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The Avenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Part 6 out of 6

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* * * * *

The Colonel's eyes grew very soft.

"Poor little woman," he said to himself. "Wrayson, you'll look after her.
You'll see she doesn't come to grief!"

There was the sound of a heavy fall in the room above. The Colonel's face
assumed an air of intense irritation.

"It's that infernal window pole," he declared. "I had doubts about it all
the time."

Wrayson looked at him in horror.

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"Perhaps you had better go up and see," the Colonel answered, taking up
his hat. "A very commonplace tragedy after all! I don't quite see what
else he could have done. He was penniless, half mad with disappointment;
he'd been smoking too many cigarettes and drinking too much cheap liquor,
and he was in danger of arrest for selling the landlord's furniture. No
other end for him, I am afraid."

Wrayson threw open the door.

"Don't hurry," the Colonel declared. "You'll probably find that he has
hanged himself, but he must have been dead for some time."

Wrayson tore up the stairs. The Colonel watched him for a moment. Then,
with a little sigh, he began to descend.

"False sentiment," he murmured to himself sadly. "The world's full of



Wrayson rode slowly up the great avenue, and paused at the bend to see
for the first time at close quarters the house, which from the valley
below had seemed little more than a speck of white set in a deep bower of
green. Seen at close quarters its size amazed him. With its cluster of
outbuildings, it occupied nearly the whole of the plateau, which was like
a jutting tableland out from the side of the mountain. It was of two
stories only, and encircled with a great veranda supported by embowered
pillars. Free at last from the densely growing trees, Wrayson, for the
first time during his long climb, caught an uninterrupted view of the
magnificent panorama below. A land of hills, of black forests and shining
rivers; a land uncultivated but rich in promise, magnificent in its
primitivism. It was a wonderful dwelling this, of which the owner,
springing down from the veranda, was now on his way to meet his guest.

The two men shook hands with unaffected heartiness. Duncan Fitzmaurice,
in his white linen riding clothes, seemed taller than ever, a little
gaunt and thin, too, from a recent attack of fever. There was no doubt
about the pleasure with which he received his guest.

"Where is Louise?" he asked, looking behind down the valley.

"Coming up in the wagons," Wrayson answered. "She has been riding all
day and was tired."

A Kaffir boy came out with a tray and glasses. Wrayson helped himself to
a whisky and soda, and lit a cigar.

"I'll get my pony and ride back with you to meet them," Duncan said.

Wrayson detained him.

"One moment," he said, "I have something to say to you first."

Duncan glanced at him a little anxiously. Wrayson answered the look.

"Nothing--disturbing," he said. "You learnt the end of everything from
my letters?"

"I think so," Duncan answered.

"The verdict on your father's death was absolutely unanimous," Wrayson
said. "He was seen to stagger on the platform just as the train came in,
and he seemed to make every effort to save himself. He was killed quite
instantaneously. I do not think that any one had a suspicion that it was
not entirely accidental."

Duncan nodded.

"And the other affair?"

"You mean the death of Sydney Barnes? No one has ever doubted that he
committed suicide. Everything seemed to point to it. There is only one
man who knew about Morris Barnes and probably guesses the rest. His name
was Heneage, and he was your father's friend. He did not speak when he
was alive, so he is not likely to now. There is the young woman, of
course, Mrs. Morris Barnes. She has married again and gone to Canada.
Louise looked after her."

Duncan took up his riding-whip from the table.

"Now tell me," he said, "what it is that you have to say to me."

"Do you read the papers?" Wrayson asked abruptly.

"Only so far as they treat of matters connected with this country,"
Duncan answered.

"You have not read, then, of the Mexonian divorce?"

The man's eyes were lit with fire. The handle of the riding-whip snapped
in his hands.

"They have never granted it!" he cried.

"Not in its first form," Wrayson answered hastily. "The whole suit fell
to the ground for want of evidence."

"It is abandoned, then?" Duncan demanded.

"On the contrary, the courts have granted the decree," Wrayson answered,
"but on political grounds only. Every material charge against the Queen
was withdrawn, and the divorce became a matter of arrangement."

"She is free from that brute, then," Duncan said quietly. "I am glad."

Wrayson glanced down towards the valley. A couple of wagons and several
Kaffir boys with led horses were just entering the valley.

"Yes!" he said, "she is free!"

Something in his intonation, some change in his face, gripped hold of
Duncan. He caught his visitor by the shoulder roughly.

"What the devil do you mean?" he demanded, "What difference does it make?
She would never dare--to--"

"You can never tell," Wrayson said, with a little sigh, "what a woman
will dare to do. Tell me the truth, Duncan. You care for her still?"

"God knows it!" he answered fiercely. "There has never been another
woman. There never could be."

"Jump on your pony, then, and ride down and meet them. Gently, man!
Don't break your neck." ...

Later on they sat out upon the veranda. The swift darkness was falling
already upon the land, the colour was fading fast from the gorgeous
fragments of piled-up clouds in the western sky. Almost as they watched,
the outline faded away from the distant mountains, the rolling woods lost
their shape.

"It's a wonderful country, yours, Duncan," Wrayson said.

"It is God's own country," Duncan answered quietly. "What we shall make
of it, He only knows! It is the country of eternal mysteries."

He pointed northwards.

"Think," he said, "beneath those forests are the ruins of cities,
magnificent in civilization and art before a stone of Babylon was built,
when Nineveh was unknown. What a heritage! What a splendid heritage, if
only we can prove ourselves worthy of it!"

"Why not?" Wrayson asked quietly. "Our day of decline is not yet. Even
the historians admit that."

"It is the money-grabbers of the world who belittle empire," Duncan
answered. "It is from the money-grabbers of the Transvaal that we have
most to fear. Only those can know what Africa is, what it might mean to
us, who shake the dust of civilization from their feet, and creep a
little way into its heart. It is here in the quiet places that one begins
to understand. One has the sense of coming into a virgin country, strong,
fresh, and wonderful. Think of the race who might be bred here! They
would rejuvenate the world!"

"And yet," the woman at his side murmured, the woman who had been a
queen, "it is not a virgin country after all. A little further
northwards and the forests have in their keeping the secrets of ages.
Shall we ever possess them, I wonder!"

In the darkness she felt his arms about her. Louise and her husband had
wandered away.

"One thing at least remains, changeless and eternal as history itself,"
he murmured, as their lips met. "Thank God for it!"

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