ETHEL M. DELL
Author of the Hundredth Chance, The Lamp in the Desert, The Swindler, etc.
"NOW MR. GREATHEART WAS A STRONG MAN." —The Pilgrims Progress.
I Dedicate This Book to A. G. C.
Friend of My Heart and to the Memory of All the Happy Days We have Spent Together.
I. The Wanderer II. The Looker-On III. The Search IV. The Magician V. Apollo VI. Cinderella VII. The Broken Spell VIII. Mr. Greatheart IX. The Runaway Colt. X. The House of Bondage XI. Olympus XII. The Wine of the Gods XIII. Friendship in the Desert XIV. The Purple Empress XV. The Mountain Crest XVI. The Second Draught XVII. The Unknown Force XVIII. The Escape of the Prisoner XIX. The Cup of Bitterness XX. The Vision of Greatheart XXI. The Return XXII. The Valley of the Shadow XXIII. The Way Back XXIV. The Lights of a City XXV. The True Gold XXVI. The Call of Apollo XXVII. The Golden Maze XXVIII. The Lesson XXIX. The Captive XXX. The Second Summons
I. Cinderella's Prince II. Wedding Arrangements III. Despair IV. The New Home V. The Watcher VI. The Wrong Road VII. Doubting Castle VIII. THE VICTORY IX. THE BURDEN X. THE HOURS OF DARKNESS XI. THE NET XII. THE DIVINE SPARK XIII. THE BROKEN HEART XIV. THE WRATH OF THE GODS XV. THE SAPPHIRE FOR FRIENDSHIP XVI. THE OPEN DOOR XVII. THE LION IN THE PATH XVIII. THE TRUTH XIX. THE FURNACE XX. THE COMING OF GREATHEART XXI. THE VALLEY OF HUMILIATION XXII. SPOKEN IN JEST XXIII. THE KNIGHT IN DISGUISE XXIV. THE MOUNTAIN SIDE XXV. THE TRUSTY FRIEND XXVI. THE LAST SUMMONS XXVII. THE MOUNTAIN-TOP XXVIII. CONSOLATION XXIX. THE SEVENTH HEAVEN
Biddy Maloney stood at the window of her mistress's bedroom, and surveyed the world with eyes of stern disapproval. There was nothing of the smart lady's maid about Biddy. She abominated smart lady's maids. A flyaway French cap and an apron barely reaching to the knees were to her the very essence of flighty impropriety. There was just such a creature in attendance upon Lady Grace de Vigne who occupied the best suite of rooms in the hotel, and Biddy very strongly resented her existence. In her own mind she despised her as a shameless hussy wholly devoid of all ideas of "dacency." Her resentment was partly due to the fact that the indecent one belonged to the party in possession of the best suite, which they had occupied some three weeks before Biddy and her party had appeared on the scene.
It was all Master Scott's fault, of course. He ought to have written to engage rooms sooner, but then to be sure the decision to migrate to this winter paradise in the Alps had been a sudden one. That had been Sir Eustace's fault. He was always so sudden in his ways.
Biddy sighed impatiently. Sir Eustace had always been hard to manage. She had never really conquered him even in the days when she had made him stand in the corner and go without sugar in his tea. She well remembered the shocking occasion on which he had flung sugar and basin together into the fire so that the others might be made to share his enforced abstinence. She believed he was equal to committing a similar act of violence if baulked even now. But he never was baulked. At thirty-five he reigned supreme in his own world. No one ever crossed him, unless it were Master Scott, and of course no one could be seriously angry with him, poor dear young man! He was so gentle and kind. A faint, maternal smile relaxed Biddy's grim lips. She became aware that the white world below was a-flood with sunshine.
The snowy mountains that rose against the vivid blue were dream-like in their beauty. Where the sun shone upon them, their purity was almost too dazzling to behold. It was a relief to rest the eyes upon the great patches of pine-woods that clothed some of the slopes.
"I wonder if Miss Isabel will be happy here," mused Biddy.
That to her mind was the only thing on earth that really mattered, practically the only thing for which she ever troubled her Maker. Her own wants were all amalgamated in this one great desire of her heart—that her darling's poor torn spirit should be made happy. She had wholly ceased to remember that she had ever wanted anything else. It was for Miss Isabel that she desired the best rooms, the best carriages, the best of everything. Even her love for Master Scott—poor dear young man!—depended largely upon the faculty he possessed for consoling and interesting Miss Isabel. Anyone who did that earned Biddy's undying respect and gratitude. Of the rest of the world—save for a passing disapproval—she was scarcely aware. Nothing else mattered in the same way. In fact nothing else really mattered at all.
Ah! A movement from the bed at last! Her quick ears, ever on the alert, warned her on the instant. She turned from the window with such mother-love shining in her old brown face under its severe white cap as made it as beautiful in its way as the paradise without.
"Why, Miss Isabel darlint, how you've slept then!" she said, in the soft, crooning voice which was kept for this one beloved being alone.
Two white arms were stretched wide outside the bed. Two dark eyes, mysteriously shadowed and sunken, looked up to hers.
"Has he gone already, Biddy?" a low voice asked.
"Only a little way, darlint. He's just round the corner," said Biddy tenderly. "Will ye wait a minute while I give ye your tay?"
There was a spirit-kettle singing merrily in the room. She busied herself about it, her withered face intent over the task.
The white arms fell upon the blue travelling-rug that Biddy had spread with loving care outside the bed the night before to add to her mistress's comfort. "When did he go, Biddy?" the low voice asked, and there was a furtive quality in the question as if it were designed for none but Biddy's ears. "Did he—did he leave no message?"
"Ah, to be sure!" said Biddy, turning her face for a moment. "And the likes of me to have forgotten it! He sent ye his best love, darlint, and ye were to eat a fine breakfast before ye went out."
The sad eyes smiled at her from the bed, half-gratified, half-incredulous, like the eyes of a lonely child who listens to a fairy-tale. "It was like him to think of that, Biddy. But—I wish he had stayed a little longer. I must get up and go and find him."
"Hasn't he been with ye through the night?" asked Biddy, bent again to her task.
"Nearly all night long!" The answer came on a note of triumph, yet there was also a note of challenge in it also.
"Then what more would ye have?" said Biddy wisely. "Leave him alone for a bit, darlint! Husbands are better without their wives sometimes."
A low laugh came from the bed. "Oh, Biddy, I must tell him that! He would love your bon-mots. Did he—did he say when he would be back?"
"That he did not," said Biddy, still absorbed over the kettle. "But there's nothing in that at all. Ye can't be always expecting a man to give account of himself. Now, mavourneen, I'll give ye your tay, and ye'll be able to get up when ye feel like it. Ah! There's Master Scott! And would ye like him to come in and have a cup with ye?"
Three soft knocks had sounded on the door. The woman in the bed raised herself, and her hair fell in glory around her, hair that at twenty-five had been raven-black, hair that at thirty-two was white as the snow outside the window.
"Is that you, Stumpy dear? Come in! Come in!" she called.
Her voice was hollow and deep. She turned her face to the door—a beautiful, wasted face with hungry eyes that watched and waited perpetually.
The door opened very quietly and unobtrusively, and a small, insignificant man came in. He was about the size of the average schoolboy of fifteen, and he walked with a slight limp, one leg being a trifle shorter than the other. Notwithstanding this defect, his general appearance was one of extreme neatness, from his colourless but carefully trained moustache and small trim beard to his well-shod feet. His clothes—-like his beard—fitted him perfectly.
His close-cropped hair was also colourless and grew somewhat far back on his forehead. His pale grey eyes had a tired expression, as if they had looked too long or too earnestly upon the turmoil of life.
He came to the bedside and took the thin white hand outstretched to him on which a wedding ring hung loose. He walked without awkwardness; there was even dignity in his carriage.
He bent to kiss the uplifted face. "Have you slept well, dear?"
Her arms reached up and clasped his neck. "Oh, Stumpy, yes! I have had a lovely night. Basil has been with me. He has gone out now; but I am going to look for him presently."
"Many happy returns of the day to ye, Master Scott!" put in Biddy rather pointedly.
"Ah yes. It is your birthday. I had forgotten. Forgive me, Stumpy darling! You know I wish you always the very, very best." The clinging arms held him more closely,
"Thank you, Isabel." Scott's voice was as tired as his eyes, and yet it had a certain quality of strength. "Of course it's a very important occasion. How are we going to celebrate it?"
"I have a present for you somewhere. Biddy, where is it?" Isabel's voice had a note of impatience in it.
"It's here, darlint! It's here!" Biddy bustled up to the bed with a parcel.
Isabel took it from her and turned to Scott. "It's only a silly old cigarette-case, dear, but I thought of it all myself. How old are you now, Stumpy?"
"I am thirty," he answered, smiling. "Thank you very much, dear. It's just the thing I wanted—only too good!"
"As if anything could be too good for you!" his sister said tenderly. "Has Eustace remembered?"
"Oh yes. Eustace has given me a saddle, but as he didn't think I should want it here, it is to be presented when we get home again." He sat down on the side of the bed, still inspecting the birthday offering.
"Haven't you had anything from anyone else?" Isabel asked, after a moment.
He shook his head. "Who else is there to bother about a minnow like me?"
"You're not a minnow, Scott. And didn't—didn't Basil give you anything?"
Scott's tired eyes looked at her with a sudden fixity. He said nothing; but a piteous look came into Isabel's face under his steady gaze, and she dropped her own as if ashamed.
"Whisht, Master Scott darlint, for the Lord's sake, don't ye go upsetting her!" warned Biddy in a sibilant whisper. "I had trouble enough last night. If it hadn't been for the draught, she wouldn't have slept at all, at all."
Scott did not look at her. "You should have called me," he said, and leaning forward took his sister's hand. "Isabel, wouldn't you like to come out and see the skaters? There is some wonderful luging going on too."
She did not raise her eyes; her whole demeanour had changed. She seemed to droop as if all animation had gone; "I don't know," she said listlessly. "I think I would almost as soon stay here."
"Have your tay, darlint!" coaxed Biddy, on her other side.
"Eustace will be coming to look for you if you don't," said Scott.
She started at that, and gave a quick shiver. "Oh no, I don't want Eustace! Don't let him come here, Stumpy, will you?"
"Shall I go and tell him you are coming then?" asked Scott, his eyes still steadily watching her.
She nodded. "Yes, yes. But I don't want to be made. Basil never made me do things."
Scott rose. "I will wait for you downstairs. Thank you, Biddy. Yes, I'll drink that first. No tea in the world ever tastes like your brew."
"Get along with your blarney, Master Scott!" protested Biddy. "And you and Sir Eustace mustn't tire Miss Isabel out. Remember, she's just come a long journey, and it's not wonderful at all that she don't feel like exerting herself."
A red fire of resentment smouldered in the old woman's eyes, but Scott paid no attention to it. "You'd better get some sleep yourself, Biddy, if you can," he said. "No more, thanks. You will be out in an hour then, Isabel?"
"Perhaps," she said.
He paused, standing beside her. "If you are not out in an hour I shall come and fetch you," he said.
She put forth an appealing hand like a child. "I will come out, Stumpy. I will come out," she said tremulously.
He pressed the hand for a moment. "In an hour then, I want to show you everything. There is plenty to be seen."
He turned to the door, looked back with a parting smile, and went out.
Isabel did not see the smile. She was staring moodily downwards with eyes that only looked within.
Down on the skating-rink below the hotel, a crowd of people were making merry. The ice was in splendid condition. It sparkled in the sun like a sheet of frosted glass, and over it the skaters glided with much mirth and laughter.
Scott stood on the road above and watched them. There were a good many accomplished performers among them, and there were also several beginners. But all seemed alike infected with the gaiety of the place. There was not one face that did not wear a smile.
It was an invigorating scene. From a slope of the white mountain-side beyond the rink the shouts and laughter of higers came through the crystal air. A string of luges was shooting down the run, and even as Scott caught sight of it the foremost came to grief, and a dozen people rolled ignominiously in the snow. He smiled involuntarily. He seemed to have stepped into an atmosphere of irresponsible youth. The air was full of the magic fluid. It stirred his pulses like a draught of champagne.
Then his eyes returned to the rink, and almost immediately singled out the best skater there. A man in a white sweater, dark, handsome, magnificently made, supremely sure of himself, darted with the swift grace of a swallow through the throng. His absolute confidence and splendid physique made him conspicuous. He executed elaborate figures with such perfect ease and certainty of movement that many turned to look at him in astonished admiration.
"Great Scott!" said a cracked voice at Scott's shoulder.
He turned sharply, and met the frank regard of a rosy-faced schoolboy a little shorter than himself.
"Look at that bloomin' swell!" said the new-comer in tones of deep disgust. "He seems to have sprouted in the night. I've no use for these star skaters myself. They're all so beastly sidey."
He addressed Scott as an equal, and as an equal Scott made reply. "P'raps when you're a star skater yourself, you'll change your mind about 'em."
The boy grinned. "Ah! P'raps! You're a new chum, aren't you?"
"Very new," said Scott.
"Can you skate?" asked the lad. "But of course you can. I suppose you're another dark horse. It's too bad, you know; just as Dinah and I are beginning to fancy ourselves at it. We began right at the beginning too."
"Consider yourself lucky!" said Scott rather briefly.
"What do you mean?" The boy's eyes flashed over him intelligently, green eyes humorously alert.
Scott glanced downwards. "I mean my legs are not a pair, so I can't even begin."
"Oh, bad luck, sir!" The equality vanished from the boy's voice. He became suddenly almost deferential, and Scott realized that he was no longer regarded as a comrade. "Still"—he hesitated—"you can luge, I suppose?"
"I don't quite see myself," said Scott, looking across once more to the merry group on the distant run.
"Any idiot can do that," the boy protested, then turned suddenly a deep red. "Oh, lor, I didn't mean that! Hi, Dinah!" He turned to cover his embarrassment and sent a deafening yell at the sun-bathed facade of the hotel. "Are you never coming, you cuckoo? Half the morning's gone already!"
"Coming, Billy!" at once a clear gay voice made answer, and the merriest face that Scott had ever seen made a sudden appearance at an open window. "Darling Billy, do keep your hair on for just two minutes longer! Yvonne has been trying on my fancy dress, but she's nearly done."
The neck and shoulders below the laughing face were bare and a bare arm waved in a propitiatory fashion ere it vanished.
"Looks as if the fancy dress is a minus quantity," observed Billy to his companion with a grin. "I didn't see any of it, did you?"
Scott tried not to laugh. "Your sister?" he asked.
Billy nodded affirmation. "She ain't a bad urchin," he observed, "as sisters go. We're staying here along with the de Vignes. Ever met 'em? Lady Grace is a holy terror. Her husband is a horrible stuck-up bore of an Anglo-Indian,—thinks himself everybody, and tells the most awful howlers. Rose—that's the daughter—is by way of being very beautiful. There she goes now; see? That golden-haired girl in red! She's another of your beastly star skaters. I'll bet she'll have that big bounder cutting capers with her before the day's out."
"Think so?" said Scott.
Billy nodded again. "I suppose he's a prince at least. My word, doesn't he fancy himself? Look at that now? Side—sheer side!"
The skater under discussion had just executed a most intricate figure not far from them. Having accomplished it with that unerring and somewhat blatant confidence that so revolted Billy's schoolboy soul, he straightened his tall figure, and darted in a straight line for the end of the rink above which they stood. His hands were in his pockets. His bearing was superb. He described a complete circle below them before he brought himself to a stand. Then he lifted his dark arrogant face. He wore a short clipped moustache which by no means hid the strength of a well-modelled though slightly sneering mouth. His eyes were somewhat deeply set, and shone extraordinarily blue under straight black brows that met. The man's whole expression was one of dominant self-assertion. He bore himself like a king.
"Well, Stumpy," he said, "where's Isabel?"
Scott's companion jumped, and beat a swift retreat. Scott smiled a little as he made reply.
"I have been up to see her. She will be out presently. Biddy had to give her a sleeping-draught last night."
"Damn!" said the other in a fierce undertone. "Did she call you first?"
"Then why the devil didn't she? I shall sack that woman. Isabel hasn't a chance to get well with a mischievous old hag like that always with her."
"I think Isabel would probably die without her," Stumpy responded in his quiet voice which presented a vivid contrast to his brother's stormy utterance. "And Biddy would probably die too—if she consented to go, which I doubt."
"Oh, damn Biddy! The sooner she dies the better. She's nothing but a perpetual nuisance. What is Isabel like this morning?"
Scott hesitated, and his brother frowned.
"That's enough. What else could any one expect? Look here, Scott! This thing has got to end. I shall take that sleeping-stuff away."
"If you can get hold of it," put in Scott drily.
"You must get hold of it. You have ample opportunity. It's all very well to preach patience, but she has been taking slow poison for seven years. I am certain of it. It's ridiculous! It's monstrous! It's got to end." He spoke with impatient finality, his blue eyes challenging remonstrance.
Scott made none. Only after a moment he said, "If you take away one prop, old chap, you must provide another. A broken thing can't stand alone. But need we discuss it now? As I told you, she is coming out presently, and this glorious air is bound to make a difference to her. It tastes like wine."
It was at this point that the golden-haired girl in red suddenly glided up and sat down on the bank a few yards away to adjust a skate.
Sir Eustace turned his head, and a sparkle came into his eyes. He watched her for a moment, then left his brother without further words.
"Can I do that for you?" he asked.
She lifted a flushed face. "Oh, how kind of you! But I have just managed it. How lovely the ice is this morning!"
She rose with the words, balancing herself with a grace as finished as his own, and threw him a dazzling smile of gratitude. Scott, from his post of observation on the bank, decided that she certainly was beautiful. Her face was almost faultless. And yet it seemed to him that there was infinitely more of witchery in the face that had laughed from the window a few minutes before. Almost unconsciously he was waiting to see the owner of that face emerge.
He watched the inevitable exchange of commonplaces between his brother and the beautiful Miss de Vigne whose graciousness plainly indicated her willingness for a nearer acquaintance, and presently he saw them move away side by side.
"What did I tell you?" said Billy's voice at his shoulder. "But you might have said that chap belonged to you. How was I to know?"
"Oh, quite so," said Scott. "Pray don't apologize! He doesn't belong to me either. It is I who belong to him."
Billy's green eyes twinkled appreciatively. "You're his brother, aren't you?"
Scott looked at him. "Now how on earth did you know that?"
He looked back with his frank, engaging grin. "Oh, there's the same hang about you. I can't tell you what it is. Dinah would know directly. You'd better ask her."
"I don't happen to have the pleasure of your sister's acquaintance," observed Scott, with his quiet smile.
"Oh, I'll soon introduce you if that's what you want," said Billy. "Come along! There she is now, just crossing the road. By the way, I don't think you told me your name."
"My name is Studley—Scott Studley, Stumpy to my friends," said Scott, in his whimsical, rather weary fashion.
Billy laughed. "You're a sport," he said. "When I know you a bit better, I shall remember that. Hi, Dinah! What a deuce of a time you've been. This is Mr. Studley, and he saw you at the window without anything on."
"I'm sure he didn't! Billy, how dare you?" Dinah's brown face burned an indignant red; she looked at Scott with instant hostility.
"Oh, please!" he protested mildly. "That's not quite fair on me."
"Serves you right," declared Billy with malicious delight. "You played me a shabby trick, you know."
Dinah's brow cleared. She smiled upon Scott. "Isn't he a horrid little pig? How do you do? Isn't it a ripping day? It makes you want to climb, doesn't it? I wish I'd got an alpenstock."
"Can't you get one anywhere?" asked Scott. "I thought they were always to be had."
"Yes, but they cost money," sighed Dinah. "And I haven't got any. It doesn't really matter though. There are lots of other things to do. Are you keen on luging? I am."
Her bright eyes smiled into his with the utmost friendliness, and he knew that she would not commit Billy's mistake and ask him if he skated.
Her smile was infectious. The charm of it lingered after it had passed. Her eyes were green like Billy's, only softer. They had a great deal of sweetness in them, and a spice—just a spice of devilry as well. The rest of the face would have been quite unremarkable, but the laughter-loving mouth and pointed chin wholly redeemed it from the commonplace. She was a little brown thing like a woodland creature, and her dainty air and quick ways put Scott irresistibly in mind of a pert robin.
In reply to her question he told her that he had arrived only the night before. "And I am quite a tyro," he added. "I have been watching the luging on that slope, and thanking all the stars that control my destiny that I wasn't there."
She laughed, showing a row of small white teeth. "Oh, you'd love it once you started. It's a heavenly sport if the run isn't bumpy. Isn't this a glorious atmosphere? It makes one feel so happy."
She came and stood by his side to watch the skaters. Billy was seated on the bank, impatiently changing his boots.
"I'm not going to wait for you any longer, Dinah," he said. "I'm fed up."
"Don't then!" she retorted. "I never asked you to."
"What a lie!" said Billy, with all a brother's gallantry.
She threw him a sister's look of scorn and deigned no rejoinder. But in a moment the incident was forgotten. "Oh, look there!" she suddenly exclaimed. "Isn't that just like Rose de Vigne? She's always sure to appropriate the most handsome man within sight. I've been watching that man from my window. He is a perfect Apollo, and skates divinely. And now she's got him!"
Deep disgust was audible in her voice. Billy looked up with a sideways grin. "You don't suppose he'd look at a sparrow like you, do you?" he said. "He prefers a swan, you bet."
"Be quiet, Billy!" commanded Dinah, making an ineffectual dig at him with her foot. "I don't want him to look at me. I hate men. But it is too bad the way Rose always chooses the best. It's just the same with everything. And I long—oh, I do long sometimes—to cut her out!"
"I should myself," said Scott unexpectedly. "But why don't you. I'm sure you could."
She threw him a whimsical smile. "I!" she said. "Why that's about as likely as—" she stopped short in some confusion.
He laughed a little. "You mean I might as soon hope to cut out Apollo? But the cases are not parallel, I assure you. Besides, Apollo happens to be my brother, which makes a difference."
"Oh, is he your brother? What a good thing you told me!" laughed Dinah. "I might have said something rude about him in a minute."
"Like me!" said Billy, stumbling to his feet. "I made a most horrific blunder, didn't I, Mr. Studley? I called him a bounder!"
Dinah looked at him witheringly. "You would!" she said. "Well, I hope you apologized."
Billy stuck out his tongue at her. "I didn't then!" he returned, and skated elegantly away on one leg.
"Billy," remarked Dinah dispassionately, "is not really such a horrid little beast as he seems."
Scott smiled his courteous smile. "I had already gathered that," he said.
Her green eyes darted him a swift look, as if to ascertain if he were in earnest. Then: "That was very nice of you," she said. "I wonder how you knew."
He still smiled, but without much mirth. "A looker-on sees a good many things, you know," he said.
Dinah's eyes flashed understanding. She said no more.
When Isabel came slowly forth at length from the hotel door whither Biddy had conducted her, Scott was sitting alone on a bench in the sunshine.
He rose at once to join her. "Why, how quick you have been! Or else the time flies here. Eustace is still skating. I had no idea he was so accomplished. See, there he is!"
But Isabel set her haggard face towards the mountain-road that wound up beyond the hotel. "I am going to look for Basil," she said.
"It is waste of time," said Scott quietly.
But he did not attempt to withstand her. They turned side by side up the hard, snowy track.
For some time they walked in silence. At a short distance from the hotel, the road ascended steeply through a pine-wood, dark and mysterious as an enchanted forest, through which there rose the sound of a rushing stream.
Scott paused to listen, but instantly his sister laid an imperious hand upon him.
"I can't wait," she said. "I am sure he is just round the corner. I heard him whistle."
He moved on in response to her insistence. "I heard that whistle too," he said. "But it was a mountain-boy."
He was right. At a curve in the road, they met a young Swiss lad who went by them with a smile and salute, and fell to whistling again when he had passed.
Isabel pressed on in silence. She had started in feverish haste, but her speed was gradually slackening. She looked neither to right nor left; her eyes perpetually strained forward as though they sought for something just beyond their range of vision. For a while Scott limped beside her without speaking, but at last as they sighted the end of the pine-wood he gently broke the silence.
"Isabel dear, I think we must turn back very soon."
"Oh, why?" she said. "Why? You always say that when—" There came a break in her voice, and she ceased to speak.
Her pace quickened so that he had some difficulty in keeping up with her, but he made no protest. With the utmost patience he also pressed on.
But it was not long before her strength began to fail. She stumbled once or twice, and he put a supporting hand under her elbow. As they neared the edge of the pines it became evident that the road dwindled to a mere mountain-path winding steeply upwards through the snow. The sun shone dazzlingly upon the great waste of whiteness.
Very suddenly Isabel stopped. "He can't have gone this way after all," she said, and turned to her brother with eyes of tragic hopelessness. "Stumpy, Stumpy, what shall I do?"
He drew her hand very gently through his arm. "We will go back, dear," he said.
A low sob escaped her, but she did not weep. "If I only had the strength to go on and on and on!" she said. "I know I should find him some day then."
"You will find him some day," he answered with grave assurance. "But not yet."
They went back to the turn in the road where the sound of the stream rose like fairy music from an unseen glen. The snow lay pure and untrodden under the trees.
Scott paused again, and this time Isabel made no remonstrance. They stood together listening to the rush of the torrent.
"How beautiful this place must be in springtime!" he said.
She gave a sharp shiver. "It is like a dead world now."
"A world that will very soon rise again," he answered.
She looked at him with vague eyes. "You are always talking of the resurrection," she said.
"When I am with you, I am often thinking of it," he said with simplicity.
A haunted look came into her face. "But that implies—death," she said, her voice very low.
"And what is Death?" said Scott gently, as if he reasoned with a child. "Do you think it is more than a step further into Life? The passing of a boundary, that is all."
"But there is no returning!" she protested piteously. "It must be more than that."
"My dear, there is never any returning," he said gravely. "None of us can go backwards. Yesterday is but a step away, but can we retrace that step? No, not one of us."
She made a sudden, almost fierce gesture. "Oh, to go back!" she cried. "Oh, to go back! Why should we be forced blindly forward when we only want to go back?"
"That is the universal law," said Scott. "That is God's Will."
"It is cruel! It is cruel!" she wailed.
"No, it is merciful. So long as there is Death in the world we must go on. We have got to get past Death."
She turned her tragic eyes upon him. "And what then? What then?"
Scott was gazing steadfastly into her face of ravaged beauty. "Then—the resurrection," he said. "There are millions of people in the world, Isabel, who are living out their lives solely for the sake of that, because they know that if they only keep on, the Resurrection will give back to them all that they have lost. My dear, it is not going back that could help anyone. The past is past, the present is passing; there is only the future that can restore all things. We are bound to go forward, and thank God for it!"
Her eyes fell slowly before his. She did not speak, but after a moment gave him her hand with a shadowy smile. They continued the descent side by side.
Another curve of the road brought them within sight of the hotel.
Scott broke the silence. "Here is Eustace coming to meet us!"
She looked up with a start, and into her face came a curious, veiled expression, half furtive, half afraid.
"Don't tell him, Stumpy!" she said quickly.
"Don't tell him I have been looking for Basil this morning. He—he wouldn't understand. And—and—you know—I must look for him sometimes. I shall lose him altogether if I don't."
"Shall we pretend we are enjoying ourselves?" said Scott with a smile.
She answered him with feverish earnestness. "Yes—yes! Let us do that! And, Stumpy, Stumpy dear, you are good, you can pray. I can't, you know. Will you—will you pray sometimes—that I may find him?"
"I shall pray that your eyes may be opened, Isabel," he answered, "so that you may know you have never really lost him."
She smiled again, her fleeting, phantom smile. "Don't pray for the impossible, Stumpy!" she said. "I—I think that would be a mistake."
"Is anything impossible?" said Scott.
He raised his hand before she could make any answer, and sent a cheery holloa down to his brother who waved a swift response. They quickened their steps to meet him.
Eustace was striding up the hill with the easy swing of a giant. He held out both hands to Isabel as he drew near. She pulled herself free from Scott, and went to him as one drawn by an unseen force.
"Ah, that's right," he said, and bent to kiss her. "I'm glad you've been for a walk. But you might have come and spoken to me first. I was only on the rink."
"I didn't want to see a lot of people," said Isabel, shrinking a little. "I—I don't like so many strangers, Eustace."
"Oh, nonsense!" he said lightly. "You have been buried too long. It's time you came out of your shell. I shan't take you home again till you have quite got over that."
His tone was kindly but it held authority. Isabel attempted no protest. Only she looked away over the sparkling world of white and blue with something near akin to despair in her eyes.
Scott took out his cigarette-case, and handed it to his brother. "Isabel's birthday present to me!" he said.
Eustace examined it with a smile. "Very nice! Did you think of it all by yourself, Isabel?"
"No," she said with dreary listlessness. "Biddy reminded me."
Eustace's face changed. He frowned slightly and gave the case back to his brother.
"Have a cigarette!" said Scott.
He took one absently, and Scott did the same.
"How did you get on with the lady in red?" he asked.
Eustace threw him a glance half-humorous, half-malicious. "If it comes to that, how did you get on with the little brown girl?"
"Oh, very nicely," smiled Scott. "Her name is Dinah. Your lady's name is Rose de Vigne, if you care to know."
"Really?" said Eustace. "And who told you that?"
"Dinah, of course, or Dinah's brother. I forget which. They belong to the same party."
"I should think that little snub-nosed person feels somewhat in the shade," observed Eustace.
"I expect she does. But she has plenty of wits to make up for it. She seems to find life quite an interesting entertainment."
"She can't skate a bit," said Eustace.
"Can't she? You'll have to give her a hint or two. I am sure she would be very grateful."
"Did she tell you so?"
"I'm not going to tell you what she told me. It wouldn't be fair."
Eustace laughed with easy tolerance. "Oh, I've no objection to giving her a hand now and then if she's amusing, and doesn't become a nuisance. I'm not going to let myself be bored by anybody this trip. I'm out for sport only."
"It's a lovely place," observed Scott.
"Oh, perfect. I'm going to ski this afternoon. How do you like it, Isabel?"
Abruptly the elder brother accosted her. She was walking between them as one in a dream. She started at the sound of her name.
"I don't know yet," she said. "It is rather cold, isn't it? I—I am not sure that I shall be able to sleep here."
Eustace's eyes held hers for a moment. "Oh, no one expects to sleep here," he said lightly. "You skate all day and dance all night. That's the programme."
Her lips parted a little. "I—dance!" she said.
"Why not?" said Eustace.
She made a gesture that was almost expressive of horror. "When I dance," she said, in her deep voice, "you may put me under lock and key for good and all, for I shall be mad indeed."
"Don't be silly!" he said sharply.
She shrank as if at a blow, and on the instant very quietly Scott intervened. "Isabel and I prefer to look on," he said, drawing her hand gently through his arm. "I fancy it suits us both best."
His eyes met his brother's quick frown deliberately, with the utmost steadiness, and for a few electric seconds there was undoubted tension between them. Isabel was aware of it, and gripped the supporting arm very closely.
Then with a shrug Eustace turned from the contest. "Oh, go your own way! It's all one to me. You're one of the slow coaches that never get anywhere."
Scott said nothing whatever. He smoked his cigarette without a sign of perturbation. Save for a certain steeliness in his pale eyes, his habitually placid expression remained unaltered.
He walked in silence for a few moments, then without effort began to talk in a general strain of their journey of the previous day. Had Isabel cared about the sleigh-ride? If so, they would go again one day.
She lighted up in response with an animation which she had not displayed during the whole walk. Her eyes shone a little, as with a far-off fire of gratitude.
"I should like it if you would, Stumpy," she said.
"Then we will certainly go," he said. "I should enjoy it very much."
Eustace came out of a somewhat sullen silence to throw a glance of half-reluctant approval towards his brother. He plainly regarded Scott's move as an achievement of some importance.
"Yes, go by all means!" he said. "Enjoy yourselves. That's all I ask."
Isabel's faint smile flitted across her tired face, but she said nothing.
Only as they reached and entered the hotel, she pressed Scott's hand for a moment in both her own.
"Well, Dinah, my dear, are you ready?"
Rose de Vigne, very slim and graceful, with her beautiful hair mounted high above her white forehead and falling in a shower of golden ringlets behind after the style of a hundred years ago, stood on the threshold of Dinah's room, awaiting permission to enter. Her dress was of palest green satin brocade, a genuine Court dress of a century old. Her arms and neck gleamed with a snowy whiteness. She looked as if she had just stepped out of an ancient picture.
There came an impatient cry from within the room. "Oh, come in! Come in! I'm not nearly ready,—never shall be, I think. Where is Yvonne? Couldn't she spare me a single moment?"
The beautiful lady entered with a smile. She could afford to smile, being complete to the last detail and quite sure of taking the ballroom by storm. She found Dinah scurrying barefooted about the room with her hair in a loose bunch on her neck, her attire of the scantiest description, her expression one of wild desperation.
"I've lost my stockings. Where can they be? I know I had them this morning. Can Yvonne have taken them by mistake? She put everything ready for me,—or said she had."
The bed was littered with articles of clothing all flung together in hopeless confusion. Rose came forward. "Surely Yvonne didn't leave your things like this?" she said.
"No. I've been hunting through everything for the stockings. Where can they be? I shall have to go without them, that's all."
"My dear child, they can't be far away. You had better get on with your hair while I look for them. I am afraid you will not be able to count on any help from Yvonne to-night. She has only just finished dressing me, and has gone now to help Mother. You know what that means."
"Oh, goodness, yes!" said Dinah. "I wish I'd never gone in for this stupid fancy dress at all. I shall never be done."
Rose smiled in her indulgent way. She was always kind to Dinah. "Well, I can help you for a few minutes. I can't think how you come to be so late. I thought you came in long ago."
"Yes, but Billy wanted some buttons sewn on, and that hindered me." Dinah was dragging at her hair with impatient fingers. "What a swell you look, Rose! I'm sure no one will dare to ask you for any but square dances."
"Do you think so, dear?" said Rose, looking at herself complacently in the glass over Dinah's head.
Dinah made a sudden and hideous grimace. "Oh, drat my hair! I can't do anything with it. I believe I shall cut it all off, put on just a pinafore, and go as a piccaninny."
"That sounds a little vulgar," observed Rose. "There are your stockings under the bed. You must have dropped them under. I should think the more simply you do your hair the better if you are going to wear a coloured kerchief over it. You have natural ringlets in front, and that is the only part that will show."
"And they will hang down over my eyes," retorted Dinah, "unless I fasten them back with a comb, which I haven't got. Oh, don't stay, Rose! I know you are wanting to go, and you can't help me. I shall manage somehow."
"Are you quite sure?" said Rose turning again to survey herself.
"Quite—quite! I shall get on best alone. I'm in a bad temper too, and I want to use language—horrid language," said Dinah, tugging viciously at her dark hair.
Rose lowered her stately gaze and watched her for a moment. Then as Dinah's green eyes suddenly flashed resentful enquiry upon her she lightly touched the girl's flushed cheek, and turned away. "Poor little Dinah!" she said.
The door closed upon her graceful figure in its old-world, sweeping robe and Dinah whizzed round from the glass like a naughty fairy in a rage. "Rose de Vigne, I hate you!" she said aloud, and stamped her unshod foot upon the floor.
A period of uninterrupted misfortune followed this outburst. Everything went wrong. The costume which the French maid had so deftly fitted upon her that morning refused to be adjusted properly. The fastenings baffled her, and finally a hook at the back took firm hold of the lawn of her sleeve and maliciously refused to be disentangled therefrom.
Dinah struggled for freedom for some minutes till the lawn began to tear, and then at last she became desperate. "Billy must do it," she said, and almost in tears she threw open the door and ran down the passage.
Billy's room was round a corner, and this end of the corridor was dim. As she turned it, she almost collided with a figure coming in the opposite direction—a boyish-looking figure in evening dress which she instantly took for Billy.
"Oh, there you are!" she exclaimed. "Do come along and help me like a saint! I'm in such a fix."
There was an instant's pause before she discovered her mistake, and then in the same moment a man's voice answered her.
"Of course I will help you with pleasure. What is wrong?"
Dinah started back, as if she would flee in dismay. But perhaps it was the kindness of his response, or possibly only the extremity of her need—something held her there. She stood her ground as it were in spite of herself.
"Oh, it is you! I do beg your pardon. I thought it was Billy. I've got my sleeve caught up at the back, and I want him to undo it."
"I'll undo it if you will allow me," said Scott.
"Oh, would you? How awfully kind! My arm is nearly broken with trying to get free. You can't see here though," said Dinah. "There's a light by my door."
"Let us go to it then!" said Scott. "I know what it is to have things go wrong at a critical time."
He accompanied her back again with the utmost simplicity, stopped by the light, and proceeded with considerable deftness to remedy the mischief.
"Oh, thank you!" said Dinah, with heart-felt gratitude as he freed her at last. "Billy would have torn the stuff in all directions. I'm dressing against time, you see, and I've no one to help me."
"Do you want any more help?" asked Scott, looking at her with a quizzical light in his eyes.
She laughed, albeit she was still not far from tears. "Yes, I want someone to pin a handkerchief on my head in the proper Italian fashion. I don't look much like a contadina yet, do I?"
He surveyed her more critically. "It's not a bad get-up. You look very nice anyhow. If you like to bring me the handkerchief, I will see what I can do. I know a little about it from the point of view of an amateur artist. You want some earrings. Have you got any?"
Dinah shook her head. "Of course not."
"I believe my sister has," said Scott. "I'll go and see."
"Oh no, no! What will she think?" cried Dinah in distress.
He uttered his quiet laugh. "I will present you to her by-and-bye if I may. I am sure she will be interested and pleased. You finish off as quickly as you can! I shall be back directly."
He limped away again down the passage, moving more quickly than was his wont, and Dinah hastened back into her room wondering if this informality would be regarded by her chaperon as a great breach of etiquette.
"Rose thinks I'm vulgar," she murmured to herself. "I wonder if I really am. But really—he is such a dear little man. How could I possibly help it?"
The dear little man's return put an end to her speculations. He came back in an incredibly short time, armed with a leather jewel-case which he deposited on the threshold.
Dinah came light-footed to join him, all her grievances forgotten. Her hair, notwithstanding its waywardness, clustered very prettily about her face. There was a bewitching dimple near one corner of her mouth.
"You can come in if you like," she said. "I'm quite dressed—all except the handkerchief."
"Thank you; but I won't come in," he answered. "We mustn't shock anybody. If you could bring a chair out, I could manage quite well."
She fetched the chair. "If anyone comes down the passage, they'll wonder what on earth we are doing," she remarked.
"They will take us for old friends," said Scott in a matter of-fact tone as he opened the jewel-case.
She laughed delightedly. There was a peculiarly happy quality about her laugh. Most people smiled quite involuntarily when they heard it, though Billy compared it to the neigh of a cheery colt.
"Now," said Scott, looking at her quizzically, "are you going to sit in the chair, or am I going to stand on it?"
"Oh, I'll sit," she said. "Here's the handkerchief! You will fasten it so that it doesn't flop, won't you? May I hold that case? I won't touch anything."
He put it open into her lap. "There is a chain of coral there. Perhaps you can find it. I think it would look well with your costume."
Dinah pored over the jewels with sparkling eyes. "But are you sure—quite sure—your sister doesn't mind?"
"Quite sure," said Scott, beginning to drape the handkerchief adroitly over her bent head.
"How very sweet of her—of you both!" said Dinah. "I feel like Cinderella being dressed for the ball. Oh, what lovely pearls! I never saw anything so exquisite."
She had opened an inner case and was literally revelling in its contents.
"They were—her husband's wedding present to her," said Scott in his rather monotonous voice.
"How lovely it must be to be married!" said Dinah, with a little sigh.
"Do you think so?" said Scott.
She turned in her chair to regard him. "Don't you?"
"I can't quite imagine it," he said.
"Oh, can't I!" said Dinah. "To have someone in love with you, wanting no one but you, thinking there's no one else in the world like you. Have you never dreamt that such a thing has happened? I have. And then waked up to find everything very flat and uninteresting."
Scott was intent upon fastening an old gold brooch in the red kerchief above her forehead. He did not meet the questioning of her bright eyes.
"No," he said. "I don't think I ever cajoled myself, either waking or sleeping, into imagining that anybody would ever fall in love with me to that extent."
Dinah laughed, her upturned face a-brim with merriment. "If any woman ever wants to marry you, she'll have to do her own proposing, won't she?" she said.
"I think she will," said Scott.
"I wish Rose de Vigne would fall in love with you then," declared Dinah. "Men are always proposing to her, she leads them on till they make perfect idiots of themselves. I think it's simply horrid of her to do it. But she says she can't help being beautiful. Oh, how I wish—" Dinah broke off.
"What do you wish?" said Scott.
She turned her face away to hide a blush. "You must think me very silly and childish. So I am, but I'm not generally so. I think it's in the air here. I was going to say, how I wished I could outshine her for just one night! Isn't that piggy of me? But I am so tired of being always in the shade. She called me 'Poor little Dinah!' only to-night. How would you like to be called that?"
"Most people call me Stumpy," observed Scott, with his whimsical little smile.
"How rude of them! How horrid of them!" said Dinah. "And do you actually put up with it?"
He bent with her over the jewel-case, and picked out the coral chain. "I don't care the toss of a halfpenny," he said.
She gave him a quick, searching glance. "Not really? Not in your secret heart?"
"Not in the deepest depth of my unfathomable soul," he declared.
"Then you're a great man," said Dinah, with conviction.
Scott's laugh was one of genuine amusement. "Oh, does that follow? I've never seen myself in that light before."
But Dinah was absolutely serious and remained so. There was even a touch of reverence in her look. "You evidently don't know yourself in the least," she said. "Anyhow, you've made me feel a downright toad."
"I don't know why," said Scott. "You don't look like one if that's any comfort." He stooped to fasten the necklace. "Now for the earrings, and you are complete."
"It is good of you," she said gratefully. "I am longing to go and look at myself. But can you fasten them first? I'm sure I can't."
He complied with his almost feminine dexterity, and in a few moments a sparkling and glorified Dinah rose and skipped into her room to see the general effect of her transformation.
Scott lingered to close the jewel-case. Frankly, he had enjoyed himself during the last ten minutes. Moreover he was sure she would be pleased with the result of his labours. But he was hardly prepared for the cry of delight that reached him as he turned to depart.
He paused as he heard it, and in a moment Dinah flashed out again like a radiant butterfly and gave him both her hands.
"You—magician!" she cried. "How did you do it? How can I thank you? I've never been so nearly pretty in my life!"
He bowed in courtly fashion over the little brown hands. "Then you have never seen yourself with the eyes of others," he said. "I congratulate you on doing so to-night."
She laughed her merry laugh. "Thank you! Thank you a hundred times! I've only one thing left to wish for."
"What is that?" he said.
She told him with a touch of shyness. "That—Apollo—will dance with me!"
Scott laughed and let her go. "Oh, is that all? Then I will certainly see that he does."
"Oh, but don't tell him!" pleaded Dinah.
"I never repeat confidences," declared Scott. "Good-bye, Signorina!"
And with another bow, he left her.
The salon was a blaze of lights and many shifting colours. The fantastic crowd that trooped thither from the salle-a-manger was like a host of tropical flowers. The talking and laughter nearly drowned the efforts of the string band in the far corner.
Scott in ordinary evening-dress stood near the door talking to an immense Roman Emperor, looking by contrast even smaller and more insignificant than usual. Yet a closer observation would have shown that the same instinctive dignity of bearing characterized them both. Utterly unlike though they were, yet in this respect it was not difficult to trace their brotherhood. Though moulded upon lines so completely dissimilar, they bore the same indelible stamp—the stamp of good birth which can never be attained by such as have it not. Sir Eustace Studley was the handsomest man in the room. His imperial costume suited his somewhat arrogant carriage. He looked like a man born to command. His keen eyes glanced hither and thither with an eagle-like intensity that missed nothing. He seemed to be on the watch for someone.
"Who is it?" asked Scott, with a smile. "The lady of the rink?"
The black brows went up haughtily for a moment, then descended in an answering smile. "She is the only woman I've seen here yet that's worth looking at," he observed.
"Don't you be too sure of that!" said Scott. "I can show you a little Italian peasant girl who is well worth your august consideration. I think you ought to bestow a little favour on her as you have each chosen to assume the same nationality."
Sir Eustace laughed. "A protegee of yours, eh? That little brown girl, I suppose? Charming no doubt, my dear fellow; but ordinary—distinctly ordinary."
"You haven't seen her yet," said Scott. "You had your back to her in the salle-a-manger."
"Where is she then? You had better find her before the beautiful Miss de Vigne makes her appearance. I don't mind giving her a dance or two, but you must take her off my hands if we don't get on."
"I will certainly do that," said Scott in his quiet voice that seemed to veil a touch of irony. "I believe she is in the vestibule now. No, here she is!"
Dinah, with laughing lips and sparkling eyes, had just ventured to the door with Billy. "We'll just peep," she said to her brother in the gay young tones that penetrated so much further than she realized. "But I shall never dare to dance. Why, I've never even seen the inside of a ballroom before. And as to dancing with a real live man—" She broke off as she caught sight of the two brothers standing together near the entrance.
Eustace turned his restless eyes upon her, gave her a swift, critical glance and muttered something to Scott.
The latter at once stepped forward, receiving a smile so radiant that even Eustace was momentarily dazzled. The little brown girl certainly had points.
"May I introduce my brother?" said Scott. "Sir Eustace Studley—Miss—I am afraid I don't know your surname."
"Sketchy," murmured Eustace, as he bowed.
But Dinah only laughed her ringing, merry laugh. "Of course you don't know. How could you? Our name is Bathurst. I'm Dinah and this is Billy. I am years older than he is, of course." She gave Eustace a shy glance. "How do you do?"
"She's just thirty," announced Billy, in shrill, cracked tones. "She's just pretending to be young to-night, but she ain't young really. You should see her without her warpaint."
The music became somewhat more audible at this point. Eustace bent slightly, looking down at the girl with eyes that were suddenly soft as velvet. "They are beginning to dance," he said. "May I have the pleasure? It's a pity to lose time."
Her red lips smiled delighted assent. She laid her hand with a feathery touch upon the arm he offered. "Oh, how lovely!" she said, and slid into his hold like a giddy little water-fowl taking to its own beloved element.
"Well, I'm jiggered!" said Billy. "And she's never danced with a man—except of course me—before!"
"Live and learn!" said Scott.
He watched the couple go up the great room, and he saw that, as he had suspected, Dinah was an exquisite dancer. Her whole being was merged in movement. She was as an instrument in the hand of a skilled player.
Sir Eustace Studley was an excellent dancer too, though he did not often trouble himself to dance as perfectly as he was dancing now. It was not often that he had a partner worthy of his best, and it was a semi-conscious habit of his never voluntarily to give better than he received.
But this little gipsy-girl of Scott's discovery called forth all his talent. She did not want to talk. She only wanted to dance, to spend herself in a passion of dancing that was an ecstasy beyond all speech. She was as sensitive as a harp-string to his touch; she was music, she was poetry, she was charm. The witchery of her began to possess him. Her instant response to his mood, her almost uncanny interpretation thereof, became like a spell to his senses. From wonder he passed to delight, and from delight to an almost feverish desire for more. He swayed her to his will with a well-nigh savage exultation, and she gave herself up to it so completely, so freely, so unerringly, that it was as if her very individuality had melted in some subtle fashion and become part of his. And to the man there came a moment of sheer intoxication, as though he drank and drank of a sparkling, inspiriting wine that lured him, that thrilled him, that enslaved him.
It was just when the sensation had reached its height that the music suddenly quickened for the finish. That brought him very effectually to earth. He ceased to dance and led her aside.
She turned her bright face to him for a moment, in her eyes the dazed, incredulous look of one awaking from an enthralling dream. "Oh, can't we dance it out?" she said, as if she pleaded against being aroused.
He shook his head. "I never dance to a finish. It's too much like the clown's turn after the transformation scene. It is bathos on the top of the superb. At least it would be in this case. Who in wonder taught you to dance like that?"
Dinah opened her eyes a little wider and gave him the Homage of shy admiration; but she met a look in return that amazed her, that sent the blood in a wild unreasoning race to her heart. For those eyes of burning, ardent blue had suddenly told her something, something that no eyes had ever told her before. It was incredible but true. Homage had met homage, aye, and more than homage. There was mastery in his look; but there was also wonder and a curious species of half-grudging reverence. She had amazed him, this witch with the sparkling eyes that shone so alluringly under the scarlet kerchief. She had swept him as it were with a fan of flame. She had made him live. And he had pronounced her ordinary!
"I have always loved to dance," she said in answer to his almost involuntary question. "Do you like my dancing? I'm so glad."
"Like it!" He laughed with an odd shamefacedness. "I could dance with you the whole evening. But I should probably end by making a fool of myself like a man who has had too much champagne."
Dinah laughed. She had an exhilarating sense of having achieved a conquest undreamed of. She also was feeling a little giddy, a little uncertain of the ground under her feet.
"Do you know," she said, dropping her eyes instinctively before the fiery intensity of his, "I've never danced with a man before? I—I was a little afraid just at first lest you should find me—gawky."
"Ye gods!" said Sir Eustace. "And you have really never danced with a man before! Tell me! How did you like it?"
"It was—heavenly!" said Dinah, drawing a deep breath.
"Will you dance with me again?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yes."
"The very next dance?"
She nodded again. "Yes."
"And again after that?" said Sir Eustace.
She threw him a glance half-shy, half-daring. "Don't you think it might be too much for you?"
He laughed. "I'll risk it if you will."
She turned towards him with a small, confidential gesture. "What about Rose de Vigne?" she said. "Don't you want to dance with her?"
"Oh, presently," he said. "She'll keep."
Dinah broke into her high, sweet laugh. "And what about—all my other partners?" she said, with more assurance.
He bent to her. "They must keep too. Seriously, you don't want to dance with any other fellow, do you?"
"I'm not a bit serious," said Dinah.
"Do you?" he insisted.
She lifted her eyes momentarily.
"You don't?" he insinuated.
She surrendered without conditions. "Of course I don't."
"Then you mustn't," he said. "Consider yourself booked to me for to-night, and when you're not dancing with me, you can rest. Sit out with Scott if you like! Will you do that?"
"Why?" whispered Dinah.
Again her heart was beating very fast; she wondered why.
He answered her with an impetuosity that seemed to carry her along with it. "Because your dancing is superb, magnificent, and I want to keep it for myself. It may not be the same when you've danced with another man. A flower fresh plucked is always sweeter than one that someone else has worn."
Dinah's hands clasped each other unconsciously. She had never dreamed that Apollo could so stoop to favour her.
"I will do as you like," she murmured after a moment. "But I don't suppose for an instant that anyone else would want to dance with me. I don't know anyone else."
He smiled. "I'm glad of that. It would be sheer sacrilege for you to dance with a young oaf who didn't know how. It's a bargain then. I'll give you all I can. You mustn't tell, of course."
"Oh, I won't tell," laughed Dinah.
He gave her his arm. "They are tuning up. We won't lose a minute. I always like a clear floor, before the rabble begin."
He led her to the top of the room, stood for a moment; then, as the music began, caught her to him, and they floated once more into the shining, enchanted mazes of their dreamland.
And Dinah danced as one inspired, for it seemed to her that her feet moved upon air as though winged. Apollo had drawn her up to Olympus, and she drifted in his arm in spheres unknown, far above the clouds.
"Come and sit down!" said Scott.
Dinah gave a little start. She was standing close to him, but she had not seen him. She looked at him for a second with far-away eyes, as if she did not know him.
Then recognition flashed into them. She smiled an eager greeting. "Oh, Mr. Studley, I want to thank you for the very happiest evening of my life."
He smiled also as he sat down beside her. "You are enjoying yourself?"
"Oh yes, indeed I am!" she assured him. "Thank you a hundred million times!"
"Why thank me?" questioned Scott.
She drew a long, long breath. "Because you were the magician who pulled the strings. I should never have got dressed in the first place but for you."
He gave a laugh of amused protest. "Oh, surely! I don't feel I deserve that!"
She laughed with him. "You did it anyhow. And in the second place you got me out of a villainous bad temper and turned an ugly goblin into a very happy butterfly. I'm downright ashamed of myself for being so horrid about Rose de Vigne. She isn't at all a bad sort though she is so impossibly beautiful. Your brother is going to dance with her now. See! There they go!"
She looked after them with a smile of complete content.
"You're feeling generous," remarked Scott.
She turned to him again, flushed and radiant. "I can afford to—though it's for the first time in my life. I've never had such a happy time,—never, never, never! Isn't your brother wonderful? His dancing is—" Words failed her. She raised her hands and let them fall with a gesture expressive of unbounded admiration.
"You mustn't let him monopolize you," said Scott. "He has plenty to choose from, you know. Others haven't."
She laughed. "He says—I wonder if it's true!—he says I am the best dancer he has ever met!"
Scott smiled at her beaming face. "That is very nice—for him," he observed. "I thought you seemed to be getting on very well."
Her eyes travelled across the room again to her late partner and the beautiful Miss de Vigne. She watched them intently for a few seconds.
"Poor Rose!" she said suddenly.
Scott was watching her. "Isn't she a good dancer?" he asked.
She turned back to him. "Oh yes, I believe she is. She always has plenty of partners anyway. At least I've always heard so. Is your sister dancing? I don't think I can have seen her yet."
"No. She is in her sitting-room upstairs. I wanted her to come down, but she wouldn't be persuaded. She—" Scott hesitated a moment—"is not fond of gaiety."
"Then I shan't see her!" said Dinah in tones of genuine disappointment. "I did so want to thank her for lending me these lovely things."
"I can take you to her if you'll come," said Scott.
"Oh, can you? Yes, I'll come. I can come now. But are you sure she will like it?" Dinah's bright eyes met his with frank directness. "I don't want to intrude on her, you know," she said.
He smiled a little. "I am sure you won't intrude. Shall we go then? Are you sure there is no one else you want to dance with here?"
"Oh, quite sure." Again momentarily Dinah's look sought her late partner; then briskly she stood up.
Scott rose also, and gave her his arm. She bestowed a small, friendly squeeze upon it. "I've never enjoyed myself so much before," she said. "And it's all your doing."
"Oh, not really!" he said.
She nodded vigorously. "But it is! I should never have been presentable but for you. And I should certainly never have danced with your brother. He has actually promised to help me with my skating to-morrow. Isn't it kind of him?"
"I wonder," said Scott.
"What do you wonder?" Dinah looked at him curiously.
But he only smiled a baffling smile, and turned the subject. "Wouldn't you like something to drink before we go up?"
Dinah declined. She was not in the least thirsty. She did not feel as if she would ever want to eat or drink again.
"Only to dance!" said Scott. "Well, I mustn't keep you long then. Who is that lady making signs to you? Hadn't you better go and speak to her?"
"Oh, bother!" said Dinah. "You come too, then. It's only Lady Grace—Rose's mother. I'm sure it can't be anything important."
Scott piloted her across the vestibule to the couch on which Lady Grace sat. She was a large, fair woman with limpid eyes and drawling speech. She extended a plump white hand to the girl.
"Dinah, my dear, I think you have had almost enough for to-night. And they were so very behind time in starting. Your mother would not like you to stay up late, I feel sure. You had better go to bed when this dance is over. You are not accustomed to dissipation, remember."
A swift cloud came over Dinah's bright face. "Oh, but, Lady Grace, I'm not in the least tired. And I'm not a baby, you know. I'm nearly twenty. I really couldn't go yet."
"You will have plenty more opportunities, dear," said Lady Grace, quite unruffled. "Rose has decided to retire after this dance, and I shall do the same. The Colonel is suffering with dyspepsia, and he does not wish us to be late."
Dinah bit her lip. "Oh, very well," she said somewhat shortly; and to Scott, "We had better go at once then."
He led her away obediently. They ascended the stairs together.
As they reached the top of the flight Dinah's indignation burst its bounds. "Isn't it too bad? Why should I go to bed just because the Colonel's got dyspepsia? I don't believe it's that at all really. It's Rose who can't bear to think that I am having as good a time—or Better—than she is."
"May I say what I think?" asked Scott politely.
She stopped, facing him. "Yes, do!"
He was smiling somewhat whimsically. "I think that—like Cinderella—you may break the spell if you stay too long."
"But isn't it too bad?" protested Dinah. "Your brother too—I can't disappoint him."
Scott's smile became a laugh. "Oh, believe me, it would do him good, Miss Bathurst. He gets his own way much too often."
She smiled, but not very willingly. "It does seem such a shame. He has been—so awfully nice to me."
"That's nothing," said Scott airily. "We can all be nice when we are enjoying ourselves."
Dinah looked at him with sudden attention. "Are you pointing a moral?" she asked severely.
"Trying to," said Scott.
She tried to frown upon him, but very abruptly and completely failed. Her pointed chin went up in a gay laugh. "You do it very nicely," she said. "Thank you, Mr. Studley. I won't be grumpy any more. It would be a pity to break the spell, as you say. Will you explain to the prince?"
"Certainly," he said, leading her on again. "I shall make it quite clear to him that Cinderella was not to blame. Here is our sitting-room at the end of this passage!"
He stopped at the door and would have opened it, but Dinah, smitten with sudden shyness, drew back.
"Hadn't you better go in first and—and explain?" she said.
"Oh no, quite unnecessary," he said, and turned the handle.
At once a woman's voice accosted him. "For the Lord's sake, Master Stumpy, come in quick and shut the door behind ye! The racket downstairs is sending Miss Isabel nearly crazy, poor lamb. And it's meself that's wondering what we'll do to-night, for there's no peace at all in this wooden shanty of a place."
"Be quiet, Biddy!" Scott's voice made calm, undaunted answer. "You can go if you like. I've come to sit with Miss Isabel for a while. And I've brought her a visitor. Isabel, my dear, I've brought you a visitor."
Dinah moved forward in response to his gentle insistence, but her shyness went with her. She was aware of something intangible in the atmosphere that startled, that almost frightened, her.
The gaunt figure of a woman clad in a long, white robe sat at a table in the middle of the room with a sheaf of letters littered before her. Her emaciated arms were flung wide over them, her white head was bowed.
But at Scott's quiet announcement, it was raised with the suddenness of eager expectancy. For the fraction of a second Dinah saw dark, sunken eyes ablaze with a hope that was almost terrible in its intensity.
It was gone on the instant. They looked at her with a species of dull wonder. "Are you a friend of Scott's? I am very pleased to meet you," a hollow voice said.
A thin hand was extended to her, and as Dinah clasped it a sudden great pity surged through her, dispelling her doubt. Something in her responded swiftly, even passionately, to the hunger of those eyes. The moment's shock passed from her like a cloud.
"My sister Mrs. Everard," said Scott's voice at her shoulder. "Isabel, this is Miss Bathurst of whom I was telling you."
"You lent me your jewels," said Dinah, looking into the wasted face with a sympathy at her heart that was almost too poignant to be borne. "Thank you so very, very much for them! It was so very kind of you to lend them to a total stranger like me."
The strange eyes were gazing at her with a curious, growing interest. A faint, faint smile was in their depths. "Are we strangers, child?" the low voice asked. "I feel as if we had met before. Why do you look at me so kindly? Most people only stare."
Dinah was suddenly conscious of a hot sensation at the throat that made her want to cry. "It is you who have been kind," she said, and her little hand closed with confidence upon the limp, cold fingers. "I am wearing your things still, and I have had such a lovely time. Thank you again for letting me have them. I am going to return them now."
"You need not do that." Isabel spoke with her eyes still fixed upon the girlish face. "Keep them if you like them! I shall never wear them again. They tell me—they tell me—I am a widow."
"Miss Isabel darlint!" Biddy spoke sibilantly from the background. "Don't be talking to the young lady of such things! Won't ye sit down then, miss? And maybe I can get ye a cup o' tay."
"Ah, do, Biddy!" Scott put in his quiet word. "There is no tea like yours. Isabel, Miss Bathurst is a keen dancer. She and Eustace have been most energetic. It was a pity you couldn't come down and see the fun."
"Oh! Did you enjoy it?" Isabel still looked into the brown, piquant face as though loth to turn her eyes away.
"I loved it," said Dinah.
"Was Eustace kind to you?"
"Oh, most kind." Dinah spoke with candid enthusiasm.
"I am glad of that," Isabel's voice held a note of satisfaction. "But I should think everyone is kind to you, child," she said, with her faint, glimmering smile. "How beautiful you are!"
"Me!" Dinah opened her eyes in genuine astonishment. "Oh you wouldn't think so if you saw me in my ordinary dress," she said. "I'm nothing at all to look at really. It's just a case of 'Fine feathers,'—nothing else."
"My dear," Isabel said, "I am not looking at your dress. I seldom notice outer things. I am looking through your eyes into your soul. It is that that makes you beautiful. I think it is the loveliest thing that I have ever seen."
"Oh, you wouldn't say so if you knew me!" cried Dinah, conscience-stricken. "I have horrid thoughts often—very often."
The dark, watching eyes still smiled in their far-off way. "I should like to know you, dear child," Isabel said. "You have helped me—you could help me in a way that probably you will never understand. Won't you sit down? I will put my letters away, and we will talk."
She began to collect the litter before her, laying the letters together one by one with reverent care.
"Can I help?" asked Dinah timidly.
But she shook her head. "No, child, your hands must not touch them. They are the ashes of my life."
An open box stood on the table. She drew it to her, and laid the letters within it. Then she rose, and drew her guest to a lounge.
"We will sit here," she said. "Stumpy, why don't you smoke? Ah, the music has stopped at last. It has been racking me all the evening. Yes, you love it, of course. That is natural. I loved it once. It is always sweet to those who dance. But to those who sit out—those who sit out—" Her voice sank, and she said no more.
Dinah's hand slipped softly into hers. "I like sitting out too sometimes," she said. "At least I like it now."
Isabel's eyes were upon her again. They looked at her with a kind of incredulous wonder. After a moment she sighed.
"You would not like it for long, child. I am a prisoner. I sit in chains while the world goes by. They are all hurrying forward so eager to get on. But there is never any going on for me. I sit and watch—and watch."
"Surely we must all go forward somehow," said Dinah shyly.
"Surely," said Scott.
But Isabel only shook her head with dreary conviction. "Not the prisoners," she said. "They die by the wayside."
There fell a brief silence, then impetuously Dinah spoke, urged by the fulness of her heart. "I think we all feel like that sometimes. I know at home it's just like being in a cage. Nothing ever happens worth mentioning. And then quite suddenly the door is opened and out we come. That's partly why I am enjoying everything so much," she explained. "But it won't be a bit nice going back."
"What about your mother?" said Scott.
Dinah's bright face clouded again. "Yes, of course, there's Mother," she agreed.
She looked across at Scott as if she would say more; but he passed quietly on. "Where is your home, Miss Bathurst?"
"Right in the very heart of the Midlands. It is pretty country, but oh, so dull. The de Vignes are the rich people of the place. They belong to the County. We don't," said Dinah, with a sigh.
Scott laughed, and she looked momentarily hurt.
"I don't see what there is funny in that. The County people and the shop people are the only ones that get any fun. It's horrid to be between the two."
"Forgive me!" Scott said. "I quite see your point. But if you only knew it, the people who call themselves County are often the dullest of the dull."
"You say that because you belong to them, I expect," retorted Dinah. "But if you were me, and lived always under the shadow of the de Vignes, you wouldn't think it a bit funny."
"Who are the de Vignes?" asked Isabel suddenly.
Dinah turned to her. "We are staying here with them, Billy and I. My father persuaded the Colonel to have us. He knew how dreadfully we wanted to go. The Colonel is rather good-natured over some things, and he and Dad are friends. But I don't think Lady Grace wanted us much. You see, she and Rose are so very smart."
"I see," said Scott.
"Rose has been presented at Court," pursued Dinah. "They always go up for the season. They have a house in town. We always say that Rose is waiting to marry a marquis; but he hasn't turned up yet. You see, she really is much too beautiful to marry an ordinary person, isn't she?"
"Oh, much," said Scott.
Dinah heaved another little sigh; then suddenly she laughed. "But your brother has promised to help me with my skating to-morrow anyhow," she said. "So she won't have him all the time."
"Perhaps the marquis will come along to-morrow," suggested Scott.
"I wish he would," said Dinah, with fervour.
THE BROKEN SPELL
Biddy was in the act of handing round the tea when there came the sound of a step outside, and an impatient hand thrust open the door.
"Hullo, Stumpy!" said a voice. "Are you here? What have you done with Miss Bathurst? She's engaged to me for the next dance." Eustace entered with the words, but stopped short on the threshold. "Hullo! You are here! I thought you had given me the slip."
Dinah looked up at him with merry eyes. "So I have—practically. I am on my way to bed."
"Oh, nonsense!" he said, with his easy imperiousness. "I can't spare you yet. I must have one more dance just to soothe my nerves. I've been dancing with a faultless automaton who didn't understand me in the least. Now I want the real thing again."
"Have some tea!" said Scott.
"Thanks!" Sir Eustace sat down on the edge of the table, facing his sister and Dinah. "You're not going to let me down, now are you?" he said. "I'm counting on that dance, and I haven't enjoyed myself at all since I saw you last. That girl is machine-made. There isn't a flaw in her. She's been turned out of a mould; I'm certain of it. Miss Bathurst, why are you laughing?"
"Because I'm pleased," said Dinah.
"Pleased? I thought you'd be sorry for me. You're going to take pity on me anyway, I hope. The beautiful automaton has gone back to her band-box for the night, so we can enjoy ourselves quite unhindered. Is that for me? Thanks, Biddy! I'm needing refreshment badly."
"You would have preferred coffee," observed Isabel.
It was the first time she had spoken since his entrance. He gave her a keen, intent look. "Oh, this'll do, thanks," he said. "It is all nectar to-night. Why haven't you been down to the ballroom, Isabel? You would have enjoyed it."
Her lips twisted a little. "I have been listening to the music upstairs," she said.
"You ought to have come down," he said imperiously. "I shall expect you next time." His hand inadvertently touched the box on the table and he looked sharply downwards. "Here, Biddy! Take this thing away!" he ordered with a frown.
Isabel leaned swiftly forward. "Give it to me!" she said.
His hand closed upon it. "No. Let Biddy take it!"
"Let me!" said Dinah suddenly, and sprang to her feet.
She took it from him before he had time to protest, and gave it forthwith into Isabel's outstretched hands.
Eustace took up his cup in heavy silence, and drained it.
Then he rose. "Come along, Miss Bathurst!"
But Dinah remained seated. "I am very sorry," she said. "But I can't."
"Oh, nonsense!" He smiled very suddenly and winningly upon her. "Surely you won't disappoint me!"
She shook her head. Her eyes were wistful. "I'm disappointing myself quite as much. But I mustn't. The Colonel has gone to bed with dyspepsia, and Lady Grace and Rose have gone too by this time. I can't come down again."
"Nonsense!" he said again. "You want to. You know you do. No one pays any attention to Mrs. Grundy out here. She simply doesn't exist. Scott can come and play propriety. He's staid enough to chaperon a whole girls' school."
"Thanks, old chap," said Scott. "But I'm not coming down again, either."
Eustace looked over his head. "Then you must, Isabel. Come along! Just to oblige Miss Bathurst! It won't hurt you to sit in a safe corner for one dance."
Isabel looked up at him with a startled expression, as of one trapped. "Oh, don't ask me!" she said. "I couldn't!"
"No, don't!" said Dinah. "It isn't, fair to bother anyone else on my account! I'm dreadfully sorry to have to refuse. But—in any case—I ought not to come."
"What of that?" said Eustace lightly. "Do you always do what you ought? What a dull programme!"
Dinah flushed. "Dull but respectable," she said, with a touch of spirit.
He laughed. "But I'm not asking you to do anything very outrageous, and I shouldn't ask it at all if I didn't know you wanted to do it. Besides, you promised. It's generally considered the respectable thing to do to keep one's promises."
That reached Dinah. She wavered perceptibly. "Lady Grace will be so vexed," she murmured.
He snapped his fingers in careless disdain.
She turned appealingly to Scott. "I think I might go—just for one dance, don't you?"
Scott's pale eyes met hers with steady comradeship. "I think I shouldn't," he said.
Eustace turned as if he had not heard and strolled to the door. He opened it, and at once the room was filled with the plaintive alluring strains of waltz-music. He stood and looked back. Dinah met the look, and suddenly she was on her feet.
He held out his hand to her with a smile half-mocking, half-persuasive. The music swung on with a subtle enchantment. Dinah uttered a little quivering laugh, and went to him.
In another moment the door closed, and they stood alone in the passage.
"I knew you wanted to," said Eustace, smiling down into her eyes with the arrogance of the conqueror.
Dinah was panting a little as one who had suffered a sudden strain. "Of course I wanted to," she returned. "But that doesn't make it right."
He pressed her hand to his heart for a moment, and she caught again a glimpse of that fire in his eyes that had so thrilled her. She could not meet it. She stood in palpitating silence.
"Where is the use of fighting against fate?" he asked her softly. "A gift of the gods is never offered twice."
She did not understand him, but her heart was beating wildly, tumultuously, and an inner voice urged her to be gone.
She slipped her hand free. "Aren't we—wasting time?" she whispered.
He laughed again in that subtle, half-mocking note, but he met her wish instantly. They went downstairs to the salon.
There were not so many dancers now. The de Vignes had evidently retired. One rapid glance told Dinah this, and she dismissed them therewith from her mind. The rhythm and lure of the music caught her. She slid into the dance with delicious abandonment. The wonder and romance of it had got into her veins. No stolen pleasure was ever more keenly enjoyed than was that last perfect dance. Her very blood was a-fire with the strange, intoxicating joy of life. She wanted to go on for ever.
But it ended at length. She came to earth after her rapturous flight, and found herself standing with her partner in a curtained recess of the ballroom from which a glass door led on to the verandah that ran round the hotel.
"Just a glimpse of the moonlight on the mountains," he said, "before we say good-night!"
She went with him without a moment's thought. She was as one caught in the meshes of a great enchantment. He opened the door, and she passed through on to the verandah.
The music throbbed into silence behind them. Before them lay a fairy-world of dazzling silver and deepest, darkest sapphire. The mountains stood in solemn grandeur, domes of white mystery. The great vault of the sky was alight with stars, and a wonderful moon hung like a silver shield almost in the zenith.
"How—beautiful!" breathed Dinah.
The air was crystal clear, cold but not piercing. The absolute stillness held her spell-bound.
"It is like a dream-world," she whispered.
"In which you reign supreme," he murmured back.
She glanced at him with uncomprehending eyes. Her veins were still throbbing with the ecstasy of the dance.
"Oh, how I wish I had wings!" she suddenly said. "To swim through that glorious ether right above the mountain-tops as one swims through the sea! Don't you think flying must be very like swimming?"
"With variations," said Eustace.
His eyes dwelt upon her. They were fierily blue in that great flood of moonlight. His hand still rested upon her waist.
"But what a mistake to want the impossible!" he said, after a moment.
"I always do," said Dinah. "At least," she glanced up at him again, "I always have—until to-night."
"And to-night?" he questioned, dropping his voice.
"Oh, I am quite happy to-night," she said, with a little laugh, "even without the wings. If I hadn't thought of them, I should have nothing left to wish for."
"I wish I could say the same," said Sir Eustace, with the faint mocking smile at the corners of his lips.
"What can you want more?" asked Dinah innocently.
He leaned to her. "A big thing—a small thing! Would you give it to me, my elf of the mountains, if I dared to tell you what it was?"
Her eyes fluttered and fell before the flaming ardour of his. "I—I don't know," she faltered, in sudden confusion. "I expect so—if I could."
His arm slipped round her. "Would you?" he whispered. "Would you?"
She gave a little gasp, caught unawares like a butterfly on the wing. All the magic of the night seemed suddenly to be concentrated upon her like fairy batteries. Her first feeling was dismay, followed instantly by the wonder if she could be dreaming. And then, as she felt the drawing of his arm, something vehement, something almost fierce, awoke within her, clamouring wildly for freedom.
It was a blind instinct, but she obeyed it without question. She had no choice.
"Oh no!" she cried. "Oh no! I couldn't!" and wrested herself from him in a panic.
He let her go, and she heard him laugh as she broke away. But she did not wait for more. To linger was unthinkable. Urged by that imperative, inner prompting she turned and fled, not pausing for a moment's thought.
The glass door closed behind her. She burst impetuously into the deserted ballroom. And here, on the point of entering the small recess from which she was escaping, she came suddenly face to face with Scott.
So headlong was her flight that she actually ran into him. He put out a steadying hand.
"I was just coming to look for you," he said in his quiet, composed fashion.
She stopped unwillingly. "Oh, were you? How kind! I—I think I ought to go up now. It's getting late, isn't it? Good-night!"
He did not seek to detain her. She wondered with a burning sense of shame what he could have thought of her wild rush. But she was too agitated to attempt any excuse, too agitated to check her retreat. Without a backward glance she hastened away like Cinderella overtaken by fate; the spell was broken, the glamour gone.
It was a very meek and subdued Dinah who made her appearance in the salle-a-manger on the following morning.
She and Billy were generally in the best of spirits, and the room usually rang with their young laughter. But that morning even Billy was decorously quiet, and his sister scarcely spoke or raised her eyes.
Colonel de Vigne, white-moustached and martial, sat at the table with them, but neither Lady Grace nor Rose was present. The Colonel's face was stern. He occupied himself with letters with scarcely so much as a glance for the boy and girl on either side of him.
There was a letter by Dinah's plate also, but she had not opened it. Her downcast face was very pale. She ate but little, and that little only when urged thereto by Billy, whose appetite was rampant notwithstanding the decorum of his behaviour.
Scott, breakfasting with his brother at a table only a few yards distant, observed the trio with unobtrusive interest.
He had made acquaintance with the Colonel on the previous evening, and after a time the latter caught his eye and threw him a brief greeting. Most people were polite to Scott. But the Colonel's whole aspect was forbidding that morning, and his courtesy went no further.
Sir Eustace did not display the smallest interest in anyone. His black brows were drawn, and he looked even more haughtily unapproachable than the Colonel.
He conversed with his brother in low tones on the subject of the morning's mail which lay at Scott's elbow and which he was investigating while he ate. Now and then he gave concise and somewhat peremptory instructions, which Scott jotted down in a note-book with business-like rapidity. No casual observer would have taken them for brothers that morning. They were employer and secretary.
Only when the last letter had been discussed and laid aside did the elder abruptly abandon his aloof attitude to ask a question upon a more intimate matter.
"Did Isabel go without a sleeping-draught last night?"
Scott shook his head.
Eustace's frown became even more pronounced. "Did Biddy administer it on her own?"
"No. I authorized it." Scott's voice was low. He met his brother's look with level directness.
Eustace leaned towards him across the table. "I won't have it, Stumpy," he said very decidedly. "I told you so yesterday."
"I know." Very steadily Scott made answer. "But last night there was no alternative. It is impossible to do the thing suddenly. She has hardly got over the journey yet."
"Rubbish!" said Eustace curtly.
Scott slightly raised his shoulders, and said no more.
"It comes to this," Eustace said, speaking with stern insistence. "If you can't—or won't—assert your authority, I shall assert mine. It is all a question of influence."
"Or forcible persuasion," said Scott, with a touch of irony.
"Very well. Call it that! It is in a good cause. If you haven't the strength of mind, I have; and I shall exercise it. These drugs must be taken away. Can't you see it's the only possible thing to do?"
"Not yet," Scott said. He was still facing his brother's grim regard very gravely and unflinchingly. "I tell you, man, it is too soon. She is better than she used to be. She is calmer, more reasonable. We must do the thing gradually, if at all. To interfere forcibly would do infinitely more harm than good. I know what I am saying. I know her far better than you do now. I am in closer touch with her. You are out of sympathy. You only startle her when you try to persuade her to anything. You must leave her to me. I understand her. I know how to help her."
"You haven't achieved much in the last seven years," Eustace observed.
"But I have achieved something." Scott's answer was wholly free from resentment. He spoke with quiet confidence. "I know it's a slow process. But she is moving in the right direction. Give her time, old chap! I firmly believe that she will come back to us by slow degrees."
"Damnably slow," commented Eustace. "You're so infernally deliberate always. You talk as if it were your life-work."
Scott's eyes shone with a whimsical light. "I begin to think it is," he said. "Have you finished? Suppose we go." He gathered up the sheaf of papers at his elbow and rose. "I will attend to these at once."
Eustace strode down the long room looking neither to right nor left, moving with a free, British arrogance that served to emphasize somewhat cruelly the meagreness and infirmity of the man behind him. Yet it was upon the latter's slight, halting figure that Dinah's eyes dwelt till it finally limped out of sight, and in her look were wonder and a vagrant admiration. There was an undeniable attraction about Scott that affected her very curiously, but wherein it lay she could not possibly have said. She was furious when a murmured comment and laugh from some girls at the next table reached her.
"What a dear little lap-dog!" said one.
"Yes, I've been wanting to pat its head for a long time," said another.
"Warranted not to bite," laughed a third. "Can it really be full-grown?"
"Oh, no doubt, my dear! Look at its pretty little whiskers! It's just a toy, you know, nothing but a toy."
Dinah turned in her chair, and gazed scathingly upon the group of critics. Then, aware of the Colonel's eyes upon her, she turned back and gave him a swift look of apology.
He shook his head at her repressively, his whole air magisterial and condemnatory. "You may go if you wish," he said, in the tone of one dismissing an offender. "But be good enough to bear in mind what I have said to you!"
Billy leapt to his feet. "Can I go too, sir?" he asked eagerly.
The Colonel signified majestic assent. His mood was very far from genial that morning, and he had not the smallest desire to detain either of them. In fact, if he could have dismissed his two young charges altogether, he would have done so with alacrity. But that unfortunately was out of the question—unless by their behaviour they provoked him to fulfil the very definite threat that he had pronounced to Dinah in the privacy of his wife's room an hour before.
He was very seriously displeased with Dinah, more displeased than he had been with anyone since his soldiering days, and he had expressed himself with corresponding severity. If she could not conduct herself becomingly and obediently, he would take them both straight home again and thus put a summary end to temptation. His own daughter had never given him any cause for uneasiness, and he did not see why he should be burdened with the escapades of anyone else's troublesome offspring. It was too much to expect at his time of life.
So a severe reprimand had been Dinah's portion, to which she, very meek and crestfallen, shorn of all the previous evening's glories, had listened with a humility that had slightly mollified her judge though he had been careful not to let her know it. She had been wild and flighty, and he was determined that she should feel the rod of discipline pretty smartly.
But when he finally rose from the table and stalked out of the room, it was a little disconcerting to find the culprit awaiting him in the vestibule to slip a shy hand inside his arm and whisper, "Do forgive me! I'm so sorry."
He looked down into her quivering face, saw the pleading eyes swimming in tears, and abruptly found that his displeasure had evaporated so completely that he could not even pretend to be angry any longer. He had never taken much notice of Dinah before, treating her, as did his wife and daughter, as a mere child and of no account. But now he suddenly realized that she was an engaging minx after all.
"Ashamed of yourself?" he asked gruffly, his white moustache twitching a little.
Dinah nodded mutely.
"Then don't do it again!" he said, and grasped the little brown hand for a moment with quite unwonted kindness.
It was a tacit forgiveness, and as such Dinah treated it. She smiled thankfully through her tears, and slipped away to recover her composure.
Nearly an hour later, Scott, having finished his letters, came upon her sitting somewhat disconsolately in the verandah. He paused on his way out.
"Good morning, Miss Bathurst! Aren't you going to skate this morning?"
She turned to him with a little movement of pleasure. "Good morning, Mr. Studley! I have been waiting here for you. I have brought down your sister's trinkets. Here they are!" She held out a neat little paper parcel to him. "Please will you thank her again for them very, very much? I do hope she didn't think me very rude last night,—though I'm afraid I was."
Her look was wistful. He took the packet from her with a smile.
"Of course she didn't. She was delighted with you. When are you coming to see her again?"
"I don't know," said Dinah.
"Come to tea!" suggested Scott.
Dinah hesitated, flushing.
"You've something else to do?" he asked in his cheery way. "Well, come another time if it won't bore you!"
"Oh, it isn't that!" said Dinah, and her flush deepened. "I—I would love to come. Only—" She glanced round at an elderly couple who had just come out, and stopped.
"I'm going down to the village with my letters," said Scott. "Will you come too?"
She welcomed the idea. "Oh yes, I should like to. It's such a glorious morning again, isn't it? It's a shame not to go out."
"Sure you're not wanting to skate?" he questioned.
"Yes, quite sure. I—I'm rather tired this morning, but a walk will do me good."
They passed the rink without pausing, though Scott glanced across to see his brother skimming along in the distance with a red-clad figure beside him. He made no comment upon the sight, and Dinah was silent also. Her gay animation that morning was wholly a minus quantity.
They went on down the hill, talking but little. Speech in Scott's society was never a necessity. His silences were so obviously friendly. He had a shrewd suspicion on this occasion that the girl beside him had something to say, and he waited for it with a courteous patience, abstaining from interrupting her very evident preoccupation.
They walked between fields of snow, all glistening in the sunshine. The blue of the sky was no longer sapphire but glorious turquoise. The very air sparkled, diamond-clear in the crystal splendour of the day.
Suddenly Dinah spoke. "I suppose one always feels horrid the next morning."
"Are you feeling the reaction?" asked Scott.
"Oh, it isn't only that, I'm feeling—ashamed," said Dinah, blushing very deeply.
He did not look at her. "I don't see why," he said gently, after a moment.
"Oh, but you do!" she said impatiently. "At least you can if you try. You knew I was wrong to go down again for that last dance, just as well as I did. Why, you tried to stop me!"
"Which was very presumptuous of me," said Scott.
"No, it wasn't. It was kind. And I—I was a perfect pig not to listen. I want you to know that, Mr. Studley. I want you to know that I'm very, very sorry I didn't listen." She spoke with trembling vehemence.
Scott smiled a little. He was looking tired that morning. There were weary lines about his eyes. "I don't know why you should be so very penitent, Miss Bathurst," he said. "It was quite a small thing."
"It got me into bad trouble anyway," said Dinah. "I've had a tremendous wigging from the Colonel this morning, and if—if I ever do anything so bad again, we're to be sent home."
"I call that unreasonable," said Scott with decision. "It was not such a serious matter as all that. If you want my opinion, I think it was a mistake—a small mistake—on your part; nothing more."
"But that wasn't all," said Dinah, looking away from him and quickening her pace, "I—I have offended your brother too."