Alec scornfully.
Alec sat on the little camp table so that he might be quite near
'Are you fond of Lucy?' he asked gently.
George broke into a sob.
'O God, you know I am,' he cried piteously. 'Why do you remind me of
her? I've made a rotten mess of everything, and I'm better out of the
way. But think of the disgrace of it. It'll kill Lucy. And she was
hoping I'd do so much.'
He hid his face in his hands and sobbed broken-heartedly. Alec,
strangely touched, put his hand on his shoulder.
'Listen to me,' he said. 'I've sent Deacon and Rogers to bring up as
many Latukas as they can. If we can tide over to-morrow we may be able
to inflict a crushing blow on the Arabs; but we must seize the ford
over the river. The Arabs are holding it and our only chance is to make
a sudden attack on them to-night before the natives join them. We shall
be enormously outnumbered, but we may do some damage if we take them by
surprise, and if we can capture the ford, Rogers and Deacon will be
able to get across to us. We've lost Richardson and Thompson. Perkins
is down with fever. That reduces the whites to Walker, and the doctor,
Condamine, Mason, you and myself. I can trust the Swahilis, but they're
the only natives I can trust. Now, I'm going to start marching straight
for the ford. The Arabs will come out of their stockade in order to cut
us off. In the darkness I mean to slip away with the rest of the white
men and the Swahilis, I've found a short cut by which I can take them
in the rear. They'll attack just as the ford is reached, and I shall
fall upon them. Do you see?'
George nodded, but he did not understand at what Alec was driving.
The words reached his ears vaguely, as though they came from a long way
'I want one white man to lead the Turkana, and that man will run the
greatest possible danger. I'd go myself only the Swahilis won't fight
unless I lead them.... Will you take that post?'
The blood rushed to George's head, and he felt his ears singing.
'I could order you to go, but the job's too dangerous for me to
force it on anyone. If you refuse I shall call the others together and
ask someone to volunteer.'
George did not answer.
'I won't hide from you that it means almost certain death. But
there's no other way of saving ourselves. On the other hand, if you
show perfect courage at the moment the Arabs attack and the Turkana
find we've given them the slip, you may escape. If you do, I promise
you that nothing shall be said of all that has happened here.'
George sprang to his feet, and once more on his lips flashed the
old, frank smile.
'All right! I'll do that. And I thank you with all my heart for
giving me the chance.'
Alec held out his hand, and he gave a sigh of relief.
'I'm glad you've accepted. Whatever happens you'll have done one
brave action in your life.'
George flushed. He wanted to speak, but hesitated.
'I should like to ask you a great favour,' he said at last.
Alec waited for him to go on.
'You won't let Lucy know the mess I've made of things, will you? Let
her think I've done all she wanted me to do.'
'Very well,' answered Alec gently.
'Will you give me your word of honour that if I'm killed you won't
say anything that will lead anyone to suspect how I came by my death.'
Alec looked at him silently. It flashed across his mind that it
might be necessary under certain circumstances to tell the whole truth.
George was greatly moved. He seemed to divine the reason of Alec's
'I have no right to ask anything of you. Already you've done far
more for me than I deserved. But it's for Lucy's sake that I implore
you not to give me away.'
Alec, standing entirely still, uttered the words slowly.
'I give you my word of honour that whatever happens and in whatever
circumstances I find myself placed, not a word shall escape me that
could lead Lucy to suppose that you hadn't been always and in every way
upright, brave, and honourable. I will take all the responsibility of
your present action.'
'I'm awfully grateful to you.'
Alec moved at last. The strain of their conversation was become
almost intolerable. Alec's voice became cheerful and brisk.
'I think there's nothing more to be said. You must be ready to start
in half an hour. Here's your revolver.' There was a twinkle in his eyes
as he continued: 'Remember that you've discharged one chamber. You'd
better put in another cartridge.'
'Yes, I'll do that.'
George nodded and went out. Alec's face at once lost the lightness
which it had assumed a moment before. He knew that he had just done
something which might separate him from Lucy for ever. His love for her
was now the only thing in the world to him, and he had jeopardised it
for that worthless boy. He saw that all sorts of interpretations might
be put upon his action, and he should have been free to speak the
truth. But even if George had not exacted from him the promise of
silence, he could never have spoken a word. He loved Lucy far too
deeply to cause her such bitter pain. Whatever happened, she must think
that George was a brave man, and had died in the performance of his
duty. He knew her well enough to be sure that if death were dreadful,
it was more tolerable than dishonour. He knew how keenly she had felt
her disgrace, how it affected her like a personal uncleanness, and he
knew that she had placed all her hopes in George. Her brother was
rotten to the core, as rotten as her father. How could he tell her
that? He was willing to make any sacrifice rather than allow her to
have such knowledge. But if ever she knew that he had sent George to
his death she would hate him. And if he lost her love he lost
everything. He had thought of that before he answered: Lucy could do
without love better than without self-respect.
But he had told George that if he had pluck he might get through.
Would he show that last virtue of a blackguardcourage?
It was not till six months later that news of Alec MacKenzie's
expedition reached the outer world, and at the same time Lucy received
a letter from him in which he told her that her brother was dead. That
stormy night had been fatal to the light-hearted Walker and to George
Allerton, but success had rewarded Alec's desperate boldness, and a
blow had been inflicted on the slavers which subsequent events proved
to be crushing. Alec's letter was grave and tender. He knew the extreme
grief he must inflict upon Lucy, and he knew that words could not
assuage it. It seemed to him that the only consolation he could offer
was that the life which was so precious to her had been given for a
worthy cause. Now that George had made up in the only way possible for
the misfortune his criminal folly had brought upon them, Alec was
determined to put out of his mind all that had gone before. It was
right that the weakness which had ruined him should be forgotten, and
Alec could dwell honestly on the boy's charm of manner, and on his
passionate love for his sister.
The months followed one another, the dry season gave place to the
wet, and at length Alec was able to say that the result he had striven
for was achieved. Success rewarded his long efforts, and it was worth
the time, the money, and the lives that it had cost. The slavers were
driven out of a territory larger than the United Kingdom, treaties were
signed with chiefs who had hitherto been independent, by which they
accepted the suzerainty of Great Britain; and only one step remained,
that the government should take over the rights of the company which
had been given powers to open up the country, and annex the conquered
district to the empire. It was to this that MacKenzie now set himself;
and he entered into communication with the directors of the company and
with the commissioner at Nairobi.
But it seemed as if the fates would snatch from him all enjoyment of
the laurels he had won, for on their way towards Nairobi, Alec and Dr.
Adamson were attacked by blackwater fever. For weeks Alec lay at the
point of death. His fine constitution seemed to break at last, and he
himself thought that the end was come. Condamine, one of the company's
agents, took command of the party and received Alec's final
instructions. Alec lay in his camp bed, with his faithful Swahili boy
by his side to brush away the flies, waiting for the end. He would have
given much to live till all his designs were accomplished, but that
apparently was not to be. There was only one thing that troubled him.
Would the government let the splendid gift he offered slip through
their fingers? Now was the time to take formal possession of the
territories which he had pacified: the prestige of the whites was at
its height, and there were no difficulties to be surmounted. He
impressed upon Condamine, whom he wished to be appointed
sub-commissioner under a chief at Nairobi, the importance of making all
this clear to the authorities. The post he suggested would have been
pressed upon himself, but he had no taste for official restrictions,
and his part of the work was done. So far as this went, his death was
of little consequence.
And then he thought of Lucy. He wondered if she would understand
what he had done. He could acknowledge now that she had cause to be
proud of him. She would be sorry for his death. He did not think that
she loved him, he did not expect it; but he was glad to have loved her,
and he wished he could have told her how much the thought of her had
been to him during these years of difficulty. It was very hard that he
might not see her once more in order to thank her for all she had been
to him. She had given his life a beauty it could never have had, and
for this he was very grateful. But the secret of George's death would
die with him; for Walker was dead, and Adamson, the only man left who
could throw light upon it, might be relied on to hold his tongue. And
Alec, losing strength each day, thought that perhaps it were well if he
But Condamine could not bear to see his chief thus perish. For four
years that man had led them, and only his companions knew his worth. To
his acquaintance he might seem hard and unsympathetic, he might repel
by his taciturnity and anger by his sternness; but his comrades knew
how eminent were his qualities. It was impossible for anyone to live
with him continually without being conquered by his greatness. If his
power with the natives was unparalleled, it was because they had taken
his measure and found him sterling. And he had bound the whites to him
by ties from which they could not escape. He asked no one to do
anything which he was not willing to do himself. If any plan of his
failed he took the failure upon himself; if it succeeded he attributed
the success to those who had carried out his orders. If he demanded
courage and endurance from others it was easy, since he showed them the
way by his own example to be strong and brave. His honesty, justice,
and forbearance made all who came in contact with him ashamed of their
own weakness. They knew the unselfishness which considered the comfort
of the meanest porter before his own; and his tenderness to those who
were ill knew no bounds.
The Swahilis assumed an unaccustomed silence, and the busy, noisy
camp was like a death chamber. When Alec's boy told them that his
master grew each day weaker, they went about with tears running down
their cheeks, and they would have wailed aloud, but that they knew he
must not be disturbed. It seemed to Condamine that there was but one
chance, and that was to hurry down, with forced marches, to the nearest
station. There they would find a medical missionary to look after him
and the comforts of civilisation which in the forest they so woefully
Alec was delirious when they moved him. It was fortunate that he
could not be told of Adamson's death, which had taken place three days
before. The good, strong Scotchman had succumbed at last to the African
climate; and on this, his third journey, having surmounted all the
perils that had surrounded him for so long, almost on the threshold of
home, he had sunk and died. He was buried at the foot of a great tree,
far down so that the jackals might not find him, and Condamine with a
shaking voice read over him the burial service from an English
It seemed a miracle that Alec survived the exhaustion of the long
tramp. He was jolted along elephant paths that led through dense bush,
up stony hills and down again to the beds of dried-up rivers. Each time
Condamine looked at the pale, wan man who lay in the litter, it was
with a horrible fear that he would be dead. They began marching before
sunrise, swiftly, to cover as much distance as was possible before the
sun grew hot; they marched again towards sunset when a grateful
coolness refreshed the weary patient. They passed through interminable
forests, where the majestic trees sheltered under their foliage a
wealth of graceful, tender plants: from trunk and branch swung all
manner of creepers, which bound the forest giants in fantastic bonds.
They forded broad streams, with exquisite care lest the sick man should
come to hurt; they tramped through desolate marshes where the ground
sunk under their feet. And at last they reached the station. Alec was
For weeks the tender skill of the medical missionary and the loving
kindness of his wife wrestled with death, and at length Alec was out of
danger. His convalescence was very slow, and it looked often as though
he would never entirely get back his health. But as soon as his mind
regained its old activity, he resumed direction of the affairs which
were so near his heart; and no sooner was his strength equal to it than
he insisted on being moved to Nairobi, where he was in touch with
civilisation, and, through the commissioner, could influence a supine
government to accept the precious gift he offered. All this took many
months, months of anxious waiting, months of bitter disappointment; but
at length everything was done: the worthy Condamine was given the
appointment that Alec had desired and set out once more for the
interior; Great Britain took possession of the broad lands which Alec,
by his skill, tact, perseverance and strength, had wrested from
barbarism. His work was finished, and he could return to England.
Public attention had been called at last to the greatness of his
achievement, to the dangers he had run and the difficulties he had
encountered; and before he sailed, he learned that the papers were
ringing with his praise. A batch of cablegrams reached him, including
one from Dick Lomas and one from Robert Boulger, congratulating him on
his success. Two foreign potentates, through their consuls at Mombassa,
bestowed decorations upon him; scientific bodies of all countries
conferred on him the distinctions which were in their power to give;
chambers of commerce passed resolutions expressing their appreciation
of his services; publishers telegraphed offers for the book which they
surmised he would write; newspaper correspondents came to him for a
preliminary account of his travels. Alec smiled grimly when he read
that an Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs had referred to him in a
debate with honeyed words. No such enthusiasm had been aroused in
England since Stanley returned from the journey which he afterwards
described in Darkest Africa. When he left Mombassa the residents
gave a dinner in his honour, and everyone who had the chance jumped up
on his legs and made a speech. In short, after many years during which
Alec's endeavours had been coldly regarded, when the government had
been inclined to look upon him as a busybody, the tide turned; and he
was in process of being made a national hero.
Alec made up his mind to come home the whole way by sea, thinking
that the rest of the voyage would give his constitution a chance to get
the better of the ills which still troubled him; and at Gibraltar he
received a letter from Dick. One had reached him at Suez; but that was
mainly occupied with congratulations, and there was a tenderness due to
the fear that Alec had hardly yet recovered from his dangerous illness,
which made it, though touching to Alec, not so characteristic as the
My Dear Alec:
I am delighted that you will return in the nick of time for
London season. You will put the noses of the Christian
out of joint, and the New Theologians will argue no more in
columns of the halfpenny papers. For you are going to be the
of the season. Comb your mane and have it neatly curled and
scented, for we do not like our lions unkempt; and learn how
flap your tail; be sure you cultivate a proper roar because we
expect to shiver delightfully in our shoes at the sight of
young ladies are already practising how to swoon with awe in
presence. We have come to the conclusion that you are a hero,
I, your humble servant, shine already with reflected glory
for twenty years I have had the privilege of your
Duchesses, my dear boy, duchesses with strawberry leaves
their snowy brows, (like the French grocer, I make a point of
believing a duchess is more than thirty,) ask me to tea so
they may hear me prattle of your childhood's happy days, and I
promised to bring you to lunch with them, Tompkinson, whom you
once kicked at Eton, has written an article in Blackwood on
beauty of your character; by which I take it that the hardness
your boot has been a lasting, memory to him. All your friends
proud of you, and we go about giving the uninitiated to
that nothing of all this would have happened except for our
encouragement. You will be surprised to learn how many people
anxious to reward you for your services to the empire by
to dinner. So far as I am concerned, I am smiling in my
I alone know what an exceedingly disagreeable person you are.
are not a hero in the least, but a pig-headed beast who
kingdoms to annoy quiet, self-respecting persons like myself
make a point of minding their own business.
Yours ever affectionately,
Alec smiled when he read the letter. It had struck him that there
would be some attempt on his return to make a figure of him, and he
much feared that his arrival in Southampton would be followed by an
attack of interviewers. He was coming in a slow German ship, and at
that moment a P. and O., homeward bound, put in at Gibraltar. By taking
it he could reach England one day earlier and give everyone who came to
meet him the slip. Leaving his heavy luggage, he got a steward to pack
up the things he used on the journey, and in a couple of hours, after
an excursion on shore to the offices of the company, found himself
installed on the English boat.
* * *
But when the great ship entered the English Channel, Alec could
scarcely bear his impatience. It would have astonished those who
thought him unhuman if they had known the tumultuous emotions that rent
his soul. His fellow-passengers never suspected that the bronzed,
silent man who sought to make no acquaintance, was the explorer with
whose name all Europe was ringing; and it never occurred to them that
as he stood in the bow of the ship, straining his eyes for the first
sight of England, his heart was so full that he would not have dared to
speak. Each absence had intensified his love for that sea-girt land,
and his eyes filled with tears of longing as he thought that soon now
he would see it once more. He loved the murky waters of the English
Channel because they bathed its shores, and he loved the strong west
wind. The west wind seemed to him the English wind; it was the trusty
wind of seafaring men, and he lifted his face to taste its salt
buoyancy. He could not think of the white cliffs of England without a
deep emotion; and when they passed the English ships, tramps outward
bound or stout brigantines driving before the wind with their spreading
sails, he saw the three-deckers of Trafalgar and the proud galleons of
the Elizabethans. He felt a personal pride in those dead adventurers
who were spiritual ancestors of his, and he was proud to be an
Englishman because Frobisher and Effingham were English, and Drake and
Raleigh and the glorious Nelson.
And then his pride in the great empire which had sprung from that
small island, a greater Rome in a greater world, dissolved into love as
his wandering thoughts took him to green meadows and rippling streams.
Now at last he need no longer keep so tight a rein upon his fancy, but
could allow it to wander at will; and he thought of the green hedgerows
and the pompous elm trees; he thought of the lovely wayside cottages
with their simple flowers and of the winding roads that were so good to
walk on. He was breathing the English air now, and his spirit was
uplifted. He loved the grey soft mists of low-lying country, and he
loved the smell of the heather as he stalked across the moorland. There
was no river he knew that equalled the kindly Thames, with the fair
trees of its banks and its quiet backwaters, where white swans gently
moved amid the waterlilies. His thoughts went to Oxford, with its
spires, bathed in a violet haze, and in imagination he sat in the old
garden of his college, so carefully tended, so great with memories of
the past. And he thought of London. There was a subtle beauty in its
hurrying crowds, and there was beauty in the thronged traffic of its
river: the streets had that indefinable hue which is the colour of
London, and the sky had the gold and the purple of an Italian brocade.
Now in Piccadilly Circus, around the fountain sat the women who sold
flowers; and the gaiety of their baskets, rich with roses and daffodils
and tulips, yellow and red, mingled with the sombre tones of the
houses, the dingy gaudiness of 'buses and the sunny greyness of the
At last his thoughts went back to the outward voyage. George
Allerton was with him then, and now he was alone. He had received no
letter from Lucy since he wrote to tell her that George was dead. He
understood her silence. But when he thought of George, his heart was
bitter against fate because that young life had been so pitifully
wasted. He remembered so well the eagerness with which he had sought to
bind George to him, his desire to gain the boy's affection; and he
remembered the dismay with which he learned that he was worthless. The
frank smile, the open countenance, the engaging eyes, meant nothing;
the boy was truthless, crooked of nature, weak. Alec remembered how,
refusing to acknowledge the faults that were so plain, he blamed the
difficulty of his own nature; and, when it was impossible to overlook
them, his earnest efforts to get the better of them. But the effect of
Africa was too strong. Alec had seen many men lose their heads under
the influence of that climate. The feeling of an authority that seemed
so little limited, over a race that was manifestly inferior, the subtle
magic of the hot sunshine, the vastness, the remoteness from
civilisation, were very apt to throw a man off his balance. The French
had coined a name for the distemper and called it folie d'Afrique. Men seemed to go mad from a sense of power, to lose all the restraints
which had kept them in the way of righteousness. It needed a strong
head or a strong morality to avoid the danger, and George had neither.
He succumbed. He lost all sense of shame, and there was no power to
hold him. And it was more hopeless because nothing could keep him from
drinking. When Macinnery had been dismissed for breaking Alec's most
stringent law, things, notwithstanding George's promise of amendment,
had only gone from bad to worse. Alec remembered how he had come back
to the camp in which he had left George, to find the men mutinous, most
of them on the point of deserting, and George drunk. He had flown then
into such a rage that he could not control himself. He was ashamed to
think of it. He had seized George by the shoulders and shaken him,
shaken him as though he were a rat; and it was with difficulty that he
prevented himself from thrashing him with his own hands.
And at last had come the final madness and the brutal murder. Alec
set his mind to consider once more those hazardous days during which by
George's folly they had been on the brink of destruction. George had
met his death on that desperate march to the ford, and lacking courage,
had died miserably. Alec threw back his head with a curious movement.
'I was right in all I did,' he muttered.
George deserved to die, and he was unworthy to be lamented. And yet,
at that moment, when he was approaching the shores which George, too,
perhaps, had loved, Alec's heart was softened. He sighed deeply. It was
fate. If George had inherited the wealth which he might have counted
on, if his father had escaped that cruel end, he might have gone
through life happily enough. He would have done no differently from his
fellows. With the safeguards about him of a civilised state, his
irresolution would have prevented him from going astray; and he would
have been a decent country gentlemanselfish, weak, and insignificant
perhaps, but not remarkably worse than his fellowsand when he died he
might have been mourned by a loving wife and fond children.
Now he lay on the borders of an African swamp, unsepulchred, unwept;
and Alec had to face Lucy, with the story in his heart that he had
sworn on his honour not to tell.
Alec's first visit was to Lucy. No one knew that he had arrived, and
after changing his clothes at the rooms in Pall Mall that he had taken
for the summer, he walked to Charles Street. His heart leaped as he
strolled up the hill of St. James Street, bright by a fortunate chance
with the sunshine of a summer day; and he rejoiced in the gaiety of the
well-dressed youths who sauntered down, bound for one or other of the
clubs, taking off their hats with a rapid smile of recognition to
charming women who sat in victorias or in electric cars. There was an
air of opulence in the broad street, of a civilisation refined without
brutality, which was very grateful to his eyes accustomed for so long
to the wilderness of Africa.
The gods were favourable to his wishes that day, for Lucy was at
home; she sat in the drawing-room, by the window, reading a novel. At
her side were masses of flowers, and his first glimpse of her was
against a great bowl of roses. The servant announced his name, and she
sprang up with a cry. She flushed with excitement, and then the blood
fled from her cheeks, and she became extraordinarily pale. Alec noticed
that she was whiter and thinner than when last he had seen her; but she
was more beautiful.
'I didn't expect you so soon,' she faltered.
And then unaccountably tears came to her eyes. Falling back into her
chair, she hid her face. Her heart began to beat painfully.
'You must forgive me,' she said, trying to smile. 'I can't help
being very silly.'
For days Lucy had lived in an agony of terror, fearing this meeting,
and now it had come upon her unexpectedly. More than four years had
passed since last they had seen one another, and they had been years of
anxiety and distress. She was certain that she had changed, and looking
with pitiful dread in the glass, she told herself that she was pale and
dull. She was nearly thirty. There were lines about her eyes, and her
mouth had a bitter droop. She had no mercy on herself. She would not
minimise the ravages of time, and with a brutal frankness insisted on
seeing herself as she might be in ten years, when an increasing
leanness, emphasising the lines and increasing the prominence of her
features, made her still more haggard. She was seized with utter
dismay. He might have ceased to love her. His life had been so full,
occupied with strenuous adventures, while hers had been used up in
waiting, only in waiting. It was natural enough that the strength of
her passion should only have increased, but it was natural too that his
should have vanished before a more urgent preoccupation. And what had
she to offer him now? She turned away from the glass because her tears
blurred the image it presented; and if she looked forward to the first
meeting with vehement eagerness, it was also with sickening dread.
And now she was so troubled that she could not adopt the attitude of
civil friendliness which she had intended in order to show him that she
made no claim upon him. She wanted to seem quite collected so that her
behaviour should not lead him to think her heart at all affected, but
she could only watch his eyes hungrily. She braced herself to restrain
a wail of sorrow if she saw his disillusionment. He talked in order to
give time for her to master her agitation.
'I was afraid there would be interviewers and boring people
generally to meet me if I came by the boat by which I was expected, so
I got into another, and I've arrived a day before my time.'
She was calmer now, and though she did not speak, she looked at him
with strained attention, hanging on his words.
He was very bronzed, thin after his recent illness, but he looked
well and strong. His manner had the noble self-confidence which had
delighted her of old, and he spoke with the quiet deliberation she
loved. Now and then a faint inflection betrayed his Scottish birth.
'I felt that I owed my first visit to you. Can you ever forgive me
that I have not brought George home to you?'
Lucy gave a sudden gasp. And with bitter self-reproach she realised
that in the cruel joy of seeing Alec once more she had forgotten her
brother. She was ashamed. It was but eighteen months since he had died,
but twelve since the cruel news had reached her, and now, at this
moment of all others, she was so absorbed in her love that no other
feeling could enter her heart.
She looked down at her dress. Its half-mourning still betokened that
she had lost one who was very dear to her, but the black and white was
a mockery. She remembered in a flash the stunning grief which Alec's
letter had brought her. It seemed at first that there must be a mistake
and that her tears were but part of a hateful dream. It was too
monstrously unjust that the fates should have hit upon George. She had
already suffered too much. And George was so young. It was very hard
that a mere boy should be robbed of the precious jewel which is life.
And when she realised that it was really true, her grief knew no
bounds. All that she had hoped was come to nought, and now she could
only despair. She bitterly regretted that she had ever allowed the boy
to go on that fatal expedition, and she blamed herself because it was
she who had arranged it. He must have died accusing her of his death.
Her father was dead, and George was dead, and she was alone. Now she
had only Alec; and then, like some poor stricken beast, her heart went
out to him, crying for love, crying for protection. All her strength,
the strength on which she had prided herself, was gone; and she felt
utterly weak and utterly helpless. And her heart yearned for Alec, and
the love which had hitherto been like a strong enduring light, now was
a consuming fire.
But Alec's words brought the recollection of George back to her
reproachful heart, and she saw the boy as she was always pleased to
remember him, in his flannels, the open shirt displaying his fine white
neck, with the Panama hat that suited him so well; and she saw again
his pleasant blue eyes and his engaging smile. He was a picture of
honest English manhood. There was a sob in her throat, and her voice
trembled when she spoke.
'I told you that if he died a brave man's death I could ask no
She spoke in so low a tone that Alec could scarcely hear, but his
pulse throbbed with pride at her courage. She went on, almost in a
'I suppose it was predestined that our family should come to an end
in this way. I'm thankful that George so died that his ancestors need
have felt no shame for him.'
'You are very brave.'
She shook her head slowly.
'No, it's not courage; it's despair. Sometimes, when I think what
his father was, I'm thankful that George is dead. For at least his end
was heroic. He died in a noble cause, in the performance of his duty.
Life would have been too hard for him to allow me to regret his end.'
Alec watched her. He foresaw the words that she would say, and he
waited for them.
'I want to thank you for all you did for him,' she said, steadying
'You need not do that,' he answered, gravely.
She was silent for a moment. Then she raised her eyes and looked at
him steadily. Her voice now had regained its usual calmness.
'I want you to tell me that he did all I could have wished him to
To Alec it seemed that she must notice the delay of his answer. He
had not expected that the question would be put to him so abruptly. He
had no moral scruples about telling a deliberate lie, but it affected
him with a physical distaste. It sickened him like nauseous water.
'Yes, I think he did.'
'It's my only consolation that in the short time there was given to
him, he did nothing that was small or mean, and that in everything he
was honourable, upright, and just dealing.'
'Yes, he was all that.'
'And in his death?'
It seemed to Alec that something caught at his throat. The ordeal
was more terrible than he expected.
'In his death he was without fear.'
Lucy drew a deep breath of relief.
'Oh, thank God! Thank God! You don't know how much it means to me to
hear all that from your own lips. I feel that in a manner his courage,
above all his death, have redeemed my father's fault. It shows that
we're not rotten to the core, and it gives me back my self-respect. I
feel I can look the world in the face once more. I'm infinitely
grateful to George. He's repaid me ten thousand times for all my love,
and my care, and my anxiety.'
'I'm very glad that it is not only grief I have brought you. I was
afraid you would hate me.'
Lucy blushed, and there was a new light in her eyes. It seemed that
on a sudden she had cast away the load of her unhappiness.
'No, I could never do that.'
At that moment they heard the sound of a carriage stopping at the
'There's Aunt Alice,' said Lucy. 'She's been lunching out.'
'Then let me go,' said Alec. 'You must forgive me, but I feel that I
want to see no one else to-day.'
He rose, and she gave him her hand. He held it firmly.
'You haven't changed?'
'Don't,' she cried.
She looked away, for once more the tears were coming to her eyes.
She tried to laugh.
'I'm frightfully weak and emotional now. You'll utterly despise me.'
'I want to see you again very soon,' he said.
The words of Ruth came to her mind: Why have I found grace in
thine eyes, that thou shouldst take knowledge of me, and her heart
was very full. She smiled in her old charming way.
When he was gone she drew a long breath. It seemed that a new joy
was come into her life, and on a sudden she felt a keen pleasure in all
the beauty of the world. She turned to the great bowl of flowers which
stood on a table by the chair in which she had been sitting, and
burying her face in them, voluptuously inhaled their fragrance. She
knew that he loved her still.
The fickle English weather for once belied its reputation, and the
whole month of May was warm and fine. It seemed that the springtime
brought back Lucy's youth to her; and, surrendering herself with all
her heart to her new happiness, she took a girlish pleasure in the
gaieties of the season. Alec had said nothing yet, but she was assured
of his love, and she gave herself up to him with all the tender
strength of her nature. She was a little overwhelmed at the importance
which he seemed to have acquired, but she was very proud as well. The
great ones of the earth were eager to do him honour. Papers were full
of his praise. And it delighted her because he came to her for
protection from lionising friends. She began to go out much more; and
with Alec, Dick Lomas, and Mrs. Crowley, went much to the opera and
often to the play. They had charming little dinner parties at the
Carlton and amusing suppers at the Savoy. Alec did not speak
much on these occasions. It pleased him to sit by and listen, with a
placid face but smiling eyes, to the nonsense that Dick Lomas and the
pretty American talked incessantly. And Lucy watched him. Every day she
found something new to interest her in the strong, sunburned face; and
sometimes their eyes met: then they smiled quietly. They were very
* * *
One evening Dick asked the others to sup with him; and since Alec
had a public dinner to attend, and Lucy was going to the play with Lady
Kelsey, he took Julia Crowley to the opera. To make an even number he
invited Robert Boulger to join them at the Savoy. After brushing
his hair with the scrupulous thought his thinning locks compelled, Dick
waited in the vestibule for Mrs. Crowley. Presently she came, looking
very pretty in a gown of flowered brocade which made her vaguely
resemble a shepherdess in an old French picture. With her diamond
necklace and a tiara in her dark hair, she looked like a dainty
princess playing fantastically at the simple life.
'I think people are too stupid,' she broke out, as she joined Dick.
'I've just met a woman who said to me: Oh, I hear you're going to
America. Do go and call on my sister. She'll be so glad to see you. I
shall be delighted, I said, but where does your sister live?
Jonesville, Ohio, Good heavens, I said, I live in New York, and
what should I be doing in Jonesville, Ohio?'
'Keep perfectly calm,' said Dick.
'I shall not keep calm,' she answered. 'I hate to be obviously
thought next door to a red Indian by a woman who's slab-sided and
round-shouldered. And I'm sure she has dirty petticoats.'
'English women do.'
'What a monstrous libel!' cried Dick.
At that moment they saw Lady Kelsey come in with Lucy, and a moment
later Alec and Robert Boulger joined them. They went in to supper and
'I hate Amelia,' said Mrs. Crowley emphatically, as she laid her
long white gloves by the side of her.
'I deplore the prejudice with which you regard a very jolly sort of
a girl,' answered Dick.
'Amelia has everything that I thoroughly object to in a woman. She
has no figure, and her legs are much too long, and she doesn't wear
corsets. In the daytime she has a weakness for picture hats, and she
can't say boo to a goose.'
'Who is Amelia?' asked Boulger.
'Amelia is Mr. Lomas' affianced wife,' answered the lady, with a
provoking glance at him.
'I didn't know you were going to be married, Dick,' said Lady
Kelsey, inclined to be a little hurt because nothing had been said to
her of this.
'I'm not,' he answered. 'And I've never set eyes on Amelia yet. She
is an imaginary character that Mrs. Crowley has invented as the sort of
woman whom I would marry.'
'I know Amelia,' Mrs. Crowley went on. 'She wears quantities of
false hair, and she'll adore you. She's so meek and so quiet, and she
thinks you such a marvel. But don't ask me to be nice to Amelia.'
'My dear lady, Amelia wouldn't approve of you. She'd think you much
too outspoken, and she wouldn't like your American accent. You must
never forget that Amelia is the granddaughter of a baronet.'
'I shall hold her up to Fleming as an awful warning of the woman
whom I won't let him marry at any price. If you marry a woman like
that, Fleming, I shall say to him, I shan't leave you a penny. It
shall all go the University of Pennsylvania.'
'If ever it is my good fortune to meet Fleming, I shall have great
pleasure in kicking him hard,' said Dick. 'I think he's a most
objectionable little beast.'
'How can you be so absurd? Why, my dear Mr. Lomas, Fleming could
take you up in one hand and throw you over a ten-foot wall.'
'Fleming must be a sportsman,' said Bobbie, who did not in the least
know whom they were talking about.
'He is,' answered Mrs. Crowley. 'He's been used to the saddle since
he was three years old, and I've never seen the fence that would make
him lift a hair. And he's the best swimmer at Harvard, and he's a
wonderful shotI wish you could see him shoot, Mr. MacKenzieand he's
'Fleming's a prig,' said Dick.
'I'm afraid you're too old for Fleming,' said Mrs. Crowley, looking
at Lucy. 'If it weren't for that, I'd make him marry you.'
'Is Fleming your brother, Mrs. Crowley?' asked Lady Kelsey.
'No, Fleming's my son.'
'But you haven't got a son,' retorted the elder lady, much
'No, I know I haven't; but Fleming would have been my son if I'd had
'You mustn't mind them, Aunt Alice,' smiled Lucy gaily. 'They argue
by the hour about Amelia and Fleming, and neither of them exists; but
sometimes they go into such details and grow so excited that I really
begin to believe in them myself.'
But Mrs. Crowley, though she appeared a light-hearted and
thoughtless little person, had much common sense; and when their party
was ended and she was giving Dick a lift in her carriage, she showed
that, notwithstanding her incessant chatter, her eyes throughout the
evening had been well occupied.
'Did you owe Bobbie a grudge that you asked him to supper?' she
'Good heavens, no. Why?'
'I hope Fleming won't be such a donkey as you are when he's your
'I'm sure Amelia will be much more polite than you to the amiable,
middle-aged gentleman who has the good fortune to be her husband.'
'You might have noticed that the poor boy was eating his heart out
with jealousy and mortification, and Lucy was too much absorbed in Alec
to pay the very smallest attention to him.'
'What are you talking about?'
Mrs. Crowley gave him a glance of amused disdain.
'Haven't you noticed that Lucy is desperately in love with Mr.
MacKenzie, and it doesn't move her in the least that poor Bobbie has
fetched and carried for her for ten years, done everything she deigned
to ask, and been generally nice and devoted and charming?'
'You amaze me,' said Dick. 'It never struck me that Lucy was the
kind of girl to fall in love with anyone. Poor thing. I'm so sorry.'
'Because Alec wouldn't dream of marrying. He's not that sort of
'Nonsense. Every man is a marrying man if a woman really makes up
her mind to it.'
'Don't say that. You terrify me.'
'You need not be in the least alarmed,' answered Mrs. Crowley,
coolly, 'because I shall refuse you.'
'It's very kind of you to reassure me,' he answered, smiling. 'But
all the same I don't think I'll risk a proposal.'
'My dear friend, your only safety is in immediate flight.'
'It must be obvious to the meanest intelligence that you've been on
the verge of proposing to me for the last four years.'
'Nothing will induce me to be false to Amelia.'
'I don't believe that Amelia really loves you.'
'I never said she did; but I'm sure she's quite willing to marry
'I think that's detestably vain.'
'Not at all. However old, ugly, and generally undesirable a man is,
he'll find a heap of charming girls who are willing to marry him.
Marriage is still the only decent means of livelihood for a really nice
'Don't let's talk about Amelia; let's talk about me,' said Mrs.
'I don't think you're half so interesting.'
'Then you'd better take Amelia to the play to-morrow night instead
'I'm afraid she's already engaged.'
'Nothing will induce me to play second fiddle to Amelia.'
'I've taken the seats and ordered an exquisite dinner at the
'What have you ordered?'
Mrs. Crowley made a little face.
She shrugged her shoulders.
'With an orange salad?'
'I don't positively dislike that.'
'And I've ordered a souffle with an ice in the middle of it.'
'I shan't come.'
'You're not being really nice to me.'
'I shouldn't have thought you kept very well abreast of dramatic art
if you insist on marrying everyone who takes you to a theatre,' he
'I was very nicely brought up,' she answered demurely, as the
carriage stopped at Dick's door.
She gave him a ravishing smile as he took leave of her. She knew
that he was quite prepared to marry her, and she had come to the
conclusion that she was willing to have him. Neither much wished to
hurry the affair, and each was determined that he would only yield to
save the other from a fancied desperation. Their love-making was
pursued with a light heart.
* * *
At Whitsuntide the friends separated. Alec went up to Scotland to
see his house and proposed afterwards to spend a week in Lancashire. He
had always taken a keen interest in the colliery which brought him so
large an income, and he wanted to examine into certain matters that
required his attention. Mrs. Crowley went to Blackstable, where she
still had Court Leys, and Dick, in order to satisfy himself that he was
not really a day older, set out for Paris. But they all arranged to
meet again on the day, immediately after the holidays, which Lady
Kelsey, having persuaded Lucy definitely to renounce her life of
comparative retirement, had fixed for a dance. It was the first ball
she had given for many years, and she meant it to be brilliant. Lady
Kelsey had an amiable weakness for good society, and Alec's presence
would add lustre to the occasion. Meanwhile she went with Lucy to her
little place on the river, and did not return till two days before the
party. They were spent in a turmoil of agitation. Lady Kelsey passed
sleepless nights, fearing at one moment that not a soul would appear,
and at another that people would come in such numbers that there would
not be enough for them to eat. The day arrived.
But then happened an event which none but Alec could in the least
have expected; and he, since his return from Africa, had been so taken
up with his love for Lucy, that the possibility of it had slipped his
Fergus Macinnery, the man whom three years before he had dismissed
ignominiously from his service, found a way to pay off an old score.
Of the people most nearly concerned in the matter, it was Lady
Kelsey who had first news of it. The morning papers were brought into
her boudoir with her breakfast, and as she poured out her
coffee, she ran her eyes lazily down the paragraphs of the Morning
Post in which are announced the comings and goings of society. Then
she turned to the Daily Mail. Her attention was suddenly
arrested. Staring at her, in the most prominent part of the page, was a
column of printed matter headed: The Death of Mr. George Allerton. It was a letter, a column long, signed by Fergus Macinnery. Lady
Kelsey read it with amazement and dismay. At first she could not follow
it, and she read it again; now its sense was clear to her, and she was
overcome with horror. In set words, mincing no terms, it accused Alec
MacKenzie of sending George Allerton to his death in order to save
himself. The words treachery and cowardice were used boldly. The dates
were given, and the testimony of natives was adduced.
The letter adverted with scathing sarcasm to the rewards and
congratulations which had fallen to MacKenzie as a result of his
labours; and ended with a challenge to him to bring an action for
criminal libel against the writer. At first the whole thing seemed
monstrous to Lady Kelsey, it was shameful, shameful; but in a moment
she found there was a leading article on the subject, and then she did
not know what to believe. It referred to the letter in no measured
terms: the writer observed that prima facie the case was very
strong and called upon Alec to reply without delay. Big words were
used, and there was much talk of a national scandal. An instant
refutation was demanded. Lady Kelsey did not know what on earth to do,
and her thoughts flew to the dance, the success of which would
certainly be imperilled by these revelations. She must have help at
once. This business, if it concerned the world in general, certainly
concerned Lucy more than anyone. Ringing for her maid, she told her to
get Dick Lomas on the telephone and ask him to come at once. While she
was waiting, she heard Lucy come downstairs and knew that she meant to
wish her good-morning. She hid the paper hurriedly.
When Lucy came in and kissed her, she said:
'What is the news this morning?'
'I don't think there is any,' said Lady Kelsey, uneasily. 'Only the
Post has come; we shall really have to change our newsagent.'
She waited with beating heart for Lucy to pursue the subject, but
naturally enough the younger woman did not trouble herself. She talked
to her aunt of the preparations for the party that evening, and then,
saying that she had much to do, left her. She had no sooner gone than
Lady Kelsey's maid came back to say that Lomas was out of town and not
expected back till the evening. Distractedly Lady Kelsey sent messages
to her nephew and to Mrs. Crowley. She still looked upon Bobbie as
Lucy's future husband, and the little American was Lucy's greatest
friend. They were both found. Boulger had gone down as usual to the
city, but in consideration of Lady Kelsey's urgent request, set out at
once to see her.
He had changed little during the last four years, and had still a
boyish look on his round, honest face. To Mrs. Crowley he seemed always
an embodiment of British philistinism; and if she liked him for his
devotion to Lucy, she laughed at him for his stolidity. When he
arrived, Mrs. Crowley was already with Lady Kelsey. She had known
nothing of the terrible letter, and Lady Kelsey, thinking that perhaps
it had escaped him too, went up to him with the Daily Mail in
'Have you seen the paper, Bobbie?' she asked excitedly. 'What on
earth are we to do?'
'What does Lucy say?' he asked.
'Oh, I've not let her see it. I told a horrid fib and said the
newsagent had forgotten to leave it.'
'But she must know,' he answered gravely.
'Not to-day,' protested Lady Kelsey. 'Oh, it's too dreadful that
this should happen to-day of all days. Why couldn't they wait till
to-morrow? After all Lucy's troubles it seemed as if a little happiness
was coming back into her life, and now this dreadful thing happens.'
'What are you going to do?' asked Bobbie.
'What can I do?' said Lady Kelsey desperately. 'I can't put the
dance off. I wish I had the courage to write and ask Mr. MacKenzie not
Bobbie made a slight gesture of impatience. It irritated him that
his aunt should harp continually on the subject of this wretched dance.
But for all that he tried to reassure her.
'I don't think you need be afraid of MacKenzie. He'll never venture
to show his face.'
'You don't mean to say you think there's any truth in the letter?'
exclaimed Mrs. Crowley.
He turned and faced her.
'I've never read anything more convincing in my life.'
Mrs. Crowley looked at him, and he returned her glance steadily.
Of those three it was only Lady Kelsey who did not know that Lucy
was deeply in love with Alec MacKenzie.
'Perhaps you're inclined to be unjust to him,' said Mrs. Crowley.
'We shall see if he has any answer to make,' he answered coldly.
'The evening papers are sure to get something out of him. The city is
ringing with the story, and he must say something at once.'
'It's quite impossible that there should be anything in it,' said
Mrs. Crowley. 'We all know the circumstances under which George went
out with him. It's inconceivable that he should have sacrificed him as
callously as this man's letter makes out.'
'We shall see.'
'You never liked him, Bobbie,' said Lady Kelsey.
'I didn't,' he answered briefly.
'I wish I'd never thought of giving this horrid dance,' she moaned.
Presently, however, they succeeded in calming Lady Kelsey. Though
both thought it unwise, they deferred to her wish that everything
should be hidden from Lucy till the morrow. Dick Lomas was arriving
from Paris that evening, and it would be possible then to take his
advice. When at last Mrs. Crowley left the elder woman to her own
devices, her thoughts went to Alec. She wondered where he was, and if
he already knew that his name was more prominently than ever before the
* * *
MacKenzie was travelling down from Lancashire. He was not a man who
habitually read papers, and it was in fact only by chance that he saw a
copy of the Daily Mail. A fellow traveller had with him a number
of papers, and offered one of them to Alec. He took it out of mere
politeness. His thoughts were otherwise occupied, and he scanned it
carelessly. Suddenly he saw the heading which had attracted Lady
Kelsey's attention. He read the letter, and he read the leading
article. No one who watched him could have guessed that what he read
concerned him so nearly. His face remained impassive. Then, letting the
paper fall to the ground, he began to think. Presently he turned to the
amiable stranger who had given him the paper, and asked him if he had
seen the letter.
'Awful thing, isn't it?' the man said.
Alec fixed upon him his dark, firm eyes. The man seemed an average
sort of person, not without intelligence.
'What do you think of it?'
'Pity,' he said. 'I thought MacKenzie was a great man. I don't know
what he can do now but shoot himself.'
'Do you think there's any truth in it?'
'The letter's perfectly damning.'
Alec did not answer. In order to break off the conversation he got
up and walked into the corridor. He lit a cigar and watched the green
fields that fled past them. For two hours he stood motionless. At last
he took his seat again, with a shrug of the shoulders, and a scornful
smile on his lips.
The stranger was asleep, with his head thrown back and his mouth
slightly open. Alec wondered whether his opinion of the affair would be
that of the majority. He thought Alec should shoot himself?
'I can see myself doing it,' Alec muttered.
A few hours later Lady Kelsey's dance was in full swing, and to all
appearances it was a great success. Many people were there, and
everyone seemed to enjoy himself. On the surface, at all events, there
was nothing to show that anything had occurred to disturb the evening's
pleasure, and for most of the party the letter in the Daily Mail
was no more than a welcome topic of conversation.
Presently Canon Spratte went into the smoking-room. He had on his
arm, as was his amiable habit, the prettiest girl at the dance, Grace
Vizard, a niece of that Lady Vizard who was a pattern of all the
proprieties and a devout member of the Church of Rome. He found that
Mrs. Crowley and Robert Boulger were already sitting there, and he
greeted them courteously.
'I really must have a cigarette,' he said, going up to the table on
which were all the necessary things for refreshment.
'If you press me dreadfully I'll have one, too,' said Mrs. Crowley,
with a flash of her beautiful teeth.
'Don't press her,' said Bobbie. 'She's had six already, and in a
moment she'll be seriously unwell.'
'Well, I'll forego the pressing, but not the cigarette.'
Canon Spratte gallantly handed her the box, and gave her a light.
'It's against all my principles, you know,' he smiled.
'What is the use of principles except to give one an agreeable
sensation of wickedness when one doesn't act up to them?'
The words were hardly out of her mouth when Dick and Lady Kelsey
'Dear Mrs. Crowley, you're as epigrammatic as a dramatist,' he
exclaimed. 'Do you say such things from choice or necessity?'
He had arrived late, and this was the first time she had seen him
since they had all gone their ways before Whitsun. He mixed himself a
whisky and soda.
'After all, is there anything you know so thoroughly insufferable as
a ball?' he said, reflectively, as he sipped it with great content.
'Nothing, if you ask me pointblank,' said Lady Kelsey, smiling with
relief because he took so flippantly the news she had lately poured
into his ear. 'But it's excessively rude of you to say so.'
'I don't mind yours, Lady Kelsey, because I can smoke as much as I
please, and keep away from the sex which is technically known as fair.'
Mrs. Crowley felt the remark was directed to her.
'I'm sure you think us a vastly overrated institution, Mr. Lomas,'
'I venture to think the world was not created merely to give women
an opportunity to wear Paris frocks.'
'I'm rather pleased to hear you say that.'
'Why?' asked Dick, on his guard.
'We're all so dreadfully tired of being goddesses. For centuries
foolish men have set us up on a pedestal and vowed they were unworthy
to touch the hem of our garments. And it is so dull.'
'What a clever woman you are, Mrs. Crowley. You always say what you
'You're really very rude.'
'Now that impropriety is out of fashion, rudeness is the only short
cut to a reputation for wit.'
Canon Spratte did not like Dick. He thought he talked too much. It
was fortunately easy to change the conversation.
'Unlike Mr. Lomas, I thoroughly enjoy a dance,' he said, turning to
Lady Kelsey. 'My tastes are ingenuous, and I can only hope you've
enjoyed your evening as much as your guests.'
'I?' cried Lady Kelsey. 'I've been suffering agonies.' They all knew
to what she referred, and the remark gave Boulger an opportunity to
speak to Dick Lomas.
'I suppose you saw the Mail this morning?' he asked.
'I never read the papers except in August,' answered Dick drily.
'When there's nothing in them?' asked Mrs. Crowley.
'Pardon me, I am an eager student of the sea-serpent and of the
'I should like to kick that man,' said Bobbie, indignantly.
'My dear chap, Alec is a hardy Scot and bigger than you; I really
shouldn't advise you to try.'
'Of course you've heard all about this business?' said Canon
'I've only just arrived from Paris. I knew nothing of it till Lady
Kelsey told me.'
'What do you think?'
'I don't think at all; I know there's not a word of truth in
it. Since Alec arrived at Mombassa, he's been acclaimed by everyone,
private and public, who had any right to an opinion. Of course it
couldn't last. There was bound to be a reaction.'
'Do you know anything of this man Macinnery?' asked Boulger.
'It so happens that I do. Alec found him half starving at Mombassa,
and took him solely out of charity. But he was a worthless rascal and
had to be sent back.'
'He seems to me to give ample proof for every word he says,'
Dick shrugged his shoulders scornfully.
'As I've already explained to Lady Kelsey, whenever an explorer
comes home there's someone to tell nasty stories about him. People
forget that kid gloves are not much use in a tropical forest, and they
grow very indignant when they hear that a man has used a little brute
force to make himself respected.'
'All that's beside the point,' said Boulger, impatiently. 'MacKenzie
sent poor George into a confounded trap to save his own dirty skin.'
'Poor Lucy!' moaned Lady Kelsey. 'First her father died....'
'You're not going to count that as an overwhelming misfortune?' Dick
interrupted. 'We were unanimous in describing that gentleman's demise
as an uncommon happy release.'
'I was engaged to dine with him this evening,' said Bobbie, pursuing
his own bitter reflections. 'I wired to say I had a headache and
'What will he think if he sees you here?' cried Lady Kelsey.
'He can think what he likes.'
Canon Spratte felt that it was needful now to put in the decisive
word which he always expected from himself. He rubbed his hands
'In this matter I must say I agree entirely with our friend Bobbie.
I read the letter with the utmost care, and I could see no loophole of
escape. Until Mr. MacKenzie gives a definite answer I can hardly help
looking upon him as nothing less than a murderer. In these things I
feel that one should have the courage of one's opinions. I saw him in
Piccadilly this evening, and I cut him dead. Nothing will induce me to
shake hands with a man on whom rests so serious an accusation.'
'I hope to goodness he doesn't come,' said Lady Kelsey.
Canon Spratte looked at his watch and gave her a reassuring smile.
'I think you may feel quite safe. It's really growing very late.'
'You say that Lucy doesn't know anything about this?' asked Dick.
'No,' said Lady Kelsey. 'I wanted to give her this evening's
Dick shrugged his shoulders again. He did not understand how Lady
Kelsey expected no suggestion to reach Lucy of a matter which seemed a
common topic of conversation. The pause which followed Lady Kelsey's
words was not broken when Lucy herself appeared. She was accompanied by
a spruce young man, to whom she turned with a smile.
'I thought we should find your partner here.'
He went to Grace Vizard, and claiming her for the dance that was
about to begin, took her away. Lucy went up to Lady Kelsey and leaned
over the chair in which she sat.
'Are you growing very tired, my aunt?' she asked kindly.
'I can rest myself till supper time. I don't think anyone else will
'Have you forgotten Mr. MacKenzie?'
Lady Kelsey looked up quickly, but did not reply. Lucy put her hand
gently on her aunt's shoulder.
'My dear, it was charming of you to hide the paper from me this
morning. But it wasn't very wise.'
'Did you see that letter?' cried Lady Kelsey. 'I so wanted you not
to till to-morrow.'
'Mr. MacKenzie very rightly thought I should know at once what was
said about him and my brother. He sent me the paper himself this
'Did he write to you?' asked Dick.
'No, he merely scribbled on a card: I think you should read this.'
No one answered. Lucy turned and faced them; her cheeks were pale,
but she was very calm. She looked gravely at Robert Boulger, waiting
for him to say what she knew was in his mind, so that she might express
at once her utter disbelief in the charges that were brought against
Alec. But he did not speak, and she was obliged to utter her defiant
words without provocation.
'He thought it unnecessary to assure me that he hadn't betrayed the
trust I put in him.'
'Do you mean to say the letter left any doubt in your mind?' said
'Why on earth should I believe the unsupported words of a
subordinate who was dismissed for misbehaviour?'
'For my part, I can only say that I never read anything more
convincing in my life.'
'I could hardly believe him guilty of such a crime if he confessed
it with his own lips.'
Bobbie shrugged his shoulders. It was only with difficulty that he
held back the cruel words that were on his lips. But as if Lucy read
his thoughts, her cheeks flushed.
'I think it's infamous that you should all be ready to believe the
worst,' she said hotly, in a low voice that trembled with indignant
anger. 'You're all of you so petty, so mean, that you welcome the
chance of spattering with mud a man who is so infinitely above you.
You've not given him a chance to defend himself.'
Bobbie turned very pale. Lucy had never spoken to him in such a way
before, and wrath flamed up in his heart, wrath mixed with hopeless
love. He paused for a moment to command himself.
'You don't know apparently that interviewers went to him from the
evening papers, and he refused to speak.'
'He has never consented to be interviewed. Why should you expect him
now to break his rule?'
Bobbie was about to answer, when a sudden look of dismay on Lady
Kelsey's face stopped him. He turned round and saw MacKenzie standing
at the door. He came forward with a smile, holding out his hand, and
addressed himself to Lady Kelsey.
'I thought I should find you here,' he said.
He was perfectly collected. He glanced around the room with a smile
of quiet amusement. A certain embarrassment seized the little party,
and Lady Kelsey, at she shook hands with him, was at a loss for words.
'How do you do?' she faltered. 'We've just been talking of you.'
The twinkle in his eyes caused her to lose the remainder of her
self-possession, and she turned scarlet.
'It's so late, we were afraid you wouldn't come. I should have been
'It's very kind of you to say so. I've been at the Travellers, reading various appreciations of my character.'
A hurried look of alarm crossed Lady Kelsey's good-tempered face.
'Oh, I heard there was something about you in the papers,' she
'There's a good deal. I really had no idea the world was so
interested in me.'
'It's charming of you to come here to-night,' the good lady smiled,
beginning to feel more at ease. 'I'm sure you hate dances.'
'Oh, no, they interest me enormously. I remember, an African king
once gave a dance in my honour. Four thousand warriors in war-paint. I
assure you it was a most impressive sight.'
'My dear fellow,' Dick chuckled, 'if paint is the attraction, you
really need not go much further than Mayfair.'
The scene amused him. He was deeply interested in Alec's attitude,
for he knew him well enough to be convinced that his discreet gaiety
was entirely assumed. It was impossible to tell by it what course he
meant to adopt; and at the same time there was about him a greater
unapproachableness, which warned all and sundry that it would be wiser
to attempt no advance. But for his own part he did not care; he meant
to have a word with Alec at the first opportunity.
Alec's quiet eyes now rested on Robert Boulger.
'Ah, there's my little friend Bobbikins. I thought you had a
Lady Kelsey remembered her nephew's broken engagement and interposed
'I'm afraid Bobbie is dreadfully dissipated. He's not looking at all
'You shouldn't keep such late hours,' said Alec, good-humouredly.
'At your age one needs one's beauty sleep.'
'It's very kind of you to take an interest in me,' said Boulger,
flushing with annoyance. 'My headache has passed off.'
'I'm very glad. What do you usephenacetin?'
'It went away of its own accord after dinner,' returned Bobbie
frigidly, conscious that he was being laughed at, but unable to
'So you resolved to give the girls a treat by coming to Lady
Kelsey's dance? How nice of you not to disappoint them!'
Alec turned to Lucy, and they looked into one another's eyes.
'I sent you a paper this evening,' he said gravely.
'It was very good of you.'
There was a silence. All who were present felt that the moment was
impressive, and it needed Canon Spratte's determination to allow none
but himself to monopolise attention, to bring to an end a situation
which might have proved awkward. He came forward and offered his arm to
'I think this is my dance. May I take you in?'
He was trying to repeat the direct cut which he had given Alec
earlier in the day. Alec looked at him.
'I saw you in Piccadilly this evening. You were dashing about like a
'I didn't see you,' said the Canon, frigidly.
'I observed that you were deeply engrossed in the shop windows as I
passed. How are you?'
He held out his hand. For a moment the Canon hesitated to take it,
but Alec's gaze compelled him.
'How do you do?' he said.
He felt, rather than heard, Dick's chuckle, and reddening, offered
his arm to Lucy.
'Won't you come, Mr. MacKenzie?' said Lady Kelsey, making the best
of her difficulty.
'If you don't mind, I'll stay and smoke a cigarette with Dick Lomas.
You know, I'm not a dancing man.'
It seemed that Alec was giving Dick the opportunity he sought, and
as soon as they found themselves alone, the sprightly little man
'I suppose you know we were all beseeching Providence you'd have the
grace to stay away to-night?' he said.
'I confess that I suspected it,' smiled Alec. 'I shouldn't have
come, only I wanted to see Miss Allerton.'
'This fellow Macinnery proposes to make things rather uncomfortable,
'I made a mistake, didn't I?' said Alec, with a thin smile. 'I
should have dropped him in the river when I had no further use for
'What are you going to do?'
Dick stared at him.
'Do you mean to say you're going to sit still and let them throw mud
'If they want to.'
'But look here, Alec, what the deuce is the meaning of the whole
Alec looked at him quietly.
'If I had intended to take the world in general into my confidence,
I wouldn't have refused to see the interviewers who came to me this
'We've known one another for twenty years, Alec,' said Dick.
'Then you may be quite sure that if I refuse to discuss this matter
with you, it must be for excellent reasons.'
Dick sprang up excitedly.
'But, good God! you must explain. You can't let a charge like this
rest on you. After all, it's not Tom, Dick, or Harry that's concerned;
it's Lucy's brother. You must speak.'
'I've never yet discovered that I must do anything that I don't
choose,' answered Alec.
Dick flung himself into a chair. He knew that when Alec spoke in
that fashion no power on earth could move him. The whole thing was
entirely unexpected, and he was at a loss for words. He had not read
the letter which was causing all the bother, and knew only what Lady
Kelsey had told him. He had some hope that on a close examination
various things would appear which must explain Alec's attitude; but at
present it was incomprehensible.
'Has it occurred to you that Lucy is very much in love with you,
Alec?' he said at last.
Alec did not answer. He made no movement.
'What will you do if this loses you her love?'
'I have counted the cost,' said Alec, coldly.
He got up from his chair, and Dick saw that he did not wish to
continue the discussion. There was a moment of silence, and then Lucy
'I've given my partner away to a wall-flower,' she said, with a
faint smile. 'I felt I must have a few words alone with you.'
'I will make myself scarce,' said Dick.
They waited till he was gone. Then Lucy turned feverishly to Alec.
'Oh, I'm so glad you've come. I wanted so much to see you.'
'I'm afraid people have been telling you horrible things about me.'
'They wanted to hide it from me.'
'It never occurred to me that people could say such shameful
things,' he said gravely.
It tormented him a little because it had been so easy to care
nothing for the world's adulation, and it was so hard to care as little
for its censure. He felt very bitter.
He took Lucy's hand and made her sit on the sofa by his side.
'There's something I must tell you at once.'
She looked at him without answering.
'I've made up my mind to give no answer to the charges that are
brought against me.'
Lucy looked up quickly, and their eyes met.
'I give you my word of honour that I've done nothing which I regret.
I swear to you that what I did was right with regard to George, and if
it were all to come again I would do exactly as I did before.'
She did not answer for a long time.
'I never doubted you for a single moment,' she said at last.
'That is all I care about.' He looked down, and there was a certain
shyness in his voice when he spoke again. 'To-day is the first time
I've wanted to be assured that I was trusted; and yet I'm ashamed to
'Don't be too hard upon yourself,' she said gently. 'You're so
afraid of letting your tenderness appear.'
He seemed to give earnest thought to what she said. Lucy had never
seen him more grave.
'The only way to be strong is never to surrender to one's
weakness. Strength is merely a habit. I want you to be strong, too. I
want you never to doubt me whatever you hear said.'
'I gave my brother into your hands, and I said that if he died a
brave man's death, I could ask for no more. You told me that such a
death was his.'
'I thought of you always, and everything I did was for your sake.
Every single act of mine during these four years in Africa has been
done because I loved you.'
It was the first time since his return that he had spoken of love.
Lucy bent her head still lower.
'Do you remember, I asked you a question before I went away? You
refused to marry me then, but you told me that if I asked again when I
came back, the answer might be different.'
'The hope bore me up in every difficulty and in every danger. And
when I came back I dared not ask you at once; I was so afraid that you
would refuse once more. And I didn't wish you to think yourself bound
by a vague promise. But each day I loved you more passionately.'
'I knew, and I was very grateful for your love.'
'Yesterday I could have offered you a certain name. I only cared for
the honours they gave me so that I might put them at your feet. But
what can I offer you now?'
'You must love me always, Alec, for now I have only you.'
'Are you sure that you will never believe that I am guilty of this
'Why can you say nothing in self-defence?'
'That I can't tell you either.'
There was a silence between them. At last Alec spoke again.
'But perhaps it will be easier for you to believe in me than for
others, because you know that I loved you, and I can't have done the
odious thing of which that man accuses me.'
'I will never believe it. I do not know what your reasons are for
keeping all this to yourself, but I trust you, and I know that they are
good. If you cannot speak, it is because greater interests hold you
back. I love you, Alec, with all my heart, and if you wish me to be
your wife I shall be proud and honoured.'
He took her in his arms, and as he kissed her, she wept tears of
happiness. She did not want to think. She wanted merely to surrender
herself to his strength.
Lady Kelsey's devout hope that her party would finish without
unpleasantness was singularly frustrated. Robert Boulger was irritated
beyond endurance by the things Lucy had said to him; and Lucy besides,
as if to drive him to distraction, had committed a peculiar
indiscretion. In her determination to show the world in general,
represented then by the two hundred people who were enjoying Lady
Kelsey's hospitality, that she, the person most interested, did not for
an instant believe what was said about Alec, Lucy had insisted on
dancing with him. Alec thought it unwise thus to outrage conventional
opinion, but he could not withstand her fiery spirit. Dick and Mrs.
Crowley were partners at the time, and the disapproval which Lucy saw
in their eyes, made her more vehement in her defiance. She had caught
Bobbie's glance, too, and she flung back her head a little as she saw
his livid anger.
Little by little Lady Kelsey's guests bade her farewell, and at
three o'clock few were left. Lucy had asked Alec to remain till the
end, and he and Dick had taken refuge in the smoking-room. Presently
Boulger came in with two men, named Mallins and Carbery, whom Alec knew
slightly. He glanced at Alec, and went up to the table on which were
cigarettes and various things to drink. His companions had no idea that
he was bent upon an explanation and had asked them of set purpose to
come into that room.
'May we smoke here, Bobbie?' asked one of them, a little embarrassed
at seeing Alec, but anxious to carry things off pleasantly.
'Certainly. Dick insisted that this room should be particularly
reserved for that purpose.'
'Lady Kelsey is the most admirable of all hostesses,' said Dick
He took out his case and offered a cigarette to Alec. Alec took it.
'Give me a match, Bobbikins, there's a good boy,' he said
Boulger, with his back turned to Alec, took no notice of the
request. He poured himself out some whisky, and raising the glass,
deliberately examined how much there was in it. Alec smiled faintly.
'Bobbie, throw me over the matches,' he repeated.
At that moment Lady Kelsey's butler came into the room with a
salver, upon which he put the dirty glasses. Bobbie, his back still
turned, looked up at the servant.
'Mr. MacKenzie is asking for something.'
'You might give me a match, will you?' said Alec.
The butler put the matches on his salver and took them over to Alec,
who lit his cigarette.
No one spoke till the butler left the room. Alec occupied himself
idly in making smoke rings, and he watched them rise into the air. When
they were alone he turned slowly to Boulger.
'I perceive that during my absence you have not added good manners
to your other accomplishments,' he said.
Boulger wheeled round and faced him.
'If you want things you can ask servants for them.'
'Don't be foolish,' smiled Alec, good-humouredly.
Alec's contemptuous manner robbed Boulger of his remaining
self-control. He strode angrily to Alec.
'If you talk to me like that I'll knock you down.'
Alec was lying stretched out on the sofa, and did not stir. He
seemed completely unconcerned.
'You could hardly do that when I'm already lying on my back,' he
Boulger clenched his fists. He gasped in the fury of his anger.
'Look here, MacKenzie, I'm not going to let you play the fool with
me. I want to know what answer you have to make to Macinnery's
'Might I suggest that only Miss Allerton has the least right to
receive answers to her questions? And she hasn't questioned me.'
'I've given up trying to understand her attitude. If I were she, it
would make me sick with horror to look at you. But after all I have the
right to know something. George Allerton was my cousin.'
Alec rose slowly from the sofa. He faced Boulger with an
indifference which was peculiarly irritating.
'That is a fact upon which he did not vastly pride himself.'
'Since this morning you've rested under a perfectly direct charge of
causing his death in a dastardly manner. And you've said nothing in
'You've been given an opportunity of explaining yourself, and you
haven't taken it.'
'What are you going to do?'
Alec had already been asked that question by Dick, and he returned
the same answer.
Bobbie looked at him for an instant. Then he shrugged his shoulders.
'In that case I can draw only one conclusion. There appears to be no
means of bringing you to justice, but at least I can tell you what an
indescribable blackguard I think you.'
'All is over between us,' smiled Alec, faintly amused at the young
man's violence. 'And shall I return your letters and your photographs?'
'I assure you that I'm not joking,' answered Bobbie grimly.
'I have observed that you joke with difficulty. It's singular that
though I'm Scotch and you are English, I should be able to see how
ridiculous you are, while you're quite blind to your own absurdity.'
'Come, Alec, remember he's only a boy,' remonstrated Dick, who till
now had been unable to interpose.
Boulger turned upon him angrily.
'I'm perfectly able to look after myself, Dick, and I'll thank you
not to interfere.' He looked again at Alec: 'If Lucy's so indifferent
to her brother's death that she's willing to keep up with you, that's
her own affair.'
Dick interrupted once more.
'For heaven's sake don't make a scene, Bobbie. How can you make such
a fool of yourself?'
'Leave me alone, confound you!'
'Do you think this is quite the best place for an altercation?'
asked Alec quietly. 'Wouldn't you gain more notoriety if you attacked
me in my club or at Church Parade on Sunday?'
'It's mere shameless impudence that you should come here to-night,'
cried Bobbie, his voice hoarse with passion. 'You're using these
wretched women as a shield, because you know that as long as Lucy
sticks to you, there are people who won't believe the story.'
'I came for the same reason as yourself, dear boy. Because I was
'You acknowledge that you have no defence.'
'Pardon me, I acknowledge nothing and deny nothing.'
'That won't do for me,' said Boulger. 'I want the truth, and I'm
going to get it. I've got a right to know.'
'Don't make such an ass of yourself,' cried Alec, shortly.
'By God, I'll make you answer.'
He went up to Alec furiously, as if he meant to seize him by the
throat, but Alec, with a twist of the arm, hurled him backwards.
'I could break your back, you silly boy,' he cried, in a voice low
With a cry of rage Bobbie was about to spring at Alec when Dick got
in his way.
'For God's sake, let us have no scenes here. And you'll only get the
worst of it, Bobbie. Alec could just crumple you up.' He turned to the
two men who stood behind, startled by the unexpectedness of the
quarrel. 'Take him away, Mallins, there's a good chap.'
'Let me alone, you fool!' cried Bobbie.
'Come along, old man,' said Mallins, recovering himself.
When his two friends had got Bobbie out of the room, Dick heaved a
great sigh of relief.
'Poor Lady Kelsey!' he laughed, beginning to see the humour of the
situation. 'To-morrow half London will be saying that you and Bobbie
had a stand-up fight in her drawing-room.'
Alec looked at him angrily. He was not a man of easy temper, and the
effort he had put upon himself was beginning to tell.
'You really needn't have gone out of your way to infuriate the boy,'
Alec wheeled round wrathfully.
'The damned cubs,' he said. 'I should like to break their silly
'You have an amiable character, Alec,' retorted Dick.
Alec began to walk up and down excitedly. Dick had never seen him
before in such a state.
'The position is growing confoundedly awkward,' he said drily.
Then Alec burst out.
'They lick my boots till I loathe them, and then they turn against
me like a pack of curs. Oh, I despise them, these silly boys who stay
at home wallowing in their ease, while men workwork and conquer.
Thank God, I've done with them now. They think one can fight one's way
through Africa as easily as walk down Piccadilly. They think one goes
through hardship and danger, illness and starvation, to be the lion of
a dinner-party in Mayfair.'
'I think you're unfair to them,' answered Dick. 'Can't you see the
other side of the picture? You're accused of a particularly low act of
treachery. Your friends were hoping that you'd be able to prove at once
that it was an abominable lie, and for some reason which no one can
make out, you refuse even to notice it.'
'My whole life is proof that it's a lie.'
'Don't you think you'd better change your mind and make a statement
that can be sent to the papers?'
'No, damn you!'
Dick's good nature was imperturbable, and he was not in the least
annoyed by Alec's vivacity.
'My dear chap, do calm down,' he laughed.
Alec started at the sound of his mocking. He seemed again to become
aware of himself. It was interesting to observe the quite visible
effort he made to regain his self-control. In a moment he had mastered
his excitement, and he turned to Dick with studied nonchalance.
'Do you think I look wildly excited?' he asked blandly.
'If you will permit me to say so, I think butter would have no
difficulty in melting in your mouth,' he replied.
'I never felt cooler in my life.'
'Lucky man, with the thermometer at a hundred and two!'
Alec laughed and put his arm through Dick's.
'Perhaps we had better go home,' he said.
'Your common sense is no less remarkable than your personal
appearance,' answered Dick gravely.
They had already bidden their hostess good-night, and getting their
things, they set out to walk their different ways. When Dick got home
he did not go to bed. He sat in an armchair, considering the events of
the evening, and trying to find some way out of the complexity of his
thoughts. He was surprised when the morning sun sent a bright ray of
light into his room.
* * *
But Lady Kelsey was not yet at the end of her troubles. Bobbie,
having got rid of his friends, went to her and asked if she would not
come downstairs and drink a cup of soup. The poor lady, quite
exhausted, thought him very considerate. One or two persons, with their
coats on, were still in the room, waiting for their womenkind; and in
the hall there was a little group of belated guests huddled around the
door, while cabs and carriages were being brought up for them. There
was about everyone the lassitude which follows the gaiety of a dance.
The waiters behind the tables were heavy-eyed. Lucy was bidding
good-bye to one or two more intimate friends.
Lady Kelsey drank the hot soup with relief.
'My poor legs are dropping,' she said. 'I'm sure I'm far too tired
to go to sleep.'
'I want to talk to Lucy before I go,' said Bobbie, abruptly.
'To-night?' she asked in dismay.
'Yes, I want you to send her a message that you wish to see her in
'Why, what on earth's the matter?'
'She can't go on in this way. It's perfectly monstrous. Something
must be done immediately.'
Lady Kelsey understood what he was driving at. She knew how great
was his love, and she, too, had seen his anger when Lucy danced with
Alec MacKenzie. But the whole affair perplexed her utterly. She put
down her cup.
'Can't you wait till to-morrow?' she asked nervously.
'I feel it ought to be settled at once.'
'I think you're dreadfully foolish. You know how Lucy resents any
interference with her actions.'
'I shall bear her resentment with fortitude,' he said, with great
Lady Kelsey looked at him helplessly.
'What do you want me to do?' she asked.
'I want you to be present at our interview.'
He turned to a servant and told him to ask Miss Allerton from Lady
Kelsey if she would kindly come to the boudoir. He gave his arm
to Lady Kelsey, and they went upstairs. In a moment Lucy appeared.
'Did you send for me, my aunt? I'm told you want to speak to me
'I asked Aunt Alice to beg you to come here,' said Boulger. 'I was
afraid you wouldn't if I asked you.'
Lucy looked at him with raised eyebrows and answered lightly.
'What nonsense! I'm always delighted to enjoy your society.'
'I wanted to speak to you about something, and I thought Aunt Alice
should be present.'
Lucy gave him a quick glance. He met it coolly.
'Is it so important that it can't wait till to-morrow?'
'I venture to think it's very important. And by now everybody has
'I'm all attention,' she smiled.
Boulger hesitated for a moment, then braced himself for the ordeal.
'I've told you often, Lucy, that I've been desperately in love with
you for more years than I can remember,' he said, flushing with
'Surely you've not snatched me from my last chance of a cup of soup
in order to make me a proposal of marriage?'
'I'm perfectly serious, Lucy.'
'I assure you it doesn't suit you at all,' she smiled.
'The other day I asked you again to marry me, just before Alec
MacKenzie came back.'
A softer light came into Lucy's eyes, and the bantering tones fell
away from her voice.
'It was very charming of you,' she said gravely. 'You mustn't think
that because I laugh at you a little, I'm not very grateful for your
'You know how long he's cared for you, Lucy,' said Lady Kelsey.
Lucy went up to him and very tenderly placed her hand on his arm.
'I'm immensely touched by your great devotion, Bobbie, and I know
that I've done nothing to deserve it. I'm very sorry that I can't give
you anything in return. One's not mistress of one's love. I can only
hopewith all my heartthat you'll fall in love with some girl who
cares for you. You don't know how much I want you to be happy.'
Boulger drew back coldly. He would not allow himself to be touched,
though the sweetness of her voice tore his heart-strings.
'Just now it's not my happiness that's concerned,' he said. 'When
Alec MacKenzie came back I thought I saw why nothing that I could do,
had the power to change the utter indifference with which you looked at
He paused a moment and coughed uneasily.
'I don't know why you think it necessary to say all this,' said
Lucy, in a low voice.
'I tried to resign myself. You've always worshipped strength, and I
understood that you must think Alec MacKenzie very wonderful. I had
little enough to offer you when I compared myself with him. I hoped
against hope that you weren't in love with him.'
'Except for that letter in this morning's paper I should never have
dared to say anything to you again. But that changes everything.'
He paused once more. Though he tried to seem so calm, his heart was
beating furiously. He really loved Lucy with all his soul, and he was
doing what seemed to him a plain duty.
'I ask you again if you'll be my wife.'
'I don't understand what you mean,' she said slowly.
'You can't marry Alec MacKenzie now.'
Lucy flung back her head. She grew very pale.
'You have no right to talk to me like this,' she said. 'You really
presume too much upon my good nature.'
'I think I have some right. I'm the only man who's related to you at
all, and I love you.'
They saw that Lady Kelsey wanted to speak, and Lucy turned round to
'I think you should listen to him, Lucy. I'm growing old, and soon
you'll be quite alone in the world.'
The simple kindness of her words calmed the passions of the other
two, and brought down the conversation to a gentler level.
'I'll try my best to make you a good husband, Lucy,' said Bobbie,
very earnestly. 'I don't ask you to care for me; I only want to serve
'I can only repeat that I'm very grateful to you. But I can't marry
you, and I shall never marry you.'
Boulger's face grew darker, and he was silent.
'Are you going to continue to know Alec MacKenzie?' he asked at
'You have no right to ask me such a question.'
'If you'll take the advice of any unprejudiced person about that
letter, you'll find that he'll say the same as I. There can be no
shadow of a doubt that the man is guilty of a monstrous crime.'
'I don't care what the evidence is,' said Lucy. 'I know he can't
have done a shameful thing.'
'But, good God, have you forgotten that it's your own brother whom
he killed!' he cried hotly. 'The whole country is up in arms against
him, and you are quite indifferent.'
'Oh, Bobbie, how can you say that?' she wailed, suddenly moved to
the very depths of her being. 'How can you be so cruel?'
He went up to her, and they stood face to face. He spoke very
quickly, flinging the words at her with indignant anger.
'If you cared for George at all, you must wish to punish the man who
caused his death. At least you can't continue to be his'he stopped as
he saw the agony in her eyes, and changed his words'his greatest
friend. It was your doing that George went to Africa at all. The least
thing you can do is to take some interest in his death.'
She put up her hands to her eyes, as though to drive away the sight
of hateful things.
'Oh, why do you torment me?' she cried pitifully. 'I tell you he
'He's refused to answer anyone. I tried to get something out of him,
but I couldn't, and I lost my temper. He might give you the truth if
you asked him pointblank.'
'I couldn't do that.'
'It's very strange that he should insist on this silence,' said Lady
Kelsey. 'One would have thought if he had nothing to be ashamed of,
he'd have nothing to hide.'
'Do you believe that story, too?' asked Lucy.
'I don't know what to believe. It's so extraordinary. Dick says he
knows nothing about it. If the man's innocent, why on earth doesn't he
'He knows I trust him,' said Lucy. 'He knows I'm proud to trust him.
Do you think I would cause him the great pain of asking him questions?'
'Are you afraid he couldn't answer them?' asked Boulger.
'No, no, no.'
'Well, just try. After all you owe as much as that to the memory of
'But don't you see that if he won't say anything, it's because there
are good reasons,' she cried distractedly. 'How do I know what
interests are concerned in the matter, beside which the death of George
'Do you look upon it so lightly as that?'
She turned away, bursting into tears. She was like a hunted beast.
There seemed no escape from the taunting questions.
'I must show my faith in him,' she sobbed.
'I think you're a little nervous to go into the matter too closely.'
'I believe in him implicitly. I believe in him with all the strength
'Then surely it can make no difference if you ask him. There can be
no reason for him not to trust you.'
'Oh, why don't you leave me alone?' she wailed.
'I do think it's very unreasonable, Lucy,' said Lady Kelsey. 'He
knows you're his friend. He can surely count on your discretion.'
'If he refused to answer me it would mean nothing. You don't know
him as I do. He's a man of extraordinary character. If he has made up
his mind that for certain reasons which we don't know, he must preserve
an entire silence, nothing whatever will move him. Why should he
answer? I believe in him absolutely. I think he's the greatest and most
honourable man I've ever known. I should feel happy and grateful to be
allowed to wait on him.'
'Lucy, what do you mean?' cried Lady Kelsey.
But now Lucy had cast off all reserve. She did not mind what she
'I mean that I care more for his little finger than for the whole
world. I love him with all my heart. And that's why he can't be guilty
of this horrible thing, because I've loved him for years, and he's
known it. And he loves me, and he's loved me always.'
She sank exhausted into a chair, gasping for breath. Boulger looked
at her for a moment, and he turned sick with anguish. What he had only
suspected before, he knew now from her own lips; and it was harder than
ever to bear. Now everything seemed ended.
'Are you going to marry him?' he asked.
'In spite of everything?'
'In spite of everything,' she answered defiantly.
Bobbie choked down the groan of despairing rage that forced its way
to his throat. He watched her for a moment.
'Good God,' he said at last, 'what is there in the man that he
should have made you forget love and honour and common decency!'
Lucy made no reply. But she buried her face in her hands and wept.
She rocked to and fro with the violence of her tears.
Without another word Bobbie turned round and left them. Lady Kelsey
heard the door slam as he went out into the silent street.
Next day Alec was called up to Lancashire.
When he went out in the morning, he saw on the placards of the
evening papers that there had been a colliery explosion, but, his mind
absorbed in other things, he paid no attention to it; and it was with a
shock that, on opening a telegram which waited for him at his club, he
found that the accident had occurred in his own mine. Thirty miners
were entombed, and it was feared that they could not be saved.
Immediately all thought of his own concerns fled from him, and sending
for a time-table, he looked out a train. He found one that he could
just catch. He took a couple of telegram forms in the cab with him, and
on one scribbled instructions to his servant to follow him at once with
clothes; the other he wrote to Lucy.
He just caught the train and in the afternoon found himself at the
mouth of the pit. There was a little crowd around it of weeping women.
All efforts to save the wretched men appeared to be useless. Many had
been injured, and the manager's house had been converted into a
hospital. Alec found everyone stunned by the disaster, and the attempts
at rescue had been carried on feebly. He set himself to work at once.
He put heart into the despairing women. He brought up everyone who
could be of the least use and inspired them with his own resourceful
courage. The day was drawing to a close, but no time could be lost; and
all night they toiled. Alec, in his shirt sleeves, laboured as heartily
as the strongest miner; he seemed to want neither rest nor food. With
clenched teeth, silently, he fought a battle with death, and the prize
was thirty living men. In the morning he refreshed himself with a bath,
paid a hurried visit to the injured, and returned to the pit mouth.
He had no time to think of other things. He did not know that on
this very morning another letter appeared in the Daily Mail,
filling in the details of the case against him, adding one damning
piece of evidence to another; he did not know that the papers, amazed
and indignant at his silence, now were unanimous in their condemnation.
It was made a party matter, and the radical organs used the scandal as
a stick to beat the dying donkey which was then in power. A question
was put down to be asked in the House.
Alec waged his good fight and neither knew nor cared that the bubble
of his glory was pricked. Still the miners lived in the tomb, and
forty-eight hours passed. Hope was failing in the stout hearts of those
who laboured by his side, but Alec urged them to greater endeavours.
And now nothing was needed but a dogged perseverance. His tremendous
strength stood him in good stead, and he was able to work twenty hours
on end. He did not spare himself. And he seemed able to call prodigies
of endurance out of those who helped him; with that example it seemed
easier to endure. And still they toiled unrestingly. But their hope was
growing faint. Behind that wall thirty men were lying, hopeless,
starving; and some perhaps were dead already. And it was terrible to
think of the horrors that assailed them, the horror of rising water,
the horror of darkness, and the gnawing pangs of hunger. Among them was
a boy of fourteen. Alec had spoken to him by chance on one of the days
he had recently spent there, and had been amused by his cheeky
brightness. He was a blue-eyed lad with a laughing mouth. It was
pitiful to think that all that joy of life should have been crushed by
a blind, stupid disaster. His father had been killed, and his body,
charred and disfigured, lay in the mortuary. The boy was imprisoned
with his brother, a man older than himself, married, and the father of
children. With angry vehemence Alec set to again. He would not be
At last they heard sounds, faint and muffled, but unmistakable. At
all events some of them were still alive. The rescuers increased their
efforts. Now it was only a question of hours. They were so near that it
renewed their strength; all fatigue fell from them; it needed but a
With a groan of relief which tried hard to be a cheer, the last
barrier was broken, and the prisoners were saved. They were brought out
one by one, haggard, with sunken eyes that blinked feebly in the
sun-light; their faces were pale with the shadow of death, and they
could not stand on their feet. The bright-eyed boy was carried out in
Alec's strong arms, and he tried to make a jest of it; but the smile on
his lips was changed into a sob, and hiding his face in Alec's breast,
he cried from utter weakness. They carried out his brother, and he was
dead. His wife was waiting for him at the pit's mouth, with her
children by her side.
This commonplace incident, briefly referred to in the corner of a
morning paper, made his own affairs strangely unimportant to Alec. Face
to face with the bitter tragedy of women left husbandless, of orphaned
children, and the grim horror of men cut off in the prime of their
manhood, the agitation which his own conduct was causing fell out of
view. He was harassed and anxious. Much business had to be done which
would allow of no delay. It was necessary to make every effort to get
the mine once more into working order; it was necessary to provide for
those who had lost the breadwinner. Alec found himself assailed on all
sides with matters of urgent importance, and he had not a moment to
devote to his own affairs. When at length it was possible for him to
consider himself at all, he felt that the accident had raised him out
of the narrow pettiness which threatened to submerge his soul; he was
at close quarters with malignant fate, and he had waged a desperate
battle with the cruel blindness of chance. He could only feel an utter
scorn for the people who bespattered him with base charges. For, after
all, his conscience was free.
When he wrote to Lucy, it never struck him that it was needful to
refer to the events that had preceded his departure from London, and
his letter was full of the strenuous agony of the past days. He told
her how they had fought hand to hand with death and had snatched the
prey from his grasp. In a second letter he told her what steps he was
taking to repair the damage that had been caused, and what he was doing
for those who were in immediate need. He would have given much to be
able to write down the feelings of passionate devotion with which Lucy
filled him, but with the peculiar shyness which was natural to him, he
could not bring himself to it. Of the accusation with which, the world
was ringing, he said never a word.
* * *
Lucy read his letters over and over again. She could not understand
them, and they seemed strangely indifferent. At that distance from the
scene of the disaster she could not realise its absorbing anxiety, and
she was bitterly disappointed at Alec's absence. She wanted his
presence so badly, and she had to bear alone, on her own shoulders, the
full weight of her trouble. When Macinnery's second letter appeared,
Lady Kelsey gave it to her without a word. It was awful. The whole
thing was preposterous, but it hung together in a way that was
maddening, and there was an air of truth about it which terrified her.
And why should Alec insist on this impenetrable silence? She had
offered herself the suggestion that political exigencies with regard to
the states whose spheres of influence bordered upon the territory which
Alec had conquered, demanded the strictest reserve; but this
explanation soon appeared fantastic. She read all that was said in the
papers and found that opinion was dead against Alec. Now that it was
become a party matter, his own side defended him; but in a half-hearted
way, which showed how poor the case was. And since all that could be
urged in his favour, Lucy had already repeated to herself a thousand
times, what was said against him seemed infinitely more conclusive than
what was said for him. And then her conscience smote her. Those cruel
words of Bobbie's came back to her, and she was overwhelmed with
self-reproach when she considered that it was her own brother of whom
was all this to-do. She must be utterly heartless or utterly depraved.
And then with a despairing energy she cried out that she believed in
Alec; he was incapable of a treacherous act.
At last she could bear it no longer, and she wired to him: For
God's sake come quickly.
She felt that she could not endure another day of this misery. She
waited for him, given over to the wildest fears; she was ashamed and
humiliated. She counted the hours which must pass before he could
arrive; surely he would not delay. All her self-possession had
vanished, and she was like a child longing for the protecting arms that
should enfold it
* * *
At last he came. Lucy was waiting in the same room in which she had
sat on their first meeting after his return to England. She sprang up,
pale and eager, and flung herself passionately into his arms.
'Thank God, you've come,' she said. 'I thought the hours would never
He did not know what so vehemently disturbed her, but he kissed her
tenderly, and on a sudden she felt strangely comforted. There was an
extraordinary honesty about him which strengthened and consoled her.
For a while she could not speak, but clung to him, sobbing.
'What is it?' he asked at length. 'Why did you send for me?'
'I want your lore. I want your love so badly.'
It was inconceivable, the exquisite tenderness with which he
caressed her. No one would have thought that dour man capable of such
'I felt I must see you,' she sobbed. 'You don't know what tortures
He kissed her hair and her white, pained forehead.
'Why did you go away? You knew I wanted you.'
'I'm very sorry.'
'I've been horribly wretched. I didn't know I could suffer so much.'
'Come and sit down and tell me all about it.'
He led her to the sofa and made her sit beside him. His arms were
around her, and she nestled close to him. For a moment she remained
silent, enjoying the feeling of great relief after the long days of
agony. She smiled lightly through her tears.
'The moment I'm with you I feel so confident and happy.'
'Only when you're with me?'
He asked the question caressingly, in a low passionate voice that
she had never heard from his lips before. She did not answer, but clung
more closely to him. Smiling, he repeated the question.
'Only when you're with me, darling?'
'I've told Bobbie and my aunt that we're going to be married. They
made me suffer so dreadfully. I had to tell them. I couldn't keep it
back, they said such horrible things about you.'
He did not answer for a moment.
'It's very natural.'
'It's nothing to you,' she cried desperately. ' But to me.... Oh,
you don't know what agony I had to endure.'
'I'm glad you told them.'
'Bobby said I must be heartless and cruel. And it's true: George is
nothing to me now when I think of you. My heart is so filled with my
love for you that I haven't room for anything else.'
'I hope my love will make up for all that you have lost. I want you
to be happy.'
She withdrew from his arms and leaned back, against the corner of
the sofa. It was absolutely necessary to say what was gnawing at her
heart-strings, but she felt ashamed and could not look at him.
'That wasn't the only reason I told them. I'm such a coward. I
thought I was much braver.'
Lucy felt on a sudden sick at heart. She began to tremble a little,
and it was only by great strength of will that she forced herself to go
on. She was horribly frightened. Her mouth was dry, and when at last
the words came, her voice sounded unnatural.
'I wanted to burn my ships behind me. I wanted to reassure myself.'
This time it was Alec who did not answer, for he understood now what
was on her mind. His heart sank, since he saw already that he must lose
her. But he had faced that possibility long ago in the heavy forests of
Africa, and he had made up his mind that Lucy could do without love
better than without self-respect.
He made a movement to get up, but quickly Lucy put out her hand. And
then suddenly a fire seized him, and a vehement determination not to
give way till the end.
'I don't understand you,' he said quietly.
'Forgive me, dear,' she said.
She held his hand in hers, and she spoke quickly.
'You don't know how terrible it is. I stand so dreadfully alone.
Everyone is so bitter against you, and not a soul has a good word to
say for you. It's all so extraordinary and so inexplicable. It seems as
if I am the only person who isn't convinced that you caused poor
George's death. Oh, how callous and utterly heartless people must think
'Does it matter very much what people think?' he said gravely.
'I'm so ashamed of myself. I try to put the thoughts out of my head,
but I can't. I simply can't. I've tried to be brave. I've refused to
discuss the possibility of there being anything in those horrible
charges. I wanted to talk to DickI knew he was fond of youbut I
didn't dare. It seemed treacherous to you, and I wouldn't let anyone
see that it meant anything to me. The first letter wasn't so bad, but
the secondoh, it looks so dreadfully true.'
Alec gave her a rapid glance. This was the first he had heard of
another communication to the paper. During the frenzied anxiety of
those days at the colliery, he had had time to attend to nothing but
the pressing work of rescue. But he made no reply.
'I've read it over and over again, and I can't understand.
When Bobbie says it's conclusive, I tell him it means
nothingbutdon't you see what I mean? The uncertainty is more than I
She stopped suddenly, and now she looked at him. There was a pitiful
appeal in her eyes.
'At the first moment I felt so absolutely sure of you.'
'And now you don't?' he asked quietly.
She cast down her eyes once more, and a sob caught her breath.
'I trust you just as much as ever. I know it's impossible that you
should have done a shameful deed. But there it stands in black and
white, and you have nothing to say in answer.'
'I know it's very difficult. That's why I asked you to believe in
'I do, Alec,' she cried vehemently. 'With all my soul. But have
mercy on me. I'm not as strong as I thought. It's easy for you to stand
alone. You're iron. You're a mountain of granite. But I'm a weak woman,
He shook his head.
'Oh, no, you're not like other women.'
'It was easy to be brave where my father was concerned, or George,
but now it's so different. Love has changed me. I haven't the courage
any more to withstand the opinion of all my fellows.'
Alec got up and walked once or twice across the room. He seemed to
be thinking deeply. Lucy fancied that he must hear the beating of her
heart. He stopped in front of her. Her heart was wrung by the great
pain that was in his voice.
'Don't you remember that only a few days ago I told you that I'd
done nothing which I wouldn't do again? I gave you my word of honour
that I could reproach myself for nothing.'
'Oh, I know,' she cried. 'I'm so utterly ashamed of myself. But I
can't bear the doubt.'
'Doubt. You've said the word at last.'
'I tell myself that I don't believe a word of these horrible
charges. I repeat to myself: I'm certain, I'm certain that he's
She gathered strength in the desperation of her love, and now at the
crucial moment she had all the courage she needed.
'And yet at the bottom of my heart there's the doubt. And I can't
She waited for him to answer, but he did not speak.
'I wanted to kill that bitter pain of suspicion. I thought if I
stood up before them and cried out that my trust in you was so great, I
was willing to marry you notwithstanding everythingI should at last
have peace in my heart.'
Alec went to the window and looked out. The westering sun slanted
across the street. Carriages and motors were waiting at the door of the
house opposite, and a little crowd of footmen clustered about the
steps. They were giving a party, and through the open windows Alec
could see a throng of women. The sky was very blue. He turned back to
'Will you show me the second letter of which you speak?'
'Haven't you seen it?' she asked in astonishment.
'I was so busy, I had no time to look at the papers. I suppose no
one thought it his business to draw my attention to it.'
Lucy went into the second drawing-room, divided from that in which
they sat by an archway, and brought him the copy of the Daily Mail
for which he asked. She gave it, and he took it silently. He sat down
and with attention read the letter through. He observed with bitter
scorn the thoroughness with which Macinnery had set out the case
against him. In this letter he filled up the gaps which had been left
in the first, adding here and there details which gave a greater
coherency to the whole; and his evidence had an air of truth, since he
quoted the very words of porters and askari who had been on the
expedition. It was wonderful what power had that small admixture of
falsehood joined with what was admittedly true, to change the whole
aspect of the case. Alec was obliged to confess that Lucy had good
grounds for her suspicion. There was a specious look about the story,
which would have made him credit it himself if some other man had been
concerned. The facts were given with sufficient exactness, and the
untruth lay only in the motives that were ascribed to him; but who
could tell what another's motives were? Alec put the paper on the
table, and leaning back, his face resting in his hand, thought deeply.
He saw again that scene in his tent when the wind was howling outside
and the rain falling, falling; he recalled George's white face, the
madness that came over him when he fired at Alec, the humility of his
submission. The earth covered the boy, his crime, and his weakness. It
was not easy to save one's self at a dead man's expense. And he knew
that George's strength and courage had meant more than her life to
Lucy. How could he cause her the bitter pain? How could he tell her
that her brother died because he was a coward and a rogue? How could he
tell her the pitiful story of the boy's failure to redeem the good name
that was so dear to her? And what proof could he offer of anything he
said? Walker had been killed on the same night as George, poor Walker
with his cheerfulness in difficulties and his buoyant spirits: his
death too must be laid to the charge of George Allerton; Adamson had
died of fever. Those two alone had any inkling of the truth; they could
have told a story that would at least have thrown grave doubts upon
Macinnery's. But Alec set his teeth; he did not want their testimony.
Finally there was the promise. He had given his solemn oath, and the
place and the moment made it seem more binding, that he would utter no
word that should lead Lucy to suspect even for an instant that her
brother had been untrue to the trust she had laid upon him. Alec was a
man of scrupulous truthfulness, not from deliberately moral motives but
from mere taste, and he could not have broken his promise for the great
discomfort it would have caused him. But it was the least of the
motives which influenced him. Even if George had exacted nothing, he
would have kept silence. And then, at the bottom of his heart, was a
fierce pride. He was conscious of the honesty of his motives, and he
expected that Lucy should share his consciousness. She must believe
what he said to her because he said it. He could not suffer the
humiliation of defending himself, and he felt that her love could not
be very great if she could really doubt him. And because he was very
proud perhaps he was unjust. He did not know that he was putting upon
her a trial which he should have asked no one to bear.
He stood up and faced Lucy.
'What is it precisely you want me to do?' he asked.
'I want you to have mercy on me because I love you. Don't tell the
world if you choose not to. But tell me the truth. I know you're
incapable of lying. If I only have it from your own lips I shall
believe. I want to be certain, certain.'
'Don't you realise that I would never have asked you to marry me if
my conscience hadn't been quite clear?' he said slowly. 'Don't you see
that the reasons I have for holding my tongue must be overwhelming, or
I wouldn't stand by calmly while my good name was torn from me shred by
'But I'm going to be your wife, and I love you, and I know you love
'I implore you not to insist, Lucy. Let us remember only that the
past is gone and that we love one another. It is impossible for me to
tell you anything.'
'Oh, but you must now,' she implored. 'If anything has happened, if
any part of the story is true, you must give me a chance of judging for
'I'm very sorry. I can't.'
'But you'll kill my love for you.'
She sprang to her feet and pressed both hands to her heart.
'The doubt that lurked at the bottom of my soul, now fills me. How
can you let me suffer such maddening torture?'
An expression of anguish passed across his calm eyes. He made a
gesture of despair.
'I thought you trusted me.'
'I'll be satisfied if you'll only tell me one thing.' She put her
hands to her head with a rapid, aimless movement that showed the
extremity of her agitation. 'Oh, what has love done with me?' she cried
desperately. 'I was so proud of my brother and so utterly devoted to
him. But I loved you so much that there wasn't any room in my heart for
the past. I forgot all my unhappiness and all my loss. And even now
they seem so little to me beside your love that it's you I think of
first. I want to know that I can love you freely. I'll be satisfied if
you'll only tell me that when you sent George out that night, you
didn't know he'd be killed.'
Alec looked at her steadily. And once more he saw himself in the
African tent amid the rain and the boisterous wind. At the time he
sought to persuade himself that George had a chance of escape. He told
him with his own lips that if he showed perfect self-confidence at the
moment of danger he might save himself alive; but at the bottom of his
heart he knew, he had known all along, that it was indeed death he was
sending him to, for George had not the last virtue of a scoundrel,
'Only say that, Alec,' she repeated. 'Say that's not true, and I'll
There was a silence. Lucy's heart beat against her breast like a
caged bird. She waited in horrible suspense.
'But it is true,' he said, very quietly.
Lucy did not answer. She stared at him with terrified eyes. Her
brain reeled, and she feared that she was going to faint. She had to
put forth all her strength to drive back the enveloping night that
seemed to crowd upon her.
'It is true,' he repeated.
She gave a gasp of pain.
'I don't understand. Oh, my dearest, don't treat me as a child. Have
mercy on me. You must be serious now. Ifs a matter of life and death to
both of us.'
'I'm perfectly serious.'
A frightful coldness appeared to seize her, and the tips of her
fingers were strangely numbed.
'You knew that you were sending George into a death-trap? You knew
that he could not escape alive?'
'Except by a miracle.'
'And you don't believe in miracles?'
Alec made no answer. She looked at him with increasing horror. Her
eyes were staring wildly. She repeated the question.
'And you don't believe in miracles?'
She was seized with all manner of conflicting emotions. They seemed
to wage a tumultuous battle in the depths of her heart. She was filled
with horror and dismay, bitter anger, remorse for her callous
indifference to George's death; and at the same time she felt an
overwhelming love for Alec. And how could she love him now?
'Oh, it can't be true,' she cried. 'It's infamous. Oh, Alec, Alec,
Alec... O God, what shall I do.'
Alec held himself upright. He set his teeth, and his heavy jaw
seemed squarer than ever. There was a great sternness in his voice.
'I tell you that whatever I did was inevitable.'
Lucy flushed at the sound of his voice, and anger and sudden hatred
took the place of all other feelings.
'Then if that's true, the rest must be true. Why don't you
acknowledge as well that you sacrificed my brother's life in order to
save your own?'
But the mood passed quickly, and in a moment she was seized with
'Oh, it's awful. I can't realise it.' She turned to him with a
desperate appeal. 'Haven't you anything to say at all? You know how
much I loved my brother. You know how much it meant to me that he
should live to wipe out all memory of my father's crime. All the future
was centred upon him. You can't have sacrificed him callously.'
Alec hesitated for an instant.
'I think I might tell you this,' he said. 'We were entrapped by the
Arabs, and our only chance of escape entailed the death of one of us.'
'So you chose my brother because you loved me.'
Alec looked at her. There was an extraordinary sadness in his eyes,
but she did not see it. He answered very gravely.
'You see, the fault was his. He had committed a grave error. It was
not unjust that he should suffer for the catastrophe that he had
'At those times one doesn't think of justice. He was so young, so
frank and honest. Wouldn't it have been nobler to give your life for
'Oh, my dear,' he answered, with all the gentleness that was in him,
'you don't know how easy it is to give one's life, how much more
difficult it is to be just than generous. How little you know me! Do
you think I should have hesitated if the difficulty had been one that
my death could solve? It was necessary that I should live. I had my
work to do. I was bound by solemn treaties to the surrounding tribes.
Even if that had been all, it would have been cowardly for me to die.'
'It is easy to find excuses for not acting like a brave man.' She
flung the words at him with indignant scorn.
'I was indispensable,' he answered. 'The whites I took with me I
chose as instruments, not as leaders. If I had died the expedition
would have broken in pieces. It was my influence that held together
such of the native tribes as remained faithful to us. I had given my
word that I would not desert them till I had exterminated the
slave-raiders. Two days after my death my force would have melted away,
and the whites would have been helpless. Not one of them would have
escaped. And then the country would have been given up, defenceless, to
those cursed Arabs. Fire and sword would have come instead of the peace
I promised; and the whole country would have been rendered desolate. I
tell you that it was my duty to live till I had carried out my work.'
Lucy drew herself up a little. She looked at him firmly, and said
very quietly and steadily:
'You coward! You coward!'
'I knew at the time that what I did might cost me your love, and
though you won't believe this, I did it for your sake.'
'I wish I had a whip in my hand that I might slash you across the
For a moment he did not say anything. She was quivering with
indignation and with contempt.
'You see, it has cost me your love,' he said. 'I suppose it was
'I am ashamed that I ever loved you.'
He turned round and walked slowly to the door. He held his head
erect, and there was no sign of emotion on his face. But as soon as he
was gone Lucy could keep her self-control no longer. She sank into a
chair, and hiding her face, began to sob as though her poor tortured
heart would break.
Alec went back to Lancashire next day. Much was still required
before the colliery could be put once more in proper order, and he was
overwhelmed with work. Lucy was not so fortunate. She had nothing to do
but to turn over in her mind the conversation they had had. She passed
one sleepless night after another. She felt ill and wretched. She told
Lady Kelsey that her engagement with MacKenzie was broken off, but gave
no reason; and Lady Kelsey, seeing her white, tortured face, had not
the heart to question her. The good lady knew that her niece was
desperately unhappy, but she did not know how to help her. Lucy never
sought for the sympathy of others and chose rather to bear her troubles
alone. The season was drawing to a close, and Lady Kelsey suggested
that they should advance by a week or two the date of their departure
for the country; but Lucy would do nothing to run away from her
'I don't know why you should alter your plans,' she said quietly.
Lady Kelsey looked at her compassionately, but did not insist. She
felt somehow that Lucy was of different clay from herself, and for all
her exquisite gentleness, her equanimity and pleasant temper, she had
never been able to get entirely at close quarters with her. She would
have given much to see Lucy give way openly to her grief; and her arms
would have been open to receive her, if her niece had only flung
herself simply into them. But Lucy's spirit was broken. With the
extreme reserve that was part of her nature, she put all her strength
into the effort to behave in the world with decency; and dreading any
attempt at commiseration, she forced herself to be no less cheerful
than usual. The strain was hardly tolerable. She had set all her hopes
of happiness upon Alec, and he had failed her. She thought more of her
brother and her father than she had done of late, and she mourned for
them both as though the loss she had sustained were quite recent. It
seemed to her that the only thing now was to prevent herself from
thinking of Alec, and with angry determination she changed her thoughts
as soon as he came into them.
Presently something else occurred to her. She felt that she owed
some reparation to Bobbie: he had seen the truth at once, and because
he had pointed it out to her, as surely it was his duty to do, she had
answered him with bitter words. He had shown himself extraordinarily
kind, and she had been harsh and cruel. Perhaps he knew that she was no
longer engaged to marry Alec MacKenzie, and he must guess the reason;
but since the night of the dance he had not been near them. She looked
upon what Alec had told her as addressed to her only, and she could not
repeat it to all and sundry. When acquaintances had referred to the
affair, her manner had shown them quickly that she did not intend to
discuss it. But Robert Boulger was different. It seemed necessary, in
consideration of all that had passed, that he should be told the little
she knew; and then she thought also, seized on a sudden with a desire
for self-sacrifice, that it was her duty perhaps to reward him for his
long devotion. She might at least try to make him a good wife; and she
could explain exactly how she felt towards him. There would be no
deceit. Her life had no value now, and if it really meant so much to
him to marry her, it was right that she should consent. And there was
another thing: it would put an irrevocable barrier between herself and
Lady Kelsey was accustomed to ask a few people to luncheon every
Tuesday, and Lucy suggested that they should invite Bobbie on one of
these occasions. Lady Kelsey was much pleased, for she was fond of her
nephew, and it had pained her that she had not seen him. She had sent a
line to tell him that Lucy was no longer engaged, but he had not
answered. Lucy wrote the invitation herself.
My Dear Bobbie:
Aunt Alice will be very glad if you can lunch with us on
at two. We are asking Dick, Julia Crowley, and Canon Spratte.
you can come, and I hope you will, it would be very kind of
arrive a good deal earlier than the others; I want to talk to
He answered at once.
My Dear Lucy:
I will come with pleasure. I hope half-past one will suit
Your affectionate cousin,
'Why haven't you been to see us?' she said, holding his hand, when
at the appointed time he appeared.
'I thought you didn't much want to see me.'
'I'm afraid I was very cruel and unkind to you last time you were
here,' she said.
'It doesn't matter at all,' he said gently.
'I think I should tell you that I did as you suggested to me. I
asked Alec MacKenzie pointblank, and he confessed that he was guilty of
'I'm very sorry,' said Bobbie.
'Why?' she asked, looking up at him with tear-laden eyes.
'Because I know that you were very much in love with him,' he
Lucy flushed. But she had much more to say.
'I was very unjust to you on the night of that dance. You were right
to speak to me as you did, and I was very foolish. I regret what I
said, and I beg you to forgive me.'
'There's nothing to forgive, Lucy,' he said warmly. 'What does it
matter what you said? You know I love you.'
'I don't know what I've done to deserve such love,' she said. 'You
make me dreadfully ashamed of myself.'
He took her hand, and she did not attempt to withdraw it.
'Won't you change your mind, Lucy?' he said earnestly.
'Oh, my dear, I don't love you. I wish I did. But I don't and I'm
afraid I never can.'
'Won't you marry me all the same?'
'Do you care for me so much as that?' she cried painfully.
'Perhaps you will learn to love me in time.'
'Don't be so humble; you make me still more ashamed. Bobbie, I
should like to make you happy if I thought I could. It seems very
wonderful to me that you should want to have me. But I must be honest
with you. I know that if I pretend I'm willing to marry you merely for
your sake I'm deceiving myself. I want to marry you because I'm afraid.
I want to crush my love for Alec. I want to make it impossible for me
ever to weaken in my resolve. You see, I'm horrid and calculating, and
it's very little I can offer you.'
'I don't care why you're marrying me,' he said. 'I want you so
'Oh, no, don't take me like that. Let me say first that if you
really think me worth having, I will do my duty gladly. And if I have
no love to give, I have a great deal of affection and a great deal of
gratitude. I want you to be happy.'
He went down on his knees and kissed her hands passionately.
'I'm so thankful,' he murmured. 'I'm so thankful.'
Lucy bent down and gently kissed his hair. Two tears rolled heavily
down her cheeks.
* * *
Five minutes later Lady Kelsey came in. She was delighted to see
that her nephew and her niece were apparently once more on friendly
terms; but she had no time to find out what had happened, for Canon
Spratte was immediately announced. Lady Kelsey had heard that he was to
be offered a vacant bishopric, and she mourned over his disappearance
from London. He was a spiritual mentor who exactly suited her,
handsome, urbane, attentive notwithstanding her mature age, and
well-connected. He was just the man to be a bishop. Then Mrs. Crowley
appeared. They waited a little, and presently Dick was announced. He
sauntered in jauntily, unaware that he had kept the others waiting a
full quarter of an hour; and the party was complete.
No gathering could be tedious when Canon Spratte was present, and
the conversation proceeded merrily. Mrs. Crowley looked ravishing in a
summer frock, and since she addressed herself exclusively to the
handsome parson it was no wonder that he was in a good humour. She
laughed appreciatively at his facile jests and gave him provoking
glances of her bright eyes. He did not attempt to conceal from her that
he thought American women the most delightful creatures in the world,
and she made no secret of her opinion that ecclesiastical dignitaries
were often fascinating. They paid one another outrageous compliments.
It never struck the good man that these charms and graces were
displayed only for the purpose of vexing a gentleman of forty, who was
eating his luncheon irritably on the other side of her. She managed to
avoid talking to Dick Lomas afterwards, but when she bade Lady Kelsey
farewell, he rose also.
'Shall I drive you home?' he asked.
'I'm not going home, but if you like to drive me to Victoria Street,
you may. I have an appointment there at four.'
They went out, stepped into a cab, and quite coolly Dick told the
driver to go to Hammersmith. He sat himself down by her side, with a
smile of self-satisfaction.
'What on earth are you doing?' she cried.
'I want to have a talk to you.'
'I'm sure that's charming of you,' she answered, 'but I shall miss
'That's a matter of complete indifference to me.'
'Don't bother about my feelings, will you?' she replied,
'I have no intention of doing so,' he smiled.
Mrs. Crowley was obliged to laugh at the neatness with which he had
entrapped her. Or had he fallen into the trap which she had set for
him? She really did not quite know.
'If your object in thus abducting me was to talk, hadn't you better
do so?' she asked. 'I hope you will endeavour to be not only amusing
'I wanted to point out to you that it is not civil pointedly to
ignore a man who is sitting next to you at luncheon.'
'Did I do that? I'm so sorry. But I know you're greedy, and I
thought you'd be absorbed in the lobster mayonnaise.'
'I'm beginning to think I dislike you rather than otherwise,' he
'Ah, I suppose that is why you haven't been in to see me for so
'May I venture to remind you that I've called upon you three times
during the last week.'
'I've been out so much lately,' she answered, with a little wave of
'Nonsense. Once I heard you playing scales in the drawing-room, and
once I positively saw you peeping at me through the curtains.'
'Why didn't you make a face at me?' she asked.
'You're not going to trouble to deny it?'
'It's perfectly true.'
Dick could not help giving a little laugh. He didn't quite know
whether he wanted to kiss Julia Crowley or to shake her.
'And may I ask why you've treated me in this abominable fashion?' he
She looked at him sideways from beneath her long eyelashes. Dick was
a man who appreciated the artifices of civilisation in the fair sex,
and he was pleased with her pretty hat and with the flounces of her
'Because I chose,' she smiled.
He shrugged his shoulders and put on an air of resignation.
'Of course if you're going to make yourself systematically
disagreeable unless I marry you, I suppose I must bow to the
'I don't know if you have the least idea what you're talking about,'
she answered, raising her eyebrows. 'I'm sure I haven't.'
'I was merely asking you in a rather well-turned phrase to name the
day. The lamb shall be ready for the slaughter.'
'Is that a proposal of marriage?' she asked gaily.
'If not it must be its twin brother,' he returned.
'I'm so glad you've told me, because if I'd met it in the street I
should never have recognised it, and I should simply have cut it dead.'
'You show as little inclination to answer a question as a cabinet
minister in the House of Commons.'
'Couldn't you infuse a little romance into it? You see, I'm
American, and I have a certain taste for sentiment in affairs of the
'I should be charmed, only you must remember that I have no
experience in these matters.'
'That is visible to the naked eye,' she retorted. 'But I would
suggest that it is only decent to go down on your bended knees.'
'That sounds a perilous feat to perform in a hansom cab, and it
would certainly attract an amount of attention from passing bus-drivers
which would be embarrassing.'
'You could never convince me of the sincerity of your passion unless
you did something of the kind,' she replied.
'I assure you that it is quite out of fashion. Lovers now-a-days are
much too middle-aged, and their joints are creaky. Besides it ruins the
'I admit your last reason is overwhelming. No nice woman should ask
a man to make his trousers baggy at the knees.'
'How could she love him if they were!' exclaimed Dick.
'But at all events there can be no excuse for your not saying that
you know you are utterly unworthy of me.'
'Wild horses wouldn't induce me to make a statement which is so
remote from the truth,' he replied coolly. 'I did it with my little
'And of course you must threaten to commit suicide if I don't
consent. That is only decent.'
'Women are such sticklers for routine,' he sighed. 'They have no
originality. They have a passion for commonplace, and in moments of
emotion they fly with unerring instinct into the flamboyance of
'I like to hear you use long words. It makes me feel so grown up.'
'By the way, how old are you?' he asked suddenly.
'Twenty-nine,' she answered promptly.
'Nonsense. There is no such age.'
'Pardon me,' she protested gravely. 'Upper parlour maids are always
twenty-nine. But I deplore your tendency to digress.'
'Am I digressing? I'm so sorry. What were we talking about?'
Julia giggled. She did not know where the cab was going, and she
certainly did not care. She was thoroughly enjoying herself.
'You were taking advantage of my vast experience in such matters to
learn how a man proposes to an eligible widow of great personal
'Your advice can't be very valuable, since you always refused the
'I didn't indeed,' she replied promptly. 'I made a point of
accepting them all.'
'That at all events is encouraging.'
'Of course you may do it in your own way if you choose. But I must
have a proposal in due form.'
'My intelligence may be limited, but it seems to me that only four
words are needed.' He counted them out deliberately on his fingers.
'That is both clear and simple.' She pressed back the thumb which he
had left untouched. 'I reply in one: no.'
He looked at her with every sign of astonishment.
'I beg your pardon?' he said.
'You heard quite correctly,' she smiled. 'The reply is in the
She resisted a mad, but inconvenient, temptation to dance a
breakdown on the floor of the hansom.
'You're joking,' said Dick calmly. 'You're certainly joking.'
'I will be a sister to you.'
Dick reflected for a moment, and he rubbed his chin.
'The chance will never recur, you know,' he remarked.
'I will bear the threat that is implied in that with fortitude.'
He turned round and taking her hand, raised it to his lips.
'I thank you from the bottom of my heart,' he said earnestly.
This puzzled her.
'The man's mad,' she murmured to a constable who stood on the curb
as they passed. 'The man's nothing short of a raving lunatic.'
'It is one of my most cherished convictions that a really nice woman
is never so cruel as to marry a man she cares for. You have given me
proof of esteem which I promise I will never forget.'
Mrs. Crowley could not help laughing.
'You're much too flippant to marry anybody, and you're perfectly
odious into the bargain.'
'I will be a brother to you, Mrs. Crowley.'
He opened the trap and told the cabman to drive back to Victoria
Street, but at Hyde Park Corner he suggested that Mrs. Crowley might
drop him so that he could take a stroll in the park. When he got out
and closed the doors behind him, Julia leaned forward.
'Would you like some letters of introduction before you go?' she
'It is evident that unless your soul is dead to all the finer
feelings, you will seek to assuage your sorrow by shooting grizzlies in
the Rocky Mountains. I thought a few letters to my friends in New York
might be useful to you.'
'I'm sure that's very considerate of you, but I fancy it's scarcely
the proper season. I was thinking of a week in Paris.'
'Then pray send me a dozen pairs of black suède gloves,' she
retorted coolly. 'Sixes.'
'Is that your last word?' he asked lightly.
'I thought you might mean six and a half.'
He lifted his hat and was gone.
A few days later, Lady Kelsey and Lucy having gone on the river,
Julia Crowley went to Court Leys. When she came down to breakfast the
day after her arrival, she found waiting for her six pairs of long
suède gloves. She examined their size and their quality, smiled with
amusement, and felt a little annoyed. She really had every intention of
accepting Dick when he proposed to her, and she did not in the least
know why she had refused him. The conversation had carried her away in
her own despite. She loved a repartee and notwithstanding the
consequences could never resist making any that occurred to her. It was
very stupid of Dick to take her so seriously, and she was inclined to
be cross with him. Of course he had only gone to Paris to tease, and in
a week he would be back again. She knew that he was just as much in
love with her as she was with him, and it was absurd of him to put on
airs. She awaited the post each day impatiently, for she constantly
expected a letter from him to say he was coming down to luncheon. She
made up her mind about the menu of the pleasant little meal she
would set before him, and in imagination rehearsed the scene in which
she would at length succumb to his passionate entreaties. It was
evidently discreet not to surrender with unbecoming eagerness. But no
letter came. A week went by. She began to think that Dick had no sense
of humour. A second week passed, and then a third. Perhaps it was
because she had nothing to do that Master Dick absorbed a quite
unmerited degree of her attention. It was very inconvenient and very
absurd. She tormented herself with all sorts of reasons to explain his
absence, and once or twice, like the spoiled child she was, she cried.
But Mrs. Crowley was a sensible woman and soon made up her mind that if
she could not live without the manthough heaven only knew why she
wanted himshe had better take steps to secure his presence. It was
the end of August now, and she was bored and lonely. She sent him a
very untruthful telegram.
I have to be in town on Friday to see my lawyer. May I come
His answer did not arrive for twenty-four hours, and then it was
addressed from Homburg.
Regret immensely, but shall be away.
Julia stamped her tiny foot with indignation and laughed with
amusement at her own anger. It was monstrous that while she was leading
the dullest existence imaginable, he should be enjoying the gaieties of
a fashionable watering-place. She telegraphed once more.
Thanks very much. Shall expect to see you on Friday.
She travelled up to town on the appointed day and went to her house
in Norfolk Street to see that the journey had left no traces on her
appearance. Mayfair seemed quite deserted, and half the windows were
covered with newspapers to keep out the dust. It was very hot, and the
sun beat down from a cloudless sky. The pavements were white and
dazzling. Julia realised with pleasure that she was the only cool
person in London, and the lassitude she saw in the passers-by added to
her own self-satisfaction. The month at the seaside had given an added
freshness to her perfection, and her charming gown had a breezy
lightness that must be very grateful to a gentleman of forty lately
returned from foreign parts. As she looked at herself in the glass,
Mrs. Crowley reflected that she did not know anyone who had a figure
half so good as hers.
When she drove up to Dick's house, she noticed that there were fresh
flowers in the window boxes, and when she was shown into his
drawing-room, the first thing that struck her was the scent of red
roses which were in masses everywhere. The blinds were down, and after
the baking street the dark coolness of the room was very pleasant. The
tea was on a little table, waiting to be poured out. Dick of course was
there to receive her. As she shook hands with him, she smothered a
little titter of wild excitement.
'So you've come back,' she said.
'I was just passing through town,' he answered, with an airy wave of
'From where to where?'
'From Homburg to the Italian Lakes.'
'Rather out of your way, isn't it?' she smiled.
'Not at all,' he replied. 'If I were going from Manchester to
Liverpool, I should break the journey in London. That's one of my
Julia laughed gaily, and as they both made a capital tea, they
talked of all manner of trivial things. They were absurdly glad to see
one another again, and each was ready to be amused at everything the
other said. But the conversation would have been unintelligible to a
listener, since they mostly talked together, and every now and then
made a little scene when one insisted that the other should listen to
what he was saying.
Suddenly Mrs. Crowley threw up her hands with a gesture of dismay.
'Oh, how stupid of me!' she cried. 'I quite forgot to tell you why I
telegraphed to you the other day.'
'I know,' he retorted.
'Do you? Why?'
'Because you're the most disgraceful flirt I ever saw in my life,'
he answered promptly.
She opened her eyes wide with a very good imitation of complete
'My dear Mr. Lomas, have you never contemplated yourself in a
'You're not a bit repentant of the havoc you have wrought,' he cried
She did not answer, but looked at him with a smile so entirely
delightful that he cried out irritably:
'I wish you wouldn't look like that.'
'How am I looking?' she smiled.
'To my innocent and inexperienced gaze very much as if you wanted to
'You brute!' she cried. 'I'll never speak to you again.'
'Why do you make such rash statements? You know you couldn't hold
you tongue for two minutes together.'
'What a libel! I never can get a word in edgeways when I'm with
you,' she returned. 'You're such a chatterbox.'
'I don't know why you put on that aggrieved air. You seem to forget
that it's I who ought to be furious.'
'On the contrary, you behaved very unkindly to me a month ago, and
I'm only here to-day because I have a Christian disposition.'
'You forget that for the last four weeks I've been laboriously
piecing together the fragments of a broken heart,' he answered.
'It was entirely your fault,' she laughed. 'If you hadn't been so
certain I was going to accept you, I should never have refused. I
couldn't resist the temptation of saying no, just to see how you took
'I flatter myself I took it very well.'
'You didn't,' she answered. 'You showed an entire lack of humour.
You might have known that a nice woman doesn't accept a man the first
time he asks her. It was very silly of you to go to Homburg as if you
didn't care. How was I to know that you meant to wait a month before
asking me again?'
He looked at her for a moment calmly.
'I haven't the least intention of asking you again.'
But it required much more than this to put Julia Crowley out of
'Then why on earth did you invite me to tea?'
'May I respectfully remind you that you invited yourself?' he
'That's just like a man. He will go into irrelevant details,' she
'Now, don't be cross,' he smiled.
'I shall be cross if I want to,' she exclaimed, with a little stamp
of her foot. 'You're not being at all nice to me.'
He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, and his eyes twinkled.
'Do you know what I'd do if I were you?'
'Well, I can't suffer the humiliation of another refusal. Why
don't you propose to me?'
'What cheek!' she cried.
Their eyes met, and she smiled.
'What will you say if I do?'
'That entirely depends on how you do it.'
'I don't know how,' she murmured plaintively.
'Yes, you do,' he insisted. 'You gave me an admirable lesson. First
you go on your bended knees, and then you say you're quite unworthy of
'You are the most spiteful creature I've ever known,' she laughed.
'You're just the sort of man who'd beat his wife.'
'Every Saturday night regularly,' he agreed.
She hesitated, looking at him.
'Well?' he said.
'I shan't,' she answered.
'Then I shall continue to be a brother to you.'
She got up and curtsied.
'Mr. Lomas, I am a widow, twenty-nine years of age, and extremely
eligible. My maid is a treasure, and my dressmaker is charming. I'm
clever enough to laugh at your jokes and not so learned as to know
where they come from.'
'Really you're very long winded. I said it all in four words.'
'You evidently put it too briefly, since you were refused,' she
She stretched out her hands, and he took them.
'I think I'll do it by post,' she said. 'It'll sound so much more
'You'd better get it over now.'
'You know, I don't really want to marry you a bit. I'm only doing it
to please you.'
'I admire your unselfishness.'
'You will say yes if I ask you?'
'I refuse to commit myself.'
'Obstinate beast,' she cried.
She curtsied once more, as well as she could since he was firmly
holding her hands.
'Sir, I have the honour to demand your hand in marriage.'
He bowed elaborately.
'Madam, I have much pleasure in acceding to your request.'
Then he drew her towards him and put his arms around her.
'I never saw anyone make such a fuss about so insignificant a detail
as marriage,' she murmured.
'You have the softest lips I ever kissed,' he said.
'I wish to goodness you'd be serious,' she laughed. 'I've got
something very important to say to you.'
'You're not going to tell me the story of your past life,' he cried.
'No, I was thinking of my engagement ring. I make a point of having
a cabochon emerald: I collect them.'
'No sooner said than done,' he cried.
He took a ring from his pocket and slipped it on her finger. She
looked from it to him.
'You see, I know that you made a specialty of emeralds.'
'Then you meant to ask me all the time?'
'I confess it to my shame: I did,' he laughed.
'Oh, I wish I'd known that before.'
'What would you have done?'
'I'd have refused you again, you silly.'
* * *
Dick Lomas and Mrs. Crowley said nothing about their engagement to
anyone, since it seemed to both that the marriage of a middle-aged
gentleman and a widow of uncertain years could concern no one but
themselves. The ceremony was duly performed in a deserted church on a
warm September day, when there was not a soul in London. Mrs. Crowley
was given away by her solicitor, and the verger signed the book. The
happy pair went to Court Leys for a fortnight's honeymoon and at the
beginning of October returned to London; they made up their minds that
they would go to America later in the autumn.
'I want to show you off to all my friends in New York,' said Julia,
'Do you think they'll like me?' asked Dick.
'Not at all. They'll say: That silly little fool Julia Crowley has
married another beastly Britisher.'
'That is more alliterative than polite,' he retorted.
'On the other hand my friends and relations are already saying: What
on earth has poor Dick Lomas married an American for? We always thought
he was very well-to-do.'
They went into roars of laughter, for they were in that state of
happiness when the whole world seemed the best of jokes, and they spent
their days in laughing at one another and at things in general. Life
was a pleasant thing, and they could not imagine why others should not
take it as easily as themselves.
They had engaged rooms at the Carlton while they were
furnishing a new house. Each had one already, but neither would live in
the other's, and so it had seemed necessary to look out for a third.
Julia vowed that there was an air of bachelordom about Dick's house
which made it impossible for a married woman to inhabit; and Dick, on
his side, refused to move into Julia's establishment in Norfolk Street,
since it gave him the sensation of being a fortune-hunter living on his
wife's income. Besides, a new house gave an opportunity for
extravagance which delighted both of them since they realised perfectly
that the only advantage of having plenty of money was to spend it in
unnecessary ways. They were a pair of light-hearted children, who
refused firmly to consider the fact that they were more than
Lady Kelsey and Lucy had gone from the River to Spa, for the elder
woman's health, and on their return Julia went to see them in order to
receive their congratulations and display her extreme happiness. She
came back thoughtfully. When she sat down to luncheon with Dick in
their sitting-room at the hotel, he saw that she was disturbed. He
asked her what was the matter.
'Lucy has broken off her engagement with Robert Boulger,' she said.
'That young woman seems to make a speciality of breaking her
engagements,' he answered drily.
'I'm afraid she's still in love with Alec MacKenzie.'
'Then why on earth did she accept Bobbie?'
'My dear boy, she only took him in a fit of temper. When that had
cooled down she very wisely thought better of it.'
'I can never sufficiently admire the reasonableness of your sex,'
said Dick, ironically.
Julia shrugged her pretty shoulders.
'Half the women I know merely married their husbands to spite
somebody else. I assure you it's one of the commonest causes of
'Then heaven save me from matrimony,' cried Dick.
'It hasn't,' she laughed.
But immediately she grew serious once more.
'Mr. MacKenzie was in Brussels while they were in Spa.'
'I had a letter from him this morning.'
'Lady Kelsey says that according to the papers he's going to Africa
again. I think it's that which has upset Lucy. They made a great fuss
about him in Brussels.'
'Yes, he tells me that everything is fixed up, and he proposes to
start quite shortly. He's going to do some work in the Congo Free
State. They want to find a new waterway, and the King of the Belgians
has given him a free hand.'
'I suppose the King of the Belgians looks upon one atrocity more or
less with equanimity,' said Julia.
They were silent for a minute or two, while each was occupied with
his own thoughts.
'You saw him after Lucy broke off the engagement,' said Julia,
presently. 'Was he very wretched?'
'He never said a word. I wanted to comfort him, but he never gave me
a chance. He never even mentioned Lucy's name.'
'Did he seem unhappy?'
'No. He was just the same as ever, impassive and collected.'
'Really, he's inhuman,' exclaimed Julia impatiently.
'He's an anomaly in this juvenile century,' Dick agreed. 'He's an
ancient Roman who buys his clothes in Savile Row.'
'Then he's very much in the way in England, and it's much better
that he should go back to Africa.'
'I suppose it is. Here he reminds one of an eagle caged with a
colony of canaries.'
Julia looked at her husband reflectively.
'I think you're the only friend who has stuck to him,' she said.
'I wouldn't put it in that way. After all, I'm the only friend he
ever had. It was not unnatural that a number of acquaintances should
drop him when he got into hot water.'
'It must have been a great help to find someone who believed in him
'I'm afraid it sounds very immoral, but whatever his crimes were, I
should never like Alec less. You see, he's been so awfully good and
kind to me, I can look on with fortitude while he plays football with
the Ten Commandments.'
Julia's emotions were always sudden, and the tears came to her eyes
as she answered.
'I'm really beginning to think you a perfect angel, Dick.'
'Don't say that,' he retorted quickly. 'It makes me feel so
middle-aged. I'd much sooner be a young sinner than an elderly cherub.'
Smiling, she stretched out her hand, and he held it for a moment.
'You know, though I can't help liking you, I don't in the least
approve of you.'
'Good heavens, why not?' he cried.
'Well, I was brought up to believe that a man should work, and
you're disgracefully idle.'
'Good heavens, to marry an American wife is the most arduous
profession in the world,' he cried. 'One has to combine the energy of
the Universal Provider with the patience of an ambassador at the
'You foolish creature,' she laughed.
But her thoughts immediately reverted to Lucy. Her pallid,
melancholy face still lingered in Julia's memory, and her heart was
touched by the hopeless woe that dwelt in her beautiful eyes.
'I suppose there's no doubt that those stories about Alec MacKenzie
were true?' she said, thoughtfully.
Dick gave her a quick glance. He wondered what was in her mind.
'I'll tell you what I think,' he said. 'Anyone who knows Alec as
well as I do must be convinced that he did nothing from motives that
were mean and paltry. To accuse him of cowardice is absurdhe's the
bravest man I've ever knownand it's equally absurd to accuse him of
weakness. But what I do think is this: Alec is not the man to stick at
half measures, and he's taken desperately to heart the maxim which says
that he who desires an end desires the means also. I think he might be
very ruthless, and on occasion he might be stern to the verge of
brutality. Reading between the lines of those letters that Macinnery
sent to the Daily Mail, I have wondered if Alec, finding that
someone must be sacrificed, didn't deliberately choose George Allerton
because he was the least useful to him and could be best spared. Even
in small undertakings like that there must be some men who are only
food for powder. If Alec had found George worthless to him, no
consideration for Lucy would have prevented him from sacrificing him.'
'If that were so why didn't he say it outright?'
'Do you think it would have made things any better? The British
public is sentimental; they will not understand that in warfare it is
necessary sometimes to be inhuman. And how would it have served him
with Lucy if he had confessed that he had used George callously as a
pawn in his game that must be sacrificed to win some greater
'It's all very horrible,' shuddered Julia.
'And so far as the public goes, events have shown that he was right
to keep silence. The agitation against him died down for want of
matter, and though he is vaguely discredited, nothing is proved
definitely against him. Public opinion is very fickle, and already
people are beginning to forget, and as they forget they will think they
have misjudged him. When it is announced that he has given his services
to the King of the Belgians, ten to one there will be a reaction in his
They got up from luncheon, and coffee was served to them. They lit
their cigarettes. For some time they were silent.
'Lucy wants to see him before he goes,' said Julia suddenly.
Dick looked at her and gave an impatient shrug of the shoulders.
'I suppose she wants to indulge a truly feminine passion for making
scenes. She's made Alec quite wretched enough already.'
'Don't be unkind to her, Dick,' said Julia, tears welling up in her
bright eyes. 'You don't know how desperately unhappy she is. My heart
bled to see her this morning.'
'Darling, I'll do whatever you want me to,' he said, leaning over
Julia's sense of the ridiculous was always next door to her sense of
'I don't know why you should kiss me because Lucy's utterly
miserable,' she said, with a little laugh.
And then, gravely, as she nestled in his encircling arm:
'Will you try and manage it? She hesitates to write to him.'
'I'm not sure if I had not better leave you to impart the pleasing
information yourself,' he replied. 'I've asked Alec to come here this
'You're a selfish beast,' she answered. 'But in that case you must
leave me alone with him, because I shall probably weep gallons of
tears, and you'll only snigger at me.'
'Bless your little heart! Let us put handkerchiefs in every
'On occasions like this I carry a bagful about with me.'
In the afternoon Alec arrived. Julia's tender heart was touched by
the change wrought in him during the three months of his absence from
town. At the first glance there was little difference in him. He was
still cool and collected, with that air of expecting people to do his
bidding which had always impressed her; and there was still about him a
sensation of strength, which was very comfortable to weaker vessels.
But her sharp eyes saw that he held himself together by an effort of
will, and it was singularly painful to the onlooker. The strain had
told on him, and there was in his haggard eyes, in the deliberate
firmness of his mouth, a tension which suggested that he was almost at
the end of his tether. He was sterner than before and more silent.
Julia could see how deeply he had suffered, and his suffering had been
greater because of his determination to conquer it at all costs. She
longed to go to him and beg him not to be too hard upon himself. Things
would have gone more easily with him, if he had allowed himself a
little weakness. But he was softer too, and she no longer felt the
slight awe which to her till then had often made intercourse difficult.
His first words were full of an unexpected kindness.
'I'm so glad to be able to congratulate you,' he said, holding her
hand and smiling with that rare, sweet smile of his. 'I was a little
unhappy at leaving Dick; but now I leave him in your hands I'm
perfectly content. He's the dearest, kindest old chap I've ever known.'
'Shut up, Alec,' cried Dick promptly. 'Don't play the heavy father,
or Julia will burst into tears. She loves having a good cry.'
But Alec ignored the interruption.
'He'll be an admirable husband because he's been an admirable
For the first time Julia thought Alec altogether wise and charming.
'I know he will,' she answered happily. 'And I'm only prevented from
saying all I think of him by the fear that he'll become perfectly
'Spare me the chaste blushes which mantle my youthful brow, and pour
out the tea, Julia,' said Dick.
She laughed and proceeded to do as he requested.
'And are you really starting for Africa so soon?' Julia asked, when
they were settled around the tea-table.
Alec threw back his head, and his face lit up.
'I am. Everything is fixed up; the bother of collecting supplies and
getting porters has been taken off my shoulders, and all I have to do
is to get along as quickly as possible.'
'I wish to goodness you'd give up these horrible explorations,'
cried Dick. 'They make the rest of us feel so abominably
'But they're the very breath of my nostrils,' answered Alec. 'You
don't know the exhilaration of the daily dangers, the joy of treading
where only the wild beasts have trodden before.'
'I freely confess that I don't want to,' said Dick.
Alec sprang up and stretched his legs. As he spoke all signs of
lassitude disappeared, and he was seized with an excitement that was
rarely seen in him.
'Already I can hardly bear my impatience when I think of the
boundless country and the enchanting freedom. Here one grows so small,
so mean; but in Africa everything is built to a nobler standard. There
the man is really a man. There one knows what are will and strength and
courage. You don't know what it is to stand on the edge of some great
plain and breathe the pure keen air after the terrors of the forest.'
'The boundless plain of Hyde Park is enough for me,' said Dick. 'And
the aspect of Piccadilly on a fine day in June gives me quite as many
emotions as I want.'
But Julia was moved by Alec's unaccustomed rhetoric, and she looked
at him earnestly.
'But what will you gain by it now that your work is overby all the
danger and all the hardships?'
He turned his dark, solemn eyes upon her.
'Nothing. I want to gain nothing. Perhaps I shall discover some new
species of antelope or some unknown plant. I may be fortunate enough to
find a new waterway. That is all the reward I want. I love the sense of
power and the mastery. What do you think I care for the tinsel rewards
of kings and peoples!'
'I always said you were melodramatic,' said Dick. 'I never heard
anything so transpontine.'
'And the end of it?' asked Julia, almost in a whisper. 'What will be
A faint smile played for an instant upon Alec's lips. He shrugged
'The end is death. But I shall die standing up. I shall go the last
journey as I have gone every other.'
He stopped, for he would not add the last two words. Julia said them
'For all the world like the wicked baronet,' cried the mocking Dick.
'Once aboard the lugger, and the gurl is mine.'
Julia reflected for a little while. She did not want to resist the
admiration with which Alec filled her. But she shuddered. He did not
seem to fit in with the generality of men.
'Don't you want people to remember you?' she asked.
'Perhaps they will,' he answered slowly. 'Perhaps in a hundred
years, in some flourishing town where I discovered nothing but
wilderness, they will commission a second-rate sculptor to make a fancy
statue of me. And I shall stand in front of the Stock Exchange, a
convenient perch for birds, to look eternally upon the shabby deeds of
He gave a short, abrupt laugh, and his words were followed by
silence. Julia gave Dick a glance which he took to be a signal that she
wished to be alone with Alec.
'Forgive me if I leave you for one minute,' he said.
He got up and left the room. The silence still continued, and Alec
seemed immersed in thought. At last Julia answered him.
'And is that really all? I can't help thinking that at the bottom of
your heart there is something that you've never told to a living soul.'
He looked at her, and their eyes met. He felt suddenly her
extraordinary sympathy and her passionate desire to help him. And as
though the bonds of the flesh were loosened, it seemed to him that
their very souls faced one another. The reserve which was his dearest
habit fell away from him, and he felt an urgent desire to say that
which a curious delicacy had prevented him from every betraying to
'I daresay I shall never see you again, and perhaps it doesn't much
matter what I say to you. You'll think me very silly, but I'm afraid
I'm ratherpatriotic. It's only we who live away from England who
really love it. I'm so proud of my country, and I wanted so much to do
something for it. Often in Africa I've thought of this dear England and
longed not to die till I had done my work.'
His voice shook a little, and he paused. It seemed to Julia that she
saw the man for the first time, and she wished passionately that Lucy
could hear those words of his which he spoke so shyly, and yet with
such a passionate earnestness.
'Behind all the soldiers and the statesmen whose fame is
imperishable there is a long line of men who've built up the empire
piece by piece. Their names are forgotten, and only students know their
history, but each one of them gave a province to his country. And I too
have my place among them. Year after year I toiled, night and day, and
at last I was able to hand over to the commissioner a broad tract of
land, rich and fertile. After my death England will forget my faults
and my mistakes; and I care nothing for the flouts and gibes with which
she has repaid all my pain, for I have added another fair jewel to her
crown. I don't want rewards; I only want the honour of serving this
dear land of ours.'
Julia went up to him and laid her hand gently on his arm.
'Why is it, when you're so nice really, that you do all you can to
make people think you utterly horrid?'
'Don't laugh at me because you've found out that at bottom I'm
nothing more than a sentimental old woman.'
'I don't want to laugh at you. But if I didn't think it would
embarrass you so dreadfully, I should certainly kiss you.'
He smiled and lifting her hand to his lips, lightly kissed it.
'I shall begin to think I'm a very wonderful woman if I've taught
you to do such pretty things as that.'
She made him sit down, and then she sat by his side.
'I'm very glad you came to-day. I wanted to talk to you. Will you be
very angry if I say something to you?'
'I don't think so,' he smiled.
'I want to speak to you about Lucy.'
He drew himself suddenly together, and the expansion of his mood
disappeared. He was once more the cold, reserved man of their habitual
'I'd rather you didn't,' he said briefly.
But Julia was not to be so easily put off.
'What would you do if she came here to-day?' she asked.
He turned round and looked at her sharply, then answered with great
'I have always lived in polite society. I should never dream of
outraging its conventions. If Lucy happened to come, you may be sure
that I should be scrupulously polite.'
'Is that all?' she cried.
He did not answer, and into his face came a wild fierceness that
appalled her. She saw the effort he was making at self-control. She
wished with all her heart that he would be less brave.
'I think you might not be so hard if you knew how desperately Lucy
He looked at her again, and his eyes were filled with bitterness,
with angry passion at the injustice of fate. Did she think that he had
not suffered? Because he did not whine his misery to all and sundry,
did she think he did not care? He sprang up and walked to the other end
of the room. He did not want that woman, for all her kindness, to see
his face. He was not the man to fall in and out of love with every
pretty girl he met. All his life he had kept an ideal before his eyes.
He turned to Julia savagely.
'You don't know what it meant to me to fall in love. I felt that I
had lived all my life in a prison, and at last Lucy came and took me by
the hand, and led me out. And for the first time I breathed the free
air of heaven.'
He stopped abruptly, clenching his jaws. He would not tell her how
bitterly he had suffered for it, he would not tell her of his angry
rebelliousness because all that pain should have come to him. He wanted
nobody to know the depths of his agony and of his despair. But he would
not give way. He felt that, if he did not keep a tight hold on himself,
he would break down and shake with passionate sobbing. He felt a sudden
flash of hatred for Julia because she sat there and watched his
weakness. But as though she saw at what a crisis of emotion he was,
Julia turned her eyes from him and looked down at the ground. She did
not speak. She felt the effort he was making to master himself, and she
was infinitely disturbed. She wanted to go to him and comfort him, but
she knew he would repel her. He wanted to fight his battle unaided.
At last he conquered, but when he spoke again, his voice was
singularly broken. It was hoarse and low.
'My love was the last human weakness I had. It was right that I
should drink that bitter cup. And I've drunk its very dregs. I should
have known that I wasn't meant for happiness and a life of ease. I have
other work to do in the world.'
He paused for a moment, and his calmness was restored to him.
'And now that I've overcome this last temptation I am ready to do
'But haven't you any pity for yourself? Haven't you any thought for
'Must I tell you, too, that everything I did was for Lucy's sake?
And still I love her with all my heart and soul.'
There was no bitterness in his tone now; it was gentle and resigned.
He had, indeed, won the battle. Julia's eyes were filled with tears,
and she could not answer. He came forward and shook hands with her.
'You mustn't cry,' he said, smiling. 'You're one of those persons
whose part it is to bring sunshine into the lives of those with less
fortunate dispositions. You must always be happy and childlike.'
'I've got lots of handkerchiefs, thanks,' she sobbed, laughing the
'You must forget all the nonsense I've talked to you,' he said.
He smiled once more and was gone.
Dick was sitting in his bedroom, reading an evening paper, and she
flung herself sobbing into his arms.
'Oh, Dick, I've had such a lovely cry, and I'm so happy and so
utterly wretched. And I'm sure I shall have a red nose.'
'Darling, I've long discovered that you only weep because you're the
only person in the world to whom it's thoroughly becoming.'
'Don't be horrid and unsympathetic. I think Alec MacKenzie's a
perfect dear. I wanted to kiss him, only I was afraid it would frighten
him to death.'
'I'm glad you didn't. He would have thought you a forward hussy.'
'I wish I could have married him, too,' cried Julia, 'I'm sure he'd
make a nice husband.'
The days went by, spent by Alec in making necessary preparations for
his journey, spent by Lucy in sickening anxiety. The last two months
had been passed by her in a conflict of emotions. Love had planted
itself in her heart like a great forest tree, and none of the storms
that had assailed it seemed to have power to shake its stubborn roots.
Season, common decency, shame, had lost their power. She had prayed God
that a merciful death might free her from the dreadful uncertainty. She
was spiritless and cowed. She despised herself for her weakness. And
sometimes she rebelled against the fate that crushed her with such
misfortunes; she had tried to do her duty always, acting humbly
according to her lights, and yet everything she was concerned in
crumbled away to powder at her touch. She, too, began to think that she
was not meant for happiness. She knew that she ought to hate Alec, but
she could not. She knew that his action should fill her with nameless
horror, but against her will she could not believe that he was false
and wicked. One thing she was determined on, and that was to keep her
word to Robert Boulger; but he himself gave her back her freedom.
He came to her one day, and after a little casual conversation broke
suddenly into the middle of things.
'Lucy, I want to ask you to release me from my engagement to you,'
Her heart gave a great leap against her breast, and she began to
tremble. He went on.
'I'm ashamed to have to say it; I find that I don't love you enough
to marry you.'
She looked at him silently, and her eyes filled with tears. The
brutality with which he spoke was so unnatural that it betrayed the
mercifulness of his intention.
'If you think that, there is nothing more to be said,' she answered.
He gave her a look of such bitterness that she felt it impossible to
continue a pretence which deceived neither of them.
'I'm unworthy of your love,' she cried. 'I've made you desperately
'It doesn't matter about me,' he said. 'But there's no reason for
you to be wretched, too.'
'I'm willing to do whatever you wish, Bobbie.'
'I can't marry you simply because you're sorry for me. I thought I
could, butit's asking too much of you. We had better say no more
'I'm very sorry,' she whispered.
'You see, you're still in love with Alec MacKenzie.'
He said it, vainly longing for a denial; but he knew in his heart
that no denial would come.
'I always shall be, notwithstanding everything. I can't help
'No, it's fate.'
She sprang to her feet with vehement passion.
'Oh, Bobbie, don't you think there's some chance that everything may
He hesitated for a moment. It was very difficult to answer.
'It's only fair to tell you that now things have calmed down, there
are a great many people who don't believe Macinnery's story. It appears
that the man's a thorough blackguard, whom MacKenzie loaded with
'Do you still believe that Alec caused George's death?'
Lucy leaned back in her chair, resting her face on her hand. She
seemed to reflect deeply.
'And you?' said Bobbie.
She gave him a long, earnest look. The colour came to her cheeks.
'No,' she said firmly.
'Why not?' he asked.
'I have no reason except that I love him.'
'What are you going to do?'
'I don't know.'
Bobbie got up, kissed her gently, and went out. She did not see him
again, and in a day or two she heard that he had gone away.
* * *
Lucy made up her mind that she must see Alec before he went, but a
secret bashfulness prevented her from writing to him. She was afraid
that he would refuse, and she could not force herself upon him if she
knew definitely that he did not want to see her. But with all her heart
she wanted to ask his pardon. It would not be so hard to continue with
the dreary burden which was her life if she knew that he had a little
pity for her. He could not fail to forgive her when he saw how broken
But the days followed one another, and the date which Julia, radiant
with her own happiness, had given her as that of his departure, was
Julia, too, was exercised in mind. After her conversation with Alec
she could not ask him to see Lucy, for she knew what his answer would
be. No arguments, would move him. He did not want to give either Lucy
or himself the pain which he foresaw an interview would cause, and his
wounds were too newly-healed for him to run any risks. Julia resolved
to take the matter into her own hands. Alec was starting next day, and
he had promised to look in towards the evening to bid them good-bye.
Julia wrote a note to Lucy, asking her to come also.
When she told Dick, he was aghast.
'But it's a monstrous thing to do,' he cried. 'You can't entrap the
man in that way.'
'I know it's monstrous,' she answered. 'But that's the only
advantage of being an American in England, that one can do monstrous
things. You look upon us as first cousins to the red Indians, and you
expect anything from us. In America I have to mind my p's and q's. I
mayn't smoke in public, I shouldn't dream of lunching in a restaurant
alone with a man, and I'm the most conventional person in the most
conventional society in the world; but here, because the English are
under the delusion that New York society is free and easy, and that
American women have no restraint, I can kick over the traces, and no
one will think it even odd.'
'But, my dear, it's a mere matter of common decency.'
'There are times when common decency is out of place,' she replied.
'Alec will never forgive you.'
'I don't care. I think he ought to see Lucy, and since he'd refuse
if I asked him, I'm not going to give him the chance.'
'What will you do if he just bows and walks off?'
'I have his assurance that he'll behave like a civilised man,' she
'I wash my hands of it,' said Dick. 'I think it's perfectly
'I never said it wasn't,' she agreed. 'But you see, I'm only a poor,
weak woman, and I'm not supposed to have any sense of honour or
propriety. You must let me take what advantage I can of the
disabilities of the weaker sex.'
Dick smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
'Your blood be upon your own head,' he answered.
'If I perish, I perish.'
And so it came about that when Alec had been ten minutes in Julia's
cosy sitting-room, Lucy was announced. Julia went up to her, greeting
her effusively to cover the awkwardness of the moment. Alec grew very
pale, but made no sign that he was disconcerted. Only Dick was
troubled. He was obviously at a loss for words, and it was plain to see
that he was out of temper.
'I'm so glad you were able to come,' said Julia, in order to show
Alec that she had been expecting Lucy.
Lucy gave him a rapid glance, and the colour flew to her cheeks. He
was standing up and came forward with outstretched hand.
'How do you do?' he said. 'How is Lady Kelsey?'
'She's much better, thanks. We've been to Spa, you know, for her
Julia's heart beat quickly. She was much excited at this meeting;
and it seemed to her strangely romantic, a sign of the civilisation of
the times, that these two people with raging passions afire in their
hearts, should exchange the commonplaces of polite society, Alec,
having recovered from his momentary confusion was extremely urbane.
'Somebody told me you'd gone abroad,' he said. 'Was it you, Dick?
Dick is an admirable person, a sort of gazetteer for the world of
Dick fussily brought forward a chair for Lucy to sit in, and offered
to disembarrass her of the jacket she was wearing.
'You must make my excuses for not leaving a card on Lady Kelsey
before going away,' said Alec. 'I've been excessively busy.'
'It doesn't matter at all,' Lucy answered.
Julia glanced at him. She saw that he was determined to keep the
conversation on the indifferent level which it might have occupied if
Lucy had been nothing more than an acquaintance. There was a bantering
tone in his voice which was an effective barrier to all feeling. For a
moment she was nonplussed.
'London is an excellent place for showing one of how little
importance one is in the world. One makes a certain figure, and perhaps
is tempted to think oneself of some consequence. Then one goes away,
and on returning is surprised to discover that nobody has ever noticed
Lucy smiled faintly. Dick, recovering his good-humour, came at once
to the rescue.
'You're overmodest, Alec. If you weren't, you might be a great man.
Now, I make a point of telling my friends that I'm indispensable, and
they take me at my word.'
'You are a leaven of flippancy in the heavy dough of British
righteousness,' smiled Alec.
'It is true that the wise man only takes the unimportant quite
'For it is obvious that one needs more brains to do nothing with
elegance than to be a cabinet minister,' said Alec.
'You pay me a great compliment, Alec,' cried Dick. 'You repeat to my
very face one of my favourite observations.'
Julia looked at him steadily.
'Haven't I heard you say that only the impossible is worth doing?'
'Good heavens,' he cried. 'I must have been quoting the headings of
Lucy felt that she must say something. She had been watching Alec,
and her heart was nearly breaking. She turned to Dick.
'Are you going down to Southampton?' she asked.
'I am, indeed,' he answered. 'I shall hide my face on Alec's
shoulder and weep salt tears. It will be most affecting, because in
moments of emotion I always burst into epigram.'
Alec sprang to his feet. There was a bitterness in his face which
was in odd contrast with Dick's light words.
'I loathe all solemn leave-takings,' he said. 'I prefer to part from
people with a nod or a smile, whether I'm going for ever or for a day
'I've always assured you that you're a monster of inhumanity,' said
Mrs. Lomas, laughing difficultly.
He turned to her with a grim smile.
'Dick has been imploring me for twenty years to take life
flippantly. I have learnt at last that things are only grave if you
take them gravely, and that is desperately stupid. It's so hard to be
serious without being absurd. That is the chief power of women, that
life and death for them are merely occasions for a change of costume,
marriage a creation in white, and the worship of God an opportunity for
a Paris bonnet.'
Julia saw that he was determined to keep the conversation on a level
of amiable persiflage, and with her lively sense of the ridiculous she
could hardly repress a smile at the heaviness of his hand. Through all
that he said pierced the bitterness of his heart, and his every word
was contradicted by the vehemence of his tortured voice. She was
determined, too, that the interview which she had brought about,
uncomfortable as it had been to all of them, should not be brought to
nothing; characteristically she went straight to the point. She stood
'I'm sure you two have things to say to one another that you would
like to say alone.'
She saw Alec's eyes grow darker as he saw himself cornered, but she
'I have some letters to send off by the American mail, and I want
Dick to look over them to see that I've spelt honour with a u
and traveller with a double l.'
Neither Alec nor Lucy answered, and the determined little woman took
her husband firmly away. When they were left alone, neither spoke for a
'I've just realised that you didn't know I was coming to-day,' said
Lucy at last. 'I had no idea that you were being entrapped. I would
never have consented to that.'
'I'm very glad to have an opportunity of saying good-bye to you,' he
He preserved the conversational manner of polite society, and it
seemed to Lucy that she would never have the strength to get beyond.
'I'm so glad that Dick and Julia are happily married. They're very
much in love with one another.'
'I should have thought love was the worst possible foundation for
marriage,' he answered. 'Love creates illusions, and marriage destroys
them. True lovers should never marry.'
Again silence fell upon them, and again Lucy broke it.
'You're going away to-morrow?'
She looked at him, but he would not meet her eyes. He went over to
the window and looked out upon the busy street.
'Are you very glad to go?'
'You can't think what a joy it is to look upon London for the last
time. I long for the infinite surface of the clean and comfortable
Lucy gave a stifled sob. Alec started a little, but he did not move.
He still looked down upon the stream of cabs and 'buses, lit by the
misty autumn sun.
'Is there no one you regret to leave, Alec?'
It tore his heart that she should use his name. To hear her say it
had always been like a caress, and the word on her lips brought back
once more the whole agony of his distress; but he would not allow his
emotion to be seen. He turned round and faced her gravely. Now, for the
first time, he did not hesitate to look at her. And while he spoke the
words he set himself to speak, he noticed the exquisite oval of her
face, her charming, soft hair, and her unhappy eyes.
'You see, Dick is married, and so I'm much best out of the way. When
a man takes a wife, his bachelor friends are wise to depart from his
life, gracefully, before he shows them that he needs their company no
'And besides Dick?'
'I have few friends and no relations. I can't flatter myself that
anyone will be much distressed at my departure.'
'You must have no heart at all,' she said, in a low, hoarse voice.
He clenched his teeth. He was bitterly angry with Julia because she
had exposed him to this unspeakable torture.
'If I had I certainly should not bring it to the Carlton Hotel. That sentimental organ would be surely out of place in such a
Lucy sprang to her feet.
'Oh, why do you treat me as if we were strangers? How can you be so
'Flippancy is often the only refuge from an uncomfortable position,'
he answered gravely. 'We should really be much wiser merely to discuss
'Are you angry because I came?'
'That would be very ungracious on my part. Perhaps it wasn't quite
necessary that we should meet again.'
'You've been acting all the time I've been here. Do you think I
didn't see it was unreal, when you talked with such cynical
indifference? I know you well enough to tell when you're hiding your
real self behind a mask.'
'If that is so, the inference is obvious that I wish my real self to
'I would rather you cursed me than treat me with such cold
'I'm afraid you're rather difficult to please,' he said.
Lucy went up to him passionately, but he drew back so that she might
not touch him. Her outstretched hands dropped powerless to her side.
'Oh, you're of iron,' she cried pitifully. 'Alec, Alec, I couldn't
let you go without seeing you once more. Even you would be satisfied if
you knew what bitter anguish I've suffered. Even you would pity me. I
don't want you to think too badly of me.'
'Does it much matter what I think? We shall be five thousand miles
'You must utterly despise me.'
He shook his head. And now his manner lost that affected calmness
which had been so cruelly wounding. He could not now attempt to hide
the pain that he was suffering. His voice trembled a little with his
'I loved you far too much to do that. Believe me, with all my heart
I wish you well. Now that the first bitterness is past I see that you
did the only possible thing. I hope that you'll be very happy. Robert
Boulger is an excellent fellow, and I'm sure he'll make you a much
better husband than I should ever have done.'
Lucy blushed to the roots of her hair. Her heart sank, and she did
not seek to conceal her agitation.
'Did they tell you I was going to marry Robert Boulger?'
'Isn't it true?'
'Oh, how cruel of them, how frightfully cruel! I became engaged to
him, but he gave me my release. He knew that notwithstanding
everything, I loved you better than my life.'
Alec looked down, but he did not say anything. He did not move.
'Oh, Alec, don't be utterly pitiless,' she wailed. 'Don't leave me
without a single word of kindness.'
'Nothing is changed, Lucy. You sent me away because I caused your
She stood before him, her hands behind her back, and they looked
into one another's eyes. Her words were steady and quiet. It seemed to
give her an infinite relief to say them.
'I hated you then, and yet I couldn't crush the love that was in my
heart. And it's because I was frightened of myself that I told Bobbie
I'd marry him. But I couldn't. I was horrified because I cared for you
still. It seemed such odious treachery to George, and yet love burnt up
my heart. I used to try and drive you away from my thoughts, but every
word you had ever said came back to me. Don't you remember, you told me
that everything you did was for my sake? Those words hammered away on
my heart as though it were an anvil. I struggled not to believe them, I
said to myself that you had sacrificed George, coldly, callously,
prudently, but my love told me it wasn't true. Your whole life stood on
one side and only this hateful story on the other. You couldn't have
grown into a different man in one single instant. I've learnt to know
you better during these three months of utter misery, and I'm ashamed
of what I did.'
'I came here to-day to tell you that I don't understand the reason
of what you did; but I don't want to understand. I believe in you now
with all my strength. I believe in you as better women than I believe
in God. I know that whatever you did was right and justbecause you
Alec looked at her for a moment Then he held out his hand.
'Thank God,' he said. 'I'm so grateful to you.'
'Have you nothing more to say to me than that?'
'You see, its come too late. Nothing much matters now, for to-morrow
I go away for ever.'
'But you'll come back.'
He gave a short, scornful laugh.
'They were so glad to give me that job on the Congo because no one
else would take it. I'm going to a part of Africa from which Europeans
'Oh, that's too horrible,' she cried. 'Don't go, dearest; I can't
'I must now. Everything is settled, and there can be no drawing
She let go hopelessly of his hand.
'Don't you care for me any more?' she whispered.
He looked at her, but he did not answer. She turned away, and
sinking into a chair, began to cry.
'Don't, Lucy,' he said, his voice breaking suddenly. 'Don't make it
'Oh, Alec, Alec, don't you see how much I love you.'
He leaned over her and gently stroked her hair.
'Be brave, darling,' he whispered.
She looked up passionately, seizing both his hands.
'I can't live without you. I've suffered too much. If you cared for
me at all, you'd stay.'
'Though I love you with all my soul, I can't do otherwise now than
'Then take me with you,' she cried eagerly. 'Let me come too.'
'You don't know what I can do. With you to help me I can be very
brave. Let me come, Alec.'
'It's impossible. You don't know what you ask.'
'Then let me wait for you. Let me wait till you come back.'
'And if I never come back?'
'I will wait for you still.'
He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes, as
though he were striving to see into the depths of her soul. She felt
very weak. She could scarcely see him through her tears, but she tried
to smile. Then without a word he slipped his arms around her. Sobbing
in the ecstasy of her happiness, she let her head fall on his shoulder.
'You will have the courage to wait?' he said.
'I know you love me, and I trust you.'
'Then have no fear; I will come back. My journey was only dangerous
because I wanted to die. I want to live now, and I shall live.'
'Oh, Alec, Alec, I'm so glad you love me.'
Outside in the street the bells of the motor 'buses tinkled noisily,
and there was an incessant roar of the traffic that rumbled heavily
over the wooden pavements. There was a clatter of horses' hoofs, and
the blowing of horns; the electric broughams whizzed past with an odd,