Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Steven desJardins and Distributed Proofreaders
By E.W. Hornung
I. A Plenipotentiary
II. The Theatre of War
III. First Blood
IV. A Little Knowledge
V. A Marked Woman
VI. Out of Action
VII. Second Fiddle
VIII. Prayers and Parables
IX. Sub Judice
X. The Last Word
XI. The Lion's Mouth
XII. A Stern Chase
XIII. Number Three
Has no writer ever dealt with the dramatic aspect of the unopened
envelope? I cannot recall such a passage in any of my authors, and yet
to my mind there is much matter for philosophy in what is always the
expressionless shell of a boundless possibility. Your friend may run
after you in the street, and you know at a glance whether his news is to
be good, bad, or indifferent; but in his handwriting on the
breakfast-table there is never a hint as to the nature of his
communication. Whether he has sustained a loss or an addition to his
family, whether he wants you to dine with him at the club or to lend him
ten pounds, his handwriting at least will be the same, unless, indeed,
he be offended, when he will generally indite your name with a studious
precision and a distant grace quite foreign to his ordinary caligraphy.
These reflections, trite enough as I know, are nevertheless inevitable
if one is to begin one's unheroic story in the modern manner, at the
latest possible point. That is clearly the point at which a waiter
brought me the fatal letter from Catherine Evers. Apart even from its
immediate consequences, the letter had a _prima facie_ interest, of no
ordinary kind, as the first for years from a once constant
correspondent. And so I sat studying the envelope with a curiosity too
piquant not to be enjoyed. What in the world could so obsolete a friend
find to say to one now? Six months earlier there had been a certain
opportunity for an advance, which at that time could not possibly have
been misconstrued; when they landed me, a few later, there was another
and perhaps a better one. But this was the last summer of the late
century, and already I was beginning to get about like a lamplighter on
my two sticks. Now, young men about town, on two walking-sticks, in the
year of grace 1900, meant only one thing. Quite a stimulating thing in
the beginning, but even as I write, in this the next winter but one, a
national irritation of which the name alone might prevent you from
reading another word.
Catherine's handwriting, on the contrary, was still stimulating, if
indeed I ever found it more so in the foolish past. It had not altered
in the least. There was the same sweet pedantry of the Attic _e_, the
same superiority to the most venial abbreviation, the same inconsistent
forest of exclamatory notes, thick as poplars across the channel. The
present plantation started after my own Christian name, to wit "Dear
Duncan!!" Yet there was nothing Germanic in Catherine's ancestry; it was
only her apologetic little way of addressing me as though nothing had
ever happened, of asking whether she might. Her own old tact and charm
were in that tentative burial of the past. In the first line she had all
but won my entire forgiveness; but the very next interfered with the
"You promised to do anything for me!"
I should be sorry to deny it, I am sure, for not to this day do I know
what I did say on the occasion to which she evidently referred. But was
it kind to break the silence of years with such a reference? Was it even
quite decent in Catherine to ignore my existence until I could be of use
to her, and then to ask the favour in her first breath? It was true, as
she went on to remind me, that we were more or less connected after all,
and at least conceivable that no one else could help her as I could, if
I would. In any case, it was a certain satisfaction to hear that
Catherine herself was of the last opinion. I read on. She was in a
difficulty; but she did not say what the difficulty was. For one
unworthy moment the thought of money entered my mind, to be ejected the
next, as the Catherine of old came more and more into the mental focus.
Pride was the last thing in which I had found her wanting, and her
letter indicated no change in that respect.
"You may wonder," she wrote just at the end, "why I have never sent you
a single word of inquiry, or sympathy, or congratulation!!
Well--suppose it was 'bad blood'!! between us when you went away! Mind,
_I_ never meant it to be so, but suppose it was: could I treat the dear
old you like that, and the Great New You like somebody else? You have
your own fame to thank for my unkindness! _I_ am only thankful they
haven't given you the V.C.!! _Then_ I should _never_ have dared--not
I smoked a cigarette when I had read it all twice over, and as I crushed
the fire out of the stump I felt I could as soon think of lighting it
again as I should have expected Catherine Evers to set a fresh match to
me. That, I was resolved, she should never do; nor was I quite coxcomb
enough to suspect her of the desire for a moment. But a man who has once
made a fool of himself, especially about a woman somewhat older than
himself, does not soon get over the soreness; and mine returned with the
very fascination which made itself felt even in the shortest little
Catherine wrote from the old address in Elm Park Gardens, and she wanted
me to call as early as I could, or to make any appointment I liked. I
therefore telegraphed that I was coming at three o'clock that afternoon,
and thus made for myself one of the longest mornings that I can remember
spending in town. I was staying at the time at the Kensington Palace
Hotel, to be out of the central racket of things, and yet more or less
under the eye of the surgeon who still hoped to extract the last bullet
in time. I can remember spending half the morning gazing aimlessly over
the grand old trees, already prematurely bronzed, and the other half in
limping in their shadow to the Round Pond, where a few little townridden
boys were sailing their humble craft. It was near the middle of August,
and for the first time I was thankful that an earlier migration had not
been feasible in my case.
In spite of my telegram Mrs. Evers was not at home when I arrived, but
she had left a message which more than explained matters. She was
lunching out, but only in Brechin Place, and I was to wait in the study
if I did not mind. I did not, and yet I did, for the room in which
Catherine certainly read her books and wrote her letters was also the
scene of that which I was beginning to find it rather hard work to
forget as it was. Nor had it changed any more than her handwriting, or
than the woman herself as I confidently expected to find her now. I have
often thought that at about forty both sexes stand still to the eye, and
I did not expect Catherine Evers, who could barely have reached that
rubicon, to show much symptom of the later marches. To me, here in her
den, the other year was just the other day. My time in India was little
better than a dream to me, while as for angry shots at either end of
Africa, it was never I who had been there to hear them. I must have come
by my sticks in some less romantic fashion. Nothing could convince me
that I had ever been many days or miles away from a room that I knew by
heart, and found full as I left it of familiar trifles and poignant
That was the shelf devoted to her poets; there was no addition that I
could see. Over it hung the fine photograph of Watts's "Hope," an ironic
emblem, and elsewhere one of that intolerably sad picture, his "Paolo
and Francesca": how I remembered the wet Sunday when Catherine took me
to see the original in Melbury Road! The old piano which was never
touched, the one which had been in St. Helena with Napoleon's doctor,
there it stood to an inch where it had stood of old, a sort of
grand-stand for the photographs of Catherine's friends. I descried my
own young effigy among the rest, in a frame which I recollected giving
her at the time. Well, I looked all the idiot I must have been; and
there was the very Persian rug that I had knelt on in my idiocy! I could
afford to smile at myself to-day; yet now it all seemed yesterday, not
even the day before, until of a sudden I caught sight of that other
photograph in the place of honour on the mantelpiece. It was one by
Hills and Sanders, of a tall youth in flannels, armed with a
long-handled racket, and the sweet open countenance which Robin Evers
had worn from his cradle upward. I should have known him anywhere and at
any age. It was the same dear, honest face; but to think that this giant
was little Bob! He had not gone to Eton when I saw him last; now I knew
from the sporting papers that he was up at Cambridge; but it was left to
his photograph to bring home the flight of time.
Certainly his mother would never have done so when all at once the door
opened and she stood before me, looking about thirty in the ample shadow
of a cavalier's hat. Simply but admirably gowned, as I knew she would
be, her slender figure looked more youthful still; yet in all this there
was no intent; the dry cool smile was that of an older woman, and I was
prepared for greater cordiality than I could honestly detect in the
greeting of the small firm hand. But it was kind, as indeed her whole
reception of me was; only it had always been the way of Catherine the
correspondent to make one expect a little more than mere kindness, and
of Catherine the companion to disappoint that expectation. Her
conversation needed few exclamatory points.
"Still halt and lame," she murmured over my sticks. "You poor thing, you
are to sit down this instant."
And I obeyed her as one always had, merely remarking that I was getting
along famously now.
"You must have had an awful time," continued Catherine, seating herself
near me, her calm wise eyes on mine.
"Blood-poisoning," said I. "It nearly knocked me out, but I'm glad to
say it didn't quite."
Indeed, I had never felt quite so glad before.
"Ah! that was too hard and cruel; but I was thinking of the day itself,"
explained Catherine, and paused in some sweet transparent awe of one who
had been through it.
"It was a beastly day," said I, forgetting her objection to the epithet
until it was out. But Catherine did not wince. Her fixed eyes were full
"It was all that here," she said. "One depressing morning I had a
telegram from Bob, 'Spion Kop taken'--"
"So Bob," I nodded, "had it as badly as everybody else!"
"Worse," declared Catherine, her eye hardening; "it was all I could do
to keep him at Cambridge, though he had only just gone up. He would have
given up everything and flown to the Front if I had let him."
And she wore the inexorable face with which I could picture her standing
in his way; and in Catherine I could admire that dogged look and all it
spelt, because a great passion is always admirable. The passion of
Catherine's life was her boy, the only son of his mother, and she a
widow. It had been so when he was quite small, as I remembered it with a
pinch of jealousy startling as a twinge from an old wound. More than
ever must it be so now; that was as natural as the maternal embargo in
which Catherine seemed almost to glory. And yet, I reflected, if all the
widows had thought only of their only sons--and of themselves!
"The next depressing morning," continued Catherine, happily oblivious of
what was passing through one's mind, "the first thing I saw, the first
time I put my nose outside, was a great pink placard with 'Spion Kop
Abandoned!' Duncan, it was too awful."
"I wish we'd sat tight," I said, "I must confess."
"Tight!" cried Catherine in dry horror. "I should have abandoned it long
before. I should have run away--hard! To think that you didn't--that's
quite enough for me."
And again I sustained the full flattery of that speechless awe which was
yet unembarrassing by reason of its freedom from undue solemnity.
"There were some of us who hadn't a leg to run on," I had to say; "I was
one, Mrs. Evers."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Catherine, then." But it put me to the blush.
"Thank you. If you really wish me to call you 'Captain Clephane' you
have only to say so; but in that case I can't ask the favour I had made
up my mind to ask--of so old a friend."
Her most winning voice was as good a servant as ever; the touch of scorn
in it was enough to stimulate, but not to sting; and it was the same
with the sudden light in the steady intellectual eyes.
"Catherine," I said, "you can't indeed ask any favour of me! There you
are quite right. It is not a word to use between us."
Mrs. Evers gave me one of her deliberate looks before replying.
"And I am not so sure that it is a favour," she said softly enough at
last. "It is really your advice I want to ask, in the first place at all
events. Duncan, it's about old Bob!"
The corners of her mouth twitched, her eyes filled with a quaint
humorous concern, and as a preamble I was handed the photograph which I
had already studied on my own account.
"Isn't he a dear?" asked Bob's mother. "Would you have known him,
"I did know him," said I. "Spotted him at a glance. He's the same old
Bob all over."
I was fortunate enough to meet the swift glance I got for that, for in
sheer sweetness and affection it outdid all remembered glances of the
past. In a moment it was as though I had more than regained the lost
ground of lost years. And in another moment, on the heels of the
discovery, came the still more startling one that I was glad to have
regained my ground, was thankful to be reinstated, and strangely,
acutely, yet uneasily happy, as I had never been since the old days in
this very room.
Half in a dream I heard Catherine telling of her boy, of his Eton
triumphs, how he had been one of the rackets pair two years, and in the
eleven his last, but "in Pop" before he was seventeen, and yet as simple
and unaffected and unspoilt with it all as the small boy whom I
remembered. And I did remember him, and knew his mother well enough to
believe it all; for she did not chant his praises to organ music, but
rather hummed them to the banjo; and one felt that her own demure
humour, so signal and so permanent a charm in Catherine, would have been
the saving of half-a-dozen Bobs.
"And yet," she wound up at her starting-point, "it's about poor old Bob
I want to speak to you!"
"Not in a fix, I hope?"
"I hope not, Duncan."
Catherine was serious now.
"That depends on what you mean by mischief."
Catherine was more serious still.
"Well, there are several brands, but only one or two that really
poison--unless, of course, a man is very poor."
And my mind harked back to its first suspicion, of some financial
embarrassment, now conceivable enough; but Catherine told me her boy was
not poor, with the air of one who would have drunk ditchwater rather
than let the other want for champagne.
"It is just the opposite," she added: "in little more than a year, when
he comes of age, he will have quite as much as is good for him. You know
what he is, or rather you don't. I do. And if I were not his mother I
should fall in love with him myself!"
Catherine looked down on me as she returned from replacing Bob's
photograph on the mantelpiece. The humour had gone out of her eye; in
its place was an almost animal glitter, a far harder light than had
accompanied the significant reference to the patriotic impulse which she
had nipped in the bud. It was probably only the old, old look of the
lioness whose whelp is threatened, but it was something new to me in
Catherine Evers, something half-repellent and yet almost wholly fine.
"You don't mean to say it's that?" I asked aghast.
"No, I don't," Catherine answered, with a hard little laugh. "He's not
quite twenty, remember; but I am afraid that he is making a fool of
himself, and I want it stopped."
I waited for more, merely venturing to nod my sympathetic concern.
"Poor old Bob, as you may suppose, is not a genius. He is far too nice,"
declared Catherine's old self, "to be anything so nasty. But I always
thought he had his head screwed on, and his heart screwed in, or I never
would have let him loose in a Swiss hotel. As it was, I was only too
glad for him to go with George Kennerley, who was as good at work at
Eton as Bob was at games."
In Catherine's tone, for all the books on her shelves, the pictures on
her walls, there was no doubt at all as to which of the two an Eton boy
should be good at, and I agreed sincerely with another nod.
"They were to read together for an hour or so every day. I thought it
would be a nice little change for Bob, and it was quite a chance; he
must do a certain amount of work, you see. Well, they only went at the
beginning of the month, and already they have had enough of each other's
"You don't mean that they've had a row?"
Catherine inclined a mortified head.
"Bob never had such a thing in his life before, nor did I ever know
anybody who succeeded in having one with Bob. It does take two, you
know. And when one of the two has an angelic temper, and tact enough for
"You naturally blame the other," I put in, as she paused in visible
"But I don't, Duncan, and that's just the point. George is devoted to
Bob, and is as nice as he can be himself, in his own sober, honest,
plodding way. He may not have the temper, he certainly has not the tact,
but he worships Bob and has come back quite miserable."
"Then he has come back, and you have seen him?"
"He was here last night. You must know that Bob writes to me every day,
even from Cambridge, if it's only a line; and in yesterday's letter he
mentioned quite casually that George had had enough of it and was off
home. It was a little too casual to be quite natural in old Bob, and
there are other things he has been mentioning in the same way. If any
instinct is to be relied upon it is a mother's, and mine amounted almost
to second sight. I sent Master George a telegram, and he came in last
"Not a word! There was bad blood between them, but that was all I could
get out of him. Vulgar disagreeables between Bob, of all people, and his
greatest friend! If you could have seen the poor fellow sitting where
you are sitting now, like a prisoner in the dock! I put him in the
witness-box instead, and examined him on scraps of Bob's letters to me.
It was as unscrupulous as you please, but I felt unscrupulous; and the
poor dear was too loyal to admit, yet too honest to deny, a single
"And?" said I, as Bob's mother paused again.
"And," cried she, with conscious melodrama in the fiery twinkle of her
eye--"and, I know all! There is an odious creature at the hotel--a
widow, if you please! A 'ripping widow' Bob called her in his first
letter; then it was 'Mrs. Lascelles'; but now it is only 'some people'
whom he escorts here, there, and everywhere. _Some_ people, indeed!"
Catherine smiled unmercifully. I relied upon my nod.
"I needn't tell you," she went on, "that the creature is at least twenty
years older than my baby, and not at all nice at that. George didn't
tell me, mind, but he couldn't deny a single thing. It was about her
that they fell out. Poor George remonstrated, not too diplomatically, I
daresay, but I can quite see that my Bob behaved as he was never known
to behave on land or sea. The poor child has been bewitched, neither
more nor less."
"He'll get over it," I murmured, with the somewhat shaky confidence born
of my own experience.
Catherine looked at me in mild surprise.
"But it's going on now, Duncan--it's going on still!"
"Well," I added, with all the comfort that my voice would carry, and
which an exaggerated concern seemed to demand: "well, Catherine, it
can't go very far at his age!" Nor to this hour can I yet conceive a
sounder saying, in all the circumstances of the case, and with one's
knowledge of the type of lad; but my fate was the common one of
comforters, and I was made speedily and painfully aware that I had now
indeed said the most unfortunate thing.
Catherine did not stamp her foot, but she did everything else required
by tradition of the exasperated lady. Not go far? As if it had not gone
too far already to be tolerated another instant longer than was
"He is making a fool of himself--my boy--my Bob--before a whole
hotelful of sharp eyes and sharper tongues! Is that not far enough for
it to have gone? Duncan, it must be stopped, and stopped at once; but I
am not the one to do it. I would rather it went on," cried Catherine
tragically, as though the pit yawned before us all, "than that his
mother should fly to his rescue before all the world! But a friend might
do it, Duncan--if--"
Her voice had dropped. I bent my ear.
"If only," she sighed, "I had a friend who would!"
Catherine was still looking down when I looked up; but the droop of the
slender body, the humble angle of the cavalier hat, the faint flush
underneath, all formed together a challenge and an appeal which were the
more irresistible for their sweet shamefacedness. Acute consciousness of
the past (I thought), and (I even fancied) some penitence for a wrong by
no means past undoing, were in every sensitive inch of her, as she sat a
suppliant to the old player of that part. And there are emotions of
which the body may be yet more eloquent than the face; there was the
figure of Watts's "Hope" drooping over as she drooped, not more lissom
and speaking than her own; just then it caught my eye, and on the spot
it was as though the lute's last string of that sweet masterpiece had
vibrated aloud in Catherine's room.
My hand shook as I reached for my trusty sticks, but I cannot say that
my voice betrayed me when I inquired the name of the Swiss hotel.
"The Riffel Alp," said Catherine--"above Zermatt, you know."
"I start to-morrow morning," I rejoined, "if that will do."
Then Catherine looked up. I cannot describe her look. Transfiguration
were the idle word, but the inadequate, and yet more than one would
scatter the effect of so sudden a burst of human sunlight.
"Would you really go?" she cried. "Do you mean it, Duncan?"
"I only wish," I replied, "that it were to Australia."
"But then you would be weeks too late."
"Ah, that's another story! I may be too late as it is."
Her brightness clouded on the instant; only a gleam of annoyance pierced
"Too late for what, may I ask?"
"Everything except stopping the banns."
"Please don't talk nonsense, Duncan. Banns at nineteen!"
"It is nonsense, I agree; at the same time the minor consequences will
be the hardest to deal with. If they are being talked about, well, they
are being talked about. You know Bob best: suppose he is making a fool
of himself, is he the sort of fellow to stop because one tells him so? I
should say not, from what I know of him, and of you."
"I don't know," argued Catherine, looking pleased with her compliment.
"You used to have quite an influence over him, if you remember."
"That's quite possible; but then he was a small boy, now he is a grown
"But you are a much older one."
"Too old to trust to that."
"And you have been wounded in the war."
"The hotel may be full of wounded officers; if not I might get a little
unworthy purchase there. In any case I'll go. I should have to go
somewhere before many days. It may as well be to that place as to
another. I have heard that the air is glorious; and I'll keep an eye on
Robin, if I can't do anything else."
"That's enough for me," cried Catherine, warmly. "I have sufficient
faith in you to leave all the rest to your own discretion and good sense
and better heart. And I never shall forget it, Duncan, never, never! You
are the one person he wouldn't instantly suspect as an emissary, besides
being the only one I ever--ever trusted well enough to--to take at your
word as I have done."
I thought myself that the sentence might have pursued a bolder course
without untruth or necessary complications. Perhaps my conceit was on a
scale with my acknowledged infirmity where Catherine was concerned. But
I did think that there was more than trust in the eyes that now melted
into mine; there was liking at least, and gratitude enough to inspire
one to win infinitely more. I went so far as to take in mine the hand to
which I had dared to aspire in the temerity of my youth; nor shall I
pretend for a moment that the old aspirations had not already mounted to
their old seat in my brain. On the contrary, I was only wondering
whether the honesty of voicing my hopes would nowise counterbalance the
caddishness of the sort of stipulation they might imply.
"All I ask," I was saying to myself, "is that you will give me another
chance, and take me seriously this time, if I prove myself worthy in the
way you want."
But I am glad to think I had not said it when tea came up, and saved a
dangerous situation by breaking an insidious spell.
I stayed another hour at least, and there are few in my memory which
passed more deliciously at the time. In writing of it now I feel that I
have made too little of Catherine Evers, in my anxiety not to make too
much, yet am about to leave her to stand or to fall in the reader's
opinion by such impression as I have already succeeded in creating in
his or her mind. Let me add one word, or two, while yet I may. A
baron's daughter (though you might have known Catherine some time
without knowing that), she had nevertheless married for mere love as a
very young girl, and had been left a widow before the birth of her boy.
I never knew her husband, though we were distant kin, nor yet herself
during the long years through which she mourned him. Catherine Evers was
beginning to recover her interest in the world when first we met; but
she never returned to that identical fold of society in which she had
been born and bred. It was, of course, despite her own performances, a
fold to which the worldly wolf was no stranger; and her trouble had
turned a light-hearted little lady into an eager, intellectual,
speculative being, with a sort of shame for her former estate, and an
undoubted reactionary dislike of dominion and of petty pomp. Of her own
high folk one neither saw nor heard a thing; her friends were the
powerful preachers of most denominations, and one or two only painted or
wrote; for she had been greatly exercised about religion, and somewhat
solaced by the arts.
Of her charm for me, a lad with a sneaking regard for the pen, even when
I buckled on the sword, I need not be too analytical. No doubt about her
kindly interest, in the first instance, in so morbid a curiosity as a
subaltern who cared for books and was prepared to extend his gracious
patronage to pictures. This subaltern had only too much money, and if
the truth be known, only too little honest interest in the career into
which he had allowed himself to drift. An early stage of that career
brought him up to London, where family pressure drove him on a day to
Elm Park Gardens. The rest is easily conceived. Here was a woman, still
young, though some years older than oneself; attractive, intellectual,
amusing, the soul of sympathy, at once a spiritual influence and the
best companion in the world; and for a time, at least, she had taken a
perhaps imprudent interest in a lad whom she so greatly interested
herself, on so many and various accounts. Must you marvel that the
young fool mistook the interest, on both sides, for a more intense
feeling, of which he for one had no experience at the time, and that he
fell by his mistake at a ridiculously early stage of his career?
It is, I grant, more surprising to find the same young man playing Harry
Esmond (at due distance) to the same Lady Castlewood after years in
India and a taste of two wars. But Catherine's room was Catherine's
room, a very haunt of the higher sirens, charged with noble promptings
and forgotten influences and impossible vows. And you will please bear
in mind that as yet I am but setting forth, from this rarefied
atmosphere, upon my invidious mission.
THE THEATRE OF WAR
It is a far cry to Zermatt at the best of times, and that is not the
middle of August. The annual rush was at its height, the trains crowded,
the heat of them overpowering. I chose to sit up all night in my corner
of an ordinary compartment, as a lesser evil than the _wagon-lit_ in
which you cannot sit up at all. In the morning one was in Switzerland,
with a black collar, a rusty chin, and a countenance in keeping with its
appointments. It was not as though the night had been beguiled for me by
such considerations as are only proper to the devout pilgrim in his
On the contrary, and to tell the honest truth, I found it quite
impossible to sustain such a serious view of the very special service to
which I was foresworn: the more I thought of it, in one sense, the less
in another, until my only chance was to go forward with grim humour in
the spirit of impersonal curiosity which that attitude induces. In a
word, and the cant one which yet happens to express my state of mind to
a nicety, I had already "weakened" on the whole business which I had
been in such a foolish hurry to undertake, though not for one
reactionary moment upon her for whom I had undertaken it. I was still
entirely eager to "do her behest in pleasure or in pain"; but this
particular enterprise I was beginning to view apart from its
inspiration, on its intrinsic demerits, and the more clearly I saw it in
its own light, the less pleasure did the prospect afford me.
A young giant, whom I had not seen since his childhood, was merely
understood to be carrying on a conspicuous, but in all probability the
most innocent, flirtation in a Swiss hotel; and here was I, on mere
second-hand hearsay, crossing half Europe to spoil his perfectly
legitimate sport! I did not examine my project from the unknown lady's
point of view; it made me quite hot enough to consider it from that of
my own sex. Yet, the day before yesterday, I had more than acquiesced
in the dubious plan. I had even volunteered for its achievement. The
train rattled out one long, maddening tune to my own incessant
marvellings at my own secret apostasy: the stuffy compartment was not
Catherine's sanctum of the quickening memorials and the olden spell.
Catherine herself was no longer before me in the vivacious flesh, with
her half playful pathos of word and look, her fascinating outward light
and shade, her deeper and steadier intellectual glow. Those, I suppose,
were the charms which had undone me, first as well as last; but the
memory of them was no solace in the train. Nor was I tempted to dream
again of ultimate reward. I could see now no further than my immediate
part, and a more distasteful mixture of the mean and of the ludicrous I
hope never to rehearse again.
One mitigation I might have set against the rest. Dining at the Rag the
night before I left, I met a man who knew a man then staying at the
Riffel Alp. My man was a sapper with whom I had had a very slight
acquaintance out in India, but he happened to be one of those
good-natured creatures who never hesitate to bestir themselves or their
friends to oblige a mere acquaintance: he asked if I had secured rooms,
and on learning that I had not, insisted on telegraphing to his friend
to do his best for me. I had not hitherto appreciated the popularity of
a resort which I happened only to know by name, nor did I even on
getting at Lausanne a telegram to say that a room was duly reserved for
me. It was only when I actually arrived, tired out with travel, toward
the second evening, and when half of those who had come up with me were
sent down again to Zermatt for their pains, that I felt as grateful as I
ought to have been from the beginning. Here upon a mere ledge of the
High Alps was a hotel with tier upon tier of windows winking in the
setting sun. On every hand were dazzling peaks piled against a turquoise
sky, yet drawn respectfully apart from the incomparable Matterhorn, that
proud grim chieftain of them all. The grand spectacle and the magic air
made me thankful to be there, if only for their sake, albeit the more
regretful that a purer purpose had not drawn me to so fine a spot.
My unknown friend at court, one Quinby, a civilian, came up and spoke
before I had been five minutes at my destination. He was a very tall and
extraordinarily thin man, with an ill-nourished red moustache, and an
easy geniality of a somewhat acid sort. He had a trick of laughing
softly through his nose, and my two sticks served to excite a sense of
humour as odd as its habitual expression.
"I'm glad you carry the outward signs," said he, "for I made the most of
your wounds and you really owe your room to them. You see, we're a very
representative crowd. That festive old boy, strutting up and down with
his cigar, in the Panama hat, is really best known in the black cap:
it's old Sankey, the hanging judge. The big man with his back turned you
will know in a moment when he looks this way: it's our celebrated friend
Belgrave Teale. He comes down in one or other of his parts every day:
to-day it's the genial squire, yesterday it was the haw-haw officer of
the Crimean school. But a real live officer from the Front we don't
happen to have had, much less a wounded one, and you limp straight into
I should have resented these pleasantries from an ordinary stranger, but
this libertine might be held to have earned his charter, and moreover I
had further use for him. We were loitering on the steps between the
glass veranda and the terrace at the back of the hotel. The little
sunlit stage was full of vivid, trivial, transitory life, it seemed as a
foil to the vast eternal scene. The hanging judge still strutted with
his cigar, peering jocosely from under the broad brim of his Panama; the
great actor still posed aloof, the human Matterhorn of the group. I
descried no showy woman with a tall youth dancing attendance; among the
brick-red English faces there was not one that bore the least
resemblance to the latest photograph of Bob Evers.
A little consideration suggested my first move.
"I think I saw a visitors' book in the hall," I said. "I may as well
stick down my name."
But before doing so I ran my eye up and down the pages inscribed by
those who had arrived that month.
"See anybody you know?" inquired Quinby, who hovered obligingly at my
elbow. It was really necessary to be as disingenuous as possible, more
especially with a person whose own conversation was evidently quite
"Yes, by Jove I do! Robin Evers, of all people!"
"Do you know him?"
The question came pretty quickly. I was sorry I had said so much.
"Well, I once knew a small boy of that name; but then they are not a
"His mother's the Honourable," said Quinby, with studious unconcern, yet
I fancied with increased interest in me.
"I used to see something of them both," I deliberately admitted, "when
the lad was little. How has he turned out?"
Quinby gave his peculiar nasal laugh.
"A nice youth," said he. "A very nice youth!"
"Do you mean nice or nasty?" I asked, inclined to bridle at his tone.
"Oh, anything but nasty," said Quinby. "Only--well--perhaps a bit rapid
for his years!"
I stooped and put my name in the book before making any further remark.
Then I handed Quinby my cigarette-case, and we sat down on the nearest
"Rapid, is he?" said I. "That's quite interesting. And how does it take
"Oh, not in any way that's discreditable; but as a matter of fact,
there's a gay young widow here, and they're fairly going it!"
I lit my cigarette with a certain unexpected sense of downright
satisfaction. So there was something in it after all. It had seemed such
a fool's errand in the train.
"A young widow," I repeated, emphasising one of Quinby's epithets and
ignoring the other.
"I mean, of course, she's a good deal older than Evers."
"And her name?"
"A Mrs. Lascelles."
"Do you happen to know anything about her, Captain Clephane?"
"I can't say I do."
"No more does anybody else," said Quinby, "except that she's an Indian
widow of sorts."
"Indian!" I repeated with more interest.
Quinby looked at me.
"You've been out there yourself, perhaps?"
"It was there I knew Hamilton," said I, naming our common friend in the
"Yet you're sure you never came across Mrs. Lascelles there?"
"India's a large place," I said, smiling as I shook my head.
"I wonder if Hamilton did," speculated Quinby aloud.
"And the Lascelleses," I added, "are another large clan."
"Well," he went on, after a moment's further cogitation, "there's nobody
here can place this particular Mrs. Lascelles; but there are some who
say things which they can tell you themselves. I'm not going to repeat
them if you know anything about the boy. I only wish you knew him well
enough to give him a friendly word of advice!"
"Is it so bad as all that?"
"My dear sir, I don't say there's anything bad about it," returned
Quinby, who seemed to possess a pretty gift of suggestive negation. "But
you may hear another opinion from other people, for you will find that
the whole hotel is talking about it. No," he went on, watching my eyes,
"it's no use looking for them at this time of day; they disappear from
morning to night; if you want to see them you must take a stroll when
everybody else is thinking of turning in. Then you may have better luck.
But here are the letters at last."
The concierge had appeared, hugging an overflowing armful of postal
matter. In another minute there was hardly standing room in the little
hall. My companion uttered his unlovely laugh.
"And here comes the British lion roaring for his London papers! It isn't
his letters he's so keen on, if you notice, Captain Clephane; it's his
_Daily Mail_, with the latest cricket, and after that the war. Teale is
an exception, of course. He has a stack of press-cuttings every day.
You will see him gloating over them in a minute. Ah! the old judge has
got his _Sportsman_; he reads nothing else except the _Sporting Times_,
and he's going back for the Leger. Do you see the man with the blue
spectacles and the peeled nose? He was last Vice Chancellor but one at
Cambridge. No, that's not a Bishop, it's an Archdeacon. All we want is a
Cabinet Minister now; every evening there is a rumour that the Colonial
Secretary is on his way, and most mornings you will hear that he has
actually arrived under cloud of night."
The facetious Quinby did not confine his more or less caustic commentary
to the well-known folk of whom there seemed no dearth; in the ten or
twenty minutes that we sat together he further revealed himself as a
copious gossip, with a wide net alike for the big fish and for the
smallest fry. There was a sheepish gentleman with a twitching face, and
a shaven cleric in close attendance; the former a rich brand plucked
from burning by the latter, whose temporal reward was the present trip,
so Quinby assured me during the time it took them to pass before our
eyes through the now emptying hall. A delightfully boyish young American
came inquiring waggishly for his "best girl"; next moment I was given to
understand that he meant his bride, who was ten times too good for him,
with further trivialities to which the dressing-bell put a timely
period. There was no sign of my Etonian when I went upstairs.
As I dressed in my small low room, with its sloping ceiling of varnished
wood, at the top of the house, I felt that after all I had learnt
nothing really new respecting that disturbing young gentleman. Quinby
had already proved himself such an arrant gossip as to discount every
word that he had said before I placed him in his proper type: it is one
which I have encountered elsewhere, that of the middle-aged bachelor who
will and must talk, and he had confessed his celibacy almost in his
first breath; but a more pronounced specimen of the type I am in no
hurry to meet again. If, however, there was some comfort in the thought
of his more than probable exaggerations, there was none at all in the
knowledge that these would be, if they had not already been, poured into
every tolerant ear in the place, if anything more freely than into mine.
I was somewhat late for dinner, but the scandalous couple were later
still, and all the evening I saw nothing of them. That, however, was
greatly due to this fellow Quinby, whose determined offices one could
hardly disdain after once accepting favours from him. In the press after
dinner I saw his ferret's face peering this way and that, a good head
higher than any other, and the moment our eyes met he began elbowing his
way toward me. Only an ingrate would have turned and fled; and for the
next hour or two I suffered Quinby to exploit my wounds and me for a
good deal more than our intrinsic value. To do the man justice, however,
I had no fault to find with the very pleasant little circle into which
he insisted on ushering me, at one end of the glazed veranda, and should
have enjoyed my evening but for an inquisitive anxiety to get in touch
with the unsuspecting pair. Meanwhile the lilt of a waltz had mingled
with the click of billiard balls and the talking and laughing which make
a summer's night vocal in that outpost of pleasure on the silent
heights; and some of our party had gone off to dance. In the end I
followed them, sticks and all; but there was no Bob Evers among the
dancers, nor in the billiard-room, nor anywhere else indoors.
Then, last of all, I looked where Quinby had advised me to look, and
there sure enough, on the almost deserted terrace, were the couple whom
I had come several hundred miles to put asunder. Hitherto I had only
realised the distasteful character of my task; now at a glance I had my
first inkling of its difficulty; and there ended the premature
satisfaction with which I had learnt that there was "something in" the
rumour which had reached Catherine's ears.
There was no moon, but the mountain stars were the brightest I have ever
seen in Europe. The mountains themselves stood back, as it were,
darkling and unobtrusive; all that was left of the Matterhorn was a
towering gap in the stars; and in the faint cold light stood my
friends, somewhat close together, and I thought I saw the red tips of
two cigarettes. There was at least no mistaking the long loose limbs in
the light overcoat. And because a woman always looks relatively taller
than a man, this woman looked nearly as tall as this lad.
"Bob Evers? You may not remember me, but my name's Clephane--Duncan, you
I felt the veriest scoundrel, and yet the words came out as smoothly as
I have written them, as if to show me that I had been a potential
scoundrel all my life.
"Duncan Clephane? Why, of course I remember you. I should think I did! I
say, though, you must have had a shocking time!"
Bob's voice was quite quiet for all his astonishment, his manner a
miracle, though it was too dark to read the face; and his right hand
held tenderly to mine, as his eyes fell upon my sticks, while his left
poised a steady cigarette. And now I saw that there was only one red tip
"I read your name in the visitors' book," said I, feeling too big a
brute to acknowledge the boy's solicitude for me. "I--I felt certain it
must be you."
"How splendid!" cried the great fellow in his easy, soft, unconscious
voice, "By the way, may I introduce you to Mrs. Lascelles? Captain
Clephane's one of our very oldest friends, just back from the Front, and
precious nearly blown to bits!"
Mrs. Lascelles and I exchanged our bows. For a dangerous woman there was
a rather striking want of study in her attire. Over the garment which I
believe is called a "rain-coat," the night being chilly, she had put on
her golf-cape as well, and the effect was a little heterogeneous. It
also argued qualities other than those for which I was naturally on the
watch. Of the lady's face I could see even less than of Bob's, for the
hood of the cape was upturned into a cowl, and even in Switzerland the
stars are only stars. But while I peered she let me hear her voice, and
a very rich one it was--almost deep in tone--the voice of a woman who
would sing contralto.
"Have you really been fighting?" she asked, in a way that was either put
on, or else the expression of a more understanding sympathy than one
usually provoked; for pity and admiration, and even a helpless woman's
envy, might all have been discovered by an ear less critical and more
charitable than mine.
"Like anything!" answered Bob, in his unaffected speech.
"Until they knocked me out," I felt bound to add, "and that,
unfortunately, was before very long."
"You must have been dreadfully wounded!" said Mrs. Lascelles, raising
her eyes from my sticks and gazing at me, I fancied, with some
intentness; but at her expression I could only guess.
"Bowled over on Spion Kop," said Bob, "and fairly riddled as he lay."
"But only about the legs, Mrs. Lascelles," I explained; "and you see I
didn't lose either, so I've no cause to complain. I had hardly a graze
"Were you up there the whole of that awful day?" asked Mrs. Lascelles,
on a low but thrilling note.
"I'd got to be," said I, trying to lighten the subject with a laugh. But
Bob's tone was little better.
"So he went staggering about among his men," he must needs chime in,
with other superfluities, "for I remember reading all about it in the
papers, and boasting like anything about having known you, Duncan, but
feeling simply sick with envy all the time. I say, you'll be a
tremendous hero up here, you know! I'm awfully glad you've come. It's
quite funny, all the same. I suppose you came to get bucked up? He
couldn't have gone to a better place, could he, Mrs. Lascelles?"
"Indeed he could not. I only wish we could empty the hotel and fill
every bed with our poor wounded!"
I do not know why I should have felt so much surprised. I had made unto
myself my own image of Mrs. Lascelles, and neither her appearance, nor a
single word that had fallen from her, was in the least in keeping with
my conception. Prepared for a certain type of woman, I was quite
confounded by its unconventional embodiment, and inclined to believe
that this was not the type at all. I ought to have known life better.
The most scheming mind may well entertain an enthusiasm for arms,
genuine enough in itself, at a martial crisis, and a natural manner is
by no means incompatible with the cardinal vices. That manner and that
enthusiasm were absolutely all that I as yet knew in favour of this Mrs.
Lascelles; but they were enough to cause me irritation. I wished to be
honest with somebody; let me at least be honestly inimical to her. I
took out my cigarette-case, and when about to help myself, handed it,
with a vile pretence at impulse, to Mrs. Lascelles instead.
Mrs. Lascelles thanked me, in a higher key, but declined.
"Don't you smoke?" I asked blandly.
"Ah! then I wasn't mistaken. I thought I saw two cigarettes just now."
Indeed, I had first smelt and afterward discovered the second cigarette
smouldering on the ground. Bob was smoking his still. The chances were
that they had both been lighted at the same time; therefore the other
had been thrown away unfinished at my approach. And that was one more
variation from the type of my confident preconceptions.
Young Robin had meanwhile had a quick eye on us both, and the stump of
his own cigarette was glowing between a firmer pair of lips than I had
looked for in that boyish face.
"It's so funny," said he (but there was no fun in his voice), "the
prejudice some people have against ladies smoking. Why shouldn't they?
Where's the harm?"
Now there is no new plea to be advanced on either side of this eternal
question, nor is it one upon which I ever felt strongly, but just then I
felt tempted to speak as though I did. I will not now dissect my motive,
but it was vaguely connected with my mission, and not unrighteous from
that standpoint. I said it was not a question of harm at all, but of
what one admired in a woman, and what one did not: a man loved to look
upon a woman as something above and beyond him, and there could be no
doubt that the gap seemed a little less when both were smoking like twin
funnels. That, I thought, was the adverse point of view; I did not say
that it was mine.
"I'm glad to hear it," said Bob Evers, with the faintest coldness in his
tone, though I fancied he was fuming within, and admired both his
chivalry and his self-control. "To me it's quite funny. I call it sheer
selfishness. We enjoy a cigarette ourselves; why shouldn't they? We
don't force them to be teetotal, do we? Is it bad form for a lady to
drink a glass of wine? You mightn't bicycle once, might you, Mrs.
Lascelles? I daresay Captain Clephane doesn't approve of that yet!"
"That's hitting below the belt," said I, laughing. "I wasn't giving you
my opinion, but only the old-fashioned view of the matter. I wish you'd
take one, Mrs. Lascelles, or I shall think I've been misunderstood all
"No, thank you, Captain Clephane. That old-fashioned feeling is
"Then I will," cried Bob, "to show there's no ill-feeling. You old
fire-eater, I believe you just put up the argument to change the
conversation. Wouldn't you like a chair for those game legs?"
"No, I've got to use them in moderation. I was going to have a stroll
when I spotted you at last."
"Then we'll all take one together," cried the genial old Bob once more.
"It's a bit cold standing here, don't you think, Mrs. Lascelles? After
you with the match!"
But I held it so long that he had to strike another, for I had looked on
Mrs. Lascelles at last. It was not an obviously interesting face, like
Catherine's, but interest there was of another kind. There was nothing
intellectual in the low brow, no enthusiasm for books and pictures in
the bold eyes, no witticism waiting on the full lips; but in the curve
of those lips and the look from those eyes, as in the deep chin and the
carriage of the hooded head, there was something perhaps not lower than
intellect in the scale of personal equipment. There was, at all events,
character and to spare. Even by the brief glimmer of a single match I
could see that (and more) for myself. Then came a moment's interval
before Bob struck his light, and in that moment her face changed. As I
saw it next, it appealed, it entreated, until the second match was
flung away. And the appeal was to such purpose that I do not think I was
five seconds silent.
"And what do you do with yourself up here all day? I mean you hale
people; of course, I can only potter in the sun."
The question, perhaps, was better in intention than in tact. I did not
mean them to take it to themselves, but Bob's answer showed that it was
open to misconstruction.
"Some people climb," said he; "you'll know them by their noses. The
glaciers are almost as bad, though, aren't they, Mrs. Lascelles? Lots of
people potter about the glaciers. It's rather sport in the serracs;
you've got to rope. But you'll find lots more loafing about the place
all day, reading Tauchnitz novels, and watching people on the Matterhorn
through the telescope. That's the sort of thing, isn't it, Mrs.
She also had misunderstood the drift of my unlucky question. But there
was nothing disingenuous in her reply. It reminded me of her eyes, as I
had seen them by the light of the first match.
"Mr. Evers doesn't say that he is a climber himself, Captain Clephane;
but he is a very keen one, and so am I. We are both beginners, so we
have begun together. It's such fun. We do some little thing every day;
to-day we did the Schwarzee. You won't be any wiser, and the real
climbers wouldn't call it climbing, but it means three thousand feet
first and last. To-morrow we are going to the Monte Rosa hut. There is
no saying where we shall end up, if this weather holds."
In this fashion Mrs. Lascelles not only made me a contemptuous present
of information which I had never sought, but tacitly rebuked poor Bob
for his gratuitous attempt at concealment. Clearly, they had nothing to
conceal; and the hotel talk was neither more nor less than hotel talk.
There was, nevertheless, a certain self-consciousness in the attitude of
either (unless I grossly misread them both) which of itself afforded
some excuse for the gossips in my own mind.
Yet I did not know; every moment gave me a new point of view. On my
remarking, genuinely enough, that I only wished I could go with them,
Bob Evers echoed the wish so heartily that I could not but believe that
he meant what he said. On his side, in that case, there could be
absolutely nothing. And yet, again, when Mrs. Lascelles had left us, as
she did ere long in the easiest and most natural manner, and when we had
started a last cigarette together, then once more I was not so sure of
"That's rather a handsome woman," said I, with perhaps more than the
authority to which my years entitled me. But I fancied it would "draw"
poor Bob. And it did.
"Rather handsome!" said he, with a soft little laugh not altogether
complimentary to me. "Yes, I should almost go as far myself. Still I
don't see how _you_ know; you haven't so much as seen her, my dear
"Haven't we been walking up and down outside this lighted veranda for
the last ten minutes?"
Bob emitted a pitying puff. "Wait till you see her in the sunlight!
There's not many of them can stand it, as they get it up here. But she
"She has made an impression on you, Bob," said I, but in so sedulously
inoffensive a manner that his self-betrayal was all the greater when he
told me quite hotly not to be an ass.
Now I was more than ten years his senior, and Bob's manners were as
charming as only the manners of a nice Eton boy can be; therefore I held
my peace, but with difficulty refrained from nodding sapiently to
myself. We took a couple of steps in silence, then Bob stopped short. I
did the same. He was still a little stern; we were just within range of
the veranda lights, and I can see and hear him to this day, almost as
clearly as I did that night.
"I'm not much good at making apologies," he began, with rather less
grace than becomes an apologist; but it was more than enough for me from
"Nor I at receiving them, my dear Bob."
"Well, you've got to receive one now, whether you accept it or not. I
was the ass myself, and I beg your pardon!"
Somehow I felt it was a good deal for a lad to say, at that age, and
with Bob's upbringing and popularity, even though he said it rather
scornfully in the fewest words. The scorn was really for himself, and I
could well understand it. Nay, I was glad to have something to forgive
in the beginning, I with my unforgivable mission, and would have laughed
the matter off without another word if Bob had let me.
"I'm a bit raw on the point," said he, taking my arm for a last turn,
"and that's the truth. There was a fellow who came out with me, quite a
good chap really, and a tremendous pal of mine at Eton, yet he behaved
like a lunatic about this very thing. Poor chap, he reads like anything,
and I suppose he'd been overdoing it, for he actually asked me to choose
between Mrs. Lascelles and himself! What could a fellow do but let the
poor old simpleton go? They seem to think you can't be pals with a woman
without wanting to make love to her. Such utter rot! I confess I lose my
hair with them; but that doesn't excuse me in the least for losing it
I assured him, on the other hand, that his very natural irritability on
the subject made all the difference in the world. "But whom," I added,
"do you mean by 'them'? Not anybody else in the hotel?"
"Good heavens, no!" cried Bob, finding a fair target for his scorn at
last. "Do you think I care twopence what's said or thought by people I
never saw in my life before and am never likely to see again? I know how
I'm behaving. What does it matter what they think? Not that they're
likely to bother their heads about us any more than we do about them."
"You don't know that."
"I certainly don't care," declared my lordly youth, with obvious
sincerity. "No, I was only thinking of poor old George Kennerley and
people like him, if there are any. I did care what he thought, that is
until I saw he was as mad as anything on the subject. It was too silly.
I tell you what, though, I'd value your opinion!" And he came to another
stop and confronted me again, but this time such a picture of boyish
impulse and of innocent trust in me (even by that faint light) that I
was myself strongly inclined to be honest with him on the spot. But I
only smiled and shook my head.
"Oh, no, you wouldn't," I assured him.
"But I tell you I would!" he cried. "Do _you_ think there's any harm in
my going about with Mrs. Lascelles because I rather like her and she
rather likes me? I won't condescend to give you my word that I mean
What answer could I give? His charming frankness quite disarmed me, and
the more completely because I felt that a dignified reticence would have
been yet more characteristic of this clean, sweet youth, with his noble
unconsciousness alike of evil and of evil speaking. I told him the
truth--that there could be no harm at all with such a fellow as himself.
And he wrung my hand until he hurt it; but the physical pain was a
Never can I remember going up to bed with a better opinion of another
person, or a worse one of myself. How could I go on with my thrice
detestable undertaking? Now that I was so sure of him, why should I even
think of it for another moment? Why not go back to London and tell his
mother that her early confidence had not been misplaced, that the lad
did know how to take care of himself, and better still of any woman whom
he chose to honour with his bright, pure-hearted friendship? All this I
felt as strongly as any conviction I have ever held. Why, then, could I
not write it at once to Catherine in as many words?
Strange how one forgets, how I had forgotten in half an hour! The reason
came home to me on the stairs, and for the second time.
It had come home first by the light of those two matches, struck outside
in the dark part of the deserted terrace. It was not the lad whom I
distrusted, but the woman of whose face I had then obtained my only
I had known her, after all, in India years before.
A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE
Once in the Town Hall at Simla (the only time I was ever there) it was
my fortune to dance with a Mrs. Heymann of Lahore, a tall woman, but a
featherweight partner, and in all my dancing days I never had a better
waltz. To my delight she had one other left, though near the end, and we
were actually dancing when an excitable person came out of the
card-room, flushed with liquor and losses, and carried her off in the
most preposterous manner. It was a shock to me at the time to learn that
this outrageous little man was my partner's husband. Months later, when
I came across their case in the papers, it was, I am afraid, without
much sympathy for the injured husband. The man was quite unpresentable,
and I had seen no more of him at Simla, but of the woman just enough to
know her by matchlight on the terrace at the Riffel Alp.
And this was Bob's widow, this dashing _divorcee_! Dashing she was as I
now remembered her, fine in mould, finer in spirit, reckless and
rebellious as she well might be. I had seen her submit before a
ball-room, but with the contempt that leads captivity captive. Seldom
have I admired anything more. It was splendid even to remember, the
ready outward obedience, the not less apparent indifference and disdain.
There was a woman whom any man might admire, who had had it in her to be
all things to some man! But Bob Evers was not a man at all. And
this--and this--was his widow!
Was she one at all? How could I tell? Yes, it was Lascelles, the other
name in the case, to the best of my recollection. But had she any right
to bear it? And even supposing they had married, what had happened to
the second husband? Widow or no widow, second marriage or no second
marriage, defensible or indefensible, was this the right friend for a
lad still fresh from Eton, the only son of his mother, who had sent me
in secret to his side?
There was only one answer to the last question, whatever might be said
or urged in reply to all the rest. I could not but feel that Catherine
Evers had been justified in her instinct to an almost miraculous degree;
that her worst fears were true enough, so far as the lady was concerned;
and that Providence alone could have inspired her to call in an agent
who knew what I knew, and who therefore saw his duty as plainly as I
already saw mine. But it is one thing to recognise a painful duty and
quite another thing to know how to minimise the pain to those most
affected by its performance. The problem was no easy one to my mind, and
I lay awake upon it far into the night.
Tired out with travel, I fell asleep in the end, to awake with a start
in broad daylight. The sun was pouring through the uncurtained
dormer-window of my room under the roof. And in the sunlight, looking
his best in knickerbockers, as only thin men do, with face greased
against wind and glare, and blue spectacles in rest upon an Alpine
wideawake, stood the lad who had taken his share in keeping me awake.
"I'm awfully sorry," he began. "It's horrid cheek, but when I saw your
room full of light I thought you might have been even earlier than I
was. You must get them to give you curtains up here."
He had a note in his hand and I thought by his manner there was
something that he wished and yet hesitated to tell me. I accordingly
asked him what it was.
"It's what we were speaking about last night!" burst out Bob. "That's
why I've come to you. It's these silly fools who can't mind their own
business and think everybody else is like themselves! Here's a note from
Mrs. Lascelles which makes it plain that that old idiot George is not
the only one who has been talking about us, and some of the talk has
reached her ears. She doesn't say so in so many words, but I can see
it's that. She wants to get out of our expedition to Monte Rosa
hut--wants me to go alone. The question is, ought I to let her get out
of it? Does it matter one rap what this rabble says about us? I've come
to ask your advice--you were such a brick about it all last night--and
what you say I'll do."
I had begun to smile at Bob's notion of "a rabble": this one happened
to include a few quite eminent men, as you have seen, to say nothing of
the average quality of the crowd, of which I had been able to form some
opinion of my own. But I had already noticed in Bob the exclusiveness of
the type to which he belonged, and had welcomed it as one does welcome
the little faults of the well-night faultless. It was his last sentence
that made me feel too great a hypocrite to go on smiling.
"It may not matter to you," I said at length, "but it may to the lady."
"I suppose it does matter more to them?"
The sunburnt face, puckered with a wry wistfulness, was only comic in
its incongruous coat of grease. But I was under no temptation to smile.
I had to confine my mind pretty closely to the general principle, and
rather studiously to ignore the particular instance, before I could
bring myself to answer the almost infantile inquiry in those honest
"My dear fellow, it must!"
Bob looked disappointed but resigned.
"Well, then, I won't press it, though I'm not sure that I agree. You
see, it's not as though there was or ever would be anything between us.
The idea's absurd. We are absolute pals and nothing else. That's what
makes all this such a silly bore. It's so unnecessary. Now she wants me
to go alone, but I don't see the fun of that."
"Does she ask you to go alone?"
"She does. That's the worst of it."
I nodded, and he asked me why.
"She probably thinks it would be the best answer to the tittle-tattlers,
That was not a deliberate lie; not until the words were out did it occur
to me that Mrs. Lascelles might now have another object in getting rid
of her swain for the day. But Bob's eyes lighted in a way that made me
feel a deliberate liar.
"By Jove!" he said, "I never thought of that. I don't agree with her,
mind, but if that's her game I'll play it like a book. So long, Duncan!
I'm not one of those chaps who ask a man's advice without the slightest
intention of ever taking it!"
"But I haven't ventured to advise you," I reminded the boy, with a
cowardly eye to the remotest consequences.
"Perhaps not, but you've shown me what's the proper thing to do." And he
went away to do it there and then, like the blameless exception that I
found him to so many human rules.
I had my breakfast upstairs after this, and lay for some considerable
time a prey to feelings which I shall make no further effort to expound;
for this interview had not altered, but only intensified them; and in
any case they must be obvious to those who take the trouble to conceive
themselves in my unenviable position.
And it was my ironic luck to be so circumstanced in a place where I
could have enjoyed life to the hilt! Only to lie with the window open
was to breathe air of a keener purity, a finer temper, a more
exhilarating freshness, than had ever before entered my lungs; and to
get up and look out of the window was to peer into the limpid brilliance
of a gigantic crystal, where the smallest object was in startling
focus, and the very sunbeams cut with scissors. The people below trailed
shadows like running ink. The light was ultra-tropical. One looked for
drill suits and pith headgear, and was amazed to find pajamas
insufficient at the open window.
Upon the terrace on the other side, when I eventually came down, there
were cane chairs and Tauchnitz novels under the umbrella tents, and the
telescope out and trained upon a party on the Matterhorn. A group of
people were waiting turns at the telescope, my friend Quinby and the
hanging judge among them. But I searched under the umbrella tents as
well as one could from the top of the steps before hobbling down to join
"I have looked for an accident through that telescope," said the jocose
judge, "fifteen Augusts running. They usually have one the day after I
"Good morning, sir!" was Quinby's greeting; and I was instantly
introduced to Sir John Sankey, with such a parade of my military history
as made me wince and Sir John's eye twinkle. I fancied he had formed an
unkind estimate of my rather overpowering friend, and lived to hear my
impression confirmed in unjudicial language. But our first conversation
was about the war, and it lasted until the judge's turn came for the
"Black with people!" he ejaculated. "They ought to have a constable up
there to regulate the traffic."
But when I looked it was long enough before my inexperienced eye could
discern the three midges strung on the single strand of cobweb against
the sloping snow.
"They are coming down," explained the obliging Quinby. "That's one of
the most difficult places, the lower edge of the top slope. It's just a
little way along to the right where the first accident was.... By the
way, your friend Evers says he's going to do the Matterhorn before he
It was unwelcome hearing, for Quinby had paused to regale me with a
lightning sketch of the first accident, and no one had contradicted his
"_Is_ young Evers a friend of yours?" inquired the judge.
The judge did not say another word. But Quinby availed himself of the
first opportunity of playing Ancient Mariner to my Wedding Guest.
"I saw you talking to them," he told me confidentially, "last night, you
He took me by the sleeve.
"Of course I don't know what you said, but it's evidently had an effect.
Evers has gone off alone for the first time since he has been here."
I shifted my position.
"You evidently keep an eye on him, Mr. Quinby."
"I do, Clephane. I find him a diverting study. He is not the only one in
this hotel. There's old Teale on his balcony at the present minute, if
you look up. He has the best room in the hotel; the only trouble is that
it doesn't face the sun all day; he's not used to being in the shade,
and you'll hear him damn the limelight-man in heaps one of these fine
mornings. But your enterprising young friend is a more amusing person
than Belgrave Teale."
I had heard enough of my enterprising young friend from this quarter.
"Do you never make any expeditions yourself, Mr. Quinby?"
"Sometimes." Quinby looked puzzled. "Why do you ask?" he was constrained
"You should have volunteered instead of Mrs. Lascelles to-day. It would
have been an excellent opportunity for prosecuting your own rather
One would have thought that one's displeasure was plain enough at last;
but not a bit of it. So far from resenting the rebuff, the fellow
plucked my sleeve, and I saw at a glance that he had not even listened
to my too elaborate sarcasm.
"Talk of the--lady!" he whispered. "Here she comes."
And a second glance intercepted Mrs. Lascelles on the steps, with her
bold good looks and her fine upstanding carriage, cut clean as a
diamond in that intensifying atmosphere, and hardly less dazzling to the
eye. Yet her cotton gown was simplicity's self; it was the right setting
for such natural brilliance, a brilliance of eyes and teeth and
colouring, a more uncommon brilliance of expression. Indeed it was a
wonderful expression, brave rather than sweet, yet capable of sweetness
too, and for the moment at least nobly free from the defensive
bitterness which was to mark it later. So she stood upon the steps, the
talk of the hotel, trailing, with characteristic independence, a cane
chair behind her, while she sought a shady place for it, even as I had
stood seeking for her: before she found one I was hobbling toward her.
"Oh, thanks, Captain Clephane, but I couldn't think of allowing you!
Well, then, between us, if you insist. Here under the wall, I think, is
as good a place as any."
She pointed out a clear space in the rapidly narrowing ribbon of shade,
and there I soon saw Mrs. Lascelles settled with her book (a trashy
novel, that somehow brought Catherine Evers rather sharply before my
mind's eye) in an isolation as complete as could be found upon the
crowded terrace, and too intentional on her part to permit of an
intrusion on mine. I lingered a moment, nevertheless.
"So you didn't go to that hut after all, Mrs. Lascelles?"
"No." She waited a moment before looking up at me. "And I'm afraid Mr.
Evers will never forgive me," she added after her look, in the rich
undertone that had impressed me overnight, before the cigarette
I was not going to say that I had seen Bob before he started, but it was
an opportunity of speaking generally of the lad. Thus I found myself
commenting on the coincidence of our meeting again--he and I--and again
lying before I realised that it was a lie. But Mrs. Lascelles sat
looking up at me with her fine and candid eyes, as though she knew as
well as I which was the real coincidence, and knew that I knew into the
bargain. It gave me the disconcerting sensation of being detected and
convicted at one blow. Bob Evers failed me as a topic, and I stood like
the fool I felt.
"I am sure you ought not to stand about so much, Captain Clephane."
Mrs. Lascelles was smiling faintly as I prepared to take her hint.
"Doesn't it really do you any harm?" she inquired in time to detain me.
"No, just the opposite. I am ordered to take all the exercise I can."
"Even hobbling, Mrs. Lascelles, if I don't overdo it."
She sat some moments in thought. I guessed what she was thinking, and I
"There are some lovely walks quite near, Captain Clephane. But you have
to climb a little, either going or coming."
"I could climb a little," said I, making up my mind. "It's within the
meaning of the act--it would do me good. Which way will you take me,
Mrs. Lascelles looked up quickly, surprised at a boldness on which I was
already complimenting myself. But it is the only way with a bold woman.
"Did I say I would take you at all, Captain Clephane?"
"No, but I very much hope you will."
And our eyes met as fairly as they had done by matchlight the night
"Then I will," said Mrs. Lascelles, "because I want to speak to you."
A MARKED WOMAN
We had come farther than was wise without a rest, but all the seats on
the way were in full view of the hotel, and I had been irritated by
divers looks and whisperings as we traversed the always crowded terrace.
Bob Evers, no doubt, would have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to
them. I myself could pretend to do so, but pretence was evidently one of
my strong points. I had not Bob's fine natural regardlessness, for all
my seniority and presumably superior knowledge of the world.
So we had climbed the zigzags to the right of the Riffelberg and
followed the footpath overlooking the glacier, in the silence enjoined
by single file, but at last we were seated on the hillside, a trifle
beyond that emerald patch which some humourist has christened the
Cricket-ground. Beneath us were the serracs of the Gorner Glacier,
teased and tousled like a fringe of frozen breakers. Beyond the serracs
was the main stream of comparatively smooth ice, with its mourning band
of moraine, and beyond that the mammoth sweep and curve of the Theodule
where these glaciers join. Peak after peak of dazzling snow dwindled
away to the left. Only the gaunt Riffelhorn reared a brown head against
the blue. And there we sat, Mrs. Lascelles and I, with all this before
us and a rock behind, while I wondered what my companion meant to say,
and how she would begin.
I had not to wonder long.
"You were very good to me last night, Captain Clephane."
There was evidently no beating about the bush for Mrs. Lascelles. I
thoroughly approved, but was nevertheless somewhat embarrassed for the
"I--really I don't know how, Mrs. Lascelles!"
"Oh, yes, you do, Captain Clephane; you recognised me at a glance, as I
"I certainly thought I did," said I, poking about with the ferrule of
one of my sticks.
"You know you did."
"You are making me know it."
"Captain Clephane, you knew it all along; but we won't argue that point.
I am not going to deny my identity. It is very good of you to give me
the chance, if rather unnecessary. I am not a criminal. Still you could
have made me feel like one, last night, and heaps of men would have done
so, either for the fun of it or from want of tact."
I looked inquiringly at Mrs. Lascelles. She could tell me what she
pleased, but I was not going to anticipate her by displaying an
independent knowledge of matters which she might still care to keep to
herself. If she chose to open up a painful subject, well, the pain be
upon her own head. Yet I must say that there was very little of it in
her face as our eyes met. There was the eager candour that one could not
help admiring, with the glowing look of gratitude which I had done so
ridiculously little to earn; but the fine flushed face betrayed neither
pain, nor shame, nor the affectation of one or the other. There was a
certain shyness with the candour. That was all.
"You know quite well what I mean," continued Mrs. Lascelles, with a
genuine smile at my disingenuous face. "When you met me before it was
under another name, which you have probably quite forgotten."
"No, I remember it."
"Do you remember my husband?"
"Did you ever hear--"
Her lip trembled. I dropped my eyes.
"Yes," I admitted, "or rather I saw it for myself in the papers. It's no
use pretending I didn't, nor yet that I was the least bit surprised
or--or anything else!"
That was not one of my tactful speeches. It was culpably, might indeed
have been wilfully, ambiguous; and yet it was the kind of clumsy and
impulsive utterance which has the ring of a good intention, and is thus
inoffensive except to such as seek excuses for offence. My instincts
about Mrs. Lascelles did not place her in this category at all.
Nevertheless, the ensuing pause was long enough to make me feel uneasy,
and my companion only broke it as I was in the act of framing an
"May I bore you, Captain Clephane?" she asked abruptly. I looked at her
once more. She had regained an equal mastery of face and voice, and the
admirable candour of her eyes was undimmed by the smallest trace of
"You may try," said I, smiling with the obvious gallantry.
"If I tell you something about myself from that time on, will you
believe what I say?"
"You are the last person whom I should think of disbelieving."
"Thank you, Captain Clephane."
"On the other hand, I would much rather you didn't say anything that
gave you pain, or that you might afterward regret."
There was a touch of weariness in Mrs. Lascelles's smile, a rather
pathetic touch to my mind, as she shook her head.
"I am not very sensitive to pain," she remarked. "That is the one thing
to be said for having to bear a good deal while you are fairly young. I
want you to know more about me, because I believe you are the only
person here who knows anything at all. And then--you didn't give me away
I pointed to the grassy ledge in front of us, such a vivid green against
the house now a hundred feet below.
"I am not pushing you over there," I said. "I take about as much credit
"Ah," sighed Mrs. Lascelles, "but that dear boy, who turns out to be a
friend of yours, he knows less than anybody else! He doesn't even
suspect. It would have hurt me, yes, it would have hurt even me, to be
given away to him! You didn't do it while I was there, and I know you
didn't when I had turned my back."
"Of course you know I didn't," I echoed rather testily as I took out a
cigarette. The case reminded me of the night before. But I did not again
hand it to Mrs. Lascelles.
"Well, then," she continued, "since you didn't give me away, even
without thinking, I want you to know that after all there isn't quite so
much to give away as there might have been. A divorce, of course, is
always a divorce; there is no getting away from that, or from mine. But
I really did marry again. And I really am the widow they think I am."
I looked quickly up at her, in pure pity and compassion for one gone so
far in sorrow and yet such a little way in life. It was a sudden
feeling, an unpremeditated look, but I might as well have spoken aloud.
Mrs. Lascelles read me unerringly, and she shook her head, sadly but
decidedly, while her eyes gazed calmly into mine.
"_It_ was not a happy marriage, either," she said, as impersonally as if
speaking of another woman. "You may think what you like of me for saying
so to a comparative stranger; but I won't have your sympathy on false
pretences, simply because Major Lascelles is dead. Did you ever meet
him, by the way?"
And she mentioned an Indian regiment. But the major and I had never met.
"Well, it was not very happy for either of us. I suppose such marriages
never are. I know they are never supposed to be. Even if the couple are
everything to each other, there is all the world to point his finger,
and all the world's wife to turn her back, and you have to care a good
deal to get over that. But you may have been desperate in the first
instance; you may have said to yourself that the fire couldn't be much
worse than the frying-pan. In that case, of course, you deserve no
sympathy, and nothing is more irritating to me than the sympathy I don't
deserve. It's a matter of temperament; I'm obliged to speak out, even if
it puts people more against me than they were already. No, you needn't
say anything, Captain Clephane; you didn't express your sympathy, I
stopped you in time.... And yet it is rather hard, when one's still
reasonably young, with almost everything before one--to be a marked
woman all one's time!"
Up to her last words, despite an inviting pause after almost every
sentence, I had succeeded in holding my tongue; though she was looking
wistfully now at the distant snow-peaks and obviously bestowing upon
herself the sympathy she did not want from me (as I had been told in so
many words, if not more plainly in the accompanying brief encounter
between our eyes), yet had I resisted every temptation to put in my
word, until these last two or three from Mrs. Lascelles. They, however,
demanded a denial, and I told her it was absurd to describe herself in
"I am marked," she persisted, "wherever I go I may be known, as you knew
me here. If it hadn't been you it would have been somebody else, and I
should have known of it indirectly instead of directly; but even
supposing I had escaped altogether at this hotel, the next one would
probably have made up for it."
"Do you stay much in hotels?"
There had been something in the mellow voice which made such a question
only natural, yet it was scarcely asked before I would have given a good
deal to recall it.
"There is nowhere else to stay," said Mrs. Lascelles, "unless one sets
up house alone, which is costlier and far less comfortable. You see, one
does make a friend or two sometimes--before one is found out."
"But surely your people--"
This time I did check myself.
"My people," said Mrs. Lascelles, "have washed their hands of me."
"But Major Lascelles--surely _his_ people--"
"They washed their hands of him! You see, they would be the first to
tell you, he had always been rather wild; but his crowning act of
madness in their eyes was his marriage. It was worse than the worst
thing he had ever done before. Still, it is not for me to say anything,
or feel anything, against his family...."
And then I knew that they were making her an allowance; it was more than
I wanted to know; the ground was too delicate, and led nowhere in
particular. Still, it was difficult not to take a certain amount of
interest in a handsome woman who had made such a wreck of her life so
young, who was so utterly alone, so proud and independent in her
loneliness, and apparently quite fine-hearted and unspoilt. But for Bob
Evers and his mother, the interest that I took might have been a little
different in kind; but even with my solicitude for them there mingled
already no small consideration for the social solitary whom I watched
now as she sat peering across the glacier, the foremost figure in a
world of high lights and great backgrounds, and whom to watch was to
admire, even against the greatest of them all. Alas! mere admiration
could not change my task or stay my hand; it could but clog me by
destroying my singleness of purpose, and giving me a double heart to
match my double face.
Since, however, a detestable duty had been undertaken, and since as a
duty it was more apparent than I had dreamt of finding it, there was
nothing for it but to go through with the thing and make immediate
enemies of my friends. So I set my teeth and talked of Bob. I was glad
Mrs. Lascelles liked him. His father was a remote connection of mine,
whom I had never met. But I had once known his mother very well.
"And what is she like?" asked Mrs. Lascelles, calling her fine eyes home
from infinity, and fixing them once more on me.
OUT OF ACTION
Now if, upon a warm, soft, summer evening, you were suddenly asked to
describe the perfect winter's day, either you would have to stop and
think a little, or your imagination is more elastic than mine. Yet you
might have a passionate preference for cold sun and bracing airs. To me,
Catherine Evers and this Mrs. Lascelles were as opposite to each other
as winter and summer, or the poles, or any other notorious antitheses.
There was no comparison between them in my mind, yet as I sat with one
among the sunlit, unfamiliar Alps, it was a distinct effort to picture
the other in the little London room I knew so well. For it was always
among her books and pictures that I thought of Catherine, and to think
was to wish myself there at her side, rather than to wish her here at
mine. Catherine's appeal, I used to think, was to the highest and the
best in me, to brain and soul, and young ambition, and withal to one's
love of wit and sense of humour. Mrs. Lascelles, on the other hand,
struck me primarily in the light of some splendid and spirited animal. I
still liked to dwell upon her dancing. She satisfied the mere eye more
and more. But I had no reason to suppose that she knew right from wrong
in art or literature, any more than she would seem to have distinguished
between them in life itself. Her Tauchnitz novel lay beside her on the
grass and I again reflected that it would not have found a place on
Catherine's loftiest shelf. Catherine would have raved about the view
and made delicious fun of Quinby and the judge, and we should have sat
together talking poetry and harmless scandal by the happy hour. Mrs.
Lascelles probably took place and people alike for granted. But she had
lived, and as an animal she was superb! I looked again into her healthy
face and speaking eyes, with their bitter knowledge of good and evil,
their scorn of scorn, their redeeming honesty and candour. The contrast
was complete in every detail except the widowhood of both women; but I
did not pursue it any farther; for once more there was but one woman in
my thoughts, and she sat near me under a red parasol--clashing so
humanly with the everlasting snows!
"You don't answer my question, Captain Clephane. How much for your
"I'll make you a present of them, Mrs. Lascelles. I was beginning to
think that a lot of rot has been written about the eternal snows and the
mountain-tops and all the rest of it. There a few lines in that last
little volume of Browning--"
I stopped of my own accord, for upon reflection the lines would have
made a rather embarrassing quotation. But meanwhile Mrs. Lascelles had
taken alarm on other grounds.
"Oh, _don't_ quote Browning!"
"He is far too deep for me; besides, I don't care for poetry, and I was
asking you about Mrs. Evers."
"Well," I said, with some little severity, "she's a very clever woman."
"Clever enough to understand Browning?"
If this was irony, it was also self-restraint, for it was to Catherine's
enthusiasm that I owed my own. The debt was one of such magnitude as a
life of devotion could scarcely have repaid, for to whom do we owe so
much as to those who first lifted the scales from our eyes and awakened
within us a soul for all such things? Catherine had been to me what I
instantly desired to become to this benighted beauty; but the desire was
not worth entertaining, since I hardly expected to be many minutes
longer on speaking terms with Mrs. Lascelles. I recalled the fact that
it was I who had broached the subject of Bob Evers and his mother,
together with my unpalatable motive for so doing. And I was seeking in
my mind, against the grain, I must confess, for a short cut back to Bob,
when Mrs. Lascelles suddenly led the way.
"I don't think," said she, "that Mr. Evers takes after his mother."
"I'm afraid he doesn't," I replied, "in that respect."
"And I am glad," she said. "I do like a boy to be a boy. The only son
of his mother is always in danger of becoming something else. Tell me,
Captain Clephane, are they very devoted to each other?"
There was some new note in that expressive voice of hers. Was it merely
wistful, was it really jealous, or was either element the product of my
own imagination? I made answer while I wondered:
"Absolutely devoted, I should say; but it's years since I saw them
together. Bob was a small boy then, and one of the jolliest. Still I
never expected him to grow up the charming chap he is now."
Mrs. Lascelles sat gazing at the great curve of Theodule Glacier. I
watched her face.
"He _is_ charming," she said at length. "I am not sure that I ever met
anybody quite like him, or rather I am quite sure that I never did. He
is so quiet, in a way, and yet so wonderfully confident and at ease!"
"That's Eton," said I. "He is the best type of Eton boy, and the best
type of Eton boy," I declared, airing the little condition with a
flourish, "is one of the greatest works of God."
"I daresay you're right," said Mrs. Lascelles, smiling indulgently; "but
what is it? How do you define it? It isn't 'side,' and yet I can quite
imagine people who don't know him thinking that it is. He is cocksure of
himself, but of nothing else; that seems to me to be the difference. No
one could possibly be more simple in himself. He may have the assurance
of a man of fifty, yet it isn't put on; it's neither bumptious nor
affected, but just as natural in Mr. Evers as shyness and awkwardness in
the ordinary youth one meets. And he has the _savoir faire_ not to ask
Were we all mistaken? Was this the way in which a designing woman would
speak of the object of her designs? Not that I thought so hardly of Mrs.
Lascelles myself; but I did think that she might well fall in love with
Bob Evers, at least as well as he with her. Was this, then, the way in
which a woman would be likely to speak of the young man with whom she
had fallen in love? To me the appreciation sounded too frank and
discerning and acute. Yet I could not call it dispassionate, and
frankness was this woman's outstanding merit, though I was beginning to
discover others as well. Moreover, the fact remained that they had been
greatly talked about; that at any rate must be stopped and I was there
to stop it.
I began to pick my words.
"It's all Eton, except what is in the blood, and it's all a question of
manners, or rather of manner. Don't misunderstand me, Mrs. Lascelles. I
don't say that Bob isn't independent in character as well as in his
ways, but only that when all's said he's still a boy and not a man. He
can't possibly have a man's experience of the world, or even of himself.
He has a young head on his shoulders, after all, if not a younger one
than many a boy with half the assurance that you admire in him."
Mrs. Lascelles looked at me point-blank.
"Do you mean that he can't take care of himself?"
"I don't say that."
"Then what do you say?"
The fine eyes met mine without a flicker. The full mouth was curved at
the corners in a tolerant, unsuspecting smile. It was hard to have to
make an enemy of so handsome and good-humoured a woman. And was it
necessary, was it even wise? As I hesitated she turned and glanced
downward once more toward the glacier, then rose and went to the lip of
our grassy ledge, and as she returned I caught the sound which she had
been the first to hear. It was the gritty planting of nailed boots upon
a hard, smooth rock.
"I'm afraid you can't say it now," whispered Mrs. Lascelles. "Here's Mr.
Evers himself, coming this way back from the Monte Rosa hut! I'm going
to give him a surprise!"
And it was a genuine one that she gave him, for I heard his boyish
greeting before I saw his hot brown face, and there was no mistaking the
sudden delight of both. It was sudden and spontaneous, complete, until
his eyes lit on me. Even then his smile did not disappear, but it
changed, as did his tone.
"Good heavens!" cried Bob. "How on earth did _you_ get up here? By rail
to the Riffelberg, I hope?"
"On my sticks."
"It was much too far for him," added Mrs. Lascelles, "and all my fault
for showing him the way. But I'm afraid there was contributory obstinacy
in Captain Clephane, because he simply wouldn't turn back. And now tell
us about yourself, Mr. Evers; surely we were not coming back this way?"
"_We_ were not," said Bob, with a something sardonic in his little
laugh, "but I thought I might as well. It's the long way, six miles on
end upon the glacier."
"But have you really been to the hut?"
"And where's our guide?"
"Oh, I wouldn't be bothered with a guide all to myself."
"My dear young man, you might have stepped straight into a crevasse!"
"I precious nearly did," laughed Bob, again with something odd about his
laughter; "but I say, do you know, if you won't think me awfully rude,
I'll push on back and get changed. I'm as hot as anything and not fit
to be seen."
And he was gone after very little more than a minute from first to last,
gone with rather an elaborate salute to Mrs. Lascelles, and rather a
cavalier nod to me. But then neither of us had made any effort to detain
him and a notable omission I thought it in Mrs. Lascelles, though to the
lad himself it may well have seemed as strange in the old friend as in
"What was it," asked Mrs. Lascelles, when we were on our way home, "that
you were going to say about Mr. Evers when he appeared in the flesh in
that extraordinary way?"
"I forget," said I, immorally.
"Really? So soon? Don't you remember, I thought you meant that he
couldn't take care of himself, and you were just going to tell me what
you did mean?"
"Oh, well, it wasn't that, because he can!"
But, as a matter of fact, I had seen my way to taking care of Master Bob
without saying a word either to him or to Mrs. Lascelles, or at all
events without making enemies of them both.
My plan was quite obvious in its simplicity, and not in the least
discreditable from my point of view. It was perhaps inevitable that a
boy like Bob should imagine I was trying to "cut him out," as my blunt
friend Quinby phrased it to my face. I had not, of course, the smallest
desire to do any such vulgar thing. All I wanted was to make myself, if
possible, as agreeable to Mrs. Lascelles as this youth had done before
me, and in any case to share with him all the perils of her society. In
other words I meant to squeeze into "the imminent deadly breach" beside
Bob Evers, not necessarily in front of him. But if there was nothing
dastardly in this, neither was there anything heroic, since I was proof