Part 4 out of 7
I would go back."
Elisabeth smiled airily. Apparently she had no scruples about the
keeping of promises.
"That's easily arranged," she affirmed. "I'll write to your precious
doctor man and tell him that we can't spare you."
As far as personal inclination was concerned, Sara would gladly have
adopted Elisabeth's suggestion. She shrank inexpressibly from
returning to Monkshaven, shrouded, as it was, in brief but poignant
memories, but she had given Selwyn her word that she would go back,
and, even in a comparatively unimportant matter such as this appeared,
she had a predilection in favour of abiding by a promise.
"You're putting Dr. Selwyn before us," she declared, candidly amazed.
"I promised him first," replied Sara. "In my position, you'd do the
Elisabeth shook her head.
"I shouldn't," she replied with energy. "The people I love come first
--all the rest nowhere."
"Then I'm glad I'm one of the people you love," retorted Sara,
laughing. "And, let me tell you, I think you're a most unmoral
Elisabeth looked at her reflectively.
"Perhaps I am," she acknowledged. "At least, from a conventional point
of view. Certainly I shouldn't let any so-called moral scruples spoil
the happiness of any one I cared about. However, I suppose you would,
and so we're all to be offered up on the altar of this twopenny-
halfpenny promise you've made to Dr. Selwyn?"
Sara laughed and kissed her.
"I'm afraid you are," she said.
If anything could have reconciled her to the sacrifice of inclination
she had made in returning to Monkshaven, it would have been the warmth
of the welcome extended to her on her arrival. Selwyn and Molly met
her at the station, and Jane Crab, resplendent in a new cap and apron
donned for the occasion, was at the gate when at last the pony brought
the governess-cart to a standstill outside. Even Mrs. Selwyn had
exerted herself to come downstairs, and was waiting in the hall to
greet the wanderer back.
"It will be a great comfort to have you back, my dear," she said with
unwonted feeling in her voice, and quite suddenly Sara felt abundantly
rewarded for the many weary hours upstairs, trying to win Mrs.
Selwyn's interest to anything exterior to herself.
"You're looking thinner," was Selwyn's blunt comment, as Sara threw
off her hat and coat. "What have you been doing with yourself?"
She flushed a little.
"Oh, racketing about, I suppose. I've been living in a perfect whirl.
Never mind, Doctor Dick, you shall fatten me up now with your good
country food and your good country air. Good gracious!"--as he closed
a big thumb and finger around her slender wrist and shook his head
disparagingly--"Don't look so solemn! I was always one of the lean
kine, you know."
"I don't think that London has agreed with you," rumbled Selwyn
discontentedly. "Your pulse is as jerky as a primitive cinema film.
You'd better not be in such a hurry to run away from us again.
Besides, we can't do without you, my dear."
With a mental jolt Sara recollected the fact of her approaching
marriage. How on earth should she break it to these good friends of
hers, who counted so much on her remaining with them, that within
three months--the longest period Elisabeth would consent to wait--she
would be leaving them permanently? It was manifestly impossible to
pour such a douche of cold water into the midst of the joyful warmth
of their welcome; and she decided to wait, at least until the next
day, before acquainting them with the fact of her engagement.
When morning came, the same arguments held good in favour of a further
postponement, and, as the days slipped by, it became increasingly
difficult to introduce the subject.
Moreover, amid the change of environment and influence, Sara
experienced a certain almost inevitable reaction of feeling. It was
not that she actually regretted her engagement, but none the less she
found herself supersensitively conscious of it, and she chafed against
the thought of the congratulations and all the kindly, well-meant
"fussation" which its announcement would entail.
She told herself irritably that this was only because she had not yet
had time to get used to the idea of regarding herself as Tim's future
wife; that, later on, when she had grown more accustomed to it, the
prospect of her friends' felicitations would appear less repugnant.
She had to face the ultimate fact that marriage, for her, did not mean
the crowning fulfillment of life; marriage with Tim would never be
anything more than a substitute, a next best thing.
With these thoughts in her mind, she finally decided to say nothing
about her engagement for the present, but to pick up the threads of
life at Sunnyside as though that crowded month in London, with its
unexpected culmination, had never been.
Once taken, the decision afforded her a curious sense of respite and
relief. It was very pleasant to drop back into the old habits of
managing the Sunnyside /ménage/--making herself indispensable to
Selwyn, humouring his wife, and keeping a watchful eye on Molly.
The latter, Sara found, was by far the most difficult part of her
task, and the vague apprehensions she had formed, and to some extent
shared with Selwyn before her visit to London, increased.
From an essentially lovable, inconsequent creature, with a temper of
an angel and the frankness of a child, Molly had become oddly nervous
and irritable, flushing and paling suddenly for no apparent cause, and
guardedly uncommunicative as to her comings and goings. She was oddly
resentful of any manifestation of interest in her affairs, and snubbed
Sara roundly when the latter ventured an injudicious inquiry as to
whether Lester Kent were still in the neighbourhood.
"How on earth should I know?" The golden-brown eyes met Sara's with a
look of nervous defiance. "I'm not his keeper." Then, as though
slightly ashamed of her outburst, she added more amiably: "I haven't
been down to the Club for weeks. It's been so hot--and I suppose I've
been lazy. But I'm going to-morrow. I shall be able to gratify your
curiosity concerning Lester Kent when I come home."
"To-morrow?" Sara looks surprised. "But we promised to go to tea with
Molly flushed and looked away.
"Did we?" she said vaguely. "I'd forgotten."
"Can't you arrange to go to Oldhampton the next day instead?"
Molly frowned a little. At last--
"I tell you what I'll do," she said agreeably. "I'll come back by the
afternoon train and meet you at Greenacres." And with this concession
Sara had to be content.
Tea at Greenacres resolved itself into a kind of rarefied picnic, and,
as Sara crossed the cool green lawns in the wake of a smart
parlourmaid, she found that quite a considerable number of Audrey's
friends--and enemies--were gathered together under the shade of the
trees, partaking of tea and strawberries and cream. The /elite/ of the
neighbourhood might find many disagreeable things to say concerning
Mrs. Maynard, but they were not in the least averse to accepting her
hospitality whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Sara's heart leapt suddenly as she descried Trent's lean, well-knit
figure amongst those dotted about on the lawn. She had tried very hard
to accustom herself to meet him with composure, but at each encounter,
although outwardly quite cool, her pulses raced, and to-day, the first
time she had seen him since her return from London, she felt as though
all her nerves were outside her skin instead of underneath it.
He was talking to Miles Herrick. The latter, lying back luxuriously in
a deck-chair, proceeded to wave and beckon an enthusiastic greeting as
soon as he caught sight of Sara, and rather reluctantly she responded
to his signals and made her way towards the two men.
"I feel like a bloated sultan summoning one of the ladies of the harem
to his presence," confessed Miles apologetically when he had shaken
hands. "I've added a sprained ankle to my other disabilities," he
continued cheerfully. "Hence my apparent laziness."
Sara commiserated appropriately.
"How did you manage to get here?" she asked.
Miles gestured towards Trent.
"This man maintained that it was bad for my mental and moral health to
brood alone at home while Lavinia went skipping off into society
unchaperoned. So he fetched me along in his car."
Sara's eyes rested thoughtfully on Trent's face a moment.
It was odd how kindly and considerate he always showed himself towards
Miles Herrick. Perhaps somewhere within him a responsive chord was
touched by the evidence of the other man's broken life.
"Miss Tennant is thinking that it's a case of the blind leading the
blind for me to act as a cicerone into society," remarked Trent
Sara winced at the repellent hardness of his tone, but she declined to
take up the challenge.
"I am very glad you persuaded Miles to come over," was all she said.
Trent's lips closed in a straight line. It seemed as though he were
trying to resist the appeal of her gently given answer; and Miles,
conscious of the antagonism in the atmosphere, interposed with some
commonplace question concerning her visit to London.
"You're looking thinner than you were, Sara," he added critically.
She flushed a little as she felt Trent's hawk-like glance sweep over
"Oh, I've been leading too gay a life," she said hastily. "The
Durwards seem to know half London, so that we crowded about a dozen
engagements into each day--and a few more into the night."
"/Durward/?" The word sprang violently from Trent's lips, almost as
though jerked out of him, and Sara, glancing towards him in some
astonishment, surprised a strange, suddenly vigilant expression in his
face. It was immediately succeeded by a blank look of indifference,
yet beneath the assumption of indifference his eyes seemed to burn
with a kind of slumbering hostility.
"Yes--the people I have been staying with," she explained. "Do you
know them, by any chance?"
"I really can't say," he replied carelessly. "Durward is not a very
uncommon name, is it?"
"Their name was originally Lovell--they only acquired the Durward with
some property. Mrs. Durward is an extraordinarily beautiful woman. I
believe in her younger days she had half London in love with her."
Sara hardly knew why she felt impelled to supply so many particulars
concerning the Durwards. After that first brief exclamation, Trent
seemed to have lost interest, and appeared to be rather bored by the
recital than otherwise. He made no comment when she had finished.
"Then you don't know them?" she asked at last.
"I?" He started slightly, as though recalled to the present by her
question. "No. I haven't the pleasure to be numbered amongst Mrs.
Durward's friends," he said quietly. "I have seen her, however."
"She is very beautiful, don't you think?" persisted Sara.
"Very," he replied indifferently. And then, quite deliberately, he
directed the conversation into another channel, leaving Sara feeling
exactly as though a door had been slammed in her face.
It was his old method of putting an end to a discussion that failed to
please him--this arrogantly abrupt transition to another subject--and,
though it served its immediate purpose, it was a method that had its
weaknesses. If you deliberately hide behind a hedge, any one who
catches you in the act naturally wonders why you are doing it.
Even Miles looked a trifle astonished at Trent's curt dismissal of the
Durward topic, and Sara, who had observed the strange expression that
leaped into his eyes--half-guarded, half inimical--felt convinced that
he knew more about the Durwards than he had chosen to acknowledge.
She could not imagine in what way they were connected with his life,
nor why he should have been so averse to admitting his knowledge of
them. But there were many inexplicable circumstances associated with
the man who had chosen to live more or less the life of a recluse at
Far End; and Sara, and the little circle of intimates who had at last
succeeded in drawing him into their midst, had accustomed themselves
to the atmosphere of secrecy that seemed to envelope him.
From his obvious desire to eschew the society of his fellow men and
women, and from the acid cynicism of his outlook on things in general,
it had been gradually assumed amongst them that some happenings in the
past had marred his life, poisoning the springs of faith, and hope,
and charity at their very fount, and with the tact of real friendship
they never sought to discover what he so evidently wished concealed.
"Where is Molly to-day?" Miles's pleasant voice broke across the
awkward moment, giving yet a fresh trend to the conversation that was
Sara's gaze ranged searchingly over the little groups of people
sprinkled about the lawn.
"Isn't she here yet?" she asked, startled. "She was coming back from
Oldhampton by the afternoon train, and promised to meet me here."
Miles looked at his watch.
"The attractions of Oldhampton have evidently proved too strong for
her," he said a little drily. "If she had come by the afternoon train,
she would have been here an hour ago."
Sara looked troubled.
"Oh, but she /must/ be here--somewhere," she insisted rather
"Shall I see if I can find her for you?" suggested Trent stiffly.
Sara, sensing his wish to be gone and genuinely disturbed at Molly's
"I should be very glad if you would," she answered. Then turning to
Miles, she went on: "I can't think where she can be. Somehow, Molly
has become rather--difficult, lately."
"Don't look so distressed. It is only a little ebullition of /la
Sara turned to him swiftly.
"Then you've noticed it, too--that she is different?"
"Lookers-on see most of the game, you know. And I'm essentially a
looker-on." He bit back a quick sigh, and went on hastily: "But I
don't think you need worry about our Molly's vagaries. She's too sound
/au fond/ to get into real mischief."
"She wouldn't mean to," conceded Sara. "But she is----" She hesitated.
"Youthfully irresponsible," suggested Miles. "Let it go at that."
Sara looked at him affectionately, reflecting that Trent's black
cynicism made a striking foil to the serene and constant charity of
"You always look for the best in people, Miles," she said
"I have to. Don't you see, people are my whole world. I'm cut off from
everything else. If I didn't look for the best in them, I should want
to kill myself. And I'm pretty lucky," he added, smiling humorously.
"I generally find what I'm looking for."
At this moment Trent returned with the news that Molly was nowhere to
be found. It was evident she had not come to Greenacres at all.
Sara rose, feeling oddly apprehensive.
"Then I think I shall go home and see if she has arrived there yet,"
she said. She smiled down at Miles. "Even irresponsibility needs
checking--if carried too far."
The first person Sara encountered on her return to Sunnyside was Jane
Crab, unmistakably bursting to impart some news.
"The doctor's going away, miss," she announced, flinging her bombshell
"Going away?" Sara's surprise was entirely gratifying, and Jane
"Yes, miss. A telegram came for him early in the afternoon, while he
was out on his rounds, asking him to go to a friend who is lying at
death's door, as you may say. And please, miss, Dr. Selwyn said he
would be glad to see you as soon as you came in."
"Very well, I'll go to him at once. Where is Miss Molly? Has she come
"Come and gone again, miss. The doctor asked her to send off a wire
"I see." Sara nodded somewhat abstractly. She was still wondering
confusedly why Molly had failed to put in any appearance at
Greenacres. "What time did she come in?"
"About a quarter of an hour ago, miss. She missed the early train back
Sara's instant feeling of relief was tempered by a mild element of
self-reproach. She had been agitating herself about nothing--allowing
her uneasiness about Molly to become a perfect obsession, leading her
into the wildest imaginings. Here had she been disquieting herself the
entire afternoon because Molly had not turned up as arranged, and
after all, the simple, commonplace explanation of the matter was that
she had missed her train!
Smiling over the groundlessness of her fears, Sara hastened away to
Selwyn's study, and found him, seated at his desk, scribbling some
hurried motes concerning various cases among his patients for the
enlightenment of the medical man who was taking charge of the practice
during his absence.
"Oh, there you are, Sara!" he exclaimed, laying down his pen as she
entered. "I'm glad you have come back before I go. I'm off in half-an-
hour. Did Jane tell you?"
"Yes. I'm very sorry your friend is so ill."
Selwyn's face clouded over.
"I'd like to see him again," he answered simply. "We haven't met for
some years--not since my wife's health brought me to Monkshaven--but
we were good pals at one time, he and I. Luckily, I've been able to
arrange with Dr. Mitchell to include my patients in his round, and if
you'll take charge of everything here at home, Sara, I shall have
nothing to worry about while I'm away."
"Of course I will. It's very nice of you to entrust your family to my
care so confidently."
"Quite confidently," he replied. "I'm not afraid of anything going
wrong if you're at the helm."
"How long do you expect to be away?" asked Sara presently.
"A couple of days at the outside. I hope to get back the day after
Denuded of Selwyn's big, kindly presence, the house seemed curiously
silent. Even Jane Crab appeared to feel the effect of his absence, and
strove less forcefully with her pots and pans--which undoubtedly made
for an increase of peace and quiet--while Molly was frankly depressed,
stealing restlessly in and out of the rooms like some haunting shadow.
"What on earth's the matter with you?" Sara asked her laughingly.
"Hasn't your father ever been away from home before? You're wandering
about like an uneasy spirit!"
"I /am/ an uneasy spirit," responded Molly bluntly. "I feel as though
I'd a cold coming on, and I always like Dad to doctor me when I'm
"I can doctor a cold," affirmed Sara briskly. "Put your feet in hot
water and mustard to-night and stay in bed to-morrow."
Molly considered the proposed remedies in silence.
"Perhaps I /will/ stay in bed to-morrow," she said, at last,
reluctantly. "Should you mind? We were going down to see the Lavender
Lady, you remember."
"I'll go alone. Anyway"--smiling--"if you're safely tucked up in bed,
I shall know you're not getting into any mischief while Doctor Dick's
away! But very likely the hot water and mustard will put you all
"Perhaps it will," agreed Molly hopefully.
The next morning, however, found her in bed, snuffling and complaining
of headache, and pathetically resigned to the idea of spending the day
between the sheets. Obviously she was in no fit state to inflict her
company on other people, so, in the afternoon, after settling her
comfortably with a new novel and a box of cigarettes at her bedside,
Sara took her solitary way to Rose Cottage.
There she found Garth Trent, sitting beside Herrick's couch and deep
in an enthusiastic discussion of amateur photography. But, immediately
on her entrance, the eager, interested expression died out of his
face, and very shortly after tea he made his farewells, nor could any
soft blandishments on the part of the Lavender Lady prevail upon him
to remain longer.
Sara felt hurt and resentful. Since the day of the expedition to
Devil's Hood Island, Trent had punctiliously avoided being in her
company whenever circumstances would permit him to do so, and she was
perfectly aware that it was her presence at Rose Cottage which was
responsible for his early departure this afternoon.
A gleam of anger flickered in the black depths of her eyes as he shook
"I'm sorry I've driven you away," she flashed at him beneath her
breath, with a bitterness akin to his own. He made no answer, merely
releasing her hand rather quickly, as though something in her words
had flicked him on the raw.
"What a pity Mr. Trent had to leave so soon," remarked Miss Lavinia,
with innocent regret, when he had gone. "I'm afraid we shall never
persuade him to be really sociable, poor dear man! He seems a little
moody to-day, don't you think?"--hesitating delicately.
"He's a bore!" burst out Sara succinctly.
Miles shook his head.
"No, I don't think that," he said. "But he's a very sick man. In my
opinion, Trent's had his soul badly mauled at some time or other."
"He needn't advertise the fact, then," retorted Sara, unappeased. "We
all get our share of ill-luck. Garth behaves as if he had the
"There are some scars which can't be hidden," replied Miles quietly.
Sara smiled a little. There was never any evading Herrick's broad
tolerance of human nature.
It was nearly an hour later when at last she took her way homewards,
carrying in her heart, in spite of herself, something of the gentle
serenity that seemed to be a part of the very atmosphere at Rose
Outside, the calm and fragrance of a June evening awaited her. Little,
delicate, sweet-smelling airs floated over the tops of the hedges from
the fields beyond, and now and then a few stray notes of a blackbird's
song stole out from a plantation near at hand, breaking off suddenly
and dying down into drowsy, contented little cluckings and
Across the bay the sun was dipping towards the horizon, flinging along
the face of the waters great shafts of lambent gold and orange, that
split into a thousand particles of shimmering light as the ripples
caught them up and played with them, and finally tossed them back
again to the sun from the shining curve of a wave's sleek side.
It was all very tranquil and pleasant, and Sara strolled leisurely
along, soothed into a half-waking dream by the peaceful influences of
the moment. Even the manifold perplexities and tangles of life seemed
to recede and diminish in importance at the touch of old Mother
Nature's comforting hand. After all, there was much, very much, that
was beautiful and pleasant still left to enjoy.
It is generally at moments like these, when we are sinking into a
placid quiescence of endurance, that Fate sees fit to prod us into a
more active frame of mind.
In this particular instance destiny manifested itself in the
unassuming form of Black Brady, who slid suddenly down from the
roadside hedge, amid a crackling of branches and rattle of rubble, and
appeared in front of Sara's astonished eyes just as she was nearing
"Beg pardon, miss"--Brady tugged at a forelock of curly black hair--"I
was just on me way to your place."
"To Sunnyside? Why, is Mrs. Brady ill again?" asked Sara kindly.
"No, miss, thank you, she's doing nicely." He paused a moment as
though at a loss how to continue. Then he burst out: "It's about Miss
Molly--the doctor bein' away and all."
"About Miss Molly?" Sara felt a sudden clutch at her heart. "What do
you mean? Quick, Brady, what is it?"
"Well, miss, I've just seed 'er go off 'long o' Mr. Kent in his big
motor-car. They took the London road, and"--here Brady shuffled his
feet with much embarrassment--"seein' as Mr. Kent's a married man,
I'll be bound he's up to no good wi' Miss Molly."
Sara could have stamped with vexation. The little fool--oh! The utter
little /fool/--to go off joy-riding in an evening like that! A break-
down of any kind, with a consequent delay in returning, and all
Monkshaven would be buzzing with the tale!
For the moment, however, there was nothing to be done except to put
Black Brady in his place and pray for Molly's speedy return.
"Well, Brady," she said coldly, "I imagine Mr. Kent's a good enough
driver to bring Miss Selwyn back safely. I don't think there's
anything to worry about."
Brady stared at her out of his sullen eyes.
"You haven't understood, miss," he said doggedly. "Mr. Kent isn't for
bringing Miss Molly back again. They'd their luggage along wi' 'em in
the car, and Mr. Kent, he stopped at the 'Cliff' to have the tank
filled up and took a matter of another half-dozen cans o' petrol with
In an instant the whole dreadful significance of the thing leaped into
Sara's mind. Molly had bolted--run away with Lester Kent!
It was easy enough now, in the flashlight kindled by Brady's slow,
inexorable summing up of detail, to see the drift of recent
happenings, the meaning of each small, disconcerting fact that added a
fresh link to the chain of probability.
Molly's unwonted secretiveness; her strange, uncertain moods; her
embarrassment at finding she was expected at Greenacres when she had
presumably agreed to meet Lester Kent in Oldhampton; and, last of all,
the sudden "cold" which had developed coincidentally with her father's
absence from home and which had secured her freedom from any kind of
supervision for the afternoon. And the opportunity of clinching
arrangements--probably already planned and dependent only on a
convenient moment--had been provided by her errand to the post office
to send off her father's telegram--it being as easy to send two
telegrams as one.
The colour ebbed slowly from Sara's face as full realization dawned
upon her, and she swayed a little where she stood. With rough
kindliness Brady stretched out a grimy hand and steadied her.
" 'Ere, don't' take on, miss. They won't get very far. I didn't, so to
speak, /fill/ the petrol tank"--with a grin--"and there ain't more
than two o' they cans I slipped aboard the car as 'olds more'n air.
The rest was empties"--the grin widened enjoyably--"which I shoved in
well to the back. Mr. Kent won't travel eighty miles afore 'e calls a
'alt, I reckon."
Sara looked at Brady's cunning, kindly face almost with affection.
"Why did you do that?" she asked swiftly.
"I've owed Mr. Lester Kent summat these three years," he answered
complacently. "And I never forgets to pay back. I owed you summat,
too, Miss Tennant. I haven't forgot how you spoke up for me when I was
Sara held out her hand to him impulsively, and Brady sheepishly
extended his own grubby paw to meet it.
"You've more than paid me back, Brady," she said warmly. "Thank you."
Turning away, she hurried up the road, leaving Brady staring
alternately at his right hand and at her receding figure.
"She's rare gentry, is Miss Tennant," he remarked with conviction, and
then slouched off to drink himself blind at "The Jolly Sailorman."
Black Brady was, after all, only an inexplicable bundle of good and
bad impulses--very much like his betters.
Arrived at the house, Sara fled breathlessly upstairs to Molly's room.
Jane Crab was standing in the middle of it, staring dazedly at all the
evidences of a hasty departure which surrounded her--an overturned
chair here, an empty hat-box there, drawers pulled out, and clothes
tossed heedlessly about in every direction. In her hand she held a
chemist's parcel, neatly sealed and labeled; she was twisting it round
and round in her trembling, gnarled old fingers.
At the sound of Sara's entrance, she turned with an exclamation of
"Oh, Miss Sara! I'm main glad you've come! Whatever's happened? Miss
Molly was here in bed not three parts of an hour ago!" Then, her boot-
button eyes still roving round the room, she made a sudden dart
towards the dressing-table. "Here, miss, 'tis a note she's left for
you!" she exclaimed, snatching it up and thrusting it into Sara's
Written in Molly's big, sprawling, childish hand, the note was a
pathetic mixture of confession and apology--
"I feel a perfect pig, Sara mine, leaving you behind to face
Father, but it was my only chance of getting away, as I know Dad
would have refused to let me marry for years and years. He never
/will/ realize that I'm grown-up. And Lester and I couldn't wait
all that time.
"I felt an awful fraud last night, letting you fuss over my
supposed 'cold,' you dear thing. Do forgive me. And you must come
and stay with us the minute we get back from our honeymoon. We are
to be married to-morrow morning.
"P.S.--Don't worry--it's all quite proper and respectable. I'm to
go straight to the house of one of Lester's sisters in London.
"P.P.S.--I'm frantically happy."
Sara's eyes were wet when she finished the perusal of the hastily
scribbled letter. "We are to be married to-morrow morning!" The blind,
pathetic confidence of it! And if Black Brady had spoken the truth, if
Lester Kent were already a married man, to-morrow morning would
convert the trusting, wayward baby of a woman, with her adorable
inconsistencies and her big, generous heart, into something Sara dared
not contemplate. The thought of the look in those brown-gold eyes,
when Molly should know the truth, brought a lump into her throat.
She turned to Jane Crab.
"Listen to me, Jane," she said tersely. "Miss Molly's run away with
Mr. Lester Kent. She thinks he's going to marry her. But he can't--
he's married already----"
"Sakes alive!" Just that one brief exclamation, and then suddenly
Jane's lower lip began to work convulsively, and two tears squeezed
themselves out of her little eyes, and her whole face puckered up like
Sara caught her by the arm and shook her.
"Don't cry!" she said vehemently. "You haven't time! We've got to save
her--we've got to get her back before any one knows. Do you
understand? Stop crying at once!"
Jane reacted promptly to the fierce imperative, and sniffingly choked
back her tears. Suddenly her eyes fell on the little package from the
chemist which she still held clutched in her hand.
"The artfulness of her!" she ejaculated indignantly. "Asking me to go
along to the chemist's and bring her back some aspirin for her
headache! And me, like a fool, suspecting nothing, off I goes! There's
the stuff!"--viciously flinging the chemist's parcel on to the floor.
"Eh! Miss Molly'll have more than a headache to face, I'm thinking!"
"But she /mustn't/, Jane! We've got to get her back, somehow."
Though Sara spoke with such assured conviction, she was inwardly
racked with anxiety. What /could/ they do--two forlorn women? And to
whom could they turn for help? Miles? He was lame. He was no abler to
help than they themselves. And Selwyn was away, out of reach!
"We must get her back," she repeated doggedly.
"And how, may I ask, Miss Sara?" inquired Jane bitterly. "Be you goin'
to run after the motor-car, mayhap?"
For a moment Sara was silent. The sarcastic query had set the spark to
the tinder, and now she was thinking rapidly, some semblance of a plan
emerging at last from the chaotic turmoil of her mind.
Garth Trent! He could help her! He had a car--Sara did not know its
pace, but she was certain Trent could be trusted to get every ounce
out of it that was possible. Between them--he and she--they would
bring Molly back to safety!
She turned swiftly to Jane Crab.
"Come to the stable and help me put in the Doctor's pony, Jane. You
know how, don't you?"
"Yes, miss, I've helped the master many a time. But you ain't going to
catch no motor with old Toby, Miss Sara."
"No, I don't expect to. I'm gong to drive across to Far End. Mr. Trent
will help us. Don't worry, Jane"--as the two made their way to the
stable and Jane strangled a sob--"we'll bring Miss Molly back. And,
listen! Mrs. Selwyn isn't to hear a word of this. Do you understand?
If she asks you anything, tell her that Miss Molly and I are dining
out. That'll be true enough, too," added Sara grimly, "if we dine at
Jane sniffed, and swallowed loudly.
"Yes, miss," she said submissively. "You and Miss Molly are dining
out. I won't forget."
THEY WHO PURSUED
Selwyn's pony had rarely before found himself hustled along at the
pace at which Sara drove him. She let him take his time up the hills,
knowing, as every good horse-woman knows, that if you press your horse
against the hill, he will only flag the sooner and that you will lose
more than you gain. But down the hills and along the flat, Sara, with
hands and whip, kept Toby going at an amazing pace. Perhaps something
of her own urgency communicated itself to the good-hearted beast, for
he certainly made a great effort and brought her to Far End in a
shorter time than she had deemed possible.
Exactly as she pulled him to a standstill, the front door opened and
Garth himself appeared. He had heard the unwonted sound of wheels on
the drive, and now, as he recognized his late visitor, an expression
of extreme surprise crossed his face.
"Miss Tennant!" he exclaimed in astonished tones.
"Yes. Can your man take my pony? And, please may I come in? I--I must
see you alone for a few minutes."
Trent glanced at her searchingly as his ear caught the note of strain
in her voice.
Summoning Judson to take charge of the pony and trap, he led the way
into the comfortable, old fashioned hall and wheeled forward an
"Sit down," he said composedly. "Now"--as she obeyed--"tell me what is
His manner held a quiet friendliness. The chill indifference he had
accorded her of late--even earlier that same day at Rose Cottage--had
vanished, and his curiously bright eyes regarded her with sympathetic
To the man as he appeared at the moment, it was no difficult matter
for Sara to unburden her heart, and a few minutes later he was in
possession of all the facts concerning Molly's flight.
"I don't know whether Mr. Kent is really a married man or not," she
added in conclusion. "Brady declares that he is."
"He is," replied Trent curtly. "Very much married. His first wife
divorced him, and, since then, he has married again."
"Oh----!" Sara half-rose from her seat, her face blanching. Not till
that moment did she realize how much in her inmost heart she had been
relying on the hope that Garth might be able to contradict Black
"Don't worry." Garth laid his hands on her shoulders and pushed her
gently back into her chair again. "Don't worry. Thanks to Brady's
stroke of genius about the petrol--I've evidently underestimated the
man's good points--I think I can promise you that you shall have Miss
Molly safely back at Sunnyside in the course of a few hours. That is,
if you are willing to trust me in the matter."
"Of course I will trust you," she answered simply. Somehow it seemed
as though a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders since she
had confided her trouble to Garth.
"Thank you," he said quietly. "Now, while Judson gets the car round,
you must have a glass of wine."
"No--oh, no!"--hastily--"I don't want anything."
"Allow me to know better than you do in this case," he replied,
He left the room, presently returning with a bottle of champagne and a
couple of glasses.
"Oh, please--I'd so much rather start at once," she protested. "I
really don't want anything. Do let us hurry!"
"I'm sorry, but I've no intention of starting until you have drunk
this"--filling and handing one of the glasses to her.
Rather than waste time in further argument, she accepted it, only to
find that her hand was shaking uncontrollably, so that the edge of the
glass chattered against her teeth.
"I--I can't!" she gasped helplessly. Now that she had shared her
burden of responsibility, the demands of the last half-hour's anxiety
and strain were making themselves felt.
With a swift movement Garth took the glass from her, and, supporting
her with his other arm, held it to her lips.
"Drink it down," he said authoritatively. Then, as she paused: "All of
In a few minutes the wine had brought the colour back to her face, and
she felt more like herself again.
"I'm all right, now," she said. "I'm sorry I was such a fool. But--but
this business about Molly has given me rather a shock, I suppose."
"Naturally. Now, if you're ready, we'll make a start."
She rose, and he surveyed her slight figure in its thin muslin gown
with some amusement.
"Not quite a suitable costume for motoring by night," he remarked. He
picked up one of the two big fur coats Mrs. Judson had brought into
the room. "Here, put this on." Then, when he had fastened it round her
and turned the collar up about her neck, he stood looking at her for a
moment in silence.
The whole of her slender form was hidden beneath the voluminous folds
of the big coat, which had been originally designed to fit Garth's own
proportions, and against the high fur collar her delicate cameo face,
with its white skin and scarlet lips and its sombre, night-black eyes,
emerged like some vivid flower from its sheath.
Trent laughed shortly.
"Beauty--in the garment of the Beast," he commented. Then, briskly:
"Come along. Judson will have the car ready by now."
Sara stepped into the car and he tucked the rugs carefully round her.
Then, directing Judson to drive the Selwyn pony and trap back to
Sunnyside, he took his place at the wheel and the car slid noiselessly
away down the broad drive.
"The surprising discovery of the doctor's pony and trap at Far End
to-morrow morning would require explanation," he observed grimly to
Sara. She blessed his thoughtfulness.
"What about Judson?" she asked. "Is he reliable? Or do you think he
"Judson," replied Garth, "has been in my service long enough to know
the meaning of the word 'discretion.' "
Trent drove the car steadily enough through town, but, as soon as they
emerged on to the great London main road, he let her out and they
swept rapidly along through the lingering summer twilight.
"Are you nervous?" he asked. "Do you mind forty or fifty miles an hour
when we've a clear stretch ahead of us?"
"Eighty, if you like," she replied succinctly.
She felt the car leap forward like a living thing beneath them as it
"Do you think--is it possible that we can overtake them?" she asked
"It's got to be done," he answered, and she was conscious of the quiet
driving-force that lay behind the speech--the stubborn resolution of
the man which she had begun to recognize as his most dominant
She wondered, as she had so often wondered before, whether any one had
ever yet succeeded in turning Garth Trent aside from his set purpose,
whatever it might chance to be. She could not imagine his yielding to
either threats or persuasions. However much it might cost him, he
would carry out his intention to the bitter end, even though its
fulfillment might involve the shattering of the whole significance of
"Besides,"--his voice cut across the familiar tenor of her thoughts--
"Kent will probably stop to dine at some hotel /en route/. We shan't.
We'll feed as we go."
"Oh--h!" A gasp of horrified recollection escaped her. "I never
thought of it! Of course you've had no dinner!"
He laughed. "Have you?" he asked amusedly.
"No, but that's different."
"Well, we'll even matters up by having some sandwiches together
presently. Mrs. Judson has packed some in."
Sara was silent, inwardly dwelling on the fact that no least detail
ever seemed to escape Garth's attention. Even in the hurry of their
departure, and with the whole scheme of Molly's rescue to envisage, he
had yet found time to order due provision for the journey.
An hour later they pulled up at the principal hotel of the first big
town on the route, and Garth elicited the fact that a car answering to
the description of Lester Kent's had stopped there, but only for a
bare ten minutes which had enabled its occupants to snatch a hasty
"They've been here and gone straight on," he reported to Sara.
"Evidently Kent's taking no chances"--grimly. And a moment later they
were on their way once more.
Dusk deepened into dark, and the car's great headlights cut out a
blazing track of gold in front of them as they rushed along the pale
ribbon of road that stretched ahead--mile after interminable mile.
On either side, dark woods merged into the deeper darkness of the
encroaching night, seeming to slip past them like some ghostly
marching army as the car tore its way between the ranks of shadowy
trunks. Overhead, a few stars crept out, puncturing the expanse of
darkening sky--pale, tremulous sparks of light in contrast with the
steady, warmly golden glow that streamed from the lights of the car.
Presently Garth slackened speed.
"Why are you stopping?" Sara's voice, shrilling a little with anxiety,
came to him out of the darkness.
"I'm not stopping. I'm only slowing down a bit, because I think it's
quite feeding time. Do you mind opening those two leather attachments
fixed in front of you? Such nectar and ambrosia as Mrs. Judson has
provided is in there."
Sara leaned forward, and unbuckling the lid of a flattish leather case
which, together with another containing a flask, was slung just
opposite her, withdrew from within it a silver sandwich-box. She
snapped open the lid and proffered the box to Garth.
"Help yourself. And--do you mind"--he spoke a little uncertainly and
the darkness hid the expression of his face from her--"handing me my
share--in pieces suitable for human consumption? This is a bad bit of
road, and I want both hands for driving the car."
In silence Sara broke the sandwiches and fed him, piece by piece,
while he bent over the wheel, driving steadily onward.
The little, intimate action sent a curious thrill through her. It
seemed in some way to draw them together, effacing the memory of those
weeks of bitter indifference which lay behind them. Such a thing would
have been grotesquely impossible of performance in the atmosphere of
studied formality supplied by their estrangement, and Sara smiled a
little to herself under cover of the darkness.
"One more mouthful!" she announced as she halved the last sandwich.
An instant later she felt his lips brush her fingers in a sudden,
burning kiss, and she withdrew her hand as though stung.
She was tingling from head to foot, every nerve of her a-thrill, and
for a moment she felt as though she hated him. He had been so kind, so
friendly, so essentially the good comrade in this crisis occasioned by
Molly's flight, and now he had spoilt it all--playing the lover once
more when he had shown her clearly that he meant nothing by it.
Apparently he sensed her attitude--the quick withdrawal of spirit
which had accompanied the more physical retreat.
"Forgive me!" he said, rather low. "I won't offend again."
She made no answer, and presently she felt the car sliding slowly to a
standstill. A sudden panic assailed her.
"What is it? What are you doing?" she asked, quick fear in her sharply
He laughed shortly.
"You needn't be afraid--" he began.
"I'm not!" she interpolated hastily.
"Excuse me," he said drily, "but you are. You don't trust me in the
slightest degree. Well"--she could guess, rather than see, the shrug
which accompanied the words--"I can't blame you. It's my own fault, I
He braked the car, and she quivered to a dead stop, throbbing like a
live thing in the darkness.
"You must forgive me for being so material," he went on composedly,
"but I want a drink, and I'm not acrobat enough to manage that, even
with your help, while we're doing thirty miles an hour."
He lifted out the flask, and, when they had both drunk, Sara meekly
took it from him and proceeded to adjust the screw cap and fit the
silver cup back into its place over the lower half of the flask.
Simultaneously she felt the car begin to move forward, and then, quite
how it happened she never knew, but, fumbling in the darkness, she
contrived to knock the cup sharply against the flask, and it flew out
of her hand and over the side of the car. Impulsively she leaned out,
trying to snatch it back as it fell, and, in the same instant,
something seemed to give way, and she felt herself hurled forward into
space. The earth rushed up to meet her, a sound as of many waters
roared in her ears, and then the blank darkness of unconsciousness
swallowed her up.
THE REVELATION OF THE NIGHT
"Thank God, she's only stunned!"
The words, percolating slowly through the thick, blankety mist that
seemed to have closed about her, impressed themselves on Sara's mind
with a vague, confused suggestion of their pertinence. It was as
though some one--she wasn't quite sure who--had suddenly given voice
to her own immediate sensation of relief.
At first she could not imagine for what reason she should feel so
specially grateful and relieved. Gradually, however, the mists began
to clear away and recollection of a kind returned to her.
She remembered dropping something--she couldn't recall precisely what
it was that she had dropped, but she knew she had made a wild clutch
at it and tried to save it as it fell. Then--she was remembering more
distinctly now--something against which she had been leaning--she
couldn't recall what that was, either--gave way suddenly, and for the
fraction of a second she had known she was going to fall and be
killed, or, at the least, horribly hurt and mutilated.
And now, it seemed, she had not been hurt at all! She was in no pain;
only her head felt unaccountably heavy. But for that, she was really
very comfortable. Some one was holding her--it was almost like lying
back in a chair--and against her cheek she could feel the soft warmth
It was Garth's voice, quite close to her ear. He was holding her in
Ah! She knew now! They were on the island together, and he had just
asked her if she cared. Of course she cared! It was sheer happiness to
lie in his arms, with closed eyes, and hear his voice--that deep,
unhappy voice of his--grow suddenly so incredibly soft and tender.
"You're mine, now, sweet! Mine to hold just for this once, dear of my
No, that couldn't be right, after all, because it wasn't Garth who
loved her. He had only pretended to care for her by way of amusing
himself. It must be Tim who was talking to her--Tim, whom she was
going to marry.
Then, suddenly, the mists cleared quite away, and Sara came back to
full consciousness and to the knowledge of where she was and of what
Her first instinct, to open her eyes and speak, was checked by a
swift, unexpected movement on the part of Garth. All at once, he had
gathered her up into his arms, and, holding her face pressed close
against his own, was pouring into her ears a torrent of burning,
passionate words of love--love triumphant, worshipping, agonizing, and
last of all, brokenly, desperately abandoning all right or claim.
"And I've got to live without you . . . die without you . . . My God,
In the darkness and solitude of the night--as he believed, alone with
the unconscious form of the woman he loved in his arms--Garth bared
his very soul. There was nothing hidden any longer, and Sara knew at
last that even as she herself loved, so was she loved again.
THE JOURNEY'S END
Sara stirred a little and opened her eyes. Deep within herself she was
ashamed of those brief moments of assumed unconsciousness--those
moments which had shown her a strong man's soul stripped naked of all
pride and subterfuge--his heart and soul as he alone knew them.
But, none the less, she felt gloriously happy. Nothing could ever hurt
her badly again. Garth loved her!
Since, for some reason, he himself would never have drawn aside the
veil and let her know the truth, she was glad--glad that she had
peered unbidden through the rent which the stress of the moment had
torn in his iron self-command and reticence. Just as she had revealed
herself to him on the island, in a moment of equal strain, so he had
now revealed himself to her, and they were quits.
"I'm all right," she announced, struggling into a sitting position.
"I'm not hurt."
"Sit still a minute, while I fetch you some brandy from the car."
Garth spoke in a curiously controlled voice.
He was back again in a moment, and the raw spirit made her catch her
breath as it trickled down her throat.
"Thank God we had only just begun to move," he said. "Otherwise you
must have been half-killed."
"What happened?" she asked curiously. "How did I fall out?"
"The door came open. That damned fool, Judson, didn't shut it
properly. Are you sure you're not hurt?"
"Quite sure. My head aches rather."
"That's very probable. You were stunned for a minute or two."
Suddenly the recollection of their errand returned to her.
"Molly! Good Heavens, how much time have we wasted? How long has this
silly business taken?" she demanded, in a frenzy of apprehension.
Garth surveyed her oddly in the glow of one of the car's side-lights,
which he had carried back with him when he fetched the brandy.
"Five minutes, I should think," he said, adding under his breath: "Or
"Five minutes! Is that all? Then do let's hurry on."
She took a few steps in the direction of the car, then stopped and
wavered. She felt curiously shaky, and her legs seemed as though they
did not belong to her.
In a moment Garth was at her side, and had lifted her up in his arms.
He carried her swiftly across the few yards that intervened between
them and the car, and settled her gently into her seat.
"Do you feel fit to go on?" he asked.
"Of course I do. We must--bring Molly back." Even her voice refused to
obey the dictates of her brain, and quavered weakly.
"Well, try to rest a little. Don't talk, and perhaps you'll go to
He restarted the car, and, taking his seat once more at the wheel,
drove on at a smooth and easy pace.
Sara leaned back in silence at his side, conscious of a feeling of
utter lassitude. In spite of her anxiety about Molly, a curious
contentment had stolen over her. The long strain of the past weeks had
ended--ended in the knowledge that Garth loved her, and nothing else
seemed to matter very much. Moreover, she was physically exhausted.
Her fall had shaken her badly, and she wanted nothing better than to
lie back quietly against the padded cushions of the car, lulled by the
rhythmic throb of the engine, and glide on through the night
indefinitely, knowing that Garth was there, close to her, all the
Presently her quiet, even breathing told that she slept, and Garth,
stooping over her to make sure, accelerated the speed, and soon the
car shot forward through the darkness at a pace which none but a
driver very certain of his skill would have dared to attempt.
When, an hour later, Sara awoke, she felt amazingly refreshed. Only a
slight headache remained to remind her of her recent accident.
"Where are we?" she asked eagerly. "How long have I been asleep?"
"Feeling better?" queried Garth, reassured by the stronger note in her
"Quite all right, thanks. But tell me where we are?"
"Nearly at our journey's end, I take it," he replied grimly, suddenly
slackening speed. "There's a stationary car ahead there on the left,
do you see? That will be our friends, I expect, held up by petrol
shortage, thanks to Jim Brady."
Sara peered ahead, and on the edge of the broad ribbon of light that
stretched in front of them she could discern a big car, drawn up to
one side of the road, its headlights shut off, its side-lights
glimmering warningly against its dark bulk.
Exactly as they drew level with it, Garth pulled up to a standstill.
Then a muttered curse escaped him, and simultaneously Sara gave vent
to an exclamation of dismay. The car was empty.
Garth sprang out and flashed a lamp over the derelict.
"Yes," he said, "that's Kent's car right enough."
Sara's heart sank.
"What can have become of them?" she exclaimed. She glanced round her
as though she half suspected that Kent and Molly might be hiding by
Meanwhile Garth had peered into the tank and was examining the petrol
cans stowed away in the back of the deserted car.
"Run dry!" he announced, coming back to his own car. "That's what has
"And what can we do now?" asked Sara despondently.
He laughed a little.
"Faint heart!" he chided. "What can we do now? Why, ask ourselves what
Kent would naturally have done when he found himself landed high and
"I don't know what he /could/ do--in the middle of nowhere?" she
"Only we don't happen to be in the middle of nowhere! We're just about
a couple of miles from a market town where abides a nice little inn
whence petrol can be obtained. Kent and Miss Molly have doubtless
trudged there on foot, and wakened up mine host, and they'll hire a
trap and drive back with a fresh supply of oil. By Jove!"--with a grim
laugh--"How Kent must have cursed when he discovered the trick Brady
played on him!"
Ten minutes later, leaving their car outside, Garth and Sara walked
boldly up to the inn of which he had spoken. The door stood open, and
a light was burning in the coffee-room. Evidently some one had just
Garth glanced into the room, then, standing back, he motioned Sara to
Sara stepped quickly over the threshold and then paused, swept by an
infinite compassion and tenderness almost maternal in its solicitude.
Molly was sitting hunched up in a chair, her face half hidden against
her arm, every drooping line of her slight young figure bespeaking
weariness. She had taken off her hat and tossed it on to the table,
and now she had dropped into a brief, uneasy slumber born of sheer
fatigue and excitement.
At the sound of Sara's voice she opened big, startled eyes and stared
Sara moved swiftly to her.
"Molly dear," she said, "I've come to take you home."
At that Molly started up, broad awake in an instant.
"You? How did you come here?" she stammered. Then, realization waking
in her eyes: "But I'm not coming back with you. We've only stopped for
petrol. Lester's outside, somewhere, seeing about it now. We're
driving back to the car."
"Yes, I know. But you're not going on with Mr. Kent"--very gently--
"you're coming home with us."
Molly drew herself up, flaring passionate young defiance, talking
glibly of love, and marriage, and living her own life--all the
beautiful, romantic nonsense that comes so readily to the soft lips of
youth, the beckoning rose and gold of sunrise--and of mirage--which is
all youth's untrained eyes can see.
Sara was getting desperate. The time was flying. At any moment Kent
might return. Garth signaled to her from the doorway.
"You must tell her," he said gruffly. "If Kent returns before we go,
we shall have a scene. Get her away quick."
Sara nodded. Then she came back to Molly's side.
"My dear," she said pitifully. "You can never marry Lester Kent,
because--because he has a wife already."
"I don't believe it!" The swift denial leaped from Molly's lips.
But she did believe it, nevertheless. No one who knew Sara could have
looked into her eyes at that moment and doubted that she was speaking
not only what she believed to be, but what she /knew/ to be, the ugly
Suddenly Molly crumpled up. As, between them, Garth and Sara hurried
her away to the car, there was no longer anything of the regal young
goddess about her. She was just a child--a tired, frightened child
whose eyes had been suddenly opened to the quicksands whereon her feet
were set, and, like a child, she turned instinctively and clung to the
dear, familiar people from home, who were mercifully at hand to shield
her when her whole world had suddenly grown new and strange and very
terrible. . . .
On, on through the night roared the big car, with Garth bending low
over the wheel in front, while, in the back-seat Molly huddled
forlornly into the curve of Sara's arm.
A few questions had elicited the whole foolish story of Lester Kent's
infatuation, and of the steps he had taken to enmesh poor simple-
hearted Molly in the toils--first, by lending her money, then, when he
found that the loan had scared her, by buying her pictures and
surrounding her with an atmosphere of adulation which momentarily
blinded her from forming any genuine estimate either of the value of
his criticism or of the sincerity of his desire to purchase.
Once the head resting against Sara's shoulder was lifted, and a
wistfully incredulous voice asked, very low--
"You are sure he is married, Sara,--/quite sure/?"
"Quite sure, Molly," came the answer.
And later, as they were nearing home, Molly's hardly-bought philosophy
of life revealed itself in the brief comment: "It's very easy to make
a fool of oneself."
"Probably Mr. Kent has found that out--by this time," replied Sara
with a grim flash of humour.
A faint, involuntary chuckle in response premised that ultimately
Molly might be able to take a less despondent view of the night's
It was between two and three in the morning when at length the
travelers climbed stiffly out of the car at the gateway of Sunnyside
and made their way up the little tiled path that led to the front
door. The latter opened noiselessly at their approach and Jane, who
had evidently been watching for them, stood on the threshold.
Her small, beady eyes were red-rimmed with sleeplessness--and with the
slow, difficult tears that now and again had overflowed as hour after
hour crawled by, bringing no sign of the wanderers' return--and the
shadows of fatigue that had hollowed her weather-beaten cheeks wrung a
sympathetic pang from Sara's heart as she realized what those long,
inactive hours of helpless anxiety must have meant to the faithful
Jane's glance flew to the drooping, willowy figure clinging to Garth's
"My lamb! . . . Oh! Miss Molly dear, they've brought 'ee back!"
Impulsively she caught hold of Garth's coat-sleeve. "Thank God you've
brought them back, sir, and now there's none as need ever know aught
but that they've been in their beds all the blessed night!" Her lips
were shaking, drawn down at the corners like those of a distressed
child, but her harsh old voice quivered triumphantly.
A very kindly gleam showed itself in Garth's dark face as he patted
the rough, red hand that clutched his coat-sleeve.
"Yes, I've brought them back safely," he said. "Put them to bed, Jane.
Miss Sara's fallen out of the car and Miss Molly has tumbled out of
heaven, so they're both feeling pretty sore."
But Sara's soreness was far the easier to bear, since it was purely
physical. As she lay in bed, at last, utterly weary and exhausted, the
recollection of all the horror and anxiety that had followed upon the
discovery of Molly's flight fell away from her, and she was only
conscious that had it not been for that wild night-ride which Molly's
danger had compelled, she would never have known that Garth loved her.
So, out of evil, had come good; out of black darkness had been born
the exquisite clear shining of the dawn.
THE SECOND BEST
Sara laid down her pen and very soberly re-read the letter she had
just written. It was to Tim Durward, telling him the engagement
between them must be at an end, and its accomplishment had been a
matter of sore embarrassment and mental struggle. Sara hated giving
pain, and she knew that this letter, taking from Tim all--and it was
so painfully little--that she had ever given him, must bring very
bitter pain to the man to whom, as friend and comrade, she was deeply
It was barely a month since she had promised to marry him, and it was
a difficult, ungracious task, and very open to misapprehension, to
write and rescind that promise.
Yet it was characteristic of Sara that no other alternative presented
itself to her. Now that she was sure Garth cared for her--whether
their mutual love must remain for ever unfulfilled, unconsummated, or
not--she knew that she could never give herself to any other man.
She folded and sealed the letter, and then sat quietly contemplating
the consequences that it might entail. Almost inevitably it would mean
a complete estrangement from the Durwards. Elisabeth would be very
unlikely ever to forgive her for her treatment of Tim; even kindly
hearted Major Durward could not but feel sore about it; and since
Garth had not asked her to marry him--and showed no disposition to do
any such thing--they would almost certainly fail to understand or
sympathize with her point of view.
Sara sighed as she dropped her missive into the letter-box. It meant
an end to the pleasant and delightful friendship which had come into
her life just at the time when Patrick Lovell's death had left it very
empty and desolate.
Two days of suspense ensued while she restlessly awaited Tim's reply.
Then, on the third day, he came himself, his eyes incredulous, his
face showing traces of the white night her letter had cost him.
He was very gentle with her. There was no bitterness or upbraiding,
and he suffered her explanation with a grave patience that hurt her
more than any reproaches he could have uttered.
"I believed it was only I who cared, Tim," she told him. "And so I
felt free to give you what you wanted--to be your wife, if you cared
to take me, knowing I had no love to give. I thought"--she faltered a
little--"that I might as well make /someone/ happy! But now that I
know he loves me as I love him, I couldn't marry any one else, could
"And are you going to marry him--this man you love?"
"I don't know. He has not asked me to marry him."
"Perhaps he is married already?"
Sara met his eyes frankly.
"I don't know even that."
Tim made a fierce gesture of impatience.
"Is it playing fair--to keep you in ignorance like that?" he demanded.
Sara laughed suddenly.
"Perhaps not. But somehow I don't mind. I am sure he must have a good
reason--or else"--with a flash of humour--"some silly man's reason
that won't be any obstacle at all!"
"Supposing"--Tim bent over her, his face rather white--"supposing you
find--later on--that there is some real obstacle--that he can't marry
you, would you come to me--then, Sara?"
She shook her head.
"No, Tim, not now. Don't you see, now that I know he cares for me--
everything is altered. I'm not free, now. In a way, I belong to him.
Oh! How can I explain? Even though we may never marry, there is a
faithfulness of the spirit, Tim. It's--it's the biggest part of love,
She broke off, and presently she felt Tim's hands on her shoulders.
"I think I understand, dear," he said gently. "It's just what I should
expect of you. It means the end of everything--everything that matters
for me. But--somehow--I would not have you otherwise."
He did not stay very long after that. They talked together a little,
promising each other that their friendship should still remain
unbroken and unspoilt.
"For," as Tim said, "if I cannot have the best that the world can give
--your love, Sara, I need not lose the second best--which is your
And Sara, watching him from the window as he strode away down the
little tiled path, wondered why love comes so often bearing roses in
one hand and a sharp goad in the other.
THE PITILESS ALTAR
Elisabeth was pacing restlessly up and down the broad, flagged terrace
at Barrow, impatiently awaiting Tim's return from Monkshaven.
She knew his errand there. He had scarcely needed to tell her the
contents of Sara's letter, so swiftly had she summed up the immediate
connection between the glimpse she had caught of Sara's handwriting
and the shadow on the beloved face.
She moved eagerly to meet him as she heard the soft purr of the motor
coming up the drive.
"Well?" she queried, slipping her arm through his and drawing him
towards the terrace.
Tim looked at her with troubled eyes. He could guess so exactly what
her attitude would be, and he was not going to allow even Elisabeth to
say unkind things about the woman he loved. If he could prevent it,
she should not think them.
Very gently, and with infinite tact, he told her the result of his
interview with Sara, concealing so far as might be his own
To his relief, his mother accepted the facts with unexpected
tolerance. He could not see her expression, since her eyes veiled
themselves with down-dropped lids, but she spoke quite quietly and as
though trying to be fair in her judgment. There was no outward sign by
which her son might guess the seething torrent of anger and resentment
which had been aroused within her.
"But if, as you tell me, Sara doesn't expect to marry this man she
cares for, surely she had been unduly hasty? If he can never be
anything to her, need she set aside all thought of matrimony?"
Tim stared at his mother in some surprise. There was a superficial
worldly wisdom in the speech which he would not have anticipated.
"It seems to me rather absurd," she continued placidly. "Quixotic--the
sort of romantic 'live and die unwed' idea that is quite exploded.
Girls nowadays don't wither on their virgin stems if the man they want
doesn't happen to be in a position to marry them. They marry some one
Tim felt almost shocked. From his childhood he had invested his mother
with a kind of rarefied grace of mental and moral qualities
commensurate with her physical beauty, and her enunciation of the
cynical creed of modern times staggered him. It never occurred to him
that Elisabeth was probing round in order to extract a clear idea of
Sara's attitude in the whole matter, and he forthwith proceeded
innocently to give her precisely the information she was seeking.
"Sara isn't like that, mother," he said rather shortly. "It's just the
--the crystal purity of her outlook which makes her what she is--so
absolutely straight and fearless. She sees love, and holds by what she
believes its demands to be. I wouldn't wish her any different," he
"Perhaps not. But if--supposing the man proves to have a wife already?
He might be separated from her; Sara doesn't seem to know much about
him. Or he may have a wife in a lunatic asylum who is likely to live
for the next forty years. What then? Will Sara never marry if--if
there were a circumstance like that--a really insurmountable
"No, I don't believe she will. I don't think she would wish to. If he
loves her and she him, spiritually they would be bound to one another
--lovers. And just the circumstance of his being tied to another woman
would make no difference to Sara's point of view. She goes beyond
material things--or the mere physical side of love."
"Then there is no chance for you unless Sara learns to /unlove/ this
Tim regarded her with faint amusement.
"Mother, do you think you could learn to unlove me--or my father?"
She laughed a little.
"You have me there, Tim," she acknowledged. "But--hesitating a little
--"Sara knows so little of the man, apparently, that she may have
formed a mistaken estimate of his character. Perhaps he is not really
the--the ideal individual she has pictured him."
"You are a very transparent person, mother mine," he said indulgently.
"But I'm afraid your hopes of finding that the idol has feet of clay
are predestined to disappointment."
"Have you met the man?" asked Elisabeth sharply.
"I do not even know his name. But I should imagine him a man of big,
"Since you don't know him, you can hardly pronounce an opinion."
A whimsical smile, touched with sadness, flitted across Tim's face.
"I know Sara," was all he said.
"Sara is given to idealizing the people she cares for," rejoined
She spoke quietly, but her expression was curiously intent. It was as
though she were gathering together her forces, concentrating them
towards some definite purpose, veiled in the inscrutable depths of
those strange eyes of hers.
"I find it difficult to forgive her," she said at last.
"That's not like you, mother."
"It is--just like me," she responded, a tone of half-tender mockery in
her voice. "Naturally I find it difficult to forgive the woman who has
hurt my son."
Tim answered her out of the fullness of the queer new wisdom with
which love had endowed him.
"A man would rather be hurt by the woman he loves than humoured by the
woman he doesn't love," he said quietly.
And Elisabeth, understanding, held her peace.
She had been very controlled, very wise and circumspect in her dealing
with Tim, conscious of raw-edged nerves that would bear but the
lightest of handling. But it was another woman altogether who, half-
an-hour later, faced Geoffrey Durward in the seclusion of his study.
The two moving factors in Elisabeth's life had been, primarily, her
love for her husband, and, later on, her love for Tim, and into this
later love was woven all the passionately protective instinct of the
maternal element. She was the type of woman who would have plucked the
feathers from an archangel's wing if she thought they would contribute
to her son's happiness; and now, realizing that the latter was
threatened by the fact that his love for Sara had failed to elicit a
responsive fire, she felt bitterly resentful and indignant.
"I tell you, Geoffrey," she declared in low, forceful tones, "she
/shall/ marry Tim--/she shall/! I will not have his beautiful young
life marred and spoilt by the caprices of any woman."
Major Durward looked disturbed.
"My dear, I shouldn't call Sara in the least a capricious woman. She
knows her own heart--"
"So does Tim!" broke in Elisabeth. "And, if I can compass it, he shall
have his heart's desire."
Her husband shook his head.
"You cannot force the issue, my dear."
"Can I not? There's little a woman /cannot/ do for husband or child! I
tell you, Geoffrey--for you, or for Tim, to give you pleasure, to buy
you happiness, I would sacrifice anybody in the world!"
She stood in front of him, her beautiful eyes glowing, and her voice
was all shaken and a-thrill with the tumult of emotion that had
gripped her. There was something about her which suggested a tigress
on the defensive--at bay, shielding her young.
Durward looked at her with kind, adoring eyes.
"That's beautiful of you, darling," he replied gently. "But it's a
dangerous doctrine. And I know that, really, you're far too tender-
hearted to sacrifice a fly."
Elisabeth regarded him oddly.
"You don't know me, Geoffrey," she said very slowly. "No man knows a
woman, really--not all her thoughts." And had Major Durward, honest
fellow, realized the volcanic force of passion hidden behind the tense
inscrutability of his wife's lovely face, he would have been utterly
confounded. We do not plumb the deepest depths even of those who are
closest to us.
Civilisation had indeed forced the turgid river to run within the
narrow channels hewn by established custom, but, released from the
bondage of convention, the soul of Elisabeth Durward was that of sheer
primitive woman, and the pivot of all her actions her love for her
mate and for the man-child she had borne him.
Once, years ago, she had sacrificed justice, and honour, and a man's
faith in womanhood on that same pitiless altar of love. But the story
of that sacrifice was known only to herself and one other--and that
other was not Durward.
A full week had elapsed since the night of that eventful journey in
pursuit of Molly, and from the moment when Garth had given Sara into
the safe keeping of Jane Crab till the moment when he came upon her by
the pergola at Rose Cottage, perched on the top of a ladder, engaged
in tying back the exuberance of a Crimson Rambler, they had not met.
And now, as he halted at the foot of the ladder, Sara was conscious
that her spirits had suddenly bounded up to impossible heights at the
sight of the lean, dark face upturned to her.
"The Lavender Lady and Miles are pottering about in the greenhouse,"
she announced explanatorily, waving her hand in the direction of a
distant glimmer of glass beyond the high box hedge which flanked the
"Are they?" Trent, thus arrested in the progress of his search for his
host and hostess, seemed entirely indifferent as to whether it were
ever completed or not. He leaned against one of the rose-wreathed
pillars of the pergola and gazed negligently in the direction Sara
"How is Miss Molly?" he asked.
"She is just beginning to discard sackcloth and ashes for something
more becoming," she informed him gravely.
"That's good. Are you--are you all right after your tumble? I'm making
these kind inquiries because, since it was my car out of which you
elected to fall, I feel a sense of responsibility."
Sara descended from the ladder before she replied. Then she remarked
"It has taken precisely seven days, apparently, for that sense of
responsibility to develop."
"On the contrary, for seven days my thirst for knowledge has been only
restrained by the pointings of conscience."
"Then"--she spoke rather low--"was it conscience pointing you--away
His hazel eyes flashed over her face.
"Perhaps it was--discretion," he suggested. "Looking in at shop
windows when one has an empty purse is a poor occupation--and one to
"Did you want to come?" she persisted gently.
Half absently he had cut off a piece of dead wood from the rose-bush
next him and was twisting it idly to and fro between his fingers. At
her words, the dead wood stem snapped suddenly in his clenched hand.
For an instant he seemed about to make some passionate rejoinder. Then
he slowly unclenched his hand and the broken twig fell to the ground.
"Haven't I made it clear to you--yet," he said slowly, "that what I
want doesn't enter into the scheme of things at all?"
The brief speech held a sense of impending finality, and, in the
silence which followed, the eyes of the man and woman met, questioned
each other desperately, and answered.
There are moments when modesty is a false quantity, and when the big
happinesses of life depend on a woman's capacity to realize this and
her courage to act upon it. To Sara, it seemed that such a moment had
come to her, and the absolute sincerity of her nature met it unafraid.
"No," she said quietly. "You have only made clear to me--what you
want, Garth. Need we--pretend to each other any longer?"
"I don't understand," he muttered.
"Don't you?" She drew a littler nearer him, and the face she lifted to
his was very white. But her eyes were shining. "That night--when I
fell from the car--I--I wasn't unconscious."
For an instant he stared at her, incredulous. Then he swung aside a
little, his hand gripping the pillar against which he had been leaning
till his knuckles showed white beneath the straining skin.
"You--weren't unconscious?" he repeated blankly.
"No--not all the time. I--heard--what you said."
He seemed to pull himself together.
"Oh, Heaven only knows what I may have said at a moment like that," he
answered carelessly, but his voice was rough and hoarse. "A man talks
wild when the woman he's with only misses death by a hair's breath."
Sara's lips upturned at the corners in a slow smile--a smile that was
neither mocking, nor tender, nor chiding, but an exquisite blending of
all three. She caught her breath quickly--Trent could hear its soft
sibilance. Then she spoke.
"Will you marry me, please, Garth?"
He drew back from her, violently, his underlip hard bitten. At last,
after a long silence--
"No!" he burst out harshly. "No! I can't!"
For an instant she was shaken. Then, buoyed up by the memory of that
night when she had lain in his arms and when the agony of the moment
had stripped him of all power to hide his love, she challenged his
"Why not?" Her voice was vibrant. "You love me!"
"Yes . . . I love you." The words seemed torn from him.
"Then why won't you marry me?"
It did not seem to her that she was doing anything unusual or
unwomanly. The man she loved had carried his burden single-handed long
enough. The time had come when for his own sake as well as for hers,
she must wring the truth from him, make him break through the silence
which had long been torturing them both. Whatever might be the
outcome, whether pain or happiness, they must share it.
"Why won't you marry me, Garth?"
The little question, almost voiceless in its intensity, clamoured
loudly at his heart.
"Don't tempt me!" he cried out hoarsely. "My God! I wonder if you know
how you are tempting me?"
She came a little closer to him, laying her hand on his arm, while her
great, sombre eyes silently entreated him.
As though the touch of her were more than he could bear, his hard-held
passion crashed suddenly through the bars his will had set about it.
He caught her in his arms, lifting her sheer off her feet against his
breast, whilst his lips crushed down upon her mouth and throat, burned
against her white, closed lids, and the hard clasp of his arms about
her was a physical pain--an exquisite agony that it was a fierce joy
"Then--then you do love me?" She leaned against him, breathless, her
voice unsteady, her whole slender body shaken with an answering
"Love you?" The grip of his arms about her made response. "Love you? I
love you with my soul and my body, here and through whatever comes
Hereafter. You are my earth and heaven--the whole meaning of things--"
He broke off abruptly, and she felt his arms slacken their hold and
slowly unclasp as though impelled to it by some invisible force.
"What was I saying?" The heat of passion had gone out of his voice,
leaving it suddenly flat and toneless. " 'The whole meaning of
things?' " He gave a curious little laugh. It had a strangled sound,
almost like the cry of some tortured thing. "Then things /have/ no
Sara stood staring at him, bewildered and a little frightened.
"Garth, what is it?" she whispered. "What has happened?"
He turned, and, walking away from her a few paces, stood very still
with his head bent and one hand covering his eyes.
Overhead, the sunshine, filtering in through the green trellis of
leafy twigs, flaunted gay little dancing patches of gold on the path
below, as the leaves moved flickeringly in the breeze, and where the
twisted growth of a branch had left a leafless aperture, it flung a
single shaft of quivering light athwart the pergola. It gleamed like a
shining sword between the man and woman, as though dividing them one
from the other and thrusting each into the shadows that lay on either
At the sound of her voice he dropped his hand to his side and came
slowly back and stood beside her. His face was almost grey, and the
tortured expression of his eyes seemed to hurt her like the stab of a
"You must try to forgive me," he said, speaking very low and rapidly.
"I had no earthly right to tell you that I cared, because--because I
can't ask you to marry me. I told you once that I had forfeited my
claim to the good things in life. That was true. And, having that
knowledge, I ought to have kept away from you--for I knew how it was
going to be with me from the first moment I saw you. I fought against
it in the beginning--tried not to love you. Afterwards, I gave in. but
I never dreamed that--you--would come to care, too. That seemed
something quite beyond the bounds of human possibility."
"Did it? I can't see why it should?"
"Can't you?" He smiled a little. "If you were a man who has lived
under a cloud for over twenty years, who has nothing in the world to
recommend him, and only a tarnished reputation as his life-work, you,
too, would have thought it inconceivable. Anyway, I did, and, thinking
that, I dared to give myself the pleasure of seeing you--of being
sometimes in your company. Perhaps"--grimly--"it was as much a torture
as a joy on occasion. . . . But still, I was near you. . . . I could
see you--touch your hand--serve you, perhaps, in any little way that
offered. That was all something--something very wonderful to come into
a life that, to all intents and purposes, was over. And I thought I
could keep myself in hand--never let you know that I cared--"
"You certainly tried hard enough to convince me that you didn't," she
"Yes, I tried. And I failed. And now, all that remains is for me to go
away. I shall never forgive myself for having brought pain into your
life--I, who would so gladly have brought only happiness. . . . God in
Heaven!"--he whispered to himself as though the thought were almost
blinding in the promise of ecstasy it held--"To have been the one to
bring you happiness! . . ." He fell silent, his mouth wrung and
twisted with pain.
Presently her voice came to him again, softly supplicating. "I shall
never forgive you--if you go away and leave me," she added. "I can't
do without you now--now that I know you care."
"But I /must/ go! I can't marry you--you haven't understood--"
"Haven't I?" She smiled--a small, wise, wonderful smile that began
somewhere deep in her heart and touched her lips and lingered in her
"Tell me," she said. "Are you married, Garth?"
"Married! God forbid!"
"And if you married me, would you be wronging any one?"
"Only you yourself," he answered grimly.
"Then nothing else matters. You are free--and I'm free. And I love
She leaned towards him, her hands outheld, her mouth still touched
with that little, mystic smile. "Please--tell me all over again now
much you love me."
But no answering hands met hers. Instead, he drew away from her and
faced her, stern-lipped.
"I must make you understand," he said. "You don't know what it is that
you are asking. I've made shipwreck of my life, and I must pay the
penalty. But, by God, I'm not going to let you pay it, too! And if you
married me, you would have to pay. You would be joining your life to
that of an outcast. I can never go out into the world as other men
may. If I did"--slowly--"if I did, sooner or later I should be driven
away--thrust back into my solitude. I have nothing to offer--nothing
to give--only a life that has been cursed from the outset. Don't
misunderstand me," he went on quickly. "I'm not complaining, bidding
for your sympathy. If a man's a fool, he must be prepared to pay for
his folly--even though it means a life penalty for a moment's madness.
And I shall have to pay--to the uttermost farthing. Mine's the kind of
debt which destiny never remits." He paused; then added defiantly:
"The woman who married me would have to share in that payment--to go
out with me into the desert in which I lie, and she would have to do
this without knowing what she was paying for, or why the door of the
world is locked against me. My lips are sealed, nor shall I ever be
able to break the seal. /Now/ do you understand why I can never ask
you, or any other woman to be my wife?"
Sara looked at him curiously; he could not read the expression of her
"Have you finished?" she asked. "Is that all?"
"All? Isn't it enough?"--with a grim laugh.
"And you are letting this--this folly of your youth stand between us?"
"The world applies a harder word than folly to it!"
"I don't care anything at all about the world. What do /you/ call it?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I call it folly to ask the criminal in the dock whether he approves
the judge's verdict. He's hardly likely to!"
For a moment she was silent. Then she seemed to gather herself
"Garth, do you love me?"
The words fell clearly on the still, summer air.
"Yes"--doggedly--"I love you. What then?"
"What then? Why--this! I don't care what you've done. It doesn't
matter to me whether you are an outcast or not. If you are, then I'm
willing to be an outcast with you. Oh, Garth--My Garth! I've been
begging you to marry me all afternoon, and--and----" with a broken
little laugh--"you can't /keep on/ refusing me!"
Before her passionate faith and trust the barriers he had raised
between them came crashing down. His arms went round her, and for a
few moments they clung together and love wiped out all bitter memories
of the past and all the menace of the future.