Part 3 out of 7
tell you if you wish to know," she said reluctantly. "But I would
Nick made an airy gesture. "Not for the world! My intelligence
department is specially fitted for this sort of thing. Besides, I know
exactly what happened. It was something like this." He passed his
hand over his face, then turned to her with a faint, wry smile so
irresistibly reminiscent of Lady Bassett that Muriel gasped with a
sudden hysterical desire to laugh.
He silenced her by beginning to speak in soft, purring accents. "You
know, darling Muriel, I have never looked upon Nicholas Ratcliffe as
a marrying man. He is such a gay butterfly." (This with an indulgent
shake of the head.) "Indeed, I have heard dear Mrs. Gybbon-Smythe
describe him as a shocking little flirt. And they say he is fond of
his glass too, but let us hope this is an exaggeration. I know for a
fact that he has a very violent temper, and this may have given
rise to the rumour. I assure you, dearest, he is quite formidable,
notwithstanding his size. But there, if I tell you any more you will
think I am prejudiced against him, whereas we are really the greatest
friends--the greatest possible friends. I only thought it kind to warn
you not to expect too much. It is a mistake so many young girls make,
and I want you to be as happy as you can, poor child."
Muriel was laughing helplessly when he stopped. The mimicry of voice
and action was so perfect, so free from exaggeration, so sublimely
Nick did not laugh with her. Behind his mask of banter he was
watching, watching closely. He had clad himself in jester's garb to
feel for the truth. Perhaps she realised something of this as
she recovered herself, for again that glance, half-questioning,
half-frightened, flashed up at him as she made reply.
"No, Nick. She never said that, indeed. I wouldn't have cared if she
had. It was only--only--"
"I know," he broke in abruptly. "If it wasn't that, there is only one
thing left that it could have been. I don't want you to tell me. It's
as plain as daylight. Let me tell you instead. It's all for the sake
of your poor little personal pride. I know--yes, I know. They've been
throwing mud at you, and it's stuck. You'd sooner die than marry me,
wouldn't you? But what will you do if I refuse to set you free?"
She turned suddenly crimson. "You--you wouldn't, Nick! You couldn't!
You haven't--the right."
"Haven't I?" said Nick, with an odd smile. "I thought I had."
He looked down at her, and a queer little flame leaped up like an evil
spirit in his eyes, flickered an instant, and was gone. "I thought I
had," he said again, in a different tone. "But we won't quarrel about
that. Tell me what you want to do."
Her answer came with a vehemence that perhaps he had hardly expected.
"Oh, I want to get away--right away. I want to go home. I--I hate this
"And every one in it?" suggested Nick.
"Almost." Muriel spoke recklessly, even defiantly. She was fighting
for her freedom, and the battle was infinitely harder than she had
He nodded. "The sole exception being Mrs. Musgrave. Do you know Mrs.
Musgrave is going home? You would like to go with her."
Muriel looked at him with sudden hope. "Alone with her?" she said.
"Oh, I'm not going," declared Nick. "I'm going to Khatmandu for my
The hope died out of Muriel's eyes. "Don't--jeer at me, Nick," she
said, in a choked voice. "I can't bear it."
"Jeer!" said Nick. "I!" He reached down suddenly and took her hand.
The light sparkled on the ring he had given her, and he moved it
slowly to and fro watching it.
"I am going to ask you to take it back," she said.
He did not raise his eyes. "And I am going to refuse," he answered
promptly. "I don't say you must wear it, but you are to keep it--not
as a bond, merely in remembrance of a promise which you will make to
"A promise--" she faltered.
Still he did not look up. He was watching the stones with eyes
"Yes," he said, after a moment. "I will let you go on the sole
condition that you give me this promise."
She began to tremble a little. "What is it?" she whispered.
He glanced at her momentarily, but his expression was enigmatical. She
felt as if his look lighted and dwelt upon something beyond her.
"Simply this," he said. "You'll laugh, I daresay; but if you are able
to laugh it won't hurt you to promise. I want your word of honour that
if you ever change your mind about marrying me, you will come to me
like a brave woman and tell me so."
Thus, quite calmly, he made known to her his condition, and in the
amazed silence with which she received it he continued to flash hither
and thither the wonderful rays that shone from the gems upon her hand.
He did not appear to be greatly concerned as to what her answer would
be. Simply with an inscrutable countenance he waited for it.
"Is it a bargain?" he asked at last.
She started with an involuntary gesture of shrinking. "Oh, no, Nick!
How could I promise you that? You know I shall never change my mind."
He raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. "That isn't the point under
discussion. If it's an impossible contingency, it costs you the less
He kept her hand in his as he said it, though she fidgeted to be free.
"Please, Nick," she said earnestly, "I would so much rather not."
"You prefer to marry me at once?" he asked, and suddenly it seemed to
her that this was the alternative to which he meant to drive her.
She rose in a panic, and he rose also, still keeping her hand. His
face looked like a block of yellow granite.
"Must it--must it--be one or the other?" she panted.
He looked at her under flickering eyelids. "I have said it," he
Her resistance flagged, sank, rose again, and finally died away. After
all, why should she hesitate? What was there in such an undertaking as
this to send the blood so wildly to her heart?
"Very well," she said faintly at last. "I promise. But--but--I never
shall change my mind, Nick--never--never."
He was still looking at her with veiled, impenetrable eyes. He paid no
attention to her protest. It was as if he had not so much as heard it.
"You've done your part," he said. "Now hear me do mine. I swear to
you--before God--that I will never marry you unless you ask me to."
He bent with the words, and solemnly, reverently, he pressed his lips
upon the hand he held.
Muriel waited, half-frightened still, and wholly awestruck. She did
not know Nick in this mood.
But when he straightened himself again, the old whimsical smile was on
his face, and she breathed a sigh of relief. With a quick, caressing
movement he took her by the shoulders.
"That's over then," he said lightly. "Turn over and start another
page. Go back to England, go back to school; and let them teach you to
be young again."
They were his last words to her. Yet an instant longer he waited, and
very deep down in her heart something that was hidden there stirred
and quivered as a blind creature moves at the touch of the sun. It
awoke a vague pain within her, that was all.
The next moment Nick had turned upon his heel and was departing.
She heard him humming a waltz tune under his breath as he went away
with his free British swagger. And she knew with no sense of elation
that she had gained her point.
For good or ill he had left her, and he would not return.
AN OLD FRIEND
"There!" said Daisy, standing back from the table to review her
handiwork with her head on one side. "I may be outrageously childish,
but if Blake fails to appreciate this masterpiece of mine, I shall
feel inclined to turn him out-of-doors, and leave him to spend the
night on the step."
Muriel, curled up in the old-fashioned window-seat, looked round with
her low laugh. "It's snowing hard," she remarked.
Daisy did not heed her. "Come and look at it," she said.
The masterpiece in question consisted of an enormous red scroll
bearing in white letters the words: "Welcome to the Brave."
"It never before occurred to me that Blake was brave," observed Daisy.
"He is so shy and soft and retiring. I can't somehow feel as if I am
going to entertain a lion. He ought to be here by this time. Let's go
and hang my work of art in the hall."
She slipped her hand through Muriel's arm, and glanced at her sharply
when she felt it tremble.
"It will be good to see him again, won't it?" she said.
"Yes," Muriel agreed, but there was a little tremor in her voice as
Very vividly were the circumstances under which she had last seen this
man in her mind that night. Eight months that were like as many years
stretched between that tragic time and the present, but the old wild
horror had still the power to make her blood turn cold, the old wound
had not lost its ache. These things had made a woman of her before
her time, but yet she was not as other women. It seemed that she was
destined all her life to live apart, and only to look on at the joys
of others. They did not attract her, and she had no heart for gaiety.
Yet she was not cold, or Daisy had not found in her so congenial a
companion. But even Daisy seldom penetrated behind the deep reserve
that had grown over the girl's sad young heart. They were close
friends, but their friendship lay mainly in what they left unsaid.
For all her quick warmth, Daisy too had her inner shrine--a place so
secret that she herself never entered it save as it were by stealth.
But something of Muriel's mood she understood on that bitter night
in January on which they awaited the coming of Blake Grange, and her
close hand-pressure conveyed as much as they passed out together into
the little hall that glowed so snugly in the firelight.
"He is sure to be frozen, poor boy," she said. "I hope Jim Ratcliffe
won't forget to send the motor to the station as he promised."
"I am quite sure he never forgets anything," Muriel declared, with
Daisy laughed lightly. "Yes, he's very dependable, deliciously solid,
isn't he? A trifle domineering perhaps, but all doctors are. They
rule us weak women with a rod of iron. I am a little afraid of Dr. Jim
myself, and most unfortunately he knows it."
Muriel's silence expressed a certain scepticism that provoked another
laugh from Daisy. She was almost frivolously light-hearted that night.
"It's a fact, I assure you. Have you never noticed how docile I am
in his presence? I always feel as if I want to confess all my sins to
him. I should like intensely to have his opinion upon some of them. I
think it would do me good."
"Then why not ask for it?" suggested Muriel.
"For the reason aforementioned--a slavish timidity." Daisy broke off
to carol a few bars of a song. "I've known the Ratcliffe family ever
since I became engaged to Will," she said presently. "Jim Ratcliffe,
you know, was left his guardian, and he was always very good to him.
Will made his home with them and he and Nick are great pals, just like
brothers. I should think Dr. Jim had his hands full with the two of
them." Again Daisy stopped to sing. Muriel was stooping over the fire.
It was seldom that Nick's name was mentioned between them, though the
fact that Daisy had placed herself and her baby in the hands of
his half-brother formed a connecting link which could not always be
ignored. She always dropped into silence when a reference was made
to him. Not in the most casual conversation had Daisy ever heard her
utter his name.
Having successfully fixed her message of welcome in a prominent
position, she joined the girl in front of the fire. Her face was
flushed and her eyes were sparkling. Muriel thought that she had never
seen her look so well or so happy.
"You're quite excited," she said.
Daisy put up a hand to her hot cheek. "Yes, isn't it absurd? I hope
Dr. Jim won't come with him, or he will be cross. But I can't help it.
Blake and I have been chums all our lives, and of course I am glad to
see him after all this while. So nice, too, not to have Lady Bassett
There was a spice of venom in this, over which Muriel smiled in her
"Does she disapprove?" she asked.
Daisy nodded impatiently. "She chose altogether to overlook the fact
that we are first cousins. It was intolerable. But--" again came her
light laugh--"everything is intolerable till you learn to shrug your
shoulders and laugh. Hark! Surely I heard something!"
Both listened intently. Footsteps were approaching the door. Daisy
sprang to open it.
But it was only the evening post, and she came back holding a letter
with a very unwonted expression of disappointment.
"From Will," she said. "I forgot it was mail night. I don't suppose
there is anything very exciting in it."
She pushed the flimsy envelope into the front of her dress and fell
again to listening.
"Can he have missed the train? Surely it's getting very late. A fog on
the line perhaps. No! What's that? Ah! It really is this time. That's
the horn, and, yes, Jim Ratcliffe's voice."
In a moment she had the door open again, and was out upon the step
crying welcome to her guest.
Muriel crouched a little lower over the fire. Her hands were fast
gripped together. It was more of an ordeal than she had thought it
possibly could be.
An icy blast blew in through the open door, and she heard Dr.
Ratcliffe's voice, sharp and curt, ordering Daisy back into the
house. Then came another voice, slow and soft as a woman's, and for an
instant Muriel covered her face, overwhelmed by bitter memory.
When she looked up they were entering the hall together, Daisy,
radiant, eager, full of breathless questioning; Blake, upright,
soldierly, magnificent, wearing the shy, pleased smile that she so
He did not at once see her, and she stood hesitating, till Daisy, who
was clinging to her cousin's arm, turned swiftly round and called her.
"Muriel, dear, where are you? Why are you hiding yourself? See, Blake!
Here is Muriel Roscoe! You knew we were living together?"
He saw her then, and came across to her, with both hands outstretched.
"Forgive me, Miss Roscoe," he said, with his pleasant smile. "You know
how glad I am to meet you again."
He looked down at her with eyes full of frank and friendly sympathy,
and the grasp of his hands was such that she felt it for long after.
It warmed her through and through, but she could not speak just then,
and with ready understanding he turned back to Daisy.
"Dr. Ratcliffe told me you had sent him to fetch me from the station,"
he said. "I am immensely grateful to you and to him."
Daisy was greeting the doctor with much animation and a hint of
"I knew you would come," she laughed. "You never trust me to take care
of myself, do you?"
He brushed some flakes of snow from her dress. "Events prove me to be
justified," he remarked dryly. "Since Will has put you in my care, I
labour under a twofold responsibility. What possessed you to go out in
that murderous north-easter?"
He frowned at her heavily, his black brows meeting, but
notwithstanding her avowal of a few minutes before, Daisy only
grimaced in return. He was generally regarded as somewhat formidable,
this gruff, square-shouldered doctor, with his iron-grey hair and
black moustache, and keenly critical eyes. There was no varnish in his
curt speech, no dissimulation in any of his dealings. It was said
of him that he never sugared his pills. But his popularity was
wide-spread nevertheless. His help was sought in a thousand ways
outside his profession. To see his strong face melt into a smile was
like sunshine on a gloomy day, the village mothers declared.
But Daisy's gay effrontery did not manage to provoke it at that
"You have no business to take risks," he said. "How's the boy?"
Daisy sobered instantly. "His teeth have been worrying him rather
to-day. _Ayah_ is with him. I left her crooning him to sleep. Will you
Jim Ratcliffe nodded and turned aside to the stairs. But he had not
reached the top when Muriel overtook him, moving more quickly than was
"Let me come with you, doctor," she said.
He put his hand on her arm unceremoniously. "Miss Roscoe," he said, "I
have a message for you--from my scapegrace Olga. She wants to know
if you will play hockey in her team next Saturday. I have promised to
exert my influence--if I have any--on her behalf."
Muriel looked at him in semi-tragic dismay. "Oh, I can't indeed. Why,
I haven't played for ages,--not since I was at school. Besides--"
"How old are you?" he cut in.
"Nearly twenty," she told him. "But--"
He brought his hand down sharply on her shoulder. "I shall never call
you Miss Roscoe again. You obtained my veneration on false pretences,
and you have lost it for ever. Now look here, Muriel!" Arrived at the
top of the stairs, he stood still and confronted her with that smile
of his that so marvellously softened his rugged face. "I am thirty
years older than you are, and I haven't lived for any part of
them with my eyes shut. I've been wanting to give you some
advice--medical advice--for a long time. But you wouldn't have it. And
now I'm not going to offer it to you. You shall take the advice of a
friend instead. You join Olga's hockey team, and go paper-chasing with
her too. The monkey is a rare sportswoman. She'll give you a good run
for your money. Besides, she has set her heart on having you, and
she is a young woman that likes her own way, though, to be sure, she
doesn't always get it. Come, you can't refuse when a friend asks you."
It was difficult, certainly, but Muriel plainly desired to do so. She
had escaped from the whirling vortex of life with strenuous effort,
and dragged herself bruised and aching to the bank. She did not want
to step down again into even the minutest eddy of that ruthless
flood. Moreover, in addition to this morbid reluctance she lacked the
physical energy that such a step demanded of her.
"It's very kind of your little daughter to think of asking me," she
said. "But really, I shouldn't be any good. I get tired so quickly.
No, there's nothing the matter with me," seeing his intent look. "I'm
not ill. I never have been actually ill. Only--" her voice quivered a
little--"I think I always shall be tired for the rest of my life."
"Skittles!" he returned bluntly. "That isn't what's the matter with
you. Go out into the open air. Go out into the north-east wind and
sweep the snow away. Shall I tell you what is wrong with you? You're
stiff from inaction. It's a species of cramp, my dear, and there's
only one remedy for it. Are you going to take it of your own accord,
or must I come round with a physic spoon and make you?"
She laughed a little, though the deep pathos of her shadowed eyes
never varied. Daisy's merry voice rose from the lower regions gaily
chaffing her cousin.
"Goodness, Blake! I shouldn't have known you. You're as gaunt as
a camel. Haven't you got over your picnic at Fort Wara yet? You're
almost as scanty a bag of bones as Nick was six months ago."
Blake's answer was inaudible. Dr. Ratcliffe did not listen for it.
He had seen the swift look of horror that the brief allusion had sent
into the girl's sad face, and he understood it though he made no sign.
"Very well," he said, turning towards the nursery. "Then I take you
in hand from this day forward. And if I don't find you in the
hockey-field on Saturday, I shall come myself and fetch you."
There was nothing even vaguely suggestive of Nick about him, but
Muriel knew as surely as if Nick had said it that he would keep his
"Now," said Daisy briskly, "you two will just have to entertain each
other for a little while, for I am going up to sit with my son while
_ayah_ is off duty."
"Mayn't we come too?" suggested her cousin, as he rose to open the
She stood a moment and contemplated him with shining eyes. "You
are too magnificent altogether for this doll's house of ours," she
declared. "I am sure this humble roof has never before sheltered such
a lion as Captain Blake Grange, V.C."
"Only an ass in a lion's skin, my dear Daisy," said Grange modestly.
She laughed. "An excellent simile, my worthy cousin. I wish I had
thought of it myself."
She went lightly away with this thrust, and Grange, after a brief
pause, turned slowly back into the room.
Muriel was seated in a low chair before the fire. She was working at
some tiny woollen socks, knitting swiftly in dead silence.
He moved to the hearthrug, and stood there, obviously ill at ease. A
certain shyness was in his nature, and Muriel's nervousness reacted
upon him. He did not know how to break the silence.
At length, with an effort, he spoke. "You heard about Nick Ratcliffe's
wound, I expect, Miss Roscoe?"
Muriel's hands leapt suddenly and fell into her lap. "Nick Ratcliffe!
When was he wounded? No, I have heard nothing."
He looked down at her with an uneasy suspicion that he had lighted
upon an unfortunate subject.
"I thought you would have heard," he said. "Didn't Daisy know? He
came back to us from Simla--got himself attached to the punitive
expedition. I was on the sick list myself, so did not see him, but
they say he fought like a dancing dervish, and did a lot of damage
too. Every one thought he would have the V.C., but there was a rumour
that he refused it."
"And--he was wounded, you say?" Muriel's voice sounded curiously
strained. Her knitting lay jumbled together in her lap. Her dark face
was lifted, and it seemed to Grange, unskilled observer though he was,
that he had never seen deeper tragedy in any woman's eyes.
Somewhat reluctantly he made reply. "He had his arm injured by a
sword-thrust at the very end of the campaign. He made light of it for
ever so long till things began to look serious. Then he had to give
in, and had a pretty sharp time of it, I believe. He's better again
now, though, so his brother told me this evening. I never heard any
details. I daresay he's all right again." He stooped to pick up a
completed sock that had fallen. "He's the sort of chap who always
comes out on top," he ended consolingly.
Muriel stiffened a little as she sat. She had a curious longing to
hear more, and an equally curious reluctance to ask for it.
"I never heard anything about it--naturally," she remarked.
Grange, having fitted the sock on to two fingers, was examining it
with a contemplative air. It struck her abruptly that he was trying to
say something. She waited silently, not without apprehension. She had
no idea as to how much he knew of what had passed between herself and
"I say, Miss Roscoe," he blurted out suddenly, "do you hate talking
about these things--very badly, I mean?"
She looked up at him, and was surprised to see emotion on his face. It
had an odd effect upon her, placing her unaccountably at her ease with
him, banishing all her stiffness in a moment. She remembered with a
quick warmth at her heart how she had always liked this man in those
far-off days of her father's protection, how she had always found
something reassuring in his gentle courtesy.
"No," she said, after a moment, speaking with absolute sincerity. "I
can't bear to with--most people; but I don't think I mind with you."
She saw his pleasant smile for an instant. He laid the sock down upon
her knee, and in doing so touched and lightly pressed her hand.
"Thank you," he said simply. "I know I'm not good at expressing
myself, but please believe that I wouldn't hurt you for the world.
Miss Roscoe, I have brought some things with me I think you will like
to have--things that belonged to your father. Sir Reginald Bassett
entrusted them to me--left them, in fact, in my charge, as he found
them. I was coming home, and I asked leave to bring them to you.
Perhaps you would like me to fetch them?"
She was on her feet as he asked the question, on her face such a look
of eagerness as it had not worn for many weary months.
"Oh, please--if you would!" she said, her words falling fast and
breathless. "It has been--such a grief to me--that I had nothing of
his to--to treasure."
He turned at once to the door. The desolation that those words of hers
revealed to him went straight to his man's heart. Poor little girl!
Had the parting been so infernally hard as even now to bring that look
to her eyes? Was her father's memory the only interest she had left
in her sad young life? And all the evening, save for that first brief
moment of their meeting, he had been thinking her cold, impassive,
With a deep pity in his soul he departed on his errand.
Returning with the soft tread which was his peculiarity, he surprised
her with her face in her hands in an attitude of such abandonment that
he drew back hesitating. But, suddenly aware of him, she sprang up
swiftly, with no sign of tears upon her face.
"Oh, come in, come in!" she said impatiently. "Why do you stand
She ran forward to meet him with hands hungrily outstretched, and
he put into them those trifles which were to her so infinitely
precious--a cigarette-case, a silver match-box, a pen-knife, a little
old prayer-book very worn at the edges, with all the gilt faded from
its leaves. She gathered them to her breast closely, passionately.
All but the prayer-book had been her gifts to the father she had
worshipped. With a wrung heart she called to mind the occasion upon
which each had been offered, his smile of kindly appreciation, the
old-world courtliness of his thanks. With loving hands she laid them
down one by one, lingering over each, seeing them through a blur of
tears. She was no longer conscious of Grange, as reverently, even
diffidently, she opened last of all the little shabby prayer-book that
her father had been wont to take with him on all his marches. She knew
that he had cherished it as her mother's gift.
It opened upon a scrap of white heather which marked the Service for
the Burial of the Dead. Her tears fell upon the faded sprig, and she
brushed her hand swiftly across her eyes, looking more closely as
certain words underlined caught her attention. Other words had been
written by her father's hand very minutely in the margin.
The passage underlined was ... "not to be sorry as men without hope,
for them that sleep ..." and in a moment she guessed that her father
had made that mark on the day of her mother's death. It was like a
message to her, the echo of a cry.
The words in the margin were so small that she had to carry them to
the light to read them. And then they flashed out at her as if
sprung suddenly to light on the white paper. There, in the beloved
handwriting, sure and indelible, she read it, and across the desert
of her heart, voiceless but insistent, there swept the hunger-cry of a
man's soul: OMNIA VINCIT AMOR.
It pulsed through her like an electric current, seeming to overwhelm
every other sensation, shutting her off as it were from the home-world
to which she had fled, how fruitlessly, for healing. Once more
skeleton fingers held hers, shifting to and fro, to and fro, slowly,
ceaselessly, flashing the deep rays that shone from ruby hearts hither
and thither. Once more--But she would not bear it! She was free! She
was free! She flung out the hand that once had worn those rubies, and,
resisting wildly, broke away from the spell that the words her father
had written had woven afresh for her.
It might be true that Love conquered all things--he had believed
it--but ah, what had this uncanny force to do with Love? Love was a
pure, a holy thing, the bond imperishable--the Eternal Flame at which
all the little torches of the world are lighted.
Moreover, there was no fear in Love, and she--she was sick with fear
whenever she encountered that haunting phantom of memory.
With a start she awoke to the fact that she was not alone. Blake
Grange had taken her out-flung hand, and was speaking to her softly,
"Don't grieve so awfully, Miss Roscoe," he urged, a slight break in
his own voice. "You're not left friendless. I know how it is. I've
felt like it myself. But it gets better afterwards."
Muriel suffered him with a dawning sense of comfort. It surprised her
to see tears in his eyes. She wondered vaguely if they were for her.
"Yes," she said, after a pause. "It does get better, I know, in a way.
Or at least one gets used to an empty heart. One gets to leave off
listening for what one will never, never hear any more."
"Never is a dreary word," said Grange.
She bent her head silently, and again his heart overflowed with pity
for her. He looked down at the hand that lay so passively in his.
"I hope you will always think of me as a friend," he said.
She looked up at him a quick gleam of gratitude in her eyes. "Thank
you," she said. "Yes, always."
He still held her hand. "You know," he said, blundering awkwardly, "I
always blamed myself that--that I wasn't the one to be with you when
you escaped from Wara. I might have been. But I--I wasn't prepared to
pay the possible price."
She was still looking at him with those aloof, tragic eyes of
hers. "I don't quite understand," she said, "I never did
understand--exactly--why Nick was chosen to protect me. I always
wished it had been you."
"It ought to have been," Grange said, with feeling. "It should have
been. I blame myself. But Nick is a better fighter than I. He keeps
his head. Moreover, he's a savage in some respects. I wasn't savage
He smiled with a hint of apology.
Muriel repressed a shudder at his words. "I don't understand," she
He hesitated. "It's a difficult thing to explain to you," he said
reluctantly. "You see, the fellow who took charge of you had to be
prepared for--well--anything. You know what devils those tribesmen
are. There was to be no chance of your falling into their hands. It
didn't mean just fighting for you, you understand. We would all have
done that to the last drop of our blood. But--your father--was forced
to ask of us--something more. And only Ratcliffe would undertake it.
He's a queer chap. I used to think him a rotter till I saw him fight,
and then I had to change my mind. That was, I believe, the main reason
why General Roscoe selected him as your protector. He knew he could
trust the fellow's nerve. The rest of us were like women compared to
He paused. Muriel's eyes had not flinched from his. She heard his
explanation as one not vitally concerned.
"Have I made myself intelligible?" he asked, as she did not speak.
"Do you mean I was to be shot if things went wrong?" she returned, in
her deep, quiet voice.
He nodded. "It must have been that. Your father saw it in that light,
and so did we. Of course you are bound to see it too. But we stuck at
it--Marshall and I. There was only Nick left, and he volunteered."
"Only Nick left!" she repeated slowly. "Nick would stick at nothing,
"I honestly don't think he would," said Grange. "Still, you know, he's
awfully plucky. He would have gone any length to save you first."
She drew back with a sudden shrinking of her whole body. "Oh, I know,
I know!" she said. "I sometimes think there is a devil in Nick."
She turned aside, bending once more over her father's things, putting
them together with unsteady fingers. So this was the answer to the
riddle--the secret of his choice for her! She understood it all now.
After a short pause, she spoke again more calmly. "Did Nick ever speak
to you about me?"
"Never," said Grange.
"Then please, Captain Grange"--she stood up again and faced
him--"never speak to me again about him. I--want to forget him."
Very young and slight she looked standing there, and again he felt his
heart stir within him with an urgent pity. Vague rumours he had heard
of those few weeks at Simla during which her name and Nick Ratcliffe's
had been coupled together, but he had never definitely known what
had taken place. Had Nick been good to her, he wondered for the first
time? How was it that the bare mention of him was unendurable to
her? What had he done that she should shudder with horror when she
remembered him, and should seek thus with loathing to thrust him out
of her life?
Involuntarily the man's hands clenched and his blood quickened. Had
the General's trust been misplaced? Was Nick a blackguard?
Finding her eyes still upon him, he made her a slight bow that was
wholly free from gallantry.
"I will remember your wish, Miss Roscoe," he said. "I am sorry I
mentioned a painful subject to you, though I am glad for you to know
the truth. You are not vexed with me, I hope?"
Her eyes shone with sincere friendliness. "I am not vexed," she
answered. "Only--let me forget--that's all."
And in those few words she voiced the desire of her soul. It was her
one longing, her one prayer--to forget. And it was the one thing of
all others denied to her.
In the silence that followed, she was conscious of his warm and kindly
sympathy, and she was grateful for it, though something restrained her
from telling him so.
Daisy, coming lightly in upon them, put an end to their tete-a-tete.
She entered softly, her face alight and tender, and laid her two hands
upon Grange's great shoulders as he sat before the fire.
"Come upstairs, Blake," she whispered, "and see my baby boy. He's
sleeping so sweetly. I want you to see him first while he's good."
He raised his face to her smiling, his hands on hers. "I am sure to
admire anything that belongs to you, Daisy," he said.
"You're a dear old pal," responded Daisy lightly. "Come along."
When they were gone Muriel spied Will Musgrave's letter lying on
the ground by Grange's chair as it had evidently fallen from Daisy's
dress. She went over and picked it up. It was still unopened.
With an odd little frown she set it up prominently upon the
"Does Love conquer after all?" she murmured to herself, and there was
a faint twist of cynicism about her lips as she asked the question.
There seemed to be so many forms of Love.
A HERO WORSHIPPER
"Well played! Oh, well played! Miss Roscoe, you're a brick."
The merry voice of the doctor's little daughter Olga, aged fourteen,
shrilled across the hockey-ground, keen with enthusiasm. She was
speeding across the field like a hare to congratulate her latest
"I'm so pleased!" she cried, bursting through the miscellaneous crowd
of boys and girls that surrounded Muriel. "I wanted you to shoot that
She herself had been acting as goal-keeper at her own end of the
field, a position of limited opportunities which she had firmly
refused to assign to the new-comer. A child of unusual character was
Olga Ratcliffe, impulsive but shrewd, with quick, pale eyes which
never seemed to take more than a brief glance at anything, yet which
very little ever escaped. At first sight Muriel had experienced a
certain feeling of aversion to her, so marked was the likeness this
child bore to the man whom she desired so passionately to shut out of
her very memory. But a nearer intimacy had weakened her antipathy
till very soon it had altogether disappeared. Olga had a swift and
fascinating fashion of endearing herself to all who caught her fancy
and, somewhat curiously, Muriel was one of the favoured number. What
there was to attract a child of her quick temperament in the grave,
silent girl in mourning who held aloof so coldly from the rest of the
world was never apparent. But that a strong attraction existed for her
was speedily evident, and Muriel, who was quite destitute of any
near relations of her own, soon found that a free admittance to the
doctor's home circle was accorded her on all sides, whenever she chose
to avail herself of it.
But though Daisy was an immense favourite and often ran into the
Ratcliffes' house, which was not more than a few hundred yards away
from her own little abode, Muriel went but seldom. The doctor's wife,
though always kind, was too busy to seek her out. And so it had been
left to the doctor himself to drag her at length from her seclusion,
and he had done it with a determination that would take no refusal.
She did not know him very intimately, had never asked his advice,
or held any confidential talk with him. At the outset she had been
horribly afraid lest he should have heard of her engagement to Nick,
but, since he never referred to her life in India or to Nick as in any
fashion connected with herself, this fear had gradually subsided. She
was able to tell herself thankfully that Nick was dropping away from
her into the past, and to hope with some conviction that the great
gulf that separated them would never be bridged.
Yet, notwithstanding this, she had a fugitive wish to know how her
late comrade in adversity was faring. Captain Grange's news regarding
him had aroused in her a vague uneasiness, which would not be quieted.
She wondered if by any means she could extract any information from
Olga, and this she presently essayed to do, when play was over for the
day and Olga had taken her upstairs to prepare for tea.
Olga was the easiest person in the world to deal with upon such a
subject. She expanded at the very mention of Nick's name.
"Oh, do you know him? Isn't he a darling? I have a photograph of him
somewhere. I must try and find it. He is in fancy dress and standing
on his head--such a beauty. Weren't you awfully fond of him? He has
been ill, you know. Dad was very waxy because he wouldn't come home.
He might have had sick leave, but he wouldn't take it. However, he may
have to come yet, Dad says, if something happens. He didn't say what.
It was something to do with his wound. Dad wants him to leave the Army
and settle down on his estate. He owns a big place about twelve miles
away that an old great-aunt of his left him. Dad thinks a landowner
ought to live at home if he can afford to. And of course Nick might go
into Parliament too. He's so clever, and rich as well. But he won't do
it. So it's no good talking."
Olga jumped off the dressing-table, and wound her arm impulsively
through Muriel's. "Miss Roscoe," she said coaxingly, "I do like you
most awfully. May I call you by your Christian name?"
"Why, do!" Muriel said. "I should like it best."
"Oh, that's all right," said Olga, well pleased. "I knew you weren't
stuck-up really. I hate stuck-up people, don't you? I'm awfully
pleased that you like Nick. I simply love him--better almost than any
one else. He writes to me sometimes, pages and pages. I never show
them to any one, and he doesn't show mine either. You see, we're pals.
But I can show you his photograph--the one I told you about. It's just
like him--his grin and all. Come up after tea, and I'll find it."
And with her arm entwined in Muriel's she drew her, still talking
eagerly, from the room.
NEWS FROM THE EAST
"I have been wondering," Grange said in his shy, rather diffident way,
"if you would care to do any riding while I am here."
"I?" Muriel looked up in some surprise.
They were walking back from church together by a muddy field-path, and
since neither had much to say at any time, they had accomplished more
than half the distance in silence.
"I know you do ride," Grange explained, "and it's just the sort of
country for a good gallop now and then. Daisy isn't allowed to, but I
thought perhaps you--"
"Oh, I should like to, of course," Muriel said. "I haven't done any
riding since I left Simla. I didn't care to alone."
"Ah! Lady Bassett rides, doesn't she? She is an accomplished
horsewoman, I believe?"
"I don't know," Muriel's reply was noticeably curt. "I never rode with
Grange at once dropped the subject, and they became silent again.
Muriel walked with her eyes fixed straight before her. But she did not
see the brown earth underfoot or the bare trees that swayed overhead
in the racing winter wind. She was back again in the heart of the
Simla pines, hearing horses' feet that stamped below her window in the
dawning, and a gay, cracked voice that sang.
Her companion's voice recalled her. "I suppose Daisy will stay here
for the summer."
"I suppose so," she answered.
Grange went on with some hesitation. "The little chap doesn't look as
if he would ever stand the Indian climate. What will happen? Will she
ever consent to leave him with the Ratcliffes?"
"I am quite certain she won't," Muriel answered, with unfaltering
conviction. "She simply lives for him."
"I thought so," Grange said rather sadly. "It would go hard with her
Muriel's dark eyes flashed swift entreaty. "Oh, don't say it! Don't
think it! I believe it would kill her."
"She is stronger, though?" he questioned almost sharply.
"Yes, yes, much stronger. Only--not strong enough for that. Captain
Grange, it simply couldn't happen."
They had reached a gate at the end of the field. Grange stopped before
it, and spoke with sudden, deep feeling.
"If it does happen, Muriel," he said, using her Christian name quite
unconsciously, "we shall have to stand by her, you and I. You won't
leave her, will you? You would be of more use to her than I. Oh,
it's--it's damnable to see a woman in trouble and not be able to
He brought his ungloved hand down upon the gate-post with a violence
that drew blood; then, seeing her face of amazement, thrust it hastily
"I'm a fool," he said, with his shy, semi-apologetic smile. "Don't
mind me, Miss Roscoe. You know, I--I'm awfully fond of Daisy, always
was. My people were her people, and when they died we were the only
two left, as it were. Of course she was married by that time, and
there are some other relations somewhere. But we've always hung
together, she and I. You can understand it, can't you?"
Muriel fancied she could, but his vehemence startled her none the
less. She had not deemed him capable of such intensity.
"I suppose you feel almost as if she were your sister," she remarked,
groping half-unconsciously for an explanation.
Grange was holding the gate open for her. He did not instantly reply.
Then, "I don't exactly know what that feels like," he said, with an
odd shame-facedness. "But in so far as that we have been playfellows
and chums all our lives, I suppose you might describe it in that way."
And Muriel, though she wondered a little at the laborious honesty of
his reply, was satisfied that she understood.
She was drifting into a very pleasant friendship with Blake Grange.
He seemed to rely upon her in an indefinable fashion that made their
intercourse of necessity one of intimacy. Moreover, Daisy's habits
were still more or less those of an invalid, and this fact helped very
materially to throw them together.
To Muriel, emerging slowly from the long winter of her sorrow, the
growing friendship with this man whom she both liked and admired was
as a shaft of sunshine breaking across a grey landscape. Insensibly
it was doing her good. The deep shadow of a horror that once had
overwhelmed her was lifting gradually away from her life. In her
happier moments it almost seemed that she was beginning to forget.
Grange's suggestion that they should ride together awoke in her a
keener sense of pleasure than she had known since the tragedy of Wara
had darkened her young life, and for the rest of the day she looked
forward eagerly to the resumption of this her favourite exercise.
Daisy was delighted with the idea, and when on the following morning
Grange ransacked the town for suitable mounts and returned triumphant,
she declared gaily that she should take no further trouble for her
guest's entertainment. The responsibility from that day forth rested
Muriel was by no means loth to assume it. They got on excellently
together, and their almost daily rides became a source of keen
pleasure to her. Winter was fast merging into spring, and the magic
of the coming season was working in her blood. There were times when
a sense of spontaneous happiness would come over her, she knew not
wherefore. Jim Ratcliffe no longer looked at her with stern-browed
She and Grange both became regular members of Olga's hockey team. They
shared most of their pursuits. Among other things she was learning the
accompaniments of his songs. Grange had a well-cultivated tenor voice,
to which Daisy the restless would listen for any length of time.
Altogether they were a very peaceful trio, and as the weeks slipped on
it almost seemed as if the quiet home life they lived were destined to
endure indefinitely. Grange spoke occasionally of leaving, but Daisy
would never entertain the idea for an instant, and he certainly did
not press it very strongly. He was not returning to India before
September, and the long summer months that intervened made the date
of his departure so remote as to be outside discussion. No one ever
thought of it.
But the long, quiet interval in the sleepy little country town,
interminable as it might feel, was not destined to last for ever. On
a certain afternoon in March, Grange and Muriel, riding home together
after a windy gallop across open country, were waylaid outside the
doctor's gate by one of the Ratcliffe boys.
The urchin was cheering at the top of his voice and dancing
ecstatically in the mud. Olga, equally dishevelled but somewhat more
coherent, was seated on the gate-post, her long legs dangling.
"Have you seen Dad? Have you heard?" was her cry. "Jimmy, come out of
the road. You'll be kicked."
Both riders pulled up to hear the news, Jimmy squirming away from
the horses' legs after a fashion that provoked even the mild-tempered
Grange to a sharp reproof.
"You haven't heard?" pursued Olga, ignoring her small brother's
escapade as too trifling to notice at such a supreme moment. "But you
haven't, of course, if you haven't seen Dad. The letter only came an
hour ago. It's Nick, dear old Nick! He's coming home at last!" In
her delight over imparting the information Olga nearly toppled over
backwards, only saving herself by a violent effort. "Aren't you glad,
Muriel? Aren't you glad?" she cried. "I was never so pleased in my
But Muriel had no reply ready. For some reason her animal had become
suddenly restive, and occupied the whole of her attention.
It was Grange who after a seconds hesitation asked for further
particulars. "What is he coming for? Is it sick leave?"
Olga nodded. "He isn't to stay out there for the hot weather. It's
something to do with his wound. He doesn't want to come a bit. But he
is to start almost at once. He may be starting now."
"Not likely," put in Jimmy. "The end of March was what he said. Dad
said he couldn't be here before the third week in April."
"Oh, well, that isn't long, is it?" said Olga eagerly. "Not when you
come to remember that it's three years since he went away. I do think
they might have given him the V.C., don't you? Captain Grange, why
hasn't he got the V.C.?"
Grange couldn't say, really. He advised her to ask the man himself.
He was observing Muriel with some uneasiness, and when she at length
abruptly waved her whip and rode sharply on as though her horse
were beyond her control, he struck spurs into his own and started in
Muriel passed her own gate at a canter, but hearing Grange behind her
she soon reined in, and they trotted some distance side by side in
But Grange was still uneasy. The girl's rigid profile had that stony,
aloof look that he had noted upon his arrival weeks before, and that
he had come to associate with her escape from Wara.
Nevertheless, when she presently addressed him it was in her ordinary
tone and upon a subject indifferent to them both. She had received a
shock, he knew, but she plainly did not wish him to remark it.
They rode quite soberly back again, and separated at the door.
A HARBOUR OF REFUGE
To Daisy the news that Grange imparted was more pleasing than
startling. "I knew he would come before long if he were a wise man,"
But when her cousin wanted to know what she meant, she would not tell
"No, I can't, Blake," was her answer. "I once promised Muriel never to
speak of it. She is very sensitive on the subject."
Grange did not press for an explanation. It was not his way. He left
her moodily, a frown of deep dissatisfaction upon his handsome face.
Daisy did not spend much thought upon him. Her interests at that
time were almost wholly centred upon her boy who was so backward and
delicate that she was continually anxious about him. She was, in fact,
so preoccupied that she hardly noticed at dinner that Muriel scarcely
spoke and ate next to nothing.
Grange remarked both facts, and his moodiness increased. When
Daisy went up to the nursery, he at once followed Muriel into the
drawing-room. She was standing by the window when he entered, a slim,
straight figure in unrelieved black; but though she must have heard
him, she neither spoke nor turned her head.
Grange closed the door and came softly forward. There was an unwonted
air of resolution about him that made him look almost grim. He reached
her side and stood there silently. The wind had fallen, and the sky
After a brief silence Muriel dropped the blind and looked at him.
There was something of interrogation in her glance.
"Shall we go into the garden?" she suggested. "It is so warm."
He fell in at once with the proposal. "You will want a cloak," he
said. "Can I fetch you one?"
"Oh, thanks! Anything will do. I believe there's one of Daisy's in the
She moved across the room quickly, as one impatient to escape from a
confined space. Grange followed her. He was not smoking as usual. They
went out together into the warm darkness, and passed side by side
down the narrow path that wound between the bare flower-beds. It was
a wonderful night. Once as they walked there drifted across them a
sudden fragrance of violets.
They reached at length a rustic gate that led into the doctor's
meadow, and here with one consent they stopped. Very far away a faint
wind was stirring, but close at hand there was no sound. Again, from
the wet earth by the gate, there rose the magic scent of violets.
Muriel rested her clasped hands upon the gate, and spoke in a voice
"I never realised how much I liked this place before," she said.
"Isn't it odd? I have been actually happy here--and I didn't know it."
"You are not happy to-night," said Grange.
She did not attempt to contradict him. "I think I am rather tired,"
"I don't think that is quite all," he returned, with quiet conviction.
She moved, turning slightly towards him; but she said nothing, though
he obviously waited for some response.
For awhile he was discouraged, and silence fell again upon them. Then
at length he braced himself for an effort. For all his shyness he was
not without a certain strength.
"Miss Roscoe," he said, "do you remember how you once promised that
you would always regard me as a friend?"
She turned fully towards him then, and he saw her face dimly in the
starlight. He thought she looked very pale.
"I do," she said simply.
In a second his diffidence fell away from him. He realised that the
ground on which he stood was firm. He bent towards her.
"I want you to keep that promise of yours in its fullest sense
to-night, Muriel," he said, and his soft voice had in it almost a
caressing note. "I want you--if you will--to tell me what is the
Muriel stood before him with her face upturned. He could not read her
expression, but he knew by her attitude that she had no thought of
"What is it?" he urged gently. "Won't you tell me?"
"Don't you know?" she asked him slowly.
"I only know that what we heard this afternoon upset you," he
answered. "And I don't understand it. I am asking you to explain."
"You will only think me very foolish and absurd."
There was a deep quiver in the words, and he knew that she was
trembling. Very kindly he laid his hand upon her shoulder.
"Can't you trust me better than that?" he asked.
She did not answer him. Her breathing became suddenly sharp and
irregular, and he realised that she was battling for self-control.
"I don't know if I can make you understand," she said at last. "But I
"Yes, try!" he said gently. "You won't find it so very difficult."
She turned back to the gate, and leaned wearily upon it.
"You are very kind. You always have been. I couldn't tell any one
else--not even Daisy. You see, she is--his friend. But you are
different. I don't think you like him, do you?"
Grange hesitated a little. "I won't go so far as to say that," he
said finally. "We get on all right. I was never very intimate with the
fellow. I think he is a bit callous."
"Callous!" Muriel gave a sudden hard shudder. "He is much worse than
callous. He is hideously, almost devilishly cruel. But--but--he isn't
only that. Blake, do you think he is quite human? He is so horribly,
so unnaturally strong."
Grange heard the scared note in her voice, and drew very close to her.
"I think," he said quietly, "that--without knowing it--you exaggerate
both his cruelty and his strength. I know he is a queer chap. I once
heard it said of him that he has the eyes of a snake-charmer, and I
believe it more or less. But I assure you he is human--quite human.
And"--he spoke with unwonted emphasis--"he has no more power over
you--not an inch--than you choose to give him."
Muriel uttered a faint sigh. "I knew I should never make you
Grange was silent. He might have retorted that she had given him very
little information to go upon, but he forebore. There was an almost
colossal patience about this man. His silence had in it nothing of
After a few seconds Muriel went on, her voice very low. "I would give
anything--all I have--not to meet him when he comes back. But I don't
know how to get away from him. He is sure to seek me out. And I--I am
only a girl. I can't prevent it."
Again there sounded that piteous quiver in her words. It was like the
cry of a lost child. Grange heard it, and clenched his hands, but he
did not speak. He was gazing straight ahead, stern-eyed and still.
Muriel scarcely noticed his attitude. Having at length broken through
her barrier of reserve, she found a certain relief in speech.
"I might go away, of course," she said. "I expect I shall do that, for
I don't think I could endure it here. But I haven't many friends.
My year in India seemed to cut me off from every one. It's a little
difficult to know where to go. And then, too, there is Daisy."
She paused, and suddenly Grange spoke, with more abruptness than was
"Why do you think he is sure to seek you out? Did he ever say so?"
She shivered. "No, he never said so. But--but--in a way I feel it.
He is so merciless. He always makes me think of an eagle swooping
down on its prey. No doubt you think me very fanciful and ridiculous.
Perhaps I am. But once--in the mountains--he told me that I belonged
to him--that he would not let me go, and--and--I have never been able
to forget it."
Her voice sank, and it seemed to Grange that she was crying in the
darkness. Her utter forlornness pierced him to the heart. He leaned
towards her, trying ineffectually to see her face.
"My dear little girl," he said gently, "don't be so distressed. He
deserves to be kicked for frightening you like this."
"It's my own fault," she whispered back. "If I were stronger, or if
Daddy were with me--it would be different. But I am all alone. There
is no one to help me. I used to think it didn't matter what happened
to me, but I am beginning to feel it does."
"Of course it does," Grange said. His hand felt along the rail for
hers, and, finding them, held them closely. Her weakness gave him
confidence. "Poor child!" he murmured softly. "Poor little girl! You
do want some one to take care of you."
Muriel mastered herself with an effort. It was not often now that she
gave way so completely.
"It's only now and then," she said. "It's better than it used to be.
Only somehow I got frightened when I heard that Nick was coming. I
daresay--when I begin to get used to the idea--I shan't mind it quite
so much. Never mind about my silly worries any more. No doubt I shall
get wiser as I grow older."
She tried to laugh with the words, but somehow no laugh came. Grange's
great hand closed very tightly upon hers, and she looked up in
Almost instantly he began to speak, very humbly, but also very
resolutely. "Muriel," he said, "I'm an unutterable fool at expressing
things. I can only say them straight out and hope for the best. You
want a protector, don't you? And I--should like to be the one to
protect you if--if it were ever possible for you to think of me in
He spoke with immense effort. He was afraid of scaring her, afraid of
hurting her desolate young heart, afraid almost of the very impulse
that moved him to speak.
Absolute silence reigned when he ended.
Muriel had become suddenly rigid, and so still that she did not seem
to breathe. For several seconds he waited, but still she made no sign.
He had not the remotest clue to guide him. He began to feel as if a
door had unexpectedly closed against him, not violently, but steadily,
soundlessly, barring him out.
It was but a fleeting impression. In a few moments more it was gone.
She drew a long quivering breath, and turned slightly towards him.
"I would rather trust myself to you," she said, "than to any one else
in the world."
She spoke in her deep, sincere voice which gave him no doubt that she
meant what she said, and at once his own trepidation departed. He put
his arm around her, and pressed her close to him.
"Come to me then," he said very tenderly. "And I will take such care
of you, Muriel, that no one shall ever frighten you again."
She yielded to his touch as simply as a child, leaning her head
against him with a little, weary gesture of complete confidence. She
was desperately tired of standing alone.
"I know I shall be safe with you," she whispered.
"Quite safe, dear," he answered gravely. He paused a moment as though
irresolute; then, still holding her closely, he bent and kissed her
He did it very quietly and reverently, but at the action she started,
almost shrank. One of those swift flashes of memory came suddenly upon
her, and as in a vision she beheld another face bending over her--a
yellow, wrinkled face of terrible emaciation, with eyes of flickering
fire--eyes that never slept--and heard a voice, curiously broken
and incoherent that seemed to pray. She could not catch the words it
The old wild panic rushed over her, the old frenzied longing to
escape. With a sobbing gasp she turned in Grange's arms, and clung to
"Oh, Captain Grange," she panted piteously, "promise--promise you will
never let me go!"
Her agitation surprised him, but it awaked in him a responsive
tenderness that compassed her with a strength bred rather of emergency
"My little girl, I swear I will never let you go," he said, with grave
assurance. "You are quite safe now. No one shall ever take you from
And it was to Muriel as if, after long and futile battling in the open
sea, she had drifted at last into the calm heaven which surely had
always been the goal of her desires.
AN OLD STORY
Jim Ratcliffe was in the drawing-room with Daisy when they returned.
He scrutinised them both somewhat sharply as they came in, but he made
no comment upon their preference for the garden. Very soon he rose to
take his leave.
Grange accompanied him to the door, and Muriel, suddenly possessed by
an overwhelming sense of shyness, bent over Daisy and murmured a hasty
Daisy looked at her for a moment. "Tired, dear?"
"A little," Muriel admitted.
"I hope you haven't been catching cold--you and Blake," Daisy said, as
she kissed her.
Muriel assured her to the contrary, and hastened to make her escape.
In the hall she came face to face with Blake. He met her with a smile.
"What! Going up already?"
She nodded. Her face was burning. For an instant her hand lay in his.
"You tell Daisy," she whispered, and fled upstairs like a scared bird.
Grange stood till she was out of sight; then turned aside to the
drawing-room, the smile wholly gone from his face.
Daisy, from her seat before the fire, looked up with her gay laugh.
"I'm sure there is a secret brewing between you two," she declared. "I
can feel it in my bones."
Grange closed the door carefully. There was a queer look on his face,
almost an apprehensive look. He took up his stand on the hearthrug
before he spoke.
"You are not far wrong, Daisy," he said then.
She answered him lightly as ever. "I never am, my dear Blake. Surely
you must have noticed it. Well, am I to be let into the plot, or not?"
He looked at her for a moment uneasily. "Of course we shall tell you,"
he said. "It--it's not a thing we could very well keep to ourselves
for any length of time."
A sudden gleam of understanding flashed into Daisy's upturned face,
and instantly her expression changed. With a swift, vehement movement
she sprang up and stood before him.
"Blake!" she exclaimed, and in her voice astonishment, dismay, and
even reproach were mingled.
He averted his eyes from hers. "Won't you congratulate me, Daisy?" he
said, speaking almost under his breath.
Daisy had turned very white. She put out both hands, and leaned upon
"But, my dear Blake," she said, after a moment, "she is not for you."
"What do you mean?" Grange's jaw suddenly set itself. He squared
his great shoulders as if instinctively bracing himself to meet
"I mean"--Daisy spoke very quietly and emphatically--"I mean, Blake,
that she is Nick's property. She belonged to Nick before ever you
thought of wanting her. I never dreamed that you would do anything
so shabby as to step in at the last moment, just when Nick is coming
home, and cut him out. How could you do such a thing, Blake? But
surely it isn't irrevocable? You can't have said anything definite?"
Grange's face had become very stern. He no longer avoided her eyes.
For once he was really angry, and showed it.
"You make a mistake," he told her curtly. "I have done nothing
whatever of which I am ashamed, or of which any man could be ashamed.
Certainly I have taken a definite step. I have proposed to her, and
she has accepted me. With regard to Nick Ratcliffe, I believe myself
that the fellow is something of a blackguard, but in any case she both
fears and hates him. He can have no shadow of a right over her."
"You forget that he saved her life," said Daisy.
"Is she to hold herself at his disposal on that account? I must say I
fail to see the obligation."
There was even a hint of scorn in Grange's tone. At sound of it, Daisy
turned round and laid her hand winningly upon his arm.
"Dear old boy," she said gently, "don't be angry. I'm not against
He softened instantly. It was not in him to harbour resentment against
a woman. He took her hand, and heaved a deep sigh.
"No, Daisy," he said half sadly, "you mustn't be against me. I always
count on you."
Daisy laughed a little wistfully. "Always did, dear, didn't you? Well,
tell me some more. What made you propose all of a sudden like this?
Are you--very much in love?"
He looked at her. "Perhaps not quite as we used to understand the
term," he said, seeming to speak half-reluctantly.
"Oh, we were very extravagant and foolish," rejoined Daisy lightly.
"I didn't mean quite in that way, Blake. You at least are past the age
for such feathery nonsense, or should be. I was--aeons and aeons ago."
"Were you?" he said, and still he looked at her half in wonder, it
seemed, and half in regret.
Daisy nodded at him briskly. The colour had come back to her face.
"Yes, I have arrived at years of discretion," she assured him. "And I
quite agree with Solomon that childhood and youth are vanity. But now
let us talk about this. Is she in love with you, I wonder? I must be
remarkably blind not to have seen it. How in the world I shall ever
face Nick again, I can't imagine."
Grange frowned. "I'm getting a bit tired of Nick," he said moodily.
"He crops up everywhere."
Daisy's face flushed. "Don't you ever again say a word against him in
my hearing," she said. "For I won't bear it. He may not be handsome
like you; but for all that, he's about the finest man I know."
"Good heavens!" said Blake. "As much as that!"
She nodded vehemently. "Yes, quite as much. And he loves her, too,
loves her with his whole soul. Perhaps you never knew that they would
have been married long ago in Simla if Muriel hadn't overheard some
malicious gossip and thrown him over. How in the world she made him
let her go I never knew, but she did it, though I believe it nearly
broke his heart. He came to me afterwards and begged me to keep her
with me as long as I could, and take care of her."
"All this," broke in Grange, "is what you promised never to speak of?"
"Yes," she admitted recklessly. "But it is what you ought to
know--what you must know--before you go any further."
"It will make no difference to me," he observed. "It is quite obvious
that she never cared for him in the smallest degree. Why, my dear
girl, she hates the man!"
Daisy gave vent to a sigh of exasperation. "When you come to talk
about women's feelings, Blake, you make me tired. You will never be
anything but a great big booby in that respect as long as you live."
Grange became silent. He never argued with Daisy. She had always had
the upper hand. He watched her as she sat down again, her pretty face
in the glow of the fire; but though fully aware of the fact, she would
not look at him.
"She is a dear girl, and you are not half good enough for her," she
said, stooping a little to the blaze.
"I know that," he answered bluntly. "I wasn't good enough for you,
either, but you would have had me--once."
She made a dainty gesture with one shoulder. "That also was aeons ago.
Why disturb that poor old skeleton?"
He did not answer, but he continued to watch her steadily with eyes
that held an expression of dumb faithfulness--like the eyes of a dog.
Daisy was softly and meditatively poking the fire. "If you marry her,
Blake," she said, "you will have to be enormously good to her. She
isn't the sort of girl to be satisfied with anything but the best."
"I should do my utmost to make her happy," he answered.
She glanced up momentarily. "I wonder if you would succeed," she
For a single instant their eyes met. Daisy's fell away at once, and
the firelight showed a swift deepening of colour on her face.
As for Blake, he stood quite stiff for a few seconds, then with an
abruptness of movement unusual with him, he knelt suddenly down beside
"Daisy," he said, and his voice sounded strained, almost hoarse,
"you're not vexed about it? You don't mind my marrying? It isn't--you
know--it isn't--as if--"
He broke off, for Daisy had jerked upright as if at the piercing of a
nerve. She looked at him fully, with blazing eyes. "How can you be so
ridiculous, Blake?" she exclaimed, with sharp impatience. "That was
all over and done with long, long ago, and you know it. Besides, even
if it hadn't been, I'm not a dog in the manger. Surely you know that
too. Oh, go away, and don't be absurd!"
She put her hand against his shoulder, and gave him a small but
He stood up again immediately, but he did not look hurt, and the
expression of loyalty in his eyes never wavered.
There was a short pause before Daisy spoke again.
"Well," she said, with a brief sigh, "I suppose it's no good crying
over spilt milk, but I wish you had chosen any girl in the world but
Muriel, Blake; I do indeed. You will have to write to Sir Reginald
Bassett. He is her guardian, subject to his wife's management. Perhaps
she will approve of you. She hated Nick for some reason."
"I don't see how they can object," Grange said, in the moody tone he
always used when perplexed.
"No," said Daisy. "Nor did Nick. But Lady Bassett managed to put a
spoke in his wheel notwithstanding. Still, if Muriel wants to marry
you--or thinks she does--she will probably take her own way. And
possibly regret it afterwards."
"You think I shall not make her happy?" said Grange.
Daisy hesitated a little. "I think," she said slowly, "that you are
not the man for her. However,"--she rose with another shrug--"I may
be wrong. In any case you have gone too far for me to meddle. I can't
help either of you now. You must just do what you think best." She
held out her hand. "I must go up now. Baby is restless to-night, and
may want me. Good-night."
Blake stooped, and carried her hand softly and suddenly to his lips.
He seemed for an instant on the verge of saying something, but no
words came. There was a faint, half-mocking smile on Daisy's face
as she turned away. But she was silent also. It seemed that they
understood each other.
THE SLEEP CALLED DEATH
It was an unspeakable relief to Muriel that, in congratulating her
upon her engagement, Daisy made no reference to Nick. She did not know
that this forbearance had been dictated long before by Nick himself.
The days that followed her engagement had in them a sort of rapture
that she had never known before. She felt as a young wild creature
suddenly escaped from the iron jaws of a trap in which it had long
languished, and she rioted in the sense of liberty that was hers. Her
youth was coming back to her in leaps and bounds with the advancing
She missed nothing in Blake's courtship. His gentleness had always
attracted her, and the intimacy that had been growing up between them
made their intercourse always easy and pleasant. They never spoke of
Nick. But ever in Muriel's heart there lay the soothing knowledge that
she had nothing more to fear. Her terrible, single-handed contests
against overwhelming odds were over, and she was safe. She was
convinced that, whatever happened, Blake would take care of her. Was
he not the protector she would have chosen from the beginning, could
she but have had her way?
So, placidly and happily, the days drifted by, till March was nearly
gone; and then, sudden and staggering as a shell from a masked
battery, there fell the blow that was destined to end that peaceful
Very late one night there came a nervous knocking at Muriel's door,
and springing up from her bed she came face to face with Daisy's
_ayah_. The woman was grey with fright, and babbling incoherently.
Something about "baba" and the "mem-sahib" Muriel caught and instantly
guessed that the baby had been taken ill. She flung a wrap round her,
and hastened to the nursery.
It was a small room opening out of Daisy's bedroom. The light was
turned on full, and here Daisy herself was walking up and down with
the baby in her arms.
Before Muriel was well in the room, she stopped and spoke. Her face
was ghastly pale, and she could not raise her voice above a whisper,
though she made repeated efforts. "Go to Blake!" she panted. "Go
quickly! Tell him to fetch Jim Ratcliffe. Quick! Quick!"
Muriel flew to do her bidding. In her anxiety she scarcely waited to
knock at Blake's door, but burst in upon him headlong. The room was in
total darkness, but he awoke instantly.
"Hullo! What is it? That you, Muriel?"
"Oh, Blake!" she gasped. "The child's ill. We want the doctor."
He was up in a moment. She heard him groping for matches, but he only
succeeded in knocking something over.
"Can't you find them?" she asked. "Wait! I'll get you a light."
She ran back to her own room and fetched a candle. Her hands were
shaking so that she could scarcely light it. Returning, she found
Grange putting on his clothes in the darkness. He was fully as
flurried as she.
As she set down the candle there arose a sudden awful sound in Daisy's
Muriel stood still. "Oh, what is that?"
Grange paused in the act of dragging on his coat. "It's that damned
_ayah_," he said savagely.
And in a second Muriel understood. Daisy's _ayah_ was wailing for the
She put her hands over her ears. The dreadful cry seemed to pierce
right through to her very soul. Then she remembered Daisy, and turned
to go to her.
Out in the passage she met the white-faced English servants huddling
together and whispering. One of them was sobbing hysterically. She
passed them swiftly by.
Back in Daisy's room she found the _ayah_ crouched on the floor, and
rocking herself to and fro while she beat her breast and wailed. The
door that led into the nursery was closed.
Muriel advanced fiercely upon the woman. She almost felt as if
she could have choked her. She seized her by the shoulders without
ceremony. The _ayah_ ceased her wailing for a moment, then recommenced
in a lower key. Muriel pulled her to her feet, half-dragged, half-led
her to her own room, thrust her within, and locked the door upon her.
Then she returned to Daisy.
She found her sunk in a rocking-chair before the waning fire, softly
swaying to and fro with the baby on her breast. She looked at Muriel
entering, with a set, still face.
"Has Blake gone?" she asked, still in that dry, powerless whisper.
Muriel moved to her side, and knelt down. "He is just going," she
began to say, but the words froze on her lips.
She remained motionless for a long second, gazing at the tiny, waxen
face on Daisy's breast. And for that second her heart stood still; for
she knew that the baby was dead.
From the closed room across the passage came the muffled sound of the
_ayah's_ wailing. Daisy made a slight impatient movement.
"Stir the fire," she whispered. "He feels so cold."
But Muriel did not move to obey. Instead she held out her arms.
"Let me take him, dear," she begged tremulously. Daisy shook her head
with a jealous tightening of her clasp. "He has been so ill, poor wee
darling," she whispered. "It came on so suddenly. There was no time
to do anything. But he is easier now. I think he is asleep. We won't
Muriel said no more. She rose and blindly poked the fire. Then--for
the sight of Daisy rocking her dead child with that set, ashen face
was more than she could bear--she turned and stole away, softly
closing the door behind her.
Again meeting the English servants hovering outside, she sent them
downstairs to light the kitchen fire, going herself to the dining-room
window to watch for the doctor. Her feet were bare and freezing, but
she would not return to her room for slippers. She felt she could not
endure that awful wailing at close quarters again. Even as it was, she
heard it fitfully; but from the nursery there came no sound.
She wondered if Blake had gone across the meadow to the doctor's
house--it was undoubtedly the shortest cut--and tried to calculate how
long it would take him.
The waiting was intolerable. She bore it with a desperate endurance.
She could not rid herself of the feeling that somehow Nick was near
her. She almost expected to see him come lightly in and stand beside
her. Once or twice she turned shivering to assure herself that she was
There came at last the click of the garden-gate. They had come across
the drenched meadows. In a transient gleam of moonlight she saw the
two figures striding towards her. Grange stopped a moment to fasten
the gate. The doctor came straight on.
She ran to the front door and threw it open. The wind blew swirling
all about her, but she never felt it, though her very lips were numb
"It's too late!" she gasped, as he entered. "It's too late!"
Jim Ratcliffe took her by the shoulders and forced her away from the
"Go and put something on," he ordered, "instantly!"
There was no resisting the mastery of his tone. She responded to it
instinctively, hardly knowing what she did.
The _ayah's_ paroxysm of grief had sunk to a low moaning when she
re-entered her room. It sounded like a dumb creature in pain. Hastily
she dressed, and twisted up her hair with fingers that she strove in
vain to steady.
Then noiselessly she crept back to the nursery.
Daisy was still rocking softly to and fro before the ore, her piteous
burden yet clasped against her heart. The doctor was stooping over
her, and Muriel saw the half-eager, half-suspicious look in Daisy's
eyes as she watched him. She was telling him in rapid whispers what
He listened to her very quietly, his keen eyes fixed unblinking upon
the baby's face. When she ended, he stooped a little lower, his hand
upon her arm.
"Let me take him," he said.
Muriel trembled for the answer, remembering the instant refusal with
which her own offer had been met. But Daisy made no sort of protest.
She seemed to yield mechanically.
Only, as he lifted the tiny body from her breast, a startled, almost
a bereft look crossed her face, and she whispered quickly, "You won't
let him cry?"
Jim Ratcliffe was silent a moment while he gazed intently at the
little lifeless form he held. Then very gently, very pitifully, but
withal very steadily, his verdict fell through the silent room.
"He will never cry any more."
Daisy was on her feet in a moment, the agony in her eyes terrible to
see. "Jim! Jim!" she gasped, in a strangled voice. "He isn't dead!
My little darling,--my baby,--the light of my eyes; tell me--he
She bent hungrily over the burden he held, and then gazed wildly into
his face. She was shaking as one in an ague.
Quietly he drew the head-covering over the baby's face. "My dear," he
said, "there is no death."
The words were few, spoken almost in an undertone; but they sent a
curious, tingling thrill through Muriel--a thrill that seemed to
reach her heart. For the first time, unaccountably, wholly intangibly,
she was aware of a strong resemblance between this man whom she
honoured and the man she feared. She almost felt as if Nick himself
had uttered the words.
Standing dumbly by the door, she saw the doctor stoop to lay the poor
little body down in the cot, saw Daisy's face of anguish, and the
sudden, wide-flung spread of her empty arms.
The next moment, her woman's instinct prompting her, she sprang
forward; and it was she who caught the stricken mother as she fell.
THE CREED OF A FIGHTER
It was growing very hot in the plains. A faint breeze born at sunset
had died away long ago, leaving a wonderful, breathless stillness
behind. The man who sat at work on his verandah with his shirt-sleeves
turned up above his elbows sighed heavily from time to time as if
he felt some oppression in the atmosphere. He was quite a young man,
fair-skinned and clean-shaven, with an almost pathetically boyish look
about him, a wistful expression as of one whose youth still endured
though the zest thereof was denied to him. His eyes were weary and
bloodshot, but he worked on steadily, indefatigably, never raising
them from the paper under his hand.
Even when a step sounded in the room behind him, he scarcely looked
up. "One moment, old chap!" He was still working rapidly as he spoke.
"I've a toughish bit to get through. I'll talk to you in a minute."
There was no immediate reply. A man's figure, dressed in white linen,
with one arm quite invisible under the coat, stood halting for a
moment in the doorway, then moved out and slowly approached the table
at which the other sat.
The lamplight, gleaming upwards, revealed a yellow face of many
wrinkles, and curious, glancing eyes that shone like fireflies in the
He stopped beside the man who worked. "All right," he said. "Finish
what you are doing."
In the silence that followed he seemed to watch the hand that moved
over the paper with an absorbing interest. The instant it rested he
The man in the chair stretched out his arms with a long gesture of
weariness; then abruptly leapt to his feet.
"What am I thinking of, keeping you standing here? Sit down, Nick!
Yes, I've done for the present. What a restless beggar you are! Why
couldn't you lie still for a spell?"
Nick grimaced. "It's an accomplishment I have never been able to
acquire. Besides, there's no occasion for it now. If I were going to
die, it would be a different thing, and even then I think I'd
rather die standing. How are you getting on, my son? What mean these
He dropped into the empty chair and pored over the paper.
"Oh, you wouldn't understand if I told you," the other answered.
"You're not an engineer."
"Not even a greaser of wheels." admitted Nick modestly. "But you
needn't throw it in my teeth. I suppose you are going to make your
fortune soon and retire--you and Daisy and the imp--to a respectable
suburb. You're a very lucky chap, Will."
"Think so?" said Will.
He was bending a little over his work. His tone sounded either absent
Nick glanced at him, and suddenly swept his free right hand across the
table. "Put it away!" he said. "You're overdoing it. Get the wretched
stuff out of your head for a bit, and let's have a smoke before
dinner. I'll bring her out to you next winter. See if I don't!"
Will turned towards him impulsively. "Oh, man, if you only could!"
"Only could!" echoed Nick. "I tell you I will. Ten quid on it if you
like. Is it done?"
But Will shook his head with a queer, unsteady smile. "No, it
isn't. But come along and smoke, or you will be having that infernal
neuralgia again. It was confoundedly good of you to look me up like
this when you weren't fit for it."
Nick laughed aloud. "Man alive! You don't suppose I did it for your
sake, do you? Don't you know I wanted to break the journey to the
"Odd place to choose!" commented Will.
Nick arose in his own peculiarly abrupt fashion, and thrust his hand
through his friend's arm.
"Perhaps I thought a couple of days of your society would cheer me
up," he observed lightly. "I daresay that seems odd too."
Will laughed in spite of himself. "Well, you've seen me with my
nose to the grindstone anyhow. You can tell Daisy I'm working like a
troop-horse for her and the boy! Jove! What a knowing little beggar
that youngster used to be! He isn't very strong though, Daisy writes."
"How often do you hear?" asked Nick.
"Oh, the last letter came three weeks ago. They were all well then,
but she didn't stop to say much because Grange was there. He is
staying with them, you know."
"You haven't heard since then?" There was just a hint of indignation
in Nick's query.
Will shook his head. "No. She's a bad correspondent, always was. I
write by every mail, and of course, if there were anything I ought
to know, she would write too. But they are leading a fairly humdrum
existence just now. She can't have much to tell me."
Nick changed the subject. "How long has Grange been there?"
"I don't know. Some time, I think. But I really don't know. They are
very old pals, you know, he and Daisy. There was a bit of a romance
between them, I believe, years ago, when she was in her teens. Their
people wouldn't hear of it because they were first cousins, so it
fizzled out. But they are still great friends. A good sort of fellow,
I always thought."
"Too soft for me," said Nick. "He's like a well-built ship adrift
without a rudder. He's all manners and no grit--the sort of chap who
wants to be pushed before he can do anything. I often ached to kick
him when we were boxed up at Wara."
Will smiled. "The only drawback to indulging in that kind of game
is that you may get kicked back, and a kick from a giant like Grange
would be no joke."
Nick looked supremely contemptuous. "Fellows like Grange don't kick.
They don't know how. That's why I had to leave him alone."
He turned into Will's sitting-room and stretched himself out upon an
ancient _charpoy_ furnished with many ancient cushions that stood by
Will gave him a cigarette, and lighted it. "I wonder how many nights I
have spent on that old shake-down," he remarked, as he did it.
Nick glanced upwards. "Last year?"
Will nodded. "It was like hell," he said, with terrible simplicity. "I
came straight back here, you know, after Daisy left Simla. I suppose
the contrast made it worse. Then, too, the sub was ill, and it meant
double work. Well," with another sigh, "we pulled through somehow,
and I suppose we shall again. But, Nick, Daisy couldn't possibly stand
this place more than four months out of the twelve. And as for the
Nick removed his cigarette to yawn.
"You won't be here all your life, my son," he said. "You're a rising
man, remember. There's no sense in grizzling, anyhow, and you're
getting round-shouldered. Why don't you do some gymnastics? You've
got a swimming bath. Go and do a quarter of a mile breast-stroke every
day. Jupiter! What wouldn't I give to"--He broke off abruptly. "Well,
I'm not going to cry for the moon either. There's the _khit_ on the
verandah. What does he want?"
Will went out to see. Nick, idly watching, saw the native hand him
something on a salver which Will took to the lamp by which he had been
working. Dead silence ensued. From far away there came the haunting
cry of a jackal, but near at hand there was no sound. A great
stillness hung upon all things.
To Nick, lying at full length upon the cushions, there presently came
the faint sound of paper crackling, and a moment later his friend's
voice, pitched very low, spoke to the waiting servant. He heard the
man softly retire, and again an intense stillness reigned.
He could not see Will from where he lay, and he smoked on placidly for
nearly five minutes in the belief that he was either answering
some communication or looking over his work. Then at last, growing
impatient of the prolonged silence, he lifted his voice without
"What in the world are you doing, you unsociable beggar? Can't you
tear yourself away from that beastly work for one night even? Come in
here and entertain me. You won't have the chance to-morrow."
There was no reply. Only from far away there came again the weird yell
of a jackal. For a few seconds more Nick lay frowning. Then swiftly
and quietly he arose, and stepped to the window.
There he stopped dead as if in sudden irresolution; for Will was sunk
upon his knees by the table with his head upon his work and his arms