BY LESLIE MOORE
AUTHOR OF "THE PEACOCK FEATHER," "THE JESTER," "THE WISER FOLLY," ETC.
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS NEW YORK AND LONDON The Knickerbocker Press 1917
Copyright, 1917 by LESLIE MOORE
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
To MRS. BARTON
CHAPTER PAGE Prologue 1 I. The Letter 17 II. Memories 24 III. Quod Scriptum est 31 IV. The Lady of the Blue Book 38 V. A Friendship 44 VI. At Teneriffe 52 VII. England 64 VIII. The Amazing Conditions 70 IX. The Decision 79 X. An English Cottage 86 XI. Doubts 98 XII. Concerning Michael Field 102 XIII. A Discovery 109 XIV. Honor Vincit 117 XV. In the Garden 123 XVI. A Meeting 132 XVII. At the Manor House 139 XVIII. A Dream and Other Things 149 XIX. Trix on the Scene 161 XX. Moonlight and Theories 168 XXI. On the Moorland 183 XXII. An Old Man in a Library 192 XXIII. Antony Finds a Glove 201 XXIV. An Interest in Life 206 XXV. Prickles 212 XXVI. An Offer and a Refusal 227 XXVII. Letters and Mrs. Arbuthnot 237 XXVIII. For the Day Alone 256 XXIX. In the Church Porch 260 XXX. A Question of Importance 277 XXXI. Midnight Reflections 284 XXXII. Sunlight and Happiness 290 XXXIII. Trix Seeks Advice 294 XXXIV. An Amazing Suggestion 302 XXXV. Trix Triumphant 312 XXXVI. An Old Man Tells his Story 319 XXXVII. The Importance of Trifles 330 XXXVIII. A Footstep on the Path 334 XXXIX. On the Old Foundation 341 Epilogue 347
March had come in like a lion, raging, turbulent. Throughout the day the wind had torn spitefully at the yet bare branches of the great elms in the park; it had rushed in insensate fury round the walls of the big grey house; it had driven the rain lashing against the windows. It had sent the few remaining leaves of the old year scudding up the drive; it had littered the lawns with fragments of broken twigs; it had beaten yellow and purple crocuses prostrate to the brown earth.
Against the distant rocky coast the sea had boomed like the muffled thunder of guns; it had flung itself upon the beach, dragging the stones back with it in each receding wave, their grinding adding to the crash of the waters. Nature had been in her wildest mood, a thing of mad fury.
With sundown a calm had fallen. The wind, tired of its onslaught, had sunk suddenly to rest. Only the sea beat and moaned sullenly against the cliffs, as if unwilling to subdue its anger. Yet, for all that, a note of fatigue had entered its voice.
* * * * *
An old man was sitting in the library of the big grey house. A shaded reading lamp stood on a small table near his elbow. The light was thrown upon an open book lying near it, and on the carved arms of the oak chair in which the man was sitting. It shone clearly on his bloodless old hands, on his parchment-like face, and white hair. A log fire was burning in a great open hearth on his right. For the rest, the room was a place of shadows, deepening to gloom in the distant corners, a gloom emphasized by the one small circle of brilliant light, and the red glow of the fire. Book-cases reached from floor to ceiling the whole length of two walls, and between the three thickly curtained windows of the third. In the fourth wall were the fireplace and the door.
There was no sound to break the silence. The figure in the oak chair sat motionless. He might have been carved out of stone, for any sign of life he gave. He looked like stone,—white and black marble very finely sculptured,—white marble in head and hands, black marble in the piercing eyes, the long satin dressing-gown, the oak of the big chair. Even his eyes seemed stone-like, motionless, and fixed thoughtfully on space.
To those perceptive of "atmosphere" there is a subtle difference in silence. There is the silence of woods, the silence of plains, the silence of death, the silence of sleep, and the silence of wakefulness. This silence was the last named. It was a silence alert, alive, yet very still.
A slight movement in the room, so slight as to be almost imperceptible, roused him to the present. Life sprang to his eyes, puzzled, questioning; his body motionless, they turned towards the middle window of the three, from whence the movement appeared to have come. It was not repeated. The old utter silence lay upon the place; yet Nicholas Danver kept his eyes upon the curtain.
The minutes passed. Then once more came that almost imperceptible movement.
Nicholas Danver's well-bred old voice broke the silence.
"Why not come into the room?" it suggested quietly. There was a gleam of ironical humour in his eyes.
The curtains swung apart, and a man came from between them. He stood blinking towards the light.
"How did you know I was there, sir?" came the gruff inquiry.
"I didn't know," said Nicholas, accurately truthful. "I merely guessed."
There was a pause.
"Well?" said Nicholas watching the man keenly. "By the way, I suppose you know I am entirely at your mercy. I could ring this bell," he indicated an electric button attached to the arm of his chair, "but I suppose it would be at least three minutes before any one came. Yes," he continued thoughtfully, "allowing for the distance from the servants' quarters, I should say it would be at least three minutes. You could get through a fair amount of business in three minutes. Was it the candlesticks you wanted?" He looked towards a pair of solid silver candlesticks on the mantelpiece. "They are cumbersome, you know. Or the miniatures? There are three Cosways and four Engleharts. I should recommend the miniatures."
"I wanted to see you," said the man bluntly.
"Indeed!" Nicholas's white eyebrows rose the fraction of an inch above his keen old eyes. "An unusual hour for a visit, and—an unusual entrance, if I might make the suggestion."
"There'd never have been a chance of seeing you if I had come any other way." There was a hint of bitterness in the words.
Nicholas looked straight at him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Job Grantley," was the reply. "I live down by the Lower Acre."
"Ah! One of my tenants."
"Yes, sir, one of your tenants."
"And—?" suggested Nicholas urbanely.
"I'm to turn out of my cottage to-morrow," said the man briefly.
"Indeed!" The pupils of Nicholas's eyes contracted. "May I ask why that information should be of interest to me?"
"It's of no interest to you, sir, and we know it. You never hear a word of what happens outside this house."
"Mr. Spencer Curtis conducts my business," said Nicholas politely.
"We know that too, sir, and we know the way it is conducted. It's an iron hand, and a heart like flint. It's pay or go, and not an hour's grace."
"You can hardly expect him to give you my cottages rent free," suggested Nicholas suavely.
The man winced.
"No, sir. But where a few weeks would make all the difference to a man, where it's a matter of a few shillings standing between home and the roadside—" he broke off.
Nicholas was silent.
"I thought perhaps a word to you, sir," went on the man half wistfully. "We're to go to-morrow if I can't pay, and I can't. A couple of weeks might have made all the difference. It was for the wife I came, sneaking up here like a thief. She's lost two little ones; they never but opened their eyes on the world to shut them again. I'm glad on it now. But women aren't made that way. There's another coming. She's not strong. I doubt but the shock'll not take her and the little one too. Better for them both if it does. A man can face odds, and remake his life if he is a man—" he stopped.
Still there was silence.
"I was a fool to come," said the man drearily. "'Twas the weather did it in the end. I'd gone mad-like listening to the wind and rain, and thinking of her and the child that was to be—" again he stopped.
Nicholas was watching him from under the penthouse of his eyebrows. Suddenly he spoke.
"How soon could you pay your rent?" he demanded.
"In a fortnight most like, sir. Three weeks for certain."
"Have you told Mr. Curtis that?"
"I have, sir. But it's the tick of time, or out you go."
"Have you ever been behindhand before?"
"How has it happened now?" The questions came short, incisive.
The man flushed.
"How has it happened now?" repeated Nicholas distinctly.
"I lent a bit, sir."
"Widow Thisby. She's an old woman, sir."
"Tell me the whole story," said Nicholas curtly.
Again the flush rose to the man's face.
"Her son got into a bit of trouble, sir. It was a matter of a sovereign or going to gaol. He's only a youngster, and the prison smell sticks. Trust folk for nosing it out. He's got a chance now, and will be sending his mother a trifle presently."
"Then I suppose she'll repay you?"
Job fidgeted with his cap.
"Well, sir, I don't suppose it'll be more'n a trifle he'll send; and she's got her work cut out to make both ends meet."
"Then I suppose you gave her the money?"
Job shifted his feet uneasily.
"How did you intend to raise the money due for your rent, then?" demanded Nicholas less curtly.
Job left off fidgeting. He felt on safer ground here.
"It just meant a bit extra saved from each week," he said eagerly. "You can do it if you've time. Boiling water poured into the morning teapot for evenings, and knock off your bit of bacon, and—well, there's lots of ways, sir, and women is wonderful folk for managing, the best ones. Where it's thought and trouble they'll do it, and they'd be using strength too if they'd got it, but some of them hasn't."
"Hmm," said Nicholas. He put up his hand to his mouth. "So you gave money you knew would never be repaid, knowing, too, that it meant possible homelessness."
"You'd have done it yourself if you'd been in my place," said the man bluntly.
"Should I?" said Nicholas half ironically. "I very much doubt it. Also what right had you to gamble with your wife's happiness? You knew the risk you ran. You knew the—er, the rule regarding the rents. Job Grantley, you were a fool."
Again the colour rushed to the man's face.
"May be, sir. I'll allow it sounds foolishness, but—oh Lord, sir, where's the use o' back-thinking now. I reckon you'd never do a hand's turn for nobody if you spent your time looking backward and forrard at your jobs." He stopped, his chin quivering.
"Job Grantley, you were a fool." Nicholas repeated the words with even deliberation.
The man moved silently towards the window. There was a clumsy dignity about his figure.
"Stop," said Nicholas. "Job Grantley, you are a fool."
The man turned round.
"Go to that drawer," ordered Nicholas, "and bring me a pocket-book you will find there."
Mechanically the man did as he was bidden. Nicholas took the book.
"Now then," he said opening it, "how much will put you right?"
The man stared.
"How much will put you right?" demanded Nicholas.
"A pound, sir. The month's rent is due to-morrow."
Nicholas raised his eyebrows.
"Humph. Not much to stand between you and—hell. I've no doubt you did consider it hell. We each have our own interpretation of that cheerful abode."
He turned the papers carefully.
"Now look here," he said suddenly, "there's five pounds. It's for yourselves, mind. No more indiscriminate bestowal of charity, you understand. You begin your charity at home. Do you follow me?"
The man took the money in a dazed fashion. He was more than half bewildered at the sudden turn in events.
"I'll repay you faithfully, sir. I'll——"
"Damn you," broke in Nicholas softly, "who talked about repayment? Can't I make a present as well as you, if I like? Besides I owe you something for this ten minutes. They have been interesting. I don't get too many excitements. That'll do. I don't want any thanks. Be off with you. Better go by the window. There might be a need of explanations if you tried a more conventional mode of exit now. That'll do, that'll do. Go, man."
Two minutes later Nicholas was looking again towards the curtains behind which Job Grantley had vanished.
"Now, was I the greater fool?" he said aloud. There was an odd, mocking expression in his eyes.
* * * * *
Ten minutes later he pressed the electric button attached to the arm of his chair. His eyes were on his watch which he held in his hand. As the library door opened, he replaced it in his pocket.
"Right to the second," he laughed. "Ah, Jessop."
The man who entered was about fifty years of age, or thereabouts, grey-haired, clean-shaven. His face was cast in the rigid lines peculiar to his calling. Possibly they relaxed when with his own kind, but one could not feel certain of the fact.
"Ah, Jessop, do you know Job Grantley by sight?"
For one brief second Jessop stared, amazement fallen upon him. Then the mask of impenetrability was on again.
"Job Grantley, yes, sir."
"What is he like?"
"Tallish man, sir; wears corduroys. Dark hair and eyes; looks straight at you, sir."
"Hmm. Very good. Perhaps I wasn't a fool," he was thinking.
"Do you know Mr. Curtis?" he demanded.
"Yes, sir." This came very shortly.
"Should you call him—er, a hard man?" asked Nicholas smoothly.
Again amazement fell on Jessop's soul, revealing itself momentarily in his features. And again the amazement was concealed.
"He's a good business man, sir," came the cautious reply.
"You mean—?" suggested Nicholas.
"A good business man isn't ordinarily what you'd call tender-like," said Jessop grimly.
Nicholas flashed a glance of amusement at him.
"I suppose not," he replied dryly.
There was a pause.
"Do the tenants ever ask to see me?" demanded Nicholas.
"They used to, sir. Now they save their shoe-leather coming up the drive."
"Ah, you told them—?"
"Your orders, sir. You saw no one."
"I see." Nicholas's fingers were beating a light tattoo on the arm of his chair. "Well, those are my orders. That will do. You needn't come again till I ring."
Jessop turned towards the door.
"Oh, by the way," Nicholas's voice arrested him on the threshold, "I fancy the middle window is unlatched."
Jessop returned and went behind the curtains.
"It was, wasn't it?" asked Nicholas as he emerged.
Jessop left the room.
"Now how on earth did he know that?" he queried as he walked across the hall.
The curtains had been drawn when Nicholas had been carried into the room. The knowledge, for a man unable to move from his chair, seemed little short of uncanny.
"A man can face odds if he is a man, and remake his life."
The words repeated themselves in Nicholas's brain. Each syllable was like the incisive tap of a hammer. They fell on a wound lately dealt.
A little scene, barely ten days old, reconstructed itself in his memory. The stage was the one he now occupied; the position the same. But another actor was present, a big rugged man, clad in a shabby overcoat,—a man with keen eyes, a grim mouth, and flexible sensitive hands.
"I regret to tell you that, humanly speaking, you have no more than a year to live."
The man had looked past him as he spoke the words. He had had his back to the light, but Nicholas had seen something almost inscrutable in his expression.
Nicholas's voice had followed close upon the words, politely ironical.
"Personally I should have considered it a matter for congratulation rather than regret," he had suggested.
There had been the fraction of a pause. Then the man's voice had broken the silence.
"I do. What has my life been for fifteen years?" Nicholas had demanded.
"What you have made of it," had been the answer.
"What God or the devil has made of it, aided by Baccarat—poor beast," Nicholas had retorted savagely.
"The devil, possibly," the man had replied, "but aided and abetted by yourself."
"Confound you, what are you talking about?" Nicholas had cried.
The man had still looked towards the book-cases.
"Listen," he had said. "For fifteen years you have lived the life of a recluse—a useless recluse, mind you. And why? Because of pride,—sheer pride. Those who had known you in the strength of your manhood, those who had known you as Nick the dare-devil, should never see the broken cripple. Pride forbade it. You preferred to run to cover, to lie hidden there like a wounded beast, rather than face, like a man, the odds that were against you,—heavy odds, I'll allow."
Nicholas's eyes had blazed.
"How dare you!" he had shouted.
"You've a year left," went on the man calmly. "I should advise you to see what use you can make of it."
"The first use I'll make of it is to order you from the house. You can go at once." Nicholas had pointed towards the door.
The man had got up.
"All right," he had said, looking at him for the first time in the last ten minutes. "But don't forget. You've got the year, you know."
"To hell with the year," said Nicholas curtly.
"Damn the fellow," he had said as the door had closed behind him. But the very truth of the words had left a wound,—a clean-cut wound however. There was never any bungling where Doctor Hilary was concerned.
And now incisive, sharp, came the taps of the hammer on it, taps dealt by Job Grantley's chance words.
"Confound both the men," he muttered. "But the fellow deserved the five pounds. It was the first interest I've had for fifteen years. The kind of entrance I'd have made myself, too; or perhaps mine would have been even a bit more unusual, eh, Nick the dare-devil!"
It was the old name again. He had never earned it through the least malice, however. Fool-hardiness perhaps, added to indomitable high spirits and good health, but malice, never.
How Father O'Brady had chuckled over the prank that had first earned him the title,—the holding up of the coach that ran between Byestry and Kingsleigh, Nick at the head of a band of half a dozen young scapegraces clad in black masks and huge hats, and armed with old pistols purloined from the historic gun-room of the old Hall! It had been a leaf from the book of Claude Duval with a slight difference.
Nick had re-acted the scene for him. He was an inimitable mimic. He had taken off old Lady Fanshawe's cackling fright to the life. As the stoutest and oldest dowager of the lot he had obliged her to dance a minuet with him, the terrified coachman, postilion, and solitary male passenger covered by his companions' pistols the while. The fluttered younger occupants of the coach had frankly envied the terrified dowager, yet Nick had bestowed but the most perfunctory of glances upon them, and that for a reason best known to himself.
Later the truth of the affair had leaked out, and Lady Fanshawe could never chaperon one of her numerous nieces to a ball, without being besieged by young men imploring the favour of a dance. Being a sporting old lady—when not out of her wits with terror—she had taken it all in good part. Once, even, she had danced the very same minuet with Nick, the whole ballroom looking on and applauding.
It had been the first of a series of pranks each madder than the last, but each equally light-hearted and gay.
That is till Cecilia Lester married Basil Percy.
The world, namely the small circle in which Cecilia and Nick moved, had heard of the marriage with amazement. If Nick was amazed he did not show it, but his pranks held less of gaiety, more of a grim foolhardiness. Father O'Brady no longer chuckled over their recitation. Maybe because they mainly reached his ears from outside sources. Nick, who was not of his fold, seldom sought his society in these days. Later he heard them not at all, being removed to another mission.
And then, at last, came the day when Nick played his final prank in the hunting field,—his maddest prank, in which Baccarat failed him. The horse was shot where he lay. His rider was carried home half dead; and half dead, literally, he had been for fifteen years.
And there was yet one more year left to him.
* * * * *
Nicholas sat gazing at the fire.
His brain was extraordinarily alert. There was a dawning humour waking in his eyes, a hint of the bygone years' devil-may-careness. The old Nick was stirring within him, roused by the little blows of that sentence.
Suddenly a flash of laughter illuminated his whole face. He brought his hand down on the arm of his chair.
"By gad, I've got it, and Hilary's the man to help me."
It was characteristic of Nicholas to forget his own share in that little ten-day-old scene. Also it may be safely averred that Doctor Hilary would be equally forgetful.
Nicholas still sat gazing into the fire, chuckling every now and then to himself. It was midnight before he rang for Jessop. The ringing had been preceded by one short sentence.
"By gad, Nick the dare-devil, the scheme's worthy of the old days."
Antony was sitting on the stoep of his bungalow. The African sun was bathing the landscape in a golden glory. Before him lay his garden, a medley of brilliant colour. Just beyond it was a field of green Indian corn, scintillating to silver as a little breeze swept its surface. Beyond it again lay the vineyard, and the thatched roof of an old Dutch farmhouse half hidden among trees. Farther off still rose the mountains, golden in the sunlight.
It was the middle of the afternoon. Silence reigned around, broken only by the occasional chirp of a grasshopper, the muffled note of a frog, the twitter of the canaries among the cosmos, or the rustle of the reed curtain which veiled the end of the stoep.
The reed curtain veiled the bathroom, a primitive affair, the bath consisting of half an old wine vat, filled with velvety mountain water, conducted thither by means of a piece of hose-piping attached to the solitary water tap the estate possessed. It was emptied by means of a bung fixed in the lower part of the vat, the water affording irrigation for the garden.
Antony sat very still. His coat lay beside him on the stoep. A small wire-haired puppy named Josephus mounted guard upon it. Woe betide the person other than Antony's self who ventured to lay finger on the garment. There would be a bristling of short wiry white hair, a showing of baby white teeth, and a series of almost incredibly vicious growls. Josephus permitted no man to take liberties with his master's property, nor indeed with his ridiculously dignified small self. Antony was the sole exception to his rule. But then was not he a king among men, a person whose word was law, whose caress a benediction, whose blow a thing for which to demand mute pardon? You knew it was deserved, though the knowledge might possibly at times be vague, since your wisdom was as yet but puppy wisdom.
Now and again Josephus hung out a pink tongue, a tongue which demanded milk in a saucer. He knew tea-time to the second,—ordinarily speaking that is to say. He could not accustom himself to that extra half-hour's delay which occurred on mail days, a delay caused by Riffle, the coloured boy, having to walk to the village to fetch the post. The walk was seldom entirely fruitless. Generally there was a newspaper of sorts; occasionally—very occasionally—a letter. Josephus knew that the click of the garden gate heralded the swift arrival of tea, but it was not always easy to realize on which days that click was to be expected.
Antony gazed at the scintillating field of corn. The sight pleased him. There is always a glory in creation, even if it be creation by proxy, so to speak. At all events he had been the human agent in the matter. He had ploughed the brown earth; he had cast the yellow seed, trudging the furrows with swinging arm; he had dug the little trenches through which the limpid mountain water should flow to the parched earth; he had watched the first hint of green spreading like a light veil; he had seen it thicken, carpeting the field; and now he saw the full fruit of his labours. Strong and healthy it stood before him, the soft wind rippling across its surface, silvering the green.
The click of the garden gate roused him from his contemplation. Josephus cocked one ear, his small body pleasurably alert.
Antony turned his head. Mail day always held possibilities, however improbable, an expectation unknown to those to whom the sound of the postman's knock comes in the ordinary course of events. Riffle appeared round the corner of the stoep. Had you seen him anywhere but in Africa, you would have vowed he was a good-looking Italian. A Cape coloured boy he was truly, and that, mark you, is a very different thing from Kaffir.
"The paper, master, and a letter," he announced with some importance. Then he disappeared to prepare the tea for which Josephus's doggy soul was longing.
Antony turned the letter in his hands. It must be confessed it was a disappointment. It was obviously a business communication. Both envelope and clerkly writing made that fact apparent. It was a drop to earth after the first leap of joy that had heralded Riffle's announcement. It was like putting out your hand to greet a friend, and meeting—a commercial traveller.
Antony smiled ruefully. Yet, after all, it was an English commercial traveller. That fact stood for something. It was, at all events, a faint breath of the Old Country. In England the letter had been penned, in England it had been posted, from England it had come to him. Yet who on earth had business affairs to communicate to him!
He broke the seal.
Amazement fell upon him with the first words he read. By the end of the perusal his brain was whirling. It was incredible, astounding. He stared out into the sunshine. Surely he was dreaming. It must be a joke of sorts, a laughable hoax. Yet there was no hint of joking in the concise communication, in the small clerkly handwriting, in the business-like letter-paper, a letter-paper headed by the name of a most respectable firm of solicitors.
"Well, I'm jiggered," declared Antony to the sunshine. And he fell to a second perusal of the letter. Here is what he read:
"We beg to inform you that under the terms of the will of the late Mr. Nicholas Danver of Chorley Old Hall, Byestry, in the County of Devon, you are left sole legatee of his estate and personal effects estimated at an income of some twelve thousand pounds per annum, subject, however, to certain conditions, which are to be communicated verbally to you by us.
"In order that you may be enabled to hear the conditions without undue inconvenience to yourself, we have been authorized to defray any expenses you may incur either directly or indirectly through your journey to England, and—should you so desire—your return journey. We enclose herewith cheque for one hundred pounds on account.
"As the property is yours only upon conditions, we must beg that you will make no mention of this communication to any person whatsoever until such time as you have been made acquainted with the said conditions. We should be obliged if you would cable to us your decision whether or no you intend to hear them, and—should the answer be in the affirmative—the approximate date we may expect you in England.
"Yours obediently, "Henry Parsons."
And the paper was headed, Parsons & Glieve, Solicitors.
Nicholas Danver. Where had he heard that name before? What faint cord of memory did it strike? He sought in vain for the answer. Yet somehow, at sometime, surely he had heard it! Again and again he seemed on the verge of discovering the clue, and again and again it escaped him, slipping elusive from him. It was tantalizing, annoying. With a slight mental effort he abandoned the search. Unpursued, the clue might presently return to him.
Riffle reappeared on the stoep bearing a tea-tray. Josephus sat erect. For full ten minutes his brown eyes gazed ardently towards the table. What had happened? What untoward event had occurred? Antony was oblivious of his very existence. Munching bread and butter, drinking hot tea himself, he appeared entirely to have forgotten that a thirsty and bewilderedly disappointed puppy was gazing at him from the harbourage of his old coat. At length the neglect became a thing not to be borne. Waving a deprecating paw, Josephus gave vent to a pitiful whine.
Antony turned. Then realization dawned on him. He grasped the milk jug.
"You poor little beggar," he laughed. "It's not often you get neglected. But it's not often that bombshells in the shape of ordinary, simple, harmless-looking letters fall from the skies, scattering extraordinary contents and my wits along with them. Here you are, you morsel of injured patience."
Josephus lapped, greedily, thirstily, till the empty saucer circled on the stoep under the onslaughts of his small pink tongue.
Antony had again sunk into a reverie, a reverie which lasted for another fifteen minutes or so. At last he roused himself.
"Josephus, my son," he announced solemnly, "there are jobs to be done, and in spite of bombshells we'd better do them, and leave Arabian Night wonders for further contemplation this evening."
Some four hours later, Antony, once more in his deck-chair on the stoep, set himself to review the situation. Shorn of its first bewilderment it resolved itself into the fact that he, Antony Gray, owner of a small farm on the African veldt, which farm brought him in a couple of hundred a year or thereabouts, was about to become the proprietor of an estate valued at a yearly income of twelve thousand,—subject, however, to certain conditions. And in that last clause lay the possible fly in the ointment. What conditions?
Antony turned the possibilities in his mind.
Matrimony with some lady of Nicholas Danver's own choosing? He dismissed the idea. It savoured too much of early Victorian melodrama for the prosaic twentieth century. The support of some antediluvian servant or pet? Possibly. But then it would hardly be necessary to require verbal communication of such a condition; a brief written statement to the effect would have sufficed. The house ghost-haunted; a yearly exorcising of the restless spirit demanded? Again too melodramatic. A promise to live on the estate, and on the estate alone? Far more probable.
Well, he'd give that fast enough. The veldt-desire had never gripped him as it is declared to grip those who have found a home in Africa. Behind the splendour, the pageantry, the vastness, he had always felt a hint of something sinister, something cruel; a spirit, perhaps of evil, ever wakeful, ever watching. Now and again a sound, a scent would make him sick with longing, with longing for an English meadow, for the clean breath of new-mown hay, for the fragrance of June roses, for the song of the thrush, and the sweet piping of the blackbird.
He had crushed down the longing as sentimental. Having set out on a path he would walk it, till such time as Fate should clearly indicate another signpost. He saw her finger now, and welcomed the direction of its pointing. At all events he might make venture of the new route,—an Arabian Night's path truly, gold-paved, mysterious. If, after making some steps along it, he should discover a barrier other than he had a mind to surmount, he could always return to the old road. Fate might point, but she should never push him against his will. Thus he argued, confident within his soul. He had the optimism, the trust of youth to his balance. He had not yet learned the deepest of Fate's subtleties, the apparent candour which conceals her tricks.
He gazed out into the night, ruminative, speculative. The breeze which had rippled across the Indian corn during the day had sunk to rest. The darkened field lay tranquil under the stars big and luminous. From far across the veldt came the occasional beating of a buzzard's wings, like the beating of muffled drums. A patch of gum trees to the right, beyond the garden, stood out black against the sky.
Nicholas Danver. The name repeated itself within his brain, and then, with it, came a sudden flash of lucid memory lighting up a long forgotten scene.
He saw a small boy, a very small boy, tugging, pulling, and twisting at a tough gorse stick on a moorland. He felt the clenching of small teeth, the bruised ache of small hands, the heat of the small body, the obstinate determination of soul. A slight sound had caused the boy to turn, and he had seen a man on a big black horse, watching him with laughing eyes.
"You'll never break that," the man had remarked amused.
"I've got to. I've begun," had been the small boy's retort. And he had returned to the onslaught, regardless of the watching man.
Ten minutes had ended in an exceedingly heated triumph. The boy had sunk upon the grass, sucking a wounded finger. The mood of determination had passed with the victory. He had been too shy to look at the rider on the black horse. But the gorse stick had lain on the ground beside him.
"Shake hands," the man had said.
And the boy had scrambled to his feet to extend a grubby paw.
"What's your name?" the man had demanded.
"Not Richard Gray's son?"
The man had burst into a shout of laughter.
"Where is your father?"
"Well, tell him his son is a chip of the old block, and Nicholas Danver says so. Ask him if he remembers the coach road from Byestry to Kingsleigh. Good-bye, youngster."
And Nicholas had ridden away.
It was astonishing in what detail the scene came back to him. He could smell the hot aromatic scent of the gorse and wild thyme. He could hear the humming of the bees above the heather. He could see the figure on the black horse growing speck-like in the distance as he had gazed after it.
The whole thing pieced itself together. He remembered that he had gone to that cottage on the moorland with his nurse to recover after measles. He remembered that his father had said that the air of the place would make a new boy of him. He remembered his father's laugh, when, later, the tale of the meeting had been recounted to him.
"Good old Nick," he had said. "One loses sight of the friends of one's boyhood as one grows older, more's the pity. I must write to old Nick."
There the incident had closed. Yet clearly as the day on which it had occurred, a day now twenty-five years old, it repainted itself on Antony's brain, as he sat on the stoep, gazing out into the African night.
It never occurred to him to wonder why Nicholas should have left him his money and property. That he had done so was marvellous, truly; his reasons for doing so were not even speculated upon. Antony had a childlike faculty for accepting facts as they presented themselves to him, with wonderment, pleasure, frank disapprobation, or stoicism, as the case might be. The side issues, which led to the presentation of the facts, were, generally speaking, the affair of others rather than his own; and, as such, were no concern of his. It was not that he deliberately refused to consider them, but merely that being no concern of his, it never occurred to him to do so. He walked his own route, sometimes singing, sometimes dreaming, sometimes amusedly silent, and always working. Work had been of necessity from the day his father's death had summoned him hurriedly from college. A quixotic, and, it is to be feared, culpable generosity on Richard Gray's part had left his son penniless.
Antony had accepted the fact stoically, and even cheerfully. He had looked straight at the generosity, denying the culpability, thereby preserving what he valued infinitely more than lands or gold—his father's memory, thus proving himself in very truth his son. He had no ties to bind him; he was an only child, and his mother was long since dead. He set out on his own route, a route which had led him far, and finally had landed him, some five years previously, on the African veldt, where he had become the owner of the small farm he now occupied.
After all, there had been compensations in the life. All unconsciously he had taken for his watch-word the cry: "I will succeed in spite of ..." rather than the usual old lament: "I could succeed if...." Naturally there had been difficulties. He had considered them grave-eyed and silent; he had tackled them smiling and singing. Inwardly he was the same Antony who had conquered the gorse-stick on the moorland; outwardly—well, he didn't make the fight so obvious. That was all the difference.
And now, sitting on the stoep with the silence of the African night around him, he tried to shape his plans, to bring them forth from the glamour of the marvellous which had enshrouded them, to marshal them up into coherent everyday form. But the glamour refused to be dispelled. Everything, the smallest and most prosaic detail, stood before him bathed in its light. It was all so gorgeously unexpected, so—so stupendously mysterious.
And through all the glamour, the unexpectedness, and the mystery, there was sounding an ever-repeated chord of music, composed of the notes of youth, happiness, memory, desire, and expectation. And, thus combined, they struck the one word—England.
QUOD SCRIPTUM EST
The Fort Salisbury was cutting her way through the translucent green water. Cape Town, with Table Mountain and the Lion's Head beyond it, was vanishing into the increasing distance.
Antony had taken his passage on the Fort Salisbury for three reasons: number one, she was the first boat sailing from Cape Town after he had dispatched his momentous cablegram; number two, he had a certain diffidence regarding the expenditure of other people's money, and his passage on the Fort Salisbury would certainly be lower than on a mail boat; number three, a curious and altogether unaccountable impulse had impelled him to the choice. This reason had, perhaps unconsciously, weighed with him considerably more than the other two. He often found instinct throwing itself into the balance for or against the motives of mere reason. When it was against mere reason, matters occasionally complicated themselves in his mind. It had been a comfort to find, in this case, reason on the same side of the scale as instinct.
Antony, leaning on the rail of the upper deck, was content, blissfully content. The sole speck that marred his entire enjoyment was the fact that the rules of the boat had separated him, pro tem, from an exceedingly perplexed and distressed puppy. It was the perplexity and distress of the said puppy that caused the speck, rather than the separation. Antony, with the vaster wisdom vouchsafed to humans, knew the present separation to be of comparatively short duration, and to be endured in the avoidance of a possibly infinitely longer one. Not so Josephus. He suffered in silence, since his deity had commanded the silence, but the perplexed grief in his puppy heart found an echo in Antony's.
It was a faint echo, however. Time and a daily visit would bring consolation to Josephus; and, for himself, the present adventure—it was an adventure—was all-absorbing and delicious. He revelled in it like a schoolboy on a holiday. He watched the sparkling water, the tiny rippling waves; he felt the freshness of the sea breeze, and the throb of the engine like a great living heart in the body of the boat. The fact that there were other people on her decks concerned him not at all. Those who have travelled a good deal become, generally speaking, one of two types,—the type that is quite enormously interested in everyone, and the type that is entirely indifferent to any one. Antony was of this last type. He had acquired a faculty for shutting his mental, and to a great degree, his physical eyes to his human fellows, except in so far as sheer necessity compelled. Naturally this did not make for popularity; but, then, Antony did not care much for popularity. The winning of it would have been too great an effort for his nature; the retaining of it, even more strenuous. Of course the whole thing is entirely a question of temperament.
A few of the other passengers looked somewhat curiously at the tall lean man gazing out to sea; but, as he was so obviously oblivious of their very existence, so entirely absorbed in his contemplation of the ocean, they left him undisturbed.
It was not till the dressing bugle sounded that he roused himself, and descended to his cabin. It was a matter for his fervent thanksgiving that he had found himself the sole occupant of the tiny two-berthed apartment.
He arrayed himself with scrupulous care. Only the most stringent exigencies of time and place—though they for a while had been frequent—had ever caused him to forego the ceremonial of donning dress clothes for dinner, though no eyes but his own should behold him. Latterly there had been Riffle and then Josephus to behold, and the former to marvel. Josephus took it, puppy-like, as a matter of course.
There were not a vast number of passengers on the boat. Of the four tables in the dining saloon, Antony found only two fully laid, and a third partially so. His own place was some three seats from the captain's left. The chair on the captain's right was, as yet, unoccupied. For the rest, with but one or two exceptions at the other tables, the passengers had already put in an appearance. The almost entire absence of wind, the smoothness of the ocean, had given courage even to those the most susceptible to the sea's malady. It would have required a really vivid imagination to have perceived any motion in the boat other than the throbbing of her engines.
Antony slipped into his seat, and a steward placed a plate of clear soup before him. In the act of taking his first spoonful, he paused, his eyes arrested by the sight of a woman advancing towards the chair on the captain's right.
At the first glance, Antony saw that she was a tall woman, dressed in black unrelieved save for ruffles of soft creamy lace at her throat and wrists. Presently he took in further details, the dark chestnut of her hair, the warm ivory of her skin, the curious steady gravity of her eyes—grey or violet, he was not sure which,—the straight line of her eyebrows, the delicate chiselling of her nose, and the red-rose of her mouth. And yet, in spite of seeing the details, they were submerged in the personality which had first arrested him. Something within him told him as clearly as spoken words, that here, in her presence, lay the explanation of the instinct which had prompted him to take his passage on this boat.
An odd little thrill of unaccountable excitement ran through him. He felt like a man who had been shown a page in his own life-book, and who found the words written thereon extraordinarily and amazingly interesting. He found himself longing, half-inarticulately, to turn the leaf; and, yet, he knew that Time's hand alone could do this. He could only read as far as the end of the open page before him. And that page but recorded the fact of her presence.
Once, during the repast, her eyes met his, steady, grave, and yet with a little note of half interrogation in them. Again Antony felt that odd little thrill run through him, this time intensified, while his heart beat and pounded under his immaculate white shirt-front.
Perhaps it is a mercy that shirt-fronts, to say nothing of other things, do hide the vagaries of our hearts. It would be a sorry thing for us if the world at large could perceive them,—the joy, the anguish, the remorse, and the bitter little disappointments. Yes, above all, the bitter little disappointments, the cause possibly so trivial, so childish almost, yet the hurt, the wound, so very real, the pain so horribly poignant. It is the little stab which smarts the most; the blow which accompanies the deeper wound, numbs in its very delivery.
* * * * *
Later, in the moonlit darkness, Antony found himself again on deck, and again leaning by the rail. Yet this time he had that page from his life-book for company; and, marvelling, he perused the written words thereon. It was extraordinary that they should hold such significance for him. And why for him alone? he queried. Might not another, others even, have read the selfsame words?
With the thought came a pang of something akin to jealousy at his heart. He wanted the words for himself, written for him alone. And yet it was entirely obvious, considering the number at the table, that they must have been recorded for others also, since, as already mentioned, they but recorded the fact of her presence. But did they hold the same significance for the others? There was the question, and there possibly, nay probably, lay the comfort. Also, what lay on the other side of the page? Unanswerable at the moment.
He looked down at the gliding water, alive, alight with brilliant phosphorus. A step behind him made his heart leap. He did not turn, but he was conscious of a figure on his right, also looking down upon the water. Suddenly there was a faint flutter of drapery, and the breeze sent a trail of something soft and silky across his eyes.
"Oh, I am sorry," said a voice in the darkness.
"The wind caught it," she explained apologetically, tucking the chiffon streamer within her cloak.
Now, it is quite certain that Antony had here an opportunity to make one of those little ordinary pleasant remarks that invariably lead to a conversation, but none presented itself to his mind. He could do nothing but utter the merest formal, though of course polite, acknowledgment of her apology, his brain seeking wildly for further words the while. It found none.
She gave him a little bow, courteous and not at all unfriendly, and moved away across the deck. Antony looked after her figure receding in the darkness.
"Oh, you idiot," he groaned within his heart, "you utter and double-dyed idiot."
He looked despairingly down at the water, and from it to the moonlit sky. Fate, so he mused ruefully, writes certain sentences in our life-book, truly; but it behoves each one of us to fill in between the lines. And he had filled in—nothing.
An hour or so later he descended dejectedly to his cabin.
THE LADY OF THE BLUE BOOK
He saw her at breakfast the next morning; and again, later, sitting on a deck-chair, with a book.
Once more he cursed his folly of the previous evening. A word or two then, no matter how trivial their utterance, and the barriers of convention would have been passed. Even should Fate throw a like opportunity in his path again, it was entirely improbable that she would choose the same hour. She is ever chary of exact repetitions. And, if his stammering tongue failed in speech with the soft darkness to cover its shyness, how was it likely it would find utterance in the broad light of day? The Moment—he spelled it with a capital—had passed, and would never again recur. Therefore he seated himself on his own deck-chair, some twenty paces from her, and began to fill his pipe, gloomily enough. Yet, in spite of gloom, he watched her,—surreptitiously of course. There was no ill-bred staring in his survey.
She was again dressed in black, but this time the lace ruffles had given place to soft white muslin cuffs and collar. Her dark hair was covered by a broad-brimmed black hat. She was leaning back in her chair as she read, the book lying on her lap. Suddenly the gravity of her face relaxed. A smile rippled across it like a little breeze across the surface of some lake. The smile broke into silent laughter. Antony found himself smiling in response.
She looked up from her book, and out over the sun-kissed water, the amusement still trembling on her lips and dancing in her eyes.
"I wonder," reflected Antony watching her, "what she has been reading."
For some ten minutes she sat gazing at the sunshine. Then she rose from her chair, placed her book upon it, and went towards the stairway which led to the lower deck.
Antony looked at the empty chair—empty, that is, except for a pale blue cushion and a deeper blue book. On the back of the chair, certain letters were painted,—P. di D.
Antony surveyed them gravely. The first letter really engrossed his attention. The last was merely an adjunct. The first would represent—or should represent—the real woman. He marshalled every possibility before him, merely to dismiss them: Patience, Phyllis, Prudence, Priscilla, Perpetua, Penelope, Persis, Phoebe, Pauline,—none were to his mind. The last appeared to him the most possible, and yet it did not truly belong. So he summed up its fitness. Yet, for the life of him, he could find no other. He had run through the whole gamut attached to the initial, so he told himself. Curiosity, or interest, call it what you will, fell back baffled.
He got up from his chair, and began to pace the deck. Passing her chair, he gazed again upon the letters painted thereon, as if challenging them to disclose the secret. Inscrutable, they stared back blankly at him.
Turning for the third time, he perceived that she had returned on deck. She was carrying a small bag of old gold brocade. She was in the chair once more as he came alongside of her; but the blue book had slipped to the ground. He bent to pick it up, involuntarily glancing at the title as he handed it to her. Dream Days. It fitted into his imaginings of her.
"Do you know it?" she queried, noticing his glance.
"No," replied Antony, turning the book in his hands.
"Oh, but you should," she smiled back at him. "That is if you have the smallest memory of your own childhood. I was just laughing over 'death letters' ten minutes ago."
"Death letters?" queried Antony perplexed, the while his heart was singing a little paean of joy at the vagaries of Fate's methods.
"Yes; a will or testament. But a death letter is so infinitely more explanatory. Don't you think, so?"
"Of course," he agreed, light breaking in upon him.
"Take the book if you care to," she said. "I know it nearly by heart. But I had it by me, and brought it on deck to look at it again. I didn't want to get absorbed in anything entirely new. It takes one's mind from all this, and seems a loss." A little gesture indicated sunshine, sea, and sky.
"Yes," agreed Antony, "it's waste of time to read in the open." And then he stopped. "Oh, I didn't mean—" he stammered, glancing down at the book, and perceiving ungraciousness in his words.
"Oh, yes, you did," she assured him smiling, "and it was quite true, and not in the least rude. Read it in your berth some time; you can do it there with an easy conscience."
She gave him a little nod, which might have been considered dismissal or a hint of emphasis. Antony, being of course aware that she could not possibly find it the same pleasure to talk to him as he found it to talk to her, took it as dismissal. With a word of thanks he moved off down the deck, the blue book in his hands.
He found a retired spot forward on the boat. A curious shyness prevented him from returning to his own deck-chair, and reading the book within sight of her. In spite of his little remark against reading in the open, he was longing to make himself acquainted with the contents immediately. Had it not been her recommendation? Death letters! He laughed softly and joyously. He had never even given the things a thought before, and here, twice within ten days, they had been brought to his notice in a fashion that, to his mind, fell little short of the miraculous. And it is not at all certain that he did not consider their second queer little entry on the scene the more miraculous of the two.
He opened the book, and there, facing him from the fly-leaf, was the answer to the question he had erstwhile sought to fathom,—Pia di Donatello. His lips formed the syllables, dwelling with pleasure on the first three little letters—Pia. Oh, it was right, it was utterly and entirely right. Every other possibility vanished before it into the remotest background, unthinkable in the face of what was. Pia di Donatello! Again he repeated the musical syllables. And yet—and yet—he'd have sworn she was English. There wasn't the faintest trace of a foreign accent in her speech. If anything, there was a hint of Irish,—the soft intonation of the Emerald Isle. Her colouring, too, was Irish, the blue-black hair, the dark violet eyes—he had discovered that they were violet; looking, for all the world, as if they had been put in with a smutty finger, as the saying goes. He revolved the problem in his mind, and a moment later came upon the solution, so he told himself. An Irish mother, and an Italian father, so he decreed, metaphorically patting himself on the back the while for his perspicacity.
The problem settled, he turned himself to the contents of the book as set forth by the author thereof, rather than the three words inscribed on the fly-leaf by the owner. They were not hard of digestion. The print was large, the matter light. Anon he came to Mutabile Semper and the death letters, and, having read them, and laughed in concord with the erstwhile laugh of the book's owner, he closed the pages, and gazed out upon the sunshine and the water.
Emerson has written a discourse on friendship. It is beautifully worded, truly; it is full of a noble and high-minded philosophy. Doubtless it will appeal quite distinctly to those souls who, although yet on this earth-plane, have already partly cast off the mantle of flesh, and have found their paths to lie in the realm of spirit. Even to those, and it is by far the greater majority, who yet walk humdrumly along the world's great highway, the kingdom of the spirit perceived by them as in a glass darkly rather than by actual light shed upon them from its realm, it may bring some consolation during the absence of a friend. But for the general run of mankind it is set on too lofty a level. It lacks the warmth for which they crave, the personality and intercourse.
"I do then, with my friends as I do with my books," he says. "I would have them where I can find them, but I seldom use them."
Now, it is very certain that, for the majority of human beings, the friendliest books are worn with much handling. If we picture for a moment the bookshelves belonging to our childish days, we shall at once mentally discover our old favourites. They have been used so often. They have been worn in our service. No matter how well we know the contents, we turn to them again and again; there is a very joy in knowing what to expect. Time does not age nor custom stale the infinite variety.
Thus it is in our childish days. And are not the majority of us still children? Should our favourite books be placed out of our reach, should it be impossible for us to turn their pages, it is certain that we would feel a loss, a gap. Were we old enough to comprehend Emerson's philosophy, we might endeavour to buoy ourselves up with the thought that thus we were at one with him in his nobility and loftiness of sentiment. And yet there would be something childish and pathetic in the endeavour, by reason of its very unreality. Certainly if Providence should, either directly or indirectly, separate us from our friends, by all means let us accept the separation bravely. It cannot destroy our friendship. But seldom to use our friends, from the apparently epicurean point of view of Emerson, would be a forced and unnatural doctrine to the majority, as unnatural as if a child should bury Hans Andersen's fairy tales for fear of tiring of them. It would savour more of present and actual distaste, than the love which fears its approach. There is the familiarity which breeds contempt, truly; but there is also the familiarity which daily ties closer bonds, draws to closer union.
Antony had established a friendship with the lady of the blue book. The book had been responsible for its beginning. With Emerson's definition of friendship he would probably have been largely in harmony; not so in his treatment of it. With the following, he would have been at one, with the exception of a word or so:—"I must feel pride in my friend's accomplishments as if they were mine,—wild, delicate, throbbing property in his virtues. I feel as warmly when he is praised, as the lover when he hears applause of his engaged maiden. We over-estimate the conscience of our friend. His goodness seems better than our goodness, his nature finer, his temptations less. Everything that is his, his name, his form, his dress, books, and instruments, fancy enhances. Our own thought sounds new and larger from his mouth."
Most true, Antony would have declared, if you will eliminate "over-estimate," and substitute "is" for "seems."
Unlike Emerson, he made no attempt to analyse his friendship. He accepted it as a gift from the gods. Maybe somewhere in his inner consciousness, barely articulate even to his own heart, he dreamt of it as a foundation to something further. Yet for the present, the foundation sufficed. Death-letters—he laughed joyously at the coincidence—had laid the first stone, and each day placed others in firm and secure position round it. The building was largely unconscious. It is the way with true friendship. The life, also, conduced to it. There are fewer barriers of convention on board ship than in any other mode of living. Mrs. Grundy, it is to be supposed, suffers from sea-sickness, and does not care for this method of travelling. In fact, it would appear that she seldom does travel, but chooses by preference small country towns, mainly English ones, for her place of residence.
The days were days of sunshine and colour, the changing colour of sea and sky; the nights were nights of mystery, veiled in purple, star-embroidered.
One day Pia made clear to him the explanation of her Irish colouring and her Italian surname. Her mother, she told him, was Irish; her father, English. Her baptismal name had been chosen by an Italian godmother. She was eighteen when she married the Duc di Donatello. On their wedding day, when driving from the church, the horses had bolted. She had been uninjured; he had received serious injuries to his head and spine. He had lived for seven years as a complete invalid, totally paralysed, but fully conscious. During those seven years, she had never left him. Two years previously he had died, and she had gone to live at her old home in England,—the Manor House, Woodleigh, which had been in the hands of caretakers since her parents' death. Her husband's property had passed to his brother. The last six months she had been staying with a friend at Wynberg.
She told the little tale extremely simply. It never occurred to her to expect sympathy on account of the tragedy which had marred her youth, and by reason of which she had spent seven years of her life in almost utter seclusion. The fact was merely mentioned in necessary explanation of her story. Antony, too, had held silence. Sympathy on his part would have been somehow an intrusion, an impertinence. But he understood now, in part at least, the steady gravity, the hint of sadness in her eyes.
The name of Woodleigh awoke vague memories in his mind, but they were too vague to be noteworthy. Possibly, most probably, he told himself, he had merely read of the place at some time. She mentioned that it was in Devonshire, but curiously enough, and this was an omission which he noted later with some surprise, he never questioned her as to its exact locality.
On his side, he told her of his life on the veldt, and mentioned that he was returning to England on business. On the outcome of that same business would depend the question whether he remained in England, or whether he returned to the veldt. Having the solicitor's injunction in view, he naturally did not volunteer further information. Such details, too, sank into insignificance before the more absorbing interest of personality. They are, after all, in a sense, mere accidents, and have no more to do with the real man than the clothes he wears. True, the manner in which one dons one's clothes, as the manner in which one deals with the accidental facts of life, affords a certain index to the true man; but the clothes themselves, and the accidental facts, appear, at all events, to be matters of fate. And if you can obtain knowledge of a man through actual contact with his personality, you do not trouble to draw conclusions from his method of donning his clothes. You may speculate in this fashion with regard to strangers, or mere acquaintances. You have a surer, and infinitely more interesting, fashion with your friends.
Life around them moved on in the leisurely, almost indolent manner in which it does move on board a passenger ship. The younger members played quoits, cricket on the lower deck, and inaugurated concerts, supported by a gramaphone, the property of the chief officer, and banjo solos by the captain. The older members read magazines, played bridge, or knitted woollen articles, according to the promptings of their sex and their various natures, and formed audiences at the aforementioned concerts.
Antony and the Duchessa di Donatello alone seemed somewhat aloof from them. They formed part of the concert audiences, it is true; but they neither played bridge, quoits, nor cricket, nor knitted woollen articles, nor read magazines. The Duchessa employed her time with a piece of fine lace work, when she was not merely luxuriating in the sunshine, or conversing with Antony. Antony either conversed with the Duchessa, or sat in his deck chair, smoking and thinking about her. There was certainly a distinct sameness about the young man's occupation, which, however, he found not in the smallest degree boring. On the contrary, it was all-absorbing and fascinating. The very hours of the day were timed by the Duchessa's movements, rather than by the mere minute portions of steel attached to the face of a commonplace watch. Thus:—
Dawn. He realizes the Duchessa's existence when he wakes. (His dreams had been coloured by her, but that's beside the mark.)
Daybreak. The Duchessa ascends on deck and smiles at him.
Breakfast time. The Duchessa sits opposite to him.
The sunny morning hours. The Duchessa sews fine lace; she talks, she smiles,—the smile that radiates through the sadness of her eyes.
And so on, throughout the day, till the evening gloaming brings a hint of further intimacy into their conversation, and night falls as she wishes him pleasant dreams before descending to her cabin.
He dwelt then, for the moment, solely in her friendship, but vaguely the half articulate thought of the future began to stir within him, pulsing with a secret possibility of joy he barely dared to contemplate.
It was about ten o'clock of a sunny morning that the Fort Salisbury cast anchor off Teneriffe, preparatory to undergoing the process known as coaling.
Antony, from her decks, gazed towards the shore and the buildings lying in the sunlight. Minute doll-like figures were busy on the land; mules, with various burdens, were ascending the steep street. Boats were already putting out to the ship, to carry ashore such passengers as desired to spend a few hours on land.
The whole scene was one of movement, light, and colour. The sea, sky, and earth were singing the Benedicite, and Antony's heart echoed the blessings. It was all so astonishingly good and pleasant,—the clean, fresh morning, the blue blue of the sky, the green blue of the water, and the possibilities of the unknown mountain land lying before him.
There is an extraordinary fascination in exploring an unknown land, even if the exploration is to be of somewhat limited duration. The ship by which Antony had travelled to the Cape, had sailed straight out; it had passed the peak of Teneriffe at a distance. Antony had looked at it as it rose from the sea, like a great purple amethyst half veiled in cloud. He had wondered then, idly enough, whether it would ever be his lot to set foot upon its shores. Never, in his wildest dreams, had he imagined under what actual circumstances that lot would be his. How could he have guessed at what the fates were holding in store for him? They had held their secret close, giving him no smallest inkling of it. If we dream of paradise, our dream is modelled on the greatest happiness we have known; therefore, since our happiness is, doubtless, but a rushlight as compared to the sunshine of paradise, our dreams must necessarily fall exceedingly far short of the reality. Hitherto Antony's happiness had been largely monochrome, flecked with tiny specks of radiance. He might indeed have dreamed of something a trifle brighter, but how was it possible for him to have formed from them the smallest conception of the happiness that was awaiting him?
"It is really perfect," said a voice behind him, echoing his thoughts.
The Duchessa had come on deck, spurred and gauntleted for their adventure,—in other words, attired in a soft, black dress, a shady black hat on her head, crinkly black gloves, which reached to the elbow, on her hands, and carrying a blue sunshade.
"It is really perfect," she repeated, gazing towards the mountainous land before them, the doll-like figures on the shore, the boats cleaving the sparkling waters.
"Absolutely," declared Antony, his eyes wrinkling at the corners in sheer delight. "The gods have favoured us."
"Is there a boat ready?" she demanded, eager as a child to start on the adventure.
"A boat," said Antony, looking over the ship's side, "will be with us in a couple of moments I should say, to judge by the strength of the rower's arms. He has been racing the other fellows, and will be first at his goal."
"Then come," she said. "Let us be first too. I don't want to lose a minute."
Antony followed in her wake. Her sentiments most assuredly were his. It was not a day of which to squander one iota.
Ten minutes later they were on their way to the shore. Behind them the Fort Salisbury loomed up large and black from the limpid water; before them lay the land of possibilities.
The other passengers in the boat kept up a running fire of comments. A stout gentleman in a sun-helmet, which he considered de rigeur as long as he was anywhere at all near the regions of Africa, gazed towards the shore through a pair of field-glasses. At intervals he made known such objects of interest as he observed, in loud husky asides to his wife, a small meek woman, who clung to him, metaphorically speaking, as the ivy to the oak. Her vision being unaided by field-glasses, she was unable to follow his observations with the degree of intelligence he demanded.
"I don't think I quite—" she remarked anxiously now and again, blinking in the same direction as her spouse.
"To the left, my dear, among the trees," he would reply. Or, "Half-way up the street. Now don't you see?" Or, removing the field-glasses for a moment to observe the direction of her anxious blinking, "Why, bless my soul, you aren't looking the right way at all. Get it in a line with that chimney over there, and the yellow house. The yellow house. You're looking straight at the pink one. Bless my soul, tut, tut." And so forth.
A small boy, leaning far over the side of the boat, gazed rapturously into the water, announcing in shrill tones that he could see to the very bottom, an anxious elder sister grasping the back of his jersey meanwhile. A girl with a pigtail jumped about in a manner calculated to bring an abrupt and watery conclusion to the passage, till forcibly restrained by her melancholy-looking father. A young man announced that it was going to be, "Deuced hot on shore, what?" And a gushing young thing of some forty summers appealed to everyone at intervals to know the hour to the very second it would be necessary to return, since it really would be a sin to keep the ship waiting. While the remarks from an elderly and cynical gentleman, that, in the event of unpunctuality on her part, it would be more probable that she would find herself waiting indefinitely at Teneriffe, caused her to giggle hysterically, and label him a naughty man.
"It is a matter for devout thankfulness," said the Duchessa some ten minutes later, as she and Antony were walking across the square, "that the Fort Salisbury is large enough to permit of a certain separation from one's fellow humans. I do not wish to be uncharitable, but their proximity does not always appeal to me."
Antony laughed, and tossed some coppers to a small brown-faced girl, who, clasping an infant nearly as large as herself, jabbered at him in an unknown but wholly understandable language.
"You'll be besieged and bankrupt before you see the ship again, if you begin that," warned the Duchessa.
"Quite possible," returned Antony smiling.
The Duchessa shook her head.
"Oh, if you are in that mood, warnings are waste of breath," she announced.
"Quite," agreed Antony, still smiling.
He was radiantly, idiotically happy. The joy of the morning, the brilliance of the sunshine, and the fact that the Duchessa was walking by his side, had gone to his head like wine. If the expenditure of coppers could impart one tenth of his happiness to others, he would fling them broadcast, he would be a very spendthrift with his gladness.
At the church to the left of the square, the Duchessa paused.
"In here first," she said. And Antony followed her up the steps.
They made their way through a swarm of grubby children, and entered the porch. It was cool and dark in the church in contrast to the heat and sunshine without. Here and there Antony descried a kneeling figure,—women with handkerchiefs on their heads, and a big basket beside them; an old man or two; a girl telling her beads before the Lady Altar; and a small dark-haired child, who gazed stolidly at the Duchessa. Votive candles burned before the various shrines. The ruby lamp made a spot of light in the shadows above the High Altar.
The Duchessa dropped on one knee, and then knelt for a few moments at one of the prie-dieux. Antony watched her. He was sensible that she was not a mere sight-seer. The church held an element of home for her. Two of the passengers—the young man and the cynical elderly gentleman, who had been in the boat with them—strolled in behind him. They gazed curiously about, remarking in loudish whispers on what they saw. Antony felt suddenly, and quite unreasonably, annoyed at their entry. Somehow they detracted from the harmony and peace of the building.
"I didn't know you were a Catholic," he said five minutes later, as he and the Duchessa emerged once more into the sunlight.
"You never asked me," she returned smiling.
"No," agreed Antony. And then he added simply, as an afterthought, "it didn't occur to me to ask you."
"It wouldn't," responded the Duchessa, a little twinkle in her eyes.
"No," agreed Antony again. "I wish those people hadn't come in," he added somewhat irrelevantly.
"What people?" demanded the Duchessa. "Oh, you mean those two men. Why not? Most tourists visit the church."
"I dare say," returned Antony. "But—well, they didn't belong."
"No?" queried the Duchessa innocently.
"You mean I didn't," he said a little stiffly.
"Ah, forgive me." The Duchessa's voice held a note of quick contrition. "I didn't mean to hurt you. Somehow we Catholics get used to Protestants regarding our churches merely as a sight to be seen, and for the moment I smiled to think that you should be the one whom it irritated. But I do know what you mean, of course. And—I'm glad you felt it."
"Thank you," he returned smiling.
The little cloud, which had momentarily dimmed the brightness of his sun, was dispelled. The merest inflection in the Duchessa's voice had the power of casting him down to depths of heart-searching despair, or lifting him to realms of intoxicating joy. And it must be confessed that the past fortnight had been spent almost continuously in these realms. Also, if he had sunk to the depths of despair, it was rather by reason of an ultra-sensitive imagination on his own part than by any fault of the Duchessa's. But then, as Antony would have declared, the position of a subject to his sovereign is a very different matter from the position of the sovereign to the subject. The Duchessa could be certain of his loyalty. It was for her to give or withhold favours as it pleased her. It was a different matter for him.
It is not easy for a man, who has lived a very lonely life, to believe in a reciprocal friendship where he himself is concerned. A curious admixture of shyness and diffidence, the outcome of his lonely life, prevented him from imagining that the Duchessa could desire his friendship in the smallest degree as he desired hers. To him, the friendship she had accorded him had become the most vital thing in his existence, quite apart from that vague and intoxicating dream, which he scarcely dared to confess in the faintest whisper to his heart. He knew that her friendship appeared essential to his very life. But how could he for one moment imagine that his friendship was essential to her? It could not be, though he would cheerfully have laid down his life for her, have undergone torture for her sake.
Knowing, therefore, that his friendship was not essential to her happiness, yet knowing what her friendship meant to him, he was as ultra-sensitive as a lonely child. His soul sprang forward to receive her gifts, but the merest imagined hint of a rebuff would have sent him back to that loneliness he had learned to look upon as his birthright. Not that he would have gone back to that loneliness with a hurt sense of injury. That must be clearly understood to understand Antony. To have felt injury, would have been tantamount to saying that he had had a right to the friendship, and it was just this very right that Antony could not realize as in the least existent. He would have gone back with an ache, it is true, but with a brave face, and an overwhelming and life-long gratitude for the temporary joy. That is at the present moment; of later, one cannot feel so certain.
To-day, however, loneliness seemed a thing unthinkable, unimaginable, with the Duchessa by his side, and the golden day ahead of him. By skilled manoeuvring, and avoiding the recognized hours of meal-time, they managed to escape further contact with their fellow passengers.
An exceedingly late luncheon hour found them the sole occupants of a small courtyard at the back of an hotel,—a courtyard set with round tables, and orange trees in green tubs. Over the roofs of the houses, and far below them, they could see the shining water, and the Fort Salisbury, lying like a dark blob on its surface. Boats bearing coal were still putting out to her, and men were busy hauling it over her sides.
The Duchessa looked down on the ship and the water.
"It is queer to think," said she smiling, "that little more than a week hence, I shall be in Scotland, and, probably, shivering in furs. It can be exceedingly chilly up there, even as late as May."
"I thought you were going to your old home," said Antony.
"So I am," she replied, "but not till nearly the end of June. I am going to stay with friends in Edinburgh first. Where are you going?"
Antony lifted his shoulders in the merest suspicion of a shrug.
"London first," he responded. "After that—well, it's on the knees of the gods."
"Are you likely to stay in England long?" she asked. And then she added quickly, "You don't think the question an impertinence, I hope."
"Why should I?" he answered smiling. "But I really don't know yet myself. It will depend on various things."
There was a little silence.
"In any case, I shall see you before I leave England again, if I may," he said. "That is, if I do leave."
The Duchessa was still looking at the water.
"I hope you will," she replied. And then she turned towards him. "I don't want our friendship to end completely with the voyage."
Antony's heart gave a little leap.
"It—it really is a friendship?" he asked.
"Hasn't it been?" she asked him.
Antony looked at her.
"For me, yes," he replied steadily.
"Can a friendship be one-sided?" she demanded. She emphasised the word a little.
"I don't know," said Antony whimsically. "I don't know much about them. I haven't ever wanted one before."
Again there was a little silence. Then:
"Thank you," said the Duchessa.
Antony drew a long breath. They were such simple little words; and yet, to him, they meant more than the longest and most flowery of speeches. There was so infinitely more conveyed in them. And he knew that, if they had not been meant, they would not have been spoken. She did think his friendship worth while, and she had given him hers. It was all his heart dared ask at the moment, yet, deep within it, his secret hope stirred to fuller life. And then, suddenly, prompted by some instinct, quite unexplainable at the moment, he put a question.
"What is the foundation of friendship?" he asked.
"Trust," she responded quickly, her eyes meeting his for a moment. "And here," she said, looking towards the hotel, "comes our lunch."
It was sunset before the Fort Salisbury was once more cleaving her way through the water. Antony, from her decks, looked once more at the receding land. Again he saw it rising, like a purple amethyst, from the sea, but this time it was veiled in the rose-coloured light of the sinking sun. He looked towards that portion of the amethyst where the little courtyard with the orange trees in green tubs was situated.
Once more he heard his question and the Duchessa's answer. It was a memory which was to remain with him for many a month.
A week later, Antony was sitting in a first-class carriage on his way from Plymouth to Waterloo. He gazed through the window, his mind filled with various emotions.
Uppermost was the memory of the voyage and the Duchessa. The memory already appeared to him almost as a vivid and extraordinarily beautiful dream, though reason assured him to the contrary. The whole events of the last month, and even his present position in the train, appeared to him intangible and unreal. It seemed a dream self, rather than the real Antony, who was gazing from the window at the landscape which was slipping past him; who was looking out on the English fields, the English woods, and the English cottages past which the train was tearing. He saw gardens ablaze with flowers; bushes snowy with hawthorn; horses and cows standing idly in the shadow of the trees; and, now and again, small, trimly-kept country stations, looking for all the world like prim schoolgirls in gay print dresses.
He glanced from the window to the rack opposite to him, where his portmanteau was lying. That, at all events, was tangible, real, and familiar. It struck the sole familiar note in the extraordinary unfamiliarity of everything around him. He looked at his own initials painted on it, slowly tracing them in his mind. He pulled out his pocket-book, and took from it the letter which had altered the whole perspective of his life. He could almost see the African stoep as he looked at it, feel the heat of the African sun, hear the occasional chirping of the grasshoppers. Age-old the memory appeared, caught from bygone centuries. And it was only a month ago. Replacing it in the book, his eye fell upon a small piece of pasteboard. The Duchessa had given it to him that morning. Her name was printed on it, and below she had written a few pencilled words,—her address in Scotland. She was remaining in Plymouth for a day or so, before going North. He was to write to her at the Scotland address, and let her know where she could acquaint him with her further movements, and the actual date of her return to the Manor House. That, too, was tangible and real,—that small piece of white pasteboard. And, then, a little movement beside him, and a long quivering sigh of content brought back to him the most tangible thing of all—Josephus. Josephus, who was sleeping the sleep of the contented, just after a frenzied and rapturous reunion with his deity.
Oh, of course it was all real, and it was he, Antony, his very self, who was sitting in the train, the train which was rushing through the good old English country, carrying him towards London and the answer to the riddle contained in that most amazing of letters.
"It isn't a dream, Josephus," he assured the sleepy puppy. "I am real, you are real, the train is real, England is real, and Heaven be praised—the Duchessa is real." After which act of assurance he turned his attention once more to the window.
And now, the dream sense dispelled, he found long-forgotten memories awaken within him, memories of early boyhood, aroused by the sight of some old church tower, of some wood lying on a hillside, of some amber stream rippling past rush-grown banks. He hugged the memories to his soul, rejoicing in them. They brought a dozen trivial little incidents to his mind. He could hear his old nurse's voice warning him not to lean against the door of the carriage. He could feel his small nose pressed against the window-pane, his small hand rubbing the glass where it had been dimmed by his breath. He could hear the crackle of paper bags, as sandwiches and buns were produced for his refreshment; he could taste the ham between the pieces of bread and butter; and he could see a small boy, with one eye on his nurse, pushing a piece of fat between the cushions of the seat and the side of the carriage. This last memory evoked a little chuckle of laughter. That nurse had been a strong disciplinarian.
The memories linked together, forming a more connected whole. He recalled places farther afield than those caught sight of from the window of the train. He remembered a copse yellow with primroses, a pond where he had fished for sticklebacks, a bank with a robin's nest in it. He remembered a later visit with an aunt. He must then have been fourteen or thereabouts. There had been a small girl, staying with her aunt at a neighbouring farm, who had accompanied him on his rambles. Despite her tender age—she couldn't have been more than five years old—she had been the inventor of their worst escapades. It was she who had egged him on to the attempt to cross the pond on a log of wood, racing round it to shout encouragement from the opposite side. The timely advent of one of the farm-labourers alone had saved him from a watery grave. It was she who had invented the bows and arrows with which he had accidentally shot the prize bantam, and it was she who had insisted on his going with her to search for pheasants' eggs, a crime for which he barely escaped the penalty of the law.
He remembered her as a fragile fair-haired child, with a wide-eyed innocence of expression, utterly at variance with her true character. In spite of her nobly shouldering her full share of the blame, he had invariably been considered sole culprit, which he most assuredly was not, though weight of years should have taught him better. But then, one could hardly expect the Olympians to lay any measure of such crimes at the door of a grey-eyed, fair-haired angel. And that was what she had appeared to mere superficial observation. It required extreme perspicacity of vision, or great intimacy, to arrive at anything a trifle nearer the truth. He sought in the recesses of his memory for her name. That it had suited her admirably, and that it was monosyllabic, was all he could remember. After a few minutes fruitless search, he abandoned it as hopeless, and pulled pipe and tobacco pouch from his pocket.
Presently he saw the square tower and pinnacles of Exeter Cathedral above some trees, and the train ran into the station. Antony watched the people on the platform with interest. They were English, and it was thirteen years since he had been in England. He listened to the fragmentary English sentences he heard, finding pleasure in the sound. He marvelled idly at the lack of colour in the scene before him. The posters on the walls alone struck a flamboyant note. Yet there was something restful in the monochrome of the dresses, the dull smoke-griminess of the station. At all events it was a contrast to the vivid colouring of the African veldt.
Despite his interest in his fellow humans, however, he found himself devoutly trusting his privacy would remain undisturbed, and it was with a sense of relief that he felt the train glide slowly out of the station, leaving him the sole occupant of his compartment.
Later, he saw the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Again fortune favoured him in the matter of privacy, and presently drowsiness descended on his eyelids, which was not fully dispelled till the train ran into the gloom of Waterloo station.
THE AMAZING CONDITIONS
The offices of Messrs. Parsons and Glieve, solicitors, are situated off the Strand, and within seven minutes' walk of Covent Garden. It is an old-established and exceedingly respectable firm. Its respectability is emphasized by the massiveness of its furniture and the age of its office boy. He is fifty, if he is a day. An exceeding slowness of brain prevented him from rising to a more exalted position, a position to which his quite extraordinary conscientiousness and honesty would have entitled him. That same conscientiousness and honesty prevented him from being superseded by a more juvenile individual, when his age had passed the limit usually accorded to office boys. Imperceptibly almost, he became part and parcel of the firm, a thing no more to be dispensed with than the brass plate outside the office. He appeared now as an elderly and exceedingly reputable butler, and his appearance quite enormously increased the respectability of the firm.
Nominally James Glieve and Henry Parsons were partners of equal standing, neither claiming seniority to the other; virtually James Glieve was the voice, Henry Parsons the echo. In matters of great importance, they received clients in company, Henry Parsons playing the part of Greek chorus to James Glieve's lead. In matters of less importance, they each had their own particular clients; but it is very certain that, even thus, Henry Parsons invariably echoed the voice. It merely meant that the voice had sounded in private, while the echo was heard in public.
When George, the office-boy-butler, presented James Glieve with a small piece of pasteboard, on the morning following Antony's arrival in town, with the statement that the gentleman was in the waiting-room, James Glieve requested the instant presence of Henry Parsons, prior to the introduction of Antony. From which token it will be justly observed that the matter in hand was of importance. In James Glieve's eyes it was of extreme importance, and that by reason of its being extremely unusual.
Some six weeks previously an unknown client had made his appearance in the person of a big clean-shaven man, by name Doctor Hilary St. John. Henry Parsons happened, this time quite by accident, to be present at the interview. The big man had made certain statements in an exceedingly business-like manner, and had then requested Messrs. Parsons and Glieve to act on his behalf, or, rather, on behalf of the person for whom he was emissary.
"But, bless my soul," James Glieve had boomed amazed, on the conclusion of the request, "I never heard such a thing in my life. It—I am not at all sure that it is legal."
"Not at all sure that it is legal," Henry Parsons had echoed.
The big man had laughed, recapitulated his statements, and urged his point.
"I don't see how it can be done," James Glieve had responded obstinately.
"It can't be done," the echo had repeated with even greater assurance than the voice.
"Oh, yes, it can," Doctor Hilary had replied with greater assurance still. "See here—" and he had begun all over again.
"Tut, tut," James Glieve had clucked on the conclusion of the third recital. "You've said all that before. I tell you, man, the whole business is too unusual. It—I'm sure it isn't legal. And anyhow it's mad. What's the name of your—er, your deceased friend?"
"The name?" piped Henry Parsons.
"Nicholas Danver," had been the brief response.
"Nicholas Danver!" James Glieve had almost shouted the words. "Nicholas Danver! God bless my soul!" And he had leant back in his chair and shaken with laughter. Henry Parsons, true to his role, had chuckled at intervals, but feebly. For the life of him he could see no cause for mirth.
"Oh, Nick, Nick," sighed James Glieve, wiping his eyes after a few minutes, "I always vowed you'd be the death of me. To think of you turning up in the life of a staid elderly solicitor at this hour."
Henry Parsons stared. And this time his voice found no echo.
"Well, Doctor," said James Glieve, stuffing his handkerchief back into his pocket, "I suppose I—" he broke off. "This is a most respectable firm of solicitors," he remarked suddenly and almost fiercely. "We'd never dream of stooping to anything approaching fraud."
"Not dream of it," echoed Henry.
"Of course not," said Doctor Hilary heartily. "But this——"
"Oh, yes, I daresay, I daresay. Now then, what are your propositions?"
"Your propositions?" echoed Henry.
And a fourth time Doctor Hilary repeated them.
At the end of a lengthy interview, James Glieve opened the door of his sanctum to show Doctor Hilary out.
"You might give my kindest remembrances—" he stopped. "Bless my soul, I was just going to send my remembrances to old Nick, and we've been spending the last hour settling up his will. Where's my memory going! I shall probably run down in a few days, and go through matters with you on the spot. A—er, a melancholy pleasure to see the old place again. What?"
Henry Parsons, within the room, lost this last speech; therefore it found no echo.
When Antony entered the private sanctum of James Glieve, he saw a stout red-faced man, with a suspicion of side whiskers and a slight appearance of ferocity, seated at a desk. On his right, and insignificant by comparison, was a small grey-haired and rather dried-up man.
"Mr. Antony Gray?" queried the red-faced man, looking at Antony over his spectacles.
"You come in answer to our communication regarding the will of the—er, late Mr. Nicholas Danver?" asked James Glieve.
"I do," responded Antony. And he drew the said communication from his pocket, and laid it on the table.
James Glieve glanced at it. Then he leant back in his chair, put his elbows on its arms, and placed the tips of his fingers together.
"The—er, the conditions of the will are somewhat unusual," he announced. "It is my duty to set them plainly before you. Should you refuse them, we are to see that you are fully recompensed for any expense and inconvenience your journey will have entailed. Should you, on the other hand, accept them, it is understood that as a man of honour you will fulfil the conditions exactly, not only in the letter, but in the spirit."
"In the spirit," echoed Henry Parsons.
Antony bowed in silence.
"Of course, should you fail in your contract," went on James Glieve, "the will becomes null and void. But it would be quite possible for you to keep to the contract in the letter, while breaking it merely in the spirit, in which case probably no one but yourself would be aware that it had been so broken. You will not be asked to sign any promise in the matter. You will only be asked to give your word."
"To give your word," said Henry Parsons, looking solemnly at Antony.
"Yes," said Antony quietly.
James Glieve pulled a paper towards him.
"The conditions," he announced, "are as follows. I am about to read what the—er, late Mr. Nicholas Danver has himself written regarding the matter."
He cleared his throat, and pushed his spectacles back on his nose.
Antony looked directly at him. In spite of the business-like appearance of the room, the business-like attitude of the two men opposite to him, he still felt that odd Arabian Nights' entertainment sensation. The room and its occupants seemed to be masquerading under a business garb; it seemed to need but one word—if he could have found it—to metamorphose the whole thing back to its original and true conditions, to change the room into an Aladdin's cave, and the two men into a friendly giant and an attendant dwarf. The only thing he could not see metamorphosed was George, the office-boy-butler. He retained his own appearance and personality. He appeared to have been brought—as a human boy, possibly—into the entertainment, and to have grown up imperturbably in it. Though quite probably, under his present respectable demeanour, he was well aware of the true state of affairs, and was laughing inwardly at it.
James Glieve cleared his throat a second time, and began.
"The conditions under which I make the aforesaid Antony Gray my heir," he read, "are as follows. He will not enter into possession of either property or money for one year precisely from the day of hearing these conditions. He shall give his word of honour to make known to no person whatsoever that he is my heir. He shall live, during the said year, in a furnished cottage on the estate, the cottage to be designated to him by my friend Doctor Hilary St. John. He will undertake that he lives in that cottage and nowhere else, not even for a day. He will live as an ordinary labourer. That this may be facilitated he will have a post as one of the under-gardeners in the gardens of Chorley Old Hall. Golding, the head-gardener, will instruct him in his duties. He will be paid one pound sterling per week as wage, and he shall pay a rent of five shillings per week for the cottage. He will undertake to use no income or capital of his own during the said year, nor receive any help or money from friends. Briefly, he will undertake to make the one pound per week, which he will earn as wage, suffice for his needs. He will take the name of Michael Field for one year, and neither directly nor indirectly will he acquaint any one whomsoever with the fact that it is a pseudonym. In short, he will do all in his power to give the impression to everyone that he is simply and solely Michael Field, working-man, and under-gardener at Chorley Old Hall.
"He will make his decision in the matter within twenty-four hours, and, should his decision be in the affirmative, he will bind himself, as a man of honour to abide by it. And, further, he will proceed to Byestry within one week of the decision, to take up his duties, and his residence in the aforesaid cottage.
"The fifth day of March, nineteen hundred and eleven."
James Glieve stopped. He did not look at Antony, but at the paper, which he placed on the desk in front of him.
"Hmm," said Antony quietly and ruminatively.
"You have twenty-four hours in which to make your decision," said James Glieve.
"Twenty-four hours," said Henry Parsons.
"I think that's as well," returned Antony. He was still feeling the quite absurd desire to find the word which should metamorphose the scene before him to its true conditions.
"I told you the terms of the will were unusual," said James Glieve.
"Very unusual," emphasized Henry Parsons.
"They are," said Antony dryly. Then he got up from his chair. He looked at his watch. "Well, Mr. Glieve, it is twelve o'clock. I will let you know my decision by eleven o'clock to-morrow morning. That, I believe, will entirely fulfil the conditions?"
"Entirely," said James Glieve.
"Entirely," echoed Henry Parsons.
As soon as Antony left the office, he walked down into the Strand, where he took an omnibus as far as Pimlico. There he dismounted, and made his way to the embankment, intending to walk back to his rooms in Chelsea. He had spent the previous evening hunting for rooms solely on Josephus's account. Dogs, and more especially puppies, are not welcomed at hotels; also, Antony considered the terms demanded for this special puppy's housing and maintenance entirely disproportionate to Josephus's size and requirements.