Part 4 out of 4
It was the devout practice that all the Rectory servants should go to
evening service, while Mrs. Glynde, or Dora, or both, remained at home to
take care of the house. On this particular evening Mrs. Glynde proposed
that Dora should stay with her, and what her mother proposed Dora usually
"Dear," said the elder lady, with a nervous little jerk of the head which
was habitual or physical, "I have heard about Arthur."
They were sitting in the drawing-room, with windows open to the ground,
and the fading light was insufficient to read by, although both had
"Yes, mother," answered the girl in rather a tired voice, quite
forgetting to be cheerful. "I should like to know exactly what you
"Well, Anna told me," and there was a whole world of distrust in the
little phrase, "that Arthur had asked you to be his wife, and that you
had refused without giving a reason."
"I gave him a reason," replied Dora; "the best one. I said that I did not
There was a little pause. The two women looked out on to the quiet lawn.
They seemed singularly anxious to avoid looking at each other.
"But that might come, dear; I think it would come."
"I know it would not," replied Dora quietly. There was a dreaminess in
her voice, as if she were repeating something she had heard or said
Suddenly Mrs. Glynde rose from her chair, and going towards her daughter,
she knelt on the soft carpet, still afraid to look at her face. There was
something suggestive and strange in the attitude, for the elder woman was
crouching at the feet of the younger.
"My darling," she whispered, "I know, I _know!_ I have known all along.
But mind, no one else knows, no one suspects! _It_ can never come to you
again in this life. Women are like that, it never comes to them twice. To
some it never comes at all; think of that, dear, it never comes to them
at all! Surely that is worse?"
Dora took the nervous, eager hands in her own quiet grasp and held them
still. But she said nothing.
"I have prayed night and morning," the elder woman went on in the same
pleading whisper, "that strength might be given you, and I think my
prayers were heard. For you have been strong, and no one has known except
me, and I do not matter. The strength must have come from somewhere. I
like to think that I had something to do with it, however little."
Again there was a silence. Across the quiet garden, from the church that
was hidden among the trees, the sound of the evening hymn came rising and
falling, the harshness of the rustic voices toned down by the whispering
of the leaves.
"I know," Mrs. Glynde went on, speaking perhaps out of her own
experience, "that now it must seem that there is nothing left. I know
that It can never come to you, but something else may--a sort of
alleviation; something that is a little stronger than resignation, and
many people think that it is love. It is not love; never believe that!
But it is surely sent because so many women have--to go through
life--without that--which makes life worth living."
"Hush, dear!" said Dora; and Mrs. Glynde paused as if to collect herself.
Perhaps her daughter stopped her just in time.
"There is," she went on in a calmer voice, "a sort of satisfaction in the
duties that come and have to be performed. The duties towards one's
husband and the others--the others, darling--are the best. They are not
the same, not the same as if--as they might have been, but sometimes it
is a great alleviation. And the time passes somehow."
It is not the clever people who make all the epigrams; but sometimes
those who merely live and feel, and are perhaps objects of ridicule. Mrs.
Glynde was one of these. She had unwittingly made an epigram. She had
summed up life in five words--the time passes somehow."
"And, dear," she went on, "it is not wise, perhaps it is not quite right,
to turn one's back upon an alleviation which is offered. Arthur would be
very kind to you. He is really fond of you, and perhaps the very fact of
his not being clever or brilliant or anything like that might be a
blessing in the future, for he would not expect so much."
"He would have to expect nothing," said Dora, speaking for the first
time, "because I could give him nothing."
She spoke in rather an indifferent voice, and in the gloom her mother
could not see her face. It was a singular thing that neither of them
seemed to take Arthur Agar's feelings into account in the very smallest
degree; and this must be accounted to them for wisdom.
Dora was, as her mother had said, very strong. She never gave way. Her
delicate lips never quivered, but she took care to keep them close
pressed. Only in her eyes was the pain to be seen, and perhaps that was
why her mother did not dare to look.
"There is no hurry," she pleaded. "You need not decide now."
"But," answered Dora, "I have decided now, and he knows my decision."
"Perhaps after some time--some years?" suggested Mrs. Glynde.
"A great many years," put in Dora.
"If he asks you again--oh! I know it would be better, dear; better for
you in every way. I do not say that you would be quite happy. But it
would be a sort of happiness; there would be less unhappiness, because
you would have less time to think. I do not say anything about the
position and the wealth and such considerations, for they are not of much
importance to a good woman."
"After a great many years," said Dora, in that calm and judicial voice
which fell like ice on her mother's heart, "I will see--if he chooses to
"Yes, but--" began Mrs. Glynde, but she did not go on. That which she was
about to say would scarcely have been appropriate. But so far as the
facts were concerned she might just as well have said it. For Dora knew
as well as she did that Arthur Agar would not wait. Women are not blind
to manifest facts. They know us, my brothers, better than we think. And
they are not quite so romantic as we take them to be. Their love is a
better thing than ours, because it is more practical and more defined.
They do not seek an ideal of their own imagination; but when something
approaching to it crosses their path in the flesh they know what they
want, and they do not change.
Before the silence was again broken the murmur of voices told them that
the church doors had been opened, and presently they discerned a female
form crossing the lawn towards the open window. It was Sister Cecilia,
walking with that mincing lightness of tread which seems to be the
outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual superiority over the
remainder of womanhood. Good women--those mistaken females who move in an
atmosphere of ostentatious good works--usually walk like this. Like this
they enter the humble cot with a little soup and a lot of advice. Like
this they smilingly step, where angels would fear to tread, upon feelings
which they are incapable of understanding.
Mrs. Glynde got quietly up and left the room. As the door closed behind
her Sister Cecilia's gently persuasive voice was heard.
"Dora! Dora dear!"
"Yes," replied the girl without any enthusiasm, rising and going to the
"Will you walk with me a little way across the fields? It is such a
"Yes, if you like."
And Dora passed out of the open window.
"I am sorry," said Sister Cecilia after a few paces, "that you were not
in church. We had such a bright service."
Dora, like some more of us, wondered vaguely where the adjective applied,
especially on a gloomy evening without candles, but she said nothing.
"I stayed at home with mother," she explained practically. "The servants
were all out." Sister Cecilia was not listening. She was gazing up at the
sky, where a few stars were beginning to show themselves.
"One feels," she murmured with a sigh, "on such an evening as this, that,
after all, nothing matters much."
"About the servants do you mean? They are going on better now."
"No, dear, about life. I mean that at times one feels that this cannot be
the end of it all."
"Well, we ought to feel that, I suppose, being Christians."
"And some day we shall see the meaning of all our troubles," pursued
Sister Cecilia. "It is so hard for us older ones, who have passed through
it, to stand by helpless, only guessing at the pain and anguish of it
all, whereas, perhaps, we could help if we only knew. A little more
candour, a little more confidence might so easily lead to mutual help and
"Possibly," admitted Dora, without any encouragement.
"I am so sorry for poor Arthur!" whispered Sister Cecilia, apparently to
the evening shades.
Dora was silent. She knew how to treat Sister Cecilia. Jem had taught her
"It has been such a terrible blow. His letters to his mother are quite
Dora reserved her opinion of grown-up men who write heartbroken letters
to their mothers.
"I know all about it," Sister Cecilia went on, quite regardless of the
truth, as some good people are. "Dora, dear, I know all about it."
Silence, a silence which reminded Sister Cecilia of a sense of
discomfiture which had more than once been hers in conversation with Jem.
"Have you nothing to tell me, dear?" she inquired. "Nothing to say to
"Nothing," replied Dora pleasantly. "Especially as you know all about
"Will you never change your mind?" persuasively.
"No, I am not the sort of person to change my mind."
There was a little pause, and again Sister Cecilia whispered to the
"I cannot help hoping that some day it may be different. It is not as if
there were any one else--?"
"I dare say," added Sister Cecilia, after waiting in vain for an answer
to her implied question, "that I am wrong, but I cannot help being in
favour of a little more candour, a little mutual confidence."
"I cannot help feeling," replied Dora quietly, "that we are all best
employed when we mind our own business."
"Yes, dear, I know. But it is very hard to stand idly by and see young
people make mistakes which can only bring them sorrow. I want to tell you
to think very deeply before you elect to lead the life of a single woman.
It is a life full of temptation to idleness and self-indulgence. There
are many single women who, I am really afraid, are quite useless in the
world. They only gossip and pry into their neighbours' affairs and make
mischief. It is because they have nothing to do. I have known several
women like that, and I cannot help thinking that they would have been
happier if they had married. Perhaps they did not have the chance. One
does not understand these things."
Sister Cecilia cast her eyes upwards toward the tree-tops to see if
perchance the explanation was written there.
"Of course," she went on complacently, drawing down her bonnet-strings,
"there are many useful lives of single women. Lives which the world would
sadly miss should it please God to take them. Women who live, not for
themselves, but for others; who go about the world helping their
neighbours with advice and the fruits of their own experience; ever the
first to go to the afflicted and to those who are in trouble. They do not
receive their reward here, they are not always thanked. The ignorant are
sometimes even rude. They have only the knowledge that they are doing
"That _must_ be a satisfaction," murmured Dora fervently.
"It is, dear; it is. But--you will excuse me, Dora dear, if I say
this?--I do not think you are that sort of woman."
"No," answered Dora, "I don't think I am."
"And that is why I have said this to you. Now, don't answer me, dear.
Just think about it quietly. I think I have done my duty in telling you
what, was on my mind. It is always best, although it is sometimes
difficult, or even painful; but then, it is one's duty. Kiss me, dear!
And so Sister Cecilia left Dora--mincing away into the gloom of the
overhanging trees. And so she leaves these pages. Verily the good have
their reward here below in a coat of self-complacency which is as
impervious to the buffets of life as to the sarcasm of the worldly.
A STAB IN THE DARK
Slander, meanest spawn of Hell;
And women's slander is the worst.
Mrs. Agar was a person incapable of awaiting that vague result called the
development of things.
Arthur had never been forced to wait for anything in his life. No longer
at least than tradespeople required, and in many cases not so long, for
Mrs. Agar had an annoying way of refusing to listen to reason. She never
allowed that laws applying to ordinary people, served more or less
faithfully by tailor or dressmaker, applied to herself or to Arthur. And
tradespeople, one finds are not always of the same mind as the Medes and
Persians--they square matters quietly in the bill. They had to do it very
quietly indeed with Mrs. Agar, who endeavoured strenuously to get the
best value for her money all through life; a remnant of Jaggery House,
Clapham Common, which the placid wealth of Stagholme never obliterated.
After the luncheon, specially prepared and laid before the Rector, this
second Rebecca awaited the result impatiently. But nothing came of it.
Although Mrs. Agar now looked upon Dora as the latest whim of the
not-to-be-denied Arthur, she could hardly consider Mr. Glynde in the
light of a tradesman retailing the said commodity, and, therefore, to be
bullied and harassed into making haste. She reflected with misgiving that
Mr. Glynde was an exponent of the tiresome art of talking over and
thinking out matters which required neither words nor thought, and saw no
prospect of an immediate furtherance of her design.
With a mistaken and much practised desire of striking when the iron was
hot, Mrs. Agar, like many a wiser person, began, therefore, to bang about
in all directions, hitting not only the iron but the anvil, her own
knuckles and the susceptibilities of any one standing in the
neighbourhood. She could not leave things to Mr. Glynde, but must needs
see Dora herself. She had in her mind the nucleus of a simple if
scurrilous scheme which will show itself hereafter. Her opportunity
presented itself a few days later.
A neighbouring family counting itself county, presumably on the strength
of never being able to absent themselves from the favoured neighbourhood
on account of monetary incapacity, gave its annual garden-party at this
time. To this entertainment the whole countryside was in the habit of
repairing--not with an idea of enjoying itself, but because everybody did
it. To be bidden to this garden-party was in itself a _cachet_ of
respectability. This indeed was the only satisfaction to be gathered from
the festivity. If the honour was great, the hospitality was small. If the
condescension was vast, the fare provided was verging on the stingy. Here
were served by half-starved domestic servants, in the smallest of
tumblers, "cups" wherein were mixed liquors, such as cider, usually
consumed by self-respecting persons in the undiluted condition and in
mugs. Upon cucumber-cup, taken in county society, as on a dinner of
herbs, one hardly expects the guest to grow convivial. Therefore at this
garden-party those bidden to the feast were in the habit of wandering
sadly through the shrubbery seeking whom they might avoid, and in the
course of such a perambulation, with a young man conversant of himself,
Dora met Mrs. Agar. Even the mistress of Stagholme was preferable to the
young man from London, and besides--there were associations. So Dora drew
Mrs. Agar into her promenade, and presently the young man got his
At first they talked of local topics, and Mrs. Agar, who had a fine sense
of hospitality, said her say about the cider-cup. Then she gave an
awkward little laugh, and with an assumption of lightness which did not
succeed she said:
"I hope, dear, you do not intend to keep my poor boy in suspense much
"Do you mean Arthur?" asked Dora.
"Yes, dear. I really don't see why there should be this absurd reserve
"I am quite willing," replied the girl, "to hear what you have to say
"Yes, but not to talk of it."
"Well, I suppose Arthur has told you all there is to tell. If there is
anything more that you want to know I shall be very glad to tell you."
"Well, of course, I don't understand it at all," burst out Mrs. Agar
eagerly. This was quite true; neither she nor Arthur could understand how
any one could refuse such a glorious offer as he had made.
"Perhaps I can explain. Arthur asked me to marry him. I quite appreciated
the honour, but I declined it."
"Yes, but why? Surely you didn't mean it?"
"I did mean it."
"Well," explained Mrs. Agar, with a little toss of the head, "I am sure I
cannot see what more you want. There are many girls who would be glad to
be mistress of Stagholme."
And it must be remembered that she said this knowing quite well that Jem
was probably alive. There are some crimes which women commit daily in the
family circle which deserve a greater punishment than that meted out to a
"That is precisely what I ventured to point out to Arthur," said Dora,
unconsciously borrowing her father's ironical neatness of enunciation.
"But why shouldn't you take the opportunity? There are not many estates
like it in England. Your position would be as good as that of a titled
lady, and I am sure you could not want a better husband."
"I like Arthur as a friend, but I could never marry him, so it is useless
to discuss the question."
"But why?" persisted Mrs. Agar.
"Because I do not care for him in the right way."
"But that would come," said Mrs. Agar. It was only natural that she
should use an argument which is accountable for more misery on earth than
mothers dream of.
"No, it would never come."
Mrs. Agar gave a cunning little laugh, and paused so as to lend
additional weight to her next remark.
"That is a dangerous thing for a girl to say."
"Is it?" inquired Dora indifferently.
"Yes, because they can never be sure, unless--"
"Unless what? I am quite sure."
"Unless there is some one else," said Mrs. Agar, with an exaggerated
significance suggestive of the servants' hall.
Dora did not answer at once. They walked on for a few moments in silence,
passing other guests walking in couples. Then Dora replied with a
succinctness acquired from her father:
"Generalities about women," she said, "are always a mistake. Indeed, all
generalities are dangerous. But if you and Arthur care to apply this to
me, you are at liberty to do so. Whatever generalities you apply and
whatever you say will make no difference to the main question. Moreover,
you will, perhaps, be acting a kinder part if you give Arthur to
understand once for all that my decision is final."
"As you like, dear, as you like," muttered Mrs. Agar, apparently
abandoning the argument, whereas in reality she had not yet begun it.
"How do you do, dear Mrs. Martin?" she went on in the same breath, bowing
and smiling to a lady who passed them at that moment.
"Of course," she said, returning in a final way to the question after a
few moments' silence, "of course I do not believe all I hear; in fact, I
contradict a good deal. But I have been told that gossips talked about
you a good deal last year, at the time of Jem's death. I think it only
fair that you should know."
"Thank you," said Dora curtly.
"Of course, dear, _I_ didn't believe anything about it."
"Thank you," said Dora again.
"I should have been sorry to do so."
Then Dora turned upon her suddenly.
"What do you mean, Aunt Anna?" she asked with determination.
"Oh, nothing, dear, nothing. Don't get flurried about it."
"I am not at all flurried," replied Dora quietly. "You said that you
would be sorry to have to believe what gossips said of me last year at
the time of Jem's death--"
"Dora," interrupted Mrs. Agar, "I never said anything against you in any
way; how can you say such a thing?"
"And," continued Dora, with an unpleasant calmness of manner, "I must ask
you to explain. What did the gossips say, and why should you be sorry to
have to believe it?"
Mrs. Agar's reluctance was not quite genuine nor was it well enough
simulated to deceive Dora.
"Well, dear," she said, "if you insist, they said that there had been
something between you and Jem--long, long ago, of course, before he went
out to India."
Dora shrugged her shoulders.
"They are welcome to say what they like."
Mrs. Agar was silent, awaiting a second question.
"And why should you be sorry to believe that?" inquired the girl.
"I--I hardly like to tell you," said Mrs. Agar, in a low voice.
Dora waited in silence, without appearing to heed Mrs. Agar's reluctance.
"I am afraid, dear," went on the elder lady, when she saw that there was
no chance of assistance, "that we have been all sadly mistaken in Jem. He
was not--all that we thought him."
"In what way?" asked Dora. She had turned quite white, and her lips were
suddenly dry and parched. She held her parasol a little lower, so that
Mrs. Agar could not see her face. She was sure enough of her voice. She
had had practice in that.
"In what way was Jem not all that we thought him?" she repeated evenly,
like a lesson learnt by heart.
Mrs. Agar stammered. She tried to blush, but she could not manage that.
"I cannot very well give you details. Perhaps, when you are older. You
know, dear, in India people are not very particular. They have peculiar
ideas, I mean, of morals--different from ours. And perhaps he saw no harm
"In what?" inquired Dora gravely.
"Well, in the life they lead out there. It appears that there was some
unfortunate attachment. I think she was married or something like that."
"Who told you this?" asked Dora, in a voice like a threat.
"A man told Arthur at Cambridge--one of poor Jem's fellow-officers. The
man who brought home the diary and things."
Having once begun Mrs. Agar found herself obliged to go on. She had not
time to pause and reflect that she was now staking everything upon the
possibility of Jem's death subsequent to the disaster in which he was
supposed to have perished.
Dora did not believe one word of this story, although she was quite
without proof to the contrary. Jem's letters had not been frequent, nor
had they been remarkable for minuteness of detail respecting his own
life. Mrs. Agar had done her best to put a stop to this correspondence
altogether, and had succeeded in bringing about a subtle reserve on both
sides. She had persistently told Jem that Dora was evidently attached to
Arthur, and that their marriage was only the question of a few years. Of
this Jem had never found any confirmatory hint in Dora's letters, and
from some mistaken sense of chivalry refrained from writing to ask her
point-blank if it were true.
"And why," said Dora, "do you tell me this? In case what the gossips said
might be true?"
"Ye-es, dear, perhaps it was that."
"So as to save me from cherishing any mistaken memory?"
"Yes, it may have been that."
And Mrs. Agar was surprised to see Dora turn her back upon her as if she
had been something loathsome to look upon, and walk away.
FROM THE JAWS OF DEATH
When the heart speaks, Glory itself is an illusion.
The _Mahanaddy_ had just turned her blunt prow out westward from the
harbour of Port Said, sniffing her native north wind, with a gentle
rising movement to that old Mediterranean eastward-tending swell. The
lights of the most iniquitous town on earth were fading away in the mist
of the desert on the left hand, and on the right the gloom of the sea
merged into a grey sky.
The dinner-hour had passed, and the passengers were lolling about on the
long quarter-deck, talking lazily after the manner of men and women who
have little to say and much time wherein to say it.
It was quite easy to perceive that they had left a voyage of many days
behind them, for the funny man had exhausted himself and the politicians
were asleep. The lifeless, homeward-bound flirtations had waned long ago,
and no one looked twice at any one else. They all knew each other's
dresses and vices and little aggravating habits, and only three or four
of them were aware that human nature runs deeper than such superficial
Away forward, behind the sheep-pens, an Italian gentleman in the ice
industry was scraping on a yellow fiddle which looked sticky. But like
many things of plain exterior this unprepossessing instrument had
something in it, something that the Italian gentleman knew how to
extract, and all the ship was hushed into listening. Such as had
conversation left spoke in low tones, and even the stewards in the pantry
ceased for a time to test the strength of the dinner-plates.
On a small clear space of deck between the door of the doctor's cabin and
the saloon gangway two men were walking slowly backwards and forwards.
They were both tall men, both large, and consequently both inclined to
taciturnity. They had said, perhaps, as little as any two persons on
board, which may have accounted for the fact that they were talking now,
and still seemed to have plenty to say.
One was dark and clean-shaven, with something of the sea in his mien and
gait. His nose and chin were singularly clean cut, and suggestive of an
ancestral type. This was the ship's doctor, a man who probed men's hearts
as well as their bodies, and wrote of what he found there. His companion
was an antitype--a representative of the fair race found in England by
the ancestors of the other when they came and conquered. He wore a beard,
and his face was burnt to the colour of mahogany, which had a strange
effect in contrast to the bluest of Saxon eyes.
The Doctor was talking.
"Then," he was saying, "who the devil are you?"
The other smiled, a gentle, triumphant smile. The smile of a man who,
humbly recognising himself at a just estimation, is conscious of having
outwitted another, cleverer than himself.
"You finish your pipe," he said, and he walked away with long firm
strides towards the saloon stairs. The Doctor went to the rail, where,
resting his arms on the solid teak, he leant, gazing thoughtfully out
over the sea, which was part of his life. For he knew the great waters,
and loved them with all the quiet strength of a slow-tongued man.
Before very long some one came behind and touched him on the shoulder. He
turned, and in the fading light looked into the smiling face of his late
companion--the same and yet quite different, for the beard was gone, and
there only remained the long fair moustache.
"Yes," said Dr. Mark Ruthine, "Jem Agar. I was a fool not to know you at
A sort of shyness flickered for a moment in the blue eyes.
"I have been practising so hard during the last ten months to look like
some one else that I hardly feel like myself," he said.
"Um-m! There was something uncanny about you when you first came on
board. I used to watch you at meals, and wonder what it was. By God,
Agar, I _am_ glad!"
"Thanks," replied Jem Agar. He was looking round him rather nervously.
"You don't think there is anybody on board who will know me, do you?"
"No one, barring the Captain."
"Oh," said Agar calmly, "he is all right. He can keep his mouth shut."
"There is no doubt about that," replied the Doctor.
A little pause followed, during which they both listened involuntarily to
the ice-cream merchant's musical voice, which was now floating over the
silent decks, raised in song.
"I should like to hear all about it some day," said the ship's surgeon at
last. He knew his man, and no detail of the strange lives that passed the
horizon of his daily existence was ever forgotten. Only he usually found
that those who had the most to tell required a little assistance in their
"It is rather a rum business," answered Jem Agar, not displeased.
At this moment the ship's bell rang four clear notes into the night.
"Ten o'clock," said the Doctor. "Come into my cabin and have a smoke; the
Captain will be in soon. He would like to hear the story too."
So they passed into the cabin, and before they had been there many
minutes the Captain joined them. For a moment he stood in the doorway,
then he came forward with outstretched hand.
"Well," he said, "all that I can say is that you ought to be dead. But
it's not my business."
He had seen too many freaks of fortune to be surprised at this.
"I thought," he continued, "that there was something familiar about the
back of your head. Back of a man's head never changes. It's a funny
He sat down in his usual chair, and looked with a cheery smile upon him
who had risen from the death column of the _Times_. Then he turned to his
"You know, Agar," he said, "I was beastly sorry about that--death of
yours. Cut me up wonderfully for a few minutes. That is saying a lot in
"It is very kind of you to say so," he said rather awkwardly.
"And I," added Dr. Ruthine from behind the whisky and soda tray, in the
deliberate voice of a man who is saying something with an effort, "felt
that it was a pity. That is how it struck me--a pity."
Then, very disjointedly, and in a manner which could scarcely be set down
here, Major James Agar told his singular story. There are--thank
heaven!--many such stories still untold; there are, one would be inclined
to hope, many such still uncommenced. As a nation we may be on the
decline, but there is something to go on with in us yet.
Once when the narrator paused, Dr. Ruthine went to the side table and
opened some bottles.
"Whisky?" he inquired, with curt hospitality, "or anything else your
fancy may paint, down to tea."
Agar rose to pour out his own allowance, and for a moment the two men
stood together. With the critical eye of a soldier, which seems to weigh
flesh and blood, he looked his host for the time being up and down.
"They don't make men like you and me on tea," he said, reaching out his
hand towards a tumbler.
Then the story went on. At first the ship's doctor listened to it with
interest but without absorption, then suddenly something seemed to catch
his attention and hold it riveted. When a pause came he leant forward,
pointing an emphasising finger.
"When you spoke just now of the chief," he said, "did you mean Michael?"
"What! Seymour Michael?"
The Captain tapped his pipe against his boot and leant back with the
shrug of the shoulders awaiting further developments.
"And you mean to tell me that you put yourself entirely in the hands of
Seymour Michael?" pursued the Doctor.
"Yes, why not?"
Mark Ruthine shook his head with a little laugh. "I always thought, Agar,
that you were a bit of a fool!"
"I have sometimes suspected it myself," admitted the soldier meekly.
"Why, man," said Ruthine, "Seymour Michael is one of the biggest rascals
on God's earth. I would not trust him with fourpence round the corner."
"Nor would I," put in the Captain, "and the sum is not excessive."
Jem Agar was sipping his whisky and soda with the placidity of a giant
who fears no open fight and never thinks of foul play.
"I don't see," he muttered, "what harm he can do me."
"No more do I, at the moment," replied the Doctor; "but the man is a liar
and an unscrupulous cad. I have kept an eye on him for years because he
interests me. He has never run a straight course since he came into the
field; he has consistently sacrificed truth, honour, and his best friend
to his own ambition ever since the beginning."
Jem Agar smiled at the Doctor's vehemence, although he was aware that
such a display was far from being characteristic of the man.
"Of course," he admitted, "in the matter of honour and glory I expect to
be swindled. But I don't care. I know the chap's reputation, and all
that, but he can hardly get rid of the fact that I have done the thing
and he has not."
"I was not thinking so much of that," replied the other. "Men sell their
souls for honour and glory and never get paid."
He paused; then with the sure touch of one who has dabbled with pen and
ink in the humanities, he laid his finger on the vulnerable spot.
"I was thinking more," he said, "of what you had trusted him to
do--telling certain persons, I mean, that you were not dead. He is just
as likely as not to have suppressed the information."
Jem Agar was looking very grave, with a sudden pinched appearance about
the lips which was only half concealed by his moustache.
"Why should he do that?" he asked sharply.
"He would do it if it suited his purpose. He is not the man to take into
consideration such things as feelings--especially the feelings of
"You're a bit hard on him, Ruthine," said Jem doubtfully. "Why should it
suit his convenience?"
"Secrecy was essential for your purpose and his; in telling a secret one
doubles the risk of its disclosure each time a new confidant is admitted.
Besides, the man's nature is quite extraordinarily secretive. He has
Jewish and Scotch blood in his veins, and the result is that he would
rather disseminate false news than true on the off chance of benefiting
thereby later on. For men of that breed each piece of accurate
information, however trivial, has a marketable value, and they don't part
with it unless they get their price."
There followed a silence, during which Jem Agar went back in mental
retrospection to the only interview he had ever had with Seymour Michael,
and the old lurking sense of distrust awoke within his heart.
"But," said the Captain, who was an optimist--he even applied that theory
to human nature--"I suppose it is all right now. Everybody knows now that
you are among the quick--eh?"
"No," replied Jem, "only Michael; it was arranged that I should telegraph
"Of course," the Doctor hastened to say, for he had perceived a change in
Agar's demeanour, "all this is the purest supposition. It is only a
theory built upon a man's character. It is wonderful how consistent
people are. Judge how a man would act and you will find that he has acted
like it afterwards."
As if in illustration of the theory Jem Agar looked gravely determined,
but uttered no threat directed towards Seymour Michael. His quiet face
was a threat in itself.
"Well," he said, rising, "I am keeping you fellows from your slumbers. I
am still sleeping on deck; can't get accustomed to the atmosphere below
decks after six months' sleeping in the open."
He nodded and left them.
"Rum chap!" muttered the Captain, looking at his watch when the footsteps
had died away over the silent decks.
"One of the queerest specimens I know," retorted Dr. Mark Ruthine, who
was fingering a pen and looking longingly towards the inkstand. The
Captain--a man of renowned discretion--quietly departed.
There is no more distrustful man than the simple gentleman of honour who
finds himself deceived and tricked. It is as if the bottom suddenly fell
out of his trust in all mankind, and there is nothing left but a mocking
void. Jem Agar lay on his mattress beneath the awning, and stared hard at
a bright star near the horizon. He was realising that life is, after all,
a sorry thing of chance, and that all his world might be hanging at that
moment on the word of an untrustworthy man.
Before morning he had determined to telegraph from Malta to Seymour
Michael to meet him at Plymouth on the arrival of the _Mahanaddy_ at that
And yet God has not said a word.
One fine morning in June the _Mahanaddy_ steamed with stately
deliberation into the calm water inside Plymouth breakwater. Many writers
love to dwell with pathetic insistence on incidents of a departure; but
there is also pathos--perhaps deeper and truer because more subtle--in
the arrival of the homeward-board ship.
Who can tell? There may have been others as anxious to look on the green
slopes of Mount Edgecumbe as the man with the mahogany-coloured face who
stood ever smoking--smoking--always at the forward starboard corner of
the hurricane deck. His story had not leaked out, because only two men on
board knew it--men with no conversational leaks whatever. He had made no
other friends. But many watched him half interestedly, and perhaps a few
divined the great calm impatience beneath the suppressed quiet of his
"That man--Jem Agar--is dangerous," the Doctor had said to the Captain
more than once, and Mark Ruthine was not often egregiously mistaken in
"Um!" replied the Captain of the _Mahanaddy_. "There is an uncanny calm."
They were talking about him now as the Captain--his own pilot for
Plymouth and the Channel--walked slowly backwards and forwards on the
bridge. It seemed quite natural for the Doctor to be sitting on the rail
by the engine-room telegraph. The passengers and the men were quite
accustomed to it. This friendship was a matter of history to the homeless
world of men and women who travelled east and west through the Suez
"He has asked me," the Doctor was saying, "to go ashore with him at
Plymouth; I don't know why. I imagine he is a little bit afraid of
wringing Seymour Michael's neck."
"Just as likely as not," observed the Captain. "It would be a good thing
done, but don't let Agar do it."
"May I leave the ship at Plymouth?" asked Mark Ruthine, with a quiet air
of obedience which seemed to be accepted with the gravity with which it
"I don't see why you should not," was the reply. "Everybody goes ashore
there except about half a dozen men, who certainly will not want your
"I should rather like to do it. We come from the same part of the
country, and Agar seems anxious to have me. He is not a chap to say much,
but I imagine there will be some sort of a _denouement_."
The Captain was looking through a pair of glasses ahead, towards the
"All right," he said. "Go."
And he continued to attend to his business with that watchful care which
made the _Mahanaddy_ one of the safest boats afloat.
Presently Mark Ruthine left the bridge and went to his cabin to pack. As
he descended he paused, and retracing his steps forward he went and
touched Jem Agar on the arm.
"It's all right," he said. "I'll go with you."
Agar nodded. He was gazing at the green English hills and far faint
valley of the Tamar with a curious gleam of excitement in his eyes.
Half an hour later they landed.
"You stick by me," said Jem Agar, when they discerned the small wiry form
of Seymour Michael awaiting them on the quay. "I want you to hear
This man was, as Ruthine had said, dangerous. He was too calm. There was
something grand and terrifying in that white heat which burned in his
eyes and drove the blood from his lips.
Seymour Michael came forward with his pleasant smile, waving his hand in
greeting to Jem and to Ruthine, whom he knew.
Jem shook hands with him.
"I'm all right, thanks," he said curtly, in answer to Seymour Michael's
"Good business--good business," exclaimed the General, who seemed
somewhat unnecessarily excited.
"Old Mark Ruthine too!" he went on. "You look as fit as ever. Still
turning your thousands out of the British public--eh!"
"Yes," said Ruthine, "thank you."
"Just run ashore for half an hour, I suppose?" continued Seymour Michael,
looking hurriedly out towards the _Mahanaddy_.
"No," replied Ruthine, "I leave the ship here."
The small man glanced from the face of one to the other with something
sly and uneasy in his eyes.
Jem Agar had altered since he saw him last in the little tent far up on
the slopes of the Pamir. He was older and graver. There was also a wisdom
in his eyes--that steadfast wise look that comes to eyes which have
looked too often on death. Mark Ruthine he knew, and him he distrusted,
with that quiet keenness of observation which was his.
"Now," he said eagerly to Jem, "what I thought we might do was to have a
little breakfast and catch the eleven o'clock train up to town. If
Ruthine will join us, I for one shall be very pleased. He won't mind our
Mark Ruthine was attending to the luggage, which was being piled upon a
"Have you not had breakfast?" asked Agar.
"Well, I have had a little, but I don't mind a second edition. That
waiter chap at the hotel got me out of bed much too soon. However, it is
worth getting up the night before to see you back, old chap."
"Is there not an earlier train than the eleven o'clock?" asked Agar,
looking at his watch. There was a singular constraint in his manner which
Seymour Michael could not understand.
"Yes, there is one at nine forty-five."
"Then let us go by that. We can get something at the station, if we want
"Make it a bottle of champagne to celebrate the return of the explorer,
and I am your man," said Michael heartily.
"Make it anything you like," answered Agar, in a gentler voice. He was
beginning to come under the influence of Seymour Michael's sweet voice,
and of that fascination which nearly all educated Jews unconsciously
He turned and beckoned to Mark Ruthine, who presently joined them, after
paying the boatmen.
"The nine forty-five is the train," he said to him. "We may as well walk
up. The streets of Plymouth are not pleasant to drive through."
So the cab was sent on with the luggage, and the three men turned to the
slope that leads up to the Hoe.
There was some sort of constraint over them, and they reached the summit
of the ascent without having exchanged a word.
When they stood on the Hoe, where the old Eddystone lighthouse is now
erected, Seymour Michael turned and looked out over the bay where the
ships lay at anchor.
"The good old _Mahanaddy_," he said, "the finest ship I have ever sailed
Neither man answered him, but they turned also and looked, standing one
on each side of him.
Then at last Jem Agar spoke, breaking a silence which had been brooding
since the _Mahanaddy_ came out of the Canal.
"I want to know," he said, "exactly how things stand with my people at
He continued to look out over the bay towards the _Mahanaddy_, but Mark
Ruthine was looking at Seymour Michael.
"Yes," replied the General, "I wanted to talk to you about that. That was
really my reason for proposing that we should wait till the second
"There cannot be much to say," said Jem Agar rather coldly.
"Well, I wanted to tell you all about it."
There was what the Captain had called an uncanny calm in the voice.
General Michael did not answer, and Jem turned slowly towards him.
"I presume," he said, "that I am right in taking it for granted that you
have carried out your share of the contract?"
"My dear fellow, it has been perfectly wonderful. The secret has been
"By all concerned?"
Michael was glancing furtively at Mark Ruthine, as the fox glances back
over his shoulder, not at the huntsman, but at the hounds.
"Did you tell them personally, or did you write?" pursued Jem Agar
"My dear fellow," replied Michael, pulling out his watch, "it is a long
story, and we must get to the train."
"No," replied Agar, in the calm voice which raised a sort of "fearful
joy" in Ruthine's soul, "we need not be getting to the train yet, and
there is no reason for it to be a long story."
Seymour Michael gave an uneasy little laugh, which met with no response
whatever. The two taller men exchanged a glance over his head. Up to that
moment Jem Agar had hoped for the best. He had a greater faith in human
nature than Mark Ruthine had managed to retain.
"Have you or have you not told those people whom you swore to me that you
would tell, out there, that night?" asked Jem.
"I told your brother," answered the General with dogged indifference.
There was an ugly gleam in the blue eyes.
"I didn't tell him not to tell the others."
"But you suggested it to him," put in Mark Ruthine, with the knowledge of
mankind that was his.
"What has it got to do with you, at any rate?" snapped Seymour Michael.
"Nothing," replied Ruthine, looking across at Agar.
"You did not tell Dora Glynde?"
General Michael shrugged his shoulders.
"Why?" asked Jem hoarsely. It was singular, that sudden hoarseness, and
the Doctor, whose business such things were, made a note of it.
"I didn't dare to do it. Why, man, it was too dangerous to tell a single
soul. If it had leaked out you would have been murdered up there as
sure as hell. There would have been plenty of men ready to do it for
"That was _my_ business," answered Jem coolly. "You promised, you
_swore_, that you would tell Dora Glynde, my step-mother, and my brother
Arthur. And you didn't do it. Why?"
"I have given you my reasons--it was too dangerous. Besides, what does it
matter? It is all over now."
"No," said Jem, "not yet."
The clock struck nine at that moment; and from the harbour came the sound
of the ship's bells, high and clear, sounding the hour. The Hoe was quite
deserted; these three men were alone. A silence followed the ringing of
the bells, like the silence that precedes a verdict.
Then Jem Agar spoke.
"I asked Mark Buthine," he said, "to come ashore with me, because I had
reason to suspect your good faith. I can't see now why you should have
done this, but I suppose that people who are born liars, as Ruthine says
you are, prefer lying to telling the truth. You are coming down now with
Ruthine and myself to Stagholme. I shall tell the whole story as it
happened, and then you will have to explain matters to the two ladies as
best you can."
A sudden unreasoning terror took possession of Seymour Michael. He knew
that one of the ladies was Anna Agar, the woman who hated him almost as
much as he deserved. He was afraid of her; for it is one consolation to
the wronged to know that the wronger goes all through his life with a
dull, unquenchable fear upon his heart. But this was not sufficient,
this could not account for the mighty terror which clutched his soul at
that moment, and he knew it. He felt that this was something beyond
that--something which could not be reasoned away. It was a physical
terror, one of those emotions which seem to attack the body independently
of the soul, a terror striking the Man before it reaches the Mind. His
limbs trembled; it was only by an effort that he kept his teeth clenched
to prevent them from chattering.
"And," said Jem Agar, "if I find that any harm has been done--if any one
has suffered for this, I will give you the soundest thrashing you have
ever had in your life."
Both his hearers knew now who Dora Glynde was, what she was to him. He
neither added to their knowledge nor sought to mislead. He was not, as we
have said, _de ceux qui s'expliquent_.
"Come," he added, and turning he led the way across the Hoe.
Seymour Michael followed quietly. He was cowed by the inward fear which
would not be allayed, and the judicial calmness of these two men
paralysed him. Once, in the train, he began explaining matters over
"We will hear all that at Stagholme," said Jem sternly, and Mark Ruthine
merely looked at him over the top of a newspaper which he was not
To thine own self be true;
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Human nature is, after all, a hopeless failure. Not even the very best
instinct is safe. It will probably be turned sooner or later to evil
The best instinct in Anna Agar was her maternal love, and upon this
strong rock she finally wrecked her barque. She was one of those women
who hold that, so long as the object is unselfish, the means used to
obtain it cannot well be evil. She did not say this in so many words,
because she was quite without principle, good or bad, and she invariably
acted on impulse.
Her impulse at this time was to turn as much of heaven and earth as came
under her influence to compel Dora to marry Arthur. That Arthur should be
unhappy, and should be allowed to continue in that common condition, was
a thought that she could not tolerate or allow. Something must be done,
and it was characteristic of the woman that that something should present
itself to her in the form of the handy and useful lie. In a strait we all
naturally turn to that accomplishment in which we consider ourselves most
proficient. The blusterer blusters; the profane man swears; the tearful
woman weeps--and weeping, by the way, is no mean accomplishment if it be
used at the right moment. Mrs. Agar naturally meditated on that form of
diplomacy which is sometimes called lying. The truth would not serve her
purpose (not that she had given it a fair trial), and therefore she would
forsake the straight path for that other one which hath many turnings.
Dora absolutely refused to come to Stagholme while Arthur was there--a
delicacy of feeling, which, by the way, was quite incomprehensible to
Mrs. Agar. It was necessary for Arthur's happiness that he should see
Dora again and try the effect of another necktie and further eloquence.
Therefore, Dora must be made by subterfuge to see Arthur.
"Dear Dora," she wrote, "it will be a great grief to me if this
unfortunate attachment of my poor boy's is allowed to interfere with the
affection which has existed between us since your infancy. Come, dear,
and see me to-morrow afternoon. I shall be quite alone, and the subject
which, of course, occupies the first place in my thoughts will, if you
wish it, be tabooed.
"Your affectionate old Friend,
"It will be quite easy," reflected this diplomatic lady as she folded the
letter--almost illegible on account of its impetuosity--"for Arthur to
come back from East Burgen earlier than I expected him."
The rest she left to chance, which was very kind but not quite necessary,
for chance had already taken possession of the rest, and was even at that
moment making her arrangements.
Dora read the letter in the garden beneath the laburnum-tree, where she
spent a large part of her life. Before reaching the end of the epistle
she had determined to go. She was a young person of spirit as well as of
discrimination, and in obedience to the urging of the former was quite
ready to show Mrs. Agar, and Arthur too, if need be, that she was not
afraid of them.
She was distinctly conscious of the increasing power of her own strength
of purpose as she made this resolution, and as she walked across the park
the next afternoon her feeling was one very near akin to elation. It is
only the strong who mistrust their own power. Dora Glynde had always
looked upon herself as a somewhat weak and easily led person; she was
beginning to feel her own strength now and to rejoice in it. From the
first she half-suspected a trap of some sort. Such a subterfuge was
eminently characteristic of Mrs. Agar, and that lady's manner of
welcoming her only increased the suspicion.
The mistress of Stagholme was positively crackling with an excitement
which even her best friend could not have called suppressed. There was no
suppression whatever about it.
"So good of you," she panted, "to come, Dora dear!"
And she searched madly for her pocket handkerchief.
"Not at all," replied Dora, very calmly.
"And now, dear," went on the lady of the house, "are we going to talk
The question was somewhat futile, for it was easy to see that she was not
in a condition to talk of anything else.
"I think not," replied Dora. She had a way of using the word "think" when
she was positive. "The question was raised the last time I saw you, and I
do not think that any good resulted from it."
Mrs. Agar's face dropped. In some ways she was a child still, and a
childish woman of fifty is as aggravating a creature as walks upon this
earth. Dora remembered every word of the interview referred to, while
Mrs. Agar had almost forgotten it. It is to the common-minded that common
proverbs and sayings of the people apply. Hard words had not the power of
breaking anything in Mrs. Agar's being.
"Of course," she said, "_I_ don't wish to talk about it, if you don't. It
is most painful to me."
She had dragged forward a second chair, only separated from that occupied
by Dora by the tea-table.
"Arthur," she said, with a lamentable assumption of cheerfulness, "has
driven over to East Burgen to get some things I wanted. He will not be
back for ever so long."
She reflected that he was overdue at that moment, and that the butler had
orders to send him to the library as soon as he returned.
"I was sorry to hear," said Dora, quite naturally, "that he had not
passed his examination."
Mrs. Agar glanced at her cunningly; she was always looking for second
meanings in the most innocent remarks, hardly guilty of an original
At this moment the door leading through a smaller library into the
dining-room opened and Arthur came quietly in. He changed colour and
hesitated, but only for a moment. Then he remembered that before all
things a gentleman must be a gentleman. He came forward and held out his
"How do you do?" he said, and for a moment he was quite dignified. "I am
glad to see you here with mother. I did not know that I was going to
interrupt a _tete-a-tete_, tea. No tea, thanks, mother; no."
"Have you brought the things I wanted? You are earlier than I expected,"
blurted out the lady of the house unskillfully.
"Yes, I have brought them."
"I must go and see if they are right," said Mrs. Agar, rising, and before
he could stop her she passed out of the door by which he had entered.
For a moment there was an awkward silence, then Dora spoke--after the
door had been reluctantly closed from without.
"I suppose," she said, "that this was done on purpose?"
"Not by me, Dora."
She merely bowed her head.
"Do you believe me?" he asked.
She continued to sip her tea, and he actually handed her a plate of
"Is it still No?" he asked abruptly.
Perhaps her fresh youthful beauty moved him, perhaps it was merely
opposition that raised his love suddenly to the dignity of a passion that
made him for once forget himself, his clothes, his personal appearance,
and the gentlemanly modulation of his voice.
For a moment he was almost a man. He almost touched the height of a man's
ascendency over woman.
"You may say No now," he cried, "but I shall have you yet. Some day you
will say Yes."
It was then for the first time that Dora realised that this man did
actually love her according to his lights. But never for an instant did
she admit in her own mind the possibility of succumbing to Arthur's will.
It is not by words that men command women. They must first command their
respect, and that is never gained by words.
Dora was conscious of a feeling of sudden, unspeakable pain. Arthur had
only succeeded in convincing her that she could have submitted to a man's
will, wholly and without reserve; but not to the will of Arthur Agar. He
had only showed her that such a submission would in itself have been a
greater happiness than she had ever tasted. But she knew at once that
only one man ever had, ever could have had, the power of exacting such
submission; and he commanded it, not by word of mouth (for he never
seemed to ask it), but by something strong and just and good within
himself, before which her whole being bowed down.
We never know how we appear in the eyes of our neighbours, friends or
lovers. Arthur was at that moment in Dora's eyes a mere sham, aping
something he could never attain.
He had seized her two hands in his nervous and delicate fingers, from
which she easily withdrew them. The action was natural enough, strong
enough. But he completely spoiled the effect by the words he spoke in his
thin tenor voice.
"No, Arthur," she said. "No, Arthur; since you mention the future, I may
as well tell you _now_ that my answer will never be anything but No. At
one time I thought that it might be different. I told my mother that
possibly, after a great many years, I might think otherwise; but I
retract that. I shall never think otherwise. And if you imagine that you
can force me to do so, please lay aside that hope at once."
"Then there is some one else!" cried Arthur, with an apparent
irrelevance. "I know there is some one else."
Dora seemed to be reflecting. She looked over his head, out of the
window, where the fleecy summer clouds floated idly over the sky.
She turned and looked deliberately at the door by which Mrs. Agar had
disappeared. It was standing ajar. Then again she reflected, weighing
something in her mind.
"Yes," she replied half-dreamily at length. "I think you have a right to
know--there is some one else."
"Was," corrected Arthur, with the womanly intuition which was given to
him with other womanly traits.
"Was and is," replied Dora quietly. "His being dead makes no difference
so far as you are concerned."
"Then it _was_ Jem! I was sure it was Jem," said a third voice.
In the excitement of the moment Mrs. Agar forgot that when ladies and
gentlemen stoop to eavesdropping they generally retire discreetly and
return after a few moments, humming a tune, hymns preferred.
"I knew that you were there," said Dora, with a calmness which was not
pleasant to the ear. "I saw your black dress through the crack of the
door. You did not stand quite still, which was a pity, because the
sunlight was on the floor behind you. I was not surprised; it was worthy
"I take God to witness," cried Mrs. Agar, "that I only heard the last
words as I came back into the room."
"Don't," said Dora, "that is blasphemy."
"Arthur," cried Mrs. Agar, "will you hear your mother called names?"
"We will not wrangle," said Dora, rising with something very like a smile
on her face. "Yes, if you want to know, it _was_ Jem. I have only his
memory, but still I can be faithful to that. I don't care if all the
world knows; that is why I told _you_ behind the door. I am not ashamed
of it. I always did care for Jem."
There was a little pause, for mother and son had nothing to answer. Dora
turned to take her gloves, which she had laid on a side table, and as she
did so the other door opened, the principal door leading to the hall.
Moreover, it was opened without the menial pause, and they all turned in
surprise, knowing that there were only servants in the house.
In the doorway stood Jem, brown-faced, lean, and anxious-looking. There
was something wolf-like in his face, with the fierce blue eyes shining
from beneath dark lashes, the fair moustache pushed forward by set lips.
Behind him the keen face of Seymour Michael peered nervously, restlessly
from side to side. He was distinctly suggestive of a rat in a trap. And
beyond him, in the gloom of the old arras-hung hall, a third man,
seemingly standing guard over Seymour Michael, for he was not looking
into the room but watching every movement made by the General--tall man,
dark, upright, with a silent, clean-shaven face, a total stranger to them
all. But his manner was not that of a stranger, he seemed to have
something to do there.
THE LAST LINK
A thing hereditary in the race comes unawares.
Jem came straight into the room, and there seemed to be no one in it for
him but Dora. She went to meet him with outstretched hand, and her eyes
were answering the questions that she read in his.
He took her hand and he said no word, but suddenly all the misery of the
last year slipped back, as it were, into a dream. She could not define
her thoughts then, and they left no memory to recall afterwards. She
seemed to forget that this man had been dead and was living, she only
knew that her hand was within his. Jem looked round to the others
present, his attitude a judgment in itself, his face, in its fierce
repose, a verdict.
Mark Ruthine had gently pushed Seymour Michael into the room and was
closing the door behind them. Mrs. Agar did not see the General, who was
half-concealed by his junior officer. She could not take her eyes from
"This is fortunate," he said; and the sound of his voice was music in
Dora's ears. "This is fortunate, every one seems to be here."
He paused for a moment, as if at a loss, and drew his brown hand down
over his moustache. Perhaps he felt remotely that his position was strong
and almost dramatic; but that, being a simple, honest Englishman, he was
unable to turn it to account.
He turned towards Seymour Michael, who stood behind, uncomfortably
conscious of Mark Ruthine at his heels. It was not in Jem to make an
effective scene. Englishmen are so. We do not make our lives
superficially picturesque by apostrophising the shade of a dead mother.
Jem gave way to the natural instinct of a soldier by nature and training.
A clear statement of the facts, and a short, sharp judgment.
"This man," he said, laying his hand on the General's shoulder, and
bringing him forward, "has been brought here by us to explain something."
White-lipped, breathless, in a ghastly silence Anna Agar and Seymour
Michael stared at each other over the dainty tea-table, across a gulf of
misused years, through the tangle of two unfaithful lives.
Then Jem Agar began his story, addressing himself to Dora, then, and
until the end.
"I was not with Stevenor," he said, "when his force was surprised and
annihilated. I had been sent on through an enemy's country into a
position which no man had the right to ask another to hold with the force
allowed me. This man sent me. All his life has he been seeking glory at
the risk of other men's lives. After the disaster he came to me and
relieved my little force; but he proposed to me a scheme of exploration,
which I have carried through. But even now I shall not get the credit;
_he_ will have that. It was a low, scurrilous thing to do; for he was my
commanding officer, and I could not say No."
"I gave you the option," blurted out Michael sullenly.
Jem took no notice of the interruption, which only had the effect of
making Mark Ruthine move up a few paces nearer.
"He made a great point of secrecy," continued Agar, "which at the time I
thought to be for my safety. But now I see otherwise; Ruthine has pointed
it out to me. If I had never come back he would have said nothing, and
would thus have escaped the odium of having sent a man to certain death.
I only made one condition--namely, that three persons should be informed
at once of my survival, after the disaster to Stevenor's force. Those
three persons were my brother Arthur, my step-mother, and Miss Glynde."
He paused for a moment, and Dora's clear, low voice took up the
"I met General Michael," she said, "in London, some months ago. I met him
more than once. He knew quite well who I was, and he never told me."
Thus was the first link of the chain riveted. Seymour Michael winced. He
never raised his eyes.
Mark Ruthine moved forward again. He did so with a singular rapidity, for
he had seen murder flash from beneath Jem Agar's eyebrows. He was
standing between them, his left hand gripping Jem's right arm with an
undeniable strength. Dora, looking at them, suddenly felt the tears well
to her eyes. There was something that melted her heart strangely in the
sight of those two men--friends--standing side by side; and at that
moment her affection went out towards Mark Ruthine, the friend of Jem,
who understood Jem, who knew Jem and loved him, perhaps, a thousandth
part as well as she did; an affection which was never withdrawn all
through their lives.
It was Ruthine's voice that broke the silence, giving Jem time to master
"It is to his credit," he said, also addressing Dora, "that for very
shame he did not dare to tell you that he had sent Agar on a mission
which was as unnecessary as it was dangerous. When he sent him he must
have known that it was almost a sentence of death."
Then Jem spoke again.
"As soon as I got back to civilisation," he said, "I wrote to him as
arranged, and I enclosed letters to--the three persons who were admitted
into the secret. Those letters have, of course, never reached their
destination. General Michael will be required to explain that also."
At this moment Arthur Agar gave a strange little cackling laugh,
which drew the general attention towards him. He was looking at his
half-brother, with a glitter in his usually soft and peaceful eyes.
"There are a good many things which he will have to explain."
"Yes," answered Jem. "That is why we have brought him here."
It fell to Arthur Agar's lot to forge the second link.
"When," he asked Jem, "did he know that you had got back to safety and
"Two months ago, by telegram."
The half-brothers turned with one accord towards Seymour Michael, who
stood trying to conceal the quiver of his lips.
"He promised," said Arthur Agar, "to tell me at once when he received
news of your safety."
It was singular that Seymour Michael should give way at that moment to a
little shrinking movement of fear--back and away, not from Jem, who
towered huge and powerful above him, but from the frail and delicate
younger brother. Mark Ruthine, who was standing behind, saw the movement
and wondered at it. For it would appear that, of all his judges, Seymour
Michael feared the weakest most.
And so the second link was welded on to the first, while only Anna Agar
knew the motive that had prompted Michael to suppress the news. She
divined that it was spite towards herself, and for once in her life, with
that intuition which only comes at supreme moments, she had the wisdom to
bide her time.
Then at last Seymour Michael spoke. He did not raise his eyes, but his
words were evidently addressed to Arthur.
"I acted," he said, "as I thought best. Secrecy was necessary for Agar's
safety. I knew that if I told you too much you would tell your mother,
and--I know your mother better than either you or Jem Agar know her. She
is not fit to be trusted with the most trifling secret."
"Well, you see, you were quite wrong," burst out Mrs. Agar, with a
derisive laugh. "For I knew it all along. Arthur told me at the first."
Her voice came as a shock to them all. It was harsh and common, the voice
of the street-wrangler.
"Then," cried Seymour Michael, as sharp as fate, "why did you not tell
He raised his arm, pointing one lean dark finger into her face.
"I knew," he hissed, "that the boy would tell you. I counted on it. Why
did you not tell Miss Glynde? Come! Tell us why."
Mark Ruthine's face was a study. It was the face of a very keen sportsman
at the corner of a "drive." In every word he saw twice as much as simple
Jem Agar ever suspected.
"Well," answered Mrs. Agar, wavering, "because I thought it better not."
"No," Dora said, "you kept it from me because you wanted me to marry
Arthur. And you thought that I should do so because he was master of
Stagholme. You wanted to trick me into marrying Arthur before"--she
"Before I came back," added Jem imperturbably. "That was it, that was
it!" cried Seymour Michael, grasping at the straw which might serve to
turn the current aside from himself.
But the attempt failed. No one took any notice of it. Jem was looking at
Dora, and she was looking anywhere except at him.
It was Jem who spoke, with the decisiveness of the president of a
"That will come afterwards," he said. "And now, perhaps," he went on,
turning towards Seymour, "you will kindly explain why you broke your word
to me. Explain it to these l---- [sic.] to Miss Glynde."
Seymour Michael shrugged his shoulders.
"Why, what is the good of making all this fuss about it now?" he
explained. "It has all come right. I acted as I thought best. That is all
the explanation I have to offer."
"Can you not do better than that?" inquired Jem, with a dangerous
suavity. "You had better try."
Dora was looking at Jem now, appealingly. She knew that tone of voice,
and feared it. She alone suspected the anger that was hidden behind so
calm an exterior.
Seymour Michael preserved a dogged silence, glancing from side to side
beneath his lowered lashes. He had not forgotten Jem's threat, but he
felt the safeguard of a lady's presence.
"I can offer an explanation," put in Mark Ruthine. "This man is mentally
incapable of telling the truth and of doing the straight thing. There are
some people who are born liars. This man is one. It is not quite fair to
judge him as one would judge others. I have known him for years, have
watched him, have studied him."
All eyes turned towards Seymour Michael, who stood half-cringing,
trembling with fear and hatred towards his relentless judges.
"Years ago," pursued Ruthine, "at the outset of life, he committed a
wanton crime. He did a wrong to a poor innocent woman, whose only fault
was to love him beyond his deserts. He was engaged to be married to her,
and meeting a richer woman he had not the courage to ask to be released
from his engagement. It happened that by a mistake he was gazetted 'dead'
at the time of the Mutiny. He never contradicted the mistake--that was
how he got out of his engagement. He played the same trick with Jem
Agar's name. I recognised it."
Then the last link of the chain was forged.
"So did I," said Anna Agar. "I was the woman."
Before the words were well out of her mouth Mark Ruthine's voice was
raised in an alarmed shout.
"Look out!" he cried. "Hold that man; he is mad!"
No one had been noticing Arthur Agar--no one except Seymour Michael, who
had never taken his eyes from his face during Ruthine's narration.
With a groan, unlike a human sound at all, Arthur Agar had rushed forward
when his mother spoke, and for a few seconds there was a wild confusion
in the room, while Seymour Michael, white with dread, fled before his
doom. In and out among the people and the furniture, shouting for help,
he leapt and struggled. Then there came a crash. Seymour Michael had
broken through the window, smashing the glass, with his arms doubled over
A second later Arthur wrenched open the sash and gave chase across the
lawn. In the confusion some moments elapsed before the two heavier men
followed him over the smooth turf, and the ladies from the window saw
Arthur Agar kneeling over Seymour Michael on the stone terrace at the end
of the lawn. They heard with cruel distinctness the sharp crackling crash
of the Jew's head upon the stone flags, as Arthur shook him as a terrier
shakes a rat.
Instinctively they followed, and as they came up to the group where
Ruthine was kneeling over Seymour Michael, while Jem dragged Arthur away,
they heard the Doctor say--
"Agar, get the ladies away. This man is dead. Look sharp, man! They
mustn't see this."
And Jem barred their way with one hand, while he held his half-brother
with the other.
For love in sequel works with fate.
The four walked back to the library together. Mrs. Agar looked back over
her shoulder at every other footstep. She took no notice of her son. Her
affection for him seemed suddenly to have been absorbed and lost in some
Jem was half supporting, half carrying Arthur, whose eyes were like those
of a dead man, while his lips were parted in a vacant, senseless way.
Already Ruthine could be heard giving his orders to the gardeners and
other servants who had gathered round him in a wonderfully short space of
Dora passed into the library first, treading carefully over the broken
glass, and Mrs. Agar followed her without appearing to notice the sound
of breakage beneath her feet. No one had spoken a word since Mark Ruthine
had told them that Seymour Michael was dead. There are some situations in
life wherein we suddenly realise what an inadequate thing human speech
is. There are some things that others know which we have never told them,
and would ever be unable to tell them. There are some feelings within us
for which no language can find expression.
Mrs. Agar was simply stupefied. When God does mete out punishment here on
earth, He does so with an overflowing measure. This devoted mother did
not even evince anxiety as to the welfare of her son, for whose sake she
had made so many blunders, so many futile plots.
Jem brought Arthur into the room, and led him to an arm-chair. There was
that steady masterfulness in his manner which comes to those who have
looked on death in many forms and whom nothing can dismay.
He offered no unnecessary assistance or advice, did not fussily loosen
Arthur's necktie, or perform any of those small inappropriate offices
which some would have deemed necessary under the circumstances. He knew
quite well that this was no matter of a necktie or a collar.
Mrs. Agar seated herself on a sofa opposite, and slowly swayed her body
backwards and forwards. She was one of those persons who can never
separate mental anguish from physical pain. They have but one way of
expressing both, and possibly of feeling both. Her hands were clasped on
her lap, her head on one side, her lips drawn back as if in agony. She
even went so far as to breathe laboriously.
Thus they remained; Jem watching Arthur, Dora watching Jem, who seemed to
ignore her presence.
It was Mrs. Agar who spoke first, angrily and bitterly.
"What is the good of standing there?" she said to Jem. "Can't you find
something more useful to do than that?"
Jem looked at her, first with surprise and then with something very
nearly approaching contempt.
"I am waiting," he replied, "for Ruthine. He is a doctor."
"Who wants a doctor now? What is the good of a doctor now--now that
Seymour is dead? I don't know what he is doing here, at any rate,
"Arthur wants a doctor," replied Jem. "Can you not see that he is in a
sort of trance? He hears and sees nothing. He is quite unconscious."
Mrs. Agar seemed only half to understand. She stared at her son, swaying
backwards and forwards in imbecile misery.
"Oh dear! oh dear!" she whispered, "what have we done to deserve this?"
After a few seconds she repeated the words.
"What have we done to deserve this? What have we done ..."
Her voice died away into a whisper, and when that became inaudible her
lips went on moving, still framing the same words over and over again.
In this manner they waited, with that dull senselessness to the flight of
time which follows on a great shock.
They all heard the clatter of horses' feet on the gravel of the avenue,
and probably they all divined that Mark Ruthine had sent for medical
To Dora the sound brought a sudden boundless sense of relief. Amidst this
mental confusion it came as a practical common-sense proof that the
tension of the last year was over. The burden of her own life was by it
lifted from her shoulders; for Jem was here, and nothing could matter
very much now.
Presently Ruthine came into the room. As he went towards Arthur he
glanced at Dora and then at Mrs. Agar, but the young fellow was evidently
his first care.
While he was kneeling by the low chair examining Arthur's eyes and face,
Mrs. Agar suddenly rose and crossed the room.
"Is he dead?" she said abruptly.
"Who?" inquired Mark Ruthine, without looking round.
"Then Arthur killed him?"
All this while Arthur was lying back in the chair, white and lifeless.
His eyes were open, he breathed regularly, but he heard nothing that was
said, nor saw anything before his eyes.
"Then," said Mrs. Agar, "that was a murder?"
She was looking out of the window, towards the stone terrace, already
conscious that the scene that she had witnessed there would never be
effaced from her memory while she had life.
After a little pause Mark Ruthine spoke.
"No," he answered, "it was not that. Your son was not responsible for his
actions when he did it. I think I can prove that. I do not yet know what
it was. It was very singular. I think it was some sort of mental
aberration--temporary, I hope, and think. We will see when he recovers
himself--when the circulation is restored."
While he spoke he continued to examine his patient. He spoke in his
natural tone, without attempting to lower his voice, for he knew that
Arthur Agar had no comprehension of things terrestrial at that time.
"It was not," he went on, "the action of a sane man. Besides, he could
not have done it. In his right mind he could not have killed Seymour
Michael, who was a strong man. As it is, I think that there was some sort
of paralysis in Seymour Michael--a paralysis of fear. He seemed too
frightened to attempt to defend himself. Besides, why should your son do
"He was born hating him."
Mark Ruthine slowly turned, still upon his knees. He rose, and in his
dark face there was that strange eagerness again, like the eagerness of a
sportsman approaching some unknown quarry in the jungle.
"What do you mean, Mrs. Agar?" he asked.
"I mean that he was born with a hatred for that man stronger than
anything that was in him. His soul was given to him full of hate for
Seymour Michael. Such things are when a woman bears a child in the midst
of great passion."
"Yes," said Mark Ruthine, "I know."
"The night he was born," Mrs. Agar went on, "I first saw and spoke to
that man after he had come back from India--after I had learnt what he
Ruthine turned round towards Jem and Dora.
"You hear that," he said to them. "This is not the story of a mother
trumped up in court to save her son. It is the truth. There are some
things which we do not understand even yet. Don't forget what you have
heard. It will come in usefully."
He turned to Mrs. Agar again.
"Did he know the story?" he asked.
"He never heard it until you told it just now."
"Can you swear to that, Mrs. Agar?"
"Then," said Ruthine, "he does not know now that you are the woman whom
Seymour Michael wronged. He need never know it. The paroxysm had come on
before you spoke--that was why I shouted. He was mad with hate, before
you opened your lips."
Mrs. Agar was now beginning to realise what was at stake. The mother's
love was re-awakening. The old cunning look came into her eyes, and her
quick, truthless mind was evidently on the alert. There was something
animal-like in Mrs. Agar; but she was of the lower order of animal, that
seeks to defend its young by cunning and not by sheer bravery.
Ruthine must have guessed at something, for he said at once:
"Remember what you have told me. You will have to repeat that exactly.
Add nothing to it, take nothing from it, or you will spoil it. Tell me,
has your son seen this man more than once?"
"No, only once; at Cambridge."
"All right; I think I shall be able to prove it."
As he spoke he went towards the writing-table and, sitting down, he wrote
out a prescription. Dora followed him and held out her hand for the
"Send for that at once, please," he said.
Then he beckoned to Jem.
"I have sent for the local doctor," he said to him. "But I should advise
having some one else--Llandoller from Harley Street. This is far above
"Telegraph for him," answered Jem Agar.
While Ruthine wrote he went on speaking.
"We must get him upstairs at once," he said. "I should like to have him
in bed before the doctor comes."
In answer to the bell, rung a second time, the servant came, looking
white and scared.
"Show Dr. Ruthine Mr. Arthur's room," said Jem; and Ruthine took Arthur
up in his arms like a child.
When they had gone there was a silence. Mrs. Agar made no attempt to
follow. She sat down again on the sofa, swaying backwards and forwards.
Perhaps she was dimly aware that there remained something still to be
Jem Agar crossed the room and stood in front of her. Dora, from the
background, was pleading with her eyes for this woman. There were the
makings of a very hard man in James Edward Makerstone Agar, and seven
years of the grimmest soldiering of modern days had done nothing to
soften him. He was strictly just; but it is not justice that women want.
To all men there comes a time when they recognise the fact that all their
time and all their energies are required for the taking care of _one_
woman, and that all the rest must take care of themselves.
"You may stay," he said to his step-mother, "until Arthur is removed from
this house--but no longer. I shall never pretend to forgive you, and I
never want to see you again."
Mrs. Agar made no answer, nor did she look up.
"Go," said Jem, with a little jerk of his head towards the door.
Slowly she rose, and without looking at either of them she passed out of
When, at last, they were left alone in the quiet library where they had
played together as children, where the happiest moments of his life and
the most miserable of hers had been lived through.
Dora did not seem to know quite what to do. She was standing by the
writing-table, with one hand resting on it, facing him, but not looking
at him. She suddenly felt unable to do that--felt at a loss, abashed,
unequal to the moment.
But Jem seemed to have no hesitation. He was quite natural and very
deliberate. He seemed to know quite well what to do. He closed the door
behind Mrs. Agar, and then he came across the room and took Dora in his
arms, as if there were no question about it. He said nothing. After all,
there was nothing to be said.