Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Fighting Chance by Robert W. Chambers

Part 2 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

but her thoughts, remote, centred on the hapless mother of such a son.

"Such indulgence was once fashionable; moderation is the present
fashion. Perhaps he will fall into line," said Mrs. Ferrall
thoughtfully. "The main thing is to keep him among people, not to drop
him. The gregarious may be shamed, but if anything, any incident,
happens to drive him outside by himself, if he should become solitary,
there's not a chance in the world for him. . It's a pity. I know he
meant to make himself the exception to the rule--and look! Already one
carouse of his has landed him in the daily papers!"

Sylvia flushed and looked up: "Grace, may I ask you a plain question?"

"Yes, child," she answered absently.

"Has it occurred to you that what you have said about this boy touches
me very closely?"

Mrs. Ferrall's wits returned nimbly from woolgathering, and she shot a
startled, inquiring glance at the girl beside her.

"You--you mean the matter of heredity, Sylvia?"

"Yes. I think my uncle Major Belwether chose you as his august
mouthpiece for that little sermon on the dangers of heredity--the danger
of being ignorant concerning what women of my race had done--before I
came into the world they found so amusing."

"I told you several things," returned Mrs. Ferrall composedly. "Your
uncle thought it best for you to know."

"Yes. The marriage vows sat lightly upon some of my ancestors, I gather.
In fact," she added coolly, "where the women of my race loved they
usually found the way--rather unconventionally. There was, if I
understood you, enough of divorce, of general indiscretion and
irregularity to seriously complicate any family tree and coat of arms I
might care to claim--"


The girl lifted her pretty bare shoulders. "I'm sorry, but could I help
it? Very well; all I can do is to prove a decent exception. Very well;
I'm doing it, am I not?--practically scared into the first solidly
suitable marriage offered--seizing the unfortunate Howard with both hands
for fear he'd get away and leave me alone with only a queer family
record for company! Very well! Now then, I want to ask you why
everybody, in my case, didn't go about with sanctimonious faces and
dolorous mien repeating: 'Her grand-mother eloped! Her mother ran away.
Poor child, she's doomed! doomed!'"

"Sylvia, I--"

"Yes--why didn't they? That's the way they talk about that boy out
there!" She swept a rounded arm toward the veranda.

"Yes, but he has already broken loose, while you--"

"So did I--nearly! Had it not been for you, you know well enough I might
have run away with that dreadful Englishman at Newport! For I adored him
--I did! I did! and you know it. And look at my endless escapes from
compromising myself! Can you count them?--all those indiscretions when
mere living seemed to intoxicate me that first winter--and only my uncle
and you to break me in!"

"In other words," said Mrs. Ferrall slowly, "you don't think Mr. Siward
is getting what is known as a square deal?"

"No, I don't. Major Belwether has already hinted--no, not even that--but
has somehow managed to dampen my pleasure in Mr. Siward."

Mrs. Ferrall considered the girl beside her--now very lovely and flushed
in her suppressed excitement.

"After all," she said, "you are going to marry somebody else. So why
become quite so animated about a man you may never again see?"

"I shall see him if I desire to!"


"I am not taking the black veil, am I?" asked the girl hotly.

"Only the wedding veil, dear. But after all your husband ought to have
something to suggest concerning a common visiting list--"

"He may suggest--certainly. In the meantime I shall be loyal to my own
friends--and afterward, too," she murmured to herself, as her hostess
rose, calmly dropping care like a mantle from her shoulders.

"Go and be good to this poor young man then; I adore rows--and you'll
have a few on your hands I'll warrant. Let me remind you that your uncle
can make it unpleasant for you yet, and that your amiable fiance has a
will of his own under his pompadour and silky beard."

"What a pity to have it clash with mine," said the girl serenely.

Mrs. Ferrall looked at her: "Mercy on us! Howard's pompadour would stick
up straight with horror if he could hear you! Don't be silly; don't for
an impulse, for a caprice, break off anything desirable on account of a
man for whom you really care nothing--whose amiable exterior and
prospective misfortune merely enlist a very natural and generous
sympathy in you."

"Do you suppose that I shall endure interference from anybody?--from my
uncle, from Howard?"

"Dear, you are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Don't be emotional;
don't let loose impulses that you and I know about, knew about in our
school years, know all about now, and which you and I have decided must
be eliminated--"

"You mean subdued; they'll always be there."

"Very well; who cares, as long as you have them in leash?"

Looking at one another, the excited colour cooling in the younger girl's
cheeks, they laughed, one with relief, the other a little ashamed.

"Kemp will be furious; I simply must cut in!" said Mrs. Ferrall, hastily
turning toward the gun-room. Miss Landis looked after her, subdued,
vaguely repentant, the consciousness dawning upon her that she had
probably made considerable conversation about nothing.

"It's been so all day," she thought impatiently; "I've exaggerated; I've
worked up a scene about a man whose habits are not the slightest concern
of mine. Besides that I've neglected Howard shamefully!" She was walking
slowly, her thoughts outstripping her errant feet, but it seemed that
neither her thoughts nor her steps were leading her toward the neglected
gentleman within; for presently she found herself at the breezy veranda
door, looking rather fixedly at the stars.

The stars, shining impartially upon the just and the unjust, illuminated
the person of Siward, who sat alone, rather limply, one knee crossed
above the other. He looked up by chance, and, seeing her star-gazing in
the doorway, straightened out and rose to his feet.

Aware of him apparently for the first time, she stepped across the
threshold meeting his advance half-way.

"Would you care to go down to the rocks?" he asked. "The surf is

"No--I don't think I care--"

They stood listening a moment to the stupendous roar.

"A storm somewhere at sea," he concluded.

"Is it very fine--the surf?"

"Very fine--and very relentless--" he laughed; "it is an unfriendly
creature, the sea, you know."

She had begun to move toward the cliffs, he fell into step beside her;
they spoke little, a word now and then.

The perfume of the mounting sea saturated the night with wild fragrance;
dew lay heavy on the lawns; she lifted her skirts enough to clear the
grass, heedless that her silk-shod feet were now soaking. Then at the
cliffs' edge, as she looked down into the white fury of the surf, the
stunning crash of the ocean saluted her.

For a long while they watched in silence; once she leaned a trifle too
far over the star-lit gulf and, recoiling, involuntarily steadied
herself on his arm.

"I suppose," she said, "no swimmer could endure that battering."

"Not long."

"Would there be no chance?"

"Not one."

She bent farther outward, fascinated, stirred, by the splendid frenzy of
the breakers.

"I--think--," he began quietly; then a firm hand fell over her left hand;
and, half encircled by his arm she found herself drawn back. Neither
spoke; two things she was coolly aware of, that, urged, drawn by
something subtly irresistible she had leaned too far out from the cliff,
and would have leaned farther had he not taken matters into his own
keeping without apology. Another thing; the pressure of his hand over
hers remained a sensation still--a strong, steady, masterful imprint
lacking hesitation or vacillation. She was as conscious of it as though
her hand still tightened under his--and she was conscious, too, that
nothing of his touch had offended; that there had arisen in her no
tremor of instinctive recoil. For never before had she touched or
suffered a touch from a man, even a gloved greeting, that had not in
some measure subtly repelled her, nor, for that matter, a caress from a
woman without a reaction of faint discomfort.

"Was I in any actual danger?" she asked curiously.

"I think not. But it was too much responsibility for me."

"I see. Any time I wish to break my neck I am to please do it alone in

"Exactly--if you don't mind," he said smiling.

They turned, shoulder to shoulder, walking back through the drenched

"That," she said impulsively, "is not what I said a few moments ago to a

"What did you say a few moments ago to a woman?"

"I said, Mr. Siward, that I would not leave a--a certain man to go to the
devil alone!"

"Do you know any man who is going to the devil?"

"Do you?" she asked, letting herself go swinging out upon a tide of
intimacy she had never dreamed of risking--nor had she the slightest idea
whither the current would carry her.

They had stopped on the lawn, ankle deep in wet grass, the stars
overhead sparkling magnificently, and in their ears the outcrash of the

"You mean me," he concluded.

"Do I?"

He looked up into the lovely face; her eyes were very sweet, very
clear--clear with excitement--but very friendly.

"Let us sit here on the steps a little while, will you?" she asked.

So he found a place beside her, one step lower, and she leaned forward,
elbows on knees, rounded white chin in her palms, the starlight giving
her bare arms and shoulders a marble lustre and tinting her eyes a
deeper amethyst.

And now, innocently untethered, mission and all, she laid her heart
quite bare--one chapter of it. And, like other women-errant who believe
in the influence of their sex individually and collectively, she began
wrong by telling him of her engagement--perhaps to emphasise her pure
disinterestedness in a crusade for principle only. Which naturally
dampened in him any nascent enthusiasm for being ministered to, and so
preoccupied him that he turned deaf ears to some very sweet platitudes
which might otherwise have impressed him as discoveries in philosophy.

Officially her creed was the fashionable one in town; privately she had
her own religion, lacking some details truly enough, but shaped upon
youthful notions of right and wrong. As she had not read very widely,
she supposed that she had discovered this religion for herself; she was
not aware that everybody else had passed that way--it being the first
immature moult in young people after rejecting dogma.

And the ripened fruit of all this philosophy she helpfully dispensed for
Siward's benefit as bearing directly on his case.

Had he not been immersed in the unexpected proposition of her impending
matrimony, he might have been impressed, for the spell of her beauty
counted something, and besides, he had recently formulated for himself a
code of ethics, tinctured with Omar, and slightly resembling her own
discoveries in that dog-eared science.

So it was, when she was most eloquent, most earnestly inspired--nay in
the very middle of a plea for sweetness and light and simple living,
that his reasonings found voice in the material comment:

"I never imagined you were engaged!"

"Is that what you have been thinking about?" she asked, innocently

"Yes. Why not? I never for one instant supposed--"

"But, Mr. Siward, why should you have concerned yourself with supposing
anything? Why indulge in any speculation of that sort about me?"

"I don't know, but I didn't," he said.

"Of course you didn't; you'd known me for about three hours--there on the


Over his youthful face a sullen shadow had fallen--flickering, not yet
settled. He would not for anything on earth have talked freely to the
woman destined to be Quarrier's wife. He had talked too much anyway.
Something in her, something about her had loosened his tongue. He had
made a plain ass of himself--that was all,--a garrulous ass. And truly it
seemed that the girl beside him, even in the starlight, could follow and
divine what he had scarcely expressed to himself; or her instincts had
taken a shorter cut to forestall his own conclusion.

"Don't think the things you are thinking!" she said in a fierce little
voice, leaning toward him.

"What do you mean?" he asked, taken aback.

"You know! Don't! It is unfair--it is--is faithless--to me. I am your
friend; why not? Does it make any difference to you whom I marry? Cannot
two people remain in accord anyway? Their friendship concerns each other
and--nobody else!" She was letting herself go now; she was conscious of
it, conscious that impulse and emotion were the currents unloosed and
hurrying her onward. And with it all came exhilaration, a faint
intoxication, a delicate delight in daring to let go all and trust to
impulse and emotions.

"Why should you feel hurt because for a moment you let me see--gave me a
glimpse of yourself--of life's battle as you foresee it? What if there is
always a reaction from all confidences exchanged? What if that miserable
French cynic did say that never was he more alone than after confessing
to a friend? He died crazy anyhow. Is not a rare moment of confidence
worth the reaction--the subsidence into the armored shell of self? Tell
me truly, Mr. Siward, isn't it?"

Breathless, confused, exhilarated by her own rapid voice she bent her
face, brilliant with colour, and very sweet; and he looked up into it,
expectant, uncertain.

"If such a friendship as ours is to become worth anything to you--to me,
why should it trouble you that I know--and am thinking of things that
concern you? Is it because the confidence is one-sided? Is it because
you have given and I have listened and given nothing in return to
balance the account? I do give--interest, deep interest, sympathy if you
ask it; I give confidence in return--if you desire it!"

"What can a girl like you need of sympathy?" he said smiling.

"You don't know! you don't know! If heredity is a dark vista, and if you
must stare through it all your life, sword in hand, always on your
guard, do you think you are the only one?"

"Are you--one?" he said incredulously.

"Yes"--with an involuntary shudder--"not that way. It is easier for me; I
think it is--I know it is. But there are things to combat--impulses, a
recklessness, perhaps something almost ruthless. What else I do not
know, for I have never experienced violent emotions of any sort--never
even deep emotion."

"You are in love!"

"Yes, thoroughly," she added with conviction, "but not violently. I--"
she hesitated, stopped short, leaning forward, peering at him through
the dusk; and: "Mr. Siward! are you laughing?" She rose and he stood up

There was lightning in her darkening eyes now; in his something that
glimmered and danced. She watched it, fascinated, then of a sudden the
storm broke and they were both laughing convulsively, face to face there
under the stars.

"Mr. Siward," she breathed, "I don't know what I am laughing at; do you?
Is it at you? At myself? At my poor philosophy in shreds and tatters? Is
it some infernal mirth that you seem to be able to kindle in me--for I
never knew a man like you before?"

"You don't know what you were laughing at?" he repeated. "It was
something about love--"

"No I don't know why I laughed! I--I don't wish to, Mr. Siward. I do not
desire to laugh at anything you have made me say--anything you may

"I don't infer--"

"You do! You made me say something--about my being ignorant of deep, of
violent emotion, when I had just informed you that I am thoroughly,
thoroughly in love--"

"Did I make you say all that, Miss Landis?"

"You did. Then you laughed and made me laugh too. Then you--"

"What did I do then?" he asked, far too humbly.

"You--you infer that I am either not in love or incapable of it, or too
ignorant of it to know what I'm talking about. That, Mr. Siward, is what
you have done to me to-night."

"I--I'm sorry--"

"Are you?"

"I ought to be anyway," he said.

It was unfortunate; an utterly inexcusable laughter seemed to bewitch
them, hovering always close to his lips and hers.

"How can you laugh!" she said. "How dare you! I don't care for you
nearly as violently as I did, Mr. Siward. A friendship between us would
not be at all good for me. Things pass too swiftly--too intimately. There
is too much mockery in you--" She ceased suddenly, watching the sombre
alteration of his face; and, "Have I hurt you?" she asked penitently.


"Have I, Mr. Siward? I did not mean it." The attitude, the words,
slackening to a trailing sweetness, and then the moment's silence,
stirred him.

"I'm rather ignorant myself of violent emotion," he said. "I suspect
normal people are. You know better than I do whether love is usually a

"Am I normal--after what I have confessed?" she asked. "Can't love be

"Perfectly I should say--only perhaps you are not an expert--"

"In what?"

"In self-analysis, for example."

There was a vague meaning in the gaze they exchanged.

"As for our friendship, we'll do the best we can for it, no matter what
occurs," he added, thinking of Quarrier. And, thinking of him, glanced
up to see him within ear-shot and moving straight toward them from the
veranda above.

There was a short silence; a tentative civil word from Siward; then Miss
Landis took command of something that had a grotesque resemblance to a
situation. A few minutes later they returned slowly to the house, the
girl walking serenely between Siward and her preoccupied affianced.

"If your shoes are as wet as my skirts and slippers you had better
change, Mr. Siward," she said, pausing at the foot of the staircase.

So he took his conge, leaving her standing there with Quarrier, and
mounted to his room.

In the corridor he passed Ferrall, who had finished his business
correspondence and was returning to the card-room.

"Here's a letter that Grace wants you to see," he said. "Read it before
you turn in, Stephen."

"All right; but I'll be down later," replied Siward passing on, the
letter in his hand. Entering his room he kicked off his wet pumps and
found dry ones. Then moved about, whistling a gay air from some recent
vaudeville, busy with rough towels and silken foot-gear, until, reshod
and dry, he was ready to descend once more.

The encounter, the suddenly informal acquaintance with this young girl
had stirred him agreeably, leaving a slight exhilaration. Even her
engagement to Quarrier added a tinge of malice to his interest. Besides
he was young enough to feel the flattery of her concern for him--of her
rebuke, of her imprudence, her generous emotional and childish

Perhaps, as like recognises like, he recognised in her the instincts of
the born drifter, momentarily at anchor--the temporary inertia of the
opportunist, the latent capacity of an unformed character for all things
and anything. Add to these her few years, her beauty, and the wholesome
ignorance so confidently acknowledged, what man could remain
unconcerned, uninterested in the development of such possibilities? Not
Siward, amused by her sagacious and impulsive prudence, worldliness, and
innocence in accepting Quarrier; and touched by her profitless, frank,
and unworldly friendliness for himself.

Not that he objected to her marrying Quarrier; he rather admired her for
being able to do it, considering the general scramble for Quarrier. But
let that take care of itself; meanwhile, their sudden and capricious
intimacy had aroused him from the morbid reaction consequent upon the
cheap notoriety which he had brought upon himself. Let him sponge his
slate clean and begin again a better record, flattered by the solicitude
she had so prettily displayed.

Whistling under his breath the same gay, empty melody, he opened the top
drawer of his dresser, dropped in his mother's letter, and locking the
drawer, pocketed the key. He would have time enough to read the letter
when he went to bed; he did not just now feel exactly like skimming
through the fond, foolish sermon which he knew had been preached at him
through his mother's favourite missionary, Grace Ferrall. What was the
use of dragging in the sad old questions again--of repeating his
assurances of good behaviour, of reiterating his promises of moderation
and watchfulness, of explaining his own self-confidence? Better that the
letter await his bed time--his prayers would be the sincerer the fresher
the impression; for he was old-fashioned enough to say the prayers that
an immature philosophy proved superfluous. For, he thought, if prayer is
any use, it takes only a few minutes to be on the safe side.

So he went down-stairs leisurely, prepared to acquiesce in any
suggestion from anybody, but rather hoping to saunter across Sylvia
Landis' path before being committed.

She was standing beside the fire with Quarrier, one foot on the fender,
apparently too preoccupied to notice him; so he strolled into the gun-
room, which was blue with tobacco smoke and aromatic with the volatile
odours from decanters.

There were a few women there, and the majority of the men. Lord
Alderdene, Major Belwether, and Mortimer were at a table by themselves;
stacks of ivory chips and five cards spread in the centre of the green
explained the nature of their game; and Mortimer, raising his heavy
inflamed eyes and seeing Siward unoccupied, said wheezily: "Cut out that
'widow,' and give Siward his stack! Anything above two pairs for a jack
triples the ante. Come on, Siward, there's a decent chap!"

So he seated himself for a sacrifice to the blind goddess balanced upon
her winged wheel; and the cards ran high--so high that stacks dwindled or
toppled within the half-hour, and Mortimer grew redder and redder, and
Major Belwether blander and blander, and Alderdene's face wore a
continual nervous snicker, showing every white hound's tooth, and the
ice in the tall glasses clinked ceaselessly.

It was late when Quarrier "sat in," with an expressionless
acknowledgment of Siward's presence, and an emotionless raid upon his
neighbour's resources with the first hand dealt, in which he
participated without drawing a card.

And always Siward, eyes on his cards, seemed to see Quarrier before him,
his overmanicured fingers caressing his silky beard, the symmetrical
pompadour dark and thick as the winter fur on a rat, tufting his smooth
blank forehead.

It was very late when Siward first began to be aware of his increasing
deafness, the difficulty, too, that he had in making people hear, the
annoying contempt in Quarrier's woman-like eyes. He felt that he was
making a fool of himself, very noiselessly somehow--but with more racket
than he expected when he miscalculated the distance between his hand and
a decanter.

It was time for him to go--unless he chose to ask Quarrier for an
explanation of that sneer which he found distasteful. But there was too
much noise, too much laughter.

Besides he had a matter to attend to--the careful perusal of his mother's
letter to Mrs. Ferrall.

Very white, he rose. After an indeterminate interval he found himself
entering his room.

The letter was in the dresser; several things seemed to fall and break,
but he got the letter, sank down on the bed's edge and strove to
read,--set his teeth grimly, forcing his blurred eyes to a focus. But he
could make nothing of it--nor of his toilet either, nor of Ferrall, who
came in on his way to bed having noticed the electricity still in full
glare over the open transom, and who straightened out matters for the
stunned man lying face downward across the bed, his mother's letter
crushed in his nerveless hand.


Breakfast at Shotover, except for the luxurious sluggards to whom trays
were sent, was served in the English fashion--any other method or
compromise being impossible.

Ferrall, reasonable in most things, detested customs exotic, and usually
had an Englishman or two about the house to tell them so, being unable
to jeer in any language except his own. Which is partly why Alderdene
and Voucher were there. And this British sideboard breakfast was a
concession wrung from him through force of sheer necessity, although the
custom had already become practically universal in American country
houses where guests were entertained.

But at the British breakfast he drew the line. No army of servants,
always in evidence, would he tolerate, either; no highly ornamented
human bric-a-brac decorating halls and corners; no exotic pheasants
hustled into covert and out again; no fusillade at the wretched,
frightened, bewildered aliens dumped by the thousand into unfamiliar
cover and driven toward the guns by improvised beaters.

"We walk up our game or we follow a brace of good dogs in this white
man's country," he said with unnecessary emphasis whenever his bad taste
and his wife's absence gave him an opportunity to express to the casual
foreigner his personal opinions on field sport. "You'll load your own
guns and you'll use your own legs if you shoot with me; and your dogs
will do their own retrieving, too. And if anybody desires a Yankee's
opinion on shooting driven birds from rocking-chairs or potting tame
deer from grand-stands, they can have it right now!"

Usually nobody wanted his further opinion; and sometimes they got it and
sometimes not, if his wife was within earshot. Otherwise Ferrall
appeared to be a normal man, energetically devoted to his business, his
pleasures, his friends, and comfortably in love with his wife. And if
some considered his vigour in business to be lacking in mercy, that
vigour was always exercised within the law. He never transgressed the
rules of war, but his headlong energy sometimes landed him close to the
dead line. He had already breakfasted, when the earliest risers entered
the morning room to saunter about the sideboards and investigate the
simmering contents of silver-covered dishes on the warmers.

The fragrance of coffee was pleasantly perceptible; men in conventional
shooting attire roamed about the room, selected what they cared for, and
carried it to the table. Mrs. Mortimer was there consuming peaches that
matched her own complexion; Marion Page, always more congruous in field
costume and belted jacket than in anything else, and always, like her
own hunters, minutely groomed, was preparing a breakfast for her own
consumption with the leisurely precision characteristic of her whether
in the saddle, on the box, or grassing her brace of any covey that ever

Captain Voucher and Lord Alderdene discussed prospects between bites,
attentive to the monosyllabic opinions of Miss Page. Her twin brothers,
Gordon and Willis, shyly consuming oatmeal, listened respectfully and
waited on their sister at the slightest lifting of her thinly arched

Into this company sauntered Siward, apparently no worse for wear. For as
yet the Enemy had set upon him no proprietary insignia save a rather
becoming pallor and faint bluish shadows under the eyes. He strolled
about, exchanging amiable greetings, and presently selected a chilled
grape fruit as his breakfast. Opposite him Mortimer, breakfasting upon
his own dreadful bracer of an apple soaked in port, raised his heavy
inflamed eyes with a significant leer at the iced grape fruit. For he
was always ready to make room upon his own level for other men; but the
wordless grin and the bloodshot welcome were calmly ignored, for as yet
that freemasonry evoked no recognition from the pallid man opposite,
whose hands were steady as though that morning's sun had wakened him
from pleasant dreams.

"The most difficult shot in the world," Alderdene was explaining, "is an
incoming pheasant, sailing on a slant before a gale."

"A woodcock in alders doing a jack-snipe twist is worse," grunted
Mortimer, drenching another apple in port.

"Yes," said Miss Page tersely.

"Or a depraved ruffed cock-grouse in the short pines; isn't that the
limit?" asked Mortimer of Siward.

But Siward only shrugged his comment and glanced out through the leaded
casements into the brilliant September sunshine.

Outside he could see Major Belwether, pink skinned, snowy chop whiskers
brushed rabbit fashion, very voluble with Sylvia Landis, who listened
absently, head partly averted. Quarrier in tweeds and gaiters, his
morning cigar delicately balanced in his gloved fingers, strolled near
enough to be within ear-shot; and when Sylvia's inattention to Major
Belwether's observations became marked to the verge of rudeness, he came
forward and spoke. But whatever it was that he said appeared to change
her passive inattention to quiet displeasure, for, as Siward rose from
the table, he saw her turn on her heel and walk slowly toward a group of
dogs presided over by some kennel men and gamekeepers.

She was talking to the head gamekeeper when he emerged from the house,
but she saw him on the terrace and gave him a bright nod of greeting, so
close to an invitation that he descended the stone steps and crossed the
dew-wet lawn.

"I am asking Dawson to explain just exactly what a 'Shotover Drive'
resembles," she said, turning to include Siward in an animated
conference with the big, scraggy, head keeper. "You know, Mr. Siward,
that it is a custom peculiar to Shotover House to open the season with
what is called a Shotover Drive?"

"I heard Alderdene talking about it," he said, smilingly inspecting the
girl's attire of khaki with its buttoned pockets, gun pads, and Cossack
cartridge loops, and the tan knee-kilts hanging heavily pleated over
gaiters and little thick-soled shoes. He had never cared very much to
see women afield, for, in a rare case where there was no affectation,
there was something else inborn that he found unpleasant--something
lacking about a woman who could take life from frightened wild things,
something shocking that a woman could look, unmoved, upon a twitching,
blood-soiled heap of feathers at her feet.

Meanwhile Dawson, dog-whip at salute, stood knee deep among his restless
setters, explaining the ceremony with which Mr. Ferrall ushered in the
opening of each shooting season:

"It's our own idee, Miss Landis," he said proudly; "onc't a season Mr.
Ferrall and his guests likes it for a mixed bag. 'Tis a sort of picnic,
Miss; the guns is in pairs, sixty yards apart in line, an' the rules is,
walk straight ahead, dogs to heel until first cover is reached; fire
straight or to quarter, never blankin' nor wipin' no eyes; and ground
game counts as feathers for the Shotover Cup."

"Oh! It's a skirmish line that walks straight ahead?" said Siward,

"Straight ahead, Sir. No stoppin', no turnin' for hedges, fences, water
or rock. There is boats f'r deep water and fords marked and corduroy f'r
to pass the Seven Dreens. Luncheon at one, Miss--an hour's rest--then
straight on over hill, valley, rock, and river to the rondyvoo atop
Osprey Ledge. You'll see the poles and the big nests, Sir. It's there
they score for the cup, and there when the bag is counted, the traps are
ready to carry you home again." . And to Siward: "Will you draw for your
lady, Sir? It is the custom."

"Are you my 'lady'?" he asked, turning to Sylvia.

"Do you want me?"

In the smiling lustre of her eyes the tiniest spark flashed out at him--a
hint of defiance for somebody, perhaps for Major Belwether who had taken
considerable pains to enlighten her as to Siward's condition the night
before; perhaps also for Quarrier, who had naturally expected to act as
her gun-bearer in emergencies. But the gaily veiled malice of the one
had annoyed her, and the cold assumption of the other had irritated her,
and she had, scarcely knowing why, turned her shoulder to both of these
gentlemen with an indefinite idea of escaping a pressure, amounting
almost to critical importunity.

"I'm probably a poor shot?" she said, looking smilingly, straight into
Siward's eyes. "But if you'll take me--"

"I will with pleasure," he said; "Dawson, do we draw for position? Very
well then"; and he drew a slip of paper from the box offered by the head

"Number seven!" said Sylvia, looking over his shoulder. "Come out to the
starting line, Mr. Siward. All the positions are marked with golf-discs.
What sort of ground have we ahead, Dawson?"

"Kind o' stiff, Miss," grinned the keeper. "Pity your gentleman ain't
drawed the meadows an' Sachem Hill line. Will you choose your dog, Sir?"

"You have your dog, you know," observed Sylvia demurely. And Siward,
glancing among the impatient setters, saw one white, heavily feathered
dog, straining at his leash, and wagging frantically, brown eyes fixed
on him.

The next moment Sagamore was free, devouring his master with caresses,
the girl looking on in smiling silence; and presently, side by side, the
man, the girl, and the dog were strolling off to the starting line where
already people were gathering in groups, selecting dogs, fowling-pieces,
comparing numbers, and discussing the merits of their respective lines
of advance.

Ferrall, busily energetic, and in high spirits, greeted them gaily,
pointing out the red disc bearing their number, seven, where it stood
out distinctly above the distant scrub of the foreland.

"You two are certainly up against it!" he said, grinning. "There's only
one rougher line, and you're in for thorns and water and a scramble
across the back-bone of the divide!"

"Is it any good?" asked Siward.

"Good--if you've got the legs and Sylvia doesn't play baby--"

"I?" she said indignantly. "Kemp, you annoy me. And I will bet you now,"
she added, flushing, "that your old cup is ours."

"Wait," said Siward, laughing, "we may not shoot straight."

"You will! Kemp, I'll wager whatever you dare!"

"Gloves? Stockings?--against a cigarette case?" he suggested.

"Done," she said disdainfully, moving forward along the skirmish line
with a nod and smile for the groups now disintegrating into couples, the
Page boys with Eileen Shannon and Rena Bonnesdel, Marion Page followed
by Alderdene, Mrs. Vendenning and Major Belwether and the Tassel girl
convoyed by Leroy Mortimer. Farther along the line, taking post, she saw
Quarrier and Miss Caithness, Captain Voucher with Mrs. Mortimer, and
others too distant to recognise, moving across country with glitter and
glint of sunlight on slanting gun barrels.

And now Ferrall was climbing into his saddle beside his pretty wife, who
sat her horse like a boy, the white flag lifted high in the sunshine,
watching the firing line until the last laggard was in position.

"All right, Grace!" said Ferrall briskly. Down went the white flag; the
far-ranged line started into motion straight across country, dogs at

From her saddle Mrs. Ferrall could see the advance, strung out far
afield from the dark spots moving along the Fells boundary, to the two
couples traversing the salt meadows to north. Crack! A distant report
came faintly over the uplands against the wind.

"Voucher," observed Ferrall; "probably a snipe. Hark! he's struck them
again, Grace."

Mrs. Ferrall, watching curiously, saw Siward's gun fly up as two big
dark spots floated up from the marsh and went swinging over his head.
Crack! Crack! Down sheered the black spots, tumbling earthward out of
the sky.

"Duck," said Ferrall; "a double for Stephen. Lord Harry! how that man
can shoot! Isn't it a pity that--"

He said no more; his pretty wife astride her thoroughbred sat silent,
grey eyes fixed on the distant figures of Sylvia Landis and Siward, now
shoulder deep in the reeds.

"Was it--very bad last night?" she asked in a low voice.

Ferrall shrugged. "He was not offensive; he walked steadily enough
up-stairs. When I went into his room he lay on the bed as if he'd been
struck by lightning. And yet--you see how he is this morning?"

"After a while," his wife said, "it is going to alter him some
day--dreadfully--isn't it, Kemp?"

"You mean--like Mortimer?"

"Yes--only Leroy was always a pig."

As they turned their horses toward the high-road Mrs. Ferrall said: "Do
you know why Sylvia isn't shooting with Howard?"

"No," replied her husband indifferently; "do you?"

"No." She looked out across the sunlit ocean, grave grey eyes
brightening with suppressed mischief. "But I half suspect."


"Oh, all sorts of things, Kemp."

"What's one of 'em?" asked Ferrall, looking around at her; but his wife
only laughed.

"You don't mean she's throwing her flies at Siward--now that you've
hooked Quarrier for her! I thought she'd played him to the gaff--"

"Please don't be coarse, Kemp," said Mrs. Ferrall, sending her horse
forward. Her husband spurred to her side, and without turning her head
she continued: "Of course Sylvia won't be foolish. If they were only
safely married; but Howard is such a pill--"

"What does Sylvia expect with Howard's millions? A man?"

Grace Ferrall drew bridle. "The curious thing is, Kemp, that she liked

"Likes him?"

"No, liked him. I saw how it was; she took his silences for intellectual
meditation, his gallery, his library, his smatterings for expressions of
a cultivated personality. Then she remembered how close she came to
running off with that cashiered Englishman, and that scared her into
clutching the substantial in the shape of Howard. . Still, I wish I
hadn't meddled."

"Meddled how?"

"Oh, I told her to do it. We had talks until daylight. . She may marry
him--I don't know--but if you think any live woman could he contented with
a muff like that!"

"That's immoral."

"Kemp, I'm not. She'd be mad not to marry him; but I don't know what I'd
do to a man like that, if I were his wife. And you know what a terrific
capacity for mischief there is in Sylvia. Some day she's going to love
somebody. And it isn't likely to be Howard. And, oh, Kemp! I do grow so
tired of that sort of thing. Do you suppose anybody will ever make
decency a fashion?"

"You're doing your best," said Ferrall, laughing at his wife's pretty,
boyish face turned back toward him over her shoulder; "you're presenting
your cousin and his millions to a girl who can dress the part--"

"Don't, Kemp! I don't know why I meddled! . I wish I hadn't--"

"I do. You can't let Howard alone! You're perfectly possessed to plague
him when he's with you, and now you've arranged for another woman to
keep it up for the rest of his lifetime. What does Sylvia want with a
man who possesses the instincts and intellect of a coachman? She is
asked everywhere, she has her own money. Why not let her alone? Or is it
too late?"

"You mean let her make a fool of herself with Stephen Siward? That is
where she is drifting."

"Do you think--"

"Yes, I do. She has a perfect genius for selecting the wrong man; and
she's already sorry for this one. I'm sorry for Stephen, too; but it's
safe for me to be."

"She might make something of him."

"You know perfectly well no woman ever did make anything of a doomed
man. He'd kill her--I mean it, Kemp! He would literally kill her with
grief. She isn't like Leila Mortimer; she isn't like most girls of her
sort. You men think her a rather stunning, highly tempered, unreasonable
young girl, with a reserve of sufficiently trained intelligence to marry
the best our market offers--and close her eyes;--a thoroughbred with the
caprices of one, but also with the grafted instinct for proper mating."

"Well, that's all right, isn't it?" asked Ferrall. "That's the way I
size her up. Isn't it correct?"

"Yes, in a way. She has all the expensive training of the
thoroughbred--and all the ignorance, too. She is cold-blooded because
wholesome; a trifle sceptical because so absolutely unawakened. She
never experienced a deep emotion. Impulses have intoxicated her once or
twice--as when she asked my opinion about running off with Cavendish, and
that boy and girl escapade with Rivington; nothing at all except high
mettle, the innocent daring lurking in all thoroughbreds, and a great
deal of very red blood racing through that superb young body. But,"
Ferrall reined in to listen, "but if ever a man awakens her--I don't care
who he is--you'll see a girl you never knew, a brand-new creature emerge
with the last rags and laces of conventionality dropping from her; a
woman, Kemp, heiress to every generous impulse, every emotion, every
vice, every virtue of all that brilliant race of hers."

"You seem to know," he said, amused and curious.

"I know. Major Belwether told me that he had thought of Howard as an
anchor for her. It seemed a pity--Howard with all his cold, heavy
negative inertia. . I said I'd do it. I did. And now I don't know; I
wish, almost wish I hadn't."

"What has changed your ideas?"

"I don't know. Howard is safer than Stephen Siward, already in the first
clutches of his master-vice. Would you mate what she inherits from her
mother and her mother's mother, with what is that poor boy's heritage
from the Siwards?"

"After all," observed Ferrall dryly, "we're not in the angel-breeding

"We ought to be. Every decent person ought to be. If they were,
inherited vice would be as rare in this country as smallpox!"

"People don't inherit smallpox, dear."

"Never mind! You know what I mean. In our stock farms and kennels, we
weed out, destroy, exterminate hereditary weakness in everything. We pay
the greatest attention to the production of all offspring except our
own. Look at Stephen! How dared his parents bring him into the world?
Look at Sylvia! And now, suppose they marry!"

"Dearest," said Ferrall, "my head is a whirl and my wits are spinning
like five toy tops. Your theories are all right; but unless you and I
are prepared to abandon several business enterprises and take to the
lecture platform, I'm afraid people are going to be wicked enough to
marry whom they like, and the human race will he run as usual with money
the favourite, and love a case of 'also-ran.' . By the way, how dared
you marry me, knowing the sort of demon I am?"

The gathering frown on Mrs. Ferrall's brow faded; she raised her clear
grey eyes and met her husband's gaze, gay, humourous, and with a hint of
tenderness--enough to bring the colour into her pretty face.

"You know I'm right, Kemp."

"Always, dear. And now that we have the world off our hands for a few
minutes, suppose we gallop?"

But she held her horse to a walk, riding forward, grave, thoughtful,
preoccupied with a new problem, only part of which she had told her

For that night she had been awakened in her bed to find standing beside
her a white, wide-eyed figure, shivering, limbs a-chill beneath her
clinging lace. She had taken the pallid visitor to her arms and warmed
her and soothed her and whispered to her, murmuring the thousand little
words and sounds, the breathing magic mothers use with children. And
Sylvia lay there, chilled, nerveless, silent, ignorant why her
sleeplessness had turned to restlessness, to loneliness, to an awakening
perception of what she lacked and needed and began to desire. For that
sad void, peopled at intervals through her brief years with a vague
mother-phantom, had, in the new crisis of her career, become suddenly an
empty desolation, frightening her with her own utter isolation. Fill it
now she could not, now that she needed that ghost of child-comfort, that
shadowy refuge, that sweet shape she had fashioned out of dreams to
symbolise a mother she had never known.

Driven she knew not why, she had crept from her room in search of the
still, warm, fragrant nest and the whispered reassurance and the caress
she had never before endured. Yes, now she craved it, invited it, longed
for safe arms around her, the hovering hand on her hair. Was this

And Grace Ferrall, clearing her sleepy eyes, amazed, incredulous of the
cold, child-like hands upon her shoulders, caught her in her arms with a
little laugh and sob and drew her to her breast, to soothe and caress
and reassure, to make up to her all she could of what is every child's
just heritage.

And for a long while Sylvia, lying there, told her nothing--because she
did not know how--merely a word, a restless question half ashamed, barely
enough to shadow forth the something stirring her toward an awakening in
a new world, where with new eyes she might catch glimpses of those dim
and splendidly misty visions that float through sunlit silences when a
young girl dreams awake.

And at length, gravely, innocently, she spoke of her engagement, and the
worldly possibilities before her; of the man she was to marry, and her
new and unexpected sense of loneliness in his presence, now that she had
seen him again after months.

She spoke, presently, of Siward--a fugitive question or two, offered
indifferently at first, then with shy persistence and curiosity, knowing
nothing of the senseless form flung face downward across the sheets in a
room close by. And thereafter the murmured burden of the theme was
Siward, until one, heavy eyed, turned from the white dawn silvering the
windows, sighed, and fell asleep; and one lay silent, head half buried
in its tangled gold, wide awake, thinking vague thoughts that had no
ending, no beginning. And at last a rosy bar of light fell across the
wall, and the warm shadows faded from corner and curtain; and, turning
on the pillow, her face nestled in her hair, she fell asleep.

Nothing of this had Mrs. Ferrall told her husband.

For the first time in her life had Sylvia suffered the caresses most
women invite or naturally lavish; for the first time had she attempted
confidences, failing because she did not know how, but curiously
contented with the older woman's arms around her.

There was a change in Sylvia, a great change stealing in upon her as she
lay there, breathing like a child, flushed lips scarcely parted. Through
the early slanting sunlight the elder woman, leaning on one arm, looked
down at her, grey eyes very grave and tender--wise, sweet eyes that
divined with their pure clairvoyance all that might happen or might fail
to come to pass in this great change stealing over Sylvia.

Nothing of this could her husband understand had she words to convey it.
There was nothing he need understand except that his wife, meaning well,
had meddled and regretted.

And now, turning in her saddle with a pretty gesture of her shoulders:

"I meddle no more! Those who need me may come to me. Now laugh at my
tardy wisdom, Kemp!"

"It's no laughing matter," he said, "if you're going to stand back and
let this abandoned world spin itself madly to the bow-wows--"

"Don't be horrid. I repent. The mischief take Howard Quarrier!"

"Amen! Come on, Grace."

She gathered bridle. "Do you suppose Stephen Siward is going to make

"How can he unless she helps him? Nonsense! All's well with Siward and
Sylvia. Shall we gallop?"

All was very well with Siward and Sylvia. They had passed the rabbit-
brier country scathless, with two black mallard, a jack-snipe, and a
rabbit to the credit of their score, and were now advancing through that
dimly lit enchanted land of tall grey alders where, in the sudden
twilight of the leaves, woodcock after woodcock fluttered upward
twittering, only to stop and drop, transformed at the vicious crack of
Siward's gun to fluffy balls of feather whirling earthward from mid-air.

Sagamore came galloping back with a soft, unsoiled mass of chestnut and
brown feathers in his mouth. Siward took the dead cock, passed it back
to the keeper who followed them, patted the beautiful eager dog and
signalled him forward once more.

"You should have fired that time," he said to Sylvia--"that is, if you
care to kill anything."

"But I don't seem to be able to," she said. "It isn't a bit like
shooting at clay targets. The twittering whirr takes me by surprise--it's
all so charmingly sudden--and my heart seems to stop in one beat, and I
look and look and then--whisk! the woodcock is gone, leaving me

Her voice ceased; the white setter, cutting up his ground ahead, had
stopped, rigid, one leg raised, jaws quivering and locking alternately.

"Isn't that a stunning picture!" said Siward in a low voice. "What a
beauty he is--like a statue in white and blue-veined marble. You may
talk, Miss Landis; woodcock don't flush at the sound of the human voice
as grouse do."

"See his brown eyes roll back at us! He wonders why we don't do
something!" whispered the girl. "Look, Mr. Siward! Now his head is
moving--oh so gradually to the left!"

"The bird is moving on the ground," nodded Siward; "now the bird has

"I do wish I could see a woodcock on the ground," she breathed. "Do you
think we might by any chance?"

Siward noiselessly sank to his knees and crouched, keen eyes minutely
busy among the shadowy browns and greys of wet earth and withered leaf.
And after a while, cautiously, he signalled the girl to kneel beside
him, and stretched out one arm, forefinger extended.

"Sight straight along my arm," he said," as though it were a rifle

Her soft cheek rested against his shoulder; a stray strand of shining
hair brushing his face.

"Under that bunch of fern," he whispered; "just the colour of the dead
leaves. Do you see? . Don't you see that big woodcock squatted flat,
bill pointed straight out and resting on the leaves?"

After a long while she saw, suddenly, and an exquisite little shock
tightened her fingers on Siward's extended arm.

"Oh, the feathered miracle!" she whispered; "the wonder of its
cleverness to hide like that! You look and look and stare, seeing it all
the while and not knowing that you see it. Then in a flash it is there,
motionless, a brown-shaped shadow among shadows. . The dear little
thing! . Mr. Siward, do you think--are you going to--"

"No, I won't shoot it."

"Thank you. . Might I sit here a moment to watch it?"

She seated herself soundlessly among the dead leaves; he sank into place
beside her, laying his gun aside.

"Rather rough on the dog," he said with a grimace.

"I know. It is very good of you, Mr. Siward to do this for my pleasure.
Oh--h! Do you see! Oh, the little beauty!"

The woodcock had risen, plumage puffed out, strutting with wings bowed
and tail spread, facing the dog. The sudden pigmy defiance thrilled her.
"Brave! Brave!" she exclaimed, enraptured; but at the sound of her voice
the bird crouched like a flash, large dark liquid eyes shining, long
bill pointed straight toward them.

"He'll fly the way his bill points," said Siward. "Watch!"

He rose; she sprang lightly to her feet; there came a whirring flutter,
a twittering shower of sweet notes, soft wings beating almost in their
very faces, a distant shadow against the sky, and the woodcock was gone.

Quieting the astounded dog, gun cradled in the hollow of his left arm,
he turned to the girl beside him: "That sort of thing wins no cups," he

"It wins something else, Mr. Siward,--my very warm regard for you."

"There is no choice between that and the Shotover Cup," he admitted,
considering her.

"I--do you mean it?"

"Of course I do, vigorously!"

"Then you are much nicer than I thought you. . And after all, if the
price of a cup is the life of that brave little bird, I had rather shoot
clay pigeons. Now you will scorn me I suppose. Begin!"

"My ideal woman has never been a life-taker," he said coolly. "Once,
when I was a boy, there was a girl--very lovely--my first sweetheart. I
saw her at the traps once, just after she had killed her seventh pigeon
straight, 'pulling it down' from overhead, you know--very clever--the
little thing was breathing on the grass, and it made sounds--" He
shrugged and walked on. "She killed her twenty-first bird straight; it
was a handsome cup, too."

And after a silence, "So you didn't love her any more, Mr.
Siward?"--mockingly sweet.

They laughed, and at the sound of laughter the tall-stemmed alders
echoed with the rushing roar of a cock-grouse thundering skyward. Crack!
Crack! Whirling over and over through a cloud of floating feathers, a
heavy weight struck the springy earth. There lay the big mottled bird,
splendid silky ruffs spread, dead eyes closing, a single tiny crimson
bead twinkling like a ruby on the gaping beak.

"Dead!" said Siward to the dog who had dropped to shot; "Fetch!" And,
signalling the boy behind, he relieved the dog of his burden and tossed
the dead weight of ruffled plumage toward him. Then he broke his gun,
and, as the empty shells flew rattling backward, slipped in fresh
cartridges, locked the barrels, and walked forward, the flush of
excitement still staining his sunburnt face.

"You deal death mercifully," said the girl in a low voice. "I wonder
what your ci-devant sweetheart would think of you."

"A bungler had better stick to the traps," he assented, ignoring the

"I am wondering," she said thoughtfully, "what I think of men who kill."

He turned sharply, hesitated, shrugged. "Wild things' lives are brief at
best--fox or flying-tick, wet nests or mink, owl, hawk, weasel or man.
But the death man deals is the most merciful. Besides," he added,
laughing, "ours is not a case of sweethearts."

"My argument is purely in the abstract, Mr. Siward. I am asking you
whether the death men deal is more justifiable than a woman's gift of

"Oh, well, life-taking, the giving of life--there can be only one answer
to the mystery; and I don't know it," he replied smiling.

"I do."

"Tell me then," he said, still amused.

They had passed swale after swale of silver birches waist deep in
perfumed fern and brake; the big timber lay before them. She moved
forward, light gun swung easily across her leather-padded shoulder; and
on the wood's sunny edge she seated herself, straight young back against
a giant pine, gun balanced across her flattened knees.

"You are feeling the pace a little," he said, coming up and standing in
front of her.

"The pace? No, Mr. Siward."

"Are you a trifle--bored?" She considered him in silence, then leaned
back luxuriously, rounded arms raised, wrists crossed to pillow her

"This is charmingly new to me," she said simply.

"What? Not the open?"

"No; I have camped and done the usual roughing it with only three guides
apiece and the champagne inadequately chilled. I have endured that sort
of hardship several times, Mr. Siward. . What is that furry hunch up
there in that tall thin tree?"

"A raccoon," he said presently. "Can you see the foxy head peeping so
slyly down at us? Look at Sagamore nosing the air in that droll blind
mole-like way. He knows there's something furry up aloft somewhere; and
he knows it's none of his business."

They watched the motionless ball of fur in the crotch of a slim forest
elm. Presently it uncurled, cautiously; a fluffy ringed tail unfolded;
the rounded furry back humped up, and the animal, moving slowly into the
tangent foliage of an enormous oak, vanished amid bronzing leafy depths.

In the silence the birds began to reappear. A jay screamed somewhere
deep in the yellowing woods; black-capped chickadees dropped from twig
to twig, cheeping inquiringly.

She sat listening, bright head pillowed in her arms, idly attentive to
his low running comment on beast and bird and tree, on forest stillness
and forest sounds, on life and the wild laws of life and death governing
the great out-world 'twixt sky and earth. Sunlight and shadows moving,
speech and silence, waxed and waned. A listless contentment lay warm
upon her, weighting the heavy white lids. The blue of her eyes was very
dark now--almost purple like the colour of the sea when the wind-flaws
turn the blue to violet.

"Did you ever hear of the 'Lesser Children'?" she asked. "Listen then:

"'Multitudes, multitudes, under the moon they stirred! The weaker
brothers of our earthly breed; . . All came about my head and at my feet
A thousand thousand sweet, With starry eyes not even raised to plead:
Bewildered, driven, hiding, fluttering, mute!

And I beheld and saw them one by one Pass, and become as nothing in the

"Do you know what it means?

"'Winged mysteries of song that from the sky Once dashed long music

"Do you understand?" she asked, smiling.

"'Who has not seen in the high gulf of light What, lower, was a bird!'"

She ceased, and, raising her eyes to his: "Do you know that plea for
mercy on the lesser children who die all day to-day because the season
opens for your pleasure, Mr. Siward?"

"Is it a woodland sermon?" he inquired, too politely.

"The poem? No; it is the case for the prosecution. The prisoner may
defend himself if he can."

"The defence rests," he said. "The prisoner moves that he be

"Motion denied," she interrupted promptly.

Somewhere in the woodland world the crows were holding a noisy session,
and she told him that was the jury debating the degree of his guilt.

"Because you're guilty of course," she continued. "I wonder what your
sentence is to be?"

"I'll leave it to you," he suggested lazily.

"Suppose I sentenced you to slay no more?"

"Oh, I'd appeal--"

"No use; I am the tribunal of last resort."

"Then I throw myself upon the mercy of the court."

"You do well, Mr. Siward. This court is very merciful. . How much do you
care for bird murder? Very much? Is there anything you care for more?
Yes? And could this court grant it to you in compensation?"

He said, deliberately, roused by the level challenge of her gaze: "The
court is incompetent to compensate the prisoner or offer any

"Why, Mr. Siward?"

"Because the court herself is already compromised in her future

"But what has my--engagement to do with--"

"You offered compensation for depriving me of my shooting. There could
be only one adequate compensation."

"And that?" she asked, coolly enough.

"Your continual companionship."

"But you have it, Mr. Siward--"

"I have it for a day. The season lasts three months you know."

"And you and I are to play a continuous vaudeville for three months? Is
that your offer?"


"Then one day with me is not worth those many days of murder?" she asked
in pretended astonishment.

"Ask yourself why those many days would be doubly empty," he said so
seriously that the pointless game began to confuse her.

"Then"--she turned lightly from uncertain ground--"then perhaps we had
better be about that matter of the cup you prize so highly. Are you
ready, Mr. Siward? There is much to be killed yet--including time, you

But the hinted sweetness of the challenge had aroused him, and he made
no motion to rise. Nor did she.

"I am not sure," he reflected, "just exactly what I should ask of you if
you insist on taking away--" he turned and looked about him through the
burnt gold foliage, "--if you took away all this out of my life."

"I shall not take it; because I have nothing in exchange to offer . you
say," she answered imprudently.

"I did not say so," he retorted.

"You did--reminding me that the court is already engaged for a continuous

"Was it necessary to remind you?" he asked with deliberate malice.

She flushed up, vexed, silent, then looked directly at him with
beautiful hostile eyes. "What do you mean, Mr. Siward? Are you taking
our harmless, idle badinage as warrant for an intimacy unwarranted?"

"Have I offended?" he asked, so impassively that a flash of resentment
brought her to her feet, angry and self-possessed.

"How far have we to go?" she asked quietly.

He rose to his feet, turned, hailing the keeper, repeating the question.
And at the answer they both started forward, the dog ranging ahead
through a dense growth of beech and chestnut, over a high brown ridge,
then down, always down along a leafy ravine to the water's edge--a forest
pond set in the gorgeous foliage of ripening maples.

"I don't see," said Sylvia impatiently, "how we are going to obey
instructions and go straight ahead. There must be a stupid boat

But the game-laden keeper shook his head, pulled up his hip boots, and
pointed out a line of alder poles set in the water to mark a crossing.

"Am I expected to wade?" asked the girl anxiously.

"This here," observed the keeper, "is one of the most sportin' courses
on the estate. Last season I seen Miss Page go through it like a scared
deer--the young lady, sir, that took last season's cup"--in explanation to
Siward, who stood doubtfully at the water's edge, looking back at

Raising her dismayed eyes she encountered his; there was a little laugh
between them. She stepped daintily across the stones to the water's
edge, instinctively gathering her kilts in one hand.

"Miles and I could chair you over," suggested Siward.

"Is that fair--under the rules?"

"Oh, yes, Miss; as long as you go straight," said the keeper.

So they laid aside the guns and the guide's game-sack, and formed a
chair with their hands, and, bearing the girl between them, they waded
out along the driven alder stakes, knee-deep in brown water.

Before them herons rose into heavy flapping flight, broad wings
glittering in the sun; a diver, distantly afloat among the lily pads,
settled under the water to his eyes as a submarine settles till the
conning-tower is awash.

Her arm, lightly resting around his neck, tightened a trifle as the
water rose to his thighs; then the faint pressure relaxed as they
thrashed shoreward through the shallows, ankle deep once more, and
landed among the dry reeds on the farther bank.

Miles, the keeper, went back for the guns. Siward stamped about in the
sun, shaking the drops from water-proof breeches and gaiters, only to be
half drenched again when Sagamore shook himself vigorously.

"I suppose," said Sylvia, looking sideways at Siward, "your contempt for
my sporting accomplishments has not decreased. I'm sorry; I don't like
to walk in wet shoes . even to gain your approval."

And, as the keeper came splashing across the shallows: "Miles, you may
carry my gun. I shall not need it any longer--"

The upward roar of a bevey of grouse drowned her voice; poor Sagamore,
pointing madly in the blackberry thicket all unperceived, cast a
dismayed glance aloft where the sunlit air quivered under the winnowing
rush of heavy wings. Siward flung up his gun, heading a big quartering
bird; steadily the glittering barrels swept in the arc of fire,
hesitated, wavered; then the possibility passed; the young fellow
lowered the gun, slowly, gravely; stood a moment motionless with bent
head until the rising colour in his face had faded.

And that was all, for a while. The astonished and disgusted keeper
stared into the thicket; the dog lay quivering, impatient for signal.
Sylvia's heart, which had seemed to stop with her voice, silenced in the
gusty thunder of heavy wings, began beating too fast. For the ringing
crack of a gun shot could have spoken no louder to her than the
glittering silence of the suspended barrels; nor any promise of his
voice sound as the startled stillness sounded now about her. For he had
made something a trifle more than mere amends for his rudeness. He was
overdoing everything--a little.

He stood on the thicket's edge, absently unloading the weapon, scarcely
understanding what he had done and what he had not done.

A moment later a far hail sounded across the uplands, and against the
sky figures moved distantly.

"Alderdene and Marion Page," said Siward. "I believe we lunch yonder, do
we not, Miles?"

They climbed the hill in silence, arriving after a few minutes to find
others already at luncheon--the Page boys, eager, enthusiastic,
recounting adventure by flood and field; Rena Bonnesdel tired and
frankly bored and decorated with more than her share of mud; Eileen
Shannon, very pretty, very effective, having done more execution with
her eyes than with the dainty fowling-piece beside her.

Marion Page nodded to Sylvia and Siward with a crisp, business-like
question or two, then went over to inspect their bag, nodding
approbation as Miles laid the game on the grass.

"Eight full brace," she commented. "We have five, and an odd cock-
pheasant--from Black Fells, I suppose. The people to our left have been
blazing away like Coney Island, but Rena's guide says the ferns are full
of rabbits that way, and Major Belwether can't hit fur afoot. You," she
added frankly to Siward, "ought to take the cup. The birches ahead of
you are full of woodcock. If you don't, Howard Quarrier will. He's into
a flight of jack-snipe I hear."

Siward's eyes had suddenly narrowed; then he laughed, patting Sagamore's
cheeks. "I don't believe I shall shoot very steadily this afternoon," he
said, turning toward the group at luncheon under the trees. "I wish
Quarrier well--with the cup."

"Nonsense," said Marion Page curtly; "you are the cleanest shot I ever
knew." And she raised her glass to him, frankly, and emptied it with the
precision characteristic of her: "Your cup! With all my heart!"

"I also drink to your success, Mr. Siward," said Sylvia in a low voice,
lifting her champagne glass in the sunlight. "To the Shotover Cup--if you
wish it." And as other glasses sparkled aloft amid a gay tumult of
voices wishing him success, Sylvia dropped her voice, attuning it to his
ear alone: "Success for the cup, if you wish it--or, whatever you
wish--success!" and she meant it very kindly.

His hand resting on his glass he sat, smiling silent acknowledgment to
the noisy generous toasts; he turned and looked at Sylvia when her low
voice caught his ear--looked at her very steadily, unsmiling.

Then to the others, brightening again, he said a word or two, wittily,
with a gay compliment well placed and a phrase to end it in good taste.
And, in the little gust of hand-clapping and laughter, he turned again
to Sylvia, smilingly, saying under his breath: "As though winning the
cup could compensate me now for losing it!"

She leaned involuntarily nearer: "You mean that you will not try for


"That is not fair--to me!"

"Why not?"

"Because--because I do not ask it of you."

"You need not, now that I know your wish."

"Mr. Siward, I--my wish--"

But she had no chance to finish; already Rena Bonnesdel was looking at
them, and there was a hint of amused surprise in Eileen Shannon's
mischievous eyes, averted instantly, with malicious ostentation.

Then Marion Page took possession of him so exclusively, so calmly, that
something in her cool certainty vaguely irritated Sylvia, who had never
liked her. Besides, the girl showed too plainly her indifference to
other people; which other people seldom find amusing.

"Stephen," called out Alderdene, anxiously counting the web loops in his
khaki vest, "what do you call fair shooting at these damnable ruffed
grouse? You needn't be civil about it, you know."

"Five shells to a bird is good shooting," answered Siward. "Don't you
think so, Miss Page?"

"You have a better score, Mr. Siward," said Marion Page with a hostile
glance at Alderdene, who had not made good.

"That was chance--and this year's birds. I've taken ten shells to an old
drummer in hard wood or short pines." He smiled to himself, adding: "A
drove of six in the open got off scot free a little while ago. Miss
Landis saw it."

That he was inclined to turn it all to banter relieved her at once. "It
was pitiable," she nodded gravely to Marion; "his nerve left him when
they made such a din in the briers."

Miss Page glanced at her indifferently.

"What I need is practice like the chasseurs of Tarascon," admitted

"I willingly offer my hat, monsieur," said Sylvia.

Marion Page, impatient to start, had turned her tailor-made back to the
company, and was instructing his crestfallen lordship very plainly: "You
fire too quickly, Blinky; two seconds is what you must count when a
grouse flushes. You must say 'Mark! Right!' or 'Mark! Left! Bang!'"

"I might as well say 'Bang!' for all I've done to-day," he muttered,
adjusting his shooting-goggles and snapping his eyes like fury. Then
exploding into raucous laughter he moved off southward with Marion Page,
who had exchanged a swift handshake with Siward; the twins followed,
convoying Eileen and Rena, neither maiden excitedly enthusiastic. And so
the luncheon party, lord and lady, twins and maidens, guides and dogs,
trailed away across the ridge, distant silhouettes presently against the
sky, then gone. And after a little while the far, dry, accentless report
of smokeless powder announced that the opening of the season had been
resumed and the Lesser Children were dying fast in the glory of a
perfect day.

"Are you ready, Mr. Siward?" She stood waiting for him at the edge of
the thicket; Miles resumed his game sack and her fowling-piece; the dog
came up, looking him anxiously in the eyes.

So he walked forward beside her into the dappled light of the thicket.

Within a few minutes the dog stood twice; and twice the whirring twitter
of woodcock startled her, echoed by the futile crack of his gun.

"Beg pardon, sir--"

"Yes, Miles," with a glint of humour.

"Overshot, sir,--excusin' the liberty, Mr. Siward. Both marked down forty
yard to the left if you wish to start 'em again."

"No," he said indifferently, "I had my chance at them. They're exempt."

Then Sagamore, tail wildly whipping, came smack on the trail of an old
stager of a cock-grouse--on, on over rock, log, wet gully, and dry ridge,
twisting, doubling, circling, every wile, every trick employed and met,
until the dog crawling noiselessly forward, trembled and froze, and
Siward, far to left, wheeled at the muffled and almost noiseless rise.
For an instant the slanting barrels wavered, grew motionless; but only a
stray sunbeam glinting struck a flash of cold fire from the muzzle, only
the feathery whirring whisper broke the silence of suspense. Then far
away over sunny tree tops a big grouse sailed up, rocketing into the sky
on slanted wings, breasting the height of green; dipped, glided downward
with bowed wings stiffened, and was engulfed in the misty barriers of
purpling woods.

"Vale!" said Siward aloud, "I salute you!"

He came strolling back across the crisp leaves, the dappled sunshine
playing over his face like the flicker of a smile.

"Miles," he said, "my nerve is gone. Such things happen. I'm all in.
Come over here, my friend, and look at the sun with me."

The discomfited keeper obeyed.

"Where ought that refulgent luminary to scintilate when I face Osprey


"The sun. How do I hold it?"

"On the p'int of your right shoulder, sir.--You ain't quittin', Mr.
Siward, sir!" anxiously; "that Shotover Cup is easy yours, sir!"
eagerly; "Wot's a miss on a old drummer, Mr. Siward? Wot's twice over-
shootin' cock, sir, when a blind dropper can see you are the cleanest,
fastest, hard-shootin' shot in the null county!"

But Siward shook his head with an absent glance at the dog, and motioned
the astonished keeper forward.

"Line the easiest trail for us," he said; "I think we are already a
trifle tired. Twigs will do in short cover; use a hatchet in the big
timber. . And go slow till we join you."

And when the unwilling and perplexed keeper had started, Siward,
unlocking his gun, drew out the smooth yellow cartridges and pocketed

Sylvia looked up as the sharp metallic click of the locked breech rang
out in the silence.

"Why do you do this, Mr. Siward?"

"I don't know; really I am honest; I don't know."

"It could not he because I--"

"No, of course not," he said, too seriously to reassure her.

"Mr. Siward," in quick displeasure.


"What you do for your amusements cannot concern me."

"Right as usual," he said so gaily that a reluctant smile trembled on
her lips.

"Then why have you done this? It is unreasonable--if you don't feel as I
do about killing things that are having a good time in the world."

He stood silent, absently looking at the fowling-piece cradled in his
left arm. "Shall we sit here a moment and talk it over?" he suggested

Her blue gaze swept him; his vague smile was indifferently bland.

"If you are determined not to shoot, we might as well start for Osprey
Ledge," she suggested; "otherwise, what reason is there for our being
here together, Mr. Siward?"

Awaiting his comment--perhaps expecting a counter-proposition--she leaned
against the tree beside which he stood. And after a while, as his
absent-minded preoccupation continued:

"Do you think the leaves are dry enough to sit on?"

He slipped off his shooting-coat and placed it at the base of the tree.
She waited for a second, uncertain how to meet an attitude which seemed
to take for granted matters which might, if discussed, give her at least
the privilege of yielding. However, to discuss a triviality meant
forcing emphasis where none was necessary. She seated herself; and, as
he continued to remain standing, she stripped off her shooting-gloves
and glanced up at him inquiringly: "Well, Mr. Siward, I am literally at
your feet."

"Which redresses the balance a little," he said, finding a place near

"That is very nice of you. Can I always count on you for civil
platitudes when I stir you out of your day-dreams?"

"You can always count on stirring me without effort."

"No, I can't. Nobody can. You are never to be counted on; you are too
absent-minded. Like a veil you wrap yourself in a brown study, leaving
everybody outside to consider the pointed flattery of your withdrawal.
What happens to you when you are inside that magic veil? Do you change
into anything interesting?"

He sat there, chin propped on his linked fingers, elbows on knees; and,
though there was always the hint of a smile in his pleasant eyes, always
the indefinable charm of breeding in voice and attitude, something now
was lacking. And after a moment she concluded that it was his attention.
Certainly his wits were wool-gathering again; his eyes, edged with the
shadow of a smile, saw far beyond her, far beyond the sunlit shadows
where they sat.

In his preoccupation she had found him negatively attractive. She
glanced at him now from time to time, her eyes returning always to the
beauty of the subdued light where all about them silver-stemmed birches
clustered like slim shining pillars, crowned with their autumn canopy of
crumpled gold.

"Enchantment!" she said under her breath. "Surely an enchanted sleeper
lies here somewhere."

"You," he observed, "unawakened."

"Asleep? I?" She looked around at him. "You are the dreamer here. Your
eyes are full of dreaming even now. What is your desire?"

He leaned on one arm, watching her; she had dropped her ungloved hand,
searching among the newly fallen gold of the birch leaves drifted into
heaps. On the third finger a jewel glittered; he saw it, conscious of
its meaning--but his eyes followed the hand idly heaping up autumn gold,
a white slim hand, smoothly fascinating. Then the little, restless hand
swept near to his, almost touching it; and then instinctively he took it
in his own, curiously, lifting it a little to consider its nearer
loveliness. Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of it, perhaps it was
sheer amazement that left her hand lying idly relaxed like a white
petalled blossom in his. His bearing, too, was so blankly impersonal
that for a moment the whole thing appeared inconsequent. Then, as her
hand lay there, scarcely imprisoned, their eyes encountered,--and hers,
intensely blue now, considered him without emotion, studied him
impersonally without purpose, incuriously acquiescent, indifferently

After a little while the consciousness of the contact disconcerted her;
she withdrew her fingers with an involuntary shiver.

"Is there no chance?" he asked.

Perplexed with her own emotion, the meaning of his low-voiced question
at first escaped her; then, like its own echo, came ringing back in her
ears, re-echoed again as he repeated it:

"Is there no chance for me, Miss Landis?"

The very revulsion of self-possession returning chilled her; then anger
came, quick and hot; then pride. She deliberated, choosing her words
coolly enough: "What chance do you mean, Mr. Siward?"

"A fighting chance. Can you give it to me?"

"A fighting chance? For what?"--very low, very dangerous.

"For you."

Then, in spite of her, her senses became unsteady; a sudden ringing
confusion seemed to deafen her, through which his voice, as if very far
away, sounded again:

"Men who are worth a fighting chance ask for it sometimes--but take it
always. I take it."

Her pallor faded under the flood of bright colour; the blue of her eyes
darkened ominously to velvet.

"Mr. Siward," she said, very distinctly and slowly, "I am
not--even--sorry--for you."

"Then my chance is desperate indeed," he retorted coolly.

"Chance! Do you imagine--" Her anger choked her.

"Are you not a little hard?" he said, paling under his tan. "I supposed
women dismissed men more gently--even such a man as I am."

For a full minute she strove to comprehend.

"Such a man as you!" she repeated vaguely; "you mean--" a crimson wave
dyed her skin to the temples and she leaned toward him in horror-
stricken contrition; "I didn't mean that, Mr. Siward! I--I never thought
of that! It had no weight, it was not in my thoughts. I meant only that
you had assumed what is unwarranted--that you--your question humiliated
me, knowing that I am engaged--knowing me so little--so--"

"Yes, I knew everything. Ask yourself why I risk everything to say this
to you? There can be only one answer."

Then after a long silence: "Have I ever--" she began tremblingly--"ever by
word or look--"


"Have I even--"

"No. I've simply discovered how I feel. That's what I was dreaming about
when you asked me. I was afraid I might do this too soon; but I meant to
do it anyway before it became too late."

"It was too late from the very moment we met, Mr. Siward." And, as he
reddened painfully again, she added quickly: "I mean that I had already
decided. Why will you take what I say so dreadfully different from the
way I intend it? Listen to me. I--I believe I am not very experienced
yet; I was a--astonished--quite stunned for a moment. Then it hurt me--and
I said that I was not sorry for you . I am sorry, now."

And, as he said nothing: "You were a little rough, a little sudden with
me, Mr. Siward. Men have asked me that question--several times; but never
so soon, so unreasonably soon--never without some preliminary of some
sort, so that I could foresee, be more or less prepared. . But you gave
me no warning. I--if you had, I would have known how to be gentle. I--I
wish to be now. I like you--enough to say this to you, enough to be
seriously sorry; if I could bring myself to really believe

Still he said nothing; he sat there listlessly studying the sun spots
glowing, waxing, waning on the carpet of dead leaves at his feet.

"As for--what you have said," she added, a little smile curving the
sensitive mouth, "it is impulsive, unconsidered, a trifle boyish, Mr.
Siward. I pay myself the compliment of your sincerity; it is rather nice
to be a girl who can awaken the romance in a man within a day or two's
acquaintance. . And that is all it is--a romantic impulse with a pretty
girl. You see I am frank; I am really glad that you find me attractive.
Tell me so, if you wish. We shall not misunderstand each other again.
Shall we?"

He raised his head, considering her, forcing the smile to meet her own.

"We shall be better friends than ever," she asserted confidently.

"Yes, better than ever."

"Because what you have done means the nicest sort of friendship, you
see. You can't escape its duties and responsibilities now, Mr. Siward. I
shall expect you to spend the greater part of your life in devotedly
doing things for me. Besides, I am now privileged to worry you with
advice. Oh, you have invested me with all sorts of powers now!"

He nodded.

She sprang to her feet, flushed, smiling, a trifle excited.

"Is it all over, and are we the very ideals of friends?" she asked.

"The very ideals."

"You are nice!" she said impulsively, holding out both gloveless hands.
He held them, she looking at him very sweetly, very confidently.

"Allons! Without malice?" she asked.

"Without malice."

"Without afterthoughts?"

"Without afterthoughts."

"And--you are content?" persuasively.

"Of course not," he said.

"Oh, but you must be."

"I must be," he repeated obediently.

"And you are! Say it!"

"But it does not make me unhappy not to be contented--"

"Say it, please; or--do you desire me to be unhappy?"

Her small, smooth hands lying between his, they stood confronting one
another in the golden light. She might easily have brought the matter to
an end; and why she did not, she knew no more than a kitten waking to
consciousness under its first caress.

"Say it," she repeated, laughing uncertainly back into his smiling eyes
of a boy.

"Say what?"

"That you are contented."

"I can't."

"Mr. Siward, it is unkind, it is shameless--"

"I know it; I am that sort."

"Then I am sorry for you. Look at that!" turning her left hand in his so
that the jewel on the third finger caught the light.

"I see it."

"And yet--"

"And yet."

"That," she observed with composure, "is sheer obstinacy. . Isn't it?"

"It is what I said it was: a hopeful discontent."

"How can it be?" impatiently now, for the long, unaccustomed contact was
unnerving her--yet she made no motion to withdraw her hands. "How can you
really care for me? Do you actually believe that--devotion--comes like

"Exactly like that."

"So suddenly? It is impossible!" with a twist of her pretty shoulders.

"How did it come--to you?" he asked between his teeth.

Then her face grew scarlet and her eyes grew dark, and her hands
contracted in his--tightened, twisted fingers entangled, until, with a
little sob, she swayed toward him and he caught her. An instant, a
minute--more, perhaps, she did not know--she half lay in his arms, her
untaught lips cold against his. Lassitude, faint consciousness, then
tiny shock on shock came the burning revulsion; and her voice came back,
too, sounding strangely to her, a colourless, monotonous voice.

He had freed her; she remembered that somebody had asked him to--perhaps
herself. That was well; she needed to breathe, to summon strength and
common-sense, find out what had been done, what reasonless madness she
had committed in the half-light of the silver-stemmed trees clustering
in shameful witness on every hand.

Suddenly the hot humiliation of it overwhelmed her, and she covered her
face with her hands, standing, almost swaying, as wave on wave of
incredulous shame seemed to sweep her from knee to brow. That phase
passed after a while; out of it she emerged, flushed, outwardly
composed, into another phase, in full self-possession once more, able to
understand what had happened without the disproportion of emotional
exaggeration. After all, she had only been kissed. Besides she was a
novice, which probably accounted, in a measure, for the unreasonable
emotion coincident with a caress to which she was unaccustomed. Without
looking up at him she found herself saying coolly enough to surprise
herself: "I never supposed I was capable of that. It appears that I am.
I haven't anything to say for myself . except that I feel fearfully
humiliated. . Don't say anything now . I do not blame you, truly I do
not. It was contemptible of me--to do it--wearing this--" she stretched out
her slender left hand, not looking at him; "it was contemptible!" . She
slowly raised her eyes, summoning all her courage to face him.

But he only saw in the pink confusion of her lovely face the dawning
challenge of a coquette saluting her adversary in gay acknowledgment of
his fleeting moment of success. And as his face fell, then hardened into
brightness, instantly she divined how he rated her, and in a flash
realized her weapons and her security, and that the control of the
situation was hers, not in the control of this irresolute young man who
stood so silently considering her. Strange that she should be ashamed of
her own innocence, willing that he believe her accomplished in such
arts, enchanted that he no longer perhaps suspected genuine emotion in
the swift, confused sweetness of her first kiss. If only all that were
truly hidden from him, if he dare not in his heart convict her of
anything save perfection in a gay, imprudent role, what a weight lifted,
what relief, what hot self-contempt cooled! What vengeance, too, she
would take on him for the agony of her awakening--the dazed chagrin, the
dread of his wise, amused eyes--eyes that she feared had often looked
upon such scenes; eyes no doubt familiar with such unimportant details
as the shamed demeanour of a novice.

"Why do you take it so seriously?" she said, laughing and studying him,
certain now of herself in this new disguise.

"Do you take it lightly?" he asked, striving to smile.

"I? Ah, I must, you know. You don't expect to marry me . do you, Mr.

"I--" He choked up at that, grimly for a while.

Walking slowly forward together she fell into step frankly beside him,
near him--too near. "Try to be sensible," she was saying gaily; "I like
you so much--and it would be horrid to have you mope, you know. And
besides, even if I cared for you, there are reasons, you know--reasons
for any girl to marry the man I am going to marry. Does my cynicism
shock you? What am I to do?" with a shrug. "Such marriages are
reasonable, and far likelier to be agreeable than when fancy is the sole
motive--certainly far more agreeable than an ill-considered yielding to
abstract emotion with nothing concrete in view. . So, you see, I could
not marry you even if I--" her voice was inclined to tremble, but she
controlled it. Would she never learn her role? "even if I loved you--"

Then her tongue stumbled and was silent; and they walked on, side by
side, through the fading splendour of the year, exchanging no further

Toward sunset their guide hailed them, standing high among the rocks, a
silhouette against the sky. And beyond him they saw the poles crowned
with the huge nests of the fish-hawks, marking the last rendezvous at
Osprey Ledge.

She turned to him as they started up the last incline, thanking him in a
sweet, natural voice for his care of her--quite innocently--until in the
questioning, unconvinced gaze that met hers she found her own eyes
softening and growing dim; and she looked away suddenly, lest he read
her ere she had dared turn the first page in the book of self--ere she
had studied, pried, probed among the pages of a new chapter whose
familiar title, so long meaningless to her, had taken on a sudden
troubling significance. And for the first time in her life she glanced
uneasily at the new page in the book of self, numbered according to her
years with the figures 23, and headed with the unconvincing chapter
title, "Love."


The week passed swiftly, day after day echoing with the steady fusillade
from marsh to covert, from valley to ridge. Guns flashed at dawn and
dusk along the flat tidal reaches haunted of black mallard and teal; the
smokeless powder cracked through alder swamp and tangled windfall where
the brown grouse burst away into noisy blundering flight; where the
woodcock, wilder now, shrilled skyward like feathered rockets, and the
big northern hares, not yet flecked with snowy patches of fur, loped off
into swamps to the sad undoing of several of the younger setters.

There was a pheasant drive at Black Fells to which the Ferralls' guests
were bidden by Beverly Plank--a curious scene, where ladies and gentlemen
stood on a lawn, backed by an army of loaders and gun-bearers, while
another improvised army of beaters drove some thousands of frightened,
bewildered, homeless foreign pheasants at the guns. And the miserable

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest