Part 5 out of 6
CHAPTER XXIX--THE SILVER LADY
When it was known that Lady de Lannoy had come to Lannoy there was a
prompt rush of such callers as the county afforded. Stephen,
however, did not wish to see anyone just at present. Partly to avoid
the chance meeting with strangers, and partly because she enjoyed and
benefited by the exercise, she was much away from home every day.
Sometimes, attended only by a groom, she rode long distances north or
south along the coast; or up over the ridge behind the castle and far
inland along the shaded roads through the woods; or over bleak wind-
swept stretches of moorland. Sometimes she would walk, all alone,
far down to the sea-road, and would sit for hours on the shore or
high up on some little rocky headland where she could enjoy the
luxury of solitude.
Now and again in her journeyings she made friends, most of them
humble ones. She was so great a lady in her station that she could
be familiar without seeming to condescend. The fishermen of the
little ports to north and south came to know her, and to look gladly
for her coming. Their goodwives had for her always a willing curtsy
and a ready smile. As for the children, they looked on her with
admiration and love, tempered with awe. She was so gentle with them,
so ready to share their pleasures and interests, that after a while
they came to regard her as some strange embodiment of Fairydom and
Dreamland. Many a little heart was made glad by the arrival of some
item of delight from the Castle; and the hearts of the sick seemed
never to hope, or their eyes to look, in vain.
One friend she made who became very dear and of great import. Often
she had looked up at the old windmill on the crest of the ridge and
wondered who inhabited it; for that some one lived in it, or close
by, was shown at times by the drifting smoke. One day she made up
her mind to go and see for herself. She had a fancy not to ask
anyone about it. The place was a little item of mystery; and as such
to be treasured and exploited, and in due course explored. The mill
itself was picturesque, and the detail at closer acquaintance
sustained the far-off impression. The roadway forked on the near
side of the mill, reuniting again the further side, so that the place
made a sort of island--mill, out-offices and garden. As the mill was
on the very top of the ridge the garden which lay seawards was
sheltered by the building from the west, and from the east by a thick
hedge of thorn and privet, which quite hid it from the roadway.
Stephen took the lower road. Finding no entrance save a locked
wooden door she followed round to the western side, where the
business side of the mill had been. It was all still now and silent,
and that it had long fallen into disuse was shown by the grey faded
look of everything. Grass, green and luxuriant, grew untrodden
between the cobble-stones with which the yard was paved. There was a
sort of old-world quietude about everything which greatly appealed to
Stephen dismounted and walked round the yard admiring everything.
She did not feel as if intruding; for the gateway was wide open.
A low door in the base of the mill tower opened, and a maid appeared,
a demure pretty little thing of sixteen or seventeen years, dressed
in a prim strait dress and an old-fashioned Puritan cap. Seeing a
stranger, she made an ejaculation and drew back hastily. Stephen
called out to her:
'Don't be afraid, little girl! Will you kindly tell me who lives
here?' The answer came with some hesitation:
'And who is Sister Ruth?' The question came instinctively and
without premeditation. The maid, embarrassed, held hard to the half-
open door and shifted from foot to foot uneasily.
'I don't know!' she said at last. 'Only Sister Ruth, I suppose!' It
was manifest that the matter had never afforded her anything in the
nature of a problem. There was an embarrassing silence. Stephen did
not wish to seem, or even to be, prying; but her curiosity was
aroused. What manner of woman was this who lived so manifestly
alone, and who had but a Christian name! Stephen, however, had all
her life been accustomed to dominance, and at Normanstand and Norwood
had made many acquaintances amongst her poorer neighbours. She was
just about to ask if she might see Sister Ruth, when behind the maid
in the dark of the low passage-way appeared the tall, slim figure of
a silver woman. Truly a silver woman! The first flash of Stephen's
thought was correct. White-haired, white-faced, white-capped, white-
kerchiefed; in a plain-cut dress of light-grey silk, without
adornment of any kind. The whole ensemble was as a piece of old
silver. The lines of her face were very dignified, very sweet, very
beautiful. Stephen felt at once that she was in the presence of no
common woman. She looked an admiration which all her Quaker garments
could not forbid the other to feel. She was not the first to speak;
in such a noble presence the dignity of Stephen's youth imperatively
demanded silence, if not humility. So she waited. The Silver Lady,
for so Stephen ever after held her in her mind, said quietly, but
with manifest welcome:
'Didst thou wish to see me? Wilt thou come in?' Stephen answered
'I should like to come in; if you will not think me rude. The fact
is, I was struck when riding by with the beautiful situation of the
mill. I thought it was only an old mill till I saw the garden
hedges; and I came round to ask if I might go in.' The Silver Lady
came forward at a pace that by itself expressed warmth as she said
'Indeed thou mayest. Stay! it is tea-time. Let us put thy horse in
one of the sheds; there is no man here at present to do it. Then
thou shalt come with me and see my beautiful view!' She was about to
take the horse herself, but Stephen forestalled her with a quick:
'No, no! pray let me. I am quite accustomed.' She led the horse to
a shed, and having looped the rein over a hook, patted him and ran
back. The Silver Lady gave her a hand, and they entered the dark
Stephen was thinking if she ought to begin by telling her name. But
the Haroun al Raschid feeling for adventure incognito is an innate
principle of the sons of men. It was seldom indeed that her life had
afforded her such an opportunity.
The Silver Lady on her own part also wished for silence, as she
looked for the effect on her companion when the glory of the view
should break upon her. When they had climbed the winding stone
stair, which led up some twenty feet, there was a low wide landing
with the remains of the main shaft of the mill machinery running
through it. From one side rose a stone stair curving with the outer
wall of the mill tower and guarded by a heavy iron rail. A dozen
steps there were, and then a landing a couple of yards square; then a
deep doorway cut in the thickness of the wall, round which the
winding stair continued.
The Silver Lady, who had led the way, threw open the door, and
motioned to her guest to enter. Stephen stood for a few moments,
surprised as well as delighted, for the room before her as not like
anything which she had ever seen or thought of.
It was a section of almost the whole tower, and was of considerable
size, for the machinery and even the inner shaft had been removed.
East and south and west the wall had been partially cut away so that
great wide windows nearly the full height of the room showed the
magnificent panorama. In the depths of the ample windows were little
cloistered nooks where one might with a feeling of super-solitude be
away from and above the world.
The room was beautifully furnished and everywhere were flowers, with
leaves and sprays and branches where possible.
Even from where she stood in the doorway Stephen had a bird's-eye
view of the whole countryside; not only of the coast, with which she
was already familiar, and on which her windows at the Castle looked,
but to the south and west, which the hill rising steep behind the
castle and to southward shut out.
The Silver Lady could not but notice her guest's genuine admiration.
'Thou likest my room and my view. There is no use asking thee, I see
thou dost!' Stephen answered with a little gasp.
'I think it is the quaintest and most beautiful place I have ever
'I am so glad thou likest it. I have lived here for nearly forty
years; and they have been years of unutterable peace and earthly
happiness! And now, thou wilt have some tea!'
Stephen left the mill that afternoon with a warmth of heart that she
had been a stranger to for many a day. The two women had accepted
each other simply. 'I am called Ruth,' said the Silver Lady. 'And I
am Stephen,' said the Countess de Lannoy in reply. And that was all;
neither had any clue to the other's identity. Stephen felt that some
story lay behind that calm, sweet personality; much sorrow goes to
the making of fearless quietude. The Quaker lady moved so little out
of her own environment that she did not even suspect the identity of
her visitor. All that she knew of change was a notice from the
solicitor to the estate that, as the headship had lapsed into another
branch of the possessing family, she must be prepared, if necessary,
to vacate her tenancy, which was one 'at will.'
It was not long before Stephen availed herself of the permission to
come again. This time she made up her mind to tell who she was, lest
the concealment of her identity might lead to awkwardness. At that
meeting friendship became union.
The natures of the two women expanded to each other; and after a very
few meetings there was established between them a rare confidence.
Even the personal austerity of Quakerdom, or the state and estate of
the peeress, could not come between. Their friendship seemed to be
for the life of one. To the other it would be a memory.
The Silver Lady never left the chosen routine of her own life.
Whatever was the reason of her giving up the world, she kept it to
herself; and Stephen respected her reticence as much as she did her
It had become a habit, early in their friendship, for Stephen to ride
or walk over to the windmill in the dusk of the evening when she felt
especially lonely. On one such occasion she pushed open the outer
door, which was never shut, and took her way up the stone stair. She
knew she would find her friend seated in the window with hands folded
on lap, looking out into the silent dusk with that absorbed
understanding of things which is holier than reverence, and
spiritually more active than conscious prayer.
She tapped the door lightly, and stepped into the room.
With a glad exclamation, which coming through her habitual sedateness
showed how much she loved the young girl, Sister Ruth started to her
feet. There was something of such truth in the note she had sounded,
that the lonely girl's heart went out to her in abandoned fulness.
She held out her arms; and, as she came close to the other, fell
rather than sank at her feet. The elder woman recognised, and knew.
She made no effort to restrain her; but sinking back into her own
seat laid the girl's head in her lap, and held her hands close
against her breast.
'Tell me,' she whispered. 'Won't you tell me, dear child, what
troubles you? Tell me! dear. It may bring peace!'
'Oh, I am miserable, miserable, miserable!' moaned Stephen in a low
voice whose despair made the other's heart grow cold. The Silver
Lady knew that here golden silence was the best of help; holding
close the other's hands, she waited. Stephen's breast began to
heave; with an impulsive motion she drew away her hands and put them
before her burning face, which she pressed lower still on the other's
lap. Sister Ruth knew that the trouble, whatever it was, was about
to find a voice. And then came in a low shuddering whisper a voice
muffled in the folds of the dress:
'I killed a man!'
In all her life the Silver Lady had never been so startled or so
shocked. She had grown so to love the bright, brilliant young girl
that the whispered confession cut through the silence of the dusk as
a shriek of murder goes through the silent gloom of night. Her hands
flew wide from her breast, and the convulsive shudder which shook her
all in an instant woke Stephen through all her own deep emotion to
the instinct of protection of the other. The girl looked up, shaking
her head, and said with a sadness which stilled all the other's fear:
'Ah! Don't be frightened! It is not murder that I tell you of.
Perhaps if it were, the thought would be easier to bear! He would
have been hurt less if it had been only his body that I slew. Well I
know now that his life would have been freely given if I wished it;
if it had been for my good. But it was the best of him that I
killed; his soul. His noble, loving, trusting, unselfish soul. The
bravest and truest soul that ever had place in a man's breast! . . .
' Her speaking ended with a sob; her body sank lower.
Sister Ruth's heart began to beat more freely. She understood now,
and all the womanhood, all the wifehood, motherhood suppressed for a
lifetime, awoke to the woman's need. Gently she stroked the
beautiful head that lay so meekly on her lap; and as the girl sobbed
with but little appearance of abatement, she said to her softly:
'Tell me, dear child. Tell me all about it! See! we are alone
together. Thou and I; and God! In God's dusk; with only the silent
land and sea before us! Won't thou trust me, dear one, and speak!'
And then, as the shadows fell, and far-off lights at sea began to
twinkle over the waste of waters, Stephen found voice and told
without reserve the secret of her shame and her remorse.
At last, when her broken voice had trailed away into gentle catchings
of the breath, the older woman, knowing that the time come for
comfort, took her in her strong arms, holding her face wet against
her own, their tears mingling.
'Cry on, dear heart!' she said as she kissed her. 'Cry on! It will
do thee good!' She was startled once again as the other seemed for
an instant to grow rigid in her arms, and raising her hands cried out
in a burst of almost hysterical passion:
'Cry! cry! Oh my God! my God!' Then becoming conscious of her wet
face she seemed to become in an instant all limp, and sank on her
knees again. There was so different a note in her voice that the
other's heart leaped as she heard her say:
'God be thanked for these tears! Oh, thank God! Thank God!'
Looking up she saw through the gloom the surprise in her companion's
eyes and answered their query in words:
'Oh! you don't know! You can't know what it is to me! I have not
cried since last I saw him pass from me in the wood!'
That time of confession seemed to have in some way cleared, purified
and satisfied Stephen's soul. Life was now easier to bear. She was
able to adapt herself, justifiably to the needs of her position; and
all around her and dependent on her began to realise that amongst
them was a controlling force, far-reaching sympathy, and a dominant
resolution that made for good.
She began to shake off the gloom of her sorrows and to take her place
in her new high station. Friends there were in many, and quondam
lovers by the score. Lovers of all sorts. Fortune-hunters there
were be sure, not a few. But no need was there for baseness when the
lady herself was so desirable; so young, so fair, so lovable. That
she was of great estate and 'richly left' made all things possible to
any man who had sufficient acquisitiveness, or a good conceit of
himself. In a wide circle of country were many true-lovers who would
have done aught to win her praise.
And so in the East the passing of the two years of silence and gloom
seemed to be the winning of something brighter to follow.
CHAPTER XXX--THE LESSON OF THE WILDERNESS
In the West the two years flew. Time seemed to go faster there,
because life was more strenuous. Harold, being mainly alone, found
endless work always before him. From daylight to dark labour never
ceased; and for his own part he never wished that it should. In the
wilderness, and especially under such conditions as held in Northern
Alaska, labour is not merely mechanical. Every hour of the day is
fraught with danger in some new form, and the head has to play its
part in the strife against nature. In such a life there is not much
time for thinking or brooding.
At first, when the work and his surroundings were strange to him,
Harold did many useless things and ran many unnecessary risks. But
his knowledge grew with experience. Privations he had in plenty; and
all the fibre of his body and the strength of his resolution and
endurance were now and again taxed to their utmost. But with a man
of his nature and race the breaking strain is high; and endurance and
resolution are qualities which develop with practice.
Gradually his mind came back to normal level; he had won seemingly
through the pain that shadowed him. Without anguish he could now
think, remember, look forward. Then it was that the kindly wisdom of
the American came back to him, and came to stay. He began to examine
himself as to his own part of the unhappy transaction; and stray
moments of wonderment came as to whether the fault may not, at the
very base, have his own. He began to realise that it is insufficient
in this strenuous world to watch and wait; to suppress one's self; to
put aside, in the wish to benefit others, all the hopes, ambitions,
cravings which make for personal gain.
Thus it was that Harold's thoughts, ever circling round Stephen, came
back with increasing insistence to his duty towards her. He often
thought, and with a bitter feeling against himself that it came too
late, of the dying trust of her father:
'Guard her and cherish her, as if you were indeed my son and she your
sister . . . If it should be that you and Stephen should find that
there is another affection between you remember I sanction it. But
give her time! I trust that to you! She is young, and the world is
all before her. Let her choose . . . And be loyal to her, if it is
another! It may be a hard task; but I trust you, Harold!'
Here he would groan, as all the anguish of the past would rush back
upon him; and keenest of all would be the fear, suspicion, thought
which grew towards belief, that he may have betrayed that trust. . .
At first the side of this memory personal to his own happiness was
faintly emphasised; the important side was of the duty to Stephen.
But as time went on the other thought became a sort of corollary; a
timid, halting, blushing thought which followed sheepishly, borne
down by trembling hope. No matter what adventure came to him, the
thought of neglected duty returned ever afresh. Once, when he lay
sick for weeks in an Indian wigwam, the idea so grew with each day of
the monotony, that when he was able to crawl out by himself into the
sunshine he had almost made up his mind to start back for home.
Luck is a strange thing. It seems in some mysterious way to be the
divine machinery for adjusting averages. Whatever may be the measure
of happiness or unhappiness, good or evil, allotted to anyone, luck
is the cause or means of counter-balancing so that the main result
reaches the standard set.
From the time of Harold's illness Dame Fortune seemed to change her
attitude to him. The fierce frown, nay! the malignant scowl, to
which he had become accustomed, changed to a smile. Hitherto
everything seemed to have gone wrong with him; but now all at once
all seemed to go right. He grew strong and hardy again. Indeed, he
seemed by contrast to his late helplessness to be so strong and hard
that it looked as if that very illness had done him good instead of
harm. Game was plentiful, and he never seemed to want. Everywhere
he went there were traces of gold, as though by some instinct he was
tracking it to its home. He did not value gold for its own sake; but
he did for the ardour of the search. Harold was essentially a man,
and as a man an adventurer. To such a man of such a race adventure
is the very salt of existence.
The adventurer's instinct took with it the adventurer's judgment;
Harold was not content with small results. Amidst the vast primeval
forces there were, he felt, vast results of their prehistoric
working; and he determined to find some of them. In such a quest,
purpose is much. It was hardly any wonder, then, that in time Harold
found himself alone in the midst of one of the great treasure-places
of the world. Only labour was needed to take from the earth riches
beyond the dreams of avarice. But that labour was no easy problem;
great and difficult distance had to be overcome; secrecy must be
observed, for even a whisper of the existence of such a place would
bring a horde of desperadoes. But all these difficulties were at
least sources of interest, if not in themselves pleasures. The new
Harold, seemingly freshly created by a year of danger and strenuous
toil, of self-examining and humiliation, of the realisation of duty,
and--though he knew it not as yet--of the dawning of hope, found
delight in the thought of dangers and difficulties to be overcome.
Having taken his bearings exactly so as to be safe in finding the
place again, he took his specimens with him and set out to find the
shortest and best route to the nearest port.
At length he came to the port and set quietly about finding men.
This he did very carefully and very systematically. Finally, with
the full complement, and with ample supply of stores, he started on
his expedition to the new goldfields.
It is not purposed to set out here the extraordinary growth of
Robinson City, for thus the mining camp soon became. Its history has
long ago been told for all the world. In the early days, when
everything had to be organised and protected, Harold worked like a
giant, and with a system and energy which from the first established
him as a master. But when the second year of his exile was coming to
a close, and Robinson City was teeming with life and commerce, when
banks and police and soldiers made life and property comparatively
safe, he began to be restless again. This was not the life to which
he had set himself. He had gone into the wilderness to be away from
cities and from men; and here a city had sprung up around him and men
claimed him as their chief. Moreover, with the restless feeling
there began to come back to him the old thoughts and the old pain.
But he felt strong enough by this time to look forward in life as
well as backward. With him now to think was to act; so much at least
he had gained from his position of dominance in an upspringing city.
He quietly consolidated such outlying interests as he had, placed the
management of his great estate in the hands of a man he had learned
to trust, and giving out that he was going to San Francisco to
arrange some business, left Robinson City. He had already
accumulated such a fortune that the world was before him in any way
he might choose to take.
Knowing that at San Francisco, to which he had booked, he would have
to run the gauntlet of certain of his friends and business
connections, he made haste to leave the ship quietly at Portland, the
first point she touched on her southern journey. Thence he got on
the Canadian Pacific Line and took his way to Montreal.
What most arrested his attention, and in a very disconcerting way,
were the glimpses of English life one sees reproduced so faithfully
here and there in Canada. The whole of the past rushed back on him
so overpoweringly that he was for the moment unnerved. The acute
feeling of course soon became mitigated; but it was the beginning of
a re-realisation of what had been, and which grew stronger with each
mile as the train swept back eastward.
At first he tried to fight it; tried with all the resources of his
strong nature. His mind was made up, he assured himself over and
over again. The past was past, and what had been was no more to him
than to any of the other passengers of the train. Destiny had long
ago fulfilled itself. Stephen no doubt had by now found some one
worthy of her and had married. In no dream, sleeping or waking,
could he ever admit that she had married Leonard; that was the only
gleam of comfort in what had grown to be remorse for his neglected
And so it was that Harold An Wolf slowly drifted, though he knew it
not, into something of the same intellectual position which had
dominated him when he had started on his journeying and the sunset
fell nightly on his despairing face. The life in the wilderness, and
then in the dominance and masterdom of enterprise, had hardened and
strengthened him into more self-reliant manhood, giving him greater
forbearance and a more practical view of things.
When he took ship in the Dominion, a large cargo-boat with some
passengers running to London, he had a vague purpose of visiting in
secret Norcester, whence he could manage to find out how matters were
at Normanstand. He would then, he felt, be in a better position to
regulate his further movements. He knew that he had already a
sufficient disguise in his great beard. He had nothing to fear from
the tracing of him on his journey from Alaska or the interest of his
fellow-passengers. He had all along been so fortunate as to be able
to keep his identity concealed. The name John Robinson told nothing
in itself, and the width of a whole great continent lay between him
and the place of his fame. He was able to take his part freely
amongst both the passengers and the officers. Even amongst the crew
he soon came to be known; the men liked his geniality, and
instinctively respected his enormous strength and his manifest force
of character. Men who work and who know danger soon learn to
recognise the forces which overcome both. And as sufficient time had
not elapsed to impair his hardihood or lower his vast strength he was
facile princeps. And so the crew acknowledged him; to them he was a
born Captain whom to obey would be a natural duty.
After some days the weather changed. The great ship, which usually
rested even-keeled on two waves, and whose bilge keels under normal
conditions rendered rolling impossible, began to pitch and roll like
a leviathan at play. The decks, swept by gigantic seas, were injured
wherever was anything to injure. Bulwarks were torn away as though
they had been compact of paper. More than once the double doors at
the head of the companion stairs had been driven in. The bull's eye
glasses of some of the ports were beaten from their brazen sockets.
Nearly all the boats had been wrecked, broken or torn from their
cranes as the great ship rolled heavily in the trough, or giant waves
had struck her till she quivered like a frightened horse.
At that season she sailed on the far northern course. Driven still
farther north by the gales, she came within a short way of south of
Greenland. Then avoiding Moville, which should have been her place
of call, she ran down the east of Britain, the wild weather still
CHAPTER XXXI--THE LIFE-LINE
On the coast of Angleshire the weather in the early days of September
had been stormy. With the south-west wind had come deluges of rain,
not a common thing for the time of year on the east coast. Stephen,
whose spirits always rose with high wind, was in a condition of
prolonged excitement. She could not keep still; every day she rode
long distances, and found a wonderful satisfaction in facing the
strong winds. Like a true horsewoman she did not mind the wet, and
had glorious gallops over the grassy ridge and down the slopes on the
farther side, out on the open road or through the endless grass rides
amid the pine woods.
On the Tuesday morning the storm was in full sweep, and Stephen was
in wild spirits. Nothing would do her but to go out on the tower of
the castle where she could walk about, and leaning on the crenellated
parapet look over all the coast stretching far in front and sweeping
away to the left and right. The prospect so enchanted her, and the
fierce sweep of the wind so suited her exalted mood, that she
remained there all the morning. The whole coast was a mass of
leaping foam and flying spray, and far away to the horizon white-
topped waves rolled endlessly. That day she did not even ride out,
but contented herself with watching the sea and the storm from the
tower. After lunch she went to her tower again; and again after tea.
The storm was now furious. She made up her mind that after dinner
she would ride down and see its happenings close at hand.
When she had finished dinner she went to her room to dress for her
ride. The rush and roar of the storm were in her ears, and she was
in wild tumultuous spirits. All her youth seemed to sweep back on
her; or perhaps it was that the sickness of the last two years was
swept away. Somewhere deep down in Stephen's heart, below her
intention or even her consciousness, was a desire to be her old self
if only for an hour. And to this end externals were of help.
Without weighing the matter in her mind, and acting entirely on
impulse, she told her maid to get the red habit she had not worn for
years. When she was dressed she sent round to have out her white
Arab; while it was getting ready she went once more to the tower to
see the storm-effect in the darkening twilight. As she looked, her
heart for an instant stood still. Half-way to the horizon a great
ship, ablaze in the bows, was driving through the waves with all her
speed. She was heading towards the little port, beyond which the
shallows sent up a moving wall of white spray.
Stephen tore down the turret stair, and gave hurried directions to
have beds prepared in a number of rooms, fires everywhere, and plenty
of provisions. She also ordered that carriages should be sent at
once to the fishing port with clothing and restoratives. There
would, she felt, be need for such help before a time to be measured
by minutes should have passed; and as some of her servants were as
yet strange to her ways she did not leave anything to chance. One
carriage was to go for the doctor who lived at Lannoy, the village
over the hill, whence nothing could be seen of what was happening.
She knew that others within sight or hailing would be already on
their way. Work was afoot, and had she time, or thought of it, she
would have chosen a more sedate garb. But in the excitement no
thought of herself came to her.
In a few seconds she was in the saddle, tearing at full speed down
the road that led to the port. The wind was blowing so strongly in
her face that only in the lulls could she hear the hoof-strokes of
the groom's horse galloping behind her.
At first the height of the road allowed her to see the ship and the
port towards which she was making. But presently the road dipped,
and the curving of the hill shut both from her sight; it was only
when she came close that she could see either again.
Now the great ship was close at hand. The flames had gained
terribly, and it was a race for life or death. There was no time do
more than run her aground if life was to be saved at all. The
captain, who in the gaps of the smoke could be seen upon the bridge,
knew his work well. As he came near the shoal he ran a little north,
and then turned sharply so as to throw the boat's head to the south
of the shoal. Thus the wind would drive fire and smoke forward and
leave the after part of the vessel free for a time.
The shock of her striking the sand was terrific, though the tinkle of
the bell borne in on the gale showed that the engines had been slowed
down. The funnels were shaken down, and the masts broke off, falling
forward. A wild shriek from a hundred throats cleft the roaring of
wind and wave. The mast fell, the foremast, with all its cumbering
top-hamper on the bridge, which was in an instant blotted out of
existence, together with the little band of gallant men who stood on
it, true to their last duty. As the wind took the smoke south a man
was seen to climb on the wreck of the mast aft and make fast the end
of a great coil of rope which he carried. He was a huge man with a
full dark beard. Two sailors working with furious haste helped him
with the rope. The waves kept raising the ship a little, each time
bumping her on the sand with a shock. The people on deck held
frantically to the wreckage around them.
Then the bearded man, stripping to his waist and cutting off his
trousers above the knee, fastened an end of the rope round his waist.
The sailors stood ready one behind the other to pay it out. As a
great wave rolled under the ship, he threw himself into the sea.
In the meantime the coastguard had fixed Board of Trade rocket-
apparatus, and in a few seconds the prolonged roar of a rocket was
heard. It flew straight towards the ship, rising at a high angle so
as to fall beyond it. But the force of the wind took it up as it
rose, and the gale increased so that it rose nearly vertically; and
in this position the wind threw it south of its objective, and short
of it. Another rocket was got ready at once, and blue lights were
burned so that the course of the venturous swimmer might be noted.
He swam strongly; but the great weight of the rope behind kept
pulling him back, and the southern trend of the tide current and the
force of the wind kept dragging him from the pier. Within the bar
the waves were much less than without; but they were still so unruly
that no boat in the harbour--which was not a lifeboat station--could
venture out. Indeed, in the teeth of the storm it would have been a
physical impossibility to have driven one seaward.
As the gathered crowd saw Stephen approach they made way for her.
She had left her horse with the groom, and despite the drenching
spray fought a way against the wind out on the pier. As in the glare
of the blue light, which brought many things into harsh unnatural
perspective, she caught sight of the set face of the swimmer rising
and falling with the waves, her heart leaped. This was indeed a man!
a brave man; and all the woman in her went out to him. For him, and
to aid him and his work, she would have given everything, done
anything; and in her heart, which beat in an ecstasy of anxiety, she
prayed with that desperate conviction of hope which comes in such
moments of exaltation.
But it soon became apparent that no landing could be effected. The
force of the current and the wind were taking the man too far
southward for him ever to win a way back. Then one of coastguards
took the lead-topped cane which they use for throwing practice, and,
after carefully coiling the line attached it so that it would run
free, managed with a desperate effort to fling it far out. The
swimmer, to whom it fell close, fought towards it frantically; and as
the cord began to run through the water, managed to grasp it. A wild
cheer rose from the shore and the ship. A stout line was fastened to
the shore end of the cord, and the swimmer drew it out to him. He
bent it on the rope which trailed behind him; then, seeing that he
was himself a drag on it, with the knife which he drew from the
sheath at the back of his waist, he cut himself free. One of the
coastguards on the pier, helped by a host of willing hands, began
drawing the end of the rope on shore. The swimmer still held the
line thrown to him, and several men on the pier began to draw on it.
Unhappily the thin cord broke under the strain, and within a few
seconds the swimmer had drifted out of possible help. Seeing that
only wild rocks lay south of the sea-wall, and that on them seas beat
furiously, he turned and made out for sea. In the light beyond the
glare he could see vaguely the shore bending away to the west in a
deep curve of unbroken white leaping foam. There was no hope of
landing there. To the south was the headland, perhaps two miles away
as the crow flies. Here was the only chance for him. If he could
round the headland, he might find shelter beyond; or somewhere along
the farther shore some opening might present itself. Whilst the
light from the blue fires still reached him he turned and made for
In the meantime on ship and on shore men worked desperately. Before
long the end of the hawser was carried round on the high cliff, and
pulled as taut as the force at hand could manage, and made fast.
Soon endless ropes were bringing in passengers and crew as fast as
place could be found for them. It became simply a race for time. If
the fire, working against the wind, did not reach the hawser, and if
the ship lasted the furious bumping on the sandbank, which threatened
to shake her to pieces each moment, all on board might yet be saved.
Stephen's concern was now for the swimmer alone. Such a gallant soul
should not perish without help, if help could be on this side of
heaven. She asked the harbour-master, an old fisherman who knew
every inch of the coast for miles, if anything could be done. He
shook his head sadly as he answered:
'I fear no, my lady. The lifeboat from Granport is up north, no boat
from here could get outside the harbour. There's never a spot in the
bay where he could land, even in a less troubled sea than this. Wi'
the wind ashore, there's no hope for ship or man here that cannot
round the point. And a stranger is no like to do that.'
'Why not?' she asked breathlessly.
'Because, my lady, there's a wheen o' sunken rocks beyond the Head.
No one that didn't know would ever think to keep out beyond them, for
the cliff itself goes down sheer. He's a gallant soul yon; an' it's
a sore pity he's goin' to his death. But it must be! God can save
him if He wishes; but I fear none other!'
Even as he spoke rose to Stephen's mind a memory of an old churchyard
with great trees and the scent of many flowers, and a child's voice
that sounded harsh through the monotonous hum of bees:
'To be God, and able to do things!'
Oh; to be God, if but an hour; and able to do things! To do anything
to help a brave man! A wild prayer surged up in the girl's heart:
'Oh! God, give me this man's life! Give it to me to atone for the
other I destroyed! Let me but help him, and do with me as Thou
The passion of her prayer seemed to help her, and her brain cleared.
Surely something could be done! She would do what she could; but
first she must understand the situation. She turned again to the old
'How long would it take him to reach the headland, if he can swim so
far?' The answer came with a settled conviction bearing hope with
'The wind and tide are wi' him, an' he's a strong swimmer. Perhaps
half an hour will take him there. He's all right in himself. He can
swim it, sure. But alack! it's when he gets there his trouble will
be, when none can warn him. Look how the waves are lashing the
cliff; and mark the white water beyond! What voice can sound to him
out in those deeps? How could he see if even one were there to
Here was a hope at any rate. Light and sound were the factors of
safety. Some good might be effected if she could get a trumpet; and
there were trumpets in the rocket-cart. Light could be had--must be
had if all the fences round the headland had to be gathered for a
bonfire! There was not a moment to be lost. She ran to the rocket-
cart, and got a trumpet from the man in charge. Then she ran to
where she had left her horse. She had plenty of escort, for by this
time many gentlemen had arrived on horseback from outlying distances,
and all offered their services. She thanked them and said:
'You may be useful here. When all these are ashore send on the
rocket-cart, and come yourselves to the headland as quick as you can.
Tell the coastguards that all those saved are to be taken to the
castle. In the rocket-cart bring pitch and tar and oil, and anything
that will flame. Stay!' she cried to the chief boatman. 'Give me
some blue lights!' His answer chilled her:
'I'm sorry, my lady, but they are all used. There are the last of
them burning now. We have burned them ever since that man began to
'Then hurry on the rocket-cart!' she said as she sprang to the
saddle, and swept out on the rough track that ran by the cliffs,
following in bold curves the windings of the shore. The white Arab
seemed to know that his speed was making for life. As he swept
along, far outdistancing the groom, Stephen's heart went out in
silent words which seemed to keep time to the gallop:
'Oh, to be God, and be able to do things! Give me this man's life,
oh, God! Give me this man's life, to atone for that noble one which
Faster and faster, over rough road, cattle track, and grassy sward;
over rising and falling ground; now and again so close to the edge of
the high cliff that the spume swept up the gulleys in the rocks like
a snowstorm, the white Arab swept round the curve of the bay, and
came out on the high headland where stood the fisher's house. On the
very brink of the cliff all the fisher folk, men, women and children,
stood looking at the far-off burning ship, from which the flames rose
in leaping columns.
So intent were all on the cliff that they did not notice her coming;
as the roar of the wind came from them to her, they could not hear
her voice when she spoke from a distance. She had drawn quite close,
having dismounted and hung her rein over the post of the garden
paling, when one of the children saw her, and cried out:
'The lady! the lady! an' she's all in red!' The men were so intent
on something that they did not seem to hear. They were peering out
to the north, and were arguing in dumb show as though on something
regarding which they did not agree. She drew closer, and touching
the old fisherman on the shoulder, called out at his ear:
'What is it?' He answered without turning, keeping his eyes fixed:
'_I_ say it's a man swimmin'. Joe and Garge here say as it's only a
piece o' wood or sea-wrack. But I know I'm right. That's a man
swimmin', or my old eyes have lost their power!' His words carried
conviction; the seed of hope in her beating heart grew on the instant
'It IS a man. I saw him swim off towards here when he had taken the
rope on shore. Do not turn round. Keep your eyes on him so that you
may not lose sight of him in the darkness!' The old man chuckled.
'This darkness! Hee! hee! There be no differ to me between light
and dark. But I'll watch him! It's you, my lady! I shan't turn
round to do my reverence as you tell me to watch. But, poor soul,
it'll not be for long to watch. The Skyres will have him, sure
'We can warn him!' she said, 'when he comes close enough. I have a
trumpet here!' He shook his head sorrowfully:
'Ah! my lady, what trumpet could sound against that storm an' from
this height?' Stephen's heart sank. But there was still hope. If
the swimmer's ears could not be reached, his eyes might. Eagerly she
looked back for the coming of the rocket-cart. Far off across the
deep bay she could see its lamp sway as it passed over the rough
ground; but alas! it would never arrive in time. With a note of
despair in her voice she asked:
'How long before he reaches the rocks?' Still without turning the
old man answered:
'At the rate he's going he will be in the sweep of the current
through the rocks within three minutes. If he's to be saved he must
turn seaward ere the stream grips him.'
'Would there be time to build a bonfire?'
'No, no! my lady. The wood couldn't catch in the time!'
For an instant a black film of despair seemed to fall on her. The
surging of the blood in her head made her dizzy, and once again the
prayer of the old memory rang in her brain:
'Oh to be God, and able to do things!'
On the instant an inspiration flashed through her. She, too could do
things in a humble way. She could do something at any rate. If
there was no time to build a fire, there was a fire already built.
The house would burn!
The two feet deep of old thatch held down with nets and battened with
wreck timber would flare like a beacon. Forthwith she spoke:
'Good people, this noble man who has saved a whole shipload of others
must not die without an effort. There must be light so that he can
see our warning to pass beyond the rocks! The only light can be from
the house. I buy it of you. It is mine; but I shall pay you for it
and build you such another as you never thought of. But it must be
fired at once. You have one minute to clear out all you want. In,
quick and take all can. Quick! quick! for God's sake! It is for a
brave man's life!'
The men and women without a word rushed into the house. They too
knew the danger, and the only hope there was for a life. The
assurance of the Countess took the sting from the present loss.
Before the minute, which she timed watch in hand, was over, all came
forth bearing armloads of their lares and penates. Then one of the
younger men ran in again and out bearing a flaming stick from the
fire. Stephen nodded, he held it to the northern edge of the thatch.
The straw caught in a flash and the flame ran up the slope and along
the edge of the roof like a quick match. The squeaking of many rats
was heard and their brown bodies streamed over the roof. Before
another minute had passed a great mass of flame towered into the sky
and shed a red light far out over the waste of sea.
It lit up the wilderness of white water where the sea churned
savagely amongst the sunken rocks; and it lit too the white face of a
swimmer, now nearly spent, who rising and falling with each wave,
drifted in the sea whose current bore him on towards the fatal rocks.
CHAPTER XXXII--'TO BE GOD AND ABLE TO DO THINGS'
When the swimmer saw the light he looked up; even at the distance
they could see the lift of his face; but he did not seem to realise
that there was any intention in the lighting, or that it was created
for his benefit. He was manifestly spent with his tremendous
exertions, and with his long heavy swim in the turbulent sea.
Stephen's heart went out to him in a wave of infinite pity. She
tried to use the trumpet. But simple as it is, a trumpet needs skill
or at least practice in its use; she could only make an
unintelligible sound, and not much even of that. One of the young
'Let me try it, my lady!' She handed him the trumpet and he in turn
used with a will. But it was of no avail; even his strong lungs and
lusty manhood availed nothing in the teeth of that furious gale. The
roof and the whole house was now well alight, and the flame roared
and leapt. Stephen began to make gestures bidding the swimmer, in
case he might see her and understand, move round the rocks. But he
made no change in his direction, and was fast approaching a point in
the tide-race whence to avoid the sunken rocks would be an
impossibility. The old whaler, accustomed to use all his wits in
times of difficulty, said suddenly:
'How can he understand when we're all between him and the light. We
are only black shadows to him; all he can see are waving arms!' His
sons caught his meaning and were already dashing towards the burning
house. They came back with piles of blazing wood and threw them down
on the very edge of the cliff; brought more and piled them up,
flinging heaps of straw on the bonfire and pouring on oil and pitch
till the flames rose high. Stephen saw what was necessary and stood
out of the way, but close to the old whaler, where the light fell on
both of their faces as they looked in the direction of the swimmer.
Stephen's red dress itself stood out like a flame. The gale tearing
up the front of the cliff had whirled away her hat; in the stress of
the wind her hair was torn from its up-pinning and flew wide, itself
like leaping flame.
Her gestures as she swept her right arm round, as though
demonstrating the outward curve of a circle, or raising the hand
above her head motioned with wide palm and spread fingers 'back!
back!' seemed to have reached the swimmer's intelligence. He half
rose in the water and looked about. As if seeing something that he
realised, he sank back again and began swim frantically out to sea.
A great throb of joy made Stephen almost faint. At last she had been
able to do something to help this gallant man. In half a minute his
efforts seemed to tell in his race for life. He drew sufficiently
far from dangerous current for there to be a hope that he might be
saved if he could last out the stress to come.
The fishermen kept watch in silent eagerness; and in their presence
Stephen felt a comfort, though, like her, they could do nothing at
When the swimmer had passed sufficiently far out to be clear of the
rocks, the fire began to lose its flame, though not its intensity.
It would be fiery still for hours to come, and of great heat; but the
flames ceased to leap, and in the moderated light Stephen only saw
the white face for one more instant ere it faded out of her ken,
when, turning, the man looked towards the light and made a gesture
which she did not understand: for he put for an instant both hands
before his face.
Just then there was a wild noise on the cliff. The rocket-cart drawn
by sixteen splendid horses, some of them hunters, came tearing up the
slope, and with it many men on horseback afoot. Many of the runners
were the gentlemen who had given their horses for the good work.
As the coastguards jumped from the cart, and began to get out the
rocket stand, the old whaler pointed out the direction where the
swimmer's head could still be seen. Some of the sailors could see it
too; though to Stephen and the laymen it was invisible. The chief
boatman shook his head:
'No use throwing a line there! Even if he got it we could never drag
him alive through these rocks. He would be pounded to death before
twenty fathom!' Stephen's heart grew cold as she listened. Was this
the end? Then with a bitter cry she wailed:
'Oh! can nothing be done? Can nothing be done? Can no boat come
from the other side of the point? Must such a brave man be lost!'
and her tears began to flow.
One of the young men who had just arrived, a neighbouring squire, a
proved wastrel but a fine horseman, who had already regarded Stephen
at the few occasions of their meeting with eyes of manifest
admiration, spoke up:
'Don't cry, Lady de Lannoy. There's a chance for him yet. I'll see
what I can do.'
'Bless you! oh! bless you!' she cried impulsively as she caught his
hand. Then came the chill of doubt. 'But what can you do?' she
'Hector and I may be able to do something together.' Turning to one
of the fishermen he asked:
'Is there any way down to the water in the shelter of the point?'
'Ay! ay! sir,' came the ready answer. 'There's the path as we get
down by to our boats.'
'Come on, then!' he said. 'Some of you chaps show us a light on the
way down. If Hector can manage the scramble there's a chance. You
see,' he said, turning again to Stephen, 'Hector can swim like a
fish. When he was a racer I trained him in the sea so that none of
the touts could spy out his form. Many's the swim we've had
together; and in rough water too, though in none so wild as this!'
'But it is a desperate chance for you!' said Stephen, woman-like
drawing somewhat back from a danger she had herself evoked. The
young man laughed lightly:
'What of that! I may do one good thing before I die. That fine
fellow's life is worth a hundred of my wasted one! Here! some of you
fellows help me with Hector. We must take him from the cart and get
a girth on him instead of the saddle. We shall want something to
hold on to without pulling his head down by using the bridle.'
He, followed by some others, ran to the rocket-cart where the horses
stood panting, their steam rising in a white cloud in the glow of the
burning house. In an incredibly short time the horse was ready with
only the girth. The young squire took him by the mane and he
followed eagerly; he had memories of his own. As they passed close
to Stephen the squire said to one of his friends:
'Hold him a minute, Jack!' He ran over to Stephen and looked at her
'Good-bye! Wish me luck; and give us light!' Tears were in her eyes
and a flush on her cheek as she took his hand and clasped it hard:
'Oh, you brave man! God bless you!' He stooped suddenly and
impulsively kissed the back of her hand lightly and was gone. For a
fleeting moment she was angry. No man had kissed her hand before;
but the thought of his liberty was swept away by another:
'Little enough when he may be going to his death!'
It was a sight to see that man and horse, surrounded by an eager
crowd of helpers, scrambling down the rough zigzag, cut and worn in
the very face of the cliff. They stumbled, and slipped; pebbles and
broken rock fell away under their feet. Alone close to the bonfire
stood Stephen, following every movement with racing blood and beating
heart. The bonfire was glowing; a constant stream of men and women
were dragging and hauling all sorts of material for its increase.
The head of the swimmer could be seen, rising and falling amid the
waves beyond the Skyres.
When about twenty feet from the water-level the path jutted out to
one side left of the little beach whereon the sea now broke fiercely.
This was a place where men watched, and whence at times they fished
with rods; the broad rock overhung the water. The fire above, though
it threw shadows, made light enough for everything. The squire held
up his hand.
'Stop! We can take off this rock, if the water is deep enough. How
much is it?'
'Ten fathoms sheer.'
'Good!' He motioned to them all to keep back. Then threw off all
his clothes except shirt and trousers. For an instant he patted
Hector and then sprang upon his back. Holding him by the mane he
urged him forward with a cry. The noble animal did not hesitate an
instant. He knew that grasp of the mane; that cry; that dig of the
spurless heels. He sprang forward with wide dilated nostrils, and
from the edge of the jutting rock jumped far out into the sea. Man
and horse disappeared for a few seconds, but rose safely. The man
slid from the horse's back; and, holding by the girth with one hand,
swam beside him out to sea in the direction the swimmer must come on
rounding the sunken rocks.
A wild cheer broke from all on the cliff above and those already
scrambling back up the zigzag. Stephen kept encouraging the men to
bring fuel to the bonfire:
'Bring everything you can find; the carts, the palings, the roofs,
the corn, the dried fish; anything and everything that will burn. We
must have light; plenty of light! Two brave men's lives are at stake
The whole place was a scene of activity. Stephen stood on the edge
of the cliff with the old whaler and the chief boatman and some of
the women. The rest of the coastguards were by orders of their chief
rigging up a whip which they thought might be necessary to hoist the
men up from the water, if they could ever get close enough. One of
the young men who had ridden with the rocket-cart kept tight hold of
Hector's bridle; he knew it would be wanted if the horse ever had a
chance of landing.
When Harold turned away from the dazzling blue lights on the pier,
and saw the far white line of the cliffs beyond the bay, his heart
sank within him. Even his great strength and hardihood, won by work
and privation in the far North-West, had been already taxed in the
many days of the battling with the gale when all on board who could
lend a hand were taken into service. Again by the frantic struggle
of the last hour or two, when the ship ran shoreward at the utmost of
her speed in the last hope of beaching in time to save life. Finally
in that grim struggle to draw the life-line shoreward. The cold and
then the great heat, and on top of it the chill of the long swim,
seemed to have struck at him. Alone on the dark sea, for soon the
current and his own exertions were taking him away from the rocks,
the light of the burning ship was ceasing to be effective. It was
just enough to hinder his vision; looking from the patch of light
which bathed the light and him he could just see far off the white
water which marked the cliff fronts, and on the edge of his horizon
the grim moving white wall where the waves broke on the headland.
On and on he toiled. His limbs were becoming more cramped with the
cold and the terrible strain of swimming in such waves. But still
the brave heart bore him up; and resolutely, sternly he forced
himself afresh to the effort before him. He reasoned that where
there was such a headland standing out so stark into the sea there
ought to be some shelter in its lee. If he could pass it he might
find calmer water and even a landing-place beyond.
Here at least was hope. He would try to round the point at any rate.
Now he drew so close that the great rocks seemed to tower vast above
him. He was not yet close enough to feel as though lapped in their
shadow; but even the overcast sky seemed full of light above the line
of the cliff. There was a strange roaring, rushing sound around him.
He thought that it was not merely the waves dashing on the rocks, but
that partly it came from his own ears; that his ebbing strength was
feeling the frantic struggle which he was making. The end was
coming, he thought; but still he kept valiantly on, set and silent,
as is the way with brave men.
Suddenly from the top of the cliff a bright light flashed. He looked
at it sideways as he fought his way on, and saw the light rise and
fall and flicker as the flames leaped. High over him he saw
fantastic figures which seemed to dance on the edge of the high
cliff. They had evidently noticed him, and were making signals of
some sort; but what the motions were he could not see or understand,
for they were but dark silhouettes, edged with light, against the
background of fire. The only thing he could think was that they
meant to encourage him, and so he urged himself to further effort.
It might be that help was at hand!
Several times as he turned his head sideways he saw the figures and
the light, but not so clearly; it was as though the light was
lessening in power. When again he looked he saw a new fire leap out
on the edge of the cliff, and some figures to the right of it. They
were signalling in some way. So, pausing in his swimming, he rose a
little from the water and looked at them.
A thrill shot through him, and a paralysing thought that he must have
gone mad. With his wet hand he cleared his eyes, though the touching
them pained him terribly, and for an instant saw clearly:
There on the edge of the cliff, standing beside some men and waving
her arms in a wild sweep as though motioning frantically 'Keep out!
keep out!' was a woman. Instinctively he glanced to his left and saw
a white waste of leaping water, through which sharp rocks rose like
monstrous teeth. On the instant he saw the danger, and made out
seaward, swimming frantically to clear the dangerous spot before the
current would sweep him upon the rocks.
But the woman! As one remembers the last sight when the lightning
has banished sight, so that vision seemed burned into his brain. A
woman with a scarlet riding-habit and masses of long red hair blowing
in the gale like leaping flame! Could there be two such persons in
the world? No! no! It was a vision! A vision of the woman he
loved, come to save him in the direst moment of great peril!
His heart beat with new hope; only the blackness of the stormy sea
was before him as he strove frantically on.
Presently when he felt the current slacken, for he had been swimming
across it and could feel its power, he turned and looked back. As he
did so he murmured aloud:
'A dream! A vision! She came to warn me!' For as he looked all had
disappeared. Cliff and coastline, dark rocks and leaping seas,
blazing fire, and the warning vision of the woman he loved.
Again he looked where the waste of sea churning amongst the sunken
rocks had been. He could hear the roaring of waters, the thunder of
great waves beating on the iron-bound coast; but nothing could he
see. He was alone on the wild sea; in the dark.
Then truly the swift shadow of despair fell upon him.
'Blind Blind!' he moaned, and for the moment, stricken with despair,
sank into the trough of the waves. But the instinctive desire for
life recalled him. Once more he fought his way up to the surface,
and swam blindly, desperately on. Seeing nothing, he did not know
which way he was going. He might have heard better had his eyes been
able to help his ears; but in the sudden strange darkness all the
senses were astray. In the agony of his mind he could not even feel
the pain of his burnt face; the torture of his eyes had passed. But
with the instinct of a strong man he kept on swimming blindly,
It seemed as if ages of untold agony had gone by, when he heard a
voice seemingly beside him:
'Lay hold here! Catch the girth!' The voice came muffled by wind
and wave. His strength was now nearly at its last.
The shock of his blindness and the agony of the moments that had
passed had finished his exhaustion. But a little longer and he must
have sunk into his rest. But the voice and the help it promised
rallied him for a moment. He had hardly strength to speak, but he
managed to gasp out:
'Where? where? Help me! I am blind!' A hand took his and guided it
to a tightened girth. Instinctively his fingers closed round it, and
he hung on grimly. His senses were going fast. He felt as if it was
all a strange dream. A voice here in the sea! A girth! A horse; he
could hear its hard breathing.
The voice came again.
'Steady! Hold on! My God! he's fainted! I must tie him on!' He
heard a tearing sound, and something was wound round his wrists.
Then his nerveless fingers relaxed their hold; and all passed into
CHAPTER XXXIII--THE QUEEN'S ROOM
To Stephen all that now happened seemed like a dream. She saw Hector
and his gallant young master forge across the smoother water of the
current whose boisterous stream had been somewhat stilled in the
churning amongst the rocks, and then go north in the direction of the
swimmer who, strange to say, was drifting in again towards the sunken
rocks. Then she saw the swimmer's head sink under the water; and her
heart grew cold. Was this to be the end! Was such a brave man to be
lost after such gallant effort as he had made, and just at the moment
when help was at hand!
The few seconds seemed ages. Instinctively she shut her eyes and
prayed again. 'Oh! God. Give me this man's life that I may atone!'
God seemed to have heard her prayer. Nay, more! He had mercifully
allowed her to be the means of averting great danger. She would
never, could never, forget the look on the man's face when he saw, by
the flame that she had kindled, ahead of him the danger from the
sunken rocks. She had exulted at the thought. And now . . .
She was recalled by a wild cheer beside her. Opening her eyes she
saw that the man's head had risen again from the water. He was
swimming furiously, this time seaward. But close at hand were the
heads of the swimming horse and man . . . She saw the young squire
seize the man . . .
And then the rush of her tears blinded her. When she could see again
the horse had turned and was making back again to the shelter of the
point. The squire had his arm stretched across the horse's back; he
was holding up the sailor's head, which seemed to roll helplessly
with every motion of the cumbering sea.
For a little she thought he was dead, but the voice of the old whaler
'He was just in time! The poor chap was done!' And so with beating
heart and eyes that did not flinch now she watched the slow progress
to the shelter of the point. The coastguards and fishermen had made
up their minds where the landing could be made, and were ready; on
the rocky shelf, whence Hector had at jumped, they stood by with
lines. When the squire had steered and encouraged the horse, whose
snorting could be heard from the sheltered water, till he was just
below the rocks, they lowered a noosed rope. This he fastened round
the senseless man below his shoulders. One strong, careful pull, and
he was safe on land; and soon was being borne up the steep zigzag on
the shoulders of the willing crowd.
In the meantime other ropes were passed down to the squire. One he
placed round his own waist; two others he fastened one on each side
of the horse's girth. Then his friend lowered the bridle, and he
managed to put it on the horse and attached a rope to it. The
fishermen took the lines, and, paying out as they went so as to leave
plenty of slack line, got on the rocks just above the little beach
whereon, sheltered though it was, the seas broke heavily. There they
waited, ready to pull the horse through the surf when he should have
come close enough.
Stephen did not see the rescue of the horse; for just then a tall
grave man spoke to her:
'Pardon me, Lady de Lannoy, but is the man to be brought up to the
Castle? I am told you have given orders that all the rescued shall
be taken there.' She answered unhesitatingly
'Certainly! I gave orders before coming out that preparation was to
be made for them.'
'I am Mr. Hilton. I have just come down to do lacum tenens for Dr.
Winter at Lannoch Port. I rode over on hearing there was a wreck,
and came here with the rocket-cart. I shall take charge of the man
and bring him up. He will doubtless want some special care.'
'If you will be so good!' she answered, feeling a diffidence which
was new to her. At that moment the crowd carrying the senseless man
began to appear over the cliff, coming up the zig-zag. The Doctor
hurried towards him; she followed at a little distance, fearing lest
she should hamper him. Under his orders they laid the patient on the
weather side of the bonfire so that the smoke would not reach him.
The Doctor knelt by his side.
An instant after he looked up and said:
'He is alive; his heart is beating, though faintly. He had better be
taken away at once. There is no means here of shelter.'
'Bring him in the rocket-cart; it is the only conveyance here,' cried
Stephen. 'And bring Mr. Hepburn too. He also will need some care
after his gallant service. I shall ride on and advise my household
of your coming. And you good people come all to the Castle. You are
to be my guests if you will so honour me. No! No! Really I should
prefer to ride alone!'
She said this impulsively, seeing that several of the gentlemen were
running for their horses to accompany her. 'I shall not wait to
thank that valiant young gentleman. I shall see him at Lannoy.'
As she was speaking she had taken the bridle of her horse. One of
the young men stooped and held his hand; she bowed, put her foot in
it and sprang to the saddle. In an instant she was flying across
country at full speed, in the dark. A wild mood was on her, reaction
from the prolonged agony of apprehension. There was little which she
would not have done just then.
The gale whistled round her and now and again she shouted with pure
joy. It seemed as if God Himself had answered her prayer and given
her the returning life!
By the time she had reached the Castle the wild ride had done its
soothing work. She was calm again, comparatively; her wits and
feelings were her own.
There was plenty to keep her occupied, mind and body. The train of
persons saved from the wreck were arriving in all sorts of vehicles,
and as clothes had to be found for them as well as food and shelter
there was no end to the exertions necessary. She felt as though the
world were not wide enough for the welcome she wished to extend. Its
exercise was a sort of reward of her exertions; a thank-offering for
the response to her prayer. She moved amongst her guests, forgetful
of herself; of her strange attire; of the state of dishevelment and
grime in which she was, the result of the storm, her long ride over
rough ground with its share of marshes and pools, and the smoke from
the bonfire and the blazing house. The strangers wondered at first,
till they came to understand that she was the Lady Bountiful who had
stretched her helpful hands to them. Those who could, made
themselves useful with the new batches of arrivals. The whole Castle
was lit from cellar to tower. The kitchens were making lordly
provision, the servants were carrying piles of clothes of all sorts,
and helping to fit those who came still wet from their passage
through or over the heavy sea.
In the general disposition of chambers Stephen ordered to be set
apart for the rescued swimmer the Royal Chamber where Queen Elizabeth
had lain; and for Mr. Hepburn that which had been occupied by the
Second George. She had a sort of idea that the stranger was God's
guest who was coming to her house; and that nothing could be too good
for him. As she waited for his coming, even though she swept to and
fro in her ministrations to others, she felt as though she trod on
air. Some great weight seemed to have been removed from her. Her
soul was free again!
At last the rocket-cart arrived, and with it many horsemen and such
men and women as could run across country with equal speed to the
horses labouring by the longer road.
The rescued man was still senseless, but that alone did not seem to
cause anxiety to the Doctor, who hurried him at once into the
prepared room. When, assisted by some of the other men, he had
undressed him, rubbed him down and put him to bed, and had seen some
of the others who had been rescued from the wreck, he sought out Lady
de Lannoy. He told her that his anxiety was for the man's sight; an
announcement which blanched his hearer's cheeks. She had so made up
her mind as to his perfect safety that the knowledge of any kind of
ill came like a cruel shock. She questioned Mr. Hilton closely; so
closely that he thought it well to tell her at once all that he
surmised and feared:
'That fine young fellow who swam out with his horse to him, tells me
that when he neared him he cried out that he was blind. I have made
some inquiries from those on the ship, and they tell me that he was a
passenger, named Robinson. Not only was he not blind then, but he
was the strongest and most alert man on the ship. If it be blindness
it must have come on during that long swim. It may be that before
leaving the ship he received some special injury--indeed he has
several cuts and burns and bruises--and that the irritation of the
sea-water increased it. I can do nothing till he wakes. At present
he is in such a state that nothing can be done for him. Later I
shall if necessary give him a hypodermic to ensure sleep. In the
morning when I come again I shall examine him fully.'
'But you are not going away to-night!' said Stephen in dismay.
'Can't you manage to stay here? Indeed you must! Look at all these
people, some of whom may need special attention or perhaps treatment.
We do not know yet if any may be injured.' He answered at once:
'Of course I shall stay if you wish it. But there are two other
doctors here already. I must go over to my own place to get some
necessary instruments for the examination of this special patient.
But that I can do in the early morning.'
'Can I not send for what you want; the whole household are at your
service. All that can be done for that gallant man must be done.
You can send to London for special help if you wish. If that man is
blind, or in danger of blindness, we must have the best oculist in
the world for him.'
'All shall be done that is possible,' said he earnestly. 'But till I
examine him in the morning we can do nothing. I am myself an
oculist; that is my department in St. Stephen's Hospital. I have an
idea of what is wrong, but I cannot diagnose exactly until I can use
the ophthalmoscope.' His words gave Stephen confidence. Laying her
hand on his arm unconsciously in the extremity of pity she said
'Oh, do what you can for him. He must be a noble creature; and all
that is possible must be done. I shall never rest happily if through
any failing on my part he suffers as you fear.'
'I shall do all I can,' he said with equal earnestness, touched with
her eager pity. 'And I shall not trust myself alone, if any other
can be of service. Depend upon it, Lady de Lannoy, all shall be as
There was little sleep in the Castle that night till late. Mr.
Hilton slept on a sofa in the Queen's Room after he had administered
a narcotic to his patient.
As soon as the eastern sky began to quicken, he rode, as he had
arranged during the evening, to Dr. Winter's house at Lannoch Port
where he was staying. After selecting such instruments and drugs as
he required, he came back in the dogcart.
It was still early morning when he regained the Castle. He found
Lady de Lannoy up and looking anxiously for him. Her concern was
somewhat abated when he was able to tell her that his patient still
It was a painful scene for Mr. Hilton when his patient woke.
Fortunately some of the after-effects of the narcotic remained, for
his despair at realising that he was blind was terrible. It was not
that he was violent; to be so under his present circumstances would
have been foreign to Harold's nature. But there was a despair which
was infinitely more sad to witness than passion. He simply moaned to
'Blind! Blind!' and again in every phase of horrified amazement, as
though he could not realise the truth: 'Blind! Blind!' The Doctor
laid his hand on his breast and said very gently:
'My poor fellow, it is a dreadful thing to face, to think of. But as
yet I have not been able to come to any conclusion; unable even to
examine you. I do not wish to encourage hopes that may be false, but
there are cases when injury is not vital and perhaps only temporary.
In such case your best chance, indeed your only chance, is to keep
quiet. You must not even think if possible of anything that may
excite you. I am now about to examine you with the ophthalmoscope.
You are a man; none of us who saw your splendid feat last night can
doubt your pluck. Now I want you to use some of it to help us both.
You, for your recovery, if such is possible; me, to help me in my
work. I have asked some of your late companions who tell me that on
shipboard you were not only well and of good sight, but that you were
remarkable even amongst strong men. Whatever it is you suffer from
must have come on quickly. Tell me all you can remember of it.'
The Doctor listened attentively whilst Harold told all he could
remember of his sufferings. When he spoke of the return of old
rheumatic pains his hearer said involuntarily: 'Good!' Harold
paused; but went on at once. The Doctor recognised that he had
rightly appraised his remark, and by it judged that he was a well-
educated man. Something in the method of speaking struck him, and he
said, as nonchalantly as he could:
'By the way, which was your University?'
'Cambridge. Trinity.' He spoke without thinking, and the instant he
had done so stopped. The sense of his blindness rushed back on him.
He could not see; and his ears were not yet trained to take the place
of his eyes. He must guard himself. Thenceforward he was so
cautious in his replies that Mr. Hilton felt convinced there was some
purpose in his reticence. He therefore stopped asking questions, and
began to examine him. He was unable to come to much result; his
opinion was shown in his report to Lady de Lannoy:
'I am unable to say anything definite as yet. The case is a most
interesting one; as a case and quite apart from the splendid fellow
who is the subject of it. I have hopes that within a few days I may
be able to know more. I need not trouble you with surgical terms;
but later on if the diagnosis supports the supposition at present in
my mind I shall be able to speak more fully. In the meantime I
shall, with your permission, wait here so that I may watch him
'Oh you are good. Thank you! Thank you!' said Stephen. She had so
taken the man under her own care that she was grateful for any
kindness shown to him.
'Not at all'' said Mr. Hilton. 'Any man who behaved as that fellow
did has a claim on any of us who may help him. No time of mine could
be better spent.'
When he went back to the patient's room he entered softly, for he
thought he might be asleep. The room was, according to his
instructions, quite dark, and as it was unfamiliar to him he felt his
way cautiously. Harold, however, heard the small noise he made and
'Who is there?'
'It is I; Hilton.'
'Are you alone?'
'Look round the room and see. Then lock the door and come and talk
to me if you will. You will pity a poor blind fellow, I know. The
darkness has come down upon me so quickly that I am not accustomed to
it!' There was a break in his voice which moved the other. He lit a
candle, feeling that the doing so would impress his patient, and went
round the room; not with catlike movement this time--he wanted the
other to hear him. When he had turned the key in the lock, as
sharply as he could, he came to the bedside and sat down. Harold
spoke again after a short pause:
'Is that candle still lit?'
'Yes! Would you like it put out?'
'If you don't mind! Again I say pity me and pardon me. But I want
to ask you something privately, between our two selves; and I will
feel more of equality than if you were looking at me, whilst I cannot
see you.' Mr Hilton blew out the candle.
'There! We are equal now.'
'Thank you!' A long pause; then he went on:
'When a man becomes suddenly blind is there usually, or even
occasionally, any sort of odd sight? . . . Does he see anything like
a dream, a vision?'
'Not that I know of. I have never heard of such a case. As a rule
people struck blind by lightning, which is the most common cause,
sometimes remember with extraordinary accuracy the last thing they
have seen. Just as though it were photographed on the retina!'
'Thank you! Is such usually the recurrence of any old dream or
anything they have much thought of?'
'Not that I know of. It would be unusual!' Harold waited a long
time before he spoke again. When he did so it was in a different
voice; a constrained voice. The Doctor, accustomed to take
enlightenment from trivial details, noted it:
'Now tell me, Mr. Hilton, something about what has happened. Where
'In Lannoy Castle.'
'Where is it?'
'Who does it belong to?'
'Lady de Lannoy. The Countess de Lannoy; they tell me she is a
Countess in her own right.'
'It is very good of her to have me here. Is she an old lady?'
'No! A young one. Young and very beautiful.' After a pause before
'What's she like? Describe her to me!'
'She is young, a little over twenty. Tall and of a very fine figure.
She has eyes like black diamonds, and hair like a flame!' For a long
time Harold remained still. Then he said:
'Tell me all you know or have learned of this whole affair. How was
I rescued, and by whom?' So the Doctor proceeded to give him every
detail he knew of. When he was quite through, the other again lay
still for a long time. The silence was broken by a gentle tap at the
door. The Doctor lit a candle. He turned the key softly, so that no
one would notice that the door was locked. Something was said in a
low whisper. Then the door was gently closed, and the Doctor
'Lady Lannoy wants, if it will not disturb you, to ask how you are.
Ordinarily I should not let anyone see you. But she is not only your
hostess, but, as I have just told you, it was her ride to the
headland, where she burned the house to give you light, which was the
beginning of your rescue. Still if you think it better not . . . !'
'I hardly like anybody to see me like this!' said Harold, feebly
seeking an excuse.
'My dear man,' said the other, 'you may be easy in your mind, she
won't see much of you. You are all bandages and beard. She'll have
to wait a while before she sees you.'
'Didn't she see me last night?'
'Not she! Whilst we were trying to restore you she was rushing back
to the Castle to see that all was ready for you, and for the others
from the wreck.' This vaguely soothed Harold.
If his surmise was correct, and if she had not seen him then, it was
well that he was bandaged now. He felt that it would not do to
refuse to let her see him; it might look suspicious. So after
pausing a short while he said in a low voice:
'I suppose she had better come now. We must not keep her waiting!'
When the Doctor brought her to his bedside Stephen felt in a measure
awed. His bandaged face and head and his great beard, singed in
patches, looked to her in the dim light rather awesome. In a very
gentle voice she said kind things to the sick man, who acknowledged
them in a feeble whisper. The Doctor, a keen observer, noticed the
change in his voice, and determined to understand more. Stephen
spoke of his bravery, and of how it was due to him that all on the
ship were saved; and as she spoke her emotion moved her so much that
her sweet voice shook and quivered. To the ears of the man who had
now only sound to guide him, it was music of the sweetest he had ever
heard. Fearing lest his voice should betray him, he whispered his
own thanks feebly and in few words.
When Stephen went away the Doctor went with her; it was more than an
hour before he returned. He found his patient in what he considered
a state of suppressed excitement; for, though his thoughts were
manifestly collected and his words were calm, he was restless and
excited in other ways. He had evidently been thinking of his own
condition; for shortly after the Doctor came in he said:
'Are we alone?'
'I want you to arrange that there shall not be any nurse with me.'
'My dear sir! Don't handicap me, and yourself, with such a
restriction. It is for your own good that you should have regular
and constant attention.'
'But I don't wish it. Not for the present at all events. I am not
accustomed to a nurse, and shall not feel comfortable. In a few days
perhaps . . . ' The decided tone of his voice struck the other.
Keeping his own thoughts and intentions in abeyance, even to himself,
he answered heartily:
'All right! I shall not have any nurse, at present.'
'Thanks!' There was relief in the tone which seemed undue, and Mr.
Hilton again took mental note. Presently he asked a question, but in
such a tone that the Doctor pricked up his ears. There was a
premeditated self-suppression, a gravity of restraint, which implied
some falsity; some intention other than the words conveyed:
'It must have been a job to carry me up those stairs.' The Doctor
was doubting everything, but as the safest attitude he stuck to
literal truth so far as his words conveyed it:
'Yes. You are no light weight!' To himself he mused:
'How did he know there were stairs? He cannot know it; he was
senseless! Therefore he must be guessing or inquiring!' Harold went
'I suppose the Castle is on high ground. Can you see far from the
windows? I suppose we are up a good height?'
'From the windows you can see all round the promontory. But we are
not high up; that is, the room is not high from the ground, though
the Castle is from the sea.' Harold asked again, his voice vibrating
in the note of gladness:
'Are we on the ground floor then?'
'And I suppose the gardens are below us?'
'Yes.' The answer was given quickly, for a thought was floating
through him: Why did this strong brave man, suddenly stricken blind,
wish to know whether his windows were at a height? He was not
surprised when his patient reaching out a hand rested it on his arm
and said in an imploring tone:
'It should be moonlight; full moon two nights ago. Won't you pull up
the blind and describe to me all you see? . . . Tell me fully . . .
Remember, I am blind!'
This somehow fixed the Doctor's thought:
'Suicide! But I must convey the inutility of such effort by
inference, not falsity.'
Accordingly he began to describe the scene, from the very base of the
wall, where below the balcony the great border was glorious with a
mass of foliage plants, away to the distant sea, now bathed in the
flood of moonlight. Harold asked question after question; the Doctor
replying accurately till he felt that the patient was building up a
concrete idea of his surroundings near and far. Then he left him.
He stood for a long time out in the passage thinking. He said to
himself as he moved away:
'The poor fellow has some grim intention in his mind. I must not let
him know that I suspect; but to-night I will watch without his
Mr. Hilton telegraphed at once countermanding, for the present, the
nurse for whom he had sent.
That night, when the household had all retired, he came quietly to
his patient's room, and entering noiselessly, sat silent in a far
corner. There was no artificial right; the patient had to be kept in
darkness. There was, however, a bright moonlight; sufficient light
stole in through the edges of the blinds to allow him, when his eyes
grew accustomed, to see what might happen.
Harold lay quite still till the house was quiet. He had been
thinking, ever since he had ascertained the identity of Stephen. In
his weakness and the paralysing despair of his blindness all his
former grief and apprehension had come bank upon him in a great wave;
veritably the tide of circumstances seemed to run hard against him.
He had had no idea of forcing himself upon Stephen; and yet here he
was a guest in her house, without her knowledge or his own. She had
saved his life by her energy and resource. Fortunately she did not
as yet know him; the bandages, and his act in suppressing his voice,
had so far protected him. But such could not last for long. He
could not see to protect himself, and take precautions as need arose.
And he knew well that Stephen's nature would not allow her to be
satisfied without doing all that was possible to help one who had
under her eyes made a great effort on behalf of others, and to whom
there was the added bond that his life was due to her. In but a
little time she must find out to whom she ministered.
What then would happen? Her kindness was such that when she realised
the blindness of her old friend she might so pity him that out of the
depths of her pity she would forgive. She would take back all the
past; and now that she knew of his old love for her, would perhaps be
willing to marry him. Back flooded the old memory of her
independence and her theory of sexual equality. If out of any
selfish or mistaken idea she did not hesitate to ask a man to marry
her, would it be likely that when the nobler and more heroic side of
her nature spoke she would hesitate to a similar act in pursuance of
So it might be that she would either find herself once again flouted,
or else married to a man she did not love.
Such a catastrophe should not happen, whatever the cost to him. He
would, blind as he was, steal away in the night and take himself out
of her life; this time for ever. Better the ingratitude of an
unknown man, the saving of whose life was due to her, than the long
dull routine of a spoiled life, which would otherwise be her unhappy
When once this idea had taken root in his mind he had taken such
steps as had been open to him without endangering the secrecy of his
motive. Thanks to his subtle questioning of the Doctor, he now knew
that his room was close to the ground, so that he would easily drop
from the window and steal away with out immediate danger of any
restraining accident. If he could once get away he would be all
right. There was a large sum to his credit in each of two London
banks. He would manage somehow to find his way to London; even if he
had to walk and beg his way.
He felt that now in the silence of the night the time had come.
Quietly he rose and felt his way to the door, now and again stumbling
and knocking against unknown obstacles in the manner of the recently
blind. After each such noise he paused and listened. He felt as if
the very walls had ears. When he reached the door he turned the key
softly. Then he breathed more freely. He felt that he was at last
alone and free to move without suspicion.
Then began a great and arduous search; one that was infinitely
difficult and exasperating; and full of pathos to the sympathetic man
who watched him in silence. Mr. Hilton could not understand his
movements as he felt his way about the room, opening drawers and
armoires, now and again stooping down and feeling along the floor.
He did not betray his presence, however, but moved noiselessly away
as the other approached. It was a hideously real game of blindman's-
buff, with perhaps a life as the forfeit.
Harold went all over the room, and at last sat down on the edge of
his bed with a hollow suppressed groan that was full of pain. He had
found his clothes, but realised that they were now but rags. He put
on the clothes, and then for a long time sat quiet, rocking gently to
and fro as one in pain, a figure of infinite woe. At last he roused
himself. His mind was made up; the time for action had come. He
groped his way towards the window looking south. The Doctor, who had
taken off his shoes, followed him with catlike stealthiness.
He easily threw open the window, for it was already partly open for
When Mr. Hilton saw him sit on the rail of the balcony and begin to
raise his feet, getting ready to drop over, he rushed forward and
seized him. Harold instinctively grappled with him; the habit of his
Alaskan life amidst continual danger made in such a case action swift
as thought. Mr. Hilton, with the single desire to prevent him from
killing himself, threw himself backward and pulled Harold with him to
the stone floor.
Harold, as he held him in a grip of iron, thundered out, forgetful in
the excitement of the moment the hushed voice to which he had limited
'What do you want? who are you?'
'H-s-s-sh! I am Mr. Hilton.' Harold relaxed the rigour of his grasp
but still held him firmly:
'How did you come here? I locked my door!'
'I have been in the room a long time. I suspected something, and
came to watch; to prevent your rash act.'
'Rash act! How?'
'Why, man, if you didn't kill, you would at least cripple yourself.'
'How can I cripple myself when the flower-bed is only a few feet
'There are other dangers for a man who--a man in your sad state.
And, besides, have I no duty to prevent a suicide!' Here a brilliant
idea struck Harold. This man had evidently got some wrong
impression; but it would serve to shield his real purpose. He would
therefore encourage it. For the moment, of course, his purpose to
escape unnoticed was foiled; but he would wait, and in due time seize
another opportunity. In a harder and more determined tone than he
had yet used he said:
'I don't see what right you have to interfere. I shall kill myself
if I like.'
'Not whilst you are in my care!' This was spoken with a resolution
equal to his own. Then Mr. Hilton went on, more softly and with
infinite compassion: 'Moreover, I want to have a talk with you which
may alter your views.' Harold interrupted, still playing the game of
hiding his real purpose:
'I shall do as I wish; as I intend.'
'You are injuring yourself even now by standing in the draught of
that open window. Your eyes will feel it before long . . . Are you
mad . . . ?'
Harold felt a prick like a pin in his neck; and turned to seize his
companion. He could not find him, and for a few moments stumbled
through the dark, raging . . .
It seemed a long time before he remembered anything. He had a sense
of time lapsed; of dreamland thoughts and visions. Then gradually
recollection came back. He tried to move; but found it impossible.
His arms and legs were extended wide and were tied; he could feel the
cord hurting his wrists and ankles as he moved. To him it was awful
to be thus blind and helpless; and anger began to surge up. He heard
the voice of Mr. Hilton close by him speaking in a calm, grave,
'My poor fellow, I hated to take such a step; but it was really
necessary for your own safety. You are a man, and a brave one.
Won't you listen to me for a few minutes? When you have heard what I
have to say I shall release you. In the meantime I apologise for the
outrage, as I dare say you consider it!' Harold was reasonable; and
he was now blind and helpless. Moreover, there was something in the
Doctor's voice that carried a sense of power with it.
'Go on! I shall listen!' He compelled himself to quietude. The
Doctor saw, and realised that he was master of himself. There were
some snips of scissors, and he was free.
'See! all I want is calm for a short time, and you have it. May I go
'Go on!' said Harold, not without respect. The Doctor after a pause
'My poor fellow, I want you to understand that I wish to help you, to
do all in my power to restore to you that which you seem to have
lost! I can sympathise with your desire to quit life altogether now
that the best part of it, sight, seems gone. I do not pretend to
judge the actions of my fellows; and if you determine to carry out
your purpose I shall not be able to prevent you for ever. I shall
not try to. But you certainly shall not do so till you know what I
know! I had wished to wait till I could be a little more certain
before I took you into confidence with regard to my guessing as to
the future. But your desire to destroy yourself forces my hand. Now
let me tell you that there is a possibility of the removal of the
cause of your purpose.'
'What do you mean?' gasped Harold. He was afraid to think outright
and to the full what the other's words seemed to imply.
'I mean,' said the other solemnly, 'that there is a possibility, more
than a possibility, that you may recover your sight!' As he spoke
there was a little break in his voice. He too was somewhat unnerved
at the situation.
Harold lay still. The whole universe seemed to sway, and then whirl
round him in chaotic mass. Through it at length he seemed to hear
the calm voice:
'At first I could not be sure of my surmise, for when I used the
ophthalmoscope your suffering was too recent to disclose the cause I
looked for. Now I am fairly sure of it. What I have since heard
from you has convinced me; your having suffered from rheumatic fever,
and the recrudescence of the rheumatic pain after your terrible
experience of the fire and that long chilling swim with so seemingly
hopeless an end to it; the symptoms which I have since noticed,
though they have not been as enlightening to me as they might be.
Your disease, as I have diagnosed it, is an obscure one and not
common. I have not before been able to study a case. All these
things give me great hopes.'
'Thank God! Thank God!' the voice from the bed was now a whisper.
'Thank God! say I too. This that you suffer from is an acute form of
inflammation of the optic nerve. It may of course end badly; in
permanent loss of sight. But I hope--I believe, that in your case it
will not be so. You are young, and you are immensely strong; not
merely muscularly, but in constitution. I can see that you have been
an athlete, and no mean one either. All this will stand to you. But
it will take time. It will need all your own help; all the calm
restraint of your body and your mind. I am doing all that science
knows; you must do the rest!' He waited, giving time to the other to
realise his ideas. Harold lay still for a long time before he spoke:
'Doctor.' The voice was so strangely different that the other was
more hopeful at once. He had feared opposition, or conflict of some
kind. He answered as cheerily as he could:
'Yes! I am listening.'
'You are a good fellow; and I am grateful to you, both for what you
have done and what you have told me. I cannot say how grateful just
yet; hope unmans me at present. But I think you deserve that I
should tell you the truth!' The other nodded; he forgot that the
speaker could not see.
'I was not intending to commit suicide. Such an idea didn't even
enter my head. To me, suicide is the resource of a coward. I have
been in too many tight places to ever fear that.'
'Then in the name of goodness why were you trying to get out of that
'I wanted to escape; to get away!'
'In your shirt and trousers; and they are not over much! Without
even slippers!' A faint smile curled round the lips of the injured
man. Hope was beginning to help already.
'Even that way!'
'But man alive! you were going to your death. How could you expect
to get away in such an outfit without being discovered? When you
were missed the whole countryside would have been up, and even before
the hue-and-cry the first person who saw you would have taken charge
'I know! I know! I had thought of it all. But I was willing to
chance it. I had my own reasons!' He was silent a while. The
Doctor was silent too. Each man was thinking in his own way.
Presently the Doctor spoke:
'Look here, old chap! I don't want to pry into your secrets; but,
won't you let me help you? I can hold my tongue. I want to help
you. You have earned that wish from any man, and woman too, who saw
the burning ship and what you did to save those on board. There is
nothing I would not do for you. Nothing! I don't ask you to tell me
all; only enough for me to understand and help. I can see that you
have some overpowering wish to get away. Some reason that I cannot
fathom, certainly without a clue. You may trust me, I assure you.
If you could look into my face, my eyes, you would understand. But--
There! take my hand. It may tell you something!'
Harold took the hand placed in his, and held it close. He pressed
his other hand over it also, as though the effect of the two hands
would bring him double knowledge. It was infinitely pathetic to see
him trying to make his untrained fingers do the duty of his trained
eyes. But, trained or not, his hands had their instinct. Laying
down gently the hand he held he said, turning his bandaged eyes in
the direction of his companion:
'I shall trust you! Are we alone; absolutely alone?'
'Have I your solemn promise that anything I say shall never go beyond
'I promise. I can swear, if it will make your mind more easy in the
'What do you hold most sacred in the world?' Harold had an odd
thought; his question was its result.
'All told, I should think my profession! Perhaps it doesn't seem to
you much to swear by; but it is all my world! But I have been
brought up in honour, and you may trust my promise--as much as
anything I could swear.'
'All right! My reason for wanting to get away was because I knew
Lady de Lannoy!'
'What!' Then after a pause: 'I should have thought that was a
reason for wanting to stay. She seems not only one of the most
beautiful, but the sweetest woman I ever met.'
'She is all that! And a thousand times more!'
'Then why-- Pardon me!'
'I cannot tell you all; but you must take it that my need to get away
is imperative.' After pondering a while Mr. Hilton said suddenly:
'I must ask your pardon again. Are you sure there is no mistake.
Lady de Lannoy is not married; has not been. She is Countess in her
own right. It is quite a romance. She inherited from some old
branch of more than three hundred years ago.' Again Harold smiled;
he quite saw what the other meant.
He answered gravely
'I understand. But it does not alter my opinion; my purpose. It is