Part 5 out of 5
the saddle, heard dimly their howl of triumph as they raced toward
him--heard also another yell that rose above the Arabs' clamour, a
piercing yell that sounded strangely different to the Arabic intonation
ringing in his ears. And as he gripped himself and raised his head he
had a vision of another horseman mounted on a frenzied trampling roan
that, apparently out of control and mad with excitement, was charging
down upon them, a horseman whose fluttering close-drawn headgear shaded
features that were curiously Mongolian--and then he went down in a
welter of men and horses. A flying hoof touched the back of his head
and consciousness ceased.
Craven woke to a burning pain in his side, a racking headache and an
intolerable thirst. It was not a sudden waking but a gradual dawning
consciousness in which time and place as yet meant nothing, and only
bodily suffering obtruded on a still partially clouded mind.
Fragmentary waves of thought, disconnected and transitory, passed
through his brain, leaving no permanent impression, and he made no
effort to unravel them. Effort of any kind, mental or physical, seemed
for the moment beyond him. He was too tired even to open his eyes, and
lay with them closed, wondering feebly at the pain and discomfort of
his whole body. He had the sensation of having been battered, he felt
bruised from head to foot. Suffering was new to him. He had never been
ill in his life, and in all his years of travel and hazardous adventure
he had sustained only trivial injuries which had healed readily and
been regarded as merely part of the day's work.
But now, as his mind grew clearer, he realised that some accident must
have occurred to induce this pain and lassitude that made him lie like
a log with throbbing head and powerless limbs. He pondered it, trying
to pierce the fog that dulled his intellect. He had a subconscious
impression of some strenuous adventure through which he had passed, but
knowledge still hovered on the borderland of fancy and actuality. He
had no recollection of the fight or of events preceding it. That he was
Barry Craven he knew; but of where he had no idea--nor what his life
had been. Of his personality there remained only his name, he was quite
sure about that. And out of the past emerged only one clear memory--a
woman's face. And yet as he dwelt on it the image of another woman's
face rose beside it, mingling with and absorbing it until the two faces
seemed strangely merged the one into the other, alike and yet wholly
different. And the effort to disentangle them and keep them separate
was greater than his tired brain could achieve, and made his head ache
more violently. Confused, and with a sudden feeling of aversion, he
stirred impatiently, and the sharp pain that shot through him brought
him abruptly to a sense of his physical state and forced utterance of
his greatest need. It had not hitherto occurred to him to wonder whether
he were alone, or even where he was. But as he spoke an arm was slipped
under him raising him slightly and a cup held to his lips. He drank
eagerly and, as he was again lowered gently to the pillow, raised his
eyes to the face of the man who bent over him, a puckered yellow face
whose imperturbability for once had given place to patent anxiety. Craven
stared at it for a few moments in perplexity. Where had he seen it
before? Struggling to recall what had happened prior to this curiously
obscured awakening there dawned a dim recollection of shattering noise
and tumult, of blood and death and fierce unbridled human passion, of a
horde of wild-eyed dark-skinned men who surged and struggled round
him--and of a yelling Arab on a fiery roan. Memory came in a flash.
He gave a weak little croaking laugh. "You damned insubordinate little
devil," he murmured, and drifted once more into unconsciousness. When
he woke again it was with complete remembrance of everything that had
passed. He felt ridiculously weak, but his head did not ache so badly
and his mind was perfectly clear. Only of the time that had elapsed
between the moment when he had gone down under the Arabs' charge and
his awakening a little while ago he had no recollection. How long had
he been unconscious? He found himself mildly puzzled, but without any
great interest as yet. Plenty of time to find out about that and what
had befallen Omar and Said. It was not that he did not care, but that,
for the moment, he was too tired and listless to do more than lie still
and endure his own discomfort. His side throbbed painfully and there was
something curious about his left arm, a dead feeling of numbness that
made him wonder whether it was there at all. He glanced down at it with
sudden apprehension--he had no fancy for a maimed existence--and was
relieved to find it still in place but bent stiffly across his chest
wrapped in a multitude of bandages--broken, presumably. His eyes wandered
with growing interest round the little tent where he lay. It was his own,
from which he inferred that the fight must have gone in favour of Mukair
Ibn Zarrarah's forces or he would never have been brought back here to
it. He glanced from one familiar object to another with a drowsy feeling
Presently he became aware that somebody had entered and turning his
head he found Yoshio beside him eyeing him with a look in which
solicitude, satisfaction, and a faint diffidence struggled for
supremacy. Craven guessed the reason of his embarrassment, but he had
no mind to refer to an order given, and disobeyed through
overzealousness. That, too, could wait--or be forgotten. He contented
himself with a single question. "How long?" he asked laconically. With
equal brevity the Jap replied: "Two days," and postponed further
inquiries by slipping a clinical thermometer into his master's mouth.
He had always been useful in attending on minor camp accidents, and
during the last two years in Central Africa he had picked up a certain
amount of rough surgical knowledge which now stood him in good stead,
and which he proceeded to put into practice with a gravity of demeanour
that made Craven, in his weakened state, want to giggle hysterically.
But he suppressed the inclination and held on to the thermometer until
Yoshio solemnly removed it, studied it intently, and nodded approval.
With the exact attention to detail that was his ruling passion he
carefully rinsed the tiny glass instrument and returned it to its case
before leaving the tent. He was back again in a few minutes with a bowl
of steaming soup, and handling Craven as if he were a child, fed him
with the gentleness of a woman. Then he busied himself about the room,
tidying it and reducing its confusion to order.
Craven watched him at first idly and then with a more definite desire
to know what had occurred. But to the questions he put Yoshio returned
evasive answers, and, resuming his professional manner, spoke gravely
of the loss of blood Craven had sustained, of the kick on the head from
which he had lain two days insensible, and his consequent need of rest
and sleep, finally departing as if to remove temptation from him.
Craven chafed at the little Jap's caution and swore at his obstinacy,
but a pleasant drowsiness was stealing over him and he surrendered to
it without further struggle.
It was more than twelve hours before he opened his eyes again, to find
the morning sunlight streaming into the tent.
Yoshio hovered about him, deft-handed and noiseless of tread, feeding
him and redressing the wounds in his side where the bullet had entered
and passed out. After which he relaxed the faintly superior tone he had
adopted and condescended to consult with his patient as to which of the
scanty drugs in the tiny medicine chest would be the best to
administer. He was disappointed but acquiescent in Craven's decision to
trust to his own hardy constitution as long as the wounds appeared
healthy and leave nature to do her own work. And again recommending
sleep he glided away.
But Craven had no desire or even inclination to sleep. He was
tremendously wide awake, his whole being in revolt, facing once more
the problem he had thought done with for ever. Again fate had
intervened to thwart his determination. For the third time death, for
which he longed, had been withheld, and life that was so bitter, so
valueless, restored. To what end? Why had the peace he craved for been
torn from him--why had he been forced to begin again an existence of
hideous struggle? Had he not repented, suffered as few men suffer, and
striven to atone? What more was required of him, he wondered bitterly.
A galling sense of impotence swept him and he raged at his own
nothingness. Self-determination seemed to have been taken from him and
with fierce resentment he saw himself as merely a pawn in the game of
life; a puppet to fulfil, not his own will, but the will of a greater
power than his. In the black despair that came over him he cursed that
greater power until, shuddering, he realised his own blasphemy, and a
broken prayer burst from his lips. He had come to the end of all
things, he was fighting through abysmal darkness. His need was
overwhelming--alone he could not go forward, and desperately, he turned
to the Divine Mercy and prayed for strength and guidance.
Too weary in spirit to mark the slow passing of the hours he fought his
last fight. And gradually he grew calmer, calm enough to accept--if not
to understand--the inscrutable rulings of Providence. He had arrogated
to himself the disposal of his life, but it was made clear to him that
a higher wisdom had decreed otherwise. He did not attempt to seek the
purpose of his preservation, enough that for some unfathomable reason
it was once more plainly indicated that there was to be no shirking. He
had to live, and to do what was possible with the life left him.
Gillian! the thought of her was torment. He had tried to free her, and
she was still bound. It would be part of his punishment that,
suffering, he would have to watch her suffer too. With a groan he flung
his uninjured arm across his eyes and lay very still. The day wore on.
He roused himself to take the food that Yoshio brought at regular
intervals but feigned a drowsiness he did not feel to secure the
solitude his mood demanded. And Yoshio, enjoying to the full his state
of temporary authority, sat outside the door of the tent and kept away
inquirers. Listlessly Craven watched the evening shadows deepen and
darken. For hours he had thought, not of himself but of the woman he
loved, until his bruised head ached intolerably. And all his
deliberation had taken him no further than where he had begun. He was
to take up anew the difficult life he had fled from--for that was what
it amounted to. He had deserted her who had in all the world no one but
him. It had an ugly sound and he flinched from the naked truth of it,
but he had done with subterfuges and evasions. He had made her his wife
and he had left her--nothing could alter the fact or mitigate the
shame. Past experience had taught him nothing; once again he had left a
woman in her need to fend for herself. She was his wife, his to shield
and to protect, doubly so in her equivocal position that subjected her
to much that would not affect one happily married. During the few
months they had lived at Craven Towers after their marriage she had
shown by every means in her power her desire to be to him the comrade
he had asked her to be. And he had repelled her. He had feared himself
and the strength of his resolution. Now, as he thought of it with
bitter self-reproach, he realised how much more he could have done to
make her life easier, to smooth the difficulties of their relationship.
Instead he had added to them, and under the strain he had broken down,
not she. The egoism he had thought conquered had triumphed over him
again to his undoing. Crushing shame filled him, but regrets were
useless. The past was past--what of the future? He was going back to
her. He was to have the torturing happiness of seeing her again--but
what would his re-entry into her life mean to her? What had these
two years of which he knew nothing done for her? There had been
an accumulated mail waiting for him at Lagos. She had written
regularly--but she had told him nothing. Her short letters had been
filled with inquiries for the mission, references to Peters' occasional
visits to Paris, trivialities of the weather--stilted laborious
communications in which he read effort and constraint. How would she
receive him--would she even receive him at all? It seemed incredible
that she should. He knew her innate gentleness, the selflessness of
her disposition, but he knew also that there was a limit to all things.
Would she not see in his return the reappearance of a master, a jailer
who would curb even that small measure of freedom that had been hers?
For bound to him the freedom he had promised her was a mockery. And how
was he to explain his prolonged absence? She could not have failed to
see some mention of the return of the medical mission, to have wondered
why he still lingered in Africa. The letter he had written and entrusted
to Yoshio could never now be delivered. She must not learn what he had
meant her to know only after his death. He could not explain, he must
leave her to put whatever interpretation she would upon it. And what but
the most obvious could she put? He writhed in sudden agony of mind, and
the physical pain the abrupt movement caused was easier to bear than the
thought of her scorn. It was all so hopeless, so complicated. He turned
from it with a weary sigh and fell to dreaming of the woman herself.
The tent had grown quite dark. Outside the camp noises were dying away.
The sound of subdued voices reached him occasionally, and once or twice
he heard Yoshio speak to some passer by.
Then, not far away, the mournful chant of a singer rose clearly out of
the evening stillness, penetrating and yet curiously soft--a plaintive
little desert air of haunting melancholy, vibrant with passion. It
stopped abruptly as it had begun and Craven was glad when it ended. It
chimed too intimately with his own sad thoughts and longings. He was
relieved when Yoshio came presently to light the lamp and attend to his
wants. The Jap chatted with unusual animation as he went about his
duties and Craven let him talk uninterrupted. The functions of nurse
and valet were quickly carried through and in a short time preparations
for the night were finished and Yoshio, wrapped in a blanket, asleep at
the foot of Craven's bed. He had scarcely closed his eyes since the day
before the punitive force set out, but tonight, conscious that his
vigilance might be relaxed, he slept heavily.
Craven himself could not sleep. He lay listening to his servant's even
breathing, looking at the tiny flame of the little lamp, which was
small enough not to add to the heat of the tent and too weak to
illuminate it more than partially, thinking deeply. He strove to stem
the current of his thoughts, to keep his mind a blank, or to
concentrate on trivialities--he followed with exaggerated interest the
swift erratic course of a bat that had flown in through the open door
flap, counted the familiar objects around him showing dimly in the
flickering light, counted innumerable sheep passing through the
traditional gate, counted the seconds represented in the periodical
silences that punctuated a cicada's monotonous shrilling. But always he
found himself harking back to the problem of the future that he could
not banish from his mind. His mental distress reacted on his body. He
grew restless, but every movement was still attended by pain and he
compelled himself to lie still, though his limbs twitched almost
uncontrollably. He was infinitely weary of the forced posture that was
not habitual with him, infinitely weary of himself.
The moon rose late, but when it came its clear white light filled the
tent with a cold brilliance that killed the feeble efforts of the
little lamp and intensified the shadows where its rays did not
penetrate. Craven looked at the silvery beam streaming across the room,
and quite suddenly he thought of the moonlight in Japan--the moonlight
filtering through the tall dark fir trees in the garden of enchantment;
he heard the night wind sighing softly round the tiny screen-built
house; the air became heavy with the cloying smell of pines and
languorous scented flowers, redolent with the well-remembered dreaded
fragrance of the perfume she had used. Bathed in perspiration,
shuddering with terrible prescience, he stared wild-eyed at the moonlit
strip where a nebulous form was rising and gathering into definite
shape. An icy chill ran through him. Suffocated with the rapid pounding
of his heart, sick with horror at the impending vision he knew to be
inevitable, he watched the shadowy figure slowly substantiate into the
semblance of a living, breathing body. Not intangible as she had always
appeared before, but material as she had been in life, she stood erect
in the brilliant pathway of light, facing him. He could see the outline
of her slender limbs, solid against the shimmering background; he could
mark the rise and fall of the bosom on which her delicate hands lay
clasped; he recognised the very obi that she wore--his last gift, sent
from Tokio during his three weeks' absence. The little oval face was
placid and serene, but he waited, with fearful apprehension, for the
fast closed eyes to open and reveal the agony he knew that he would see
in them. He prayed that they might open soon, that his torture might be
brief, but the terrible reality of her presence seemed to paralyse him.
He could not turn his eyes away, could not move a muscle of his
throbbing, shivering body. She seemed to sway, gently, almost
imperceptibly, from side to side--as though she waited for some sign or
impellent force to guide her. Then with horrible dread he became aware
that she was coming slowly, glidingly, toward him and the spell that
had kept him motionless broke and he shrank back among the pillows, his
sound hand clenched upon the covering over him, his parched lips moving
in dumb supplication. Nearer she came and nearer till at last she stood
beside him and he wondered, in the freezing coldness that settled round
his heart, did her coming presage death--had her soul been sent to
claim his that had brought upon her such fearful destruction? A muffled
cry that was scarcely human broke from him, his eyes dilated and the
clammy sweat poured down his face as she bent toward him and he saw the
dusky lashes tremble on her dead white cheek and knew that in a second
the anguished eyes would open to him in all their accusing awfulness.
The bed shook with the spasm that passed through him. Slowly the heavy
lids were raised and Craven looked once more into the misty depths of
the great grey eyes that were the facsimile of his own. Then a tearing
sob of wonderful and almost unbelievable relief escaped him, for the
agony he dreaded was not visible--the face so close to his was the face
of the happy girl who had loved him before the knowledge of despair had
touched her, the tender luminous eyes fixed on him were alight with
trust and adoration. Lower and lower she bent and he saw the parted
lips curve in a smile of exquisite welcome--or was it fare-well? For as
he waited, scarcely breathing and tense with a new wild hope, the
definite outline of her figure seemed to fade and tremble; a cold
breath like the impress of a ghostly kiss lay for an instant on
his forehead, he seemed to hear the faint thin echo of a whispered
word--and she was gone. Had she ever been at all? Exhausted, he had
no strength to probe what had passed, he was only conscious of a firm
conviction that he would never see again the dreaded vision that had
haunted him. His rigid limbs relaxed, and with a gasping prayer of
unutterable thankfulness he turned his face to the darkness and broke
down completely, crying like a child, burying his head in the pillow
lest Yoshio should be awakened by the sound of his terrible sobs. And,
presently, worn out, he fell asleep.
It was nearly mid-day when he woke again, in less pain and feeling
stronger than the day before.
The vision of the previous night was vivid in his recollection, but he
would not let himself ponder it. It was to him a message from the dead,
an almost sacred sign that the spirit of the woman he had wronged was
at rest and had vouchsafed the forgiveness for which he had never
hoped. He would rather have it so. He shrank from brutally dissecting
impressions that might after all be only the result of remorse working
on a fevered imagination. The peace that had come to him was too
precious to be lightly let go. She had forgiven him though he could
never forgive himself.
But despite the tranquillizing sense of pardon he felt he knew that the
penalty of his fault was not yet paid, that it would never be paid. The
tragic memory of little O Kara San still rose between him and
happiness. He was still bound, still trapped in the pit he had himself
dug. He was unclean, unfit, debarred by his sin from following the
dictates of his heart. A deep sadness and an overwhelming sense of loss
filled him as he thought of the woman he had married. She was his wife,
he loved her passionately, longed for her with all the strength of his
ardent nature, but, sin-stained, he dared not claim her. In her
spotless purity she was beyond his desire. And because of him she must
go through life robbed of her woman's heritage. In marrying her he had
wronged her irreparably. He had always known it, but at the time there
had seemed no other course open to him. Yet surely there must have been
some alternative if he had set himself seriously to find it. But had
he? Doggedly he argued that he had--that personal consideration had not
swayed him in his decision. But even as he persisted in his assertion
accusing conscience rose up and stripped from him the last shred of
personal deception that had blinded him, and he acknowledged to himself
that he had married her that she might not become the wife of any other
man. He had been the meanest kind of dog in the manger. At the time he
had not realised it--he had thought himself influenced solely by her
need, not his. But his selfishness seemed very patent to him now. And
what was to be the end of it? How was he ever to compensate for the
wrong done her?
Yoshio's entry put a stop to introspection that was both bitter and
painful. And when he left him an hour later Craven was in no mood to
resume speculation that was futile and led nowhere. He had touched
bedrock--he could not think worse of himself than he did. The less he
thought of himself the better. His immediate business seemed to be to
get well as quickly as possible and return to England--beyond that he
could not see. The sound of Said's voice outside was a welcome relief.
He appeared to be arguing with Yoshio, who was obstinately refusing him
entrance. Craven cut short the discussion.
"Let the Sheik come in, Yoshio!" he called, and laughed at the weakness
of his own voice. But it was strong enough to carry as far as the tent
door, and, with a flutter of draperies, the Arab Chief strode in. He
grasped Craven's outstretched hand and stood looking down on him for a
moment with a broad smile on his handsome face. "_Enfin, mon brave_, I
thought I should never see you! Always you were asleep, or so it was
reported to me," he said with a laugh, dropping to his heels on the mat
and lighting a cigarette. Then he gave a quick searching glance at the
bandaged figure on the bed and laughed again.
"You ought to be dead, you know, would have been dead if it hadn't been
for that man of yours," with a backward jerk of his head toward the
door. "You owe him your life, my friend. You know he came with us that
night, borrowed a horse and the burnous you wouldn't wear, and kept out
of sight till the last minute. He was close behind you when we charged,
lost you in the melee, and found you again just in the nick of time.
I was cut off from you myself for the moment, but I saw you wounded,
saw him break a way through to you and then saw you both go down. I
thought you were done for. It was just then the tide turned in our
favour and I managed to reach you, with no hope of finding you alive. I
was never more astonished in my life than when I saw that little devil
of a Japanese crawl out from under a heap of men and horses dragging you
after him. He was bruised and dazed, he didn't know friend from foe, bu
he had enough sense left to know that you were alive and he meant to
keep you so. He laid you out on the sand and he sat on you--you can
laugh, but it's true--and blazed away with his revolver at everybody
who came near, howling his national war cry till I wept with laughter.
And after it was all over he snarled like a panther when I tried to
touch you, and, refusing any assistance, carried you back here on the
saddle in front of him--and you were no light weight. A man, by _Allah_!"
he concluded enthusiastically. Craven smiled at the Arab's graphic
description, but he found it in his heart to wish that Yoshio's zeal
had not been so forward and so successful. But there were other lives
than his that had been involved.
"Omar?" he asked anxiously. The laughter died abruptly from Said's eyes
and his face grew grave.
"Dead," he said briefly; "he did not try to live. Life held nothing for
him without Safiya," he added, with an expressive shrug that was
eloquent of his inability to understand such an attitude.
"Killed herself the night she was taken. Her abductor got no pleasure
of her and Omar's honour was unsmirched--though he never knew it, poor
devil. He killed his man," added Said, with a smile of grim
satisfaction. "It made no difference, he was renegade, a traitor, ripe
for death. The Chief fell to my lot. It was from him I learned about
Safiya--he talked before he died." The short hard laugh that followed
the meaning words was pure Arab. He lit another cigarette and for some
time sat smoking silently, while Craven lay looking into space trying
not to envy the dead man who had found the rest that he himself had
To curb the trend of his thoughts he turned again to Said. Animation
had vanished from the Arab's face, and he was staring gloomily at the
strip of carpet on which he squatted. His dejected bearing did not
betoken the conqueror he undoubtedly was. That his brother's death was
a deep grief to him Craven knew without telling, but he guessed that
something more than regret for Omar was at the bottom of his
"It was decisive, I suppose," he said, rather vaguely, thinking of the
action of four days ago. Said nodded. "It was a rout," he said with a
hint of contempt in his voice. "Dogs who could plunder and kill when no
resistance was offered, but when it came to a fight they had no stomach
for it. Yet they were men once, and, like fools, we thought they were
men still. They had talked enough, bragged enough, by _Allah_! and it is
true there were a few who rallied round their Chief. But the rank and
file--bah!" He spat his cigarette on to the floor with an air of scorn.
"It promised well enough at first," he grumbled. "I thought we were
going to have an opportunity of seeing what stuff my men were made of.
But they had no organisation. After the first half hour we did what we
liked with them. It was a walk over," he added in English, about the
only words he knew.
Craven laughed at his disgusted tone.
"And you, who were spoiling for a fight! No luck, Sheik."
Said looked up with a grin, but it passed quickly, leaving his face
melancholy as before. Craven made a guess at the trouble.
"It will make a difference to you--Omar's death, I mean," he suggested.
Said gave a little harsh laugh.
"Difference!" he echoed bitterly. "It is the end of everything," and he
made a violent gesture with his hands. "I must give up my regiment," he
went on drearily, "my comrades, my racing stable in France--all I care
for and that makes life pleasant to me. For what? To rule a tribe who
have become too powerful to have enemies; to listen to interminable
tales of theft and disputed inheritances and administer justice to
people who swear by the Koran and then lie in your face; to marry a
wife and beget sons that the tribe of Mukair Ibn Zarrarah may not die
out. _Grand Dieu_, what a life!" The tragic misery of his voice left no
doubt as to his sincerity. And Craven, who knew him, was not inclined
to doubt. The expedient that had been adopted in Said's case was
justifiable while he remained a younger son with no immediate prospect
of succeeding to the leadership of the tribe--there had always been the
hope that Omar's wife would eventually provide an heir--but as events
had turned out it had been a mistake, totally unfitting him for the
part he was now called upon to play. His innate European tendencies,
inexplicable both to himself and to his family, had been developed and
strengthened by association with the French officers among whom he had
been thrown, and who had welcomed him primarily as the representative
of a powerful desert tribe and then, very shortly afterwards, for
himself. His personal charm had won their affections and he had very
easily become the most popular native officer in the regiment. Courted
and feted, shown off, and extolled for his liberality of mind and
purse, his own good sense had alone prevented him from becoming
completely spoiled. To the impecunious Frenchmen his wealth was a
distinct asset in his favour, for racing was the ruling passion in the
regiment, and the fine horses he was able to provide insured to them
the preservation of the inter-regimental trophy that had for some years
past graced their mess table. He had thrown himself into the life
whole-heartedly, becoming more and more influenced by western thought
and culture, but without losing his own individuality. He had
assimilated the best of civilization without acquiring its vices. But
the experience was not likely to conduce to his future happiness.
Craven thought of the life led by the Spahi in Algiers, and during
periods of leave in Paris, and contrasted it with the life that was
lying before him, a changed and very different existence. He foresaw
the difficulties that would have to be met, the problems that would
arise, and above all he understood Said's chief objection--the marriage
from which his misogynous soul recoiled. Like himself the Arab was
facing a crisis that was momentous. Two widely different cases but
analogous nevertheless. While he was working out his salvation in
England Said would be doing the same in his desert fastness. The
thought strengthened his friendship for the despondent young Arab. He
would have given much to be able to help him but his natural reserve
kept him silent. He had made a sufficient failure of his own life. He
did not feel himself competent to offer advice to another.
"It's a funny world," he said with a half sigh, "though I suppose it
isn't the world that's at fault but the people who live in it," and in
his abstraction he spoke in his own language.
"_Plait-il?_" Said's puzzled face recalled him to himself and he
translated, adding: "It's rotten luck for you, Sheik, but it's kismet.
All things are ordained," he concluded almost shyly, feeling himself
the worst kind of Job's comforter. The Arab shrugged. "To those who
believe," he repeated gloomily, "and I, my friend, have no beliefs.
What would you? All my life I have doubted, I have never been an
orthodox Mohammedan--though I have had to keep my ideas to myself _bien
entendu_! And the last few years I have lived among men who have no
faith, no god, no thought beyond the world and its pleasures. Islam is
nothing to me. 'The will of _Allah_--the peace of _Allah_,' what are they
but words, empty meaningless words! What peace did _Allah_ give to Omar,
who was a strict believer? What peace has _Allah_ given to my father, who
sits all day in his tent mourning for his first-born? I swear myself by
_Allah_ and by the Prophet, but it is from custom, not from any feeling I
attach to the terms. I have read a French translation of a life of
Mohammed written by an American. I was not impressed. It did not tend
to make me look with any more favour on his doctrine. I have my own
religion--I do not lie, I do not steal, I do not break my word. Does
the devout follower of the Prophet invariably do as much? You know, and
I know, that he does not. Wherein then is he a better man than I? And
if there be a future life, which I am quite open to admit, I am
inclined to think that my qualifications will be as good as any true
son of the faith," he laughed unmirthfully, and swung to his feet.
"There are--other religions," said Craven awkwardly. He had no desire
to proselytise and avoided religious discussions as much as possible,
but Said's confidence had touched him. He was aware that to no one else
would the Arab have spoken so frankly. But Said shook his head.
"I will keep my own religion. It will serve," he said shortly. Then he
shrugged again as if throwing aside the troubles that perplexed him and
looked down on Craven with a quick laugh. "And you, my poor friend, who
had so much better have taken the burnous I offered you, you will stay
and watch the metamorphosis of the Spahi, _hein_?"
"I wish I could," said Craven with an answering smile, "but I have my
own work waiting for me in England. I'll have to go as soon as I'm
sufficiently patched up."
Said nodded gravely. He was perfectly well aware of the fact that
Craven had deliberately sought death when he had ridden with the
tribe against their enemies. That a change had come over him since
the night of the raid was plainly visible even to one less astute
than the sharp-eyed Arab, and his expressed intention of returning
to England confirmed the fact. What had caused the change did not seem
to matter, enough that, to Said, it marked a return to sanity. For it
had been a fit of madness, of course--in no other light could he regard
it. But since it had passed and his English friend was once more in full
possession of his senses he could only acquiesce in a decision that
personally he regretted. He would like to have kept him with him
indefinitely. Craven stood for the past, he was a link with the life
the Francophile Arab was reluctantly surrendering. But it was not the
moment to argue. Craven looked suddenly exhausted, and Yoshio who had
stolen in noiselessly, was standing at the head of the bed beyond the
range of his master's eyes making urgent signals to the visitor to go.
With a jest and a cheery word Said obediently removed his picturesque
It was nearly four months before Craven left the camp of Mukair Ibn
Zarrarah. His injuries had healed quickly and he had rapidly regained
his former strength. He was anxious to return to England without delay,
but he had yielded to Said's pressing entreaties to wait until they
could ride to Algiers together. There had been much for the young Sheik
to do. He was already virtual leader of the tribe. Mukair Ibn Zarrarah,
elderly when his sons had been born, had aged with startling suddenness
since the death of Omar. He had all at once become an old man, unable
to rally from the shock of his bereavement, bewailing the fate of his
elder and favourite son, and trembling for the future of his beloved
tribe left to the tender mercies of a man he now recognised to be more
Frenchman than Arab. He exaggerated every Francophile tendency he saw
in Said and cursed the French as heartily as ever Omar had done,
forgetting that he himself was largely responsible for the inclinations
he objected to. And his terrors were mainly imaginary. A few
innovations Said certainly instituted but he was too astute to make any
material changes in the management of his people. They were loyal and
attached to the ruling house and he was clever enough to leave well
alone; broad-minded enough to know that he could not run a large and
scattered tribe on the same plan as a regiment of Spahis; philosophical
enough to realise that he had turned down a page in his life's history
and must be content to follow, more or less, in the footsteps of his
forebears. The fighting men were with him solidly, even those who had
been inclined to object to his European tactics had, in view of his
brilliant generalship, been obliged to concede him the honour that
was his due. For his victory had not been altogether the walkover he
had airily described to Craven. The older men--the headmen in
particular--more prejudiced still, who, like Mukair Ibn Zarrarah,
had centred all their hopes on Omar, were beginning to comprehend
that their fears of Said's rule were unfounded and that his long
sojourn among the hated dominant race had neither impaired his courage
nor fostered practices abhorrent to them. Craven watched with interest
the gradual establishment of mutual goodwill between the young Sheik
and his petty Chiefs. Since his recovery he had attended several of the
councils called in consequence of the old Sheik's retirement from active
leadership of the tribe, and he had been struck by Said's restrained
and conciliatory attitude toward his headmen. He had met them half-way,
sinking his own inclinations and disarming their suspicions of him. At
the same time he had let it be clearly understood that he meant to be
absolute as his father had been. In spite of the civilisation that had
bitten so deeply he was still too much an Arab, too much the son of
Mukair Ibn Zarrarah, to be anything but an autocrat at heart. And his
assumption of power had been favourably looked upon by the minor
Chiefs. They were used to being ruled by an iron hand and would have
despised a weak leader. They had feared the effects of foreign
influence, dreaded a regime that might have lessened the prestige of
the tribe. Their doubts set at rest they had rallied with enthusiasm
round their new Chief.
As soon as he had been able to get about again Craven had visited
Mukair Ibn Zarrarah in his darkened tent and been shocked at his
changed appearance. He could hardly believe that the bowed stricken
figure who barely heeded his entrance, but, absorbed in grief,
continued to sway monotonously to and fro murmuring passages from the
Koran alternately with the name of his dead son, was the vigorous alert
old man he had seen only a few weeks before dominating a frenzied crowd
with the strength of his personality and addressing them in tones that
had carried to the furthest extent of the listening multitude. Crushing
sorrow and the weight of years suddenly felt had changed him into a
wreck that was fast falling to pieces.
Said had followed him out into the sunshine.
"You see how it is with him," he said. "I cannot leave him now. As soon
as possible I will go to Algiers to give in my resignation and smooth
matters with the Government. We shall not be in very good odour over
this affair. We have kept the peace so long in this quarter of the
country that deliberate action on our part will take a lot of
explaining. They will admit provocation but will blame our mode of
retaliation. They may blame!" he laughed and shrugged. "I shall be
called hasty, ill-advised. The Governor will haul me over the coals
unmercifully--you know him, that fat old Faidherbe? He is always
trembling for his position, seeing an organized revolt in the petty
squabbles of every little tribe, and fearful of an outbreak that might
lead to his recall. A mountain of flesh with the heart of a chicken! He
will rave and shout and talk a great deal about the beneficent French
administration and the ingratitude of Chiefs like myself who add to the
Government's difficulties. But my Colonel will back me up, unofficially
of course, and his word goes with the Governor. A very different man,
by _Allah_! It would be a good thing for this country if he were where
Faidherbe is. But he is only a soldier and no politician, so he is
likely to end his days a simple Colonel of Spahis."
As they moved away from the tent they discussed the French methods of
administration as carried out in Algeria, and Craven learned a great
deal that astonished him and would also have considerably astonished
the Minister of the Interior sitting quietly in his office in the Place
Beauveau. Said had seen and heard much. His known sympathies had made
him the recipient of many confidences and even his Francophile
tendencies had not blinded him to evils that were rampant, corruption
and double dealing, bribes freely offered and accepted by highly placed
officials, fortunes amassed in crooked speculations with Government
money--the faults of individuals who had abused their official
positions and exploited the country they had been sent to administer.
As Craven listened to these frank revelations from the only honest Arab
he had ever met he wondered what effect Said's intimate knowledge would
have upon his life, how far it would influence him, and what were
likely to be his future relations with the masters of the country. With
a Chief less broadminded and of less innate integrity the result might
easily be disastrous. But Said had had larger experience than most Arab
Chiefs and his adherence to the French was due to what he had seen in
France rather than to what had been brought to his notice in Algeria.
It was early in January when they started on the long ride across the
desert. For some weeks Craven had been impatient to get away, only his
promise to Said kept him.
It was a large cavalcade that left the oasis, for the new Chief
required a bigger escort to support his dignity than the Captain of
Spahis had done. The days passed without incident. Despite Craven's
desire to reach England the journey was in every way enjoyable. When he
had actually started his restlessness decreased, for each successive
sunrise meant a day nearer home. And Said, too, had thrown off the
depression and new gravity that had come to him and talked more
hopefully of the future. As they travelled northward they reached a
region of greater cultivation and in their route passed some of the big
fruit farms that were becoming more and more a feature of the country.
Spots of beauty in the wilderness, carved out of arid desert by
patience and perseverance and threatened always by the devastating
locust, though no longer subjected to the Arab raids that had been a
daily menace twenty or thirty years before. The motley gangs of
European and native workers toiling more or less diligently in the
vineyards and among the groves of fruit trees invariably collected to
watch the passing of the Sheik's troop, a welcome break in the monotony
of their existence, and once or twice Said accepted the hospitality of
farmers he knew.
Craven stayed only one night in Algiers. When writing home from Lagos
he had given, without expecting to make use of it, an address in
Algiers to which letters might be sent, but when he called at the
office the morning after his arrival he found that owing to the mistake
of a clerk his mail had been returned to England. The lack of news made
him uneasy. He was gripped by a sudden fear that something might have
happened to Gillian, and he wondered whether he should go first to
Paris, to the flat he had taken for her. But second thoughts decided
him to adhere to his original intention of proceeding straight to
Craven--surely she must by this time have returned to the Towers.
There was nothing to do but telegraph to Peters that he was on his way
home and make arrangements for leaving Africa at the earliest
opportunity. He found there was no steamer leaving for Marseilles for
nearly a week but he was able to secure berths for himself and Yoshio
on a coasting boat crossing that night to Gibraltar, and at sunset he
was on board waving fare-well to Said, who had come down to the quay to
see the last of him, and was standing a distinctive figure among the
rabble of loafers and water-side loungers of all nationalities who
congregated night and morning to watch the arrival and departure of
steamers. The tide was out and the littered fore-shore was lined with
fishing-boats drawn up in picturesque confusion, and in the shallow
water out among the rocks bare-legged native women were collecting
shell fish and seaweed into great baskets fastened to their backs,
while naked children splashed about them or stood with their knuckles
to their teeth to watch the thrashing paddle wheels of the little
steamer as she churned slowly away from the quay. Craven leant on the
rail of the ship, a pipe between his teeth--he had existed for the last
four months on Said's cigarettes--and waved a response to the young
Sheik's final salute, then watched him stalk through the heterogeneous
crowd to where two of his mounted followers were waiting for him
holding his own impatient horse. He saw him mount and the passers-by
scatter as the three riders set off with the usual Arab impetuosity,
and then a group of buildings hid him from sight.
The idlers by the waterside held no interest for Craven, he was too
used to them, too familiar with the riff-raff of foreign ports even to
glance at them. But he lingered for a moment to look up at the church
of Notre Dame d'Afrique that, set high above the harbour and standing
out sharply against the skyline, was glowing warmly in the golden rays
of the setting sun.
Then he went below to the stuffy little cabin where dinner was waiting.
The next four days he kicked his heels impatiently in Gibraltar waiting
to pick up a passage on a home bound Indian boat. When it came it was
half empty, as was to be expected at that time of year, and the gale
they ran into immediately drove the majority of the passengers into the
saloons, and Craven was able to tramp the deck in comparative solitude
without having to listen to the grumbles of shivering Anglo-Indians
returning home at an unpropitious season. In a borrowed oilskin he
spent hours watching the storm, looking at the white topped waves that
piled up against the ship and threatened to engulf her, then slid
astern in a welter of spray. The savage beauty of the sea fascinated
him, and the heavy lowering clouds that drove rapidly across a leaden
sky, and the stinging whip of the wind formed a welcome change after
more than two years of pitiless African sun and intense heat.
They passed up the Thames dead slow in a dense fog that grew thicker
and murkier as they neared the docks, but they berthed early enough to
enable Craven to catch a train that would bring him home in time for
dinner. It was better than wasting a night in London.
He had a compartment to himself and spent the time staring out of the
misty rain-spattered windows, a prey to violent anxiety and impatience.
The five-hour journey had never seemed so long. He had bought a number
of papers and periodicals but they lay unheeded on the seat beside him.
He was out of touch with current events, and had stopped at the
bookstall more from force of habit than from any real interest. He had
wired to Peters again from the docks. Would she be waiting for him at
the station? It was scarcely probable. Their meeting could not be other
than constrained, the platform of a wayside railway station was hardly
a suitable place. And why in heaven's name should she do him so much
honour? He had no right to expect it, no right to expect anything. That
she should be even civil to him was more than he deserved. Would she be
changed in any way? God, how he longed to see her! His heart beat
furiously even at the thought. With his coat collar turned up about his
ears and his cap pulled down over his eyes he shivered in a corner of
the cold carriage and dreamed of her as the hours drew out in maddening
slowness. Outside it was growing dusk and the window panes had become
too steamy for him to recognise familiar landmarks. The train seemed to
crawl. There had been an unaccountable wait at the last stopping place,
and they did not appear to be making up the lost time.
It was a strange homecoming, he thought suddenly. Stranger even than
when, rather more than six years ago, he had travelled down to Craven
with his aunt and the shy silent girl whom fate and John Locke had made
his ward. Was she also thinking of that time and wishing that a kinder
future had been reserved for her? Was she shrinking from his coming,
deploring the day he had ever crossed her path? It was unlikely that
she could feel otherwise toward him. He had done nothing to make her
happy, everything to make her unhappy. With a stifled groan he leant
forward and buried his face in his hands, loathing himself. How would
she meet him? Suppose she refused to resume the equivocal relationship
that had been fraught with so much misery, refused to surrender the
greater freedom she had enjoyed during his absence, claimed the right
to live her own life apart from him. It would be only natural for her
to do so. And morally he would have no right to refuse her. He had
forfeited that. And in any case it was not a question of his allowing
or refusing anything, it was a question solely of her happiness and her
Darkness had fallen when the train drew up with a jerk and he stepped
out on to the little platform. It was a cheerless night and the wind
tore at him as he peered through the gloom and the driving rain,
wondering whether anybody had come to meet him. Then he made out
Peters' sturdy familiar figure standing under the feeble light of a
flickering lamp. Craven hurried toward him with a smile softening his
face. His life had been made up of journeys, it seemed to him suddenly,
and always at the end of them was Peters waiting for him, Peters who
stuck to the job he himself shirked, Peters who stood loyally by an
employer he must in his heart despise, Peters whose boots he was not
fit to clean.
The two men met quietly, as if weeks not years had elapsed since they
had parted on the same little platform.
"Beastly night," grumbled the agent, though his indifference to bad
weather was notorious, "must feel it cold after the tropics. I brought
a man to help Yoshio with your kit. Wait a minute while I see that it's
all right." He started off briskly, and with the uncomfortable
embarrassment he always felt when Peters chose to emphasise their
relative positions, Craven strode after him and grabbed him back with
an iron hand.
"There isn't any need," he said gruffly. "I wish you wouldn't always
behave as if you were a kind of upper servant, Peter. It's dam'
nonsense. Yoshio is quite capable of looking after the kit, there's
very little in any case. I left the bulk of it in Algiers, it wasn't
worth bringing along. There are only the gun cases and a couple of
bags. We haven't much more than what we stand up in."
Peters acquiesced good-temperedly and led the way to the closed car
that was waiting at the station entrance. As the motor started Craven
turned to him eagerly, with the question that had been on his lips for
the last ten minutes.
"How is Gillian?"
Peters shot a sidelong glance at him.
"Couldn't say," he said shortly; "she didn't mention her health when
she wrote last--but then she never does."
"When she wrote--" echoed Craven, and his voice was dull with
disappointment; "isn't she at the Towers? I missed my mail at
Algiers--some mistake of a fool of a clerk. I haven't had any home
news for nearly a year."
"She is still in Paris," replied Peters dryly, and to Craven his tone
sounded faintly accusing. He frowned and stared out into the darkness
for a few minutes without speaking, wondering how much Peters knew. He
had disapproved of the African expedition, stating his opinion frankly
when Craven had discussed it with him, and it was obvious that since
then his views had undergone no change. Craven understood perfectly
what those views were and in what light he must appear to him. He could
not excuse himself, could give no explanation. He doubted very much
whether Peters would understand if he did explain--his moral code was
too simple, his sense of right and wrong too fine to comprehend or to
countenance suicide. Craven also felt sure that had he been aware of
the circumstances Peters would not have hesitated to oppose his
marriage. Why hadn't he told Peters the whole beastly story when he
returned from Japan? Peters had never failed a Craven, he would not
have failed him then. He stifled a bitter sigh of useless regret and
turned again to his companion.
"Then I take it the Towers is shut up. Are you giving me a bed at the
Hermitage?" he asked quietly.
"No. I have kept the house open so that it might be ready if at any
time your wife suddenly decided to come home. I imagined that would be
"Yes, yes, of course," said Craven hurriedly, "you did quite right."
Then he glanced about him and frowned again thoughtfully. "Isn't this
the Daimler Gillian took to France with her--surely that is Phillipe
driving?" he asked abruptly, peering through the window at the
chauffeur's back illuminated by the electric lamp in the roof of the
"She sent it back a few months afterwards--said she had no need for
it," replied Peters. "I kept Phillipe on because he was a better
mechanic than the other man. There was no need for two."
Craven refrained from comment and relapsed into silence, which was
unbroken until they reached the house.
During dinner the conversation was mainly of Africa and the scientific
success of the mission, and of local events, topics that could safely
be discussed in the hearing of Forbes and the footmen. From time to
time Craven glanced about the big room with tightened lips. It seemed
chill and empty for lack of the slight girlish figure whose presence
had brought sunshine into the great house. If she chose never to
return! It was unthinkable that he could live in it alone, it would be
haunted by memories, he would see her in every room. And yet the
thought of leaving it again hurt him. He had never known until he had
gone to Africa with no intention of returning how dear the place was to
him. He had suddenly realised that he was a Craven of Craven, and all
that it meant. But without Gillian it was valueless. A shrine without a
treasure. An empty symbol that would stand for nothing. Her personality
had stamped itself on the house, even yet her influence lingered in the
huge formal dining room where he sat. It had been her whim when they
were alone to banish the large table that seemed so preposterously big
for two people and substitute a small round one which was more
intimate, and across which it was possible to talk with greater ease.
Forbes was a man of fixed ideas and devoted to his mistress. Though
absent her wishes were faithfully carried out. Mrs. Craven had decreed
that for less than four people the family board was an archaic and
cumbersome piece of furniture, consequently tonight the little round
table was there, and brought home to Craven even more vividly the sense
of her absence. It seemed almost a desecration to see Peters sitting
opposite in her place. He grew impatient of the lengthy and ceremonious
meal the old butler was superintending with such evident enjoyment, and
gradually he became more silent and heedless, responding mechanically
and often inaptly to Peters' flow of conversation. He wished now he had
obeyed the impulse that had come to him in Algiers to go straight to
Paris. By now he would have seen her, have learned his fate, and the
whole miserable business would have been settled one way or the other.
He could not wonder that she had elected to remain abroad. He had put
her in a horrible position. By lingering in Africa after the return of
the rest of the mission he had made her an object of idle curiosity and
speculation. He had left her as the elder Barry Craven had left his
mother, to the mercy of gossip-mongers and to the pity and compassion
of her friends which, though even unexpressed, she must have felt and
resented. He glanced at the portrait of the beautiful sad woman in the
panel over the mantelpiece and a dull red crept over his face. It was
well that his mother had died before she realised how completely the
idolised son was to follow in the footsteps of the husband who had
broken her heart. It was a tradition in the family. From one motive or
another the Cravens had consistently been pitiless to their womenkind.
And he, the last of them, had gone the way of all the others. A greater
shame and bitterness than he had yet felt came to him, and a passionate
longing to undo what he had done. And what was left for him to do was
so pitifully little. But he would do it without further delay, he would
start for Paris the next day. Even the few hours of waiting seemed
almost unbearable. The thought occurred to him to motor to London that
night to catch the morning boat train from Victoria, but a glance at
his watch convinced him of the impossibility of the idea. Owing to the
delay of the train it had been nine o'clock before he reached the
Towers. It was ten now. Another hour would be wasted before Phillipe
and the car would be ready for the long run. And it was a wicked night
to take a man out, the strain of driving under such conditions at top
speed through the darkness would be tremendous. Reluctantly he
abandoned the project. There was nothing for it but to wait until the
Forbes at his elbow recalled him to his duties as host. With a murmured
apology to Peters he rose to his feet.
"Coffee in the study, please," he said, and left the room.
In the study, in chairs drawn up to the blazing fire, the two men
smoked for some time in silence. Though consumed with anxiety to hear
more of his wife Craven felt a certain diffident in mentioning her
name, and Peters volunteered nothing. After a time the agent began to
speak of the estate. "I want to give an account of my stewardship," he
said, with an odd ring in his voice that Craven did not understand. And
for the best part of an hour he talked of farms and leases, of cottage
property and timber, of improvements and alterations carried out during
Craven's absence or in progress, of the conditions under which certain
of the bigger houses scattered about the property were let--a complete
history of the working and management of the estate extending back many
years until Craven grew more and more bewildered as to the reason of
this detailed revelation that seemed to him somewhat unnecessary and
certainly ill-timed. He did not want to be bothered with business the
very moment of his arrival. Peters was punctilious of course, always
had been, but his stewardship had never been called in question and
there was surely no need for this complicated and lengthy narrative of
"And then there are the accounts," concluded the agent, in the dry
curiously formal voice he had adopted all the evening. Craven made a
gesture of protest. "The accounts can wait," he said shortly. "I don't
know why on earth you want to bother about all this tonight, Peter.
There will be plenty of time later. Have I ever criticised anything you
did? I'm not such a fool. You've forgotten more than I ever knew about
"I should like you to see them," persisted Peters, drawing a big bundle
of papers from his pocket and proceeding to remove and roll up with his
usual precise neatness the tape that confined them. He pushed the typed
sheets across the little table. "I don't think you will find any error.
The estate accounts are all straightforward. But there is an item in
the personal accounts that I must ask you to consider. It is a sum of
eight thousand pounds standing to your credit that I do not know what
to do with. You will remember that when you went to Africa you
instructed me to pay your wife four thousand a year during your
absence. I have sent her the money every quarter, which she has
acknowledged. Three months ago the London bank advised me that eight
thousand pounds had been paid into you account by Mrs. Craven, the
total amount of her allowance, in fact, during the time you have been
There was a lengthy pause after Peters stopped speaking, and then
Craven looked up slowly.
"I don't understand," he said thickly; "all her allowance! What has she
been living on--what the devil does it mean?"
Peters shrugged. "I don't know any more about it than you do. I am
simply telling you what is the case. It was not for me to question her
on such a matter," he said coldly.
"But, Good Heavens, man," began Craven hotly, and then checked himself.
He felt stunned by Peters' bald statement of fact, unable, quite, for
the moment, to grasp it. Heavens above, how she must hate him! To
decline to touch the money he had assured her was hers, not his! On
what or on whom had she been living? His face became suddenly
congested. Then he put the hateful thought from him. It was not
possible to connect such a thing with Gillian. Only his own foul mind
could have imagined it. And yet, if she had been other than she was, if
it had been so, if in her loneliness and misery she had found love and
protection she had been unable to withstand--the fault would be his,
not hers. He would have driven her to it. He would be responsible. For
a moment the room went black. Then, he pulled himself together. Putting
the bundle of accounts back on to the table he met steadily Peters'
intent gaze. "My wife is quite at liberty to do what she chooses with
her own money," he said slowly, "though I admit I don't understand her
action. Doubtless she will explain it in due course. Until then the
money can continue to lie idle. It is not such a large sum that you
need be in such a fierce hurry about it. In any case I am going to
Paris tomorrow. I can let you know further when I have seen her." His
voice was harsh with the effort it cost him to steady it. "And having
seen her--what are you going to do to her?" The question, and the
manner of asking it, made Craven look at Peters in sudden amazement.
The agent's face was stern and curiously pale, high up on his cheek a
little pulse was beating visibly and his eyes were blazing direct
challenge. Craven's brows drew together slowly.
"What do you mean?"
Peters leant forward, resting one arm on his knee, and the knuckles of
his clenched hand shone white.
"I asked you in so many words what you were going to do to her," he
said, in a voice vibrant with emotion. "You will say it is no business
of mine. But I am going to make it my business. Good God, Barry, do you
think I've seen nothing all these years? Do you think I can sit down
and watch history repeat itself and make no effort to avert it for lack
of moral courage? I can't. When you were a boy I had to stand aside and
see your mother's heart broken, and I'm damned if I'm going to keep
silent while you break Gillian's heart. I loved your mother, the light
went out for me when she died. For her sake I carried on here, hoping I
might be of use to you--because you were her son. And then Gillian came
and helped to fill the blank she had left. She honoured me with her
friendship, she brought brightness into my life until gradually she has
become as dear to me as if she were my own daughter. All I care about
is her happiness--and yours. But she comes first, poor lonely child.
Why did you marry her if it was only to leave her desolate again?
Wasn't her past history sad enough? She was happy here at first, before
your marriage. But afterwards--were you blind to the change that came
over her? Couldn't you see that she was unhappy? I could. And I tell
you I was hard put to it sometimes to hold my tongue. It wasn't my
place to interfere, it wasn't my place to see anything, but I couldn't
help seeing what was patent to the eye of anybody who was interested.
You left her, and you have come back. For what? You are her husband,
in name at any rate--oh, yes, I know all about that, I know a great
deal more than I am supposed to know, and do you think I am the only
one?--legally she is bound to you, though I do not doubt she could easily
procure her freedom if she so wished, so I ask you again--what are you
going to do? She is wholly in your power, utterly at your mercy. What
more is she to endure at your hands? I am speaking plainly because it
seems to me to be a time for plain speaking. I can't help what you
think, I am afraid I don't care. You've been like a son to me. I
promised your mother on her death-bed that I would never fail you, I
could have forgiven you any mortal thing on earth--but Gillian. It's
Gillian and me, Barry. And if it's a case of fighting for her
happiness--by God, I'll fight! And now you know why I have told you all
that I have tonight, why I have rendered an account of my stewardship.
If you want me to go I shall quite understand. I know I have exceeded
my prerogative but I can't help it. I've left everything in order, easy
for anybody to take over--" Craven's head had sunk into his hands, now
he sprang to his feet unable to control himself any longer. "Peter--for
God's sake--" he cried chokingly, and stumbling to the window he
wrenched back the curtain and flung up the sash, lifting his face to
the storm of wind and rain that beat in about him, his chest heaving,
his arms held rigid to his sides.
"Do you think I don't care?" he said at last, brokenly. "Do you think
it hasn't nearly killed me to see her unhappiness--to be able to do
nothing. You don't know--I wasn't fit to be near her, to touch her.
I hoped by going to Africa to set her free. But I couldn't die. I
tried, God knows I tried, by every means in my power short of
deliberately blowing my brains out--a suicide's widow--I couldn't brand
her like that. When men were dying around me like flies death passed me
by--I wasn't fit even for that, I suppose." He gave a ghastly little
mirthless laugh that made Peters wince and came back slowly into the
room, heedless of the window he had left open, and walked to the
fireplace dropping his head on his arm on the mantel. "You asked me
just now what I meant to do to her--it is not a question of me at all
but what Gillian elects to do. I am going to her tomorrow. The future
rests with her. If she turns me down--and you turn me down--I shall go
to the devil the quickest way possible. It's not a threat, I'm not
trying to make bargains, it's just that I'm at the end of my tether.
I've made a damnable mess of my life, I've brought misery to the woman
I love. For I do love her, God help me. I married her because I loved
her, because I couldn't bear to lose her. I was mad with jealousy. And
heaven knows I've been punished for it. My life's been hell. But it
doesn't matter about me--it's only Gillian who matters, only Gillian
who counts for anything." His voice sank into a whisper and a long
shudder passed over him.
The anger had died out of Peters' face and the old tenderness crept
back into his eyes as they rested on the tall bowed figure by the
fireplace. He rose and went to the window, shutting it and drawing the
curtain back neatly into position. Then he crossed the room slowly and
laid his hand for an instant on Craven's shoulder with a quick firm
pressure that conveyed more than words. "Sit down," he said gruffly,
and going back to the little table splashed some whisky into a glass
and held it under the syphon. Craven took the drink from him
mechanically but set it down barely tasted as he dropped again into the
chair he had left a few minutes before. He lit a cigarette, and Peters,
as he filled his own pipe, noticed that his hands were shaking. He was
silent for a long time, the cigarette, neglected, smouldering between
his fingers, his face hidden by his other hand. At last he looked up,
his grey eyes filled with an almost desperate appeal.
"You'll stay, Peter--for the sake of the place?" he said unsteadily.
"You made it what it is, it would go to pieces if you went. And I can't
go without you--if you chuck me it will about finish me."
Peters drew vigorously at his pipe and a momentary moisture dimmed his
vision. He was remembering another appeal made to him in this very room
thirty years before when, after a stormy interview with his employer,
the woman he had loved had begged him to remain and save the property
for the little son who was her only hold on life. It was the mother's
face not the son's he saw before him, the mother's voice that was
ringing in his ears.
"I'll stay, Barry--as long as you want me," he said at length huskily
from behind a dense cloud of smoke. A look of intense relief passed
over Craven's worn face. He tried to speak and, failing, gripped
Peters' hand with a force that left the agent's fingers numb.
There was another long pause. The blaze of the cheerful fire within and
the fury of the storm beating against the house without were the only
sounds that broke the silence. Peters was the first to speak.
"You say you are going to her tomorrow--do you know where to find her?"
Craven looked up with a start.
"Has she moved?" he asked uneasily. Peters stirred uncomfortably and
made a little deprecating gesture with his hand.
"It was a tallish rent, you know. The flat you took was in the most
expensive quarter of Paris," he said with reluctance. Craven winced and
his hands gripped the arms of his chair.
"But you--you write to her, you have been over several times to see
her," he said, with a new trouble coming into his eyes, and Peters
turned from his steady stare.
"Her letters, by her own request, are sent to the bank. I was only once
in the flat, shortly after you left. I think she must have given it up
almost immediately. Since then when I have run over for a day--she
never seemed to want me to stay longer--we have met in the Louvre or in
the gardens of the Tuileries, according to weather," he said
Craven stiffened in his chair.
"The Louvre--the gardens of the Tuileries," he gasped, "but what on
earth--" he broke off with a smothered word Peters did not catch, and
springing up began to pace the room with his hands plunged deep in his
pockets. His face was set and his lips compressed under the neat
moustache. His mind was in a ferment, he could hardly trust himself to
speak. He halted at last in front of Peters, his eyes narrowing as he
gazed down at him. "Do you mean to tell me that you yourself do not
know where she is?" he said fiercely. Peters shook his head. "I do not.
I wish to heaven I did. But what could I do? I couldn't question her.
She made it plain she had no wish to discuss the subject. The little I
did say she put aside. It was not for me to spy on your wife, or employ
a detective to shadow her movements, no matter how anxious I felt."
"No, you couldn't have done that," said Craven drearily, and turned
away. To pursue the matter further, even with Peters, seemed suddenly
to him impossible. He wanted to be alone to think out this new problem,
though at the same time he knew that no amount of thought would solve
it. He would have to wait with what patience he could until the morning
when he would be able to act instead of think.
His face was expressionless when he turned to Peters again and sat down
quietly to discuss business. Half an hour later the agent rose to go.
"I'll bring up a checque book and some money in the morning before you
start. You won't have time to go to the bank in London. Wire me your
address in Paris--and bring her back with you, Barry. The whole place
misses her," he said with a catch in his voice, stuffing the bundle of
papers into his pocket. Craven's reply was inaudible but Peters' heart
was lighter than it had been for years as he went out into the hall to
get his coat. "Yes, I'm walking," he replied in response to an inquiry,
"bit of rain won't hurt me, I'm too seasoned," and he laughed for the
first time that evening.
Going back to the study Craven threw a fresh log on the fire, filled a
pipe, and drew a chair close to the hearth. It was past one but he was
disinclined for bed. Peters' revelations had staggered him. His brain
was on fire. He felt that not until he had found her and got to the
bottom of all this mystery would he be able to sleep again. And perhaps
not even then, he thought with a quickening heart-beat and a sick fear
of what his investigations in Paris might lead to.
Before leaving England he had snatched time from his African
preparations to superintend personally the arrangements for her stay in
Paris. He had himself selected the flat and installed her with every
comfort and luxury that was befitting his wife. She had demurred once
or twice on the score of extravagance, particularly in the case of the
car he had insisted on sending over for her use, but he had laughed at
her protests and she had ceased to make any further objection,
accepting his wishes with the shy gentleness that marked her usual
attitude toward him. And she must have hated it all! Why? She was his
wife, what was his was hers. He had consistently impressed that on her
from the first. But it was obvious that she had never seen it in that
light. He remembered her passionate refusal--ending in tears that had
horrified him--of the big settlement he had wished to make at the time
of their marriage, her distress in taking the allowance he had had to
force upon her. Was it only his money she hated, or was it himself as
well? And to what had her hatred driven her? A fiercer gust of wind
shrieked round the house, driving the rain in torrents against the
window, and as he listened to it splashing sharply on the glass Craven
shivered. Where was she tonight? What shelter had she found in the
pitiless city of contrasts? Fragile and alone--and penniless? His hand
clenched until the stem of the pipe he was holding snapped between his
fingers and he flung the fragments into the fire, leaning forward and
staring into the dying embers with haggard eyes--picturing,
remembering. He was intimately acquainted with Paris, with two at least
of its multifarious aspects--the brilliant Paris of the rich, and the
cruel Paris of the struggling student. And yet, after all, what did his
knowledge of the latter amount to? It had amused him for a time to live
in the Latin quarter--it was in a disreputable cabaret on the south
side of the river that he had first come across John Locke--he had
mixed there with all and sundry, rubbing shoulders with the riff-raff
of nations; he had seen its vice and destitution, had mingled with its
feverish surface gaiety and known its underlying squalor and ugliness,
but always as a disinterested spectator, a transient passer by. Always
he had had money in his pocket. He had never known the deadly ever
present fear that lies coldly at the heart of even the wildest of the
greater number of its inhabitants. He had seen but never felt
starvation. He had never sold his soul for bread. But he had witnessed
such a sale, not once or twice but many times. In his carelessness he
had accepted it as inevitable. But the recollection stabbed him now
with sudden poignancy. Merciful God, toward what were his thoughts
tending! He brushed his hand across his eyes as though to clear away
some hideous vision and rose slowly to his feet. The expiring fire fell
together with a little crash, flared for an instant and then died down
in a smouldering red mass that grew quickly grey and cold. With a deep
sigh Craven turned and went heavily from the room. He lingered for a
moment in the hall, dimly lit by the single lamp left burning above,
listening to the solemn ticking of the clock, that at that moment
chimed with unnatural loudness.
Mechanically he took out his watch and wound it, and then went slowly
up the wide staircase. At the head of the stairs he paused again. The
great house had never seemed so silent, so empty, so purposeless. The
rows of closed doors opening from the gallery seemed like the portals
of some huge mausoleum, vacant and chill. A house of desolation that
cried to him to fill its emptiness with life and love. With lagging
steps he walked half way along the gallery, passing two of the closed
doors with averted head, but at the third he stopped abruptly, yielding
to an impulse that had come to him. For a moment he hesitated, as
though before some holy place he feared to desecrate, then with a quick
drawn breath he turned the handle and went in.
In the darkness his hand sought and found the electric switch by the
door, and pressing it the room was flooded with soft shaded light.
Peters had spoken only the truth when he said that the house was kept
in immediate readiness for its mistress's return. Craven had never
crossed the threshold of this room before, and seeing it thus for the
first time he could hardly believe that for two years it had been
tenantless. She might have gone from it ten minutes before. It was
redolent of her presence. The little intimate details were as she had
left them. A bowl of bronze chrysanthemums stood on the dressing table
where lay the tortoise-shell toilet articles given her by Miss Craven.
A tiny clock ticked companionably on the mantelpiece. The pain in his
eyes deepened as they swept the room with hungry eagerness to take in
every particular. Her room! The room from which his unworthiness had
barred him. All that he had forfeited rose up before him, and in
overwhelming shame and misery a wave of burning colour rolled slowly
over his face. Never had the distance between them seemed so wide.
Never had her purity and innocence been brought home to him so forcibly
as in this spotless white chamber. Its simplicity and fresh almost
austere beauty seemed the reflection of her own stainless soul and the
fierce passion that was consuming him seemed by contrast hideous and
brutal. It was as if he had violated the sanctuary of a cloistered Nun.
And yet might not even passion be beautiful if love hallowed it? His
arms stretched out in hopeless longing, her name burst from his lips in
a cry of desperate loneliness, and he fell on his knees beside the bed,
burying his face in the thick soft quilt, his strong brown hands
outflung, gripping and twisting its silken cover in his agony.
Hours later he raised his tired eyes to the pale light of the wintry
dawn filtering feebly through the close drawn curtains.
* * * *
He left that morning for Paris, alone.
It was still raining steadily and the chill depressing outlook from the
train did not tend to lighten his gloomy thoughts.
In London the rain poured down incessantly. The roads were greasy and
slippery with mud, the pavements filled with hurrying jostling crowds,
whose dripping umbrellas glistened under the flaring shop lights.
Craven peered at the cheerless prospect as he drove from one station to
the other and shivered at the gloom and wretchedness through which he
was passing. The mean streets and dreary squalid houses took on a
greater significance for him than they had ever done. The sight of a
passing woman, ill-clad and rain-drenched, sent through him a stab of
horrible pain. Paris could be as cruel, as pitiless, as this vaster,
He left his bag in the cloakroom at Charing Cross and spent the hours
of waiting for the boat train tramping the streets in the vicinity of
the station. He was in no mood to go to his Club, where he would find a
host of acquaintances eager for an account of his wanderings and
curious concerning his tardy return.
The time dragged heavily. He turned into a quiet restaurant to get a
meal and ate without noticing what was put before him. At the earliest
opportunity he sought the train and buried himself in the corner of a
compartment praying that the wretched night might lessen the number of
travellers. Behind an evening paper which he did not attempt to read he
smoked in silence, which the two other men in the carriage did not
break. Foreigners both, they huddled in great coats in opposite corners
and were asleep almost before the train pulled out of the station.
Laying down the paper that had no interest for him Craven surveyed them
for a moment with a feeling of envy, and tilting his hat over his eyes,
endeavoured to emulate their good example. But, despite his weariness,
sleep would not come to him. He sat listening to the rattle of the
train and to the peaceful snoring of his companions until his mind
ceased to be diverted by immediate distractions and centred wholly on
the task before him.
At Dover the weather had not improved and the sea was breaking high
over the landing stage, drenching the few passengers as they hurried on
to the boat and dived below for shelter from the storm. Indifferent to
the weather Craven chose to stay on deck and stood throughout the
crossing under lea of the deckhouse where it was possible to keep a
Contrary to his expectation he managed to sleep in the train and slept
until they reached Paris. Avoiding a hotel where he was known he drove
to one of the smaller establishments, and engaging a room ordered
breakfast and sat down to think out his next move.
There were two possible sources of information, the flat, where she
might have left an address when she vacated it, and the bank where
Peters had told him she called for letters. He would try them before
resorting to the expedient of employing a detective, which he was loth
to do until all other means failed. He hated the idea, but there was no
alternative except the police, whose aid he had determined not to
invoke unless it became absolutely necessary. It was imperative that
his search should be conducted as quietly and as secretly as possible.
He decided to visit the flat first, and, having wired to Peters in
accordance with his promise, set out on foot.
It was not actually raining but the clouds hung low and threatening and
the air was raw. He walked fast, swinging along the crowded streets
with his eyes fixed straight in front of him. And his great height and
deeply tanned face made him a conspicuous figure that excited attention
of which he was ignorant.
Leaving the narrow street where was his hotel he emerged into the Place
de la Madeleine, and threading his way through the stream of traffic
turned into the Boulevard de Malesherbes, which he followed, cutting
across the Boulevard Haussmann and passing the Church of Saint
Augustin, until the trees in the Parc Monceau rose before him. How
often in the heat of Africa had he pictured her sitting in the shade of
those great spreading planes, reading or sketching the children who
played about her? He had thought of her every hour of the day and
night, seeing her in his mind moving about the flat he had taken and
furnished with such care. How utterly futile had been all his dreams
about her. His lips tightened as he passed up the steps of the house he
remembered so well.
But to his inquiries the concierge, who was a new-comer, could give no
reply. He had no knowledge of any Madame Craven who had lived there,
and was plainly uninterested in a tenant who had left before his time.
It was past history with which he had nothing to do, and with which he
made it clear he did not care to be involved. He was curt and decisive
but, with an eye to Craven's powerful proportions, refrained from the
insolence that is customary among his kind. It was the first check, but
as he walked away Craven admitted to himself that he had not counted
overmuch on obtaining any information from that quarter, taking into
account the short time she had lived there. Remained the bank. He
retraced his steps, walking directly to the Place de l'Opera. But the
bank, which was also a tourists' agency, could give him no assistance.
The lady called for her letters at infrequent intervals, they had no
idea where she might be found. Would the gentleman care to leave a
card, which would be given to her at the first opportunity? But Craven
shook his head--the chance of her calling was too vague--and passed out
again into the busy streets. There was nothing for it now but a
detective agency, and with his face grown grimmer he went without
further delay to the bureau of a firm he knew by repute. In the private
room of the _Chef de Bureau_ he detailed his requirements with national
brevity and conciseness. His knowledge of the language stood him in
good stead and the painfulness of the interview was mitigated by the
businesslike and tactful manner in which his commission was received.
The keen-eyed man who sat tapping a gold pencil case on his thumbnail
in the intervals of taking notes had a reputation to maintain which he
was not unwilling to increase; foreign clients were by no means rare,
but they did not come every day, nor were they always so apparently
full of wealth as this stern-faced Englishman, who spoke
authoritatively as one accustomed to being obeyed and yet with a turn
of phrase and _politesse_ unusual in his countrymen.
Followed two days of interminable waiting and suspense, two days that
to Craven seemed like two lifetimes. He hung about the hotel, not
daring to go far afield lest he should lose some message or report. He
had no wish either to advertise his presence in Paris, he had too many
friends there, too many acquaintances whose questions would be
difficult to parry.
But on the morning of the third day, about eleven o'clock, he was
called to the telephone. A feeling of dread ran through him and he was
conscious of a curious sensation of weakness as he lifted the receiver.
But the voice that hailed him was reassuring and complacently
expressive of a neat piece of work well done. The wife of _Monsieur_ had
been traced, they had taken time--oh, yes, but they had followed
_Monsieur's_ instructions _au pied de la lettre_ and had acted with a
discretion that was above criticism. Then followed an address given
minutely. For a moment he leaned against the side of the telephone box
shaking uncontrollably. Only at this moment did he realise completely
how great his fear had been. There had been times when the recurring
thought of the Morgue and its pitiful occupants had been a foretaste of
hell. The feeling of weakness passed quickly and he went out to the
entrance of the hotel and leaped into a taxi which had just set down a
He knew well the locality toward which he was driving. Years ago he
could almost have walked to it blindfold, but today time was precious.
And as he sat forward in the jolting cab, his hands locked tightly
together, it seemed to him as if every possible hindrance had combined
to bar his progress. The traffic had never appeared so congested, the
efforts of the agents on point duty so hopelessly futile. Omnibuses and
motors, unwieldy meat carts and fiacres, inextricably jammed, met them
at every turn, until at last swinging round by the corner of the Louvre
the streets became clearer and the car turned sharply to cross the
river. As they approached the address the detective had given him
Craven was conscious of no sensation of any kind. A deadly calm seemed
to have taken possession of him. He had ceased even to speculate on
what lay before him. The house at which they stopped at last was
typical of its kind; in his student days he had rented a studio in a
precisely similar building, and the concierge to whom he applied might
have been the twin sister of the voluble amply proportioned citoyenne
of long ago who had kept a maternal eye on his socks and shirts and a
soft spot in her heart for the _bel Anglais_ who chaffed her
unmercifully, but paid his rent with commendable promptitude. A huge
woman, with a shrewd not unkindly face, she sat in a rocking chair with
a diminutive kitten on her shoulder and a mass of knitting in her lap.
As she listened to Craven's inquiry she tossed the kitten into a basket
and bundled the shawl she was making under her arm, while she rose
ponderously to her feet and favoured the stranger with a stare that was
frankly and undisguisedly inquisitive. A pair of twinkling eyes encased
in rolls of fat swept him from head to foot in leisurely survey, and he
felt that there was no detail about him that escaped attention, that
even the texture of his clothing and the very price of the boots he was
wearing were gauged with accuracy and ease. She condescended to speak
at last in a voice that was curiously soft, and warmed into something
almost approaching enthusiasm. Madame Craven? but certainly, _au
quatrieme_. Monsieur was perhaps a patron of the arts, he desired to buy
a picture? It was well, painters were many but buyers were few. Madame
was assuredly at home, she was in fact engaged at that moment with a
model. A model--_Sapristi_!--he called himself such, but for herself she
would have called him _un vrai apache_! Of a countenance, _mon Dieu_! She
paused to wave her hands in horror and jerk her head toward the
staircase, continuing her confidences in a lowered tone. The door of
the studio was open, it was wiser when such gentry presented
themselves, and also did she not herself always sit in the hall that
she might be within call, one never knew--and Madame was an angel with
the heart of a child. A face to study--and she thought of nothing else.
But there were those who thought for her, the blessed innocent. It was
doubtless because she was English--Monsieur was also English, she
observed with another shrewd glance and a wide smile. Madame would be
glad to see a compatriot. If Monsieur would do himself the trouble of
ascending the stairs he could not mistake the door, it was at the top,
and, as she had said, it was open.
She beamed on him graciously as with a murmur of thanks Craven turned
to mount the stone staircase. A feeling of relief came to him at the
thought of the warm hearted self-appointed guardian sitting in kindly
vigilance in the big armchair below. Here, too, it would appear,
Gillian had made herself beloved. As he passed quickly upward the
unnatural calm that had come over him gave place to a very different
feeling. It was brought home to him all at once that what he had longed
and prayed for was on the point of taking effect. He realised that the
ghastly waiting time was over, that in a few moments he would see her,
and his heart began to throb violently. Every second that still
separated them seemed an age and he took the last remaining flight two
steps at a time. But he stopped abruptly as he reached the level of the
landing. The open door was within a few feet of him but screened from
where he stood.
It was her voice that had arrested him, speaking with an accent of
weariness he had never heard before that sent a sudden quiver to his
lips. His fingers clenched on the soft hat he held.
"But it does not do at all," she was saying, and the racking cough that
accompanied her words struck through Craven's heart like a knife, "it
is the expression that is wrong. If you look like that I can never
believe that you are what you say you are. Think of some of the
horrible things you have told me--try and imagine that you are still
tracking down that brute who took your little Colette from you--" A
husky voice interrupted her. "No use, Madame, when I remember that I
can only think of you and the American doctor who gave her back to me,
and our happiness."
"You don't deserve her, and she hates the things you do," came the
quick retort, and the man who had been speaking laughed.
"But not me," he answered promptly, "and the things I do keep a roof
over our heads," he added grimly. "But, see, I will try again--does
that satisfy Madame?"
Craven moved forward as he heard her eager assent and her injunction to
"hold that for a few minutes," and in the silence that ensued he
reached the door. For a moment his entrance passed unobserved.
The stark bareness of the room was revealed to him in a single
comprehensive glance and the chill of it sent a sudden feeling of anger
surging through him. His face was drawn and his eyes almost menacing
with pain as they rested on the slight figure bending forward in
unconscious absorption over the easel propped in the middle of the
rugless floor. Then his gaze travelled slowly beyond her to the model
who stood on the little dais, and he understood in a flash the reason
of the old concierge's vigilance as he saw the manner of man she was
painting. The slender darkly clad youth with head thrust forward and
sunk deep on his shoulders, with close fitting peaked cap pulled low
over his eyes shading his pale sinister face was a typical
representative of the class of criminal who had come to be known in
Paris as _les apaches_; no artist's model masquerading as one of the
dreaded assassins, but the genuine article. Of that Craven was
convinced. The risk she had taken, the quick resentment he felt at the
thought of such a presence near her forced from him an exclamation.
Artist and model turned simultaneously. There was a moment of tense
silence as husband and wife stared into each other's eyes. Then the
palette and brushes she was holding dropped with a little chatter to
"Barry," she whispered fearfully, "Barry--"
Both men sprang forward, but it was Craven who caught her as she fell.
She lay like a featherweight in his strong clasp, and as he gazed at
the delicate face crushed against his breast a deadly fear was knocking
at his heart that he had come too late. Convulsively his arms tightened
round the pitifully light little body and he spoke abruptly to the man
who was scowling beside him. "A doctor--as quick as you can--and tell
the concierge to come up." Anxiety roughened his voice and he turned
away without waiting to see his orders carried out. For a second the
apache glowered at him under narrowing lids, his sullen face working
strangely, then he jerked the black cap further over his eyes and
slipped away with noiseless tread.
With a broken whisper Craven caught his frail burden closer, as though
seeking by the strength and warmth of his own body to animate the
fragile limbs lying so cold and lifeless in his arms, and he bent low
over the pallid lips he craved and yet did not dare to kiss. They were
not for him to take, he reflected bitterly, and in her unconsciousness
they were sacred.
His eyes were dark with misery as he raised his head and looked about
quickly for some couch on which to lay her. But the bare studio was
devoid of any such luxury, and with his face set rigidly he carried her
across the room and pushed open a door leading to an inner sleeping
apartment. Barer it was and colder even than the studio, and its bleak
poverty formed a horrible contrast to the big white bedroom at Craven
Towers. He laid her on the narrow comfortless bed with a smothered
groan that seemed to tear his heart to pieces. And as he knelt beside
her chafing her icy hands in helpless agony there burst in on him a
tempestuous fury who raved and stormed and called on heaven to witness
the iniquity of men. "_Bete! animal!_" she raged, "what have you done to
her--you and that rat-faced devil!" and she thrust her bulky figure
between him and the bed. Then with a sudden change of manner, her voice
grown soft and caressing, she bent over the fainting girl and slipped a
plump arm under her, crooning, over her and endeavouring to restore her
to consciousness. She snapped an enquiry at Craven and he explained as
best he could, and his explanation brought down on him a wealth of
biting sarcasm. The husband of _cet ange la_! In the name of heaven! was
there no limit to the blundering stupidity of men--had he no more sense
than to present himself with such unexpectedness, after so long an
absence? Small wonder _la pauvre petite_ had fainted. What folly! And
lashing him with her tongue she renewed her fruitless efforts. But
Craven scarcely heeded her. His eyes were fixed on the little white
face on the pillow, and he was praying desperately that she might be
spared to him, that his punishment might not take so terrible a form.
For the change in her appalled him. Slight and delicate always, she was
now a mere shadow of what she had been. If she died!--he clenched his
teeth to keep silent--must he be twice a murderer? O Hara San's blood
was on his hands, would hers also--
He turned quickly as a tall, loosely made man swung into the room. The
new-comer shot a swift glance at him and moved past to the bedside,
addressing the concierge in fluent French that was marked by a
pronounced American accent. He cut short her eager communication as he
bent over the bed and made a rapid examination.
"Light a fire in the stove, bring all the blankets you can find, and
make some strong coffee. I have been waiting for this, the marvel is it
hasn't happened before," he said brusquely. And as the woman hurried
away with surprising meekness to do his bidding he turned again to
Craven. "Friend of Mrs. Craven's?" he asked with blunt directness.
"Pity her friends haven't looked her up sooner. Guess you can wait in
the other room until I'm through here--that is if you are sufficiently
interested. It will probably be a long job and the fewer people she
sees about her when she comes to, the better."
The blood flamed into Craven's face and an angry protest rose to his
lips, but his better judgment checked it. It was not the time for
explanations or to press the claim he had to remain in the room. And
had he a claim at all, he wondered with a dull feeling of pain. "I'll
wait," he said quietly, fighting an intolerable jealousy as he watched
the doctor's skilful hands busy about her. Strangers might tend her,
but the husband she had evidently never spoken of, was banished to an
outer room to wait "if sufficiently interested." He winced and passed
slowly into the studio. And yet he had brought it on himself. She could
have had little wish to mention him situated as she was, the bare
garret he was pacing monotonously was evidence in itself that she had
determined to cut adrift from everything that was connected with the
life and the man she had obviously loathed. His surroundings left no
doubt on that score. She had plainly preferred to struggle
independently for existence rather than be beholden to him who was her
natural protector. He recalled with an aching heart the swift look of
fear that had leapt into her eyes during that long moment before she
had lost consciousness, and the memory of it went with him, searing
cruelly, as he tramped up and down in restless anxiety that would not
allow him to keep still. To see that look in her eyes again would be
more than he could endure.
From time to time the concierge passed through the room bearing the
various necessaries the doctor had demanded, but her mouth was grimly
shut and he did not ask for information that she did not seem inclined
to vouchsafe. She did unbend so far at last as to light a fire in the
stove, but she let it be clearly understood that it was not for his
benefit. "It will help to warm the other room, and it has been empty
long enough," she said, with a glance and a shrug that were full of
meaning. But as she saw the misery of his face her manner softened and
she spoke confidently of the skill of the American doctor, who from
motives of pure philanthropy had practised for some years in a quarter
that offered much experience but little pecuniary profit.
Then she left him to wait again alone.
He could not bring himself to look at the canvases propped against the
bare walls, they were witnesses of her toil, witnesses perhaps of a
failure that hurt him even more than it must have hurt her. And to him
who knew the spirit-crushing efforts of the unknown artist to win
recognition, her failure was both natural and intelligible. He guessed
at a pride that scorning patronage had not sought assistance but had
striven to succeed by merit alone, only to learn the bitter lesson that
falls to the lot of those who fight against established convention. She
had pitted her strength against a system and the system had broken her.
Her studies might be--they were--marked with genius, but genius without
advertisement had gone unrecognised and unrewarded.
But before the portrait of the strange model he had found with her he
paused for a long time. Still unfinished it was brilliantly clever. The
lower part of the face had evidently not satisfied her, for it was
wiped out, but the upper part was completed, and Craven looked at the
deep-set eyes of the apache staring back at him with almost the fire of
life--melancholy sinister eyes that haunted--and wondered again what
circumstance had brought such a man across her path. He remembered the
fragmentary conversation he had heard, remembered too that mention had
been made of the man who was even now with her in the adjoining room,
and he sighed as he realised how utterly ignorant he was of the life
she had led during his absence.
Had she meditated a complete severance from him, formed ties that would
bind her irrevocably to the life she had chosen? He turned from
the picture wearily. It was all a tangle. He could only wait, and
He went to the window and leant his arms unseeingly on the high narrow
sill that looked out over the neighbouring housetops, straining to hear
the faintest sound from the inner room. It seemed to him that he must
have waited hours when at last the door opened and shut quietly and the
American came leisurely toward him. He faced him with swift unspoken
inquiry. The doctor nodded, moving toward the stove. "She's all right
now," he said dryly, "but I don't mind telling you she gave me the
fright of my life. I have been wondering when this was going to happen,
I've seen it coming for a long time." He paused, and looked at Craven
frowningly while he warmed his hands.
"May I ask if you are an intimate friend of Mrs. Craven's--if
you know her people? Can you put me in communication with them?
She is not in a fit state to be alone. She should have somebody
with her--somebody belonging to her, I mean. I gather there is a
husband somewhere abroad--though frankly I have always doubted his
existence--but that is no good. I want somebody here, on the spot,
now. Mrs. Craven doesn't see the necessity. I do. I'm not trying to
shunt responsibility. I've shouldered a good deal in my time and I'm
not shirking now--but this is a case that calls for more than a
doctor. I should appreciate any assistance you could give me."
The fear he had felt when he held her in his arms was clutching anew
at Craven and his face grew grey under the deep tan. "What is the
matter with her?" Something in his voice made the doctor look at him
more closely. "That, my dear sir," he parried, "is rather a leading
question." "I have a right to know," interrupted Craven quickly. "You
will pardon me if I ask--what right?" was the equally quick rejoinder.
The blood surged back hotly into Craven's face.
"The right of the man whose existence you very justly doubted," he said
heavily. The doctor straightened himself with a jerk. "You are Mrs.
Craven's husband! Then you will forgive me if I say that you have not
come back any too soon. I am glad for your wife's sake that the myth
is a reality," he said gravely. Craven stood rigidly still, and it
seemed to him that his heart stopped beating. "I know my wife is
delicate, that her lungs are not strong, but what is the cause of
this sudden--collapse?" he said slowly, his voice shaking painfully.
For a moment the other hesitated and shrugged in evident embarrassment.
"There are a variety of causes--I find it somewhat difficult to say--you
couldn't know, of course--"
Craven cut him short. "You needn't spare my feelings," he said
hoarsely. "For God's sake speak plainly.
"In a word then--though I hate to have to say it--starvation." The keen
eyes fixed on him softened into sudden compassion but Craven did not
see them. He saw nothing, for the room was spinning madly round him and
he staggered back against the window catching at the woodwork behind
"Oh, my God!" he whispered, and wiped the blinding moisture from his
eyes. If it had been possible for her gentle nature to contemplate
revenge she could have planned no more terrible one than this. But in
his heart he knew that it was not revenge. For a moment he could not
speak, then with an effort he mastered himself. He could give no
explanation to this stranger, that lay between him and her alone.
"There was no need," he said at last dully, forcing the words with
difficulty; "she misunderstood--I can't explain. Only tell me what I
can do--anything that will cure her. There isn't any permanent injury,
is there--I haven't really come too late?" he gasped, with an agony of
appeal in his voice. The American shook his head. "You ran it very
fine," he said, with a quick smile, "but I guess you've come in time,
right enough. There isn't anything here that money can't cure. Her
lungs are not over strong, her heart is temporarily strained, and her
nerves are in tatters. But if you can take her to the south--or better
still, Egypt--?" he hesitated with a look of enquiry, and as Craven
nodded, continued with more assurance, "Good! then there's no reason
why she shouldn't be a well woman in time. She's constitutionally
delicate but there's nothing organically wrong. Take her away as soon
as possible, feed her up--and keep her happy. That's all she wants.
I'll look in again this evening." And with another reassuring smile and
a firm handclasp he was gone.
As his footsteps died away Craven turned slowly toward the adjoining
room with strangely contending emotions. "... keep her happy." The
bitter irony of the words bit into him as he crossed to the door and,
tapping softly, went in.
She was waiting for him, lying high on the pillows that were no whiter
than her face, toying nervously with the curling ends of the thick
plait of soft brown hair that reached almost to her waist. Her eyes
were fixed on him appealingly, and as he came toward her her face
quivered suddenly and again he saw the look of fear that had tortured
him before. "Oh, Barry," she moaned, "don't be angry with me."
It was all that he could do to keep his hungry arms from closing round
her, to keep back the passionate torrent of love that rushed to his
lips. But he dared not give way to the weakness that was tempting him.
Controlling himself with an effort of will he sat down on the edge of
the bed and covered her twitching fingers with his lean muscular hands.
"I'm not angry, dear. God knows I've no right to be," he said gently.
"I just don't understand. I never dreamt of anything like this. Can't
you tell me--explain--help me to understand?"
She dragged her hands from his, and covering her face gave way to
bitter weeping. Her tears crucified him and his heart was breaking as
he looked at her. "Gillian, have a little pity on me," he pleaded. "Do
you think I'm a stone that I can bear to see you cry?"
"What can I say?" she whispered sobbingly. "You wouldn't understand.
You have never understood. How should you? You were too generous. You
gave me your name, your wealth, you sacrificed your freedom to save me
from a knowledge of the callousness and cruelty of the world. You saw
further than I did. You knew that I would fail--as I have failed. And
because of that you married me in pity. Did you think I would never
guess? I didn't at first. I was a stupid ignorant child, I didn't
realise what a marriage like ours would mean. But when I did--oh, so
soon--and when I knew that I could never repay you--I think I nearly
died with shame. When I asked you to let me come to Paris it was not to
lead the life you purposed for me but because my burden of debt had
grown intolerable. I thought that if I worked here, paid my own way,
got back my lost self-respect, that it would be easier to bear. When
you took the flat I tried to make you understand but you wouldn't
listen and I couldn't trouble you when you were going away. And then
later when they told me at the convent what you had done, when I
learned how much greater was my debt than I had ever dreamt, and when I
heard of the money you gave them--the money you still give them every
year--the money they call the Gillian Craven Fund--"
"They had no right, I made it a stipulation--"
"They didn't realise, they thought because we were married that I must
surely know. I couldn't go on living in the flat, taking the allowance
you heaped on me. All you gave,--all you did--your generosity--I
couldn't bear it! Oh, can't you see--your money _choked_ me!" she wailed,
with a paroxysm of tears that frightened him. He caught her hands
again, holding them firmly. "Your money as much as mine, Gillian. I
have always tried to make you realise it. What is mine is yours. You're
"I'm not, I'm not," she sobbed wildly. "I'm only a burden thrust on
A cry burst from his lips. "A burden, my God, a burden!" he groaned.
And suddenly he reached the end of his endurance. With the agony of
death in his eyes he swept her into his arms, holding her to him with
passionate strength, his lips buried in the fragrance of her hair. "Oh,
my dear, my dear," he murmured brokenly, "I'm not fit to touch you, but
I've loved you always, worshipped you, longed for you until the longing
grew too great to bear, and I left you because I knew that if I stayed
I should not have the strength to leave you free. I married you because
I loved you, because even this damnable mockery of a marriage was
better than losing you out of my life--I was cur enough to keep you
when I knew I might not take you. And I've wanted you, God knows how
I've wanted you, all these ghastly years. I want you now, I'd give my
hope of heaven to have your love, to hold you in my arms as my wife, to
be a husband to you not only in name--but I'm not fit. You don't know
what I've done--what I've been. I had no right to marry you, to stain
your purity with my sin, to link you with one who is fouled as I am.
If you knew you'd never look at me again." With a terrible sob he laid
her back on the pillows and dropped on his knees beside her. Into her
tear-wet eyes there came suddenly a light that was almost divine, her
quivering face became glorious in its pitiful love. Trembling, she
leant towards him, and her slender hands went out in swift compassion,
drawing the bowed shamed head close to her tender breast.
"Tell me," she whispered. And with her soft arms round him he told her,
waiting in despair for the moment when she would shrink from him, repel
him with the horror and disgust he dreaded. But she lay quite still
until he finished, though once or twice she shuddered and he felt the
quickened beating of her heart. And for long after his muffled voice
had died away she remained silent. Then her thin hand crept quiveringly
up to his hair, touching it shyly, and two great tears rolled down her
face. "Barry, I've been so lonely"--it was the cry of a frightened
desolate child--"if you have no pity on yourself, will you have no
pity on me?"
"Gillian!" he raised his head sharply, staring at her with desperate
unbelieving eyes, "You care?"
"Care?" she gave a tremulous little sobbing laugh. "How could I help
but care! I've loved you since the day you came to me in the convent
parlour. You're all I have, and if you leave me now"--she clung to
him suddenly--"Barry, Barry, I can't bear any more. I haven't any
strength or courage left. I'm afraid! I can't face the world alone--it's
cruel--pitiless. I love you, I want you, I can't live without you," and
with a piteous sob she strained him to her, hiding her face against his
breast, beseeching and distraught. His lips were trembling as he gathered
the shuddering little body closely in his arms, but still he hesitated.
"Think, dear, think," he muttered hoarsely, "I'm not fit to stay with
you. I've done that which is unforgivable."
"I'm your wife, I've the right to share your burden," she cried
passionately. "You didn't know, you couldn't know when you did that
dreadful thing. And if God punishes you let Him punish me too. But God
is love, He knows how you have suffered, and for those who repent His
punishment is forgiveness."
"But can you forgive--can you bear to come to me?" he faltered, still
only half believing.
"I love you," she said simply, "and life without you is death," and
lifting her face to his she gave him the lips he had not dared to take.