Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Colonel Quaritch, V.C. by H. Rider Haggard

Part 3 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

estates."

"Why has he done that, as an investment?"

"No, it is a rotten investment. I believe that he has done it because
he is in love with Miss de la Molle, and is naturally anxious to
ingratiate himself with her. Don't you know that? I thought perhaps
that was what you had been crying about?"

"It is not true," she answered, her lips quivering with pain.

Mr. Quest laughed gently. "I think you must have lost your power of
observation, which used to be sufficiently keen. However, of course it
does not matter to you. It will in many ways be a most suitable
marriage, and I am sure they will make a very handsome couple."

She made no answer, and turned her back to hide the workings of her
face. For a few moments her husband stood looking at her, a gentle
smile playing on his refined features. Then remarking that he must go
round to the office, but would be back in time for tea, he went,
reflecting with satisfaction that he had given his wife something to
think about which would scarcely be to her taste.

As for Belle Quest, she waited till the door had closed, and then
turned round towards it and spoke aloud, as though she were addressing
her vanished husband.

"I hate you," she said, with bitter emphasis. "I hate you. You have
ruined my life, and now you torment me as though I were a lost soul.
Oh, I wish I were dead! I wish I were dead!"

On reaching his office, Mr. Quest found two letters for him, one of
which had just arrived by the afternoon post. The first was addressed
in the Squire's handwriting and signed with his big seal, and the
other bore a superscription, the sight of which made him turn
momentarily faint. Taking up this last with a visible effort, he
opened it.

It was from the "Tiger," alias Edith, and its coarse contents need not
be written here. Put shortly they came to this. She was being summoned
for debt. She wanted more money and would have it. If five hundred
pounds were not forthcoming and that shortly--within a week, indeed--
she threatened with no uncertain voice to journey down to Boisingham
and put him to an open shame.

"Great heavens!" he said, "this woman will destroy me. What a devil!
And she'd be as good as her word unless I found her the money. I must
go up to town at once. I wonder how she got that idea into her head.
It makes me shudder to think of her in Boisingham," and he dropped his
face upon his hands and groaned in the bitterness of his heart.

"It is hard," he thought to himself; "here have I for years and years
been striving and toiling, labouring to become a respectable and
respected member of society, but always this old folly haunts my steps
and drags me down, and by heaven I believe that it will destroy me
after all." With a sigh he lifted his head, and taking a sheet of
paper wrote on it, "I have received your letter, and will come and see
you to-morrow or the next day." This note he placed in an envelope,
which he directed to the high-sounding name of Mrs. d'Aubigne, Rupert
St., Pimlico--and put it in his pocket.

Then with another sigh he took up the Squire's letter, and glanced
through it. Its length was considerable, but in substance it announced
his acceptance of the arrangement proposed by Mr. Edward Cossey, and
requested that he would prepare the necessary deeds to be submitted to
his lawyers. Mr. Quest read the letter absently enough, and threw it
down with a little laugh.

"What a queer world it is," he said to himself, "and what a ludicrous
side there is to it all. Here is Cossey advancing money to get a hold
over Ida de la Molle, whom he means to marry if he can, and who is
probably playing her own hand. Here is Belle madly in love with
Cossey, who will break her heart. Here am I loving Belle, who hates
me, and playing everybody's game in order to advance my own, and
become a respected member of a society I am superior to. Here is the
Squire blundering about like a walrus in a horse-pond, and fancying
everything is being conducted for his sole advantage, and that all the
world revolves round Honham Castle. And there at the end of the chain
is this female harpy, Edith Jones, otherwise d'Aubigne, alias the
Tiger, gnawing at my vitals and holding my fortunes in her hand.

"Bah! it's a queer world and full of combinations, but the worst of it
is that plot as we will the solution of them does not rest with us, no
--not with us."

CHAPTER XV

THE HAPPY DAYS

This is a troublesome world enough, but thanks to that mitigating fate
which now and again interferes to our advantage, there do come to most
of us times and periods of existence which, if they do not quite
fulfil all the conditions of ideal happiness, yet go near enough to
that end to permit in after days of our imagining that they did so. I
say to most of us, but in doing so I allude chiefly to those classes
commonly known as the "upper," by which is understood those who have
enough bread to put into their mouths and clothes to warm them; those,
too, who are not the present subjects of remorseless and hideous
ailments, who are not daily agonised by the sight of their famished
offspring; who are not doomed to beat out their lives against the
madhouse bars, or to see their hearts' beloved and their most
cherished hope wither towards that cold space from whence no message
comes. For such unfortunates, and for their million-numbered kin upon
the globe--the victims of war, famine, slave trade, oppression, usury,
over-population, and the curse of competition, the rays of light must
be few indeed; few and far between, only just enough to save them from
utter hopelessness. And even to the favoured ones, the well warmed and
well fed, who are to a great extent lifted by fortune or by their
native strength and wit above the degradations of the world, this
light of happiness is but as the gleam of stars, uncertain, fitful,
and continually lost in clouds. Only the utterly selfish or the
utterly ignorant can be happy with the happiness of savages or
children, however prosperous their own affairs, for to the rest, to
those who think and have hearts to feel, and imagination to realise,
and a redeeming human sympathy to be touched, the mere weight of the
world's misery pressing round them like an atmosphere, the mere echoes
of the groans of the dying and the cries of the children are
sufficient, and more than sufficient, to dull, aye, to destroy the
promise of their joys. But, even to this finer sort there do come rare
periods of almost complete happiness--little summers in the
tempestuous climate of our years, green-fringed wells of water in our
desert, pure northern lights breaking in upon our gloom. And strange
as it may seem, these breadths of happy days, when the old questions
cease to torment, and a man can trust in Providence and without one
qualifying thought bless the day that he was born, are very frequently
connected with the passion which is known as love; that mysterious
symbol of our double nature, that strange tree of life which, with its
roots sucking their strength from the dust-heap of humanity, yet
springs aloft above our level and bears its blooms in the face of
heaven.

Why it is and what it means we shall perhaps never know for certain.
But it does suggest itself, that as the greatest terror of our being
lies in the utter loneliness, the unspeakable identity, and unchanging
self-completeness of every living creature, so the greatest hope and
the intensest natural yearning of our hearts go out towards that
passion which in its fire heats has the strength, if only for a little
while, to melt down the barriers of our individuality and give to the
soul something of the power for which it yearns of losing its sense of
solitude in converse with its kind. For alone we are from infancy to
death!--we, for the most part, grow not more near together but rather
wider apart with the widening years. Where go the sympathies between
the parent and the child, and where is the close old love of brother
for his brother?

The invisible fates are continually wrapping us round and round with
the winding sheets of our solitude, and none may know all our heart
save He who made it. We are set upon the world as the stars are set
upon the sky, and though in following our fated orbits we pass and
repass, and each shine out on each, yet are we the same lonely lights,
rolling obedient to laws we cannot understand, through spaces of which
none may mark the measure.

Only, as says the poet in words of truth and beauty:

"Only but this is rare--
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear;
When our world-deafened ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caressed
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again--
And what we mean we say and what we would we know.

* * * * *

And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose
And the sea whereunto it goes."

Some such Indian summer of delight and forgetfulness of trouble, and
the tragic condition of our days, was now opening to Harold Quaritch
and Ida de la Molle. Every day, or almost every day, they met and went
upon their painting expeditions and argued the point of the validity
or otherwise of the impressionist doctrines of art. Not that of all
this painting came anything very wonderful, although in the evening
the Colonel would take out his canvases and contemplate their rigid
proportions with singular pride and satisfaction. It was a little
weakness of his to think that he could paint, and one of which he was
somewhat tenacious. Like many another man he could do a number of
things exceedingly well and one thing very badly, and yet had more
faith in that bad thing than in all the good.

But, strange to say, although he affected to believe so firmly in his
own style of art and hold Ida's in such cheap regard, it was a little
painting of the latter's that he valued most, and which was oftenest
put upon his easel for purposes of solitary admiration. It was one of
those very impressionist productions that faded away in the distance,
and full of soft grey tints, such as his soul loathed. There was a
tree with a blot of brown colour on it, and altogether (though as a
matter of fact a clever thing enough) from his point of view of art it
was utterly "anathema." This little picture in oils faintly shadowed
out himself sitting at his easel, working in the soft grey of the
autumn evening, and Ida had painted it and given it to him, and that
was why he admired it so much. For to speak the truth, our friend the
Colonel was going, going fast--sinking out of sight of his former self
into the depths of the love that possessed his soul.

He was a very simple and pure-minded man. Strange as it may appear,
since that first unhappy business of his youth, of which he had never
been heard to speak, no living woman had been anything to him.
Therefore, instead of becoming further vulgarised and hardened by
association with all the odds and ends of womankind that a man
travelling about the globe comes into contact with, generally not
greatly to his improvement, his faith had found time to grow up
stronger even than at first. Once more he looked upon woman as a young
man looks before he has had bitter experience of the world--as a being
to be venerated and almost worshipped, as something better, brighter,
purer than himself, hardly to be won, and when won to be worn like a
jewel prized at once for value and for beauty.

Now this is a dangerous state of mind for a man of three or four and
forty to fall into, because it is a soft state, and this is a world in
which the softest are apt to get the worst of it. At four and forty a
man, of course, should be hard enough to get the better of other
people, as indeed he generally is.

When Harold Quaritch, after that long interval, set his eyes again
upon Ida's face, he felt a curious change come over him. All the vague
ideas and more or less poetical aspirations which for five long years
had gathered themselves about that memory, took shape and form, and in
his heart he knew he loved her. Then as the days went on and he came
to know her better, he grew to love her more and more, till at last
his whole heart went out towards his late found treasure, and she
became more than life to him, more than aught else had been or could
be. Serene and happy were those days which they spent in painting and
talking as they wandered about the Honham Castle grounds. By degrees
Ida's slight but perceptible hardness of manner wore away, and she
stood out what she was, one of the sweetest and most natural women in
England, and with it all, a woman having brains and force of
character.

Soon Harold discovered that her life had been anything but an easy
one. The constant anxiety about money and her father's affairs had
worn her down and hardened her till, as she said, she began to feel as
though she had no heart left. Then too he heard all her trouble about
her dead and only brother James, how dearly she had loved him, and
what a sore trouble he had been with his extravagant ways and his
continual demands for money, which had to be met somehow or other. At
last came the crushing blow of his death, and with it the certainty of
the extinction of the male line of the de la Molles, and she said that
for a while she had believed her father would never hold up his head
again. But his vitality was equal to the shock, and after a time the
debts began to come in, which although he was not legally bound to do
so, her father would insist upon meeting to the last farthing for the
honour of the family and out of respect for his son's memory. This
increased their money troubles, which had gone on and on, always
getting worse as the agricultural depression deepened, till things had
reached their present position.

All this she told him bit by bit, only keeping back from him the last
development of the drama with the part that Edward Cossey had played
in it, and sad enough it made him to think of that ancient house of de
la Molle vanishing into the night of ruin.

Also she told him something of her own life, how companionless it had
been since her brother went into the army, for she had no real friends
about Honham, and not even an acquaintance of her own tastes, which,
without being gushingly so, were decidedly artistic and intellectual.
"I should have wished," she said, "to try to do something in the
world. I daresay I should have failed, for I know that very few women
meet with a success which is worth having. But still I should have
liked to try, for I am not afraid of work. But the current of my life
is against it; the only thing that is open to me is to strive and make
both ends meet upon an income which is always growing smaller, and to
save my father, poor dear, from as much worry as I can.

"Don't think that I am complaining," she went on hurriedly, "or that I
want to rush into pleasure-seeking, because I do not--a little of that
goes a long way with me. Besides, I know that I have many things to be
thankful for. Few women have such a kind father as mine, though we do
quarrel at times. Of course we cannot have everything our own way in
this world, and I daresay that I do not make the best of things.
Still, at times it does seem a little hard that I should be forced to
lead such a narrow life, just when I feel that I could work in a wide
one."

Harold looked up at her face and saw that a tear was gathering in her
dark eyes and in his heart he registered a vow that if by any means it
ever lay within his power to improve her lot he would give everything
he had to do it. But all he said was:

"Don't be downhearted, Miss de la Molle. Things change in a wonderful
way, and often they mend when they look worst. You know," he went on a
little nervously, "I am an old-fashioned sort of individual, and I
believe in Providence and all that sort of thing, you see, and that
matters generally come pretty well straight in the long run if people
deserve it."

Ida shook her head a little doubtfully and sighed.

"Perhaps," she said, "but I suppose that we do not deserve it. Anyhow,
our good fortune is a long while coming," and the conversation
dropped.

Still her friend's strong belief in the efficacy of Providence, and
generally his masculine sturdiness, did cheer her up considerably.
Even the strongest women, if they have any element that can be called
feminine left in them, want somebody of the other sex to lean on, and
she was no exception to the rule. Besides, if Ida's society had charms
for Colonel Quaritch, his society had almost if not quite as much
charm for her. It may be remembered that on the night when they first
met she had spoken to herself of him as the kind of man whom she would
like to marry. The thought was a passing one, and it may be safely
said that she had not since entertained any serious idea of marriage
in connection with Colonel Quaritch. The only person whom there seemed
to be the slightest probability of her marrying was Edward Cossey, and
the mere thought of this was enough to make the whole idea of
matrimony repugnant to her.

But this notwithstanding, day by day she found Harold Quaritch's
society more congenial. Herself by nature, and also to a certain
degree by education, a cultured woman, she rejoiced to find in him an
entirely kindred spirit. For beneath his somewhat rugged and
unpromising exterior, Harold Quaritch hid a vein of considerable
richness. Few of those who associated with him would have believed
that the man had a side to his nature which was almost poetic, or that
he was a ripe and finished scholar, and, what is more, not devoid of a
certain dry humour. Then he had travelled far and seen much of men and
manners, gathering up all sorts of quaint odds and ends of
information. But perhaps rather than these accomplishments it was the
man's transparent honesty and simple-mindedness, his love for what is
true and noble, and his contempt of what is mean and base, which,
unwittingly peeping out through his conversation, attracted her more
than all the rest. Ida was no more a young girl, to be caught by a
handsome face or dazzled by a superficial show of mind. She was a
thoughtful, ripened woman, quick to perceive, and with the rare talent
of judgment wherewith to weigh the proceeds of her perception. In
plain, middle-aged Colonel Quaritch she found a very perfect
gentleman, and valued him accordingly.

And so day grew into day through that lovely autumn-tide. Edward
Cossey was away in London, Quest had ceased from troubling, and
journeying together through the sweet shadows of companionship, by
slow but sure degrees they drew near to the sunlit plain of love. For
it is not common, indeed, it is so uncommon as to be almost
impossible, that a man and woman between whom there stands no natural
impediment can halt for very long in those shadowed ways. There is
throughout all nature an impulse that pushes ever onwards towards
completion, and from completion to fruition. Liking leads to sympathy,
sympathy points the path to love, and then love demands its own. This
is the order of affairs, and down its well-trodden road these two were
quickly travelling.

George the wily saw it, and winked his eye with solemn meaning. The
Squire also saw something of it, not being wanting in knowledge of the
world, and after much cogitation and many solitary walks elected to
leave matters alone for the present. He liked Colonel Quaritch, and
thought that it would be a good thing for Ida to get married, though
the idea of parting from her troubled his heart sorely. Whether or no
it would be desirable from his point of view that she should marry the
Colonel was a matter on which he had not as yet fully made up his
mind. Sometimes he thought it would, and sometimes he thought the
reverse. Then at times vague ideas suggested by Edward Cossey's
behaviour about the loan would come to puzzle him. But at present he
was so much in the dark that he could come to no absolute decision, so
with unaccustomed wisdom for so headstrong and precipitate a man, he
determined to refrain from interference, and for a while at any rate
allow events to take their natural course.

CHAPTER XVI

THE HOUSE WITH THE RED PILLARS

Two days after his receipt of the second letter from the "Tiger," Mr.
Quest announced to his wife that he was going to London on business
connected with the bank, and expected to be away for a couple of
nights.

She laughed straight out. "Really, William," she said, "you are a most
consummate actor. I wonder that you think it worth while to keep up
the farce with me. Well, I hope that Edith is not going to be very
expensive this time, because we don't seem to be too rich just now,
and you see there is no more of my money for her to have."

Mr. Quest winced visibly beneath this bitter satire, which his wife
uttered with a smile of infantile innocence playing upon her face, but
he made no reply. She knew too much. Only in his heart he wondered
what fate she would mete out to him if ever she got possession of the
whole truth, and the thought made him tremble. It seemed to him that
the owner of that baby face could be terribly merciless in her
vengeance, and that those soft white hands would close round the
throat of a man she hated and utterly destroy him. Now, if never
before, he realised that between him and this woman there must be
enmity and a struggle to the death; and yet strangely enough he still
loved her!

Mr. Quest reached London about three o'clock, and his first act was to
drive to Cossey and Son's, where he was informed that old Mr. Cossey
was much better, and having heard that he was coming to town had sent
to say that he particularly wished to see him, especially about the
Honham Castle estates. Accordingly Mr. Quest drove on to the old
gentleman's mansion in Grosvenor Street, where he asked for Mr. Edward
Cossey. The footman said that Mr. Edward was upstairs, and showed him
to a study while he went to tell him of the arrival of his visitor.
Mr. Quest glanced round the luxuriously-furnished room, which he saw
was occupied by Edward himself, for some letters directed in his
handwriting lay upon the desk, and a velveteen lounging coat that Mr.
Quest recognised as belonging to him was hanging over the back of a
chair. Mr. Quest's eye wandering over this coat, was presently caught
by the corner of a torn flap of an envelope which projected from one
of the pockets. It was of a peculiar bluish tinge, in fact of a hue
much affected by his wife. Listening for a moment to hear if anybody
was coming, he stepped to the coat and extracted the letter. It /was/
in his wife's handwriting, so he took the liberty of hastily
transferring it to his own pocket.

In another minute Edward Cossey entered, and the two men shook hands.

"How do you do, Quest?" said Edward. "I think that the old man is
going to pull through this bout. He is helpless but keen as a knife,
and has all the important matters from the bank referred to him. I
believe that he will last a year yet, but he will scarcely allow me
out of his sight. He preaches away about business the whole day long
and says that he wants to communicate the fruits of his experience to
me before it is too late. He wishes to see you, so if you will you had
better come up."

Accordingly they went upstairs to a large and luxurious bedroom on the
first floor, where the stricken man lay upon a patent couch.

When Mr. Quest and Edward Cossey entered, a lady, old Mr. Cossey's
eldest daughter, put down a paper out of which she had been reading
the money article aloud, and, rising, informed her father that Mr.
Quest had come.

"Mr. Quest?" said the old man in a high thin voice. "Ah, yes, I want
to see Mr. Quest very much. Go away now, Anna, you can come back by-
and-by, business before pleasure--most instructive, though, that
sudden fall in American railways. But I thought it would come and I
got Cossey's clear of them," and he sniffed with satisfaction and
looked as though he would have rubbed his hands if he had not been
physically incapacitated from so doing.

Mr. Quest came forward to where the invalid lay. He was a gaunt old
man with white hair and a pallid face, which looked almost ghastly in
contrast to his black velvet skull cap. So far as Mr. Quest could see,
he appeared to be almost totally paralysed, with the exception of his
head, neck, and left arm, which he could still move a little. His
black eyes, however, were full of life and intelligence, and roamed
about the room without ceasing.

"How do you do, Mr. Quest?" he said; "sorry that I can't shake hands
with you but you see I have been stricken down, though my brain is
clear enough, clearer than ever it was, I think. And I ain't going to
die yet--don't think that I am, because I ain't. I may live two years
more--the doctor says I am sure to live one at least. A lot of money
can be made in a year if you keep your eyes open. Once I made a
hundred and twenty thousand for Cossey's in one year; and I may do it
again before I die. I may make a lot of money yet, ah, a lot of
money!" and his voice went off into a thin scream that was not
pleasant to listen to.

"I am sure I hope you will, sir," said Mr. Quest politely.

"Thank you; take that for good luck, you know. Well, well, Mr. Quest,
things haven't done so bad down in your part of the world; not at all
bad considering the times. I thought we should have had to sell that
old de la Molle up, but I hear that he is going to pay us off. Can't
imagine who has been fool enough to lend him the money. A client of
yours, eh? Well, he'll lost it I expect, and serve him right for his
pains. But I am not sorry, for it is unpleasant for a house like ours
to have to sell an old client up. Not that his account is worth much,
nothing at all--more trouble than profit--or we should not have done
it. He's no better than a bankrupt and the insolvency court is the
best place for him. The world is to the rich and the fulness thereof.
There's an insolvency court especially provided for de la Molle and
his like--empty old windbags with long sounding names; let him go
there and make room for the men who have made money--hee! hee! hee!"
And once more his voice went off into a sort of scream.

Here Mr. Quest, who had enjoyed about enough of this kind of thing,
changed the conversation by beginning to comment on various business
transactions which he had been conducting on behalf of the house. The
old man listened with the greatest interest, his keen black eyes
attentively fixed upon the speaker's face, till at last Mr. Quest
happened to mention that amongst others a certain Colonel Quaritch had
opened an account with their branch of the bank.

"Quaritch?" said the old man eagerly, "I know that name. Was he ever
in the 105th Foot?"

"Yes," said Mr. Quest, who knew everything about everybody, "he was an
ensign in that regiment during the Indian Mutiny, where he was badly
wounded when still quite young, and got the Victoria Cross. I found it
all out the other day."

"That's the man; that's the man," said old Mr. Cossey, jerking his
head in an excited manner. "He's a blackguard; I tell you he's a
blackguard; he jilted my wife's sister. She was twenty years younger
than my wife--jilted her a week before her marriage, and would never
give a reason, and she went mad and is in a madhouse how. I should
like to have the ruining of him for it. I should like to drive him
into the poor-house."

Mr. Quest and Edward looked at each other, and the old man let his
head fall back exhausted.

"Now good-bye, Mr. Quest, they'll give you a bit of dinner
downstairs," he said at length. "I'm getting tired, and I want to hear
the rest of that money article. You've done very well for Cossey's and
Cossey's will do well for you, for we always pay by results; that's
the way to get good work and make a lot of money. Mind, Edward, if
ever you get a chance don't forget to pay that blackguard Quaritch out
pound for pound, and twice as much again for compound interest--hee!
hee! hee!"

"The old gentleman keeps his head for business pretty well," said Mr.
Quest to Edward Cossey as soon as they were well outside the door.

"Keeps his head?" answered Edward, "I should just think he did. He's a
regular shark now, that's what he is. I really believe that if he knew
I had found thirty thousand for old de la Molle he would cut me off
with a shilling." Here Mr. Quest pricked up his ears. "And he's close,
too," he went on, "so close that it is almost impossible to get
anything out of him. I am not particular, but upon my word I think
that it is rather disgusting to see an old man with one foot in the
grave hanging on to his moneybags as though he expected to float to
heaven on them."

"Yes," said Mr. Quest, "it is a curious thing to think of, but, you
see, money /is/ his heaven."

"By the way," said Edward, as they entered the study, "that's queer
about that fellow Quaritch, isn't it? I never liked the look of him,
with his pious air."

"Very queer, Mr. Cossey," said he, "but do you know, I almost think
that there must be some mistake? I do not believe that Colonel
Quaritch is the man to do things of that sort without a very good
reason. However, nobody can tell, and it is a long while ago."

"A long while ago or not I mean to let him know my opinion of him when
I get back to Boisingham," said Edward viciously. "By Jove! it's
twenty minutes past six, and in this establishment we dine at the
pleasant hour of half-past. Won't you come and wash your hands."

Mr. Quest had a very good dinner, and contrary to his custom drank the
best part of a bottle of old port after it. He had an unpleasant
business to face that evening, and felt as though his nerves required
bracing. About ten o'clock he took his leave, and getting into a
hansom bade the cabman drive to Rupert Street, Pimlico, where he
arrived in due course. Having dismissed his cab, he walked slowly down
the street till he reached a small house with red pillars to the
doorway. Here he rang the bell. The door was opened by a middle-aged
woman with a cunning face and a simper. Mr. Quest knew her well.
Nominally the Tiger's servant, she was really her jackal.

"Is Mrs. d'Aubigne at home, Ellen?" he said.

"No, sir," she answered with a simper, "but she will be back from the
music hall before long. She does not appear in the second part. But
please come in, sir, you are quite a stranger here, and I am sure that
Mrs. d'Aubigne will be very glad to see you, for she have been
dreadfully pressed for money of late, poor dear; nobody knows the
trouble that I have had with those sharks of tradesmen."

By this time they were upstairs in the drawing-room, and Ellen had
turned the gas up. The room was well furnished in a certain gaudy
style, which included a good deal of gilt and plate glass. Evidently,
however, it had not been tidied since the Tiger had left it, for there
on the table were cards thrown this way and that amidst an array of
empty soda-water bottles, glasses with dregs of brandy in them, and
other /debris/, such as the ends of cigars and cigarettes, and a
little copper and silver money. On the sofa, too, lay a gorgeous tea
gown resplendent with pink satin, also a pair of gold embroidered
slippers, not over small, and an odd gant de Suede, with such an
extraordinary number of buttons that it almost looked like the cast-
off skin of a brown snake.

"I see that your mistress has been having company, Ellen," he said
coldly.

"Yes, sir, just a few lady friends to cheer her up a bit," answered
the woman, with her abominable simper; "poor dear, she do get that low
with you away so much, and no wonder; and then all these money
troubles, and she night by night working hard for her living at the
music hall. Often and often have I seen her crying over it all----"

"Ah," said he, breaking in upon her eloquence, "I suppose that the
lady friends smoke cigars. Well, clear away this mess and leave me--
stop, give me a brandy-and-soda first. I will wait for your mistress."

The woman stopped talking and did as she was bid, for there was a look
in Mr. Quest's eye which she did not quite like. So having placed the
brandy-and-soda-water before him she left him to his own reflections.

Apparently they were not very pleasant ones. He walked round the room,
which was reeking of patchouli or some such compound, well mixed with
the odour of stale cigar smoke, looking absently at the gee-gar
ornaments. On the mantelpiece were some photographs, and among them,
to his disgust, he saw one of himself taken many years ago. With
something as near an oath as he ever indulged in, he seized it, and
setting fire to it over the gas, waited till the flames began to
scorch his fingers, and then flung it, still burning, into the grate.
Then he looked at himself in the glass in the mantelpiece--the room
was full of mirrors--and laughed bitterly at the incongruity of his
gentlemanlike, respectable, and even refined appearance, in that
vulgar, gaudy, vicious-looking room.

Suddenly he bethought him of the letter in his wife's handwriting
which he had stolen from the pocket of Edward Cossey's coat. He drew
it out, and throwing the tea gown and the interminable glove off the
sofa, sat down and began to read it. It was, as he had expected, a
love letter, a wildly passionate love letter, breathing language which
in some places almost touched the beauty of poetry, vows of undying
affection that were throughout redeemed from vulgarity and even from
silliness by their utter earnestness and self-abandonment. Had the
letter been one written under happier circumstances and innocent of
offence against morality, it would have been a beautiful letter, for
passion at its highest has always a wild beauty of its own.

He read it through and then carefully folded it and restored it to his
pocket. "The woman has a heart," he said to himself, "no one can doubt
it. And yet I could never touch it, though God knows however much I
wronged her I loved her, yes, and love her now. Well, it is a good bit
of evidence, if ever I dare to use it. It is a game of bluff between
me and her, and I expect that in the end the boldest player will win."

He rose from the sofa--the atmosphere of the place stifled him, and
going to the window threw it open and stepped out on to the balcony.
It was a lovely moonlight night, though chilly, and for London the
street was a quiet one.

Taking a chair he sat down there upon the balcony and began to think.
His heart was softened by misery and his mind fell into a tender
groove. He thought of his long-dead mother, whom he had dearly loved,
and of how he used to say his prayers to her, and of how she sang
hymns to him on Sunday evenings. Her death had seemed to choke all the
beauty out of his being at the time, and yet now he thanked heaven
that she was dead. And then he thought of the accursed woman who had
been his ruin, and of how she had entered into his life and corrupted
and destroyed him. Next there rose up before him a vision of Belle,
Belle as he had first seen her, a maid of seventeen, the only child of
that drunken old village doctor, now also long since dead, and of how
the sight of her had for a while stayed the corruption of his heart
because he grew to love her. And then he married Belle by foul means,
and the woman rose up in his path again, and he learnt that his wife
hated him with all the energy of her passionate heart. Then came
degradation after degradation, and the abandonment of principle after
principle, replaced only by a fierce craving for respectability and
rest, a long, long struggle, which ever ended in new lapses from the
right, till at length he saw himself a hardened schemer, remorselessly
pursued by a fury from whom there was no escape. And yet he knew that
under other circumstances he might have been a good and happy man--
leading an honourable life. But now all hope had gone, that which he
was he must be till the end. He leaned his head upon the stone railing
in front of him and wept, wept in the anguish of his soul, praying to
heaven for deliverance from the burden of his sins, well knowing that
he had none to hope for.

For his chance was gone and his fate fixed.

CHAPTER XVII

THE TIGRESS IN HER DEN

Presently a hansom cab came rattling down the street and pulled up at
the door.

"Now for it," said Mr. Quest to himself as he metaphorically shook
himself together.

Next minute he heard a voice, which he knew only too well, a loud high
voice say from the cab, "Well, open the door, stupid, can't you?"

"Certainly, my lady fair," replied another voice--a coarse, somewhat
husky male voice--"adored Edithia, in one moment."

"Come stow that and let me out," replied the adored Edithia sharply;
and in another moment a large man in evening clothes, a horrible
vulgar, carnal-looking man with red cheeks and a hanging under-lip,
emerged into the lamp-light and turned to hand the lady out. As he did
so the woman Ellen advanced from the doorway, and going to the cab
door whispered something to its occupant.

"Hullo, Johnnie," said the lady, as she descended from the cab, so
loudly that Mr. Quest on the balcony could hear every word, "you must
be off; Mr. d'Aubigne has turned up, and perhaps he won't think three
good company, so you had just best take this cab back again, my son,
and that will save me the trouble of paying it. Come, cut."

"D'Aubigne," growled the flashy man with an oath, "what do I care
about d'Aubigne? Advance, d'Aubigne, and all's well! You needn't be
jealous of me, I'm----"

"Now stop that noise and be off. He's a lawyer and he might not freeze
on to you; don't you understand?"

"Well I'm a lawyer too and a pretty sharp one--/arcades ambo/," said
Johnnie with a coarse laugh; "and I tell you what it is, Edith, it
ain't good enough to cart a fellow down in this howling wilderness and
then send him away without a drink; lend us another fiver at any rate.
It ain't good enough, I say."

"Good enough or not you'll have to go and you don't get any fivers out
of me to-night. Now pack sharp, or I'll know the reason why," and she
pointed towards the cab in a fashion that seemed to cow her companion,
for without another word he got into it.

In another moment the cab had turned, and he was gone, muttering
curses as he went.

The woman, who was none other than Mrs. d'Aubigne, /alias/ Edith
Jones, /alias/ the Tiger, turned and entered the house accompanied by
her servant, Ellen, and presently Mr. Quest heard the rustle of her
satin dress upon the stairs. He stepped back into the darkness of the
balcony and waited. She opened the door, entered, and closed it behind
her, and then, a little dazzled by the light, stood for some seconds
looking about for her visitor. She was a thin, tall woman, who might
have been any age between forty and fifty, with the wrecks of a very
fine agile-looking figure. Her face, which was plentifully bedaubed
with paint and powder, was sharp, fierce, and handsome, and crowned
with a mane of false yellow hair. Her eyes were cold and blue, her
lips thin and rather drawn, so as to show a double line of large and
gleaming teeth. She was dressed in a rich and hideous tight-fitting
gown of yellow satin, barred with black, and on her arms were long
bright yellow gloves. She moved lightly and silently, and looked
around her with a long-searching gaze, like that of a cat, and her
general appearance conveyed an idea of hunger and wicked ferocity.
Such was the outward appearance of the Tiger, and of a truth it
justified her name. "Why, where the dickens has he got to?" she said
aloud; "I wonder if he has given me the slip?"

"Here I am, Edith," said Mr. Quest quietly, as he stepped from the
balcony into the room.

"Oh, there you are, are you?" she said, "hiding away in the dark--just
like your nasty mean ways. Well, my long-lost one, so you have come
home at last, and brought the tin with you. Well, give us a kiss," and
she advanced on him with her long arms outspread.

Mr. Quest shivered visibly, and stretching out his hand, stopped her
from coming near him.

"No, thank you," he said; "I don't like paint."

The taunt stopped her, and for a moment an evil light shone in her
cold eyes.

"No wonder I have to paint," she said, "when I am so worn out with
poverty and hard work--not like the lovely Mrs. Q., who has nothing to
do all day except spend the money that I ought to have. I'll tell you
what it is, my fine fellow: you had better be careful, or I'll have
that pretty cuckoo out of her soft nest, and pluck her borrowed
feathers off her, like the monkey did to the parrot."

"Perhaps you had better stop that talk, and come to business. I am in
no mood for this sort of thing, Edith," and he turned round, shut the
window, and drew the blind.

"Oh, all right; I'm agreeable, I'm sure. Stop a bit, though--I must
have a brandy-and-soda first. I am as dry as a lime-kiln, and so would
you be if you had to sing comic songs at a music hall for a living.
There, that's better," and she put down the empty glass and threw
herself on to the sofa. "Now then, tune up as much as you like. How
much tin have you brought?"

Mr. Quest sat down by the table, and then, as though suddenly struck
by a thought, rose again, and going to the door, opened it and looked
out into the passage. There was nobody there, so he shut the door
again, locked it, and then under cover of drawing the curtain which
hung over it, slipped the key into his pocket.

"What are you at there?" said the woman suspiciously.

"I was just looking to see that Ellen was not at the key-hole, that's
all. It would not be the first time that I have caught her there."

"Just like your nasty low ways again," she said. "You've got some game
on. I'll be bound that you have got some game on."

Mr. Quest seated himself again, and without taking any notice of this
last remark began the conversation.

"I have brought you two hundred and fifty pounds," he said.

"Two hundred and fifty pounds!" she said, jumping up with a savage
laugh. "No, my boy, you don't get off for that if I know it. Why, I
owe all that at this moment."

"You had better sit down and be quiet," he said, "or you will not get
two hundred and fifty pence. In your own interest I recommend you to
sit down."

There was something about the man's voice and manner that scared the
female savage before him, fierce as she was, and she sat down.

"Listen," he went on, "you are continually complaining of poverty; I
come to your house--your house, mind you, not your rooms, and I find
the /debris/ of a card party lying about. I see champagne bottles
freshly opened there in the corner. I see a dressing gown on the sofa
that must have cost twenty or thirty pounds. I hear some brute
associate of yours out in the street asking you to lend him another
'fiver.' You complain of poverty and you have had over four hundred
pounds from me this year alone, and I know that you earn twelve pounds
a week at the music hall, and not five as you say. No, do not trouble
to lie to me, for I have made enquiries."

"Spying again," said the woman with a sneer.

"Yes, spying, if you like; but there it is. And now to the point--I am
not going on supplying you with money at this rate. I cannot do it and
I will not do it. I am going to give you two hundred and fifty pounds
now, and as much every year, and not one farthing more."

Once more she sat up. "You must be mad," she said in a tone that
sounded more like a snarl than a human voice. "Are you such a fool as
to believe that I will be put off with two hundred and fifty pounds a
year, I, /your legal wife?/ I'll have you in the dock first, in the
dock for bigamy."

"Yes," he answered, "I do believe it for a reason that I shall give
you presently. But first I want to go though our joint history, very
briefly, just to justify myself if you like. Five-and-twenty years
ago, or was it six-and-twenty, I was a boy of eighteen and you were a
woman of twenty, a housemaid in my mother's house, and you made love
to me. Then my mother was called away to nurse my brother who died at
school at Portsmouth, and I fell sick with scarlet fever and you
nursed me through it--it would have been kinder if you had poisoned
me, and in my weak state you got a great hold over my mind, and I
became attached to you, for you were handsome in those days. Then you
dared me to marry you, and partly out of bravado, partly from
affection, I took out a licence, to do which I made a false
declaration that I was over age, and gave false names of the parishes
in which we resided. Next day, half tipsy and not knowing what I did,
I went through the form of marriage with you, and a few days
afterwards my mother returned, observed that we were intimate, and
dismissed you. You went without a word as to our marriage, which we
both looked on a farce, and for years I lost sight of you. Fifteen
years afterwards, when I had almost forgotten this adventure of my
youth, I became acquainted with a young lady with whom I fell in love,
and whose fortune, though not large, was enough to help me
considerably in my profession as a country lawyer, in which I was
doing well. I thought that you were dead, or that if you lived, the
fact of my having made the false declaration of age and locality would
be enough to invalidate the marriage, as would certainly have been the
case if I had also made a false declaration of names; and my impulses
and interests prompting me to take the risk, I married that lady. Then
it was that you hunted me down, and then for the first time I did what
I ought to have done before, and took the best legal opinions as to
the validity of the former marriage, which, to my horror, I found was
undoubtedly a binding one. You also took opinions and came to the same
conclusion. Since then the history has been a simple one. Out of my
wife's fortune of ten thousand pounds, I paid you no less than seven
thousand as hush money, on your undertaking to leave this country for
America, and never return here again. I should have done better to
face it out, but I feared to lose my position and practice. You left
and wrote to me that you too had married in Chicago, but in eighteen
months you returned, having squandered every farthing of the money,
when I found that the story of your marriage was an impudent lie."

"Yes," she put in with a laugh, "and a rare time I had with that seven
thousand too."

"You returned and demanded more blackmail, and I had no choice but to
give, and give, and give. In eleven years you had something over
twenty-three thousand pounds from me, and you continually demand more.
I believe you will admit that this is a truthful statement of the
case," and he paused.

"Oh, yes," she said, "I am not going to dispute that, but what then? I
am your wife, and you have committed bigamy; and if you don't go on
paying me I'll have you in gaol, and that's all about it, old boy. You
can't get out of it any way, you nasty mean brute," she went on,
raising her voice and drawing up her thin lips so as to show the white
teeth beneath. "So you thought that you were going to play it down low
on me in that fashion, did you? Well, you've just made a little
mistake for once in your life, and I'll tell you what it is, you shall
smart for it. I'll teach you what it is to leave your lawful wife to
starve while you go and live with another woman in luxury. You can't
help yourself; I can ruin you if I like. Supposing I go to a
magistrate and ask for a warrant? What can you do to keep me quiet?"

Suddenly the virago stopped as though she were shot, and her fierce
countenance froze into an appearance of terror, as well it might. Mr.
Quest, who had been sitting listening to her with his hand over his
eyes, had risen, and his face was as the face of a fiend, alight with
an intense and quiet fury which seemed to be burning inwardly. On the
mantelpiece lay a sharp-pointed Goorka knife, which one of Mrs.
d'Aubigne's travelled admirers had presented to her. It was an awful
looking weapon, and keen-edged as a razor. This he had taken up and
held in his right hand, and with it he was advancing towards her as
she lounged on the sofa.

"If you make a sound I will kill you at once," he said, speaking in a
low and husky voice.

She had been paralysed with terror, for like most bullies, male and
female, she was a great coward, but the sound of his voice roused her.
The first note of a harsh screech had already issued from her lips,
when he sprang upon her, and placing the sharp point of the knife
against her throat, pricked her with it. "Be quiet," he said, "or you
are a dead woman."

She stopped screaming and lay there, her face twitching, and her eyes
bright with terror.

"Now listen," he said, in the same husky voice. "You incarnate fiend,
you asked me just now how I could keep you quiet. I will tell you; I
can keep you quiet by running this knife up to the hilt in your
throat," and once more he pricked her with its point. "It would be
murder," he went on, "but I do not care for that. You and others
between you have not made my life so pleasant for me that I am
especially anxious to preserve it. Now, listen. I will give you the
two hundred and fifty pounds that I have brought, and you shall have
the two hundred and fifty a year. But if you ever again attempt to
extort more, or if you molest me either by spreading stories against
my character or by means of legal prosecution, or in any other way, I
swear by the Almighty that I will murder you. I may have to kill
myself afterwards--I don't care if I do, provided I kill you first. Do
you understand me? you tiger, as you call yourself. If I have to hunt
you down, as they do tigers, I will come up with you at last and
/kill/ you. You have driven me to it, and, by heaven! I will! Come,
speak up, and tell me that you understand, or I may change my mind and
do it now," and once more he touched her with the knife.

She rolled off the sofa on to the floor and lay there, writhing in
abject terror, looking in the shadow of the table, where her long
lithe form was twisting about in its robe of yellow barred with black,
more like one of the great cats from which she took her name than a
human being. "Spare me," she gasped, "spare me, I don't want to die. I
swear that I will never meddle with you again."

"I don't want your oaths, woman," answered the stern form bending over
her with the knife. "A liar you have been from your youth up, and a
liar you will be to the end. Do you understand what I have said?"

"Yes, yes, I understand. Ah! put away that knife, I can't bear it! It
makes me sick."

"Very well then, get up."

She tried to rise, but her knees would not support her, so she sat
upon the floor.

"Now," said Mr. Quest, replacing the knife upon the mantelpiece, "here
is your money," and he flung a bag of notes and gold into her lap, at
which she clutched eagerly and almost automatically. "The two hundred
and fifty pounds will be paid on the 1st of January in each year, and
not one farthing more will you get from me. Remember what I tell you,
try to molest me by word or act, and you are a dead woman; I forbid
you even to write to me. Now go to the devil in your own way," and
without another word he took up his hat and umbrella, walked to the
door, unlocked it and went, leaving the Tiger huddled together upon
the floor.

For half-an-hour or more the woman remained thus, the bag of money in
her hand. Then she struggled to her feet, her face livid and her body
shaking.

"Ugh," she said, "I'm as weak as a cat. I thought he meant to do it
that time, and he will too, for sixpence. He's got me there. I am
afraid to die. I can't bear to die. It is better to lose the money
than to die. Besides, if I blow on him he'll be put in chokey and I
shan't be able to get anything out of him, and when he comes out he'll
do for me." And then, losing her temper, she shook her fist in the air
and broke out into a flood of language such as would neither be pretty
to hear nor good to repeat.

Mr. Quest was a man of judgment. At last he had realised that in one
way, and one only, can a wild beast be tamed, and that is by terror.

CHAPTER XVIII

"WHAT SOME HAVE FOUND SO SWEET"

Time went on. Mr. Quest had been back at Boisingham for ten days or
more, and was more cheerful than Belle (we can no longer call her his
wife) had seen him for many a day. Indeed he felt as though ten years
had been lifted off his back. He had taken a great and terrible
decision and had acted upon it, and it had been successful, for he
knew that his evil genius was so thoroughly terrified that for a long
while at least he would be free from her persecution. But with Belle
his relations remained as strained as ever.

Now that the reader is in the secret of Mr. Quest's life, it will
perhaps help him to understand the apparent strangeness of his conduct
with reference to his wife and Edward Cossey. It is quite true that
Belle did not know the full extent of her husband's guilt. She did not
know that he was not her husband, but she did know that nearly all of
her little fortune had been paid over to another woman, and that woman
a common, vulgar woman, as one of Edith's letters which had fallen
into her hands by chance very clearly showed her. Therefore, had he
attempted to expose her proceedings or even to control her actions,
she had in her hand an effective weapon of defence wherewith she could
and would have given blow for blow. This state of affairs of necessity
forced each party to preserve an armed neutrality towards the other,
whilst they waited for a suitable opportunity to assert themselves.
Not that their objects were quite the same. Belle merely wished to be
free from her husband, whom she had always disliked, and whom she now
positively hated with that curious hatred which women occasionally
conceive toward those to whom they are legally bound, when they have
been bad enough or unfortunate enough to fall in love with somebody
else. He, on the contrary, had that desire for revenge upon her which
even the gentler stamp of man is apt to conceive towards one who,
herself the object of his strong affection, daily and hourly repels
and repays it with scorn and infidelity. He did love her truly; she
was the one living thing in all his bitter lonely life to whom his
heart had gone out. True, he put pressure on her to marry him, or what
comes to the same thing, allowed and encouraged her drunken old father
to do so. But he had loved her and still loved her, and yet she mocked
at him, and in the face of that fact about the money--her money, which
he had paid away to the other woman, a fact which it was impossible
for him to explain except by admission of guilt which would be his
ruin, what was he to urge to convince her of this, even had she been
open to conviction? But it was bitter to him, bitter beyond all
conception, to have this, the one joy of his life, snatched from him.
He threw himself with ardour into the pursuit after wealth and dignity
of position, partly because he had a legitimate desire for these
things, and partly to assuage the constant irritation of his mind, but
to no purpose. These two spectres of his existence, his tiger wife and
the fair woman who was his wife in name, constantly marched side by
side before him, blotting out the beauty from every scene and souring
the sweetness of every joy. But if in his pain he thirsted for revenge
upon Belle, who would have none of him, how much more did he desire to
be avenged upon Edward Cossey, who, as it were, had in sheer
wantonness robbed him of the one good thing he had? It made him mad to
think that this man, to whom he knew himself to be in every way
superior, should have had the power thus to injure him, and he longed
to pay him back measure for measure, and through /his/ heart's
affections to strike him as mortal a blow as he had himself received.

Mr. Quest was no doubt a bad man; his whole life was a fraud, he was
selfish and unscrupulous in his schemes and relentless in their
execution, but whatever may have been the measure of his iniquities,
he was not doomed to wait for another world to have them meted out to
him again. His life, indeed, was full of miseries, the more keenly
felt because of the high pitch and capacity of his nature, and perhaps
the sharpest of them all was the sickening knowledge that had it not
been for that one fatal error of his boyhood, that one false step down
the steep of Avernus, he might have been a good and even a great man.

Just now, however, his load was a little lightened, and he was able to
devote himself to his money-making and to the weaving of the web that
was to destroy his rival, Edward Cossey, with a mind a little less
preoccupied with other cares.

Meanwhile, things at the Castle were going very pleasantly for
everybody. The Squire was as happy in attending to the various details
connected with the transfer of the mortgages as though he had been
lending thirty thousand pounds instead of borrowing them. The great
George was happy in the accustomed flow of cash, that enabled him to
treat Janter with a lofty scorn not unmingled with pity, which was as
balm to his harassed soul, and also to transact an enormous amount of
business in his own peculiar way with men up trees and otherwise. For
had he not to stock the Moat Farm, and was not Michaelmas at hand?

Ida, too, was happy, happier than she had been since her brother's
death, for reasons that have already been hinted at. Besides, Mr.
Edward Cossey was out of the way, and that to Ida was a very great
thing, for his presence to her was what a policeman is to a ticket-of-
leave man--a most unpleasant and suggestive sight. She fully realised
the meaning and extent of the bargain into which she had entered to
save her father and her house, and there lay upon her the deep shadow
of evil that was to come. Every time she saw her father bustling about
with his business matters and his parchments, every time the universal
George arrived with an air of melancholy satisfaction and a long list
of the farming stock and implements he had bought at some neighbouring
Michaelmas sale, the shadow deepened, and she heard the clanking of
her chains. Therefore she was the more thankful for her respite.

Harold Quaritch was happy too, though in a somewhat restless and
peculiar way. Mrs. Jobson (the old lady who attended to his wants at
Molehill, with the help of a gardener and a simple village maid, her
niece, who smashed all the crockery and nearly drove the Colonel mad
by banging the doors, shifting his papers and even dusting his trays
of Roman coins) actually confided to some friends in the village that
she thought the poor dear gentleman was going mad. When questioned on
what she based this belief, she replied that he would walk up and down
the oak-panelled dining-room by the hour together, and then, when he
got tired of that exercise, whereby, said Mrs. Jobson, he had already
worn a groove in the new Turkey carpet, he would take out a "rokey"
(foggy) looking bit of a picture, set it upon a chair and stare at it
through his fingers, shaking his head and muttering all the while.
Then--further and conclusive proof of a yielding intellect--he would
get a half-sheet of paper with some writing on it and put it on the
mantelpiece and stare at that. Next he would turn it upside down and
stare at it so, then sideways, then all ways, then he would hold it
before a looking-glass and stare at the looking-glass, and so on. When
asked how she knew all this, she confessed that her niece Jane had
seen it through the key-hole, not once but often.

Of course, as the practised and discerning reader will clearly
understand, this meant only that when walking and wearing out the
carpet the Colonel was thinking of Ida. When contemplating the
painting that she had given him, he was admiring her work and trying
to reconcile the admiration with his conscience and his somewhat
peculiar views of art. And when glaring at the paper, he was vainly
endeavouring to make head or tale of the message written to his son on
the night before his execution by Sir James de la Molle in the reign
of Charles I., confidently believed by Ida to contain a key to the
whereabouts of the treasure he was supposed to have secreted.

Of course the tale of this worthy soul, Mrs. Jobson, did not lose in
the telling, and when it reached Ida's ears, which it did at last
through the medium of George--for in addition to his numberless other
functions, George was the sole authorised purveyor of village and
county news--it read that Colonel Quaritch had gone raving mad.

Ten minutes afterwards this raving lunatic arrived at the Castle in
dress clothes and his right mind, whereon Ida promptly repeated her
thrilling history, somewhat to the subsequent discomfort of Mrs.
Jobson and Jane.

No one, as somebody once said with equal truth and profundity, knows
what a minute may bring forth, much less, therefore, does anybody know
what an evening of say two hundred and forty minutes may produce. For
instance, Harold Quaritch--though by this time he had gone so far as
to freely admit to himself that he was utterly and hopelessly in love
with Ida, in love with her with that settled and determined passion
which sometimes strikes a man or woman in middle age--certainly did
not know that before the evening was out he would have declared his
devotion with results that shall be made clear in their decent order.
When he put on his dress clothes to come up to dinner, he had no more
intention of proposing to Ida than he had of not taking them off when
he went to bed. His love was deep enough and steady enough, but
perhaps it did not possess that wild impetuosity which carries people
so far in their youth, sometimes indeed a great deal further than
their reason approves. It was essentially a middle-aged devotion, and
bore the same resemblance to the picturesque passion of five-and-
twenty that a snow-fed torrent does to a navigable river. The one
rushes and roars and sweeps away the bridges and devastates happy
homes, while the other bears upon its placid breast the argosies of
peace and plenty and is generally serviceable to the necessities of
man. Still, there is something attractive about torrents. There is a
grandeur in that first rush of passion which results from the sudden
melting of the snows of the heart's purity and faith and high
unstained devotion.

But both torrents and navigable rivers are liable to a common fate,
they may fall over precipices, and when this comes to pass even the
latter cease to be navigable for a space. Now this catastrophe was
about to overtake our friend the Colonel.

Well, Harold Quaritch had dined, and had enjoyed a pleasant as well as
a good dinner. The Squire, who of late had been cheerful as a cricket,
was in his best form, and told long stories with an infinitesimal
point. In anybody else's mouth these stories would have been wearisome
to a degree, but there was a gusto, an originality, and a kind of
Tudor period flavour about the old gentleman, which made his worst and
longest story acceptable in any society. The Colonel himself had also
come out in a most unusual way. He possessed a fund of dry humour
which he rarely produced, but when he did produce it, it was of a most
satisfactory order. On this particular night it was all on view,
greatly to the satisfaction of Ida, who was a witty as well as a
clever woman. And so it came to pass that the dinner was a very
pleasant one.

Harold and the Squire were still sitting over their wine. The latter
was for the fifth time giving his guest a full and particular account
of how his deceased aunt, Mrs. Massey, had been persuaded by a learned
antiquarian to convert or rather to restore Dead Man's Mount into its
supposed primitive condition of an ancient British dwelling, and of
the extraordinary expression of her face when the bill came in, when
suddenly the servant announced that George was waiting to see him.

The old gentleman grumbled a great deal, but finally got up and went
to enjoy himself for the next hour or so in talking about things in
general with his retainer, leaving his guest to find his way to the
drawing-room.

When the Colonel reached the room, he found Ida seated at the piano,
singing. She heard him shut the door, looked round, nodded prettily,
and then went on with her singing. He came and sat down on a low chair
some two paces from her, placing himself in such a position that he
could see her face, which indeed he always found a wonderfully
pleasant object of contemplation. Ida was playing without music--the
only light in the room was that of a low lamp with a red fringe to it.
Therefore, he could not see very much, being with difficulty able to
trace the outlines of her features, but if the shadow thus robbed him,
it on the other hand lent her a beauty of its own, clothing her face
with an atmosphere of wonderful softness which it did not always
possess in the glare of day. The Colonel indeed (we must remember that
he was in love and that it was after dinner) became quite poetical
(internally of course) about it, and in his heart compared her first
to St. Cecilia at her organ, and then to the Angel of the Twilight. He
had never seen her look so lovely. At her worst she was a handsome and
noble-looking woman, but now the shadow from without, and though he
knew nothing of that, the shadow from her heart within also, aided
maybe by the music's swell, had softened and purified her face till it
did indeed look almost like an angel's. It is strong, powerful faces
that are capable of the most tenderness, not the soft and pretty ones,
and even in a plain person, when such a face is in this way seen, it
gathers a peculiar beauty of its own. But Ida was not a plain person,
so on the whole it is scarcely wonderful that a certain effect was
produced upon Harold Quaritch. Ida went on singing almost without a
break--to outward appearance, at any rate, all unconscious of what was
passing in her admirer's mind. She had a good memory and a sweet
voice, and really liked music for its own sake, so it was no great
effort to her to do so.

Presently, she sang a song from Tennyson's "Maud," the tender and
beautiful words whereof will be familiar to most readers of her story.
It began:

"O let the solid ground
Not fail beneath my feet
Before my life has found
What some have found so sweet."

The song is a lovely one, nor did it suffer from her rendering, and
the effect it produced upon Harold was of a most peculiar nature. All
his past life seemed to heave and break beneath the magic of the music
and the magic of the singer, as a northern field of ice breaks up
beneath the outburst of the summer sun. It broke, sank, and vanished
into the depths of his nature, those dread unmeasured depths that roll
and murmur in the vastness of each human heart as the sea rolls
beneath its cloak of ice; that roll and murmur here, and set towards a
shore of which we have no chart or knowledge. The past was gone, the
frozen years had melted, and once more the sweet strong air of youth
blew across his heart, and once more there was clear sky above,
wherein the angels sailed. Before the breath of that sweet song the
barrier of self fell down, his being went out to meet her being, and
all the sleeping possibilities of life rose from the buried time.

He sat and listened, trembling as he listened, till the gentle echoes
of the music died upon the quiet air. They died, and were gathered
into the emptiness which receives and records all things, leaving him
broken.

She turned to him, smiling faintly, for the song had moved her also,
and he felt that he must speak.

"That is a beautiful song," he said; "sing it again if you do not
mind."

She made no answer, but once more she sang:

"O let the solid ground
Not fail beneath my feet
Before my life has found
What some have found so sweet;"

and then suddenly broke off.

"Why are you looking at me?" she said. "I can feel you looking at me
and it makes me nervous."

He bent towards her and looked her in the eyes.

"I love you, Ida," he said, "I love you with all my heart," and he
stopped suddenly.

She turned quite pale, even in that light he could see her pallor, and
her hands fell heavily on the keys.

The echo of the crashing notes rolled round the room and slowly died
away--but still she said nothing.

CHAPTER XIX

IN PAWN

At last she spoke, apparently with a great effort.

"It is stifling in here," she said, "let us go out." She rose, took up
a shawl that lay beside her on a chair, and stepped through the French
window into the garden. It was a lovely autumn night, and the air was
still as death, with just a touch of frost in it.

Ida threw the shawl over her shoulders and followed by Harold walked
on through the garden till she came to the edge of the moat, where
there was a seat. Here she sat down and fixed her eyes upon the hoary
battlements of the gateway, now clad in a solemn robe of moonlight.

Harold looked at her and felt that if he had anything to say the time
had come for him to say it, and that she had brought him here in order
that she might be able to listen undisturbed. So he began again, and
told her that he loved her dearly.

"I am some seventeen years older than you," he went on, "and I suppose
that the most active part of my life lies in the past; and I don't
know if, putting other things aside, you could care to marry so old a
man, especially as I am not rich. Indeed, I feel it presumptuous on my
part, seeing what you are and what I am not, to ask you to do so. And
yet, Ida, I believe if you could care for me that, with heaven's
blessing, we should be very happy together. I have led a lonely life,
and have had little to do with women--once, many years ago, I was
engaged, and the matter ended painfully, and that is all. But ever
since I first saw your face in the drift five years and more ago, it
has haunted me and been with me. Then I came to live here and I have
learnt to love you, heaven only knows how much, and I should be
ashamed to try to put it into words, for they would sound foolish. All
my life is wrapped up in you, and I feel as though, should you see me
no more, I could never be a happy man again," and he paused and looked
anxiously at her face, which was set and drawn as though with pain.

"I cannot say 'yes,' Colonel Quaritch," she answered at length, in a
tone that puzzled him, it was so tender and so unfitted to the words.

"I suppose," he stammered, "I suppose that you do not care for me? Of
course, I have no right to expect that you would."

"As I have said that I cannot say 'yes,' Colonel Quaritch, do you not
think that I had better leave that question unanswered?" she replied
in the same soft notes which seemed to draw the heart out of him.

"I do not understand," he went on. "Why?"

"Why?" she broke in with a bitter little laugh, "shall I tell you why?
Because I am /in pawn!/ Look," she went on, pointing to the stately
towers and the broad lands beyond. "You see this place. /I/ am
security for it, I /myself/ in my own person. Had it not been for me
it would have been sold over our heads after having descended in our
family for all these centuries, put upon the market and sold for what
it would fetch, and my old father would have been turned out to die,
for it would have killed him. So you see I did what unfortunate women
have often been driven to do, I sold myself body and soul; and I got a
good price too--thirty thousand pounds!" and suddenly she burst into a
flood of tears, and began to sob as though her heart would break.

For a moment Harold Quaritch looked on bewildered, not in the least
understanding what Ida meant, and then he followed the impulse common
to mankind in similar circumstances and took her in his arms. She did
not resent the movement, indeed she scarcely seemed to notice it,
though to tell the truth, for a moment or two, which to the Colonel
seemed the happiest of his life, her head rested on his shoulder.

Almost instantly, however, she raised it, freed herself from his
embrace and ceased weeping.

"As I have told you so much," she said, "I suppose that I had better
tell you everything. I know that whatever the temptation," and she
laid great stress upon the words, "under any conceivable circumstances
--indeed, even if you believed that you were serving me in so doing--I
can rely upon you never to reveal to anybody, and above all to my
father, what I now tell you," and she paused and looked up at him with
eyes in which the tears still swam.

"Of course, you can rely on me," he said.

"Very well. I am sure that I shall never have to reproach you with the
words. I will tell you. I have virtually promised to marry Mr. Edward
Cossey, should he at any time be in a position to claim fulfilment of
the promise, on condition of his taking up the mortgages on Honham,
which he has done."

Harold Quaritch took a step back and looked at her in horrified
astonishment.

"/What?/" he asked.

"Yes, yes," she answered hastily, putting up her hand as though to
shield herself from a blow. "I know what you mean; but do not think
too hardly of me if you can help it. It was not for myself. I would
rather work for my living with my hands than take a price, for there
is no other word for it. It was for my father, and my family too. I
could not bear to think of the old place going to the hammer, and I
did it all in a minute without consideration; but," and she set her
face, "even as things are, I believe I should do it again, because I
think that no one woman has a right to destroy her family in order to
please herself. If one of the two must go, let it be the woman. But
don't think hardly of me for it," she added almost pleadingly, "that
is if you can help it."

"I am not thinking of you," he answered grimly; "by heaven I honour
you for what you have done, for however much I may disagree with the
act, it is a noble one. I am thinking of the man who could drive such
a bargain with any woman. You say that you have promised to marry him
should he ever be in a position to claim it. What do you mean by that?
As you have told me so much you may as well tell me the rest."

He spoke clearly and with a voice full of authority, but his bearing
did not seem to jar upon Ida.

"I meant," she answered humbly, "that I believe--of course I do not
know if I am right--I believe that Mr. Cossey is in some way entangled
with a lady, in short with Mrs. Quest, and that the question of
whether or no he comes forward again depends upon her."

"Upon my word," said the Colonel, "upon my word the thing gets worse
and worse. I never heard anything like it; and for money too! The
thing is beyond me."

"At any rate," she answered, "there it is. And now, Colonel Quaritch,
one word before I go in. It is difficult for me to speak without
saying too much or too little, but I do want you to understand how
honoured and how grateful I feel for what you have told me to-night--I
am so little worthy of all you have given me, and to be honest, I
cannot feel as pained about it as I ought to feel. It is feminine
vanity, you know, nothing else. I am sure that you will not press me
to say more."

"No," he answered, "no. I think that I understand the position. But,
Ida, there is one thing that I must ask--you will forgive me if I am
wrong in doing so, but all this is very sad for me. If in the end
circumstances should alter, as I pray heaven that they may, or if Mr.
Cossey's previous entanglement should prove too much for him, will you
marry me, Ida?"

She thought for a moment, and then rising from the seat, gave him her
hand and said simply:

"Yes, I /will/ marry you."

He made no answer, but lifting her hand touched it gently with his
lips.

"Meanwhile," she went on, "I have your promise, and I am sure that you
will not betray it, come what may."

"No," he said, "I will not betray it."

And they went in.

In the drawing-room they found the Squire puzzling over a sheet of
paper, on which were scrawled some of George's accounts, in figures
which at first sight bore about as much resemblance to Egyptian
hieroglyphics as they did to those in use to-day.

"Hullo!" he said, "there you are. Where on earth have you been?"

"We have been looking at the Castle in the moonlight," answered Ida
coolly. "It is beautiful."

"Um--ah," said the Squire, dryly, "I have no doubt that it is
beautiful, but isn't the grass rather damp? Well, look here," and he
held up the sheet of hieroglyphics, "perhaps you can add this up, Ida,
for it is more than I can. George has bought stock and all sorts of
things at the sale to-day and here is his account; three hundred and
seventy-two pounds he makes it, but I make it four hundred and twenty,
and hang me if I can find out which is right. It is most important
that these accounts should be kept straight. Most important, and I
cannot get this stupid fellow to do it."

Ida took the sheet of paper and added it up, with the result that she
discovered both totals to be wrong. Harold, watching her, wondered at
the nerve of a woman who, after going through such a scene as that
which had just occurred, could deliberately add up long rows of badly-
written figures.

And this money which her father was expending so cheerfully was part
of the price for which she had bound herself.

With a sigh he rose, said good-night, and went home with feelings
almost too mixed to admit of accurate description. He had taken a
great step in his life, and to a certain extent that step had
succeeded. He had not altogether built his hopes upon sand, for from
what Ida had said, and still more from what she had tacitly admitted,
it was necessarily clear to him that she did more or less regard him
as a man would wish to be regarded by a woman whom he dearly loved.
This was a great deal, more indeed than he had dared to believe, but
then, as is usually the case in this imperfect world, where things but
too often seem to be carefully arranged at sixes and sevens, came the
other side of the shield. Of what use to him was it to have won this
sweet woman's love, of what use to have put this pure water of
happiness to his lips in the desert of his lonely life, only to see
the cup that held it shattered at a blow? To him the story of the
money loan--in consideration of which, as it were, Ida had put herself
in pawn, as the Egyptians used to put the mummies of their fathers in
pawn--was almost incredible. To a person of his simple and honourable
nature, it seemed a preposterous and unheard of thing that any man
calling himself a gentleman should find it possible to sink so low as
to take such advantage of a woman's dire necessity and honourable
desire to save her father from misery and her race from ruin, and to
extract from her a promise of marriage in consideration of value
received. Putting aside his overwhelming personal interest in the
matter, it made his blood boil to think that such a thing could be.
And yet it was, and what was more, he believed he knew Ida well enough
to be convinced that she would not shirk the bargain. If Edward Cossey
came forward to claim his bond it would be paid down to the last
farthing. It was a question of thirty thousand pounds; the happiness
of his life and of Ida's depended upon a sum of money. If the money
were forthcoming, Cossey could not claim his flesh and blood. But
where was it to come from? He himself was worth perhaps ten thousand
pounds, or with the commutation value of his pension, possibly twelve,
and he had not the means of raising a farthing more. He thought the
position over till he was tired of thinking, and then with a heavy
heart and yet with a strange glow of happiness shining through his
grief, like sunlight through a grey sky, at last he went to sleep and
dreamed that Ida had gone from him, and that he was once more utterly
alone in the world.

But if he had cause for trouble, how much more was it so with Ida?
Poor woman! under her somewhat cold and stately exterior lay a deep
and at times a passionate nature. For some weeks she had been growing
strangely attracted to Harold Quaritch, and now she knew that she
loved him, so that there was no one thing that she desired more in
this wide world than to become his wife. And yet she was bound, bound
by a sense of honour and a sense too of money received, to stay at the
beck and call of a man she detested, and if at any time it pleased him
to throw down the handkerchief, to be there to pick it up and hold it
to her breast. It was bad enough to have had this hanging over her
head when she was herself more or less in a passive condition, and
therefore to a certain extent reckless as to her future; but now that
her heart was alight with the holy flame of a good woman's love, now
that her whole nature rebelled and cried out aloud against the
sacrilege involved, it was both revolting and terrible.

And yet so far as she could see there was no great probability of
escape. A shrewd and observant woman, she could gauge Mr. Cossey's
condition of mind towards herself with more or less accuracy. Also she
did not think it in the least likely that having spent thirty thousand
pounds to advance his object, he would be content to let his advantage
drop. Such a course would be repellent to his trading instincts. She
knew in her heart that the hour was not far off when he would claim
his own, and that unless some accident occurred to prevent it, it was
practically certain that she would be called upon to fulfil her
pledge, and whilst loving another man to become the wife of Edward
Cossey.

CHAPTER XX

"GOOD-BYE TO YOU, EDWARD"

It was on the day following the one upon which Harold proposed to Ida,
that Edward Cossey returned to Boisingham. His father had so far
recovered from his attack as to be at last prevailed upon to allow his
departure, being chiefly moved thereto by the supposition that Cossey
and Son's branch establishments were suffering from his son's absence.

"Well," he said, in his high, piercing voice, "business is business,
and must be attended to, so perhaps you had better go. They talk about
the fleeting character of things, but there is one thing that never
changes, and that is money. Money is immortal; men may come and men
may go, but money goes on for ever. Hee! hee! money is the honey-pot,
and men are the flies; and some get their fill and some stick their
wings, but the honey is always there, so never mind the flies. No,
never mind me either; you go and look after the honey, Edward. Money--
honey, honey--money, they rhyme, don't they? And look here, by the
way, if you get a chance--and the world is full of chances to men who
have plenty of money--mind you don't forget to pay out that half-pay
Colonel--what's his name?--Quaritch. He played our family a dirty
trick, and there's your poor Aunt Julia in a lunatic asylum to this
moment and a constant source of expense to us."

And so Edward bade his estimable parent farewell and departed. Nor in
truth did he require any admonition from Mr. Cossey, Senior, to make
him anxious to do Colonel Quaritch an ill-turn if the opportunity
should serve. Mrs. Quest, in her numerous affectionate letters, had
more than once, possibly for reasons of her own, given him a full and
vivid /resume/ of the local gossip about the Colonel and Ida, who
were, she said, according to common report, engaged to be married.
Now, absence had not by any means cooled Edward's devotion to Miss de
la Molle, which was a sincere one enough in its own way. On the
contrary, the longer he was away from her the more his passion grew,
and with it a vigorous undergrowth of jealousy. He had, it is true,
Ida's implied promise that she would marry him if he chose to ask her,
but on this he put no great reliance. Hence his hurry to return to
Boisingham.

Leaving London by an afternoon train, he reached Boisingham about
half-past six, and in pursuance of an arrangement already made, went
to dine with the Quests. When he reached the house he found Belle
alone in the drawing-room, for her husband, having come in late, was
still dressing, but somewhat to his relief he had no opportunity of
private conversation with her, for a servant was in the room,
attending to the fire, which would not burn. The dinner passed off
quietly enough, though there was an ominous look about the lady's face
which, being familiar with these signs of the feminine weather, he did
not altogether like. After dinner, however, Mr. Quest excused himself,
saying that he had promised to attend a local concert in aid of the
funds for the restoration of the damaged pinnacle of the parish
church, and he was left alone with the lady.

Then it was that all her pent-up passion broke out. She overwhelmed
him with her affection, she told him that her life had been a blank
while he was away, she reproached him with the scarcity and coldness
of his letters, and generally went on in a way with which he was but
too well accustomed, and, if the truth must be told, heartily tired.
His mood was an irritable one, and to-night the whole thing wearied
him beyond bearing.

"Come, Belle," he said at last, "for goodness' sake be a little more
rational. You are getting too old for this sort of tomfoolery, you
know."

She sprang up and faced him, her eyes flashing and her breast heaving
with jealous anger. "What do you mean?" she said. "Are you tired of
me?"

"I did not say that," he answered, "but as you have started the
subject I must tell you that I think all this has gone far enough.
Unless it is stopped I believe we shall both be ruined. I am sure that
your husband is becoming suspicious, and as I have told you again and
again, if once the business gets to my father's ears he will
disinherit me."

Belle stood quite still till he had finished. She had assumed her
favourite attitude and crossed her arms behind her back, and her sweet
childish face was calm and very white.

"What is the good of making excuses and telling me what is not true,
Edward?" she said. "One never hears a man who loves a woman talk like
that; prudence comes with weariness, and men grow circumspect when
there is nothing more to gain. You /are/ tired of me. I have seen it a
long time, but like a blind fool I have tried not to believe it. It is
not a great reward to a woman who has given her whole life to a man,
but perhaps it is as much as she can expect, for I do not want to be
unjust to you. I am the most to blame, because we need never take a
false step except of our own free will."

"Well, well," he said impatiently, "what of it?"

"Only this, Edward. I have still a little pride left, and as you are
tired of me, why--/go/."

He tried hard to prevent it, but do what he would, a look of relief
struggled into his face. She saw it, and it stung her almost to
madness.

"You need not look so happy, Edward; it is scarcely decent; and,
besides, you have not heard all that I have to say. I know what this
arises from. You are in love with Ida de la Molle. Now /there/ I draw
the line. You may leave me if you like, but you shall not marry Ida
while I am alive to prevent it. That is more than I can bear. Besides,
like a wise woman, she wishes to marry Colonel Quaritch, who is worth
two of you, Edward Cossey."

"I do not believe it," he answered; "and what right have you to say
that I am in love with Miss de la Molle? And if I am in love with her,
how can you prevent me from marrying her if I choose?"

"Try and you will see," she answered, with a little laugh. "And now,
as the curtain has dropped, and it is all over between us, why the
best thing that we can do is to put out the lights and go to bed," and
she laughed again and courtesied with much assumed playfulness. "Good-
night, Mr. Cossey; good-night, and good-bye."

He held out his hand. "Come, Belle," he said, "don't let us part like
this."

She shook her head and once more put her arms behind her. "No," she
answered, "I will not take your hand. Of my own free will I shall
never touch it again, for to me it is like the hand of the dead. Good-
bye, once more; good-bye to you, Edward, and to all the happiness that
I ever had. I built up my life upon my love for you, and you have
shattered it like glass. I do not reproach you; you have followed
after your nature and I must follow after mine, and in time all things
will come right--in the grave. I shall not trouble you any more,
provided that you do not try to marry Ida, for that I will not bear.
And now go, for I am very tired," and turning, she rang the bell for
the servant to show him out.

In another minute he was gone. She listened till she heard the front
door close behind him, and then gave way to her grief. Flinging
herself upon the sofa, she covered her face with her hands and moaned
bitterly, weeping for the past, and weeping, too, for the long
desolate years that were to come. Poor woman! whatever was the measure
of her sin it had assuredly found her out, as our sins always do find
us out in the end. She had loved this man with a love which has no
parallel in the hearts of well-ordered and well-brought-up women. She
never really lived till this fatal passion took possession of her, and
now that its object had deserted her, her heart felt as though it was
dead within her. In that short half-hour she suffered more than many
women do in their whole lives. But the paroxysm passed, and she rose
pale and trembling, with set teeth and blazing eyes.

"He had better be careful," she said to herself; "he may go, but if he
tries to marry Ida I will keep my word--yes, for her sake as well as
his."

When Edward Cossey came to consider the position, which he did
seriously, on the following morning, he did not find it very
satisfactory. To begin with, he was not altogether a heartless man,
and such a scene as that which he had passed through on the previous
evening was in itself quite enough to upset his nerves. At one time,
at any rate, he had been much attached to Mrs. Quest; he had never
borne her any violent affection; that had all been on her side, but
still he had been fond of her, and if he could have done so, would
probably have married her. Even now he was attached to her, and would
have been glad to remain her friend if she would have allowed it. But
then came the time when her heroics began to weary him, and he on his
side began to fall in love with Ida de la Molle, and as he drew back
so she came forward, till at length he was worn out, and things
culminated as has been described. He was sorry for her too, knowing
how deeply she was attached to him, though it is probable that he did
not in the least realise the extent to which she suffered, for neither
men nor women who have intentionally or otherwise been the cause of
intense mental anguish to one of the opposite sex ever do quite
realise this. They, not unnaturally, measure the trouble by the depth
of their own, and are therefore very apt to come to erroneous
conclusions. Of course this is said of cases where all the real
passion is on one side, and indifference or comparative indifference
on the other; for where it is mutual, the grief will in natures of
equal depth be mutual also.

At any rate, Edward Cossey was quite sensitive enough to acutely feel
parting with Mrs. Quest, and perhaps he felt the manner of it even
more than the fact of the separation. Then came another consideration.
He was, it is true, free from his entanglement, in itself an enormous
relief, but the freedom was of a conditional nature. Belle had
threatened trouble in the most decisive tones should he attempt to
carry out his secret purpose of marrying Ida, which she had not been
slow to divine. For some occult reason, at least to him it seemed
occult, the idea of this alliance was peculiarly distasteful to her,
though no doubt the true explanation was that she believed, and not
inaccurately, that in order to bring it about he was bent upon
deserting her. The question with him was, would she or would she not
attempt to put her threat into execution? It certainly seemed to him
difficult to imagine what steps she could take to that end, seeing
that any such steps would necessarily involve her own exposure, and
that too when there was nothing to gain, and when all hopes of thereby
securing him for herself had passed away. Nor did he seriously believe
that she would attempt anything of the sort. It is one thing for a
woman to make such threats in the acute agony of her jealousy, and
quite another for her to carry them out in cold blood. Looking at the
matter from a man's point of view, it seemed to him extremely
improbable that when the occasion came she would attempt such a move.
He forgot how much more violently, when once it has taken possession
of his being, the storm of passion sweeps through such a woman's heart
than through a man's, and how utterly reckless to all consequence the
former sometimes becomes. For there are women with whom all things
melt in that white heat of anguished jealousy--honour, duty,
conscience, and the restraint of religion--and of these Belle Quest
was one.

But of this he was not aware, and though he recognised a risk, he saw
in it no sufficient reason to make him stay his hand. For day by day
the strong desire to make Ida his wife had grown upon him, till at
last it possessed him body and soul. For a long while the intent had
been smouldering in his breast, and the tale that he now heard, to the
effect that Colonel Quaritch had been beforehand with him, had blown
it into a flame. Ida was ever present in his thoughts; even at night
he could not be rid of her, for when he slept her vision, dark-eyed
and beautiful, came stealing down his dreams. She was his heaven, and
if by any ladder known to man he might climb thereto, thither he would
climb. And so he set his teeth and vowed that, Mrs. Quest or no Mrs.
Quest, he would stake his fortune upon the hazard of the die, aye, and
win, even if he loaded the dice.

While he was still thinking thus, standing at his window and gazing
out on to the market place of the quiet little town, he suddenly saw
Ida herself driving in her pony-carriage. It was a wet and windy day,
the rain was on her cheek, and the wind tossed a little lock of her
brown hair. The cob was pulling, and her proud face was set, as she
concentrated her energies upon holding him. Never to Edward Cossey had
she looked more beautiful. His heart beat fast at the sight of her,
and whatever doubts might have lingered in his mind, vanished. Yes, he
would claim her promise and marry her.

Presently the pony carriage pulled up at his door, and the boy who was
sitting behind got down and rang the bell. He stepped back from the
window, wondering what it could be.

"Will you please give that note to Mr. Cossey," said Ida, as the door
opened, "and ask him to send an answer?" and she was gone.

The note was from the Squire, sealed with his big seal (the Squire
always sealed his letters in the old-fashioned way), and contained an
invitation to himself to shoot on the morrow. "George wants me to do a
little partridge driving," it ended, "and to brush through one or two
of the small coverts. There will only be Colonel Quaritch besides
yourself and George, but I hope that you will have a fair rough day.
If I don't hear from you I shall suppose that you are coming, so don't
trouble to write."

"Oh yes, I will go," said Edward. "Confound that Quaritch. At any rate
I can show him how to shoot, and what is more I will have it out with
him about my aunt."

CHAPTER XXI

THE COLONEL GOES OUT SHOOTING

The next morning was fine and still, one of those lovely autumn days
of which we get four or five in the course of a season. After
breakfast Harold Quaritch strolled down his garden, stood himself
against a gate to the right of Dead Man's Mount, and looked at the
scene. All about him, their foliage yellowing to its fall, rose the
giant oaks, which were the pride of the country side, and so quiet was
the air that not a leaf upon them stirred. The only sounds that
reached his ears were the tappings of the nut-hutches as they sought
their food in the rough crannies of the bark, and the occasional
falling of a rich ripe acorn from its lofty place on to the frosted
grass beneath. The sunshine shone bright, but with a chastened heat,
the squirrels scrambled up the oaks, and high in the blue air the
rooks pursued their path. It was a beautiful morning, for summer is
never more sweet than on its death-bed, and yet it filled him with
solemn thoughts. How many autumns had those old trees seen, and how
many would they still see, long after his eyes had lost their sight!
And if they were old, how old was Dead Man's Mount there to his left!
Old, indeed! for he had discovered it was mentioned in Doomday Book
and by that name. And what was it--a boundary hill, a natural
formation, or, as its name implied, a funeral barrow? He had half a
mind to dig one day and find out, that is if he could get anybody to
dig with him, for the people about Honham were so firmly convinced
that Dead Man's Mount was haunted, a reputation which it had owned
from time immemorial, that nothing would have persuaded them to touch
it.

He contemplated the great mound carefully without coming to any
conclusion, and then looked at his watch. It was a quarter to ten,
time for him to start for the Castle for his day's shooting. So he got
his gun and cartridges, and in due course arrived at the Castle, to
find George and several myrmidons, in the shape of beaters and boys,
already standing in the yard.

"Please, Colonel, the Squire hopes you'll go in and have a glass of
summut before you start," said George; so accordingly he went, not to
"have a glass of summut," but on the chance of seeing Ida. In the
vestibule he found the old gentleman busily engaged in writing an
enormous letter.

"Hullo, Colonel," he halloaed, without getting up, "glad to see you.
Excuse me for a few moments, will you, I want to get this off my mind.
Ida! Ida! Ida!" he shouted, "here's Colonel Quaritch."

"Good gracious, father," said that young lady, arriving in a hurry,
"you are bringing the house down," and then she turned round and
greeted Harold. It was the first time they had met since the eventful
evening described a chapter or two back, so the occasion might be
considered a little awkward; at any rate he felt it so.

"How do you do, Colonel Quaritch?" she said quite simply, giving him
her hand. There was nothing in the words, and yet he felt that he was
very welcome. For when a woman really loves a man there is about her
an atmosphere of softness and tender meaning which can scarcely be
mistaken. Sometimes it is only perceptible to the favoured individual
himself, but more generally is to be discerned by any person of
ordinary shrewdness. A very short course of observation in general
society will convince the reader of the justice of this observation,
and when once he gets to know the signs of the weather he will
probably light upon more affairs of the heart than were ever meant for
his investigation.

This softness, or atmospheric influence, or subdued glow of affection
radiating from a light within, was clearly enough visible in Ida that
morning, and certainly it made our friend the Colonel unspeakably
happy to see it.

"Are you fond of shooting?" she asked presently.

"Yes, very, and have been all my life."

"Are you a good shot?" she asked again.

"I call that a rude question," he answered smiling.

"Yes, it is, but I want to know."

"Well," said Harold, "I suppose that I am pretty fair, that is at
rough shooting; I never had much practice at driven birds and that
kind of sport."

"I am glad of it."

"Why, it does not much matter. One goes out shooting for the sport of
the thing."

"Yes, I know, but Mr. Edward Cossey," and she shrank visibly as she
uttered the name, "is coming, and he is a /very/ good shot and /very/
conceited about it. I want you to beat him if you can--will you try?"

"Well," said Harold, "I don't at all like shooting against a man. It
is not sportsmanlike, you know; and, besides, if Mr. Cossey is a crack
shot, I daresay that I shall be nowhere; but I will shoot as well as I
can."

"Do you know, it is very feminine, but I would give anything to see
you beat him?" and she nodded and laughed, whereupon Harold Quaritch
vowed in his heart that if it in him lay he would not disappoint her.

At that moment Edward Cossey's fast trotting horse drew up at the door
with a prodigious crunching of gravel, and Edward himself entered,
looking very handsome and rather pale. He was admirably dressed, that
is to say, his shooting clothes were beautifully made and very new-
looking, and so were his boots, and so was his hat, and so were his
hammerless guns, of which he brought a pair. There exists a certain
class of sportsmen who always appear to have just walked out of a
sporting tailor's shop, and to this class Edward Cossey belonged.
Everything about him was of the best and newest and most expensive
kind possible; even his guns were just down from a famous maker, and
the best that could be had for love or money, having cost exactly a
hundred and forty guineas the pair. Indeed, he presented a curious
contrast to his rival. The Colonel had certainly nothing new-looking
about /him/; an old tweed coat, an old hat, with a piece of gut still
twined round it, a sadly frayed bag full of brown cartridges, and,
last of all, an old gun with the brown worn off the barrels, original
cost, 17 pounds 10s. And yet there was no possibility of making any
mistake as to which of the two looked more of a gentleman, or, indeed,
more of a sportsman.

Edward Cossey shook hands with Ida, but when the Colonel was advancing
to give him his hand, he turned and spoke to the Squire, who had at
length finished his letter, so that no greeting was passed between
them. At the time Harold did not know if this move was or was not
accidental.

Presently they started, Edward Cossey attended by his man with the
second gun.

"Hullo! Cossey," sang out the Squire after him, "it isn't any use
bringing your two guns for this sort of work. I don't preserve much
here, you know, at least not now. You will only get a dozen cock
pheasants and a few brace of partridges."

"Oh, thank you," he answered, "I always like to have a second gun in
case I should want it. It's no trouble, you know."

"All right," said the Squire. "Ida and I will come down with the
luncheon to the grove. Good-bye."

After crossing the moat, Edward Cossey walked by himself, followed by
his man and a very fine retriever, and the Colonel talked to George,
who was informing him that Mr. Cossey was "a pretty shot, he wore, but
rather snappy over it," till they came to a field of white turnips.

"Now, gentlemen, if you please," said George, "we will walk through
these here turnips. I put two coveys of birds in here myself, and it's
rare good 'lay' for them; so I think that we had better see if they
will let us come nigh them."

Accordingly they started down the field, the Colonel on the right,
George in the middle and Edward Cossey on the left.

Before they had gone ten yards, an old Frenchman got up in the front
of one of the beaters and wheeled round past Edward, who cut him over
in first-rate style.

From that one bird the Colonel could see that the man was a quick and
clever shot. Presently, however, a leash of English birds rose rather
awkwardly at about forty paces straight in front of Edward Cossey, and
Harold noticed that he left them alone, never attempting to fire at
them. In fact he was one of those shooters who never take a hard shot
if they can avoid it, being always in terror lest they should miss it
and so reduce their average.

Then George, who was a very fair shot of the "poking" order, fired
both barrels and got a bird, and Edward Cossey got another. It was not
till they were getting to the end of their last beat that Harold found
a chance of letting off his gun. Suddenly, however, a brace of old
birds sprang up out of the turnips in front of him at about thirty
yards as swiftly as though they had been ejected from a mortar, and
made off, one to the right and one to the left, both of them rising
shots. He got the right-hand bird, and then turning killed the other
also, when it was more than fifty yards away.

The Colonel felt satisfied, for the shots were very good. Mr. Cossey
opened his eyes and wondered if it was a fluke, and George ejaculated,
"Well, that's a master one."

After this they pursued their course, picking up another two brace of
birds on the way to the outlying cover, a wood of about twenty acres
through which they were to brush. It was a good holding wood for
pheasants, but lay on the outside of the Honham estate, where they
were liable to be poached by the farmers whose land marched, so George
enjoined them particularly not to let anything go.

Into the details of the sport that followed we need not enter, beyond
saying that the Colonel, to his huge delight, never shot better in his
life. Indeed, with the exception of one rabbit and hen pheasant that
flopped up right beneath his feet, he scarcely missed anything, though
he took the shots as they came. Edward Cossey also shot well, and with
one exception missed nothing, but then he never took a difficult shot
if he could avoid it. The exception was a woodcock which rose in front
of George, who was walking down an outside belt with the beaters. He
loosed two barrels at it and missed, and on it came among the tree
tops, past where Edward Cossey was standing, about half-way down the
belt, giving him a difficult chance with the first barrel and a clear
one with the second. Bang! bang! and on came the woodcock, now flying
low, but at tremendous speed, straight at the Colonel's head, a most
puzzling shot. However, he fired, and to his joy (and what joy is
there like to the joy of a sportsman who has just killed a woodcock
which everybody has been popping at?) down it came with a thump almost
at his feet.

This was their last beat before lunch, which was now to be seen
approaching down a lane in a donkey cart convoyed by Ida and the
Squire. The latter was advancing in stages of about ten paces, and at
every stage he stopped to utter a most fearful roar by way of warning
all and sundry that they were not to shoot in his direction. Edward
gave his gun to his bearer and at once walked off to join them, but
the Colonel went with George to look after two running cocks which he
had down, for he was an old-fashioned sportsman, and hated not picking
up his game. After some difficulty they found one of the cocks in the
hedgerow, but the other they could not find, so reluctantly they gave
up the search. When they got to the lane they found the luncheon
ready, while one of the beaters was laying out the game for the Squire
to inspect. There were fourteen pheasants, four brace and a half of
partridges, a hare, three rabbits, and a woodcock.

"Hullo," said the Squire, "who shot the woodcock?"

"Well, sir," said George, "we all had a pull at him, but the Colonel
wiped our eyes."

Book of the day: