Part 5 out of 6
luck. It's an excuse for weak makeshifts and futilities; one can conquer
bad fortune if one is resolute."
"None of us, except you, has much resolution," Mrs. Osborn remarked and
sighed. "So far, your firmness has not helped much; I imagine you know
your father has not given up hope."
"Yes," said Grace, rather harshly. "I do know, and that is why I am often
impatient. He will not be persuaded the thing's impossible."
"After all, Alan has some advantages."
"He has many drawbacks," Grace rejoined, and then her face softened and
she gave her mother an appealing look. "I thought you were on my side!"
"I am on your side where you feel strongly. Perhaps I am reserved and you
do not often give me your confidence."
"I'm sorry. We are seldom quite honest at Tarnside; somehow one can't be
oneself, but now we must be frank. I don't like Alan Thorn; I never liked
him. It's impossible."
"Then, my dear, there is no more to be said."
Grace made a sign of disagreement. "There may be much; that is why I am
disturbed. You and I don't count, mother; we are expected to submit. It
isn't that I don't like Alan; I shrink from him. He is cunning and knows
how to wait. Sometimes his patience frightens me."
"But why should his patience frighten you?"
"Oh!" said Grace, "can't you understand? You know father's habits and
that Gerald is following him. You know our debts are mounting up and this
can't go on. Some day we may be ruined and then I think Alan will seize
his chance. Perhaps I'm imaginative--but such things happen."
Mrs. Osborn put her hand on the girl's arm and her touch was unusually
firm. "You may be alarmed for nothing, my dear. But if the time should
come when my help is really needed, it will be yours."
Grace kissed her. "I can trust you. I was weak--I'm sometimes a
coward--but now I'm comforted."
They were silent for a few minutes and then Mrs. Osborn looked up.
"Is it prudent for you to meet Christopher Askew again?"
Grace colored, but met her mother's glance and answered with a thoughtful
calm; "I see no danger. I liked Kit before he went away, but our
friendship was really not romantic. When father met us in Redmire Wood, a
horribly silly impulse made me hide. I blush when I think about it and
imagine I forgot I had grown up--Gerald and I used to hide when father
was angry. Anyhow, I made Kit Askew hide and he was first to remember and
step into the road."
"But this happened long since and he is older."
"Yes," said Grace, "he's different, although one feels that he has
kept a promise made in his half-developed stage. He has been out in
the world and done strenuous things, while I stayed at home and played
at make-believe. He talks like a man who knows his value and there's a
touch of distinction in his look; a stupid word, but it comes near
what I mean."
Mrs. Osborn glanced at her sharply, but Grace smiled.
"Don't be disturbed, mother; I am trying to tell you all I think.
We were friends, but I imagine Kit knows his drawbacks from our
point of view. Besides, after father quarreled with Peter Askew I
never sent Kit a message, and he must have thought I acquiesced. In
a way, I did acquiesce; it was the best thing to be done. You see
what this implied? If I had loved him, it meant I had no pluck and
was ashamed to acknowledge a farmer's son. But he knew I did not
love him and understood that our friendship would not bear the
strain of father's disapproval. Either way, it hinted that I was
weak and not worth pursuing. Well, he met me without embarrassment
and we talked about nothing important. I may meet him now and then,
but that, I think, is all."
"Very well," said Mrs. Osborn, who looked relieved. "Perhaps it would be
prudent not to meet him often."
Grace smiled and was silent for a time. She had tried to be frank and
thought she had stated things correctly--so far as she knew. Then she
remembered Kit's look when she stopped and spoke, and began to wonder.
Perhaps she had not told all and the little she had left out was
important. By and by she got up and went into the house.
Gerald Osborn came home next day and not long afterwards Kit found him
lying on the gravel beside a tarn on the Ashness moor. Heavy rain had
fallen, but the clouds had rolled away and the water shone with dazzling
light. The sky was clear except for a bank of mist floating about the
round top of a fell, and a swollen beck sparkled among the heather. The
wind had dropped and it was very hot.
When he heard Kit's steps Gerald looked up. He was a handsome young man,
with some charm of manner, although it was obvious now and then that he
had inherited a touch of his father's pride. His glance was keen and
intelligent, but his mouth and chin were weak. Gerald had talent, but was
very like Osborn, since he was sometimes rashly obstinate and sometimes
"Hallo!" he said. "I expect I ought to have asked your leave before I
came to fish. I hope you don't mind."
"I don't mind. Nobody asks my leave," Kit replied. "Have you had
Gerald opened his creel and showed him a number of small, dark-colored
trout. "Pretty good. They rose well until the light got strong. Then I
thought I'd take a rest. Will you smoke a cigarette?"
Kit sat down and looked across the shining water at the silver bent-grass
that gleamed among vivid green moss on the side of the hill.
"You must find this a pleasant change from town. Are you staying long?"
"A fortnight; that's all I get. I wish I could stop for good. It's rot to
spend one's life working in a bank."
"I suppose one must work at something," Kit remarked.
"I don't see why, unless you're forced. The only object for working is
when you must work to live, and it isn't mine, because I can't live on my
pay. In fact, the futility of the thing is plain."
Kit laughed. Gerald's humorous candor was part of his charm, but Kit
thought it deceptive.
"Why did you go to the bank, then?"
"Because my father thought I ought. I expect you know he believes in the
firm hand. I wanted to stop at Tarnside, which would have cost him less.
Besides, I could have looked after the estate. It will be mine sometime;
that is, as much as is left."
"But Hayes transacts the business."
"Just so," said Gerald, rather dryly. "What do you think about Hayes?"
"He's your father's agent and has nothing to do with me. I imagine he's a
"I sometimes think he's too capable." Gerald rejoined.
Kit let this go. Before he went away he had suspected that Hayes had
plans his employer would not approve, and he knew Gerald was shrewd. It
was, however, not his business and he remarked: "You wanted to go to
Woolwich, didn't you?"
"I did not," Gerald declared. "As a matter of fact, I said so, but my
objections didn't count. I might have made a good farmer or
land-steward, but a number of us had been soldiers and that was enough.
I don't know if it was a logical argument, but I had to go, and on the
whole it was a relief when they turned me out. Too many regulations for
my independent taste! Rules are good, perhaps, so long as they're made
for somebody else."
He was silent for a few minutes and Kit mused. He thought there was some
bitterness in Gerald's humor; it looked as if Osborn had not been wise
when he planned his son's career without consulting him. This, however,
was typical. Osborn was satisfied to give orders and expected others to
accept his point of view.
"Well," said Gerald, getting up, "I must be off. Rather a bore to walk to
Tarnside, and the trout will probably rise again if there's wind enough
to make a ripple, but I forgot to ask for sandwiches."
"If you lunch with me, you could come back afterwards," Kit suggested,
and they set off down the hill.
When they reached Ashness, Gerald tried to hide his surprise. Kit had
made some changes in the old house and so far kept to the Spanish rule of
meals. Lunch was a late breakfast, well served in china and silver that
were seldom used in Peter Askew's time. The low room had been cleverly
painted and a casement commanding a view of the dale replaced the
original narrow windows. Specimens of ancient Indian pottery stood on the
sideboard, and there were curtains of embroidered silk, feather-flowers,
and silverwork that Kit had brought from Spanish America. The things gave
the lonely farmstead an exotic touch, but they implied the command of
money and cultivated taste.
"You have a beautiful room," Gerald remarked, when the meal was over.
"Don't know that I'm much of a connoisseur, but some of the things look
"I'll show them to you presently," Kit replied and gave Gerald a small,
dark cigar. "I wonder how you'll like the flavor."
"Our club cigars are dear and good, but the best is nothing like this,"
Gerald declared after a minute or two. "Where did they come from?"
"They were given me in Cuba; I believe the make is not offered for public
sale. In a general way, Cuban tobacco is not what it was, but there are
belts of soil that grow a leaf that can't be equaled anywhere else."
"I suppose they keep the crop for presidents and dictators. The quality
indicates it," Gerald suggested, and Kit smiled.
Gerald tasted his black coffee. "If it's not bad form, where did you get
this? There's nothing of the kind in Cumberland, and it's better than the
Turkish they give you in London."
"It came from a Costa Rican _hacienda,_ and was a gift. I'll get no more
when the bag is done. If you come back in a month, you'll find me living
in plain north-country style."
"I imagine you made up for that while you were away," said Gerald, who
rose and went to the side-board. "A curious little jar and obviously old!
Is this the kind of thing the Aztecs made?"
"I rather think it is Aztec, though I didn't buy it in Mexico. I gave
about a pound for the jar and found a gold onza inside."
"An _onza?_ Oh, yes, an ounce! The kind of coin some countries mint but
very seldom use. Something of a bargain!"
"I suppose it was," Kit replied incautiously. "For all that, the onza
wasn't mine, and in a sense my efforts to find the owner cost me a very
Gerald gave him a keen glance. Askew was not boasting; he had enjoyed
the command of money.
"Well," he said, "I think I'd have kept the onza, whether it was mine or
not." He paused and pulled a knife from its sheath. The handle was
ornamented and the narrow blade glittered in the light, although its
point was dull. "But what is this? Has it a story?"
"Take care!" said Kit "It may be poisoned; the _Meztisos_ use a stuff
that will kill you if a very small quantity gets into your blood. The
fellow who owned that knife came near burying it in my back."
"It looks as if you had had some adventures," Gerald remarked, and
leaning against the sideboard he lighted a cigarette.
Kit crossed the floor and stood by the open window. The shadow of a cloud
rested motionless, a patch of cool neutral color, on the gleaming yellow
side of the hill. A wild-cherry tree hung over a neighboring wall, and
bees hummed drowsily among the flowers. He was strangely satisfied to be
at home, and it was hard to realize that not long since he had been
engaged in a dangerous trade among the fever-haunted swamps.
"Have you any more curiosities?" Gerald asked.
Kit opened a drawer in his big desk, where he kept specimens of
featherwork. As he took them out he moved some documents and Gerald
"_Cristoval Askew_? Your name in Castilian, I suppose. You write a
"A matter of precaution! Anyhow, I didn't sign this order, and that's why
I kept it. The thing was rather important and we were lucky to find out
the cheat in time, particularly as I imagined nobody could imitate my
hand. You'll see my proper signature on the next document."
"It's not a very good counterfeit," said Gerald, who compared the writing
with the other, "This is a subject I know something about. Penmanship is
one of my few talents and I keep the customers' signature book at the
bank. Yours is an uncommon hand, but it could be forged. Let's see! May I
use this paper?"
Kit nodded and Gerald, knitting his brows, wrote the name three or four
times and then looked up.
"I think I've got it. Hard to tell which is genuine, if you put them
side by side?"
"Yes," said Kit. "I'm not sure I could tell which is mine."
Gerald laughed. "One has to study these things; part of my job, you see,
and banks are cheated oftener than people think. However, I expect you
want to get to work and I'll go back to the tarn."
He went out and Kit tore up the paper. He thought a talent like Gerald's
might be dangerous if it were used by an unscrupulous man.
THE HORSE SHOW
It was a calm evening and Osborn sat on the terrace, studying a printed
notice. Mrs. Osborn poured out coffee at a small table, and Gerald and
Grace occupied the top of the broad steps to the lawn. The sun was low,
the air was cool, and except for the soft splash of a beck, a deep
quietness brooded over the dale.
"It will be a good show," Osborn remarked, reaching for a cup. "I
insisted on the rather early date, because if we had waited until the hay
was in, we might have got wet weather. Two or three objected, but I'm
satisfied I took the proper line. One must be firm with an argumentative
Gerald's eyes twinkled as he looked at Grace. Osborn generally was firm
with people who gave way, and Gerald had heard some grumbling about his
changing the date for the horse show.
"It's the last time I'll be president," Osborn resumed. "I had meant to
resign, but Thorn could not take the post, Sir George is away, and a
well-known local man is needed to give the thing a proper start."
"Rather an expensive honor!" Gerald observed. "The president's expected
to make up the shortage if the day is wet."
"That was one reason for my fixing the meeting early, when we often get
it fine," Osborn replied naively. "The expense is a drawback, but the
committee would not let me drop out."
"Mother and Grace will want new hats and clothes, and I expect the job
will cost you more than you think. You'll have to give them a lead by
bidding for the chapel sheep."
"If that meddlesome fellow Drysdale is going to send his sheep to
the show, the arrangement was made without my knowing," Osborn
Mrs. Osborn looked disturbed, but Gerald laughed. He rather enjoyed
provoking his father when he thought it safe. Drysdale was treasurer for
a body of Nonconformists, who wanted to build a new chapel and, finding
the farmers reluctant to give money, had asked for contributions from
their flocks and herds.
"The idea was that the sale would be an extra attraction," Gerald went
on. "Still, I admit it's hard for you, because you hate chapels and will
have to bid. In fact, you'll, no doubt, have to buy the sheep at a
sentimental price and sell them at their value."
"I believe in liberty of conscience and do not hate chapels," Osborn
rejoined. "For all that, I own to a natural prejudice against people who
attend such places, largely because they mix up their religious and
political creeds. It would be strange if I sympathized with their plans
for robbing the landlords."
"Anyhow, Drysdale means to bring his flock, and I'm afraid you'll have to
pay. The situation has some humor."
Osborn knitted his brows. Hayes had been talking to him about the estate
accounts and he had resolved to practise stern economy. Economy was
needful, unless he gave a fresh mortgage to pay the interest on his other
debts; and here was an expense he had not bargained for.
"If I'd known about Drysdale, I'd have resigned," he said. "I took the
post again because there was nobody else."
"They might have tried Askew," Gerald suggested.
"Askew? A fellow of no importance, unknown outside the dale!"
"I imagine he'll be better known soon, and he's rather a good sort. Gave
me a very good lunch not long since and has obviously spent something on
the farm. His room is like a museum, and he has a number of valuable
things. Seems to have had some adventures abroad, and found them
"You mean he tried to impress you by vague boasting?"
"No," said Gerald, "I don't think he did; the fellow's not that kind. In
fact, he's rather good form, and has somehow got the proper stamp."
Grace looked at her brother, as if she agreed; but Osborn remarked
ironically, "You imagine yourself a judge?"
"Oh, well," said Gerald, smiling, "I've had the advantage of being
brought up at Tarnside, and belong to a good London club. Anyhow, Askew's
much less provincial than some of our exclusive friends."
He strolled off and Osborn went to the library, where he spent some time
studying his accounts. The calculations he made were disturbing and he
resented the possibility of his being forced to help Drysdale's fund.
Nevertheless, the president of the show would be expected to lead the
bidding and the Osborns did things properly.
A week or two afterwards, Mrs. Osborn opened the show in a field by the
market-town, which stood in a hollow among the moors. The grass sloped to
a river that sparkled in the sun and then vanished in the alders' shade.
Across the stream, old oak and ash trees rolled up the side of the Moot
Hill, and round the latter gray walls and roofs showed among the leaves.
A spire and a square, ivy-covered tower rose above the faint blue haze of
smoke. A few white clouds floated in the sky and their cool shadows
crept slowly across the field.
The horses were not very numerous, but the show had other attractions
and was an excuse for a general holiday. The crowd was larger than
usual, Mrs. Osborn's nervous speech was cheered, and for a time Osborn
forgot that the office he had taken might cost him something. He was
carrying out a duty he owed the neighborhood and felt that he could do
so better than anybody else. He did not admit that he liked to take the
His first annoyance came with the sheep-dog trials. He had not known
Askew was a competitor and frowned as he saw Grace go up to him when a
flock of Herdwicks entered the field. The girl ought to have seen that it
was not the proper thing for his daughter to proclaim her acquaintance
with the fellow. Then Gerald followed her, and began talking to Askew as
if he knew him well. Gerald, was of course, irresponsibly eccentric, but
his folly jarred.
Grace had found it needful to get a new dress and hat, and Kit thrilled
and tried to hide his delight in her beauty as she advanced. His
rough-coated dog ran to meet her and she stroked its shaggy head.
"I hope Bob is going to win," she remarked.
"It's doubtful," Kit replied. "He's clever, but they don't give us much
time and he's getting slow. One or two of his rivals are very good."
"You'll do your best, old Bob," said Grace, and the dog, looking up at
her with friendly eyes, beat his tail on the ground.
Then Gerald came up, and soon afterwards the judges tied a string to a
farmer's leg and fastened the other end to a post. This allowed him to
run a short distance, after which he must direct his dog by voice.
"First trial, Mr. Forsyth's Merry Lad," a steward announced, and the
crowd gathered round when the judge took out his watch.
Furze bushes had been stuck into the ground to simulate a broken hedge.
Beyond these was a row of hurdles with an open gate, and then a number
of obstacles, while a railed pen occupied a corner of the field. Kit
gave Grace a card showing the way the sheep must be driven round the
"It's a good test, particularly as we can't follow the dogs and they must
take each obstacle in its proper turn."
"They are wonderfully clever to understand," said Grace, and stopped when
the judge shouted, "Time!"
The farmer called his dog, a handsome smooth-haired collie, that set off
with a bound and drove the sheep at full speed towards the furze. As they
came up, with fleeces shaking and a patter of little feet, the man ran to
the length of the string and waved his stick.
"Away back! Gan away back! T'ither slap, ye fule!"
People laughed when the dog in desperate haste stopped the sheep as they
packed outside a hole, but it drove them to the next gap, through which
"Forrad! Gan forrad!" cried the farmer. "Head them, Merry Lad!"
The dog turned the sheep and brought them back through another opening,
after which they raced towards the hurdles, and the collie hesitated as
if puzzled by its master's shouts. The sheep were near the end of the
rails, but it was not the end the card indicated. Then the dog seemed to
understand what was required, and circling round the flock with swift,
graceful leaps, drove them along the hurdles and round the other end.
There was some applause from the crowd and afterwards good-humored
banter when the dog ran backwards and forwards at a loss. The animal
obviously knew the flock must be taken round the remaining obstacles, but
had only its master's shouts for guide to the order in which they must be
passed. Sometimes the farmer got angry and sometimes laughed, but except
for a mistake or two the collie drove the sheep in and out among the
barriers as the card required and put them in the pen.
Two or three more trials took place, and for the most part, the
unoccupied dogs strained at their leads and whimpered, but old Bob sat at
Kit's feet, watching, with his head on one side.
"One can see he's thinking; I believe he wants to remember the right way
round," Grace remarked, and smiled when a steward beckoned Kit. "It's
your turn," she said. "I wish you good luck!"
Kit went off with his heart beating and felt half amused by his keenness
when the steward tied the string to his leg. After his adventures on the
Caribbean and the stakes he and Adam had played for, it was strange he
should be eager to win a box of plated forks at a rustic show. Yet, he
was eager; Grace had wished him luck.
"Number four; Mr. Askew's Old Bob!" the steward announced.
Kit called, and Bob, trotting away deliberately, got the sheep together
and drove them correctly through the holes. He was doing well, in one
sense, and Kit knew he would make few mistakes, but time counted and old
Bob was slow. He had trouble at the hurdles, where the sheep seemed
resolved to go the wrong way, but he stopped them and took them back to
the proper end. Kit gave very few orders, although he looked at his watch
rather anxiously. Bob understood and could be trusted to do his work, the
trouble was he might not finish it in time. At length, Kit drew a deep
breath, and put back his watch. The sheep were in the pen and there was a
Kit went back to Grace, and Bob trotted up, panting, with his tongue
hanging out. He looked at Kit, as if for approval; and then, after
wagging his tail when his master spoke, held up his paw to Grace.
"Hallo!" said Kit. "I haven't known him to do that before. It's not a
"I taught him," Grace replied, with a touch of color. "He has not
forgotten, and really deserves to be stroked."
She went away, but she gave Kit a smile across the railing, behind which
she stood with Mrs. Osborn, when the judge called out:
"First prize, Number Four; Mr. Askew's Bob!"
When lunch was served in a big tent Osborn sat at the top of the table,
but his satisfaction had vanished. For one thing, everybody had applauded
when Askew won the prize; the fellow was obviously a favorite and this
annoyed him. Then, Drysdale's sheep were to be sold by auction after
lunch and the committee had hinted that the president was the proper
person to buy the flock. Drysdale sat next to Kit at the bottom of the
table. He was a little, shabbily-dressed man, with a brown face, and a
"Where are the sheep?" Kit asked.
"We'll send t' band for them presently. Are you gan t' bid?"
"I don't know until I've seen them. What about their quality?"
"Weel, it might be better; they're gifts, you ken. There's a young ram
might suit you; he's true Carlside strain."
"I don't know how you got him then. I can't see Mayson giving away good
Drysdale grinned. "Some big stanes fell on t' ram when Mayson was
Bringing flock doon Barra ghyll. He looks a bit the waur o' it, but you
can tell the Carlside blood."
"I'll see what I think about the animal," Kit said with a laugh. "Do you
expect a good sale? The rich people, as a rule, go to church."
"They'll bid aw t' same. When you canna stir their generosity, you can
try their pride. If you look at it one way, the thing's humorsome. They
dinna want to help me, but they will."
"It's possible," Kit agreed. "I don't know if the plan's above suspicion,
but you need the money."
"It will be weel spent. Hooiver, I must be off and see the band dinna get
ower much to drink."
Drysdale went away and soon afterwards a strange procession headed by the
band and guarded by children, entered the field. A row of geese, waddling
solemnly in single file, came first, and then turkeys stalked among their
broods; a boy led a handsome goat and long-legged calf, and in the rear
straggled a flock of sheep. When all were driven into pens the sale began
and the crowd laughed and bantered the men who bid. In the meantime, Kit
examined the sheep. Some had faults and the ram had obviously suffered
from its accident. It was clear, though, that it sprang from a famous
stock, and Kit knew an animal transmits to its offspring inherited
qualities and not acquired defects. He recognized the stamp of breeding
and resolved to buy the sheep. The ram was worth much more than he
imagined the shepherds thought.
He went back to the stand and by and by the auctioneer praised the flock.
When he stopped, there was silence for a few moments until Osborn nodded.
"A cautious beginning often makes a good ending, but we've a long way to
go yet," the auctioneer remarked. "Who'll say five pounds more?"
Thorn made a sign, and the auctioneer raised his hammer. "We've got a
start, but you must keep it up. The opportunity's what folks call
unique; you'll save money by buying, and help a good cause. Don't
know which will appeal to you, but you can pay your money, and take
He looked about while the crowd laughed, and after two or three
flockmasters advanced the price, caught Kit's eye. "Mr. Askew's a judge
of sheep. We'll call it ten pounds rise!"
Kit nodded, and Osborn glanced at Thorn, who shrugged. The latter had
helped to start the bidding, which was all he meant to do, and Osborn
would have tried to draw out after making another offer, had he not seen
Kit. He did not want the sheep, although he was willing to buy them at
something above their proper price. Now, however, Askew was his
antagonist, the fellow must be beaten.
"We must finish the sale before the driving-matches," he said. "Go up
"They'd not sell near it if you sent them to the market," a farmer
"Do you sell pedigree stock to butchers? The ram's worth the money," the
On the whole, Kit agreed, although he saw that others did not. Moreover
he was willing to run some risk by helping Drysdale, whom he liked, and
he signed to the auctioneer. The farmers stopped, but Osborn went on. He
had not liked Peter Askew and liked Kit worse. Father and son had opposed
him, and now the young upstart was proud of the money he had, no doubt,
got by doubtful means. He would not let the fellow balk him, and his face
got red as he answered the auctioneer's inquiring glance. Presently he
turned with a frown as Hayes touched his arm.
"It's an extravagant price," the agent remarked. "They'll want a check
and your account is getting very low."
"You'll have to cut down expenses, then," Osborn answered haughtily.
"This is not a matter about which I need your advice."
Hayes shrugged and Osborn nodded to the auctioneer when Kit made another
bid. He felt hot and savage and wanted a drink, but could not leave the
stand. Askew meant to humiliate him and he must hold out. He was the most
important man in the neighborhood, and must not be beaten by a small
farmer. For all that, the sum he would have to pay would be a drain.
After the next bid the auctioneer looked at Kit, who smiled and
shook his head.
"Mr. Osborn takes the lot," the auctioneer remarked. "He has paid a high
price to help a good object, but I think we all hope the next lambing
season will give him his money back."
Osborn's savage satisfaction was spoiled by a chilling doubt and he went
off to look for Hayes.
"Give the fellow a check for the sheep on the estate account," he said.
"How much?" Hayes asked, and looked thoughtful when Osborn told him.
"There are a number of bills to meet and we'll have no money coming in
"Can't you put off the bills?"
"I think not," Hayes answered, meaningly. "It mightn't be prudent. Our
credit is not too good."
Osborn was silent for a moment or two. "Very well," he said. "I'll try to
sell the sheep to somebody who'll give me what they're really worth. Come
over to-morrow and we'll talk about the new mortgage."
Then he went back, moodily, to join the judges for the driving-match.
On the morning after the show, Osborn walked up and down the terrace,
waiting moodily for Hayes. It was a rash extravagance to buy the sheep
and he blamed Kit for this. The fellow had gone on bidding in order to
force him to pay a high price; besides, the money would help an object
Osborn did not approve. There were enough chapels in the neighborhood and
any legislation that interfered with the landlords' privileges got its
warmest support at such places.
The sum he had spent was not remarkably large and he had cut his loss by
selling the flock to a farmer at their market price, but this was about
half what he had given and he had some urgent debts. Although he had
hoped to hold out until term-day, when the payment of rents would ease
the strain on his finances, he must have money and did not know where it
could be got by prudent means.
In the meantime, he looked about gloomily. The weather had changed, a
moist west wind drove heavy clouds across the sky and the fell-tops
were hidden by mist. It threatened a wet hay-time and hay was scarce
in the dale, where they generally cut it late after feeding sheep on
the meadows. Osborn farmed some of his land and had hoped for a good
crop, which he needed. The grass in the big meadow by the beck was
long and getting ripe, but the red sorrel that grew among it had lost
its bright color. The filling heads rolled in waves before the wind,
but there was something dull and lifeless in the noise they made, and
Osborn knew what this meant. Rain was coming and when rain began in the
dale it did not stop.
His glance rested on the green embankment along the beck. His father had
made the dyke at a heavy cost but in places the stones and soil had
gradually washed away. If the dyke broke at one spot, the beck would
return to its old channel and much damage might be done, particularly if
the floods rolled across the turnip fields. Osborn had meant to
strengthen the dyke, but had put it off because of the expense.
A little later Hayes came up the steps. Osborn did not ask him to sit
down, although there was room on the stone bench, and the agent leaned
against the terrace wall. His face was inscrutable but he remarked his
"I have seen Fisher and he is willing to take a mortgage on Ryecote," he
said. "The interest is higher than I thought, but the money would pay off
urgent bills and cover the cost of the farmstead repairs."
"How much does Fisher want?" Osborn asked and frowned when he was told.
"It's unjust; two per cent above the proper interest."
"I can't borrow for less. However, if we use the money judiciously, we
ought to get something back by higher rents. Lang and Grey, for example,
would pay a little more for the improvements they require."
Osborn pondered. He was in a suspicious mood and thought Hayes wanted to
negotiate the mortgage.
"When I have satisfied the other tenants there won't be much left for
Lang and Grey," he rejoined. "My experience is that the money you sink in
improvements is gone for good."
"They must be made, for all that; particularly just now when a
dissatisfied spirit is spreading among the farmers. Askew is showing them
what can be done by the proper use of capital."
"Askew!" Osborn exclaimed. "Father and son, the Askews have been the
origin of the worst trouble I've had."
Hayes was willing to indulge Osborn's rancor and derived a rather
malicious satisfaction from seeing him annoyed. Besides, he did not want
to dwell upon the mortgage.
"I wonder whether you know Askew has bought Drysdale's sheep?"
"I did not know. I sold the flock to Graham."
"Then Askew must have bought them soon afterwards, unless he sent Graham
to make the deal with you."
Osborn's face got red. "A shabby trick! Unthinkably shabby, after he
forced up the price." He paused, and tried to control his anger. "But why
did he buy that second-class lot?"
"There was a Carlside ram."
"Only fit for mutton; I studied the animal."
"Oh, well! Askew, no doubt, thinks he is a judge. I imagine he bought the
others in order to get the ram."
"He cheated me," said Osborn, with a savage frown. "The fellow's a
cunning rogue. I wish he hadn't come back--confound him!" He pulled
himself up and added: "However, about the mortgage. I suppose I must
agree to Fisher's terms. See him and arrange the thing as soon as
Hayes went away and Osborn lighted a cigar. He had a disturbing feeling
that he had been rash. The money would not last long and if he had not
borrowed it, he might have paid the interest on other loans. Buying the
sheep had really decided him to give the mortgage, since it had made him
feel keenly the embarrassment of having very little money at command.
There was another thing; Hayes wanted him to borrow the fresh sum,
although a prudent agent would try to keep the estate out of debt. He
could not see Hayes' object and felt suspicious, but while he pondered it
began to rain and he went into the house.
It rained all day and at dusk the mist had crept down the hills. The long
grass in the meadow bent before the deluge and slanted from the wind. The
becks began to roar in the gyhlls, and threads of foam glimmered in the
mist. A hoarse turmoil rose from the stream that fed the tarn, and an
angry flood, stained brown by peat, rose steadily up the dyke. There was
no promise of better weather when Osborn went to bed, and he had known
rain like that last for a week. In fact, he had known all the hay crop
and the most part of the young turnips washed down the valley.
The rain was heavier when, early next morning, Kit went out to move some
sheep from a spot where the rising water might cut them off. He came back
along the meadow dyke and stopped for a few minutes when he reached its
weakest place. Reeds and tufts of heather whirled down the brown flood.
Wide patches of turf and soil had fallen away, uncovering the foundation
of boulders and gravel, and while Kit looked down a heavy stone rolled
out of its place and plunged into the stream. Others were ready to go;
the water was rising ominously fast and would rise for some time after
the rain stopped. There was, however, nothing to indicate that it would
stop, and Kit, knowing his native climate, looked about with some
A hollow across the meadow to a hedge, behind which were two large turnip
fields, and he knew this marked a former channel of the beck. It was long
since the water had flowed that way, but his father had told him that in
heavy floods it had some times spread across the fields and joined the
other stream at Allerby. If this happened again, the bottom of the dale
would be covered and the crops ruined. When he was going away, three or
four men with picks and spades came up.
"Are you going to mend the dyke?" he asked.
"We're gan to try," said one. "I reckon we'll not can hoad her up if beck
"She'll rise three or four feet," said Kit. "Is nobody else coming?"
"Neabody we ken aboot. Mr. Osborn sent to Allerby first thing, but miller
wadn't let him have a man."
Kit thought hard. Bell had given up the mill and his successor had a
dispute with Hayes. To repair the dyke properly would be a long and
expensive business, since there were a number of weak spots, but a dozen
men, working hard, might perhaps strengthen the threatened part
sufficiently to bear the strain. Clearly, if they were to be of use, they
must be found and set to work at once. In a sense, the risk was Osborn's,
who would pay for his neglect, but the flood might damage his tenants'
fields, and even if the damage were confined to Osborn's, Kit hated to
see crops spoiled.
"You had better begin," he said. "I'll try to get help."
"Mayhappen folks will come for you, though they wadn't for t' maister,"
one replied. "We'll need aw you can get before lang."
Kit set off as fast as he could walk and, stopping for a minute at
Ashness, sent his men. Then he went on to Allerby and at first found
the farmers unwilling to move, but after some argument they went with
him to the mill.
"We'll hear what miller has to say," one remarked. "He kens maist aboot
the job, sin' he had t' mend t' lade when Hayes refused. For aw that,
mending dyke is landlord's business."
"I'll not stir a hand to save Osborn's crops," the miller declared when
he met them at the door. "His oad rogue o' an agent promised me he'd
build up brocken lade, but when time came I had to do't mysel'."
Two of the others grumbled about promises Hayes had not kept, and then
Kit said, "All this is not important. I don't ask you to mend the dyke
for Osborn's sake but yours. If the beck breaks through and runs down to
Allerby, it will spoil all the hay and fill the mill-lead with rubbish."
"Then we'll get compensation. Landlord's bound to keep dyke in order."
Kit smiled. "You'll get nothing, unless you go to law and I don't know if
you'll get much then. Hayes is clever and the dispute would be expensive.
You'll certainly find it cheaper to mend the dyke."
They pondered this, until the miller made a sign of agreement.
"I'll not can say you're wrang. I'm coming with my two men."
Kit told him to bring a horse and cart and the party set off for the
threatened bank. The beck had risen while Kit was away and stones and
soil slipped down into the flood. An angry turmoil indicated that the
current had rolled the rubbish into a dam.
"We've gotten our job," said the miller as he drove in his spade.
They got to work, but the current that undermined the bank brought down
the turf and soil with which they tried to fill the holes. It was plain
that a stronger material was needed and Kit sent some men to a
roadmaker's quarry at the bottom of the fell while he rearranged some
harness. When he had finished he fastened an extra horse outside the
shafts of the carts and two men drove the teams across the field. They
went off fast, jolting the carts by their clumsy trot, but Kit knew the
extra horse would be needed when they returned. Soon afterwards, Osborn
came up the other bank and stopped opposite with the rain running off his
"Has anybody given you leave to meddle with the dyke?" he asked.
"No," said Kit. "We'll let it alone, if you like, but there won't be much
of your hay left when the flood breaks through, and I imagine you could
be made responsible for other damage."
Osborn hesitated and Kit, seeing his frown, began to wonder whether he
would send him away. Then he resumed: "Who engaged these men?"
"I don't know that they are engaged. Anyhow, if there's a difficulty
about their getting paid, I'm accountable."
"Bring them to Tarnside when you have finished," Osborn answered
and went off.
Kit resumed his work with savage energy. He thought Osborn did not
deserve to be helped, but this did not matter much. Others would suffer
unless he finished the job he had undertaken and it almost looked as if
the flood would beat him. The trench from which they dug the soil they
needed filled with water, the spades got slippery with rain and mud,
and the horses sank in the trampled slough. Kit, however, had made his
plans while he looked for help and had forgotten nothing that he might
want. Hammers, drills, and a can of powder had been brought, and now
and then a dull report rolled across the dale and heavy stones crashed
in the quarry.
When he had stone enough he and one or two others stood on the front of
the bank with the water washing round their legs while they built up the
ragged blocks. The pieces were hard to fit and sometimes the rude wall
broke when the men on top threw down the backing of soil. Kit tore his
hand on a sharp corner, but persisted while the blood ran down his
fingers and his wet clothes stuck to his skin. The others supported him
well and he only stopped for breath and to wipe from his eyes the water
that trickled off his soaked hat. The loaded cart, ploughing through the
mire, met the other going back; the men at the quarry kept him supplied,
and when he had made a foundation the bank began to rise. For all that,
the beck rose almost as fast, and at noon they had not gained much on the
flood. Kit was doubtful, but on the whole thought it prudent to let the
men stop. They had worked hard and could not keep it up without a rest.
When they collected with their dinner cans under a dripping hedge, one
remarked: "Mayhappen we'd better wait for Osborn to send cold meat and
ale. I'll mak' a start with bread and cheese."
The others grinned, but Kit got up as he heard a rattle of wheels. "Don't
begin just yet. Two of you go to the gate."
The men came back with a big jar and a basket, and the others gathered
round when Kit took off the clean, wet cloth.
"Yon lunch niver came fra Tarnside; it's ower good and liberal," said
one. "Ashness folk dinna believe in sending a half-empty jar."
When they had eaten and drunk, one or two tried to light their pipes but
gave it up and they got to work again. Kit's hand hurt; it was long since
he had undertaken much manual labor, and his muscles felt horribly stiff.
He knew, however, that the men needed a leader, not a superintendent, and
he would not urge them to efforts he shirked. And a leader was all they
needed. They had no liking for Osborn, but they were stubborn and now
they had begun they meant to finish. Shovels clinked, stones rattled from
the carts, and the pile of earth and rock rose faster than the flood.
In the meantime the mist got thicker and the rain swept the valley. The
long grass near the trench was trodden into pulp where the turf was cut,
the surface of the bank melted, and the men stumbled as they climbed it
with their loads. The wheelbarrows poured down water as well as sticky
soil, and Kit's clothes got stiff with mud. Despite this, he held out
until, in the evening, the strengthened dyke stood high above the stream.
Then he threw down his spade and stretched his aching arms.
"I think she'll hold the water back and we can do no more," said Kit.
The others gathered up their tools and climbing into the carts drove down
the dale. When they reached the Tarnside lodge Kit pulled up.
"You have done a good job for Osborn and there's no reason you shouldn't
get your pay," he said.
Two or three jumped down, without much enthusiasm, and the old gardener
came out and gave one an envelope.
"For Mr. Askew," he remarked.
"Is that all?" the other asked, and the gardener grinned.
"That's all. What did you expect?"
The man took the envelope to Kit and the rest waited with some curiosity.
They were very tired and big drops fell on them as the wind shook the
dripping trees. Kit opened the envelope and his face flushed as he took
out a note addressed to Hayes.
"Pay C. Askew and the men whose names follow one day's wages, on estate
account," it ran.
This was all and the sum noted at the bottom represented the lowest
payment for unskilled labor. Kit handed the note to his companions and
while some laughed ironically two or three swore.
"Next time beck's in flood Osborn can mend his dyke himsel'," said one.
"If five minutes' digging wad save Tarnside Hall, I'd sooner lose my hay
than stir a hand!"
Then they got into the carts, and drove off in the rain.
KIT TELLS A STORY
The rain stopped at night, the next day was fine, and in the afternoon
Kit went up the dale to look at the mended dyke. It had stood better
than he had thought, the beck was falling, and Osborn's fields were safe
until another flood came down. Kit did not know if he was pleased or
not. There was some satisfaction in feeling that he had done a good job,
but he did not think Osborn deserved the help his neighbors had given.
Following the dyke until he came to the road, he sat down on the bridge
and lighted his pipe.
The sun was hot and he was glad of the shade of a big alder whose leaves
rustled languidly overhead. The bent-grass on the hillside shone a warm
yellow, wet rocks glittered like silver in the strong light, and the
higher slopes, where belts of green moss checkered the heather, were
streaked by lines of snowy foam. All was very quiet, except for the noise
of running water and the joyous notes of a lark. Kit was not much of a
philosopher; action was easier to him than abstract thought, but he
vaguely felt that the serenity of the dale was marred by human passion.
Man was, no doubt, meant to struggle, but Nature was his proper
antagonist, and while the fight against floods and snow was bracing, one
gained nothing by shabby quarrels that sprang from pride and greed.
Kit was human, however, and owned that he had felt savage when he read
Osborn's note. The fellow had meant to humiliate him, and he got hot
again as he thought about it. Moreover, Osborn had, so to speak, for his
sake, insulted the men he had persuaded to help. They had not worked for
wages, when they fought the swollen beck, and some kindly acknowledgment,
such as a supper at the hall, would have gone far to gain for Osborn a
good will that money could not buy. Anyhow, since he offered pay, the sum
ought to have been a just reward for their toil.
Osborn had been led by personal rancor, and there was no use in Kit's
pretending he did not resent it. The fellow seemed to think he had a
right to command, and got savage when people would not obey. Kit felt he
had done nothing to deserve his hatred, but since Osborn did hate him, he
must brace himself for a struggle, and he meant to win. Then, as he
knocked out his pipe, he saw Grace.
For a few moments Kit hesitated. If Grace knew how Osborn had rewarded
him, the meeting might be awkward, but there was nothing to be gained by
putting it off. He meant to marry Grace, whether Osborn approved or not,
and to some extent frankness was needful. He waited until she reached the
bridge and got up when she stopped. There was some color in her face, but
she gave him a steady look.
"I have been to see the mended dyke," she said, and he knew that she
"It's a rough job. There was no time to finish it neatly."
"I'm surprised you were able to finish it at all."
"I mustn't claim all the credit," Kit rejoined, smiling. "There were a
number of others as well as the Tarnside men."
Grace made an impatient gesture. "Our men could have done nothing useful
if they had been left alone, and the others wouldn't have helped if you
had not persuaded them. Why did you?"
"To some extent, my object was selfish. If the flood had broken through,
it might have done much damage to all the crops, besides your father's."
"It could not have damaged yours."
"Oh, well," said Kit, "I hate to see things spoiled, and am afraid I'm
Grace's color rose, but she fixed her eyes on him. "That is not kind; I
hardly think it's just. I have not accused you of meddling."
"No," said Kit; "I'm sorry! It was a stupid remark. But I expect you know
what your father thinks."
Grace was silent for a few moments. She did know and would rather not
have met Kit, but was too proud to turn back. Besides, she felt her
father was prejudiced, and although it was a family tradition that the
Osborns stood together, she rebelled and wanted to be just. The situation
was embarrassing, but there was no use in pretense.
"I think you were generous and imagine my mother agrees," she said. "She
wanted to send some lunch to the beck, but the rain was very heavy and
there was nobody to go." Then, remembering something Osborn had said, she
hesitated. "I understand your helpers were paid."
"Oh, yes," said Kit, not with malice, but because he saw he must be
frank. "I was not left out."
Grace turned her head. This was worse than she had thought. She was
angry, and would not let Kit think she approved. Her eyes sparkled as she
looked up. "Ah," she said, "you deserved something very different! I wish
you had not told me!"
"I didn't tell you because I was hurt," Kit replied with grave
quietness. "It looks as if we had got to face things. Your father thinks
me his enemy. I'm not; I have never tried to injure him, and if the dyke
was threatened by another flood, I believe I'd mend it. But, whatever
happens, I mean to do what I think proper, and it's possible we may
"Yes," said Grace. "I am afraid this may happen."
"Well, I value your friendship and don't mean to give it up, but I can't
pretend, and think you wouldn't be deceived if I tried."
"You mean you would not do what you thought was shabby in order to
avoid a clash?"
"I mean something like that. Now you know how things are, you must
choose your line. I can't judge how far your duty to your parents binds
you; you can."
Grace felt her heart beat and was silent for a moment or two.
"I cannot criticize my father's deeds and agree with people who are
opposed to him," she said. "All the same, unless he expressly orders it,
I cannot give up my friends."
Kit tried to hide his satisfaction. "We'll let it go; I understand!"
He expected her to move away, and wondered whether it was tactful for him
to stop, but to his surprise she smiled and sat down on the bridge.
"Very well. Suppose we talk about something else? The shade is nice, and
I need not go home yet. You promised to tell me about your adventures and
your uncle. I think you called him a survival from the old romantic days
when the pirates haunted the Gulf of Mexico."
Kit pondered as he leaned against the alder trunk. He thought Grace meant
to banish the strain; anyhow, she was willing to stay and he wanted her
to do so. It was strangely pleasant to loiter on the bridge with her
while the shadows trembled on the road and the beck murmured in the
shade. But if he meant to keep her, he must talk, and although he did
not want to say much about his adventures he had a story to tell. The
story was moving, if he could tell it properly.
"I'm not clever at drawing a portrait, but I'd like to try," he said.
"For one thing, my subject's worth the effort; and then, you see, I was
fond of Adam. In some ways, he was not romantic; in fact, he was
remarkably practical. His bold strokes were made deliberately, after
calculating the cost; but now and then one got a hint of something
strangely romantic and in a sense extravagant. Yet human nature's
curious. When he played out a losing game, knowing he would lose, it was
not from sentimental impulse but a firm persuasion it was worth while."
He paused, and gave Grace an apologetic glance. "I'm afraid this is
rather foggy. Perhaps I'd better begin where I met him, at a Florida
hotel--if I'm not boring you."
Grace said she was not bored and Kit, gaining confidence, narrated how
they bumped the _Rio Negro_ across the surf-swept shoals, landed the
guns, and met Alvarez. His own part in their adventures was lightly
indicated, but the girl's imagination supplied what he left out. She felt
strangely interested as Kit's portrait of his uncle grew into shape,
although her thoughts dwelt largely on the artist. Then the
background--the steamy swamp, old presidio, and dazzling town--had a
romantic fascination, and when he told her about the journey to the
mission and the church where the candles that Adam sent burned before the
Virgin's shrine, her eyes shone.
"Ah," she said, "I am glad you told me! One thinks better of human nature
after hearing a tale like that. In a way, it's a rebuke. Are such men
"I have known two. Perhaps it's a coincidence that both were my
relations. They're commoner than people think."
"You're an optimist, but one likes optimists," Grace remarked with a
gentle smile. "However, what had the president done to deserve the
sacrifice your uncle made?"
"I never knew, but suspect it was something against the laws of his
country. If I told my story properly, you would understand that both were
"But they had their code! I like the president and your uncle was very
fine. One feels moved when one thinks about the shabby little altar and
the candles love had lighted that never went out--all those years! Adam's
wife loved him. She went to nurse him, although her friends warned her
and she knew the risk."
Grace mused for a time and Kit thought her face disturbed. Then she
looked up quietly.
"One needs courage to know the risk and not to hesitate. But you will
keep those candles burning?"
"Yes," said Kit, "I promised. Besides, I like to think they're burning.
It means something."
"It means much," Grace agreed, and after a pause resumed: "You had no
doubt about taking up your uncle's engagement with the president,
although you saw what it might cost?"
"Of course not," Kit replied. "There was nothing else to be done."
Grace smiled and got up. "No," she said, "there was nothing else you
could do. Well, I must go home."
Kit went back with her for some distance. They talked but little on the
way, but when she left him she gave him her hand and a look that made his
Soon after Grace reached Tarnside, Osborn crossed the lawn to the
tea-table where she and Mrs. Osborn sat beneath a spreading copper-beech.
His face was thoughtful when Mrs. Osborn gave him a cup.
"I met the post as I was driving home," he said. "There's a letter
"Has he any news?" Mrs. Osborn asked.
"Nothing important. He's well and says he's kept occupied, which is
fortunate. In fact, the harder they work him, the better; I'd sooner
Gerald did not have much time on his hands."
"Then, why did he write?" Grace asked, because Gerald's letters were by
no means regular.
"I hope he did not want money," Mrs. Osborn remarked.
"No," said Osborn. "That is, he did not want it for himself." He
hesitated, and then resumed: "He states that if I could raise a moderate
sum, he knows how we could make a very satisfactory profit in a short
time. It seems he has got a useful hint."
Grace laughed. "About a racehorse? Gerald is always hopeful, but his
confidence in his ability to spot the winner is dangerous. It has been so
"This has nothing to do with racing," Osborn rejoined angrily. "Gerald
knows the consequences of indulging his folly again. There's a difference
between betting and buying shares."
"I don't know if the difference is very marked," said Grace, with a
curious feeling of annoyance, for there was a note in Osborn's voice that
jarred. He was, like Gerald, a gambler, greedy for money he had not
earned, and she thought about the story Kit had told. Its hero had risked
and lost his life, and Kit had paid in health and fortune, because they
put honor before gain. For all that, she knew she had said enough when
she saw Osborn's frown.
"Gerald is young, but he holds a responsible post and has opportunities
of meeting important stock-brokers and business men," Osborn went on,
turning to his wife. "He is, of course, optimistic and has been rash, but
after all he may have found out something useful. He declares the
venture is absolutely safe."
"But you have no money to invest," Mrs. Osborn insisted anxiously.
"As a matter of fact, I have some. You see, I borrowed a sum not long
since on Ryecote."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Osborn, with a resigned gesture, and then braced herself.
"But if you have got the money, it ought not to be used for speculation.
There is much that needs to be done on the estate."
"That is so; it was my reason for borrowing. All the same, it would be a
very long time before I got back what I meant to spend on drains and
steadings. Besides, the repairs and improvements need not be made just
yet, and I might be able to use the money and earn a good profit first."
"You might lose it all," Mrs. Osborn insisted. "Gerald is rash and
business men don't tell young bank-clerks important secrets. Then,
although it was a shock to hear you had mortgaged Ryecote, the money is
so badly needed that it must not be risked." She paused and resumed with
some color in her face, "It is hard to own, but perhaps Gerald is not
altogether to be trusted."
Osborn moved abruptly. His wife had touched the doubt that made him
hesitate; in fact, this was a matter upon which he wanted her advice. She
knew her son and had judged right when Osborn had been deceived.
"Well," he said, knitting his brows, "I haven't quite decided. I had
thought about asking for particulars, but after all Gerald's hint may not
be worth much and unless one is really well informed speculation is
He looked round and saw Thorn. The latter had come up without disturbing
the group and now joined them with a smile.
"I heard your last remark," he said. "My opinion is your views are
sound. It is very rash to speculate on shares you don't know much about."
Mrs. Osborn felt disturbed, because she wondered how much he had heard,
but he went on carelessly: "Gerald's too young for one to trust his
judgment. My advice is, leave the thing alone."
Grace gave him a grateful glance. She did not like Alan Thorn, but he was
cautious and she saw that Osborn was hesitating. It would not need much
persuasion to move him one way or the other, and she felt that to let
Gerald have the money would be a dangerous mistake.
"You really think I had better keep out of it?" Osborn asked.
"Certainly," said Thorn. "Only a few of the big jobbers can form an
accurate notion how prices ought to go. For people like us speculation is
a plunge in the dark."
Osborn was silent for a few moments, but Grace saw that he was pulled in
different ways by caution and greed. Then, to her relief, he made a sign
"Oh, well! I'll let the thing alone."
Thorn sat down and when Mrs. Osborn had given him some tea they talked
about other matters. Presently Grace got up and he walked with her
across the lawn.
"Were you satisfied with the advice I gave your father?" he asked.
"Yes," said Grace frankly. "I think he was tempted; I was glad you came."
"After all, a hint that he'd better be prudent did not cost me much. You
know I'd do more than that to help you."
"You did all that was necessary," Grace replied. "You have my thanks."
Thorn glanced at her keenly, but there was something chilling in her
"Well, I'm going to London in a day or two and it might be advisable to
look Gerald up. I will, if you like."
"Yes," said Grace. "If it doesn't give you much trouble."
She left him and Thorn stood still, frowning. Grace was always like
that, friendly but elusive. No matter how he tried, he could not break
down her reserve.
THORN MAKES A PLAN
Thorn went up to town and one evening loitered about the hall of his
club. London rather bored him, but he went there now and then, because he
felt one ought to keep in touch with things. It was, in a sense, one's
duty to know what was going on, and the news he picked up helped him to
look well informed. Thorn had not much imagination, but he was cautious,
calculating, and generally saw where his advantage lay. His small estate
was managed well, in general his tenants liked him, and his investments
were sound. Nevertheless, he was dissatisfied; he had waited long for
Grace Osborn, and feared that in spite of her father's approval he got no
Alan Thorn was not romantic but his love for Grace was, to some extent, a
generous emotion. He knew Osborn's poverty, and it was plain that if he
married Grace he might have to help him out of his embarrassments. He was
fond of money and had grounds for imagining that the daughter of a rich
neighbor would not refuse him; but he wanted Grace and saw he could not
wait much longer. He was fastidious about his clothes, and their color
and loose cut prevented people remarking that he was getting fat; his
dark hair was carefully brushed. He knew, however, that he was getting
heavier fast and that he would soon be bald.
He had meant to go out, but had no particular object and the streets were
hot; besides, after the quiet country, he liked the bustle in the hall.
People were beginning to come in and one could see the crowd stream past
the glass doors. Sitting down in a corner he began to muse. Although he
had been in town some time, he had not seen Gerald. He had called at the
latter's lodgings and found him not at home, while when he went to the
bank he was told that Gerald had been sent to manage a small branch
office. Thorn thought it strange that Osborn had said nothing about this
and wondered whether he knew. Gerald was extravagant and much less frank
than he looked; he might have had an object for hiding his promotion.
Thorn understood that Osborn made him some allowance, but it was hard to
see how the young man was able to belong to his rather expensive club.
After a time, Gerald came in and glanced at two or three men who stood
about. At first, Thorn imagined he was looking for him, but saw he was
not. Gerald went into the telephone box close by and shut the door with a
jerky movement. It jarred and then swung back a few inches as if the
shock had jolted the spring. Thorn, whose curiosity was excited, listened
and heard the number Gerald asked for. Then he heard him say:
"Yes--Osborn! Is that Sanderson? Yes--I said _Ermentrudes_. Any chance
of a recovery? What--none at all? Can't hear--oh, sell at once!
Next moment Gerald obviously saw that the door was open, for he banged it
noisily and Thorn heard nothing more. He had, however, heard enough to
give him food for thought and waited until Gerald came out. The young man
stood still with his mouth firmly set and his eyes fixed on the wall as
if he saw nobody. His clothes were in the latest fashion, but the look of
fastidious languidness that generally marked him had gone. Turning
abruptly, he went up the stairs, and Thorn entered the telephone box and
opened the directory. When he came out he went up to a man he knew.
"Can you tell me anything about Short and Sanderson, stockbrokers?"
"Not much," said the other. "They're outside brokers. I imagine they're
trustworthy, but it's better to do business through a member of the
Exchange. You'll find it a good rule."
"Thank you," said Thorn, who went upstairs to the smoking-room and found
Gerald sitting in front of a table, with a newspaper that dealt with
"Hallo!" said Thorn. "I have been expecting you for some days. I suppose
you got my message?"
Gerald looked up and his smile was strained. "I did, but have been much
engaged. Sit down and join me in a drink."
"What have you ordered?" Thorn asked, and shrugged when Gerald told him.
"That goes better after dinner. I'd sooner have something cool and
"Oh, well," said Gerald. "I felt I needed bracing. The fact is, I've had
He stopped as a waiter came up and said nothing until the man had gone.
Then he drained his glass and turned to Thorn.
"I'm in a hole. Can you lend me two thousand pounds?"
Thorn hid his surprise. He thought urgent need had forced Gerald to make
his blunt request; it was not his way to plunge at things like that.
"You asked your father for a smaller sum."
"They told you about my letter? Well, things have changed since; changed
for the worse."
"They must have changed rather quickly," Thorn remarked, for his
suspicion was excited and he thought he saw a light. Gerald had been
embarrassed when he wrote to Osborn, and had not wanted the money to
invest but to help him to escape the consequences of some extravagance.
"That has nothing to do with it," Gerald rejoined. "Will you let me have
the money? You can, if you like."
"To begin with, you had better tell me why you want so large a sum."
Gerald hesitated and his eyelids twitched nervously, but he pulled
himself together and Thorn wondered how far he would stick to the truth.
He knew Gerald and did not trust him.
"Very well; I bought some shares. There was good ground for expecting
they'd go up--"
"They went down? When did you buy?"
"Your meaning's plain," said Gerald sullenly. "If you insist, it was
before I wrote home."
"I suspected something like that. However, you have the shares and they
may go up again."
"I haven't got the shares. I bought on a margin, and the margin's gone."
"Then, you're rasher than I thought," Thorn rejoined with a searching
look. "Well, you have lost your money and it's something of a surprise to
hear you had so much. Anyhow, it was yours, and although the loss is
serious, I don't understand how you're embarrassed."
"I borrowed," said Gerald, rather hoarsely. "You can wait; the other
fellow won't. Then, of course, if I renewed the margin, the shares might
recover and put me straight."
Thorn pondered. Gerald's statement was plausible, but he doubted if he
had told him all.
"Two thousand pounds is a large sum," he said. "I don't know yet if I can
lend it you."
Gerald gave him a steady look. His face was haggard and the sweat ran
down his forehead. It was obvious that he was desperate.
"If you hope to marry my sister, you had better help me out."
"I haven't much ground for thinking your sister will agree," Thorn
rejoined with some dryness. "Anyhow, it's doubtful if your influence
would go far with her, if that is what you mean."
"It is not what I mean," Gerald answered in a hoarse voice. "I have given
you a useful hint. You can spare two thousand pounds, and if you let me
have the money, you'll be glad you did."
"I must think about it. You can call me up on the telephone at noon
Gerald hesitated, and then made an abrupt movement as a man came into the
room. The latter crossed the floor and Gerald got up.
"Very well," he said, and went off.
Soon after Gerald had gone, the man Thorn had met in the hall came in and
he asked: "Do you know anything about _Ermentrudes_, Norton? I suppose
they're mining shares?"
"I wouldn't advise you to invest," the other replied. "The company has
seldom paid a dividend, but not long since a rumor got about that a new
shaft had bottomed on rich ore." He paused and shrugged. "Nobody knows
how such tales are started, but they appeal to optimistic outsiders who
like to think they've got a secret tip. Anyhow, there was some reckless
buying by people who expected developments at the shareholders' meeting.
They were disappointed, and are knocking prices down by their anxiety to
Thorn thanked him and began to think. He wondered where Gerald had
managed to get two thousand pounds, since he imagined that nobody would
lend him the sum. He did not know much about banking, but it was possible
that Gerald had used his employers' money, hoping to replace it before he
was found out. Then, since two thousand pounds, used for a margin, would
cover a large number of shares, it looked as if Gerald had lost part of
the sum by previous speculations. While he pondered, the man whose entry
had seemed to disturb Gerald came to his table and sat down opposite.
"You obviously know young Osborn," he remarked.
Thorn said nothing for a moment or two. Hallam was not a public
money-lender, but sometimes negotiated private loans for extravagant
young men about town. One meets such people now and then at smart London
clubs, and Thorn imagined the fellow could throw some light on Gerald's
"We come from the same neighborhood," he replied.
"His father is a large landowner, I believe?"
"He has some land," said Thorn, who began to see his way. He had not yet
decided to help Gerald, but if he did, his help must be made as valuable
as possible. "The rents are low and the estate is encumbered," he
resumed. "On the whole, I don't think you would consider it good
"Thank you for the hint. Osborn looked as if he had got a jar."
"I think he had. He bought some shares that have gone down sharply, and
since he's a bank-clerk I expect the loss is a serious thing for him."
Hallam nodded carelessly. "No doubt! Do you know a man called Askew?"
"I know something about him. He owns a farm in the dale and has recently
spent some money on improvements, although it's doubtful if he'll get
much return. I can't tell you if he has any more or not, but imagine he's
not worth your bothering about. Besides, he's not the man I'd expect to
get into debt."
"Mr. Askew has not been trying to borrow," Hallam answered with a smile.
"Well, I promised to meet a friend and mustn't stop."
He went away and Thorn sat still, pondering. The other men went out by
and by and the room was quiet except for the rumble of traffic in the
street and the rattle of an electric fan. A waiter pulled down a blind
to shut out a bright sunbeam and Thorn found the shade and softened
noises from outside helpful to thought.
Gerald had used money belonging to the bank and borrowed from Hallam in
order to pay it back; although Thorn could not see what had persuaded the
latter to lend. It was strange, certainly, that Hallam had inquired about
Askew, but in the meantime he could let this go. Gerald was threatened by
a danger money could avert, and Thorn could help. If he did help, it
would give him a claim to Osborn's gratitude, although he could not tell
how far this would influence Grace. The Osborns cherished the
old-fashioned traditions of their class, and anything that touched one
touched all. Grace, however, was modern and rebellious, and Thorn knew
she did not like him much. He was not afraid to risk his money, but he
must not waste an opportunity he might not get again, and the opportunity
could be used in one of two ways.
He could free Gerald from his entanglements and, using no pressure, leave
her parents' gratitude to work on Grace. This was the proper line and
would enable him to play a generous part; had he been younger, he would
not have hesitated, but he saw a risk. He was beginning to look old and
unless Grace married him soon, must give her up. The other line, although
not attractive, promised greater security. Before he helped he must state
his terms and force Osborn to agree. Grace could not struggle, because
her refusal would involve the family in Gerald's disgrace. Thorn saw the
plan had drawbacks, but Grace was young and, if he indulged and petted
her, she would, no doubt, get to like him and forget his hardness. He had
heard of marriages made like this that turned out happily.
For a time he sat with his brows knitted and his mouth set. He would have
liked to be generous, but he loved the girl and could not force himself
to run the risk of losing her. Nevertheless, he honestly tried, and
afterwards remembered with strange distinctness the soft rattle of the
electric fan and the dull roll of traffic that throbbed in the quiet room
while he fought the losing fight. The sunbeam the waiter had shut out
crept on to another window and shone on the fluted pillars before he got
up. His face was very hard, for he had chosen his line and knew he must
take it without doubt or pity.
Going down to the hall, he called up Gerald's branch bank. A clerk who
was working late replied that Mr. Osborn had gone.
"I know," said Thorn, giving his name. "Make a note to tell him he need
not call on me to-morrow. I find I am unable to do what he requires."
"Very well," said the clerk. "I'll give him the message in the morning."
Thorn rang the bell and, leaving the box, asked for a railway guide.
There was nothing to be gained by stopping in London and he looked up the
best train for the north.
Thorn went home and waited, confident that Osborn would presently send
for him. The estate was heavily mortgaged, Osborn had no rich friends,
and when the blow fell would look to Thorn for the aid nobody else could
give. In the meantime, Osborn, enjoying a short relief from financial
strain, squandered in personal extravagance part of the sum he had
borrowed, and then set drainers, carpenters, and builders to work. He
liked spending and now tried to persuade himself that the money he was
laying out would give him some return. It ought to last until he had
finished the renovations his tenants demanded, and although difficulties
might arise afterwards, he would wait until they did. Indeed, his wife
and daughter found him better humored than he had been for long.
Then, one evening when the hay was harvested and the corn was ripening,
his satisfaction was rudely banished. Grace had gone to the lodge with a
message and stopped for a few minutes by the gate. The evening was calm
and one side of the placid tarn glittered in the light; the other was
dark, and soft blue shadows covered the fells behind. She heard the
languid splash of ripples on the stones and the murmur of a beck in a
distant ghyll. A strange restful tranquillity brooded over the dale.
Grace felt the calm soothing, for her thoughts were not a little
disturbed. She had met Thorn in the afternoon and noted a puzzling change
in his manner. So far, she had been able to check his cautious advances,
but she now remarked a new confidence that seemed to indicate he had some
power in reserve. She admitted that she might have imagined this, but it
Afterwards she had met Kit and the comfort the meeting gave her had
forced her to think. Their friendship had gone far; in fact, it had
reached a point friendship could not pass. Kit was not yet her lover, but
she thought he waited for a sign that she would acknowledge him when he
made his claim. She liked Kit; she had not met a man she liked so much.
This, however, did not imply that she was willing to marry him. Although
she now and then rebelled against conventions, she had inherited some of
Osborn's prejudices, and her mother sprang from old-fashioned land-owning
stock. Kit belonged to another class; the life he led was different. She
had been taught to enjoy cultivated idleness, broken by outdoor sports
and social amusements; but Kit was a worker, farming for money and
resolved to make his efforts pay. His wife must help and Grace did not
know if this daunted her or not.
Moreover, if she married Kit, she must quarrel with her parents. She knew
what Osborn thought about him. Had she been sure she loved Kit, the
choice would have been easier, but although she blushed as she mused,
this was too much to own. Yet he loved her, and after all--
She let the matter go and looked up, for there were steps in the shadowy
road. Then a figure came into the fading light, and she started and ran
to the gate.
"Gerald!" she exclaimed. "Why have you come home?"
"Somehow you don't feel flattered when people ask you why you came,"
Gerald rejoined with a forced smile. "It rather indicates surprise than
"I am surprised," Grace admitted, trying to hide her vague alarm. "We
did not expect you. How did you getaway?"
"I took a week's leave. I haven't been very fit."
Grace gave him a sharp glance and thought he looked ill. His face was
pinched, his eyes were furtive, and his mouth was slack.
"What has been the matter?" she asked.
"Nothing very much," Gerald replied. "Mental strain, I expect. Managing a
bank is a big job and I'm not used to responsibility."
It looked as if his carelessness cost him an effort and Grace said
nothing. When they reached the house Gerald resumed: "You'll hear all
about it later. Is the chief at home?"
Grace nodded. They had seldom called Osborn father, but chief and head of
the clan, and she thought it significant that Gerald used the name he
often falteringly employed after boyish escapades. She began to feel that
there was something wrong.
"He's in the library," she said.
"That's satisfactory, as far as it goes," Gerald remarked, climbing the
steps. "The sooner I see him, the sooner I'll get through the thing." He
paused and gave Grace an anxious glance. "You'll stand by me? You
"I suppose so," Grace agreed. "But I don't know your difficulties and
what you want."
"You will know soon," Gerald rejoined and shrugged his shoulders. "Well,
it's an awkward business; I've got to brace up."
He left her and went to the library, where Osborn sat at the big oak
table with some letters and a wine glass in front of him. The spacious
room was mostly in shadow, but a ray of fading light shone in through the
tall west window. Gerald avoided the illumination as he advanced, and
stopped in the gloom opposite Osborn, who straightened his body with a
jerk and upset the glass.
"Well?" he said harshly. "Why have you left the bank?"
"The wine is running across the table and on to your clothes.
Shall I ring?"
"No," said Osborn, pushing his chair back noisily. "Let it run! Stand
still or sit down. Tell me why you came."
"To begin with, I have left the bank for good."
"Ah," said Osborn grimly, "I suspected something like this! You mean they
turned you out? Well, you are consistent in your habits. You left school
in similar circumstances, you left Woolwich, and now--"
"I was not turned out, sir. They gave me a week's leave, but I
can't go back."
Osborn frowned. Things had been going well and he had thought himself
free from trouble for a time, but it looked as if he would get his worst
jar. He tried to preserve his calm and said with a touch of weariness:
"Tell me what has happened and keep as near the truth as is
possible for you."
Gerald told him, standing back in the shadow and not pausing to choose
his words. It was an ugly story that could not be toned down and he knew
if he stopped he could not go on again. Although Osborn said nothing, his
face got red and the veins on his forehead swelled, and Gerald found his
silence strangely daunting. When the latter stopped, Osborn got up and
stood, rather shakily, with his hand clenched.
"Get out of my sight, you despicable thief!" he cried. "My control is
going. If you stand and fidget there, I'll knock you down!"
"There wouldn't be much use in that, although I deserve it," Gerald
replied. "It's too late for excuses. The situation's dangerous. You have
got to help me out."
"I can't help," said Osborn in a strained, hoarse voice. "Why didn't you
leave the country instead of coming home?"
Gerald forced a nervous smile. "The reason ought to be obvious, sir; I
might be brought back. We must get over the need for me to go. You see,
the bill must be met. If it's dishonored, everybody who knows us will
have something to talk about."
"I thought you a fool," said Osborn bitterly. "You are a fool, but you
have a vein of devilish cunning. You steal and forge; and then expect to
shuffle off the consequences on to your relatives!"
He pulled himself up, for Gerald's coolness was steadying. "However, I
must understand. What will happen when the lender finds you cannot pay?"
"The usual course would be for him to go to the endorser," Gerald replied
and added with some awkwardness: "I mean the man whose name I used. His
signature's a guarantee and makes him liable. Still, as Hallam's a
tactful fellow, it's possible he'll first come to you."
"Do you mean he's suspicious?"
"I don't know. He took off an extortionate discount for a very
"How much did he lend you?"
"The bill was for two thousand pounds."
Osborn made a helpless gesture. "I can't pay. The money I borrowed is
partly spent and the rest must go for wages and material. You can't put
He stopped and sat down limply. The shock was beginning to tell. He felt
dull and had no reserve of moral strength to sustain him now his fury had
gone. Gerald saw this and knew that guidance must come from him. He
waited, however, and Osborn went on:
"It's ridiculous that we should be ruined for two thousand pounds; but
there it is! If I try to borrow from my friends, I must tell why I need
the money. And I don't know who would lend."
"Thorn might," Gerald suggested meaningly. "I asked him and he wouldn't,
but I don't think his refusal was final."
"Ah!" said Osborn, with a start. "Why do you think it was not?"
"I imagine he has another plan; he means to wait until it's obvious we
must have his help. Then he can ask what he likes."
For a moment, Osborn's anger blazed up again. "I see where you are
leading, you contemptible cur! You expect your sister to pay for you!"
"It would be a good marriage," said Gerald, awkwardly. "I thought you
"Stop!" exclaimed Osborn, and rested his elbows on the table, with his
He had wanted Grace to marry Thorn, but his domineering temper did not
carry him as far as Gerald thought. He had hoped that by and by Grace
would consent; it was ridiculous to imagine she would long refuse to see
the advantages that were plain to him, but to force her to pay for her
brother's fault was another thing. Although Grace was rebellious, he had
some love for her. In fact, he revolted from the plan and felt he hated
Thorn for the pressure he could use. He was nearly resigned to letting
things go and facing the threatened disaster.
For a minute or two, he did not move and Gerald got horribly cramped as
he stood opposite. The room was getting dark and Osborn's figure was
indistinct, but his quietness hinted at a struggle, Gerald began to feel
anxious, because he had not expected his father to hesitate. At length
Osborn looked up.
"You haven't told me whose name you used."
"Askew's," said Gerald, with a tremor. He knew he could use no stronger
argument, but felt afraid.
"Askew's!" shouted Osborn, straightening his bent shoulders with a savage
jerk. "This is more than I can bear. Was there nobody you could rob but
the man who has plotted against me since he came home from school?" He
stopped and gasped as if his rage were choking him and it was some
moments before he went on: "You have given the fellow power to humble us
and drag our name in the mud. Can't you imagine how he'll exult? Our
honor in Askew's hands! It's unthinkable!"
"If the bill isn't met, the holder will apply to Askew," Gerald said as
coolly as he could.
Osborn's muscles relaxed and he sank back into his limp pose. His hand
shook as he wiped his wet forehead.
"You have said enough. Leave me alone. I must try to think."
Gerald went out and drew a deep breath when he reached the landing. He
felt shaky and ashamed, but knew he had won. The shutting of the door
gave Osborn some relief. The anger and disgust Gerald excited had
confused his brain, but now the lad had gone he saw no light. There was
but one way of escape, and this a way it was almost unthinkable that he
should take. The strange thing was he should hate it so much, for he had
never indulged his children or thought about their happiness. Yet he
shrank from forcing his daughter to marry Thorn, whom he approved while
she did not.
He might, perhaps, for the girl's sake, have sacrificed his pride; but
there was an obstacle before which his courage melted. If Thorn did not
help, Askew would know his disgrace and Osborn did not expect him to be
merciful. His rancor against Askew had by degrees become a blind,
illogical hate that made it impossible for him to see anything Kit did in
its proper light. Feeling as he did, he imagined Kit would rejoice in the
opportunity for humbling him.
All the same, knowing the fight was hopeless, he struggled against the
conviction that he must beg help from Thorn. In many ways, he liked Alan,
but he was hard and Osborn dreaded his firmness now. Yet he could help
and there was nobody else. It got dark, but Osborn did not move. A faint
breeze came up and moaned about the house, and presently a moonbeam stole
into the room. Osborn sat still, with his head bent and his arms spread
out across the table. Sometimes he burned with anger against Gerald and
sometimes he scarcely felt anything at all.
At length, he got up, and with an effort went upstairs. Half an hour
later, a heavy sleep that came as a reaction after the shock closed his
eyes and banished his troubles for a time.
On the day after Gerald's return Osborn shut himself up in his library.
If he could raise two thousand pounds, it would save him from agreeing to
the demand Thorn would, no doubt, make, and although he really knew the
thing was impossible, he sought desperately for a way of escape. He was
careless about money, and, for the most part, left his business to his
agent, but he wanted to find out how he stood before he went to Hayes.
There was no obvious reason for his doing so, but he had begun to suspect
that Hayes was not as devoted to his interests as he had thought. His
wife and Grace distrusted the fellow, and although they knew nothing
about business, Osborn admitted that the advice they had sometimes given
him had been sound.
The involved calculations he made gave him fresh ground for disturbance.
It was plain that he could borrow no more money and the sum he had
received for the last mortgage had nearly gone. He might perhaps get
together three or four hundred pounds, at the risk of letting builders
and drainers go unpaid, but this was not enough. After a time, he put
away his books in a fit of hopeless anger and drove across to see Hayes
at the market town.
The interview was short and disappointing. Osborn could not tell Hayes
why he needed money and found him unusually firm. He proved that the
estate was heavily overburdened, fresh loans were impossible, and stern
economy must be used if it was to be saved from bankruptcy. To some
extent, Osborn had expected this, but had cherished a faint hope that
Hayes might lend him enough to satisfy Gerald's creditor. He could not
force himself to ask for a loan outright, and Hayes had been strangely
dull about his cautious hints. Osborn believed the fellow could have
helped him, but as he had shown no wish to do so there was nothing to be
said. He drove home in a downcast mood and sent for Gerald.
"I can't get the money," he said. "You know the man you dealt with. Is
there any hope of his renewing the bill?"
"I'm afraid there is none, sir," Gerald replied.
"When he made the loan he knew you were a bank-clerk and had no money."
"I expect he did know, but thought you had some."
Osborn sighed. His anger had gone and a dull, hopeless dejection had
taken its place. He felt as if he and Gerald were accomplices in a
plot against Grace, and did not resent the lad's insinuation that they
stood together. The Osborns did stand together, and he hoped Grace
would see her duty.
"Well," he said, "the payment is not due just yet. I'll wait a little
and then write to the fellow."
It was a relief to put the thing off, but he found no comfort as the days
went by, and although he shrank from taking Mrs. Osborn into his
confidence, his moody humor gave her a hint. Besides, he was not clever
at keeping a secret and now and then made illuminating remarks. Mrs.
Osborn, although reserved, was shrewd and she and Grace, without
consulting each other, speculated about the trouble that obviously
threatened the house. By degrees, their conjectures got near the truth
and at length Mrs. Osborn nerved herself to ask her husband a few blunt
questions. He had not meant to tell her all until he was forced, but was
taken off his guard and told her much. Afterwards she sent for Grace.
When Grace heard the story her face got very white and she looked at her
mother with fear in her eyes.
"I suspected something, but this is worse than I thought," she said in a
low strained voice. "But Alan is an old friend; it is not very much for
him to do and perhaps he will be generous."
Mrs. Osborn was sitting rather limply on the stone bench on the terrace,
but she roused herself.
"He is hard and I think will understand what his help is worth. He
knows there is nobody else. Besides, if we accept this favor, we
"Oh," said Grace, "it's unbearable! I never liked Alan; I feel I hate him
now." She paused and gave Mrs. Osborn an appealing glance. "But you
cannot think I ought to agree, mother? There must be another way!"
Mrs. Osborn shook her head. "I cannot see another way, and many girls in
our class have married men they did not like, though I had hoped for a
better lot for you. With us, women do not count; the interests of the
family come first."
"That means the men's interests," Grace broke out. "Father has been
reckless all his life and now Gerald has dragged our name in the mud. He
is to be saved from the consequences and I must pay!"
"It is unjust," Mrs. Osborn agreed. "So far as that goes, there is no
more to be said. But when one thinks of the disgrace--Gerald hiding in
America, or perhaps in prison!"
Her voice broke. She was silent for a few moments and then resumed: "Your
father's is the conventional point of view that I was taught to accept
but which I begin to doubt. I must choose between my daughter and my son;
the son who carries on the house. If Gerald escapes, his punishment falls
on you. The choice is almost too hard for flesh and blood."
"I know," said Grace, with quick sympathy. "It is horrible!"
"Well," said Mrs. Osborn, "the line I ought to take is plain--Tarnside
will be Gerald's; our honor must be saved. But I do not know. If you
shrink from Alan--"
"If he insists, I shall hate him always. Yet, it looks as if there
was no use in rebelling. I feel as if I had been caught in a snare
that tightens when I try to break loose. I understand why a rabbit
screams and struggles until it chokes when it feels the wire. It's
like that with me."
Mrs. Osborn bent her head. "My dear! My dear!" Then she looked up
irresolutely with tears in her eyes. "I cannot see my duty as I thought.
The convention is that my son should come first, but you are nearer to me
than Gerald has been for long. I feel numb and dull; I cannot think.
Perhaps to-morrow I may see--"
Grace got up and kissed her. "Then, we will wait. If no help comes, I
suppose I must submit."
She went away with a languid step and Mrs. Osborn, sinking back in a
corner of the bench, looked across the lawn with vacant eyes. In a sense,
she had shirked her duty and failed her husband, but she had long given
way to him and was now beginning to rebel.
Grace afterwards looked back with horror on the disturbed evening and
sleepless night, and the morning brought her no relief. She could not
resign herself to the sacrifice she thought she would be forced to make,
and her mother told her that Osborn had sent a note to Thorn and a man
from London would arrive in the evening. It was plain that Alan must be
persuaded to help Gerald before the other came.
In the afternoon she walked up the dale, without an object, because it
was impossible to stop in the house. After a time she heard a dog bark
and, stopping by an open gate, saw Kit swinging a scythe where an old
thorn hedge threw its shadow on a field of corn. He was cutting a path
for the binder and for a minute or two she stood and watched.
Kit had taken off his jacket and his thin blue shirt harmonized with the
warm yellow of the corn and the color of his sunburnt skin. The thin
material showed the fine modeling of his figure as his body followed the
sweep of the gleaming scythe. The forward stoop and recovery were marked
by a rhythmic grace, and the crackle of the oat-stalks hinted at his
strength. His face was calm and Grace saw his mind dwelt upon his work.
He looked honest, clean, and virile, but she turned her head and
struggled with a poignant sense of loss. She knew now what it would cost
her to let him go.
Then his dog ran up and Kit, putting down his scythe, came to the gate.
He gave her a searching glance, but she was calm again and began to talk
about the harvest. He did not seem to listen, and when she stopped said
abruptly: "You are standing in the sun. Come into the shade; I'll make
you a seat."
She went with him, knowing this was imprudent but unable to resist, and
he threw an oat-stook against the bank and covered it with his coat.
Grace sat down and he studied her thoughtfully.
"I want you to tell me what's the matter," he said.
"How do you know I have anything to tell?"
"Perhaps it's sympathy, instinct, or something like that. Anyhow, I do
know, and you may feel better when you have told me. It's now and then a
relief to talk about one's troubles."
Grace was silent. Her heart beat fast and she longed for his sympathy,