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Running Water by A. E. W. Mason

Part 3 out of 5

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against the yellow wall. And then the carriage stopped at a house on the
left-hand side, and Garratt Skinner got out.

"Here we are," he said.

It was a small square house of the Georgian days, built of old brick,
duskily red. You entered it at the side and the big level windows of the
living rooms looked out upon a wide and high-walled garden whence a
little door under a brick archway in the wall gave a second entrance on
to the road. Into this garden Sylvia wandered. If she had met with but
few people who matched the delicate company of her dreams, here, at all
events, was a mansion where that company might have fitly gathered. Great
elms and beeches bent under their load of leaves to the lawn; about the
lawn, flowers made a wealth of color, and away to the right of the house
twisted stems and branches, where the green of the apples was turning to
red, stood evenly spaced in a great orchard. And the mill stream
tunneling under the road and the wall ran swiftly between green banks
through the garden and the orchard, singing as it ran. There lingered,
she thought, an ancient grace about this old garden, some flavor of
forgotten days, as in a room scented with potpourri; and she walked the
lawn in a great contentment.

The house within charmed her no less. It was a place of many corners and
quaint nooks, and of a flooring so unlevel that she could hardly pass
from one room to another without taking a step up or a step down. Sylvia
went about the house quietly and with a certain thoughtfulness. Here she
had been born and a mystery of her life was becoming clear to her. On
this summer evening the windows were set wide in every room, and thus in
every room, as she passed up and down, she heard the liquid music of
running water, here faint, like a whispered melody, there pleasant, like
laughter, but nowhere very loud, and everywhere quite audible. In one of
these rooms she had been born. In one of these rooms her mother had slept
at nights during the weeks before she was born, with that music in her
ears at the moment of sleep and at the moment of her waking. Sylvia
understood now why she had always dreamed of running water. She wondered
in which room she had been born. She tried to remember some corner of the
house, some nook in its high-walled garden; and that she could not awoke
in her a strange and almost eery feeling. She had come back to a house in
which she had lived, to a scene on which her eyes had looked, to sounds
which had murmured in her ears, and everything was as utterly new to her
and unimagined as though now for the first time she had crossed the
threshold. Yet these very surroundings to which her memory bore no
testimony had assuredly modified her life, had given to her a particular
possession, this dream of running water, and had made it a veritable
element of her nature. She could not but reflect upon this new knowledge,
and as she walked the garden in the darkness of the evening, she built
upon it, as will be seen.

As she stepped back over the threshold into the library where her father
sat, she saw that he was holding a telegram in his hand.

"Wallie Hine comes to-morrow, my dear," he said.

Sylvia looked at her father wistfully.

"It is a pity," she said, "a great pity. It would have been pleasant if
we could have been alone."

The warmth of her gladness had gone from her; she walked once more in
shadows; there was in her voice a piteous appeal for affection, for love,
of which she had had too little in her life and for which she greatly
craved. She stood by the door, her lips trembling and her dark eyes for a
wonder glistening with tears. She had always, even to those who knew her
to be a woman, something of the child in her appearance, which made a
plea from her lips most difficult to refuse. Now she seemed a child on
whom the world pressed heavily before her time for suffering had come;
she had so motherless a look. Even Garratt Skinner moved uncomfortably in
his chair; even that iron man was stirred.

"I, too, am sorry, Sylvia," he said, gently; "but we will make the best
of it. Between us"--and he laughed gaily, setting aside from him his
momentary compassion--"we will teach poor Wallie Hine a little geography,
won't we?"

Sylvia had no smile ready for a reply. But she bowed her head, and into
her face and her very attitude there came an expression of patience. She
turned and opened the door, and as she opened it, and stood with her back
toward her father, she said in a quiet and clear voice, "Very well," and
so passed up the stairs to her room.

It might, after all, merely be kindness in her father which had led him
to insist on Wallie Hine's visit. So she argued, and the more
persistently because she felt that the argument was thin. He could be
kind. He had been thoughtful for her during the past week in the small
attentions which appeal so much to women. Because he saw that she loved
flowers, he had engaged a new gardener for their stay; and he had shown,
in one particular instance, a quite surprising thoughtfulness for a class
of unhappy men with whom he could have had no concern, the convicts in
Portland prison. That instance remained for a long time vividly in her
mind, and at a later time she spoke of it with consequences of a
far-reaching kind. She thought then, as she thought now, only of the
kindness of her father's action, and for the first week of Hine's visit
that thought remained with her. She was on the alert, but nothing
occurred to arouse in her a suspicion. There were no cards, little wine
was drunk, and early hours were kept by the whole household. Indeed,
Garratt Skinner left entirely to his daughter the task of entertaining
his guest; and although once he led them both over the great down to
Dorchester and back, at a pace which tired his companions out, he
preferred, for the most part, to smoke his pipe in a hammock in the
garden with a novel at his side. The morning after that one expedition,
he limped out into the garden, rubbing the muscles of his thigh.

"You must look after Wallie, my dear," he said. "Age is beginning to find
me out. And after all, he will learn more of the tact and manners which
he wants from you than from a rough man like me," and it did not occur to
Sylvia, who was of a natural modesty of thought, that he had any other
intention of throwing them thus together than to rid himself of a guest
with whom he had little in common.

But a week later she changed her mind. She was driving Walter Hine
one morning into Weymouth, and as the dog-cart turned into the road
beside the bay, and she saw suddenly before her the sea sparkling in
the sunlight, the dark battle-ships at their firing practice, and
over against her, through a shimmering haze of heat, the crouching
mass of Portland, she drew in a breath of pleasure. It seemed to her
that her companion gave the same sign of enjoyment, and she turned to
him with some surprise. But Walter Hine was looking to the wide
beach, so black with holiday makers that it seemed at that distance a
great and busy ant-heap.

"That's what I like," he said, with a chuckle of anticipation. "Lot's o'
people. I've knocked about too long in the thick o' things, you see, Miss
Sylvia, kept it up--I have--seen it right through every night till three
o'clock in the morning, for months at a time. Oh, that's the real thing!"
he broke off. "It makes you feel good."

Sylvia laughed.

"Then if you dislike the country," she said, and perhaps rather eagerly,
"why did you come to stay with us at all?"

And suddenly Hine leered at her.

"Oh, you know!" he said, and almost he nudged her with his elbow. "I
wouldn't have come, of course, if old Garratt hadn't particularly told
me that you were agreeable." Sylvia grew hot with shame. She drew
away, flicked the horse with her whip and drove on. Had she been used,
she wondered, to lure this poor helpless youth to the sequestered
village where they stayed?--and a chill struck through her even on
that day of July. The plot had been carefully laid if that were so;
she was to be hoodwinked no less than Wallie Hine. What sinister thing
was then intended?

She tried to shake off the dread which encompassed her, pleading to
herself that she saw perils in shadows like the merest child. But
she had not yet shaken it off when Walter Hine cried out excitedly
to her to stop.

"Look!" he said, and he pointed toward an hotel upon the sea-front which
at that moment they were passing.

Sylvia looked, and saw obsequiously smirking upon the steps of the hotel,
with his hat lifted from his shiny head, her old enemy, Captain Barstow.
Fortunately she had not stopped. She drove quickly on, just acknowledging
his salute. It needed but this meeting to confirm her fears. It was not
coincidence which had brought Captain Barstow on their heels to Weymouth.
He had come with knowledge and a definite purpose.

"Oh, I say," protested Wallie Hine, "you might have stopped, Miss Sylvia,
and let me pass the time of day with old Barstow."

Sylvia stopped the trap at once.

"I am sorry," she said. "You will find your own way home. We lunch at
half past one."

Hine looked doubtfully at her and then back toward the hotel.

"I didn't mean that I wanted to leave you, Miss Sylvia," he said. "Not by
a long chalk."

"But you must leave me, Mr. Hine," she said, looking at him with serious
eyes, "if you want to pass the time of day with your 'red-hot' friend."

There was no hint of a smile about her lips. She waited for his answer.
It came accompanied with a smile which aimed at gallantry and was
merely familiar.

"Of course I stay where I am. What do _you_ think?"

Sylvia hurried over her shopping and drove homeward. She went at once to
her father, who lay in the hammock in the shade of the trees, reading a
book. She came up from behind him across the grass, and he was not aware
of her approach until she spoke.

"Father!" she said, and he started up.

"Oh, Sylvia!" he said, and just for a second there was a palpable
uneasiness in his manner. He had not merely started. He seemed also to
her to have been startled. But he recovered his composure.

"You see, my dear, I have been thinking of you," he said, and he pointed
to a man at work among the flower-beds. "I saw how you loved flowers,
how you liked to have the rooms bright with them. So I hired a new
gardener as a help. It is a great extravagance, Sylvia, but you are to
blame, not I."

He smiled, confident of her gratitude, and had it been but yesterday he
would have had it offered to him in full measure. To-day, however, all
her thoughts were poisoned by suspicion. She knew it and was distressed.
She knew how much happiness so simple a forethought would naturally have
brought to her. She did not indeed suspect any new peril in her father's
action. She barely looked toward the new gardener, and certainly
neglected to note whether he worked skilfully or no. But the fears of the
morning modified her thanks. Moreover the momentary uneasiness of her
father had not escaped her notice and she was wondering upon its cause.

"Father," she resumed, "I saw Captain Barstow in Weymouth this morning."

Though her eyes were on his face, and perhaps because her eyes were
resting there with so quiet a watchfulness, she could detect no
self-betrayal now. Garratt Skinner stared at her in pure astonishment.
Then the astonishment gave place to annoyance.

"Barstow!" he said angrily. He lay back in the hammock, looking up to the
boughs overhead, his face wrinkled and perplexed. "He has found us out
and followed us, Sylvia. I would not have had it happen for worlds. Did
he see you?"

"Yes."

"And I thought that here, at all events, we were safe from him. I wonder
how he found us out! Bribed the caretaker in Hobart Place, I suppose."

Sylvia did not accept this suggestion. She sat down upon a chair in a
disconcerting silence, and waited. Garratt Skinner crossed his arms
behind his head and deliberated.

"Barstow's a deep fellow, Sylvia," he said. "I am afraid of him."

He was looking up to the boughs overhead, but he suddenly glanced toward
her and then quietly removed one of his hands and slipped it down to the
book which was lying on his lap. Sylvia took quiet note of the movement.
The book had been lying shut upon his lap, with its back toward her.
Garratt Skinner did not alter its position; but she saw that his hand now
hid from her the title on the back. It was a big, and had the appearance
of an expensive, book. She noticed the binding--green cloth boards and
gold lettering on the back. She was not familiar with the look of it, and
it seemed to her that she might as well know--and as quickly as
possible--what the book was and the subject with which it dealt.

Meanwhile Garratt Skinner repeated:

"A deep fellow--Captain Barstow," and anxiously Garratt Skinner debated
how to cope with that deep fellow. He came at last to his conclusion.

"We can't shut our doors to him, Sylvia."

Even though she had half expected just that answer, Sylvia flinched as
she heard it uttered.

"I understand your feelings, my dear," he continued in tones of
commiseration, "for they are mine. But we must fight the Barstows with
the Barstows' weapons. It would never do for us to close our doors. He
has far too tight a hold of Wallie Hine as yet. He has only to drop a
hint to Wallie that we are trying to separate him from his true friends
and keep him to ourselves--and just think, my dear, what a horrible set
of motives a mean-minded creature like Barstow could impute to us! Let us
be candid, you and I," cried Garratt Skinner, starting up, as though
carried away by candor. "Here am I, a poor man--here are you, my
daughter, a girl with the charm and the beauty of the spring, and here's
Wallie Hine, rich, weak, and susceptible. Oh, there's a story for a
Barstow to embroider! But, Sylvia, he shall not so much as hint at the
story. For your sake, my dear, for your sake," cried Garratt Skinner,
with all the emphasis of a loving father. He wiped his forehead with his
handkerchief.

"I was carried away by my argument," he went on in a calmer voice. Sylvia
for her part had not been carried away at all, and no doubt her watchful
composure helped him to subdue as ineffective the ardor of his tones.
"Barstow has only to drop this hint to Wallie Hine, and Wallie will be
off like a rabbit at the sound of a gun. And there's our chance gone of
helping him to a better life. No, we must welcome Barstow, if he comes
here. Yes, actually welcome him, however repugnant it may be to our
feelings. That's what we must do, Sylvia. He must have no suspicion that
we are working against him. We must lull him to sleep. That is our only
way to keep Wallie Hine with us. So that, Sylvia, must be our plan of
campaign."

The luncheon bell rang as he ended his oration. He got out of the hammock
quickly, as if to prevent discussion of his plan; and the book which he
was carrying caught in the netting of the hammock and fell to the ground.
Sylvia could read the title now. She did read it, hastily, as Garratt
Skinner stooped to pick it up. It was entitled "The Alps in 1864."

She knew the book by repute and was surprised to find it in her father's
hands. She was surprised still more that he should have been at so much
pains to conceal the title from her notice. After all, what could it
matter? she wondered.

Sylvia lay deep in misery that night. Her father had failed her utterly.
All the high hopes with which she had set out from Chamonix had fallen,
all the rare qualities with which her dreams had clothed him as in
shining raiment must now be stripped from him. She was not deceived.
Parminter, Barstow, Garratt Skinner--there was one "deep fellow" in that
trio, but it was neither Barstow nor Parminter. It was her father. She
had but to set the three faces side by side in her thoughts, to remember
the differences of manner, mind and character. Garratt Skinner was the
master in the conspiracy, the other two his mere servants. It was he who
to some dark end had brought Barstow down from London. He loomed up in
her thoughts as a relentless and sinister figure, unswayed by affection,
yet with the power to counterfeit it, long-sighted for evil, sparing no
one--not even his daughter. She recalled their first meeting in the
little house in Hobart Place, she remembered the thoughtful voice with
which, as he had looked her over, he had agreed that she might be
"useful." She thought of his caresses, his smile of affection, his
comradeship, and she shuddered. Walter Hine's words had informed her
to-day to what use her father had designed her. She was his decoy.

She lay upon her bed with her hands clenched, repeating the word in
horror. His decoy! The moonlight poured through the open window, the
music of the stream filled the room. She was in the house in which she
had been born, a place mystically sacred to her thoughts; and she had
come to it to learn that she was her father's decoy in a vulgar
conspiracy to strip a weakling of his money. The stream sang beneath her
windows, the very stream of which the echo had ever been rippling through
her dreams. Always she had thought that it must have some particular
meaning for her which would be revealed in due time. She dwelt bitterly
upon her folly. There was no meaning in its light laughter.

In a while she was aware of a change. There came a grayness in the room.
The moonlight had lost its white brilliance, the night was waning. Sylvia
rose from her bed, and slowly like one very tired she began to gather
together and pack into a bag such few clothes as she could carry. She had
made up her mind to go, and to go silently before the house waked.
Whither she was to go, and what she was to do once she had gone, she
could not think. She asked herself the questions in vain, feeling very
lonely and very helpless as she moved softly about the room by the light
of her candle. Her friend might write to her and she would not receive
his letter. Still she must go. Once or twice she stopped her work, and
crouching down upon the bed allowed her tears to have their way. When she
had finished her preparations she blew out her candle, and leaning upon
the sill of the open window, gave her face to the cool night air.

There was a break in the eastern sky; already here and there a blackbird
sang in the garden boughs, and the freshness, the quietude, swept her
thoughts back to the Chalet de Lognan. With a great yearning she recalled
that evening and the story of the great friendship so quietly related to
her in the darkness, beneath the stars. The world and the people of her
dreams existed; only there was no door of entrance into that world for
her. Below her the stream sang, even as the glacier stream had sung,
though without its deep note of thunder. As she listened to it, certain
words spoken upon that evening came back to her mind and gradually began
to take on a particular application.

"What you know, that you must do, if by doing it you can save a life or
save a soul."

That was the law. "If you can save a life or save a soul." And she _did_
know. Sylvia raised herself from the window and stood in thought.

Garratt Skinner had made a great mistake that day. He had been misled by
the gentleness of her ways, the sweet aspect of her face, and by a look
of aloofness in her eyes, as though she lived in dreams. He had seen
surely that she was innocent, and since he believed that knowledge must
needs corrupt, he thought her ignorant as well. But she was not ignorant.
She had detected his trickeries. She knew of the conspiracy, she knew of
the place she filled in it herself; and furthermore she knew that as a
decoy she had been doing her work. Only yesterday, Walter Hine had been
forced to choose between Barstow and herself and he had let Barstow go.
It was a small matter, no doubt. Still there was promise in it. What if
she stayed, strengthened her hold on Walter Hine and grappled with the
three who were ranged against him?

Walter Hine was, of course, and could be, nothing to her. He was the mere
puppet, the opportunity of obedience to the law. It was of the law that
she was thinking--and of the voice of the man who had uttered it. She
knew--by using her knowledge, she could save a soul. She did not think at
this time that she might be saving a life too.

Quietly she undressed and slipped into her bed. She was comforted. A
smile had come upon her lips. She saw the face of her friend in the
darkness, very near to her. She needed sleep to equip herself for the
fight, and while thinking so she slept. The moonlight faded altogether,
and left the room dark. Beneath the window the stream went singing
through the lawn. After all, its message had been revealed to her in its
due season.

CHAPTER XIII

CHAYNE RETURNS

"Hullo," cried Captain Barstow, as he wandered round the library after
luncheon. "Here's a scatter-gun."

He took the gun from a corner where it stood against the wall, opened the
breech, shut it again, and turning to the open window lifted the stock to
his shoulder.

"I wonder whether I could hit anything nowadays," he said, taking careful
aim at a tulip in the garden. "Any cartridges, Skinner?"

"I don't know, I am sure," Garratt Skinner replied, testily. The
newspapers had only this moment been brought into the room, and he did
not wish to be disturbed. Sylvia had never noticed that double-barreled
gun before; and she wondered whether it had been brought into the room
that morning. She watched Captain Barstow bustle into the hall and back
again. Finally he pounced upon an oblong card-box which lay on the top of
a low book-case. He removed the lid and pulled out a cartridge.

"Hullo!" said he. "No. 6. The very thing! I am going to take a pot at the
starlings, Skinner. There are too many of them about for your
fruit-trees."

"Very well," said Garratt Skinner, lazily lifting his eyes from his
newspaper and looking out across the lawn. "Only take care you don't wing
my new gardener."

"No fear of that," said Barstow, and filling his pockets with cartridges
he took the gun in his hand and skipped out into the garden. In a moment
a shot was heard, and Walter Hine rose from his chair and walked to the
window. A second shot followed.

"Old Barstow can't shoot for nuts," said Hine, with a chuckle, and in his
turn he stepped out into the garden. Sylvia made no attempt to hinder
him, but she took his place at the window ready to intervene. A flight of
starlings passed straight and swift over Barstow's head. He fired both
barrels and not one of the birds fell. Hine spoke to him, and the gun at
once changed hands. At the next flight Hine fired and one of the birds
dropped. Barstow's voice was raised in jovial applause.

"That was a good egg, Wallie. A very good egg. Let me try now!" and so
alternately they shot as the birds darted overhead across the lawn.
Sylvia waited for the moment when Barstow's aim would suddenly develop a
deadly precision, but that moment did not come. If there was any betting
upon this match, Hine would not be the loser. She went quietly back to a
writing-desk and wrote her letters. She had no wish to rouse in her
father's mind a suspicion that she had guessed his design and was
setting herself to thwart it. She must work secretly, more secretly than
he did himself. Meanwhile the firing continued in the garden; and
unobserved by Sylvia, Garratt Skinner began to take in it a stealthy
interest. His chair was so placed that, without stirring, he could look
into the garden and at the same time keep an eye on Sylvia; if she moved
an elbow or raised her head, Garratt Skinner was at once reading his
paper with every appearance of concentration. On the other hand, her
back was turned toward him, so that she saw neither his keen gaze into
the garden nor the good-tempered smile of amusement with which he turned
his eyes upon his daughter.

In this way perhaps an hour passed; certainly no more. Sylvia had, in
fact, almost come to the end of her letters, when Garratt Skinner
suddenly pushed back his chair and stood up. At the noise, abrupt as a
startled cry, Sylvia turned swiftly round. She saw that her father was
gazing with a look of perplexity into the garden, and that for the moment
he had forgotten her presence. She crossed the room quickly and
noiselessly, and standing just behind his elbow, saw what he saw. The
blood flushed her throat and mounted into her cheeks, her eyes softened,
and a smile of welcome transfigured her grave face. Her friend Hilary
Chayne was standing under the archway of the garden door. He had closed
the door behind him, but he had not moved thereafter, and he was not
looking toward the house. His attention was riveted upon the
shooting-match. Sylvia gave no thought to his attitude at the moment. He
had come--that was enough. And Garratt Skinner, turning about, saw the
light in his daughter's face.

"You know him!" he cried, roughly.

"Yes."

"He has come to see you?"

"Yes."

"You should have told me," said Garratt Skinner, angrily. "I dislike
secrecies." Sylvia raised her eyes and looked her father steadily in the
face. But Garratt Skinner was not so easily abashed. He returned her look
as steadily.

"Who is he?" he continued, in a voice of authority.

"Captain Hilary Chayne."

It seemed for a moment that the name was vaguely familiar to Garratt
Skinner, and Sylvia added:

"I met him this summer in Switzerland."

"Oh, I see," said her father, and he looked with a new interest across
the garden to the door. "He is a great friend."

"My only friend," returned Sylvia, softly; and her father stepped forward
and called aloud, holding up his hand:

"Barstow! Barstow!"

Sylvia noticed then, and not till then, that the coming of her friend
was not the only change which had taken place since she had last looked
out upon the garden. The new gardener was now shooting alternately with
Walter Hine, while Captain Barstow, standing a few feet behind them,
recorded the hits in a little book. He looked up at the sound of
Garratt Skinner's voice and perceiving Chayne at once put a stop to the
match. Garratt Skinner turned again to his daughter, and spoke now
without any anger at all. There was just a hint of reproach in his
voice, but as though to lessen the reproof he laid his hand
affectionately upon her arm.

"Any friend of yours is welcome, of course, my dear. But you might have
told me that you expected him. Let us have no secrets from each other
in the future? Now bring him in, and we will see if we can give him a
cup of tea."

He rang the bell. Sylvia did not think it worth while to argue that
Chayne's coming was a surprise to her as much as to her father. She
crossed the garden toward her friend. But she walked slowly and still
more slowly. Her memories had flown back to the evening when they had
bidden each other good-by on the little platform in front of the Chalet
de Lognan. Not in this way had she then planned that they should meet
again, nor in such company. The smile had faded from her lips, the light
of gladness had gone from her eyes. Barstow and Walter Hine were moving
toward the house. It mortified her exceedingly that her friend should
find her amongst such companions. She almost wished that he had not found
her out at all. And so she welcomed him with a great restraint.

"It was kind of you to come," she said. "How did you know I was here?"

"I called at your house in London. The caretaker gave me the address," he
replied. He took her hand and, holding it, looked with the careful
scrutiny of a lover into her face.

"You have needed those memories of your one day to fall back upon," he
said, regretfully. "Already you have needed them. I am very sorry."

Sylvia did not deny the implication of the words that "troubles" had
come. She turned to him, grateful that he should so clearly have
remembered what she had said upon that day.

"Thank you," she answered, gently. "My father would like to know you. I
wrote to you that I had come to live with him."

"Yes."

"You were surprised?" she asked.

"No," he answered, quietly. "You came to some important decision on the
very top of the Aiguille d'Argentiere. That I knew at the time, for I
watched you. When I got your letter, I understood what the decision was."

To leave Chamonix--to break completely with her life--it was just to that
decision she would naturally have come just on that spot during that one
sunlit hour. So much his own love of the mountains taught him. But Sylvia
was surprised at his insight; and what with that and the proof that their
day together had remained vividly in his thoughts, she caught back
something of his comradeship. As they crossed the lawn to the house her
embarrassment diminished. She drew comfort, besides, from the thought
that whatever her friend might think of Captain Barstow and Walter Hine,
her father at all events would impress him, even as she had been
impressed. Chayne would see at once that here was a man head and
shoulders above his companions, finer in quality, different in speech.

But that afternoon her humiliation was to be complete. Her father had no
fancy for the intrusion of Captain Chayne into his quiet and sequestered
house. The flush of color on his daughter's face, the leap of light into
her eyes, had warned him. He had no wish to lose his daughter. Chayne,
too, might be inconveniently watchful. Garratt Skinner desired no spy
upon his little plans. Consequently he set himself to play the host with
an offensive geniality which was calculated to disgust a man with any
taste for good manners. He spoke in a voice which Sylvia did not know, so
coarse it was in quality, so boisterous and effusive; and he paraded
Walter Hine and Captain Barstow with the pride of a man exhibiting his
dearest friends.

"You must know 'red-hot' Barstow, Captain Chayne," he cried, slapping the
little man lustily on the back. "One of the very best. You are both
brethren of the sword."

Barstow sniggered obsequiously and screwed his eye-glass into his eye.

"Delighted, I am sure. But I sheathed the sword some time ago,
Captain Chayne."

"And exchanged it for the betting book," Chayne added, quietly.

Barstow laughed nervously.

"Oh, you refer to our little match in the garden," he said. "We dragged
the gardener into it."

"So I saw," Chayne replied. "The gardener seemed to be a remarkable shot.
I think he would be a match for more than one professional."

And turning away he saw Sylvia's eyes fixed upon him, and on her face an
expression of trouble and dismay so deep that he could have bitten off
his tongue for speaking. She had been behind him while he had spoken; and
though he had spoken in a low voice, she had heard every word. She bent
her head over the tea-table and busied herself with the cups. But her
hands shook; her face burned, she was tortured with shame. She had set
herself to do battle with her father, and already in the first skirmish
she had been defeated. Chayne's indiscreet words had laid bare to her the
elaborate conspiracy. The new gardener, the gun in the corner, the
cartridges which had to be looked for, Barstow's want of skill, Hine's
superiority which had led Barstow so naturally to offer to back the
gardener against him--all was clear to her. It was the little round game
of cards all over again; and she had not possessed the wit to detect the
trick! And that was not all. Her friend had witnessed it and understood!

She heard her father presenting Walter Hine, and with almost intolerable
pain she realized that had he wished to leave Chayne no single
opportunity of misapprehension, he would have spoken just these words and
no others.

"Wallie is the grandson--and indeed the heir--of old Joseph Hine. You
know his name, no doubt. Joseph Hine's Chateau Marlay, what? A warm man,
Joseph Hine. I don't know a man more rich. Treats his grandson handsomely
into the bargain, eh, Wallie?"

Sylvia felt that her heart would break. That Garrett Skinner's admission
was boldly and cunningly deliberate did not occur to her. She simply
understood that here was the last necessary piece of evidence given to
Captain Chayne which would convince him that he had been this afternoon
the witness of a robbery and swindle.

She became aware that Chayne was standing beside her. She did not lift
her face, for she feared that it would betray her. She wished with all
her heart that he would just replace his cup upon the tray and go away
without a word. He could not want to stay; he could not want to return.
He had no place here. If he would go away quietly, without troubling to
take leave of her, she would be very grateful and do justice to him for
his kindness.

But though he had the mind to go, it was not without a word.

"I want you to walk with me as far as the door," he said, gently.

Sylvia rose at once. Since after all there must be words, the sooner they
were spoken the better. She followed him into the garden, making her
little prayer that they might be very few, and that he would leave her to
fight her battle and to hide her shame alone.

They crossed the lawn without a word. He held open the garden door for
her and she passed into the lane. He followed and closed the door behind
them. In the lane a hired landau was waiting. Chayne pointed to it.

"I want you to come away with me now," he said, and since she looked at
him with the air of one who does not understand, he explained, standing
quietly beside her with his eyes upon her face. And though he spoke
quietly, there was in his eyes a hunger which belied his tones, and
though he stood quietly, there was a tension in his attitude which
betrayed extreme suspense. "I want you to come away with me, I want you
never to return. I want you to marry me."

The blood rushed into her cheeks and again fled from them, leaving her
very white. Her face grew mutinous like an angry child's, but her eyes
grew hard like a resentful woman's.

"You ask me out of pity," she said, in a low voice.

"That's not true," he cried, and with so earnest a passion that she could
not but believe him. "Sylvia, I came here meaning to ask you to marry me.
I ask you something more now, that is all. I ask you to come to me a
little sooner--that is all. I want you to come with me now."

Sylvia leaned against the wall and covered her face with her hands.

"Please!" he said, making his appeal with a great simplicity. "For I love
you, Sylvia."

She gave him no answer. She kept her face still hid, and only her heaving
breast bore witness to her stress of feeling. Gently he removed her
hands, and holding them in his, urged his plea.

"Ever since that day in Switzerland, I have been thinking of you, Sylvia,
remembering your looks, your smile, and the words you spoke. I crossed
the Col Dolent the next day, and all the time I felt that there was some
great thing wanting. I said to myself, 'I miss my friend.' I was wrong,
Sylvia. I missed you. Something ached in me--has ached ever since. It was
my heart! Come with me now!"

Sylvia had not looked at him, though she made no effort to draw her hands
away, and still not looking at him, she answered in a whisper:

"I can't, I can't."

"Why?" he asked, "why? You are not happy here. You are no happier than
you were at Chamonix. And I would try so very hard to make you happy. I
can't leave you here--lonely, for you are lonely. I am lonely too; all
the more lonely because I carry about with me--you--you as you stood in
the chalet at night looking through the open window, with the
candle-light striking upward on your face, and with your reluctant smile
upon your lips--you as you lay on the top of the Aiguille d'Argentiere
with the wonder of a new world in your eyes--you as you said good-by in
the sunset and went down the winding path to the forest. If you only
knew, Sylvia!"

"Yes, but I don't know," she answered, and now she looked at him. "I
suppose that, if I loved, I should know, I should understand."

Her hands lay in his, listless and unresponsive to the pressure of his.
She spoke slowly and thoughtfully, meeting his gaze with troubled eyes.

"Yet you were glad to see me when I came," he urged.

"Glad, yes! You are my friend, my one friend. I was very glad. But the
gladness passed. When you asked me to come with you across the garden, I
was wanting you to go away."

The words hurt him. They could not but hurt him. But she was so plainly
unconscious of offence, she was so plainly trying to straighten out her
own tangled position, that he could feel no anger.

"Why?" he asked; and again she frankly answered him.

"I was humbled," she replied, "and I have had so much humiliation
in my life."

The very quietude of her voice and the wistful look upon the young tired
face hurt him far more than her words had done.

"Sylvia," he cried, and he drew her toward him. "Come with me now! My
dear, there will be an end of all humiliation. We can be married, we can
go down to my home on the Sussex Downs. That old house needs a mistress,
Sylvia. It is very lonely." He drew a breath and smiled suddenly. "And I
would like so much to show you it, to show you all the corners, the
bridle-paths across the downs, the woods, and the wide view from Arundel
to Chichester spires. Sylvia, come!"

Just for a moment it seemed that she leaned toward him. He put his arm
about her and held her for a moment closer. But her head was lowered, not
lifted up to his; and then she freed herself gently from his clasp.

She faced him with a little wrinkle of thought between her brows and
spoke with an air of wisdom which went very prettily with the childlike
beauty of her face.

"You are my friend," she said, "a friend I am very grateful for, but you
are not more than that to me. I am frank. You see, I am thinking now of
reasons which would not trouble me if I loved you. Marriage with me would
do you no good, would hurt you in your career."

"No," he protested.

"But I am thinking that it would," she replied, steadily, "and I do not
believe that I should give much thought to it, if I really loved you. I
am thinking of something else, too--" and she spoke more boldly,
choosing her words with care--"of a plan which before you came I had
formed, of a task which before you came I had set myself to do. I am
still thinking of it, still feeling that I ought to go on with it. I do
not think that I should feel that if I loved. I think nothing else would
count at all except that I loved. So you are still my friend, and I
cannot go with you."

Chayne looked at her for a moment sadly, with a mist before his eyes.

"I leave you to much unhappiness," he said, "and I hate the
thought of it."

"Not quite so much now as before you came," she answered. "I am proud,
you know, that you asked me," and putting her troubles aside, she smiled
at him bravely, as though it was he who needed comforting. "Good-by! Let
me hear of you through your success."

So again they said good-by at the time of sunset. Chayne mounted into
the landau and drove back along the road to Weymouth. "So that's the
end," said Sylvia. She opened the door and passed again into the garden.
Through the window of the library she saw her father and Walter Hine,
watching, it seemed, for her appearance. It was borne in upon her
suddenly that she could not meet them or speak with them, and she ran
very quickly round the house to the front door, and escaped unaccosted
to her room.

In the library Hine turned to Garratt Skinner with one of his rare
flashes of shrewdness.

"She didn't want to meet us," he said, jealously. "Do you think she
cares for him?"

"I think," replied Garratt Skinner with a smile, "that Captain Chayne
will not trouble us with his company again."

CHAPTER XIV

AN OLD PASSION BETRAYS A NEW SECRET

Garratt Skinner, however, was wrong. He was not aware of the great
revolution which had taken place in Chayne; and he misjudged his
tenacity. Chayne, like many another man, had mapped out his life only to
find that events would happen in a succession different to that which he
had ordained. He had arranged to devote his youth and the earlier part of
his manhood entirely to his career, if the career were not brought to a
premature end in the Alps. That possibility he had always foreseen. He
took his risks with full knowledge, setting the gain against them, and
counting them worth while. If then he lived, he proposed at some
indefinite time, in the late thirties, to fall in love and marry. He had
no parents living; there was the empty house upon the Sussex Downs; and
the small estate which for generations had descended from father to son.
Marriage was thus a recognized event. Only it was thrust away into an
indefinite future. But there had come an evening which he had not
foreseen, when, sorely grieved by the loss of his great friend, he had
fallen in with a girl who gave with open hands the sympathy he needed,
and claimed, by her very reticence and humility, his sympathy in return.
A day had followed upon that evening; and thenceforth the image of Sylvia
standing upon the snow-ridge of the Aiguille d'Argentiere, with a few
strips of white cloud sailing in a blue sky overhead, the massive pile of
Mont Blanc in front, freed to the sunlight which was her due, remained
fixed and riveted in his thoughts. He began in imagination to refer
matters of moment to her judgment; he began to save up little events of
interest that he might remember to tell them to her. He understood that
he had a companion, even when he was alone, a condition which he had not
anticipated even for his late thirties. And he came to the conclusion
that he had not that complete ordering of his life on which he had
counted. He was not, however, disappointed. He seized upon the good thing
which had come to him with a great deal of wonder and a very thankful
heart; and he was not disposed to let it lightly go.

Thus the vulgarity which Garratt Skinner chose to assume, the
unattractive figure of "red-hot" Barstow, and the obvious swindle which
was being perpetrated on Walter Hine, had the opposite effect to that
which Skinner expected. Chayne, instead of turning his back upon so
distasteful a company, frequented it in the resolve to take Sylvia out of
its grasp. It did not need a lover to see that she slept little of nights
and passed distressful days. She had fled from her mother's friends at
Chamonix, only to find herself helpless amongst a worse gang in her
father's house. Very well. She must be released. He had proposed to take
her away then and there. She had refused. Well, he had been blunt. He
would go about the business in the future in a more delicate way. And so
he came again and again to the little house under the hill where the
stream babbled through the garden, and every day the apples grew redder
upon the boughs.

But it was disheartening work. His position indeed became difficult, and
it needed all his tenacity to enable him to endure it. The difficulty
became very evident one afternoon early in August, and the afternoon was,
moveover, remarkable in that Garratt Skinner was betrayed into a
revelation of himself which was to bear consequences of gravity in a
future which he could not foresee. Chayne rode over upon that afternoon,
and found Garratt Skinner alone and, according to his habit, stretched at
full-length in his hammock with a cigar between his lips. He received
Captain Chayne with the utmost geniality. He had long since laid aside
his ineffectual vulgarity of manner.

"You must put up with me, Captain Chayne," he said. "My daughter is out.
However, she--I ought more properly to say, they--will be back no doubt
before long."

"They being--"

"Sylvia and Walter Hine."

Chayne nodded his head. He had known very well who "they" must be, but he
had not been able to refrain from the question. Jealousy had hold of him.
He knew nothing of Sylvia's determination to acquire a power greater than
her father's over the vain and defenceless youth. The words with which
she had hinted her plan to him had been too obscure to convey their
meaning. He was simply aware that Sylvia more and more avoided him, more
and more sought the companionship of Walter Hine; and such experience as
he had, taught him that women were as apt to be blind in their judgment
of men as men in their estimation of women.

He sought now to enlist Garratt Skinner on his side, and drawing a chair
nearer to the hammock he sat down.

"Mr. Skinner," he said, speaking upon an impulse, "you have no doubt in
your mind, I suppose, as to why I come here so often."

Garratt Skinner smiled.

"I make a guess, I admit."

"I should be very glad if your daughter would marry me," Chayne
continued, "and I want you to give me your help. I am not a poor man, Mr.
Skinner, and I should certainly be willing to recognize that in taking
her away from you I laid myself under considerable obligations."

Chayne spoke with some natural hesitation, but Garratt Skinner was not in
the least offended.

"I will not pretend to misunderstand you," he replied. "Indeed, I like
your frankness. Please take what I say in the same spirit. I cannot give
you any help, Captain Chayne."

"Why?"

Garratt Skinner raised himself upon his elbow, and fixing his eyes upon
his companion's face, said distinctly and significantly:

"Because Sylvia has her work to do here."

Chayne in his turn made no pretence to misunderstand. He was being told
clearly that Sylvia was in league with her father and Captain Barstow to
pluck Walter Hine. But he was anxious to discover how far Garratt
Skinner's cynicism would carry him.

"Will you define the work?" he asked.

"If you wish it," replied Garratt Skinner, falling back in his hammock.
"I should have thought it unnecessary myself. The work is the reclaiming
of Wallie Hine from the very undesirable company in which he has mixed.
Do you understand?"

"Quite," said Chayne. He understood very well. He had been told first the
real design--to pluck Walter Hine--and then the excuse which was to cloak
it. He understood, too, the reason why this information had been given to
him with so cynical a frankness. He, Chayne, was in the way. Declare the
swindle and persuade him that Sylvia was a party to it--what more likely
way could be discovered for getting rid of Captain Chayne? He looked at
his smiling companion, took note of his strong aquiline face, his clear
and steady eyes. He recognized a redoubtable antagonist, but he leaned
forward and said with a quiet emphasis:

"Mr. Skinner, I have, nevertheless, not lost heart."

Garratt Skinner laughed in a friendly way.

"I suppose not. It is only in the wisdom of middle age that we lose
heart. In youth we lose our hearts--a very different thing."

"I propose still to come to this house."

"As often as you will, Captain Chayne," said Garratt Skinner, gaily. "My
doors are always open to you. I am not such a fool as to give you a
romantic interest by barring you out."

Garratt Skinner had another reason for his hospitality which he kept to
himself. He was inclined to believe that a few more visits from Captain
Chayne would settle his chances without the necessity of any
interference. It was Garratt Skinner's business, as that of any other
rogue, to play with simple artifices upon the faults and vanities of men.
He had, therefore, cultivated a habit of observation; he had become
naturally attentive to trifles which others might overlook; and he was
aware that he needed to go very warily in the delicate business on which
he was now engaged. He was fighting Sylvia for the possession of Walter
Hine--that he had recognized--and Chayne for the possession of Sylvia. It
was a three-cornered contest, and he had in consequence kept his eyes
alert. He had noticed that Chayne was growing importunate, and that his
persistence was becoming troublesome to Sylvia. She gave him a less warm
welcome each time that he came to the house. She made plans to prevent
herself being left alone with him, and if by chance the plans failed she
listened rather than talked and listened almost with an air of boredom.

"Come as often as you please!" consequently said Garratt Skinner from his
hammock. "And now let us talk of something else."

He talked of nothing for a while. But it was plain that he had a subject
in his thoughts. For twice he turned to Chayne and was on the point of
speaking; but each time he thought silence the better part and lay back
again. Chayne waited and at last the subject was broached, but in a
queer, hesitating, diffident way, as though Garratt Skinner spoke rather
under a compulsion of which he disapproved.

"Tell me!" he said. "I am rather interested. A craze, an infatuation
which so masters people must be interesting even to the stay-at-homes
like myself. But I am wrong to call it a craze. From merely reading books
I think it a passion which is easily intelligible. You are wondering what
I am talking about. My daughter tells me that you are a famous climber.
The Aiguille d'Argentiere, I suppose, up which you were kind enough to
accompany her, is not a very difficult mountain."

"It depends upon the day," said Chayne, "and the state of the snow."

"Yes, that is what I have gathered from the books. Every mountain may
become dangerous."

"Yes."

"Each mountain," said Garratt Skinner, thoughtfully, "may reward its
conquerors with death"; and for a little while he lay looking up to the
green branches interlaced above his head. "Thus each mountain on the
brightest day holds in its recesses mystery, and also death."

There had come a change already in the manner of the two men. They found
themselves upon neutral ground. Their faces relaxed from wariness; they
were no longer upon their guard. It seemed that an actual comradeship had
sprung up between them.

"There is a mountain called the Grepon," said Skinner. "I have seen
pictures of it--a strange and rather attractive pinnacle, with its
knife-like slabs of rock, set on end one above the other--black rock
splashed with red--and the overhanging boulder on the top. Have you
climbed it?"

"Yes."

"There is a crack, I believe--a good place to get you into training."

Chayne laughed with the enjoyment of a man who recollects a stiff
difficulty overcome.

"Yes, to the right of the Col between the Grepon and the Charmoz. There
is a step half way up--otherwise there is very little hold and the crack
is very steep."

They talked of other peaks, such as the Charmoz, where the first lines of
ascent had given place to others more recently discovered, of new
variations, new ascents and pinnacles still unclimbed; and then Garratt
Skinner said:

"I saw that a man actually crossed the Col des Nantillons early this
summer. It used to be called the Col de Blaitiere. He was killed with
his guide, but after the real dangers were passed. That seems to happen
at times."

Chayne looked at Garratt Skinner in surprise.

"It is strange that you should have mentioned John Lattery's death," he
said, slowly.

"Why?" asked Garratt Skinner, turning quietly toward his companion. "I
read of it in 'The Times.'"

"Oh, yes. No doubt it was described. What I meant was this. John Lattery
was my great friend, and he was a distant kind of cousin to your friend
Walter Hine, and indeed co-heir with him to Joseph Hine's great fortune.
His death, I suppose, has doubled your friend's inheritance."

Garratt Skinner raised himself up on his elbow. The announcement was
really news to him.

"Is that so?" he asked. "It is true, then. The mountains hold death too
in their recesses--even on the clearest day--yes, they hold death too!"
And letting himself fall gently back upon his cushions, he remained for a
while with a very thoughtful look upon his face. Twice Chayne spoke to
him, and twice he did not hear. He lay absorbed. It seemed that a new and
engrossing idea had taken possession of his mind, and when he turned his
eyes again to Chayne and spoke, he appeared to be speaking with reference
to that idea rather than to any remarks of his companion.

"Did you ever ascend Mont Blanc by the Brenva route?" he asked. "There's
a thin ridge of ice--I read an account in Moore's 'Journal'--you have to
straddle across the ridge with a leg hanging down either precipice."

Chayne shook his head.

"Lattery and I meant to try it this summer. The Dent du Requin as well."

"Ah, that is one of the modern rock scrambles, isn't it? The last two or
three hundred feet are the trouble, I believe."

And so the talk went on and the comradeship grew. But Chayne noticed that
always Garratt Skinner came back to the great climbs of the earlier
mountaineers, the Brenva ascent of Mont Blanc, the Col Dolent, the two
points of the Aiguille du Dru and the Aiguille Verte.

"But you, too, have climbed," Chayne cried at length.

"On winter nights by my fireside," replied Garratt Skinner, with a smile.
"I have a lame leg which would hinder me."

"Nevertheless, you left Miss Sylvia and myself behind when you led us
over the hills to Dorchester."

It was Walter Hine who interrupted. He had come across the grass from
behind, and neither of the two men had noticed his approach. But the
moment when he did interrupt marked a change in their demeanor. The
comradeship which had so quickly bloomed as quickly faded. It was the
flower of an idle moment. Antagonism preceded and followed it. Thus, one
might imagine, might sentries at the outposts of opposing armies pile
their arms for half an hour and gossip of their homes or their children,
or of something dear to both of them and separate at the bugle sound.
Garratt Skinner swung himself out of his hammock.

"Where's Sylvia, Wallie?"

"She went up to her room."

Chayne waited for ten minutes, and for another ten, and still Sylvia did
not appear. She was avoiding him. She could spend the afternoon with
Walter Hine, but she must run to her room when he came upon the scene.
Jealousy flamed up in him. Every now and then a whimsical smile of
amusement showed upon Garratt Skinner's face and broadened into a grin.
Chayne was looking a fool, and was quite conscious of it. He rose
abruptly from his chair.

"I must be going," he said, over loudly, and Garratt Skinner smiled.

"I'm afraid she won't hear that," he said softly, measuring with his eyes
the distance between the group and the house. "But come again, Captain
Chayne, and sit it out."

Chayne flushed with anger. He said, "Thank you," and tried to say it
jauntily and failed. He took his leave and walked across the lawn to the
garden, trying to assume a carriage of indifference and dignity. But
every moment he expected to hear the two whom he had left laughing at his
discomfiture. Neither, however, did laugh. Walter Hine was, indeed,
indignant.

"Why did you ask him to come again?" he asked, angrily, as the garden
door closed upon Chayne.

Garratt Skinner laid his hand on Walter Hine's arm.

"Don't you worry, Wallie," he said, confidentially. "Every time Chayne
comes here he loses ten marks. Give him rope! He does not, after all,
know a great deal of geography."

CHAPTER XV

KENYON'S JOHN LATTERY

Chayne returned to London on the following day, restless and troubled.
Jealousy, he knew, was the natural lot of the lover. But that he should
have to be jealous of a Walter Hine--there was the sting. He asked the
old question over and over again, the old futile question which the
unrewarded suitor puts to himself with amazement and a despair at the
ridiculous eccentricities of human nature. "What in the world can she see
in the fellow?" However, he did not lose heart. It was not in his nature
to let go once he had clearly set his desires upon a particular goal.
Sooner or later, people and things would adjust themselves to their
proper proportions in Sylvia's eyes. Meanwhile there was something to be
done--a doubt to be set at rest, perhaps a discovery to be made.

His conversation with Garratt Skinner, the subject which Garratt Skinner
had chosen, and the knowledge with which he had spoken, had seemed to
Chayne rather curious. A man might sit by his fireside and follow with
interest, nay almost with the passion of the mountaineer, the history of
Alpine exploration and adventure. That had happened before now. And very
likely Chayne would have troubled himself no more about Garratt Skinner's
introduction of the theme but for one or two circumstances which the more
he reflected upon them became the more significant. For instance: Garratt
Skinner had spoken and had asked questions about the new ascents made,
the new passes crossed within the last twenty years, just as a man would
ask who had obtained his knowledge out of books. But of the earlier
ascents he had spoken differently, though the difference was subtle and
hard to define. He seemed to be upon more familiar ground. He left in
Chayne's mind a definite suspicion that he was speaking no longer out of
books, but from an intimate personal knowledge, the knowledge of actual
experience. The suspicion had grown up gradually, but it had strengthened
almost into a conviction.

It was to the old climbs that Garratt Skinner's conversation perpetually
recurred--the Aiguille Verte, the Grand and the Petit Dru and the
traverse between them, the Col Dolent, the Grandes Jorasses and the
Brenva route--yes, above all, the Brenva route up Mont Blanc. Moreover,
how in the world should he know that those slabs of black granite on the
top of the Grepon were veined with red--splashed with red as he described
them? Unless he had ascended them, or the Aiguille des Charmoz
opposite--how should he know? The philosophy of his guide Michel
Revailloud flashed across Chayne's mind. "One needs some one with whom to
exchange one's memories."

Had Garratt Skinner felt that need and felt it with so much compulsion
that he must satisfy it in spite of himself? Yet why should he practise
concealment at all? There certainly had been concealment. Chayne
remembered how more than once Garratt Skinner had checked himself before
at last he had yielded. It was in spite of himself that he had spoken.
And then suddenly as the train drew up at Vauxhall Station for the
tickets to be collected, Chayne started up in his seat. On the rocks of
the Argentiere, beside the great gully, as they descended to the glacier,
Sylvia's guide had spoken words which came flying back into Chayne's
thoughts. She had climbed that day, though it was her first mountain, as
if knowledge of the craft had been born in her. How to stand upon an
ice-slope, how to hold her ax--she had known. On the rocks, too! Which
foot to advance, with which hand to grasp the hold--she had known.
Suppose that knowledge _had_ been born in her! Why, then those words of
her guide began to acquire significance. She had reminded him of some
one--some one whose name he could not remember--but some one with whom
years ago he had climbed. And then upon the rocks, some chance movement
of Sylvia's, some way in which she moved from ledge to ledge, had
revealed to him the name--Gabriel Strood.

Was it possible, Chayne asked? If so, what dark thing was there in the
record of Strood's life that he must change his name, disappear from the
world, and avoid the summer nights, the days of sunshine and storm on the
high rock-ledges and the ice-slope?

Chayne was minded to find an answer to that question. Sylvia was in
trouble; that house under the downs was no place for her. He himself was
afraid of what was being planned there. It might help him if he knew
something more of Garratt Skinner than he knew at present. And it seemed
to him that there was just a chance of acquiring that knowledge.

He dined at his club, and at ten o'clock walked up St. James' Street.
The street was empty. It was a hot starlit night of the first week in
August, and there came upon him a swift homesickness for the world above
the snow-line. How many of his friends were sleeping that night in
mountain huts high up on the shoulders of the mountains or in bivouacs
open to the stars with a rock-cliff at their backs and a fire of pine
wood blazing at their feet. Most likely amongst those friends was the
one he sought to-night.

"Still there's a chance that I may find him," he pleaded, and
crossing Piccadilly passed into Dover Street. Half way along the
street of milliners, he stopped before a house where a famous scholar
had his lodging.

"Is Mr. Kenyon in London?" he asked, and the man-servant replied to his
great relief:

"Yes, sir, but he is not yet at home."

"I will wait for him," said Chayne.

He was shown into the study and left there with a lighted lamp. The
room was lined with books from floor to ceiling. Chayne mounted a
ladder and took down from a high corner some volumes bound simply in
brown cloth. They were volumes of the "Alpine Journal." He had chosen
those which dated back from twenty years to a quarter of a century. He
drew a chair up beside the lamp and began eagerly to turn over the
pages. Often he stopped, for the name of which he was in search often
leaped to his eyes from the pages. Chayne read of the exploits in the
Alps of Gabriel Strood. More than one new expedition was described,
many variations of old ascents, many climbs already familiar. It was
clear that the man was of the true brotherhood. A new climb was very
well, but the old were as good to Gabriel Strood, and the climb which
he had once made he had the longing to repeat with new companions. None
of the descriptions were written by Strood himself but all by
companions whom he had led, and most of them bore testimony to an
unusual endurance, an unusual courage, as though Strood triumphed
perpetually over a difficulty which his companions did not share and of
which only vague hints were given. At last Chayne came to that very
narrative which Sylvia had been reading on her way to Chamonix--and
there the truth was bluntly told for the first time.

Chayne started up in that dim and quiet room, thrilled. He had the proof
now, under his finger--the indisputable proof. Gabriel Strood suffered
from an affection of the muscles in his right thigh, and yet managed to
out-distance all his rivals. Hine's words drummed in Chayne's ears:

"Nevertheless he left us all behind."

Garratt Skinner: Gabriel Strood. Surely, surely! He replaced the volumes
and took others down. In the first which he opened--it was the autumn
number of nineteen years ago--there was again mention of the man; and the
climb described was the ascent of Mont Blanc from the Brenva Glacier.
Chayne leaned back in his chair fairly startled by this confirmation. It
was to the Brenva route that Garratt Skinner had continually harked back.
The Aiguille Verte, the Grandes Jorasses, the Charmoz, the
Blaitiere--yes, he had talked of them all, but ever he had come back,
with an eager voice and a fire in his eyes, to the ice-arete of the
Brenva route. Chayne searched on through the pages. But there was nowhere
in any volume on which he laid his hands any further record of his
exploits. Others who followed in his steps mentioned his name, but of the
man himself there was no word more. No one had climbed with him, no one
had caught a glimpse of him above the snow-line. For five or six seasons
he had flashed through the Alps. Arolla, Zermatt, the Montanvert, the
Concordia hut--all had known him for five or six seasons, and then just
under twenty years ago he had come no more.

Chayne put back the volumes in their places on the shelf, and sat down
again in the arm-chair before the empty grate. It was a strange and a
haunting story which he was gradually piecing together in his thoughts.
Men like Gabriel Strood _always_ come back to the Alps. They sleep too
restlessly at nights, they needs must come. And yet this man had stayed
away. There must have been some great impediment. He fell into another
train of thought. Sylvia was eighteen, nearly nineteen. Had Gabriel
Strood married just after that last season when he climbed from the
Brenva Glacier to the Calotte. The story was still not unraveled, and
while he perplexed his fancies over the unraveling, the door opened, and
a tall, thin man with a pointed beard stood upon the threshold. He was a
man of fifty years; his shoulders were just learning how to stoop; and
his face, fine and delicate, yet lacking nothing of strength, wore an
aspect of melancholy, as though he lived much alone--until he smiled. And
in the smile there was much companionship and love. He smiled now as he
stretched out his long, finely-molded hand.

"I am very glad to see you, Chayne," he said, in a voice remarkable for
its gentleness, "although in another way I am sorry. I am sorry because,
of course, I know why you are in England and not among the Alps."

Chayne had risen from his chair, but Kenyon laid a hand upon his shoulder
and forced him down again with a friendly pressure. "I read of Lattery's
death. I am grieved about it--for you as much as for Lattery. I know just
what that kind of loss means. It means very much," said he, letting his
deep-set eyes rest with sympathy upon the face of the younger man. Kenyon
put a whisky and soda by Chayne's elbow, and setting the tobacco jar on a
little table between them, sat down and lighted his pipe.

"You came back at once?" he asked.

"I crossed the Col Dolent and went down into Italy," replied Chayne.

"Yes, yes," said Kenyon, nodding his head. "But you will go back next
year, or the year after."

"Perhaps," said Chayne; and for a little while they smoked their pipes in
silence. Then Chayne came to the object of his visit.

"Kenyon," he asked, "have you any photographs of the people who went
climbing twenty to twenty-five years ago? I thought perhaps you might
have some groups taken in Switzerland in those days. If you have, I
should like to see them."

"Yes, I think I have," said Kenyon. He went to his writing-desk and
opening a drawer took out a number of photographs. He brought them back,
and moving the green-shaded lamp so that the light fell clear and strong
upon the little table, laid them down.

Chayne bent over them with a beating heart. Was his suspicion to be
confirmed or disproved?

One by one he took the photographs, closely examined them, and laid
them aside while Kenyon stood upright on the other side of the table.
He had turned over a dozen before he stopped. He held in his hand the
picture of a Swiss hotel, with an open space before the door. In the
open space men were gathered. They were talking in groups; some of them
leaned upon ice-axes, some carried _Ruecksacks_ upon their backs, as
though upon the point of starting for the hills. As he held the
photograph a little nearer to the lamp, and bent his head a little
lower, Kenyon made a slight uneasy movement. But Chayne did not notice.
He sat very still, with his eyes fixed upon the photograph. On the
outskirts of the group stood Sylvia's father. Younger, slighter of
build, with a face unlined and a boyish grace which had long since
gone--but undoubtedly Sylvia's father.

The contours of the mountains told Chayne clearly enough in what valley
the hotel stood.

"This is Zermatt," he said, without lifting his eyes.

"Yes," replied Kenyon, quietly, "a Zermatt you are too young to know,"
and then Chayne's forefinger dropped upon the figure of Sylvia's father.

"Who is this?" he asked.

Kenyon made no answer.

"It is Gabriel Strood," Chayne continued.

There was a pause, and then Kenyon confirmed the guess.

"Yes," he said, and some hint of emotion in his voice made Chayne lift
his eyes. The light striking upward through the green shade gave to
Kenyon's face an extraordinary pallor. But it seemed to Chayne that not
all the pallor was due to the lamp.

"For six seasons," Chayne said, "Gabriel Strood came to the Alps. In his
first season he made a great name."

"He was the best climber I have ever seen," replied Kenyon.

"He had a passion for the mountains. Yet after six years he came back no
more. He disappeared. Why?"

Kenyon stood absolutely silent, absolutely still. Perhaps the trouble
deepened a little on his face; but that was all. Chayne, however, was
bent upon an answer. For Sylvia's sake alone he must have it, he must
know the father into whose clutches she had come.

"You knew Gabriel Strood. Why?"

Kenyon leaned forward and gently took the photograph out of Chayne's
hand. He mixed it with the others, not giving to it a single glance
himself, and then replaced them all in the drawer from which he had taken
them. He came back to the table and at last answered Chayne:

"John Lattery was your friend. Some of the best hours of your life were
passed in his company. You know that now. But you will know it still
more surely when you come to my age, whatever happiness may come to you
between now and then. The camp-fire, the rock-slab for your floor and
the black night about you for walls, the hours of talk, the ridge and
the ice-slope, the bad times in storm and mist, the good times in the
sunshine, the cold nights of hunger when you were caught by the
darkness, the off-days when you lounged at your ease. You won't forget
John Lattery."

Kenyon spoke very quietly but with a conviction, and, indeed, a certain
solemnity, which impressed his companion.

"No," said Chayne, gently, "I shall not forget John Lattery." But his
question was still unanswered, and by nature he was tenacious. His eyes
were still upon Kenyon's face and he added: "What then?"

"Only this," said Kenyon. "Gabriel Strood was my John Lattery," and
moving round the table he dropped his hand upon Chayne's shoulder. "You
will ask me no more questions," he said, with a smile.

"I beg your pardon," said Chayne.

He had his answer. He knew now that there was something to conceal, that
there was a definite reason why Gabriel Strood disappeared.

"Good-night," he said; and as he left the room he saw Kenyon sink down
into his arm-chair. There seemed something sad and very lonely in the
attitude of the older man. Once more Michel Revailloud's warning rose up
within his mind.

"When it is all over, and you go home, take care that there is a lighted
lamp in the room and the room not empty. Have some one to share your
memories when life is nothing but memories."

At every turn the simple philosophy of Michel Revailloud seemed to obtain
an instance and a confirmation. Was that to be his own fate too? Just for
a moment he was daunted. He closed the door noiselessly, and going down
the stairs let himself out into the street. The night was clear above his
head. How was it above the Downs of Dorsetshire, he wondered. He walked
along the street very slowly. Garratt Skinner was Gabriel Strood. There
was clearly a dark reason for the metamorphosis. It remained for Chayne
to discover that reason. But he did not ponder any more upon that problem
to-night. He was merely thinking as he walked along the street that
Michel Revailloud was a very wise man.

CHAPTER XVI

AS BETWEEN GENTLEMEN

"Between gentlemen," said Wallie Hine. "Yes, between gentlemen."

He was quoting from a letter which he held in his hand, as he sat at the
breakfast table, and, in his agitation, he had quoted aloud. Garratt
Skinner looked up from his plate and said:

"Can I help you, Wallie?"

Hine flushed red and stammered out: "No, thank you. I must run up to town
this morning--that's all."

"Sylvia will drive you into Weymouth in the dog-cart after breakfast,"
said Garratt Skinner, and he made no further reference to the journey.
But he glared at the handwriting of the letter, and then with some
perplexity at Walter Hine. "You will be back this evening, I suppose?"

"Rather," said Walter Hine, with a smile across the table at Sylvia; but
his agitation got the better of his gallantry, and as she drove him into
Weymouth, he spoke as piteously as a child appealing for protection. "I
don't want to go one little bit, Miss Sylvia. But between gentlemen. Yes,
I mustn't forget that. Between gentlemen." He clung to the phrase,
finding some comfort in its reiteration.

"You have given me your promise," said Sylvia. "There will be no
cards, no bets."

Walter Hine laughed bitterly.

"I shan't break it. I have had my lesson. By Jove, I have."

Walter Hine traveled to Waterloo and drove straight to the office of
Mr. Jarvice.

"I owe some money," he began, bleating the words out the moment he was
ushered into the inner office.

Mr. Jarvice grinned.

"This interview is concluded," he said. "There's the door."

"I owe it to a friend, Captain Barstow," Hine continued, in desperation.
"A thousand pounds. He has written for it. He says that debts of honor
between gentlemen--" But he got no further, for Mr. Jarvice broke in upon
his faltering explanations with a snarl of contempt.

"Barstow! You poor little innocent. I have something else to do with my
money than to pour it into Barstow's pockets. I know the man. Send him to
me to-morrow, and I'll talk to him--as between gentlemen."

Walter Hine flushed. He had grown accustomed to deference and flatteries
in the household of Garratt Skinner. The unceremonious scorn of Mr.
Jarvice stung his vanity, and vanity was the one strong element of his
character. He was in the mind hotly to defend Captain Barstow from Mr.
Jarvice's insinuations, but he refrained.

"Then Barstow will know that I draw my allowance from you, and not from
my grandfather," he stammered. There was the trouble for Walter Hine.
If Barstow knew, Garratt Skinner would come to know. There would be an
end to the deference and the flatteries. He would no longer be able to
pose as the favorite of the great millionaire, Joseph Hine. He would
sink in Sylvia's eyes. At the cost of any humiliation that downfall
must be avoided.

His words, however, had an immediate effect upon Mr. Jarvice, though for
quite other reasons.

"Why, that's true," said Mr. Jarvice, slowly, and in a voice suddenly
grown smooth. "Yes, yes, we don't want to mix up my name in the affair at
all. Sit down, Mr. Hine, and take a cigar. The box is at your elbow.
Young men of spirit must have some extra license allowed to them for the
sake of the promise of their riper years. I was forgetting that. No, we
don't want my name to appear at all, do we?"

Publicity had no charms for Mr. Jarvice. Indeed, on more than one
occasion he had found it quite a hindrance to the development of his
little plans. To go his own quiet way, unheralded by the press and
unacclaimed of men--that was the modest ambition of Mr. Jarvice.

"However, I don't look forward to handing over a thousand pounds to
Captain Barstow," he continued, softly. "No, indeed. Did you lose any of
your first quarter's allowance to him besides the thousand?"

Walter Hine lit his cigar and answered reluctantly:

"Yes."

"All of it?"

"Oh no, no, not all of it."

Jarvice did not press for the exact amount. He walked to the window and
stood there with his hands in his pockets and his back toward his
visitor. Walter Hine watched his shoulders in suspense and apprehension.
He would have been greatly surprised if he could have caught a glimpse at
this moment of Mr. Jarvice's face. There was no anger, no contempt,
expressed in it at all. On the contrary, a quiet smile of satisfaction
gave to it almost a merry look. Mr. Jarvice had certain plans for Walter
Hine's future--so he phrased it with a smile for the grim humor of the
phrase--and fate seemed to be helping toward their fulfilment.

"I can get you out of this scrape, no doubt," said Jarvice, turning back
to his table. "The means I must think over, but I can do it. Only there's
a condition. You need not be alarmed. A little condition which a loving
father might impose upon his only son," and Mr. Jarvice beamed paternally
as he resumed his seat.

"What is the condition?" asked Walter Hine.

"That you travel for a year, broaden your mind by visiting the great
countries and capitals of Europe, take a little trip perhaps into the
East and return a cultured gentleman well equipped to occupy the high
position which will be yours when your grandfather is in due time
translated to a better sphere."

Mr. Jarvice leaned back in his chair, and with a confident wave of his
desk ruler had the air of producing the startling metamorphosis like some
heavy but benevolent fairy. Walter Hine, however, was not attracted by
the prospect.

"But--" he began, and at once Mr. Jarvice interrupted him.

"I anticipate you," he said, with a smile. "Standing at the window there,
I foresaw your objection. But--it would be lonely. Quite true. Why should
you be lonely? And so I am going to lay my hands on some pleasant and
companionable young fellow who will go with you for his expenses. An
Oxford man, eh? Fresh from Alma Mater with a taste for pictures and
statuettes and that sort of thing! Upon my word, I envy you, Mr. Hine. If
I were young, bless me, if I wouldn't throw my bonnet over the mill, as
after a few weeks in La Ville Lumiere you will be saying, and go with
you. You will taste life--yes, life."

And as he repeated the word, all the jollity died suddenly out of the
face of Mr. Jarvice. He bent his eyes somberly upon his visitor and a
queer inscrutable smile played about his lips. But Walter Hine had no
eyes for Mr. Jarvice. He was nerving himself to refuse the proposal.

"I can't go," he blurted out, with the ungracious stubbornness of a weak
mind which fears to be over-persuaded. Afraid lest he should consent, he
refused aggressively and rudely.

Mr. Jarvice repressed an exclamation of anger. "And why?" he asked,
leaning forward on his elbows and fixing his bright, sharp eyes on Walter
Hine's face.

Walter Hine shifted uncomfortably in his chair but did not answer.

"And why can't you go?" he repeated.

"I can't tell you."

"Oh, surely," said Mr. Jarvice, with a scarcely perceptible sneer. "Come
now! Between gentlemen! Well?"

Walter Hine yielded to Jarvice's insistence.

"There's a girl," he said, with a coy and odious smile.

Mr. Jarvice beat upon his desk with his fists in a savage anger. His
carefully calculated plan was to be thwarted by a girl.

"She's a dear," cried Walter Hine. Having made the admission, he let
himself go. His vanity pricked him to lyrical flights. "She's a dear,
she's a sob, she would never let me go, she's my little girl."

Such was Sylvia's reward for engaging in a struggle which she loathed for
the salvation of Walter Hine. She was jubilantly claimed by him as his
little girl in a money-lender's office. Mr. Jarvice swore aloud.

"Who is she?" he asked, sternly.

A faint sense of shame came over Walter Hine. He dimly imagined what
Sylvia would have thought and said, and what contempt her looks would
have betrayed, had she heard him thus boast of her goodwill.

"You are asking too much, Mr. Jarvice," he said.

Mr. Jarvice waved the objection aside.

"Of course I ask it as between gentlemen," he said, with an ironical
politeness.

"Well, then, as between gentlemen," returned Walter Hine, seriously. "She
is the daughter of a great friend of mine, Mr. Garratt Skinner. What's
the matter?" he cried; and there was reason for his cry.

It had been an afternoon of surprises for Mr. Jarvice, but this simple
mention of the name of Garratt Skinner was more than a surprise. Mr.
Jarvice was positively startled. He leaned back in his chair with his
mouth open and his eyes staring at Walter Hine. The high color paled in
his face and his cheeks grew mottled. It seemed that fear as well as
surprise came to him in the knowledge that Garratt Skinner was a friend
of Walter Hine.

"What is the matter?" repeated Hine.

"It's nothing," replied Mr. Jarvice, hastily. "The heat, that is all."
He crossed the room, and throwing up the window leaned for a few moments
upon the sill. Yet even when he spoke again, there was still a certain
unsteadiness in his voice. "How did you come across Mr. Garratt
Skinner?" he asked.

"Barstow introduced me. I made Barstow's acquaintance at the Criterion
Bar, and he took me to Garratt Skinner's house in Hobart Place."

"I see," said Mr. Jarvice. "It was in Garratt Skinner's house that you
lost your money, I suppose."

"Yes, but he had no hand in it," exclaimed Walter Hine. "He does not know
how much I lost. He would be angry if he did."

A faint smile flickered across Jarvice's face.

"Quite so," he agreed, and under his deft cross-examination the whole
story was unfolded. The little dinner at which Sylvia made her
appearance and at which Walter Hine was carefully primed with drink; the
little round game of cards which Garratt Skinner was so reluctant to
allow in his house on a Sunday evening, and from which, being an early
riser, he retired to bed, leaving Hine in the hands of Captain Barstow
and Archie Parminter; the quiet secluded house in the country; the new
gardener who appeared for one day and shot with so surprising an
accuracy, when Barstow backed him against Walter Hine, that Hine lost a
thousand pounds; the incidents were related to Mr. Jarvice in their
proper succession, and he interpreted them by his own experience.
Captain Barstow, who was always to the fore, counted for nothing in the
story as Jarvice understood it. He was the mere creature, the servant.
Garratt Skinner, who was always in the background, prepared the swindle
and pocketed the profits.

"You are staying at the quiet house in Dorsetshire now, I suppose. Just
you and Garratt Skinner and the pretty daughter, with occasional visits
from Barstow?"

"Yes," answered Hine. "Garratt Skinner does not care to see much
company."

Once more the smile of amusement played upon Mr. Jarvice's face.

"No, I suppose not," he said, quietly. There were certain definite
reasons of which he was aware, to account for Garratt Skinner's
reluctance to appear in a general company. He turned back from the window
and returned to his table. He had taken his part. There was no longer
either unsteadiness or anger in his voice.

"I quite understand your reluctance to leave your new friends," he said,
with the utmost friendliness. "I recognize that the tour abroad on which
I had rather set my heart must be abandoned. But I have no regrets. For I
think it possible that the very object which I had in mind when proposing
that tour may be quite as easily effected in the charming country house
of Garratt Skinner."

He spoke in a quiet matter-of-fact voice, looking benevolently at his
visitor. If the words were capable of another and a more sinister meaning
than they appeared to convey, Walter Hine did not suspect it. He took
them in their obvious sense.

"Yes, I shall gain as much culture in Garratt Skinner's house as I should
by seeing picture-galleries abroad," he said eagerly, and then Mr.
Jarvice smiled.

"I think that very likely," he said. "Meanwhile, as to Barstow and his
thousand pounds. I must think the matter over. Barstow will not press you
for a day or two. Just leave me your address--the address in
Dorsetshire."

He dipped a pen in the ink and handed it to Hine. Hine took it and drew a
sheet of paper toward him. But he did not set the pen to the paper. He
looked suddenly up at Jarvice, who stood over against him at the other
side of the table.

"Garratt Skinner's address?" he said, with one of his flashes of cunning.

"Yes, since you are staying there. I shall want to write to you."

Walter Hine still hesitated.

"You won't peach to Garratt Skinner about the allowance, eh?"

"My dear fellow!" said Mr. Jarvice. He was more hurt than offended. "To
put it on the lowest ground, what could I gain?"

Walter Hine wrote down the address, and at once the clerk appeared at the
door and handed Jarvice a card.

"I will see him," said Jarvice, and turning to Hine: "Our business is
over, I think."

Jarvice opened a second door which led from the inner office straight
down a little staircase into the street. "Good-by. You shall hear from
me," he said, and Walter Hine went out.

Jarvice closed the door and turned back to his clerk.

"That will do," he said.

There was no client waiting at all. Mr. Jarvice had an ingenious
contrivance for getting rid of his clients at the critical moment after
they had come to a decision and before they had time to change their
minds. By pressing a particular button in the leather covering of the
right arm of his chair, he moved an indicator above the desk of his clerk
in the outer office. The clerk thereupon announced a visitor, and the one
in occupation was bowed out by the private staircase. By this method
Walter Hine had been dismissed.

Jarvice had the address of Garratt Skinner. But he sat with it in front
of him upon his desk for a long time before he could bring himself to use
it. All the amiability had gone from his expression now that he was
alone. He was in a savage mood, and every now and then a violent gesture
betrayed it. But it was with himself that he was angry. He had been a
fool not to keep a closer watch on Walter Hine.

"I might have foreseen," he cried in his exasperation. "Garratt Skinner!
If I had not been an ass, I _should_ have foreseen."

For Mr. Jarvice was no stranger to Walter Hine's new friend. More than
one young buck fresh from the provinces, heir to the great factory or the
great estate, had been steered into this inner office by the careful
pilotage of Garratt Skinner. In all the army of the men who live by their
wits, there was not one to Jarvice's knowledge who was so alert as
Garratt Skinner to lay hands upon the new victim or so successful in
lulling his suspicions. He might have foreseen that Garratt Skinner would
throw his net over Walter Hine. But he had not, and the harm was done.

Mr. Jarvice took the insurance policy from his safe and shook his head
over it sadly. He had seen his way to making in his quiet fashion, and at
comparatively little cost, a tidy little sum of one hundred thousand
pounds. Now he must take a partner, so that he might not have an enemy.
Garratt Skinner with Barstow for his jackal and the pretty daughter for
his decoy was too powerful a factor to be lightly regarded. Jarvice must
share with Garratt Skinner--unless he preferred to abandon his scheme
altogether; and that Mr. Jarvice would not do.

There was no other way. Jarvice knew well that he could weaken Garratt
Skinner's influence over Walter Hine by revealing to the youth certain
episodes in the new friend's life. He might even break the
acquaintanceship altogether. But Garratt Skinner would surely discover
who had been at work. And then? Why, then, Mr. Jarvice would have upon
his heels a shrewd and watchful enemy; and in this particular business,
such an enemy Mr. Jarvice could not afford to have. Jarvice was not an
impressionable man, but his hands grew cold while he imagined Garratt
Skinner watching the development of his little scheme--the tour abroad
with the pleasant companion, the things which were to happen on the
tour--watching and waiting until the fitting moment had come, when all
was over, for him to step in and demand the price of his silence and hold
Mr. Jarvice in the hollow of his hand for all his life. No, that would
never do. Garratt Skinner must be a partner so that also he might be an
accessory.

Accordingly, Jarvice wrote his letter to Garratt Skinner, a few lines
urging him to come to London on most important business. Never was
there a letter more innocent in its appearance than that which Jarvice
wrote in his inner office on that summer afternoon. Yet even at the
last he hesitated whether he should seal it up or no. The sun went
down, shadows touched with long cool fingers the burning streets;
shadows entered into that little inner office of Mr. Jarvice. But still
he sat undecided at his desk.

The tour upon the Continent must be abandoned, and with it the journey
under canvas to the near East--a scheme so simple, so sure, so safe.
Still Garratt Skinner might confidently be left to devise another. And he
had always kept faith. To that comforting thought Mr. Jarvice clung. He
sealed up his letter in the end, and stood for a moment or two with the
darkness deepening about him. Then he rang for his clerk and bade him
post it, but the voice he used was one which the clerk did not know, so
that he pushed his head forward and peered through the shadows to make
sure that it was his master who spoke.

Two days afterward Garratt Skinner paid a long visit to Mr. Jarvice, and
that some agreement was reached between the two men shortly became
evident. For Walter Hine received a letter from Captain Barstow which
greatly relieved him.

"Garratt Skinner has written to me," wrote the 'red-hot' Captain, "that
he has discovered that the gardener, whom he engaged for a particular
job, is notorious as a poacher and a first-class shot. Under these
circumstances, my dear old fellow, the red-hot one cannot pouch your
pennies. As between gentlemen, the bet must be considered o-p-h."

CHAPTER XVII

SYLVIA TELLS MORE THAN SHE KNOWS

Hilary Chayne stayed away from Dorsetshire for ten complete days; and
though the hours crept by, dilatory as idlers at a street corner, he
obtained some poor compensation by reflecting upon his fine diplomacy. In
less than a week he would surely be missed; by the time that ten days had
passed the sensation might have become simply poignant. So for ten days
he wandered about the Downs of Sussex with an aching heart, saying the
while, "It serves her right." On the morning of the eleventh he received
a letter from the War Office, bidding him call on the following
afternoon.

"That will just do," he said. "I will go down to Weymouth to-day, and I
will return to London to-morrow." And with an unusual lightness of
spirit, which he ascribed purely to his satisfaction that he need punish
Sylvia no longer, he started off upon his long journey. He reached the
house of the Running Water by six o'clock in the evening; and at the
outset it seemed that his diplomacy had been sagacious.

He was shown into the library, and opposite to him by the window
Sylvia stood alone. She turned to him a white terror-haunted face,
gazed at him for a second like one dazed, and then with a low cry of
welcome came quickly toward him. Chayne caught her outstretched hands
and all his joy at her welcome lay dead at the sight of her distress.
"Sylvia!" he exclaimed in distress. He was hurt by it as he had never
thought to be hurt.

"I am afraid!" she said, in a trembling whisper. He drew her toward him
and she yielded. She stood close to him and very still, touching him,
leaning to him like a frightened child. "Oh, I am afraid," she repeated;
and her voice appealed piteously for sympathy and a little kindness.

In Chayne's mind there was suddenly painted a picture of the ice-slope on
the Aiguille d'Argentiere. A girl had moved from step to step, across
that slope, looking down its steep glittering incline without a tremor.
It was the same girl who now leaned to him and with shaking lips and eyes
tortured with fear cried, "I am afraid." By his recollection of that day
upon the heights Chayne measured the greatness of her present trouble.

"Why, Sylvia? Why are you afraid?"

For answer she looked toward the open window. Chayne followed her glance
and this was what he saw: The level stretch of emerald lawn, the stream
running through it and catching in its brown water the red light of the
evening sun, the great beech trees casting their broad shadows, the high
garden walls with the dusky red of their bricks glowing amongst fruit
trees, and within that enclosure pacing up and down, in and out among the
shadows of the trees, Garratt Skinner and Walter Hine. Yet that sight she
must needs have seen before. Why should it terrify her beyond reason now?

"Do you see?" Sylvia said in a low troubled voice. For once distress had
mastered her and she spoke without her usual reticence. "There can be no
friendship between those two. No real friendship! You have but to see
them side by side to be sure of it. It is pretence."

Yet that too she must have known before. Why then should the pretence now
so greatly trouble her? Chayne watched the two men pacing in the garden.
Certainly he had never seen them in so intimate a comradeship. Garratt
Skinner had passed his arm through Walter Hine's and held him so, plying
him with stories, bending down his keen furrowed aquiline face toward him
as though he had no thought in the world but to make him his friend and
bind him with affection; and Walter Hine looked up and listened and
laughed, a vain, weak wisp of a creature, flattered to the skies and
defenceless as a rabbit.

"Why the pretence?" said Sylvia. "Why the linked arms? The pretence has
grown during these last days. What new thing is intended?" Her eyes were
on the garden, and as she looked it seemed that her terror grew. "My
father went away a week ago. Since he has returned the pretence has
increased. I am afraid! I am afraid!"

Garratt Skinner turned in his walk and led Walter Hine back toward the
house. Sylvia shrank from his approach as from something devilish. When
he turned again, she drew her breath like one escaped from sudden peril.

"Sylvia! Of what are you afraid?"

"I don't know!" she cried. "That's just the trouble. I don't know!" She
clenched her hands together at her breast. Chayne caught them in his and
was aware that in one shut palm she held something which she concealed.
Her clasp tightened upon it as his hands touched hers. Sylvia had more
reason for her fears than she had disclosed. Barstow came no more. There
were no more cards, no more bets; and this change taken together with
Garratt Skinner's increased friendship added to her apprehensions. She
dreaded some new plot more sinister, more terrible than that one of which
she was aware.

"If only I knew," she cried. "Oh, if only I knew!"

Archie Parminter had paid one visit to the house, had stayed for one
night; and he and Garratt Skinner and Walter Hine had sat up till
morning, talking together in the library. Sylvia waking up from a fitful
sleep, had heard their voices again and again through the dark hours; and
when the dawn was gray, she had heard them coming up to bed as on the
first night of her return; and as on that night there was one who
stumbled heavily. It was since that night that terror had distracted her.

"I have no longer any power," she said. "Something has happened to
destroy my power. I have no longer any influence. Something was done upon
that night," and she shivered as though she guessed; and she looked at
her clenched hand as though the clue lay hidden in its palm. There lay
her great trouble. She had lost her influence over Walter Hine. She had
knowledge of the under side of life--yes, but her father had a greater
knowledge still. He had used his greater knowledge. Craftily and with a
most ingenious subtlety he had destroyed her power, he had blunted her
weapons. Hine was attracted by Sylvia, fascinated by her charm, her
looks, and the gentle simplicity of her manner. Very well. On the other
side Garratt Skinner had held out a lure of greater attractions, greater
fascination; and Sylvia was powerless.

"He has changed," Sylvia went on, with her eyes fixed on Walter Hine.
"Oh, not merely toward me. He has changed physically. Can you understand?
He has grown nervous, restless, excitable, a thing of twitching limbs.
Oh, and that's not all. I will tell you. This morning it seemed to me
that the color of his eyes had changed."

Chayne stared at her. "Sylvia!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, I have not lost my senses," she answered, and she resumed: "I only
noticed that there was an alteration at first. I did not see in what the
alteration lay. Then I saw. His eyes used to be light in color. This
morning they were dark. I looked carefully to make sure, and so I
understood. The pupils of his eyes were so dilated that they covered the
whole eyeball. Can you think why?" and even as she asked, she looked at
that clenched hand of hers as though the answer to that question as well
lay hidden there. "I am afraid," she said once more; and upon that Chayne
committed the worst of the many indiscretions which had signalized his
courtship.

"You are afraid? Sylvia! Then let me take you away!"

At once Sylvia drew back. Had Chayne not spoken, she would have told him
all that there was to tell. She was in the mood at this unguarded moment.
She would have told him that during these last days Walter Hine had taken
to drink once more. She would have opened that clenched fist and showed
the thing it hid, even though the thing condemned her father beyond all
hope of exculpation. But Chayne had checked her as surely as though he
had laid the palm of his hand upon her lips. He would talk of love and
flight, and of neither had she any wish to hear. She craved with a great
yearning for sympathy and a little kindness. But Chayne was not content
to offer what she needed. He would add more, and what he added marred the
whole gift for Sylvia. She shook her head, and looking at him with a sad
and gentle smile, said:

"Love is for the happy people."

"That is a hard saying, Sylvia," Chayne returned, "and not a true one."

"True to me," said Sylvia, with a deep conviction, and as he advanced to
her she raised her hand to keep him off. "No, no," she cried, and had he
listened, he might have heard a hint of exasperation in her voice. But he
would not be warned.

"You can't go on, living here, without sympathy, without love, without
even kindness. Already it is evident. You are ill, and tired. And you
think to go on all your life or all your father's life. Sylvia, let me
take you away!"

And each unwise word set him further and further from his aim. It seemed
to her that there was no help anywhere. Chayne in front of her seemed to
her almost as much her enemy as her father, who paced the lawn behind her
arm in arm with Walter Hine. She clasped her hands together with a quick
sharp movement.

"I will not let you take me away," she cried. "For I do not love you";
and her voice had lost its gentleness and grown cold and hard. Chayne
began again, but whether it was with a renewal of his plea, she did not
hear. For she broke in upon him quickly:

"Please, let me finish. I am, as you said, a little over-wrought! Just
hear me out and leave me to bear my troubles by myself. You will make it
easier for me"; she saw that the words hurt her lover. But she did not
modify them. She was in the mood to hurt. She had been betrayed by her
need of sympathy into speaking words which she would gladly have
recalled; she had been caught off her guard and almost unawares; and she
resented it. Chayne had told her that she looked ill and tired; and she
resented that too. No wonder she looked tired when she had her father
with his secret treacheries on one side and an importunate lover upon
the other! She thought for a moment or two how best to put what she had
still to stay:

"I have probably said to you," she resumed, "more than was right or
fair--I mean fair to my father. I have no doubt exaggerated things. I
want you to forget what I have said. For it led you into a mistake."

Chayne looked at her in perplexity.

"A mistake?"

"Yes," she answered. She was standing in front of him with her forehead
wrinkled and a somber, angry look in her eyes. "A mistake which I must
correct. You said that I was living here without kindness. It is not
true. My father is kind!" And as Chayne raised his eyes in a mute
protest, she insisted on the word. "Yes, kind and thoughtful--thoughtful
for others besides myself." A kind of obstinacy forced her on to enlarge
upon the topic. "I can give you an instance which will surprise you."

"There is no need," Chayne said, gently, but Sylvia was implacable.

"But there is need," she returned. "I beg you to hear me. When my father
and I were at Weymouth we drove one afternoon across the neck of the
Chesil beach to Portland."

Chayne looked at Sylvia quickly.

"Yes?" he said, and there was an indefinable change in his voice. He had
consented to listen, because she wished it. Now he listened with a keen
attention. For a strange thought had crept into his mind.

"We drove up the hill toward the plateau at the top of the island, but as
we passed through the village--Fortune's Well I think they call it--my
father stopped the carriage at a tobacconist's, and went into the shop.
He came out again with some plugs of tobacco--a good many--and got into
the carriage. You won't guess why he bought them. I didn't."

"Well?" said Chayne, and now he spoke with suspense. Suspense, too, was
visible in his quiet attitude. There was a mystery which for Sylvia's
sake he wished to unravel. Why did Gabriel Strood now call himself

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