Part 2 out of 4
for strategy, for the larger responsibilities of warfare, he was well
pleased that his superior officer should manage these affairs in his
quiet way unaided.
During a luncheon more remarkable for heartiness of despatch than
delicacy of viand, James Edward Makerstone Agar devoted much thought to
the affairs of Her Imperial Majesty the Empress of India. After luncheon
he lighted a cheroot, threw himself on his bed, and there reflected
further. Then he called to him Ben Abdi.
"No more promiscuous shooting," he said to him. "No more volley firing
at a single Ghilzai or a stray Bhutari. It seems that they do not
know we are here, as we are left undisturbed. I do not want them to
know--understand? If you see any one going along the valley, send two men
after him; no shooting, Ben Abdi."
And he pointed with his cheroot towards the evil-looking curved knife
which hung at the Goorkha's side.
Ben Abdi grinned. He understood that sort of business thoroughly.
Then followed many technical instructions--not only technical in good
honest English, but interlarded with words from a language which cannot
be written with our alphabet for the benefit of such as love details of a
The result of this council was that sundry little dusky warriors were
busy clambering about the rocky slope all that day and well into the
short hill-country evening, working in twos and threes with the
_alacrity_ of ants.
Jem Agar, in his own good time, was proceeding to further fortify, as
well as circumstances allowed, the position he had been told to hold
until relief should come. In addition to the magic of the master's eye he
lent the assistance of his strong right arm, laying his lithe weight
against many a rock which his men could not move unaided. By the evening
the position was in a fairly fortified state, and, after a copious dinner
in the chill breeze that rushed from the mountain down to the valley
after sunset, he walked placidly up and down at the edge of the plateau,
watching, ever watching, but with calmness and no sign of anxiety.
Such it is to be an Englishman--the product of an English public
school and country life. Thick-limbed, very quiet; thick-headed if you
will!--that is as may be--but with a nerve of iron, ready to face the
last foe of all--Death, without so much as a wink.
To his ear came at times the low cautious cry of some night-bird sailing
with heavy wing down to the haunt of mouse or mole; otherwise the night
was still as only mountain night-seasons are. Far down below him, the
jungle and forest were rustling with game and beasts of prey seeking
their meat from God, but the larger beasts of India, unlike their African
brethren, move in silence, stealthy yet courageous; and the distance was
too great for the quickly stifled cry of the victim of panther or tiger
to reach him.
When the moon rose he made the round of his pickets--a matter of ten
minutes--and then to bed.
On the morning of the ninth day he thought he detected signs of
uneasiness in the faces of the men. He found their keen little visages
ever turned towards him, watching his every movement, noting the play of
every feature. So in his simplicity he practised a simple diplomacy. He
hummed to himself as he went his rounds and while he sat over his diary.
He only knew one song--"A Warrior Bold"--which every mess in India
associated with old Jem Agar, for no evening was considered complete
without the Major's one ditty if he were present. He had stood up and
roared it in many strange places, quite without sentiment, without
self-consciousness, without afterthought. He never thought it a matter of
apology that he should have failed to learn another song. The smile with
which many ladies of his acquaintance sat down to play the accompaniment
_by heart_ conveyed nothing to him. He did not pretend to be a singer--he
knew that one song, and if they liked it he would sing it. Moreover, they
did like it, and that was why they asked for it. It did some of them good
to see honest Jem get on his legs and shout out, in a very musical voice,
with perfect truth to air, what seemed to be a plain statement of his
creed of life.
So, far up on Mistley Plateau, nine thousand feet above the level of the
sea, Jem Agar advised his little dark-visaged fighters, _sotto voce_,
while he puzzled over his diary, that his love had golden hair, with eyes
so blue and heart so true, that none with her compared; moreover, that he
didn't care if death were nigh, because he had fought for love, and for
love would die.
It was not very deep or very subtle, but it served the purpose. It kept
up the hearts of his handful of warriors, who, in common with their
chief, had something child-like and simple in their honest, sporting
Shortly after tiffin Ben Abdi came to the Major's tent, speaking
hurriedly in his own tongue.
One of the men had seen the sunlight gleam on white steel far down in the
valley. He had seen it several times--a long spiral flash, such as the
sun would make on a fixed bayonet carried over the shoulder. Such a flash
as this will carry twenty miles through a clear atmosphere; the spot
pointed out by the sharp-eyed Goorkha was not more than ten miles
distant. They stood in a group, this isolated little band, and gazed down
into the depth below them. They gazed in vain for some time, then a
little murmur of excitement told that the sun had glinted again on
burnished steel. This time there were several flashes close together.
These were men marching with fixed bayonets through an enemy's country.
"Heliograph," said Agar quietly, without taking his eyes from the spot
far down in the valley; and soon the little mirror was flashing out its
question over the vale. After a few anxious moments the answering gleam
sprang to life among the trees far below. Agar gave a quick little sigh
of relief--that was all.
Then followed a short conversation flickered over ten miles of space.
"Are you beset?" asked the Valley,
"No," replied the Hill.
"Is the enemy in sight?"
"No," replied the Mountain, again, with a sharp click.
"Are you all well?" flashed from below.
"Yes," from above.
Then the "Good-bye," and the glimmer of the bayonets began again.
Two hours later Major Agar drew his absurd little force in line, and thus
they received the relieving column, grimly conscious of dangers past but
At the head of the new-comers rode a little man with a prominent chin and
a long drooping nose; such a remarkable-looking little man that the
veriest tyro at physiognomy would have turned to look at him again. His
black eyes, beaming with intelligence, moved so quickly beneath the
steady lashes that it was next to an impossibility to state what he saw
and what he failed to see.
He returned Agar's salute hurriedly, with a preoccupied air. He wore a
quiet uniform tunic almost hidden by black braiding, a pith helmet which
had seen brighter days and likewise fouler, and the leg that he threw
over his horse's head was cased in riding trousers and a neat little
top-boot of brown leather.
He slipped from the saddle with a litheness which contrasted strangely
with his closely cropped grey hair and white moustache and Imperial. He
walked towards Agar's tent after the manner of one who had sat in the
saddle for many hours. His spurs clanked with a sharp, business-like
ring, and his every movement had that neat finish which indicates the
soldier born and bred.
Wheeling round he faced Agar, who had followed him with a more leisurely
gait based on longer legs, looking up keenly into the quiet fair face.
Turning he shot his sword home into its scabbard with a click.
"Thank God," he said, "you're safe!"
Agar awaited for further observations. This was not the man whom he
had expected, but another, far greater, far higher up in the military
scale--a man whom he had only met once before, and that at an official
Seeing that his guest was unbuckling his sword, he presumed that the task
of continuing this conversation lay with himself.
"M' yes!" he replied, rubbing his pannikin out clean with the corner of a
towel, and proceeding to mix some brandy and water; "why?"
"Why!" answered the little man scornfully, "WHY! damn it, sir, Stevenor's
command has been cut off by the enemy in force--massacred to a man. That
is why I say 'Thank God, you're safe!' It is more than I expected."
Our deeds still travel with us from afar,
And what, we have been makes us what we are,
There was a momentary pause; then Major Agar spoke.
"In that case," he observed, "the British force occupying this country
for the last week has consisted of myself and thirty Goorkhas."
"Precisely so! And it was by the merest chance that I found out that you
were here. It was only guesswork at the best. A bazaar report reached me
that poor old Stevenor had been cut to pieces. I hate blaming a dead man,
but I really don't know what he can have been about. He made some hideous
mistake somewhere. We buried him yesterday. On hearing the report, I
thought it better to come up myself, having a little knowledge of the
country. Brought two companies, and half a squadron to act as scouts. We
reached Barkoola yesterday, and found the poor chaps as they had fallen.
And some of those carpet-warriors at home say that a black man can't
fight! Can't he! Not so much brandy this time, please. Yes, fill it up."
Agar set the regulation water-bottle down on his gifted table.
"I have the Devil's own luck!" he murmured. "While they were burying I
missed you from among the officers; and then it struck me that you
might have got away before the disaster. We counted the men, and found
thirty-four short, so we came on here. By God! what a chap Mistley was!
We came here without a check. His maps are perfect!"
"Yes," admitted Agar, "that man knew his business!"
There was something in his tone that might have been envy or perhaps mere
admiration; for this man knew himself to be inferior in many ways to him
who had first crossed the mountain pass on which he stood.
"The worst of it is," went on the great officer, "that you are
telegraphed home as killed."
He paused on the last word, watching its effect. It would seem that,
behind the busy black eyes, there was the beginning of a thought hatched
within the grey close-cut head which, _en fait de tetes,_ was without its
rival in the Empire.
"That is soon remedied," opined the Major with a cheerful laugh.
The great man was thoughtfully rubbing his chin with the tips of the
first and second fingers, drawing in his under lip at the same time, and
apparently taking pleasure in the rasping sound caused by the friction
over the shaven chin.
There is usually something written in the human countenance--some single
virtue, vice, or quality which dominates all petty characteristics. Most
faces express weakness--the faces that pass one in the streets. Some are
the incarnation of meanness, some pleasanter types verge on sensuality.
The face of the man who sat watching Agar expressed indomitable,
invincible determination, and _nothing else_. It was the face of one who
was ready to sacrifice any one, even himself, to a single all-pervading
purpose. In this respect he was a splendid commander, for he was as
nearly heartless as men are made.
The big fair Englishman who had occupied Mistley's Plateau for a week,
exactly one hundred and seventy miles from assistance of any description,
and in the heart of the enemy's country, smiled down at his companion
with a simple wonder.
"Got something up your sleeve, sir?" he inquired softly, for he knew
somewhat of his superior officer's ways.
"Yes!" replied the other curtly. "A trump card!"
He continued to look at Jem Agar with a cold and calculating scrutiny, as
a jockey may look at his horse or a butcher at living meat.
"It's like this," he said. "You're dead. I want you to stay dead for a
little while--say six months to a year!"
Agar seated himself on the corner of the table, which creaked under the
weight of his spare muscular person, and then, true to his cloth, he
awaited further orders; true to his nature, he waited in silence.
After a short pause the other proceeded to explain.
"You frontier men," he said, "are closely watched; we know that. There
will be great rejoicing over there, in Northern Europe, over this mishap
to Stevenor, although, God knows, he was not a very dangerous man. Not so
dangerous as you, Agar. They will be delighted to hear that you are out
of the way. Stay out of the way for a year, and during that twelve months
you will be able to do more than you could get done in twelve years when
you were being watched by them."
"I see," answered Agar quietly. "Not dead, but gone--up country."
"Precisely so; where they certainly will not be on the look-out for you."
The bright black eyes were shining with suppressed excitement. The great
man was afraid that his tool would refuse to work under this exacting
"But what about my people?" asked Agar.
"Oh, I will put that right. You see, they have got over the worst of it
by this time. It is wonderful how soon people do get over it. They have
known it for a week now, and have bought their mourning and all that."
There came a look into Agar's face which the little officer did not
understand. We never do understand what we could not feel ourselves, and
it is not a matter of wonder that the lesser intelligence should foil the
greater in this instance. There was a depth in Jem Agar which was beyond
the fathom of his keen-witted companion.
"I am going home," continued General Michael, "almost at once. The first
thing I do on landing is to go straight to your people and tell them. We
cannot afford to telegraph it. Telegraph clerks are only human, and it is
worth the while of the newspapers in these days of large circulation to
pay a heavy price for their news. We all know that some items, published
_can_ only have been bought from the telegraph clerks."
Agar was making a mental calculation.
"That means," he said, "two months before they hear."
The expression on the face of the little man was scarcely human in its
"Hardly," he answered carelessly. "And when they hear the reason they
will admit that the result is worth the sacrifice. It will be the making
of you!--and of me!" added the black eyes with a secretive gleam.
"It is," went on the General, "such a chance as only comes once to a man
in his lifetime. I wish I had had it at your age."
The voice was a pleasant one, with that ring of friendliness and
familiarity which is usually heard in the tones of an educated Jew; for
General Michael was that rare combination, a Jew and a soldier.
"I don't like leaving them so long under the mistake," answered Agar,
half yielding to authoritative persuasion, half tempted by ambition and a
love of adventure. "I don't like it, General. The straight thing would be
to telegraph home at once."
In the wavering smile that crossed the dark face there was suggested a
fine contempt for the straight thing unaccompanied by some tangible
"Who are they?" inquired the General almost affectionately. "Who are your
Agar walked to the tent door and looked out. There was some clatter of
swords going on outside, and as commander of this post it was his duty to
know all that was passing. He turned, and standing in the doorway, quite
filling it with his bulk, he answered:
"My father died three years ago. I have a step-mother and a step-brother,
that is all--besides friends."
The General stooped to loosen the strap of his spur.
"Of course," he said in that attitude, "I know you are not a married
Beneath the brim of the helmet, which he had not laid aside, the Jew's
keen black eyes were watching, watching. But they saw nothing; for there
is no one so impenetrable as a man with a clear conscience and a large
"My idea was," continued General Michael, "that two, or at the most
three, people besides you and I be let into the secret."
"Three," said Agar, with quiet decision.
The General tacitly allowed this point and passed on with characteristic
promptitude to another.
"Are you a man of property?"
"Yes, I inherit my father's place down in Hertfordshire."
"I'll tell you why I ask. There are those beastly lawyers to think of. At
your death it is to be presumed that the estate comes to your brother.
The legal operations must be delayed somehow. I will see to it," he added
in a concise, almost snappish way.
Agar smiled, although he was conscious of a vague feeling of discomfort.
He was not a highly sensitive or a nervous man, and this feeling was more
than might have been expected to arise from an attendance, as it were, at
one's own obituary arrangements. The General seemed to be remarkably well
informed on these smaller points, and something prompted Jem Agar to ask
him if the idea he had just propounded was a suddenly conceived one.
"No," replied the General with a singular pause.
"No, I once knew a man who did the same thing for a different purpose,
but the idea was identical. I do not claim to be the originator."
"And there was no hitch? It was successful?" inquired Agar.
"Yes," replied the older soldier in a far-away voice, as if he had
mentally gone back to the results of that man's deception. "Yes, it was
successful. By the way, you say your people live down in Hertfordshire?"
"I once knew a girl--long ago, in my younger days--who married a man
called Agar, and went to live in Hertfordshire. The name did not strike
me until you mentioned the county. I wonder if the lady is now your
"My step-mother's name was Hethbridge," replied Jem Agar.
"The same. How strange!" said the General indifferently. "Well, she has
probably forgotten my existence these thirty years. She has one son, you
"Yes, Arthur. He is twenty-three--five years younger than myself."
The shifty black eyes excelled themselves at this moment in rapidity of
observation. They seemed to be full of question, of many questions, but
none were forthcoming.
"Ah!" said General Michael indifferently. "He is," pursued Jem Agar, "a
delicate fellow; does nothing; though I believe he is going to be called
to the Bar."
The General, having passed most of his life in India, where men work or
else go home, did not take in the full meaning of this; but he was keen
as a ferret, and he saw easily that Jem Agar despised his step-brother
with that cruel contempt which strong men feel for weak.
"Mother's darling?" he suggested.
"Yes, that is about it," replied Agar. He was too simple, too innately
upright and honest to perceive the infinite possibilities opened up by
the fact upon which General Michael had pounced.
"In case you decide to accept my offer," the older man went on, "you
would wish your stepmother and step-brother to be told?"
"Yes, and one other person."
"Ah, and another person. You could not limit it to two?" urged the
"No!" replied Agar with a decision which the other was wise enough to
consider final. Moreover, the General omitted to ask the name of this
third person, urged thereto by one of those strokes of instinct which
indicate the genius of the commander of men.
General Michael, moreover, deemed it prudent to carry the matter no
further at that moment. He rose from his seat on the bed, stretched his
lithe limbs, and said:
"Well, this won't do! We must get to work. I propose retreating
to-morrow morning at daylight."
They passed out of the tent together and proceeded to give their orders,
moving in and out among the busy men. There was a subtle difference in
their reception which was perhaps patent to both, though neither deemed
it necessary to make any comment. Wherever Agar went the eager little
black faces of his Goorkhas met him with a smile or a grin of delight;
when General Michael passed by, the dusky features hardened suddenly to a
marble stillness, and the beady eyes were all soldier-like attention.
They feared and loved the one because they felt that there was something
in him which they could not understand; they feared and hated the other
because his nature was nearer to their own, and they defined the evil in
Moreover, each had his reputation--that of General Michael dating from
the Mutiny; the other, a younger and a cleaner record.
It is considered the proper thing to talk in England of the unvoiced
millions of India. No greater mistake could be made. These millions have
a voice, but it does not reach to us because they do not raise it. They
talk with it among themselves.
They had talked of General Michael for thirty years, and all that there
was in him had been discussed to its very dregs. Thus their impenetrable
faces hardened when he passed, their shadowy secretive eyes looked beyond
him with a vacancy which was not the vacancy of dulness.
A LAST THROW
Get place and wealth; if possible, with grace;
If not, by any means get wealth and place.
Daylight broke next morning in a snow-storm, and a thin sprinkling lay
over all the hills, clothing them in spotless white.
General Michael was among the first astir, seeing in person to all the
details of the retreat. The men looked in vain towards the tent where
their late youthful leader had been wont to sit, nibbling the end of his
golden pocket-penholder, wrestling manfully in the throes of literary
When at last the order was given to strike tents the faces of the rank
and file fell like the face of one man.
Major James Edward Makerstone Agar had simply disappeared. His limited
baggage was attached to the smaller belongings of General Michael, and no
explanation was offered by that dreaded officer. To him the cold seemed
to be a matter of indifference; for he stood about watching every
movement of the men with a supreme disregard for the driving snow or the
knife-like wind that whistled over the northern scarp.
Under his calculating eye they worked to such effect that by nine o'clock
the little column was on the downward march. Again General Michael rode
through that lone, lorn country lying between India and Russia. Again his
melancholy face with keen but hopeless eyes passed through the darksome
valleys where, if legend be true, a race as old as his has lived since
the children of Abraham set forth to wander over the earth.
For twenty years this man had haunted these vales and hills, seeking,
ever seeking, his own aggrandisement and nothing else. Accounted a
patriot, he was no patriot; for the homeless blood was mingled in his
veins. Held to be a hero by some, he was none; for he hated danger for
its own sake, just as some men love it.
But his lines had been cast in this unpleasant place, from whence flight
or retreat was rendered almost impossible, by the laws of discipline and
the freak of circumstance. Despite his titles, in face of his great
reputation, he knew himself to be a failure, and as he rode southward
through the mountain barrier that frowns down over India he was conscious
of the knowledge that in all human probability he would never look upon
this drear land again. His time was up, he was about to be set on the
shelf, life was over. And he had all his powers yet--all his marvellous
quickness at the mastery of tongues, all the restless energy which had
urged him on to overrun the race, to dodge and bore and break his stride
instead of holding steadily on the straight course.
He it was who had discovered Jem Agar's talent for this rough, peculiar
soldiering of the frontier. He it was to whom the simple-minded young
officer had owed promotion after promotion. General Michael had fixed
upon Agar as his last hope--his last chance of doing something brilliant
in this deathly country, which moved with a slowness that nearly drove
This last attempt was thrown down like a defiance in the face of Fortune;
but still the risk was not his own. It never had been. Men had been sent
to their certain death by this sallow-faced commander, for no other
object than his own aggrandisement. It would almost seem that a just
Providence had ever turned away in loathing from the schemes of this man
who would have all and risk nothing.
Should Jem Agar succeed in the dangerous secret mission on which he had
been sent by a subtle underhand pressure of discipline, the glory would
never be his. This, under the grasping fingers of General Michael, would
never appear to the world as the wonderful individual feat of an intrepid
man, but as a masterly stroke of strategy dealt by a great general.
Seymour Michael had long ago found out that Jem Agar was the step-son of
the woman whom he had wronged in bygone years. But the name failed to
touch his conscience, partly because that conscience was not of much
account, and partly because time heals all things, even a sore sense of
wrong. Truth to tell, he had not thought much of Anna Agar during the
last twenty years, and the mere coincidence that this simple tool should
be her step-son was insufficient to deter him from making use of Agar.
But with that careful attention to detail which in such a man betrayed
innate weakness, he took care to make sure that Jem Agar had learnt
nothing of the past from the lips of his father's second wife.
General Michael did not disguise from himself the fact that the mission
on which he had despatched Jem Agar was what the life insurance companies
call hazardous. But he had lived by the sword, and that mode of gaining a
livelihood makes men wondrously indifferent to the lives of others.
Moreover, this was in a sense a speciality of his. He was getting
hardened to the game, and played it with coolness and precision.
All through that day the little band retreated through an enemy's
country, watchful, alert, almost nervous. There were absurdly few of
them--a characteristic of that frontier warfare which the sallow, silent
leader had waged nearly all his life. And in the evening there was not
Fortune is a playful soul. She keeps men waiting a lifetime, and then,
when it is too late, she suddenly opens both her hands. Seymour Michael
had waited twenty years for one of those chances of easy distinction
which seemed to fall to the lot of all his comrades in arms. This chance
was vouchsafed to him on the last evening he ever passed in an enemy's
country--when it was too late--when that which he did was no more than
was to be expected from a man of his experience and fame.
The little band was attacked at sunset by the victorious savages who had
annihilated the advance column three days earlier, and with half the
number of men, fatigued and hungry, Seymour Michael beat them back and
cut his way to the south. He knew that it was good, and the men knew it.
They looked upon this keen-faced little man as something approaching a
demi-god; but they had no love for him as they had for Major Agar. The
knowledge was theirs that to him their lives were of no account--they
were not men, but numbers. He brought them out of a dire strait by sheer
skill, by that heartless grip of discipline which a true general
exercises over his troops even at that critical moment when a common
death seems to reduce all lives to an equal value.
But in the thick of it the Goorkhas--keen little Highlanders of the
Indian army--looked in vain for the fighting light in their leader's
eyes. They listened in vain for the encouraging voice--now low and steady
in warning, now trumpet-like and maddening with the infection of
In the midst of that wild, apparently disorderly _melee_ in the narrow
valley, while the hush of mountain sunset settled over the battle, the
leader sat imperturbable, cold, and infinitely wise. He was pale, and his
lips were quite colourless, but his eyes were vigilant, ready,
resourceful. An ideal general but no soldier. He played this game with a
skill that never faced the possibility of failure--and won.
Far overhead, many miles to the northward, a solitary wanderer heard the
sound of firing and paused to listen. He was a big man, worthy to be
accounted such even among the strapping mountaineers of that district,
and as he leant on the long barrel of his quaintly ornamental rifle his
sheepskin cloak fell back from a long sinewy arm of deep-brown hue.
As he listened to the far-off rumble of independent firing he muttered to
himself indications of anxiety. Strange to say, the eyes that looked out
over the hollow of the gorge-like valley were blue. They were, however,
hardly visible through the tangle of unkempt hair and raw wool that fell
over his forehead. The high sheepskin cap was dragged forward, and the
lower part of his face was almost hidden by the indiscriminate folds of
hood, cloak, and scarf affected by the shepherds hereabout.
James Agar was perfectly happy. There must have been somewhere in his
sporting soul that love of Nature which drives men into solitude--making
gamekeepers and fishermen and explorers of them. It was in this man's
character to wait passive until responsibility came to him, when he
accepted it readily enough; but he never went out to meet it. He was not
as the sons of Levi, who took too much upon themselves; but rather was he
happiest when he had only his own life and his own self to take care of.
Here he was now an outcast, an Ishmaelite, with every man's hand raised
against him. It was not the first time. For this quiet-going man had
unobtrusively learnt many tongues, and, while no one heeded him, he had
studied the ways of this Eastern land with no mean success.
He waited there during an hour while the firing still continued, and
then, when at last silence reigned again and the wind whispered
undisturbed through the dark pines, he turned his wandering footsteps
northward to a land where few white men have passed.
So night fell upon these two men thus hazardously brought together, and
every moment stretched longer the distance between them--James Agar going
north, Seymour Michael passing southward.
Agar wondered vaguely whether his toilsome diary would ever reach home,
but he was not anxious as to the result of the fight which had evidently
taken place in the valley. He too seemed to share the belief of all who
came in contact with him that General Michael could not do wrong in
That night the Master of Stagholme laid him down to rest in the shadow of
a big rock, strong in himself, strong in his faith. And as he slumbered,
those who slumber not nor cease their toil by day or night sat with
crooked backs over a little ticking, spitting, restless machine that
spelt out his name across half the world. While the moon rose over the
mountains, and looked placidly down upon this strange man lying there
peacefully sleeping in a world of his own, two men who had never seen
each other talked together with nimble fingers over a thousand miles of
wire. And one told the other that James Edward Makerstone was dead.
The sleeper slept on. He smiled quietly beneath the moon. Perhaps he
dreamt of the home-coming, of that time when he could say at last, "I
have fought my fight, and now I come with a clear conscience to enjoy the
good things given to me." He never dreamt of treason. He never knew that
for their own gain men will sacrifice the happiness of their neighbours
without so much as a pang of self-reproach. There are some people, thank
Heaven, who never learn these things, who go on believing that men are
good and women better all their lives.
A CARPET KNIGHT
As children gathering pebbles on the shore.
First door on the right after passing into New Court, Trinity College,
Cambridge, by the river door. It is a small door, leading directly on to
a narrow, winding stone staircase. For some reason, known possibly to the
architect responsible for New Court (may his bones know no rest!), the
ground-floor rooms have a door of their own within the archway.
On the first floor Arthur Agar, to use the affected phraseology of an
affected generation, "kept" in the days with which we have to deal. What
he kept transpireth not. There were many things which he did not keep,
the first among these being his money. In these rooms he dispensed an
open-handed, carefully considered hospitality which earned for him a
certain bubble popularity.
There are, one finds, always plenty of men (and women too) ready to lick
the blacking off one's boots provided always that that doubtful fare be
varied by champagne or truffles at appropriate intervals. Men came to
Arthur Agar's rooms, and brought their friends. Mark well the last item.
They brought their friends. There is more in that than meets the eye.
There is a subtle difference between the invitation for "Mr. Jones" and
the invitation for "Mr. Jones and friends"--a difference which he who
runs the social race may read. If Jones is worth his salt he will discern
the difference in a week.
"Oh, come to Agar's," one man (save the mark) would say to another."
Ripping coffee, topping cigarettes."
So they went; they drank the ripping coffee, smoked the topping
cigarette, and if they happened to be men of stomach ventured on a
clinking cigar. Moreover, they were made welcome. Agar was like a vain
woman who loved to see a full saloon. And he paid for his pleasure in
more honourable coin than many a vain woman has laid down since daughters
of Eve commenced drawing fops around them--namely, the adjectived items
of hospitality above mentioned.
It did not matter much who the guests were, provided that they filled the
diminutive room in those spaces left vacant by _bric-a-brac_ and
furniture of the spindle-legged description. So the men came. There were
freshmen who fell over the footstools and bumped their heads against the
painted sabots on the wall containing ever-fresh flowers, as per
florist's bill; who were rather over-powered by the profusion of painted
photograph frames, fans, and fal-lals. There was the man who sang a comic
song and dined out on it at least twice a week. There was the calculating
son of a poor North-country parson, who liked coffee after dinner and
knew the value of sixpence. There was the man who came to play his own
valse, and he who came to hear his own voice, _und so weiter_. Do we not
know them all? Have we not run against them in after-life, despite many
attempts to pass by on the other side? The habitual acceptors of
hospitality have no objection to crossing the road through the thickest
"By their rooms ye shall know them," might well, if profanely, be written
large over any college gate. Arthur Agar's rooms were worthy of the man.
There was, even on the little stone staircase, a faint odour of pastille
or scent spray, or something of feminine suggestion. The unwary visitor
would as likely as not catch some part of his person against a silk
hanging or a lurking _portiere_ on crossing the threshold; and the
impression which struck (as all rooms do strike) from the threshold was
one of oppressive drapery. A man, by the way, should never know anything
about drapery or draping. Such knowledge undermines his virility. This is
an age of undermining knowledge. We all, from the lowest to the highest,
learn many things of which we were better ignorant. The school-board
infant acquires French; Arthur Agar and his like bring away from
Cambridge a pretty knack of draping chair-backs.
There were little screens in the room, with shelves specially constructed
to hold little gimcracks, which in their turn were specially shaped to
stand upon the little shelves. There was a portentous standing-lamp, six
feet high in its bare feet, with a shade like a crinoline. There were
settees and _poufs_ and _des prie-Dieu_, and strange things hanging on
the wall without rhyme, reason, or beauty. And nowhere a pipe, or a
tennis racket, or even a pair of boots--not so much as a single manly
indiscretion in the way of a cricket-bat in the corner, or a sporting
novel on the table.
In the midst of this the temporary proprietor of the rooms sat
disconsolately at an inlaid writing-table with his face buried in his
The outer door was shut. Arthur Agar had sported his rare oak, not to
work but to weep. It sometimes does happen to men, this shedding of the
idle tear, even to Englishmen, even to Cambridge men. Moreover, it was
infinitely to the credit of Arthur Agar that he should bury his face in
the sleeve of his perfectly-fitting coat thus and sob, for he was weeping
(quietly and to himself) the advent of three thousand pounds per annum.
At his elbow lay a telegram--that flimsy pink paper which, with all our
progress, all our knowledge, the bravest of us fear still.
"Jem killed in India; come home at once.--AGAR."
Honour to whom honour. Arthur Agar's only thought had been one of sudden
horror. He had read the telegram over twice before going out to close his
outer door. Then he came back and sat weakly down at the table where he
had written more scented notes than noted themes, deliberately,
womanlike, to cry.
To his credit be it noted that he never thought of Stagholme, which was
now his. He only thought of Jem--his no longer--Jem the open-handed,
elder brother who tolerated much and said little. Having had everything
that he wanted since childhood, Arthur Agar had never been in the habit
of thinking about money matters. His florist's bills (and Cambridge
horticulturists seem to water their flowers with Chateau Lafitte), his
confectioner's account, and his tailor's little note had always been paid
without a murmur. Thus, want of money--the chief incentive to crime and
criminal thought--had never come within measurable distance of this
Truth to tell, he had never devoted much thought to the future. He had
always vaguely concluded that his mother and Jem would "do something";
and in the meantime there were important matters requiring his attention.
There was the _menu_ to prepare for an approaching little dinner. There
was always an approaching dinner, and always a _menu_ in execrable French
on a satin-faced card with the college arms in a coat of many colours.
There was the florist to be interviewed and the arrangement of the table
to be superintended; the finishing touch to be given to the floral
decoration thereof by the master-hand.
Jem's death seemed to knock away one of the supports of the future, and
Arthur Agar even in his grief was conscious of the impending necessity of
having to act for himself some day.
At length he lifted his head, and through the intricate pattern of the
very newest design in art muslins the daylight fell on his face. It was a
face which in France is called _chiffonne_; but the term is never applied
to the visage masculine. A diminutive and slightly _retrousse_ nose,
gentle grey eyes of the drowning-fly description, and a sensitive mouth
scarcely hidden by a fair moustache of downward tendency.
Here was a man made to be ruled all his life--probably by a woman. With a
little more strength it might have been a melancholy face; as it stood,
it was suggestive of nothing stronger than fretfulness. There was a vague
distress in the eyes and in the whole countenance which mistaken and
practical souls would probably put down to a defective digestion or a
feeble vitality. More than one enthusiastic disciple of Aesculapius
studying at Caius professed to have discovered the evidence of some
internal disease in Arthur Agar's distressed eyes; but his complaint was
not of the body at all.
Presently the necessity for action forced itself upon his understanding,
and he rose with a jerk. It is worth noting that his first thought was
connected with dress. He passed into the inner room and there exchanged
his elegant morning suit for a black one, replacing a delicate heliotrope
necktie by another of sombre hue. He mentally reviewed his mourning
wardrobe while doing so, and gathered much spiritual repose from the
In the meantime the Rector of Stagholme, having breakfasted, proceeded to
light a cigarette and open the _Times_ with the leisurely sense of
enjoyment of one who takes an interest in all things without being keenly
concerned in any.
"God help us!" he exclaimed suddenly; and Mrs. Glynde, who alone happened
to be present, dropped a handful of housekeeping money on the floor.
"What is it, dear?" she gasped.
"There," was the answer; "read that. 'Disaster in Northern India.' Not
In her eagerness Mrs. Glynde had plunged headlong into the consumption of
Wesleyan missionaries in the Sandwich Islands. Then she had to find her
glasses, and considerable delay was incurred by putting them on upside
down. All this while the Rector sat glaring at her as if in some occult
way she were responsible for the disaster in Northern India.
At last she read the short article, and was about to give a sigh of
relief when her eyes travelled to a diminutive list of names appended.
"What!" she exclaimed. "What! Jem! Oh, Tom, dear, this can't be true!"
"I have no reason," answered the Rector grimly, "to suppose that it is
Mrs. Glynde was one of those unfortunate persons who seem only to have
the power of aggravating at a crisis. In their way they are useful as
serving to divert the mind; but they usually come in for more than their
need of abuse.
The poor little woman laid the newspaper gently down by her husband's
elbow, and looked at him with a certain air of grandeur and strength. The
instinct that arouses the mother wren to peck at the schoolboy's hand at
her nest was strong in this subdued little old lady.
"Something," she said, "must be done. How are we going to tell Dora?"
The Rector was a man who never went straight at the fence, before him. He
invariably pulled up and rode alongside the obstacle before leaping, and
when going for it he braced himself mentally with the reflection that he
was an English gentleman, and as such had obligations. But these
obligations, like those of many English gentlemen, ceased at his own
fireside. He, like many of us, was apt to forget that wife, sister, and
daughter are nevertheless ladies to whom deference is due.
"Oh--Dora," he answered; "she will have to bear it like the rest of us.
But here am I with fresh legal complications laid upon me. I foresee
endless trouble with the lawyers and that woman. Why the Squire made me
his executor I can't tell. Parsons know nothing of these matters."
With a patient sigh Mrs. Glynde turned away and went to the window, where
she stood with her back to him. Even to the duller masculine mind the
wonder sometimes presents itself that our women-folk take us so patiently
as we are. If Mrs. Glynde had turned upon her husband (who was not so
selfish as he would appear), presenting him forthwith in the plainest
language at her command with a piece of her mind, the treatment would
have been surprising at first, and infinitely beneficial afterwards.
The Reverend Thomas sat staring into the fire--a luxury which he allowed
himself all through the year--with troubled eyes. There was a fence in
front of him, but he could not bring himself up to it. In his mistaken
contempt for women he had never taken his wife fully into his confidence
in those things--great or small, according to the capacity of the
producing machine--which are essentially a personal property--namely his
All else he told her openly and at once, as behoved an English gentleman.
Should he tell all that he had hoped and thought and rethought respecting
Jem Agar and Dora? Should he; should he not? And the loving little woman
stood there almost daring to break the great silence herself; but not
quite. Strong as was her mother's heart, the habit of submission was
stronger. She longed, she yearned to hear the deeper, graver tone of
voice which had been used once or twice towards her--once or twice in
moments of unusual confidence. The Reverend Thomas Glynde was silent, and
the voice that they both heard was Dora's, singing as she came downstairs
towards them. It was only a matter of moments, and when we have no more
than that wherein to act we usually take the wrong turning.
Mrs. Glynde turned and gave one imploring look towards her husband.
At the same instant the door opened and Dora entered, singing as she
"What is the matter?" she exclaimed. "You both look depressed. Stocks
down, or something else has gone up? I know! Papa has been made a
With a cheery laugh she went to the table and took up the newspaper.
Sa maniere de souffrir est le temoignage qu'une ame porte sur elle-meme.
There was a horrid throbbing silence while Dora read, and her parents
calculated the seconds which would necessarily elapse before she reached
the bottom line. Such moments as these are scored up as years in the span
Mrs. Glynde did not know what she was doing. It happened that she
was trying to rub away a flaw in the window-glass with her pocket
hand-kerchief--a flaw which must have been an old friend, as such things
are in quiet lives. At this occupation she found herself when her heart
began to beat again.
"I suppose," said Dora in a terribly calm voice, "that the _Times_ never
makes a mistake--I mean they never publish anything unless they are quite
Then the English gentleman of parts who ever and anon peeped out through
the veneer of the parson asserted himself--the English gentleman whose
sense of fair play and honour told him that it is better to strike at
once a blow that must be struck than to keep the victim waiting.
"Such is their reputation," answered Dora's father.
Mrs. Glynde turned with that pathetic yearning movement of a punished dog
which waits to be called. But Dora had some of her father's sternness,
her father's good British reserve, and she never called.
Turning, she walked quietly out of the room. And all the light had gone
out of her life. So we write, and so ye read; but do we realise it? It is
not many of us who have suddenly to look at life without so much as a
glimmer in its dark recesses to make it worth the living. It is not many
of us who come to be told by the doctor: "For the rest of your existence
you must give up eyesight," or, "For the remainder of life you must go
halt." But these are trifles. Everything is a trifle, if we would only
believe it. Riches and poverty, peace and war, fame and obscurity, town
and country, England and the backwoods--all these are trifles compared
with that other life which makes our own a living completeness.
Silently she went, and left silence behind her. The Rector was abashed.
For once a woman had acted in a manner unexpected by him; for he was
ignorant enough of the world to keep up the old fallacy of treating women
as a class. True, it was Dora, whom he held apart from the rest of her
sex; but still he was left wondering. He felt as if he had been found
walking in a holy place with shoes upon his feet--those gross shoes of
Self with which most of us tramp through the world, not heeding where we
tread or what we crush.
One of the hardest things we have to bear is the helpless standing by
while one dear to us must suffer. When Mrs. Glynde turned round and came
towards her husband she had become an old woman. Her face had suddenly
aged while her frame was yet in its full strength, and such a change is
not pleasant to look on.
"Tom," she said, in a dry, commanding voice, "you must go up to the Holme
at once and hear what news they have. There may be some chance--it may
please God to spare us yet."
"Yes," answered the Rector meekly; "I will go."
While he was lacing his boots with all speed Mrs. Glynde took up the
newspaper again, and reread the brief account of the disaster. They were
spared comment; that blow came later, when the warriors of Fleet Street
set about explaining why the defeat was sustained and why it should never
have happened. In due course these carpet tacticians proved to their own
satisfaction that Colonel Stevenor was incompetent for the service on
which he had been dispatched. But the reek of printing-ink never was good
for the better feelings.
In due course the Rector set off across the park; very grave, and
distinctly aware of the importance of his mission. He had somewhere in
his composition a strong sense of the dramatic, to which the situation
appealed. He felt that had he been a younger man he would have stored up
many details during the morning's work worthy of reproduction in the
narrative form during years to come.
Before he reached the great house he was aware that the grim pleasure of
imparting bad news was not to be his, for the blinds were all lowered--a
detail likely to receive early attention in a feminine household, for it
is only men who can hear of a death without thinking of mourning and the
The butler opened the door and took the Rector's hat and stick with a
silent _savoir-faire_ indicative of experience in well-bred grief. His
chaste demeanour said as plainly as words that this was right and proper,
the Rector being no more than he expected.
"Where's your mistress?" asked Mr. Glynde, who had strong views upon
butlers in general and Tims in particular--said Tims being so sure of his
place that he did not always trouble to know it.
"Library, sir," replied Tims in an appropriately sepulchral voice.
The Rector went to the library without waiting to be announced. He was a
man well versed in human nature, as most parsons are, and it is possible
that he had caught a glimpse of Mrs. Agar watching his advent from the
The lady of the house was standing by the writing-table when he entered,
and beneath her ill-concealed excitement there was something subtly
observant, like the glance of an untruthful child, which he never forgot
nor forgave, despite his cloth and the impossibilities popularly expected
"Oh," she exclaimed, "it is you. I have telegraphed for Arthur. I
have--telegraphed for Arthur."
She gave a nervous, almost a guilty little laugh, and looked at him with
"Why?" he repeated, looking at her with a cold scrutiny much dreaded of
the parish ne'er-do-wells.
"Oh, well," she replied, "it is only natural that I should want him at
home in such a time as this--such a terrible affliction. Besides--"
"Besides," suggested the Rector imperturbably, "he is now master of
"Yes!" she said, with a simulated surprise which would scarcely have
deceived the most guileless Sunday-school teacher. "I had not thought of
that. I suppose something must be done at once--those horrid lawyers
Her eyes were dancing with breathless excitement. To this woman
excitement even in the form of a death was better than nothing. The
bourgeois mind, with its love of a Crystal Palace, a subscription dance,
or even a parochial bazaar, was unquenchable even after years of practice
as the county lady of position.
The Rector did not answer. He stood squarely in front of her with a
persistence that forced her to turn shiftily away with a pretence of
looking at the clock.
"This is a bad business," he said. "That boy ought never to have gone out
Mrs. Agar had her handkerchief ready and made use of it, with as much
effect upon Mr. Glynde as might have been produced upon a granite sphinx.
There is no man harder to deceive than the innately good and
conscientious man of the world who has tried to find good in human
"Poor boy!" sobbed the lady. "Dear Jem! I could not keep him at home."
Thus proving herself a fool, and worse, before those wise eyes.
When occasion demanded Mr. Glynde could wield a very strong
silence--stronger than he thought. He wielded it now, and Mrs. Agar
shuffled before it, her eyes glittering with suppressed
communicativeness. She was obviously bubbling over with talk relevant and
irrelevant, but the Rector had the chivalry to check it by his cold
After a pause it was he who spoke, in a quiet, unemotional voice which
aggravated while it cowed her.
"When did you hear this news?" he asked.
"Oh, last night. It was so late that I did not send down. I--it was so
sudden. I was terribly upset."
"I telegraphed to Arthur first thing this morning," the mistress of
Stagholme went on eagerly, "and I was just going to write to you when you
With that nervous desire for corroborative evidence which arouses the
suspicion of the observant whenever it appears, Mrs. Agar indicated the
writing-table with open blotter and inkstand. Instantly, but too late,
she regretted having done so, for a volume playfully called "Every Man
his own Lawyer" lay confessed beside the writing-case, and its home on
the bookshelf stared vacantly at them.
"And from whom did you hear it?" pursued the Rector, heartlessly looking
at the book with an air of recognition.
"Oh, from a Mr. Johnson--at the War Office, or the India Office, or
somewhere. I suppose I ought to write and thank him. Let me see--where is
She shuffled among the papers on the writing-table, and made the hideous
mistake of pushing "Every Man his own Lawyer" behind the stationery case.
"Here it is!" she exclaimed at length.
It was a long document. Mr. Johnson, not having to pay for telegraphic
expenses out of his own pocket, had done his task thoroughly. He stated
clearly that the advance column under Colonel Stevenor, Major Agar, and
another British officer had been surprised and annihilated. There were no
particulars yet, nor could reliable details be expected, as it was quite
certain that not one man of the ill-fated corps had survived. General
Seymour, added the official, missing out in his haste the commanding
officer's surname, had promptly repaired to the scene of the disaster, to
punish the victors, and, if possible, recover the effects of the slain.
Mrs. Agar was one of those persons who are incapable of reading a letter
or a telegram thoroughly. She was one of those for whose comprehension
the wrong end of the story must have been specially created. Had the
official put Seymour Michael's name in full, it is probable that in her
infantile excitement she would have failed to take it in or to connect it
with the man who had wronged her twenty years before.
She had not thought much about that little affair during late years, her
feeling for Seymour Michael having settled down into a passive hatred.
The longing to do him some personal injury had died away fifteen years
before. She was, as a matter of fact, quite incapable of a lasting
feeling of any description. Hers was a life lived for the present only. A
tea-party next week was of more importance to her than a change in
fortune next year. Some people are thus, and Heaven help those whose
lives come under their fickle influence!
The one permanent motive of her existence was her son Arthur--the puny
little infant who had been prematurely ushered into a world that seemed
full of hatred twenty years before--and even his image faded from mind
and thought before the short Cambridge terms were half expired.
At this moment she was thinking less of the death of Jem than of the
approaching arrival of Arthur. There must have been something wrong with
her mental focus, to which trifles presented themselves as of the first
importance, to the obliteration of larger matters.
"And this is all the news you have had?" inquired the Rector, rather
hurriedly. He saw Sister Cecilia coming up the avenue, and that lady was
for him the embodiment of the combination of those feminine failings
which aggravated him so intensely.
He moved towards the door, and standing there he turned, holding up a
"You must be very careful," he said. "You must not consult any lawyer or
take any steps in this matter. So far as you are concerned the state of
affairs is unchanged. I, as the Squire's executor, am the only person
called upon to act in any way if that poor boy has died without making a
will. You must remember that your son is under age."
With that he left her, rather precipitately, for Sister Cecilia, like all
busybodies, was a quick walker.
In a few moments Miss Cecilia Harbottle entered the library. She glided
forward as if afloat on a depth of the milk of human kindness, and folded
Mrs. Agar in an emotional embrace.
"Dear!" she exclaimed. "Dear Anna, how I feel for you!"
In illustration of this sympathy she patted Mrs. Agar's somewhat flabby
hands, and looked softly at her. She could hardly have failed to see a
glitter in the bereaved one's eyes, which was certainly not that of
grief. It was the gleam of pure, heartless excitement and love of change.
But Sister Cecilia probably misread it; for, like all excesses, that of
charity seems to dull the comprehension.
"Tell me, dear," she urged gently, "all about it."
How many of us imagine the satisfaction of our own curiosity to be
So Mrs. Agar told her all about it, and presently they sat down, with a
view to fuller discussion. There was, however, a point beyond which even
Mrs. Agar would not go. This point Sister Cecilia scented with the
instinct of the terrier, so keen was her nose in the sniffing of other
people's business. When that point was reached a third time she gently
led the way over it.
"Of course," she said, with a resigned glance at the curtain poles, "one
cannot help sometimes feeling that a wise Providence does all for the
Gratifying as this must have been to the power in question, no miraculous
manifestation of joy was forthcoming, and Mrs. Agar cunningly confined
herself to a non-committing "Yes."
After a sigh, Sister Cecilia further expatiated.
"I cannot but think," she said, "that Stagholme will be in better hands
now. Of course dear Jem was very nice, and all that--a dear, good boy.
But do you not think that Arthur is more suited to the position in some
"Perhaps he is," allowed Mrs. Agar, with ill-concealed pleasure.
"He is," continued Sister Cecilia, with a broader brush, "so refined, so
gentlemanly, so ideal a country squire."
And after that she had no difficulty in supplying herself with
ON THIN ICE
Treason doth never prosper. What's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
Two days later a gentleman, whose clean-shaven face had a habit of
beaming suddenly into a professional smile, was seated at a huge
writing-table in his office in Gray's Inn, when a clerk announced to him
the arrival of Mrs. Agar, who desired to see him at once.
Mr. Rigg beamed instantaneously, and the clerk, who knew his master,
waited until the paroxysm had passed. In the meantime Mrs. Agar was
fuming in the waiting-room, wherein lay a copy of the _Times_ and nothing
else. The window looked out upon the neatly kept but depressing garden,
where five antiquated rooks looked in vain for sustenance. Mrs. Agar
watched these intelligent birds, but all her soul was in her ears. She
had already set Mr. Rigg down in her own mind as a stupid because,
forsooth, he had dared to keep her waiting.
But the truth is that they are accustomed to ladies in Gray's Inn,
especially ladies in deep mourning, with a chastely important air which
seems to demand that advice and sympathy be carefully mingled. _Connues_,
these ladies whose deep crape and quite exceptional bereavement plead
(not always dumbly) for a special equity, home-made and superior to any
law, and infer that the ordinary foes are in their case more than any
gentleman would think of accepting.
The clerk presently passed into an inner room and fetched therefrom a tin
box, upon which were painted in dingy white the letters "J. E. M. A.,"
and underneath "Stagholme Estate." This the embryo lawyer carefully wiped
with a duster, and set it up on some of its fellows immediately behind
There was no hurry displayed in this scenic arrangement. Mr. Rigg made a
practice of keeping ladies, especially those wearing crape, for a few
minutes in the waiting-room. It calmed them down wonderfully, and
introduced into their mental chambers a little legal atmosphere.
"Marks," he said, when that youth was taking his last look round at the
_mise en scene_ before, as it were, raising the curtain, "eh--er--just go
round to Corbyn's and get them to make up these pills."
At the mention of the medicinal term he beamed, as if to intimate that
between themselves no secret need be observed that he, Mr. Rigg, was
subject to the usual anatomical laws of mankind.
"And--er--just call at the fishmonger's as you come back and get a parcel
for me, ordered this morning."
"Yes, sir," answered the faithful Marks, taking the prescription as if it
were a will or a transfer.
He knew his part so well that he moved towards the door and opened it as
if Mrs. Agar's existence and attendance in the waiting-room were matters
of the utmost indifference.
The door was open, so that the lawyer's voice carried well down the
"I will see Mrs. Agar now."
And Mrs. Agar was shown in, all bustling with excitement.
"Mr. Rigg," she said, with some dignity, "has Mr. Glynde been here?"
The lawyer beamed again--literally all over his parchment-coloured face,
except the eyes, which remained grave.
"When, my dear madam?" he asked, as he brought forward a chair.
"Well, lately--since my son's death."
The lawyer opened a large diary, and proceeded to trace back each day
with his finger. It promised to be a question of time, this ascertaining
whether Mr. Glynde had called within the last week. It was marvellous how
well this man of deeds knew his clients. Mrs. Agar had never persevered
in any inquiry or project that required time all through her life. Mr.
Rigg, behind his disarming smile, could see as far into a crape veil as
"It must have been quite lately," said Mrs. Agar, leaning forward and
trying visibly to read the diary.
Mr. Rigg turned back a few pages, as if to go over the ground a second
"Let me see!" he said leisurely. "What was the precise date of
"Last Tuesday, the fourteenth."
"To be sure," reflected Mr. Rigg, fixing his eyes sadly on an engraving
of London Bridge in the seventeenth century--a spot specially reserved
for the sadder moments of probate and other testamentary work. "Very sad,
Then he rose with the mental brushing-away of unshed tears of a man who
has never yet had time in life for idle lamentation. He turned towards
the tin box, jingling his keys in a most practical and business-like way.
"And I presume," he said, "that you have come to consult me about the
late Captain Agar's will?"
"Was there a will?" asked Mrs. Agar, with audible alarm. She had not
studied "Every Man his own Lawyer" quite in vain, although most of the
legal technicalities had conveyed nothing whatever to her mind. She did
not notice that her question regarding Mr. Glynde had never been
Mr. Rigg turned upon her beaming.
"I have no will," he answered. "I thought that perhaps you were aware of
the existence of one."
Mrs. Agar's face lighted up.
"No," she said, with ill-concealed delight; "I am certain there is no
"Indeed! And why, my dear madam?"
"Well--oh, well, because Jem was just the sort of person to forget such
matters. Besides, when he left England he was under age."
The lawyer was looking at her with his usual sympathetic smile spread
over his face like an actor's make-up, but his eyes were very keen and
"Of course," he observed, "he may have made one out there."
"I do not think that it is likely," replied the lady, whose small
thoughts always came into the world in charge of a very obvious father in
the shape of a wish. "There are no facilities out there--no lawyers."
"There are quite a number of lawyers in India," said Mr. Rigg, with
sudden gravity. His face was only grave when he wished to fend off
"Well," persisted Mrs. Agar, "I am _sure_ Jem did not make a will."
Mr. Rigg bowed and resumed his seat. He took up a penholder and smiled,
presumably at his own sunny thoughts.
Mrs. Agar was one of those fatuous ladies who think themselves capable of
tricking a professional man out of his fee. She had a vague notion that
if one asks a lawyer a question the price of his answer is at least six
shillings and eightpence. Up to this point in the interview she was
serenely conscious of having eluded the fee.
"I presume," she remarked carelessly, in pursuance of this economical
policy, "that in such a case the property would go unconditionally to the
"There are contingent possibilities," replied the man of subterfuge
blandly. He did not mean anything at all, but shrewdly guessed that Mrs.
Agar would not credit him with so simple a design.
The lady smiled in a subtly commiserating manner, indicative of the fact
that on some family matters the ignorance of all except herself was
"Of course," she said, "as regards the present case, I know perfectly
well that both Jem and his father would wish everything to go to Arthur."
She was picking a thread from the corner of her jacket with an air of
Mr. Rigg was silent. He had some thirty years before this period given up
attaching importance to the wishes of the deceased as interpreted by
"And _I_ should imagine that the necessary transfers--and--and things
would be much better put in hand at once. Delay seems to me quite
She paused for Mr. Rigg's opinion--quite a friendly opinion, of course,
"Pardon me," said that lawyer, driven into a corner at last, "but are you
consulting me on behalf of the late Squire's executor, Mr. Glynde, or on
your own account?"
"Oh!" replied Mrs. Agar, drawing herself up with a deprecating little
laugh, "I did not intend it to be a consultation at all. I happened to be
passing, that was all. You see, Mr. Rigg, Mr. Glynde does not know
anything about these matters. Clergymen are so stupid."
"Seems to be afraid," Mr. Rigg was reflecting behind his pleasant mask,
"of the young man coming alive again."
Mrs. Agar was like a child in many ways, more especially in her unbounded
belief in her own cunning. She actually imagined herself to be a match
for this man, who had been trained in the ways of duplicity all his life.
She saw nothing of his mind, and fatuously ignored the fact that from the
moment she had entered the room he had begun the interview with a mental
"This woman," he had reflected, "has always hated her step-son. She got
him a commission in an Indian regiment for the primary purpose of getting
him out of the way while she saved money on her life-interest in the
estate for her second son. The secondary purpose was little more than a
hope. She hoped for the best. The best has come off, and she is not
clever enough to let things take their course."
Every word Mrs. Agar had uttered, every silence, every glance had gone to
confirm the lawyer's opinion, and he sat pleasantly beaming on her. He
did not jump up and denounce her, for lawyers are scientists. As a doctor
in the pursuit of his science does not hesitate to handle foul things, to
probe horrid sores, so the lawyer must needs smirch his hands even to the
elbow in those moral tumours from whence emanate the thousand and one
domestic crimes which will ever remain just outside the pale of the law.
And in one as in the other the finer susceptibilities grow dull. The
doctor almost forgets the pain he inflicts. The lawyer gradually loses
his sense of right and wrong.
Mr. Rigg was an honest man--as honesty is understood in the law. He was
keenly alive to all the motives of this woman, who, in the law of
humanity, was a criminal. He had started from a lawyer's standpoint--_id
est_, personal advantage. "To whose advantage?" they ask, and there they
assign the action. But Mr. Rigg was also a good lawyer, and therefore he
kept his own counsel.
"Things must be allowed," he said, "to take their course. You know, Mrs.
Agar, we are proverbially slow in moving, but we are sure."
Now it happened that this was precisely the position assumed by Mr.
Glynde, whose respect for legal routine was enormous. He rarely moved in
any matters wherein the law could by hook or crook be introduced without
consulting Mr. Rigg, whom he vaguely called his "man." And it was
precisely this delay that Mrs. Agar disliked. She had no definite reason
for so doing; but this stroke of good fortune presented itself to her
mind more in the light of an opportunity to be seized than as a just
inheritance to be thankfully received in its due time.
She was awake to the fact that Arthur was not the man to seize any
opportunity, however obviously it might be thrust into his grasp, and her
knowledge of the world tended to exaggerate its dishonesty in her mind.
Sister Cecilia and she had talked this matter over with that small
modicum of learning which is a dangerous thing, and they had arrived at
the conclusion that Mr. Glynde was not competent to carry out the duties
thus suddenly thrust upon him. Wrapped up as was her heart in the welfare
of her weakling son, the one lasting motive of her life had been to
secure for him the largest possible portion of earthly goods. Now that
success seemed to be within measurable distance, she gave way to the
baneful panic of the weak conspirator, and fancied that the whole world
was allied against her.
She could not keep her fingers off "Every Man his own Lawyer," and
consulted that boon to the legal profession to such good effect that she
placed a handsome fee in the pocket of one of its brightest ornaments at
the earliest opportunity. Mr. Rigg continued to beam and to keep his own
counsel, merely notifying that things must be allowed to take their own
course, and presently he bowed Mrs. Agar out of his office, dissatisfied,
and with an uncomfortable feeling of having been somewhat indiscreet.
Arthur was waiting for her in a hansom cab in Holborn, and with a sigh of
relief they drove westward to a shop in Regent Street to order a supply
of the newest procurable mode of signifying grief on paper and envelopes.
Arthur Agar was an expert in such matters, and indeed both mother and son
were more at home in the graceful pastime of spending money than in the
technicalities of making or keeping the same.
Arthur was already beginning to taste the sweetness of his adversity, and
being intensely sensitive to the influence of those with whom he happened
to be at the moment, he was already beginning to look back with mild
surprise to the first burst of grief to which he had given way on hearing
that Jem was killed.
THE CURSE OF A GOOD INTENTION
_There is one that keepeth silence and is found wise._
Sister Cecilia received--nay, she almost welcomed--the news of Jem
Agar's death in an intensely Christian spirit. She looked upon it in
the light of a chastening-a sort of moral cold bath, unpleasant at the
time, but cleanly and refreshing in its effect. Intense goodness and
virtue of the jubby-jubby order seem frequently to produce this result.
Trouble--provided that it be not personal--is elevated to a position
which it was never intended to occupy by an all-seeing Providence. There
are some people who step into the troubles of others as into the
chastening bath above referred to, and splash about. They pretend to feel
deeply bereavements which cannot reasonably be expected to affect them,
and go about the world with a well-scrubbed air of conscious virtue,
saying in manner if not in words, "Look at me; my troubles compass me
about, but my innate goodness enables me to take them in the proper
spirit and to be cheerful despite all."
This was precisely Sister Cecilia's attitude towards her small world of
Stagholme, after the news of the young Squire's death had cast a gloom
over the whole neighbourhood.
"Ah!" she would say to some honest cottage mother who had more true
feeling in her rough little finger than Sister Cecilia possessed in her
whole heart. "These trials are sent to us for our good. The ways of
Providence are strange, Mrs. Martin--strange to us now."
"Yes, miss; that they be," Mrs. Martin replied, looking at her with the
hard and far-seeing gaze of a poor mother who has known trouble in its
least romantic form. And Sister Cecilia, with that blindness which comes
from systematically closing the eyes to the earthly side of earthly
things, never realised that the small change of sympathy is often
At this period she took to calling Jem Agar her "poor boy." The grave
seems to have the power of completely altering the past, and with persons
of the stamp of Sister Cecilia death appears not only to wipe out all
sin, but to impair the memory of the living to such an extent that the
individuality of the deceased is no longer recognisable.
Jem never had in any sense of the word been her boy. His feelings for her
had passed from the distrust of childhood to the lofty contempt of a
schoolboy for all things preternaturally virtuous, finally settling down
into the more tolerant contempt of manhood. The dead, however, have
perforce to accept much affection which they scornfully refused in life.
"Poor Jem!" said Sister Cecilia to Mrs. Agar the day after that lady's
visit to Gray's Inn. "I always thought that perhaps he and dear Dora
would come to--to some understanding."
She stirred her tea with patient, suffering head inclined at a resigned
"Do you think there _was_ any understanding between them?" inquired Mrs.
"Well--I should not like to say."
Which, being translated, meant that she would like to say, but did not
It had always been a pet scheme of Mrs. Agar's that Dora should marry
Arthur; firstly, because she would have nearly two thousand pounds a year
on the death of her parents; and, secondly, because she was a capable
person with plenty of common-sense. These two adjuncts--namely, money and
common-sense--Mrs. Agar wisely looked for in candidates for the flaccid
hand of her son.
"I will try and find out," said Sister Cecilia after a pause.
Mrs. Agar said nothing. She was meditating over this last stroke of fate
in favour of her scheme, and her thoughts were disturbed by that distrust
in the continuance of good fortune which usually spoils the enjoyment of
the unscrupulous in those good things which they have obtained for
So Sister Cecilia took it for granted that she was doing the will of the
mistress of Stagholme when she wrote a note that same evening inviting
Dora to have tea with her the following afternoon.
At the hour appointed Dora arrived, and was duly shown into the little
cottage drawing-room, of which the decoration hovered between the
avowedly devout and the economo-aesthetic.
Sister Cecilia swept down upon her with a speechless emotion which, in
the nature of things (and Sister Cecilia), could not well be of long
"My dear," she whispered, "God will give you strength to bear this awful
Dora recovered her breath and re-arranged her crushed habiliments before
inquiring, with just sufficient feeling to save her from downright
rudeness, "What is the matter; has something else happened?"
Sister Cecilia drew back. She was vaguely conscious of having run
mentally against a brick wall. There was something new and unusual about
Dora which she could not understand--something, if she could only have
seen it, suggestive of the quiet, strong man in whose honour the whole
parish wore mourning. But Sister Cecilia was not a subtle woman. She had
had so little experience of the world, of men and of women, that she fell
easily into the error of thinking that they were all to be treated alike
and with equal success by little maxims culled from fourpenny-halfpenny
"No, dear," she exclaimed; "I was referring to our terrible loss. My
heart has been bleeding for you--"
"It is very kind, I'm sure," said Dora quietly; "I forgot that I had not
seen you since the news reached us."
It is probable that her self-control cost her more than she suspected.
Her lips were drawn and dry. She wore a thick veil, which she carefully
abstained from lifting above the level of her eyes. "I am sure," moaned
Sister Cecilia, "it has been a most trying time for us all. I wonder that
Mrs. Agar has borne up so bravely. Her health is wonderful, considering."
Dora sat looking straight in front of her. She was withdrawing her gloves
slowly. Her face was that of a person whose mind was made up for the
endurance of an operation.
The twaddling voice, the characteristic reference to health, were
intensely aggravating. There are some women who talk of their own health
before the dead are buried. They do not seem to be able to separate grief
from bodily ill. Clad in crape, they rush to the seaside, and there,
presumably because grief affects their legs, they hire a man to wheel
themselves and Sorrow in a bath-chair. Why--oh, why! does bereavement
drive women into bath-chairs on the King's Road, or the Lees, or the Hoe?
"Wonderful!" said Dora.
Sister Cecilia, busying herself with the teapot, proceeded to blow her
own trumpet with the bare-facedness of true virtue.
"I have been with her constantly," she said. "I think it is better for us
all to tell of our grief; I think that we are given speech for that
purpose. For although one may only be able to offer sympathy and perhaps
a little advice, it is always a relief to speak of one's sorrow."
"I suppose it is," admitted Dora from her strong-hold of reserve, "for
"Oh, yes!" exclaimed Sister Cecilia, all heedless of the sarcasm. For
extreme charity is proof against such. It covers other things besides a
multitude of sins. Wielded foolishly it runs amuck like a too luxuriant
creeper, and often kills commonsense. "And that is why I asked you to
come, dear. I thought that you might want to confide in some one--that
you might want to unburden your heart to one who feels for you as if this
sorrow were her own--"
"Only one piece of sugar, thank you," interrupted Dora. "Thank you. No.
Bread and butter, please. It is very kind of you, Sister Cecilia. But,
you see, when I have any unburdening to do there is always mother, and if
I want any advice there is always father."
"Yes, dear. But sometimes even one's parents are not quite the persons to
whom one would turn in times of grief."
"Oh!" observed Dora, without much enthusiasm.
Unconsciously Sister Cecilia was doing the very best thing possible for
Dora, She was arousing in her the spirit of antagonism--hardening a
stricken heart, as it were, by a fresh challenge. She was teaching Dora
to fight for what we learn to deem most sacred--namely, the right to
monopolise our own thoughts and feelings. Sister Cecilia is not, one may
assume, the only good woman in the world who cannot draw a definite line
between sympathy and mere curiosity. With many the display of sympathy is
nothing but a half-conscious bait to attract a shoal of further details.
Self-reliance was lurking somewhere in this girl's character, but it had
never been developed by the pressure of circumstances. Reserve she had
seen practised by her father, but the actual advantages thereof were only
now beginning to be apparent to her. The body, we are told, adapts itself
to abnormal circumstances; so is it with the mind. Already Dora was
beginning, as they say at sea, to find her feet; to take that stand
amidst her environments which she was forced to hold, practically alone,
And Sister Cecilia, with that blind faith in a good motive which gives
almost as much trouble as actual vice, floundered on in the path she had
mapped out for herself.
"You know, dear," she said, looking out of the window with a sentimental
droop of her thin, inquisitive lips, "I cannot help feeling that
this--this terrible blow means more to you than it does to us."
"Why?" inquired Dora practically.
Sister Cecilia was silent, with one of those aggravating silences which
do not allow even the satisfaction of a flat contradiction. A meaning
silence is a coward's argument. She was beginning to feel slightly
nervous before this child, ignorant that childhood is not always a matter
of years and calendar months.
"Why?" asked Dora again.
Sister Cecilia looked rather bewildered.
"Well, dear, I thought perhaps--I always thought that my poor boy
entertained some feeling--you understand?"
"No," replied Dora, borrowing for the moment her father's most crushing
deliberation of manner, "I cannot say I do. When you say your 'poor boy,'
are you referring to Jem?"
Sister Cecilia assented with a resigned nod worthy of the very earliest
"Then, as every one has discovered so many virtues in him--quite
suddenly--we had better emulate one of them, and have at the least the
good feeling to hold our tongues about any feelings he may have
entertained. Do you not think so, Sister Cecilia?"
"Well, dear, I only thought to act as might be best for you," said the
well-intentioned meddler, with the drawl of the professionally
"I have no doubt of that," returned Dora, with an equanimity which was
again strangely suggestive of Jem Agar. "But in future you will be
consulting my welfare much more effectively by refraining from action on
my behalf at all."
"As you will, dear; as you will," in the hopeless tone of age,
experience, and wisdom forced to stand idle while youth and folly rush
headlong down the hill.
"Yes," returned Dora calmly; "I know that, thank you. And now, I think,
we had better change the subject."
The subject was therefore changed; but Sister Cecilia, having, as it
were, whetted her appetite for details, was not at her ease with other
food for the mind, and presently Dora left.
The girl went back into her small world with a new knowledge gained--the
knowledge that in all and through all we are really quite alone. There
can be only one companion, and if that one be absent, there are only so
many talking-machines left to us. And many of us pass the whole of our
lives in conversation with them. So it is; and we know not why.
In a subtle way she felt stronger for this little tussle--a fight is
always exhilarating. She felt that from henceforth the memory of Jem was
hers, and hers alone, to defend and to cherish. It was not much of a
consolation. No. But then this is a world of small mercies, where some of
us get an hour or some mean portion of a day when we want a lifetime.
THE TOUCH OF NATURE
A sense, when first I fronted him,
Said, "Trust him not!"
After successfully carrying through the purchase of mourning stationery
and attending to other important items connected with sorrow in its
worldly shape, Arthur Agar went back to Cambridge. There was enough of
the woman in his nature to enable him to cherish grief and nurse it
lovingly, as some women (not the best of them) do. In this attitude
towards the world there was none of that dogged going about his business
which characterises the ordinary man from whose life something has
He wandered by the banks of the Cam with mourning in his mien, and his
cherished friends took sympathetic coffee with him after Hall. They spoke
of Jem with that fervid admiration which University men honestly feel for
one a few years their senior who has already "done something."
"A ripping soldier" they called him and some of them entertained serious
doubts as to whether they had done wisely in choosing the less glorious
paths of peace. And Arthur Agar settled down into the old profitless
life, with this difference--that he could not dine out, that he used
blackedged notepaper, and that his delicate heliotrope neckties were
folded away in a drawer until such time as his grief should be assuaged
into that state of resignation technically called half-mourning.
One afternoon well towards the end of the term Arthur Agar's "gyp" crept
in with that valet-like confidential air which seems to be bred of too
intimate a knowledge of the extent of one's wardrobe.
"There is a gentleman, sir," he said, "as wants to see you. But in no
wise will he give his name, which, he says, you don't know it."
"Is he selling engravings?" asked Arthur.
The "gyp" looked mildly offended. As if he didn't know that sort!
"No, sir. Military man, I should take it."
Arthur Agar had met the Scotch Balaclava veteran in his time too. He
hesitated, and the "gyp," who felt that his reputation was at stake,
"He is eminently a gentleman, sir," he said.
"Well, then, show him up."
A moment later a man who might have been the wandering Jew _fin de
siecle_ stood in the doorway. His smart military moustache was small and
evidently trimmed, his face was sunburnt, and in his eyes there gleamed
the restlessness of India.
He bowed, and awaited the exit of the man. Then, coming forward, he was
able for the first time to see Arthur Agar's face distinctly, and his
At that moment Arthur Agar was staring at him with something in his face
that was almost strong. When this man had entered the room, Arthur felt
his heart give one great bound which almost choked him. There was a
strange physical feeling of vacuity in his breast which seemed to
paralyse his breathing powers, and his temples throbbed painfully.
Arthur Agar's life had been passed in eminently pleasant places. The
seamy side of existence had always been carefully hidden from his eyes.
He therefore did not recognise this strange sense which had leapt into
his being--the sense of superhuman, physical, mortal revulsion.
He was divided between two instincts. One side of his nature urged him to
shriek like a woman. Had he followed the other, he would have rushed at
this man, whom he had never seen before, seeking to do him bodily harm.
He would not have paused to reason that in anything like a struggle he
would stand no chance against the sinewy, dark-eyed soldier who stood
watching him. For there are moments even in this age of self-suppression
when we do not pause to think, when he who cannot swim will leap into
deep water to save another.
This sudden unreasoning hatred, so foreign to his gentle nature, seemed
to stagger Arthur Agar as the sudden intimation of some mortal disease
lurking in his own being would have done. He gripped the back of the
spindle-legged chair, and could find no word to say. The stranger it was
"I presume," he said, with a pleasant smile, in a voice so musical that
his hearer breathed suddenly as if his head had been lifted from water,
"I presume that you are Mr. Arthur Agar?"
While he spoke he looked past Arthur, out of the silken-draped window. He
did not seem to like the glance of this young man, for even the most
practical of us have a conscience at times.
The new-comer laid his walking-stick on the table, and turned to make
sure that the door was closed.
"I knew your step-brother," he explained, "Jem Agar, in India."
Then the instinct of the gentleman and the host asserted itself over and
above the throbbing hatred.
"Ah! Will you sit down?"
The stranger took the proffered chair and laid aside his hat. But neither
of them was at ease. There was a subtle suggestion that they had met
before and quarrelled--vague, unreasoning, quite impossible if you will;
but it was there. They were as men meeting again with a past between them
(too full of strong passions ever to be forgotten) which each was trying
in vain to ignore.
"I have brought home a few belongings of his," the stranger went on to
explain. "Just a port-manteau with some clothes and things."
He paused, and drew a small packet from the pocket of a covert-coat which
he carried over his arm.
"Here," he went on, "are some papers of his--a diary and one or two
letters. The rest of the things are at my hotel in town."
Arthur took the packet, and, still in the same dreamy, unreal way, opened
it. He turned to the last entry--dated six weeks back.
"Got out of bed at five, but nothing to be seen in the valley. I feel a
bit chippy this morning. If nothing turns up to-day shall begin to feel
uneasy. The men seem all right. They are plucky little fellows."
There was a self-consciousness about Jem Agar's diary, a selection of the
right word, which conveyed nothing to Arthur. But it fell into other
hands later on, where it was understood better.
General Michael was watching the undergraduate with the same critical
attention which he had brought to bear on the writer of the diary not two
"Did you see much of your step-brother?" he asked abruptly, feeling his
way towards his purpose.
Arthur looked up. He was getting accustomed to the loathing that he felt
for this man, as one gets accustomed to an evil odour or a physical pain.
"I saw enough of him to be very fond of him," he replied.
"And your mother--was she attached to him? Excuse my asking; I have a
The little pause was enough. Seymour Michael had expected as much.
He had never forgiven Mrs. Agar the insults she heaped upon his head in
the drawing-room of Jaggery House. It is very difficult to bring shame
home to a Jew, and on that occasion this son of the modern Ishmaelites
had been thoroughly ashamed of himself. The sting of that past ignominy
was with him still, and would remain within his heart until such time as
he could revenge himself.
With that mean, underhand watchfulness for an opportunity which is almost
excusable in one of the unfortunates against whom every man's hand is
raised to-day, he had never parted with his thirst for revenge. The
moment seemed propitious. It was within his power to lay for Anna Agar
one of those spiteful feminine traps of which a woman can only fully
appreciate the sting.
He determined to leave Mrs. Agar in ignorance of the real facts
respecting her step-son. His vengeance was to allow her to
rejoice--almost openly, as she did--in the stroke of fortune by which her
own son, Arthur, had become possessed of Stagholme. He knew the woman
well enough to foresee that in a hundred ways she would heap up ignominy,
meanness, deception, which would crumble in one vast wreck about her head
when Jem Agar returned.
It was a vengeance worthy of the man, and spiteful enough to be fully
comprehended by its victim. But, like others handling petards, Seymour
Michael grew somewhat careless, and forgot that the wrong man is
He knew his position well enough to make all safe as regarded Jem Agar on
his return. It was absolutely necessary to tell Arthur Agar--necessary
for his own safety in the future. The other two persons to whom the
secret was to be imparted were Mrs. Agar and Dora Glynde. From Mrs. Agar
Seymour Michael determined to withhold the news for his own reasons. Dora
was to be kept in the dark because she was a woman, and therefore unsafe.
This was the plan in its original shape with which Michael sought out
Arthur Agar at his rooms in college at Cambridge. It was further assisted
and elaborated by a circumstance which the originator could scarcely have
been expected to foresee--the fact of Arthur Agar's love for Dora, which
was at this time beginning to take to itself a definite existence. It
began, as all love does, with a want more or less elevated according to
the nature of the wanter. Arthur Agar required some one for whom to buy
those small and feminine luxuries which he could not for manly shame
purchase to himself. He delighted in spending money in those
establishments tersely called _magasins de luxe_ in the country from
whence their contents do emanate. He therefore got into the habit of
"picking up little things" for Dora, with the result that she in her turn
picked up that very small object, his heart.
Michael had seen enough of Arthur Agar during this short interview to
endow him with the same need of contempt which he had entertained towards
Anna Agar, the mother. The strong personal resemblance, the obvious
weakness of the boy's face, and, above all, that sense of having the
upper hand, which makes brave men out of cowards, gave him confidence. It
seemed that he had only to play the cards thrust into his hand.
"I knew," he pursued, "Jem Agar very well. He was a peculiar man: very
quiet, very reserved, and just the man to make a difficult position
rather more difficult."
Arthur's intelligence was not keen enough to follow the drift of this
"Yes," he said gently.
"He hinted to me once or twice," went on Seymour Michael, "that things
were not very harmonious at home."
"I was not aware of it," answered Arthur, whose innate gentlemanliness
told him that this should be held sacred ground.
The General shifted his position.
"He was a first-rate soldier," he said warmly.
It was obvious to both that they were not getting on. Something
seemed to hold them both back, paralysing the _savoir-faire_ which
both had acquired in their intercourse with the world. Seymour Michael
was puzzled. He was not afraid of this boy. He knew himself to be
stronger--capable of over-mastering him entirely. But for the first time
in his life he felt awkward and ill at ease.
Arthur Agar only wanted this man to go. He felt that he could forego the
news which he must undoubtedly be in a position to give if only he could
be rid of this hated presence. At moments the loathing came to him again,
like a cold hand laid upon his heart.
"Were you with him," inquired the undergraduate, "at the time of
"No. I was at head-quarters, forty miles to the rear."
There was a little pause, then suddenly Seymour Michael leant forward
with his two hands on the table that stood between them.
"Mr. Agar," he said, "are you able to keep a secret?"
"I suppose so," answered Agar apprehensively.
"Then I am going to tell you something which you must swear by all that
you hold most sacred to keep a strict secret until such time as I give
you leave to reveal it."
Arthur looked at him with a vague fear in his face. It seemed suddenly as
if this man had always been in his life--as if he would never go out of
"I am not sure that I care to hear it," he wavered.
"You must hear it. Almost the last words that Jem Agar spoke to me were
requesting me to tell you this."
"You promise that that is true?"