WILLIAM J. LOCKE
I. THE BROTHERS
II. THE CONSPIRATORS
IV. THE FAMOUS DUELLING PISTOLS
V. A CRISIS
VI. VIVIETTE TAKES THE RISK
"No, don't, Viviette; forgive me"
"Dick glared at him"
"He held out imploring hands"
"I want you to love me forever and ever"
"Dick," said Viviette, "ought to go about in skins like a primitive man."
Katherine Holroyd looked up from her needlework. She was a gentle, fair-haired woman of thirty, with demure blue eyes, which regarded the girl with a mingling of pity, protection, and amusement.
"My dear," she said, "whenever I see a pretty girl fooling about with a primitive man I always think of a sweet little monkey I once knew, who used to have great sport with a lyddite shell. Her master kept it on his table as a paper-weight, and no one knew it was loaded. One day she hit the shell in the wrong place—and they're still looking for the monkey. Don't think Dick is the empty shell."
Whereupon she resumed her work, and for a few moments the click of thimble and needle alone broke the summer stillness. Viviette lay idly on a long garden chair admiring the fit of a pair of dainty tan shoes, which she twiddled with graceful twists of the ankles some five feet from her nose. At Mrs. Holroyd's remark she laughed after the manner of one quite contented with herself—a low, musical laugh, in harmony with the blue June sky and the flowering chestnuts and the song of the thrushes.
"My intentions with regard to Dick are strictly honourable," she remarked. "We've been engaged for the last eleven years, and I still have his engagement ring. It cost three-and-sixpence."
"I only want to warn you, dear," said Mrs. Holroyd. "Anyone can see that Dick is in love with you, and if you don't take care you'll have Austin falling in love with you too."
Viviette laughed again. "But he has already fallen! I don't think he knows it yet; but he has. It's great fun being a woman, isn't it, dear?"
"I don't know that I've ever found it so," Katherine replied with a sigh. She was a widow, and had loved her husband, and her sky was still tinged with grey.
Viviette, quick to catch the sadness in the voice, made no reply, but renewed the contemplation of her shoe-tips.
"I'm afraid you're an arrant little coquette," said Katherine indulgently.
"Lord Banstead says I'm a little devil," she laughed.
If she was in some measure a coquette she may be forgiven. What woman can have suddenly revealed to her the thrilling sense of her sex's mastery over men without snatching now and then the fearful joy of using her power? She was one-and-twenty, her heart still unawakened, and she had returned to her childhood's home to find men who had danced her on their knees bending low before her, and proclaiming themselves her humble vassals. It was intoxicating. She had always looked up to Austin with awe, as one too remote and holy for girlish irreverence. And now! No wonder her sex laughed within her.
Until she had gone abroad to finish her education, she had lived in that old, grey manor-house, that dreamed in the sunshine of the terrace below which she was sitting, ever since they had brought her thither, an orphaned child of three. Mrs. Ware, her guardian, was her adopted mother; the sons, Dick and Austin Ware, her brothers—the engagement, when she was ten and Dick one-and-twenty, had hardly fluttered the fraternal relationship. She had left them a merry, kittenish child. She had returned a woman, slender, full-bosomed, graceful, alluring, with a maturity of fascination beyond her years. Enemies said she had gipsy blood in her veins. If so, the infusion must have taken place long, long ago, for her folks were as proud of their name as the Wares of Ware House. But, for all that, there was a suggestion of the exotic in the olive and cream complexion, and the oval face, pointing at the dimpled chin; something of the woodland in her lithe figure and free gestures; in her swimming, dark eyes one could imagine something fierce and untamable lying beneath her laughing idleness. Katherine Holroyd called her a coquette, Austin whatever the whim of a cultured fancy suggested, and Lord Banstead a little devil. As for Dick, he called her nothing. His love was too great; his vocabulary too small.
Lord Banstead was a neighbour who, in the course of three months, had proposed several times to Viviette.
"I'm not very much to look at," he remarked on the first of these occasions—he was a weedy, pallid youth of six-and-twenty—"and the title's not very old, I must admit. Governor only a scientific Johnnie, Margetson, the celebrated chemist, you know, who discovered some beastly gas or other and got made a peer—but I can sit with the other old rotters in the House of Lords, you know, if I want. And I've got enough to run the show, if you'll keep me from chucking it away as I'm doing. It'd be a godsend if you'd marry me, I give you my word."
"Before I have anything to do with you," replied Viviette, who had heard Dick express his opinion of Lord Banstead in forcible terms, "you'll have to forswear sack, and—and a very big AND—"
Lord Banstead, not being learned in literary allusions, looked bewildered. Viviette laughed.
"I'll translate if you like. You'll have to give up unlimited champagne and whiskey and lead an ostensibly respectable life."
Whereupon Lord Banstead called her a little devil and went off in dudgeon to London and took golden-haired ladies out to supper. When he returned to the country he again offered her his title, and being rejected a second time, again called her a little devil, and went back to the fashionable supper-room. A third and a fourth time he executed this complicated manoeuvre; and now news had reached Viviette that he was in residence at Farfield, where he was boring himself exceedingly in his father's scientific library.
"I suppose he'll be coming over to-day," said Viviette.
"Why do you encourage him?" asked Katherine.
"I don't," Viviette retorted. "I snub him unmercifully. If I am a coquette it's with real men, not with the by-product of a chemical experiment."
Katherine dropped her work and her underlip, and turned reproachful blue eyes on the girl.
"Oh, she's shocked! Saint Nitouche is shocked!" Then, with a change of manner, she rose and, bending over Katherine's chair, kissed her. "I'm sorry, dear," she said, in pretty penitence. "I know it was an abominable and unladylike thing to say, but my tongue sometimes runs away with my thoughts. Forgive me."
At that moment a man dressed in rough tweeds and leggings, who had emerged from the stable side of the manor-house, crossed the terrace, and, descending the steps, walked over the lawn towards the two ladies. He had massive shoulders and a thick, strong neck, coarse reddish hair, and a moustache of a lighter shade. Blue eyes looked with a curious childish pathos out of a face tanned by sun and weather. He slouched slightly in his gait, like the heavy man accustomed to the saddle. This was Dick Ware, the elder of the brothers and heir to fallen fortunes, mortgaged house and lands, and he gave the impression of failure, of a man who, in spite of thews and sinews, had been unable to grapple with circumstance.
Viviette left Katherine to her needlework, and advanced to meet him. At her spontaneous act of welcome a light came into his eyes. He removed from his lips the short corn-cob pipe he was smoking.
"I've just been looking at the new mare. She's a beauty. I know I oughtn't to have got her, but she was going dirt cheap—and what can a man do when he's offered a horse at a quarter its value?"
"Nothing, my dear Dick, save pay four times as much as he can afford."
"But we had to get a new beast," he argued seriously. "We can't go about the country in a donkey-cart. If I hadn't bought one, Austin would, for the sake of the family dignity—and I do like to feel independent of Austin now and then."
"I wish you were entirely independent of Austin," said Viviette, walking with him up the lawn.
"I can't, so long as I stay here doing nothing. But if I went out to Canada or New Zealand, as I want to do, who would look after my mother? I'm tied by the leg."
"I'd look after mother," said Viviette. "And you'd write me nice long letters, saying how you were getting on, and I would send you nice little bulletins, and we should all be very happy."
"Do you want to get rid of me, Viviette?"
"I want you to have your heart's desire."
"You know what my heart's desire is," he said unsteadily.
"Why, to raise sheep or drive cattle, or chop down trees in the backwoods," she replied, lifting demure eyebrows. "Oh, Dick, don't be foolish. See—there's mother just come out."
With a light laugh she escaped and ran up the steps to meet an old lady, rather infirm, who, with the aid of a stick, was beginning to take her morning walk up and down the terrace. Dick followed her moodily.
"Good morning, mother," said he, bending down to kiss her.
Mrs. Ware put up her cheek, and received the salute with no great show of pleasure.
"Oh, how you smell of tobacco smoke, Dick. Where's Austin? Please go and find him. I want to hear what he has to say about the stables."
"What can he say, mother?"
"He can advise us and help us to put the muddle right," said Mrs. Ware.
These stables had been a subject of controversy for some time. The old ones having fallen into disgraceful disrepair, Dick had turned architect and erected new ones himself. As shelters for beasts, they were comparatively sound; as appanages to an Elizabethan manor-house, they were open to adverse criticism. Austin, who had come down from London a day or two before to spend his Whitsuntide holiday at home, had promised his mother to make inspection and report.
"But what does Austin know about stables?" Viviette asked, as soon as Dick had slouched away in search of his brother.
"Austin knows about everything, my dear," replied the old lady decisively. "Not only is Austin a brilliantly clever man, but he's a successful barrister, and a barrister's business is to know all about everything. Give me your arm, dear, and let us walk up and down a little till they come."
Presently Dick returned with Austin, whom he had found smoking a cigar in a very meditative manner in front of the stables. Dick's face was gloomy, but Austin's was bright, as he came briskly up and, cigar in hand, stooped to his mother. She put her arms round his neck, kissed him affectionately, and inquired after his sleep and his comfort and the quality of his breakfast.
"Doesn't Austin smell of tobacco smoke, mother?" asked Dick.
"Austin," replied Mrs. Ware, "has a way of smoking and not smelling of it."
Austin laughed gaily. "I believe if I fell into a pond you'd say I had a way of coming up dry."
Dick turned to Viviette, and muttered with some bitterness: "And if I fell into a dry ditch she'd say I came up slimy."
Viviette, touched by pity, raised a bewitching face. "Dry or slimy, you would be just the same dear old Dick," she whispered.
"And what about the stables?" asked Mrs. Ware.
"Oh, they're not bad. They're rather creditable; but," Austin added, turning with a laugh to his brother, "the mother will fidget, you know, and the somewhat—let us say rococo style of architecture has got on her nerves. I think the whole thing had better come down, don't you?"
"If you like," said Dick gruffly. He had given way to Austin all his life. What was the use of opposing him now?
"Good. I'll send young Rapson, the architect, along to make a design. Don't you worry, old chap, I'll see it through."
Young, brisk, debonair, flushed with success and the sense of the mastery of life, he did not notice the lowering of Dick's brows, which deepened into almost a scowl when he turned frankly admiring eyes on Viviette, and drew her into gay, laughing talk, nor did he catch the hopelessness in the drag of Dick's feet as he went off to gaze sorrowfully at the fallen pride of his heart, the condemned stables.
But Viviette who knew, as Austin did not, of Dick's disappointment, soon broke away and joined him in front of the amorphous shed of timber. She took him by the arm.
"Come for a stroll in the orchard."
He suffered himself to be led through the stable-yard gate. She talked to him of apple blossoms. He listened for some time in silence. Then he broke out.
"It's an infernal shame," said he.
"It is," said Viviette. "But you needn't put on such a glum face when I'm here especially to comfort you. If you're not glad to see me I'll go back to Austin. He's much more amusing than you."
"I suppose he is. Yes, go back to him. I'm a fool. I'm nobody. No, don't, Viviette; forgive me," he cried, catching her as she turned away somewhat haughtily. "I didn't mean it, but things are getting beyond my endurance."
Viviette seated herself on a bench beneath the apple blossoms.
"Everything. My position. Austin's airy ways."
"But that's what makes him so charming."
"Yes, confound him. My ways are about as airy as a hippopotamus's. Look here, Viviette. I'm fond of Austin, God knows—but all my life he has been put in front of me. He has had all the chances; I've had none. With my father when he was alive, with my mother, it has always been Austin this and Austin that. He was the head of the school when I, the elder, was a lout in the lower fourth. He had a brilliant University career and went into the world and is making a fortune. I'm only able to ride and shoot and do country things. I've stuck here with only this mortgaged house belonging to me and the hundred or so a year I get out of the tenants. I'm not even executor under my father's will. It's Austin. Austin pays mother the money under her marriage settlement. If things go wrong Austin is sent for to put them right. It never seems to occur to him that it's my house. Oh, of course I know he pays the interest on the mortgage and makes my mother an allowance—that's the humiliation of it."
He sat with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, staring at the grass.
"But surely you could find some work to do, Dick?"
He shrugged his great shoulders. "They stuck me once in an office in London. I suffocated and added up things wrong and told the wrong lies to the wrong people, and ended up by breaking the junior partner's head!"
"You had some satisfaction out of it, at any rate," laughed Viviette.
A faint reminiscent smile crossed his face. "I suppose I had. But it didn't qualify me for a successful business career. No. I might do something in a new country. I must get away from this. I can't stand it. But yet—as I've told you all along, I'm tied—hand and foot."
"And so you're very miserable, Dick."
"How can I help it?"
Viviette edged a little away from him, and said, rather resentfully:
"I don't call that polite, seeing that I have come back to live with you."
He turned on her with some fierceness. "Don't you see that your being here makes my life all the more impossible? How can I be with you day after day without loving you, hungering for you, wanting you, body and soul? I've never given a thought to another woman in my life. You're my heart's blood, dear. I want to hold you so tight in my arms that not the ghost of another man can ever come between us. You know it."
Viviette shredded an apple blossom that had fallen into her lap. The fingers that held the petal tingled, and a flush rose in her cheek.
"I do know it," she said in a low voice. "You're always telling me. But, Dick"—she flashed a mischievous glance at him—"while you're holding me—although it would be very nice—we should starve."
"Then let us starve," he cried vehemently.
"Oh, no. Oh, most decidedly no. Starvation would be so unbecoming. I should get to be a fright—a bundle of bones and a rundle of skin—and you'd be horrified—I couldn't bear it."
"If you would only say you cared a scrap for me it would be easier," he pleaded.
"I should have thought it would be harder."
"Anyhow, say it—say it this once—just this once."
She bent her head to hide a smile, and said in a voice adorably soft:
"Dick, shut your eyes."
"Viviette!" he cried, with sudden hope.
"No. Shut your eyes. Turn round. Now tell me," she continued, when he had turned obediently, "just what I've got on. No!" she held him by the shoulders, "you're not to move."
Now, she was wearing a white blouse and a blue skirt and tan shoes, and a yellow rose was pinned at her bosom.
"What dress am I wearing?"
"A light-coloured thing," said Dick.
"And what's it trimmed with?"
"Lace," said the unfortunate man. Lace indeed!
"And what coloured boots?"
"Black," said Dick, at a venture.
"And what flower?"
"I don't know—a pink rose, I think."
She started up. "Look," she cried gaily. "Oh, Dick! I'll never marry you till you have the common decency to look at me—never! never! never! I dressed myself this beautiful morning just to please you. Oh, Dick! Dick, you've lost such a chance."
She stood with her hands behind her back regarding him mockingly, as Eve in the first orchard must have regarded Adam when he was more dull and masculine than usual—when, for instance, she had attired herself in hybiscus flowers which he took for the hum-drum, everyday fig-leaves.
"I'm a born duffer," said Dick pathetically. "But your face is all that I see when I look at you."
"That's all very pretty," she retorted. "But you ought to see more. Now let us talk sense. Mind, if I sit on that bench again you're to talk sense."
Dick sighed. "Very well," said he.
That was the history of all his love-making. She drew him on to passionate utterance, and then, with a twist of her wit and a twirl of her skirts, she eluded him. When she had thus put herself out of his reach, he felt ashamed. What right had he, dull, useless, lumbering, squiredomless squire, to ask a woman like Viviette to marry him? How could he support a wife? As it was, he lived a pensioner on Austin's bounty. Could he ask Austin to feed his wife and family as well? This thought, which always came to him as soon as his passion was checked, filled him with deep humiliation. Viviette had reason on her side when she said, "Let us talk sense."
He glowered at his fate, and tugged his tawny moustache for some time in silence. Then Viviette began to talk to him prettily of things that made up his country interests, his dogs, the garden, the personalities of the country-side. Soon she had him laughing, which pleased and flattered her, as it proved her power over the primitive man. Indeed, at such moments, she felt very tenderly towards him, and would have liked to pat his cheeks and crown him with flowers, thus manifesting her favour by dainty caresses. But she refrained, knowing that primitive men are too dense to interpret such demonstrations rightly, and limited herself to less compromising words.
"I am going to tell you a secret," he said at last, in a shamefaced way. "You mustn't laugh at me—promise me you won't."
"I promise," said Viviette solemnly.
"I am thinking of going in for local politics—Rural District Council, you know."
Viviette nodded her head approvingly. "A village Hampden—in Tory clothing?"
"They're running things on party lines down here. The influence of Westhampton is Radical, and fills the Council with a lot of outsiders. So they've got together a Conservative Committee, and are going to run a good strong man for a vacancy. I've given them to understand that I'll be a candidate if they'll have me. I'd like to be one. It's a rubbishy thing, dear, but somehow it would give me a little interest in life."
"I don't think it a rubbishy thing at all," said Viviette. "A country gentleman ought to have a hand in rural administration. I do hope you'll get in. When will you know that the committee have selected you?"
"There's a meeting this evening. I ought to know to-night or to-morrow morning."
"Are you very keen on it?"
"Very," said Dick. And he added proudly, "It was my own idea."
"But you're not as keen on that as on going abroad?"
"Ah, that!" said Dick. "That, bar one, is the dearest wish of my heart. And who knows—it might enable me to carry out the other."
The sound of a gong within the house floated through the still June air. Viviette rose. "I must tidy myself for lunch."
They walked to the house together. On parting she put out both her hands.
"Do be reasonable, Dick, and don't look for slights in what you call Austin's airy ways. He is awfully fond of you, and would not hurt you for the world."
At the luncheon table, however, Austin did hurt him, in utter unconsciousness, by his gay command of the situation, his eager talk with Viviette of things Dick did not understand, places he had not visited, books he had never read, pictures he had never seen. It was heartache rather than envy. He did not grudge Austin his scholarship and brilliance. But his soul sank at the sight of Austin and Viviette moving as familiars in a joyous world as remote from him as Neptune. Mrs. Ware kept Katherine Holroyd engaged in mild talk of cooks and curates, while the other two maintained their baffling conversation, half banter, half serious, on a bewildering number of topics, and poor Dick remained as dumb as the fish and cutlets he was eating. He sat at the head of the table, Mrs. Ware at the foot. On his right hand sat Katherine Holroyd, on his left Viviette, and between her and his mother was Austin. With Viviette talking to Austin and Mrs. Ware to Katherine, he felt lonely and disregarded in a kind of polar waste of snowy tablecloth. Once Katherine, escaping from Mrs. Ware's platitudinous ripple, took pity on him, and asked him when he was going to redeem his promise and show her his collection of armour and weapons. Dick brightened. This was the only keen interest he had in life outside things of earth and air and stream. He had inherited a good family collection, and had added to it occasionally, as far as his slender means allowed. He had read deeply, and understood his subject.
"Whenever you like, Katherine," he said.
"I'm afraid they want polishing up and arranging. I've got some new things which I've not placed. I've rather neglected them lately. Let us say to-morrow afternoon. Then they'll all be spick and span for you."
Katherine assented. "I've been down here so often and never seen them," she said. "It seems odd, considering the years we've known each other."
"I only took it up after father's death," said Dick. "And since then, you know, you haven't been here so very often."
"It was only the last time that I discovered you took an interest an the collection. You hid your light under a bushel. Then I went to London and heard that you were a great authority on the subject."
Dick's tanned face reddened with pleasure.
"I do know something about it. You see, guns and swords and pistols are in my line. I'm good at killing things. I ought to have been a soldier, only I couldn't pass examinations, so I sort of interest myself in the old weapons and do my killing in imagination."
"You give a regular lecture, don't you?"
"Well, you know," said Dick modestly, "a lot of them are historical. There's a mace used by a bishop, an ancestor of ours. He couldn't wield a sword in battle, so he cottoned on to that, and in order to salve his conscience before using it he would cry out 'Gare! gare!'—and they say that's what our name comes from—see? 'Ware—Ware.' He was the founder of our family—though, of course, he oughtn't to have been. And then we have the duelling pistols my great-grandfather shot Lord Estcourt with. They're beautiful things—in the case just as he left it after the duel, with powder, balls, and caps, all complete. It's a romantic story—"
"My dear Dick," interposed Mrs. Ware, with fragile, uplifted hand, "please don't offend us with these horrible family scandals. Katharine, dear, are you going to the vicar's garden party this afternoon? If you are, will you take a message to Mrs. Cook?"
So Katherine being monopolized, Dick was silenced, and as Austin and Viviette were talking in a lively but unintelligible way about a thing, or a play, or a horse called Nietzsche, he relapsed into the heavy, full-blooded man's animal enjoyment of his food and the sensitive's consciousness of heartache.
When the ladies had left the table and the coffee had been brought in, and the men's cigars were lit, Austin said:
"What a magnificently beautiful creature she has grown into."
"Whom do you mean?" asked Dick.
"Why, Viviette, of course. She's the most fascinating thing I've come across for years."
"Do you think so?" said Dick shortly.
Dick shrugged his shoulders. Austin laughed.
"What a stolid old beggar you are. To you, she's just the same little girl that used to run about here in short frocks. If she were a horse you'd have a catalogue yards long of her points."
"But as she's a lady," said Dick, tugging his moustache, "I don't care to catalogue them."
Austin laughed again. "Fairly scored!" He raised his cup to his lips, took a sip, and set it down again.
"Why on earth," said he with some petulance, "can't mother give us decent coffee?"
Dick went heavy-hearted to bed that night, pronouncing himself to be the most abjectly miserable of God's creatures, and calling on Providence to remove him speedily from an unsympathetic world. He had said good night to the ladies at eleven o'clock when the three went upstairs to bed, and had forthwith gone to spend the rest of the evening in the friendly solitude of his armoury. Emerging thence an hour later into the hall, he had come upon a picturesque, but heart-rending, spectacle. There, on the third step of the grand staircase, stood Viviette, holding in one hand a candle, and extending the other regally downwards to Austin, who, with sleek head bent, was pressing it to his lips. In the candle-light her hair threw disconcerting shadows over her elfin face, and her great eyes seemed to glow with a magical intensity that poor Dick had never seen in them before. As soon as he had appeared she had broken into her low laugh, drawn away her hand from Austin, and, descending the steps, extended it in much the same regal manner to Dick.
"Good night again, Dick," she said sweetly. "Austin and I have been having a little talk."
But he had disregarded the hand, and, with a gruff "Good night," had returned to his armoury, slamming the door behind him. There he had nourished his wrath on more whiskey and soda than was good for him, and crawled upstairs in the small hours to miserable sleeplessness.
This was the beginning of Dick's undoing, the gods (abetted by Viviette) employing their customary procedure of first driving him mad. But Viviette was not altogether a guilty abettor. Indeed, all day long, she had entertained high notions of acting fairy godmother, and helping Dick along the road to fortune and content. He himself, she learned, had taken no steps to free himself from his present mode of life. He had not even confided in Austin. Viviette ran over the list of her influential friends. There was Lady Winsmere, a dowager countess of seventy, surrounded by notabilities, at whose house she stayed now and then in London. On the last occasion an Agent-General for one of the great Colonies had sat next her at dinner. Then there was her friend Mrs. Penderby, whose husband gathered enormous wealth in some mysterious way in Mark Lane. Why should she not go up to London and open a campaign on Dick's behalf, secure him an appointment, and come back flourishing it before his dazzled and delighted eyes? The prospect was enchanting. The fairy godmother romance of it fascinated her girlish mind. But first she must clear the ground at home. There must be no opposition from Austin. He must be her ally.
When a woman gets an idea like this into her head she must execute it, as the Americans say, right now. A man waits, counts up all the barriers, and speculates on the strength and courage of the lions in the path—but a woman goes straight forward, and does not worry about the lions till they bite her. Viviette resolved to speak to Austin at once; but, owing to a succession of the little ironies of circumstance, she found no opportunity of doing so all the afternoon or evening. It was only when, standing at the top of the stairs, she had seen Dick go off to the armoury, and Austin return to the drawing-room—for the men had bidden the ladies good night in the hall—that she saw her chance. She went downstairs and opened the drawing-room door.
"I don't want to go to bed after all. Do you think you can do with me a little longer?"
"A great deal longer," he said, drawing a chair for her, and arranging the shade of a lamp so that the light should not shine full in her eyes. "I was just thinking how dull the room looked without you—as if all the flowers had suddenly been taken away."
"I suppose I am decorative," she said blandly.
"You're bewitching. What instinct made you choose that shade of pale green for your frock? If I had seen it in the pattern I should have said it was impossible for your colouring. But now it seems to be the only perfect thing you could wear."
She laughed her little laugh of pleasure, and thanked him prettily for the compliment. They bandied gay words for a while.
"Oh, I'm so glad you have come down—even for this short visit," said Viviette at last. "I was pining for talk, for wit, for a breath of the great world beyond these sleepy meadows. You bring all that with you."
Austin leaned forward. "How do you know I'm not bringing even more?"
The girl's eyes drooped before his gaze. Then she fluttered a glance at him in which there was a gleam of mockery.
"You bring the most valuable gift of all—appreciation of my frocks. I love people to notice them. Now Dick is frock-blind. Why is that?"
"He's a dear old duffer," said Austin.
"I don't think he's happy," said Viviette, who, in her feminine way, had worked round to the subject of the interview.
"He did seem rather cut up about the stables," Austin admitted. "But the things are an eyesore, and mother was worrying herself to death about them."
"It isn't only the stables," said Viviette. "Dick is altogether discontented."
Austin looked at her in amazement. "Discontented?"
"He wants something to do."
"Nonsense," he laughed, with the air of a man certain of his facts. "He's as happy as a king here. He shoots and hunts—looks after the place—runs the garden and potters about in his armoury—in fact, does just what he likes all day long. He goes to bed without a care sharing his pillow, and, when he wakes up, gets into comfortable country clothes instead of a tight-fitting suit of responsibilities. For a man of his tastes he leads an ideal existence."
He threw away the end of the cigarette he was smoking, as though to say that the argument was finished. But Viviette regarded him with a smile—the smile of woman's superior wisdom. How astonishingly little he knew of Dick!
"Do you really think there is one contented being on earth?" she asked. "Even I know better than that."
Austin maintained that Dick ought to be contented.
"Dependent for practically all he has on you?"
"I've never let him feel it," he said quickly.
"He does, though. He wants to get away—to earn his own living—make a way for himself."
"That's the first I've heard of it," said Austin, genuinely surprised. "I really thought he was perfectly contented here. Of course, now and then he's grumpy—but he always has had fits of grumpiness. What kind of work does he want?"
"Something to do with sheep or cattle—in Arizona or New Zealand—the place doesn't matter—any open-air life."
Austin lit another cigarette and walked about the room. He was a man of well-regulated habits, and did not like being taken unawares. Dick ought to have told him. Then there was their mother. Who would look after her? Dick was a dispensation of Providence.
"Perhaps I might be a deputy dispensation, mightn't I?" said Viviette. "I don't think mother is so desperately attached to Dick as all that. It could be arranged somehow or other. And Dick is growing more and more wretched about it every day. Every day he pours out his woes to me till I can almost howl with misery."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Not to stand in his way if he gets a chance of going abroad."
"Of course I won't," cried Austin eagerly. "It never entered my head that he wanted to go away. I would do anything in the world for his happiness, poor old chap. I love Dick very deeply. In spite of his huge bulk and rough ways there's something of the woman in him that makes one love him."
They catalogued Dick's virtues, and then Viviette unfolded her scheme. One or other of the powerful personages whom, in her young confidence, she proposed to attack, would surely know of some opening abroad.
"Even humble I sometimes hear of things," said Austin. "Only a day or two ago old Lord Overton asked me if I knew of a man who could manage a timber forest he's got in Vancouver—"
Viviette jumped up and clapped her hands.
"Why, that's the very thing for Dick!" she cried exultingly.
"God bless my soul!" said Austin. "So it is. I never thought of it."
"If you get it for him I'll thank you in the sweetest way possible." She glanced at him swiftly, under her eyelids. "I promise you I will."
"Then I'll certainly get it," replied Austin.
Austin then went into details. Lord Overton wanted a man of education—a gentleman—one who could ride and shoot and make others work. He would have to superintend the planting and the cutting and the transportation of timber, and act as agent for the various farms Lord Overton possessed in the wide district. The salary would be L700 a year. The late superintendent had suddenly died, and Lord Overton wanted a man to go out at once and fill his place. If only he had thought of Dick!
"But you're thinking of him now. It can't be too late—men with such qualifications aren't picked up at every street corner."
"That's quite true," said Austin. "And as for my recommendation," he added in his confident way, "Lord Overton and I are on such terms that he would not hesitate to give the appointment to a brother of mine. I'll write at once."
"And we'll say nothing to Dick until we've got it all in black and white."
"Not a word," said he.
Then they burst out laughing like happy conspirators, and enjoyed beforehand the success of their plot.
"The old place will be very strange without him," said Austin.
A shadow passed over Viviette's bright face. The manor-house would indeed be very lonely. Her occupation as Dick's liege lady, confidante, and tormentor would be gone. Parting from him would be a wrench. There would be a dreadful scene at the last moment, in which he would want to hold her tight in his arms and make her promise to join him in Vancouver. She shivered a little; then tossed her head as if to throw off the disturbing thoughts.
"Don't let us look at the dismal side of things. It's selfish. All we want is Dick's happiness." She glanced at the clock and started up. "It's midnight. If Katherine knew I was here she would lecture me."
"It's nothing very dreadful," he laughed. "Nor is Katherine's lecture."
"I call her Saint Nitouche—but she's a great dear, isn't she? Good night."
He accompanied her to the foot of the stairs and lit her candle. On the third stair she paused.
"Remember—in all this it's I who am the fairy godmother."
"And I," said Austin, "am nothing but the fairy godmother's humble and devoted factotum." He took the hand which she extended and, bending over it, kissed it gallantly.
Then by unhappy chance out came Dick from the armoury, and beheld the spectacle which robbed him of his peace of mind.
The next morning, when Dick came down gloomily to breakfast, she was very gentle with him, and administered tactfully to his wants. She insisted on going to the sideboard and carving his cold ham, of which he ate prodigious quantities after a hot first course, and when she put the plate before him laid a caressing touch on his shoulder. She neglected Austin in a bare-faced manner, and drew Dick into reluctant and then animated talk on his prize roses and a setter pup just recovering from distemper. After the meal she went with him round the garden, inspected both roses and puppy, and manifested great interest in a trellis he was constructing for the accommodation later in the summer of some climbing cucumbers, at present only visible as modest leaves in flower-pots. Neither made any reference to the little scene of the night before. Morning had brought to Dick the conviction that in refusing her hand and slamming the door he had behaved in an unpardonably bearish manner; and he could not apologise for his behaviour unless he confessed his jealousy of Austin, which, in all probability, would have subjected him to the mocking ridicule of Viviette—a thing which, above all others, he dreaded, and against which he knew himself to be defenceless. Viviette, too, found silence golden. She knew perfectly well why Dick had slammed the door. An explanation would have been absurd. It would have interfered with her relations with Austin, which were beginning to be exciting. But she loved Dick in her heart for being a bear, and evinced both her compunction and her appreciation in peculiar graciousness.
"You've never asked me to try the new mare," she said. "I don't think it a bit kind of you."
"Would you care to?" he asked eagerly.
"Of course I should. I love to see you with horses. You and the trap and the horse seem to be as much one mechanism as a motor-car."
"I can make a horse do what I want," he said, delighted at the compliment. "We'll take the dog-cart. When will you come? This morning?"
"Yes—let us say eleven. It will be lovely."
"I'll have it round at eleven o'clock. You'll see. She's a flyer."
"So am I," she said with a laugh, and pointed to the front gate, which a garden lad had just run to open to admit a young man on horseback.
"Oh, lord! it's Banstead," said Dick with a groan.
"Au revoir—eleven o'clock," said Viviette, and she fled.
Lord Banstead dismounted, gave his horse to the lad, and came up to Dick. He was an unhealthy, dissipated-looking young man, with lustreless eyes, a characterless chin, and an underfed moustache. He wore a light blue hunting stock, fastened by a ruby fox in full gallop, and a round felt hat with a very narrow flat brim, beneath which protruded strands of Andrew aguecheek hair.
"Hallo, Banstead," said Dick, not very cordially.
"Hallo," said the other, halting before the rose-bed, where Dick was tying up some blooms with bast. He watched him for a moment or two. Conversation was not spontaneous.
"Where's Viviette?" he asked eventually.
"Who?" growled Dick.
"Rot. What's the good of frills? Miss Hastings."
"Busy. She'll be busy all the morning."
"I rather wanted to see her."
"I don't think you will. You might ring at the front door and send in your card."
"I might," said Banstead, lighting a cigar. He had tried this method of seeing Viviette before, but without success. There was another pause. Dick snipped off an end of bast.
"You're up very early," said he.
"Went to bed so bally sober I couldn't sleep," replied the misguided youth. "Not a soul in the house, I give you my word. So bored last night I took a gun and tried to shoot cats. Shot a damn cock pheasant by mistake, and had to bury the thing in my own covers. If I'm left to myself to-night I'll get drunk and go out shooting tenants. Come over and dine."
"Can't," said Dick.
"Do. I'll open a bottle of the governor's old port. Then we can play billiards, or piquet, or cat's-cradle, or any rotten thing you like."
Dick excused himself curtly. Austin had come down for Whitsuntide, and a lady was staying in the house. Lord Banstead pushed his hat to the back of his head.
"Then what the devil am I to do in this hole of a place?"
"Don't know," said Dick.
"You fellows in the country are so unfriendly. In town I never need dine alone. Anyone's glad to see me. Feeding all by myself in that dining-room fairly gives me the pip."
"Then come and dine here," said Dick, unable to refuse a neighbour hospitality.
"Right," said Banstead. "That is really like the Samaritan Johnnie. I'll come with pleasure."
"Quarter to eight."
Banstead hesitated. "Couldn't you make it a quarter past?"
Dick stared. "Alter our dinner hour? You've rather a nerve, haven't you, Banstead?"
"I wouldn't suggest it, if we weren't pals," replied the other, grinning somewhat shamefacedly. "But the fact is I've got an appointment late this afternoon." The fatuity of vicious and coroneted youth outstripped his discretion. "There's a devilish pretty girl, you know, at 'The Green Man' at Little Barton; I don't know whether I can get away in time."
Dick stuffed his bast in his pocket, and muttered things uncomplimentary to Banstead.
"Dinner's at a quarter to eight. You can take it or leave it," said he.
"I suppose I've jolly well got to take it," said Banstead, unruffled. "Anything's better than going through dinner from soup to dessert all alone under the fishy eye of that butling image of a Jenkins. He was thirty years in my governor's service, and doesn't understand my ways. I guess I'll have to chuck him."
A perspiring, straw-hatted postman lurched along the gravel drive with the morning's post. He touched his hat to Dick, delivered the Manor House bag into his hands, and departed.
"I'll sort these in the morning-room," said Dick, moving in the direction of the house, and Lord Banstead, hoping to see Viviette, followed at his heels. The control of the family post was one of the few privileges Dick retained as master of the house. His simple mind still regarded the receipt and despatch of letters as a solemn affair of life, and every morning he went through the process of distribution with ceremonial observance. In the morning-room they found Austin and Viviette, the former writing in a corner, the latter reading a novel by the French window that opened on to the terrace. Dick went up to a table, and, opening the mail-bag, began to sort the letters into various heaps. Austin greeted Lord Banstead none too warmly, and, with scarcely an apology, went back to his writing. He disapproved of Banstead, who was of a type particularly antagonistic to the young, clean, and successful barrister. When Viviette had informed him of the youth's presence in the garden, he had exclaimed impatiently:
"It ought to be somebody's business to go round the world occasionally with a broom and sweep away spiders like that."
Viviette, mindful of the invective, received Lord Banstead with a smile of amusement. As she had two protectors against a fifth proposal of marriage, she stood her ground.
"I expected you to come over yesterday," she said.
"No, did you really?" he exclaimed, a flush rising to his pale cheeks. "If I had thought that I should have come."
"You've made up for it by arriving early to-day, at any rate," said Viviette.
"And I'm making up for it further by coming to dinner to-night. Dick asked me," he added, seeing the polite questioning in her eyes.
"That will be very nice," she said. "You can talk to mother. You see, Dick talks to Mrs. Holroyd, who is staying with us, Austin talks to me, so poor mother is left out in the cold. She'll enjoy a nice long talk with you."
When Banstead took the chorus out to supper he had the ready repartee of his kind. In such a case he would have told the lady not to pull his leg. But the delicate mockery in Viviette's face seemed to forbid the use of this figure of speech, and as his vocabulary did not readily allow him to formulate the idea in other terms he said nothing, but settled his stock, and looked at her adoringly. At last he bent forward, after a glance at the protectors, and said in a low tone:
"Come out into the garden. I've something to say to you."
"Why not say it here?" she replied in her ordinary voice.
Banstead bit his lip. He would have liked to call her a little devil. But he reflected that if he did she would be quite capable of repeating the phrase aloud, somewhat to the astonishment of Dick and Austin, who might ask for embarrassing explanations. Instead he bent still nearer, and whispered:
"I can only say it to you alone. I've been awake all night thinking of it—give you my word."
"Wait till to-morrow morning, and by then you may have slept upon it," she counselled.
"You'll drive me to drink!" he murmured.
She rose with a laugh. "In that case I must go. I ought to be labelled 'dangerous.' Don't you think so, Dick? Besides, I'm going for a drive, and must put on my things. These my letters? Au revoir." And, with a wave of her hand she left them.
Banstead lingered by the threshold and took up an illustrated paper. The maid, in response to Dick's summons, bore away the letters for the rest of the household. Austin and Dick concerned themselves with their correspondence, Dick's chiefly consisting of gardeners' catalogues.
For a while there was silence. It was broken by a loud laugh from Austin.
"Dick! I say, Dick! What do you think these village idiots have asked me to do? To accept their nomination and stand as a Rural District Councillor! Me!"
Dick quickly crossed to the table where his brother was sitting.
"That's my letter, old chap. I must here put it in your heap by mistake. The invitation is meant for me."
"You?" laughed Austin. "Why, what do you want to fool about with village politics for? No. The letter is meant for me right enough."
"I can't understand it," said Dick.
Lord Banstead looked up from his paper.
"That the Rural District Council? I'm on the committee. Had a meeting yesterday. I'm chairman of the silly rotters."
"Then your silly rotter of an honorary secretary," cried Dick angrily, "has sent Austin the letter of invitation that was meant for me."
"Oh, no, he didn't," said Banstead. "It's all right. They chucked you, old son. Now I remember. I promised to explain."
Dick turned aside. "Oh, you needn't explain," he said bitterly.
"But I must. They had their reasons, you know. They thought they'd rather have a brainy nobleman like your brother than a good old rotter like you. You're—"
"Oh, hold your tongue, Banstead," cried Austin, rising and putting his hand on Dick's shoulder. "Really, my dear old Dick, you're the right person to stand. They only thought a lawyer could help them—but I'm far too busy—of course I decline. I'm deeply pained, Dick, at having hurt you. I'll write to the committee and point out how much fitter, as a country gentleman, you are for the duties than I am. They're bound to ask you."
Dick swung away passionately, his lips quivering with anger and mortification beneath his great moustache.
"Do you think I would accept? I'm damned if I would. Do you expect me to pick up everything you've thrown in the mud and feel grateful? I'm damned if I will!"
He flung out of the room on to the terrace and strode away in a rage.
"Seems to take it badly," remarked Banstead, looking at his disappearing figure. "I had better say good-bye."
"Good-bye," said Austin. And he added, as he accompanied him with grim politeness to the front gate, "if you exercise the same tact in the chair as you've done here, your meetings must be a huge success."
He returned with a shrug of the shoulders to his table in the morning-room. He was deeply attached to Dick, but a lifelong habit of regarding him as a good-natured, stupid, and contented giant blinded him to the storm that was beginning to rage in the other's soul. The occurrence was unfortunate. It wounded the poor old fellow's vanity. Banstead's blatant folly had been enough to set any man in a rage. But, after all, Dick was a common-sense creature, and, recognising that Austin was in no way to blame, he would soon get over it. Meanwhile, there was awaiting him the joyful surprise of Vancouver, which would soon put such petty mortifications out of his head. Thus Austin consoled himself, and settled down to the serious matters of his correspondence.
Viviette, coming in later in hat and jacket, found him busily writing. He looked up at her admiringly as she stood against the background of light framed by the great French window.
"Am I presentable?" she asked, with a smile, interpreting his glance.
"Each modification of your dress makes you seem more bewitching than the last."
"I trimmed this hat myself," she said, coming into the room, and looking at herself in a Queen Anne mirror on the wall.
"That's why it's so becoming," said Austin.
She wheeled round on him with a laugh. "You really ought to say something cleverer than that!"
"How can I," he replied, "when you drive my wits away?"
"Poor me," she said. And then, suddenly, "Where's Dick?"
"What do you want Dick for?"
"He promised to take me for a drive." She consulted the watch on her wrist. "It's past eleven now."
"I'm afraid poor Dick is rather upset. He seems to have been counting on being nominated to stand for the Rural District Council, and the imbeciles invited me instead."
"Oh, how could they?" she cried, smitten with a great pity. "How could they be so stupid and cruel? I know all about it. He told me yesterday. He must be bitterly disappointed."
Austin did not tell her of Lord Banstead's tactful explanation of the committee's action. He was a fastidious man, and did not care to soil his mind with the memory of Banstead's existence. If he had described the scene, the young man's vulgarity, his own attempt at conciliation, and Dick's passionate outburst—the course of the drama that was shaping itself might have been altered. But the stars in their courses were fighting against Dick. Austin only said:
"If we get him this appointment, it will be ample compensation, anyhow."
"Please don't say 'if,'" exclaimed Viviette, "we must get it."
"Unless Lord Overton has already found a man, which is unlikely, owing to the general suspension of business at Whitsuntide, it's practically a certainty."
"When shall we know?"
"My letter's written and is waiting for the post. If he replies by return we shall hear the day after to-morrow."
"That is such a long time to wait. Do you know what to-morrow is?"
"Wednesday," said Austin.
"It's Dick's birthday." She clapped her hands at a happy inspiration, and hung on his arm. "Oh, Austin! If we could only give him the appointment as a birthday present!"
Her touch, her fresh charm, the eagerness in her eyes roused him to unwonted enthusiasm. In his sane moments he did not care a fig for anybody's birthday. What man ever does? He proclaimed the splendour of her idea. But how was it to be realised?
"Send a long prepaid telegram to Lord Overton, of course," said Viviette triumphantly. (How unresourceful are men!) "Then we can get an answer to-day."
"You forget the nearest telegraph office is at Witherby, seven miles off."
"But Dick and I are going for a drive. I'll make him go to Witherby and I'll send the telegram. Write it."
She drew him in her caressing way to the table, seated him in the chair, and laid the block of telegram forms before him. He scribbled industriously, and when he had finished handed her the sheets.
He fished in his pockets for money, but Viviette checked him. She was the fairy godmother in this fairy tale, and fairy godmothers always held the purse. She glanced again at her watch. It was ten minutes past eleven.
"Perhaps he's waiting with the trap for me all the time. Au revoir."
"I'll see you off," said Austin.
They went together into the hall and opened the front door. The new mare and the dog-cart in charge of the stable lad were there, but no Dick.
"Where's Mr. Ware?"
"Don't know, miss."
Then the Devil entered into Viviette. There is no other explanation. The Devil entered into her.
"We must get to Witherby and back before lunch. You drive me over instead of Dick."
They exchanged glances. Austin was young. He was in love with her. Dick had committed the unpardonable offence of being late. It would serve him right.
"I'll come," said he, disappearing in search of cap and gloves.
Viviette went into the hall and scribbled a note.
"Dear Dick,—You're late. Austin and I have the most important business to transact at Witherby, so he's driving me over. We're preparing a great surprise for you.—Viviette."
"Give this to Mr. Ware," she said to the stable boy as she prepared to get into the dog-cart.
The boy touched his cap and ran to open the gate. Viviette lightly mounted by Austin's side. They had just turned into the road when Dick came racing through the hall and saw them disappear. He walked up the drive, and met the boy coming down, who handed him the note, with some words, which he did not hear. He watched the boy out of sight. Then he tore the note unread into tiny fragments, stamped them furiously into the mould of the nearest bed, and, flying into his armoury, threw himself into a chair and cursed the day that ever Austin was born.
The drive was a memorable one for many reasons. First the new mare flew along at an exhilarating trot, as if showing off her qualities to her new masters. Then the morning sunshine flooded the soft, undulating Warwickshire country, and slanted freshly through the bordering elms in sweet-scented lanes. Summer flaunted its irresponsible youth in the faces of matronly, red-brick Manor House, old grey church, and crumbling cottage, danced about among the crisp green leaves, kissed the wayside flowers, and tossing up human hearts in sheer gaiety, played the very deuce with them. The drive also had its altruistic side. They were on an errand of benevolence. Austin, his mind conscious of nothing but right, felt the unusual glow of unselfish devotion to another's interests. When he had awakened that morning he had had misgivings as to the advisability of sending Dick to another hemisphere. After all, Dick was exceedingly useful at Ware House, and saved him a great deal of trouble. An agent would have to be appointed to replace him, whose salary—not a very large one, in view of the duties to be performed, but still a salary—would have to be provided out of his, Austin's, pocket. Who, again, could undertake the permanent care of his mother? Viviette would stay at home for some little time; but she would be marrying one of these fine days—a day which Austin had reasons for hoping would not be very remote. He would have to make Heaven knows what arrangements for Mrs. Ware and the general upkeep of the Manor House, while he was in London carrying on his profession. Decidedly, Dick had been a godsend, and his absence would be a calamity. In sending him out to Vancouver Austin had all the unalloyed, pure pleasure of self-sacrifice.
They talked of Dick and Dick's birthday and Dick's happiness most of the way to Witherby. The telegram despatched, prepaid with the porterage by Viviette, Austin felt that he had done his duty by his brother, and deserved some consideration on his own account. And here it was that the summer began its game with their hearts. On such sportive occasions it is not so much what is said that matters. A conversation that might be entirely conventional between comparative strangers in a fog may become the most romantic interchange of sentiment imaginable between intimates in the sunshine. There are tones, there are glances, there are half-veiled allusions, there are—in a dog-cart, especially when it jolts—thrilling contacts of arm and arm. There is man's undisguised tribute to beauty; there is beauty's keen feminine appreciation of the tribute. There is a manner of saying "we" which counts for more than the casual conjunction of the personalities.
"This is our day, Viviette," said Austin. "I shall always remember it."
"So shall I. We must put a white mark against it in our diaries."
"With white ink?"
"Of course. Black would never do, nor red, nor violet."
"But where shall we get it?"
"I'll make us some when I get home out of white cloud and lilies and sunshine and a bit of the blue sky."
Laughter fluttered through her veins. Yesterday she had teasingly boasted to Katherine that Austin was in love with her. Now she knew it. He proclaimed it in a thousand ways. A note of exultation in his laugh, like that in a blackbird's call, alone proclaimed it. Instinct told her of harmless words she might use which would bring the plain avowal. But the hour was too delicate. As yet nothing was demanded. All was given. Her woman's vanity blossomed deliciously in the atmosphere of a man's love. Her heart had not yet received the inevitable summons to respond. She left it, careless in the gay hands of summer.
When they drew up before the front door of Ware House he lifted her from the dog-cart and set her laughing on her feet.
"How strong you are," she cried.
"I'm not a giant, like Dick," said he, "but I'm strong enough to do what I like with a bit of a thing like you."
She entered the hall and glanced at him provokingly over her shoulder.
"Don't be too sure of that."
"Whatever I like," he repeated, striding towards her.
But Viviette laughed, and fled lightly up the stairs, and on the landing blew him an ironical kiss from her finger tips.
When Viviette came down for lunch, she found Dick awaiting her in the hall. With a lowering face he watched her descend and, his hand on the newel, confronted her.
"Well?" said he indignantly.
"Well?" she said, cheerfully smiling.
"What have you got to say for yourself?"
"Lots of things. I had a lovely drive. I got through all my business, and I have a beautiful appetite. I also don't like standing on a stair."
At her look he drew aside and let her pass into the hall.
"You promised to drive with me," he said, following her to a chair in which she sat. "Driving with me is no great catch, perhaps; but a promise is a promise."
"You were late," said Viviette.
"My mother kept me—some silly nonsense about vegetables. You must have known it was something I couldn't help."
"I really don't see why you're so angry, Dick," she said, lifting candid eyes. "I explained why we had gone in my note."
"I didn't read the note," said Dick wrath-fully. "A thousand notes couldn't have explained it. I tore the note into little pieces."
Viviette rose. "If that's the way you treat me," she said, piqued, "I have nothing more to say to you."
"It's the way you're treating me," he cried, with a clumsy man's awkward attempt at gesture. "I know I'm not clever. I know I can't talk to you as sweetly as other people; but I'm not a dog, and I deserve some consideration. Perhaps, after all, I might have the brains to jest and toss about words and shoot off epigrams. I'll try, if you like. Let us see. Here. A man who entrusts his heart to a woman has a jade for his banker. That's devilish smart, isn't it. Now then—there must be some repartee to it. What is it?"
Viviette looked at him proudly, and moving in the direction of the morning-room door, said with much dignity:
"That depends on the way in which the woman you are talking to has been brought up. My repartee is—good morning."
Dick, suddenly repentant, checked her.
"No, Viviette. Don't go. I'm a brute and a fool. I didn't mean it. Forgive me. I would rather go on the rack than hurt your little finger. But it maddens me—can't you believe it? It maddens me to see Austin—"
She broke into a little laugh and smiled dazzlingly on him.
"I do believe you're jealous!" she interrupted.
"Good heavens!" he cried passionately. "Haven't I cause? Austin has everything his heart can desire. He has always had it. I have nothing—nothing but one little girl I love. Austin, with all the world at his feet, comes down here, and what chance has a rough yokel like me against Austin? My God! It's the one ewe lamb."
He raised his clenched fists and brought them down against his sides and turned away. The allusion and a consciousness of Vancouver brought a smile into Viviette's eyes. She had a woman's sense of humour, which is not always urbane. When he turned to meet her she shook her head reprovingly.
"And David put Uriah into the forefront of the battle, and carried off poor little Bathsheba. No one seemed to have concerned himself with what Bathsheba thought of it all. Don't you consider she ought to have some choice in the matter—whether she should follow the sprightly David or cling to the melancholy Uriah?"
"Oh, don't jest like that, Viviette," he cried. "It hurts!"
"I'm sorry, Dick," she said innocently. "But, really, Bathsheba has her feelings. What am I to do?"
"Choose, dear, between us. Choose now—in Heaven's name, choose."
"But, Dick, dear," said Viviette, all that was wickedly feminine in her shouting her sex's triumph song, "I want a longer time to choose between two hats!"
Dick stamped his foot. "Then Austin has been robbing me! I'm growing desperate, Viviette, tell me now. Choose."
He seized her arms in his strong hands. She felt a delicious little thrill of fear. But knowing her strength, she looked up at him with a childish expression and said plaintively: "Oh, Dick, dear, I'm so hungry."
He released her arms. She rubbed them ruefully. "I'm sure you've made horrid red rings. Fancy choosing a hard, uncomfortable hat like that!"
He was about to make some rejoinder when the presence of Mrs. Ware and Katherine Holroyd at the top of the stairs put an end to the encounter. The victory, such as it was, remained with Viviette.
At lunch, Austin, his veins still tingling with the summer, laughed and jested light-heartedly. What a joy it was to get away from stuffy courts of justice into the pure Warwickshire air. What a joy to drink of the wine of life. What was that? Only those that drank of the wine could tell.
"What about the poor devils that only get the dregs?" muttered Dick.
Austin declared that the real wine had no dregs. He called his mother and Katherine Holroyd to witness. Mrs. Ware was not sure. Old port had to be very carefully decanted. Did he remember the fuss his dear father used to make about it? She was very glad there was no more left—for Dick would be sure to drink it and it would go to his head.
"Or his toes!" cried Viviette.
When Austin explained Viviette's meaning to his mother, who had not an allusive habit of mind, she acquiesced placidly. Port was not good for gouty people. Their poor father suffered severely. Austin listened to her reminiscences and turned the talk to the drive. It had been more like driving through Paradise with Pegasus harnessed to Venus's car than anything else. He must take his mother out and show her what a good judge of horseflesh was dear old Dick.
"As she's my mare, perhaps I might have the privilege," said Dick.
Austin cried out, in all good faith: "My dear old boy, is there anything especially mine or yours in this house?"
Katherine, a keen observer, broke quickly into the talk.
"There's Dick's armoury. That's his own particular and private domain. You're going to explain it all to me this afternoon, aren't you? You promised yesterday."
She drew Dick into talk away from the others. The lecture on the armoury was fixed for three o'clock, when she would be free from the duty from which, during her stay at the Manor House, she had freed Viviette, of postprandial reading of the newspaper to Mrs. Ware. But her interest in his hobby for once failed to awaken his enthusiasm. The dull jealousy of Austin, against which his honest soul had struggled successfully all his life long, had passed beyond his control. These few days of Austin's Whitsun visit had changed his cosmic view. Petty rebuffs, such as the matters of the stables and the Rural District Council, which formerly he would have regarded in the twilight of his mind as part of the unchangeable order of things in which Austin was destined to shine resplendently and he to glimmer—Austin the arc-lamp and he the tallow-dip—became magnified into grievances and insults intolerable. Esau could not have raged more against Jacob, the supplanter, than did Dick, when Austin carried off Viviette from beneath his nose. Until this visit of Austin he had no idea that he would find a rival in his brother. The discovery was a shock, causing his world to reel and setting free all the pent-up jealousies and grievances of a lifetime. Everything he had given up to Austin, if not willingly, at least graciously, hiding beneath the rough, tanned hide of his homely face all pain, disappointment, and humiliation. But now Austin had come and swooped off with his one ewe lamb. Not that Viviette had encouraged him by more than the real but mocking affection with which she had treated her bear foster-brother ever since her elfin childhood. In a dim way he realised this, and absolved her from blame. Less dimly, also, he felt his mental and social inferiority, his lack of warrant in offering her marriage. But his great, rugged manhood wanted her, the woman, with an imperious, savage need which took all the training of civilisation to repress. Viviette alone in her maidenly splendour, he could have fought it down. But the vision of another man entering, light-hearted and debonair, into those precincts maddened him, let loose primitive instincts of hatred and revenge, and robbed him of all interest in the toys with which men used to slay each other centuries ago.
Austin, being nearest the door, opened it for the ladies to pass out. Viviette, going out last, looked up at him with one of her witch's glances.
"Don't be very long," she said,
Before Austin could resume his seat Dick leaped up.
"Austin, look here; I've something to say to you."
"Well?" said Austin.
Dick pulled out a cigar, bit the end off, and finding that he had ripped the outer skin, threw it angrily into the fireplace.
"My dear old boy," said Austin, "what in the name of all that's neurotic is the matter?"
"I've something to say to you," Dick repeated. "Something that concerns myself, my life. I must throw myself on your generosity."
Austin, his head full of philanthropy, thrust his hands into his pockets and smiled indulgently on Dick.
"Don't, old chap, I know all about it. Viviette has told me everything."
Dick, his head full of passion, staggered in amazement.
"Viviette has told you?"
"Of course; why shouldn't she?"
Dick groped his way to the door. It were better for both that he should not stay. Austin, left alone, laughed, not unkindly. Dear old Dick! It was a shame to tease him—but what a different expression his honest face would wear to-morrow! When the maid brought in his coffee he sipped it with enjoyment, forgetful for once of its lack of excellence.
There was one person, however, in the house who saw things clearly; and the more clearly she saw them the less did they seem satisfactorily ordered. This was Katherine Holroyd, a sympathetic observer and everybody's intimate. She had known the family since her childhood, spent in a great neighbouring house which had now long since passed from her kin into alien hands. She had known Viviette when she first came, with her changeling face, a toddling child of three, to the Manor House. She had grown up with the brothers. Until her marriage the place had been her second home. Her married life, mostly spent abroad, had somewhat broken the intimacy. But her widowhood after the first few hopeless months had renewed it, although her visits were comparatively rare. On the other hand, her little daintily-furnished London house in Victoria square was always open to such of the family as happened to be in town. Now, as Austin was the most frequently in town, seeing that he lived there all the year round, with the exception of the long vacation and odd flying visits to Warwickshire, to Austin was her door most frequently open. A deep affection existed between them, deeper perhaps than either realised. To be purely brotherly in attitude towards a woman whom you are fond of and who is not your sister, and to be purely sisterly in your attitude towards a man whom you are fond of and who is not your brother, are ideals of spiritual emotion very difficult to attain in this respectably organised but sex-ridden world.
During the dark time of her early widowhood it was to Austin's delicate tact and loyalty that she owed her first weak grasp on life. It was he that had brought her to a sense of outer things, to a realisation that in spite of her own grey sky there was still a glory on the earth. He was her trusted friend, ally, and adviser, who never failed her, and she contemplated him always with a heart full of somewhat exaggerated gratitude—which is as far on the road to love as it is given to many women to travel.
She had barely reached the top of the hall stairs—on her way to spend her reading hour with Mrs. Ware, when she saw Dick come out of the dining-room with convulsed and angry face, the veins standing out on his thick bull's neck. She felt frightened. Something foolish and desperate would happen before long. She resolved to give Austin a warning word. With an excuse to Mrs. Ware she went down again to the dining-room, and found Austin in the cosiest and sunniest frame of mind imaginable. Obviously there had been no serious quarrel between the brothers.
"Can I have a few minutes with you, Austin?"
"A thousand," he said gaily. "What has gone wrong?"
"It is nothing to do with me," she said.
He looked amusedly into her eyes. "I know. It's about Viviette. Confess."
"Yes," she replied soberly, "it's about Viviette."
"You've seen it. I make no bones about it. You can believe the very worst. I have fallen utterly and hopelessly in love with her. I am at your mercy."
This beginning was not quite what Katherine had expected. In his confident way he had taken matters out of her hands. She had not anticipated a down-right confession. She felt conscious of a little dull and wholly reprehensible ache at her heart. She sighed.
"Aren't you pleased, Katherine?" he asked with a man's selfishness.
"I suppose I must be—for your sake. But I must also sigh a little. I knew you would be falling in love sooner or later—only I hoped it would be later. But que veux-tu? It is the doom of all such friendships."
"I don't see anything like a doom about it, my dear," said he. "The friendship will continue. Viviette loves you dearly."
She took up a peach from a dish to her hand, regarded it for a moment, absent-mindedly, and delicately replaced it.
"Our friendship will continue, of course. But the particular essence of it, the little sentimentality of ownership, will be gone, won't it?"
Austin rose and bent over Katherine's chair in some concern. "You're not distressed, Katherine?"
"Oh, no. You have been such a kind, loyal friend to me during a very dark and lonely time—brought sunshine into my life when I needed it most—that I should be a wicked woman if I didn't rejoice at your happiness. And we have been nothing more than friends."
"Nothing more," said Austin.
She was smiling now, and he caught a gleam of mischief in her eyes.
"And yet there was an afternoon last winter—"
His face coloured. "Don't throw my wickedness in my face. I remember that afternoon. I came in fagged, with the prospect of dinner at the club and a dismal evening over a brief in front of me, and found you sitting before the fire, the picture of rest and comfortableness and companionship. I think it was the homely smell of hot buttered toast that did it. I nearly asked you to marry me."
"And I had been feeling particularly lonely," she laughed.
"Would you have accepted me?"
"Do you think that it is quite a fair question?"
"We have always been frank with one another since our childhood," said he.
She smiled. "Has Viviette accepted you?"
He broke away from her with a gay laugh, and lit a cigarette.
"Your feminine subtlety does you credit, Katherine."
"But has she?"
"Well, no—not exactly."
He brought his hand down on the table. "By heavens, I'll make her! I've got most of the things I've wanted during my life, and it'll be odd if I don't get the thing I want more than all the rest put together. Now answer my question, my dear Katherine," he continued teasingly. "Would you have married me?"
The smile faded from Katherine's face. She could not parry the question as she had done before, and it probed depths. She said very seriously and sweetly:
"I should have done, Austin, as I always shall do, whatever you ask me to do. I'm glad you didn't ask me—very glad—for the love a woman gives a man died within me, you know."
He took her hand and kissed it.
"My dear," said he, "you are the truest friend that ever man had."
There was a short pause. Austin looked out of the window and Katherine wiped away some moisture in her eyes. This scene of sentimentality was not at all what she had come for. Soon she rose with a determined air and joined Austin by the window.
"It was as a true friend that I wanted to speak to you to-day. To warn you."
"About Dick. Austin, he's madly in love with Viviette too."
Austin stared at her for a moment incredulously. "Dick in love—in love with Viviette?" Then he broke into a peal of laughter. "My dear Katherine! Why, it's absurd! It's preposterous! It's too funny."
"But seriously, Austin."
"But seriously," he said, with laughing eyes, "such an idea has never penetrated into old Dick's wooden skull. You dear women are always making up romance. He and Viviette are on the same old fairy and great brown bear terms that they have been ever since they first met. She makes him dance on his hind legs—he wants to hug her—she hits him over the nose—and he growls."
"I warn you," said Katherine. "Great brown bears in love are dangerous."
"But he isn't in love," he argued light-heartedly. "If he were he would want to stay with Viviette. But he's eating his heart out, apparently, to leave us all and go and plough fields and herd cattle abroad. The life he lives here, my good mother's somewhat arbitrary ways, and one thing and another have at last got on his nerves. I wonder now how the dear old chap has stood it so long. That's what is wrong with him, not blighted affection."
"I can only tell you what I know," said Katherine. "If you won't believe me, it's not my fault. Keep your eyes open and you will see."
"And you keep your eyes open to-morrow morning and you will see," he said, with his bright self-confidence.
So Katherine sighed at the obtuseness and inconvincibility of man and went to read the leader in The Daily Telegraph to Mrs. Ware. Austin, with a smile on his lips, wandered out into the sunshine in search of Viviette.
Before they parted, however, Katherine turned by the door.
"Are you coming to the armoury to hear Dick's lecture?"
"Of course," said Austin gaily. "The dear old chap loves an audience."
THE FAMOUS DUELLING PISTOLS
Dick's great-grandfather (Wild Dick Ware, as he used to be called by the country-side), besides other enormities of indiscretion, committed an architectural crime. Having begun to form the collection of arms which was Dick's pride and hobby, he felt the need of a fencing gallery where they could be displayed to advantage. None of the rooms in the house were suitable. Building a new wing would cost too much. So, like a good old English gentleman, accustomed to get what he wanted, he ruthlessly cut off a slice of the nobly proportioned morning-room, containing a beautifully-mullioned casement at the side, knocked a French window through one end, so that he could wander in and out from the terrace, knocked a door through the other so that it opened on a corner of the hall, forgot all about the fireplace, and left his descendants to make the best of things.
This long, narrow, comfortless strip of a room was Dick's armoury, den, and refuge. It was furnished with extreme simplicity. At the further end two rusty leather arm-chairs flanked a cast-iron stove in the corner, and were balanced in the other and darker corner by a knee-hole writing-desk littered with seeds and bulbs and spurs and bits of fishing tackle, and equipped for its real purpose with a forbidding-looking pen and inkpot, and a torn piece of weather-beaten blotting-paper. At about a third of the way down from the terrace door a great screen, covered with American cloth, cut the room almost in two. Against this screen stood two suits of beautifully-finished fifteenth-century Italian armour. Between them and the further end of the room ran a long deal table, with a green baize cover. An odd, dilapidated chair or two stood lonely and disconsolate against the opposite wall. The floor was covered with old matting and a few faded rugs. The walls, however, and the cases ranged along them gave an air of distinction to the room. There hung trophies of arms of all sorts—a bewildering array of spiky stars like the monstrous decorations on the breast of a Brobdingnagian diplomatist, of guns and pistols of all ages and nationalities, of halberds, pikes, and partisans, of curved scimitars, great two-handed swords, and long, glittering rapiers, with precious hilts. There, too, were coats of chain mail and great iron gauntlets, and rows of dinted helmets formed a cornice round the gallery.
It was Dick's sanctuary, where, according to family tradition, he was supposed to be immune from domestic attacks. Anyone, it is true, could open the door and worry him from the threshold, but no one entered without his invitation. Here he was master. Here he spent solitary hours dreaming dreams, wrestling with devils, tying trout-flies, making up medicines for his dogs, and polishing and arranging and rearranging his armour and weapons. Until the furies got hold of him he was a simple soul, content with simple things. The happiest times of his life had been passed here among the inanimate objects which he loved, and here he was now spending the hours of his greatest agony.
The words he had just heard from Austin rang like a crazy, deafening chime through his ears. He sat in one of the old leather chairs, gripping his coarse hair. It was unthinkable, and yet it was true. Viviette had told Austin the thing that glowed sacred at the bottom of his soul. The scene danced vividly before his eyes: the two bright creatures making a mock of him and his love, laughing merrily at the trick they had played him, pitying him contemptuously. There was a flame at his heart, a burning lump in his throat. Mechanically he drew from a little cupboard near by a bottle of whiskey, a syphon, and a glass. The drink he mixed and swallowed contained little soda. It increased the fire in his heart and throat. He paced the long room in crazy indignation. Every nerve in his body quivered with a sense of unforgivable insult and deadly outrage. Austin's face loomed before him like that of a mocking devil. He had hell in his throat, and again he tossed down a dose of whiskey, and threw himself into the arm-chair. The daily paper lay on a stool at his hand. He took it up and tried to read, but the print swam into thin, black smudges. He dashed the paper to the ground, and gave himself up to his madness.
After a while he remembered his appointment with Katherine at three o'clock. He glanced at his watch. It was a quarter to the hour, and, beyond a cleaning yesterday afternoon, no preparations were made. In an automatic way he unlocked some cases and drew out his treasures, wiped the sword-blades tenderly with chamois leather, and laid them on the long, baize-covered table. Here and there from the cornice he selected a helmet. The great mace used by his ecclesiastical ancestor he unhooked from the wall. Soon the table was covered with weapons, selected in a dazed way, he knew not why. A helmet fell from his hands on the floor with a ring of steel. Its visor grinned at him—the fool, the tricked, the supplanted. He kicked it, with a silly laugh. Then he pulled himself together, picked it up, and examined it in great fear lest harm should have happened to it. He put it on the table, and in order to steady his nerves drank another large whiskey and small soda.
He scanned the table, perplexed. Some accustomed and important exhibit was not in its place. What was it? He clasped his head in his hands and strove to clear his mind for a moment from obsession. It was something historical, something unique, something he had but lately mentioned to Katherine. Something intimately connected with this very room. At last memory responded. He placed a chair between the two suits of armour that stood against the screen and the end of the long table, and, mounting, took a mahogany case from a shelf. Then he sat on the chair, put the case on the table, and opened it by means of a small, ornamental key. It contained a brace of old-fashioned duelling pistols, such as were used at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They were long-barrelled, ivory-handled, business-like weapons, provided with miniature ramrods. The velvet-lined interior of the case was divided into various compartments, two for the pistols, one for powder-flask, one for bullets, one for percussion-caps, and one for wads. In his dull, automatic way, his mind whirling madly in other spheres, he cleaned the pistols, shook the powder-flask to make certain that powder was still there—he loved to pour out a few grains into his hand and show the powder that had remained in the flask for generations, ever since the pistols were last used—counted the caps, which he had counted many times before, looked stupidly into the only empty compartment, only to remember that there never had been any wads, and, finally, grasping one of the pistols, took aim at a bulb on his writing-desk at the end of the room.
He had been tricked, and robbed, and mocked. He could see the scene when she had told Austin. He could hear Austin's pitiless laughter. He could picture her mimicking his rough speech. He could picture them, faithless, heartless, looking into each other's eyes.... Suddenly he passed his hand over his forehead. Was he going mad? Hitherto he had heard their voices in the dimness of imagination. Now he heard them loud in vibrating sound. Was it real or imaginary? He drew deep, panting breaths.
"Dick's not here," said Viviette's voice from the terrace. "He has forgotten."
"Really, my dear, I don't very much care," Austin replied. "Where you are, I am happy."
"I wish that telegram would come. It's quite time. Don't you think we had better tell Dick to-day?"
"No, no. To-morrow."
"After all, what is the good of hiding it from him?"
A laugh from Austin. "You think we ought to put him out of his misery at once?"
It was real! Those two were talking in flesh and blood on the terrace. They were talking of him. His misery! That had but one meaning. And the devil laughed! Unconsciously his grip tightened on the butt of the pistol. He listened.
"Yes," said Viviette. "It would be kinder."
"I stick to the birthday idea. It would be more dramatic."
"The damned villain!" Dick muttered.
"I want to-day," said Viviette.
"And I want to-morrow."
"You speak as if you were my lord and master," said Viviette, in the mocking tones Dick knew so well.
"No other man shall be if I can help it."
The clear, young masterful voice rang down the gallery. Dick slid his chair noiselessly to the side of the screen which hid him from the terrace-window, and, bending down low, peered round the edge. He saw them laughing, flushed, silhouetted against the green, distant trees. Austin was looking at her with the light of passion in his eyes. She looked up at him, radiant, elusive, triumphant, with parted lips.
"Please to remember we were talking of Dick."
"Confound Dick! In this he doesn't count. I matter. And I'll show you."
He showed her in the one and only way. She struggled for a second in his arms, and received his kiss with a little laugh. They had moved to the far lintel of the door. Dick's world reeled red before his eyes. He stood up and held the pistol pointed. Damn him! Damn him! He would kill him. Kill him like a dog.
Some reflex motion of the brain prompted action. Feverishly he rammed a charge of powder down the pistol. Wads? A bit of the newspaper lying on the floor. Then a bullet. Then a wad rammed home. Then the cap. It was done at lightning speed. Murder, red, horrible murder blazed in his soul. Damn him! He would kill him. He started into the middle of the room, just as they walked away, and he sprang to the door and levelled the pistol.
Then reaction came. No. Not like a dog. He couldn't shoot his brother like a dog. His arm fell helplessly at his side. He turned back again into the room, staggering and knocking himself against the cases by the walls, like a drunken man. The sweat rolled down his face. He put the pistol beside the other on the table. For some moments he stood a hulking statue, shaken as though stricken with earthquake, white-faced, white-lipped, staring, with crossed, blue eyes, at nothing. At last he recovered power of motion, drank another whiskey, and replaced bottle, syphon, and glass in the cupboard.
He found himself suddenly clear-headed, able to think. He was not in the least degree drunk. To test himself he took up a sword from the table, and, getting the right spot, balanced it on his finger. He could speak, too, as well as anybody. He turned to a long Moorish musket inlaid with gems and mother-of-pearl, and began to describe it. He was quite fluent and sensible, although his voice sounded remote in his own ears. He was satisfied. He had his nerves under control. He would go through the next hour without anyone suspecting the madness that was in his mind. He was absolutely sober and self-collected. He walked along a seam of the matting that ran the whole length of the gallery, and did not deviate from it one hair's breadth. Now he was ready. Perfectly prepared to deliver his lecture. He sat down and picked up the newspaper, and the print was clear. "The weather still continues to be fine over the British Islands. The anti-cyclone has not yet passed away from the Bay of Biscay...." He read the jargon through to the end. But it seemed as if it were not he who was reading, but someone else—a quiet, placid gentleman, deeply versed in the harmless science of meteorology. Where his real self was he did not know, so he toyed with the illusion.
A voice broke on his ear, coming, it seemed, from another world.
"Dick, may we come in?"
He rose, saw Katherine, Austin, and Viviette on the threshold. He invited them to enter, and shook Katherine by the hand, as if he had not met her for a long time.
Viviette danced down to the table. "Now, Dick, we're all here. Put on your most learned, and antiquarian mariner. Ladies and gentlemen, I call on Mr. Richard Ware to deliver his interesting lecture on the ingenious instruments men have devised for butchering each other."
Dick put his hand to his head in a confused way. His real self was beginning to merge itself into that of the quiet gentleman, and there was a curious red mist before his eyes.
"Come on," cried Viviette. "Look at Katherine. Her mouth is watering for tales of bloodshed."
Dick could not remember his usual starting-point. He stared stupidly at the table for a moment; then picked up a weapon at random, and made a great effort.
"This is a Toledo sixteenth-century sword—reported to have belonged to Cosmo de Medici. You see here the 'palle,' the Medici emblem. The one next to it is a sword of the same period, only used by a meaner person. I should prefer it, if there were any killing to be done."
He described one or two other weapons. Then, glancing over his shoulder at Austin and Viviette, who were talking in low, confidential tones a little way off, he stood stock still, and the beads of sweat gathered on his forehead. Katherine's voice recalled his wandering wits.
"This is a cross-bow, isn't it? The thing the Ancient Mariner shot the Albatross with."
"A cross-bow," said Dick. "The iron loop at the end was to put one's foot into when one wanted to load it."
"And this," said Katherine, pointing to a long steel thing with a great knob adorned with cruel spikes, "is the family mace, I suppose. I've seen it before, I remember."
"Yes, that's the mace."
"What a blood-thirsty set of people you must have been!"
Austin came up with a laugh. "There's a legend among us that once mother was left alone in the house and insisted on having this mace near her bed so as to defend herself against burglars. But why do you leave me to tell the story, Dick?"
Dick clenched his fists, and, muttering something, turned and ascended the gallery above the screen. Viviette followed him.
"You're not doing it at all nicely. I don't think you want to."
"Can you wonder at that?" he said hoarsely.
Viviette played deliciously with the fire.
"Why, aren't we intelligent enough for you?" she asked with childish innocence.
"You know what I mean."
"I haven't the faintest idea. All I know is that you may as well be polite, at any rate."
He laughed. Ordinarily he had little sense of humour; but now he had the flames in his heart and the hell in his throat, and red mist before his eyes.
"Oh, I'll be polite," he growled. "By God, I'll be polite! One may be suffering the tortures of the damned, but one must smirk and be polite!"
He snatched up the first thing to hand, a helmet that stood on a case, and brought it down below the screen.
"Katherine, Viviette says I'm not delivering my lecture properly. I beg your pardon. I'm rather shy at first, but I get warmed up to my subject. What would you like to hear about?"