Part 5 out of 7
There was little in the words to comfort her, yet she was instantly
and vastly reassured. She was also for the moment overwhelmingly
ashamed, but he did not give her time to think of that.
"I couldn't get in any other way," he said. "I tried the doors first,
hammered at them, but no one came. Look here! Olga is ill, very ill,
and she wants you badly. Are you brave enough to come?"
"Oh!" Muriel said, with a gasp. "Now, do you mean? With--with you?"
He threw her an odd look under his flickering eyelids, and she noted
with a scared minuteness of attention the gleam of the lamplight on
their pale lashes. She had always hated pale eyelashes. They seemed to
"Yes," he told her grimly. "All alone--with me--in the storm. Shall
you be afraid--if I give you my hand to hold? You've done it before."
Was he mocking her weakness? She could not say. She only knew that he
watched her with the intensity of an eagle that marks its quarry. He
did not mean her to refuse.
"What is the matter with Olga?" she asked.
"I don't know. I believe it is sunstroke. We were motoring in the
mid-day heat. She didn't seem to feel it at the time, but her head
ached when we got in. She is in a high fever now. I've sent my man on
in the motor to fetch Jim's locum from Weir. I should have brought the
dogcart myself, to fetch you, but I couldn't trust the horse in this."
"You left her alone to come here?" Muriel questioned.
He nodded. "I had no choice. She wished it. Besides, there were
none but women-folk left. She's got one of them with her, the least
imbecile of the lot, which isn't saying much. They're all terrified
of course at the storm--all except Olga. She is never afraid of
A frightful crash of thunder carried away his words. Before it had
rolled away, Muriel was at the door. She made a rapid sign to him, and
Nick chafed up and down the room, waiting for her. The storm continued
with unabated violence, but he did not give it a thought. He was
counting the moments with feverish impatience.
Muriel's absence scarcely lasted for five minutes, but when she
came back all trace of fear had left her. Her face showed quiet and
matter-of-fact above the long waterproof in which she had wrapped
herself. Over her arm she carried a waterproof cloak.
She held it out to him. "It's one of Daisy's, but you are to wear it.
I think you must be mad to have come out without anything."
She put it round his shoulders; and he thanked her with a smothered
A terrific blast of wind and rain met them as they emerged from the
cottage, nearly whirling Muriel off her feet. She made an instinctive
clutch at her companion and instantly her hand was caught fast in his.
He drew her arm close under his own, and she did not resist him. There
was something reassuring in his touch.
Later she wondered if they spoke at all during that terrible walk. She
could never recall a word on either side. And yet, though in a measure
frightened, she was not panic-stricken.
The storm was beginning to subside a little before they reached
Redlands, though the rain still fell heavily. In the intervals between
the lightning it was pitch dark. They had no lantern, but Nick was
undismayed. He walked as lightly and surely as a cat, and Muriel
had no choice but to trust herself unreservedly to his guidance. She
marvelled afterwards at the complete trust with which that night he
had managed to inspire her, but at the time she never questioned it.
Yet when the lights of Redlands shone at last through the gloom, she
breathed a sigh of relief. Instantly Nick spoke.
"Well done!", he said briefly. "You are your father's daughter still."
She knew that she flushed in the darkness, and was glad that he could
not see her face.
"You must go and get dry, first of all," he went on. "I told them to
light a fire somewhere. And you are to have some coffee too. Mind, I
To this she responded with some spirit. "I will if you will."
"I must go straight to Olga," he said. "I promised I would."
"Not in your wet things!" Muriel exclaimed. "No, Nick! Listen! I am
not wet, not as you are. Let me go to Olga first. You can send me some
coffee in her room if you like. But you must go at once and change.
Promise you will, Nick!"
She spoke urgently. For some reason the occasion seemed to demand it.
Nick was silent for a little, as if considering. Then as they finally
reached the porch he spoke in a tone she did not altogether fathom.
"I say, you are not going to shut me out, you know."
She looked up in astonishment. "Of course not. I never dreamt of such
"All right," he said, and this time she knew he spoke with relief. "I
will do as you like then."
A moment more, and he opened the door, standing aside for her to pass.
She entered quickly, glad to be in shelter, and paused to slip off her
streaming waterproof. He took it from her, passing his hand over her
"You are sure you are not wet through?"
"Quite sure," she told him. "Take me straight up, won't you?"
"Yes. Come this way."
He preceded her up the wide stairs where he might have walked beside
her, not pausing for an instant till he stood at Olga's door.
"Go straight in," he said then. "She is expecting you. Tell her, if
she wants to know, that I am coming directly."
He passed on swiftly with the words, and disappeared into a room close
Very softly Muriel turned the door-handle and entered. Olga's voice
greeted her before she was well in the room. It sounded husky and
"Muriel! Dear Muriel! I'm so glad you've come. I've wanted you so you
can't think. Where's Nick?"
"He is coming, dearest." Muriel went forward to the bed, and took in
hers the two hands eagerly extended.
The child was lying in an uneasy position, her hair streaming in a
disordered tangle about her flushed face. She was shivering violently
though the hands Muriel held were burning. "You came all through this
awful storm," she whispered. "It was lovely of you, dear. I hope you
Muriel sat down beside her. "And you have been left all alone," she
"I didn't mind," gasped Olga. "Mrs. Ellis--that's the cook--was here
at first. But she was such an ass about the thunder that I sent her
away. I expect she's in the coal cellar."
A gleam of fun shone for an instant in her eyes, and was gone. The
fevered hands closed tightly in Muriel's hold. "I feel so ill," she
murmured, "so ill."
"Where is it, darling?" Muriel asked her tenderly.
"It's, it's all over me," moaned Olga. "My head worst, and my throat.
My throat is dreadful. It makes me want to cry."
There was little that Muriel could do to ease her. She tied back the
tossing hair, and rearranged the bedclothes; then sat down by her
side, hoping she might get some sleep.
Not long after, Nick crept in on slippered feet, but Olga heard him
instantly, and started up with out-flung arms. "Nick, darling, I want
you! I want you! Come quite close! I think I'm going to die. Don't let
Muriel rose to make room for him, but he motioned her back sharply;
then knelt down himself by the child's pillow and took her head upon
"Stick to it, sweetheart!" he murmured softly. "There's a medicine man
coming, and you'll be better presently." Olga cuddled against him
with a sigh, and comforted by the close holding of his arm dropped
presently into an uneasy doze.
Nick never stirred from his position, and mutely Muriel sat and
watched him. There was a wonderful tenderness about him just then, a
softness with which she was strangely familiar, but which almost she
had forgotten. If she had never seen him before that moment, she knew
that she would have liked him.
He seemed to have wholly forgotten her presence. His entire attention
was concentrated upon the child. His lips twitched from time to time,
and she knew that he was very anxious, intensely impatient under his
stillness for the doctor's coming. She remembered that old trick of
his. She had never before associated it with any emotion.
Suddenly he turned his head as if he had felt her scrutiny, and looked
straight into her eyes. It was only for a moment. His glance flickered
beyond her with scarcely a pause. Yet it was to her as if by that
swift look he had spoken, had for the first time made deep and
passionate protest against her bitter judgment of him, had as it were
shown her in a single flash the human heart beneath the jester's garb.
And again very deep down in her soul there stirred that blind,
unconscious entity, of the existence of which she herself had so vague
a knowledge, feeling upwards, groping outwards, to the light.
There came upon her a sudden curious sense of consternation--a feeling
as of a mental earthquake when the very foundations of the soul
are shaken. Had she conceivably been mistaken in him? With all her
knowledge of him, had she by some strange mischance--some maddening,
some inexplicable misapprehension--failed utterly and miserably to see
this man as he really was?
For the first time the question sprang up within her. And she found no
answer to it--only that breathless, blank dismay.
Softly Nick's voice broke in upon her seething doubt. He had laid Olga
back upon the pillow.
"The doctor is here. Do you mind staying with her while I go?"
"You'll come back, Nick?" the child urged, in her painful whisper.
"Yes, I'll come back," he promised. "Honest Injun!"
He touched her cheek lightly at parting, and Olga caught the caressing
hand and pressed it against her burning lips. Muriel saw his face
as he turned from the bed. It was all softened and quivering with
AT THE GATE OF DEATH
In the morning they knew the worst. Olga had scarlet fever.
The doctor imparted the news to Nick and Muriel standing outside
the door of the sick-room. Nick's reception of it was by no
means characteristic. For the first time in her life Muriel saw
consternation undisguised upon the yellow face.
"Great Jupiter!" he said. "What a criminal ass I am!"
At another moment she could have laughed at the tragic force of his
self-arraignment. Even as it was, she barely repressed a smile as she
set his mind at rest. She needed no explanation. It was easy enough to
follow the trend of his thoughts just then.
"If you are thinking of me," she said, "I have had it."
She saw his instant relief, though he merely acknowledged the
statement by a nod.
"We must have a nurse," he said briefly. "We shall manage all right
then. I'll do my turn. Oh, stuff!" at a look from the doctor. "I
sha'n't hurt. I'm much too tough a morsel for microbes to feed on."
Possibly the doctor shared this opinion, for he made no verbal
protest. It fell to Muriel to do this later in the day when the nurse
was installed, and she was at liberty to leave Olga's room. Nick
had just returned from the post-office whence he had been sending a
message to the child's father. She came upon him stealing up to take a
look at her. Seeing Muriel he stopped. "How is she?"
Muriel moved away to an open window at the end of the passage before
she made reply. He followed her, and they stood together, looking out
upon the sunset.
"The fever is very high," she said. "And she is suffering a good deal
of pain. She is not quite herself at times."
"You mean she is worse?" He looked at her keenly.
It was exactly what she did mean. Olga had been growing steadily worse
all day. Yet when abruptly he turned to leave her, Muriel laid a hasty
hand upon his arm.
"Nick," she said, and her voice was almost imploring, "don't go in!
Please don't go in!"
He stopped short. "Why not?"
She removed her hand quickly. "It's so dangerous--besides being
unnecessary. Won't you be sensible about it?"
He gave his head a queer upward jerk, and stood as one listening, not
looking at her. "What for?"
She could not think of any very convincing reason for the moment. Yet
it was imperative that he should see the matter as she saw it.
"Suppose I had not had it," she ventured, "what would you have done?"
"Packed you off to the cottage again double quick," said Nick
It was the answer she had angled for. She seized upon it. "Well, tell
He spun round on his heels and faced her. He was blinking very
rapidly. "You asked me that question once before," he said. "And out
of a sentimental consideration for your feelings--I didn't answer
it. Do you really want an answer this time, or shall I go on being
She heard the old subtle jeering note in his voice, but its effect
upon her was oddly different from what it had ever been before. It
did not anger her, nor did it wholly frighten her. It dawned upon her
suddenly that, though possibly it lay in his power to hurt her, he
would not do so.
She answered him with composure. "I don't want you to be anything
but sensible, Nick. And it isn't sensible to expose yourself to
unnecessary risk. It's wrong."
"That's my lookout," said Nick.
It was indubitably; but she wanted very much to gain her point.
"Won't you at least keep away unless she asks for you?" she urged.
"You seem mighty anxious to get rid of me," said Nick.
"I am not," she returned quickly. "I am not. You know it isn't that."
"Do I?" he said quizzically. "It's one of the few things I shouldn't
have known without being told. Well, I'm sorry I can't consent to be
sensible as you call it. I am quite sure personally that there isn't
the slightest danger. It isn't so infectious at this stage, you know.
Perhaps by-and-by, when she is through the worst, I will think about
He spoke lightly, but she was aware of the anxiety that underlay the
words. She said no more, reminding herself that argument with Nick was
always futile, sometimes worse. Nevertheless she found some comfort
in the smile with which he left her. He had refused to treat with her,
but his enmity--if enmity it could be called--was no longer active. He
had proclaimed a truce which she knew he would not break.
Olga was delirious that night, and privately Muriel was glad that she
had not been able to exclude him; for his control over the child was
wonderful. As once with a tenderness maternal he had soothed her,
so now he soothed Olga, patiently, steadfastly, even with a certain
cheeriness. It all came back to her as she watched him, the strength
of the man, his selfless devotion.
She could see that both doctor and nurse thought very seriously of
the child. The former paid a late visit, but said very little beyond
advising her to rest if she could in an adjacent room. Both Nick and
the nurse seconded this, and, seeing there was nothing that she could
do, she gave way in the matter, lying down as she was with but small
expectation of sleep. But she was wearier than she knew, and the
slumber into which she fell was deep, and would have lasted for some
It was Nick who roused her, and starting up at his touch, she knew
instantly that what they had all mutely feared had drawn very near.
His face told her at a glance, for he made no effort to dissemble.
"The nurse thinks you had better come," was all he said.
She pushed the hair from her forehead, and turned without a word to
obey the summons. But at the door something checked her, something
cried aloud within her, bidding her pause. She stopped. Nick was close
behind her. Swiftly, obedient to the voice that cried, she stretched
out her hand to him. He gripped it fast, and she was conscious for an
instant of a curious gladness, a willingness to leave it in his hold,
that she had never experienced before. But at the door of Olga's room
he softly relinquished it, and drew back.
Olga was lying propped on pillows, and breathing quickly. The nurse
was bending over her with a glass, but Olga's face was turned away.
She was watching the door.
As Muriel came to her, the light eyes brightened to quick
intelligence, and the parted lips tried to speak. But no sound came
forth, and a frown of pain succeeded the effort.
Muriel stooped swiftly and grasped the slender hand that lay clenched
upon the sheet.
"There, darling! Don't try to talk. It hurts you so. We are both here,
Nick and I, and we understand all about it."
It was the first time she had ever voluntarily coupled herself with
him. It came to her instinctively to do it in that moment.
But Olga had something to say, something apparently that must be said.
With infinite difficulty she forced a husky whisper. Muriel stooped
lower to catch it, so low that her face was almost touching the face
upon the pillow.
"Muriel," came haltingly from the parched lips, "there's something--I
want--to say to you--about Nick."
Muriel felt the blood surging at her temples as the faint words
reached her. She would have given anything to know that he was out of
"Won't you say it in the morning, darling?" she said, almost with
pleading in her voice. "It's so late now."
It was not late. It was very, very early--the solemn hour when
countless weary ones fall into their long sleep. And the moment she
had spoken, her heart smote her. Was she for her own peace of mind
trying to silence the child's last words on earth?
"No, never mind, dear," she amended tenderly. "I am listening to you.
Tell me now."
"Yes," panted Olga. "I must. I must. You remember--that day--with the
daisies--the day we saw--the hawk?"
Yes, well Muriel remembered it. The thought of it went through her
like a stab.
"Yes, dear. What of it?" she heard herself say.
"Well, you know--I've thought since--that the daisies meant Nick,
not--not--I can't remember his name, Muriel."
"Do you mean Captain Grange, dear?"
"Yes, yes, of course. He was there too, wasn't he? I'm sure now--quite
sure--they didn't mean him."
"Very likely not, dear."
"And Muriel--do you know--Nick was just miserable--after you went. I
sort of felt he was. And late--late that night I woke up, and I crept
down to him--in the library. And he had his head down on the table--as
if--as if--he was crying. Oh, Muriel!"
A sharp sob interrupted the piteous whisper. Muriel folded her arms
about the child, pillowing the tired head on her breast. All the fair
hair had been cut off earlier in the day. Its absence gave Olga a very
Brokenly, with many gasping pauses, the pathetic little story came to
an end. "I went to him--and I asked him what it was. And he--he looked
up with that funny face he makes--you know--and he just said, 'Oh,
it's all right. I've been feeding on dust and ashes all day long,
that's all. And it's dry fare for a thirsty man!' He thought--I
wouldn't know what he meant. But I did, Muriel. And I always wanted
to tell you. But--somehow--you wouldn't let me. He meant you. He was
hurt--so hurt--because you weren't kind to him. Oh, Muriel, won't
you--won't you--try to be kind to him now? Please, dear, please!"
Muriel's eyes sought Nick, and instantly a thrill of surprise and
relief shot through her. He had not heard that request of Olga's. She
doubted if he had heard anything. He was sunk in a chair well in the
background with his head on his hand, and looking at him she saw his
shoulders shake with a soundless sob.
She looked away again with a sense of trespass. This--this was the man
who had fought and cursed and slain under her eyes--the man from whose
violence she had shrunk appalled, whose strength had made her shudder
many a time. She had never imagined that he could grieve thus--even
for his little pal Olga.
Tenderly she turned back to the child. That single glimpse of the man
in pain had made it suddenly easy to grant her earnest prayer.
"I won't be unkind to him again, darling," she promised softly.
"Never any more?" insisted Olga.
"Never any more, my darling."
Olga made a little nestling movement against her. It was all she
wanted, and now that the effort of asking was over she was very tired.
The nurse drew softly back into the shadow, and a deep silence fell in
the room. Through it in a long, monotonous roar there came the sound
of the sea breaking, eternally breaking, along the beach.
No one moved. Olga's breathing was growing slower, so much slower that
there were times when Muriel, listening intently, fancied that it
had wholly ceased. She held the little slim body close in her arms,
jealously close, as though she were defying Death itself. And ever
through the stillness she could hear her own heart beating like the
hoofs of a galloping horse.
Slowly the night began to pass. The outline of the window-frame became
visible against a faint grey glimmer. The window was open, and a
breath of the coming dawn wandered in with the fragrance of drenched
roses. A soft rain was falling. The patter of it could be heard upon
Again Muriel listened for the failing breath, listened closely,
tensely, her face bent low to the fair head that lay so still upon her
But she heard nothing--nothing but her own heart quickening,
quickening, from fear to suspense, from suspense to the anguish of
She lifted her face at last, and in the same instant there arose
a sudden flood of song from the sleeping garden, as the first lark
soared to meet the dawn.
Half-dazed, she listened to that marvellous outpouring of gladness, so
wildly rapturous, so weirdly holy. On, ever on, pealed the bird-voice;
on to the very Gates of Heaven, and it seemed to the girl who
listened as though she heard a child's spirit singing up the steeps
of Paradise. With her heart she followed it till suddenly she heard
no more. The voice ceased as it had begun, ceased as a burst of music
when an open door is closed--and there fell in its stead a silence
that could be felt.
She could not have said for how long she sat motionless, the slight,
inert body clasped against her breast. Vaguely she knew that the
night passed, and with it the wondrous silence that had lain like a
benediction upon the dawn. A thousand living things awoke to rejoice
in the crystal splendour of the morning; but within the quiet room the
spell remained unlifted, the silence lay untouched. It was as though
the presence of Death had turned it into a peaceful sanctuary that no
mere earthly tumult could disturb.
She sat in a species of waking stupor for a long, long time, not
daring to move lest the peace that enfolded her should be shattered.
Higher and higher the sun climbed up the sky till at last it topped
the cedar-trees and shone in upon her, throwing a single ray of purest
gold across the foot of the bed. Fascinated, she watched it travel
slowly upwards, till a silent, one-armed figure arose and softly drew
The room grew dim again. The world was shut out. She was not conscious
of physical fatigue, only of a certain weariness of waiting, waiting
for she knew not what. It seemed interminable, but she would not seek
to end it. She was as a soldier waiting for the order to quit his
There came a slight movement at last. Someone touched her, whispered
to her. She looked up blankly, and saw the nurse. But understanding
seemed to have gone from her during those long hours. She could not
take in a word. There arose a great surging in her brain, and the
woman's face faded into an indistinct blur. She sat rigid, afraid to
move lest she should fall.
She heard vague whisperings over her head, and an arm that was like a
steel spring encircled her. Someone lifted her burden gently from her,
and a faint murmur reached her, such as a child makes in its sleep.
Then the arm that supported her gradually raised her up till she
was on her feet. Mechanically she tried to walk, but was instantly
overcome by a sick sense of powerlessness.
"I can't!" she gasped. "I can't!"
Nick's voice answered her in a quick, confident whisper. "Yes, you
can, dear. It's all right. Hang on to me. I won't let you go."
She obeyed him blindly. There was nothing else to do. And so,
half-led, half-carried, she tottered from the room.
A glare of sunlight smote upon her from a passage-window with a
brilliance that almost hurt her. She stood still, clinging to Nick's
"Oh, Nick," she faltered weakly, "why don't they--pull down the
Nick turned aside, still closely holding her, into the room in which
she had rested for the earlier part of the night.
"Because, thank God," he said, "there is no need. Olga is going to
He helped her down into an easy-chair, and would have left her; but
she clung to him still, weakly but persistently.
"Oh, Nick, don't laugh! Tell me the truth for once! Please, Nick,
He yielded to her so abruptly that she was half-startled, dropping
suddenly down upon his knees beside her, the morning light full upon
"I am telling you the truth," he said. "I believe you have saved her
life. She has been sleeping ever since sunrise."
Muriel gazed at him speechlessly; but she no longer suspected him of
trying to deceive her. If he had never told her the truth before that
moment he was telling it to her then.
She gave a little gasping cry of relief unspeakable, and hid her face.
The next moment Nick was on his feet. She heard his quick, light step
as he crossed the threshold, and realised thankfully that he had left
A little later, a servant brought her a breakfast-tray with a message
from the master of the house to the effect that he hoped she would go
to bed and take a long rest.
It was excellent advice, and she acted upon it; for since the worst
strain was over, sleep had become an urgent necessity to her. She
wondered as she lay down if Nick were following the same course. She
hoped he was, for she had a curiously vivid memory of the lines that
sleeplessness had drawn about his eyes.
It was late afternoon when she awoke, and sat swiftly up with a
confused sense of being watched.
"Don't jump like that!" a gruff voice said. "Lie down again at once.
You are not to get up till to-morrow morning."
She turned with a shaky laugh of welcome to find Dr. Jim seated
frowning by her side. He laid a compelling hand upon her shoulder.
"Lie down again, do you hear? There's nothing for you to do. Olga is
much better, and doesn't want you."
"And Nick?" said Muriel.
They were the first words that occurred to her. She said them
hurriedly, with heightened colour.
Jim Ratcliffe frowned more than ever. He was feeling her pulse. "A
nice couple of idiots you are!" he grimly remarked. "You needn't worry
about Nick. He has gone for a ride. As soon as he comes back, he will
dine and go to bed."
"Can't I get up to dinner?" Muriel suggested.
She could scarcely have said why she made the proposal, and she was
certainly surprised when Jim Ratcliffe fell in with it. He looked at
his watch. "Well, you may if you like. You will probably sleep the
better for it. But I'll have no nonsense, mind, Muriel. You're to do
as you're told."
Muriel smiled acquiescence. She felt that everything was right now
that Dr. Jim had returned to take the direction of affairs into his
own hands. He had come back alone, and he intended to finish his
holiday under Nick's roof. So much he told her before, with an abrupt
smile, he thanked her for her care of his little girl and took himself
She almost regretted her decision when she came to get up, for the
strain was telling upon her more than she had realised. Not since
Simla days had she felt so utterly worn out. She was glad of the cup
of tea which Dr. Jim sent in to her before she left her room.
Sitting on the cushioned window-seat to drink it, she heard the tread
of a horse's feet along the drive, and with a start she saw Nick come
into view round a bend.
Her first impulse was to draw back out of sight, but the next moment
she changed her mind and remained motionless. Her heart was suddenly
beating very fast.
He was riding very carelessly, the bridle lying on the horse's neck.
The evening sun was shining full in his face, but he did not seem to
mind. His head was thrown back. He rode like a returning conqueror,
wearied it might be, but triumphant.
Passing into the shadow of the house, he saw her instantly, and the
smile that flashed into his face was one of sheer exultation. He
dropped the bridle altogether to wave to her.
"Up already? Have you seen old Jim?"
She nodded. It was impossible at the moment not to reflect his smile.
"I am coming down soon," she told him.
"Come now," said Nick persuasively.
She hesitated. He was slipping from his horse. A groom came up and
took the animal from him.
Nick paused below her window, and once more lifted his grinning,
"I say, Muriel!"
She leaned down a little. "Well?"
"Don't come if you don't want to, you know."
She laughed half-reluctantly, conscious of a queer desire to please
him. Olga's words were running in her brain. He had fed on dust and
Yet still she hesitated. "Will you wait for me?"
"Till doomsday," said Nick obligingly.
And drawn by a power that would not be withstood, she went down, still
smiling, and joined him in the garden.
THE EAGLE STRIKES
Olga's recovery, when the crisis of the disease was past, was more
rapid than even her father had anticipated; and this fact, combined
with a spell of glorious summer weather, made the period of her
quarantine very tedious, particularly as Nick was rigidly excluded
from the sick-room.
At Olga's earnest request Muriel consented to remain at Redlands.
Daisy had written to postpone her own return to the cottage, having
received two or three invitations which she wished to accept if Muriel
could still spare her.
Blake was in Scotland. His letters were not very frequent, and though
his leave was nearly up, he did not speak of returning.
Muriel was thus thrown upon Jim Ratcliffe's care--a state of affairs
which seemed to please him mightily. It was in fact his presence that
made life easy for her just then. She saw considerably more of him
than of Nick, the latter having completely relegated the duties of
host to his brother. Though they met every day, they were seldom alone
together, and she began to have a feeling that Nick's attitude towards
her had undergone a change. His manner was now always friendly, but
never intimate. He did not seek her society, but neither did he avoid
her. And never by word or gesture did he refer to anything that had
been between them in the past. She even wondered sometimes if there
might not possibly have been another interpretation to Olga's story.
That unwonted depression of his that the child had witnessed had
surely never been inspired by her.
She found the time pass quickly enough during those six weeks. The
care of Olga occupied her very fully. She was always busy devising
some new scheme for her amusement.
Mrs. Ratcliffe returned to Weir, and Dr. Jim determined to transfer
Olga to her home as soon as she was out of quarantine. With paternal
kindliness, he insisted that Muriel must accompany her. Daisy's return
was still uncertain, though it could not be long delayed; and Muriel
had no urgent desire to return to the lonely life on the shore.
So, to Olga's outspoken delight, she yielded to the doctor's
persuasion, and on the afternoon preceding the child's emancipation
from her long imprisonment she walked down to the cottage to pack her
It was a golden day in the middle of September and she lingered awhile
on the shore when her work was done. There was not a wave in all the
vast, shimmering sea. The tide was going out, and the shallow ripples
were clear as glass as they ran out along the white beach. Muriel
paused often in her walk. She was sorry to leave the little
fishing-village, realising that she had been very happy there. Life
had passed as smoothly as a dream of late, so smoothly that she had
been content to live in the present with scarcely a thought for the
This afternoon she had begun to realise that her peaceful time was
drawing to an end. In a few weeks more, she would be in town in all
the bustle of preparation. And further still ahead of her--possibly
two months--there loomed the prospect of her return to India, of Lady
Bassett's soft patronage, of her marriage.
She shivered a little as one after another these coming events
presented themselves. There was not one of them that she would not
have postponed with relief. She stood still with her face to the
sunlit sea, and told herself that her summer in England had been all
too short. She had an almost passionate longing for just one more year
A pebble skimming past her and leaping from ripple to ripple like, a
living thing caught her attention. She turned sharply, and the next
moment smiled a welcome.
Nick had come up behind her unperceived. She greeted him with pleasure
unfeigned. She was tired of her own morbid thoughts just then.
Whatever he might be, he was at least never depressing.
"I'm saying good-bye," she told him. "I don't suppose I shall ever
come here again."
He came and stood beside her while he grubbed in the sand with a
"Not even to see me?" he suggested.
"Are you going to live here?" she asked in surprise.
"Oh, I suppose so," said Nick, "when I marry."
"Are you going to be married?" Almost in spite of her the question
He looked up, grinning shrewdly. "I put it to you," he said. "Am I the
sort of man to live alone?"
She experienced a curious sense of relief. "But you are not alone in
the world," she pointed out. "You have relations."
"You regard marriage as a last resource?" questioned Nick.
She coloured and turned her face to the shore. "I don't think any man
ought to marry unless--unless--he cares," she said, striving hard to
keep the personal note out of her voice.
"Exactly," said Nick, moving beside her. "But doesn't that remark
apply to women as well?"
She did not answer him. A discussion on this topic was the last thing
He did not press the point, and she wondered a little at his
forbearance. She glanced at him once or twice as they walked, but his
humorous, yellow face told her nothing.
Reaching some rocks, he suddenly stopped. "I've got to get some
seaweed for Olga. Do you mind waiting?"
"I will help you," she answered.
He shook his head. "No, you are tired. Just sit down in the sun. I
won't be long."
She seated herself without protest, and he turned to leave her. A few
paces from her he paused, and she saw that he was trying to light a
cigarette. He failed twice, and impulsively she sprang up.
"Nick, why don't you ask me to help you?"
He whizzed round. "Perhaps I don't want you to," he said quizzically.
She took the match-box from him. "Don't be absurd! Why shouldn't I?"
She struck a match and held it out to him. But he did not take it
from her. He took her wrist instead, and stooping forward lighted his
She did not look at him. Some instinct warned her that his eyes were
intently searching her face. She seemed to feel them darting over her
in piercing, impenetrable scrutiny.
He released her slowly at length and stood up. "Am I to have the
pleasure of dancing at your wedding?" he asked her suddenly.
She looked up then very sharply, and against her will a burning blush
rose up to her temples. He waited for her answer, and at last it came.
"If you think it worth your while."
"I would come from the other side of the world to see you made happy,"
She turned her face aside. "You are very kind."
"Think so?" There was a note of banter in his voice. "It's the first
time you ever accused me of that."
She made no rejoinder. She had a feeling at the throat that prevented
speech, even had she had any words to utter. Certainly, as he had
discovered, she was very tired. It was physical weariness, no doubt,
but she had an almost overmastering desire to shed childish tears.
"You trot back now," said Nick cheerily. "I can grub along quite well
She turned back silently. Why was it that the world seemed so grey
and cold on that golden summer afternoon? She sat down again in the
sunshine, and began to trace an aimless design in the sand with the
stick Nick had left behind. Away in the distance she heard his cracked
voice humming. Was he really as cheerful as he seemed, she wondered?
Or was he merely making the best of things?
Again her thoughts went back to Olga's pathetic little revelation.
Strange that she who knew him so intimately should never have seen him
in such a mood! But did she know him after all? It was a question
she had asked herself many times of late. She remembered how he had
lightly told her that he had a reverse side. But had she ever really
seen it, save for those brief glimpses by Olga's bedside, and as it
was reflected in the child's whole-souled devotion to him? She wished
with all her heart that he would lift the veil just once for her and
show her his inner soul.
Again her thoughts passed to her approaching marriage. She had
received a letter from Blake that day, telling her at length of his
plans. He and Daisy had been staying in the same house, but he was
just returning to town. He was to sail in less than a fortnight, and
would come and say good-bye to her immediately before his departure.
The letter had been courteously kind throughout, but she had not felt
tempted to read it again. It contained no reference to their wedding,
save such as she chose to attribute to the concluding sentence: "We
can talk everything over when we meet." A sense of chill struck
her when she recalled the words. He was very kind, of course, and
invariably meant well; but she had begun to realise of late that there
were times when she found him a little heavy and unresponsive. Not
that she had ever desired any demonstration of tenderness from him,
heaven knew. But the very consciousness that she had not desired this
added to the chill. She was not quite sure that she wanted to see him
again before he sailed. Certainly he had never bored her; but it was
not inconceivable that he might do so. She shivered ever so slightly.
It was not an exciting prospect--life with Blake. He was quite sure to
be kind to her. He would consider her in every way. But was that after
all quite all she wanted? A great sigh welled suddenly up from the
bottom of her heart. Life was ineffably dreary--when it was not
"Shall I tell you what is the matter?" said Nick.
She started violently, and found him leaning across the flat rock
on which she was seated. His eyes were remarkably bright. She had a
feeling that he suppressed a laugh as his look flickered over her.
"Sorry I made you jump," he said. "You ought to be used to me by this
time. Anyhow you needn't be frightened. My venom was extracted long
She turned to him with sudden, unconsidered impulse. "Oh, Nick," she
said, "I sometimes think to myself I've been a great fool."
He nodded. Her vehemence did not seem to surprise him. "I thought it
would strike you sooner or later," he said.
She laughed in spite of herself with her eyes full of tears. "There's
not much comfort in that."
"I haven't any comfort to give you," said Nick, "not at this stage.
I'll give you advice if you like--which I know you won't take."
"No, please don't! That would be even worse." There was a tremor in
her voice. She knew that she had stepped off the beaten track; but she
had an intense, an almost passionate longing to go a little further,
to penetrate, if only for a moment, that perpetual mask.
"Don't let us talk of my affairs," she said. "Tell me of your own.
What are you going to do?"
Nick's eyebrows went up. "I thought I was coming to your wedding," he
remarked. "That's as far as I've got at present."
She made a gesture of impatience. "Do you never think of the future?"
"Not in your presence," laughed Nick. "I think of you--you--and only
you. Didn't you know?"
She turned away in silence. Was he tormenting her deliberately? Or did
he fail to see that she was in earnest?
There followed a pause, and then, urged by that unknown impulse that
would not be repressed, she did a curious thing. She got up, and,
facing him, she made a very earnest appeal.
"Nick, why do you always treat me like this? Why will you never be
honest with me?"
There was more of pain than reproach in the words. Her voice was deep
and very sad.
But Nick scarcely looked at her. He was pulling tufts of dried seaweed
off the rock on which he leaned.
"My dear girl," he said, "how can you expect it?"
"Expect it!" she echoed. "I don't understand. What do you mean?"
He drew himself slowly to a sitting posture. "How can I be honest with
you," he said, "when you are not honest with yourself?"
"What do you mean?" she said again.
He gave her an odd look. "You really want me to tell you?"
"Of course I do." She spoke sharply. The old scared feeling was awake
within her, but she would not yield to it. Now or never would she read
the enigma. She would know the truth, cost what it might.
"What I mean is this," said Nick. "You won't own it, of course, but
you are cheating, and you are afraid to stop. There isn't one woman in
ten thousand who has the pluck to throw down the cards when once she
has begun to cheat. She goes on--as you will go on--to the end of her
life, simply because she daren't do otherwise. You are out of the
straight, Muriel. That's why everything is such a hideous failure. You
are going to marry the wrong man, and you know it."
He looked up at her again for an instant as he said it. He had spoken
with his usual shrewd decision, but there was no hint of excitement
about him. He might have been discussing some matter of a purely
Muriel stood mutely poking holes in the sand. She could find nothing
to say to this matter-of-fact indictment.
"And now," Nick proceeded, "I will tell you why you are doing it."
She started at that, and looked up with flaming cheeks. "I don't think
I want to hear any more, Nick. It--it's rather late in the day, isn't
He shrugged his shoulders. "I knew you would be afraid to face it.
It's easier, isn't it, to go on cheating?"
Her eyes gleamed for a moment. He had flicked a tender place.
"Very well," she said proudly. "Say what you like. It will make no
difference. But please understand that I admit none of this."
Nick's grin leapt goblin-like across his face and was gone. "I never
expected it of you," he told her coolly. "You would sooner die than
admit it, simply because it would be infinitely easier for you to die.
You will be false to yourself, false to Grange, false to me, rather
than lower that miserable little rag of pride that made you jilt me
at Simla. I didn't blame you so much then. You were only a child.
You didn't understand. But that excuse won't serve you now. You are a
woman, and you know what Love is. You don't call it by its name, but
none the less you know it."
He paused for an instant, for Muriel had made a swift gesture of
"I don't think you know what you are saying," she said, her voice very
He sprang abruptly to his feet. "Yes," he said, speaking very rapidly.
"That's how you will trick yourself to your dying day. It's a way
women have. But it doesn't help them. It won't help you. For that
thing in your heart--the thing that is fighting for air--the thing
you won't own--the thing that drove you to Grange for protection--will
never die. That is why you are miserable. You may do what you will to
it, hide it, smother it, trample it. But it will survive for all that.
All your life it will be there. You will never forget it though you
will try to persuade yourself that it belongs to a dead past. All your
life,"--his voice vibrated suddenly, and the ever-shifting eyes blazed
into leaping flame--"all your life, you will remember that I was once
yours to take or to throw away. And--you wanted me, yet--you chose to
throw me away."
Fiercely he flung the words at her. There was nothing impersonal
about him now. He was vitally, overwhelmingly, in earnest. A deep
glow covered the parchment face. The man was as it were electrified by
And Muriel gazed at him as one gazing upon sudden disaster. What was
this, what was this, that he had said to her? He had rent the veil
aside for her indeed. But to what dread vision had he opened her eyes?
The old paralysing fear was knocking at her heart. She dreaded each
instant to see the devil leap out upon his face. But as the seconds
passed she realised that he was still his own master. He had flung
down the gauntlet, but he would go no further, unless she took it up.
And this she could not do. She knew that she was no match for him.
He was watching her narrowly, she knew, and after a few palpitating
moments she nerved herself to meet his look. She felt as if it
scorched her, but she would not shrink. Not for a moment must he fancy
that those monstrous words of his had pierced her quivering heart.
Whatever happened later, when this stunned sense of shock had left
her, she must not seem to take them seriously now, with his watching
eyes upon her.
And so at last she lifted her head and faced him with a little
quivering laugh, brave enough in itself, but how piteous she never
"I don't think you are quite so clever as you used to be, Nick," she
told him, "though I admit,"--her lips trembled--"that you are very
amusing sometimes. Blake once told me that you had the eyes of a
snake-charmer. Is it true, I wonder? Anyhow, they don't charm me."
She stopped rather breathlessly, half-frightened by his stillness.
Would he understand that it was not her intention to defy him--that
she was only refusing the conflict?
For a few moments her heart beat tumultuously, and then came a great
throb of relief. Yes, he understood. She had nought to fear.
He put his hand sharply over his eyes, turning from her. "I have never
tried to charm you," he said, in a voice that sounded curiously choked
and unfamiliar. "I have only--loved you."
In the silence that followed, he began to walk away from her, moving
noiselessly over the sand.
Mutely she watched him, but she dared not call him back. And very soon
she was quite alone.
THE PENALTY FOR SENTIMENT
It did not take Dr. Jim long to discover that some trouble or at the
least some perplexity was weighing upon his young guest's mind. He
also shrewdly remarked that it dated from the commencement of
her visit at his house. No one else noticed it, but this was not
surprising. There was always plenty to occupy the attention in the
Ratcliffe household, and only Dr. Jim managed to keep a sharp eye upon
every member thereof. Moreover, by a casual observer, there was little
or nothing that was unusual to be detected in Muriel's manner. Quiet
she certainly was, but she was by no means listless. Her laugh did not
always ring quite true, that was all. And her eyes drooped a little
wearily from time to time. There were other symptoms, very slight,
wholly imperceptible to any but a trained eye, yet not one of which
escaped Dr. Jim.
He made no comment, but throughout that first week of her stay he
watched her unperceived, biding his time. During several motor rides
on which she accompanied him he maintained this attitude while she sat
all unsuspecting by his side. She had never detected any subtlety in
this staunch friend of hers, and, unlike Daisy, she felt no fear of
him. His blunt sincerity had never managed to wound her.
And so it was almost inevitable that she should give him his
opportunity at last.
Late one evening she entered his consulting-room where he was busy
"I want to talk to you," she said. "Is it very inconvenient?"
The doctor leaned back in his chair. "Sit down there," he said,
pointing to one immediately facing him.
She laughed and obeyed, faintly blushing. "I'm not a patient, you
He drew his black brows together. "It's very late. Why don't you go to
"Because I want to talk to you."
"You can do that to-morrow," bluntly rejoined Dr. Jim. "You can't
afford to sacrifice your sleep to chatter."
"I am not sacrificing any sleep," Muriel told him rather wearily. "I
never sleep before morning."
He laid down his pen and gave her one of his hard looks. "Then you are
a very silly girl," he said curtly at length.
"It isn't my fault," she protested.
He shrugged his shoulders. "You all say that. It's the most ordinary
lie I know."
Muriel smiled. "I know you are longing to give me something nasty. You
may if you like. I'll take it, whatever it is."
Dr. Jim was silent for a space. He continued to regard her steadily,
with a scrutiny that spared her nothing. She sat quite still under it.
He had never disconcerted her yet. But when he leaned suddenly forward
and took her wrist between his fingers, she made a slight, instinctive
effort to frustrate him.
"Be still," he ordered. "What makes you so absurdly nervous? Want of
Her lips trembled a little. "Don't probe too deep, doctor," she
pleaded. "I am not very happy just now."
"Why don't you tell me what is the matter?" he asked gruffly.
She did not answer, and he continued frowning over her pulse.
"What do you want to talk to me about?" he asked at last.
She looked up with an effort. "Oh, nothing much. Only a letter from
a Mrs. Langdale who lives in town. She is going to India in November,
and says she will take charge of me if I care to go with her. She has
invited me to go and stay with her beforehand."
"Well?" said Jim, as she paused.
"I don't want to go," she said. "Do you think I ought? She is Lady
"I think it would probably do you good, if that's what you mean," he
returned. "But I don't suppose that consideration has much weight with
you. Why don't you want to go?"
"I don't like strangers, and I hate Lady Bassett," Muriel answered,
with absolute simplicity. "Then there is Daisy. I don't know what her
plans are. I always thought we should go East together."
"There's no sense in waiting for Daisy's plans to develop," declared
Jim. "She is as changeable as the wind. Possibly Nick will be able to
make up her mind for her. I fancy he means to try."
"Nick! You don't mean he will travel with Daisy?" There was almost a
tragic note in Muriel's voice. She looked up quickly into the shrewd
eyes that watched her.
"Why shouldn't he?" said Jim.
"I don't know. I never thought of it." Muriel leaned back again, a
faint frown of perplexity between her eyes. "Perhaps," she said slowly
at length, "I had better go to Mrs. Langdale."
"I should in your place," said Jim. "That handsome soldier of yours
won't want to be kept waiting, eh?"
"Oh, he wouldn't mind." The weariness was apparent again in her voice,
and with it a tinge of bitterness. "He never minds anything," she
Jim grunted disapproval. "And you? Are you equally indifferent?"
Her pale face flushed vividly. She was silent a moment; then suddenly
she sat up and met his look fully.
"You'll think me contemptible, I know," she said, a great quiver in
her voice. "I can't help it; you must. Dr. Jim, I'll tell you the
truth. I--I don't want to go to India. I don't want to be married--at
She ended with a swift rush of irrepressible tears. It was out at
last, this trouble of hers that had been gradually growing behind the
barrier of her reserve, and it seemed to burst over her in the telling
in a great wave of adversity.
"I've done nothing but make mistakes," she sobbed "ever since Daddy
Dr. Jim got up quietly to lock the door. The grimness had passed from
"My dear," he said gruffly, "we all of us make mistakes directly we
begin to run alone."
He returned and sat down again close to her, waiting for her to
recover herself. She slipped out a trembling hand to him, and he took
it very kindly; but he said no more until she spoke.
"It's very difficult to know what to do."
"Is it? I should have said you were past that stage." His tone was
uncompromising, but the warm grip of his hand made up for it. His
directness did not dismay her. "If you are quite sure you don't care
for the fellow, your duty is quite plain."
Muriel raised her head slowly. "Yes, but it isn't quite so simple as
that, doctor. You see, it's not as if--as if--we either of us ever
imagined we were--in love with each other."
Jim's eyebrows went up. "As bad as that?"
She leaned her chin on her hand. "I am sure there must be crowds of
people who marry without ever being in love."
"Yes," said Jim curtly. "And kindle their own hell in doing it."
She started a little. "You think that?"
"I know it. I have seen it over and over again. Full half of the
world's misery is due to it. But you won't do that, Muriel. I know you
Muriel glanced up at him. "Do you know me? I don't think you would
have expected me to accept him in the first place."
"Depends what you did it for," said Jim.
She fell suddenly silent, slowly twisting the ring on her finger. "He
knew why," she said at last in a very low voice. "In fact--in fact he
asked me for that reason."
"And the reason still exists?"
She bent her head. "Yes."
"A reason you are ashamed of?" pursued the doctor.
She did not answer, and he drew his great brows together in deep
"You don't propose to take me any further into your confidence?" he
asked at last.
She made a quick, impulsive movement. "You--you--I think you know."
"Will you let me tell you what I know?" he said.
She shrank perceptibly. "If--if you won't make it too hard for me."
"I can't answer for that," he returned. "It depends entirely upon
yourself. My knowledge does not amount to anything very staggering
in itself. It is only this--that I know a certain person who would
cheerfully sacrifice all he has to make you happy, and that you have
no more cause to fear persecution from that person than from the man
in the moon."
He paused; but Muriel did not speak. She was still absently turning
her engagement ring round and round.
"To verify this," he said, "I will tell you something which I am sure
you don't know--which in fact puzzled me, too, considerably, for
some time. He has already sacrificed more than most men would care to
venture in a doubtful cause. It was no part of his plan to follow you
to England. He set his face against it so strongly that he very nearly
ended his mortal career for good and all in so doing. As it was, he
suffered for his lunacy pretty heavily. You know what happened. He was
forced to come in the end, and he paid the forfeit for his delay."
Again he paused, for Muriel had sprung upright with such tragedy in
her eyes that he knew he had said enough. The next moment she was on
her feet, quivering all over as one grievously wounded.
"Oh, do you know what you are saying?" she said, and in her voice
there throbbed the cry of a woman's wrung heart. "Surely--surely he
never did that--for me!"
He did not seem to notice her agitation. "It was a fairly big price
to pay for a piece of foolish sentiment, eh?" he said. "Let us hope he
will know better next time."
He looked up at her with a faintly cynical smile, but she was standing
with her face averted. He saw only that her chin was quivering like a
"Come," he said at length. "I didn't tell you this to distress you,
you know. Only to set your mind at rest, so that you might sleep
She mastered herself with an effort, and turned towards him. "I know;
yes, I know. You--you have been very kind. Good-night, doctor."
He rose and went with her to the door. "You are not going to lie awake
She shook her head. "Good-night," she said again.
He watched her down the passage, and then returned to his writing.
He smiled to himself as he sat down, but this time wholly without
"No, Nick, my boy," he said, as he drove his pen into the ink. "She
won't lie awake for you. But she'll cry herself to sleep for your
sake, you gibbering, one-armed ape. And the new love will be the old
love before the week is out, or I am no weather prophet."
THE WATCHER OF THE CLIFF
The gale that raged along the British coasts that autumn was the
wildest that had been known for years. It swelled quite suddenly out
of the last breezes of a superb summer, and by the middle of September
it had become a monster of destruction, devastating the shore. The
crumbling cliffs of Brethaven testified to its violence. Beating
rain and colossal, shattering waves united to accomplish ruin and
destruction. And the little fishing-village looked on aghast.
It was on the third day of the storm that news was brought to Nick
of a landslip on his own estate. He had been in town ever since his
guests' departure, and had only returned on the previous evening. He
did not contemplate a long stay. The place was lonely without Olga,
and he was not yet sufficiently proficient in shooting with one arm to
enjoy the sport, especially in solitude. He was in fact simply waiting
for an opportunity which he was convinced must occur before long, of
keeping a certain promise made to a friend of his on a night of early
summer in the Indian Plains.
It was a wild day of drifting squalls and transient gleams of
sunshine. He grimaced to himself as he sauntered forth after luncheon
to view the damage that had been wrought upon his property. The ground
he trod was sodden with long rain, and the cedars beyond the lawn
plunged heavily to and fro in melancholy unrest, flinging great drops
upon him as he passed. The force of the gale was terrific, and he had
to bend himself nearly double to meet it.
With difficulty he forced his way to the little summer-house that
overlooked the shore. He marvelled somewhat to find it still standing,
but it was sturdily built and would probably endure as long as the
ground beneath it remained unshaken.
But beyond it a great gap yawned. The daisy-covered space on which
they had sat that afternoon, now many weeks ago, had disappeared.
Nothing of it remained but a crumbling desolation to which the daisies
still clung here and there.
Nick stood in such shelter as the summer-house afforded, and looked
forth upon the heaving waste of waters. The tide was rising. He
could see the great waves swirling white around the rocks. Several
land-slips were visible from this post of observation. The village was
out of sight, tucked away behind a great shoulder of cliff; but an old
ruined cottage that had been uninhabited for some time had entirely
disappeared. Stacks of seaweed had been thrown up upon the deserted
shore, and lay in great masses above the breakers. The roar of the
incoming tide was like the continuous roll of thunder.
It was a splendid spectacle and for some time he stood, with his face
to the driving wind, gazing out upon the empty sea. There was not a
single vessel in all that wide expanse.
Slowly at last his vision narrowed. His eyes came down to the great
gash at his feet where red earth and tufts of grass mingled, where
the daisies had grown on that June day, where she had sat, proud and
aloof, and watched him fooling with the white petals. Very vividly
he recalled that summer afternoon, her scorn of him, her bitter
hostility--and the horror he had surprised in her dark eyes when the
hawk had struck. He laughed oddly to himself, his teeth clenched upon
his lower lip. How furiously she had hated him that day!
He turned to go; but paused, arrested by some instinct that bade
him cast one more look downwards along the howling shore. In another
moment he was lying full length upon the rotten ground, staring
intently down upon the group of rocks more than two hundred feet below
Two figures--a man and a woman--had detached themselves from the
shelter of these rocks, and were moving slowly, very slowly, towards
the path that led inwards from the shore. They were closely linked
together, so much his first glance told him. But there was something
in the man's gait that caught the eye and upon which Nick's whole
attention was instantly focussed. He could not see the face, but
the loose-slung, gigantic limbs were familiar to him. With all his
knowledge of the world of men, he had not seen many such.
Slowly the two approached till they stood almost immediately beneath
him, and there, as upon mutual impulse, they stopped. It was a corner
protected from the driving blast by the crumbling mass of cliff that
had slipped in the night. The rain was falling heavily again, but
neither the two on the shore nor the solitary watcher stretched on the
perilous edge of the cliff seemed aware of it. All were intent upon
Suddenly the woman raised her face, and with a movement that was
passionate reached up her arms and clasped them about the man's bent
neck. She was speaking, but no sound or echo of words was audible
in that tumult. Only her face lifted to the beating rain, with its
passion of love, its anguish of pain, told the motionless spectator
something of their significance.
It was hidden from him almost at once by the man's massive head; but
he had seen enough, more than enough, to verify a certain suspicion
which had long been quartered at the back of his brain.
Stealthily he drew himself back from the cliff edge, and sat up on the
damp grass. Again his eyes swept the horizon; there was something of a
glare in them. He was drenched through and through by the rain, but
he did not know it. Had Muriel seen him at that moment she might have
likened him with a shudder to an eagle that viewed its quarry from
He returned to the house without further lingering, and spent the two
hours that followed in prowling ceaselessly up and down his library.
At the end of that time he sat down suddenly at the writing-table, and
scrawled a hasty note. His face, as he did so, was like the face of an
old man, but without the tolerance of age.
Finishing, he rang for his servant. "Take this note," he said, "and
ask at the Brethaven Arms if a gentleman named Captain Grange is
putting up there. If he is, send in the note, and wait for an answer.
If he is not, bring it back."
The man departed, and Nick resumed his prowling. It seemed that he
could not rest. Once he went to the window and opened it to listen to
the long roar of the sea, but the fury of the blast was such that
he could scarcely stand against it. He shut it out, and resumed his
The return of his messenger brought him to a standstill.
"Captain Grange was there, sir. Here is his answer."
Nick grabbed the note with a gesture that might have indicated either
impatience or relief. He held the envelope between his teeth to slit
it open, and they left a deep mark upon it.
"Dear Ratcliffe," he read. "If I can get to you through this
murderous storm, I will. Expect me at eight o'clock.--Yours,
"All right," said Nick over his shoulder. "Captain Grange will dine
With the words he dropped the note into the fire, and then went away
BY SINGLE COMBAT
By eight o'clock Nick was lounging in the hall, awaiting his guest,
but it was more than a quarter of an hour later that the latter
Nick himself admitted him with a cheery grin. "Come in," he said.
"You've had a pretty filthy walk."
"Infernal," said Grange gloomily.
He entered with a heavy, rather bullied air, as if he had come against
his will. Shaking hands with his host, he glanced at him somewhat
"Glad you managed to come," said Nick hospitably.
"What did you want to see me for?" asked Grange.
"The pleasure of your society, of course." Nick's benignity was
unassailable, but there was a sharp edge to it somewhere of which
Grange was uneasily aware. "Come along and dine. We can talk
Grange accompanied him moodily to the dining-room. "I thought you were
away," he remarked, as they sat down.
"I was," said Nick. "Came back last night. When do you sail?"
"On Friday. I came down to say good-bye."
"Muriel is at Weir," observed Nick.
"Yes. I shall go on there to-morrow. Daisy is only here for a night or
two to pack up her things."
"And then?" said Nick.
Grange stiffened perceptibly. "I don't know what her plans are. She
never makes up her mind till the last minute."
Nick laughed. "She evidently hasn't taken you into her confidence. She
is going East this winter."
Grange looked up sharply. "I don't believe it."
"It's true all the same," said Nick indifferently, and forthwith
forsook the subject.
He started other topics, racing, polo, politics, airily ignoring his
guest's undeniable surliness, till at last Grange's uneasiness began
to wear away. He gradually overcame his depression, and had even
managed to capture some of his customary courtesy before the end of
dinner. His attitude was quite friendly when they finally adjourned to
the library to smoke.
Nick followed him into the room and stopped to shut the door.
Grange had gone straight to the fire, and he did not see him slip
something into his pocket as he came forward.
But he did after several minutes of abstraction discover something not
quite normal in Nick's silence, and glanced down at him to ascertain
what it was.
Nick had flung himself into a deep easy-chair, and was lying quite
motionless with his head back upon the cushion. His eyes were closed.
He had been smoking when he entered, but he had dropped his cigar half
consumed into an ash-tray.
Grange looked at him with renewed uneasiness, and looked away again.
He could not help feeling that there was some moral tension somewhere;
but he had never possessed a keen perception, he could not have said
wherein it lay.
He retired into his shell once more and sat down facing his host in
silence that had become dogged.
Suddenly, without moving, Nick spoke.
His words were slightly more deliberate than usual, very even, very
distinct. "To come to the point," he said. "I saw you on the shore
this afternoon--you and Mrs. Musgrave."
"What?" Grange gave a great start and stared across at him, gripping
the arms of his chair.
Nick's face, however, remained quite expressionless. "I saw you," he
With an effort Grange recovered himself. "Did you though? I wondered
how you knew I was down here. Where were you?"
There was an abrupt tremor behind Nick's eyelids, but they remained
closed. "I was on the top of the cliff, on my own ground, watching
Dead silence followed his answer--a silence through which the sound of
the sea half a mile away swelled terribly, like the roar of a monster
Then at last Nick's eyes opened. He looked Grange straight in the
face. "What are you going to do?" he said.
Grange's hands dropped heavily from the chair-arms, and his whole
great frame drooped slowly forward. He made no further attempt at
evasion, realising the utter futility of such a course.
"Do!" he said wearily. "Nothing."
"Nothing?" said Nick swiftly.
"No, nothing," he repeated, staring with a dull intentness at the
ground between his feet. "It's an old story, and the less said about
it the better. I can't discuss it with you or any one. I think it was
a pity you took the trouble to watch me this afternoon."
He spoke with a certain dignity, albeit he refused to meet Nick's
eyes. He looked unutterably tired.
Nick lay quite motionless in his chair, inscrutably still, save for
the restless glitter behind his colourless eyelashes. At length, "Do
you remember a conversation we had in this room a few months ago?" he
Grange shook his head slightly, too engrossed with his miserable
thoughts to pay much attention.
"Well, think!" Nick said insistently. "It had to do with your
engagement to Muriel Roscoe. Perhaps you have forgotten that too?"
Grange looked up then, shaking off his lethargy with a visible effort.
He got slowly to his feet, and drew himself up to his full giant
"No," he said, "I have not forgotten it."
"Then," said Nick, "once more--what are you going to do?"
Grange's face darkened. He seemed to hesitate upon the verge of
vehement speech. But he restrained himself though the hot blood
mounted to his temples.
"I have never yet broken my word to a woman," he said. "I am not going
to begin now."
"Why not?" said Nick, with a grin that was somehow fiendish.
Grange ignored the gibe. "There is no reason why I should not marry
her," he said.
"No reason!" Nick's eyes flashed upwards for an instant, and a curious
sense of insecurity stabbed Grange.
Nevertheless he made unfaltering reply. "No reason whatever."
Nick sat up slowly and regarded him with minute attention. "Are you
serious?" he asked finally.
"I am absolutely serious," Grange told him sternly. "And I warn you,
Ratcliffe, this is not a subject upon which I will bear interference."
"Man alive!" jeered Nick. "You must think I'm damned easily scared."
He got up with the words, jerking his meagre body upright with a
slight, fierce movement, and stood in front of Grange, arrogantly
"Now just listen to this," he said. "I don't care a damn how you take
it, so you may as well take it quietly. It's no concern of mine to
know how you have whitewashed this thing over and made it look
clean and decent--and honourable--to your fastidious eye. What I am
concerned in is to prevent Muriel Roscoe making an unworthy marriage.
And that I mean to do. I told you in the summer that she should be no
man's second best, and, by Heaven, she never shall. I had my doubts
of you then. I know you now. And--I swear by all things sacred that I
will see you dead sooner than married to her."
He broke off for a moment as though to get a firmer grip upon
himself. His face was terrible, his body tense as though controlled by
Before Grange could speak, he went on rapidly, with a resolution more
deadly if less passionate than before.
"If either of you had ever cared, it might have been a different
matter. But you never did. I knew that you never did. I never troubled
to find out your reason for proposing to her. No doubt it was strictly
honourable. But I always knew why she accepted you. Did you know that,
"Yes, I did." Grange's voice was deep and savage. He glowered down
upon him in rising fury. "It was to escape you."
Nick's eyes flamed back like the eyes of a crouching beast. He uttered
a sudden, dreadful laugh. "Yes--to escape me," he said, "to escape me!
And it has fallen to me to deliver her from her chivalrous protector.
If you look all round that, you may see something funny in it."
"Funny!" burst forth Grange, letting himself go at last. "It's what
you have been playing for all along, you infernal mountebank! But you
have overreached yourself this time. For that very reason I will never
give her up."
He swung past Nick with the words, goaded past endurance, desperately
aware that he could not trust himself within arm's length of that
gibing, devilish countenance.
He reached the door and seized the handle, wrenched furiously for a
few seconds, then flung violently round.
"Ratcliffe," he exclaimed, "for your own sake I advise you not to keep
But Nick had remained with his face to the fire. He did not so much
as glance over his shoulder. He had suddenly grown intensely quiet. "I
haven't quite done with you," he said. "There is just one thing more I
have to say."
Grange was already striding back like an enraged bull, but something
in the voice or attitude of the man who leaned against the mantelpiece
without troubling to face him, brought him up short.
Against his will he halted. "Well?" he demanded.
"It's only this," said Nick. "You know as well as I do that I possess
the means to prevent your marriage to Muriel Roscoe, and I shall
certainly use that means unless you give her up of your own accord.
You see what it would involve, don't you? The sacrifice of your
precious honour--and not yours only."
He paused as if to allow full vent to Grange's anger, but still he did
not change his position.
"You damned cur!" said Grange, his voice hoarse with concentrated
Nick took up his tale as if he had not heard. "But, on the other hand,
if you will write and set her free now, at once--I don't care how you
do it; you can tell any likely lie that occurs to you--I on my part
will swear to you that I will give her up entirely, that I will never
plague her again, will never write to her or attempt in any way to
influence her life, unless she on her own initiative makes it quite
clear that she desires me to do so."
He ceased, and there fell a dead silence, broken only by the lashing
rain upon the windows and the long, deep roar of the sea. He seemed to
be listening to them with bent head, but in reality he heard nothing
at all. He had made the final sacrifice for the sake of the woman he
loved. To secure her happiness, her peace of mind, he had turned his
face to the desert, at last, and into it he would go, empty, beaten,
crippled, to return no more for ever.
Across the lengthening silence Grange's voice came to him. There was a
certain hesitation in it as though he were not altogether sure of his
"I am to take your word for all that?"
Nick turned swiftly round. "You can do as you choose. I have nothing
else to offer you."
Grange abandoned the point abruptly, feeling as a man who has lost his
footing in a steep place and is powerless to climb back. Perhaps even
he was vaguely conscious of something colossal hidden away behind that
baffling, wrinkled mask.
"Very well," he said, with that dogged dignity in which Englishmen
clothe themselves in the face of defeat. "Then you will take my word
to set her free."
"To-night?" said Nick.
There was another pause. Then Nick crossed to the door and unlocked
"I will take your word," he said.
A few seconds later, when Grange had gone, he softly shut and locked
the door once more, and returned to his chair before the fire. Great
gusts of rain were being flung against the window-panes. The
wind howled near and far with a fury that seemed to set the walls
vibrating. Now and then dense puffs of smoke blew out across the
hearth into the room, and the atmosphere grew thick and stifling.
But Nick did not seem aware of these things. He sat on unheeding in
the midst of his dust and ashes while the storm raged relentlessly
above his head.
THE WOMAN'S CHOICE
With the morning there came a lull in the tempest though the great
waves that spent themselves upon the shore seemed scarcely less
mountainous than when they rode before the full force of the storm.
In Daisy Musgrave's cottage above the beach, a woman with a white,
jaded face sat by the window writing. A foreign envelope with an
Indian stamp lay on the table beside her. It had not been opened; and
once, glancing up, she pushed it slightly from her with a nervous,
impatient movement. Now and then she sat with her head upon her hand
thinking, and each time she emerged from her reverie it was to throw
a startled look towards the sea as though its ceaseless roar unnerved
Nevertheless, at sight of a big, loosely-slung figure walking slowly
up the flagged path, a quick smile flashed into her face, making it
instantly beautiful. She half rose from her chair, and then dropped
back again, still faintly smiling, while the light which only one
man's coming can kindle upon any woman's face shone upon hers, erasing
all weariness and bitterness while it lingered.
At the opening of the door she turned without rising. "So you have
come after all! But I knew you would. Sit down a minute and wait while
I finish this tiresome letter. I have just done."
She was already scribbling last words as fast as her pen would move,
and her visitor waited for her without a word.
In a few minutes she turned to him again. "I have been writing a note
to Muriel, explaining things a little. She doesn't yet know that I
am here; but it would be no good for her to join me, for I am only
packing. I shall leave as soon as I can get away. And she too is going
almost at once to Mrs. Langdale, I believe. So we shall probably not
meet again at present. You will be seeing her this afternoon. Will you
give it to her?"
She held the letter out to him, but he made no move to take it. His
face was very pale, more sternly miserable than she had ever seen it.
"I think you had better post it," he said.
She rose and looked at him attentively. "Why, what's the matter,
Blake?" she said.
He did not answer, and she went on immediately, still with her eyes
"Do you know, Blake, I have been thinking all night, and I have made
up my mind to have done with all this foolish sentimentality
finally and for ever. From to-day forward I enter upon the prosaic,
middle-aged stage. I was upset yesterday at the thought of losing you
so soon. It's been a lovely summer, hasn't it?" She stifled a sigh
half uttered. "Well, it's over. You have to go back to India, and we
must just make the best of it."
He made a sharp movement, but said nothing. The next moment he dropped
down heavily into a chair and sat bowed, his head in his hands.
Daisy stood looking down at him, and slowly her expression changed. A
very tender look came into her eyes, a look that made her seem older
and at the same time more womanly. Very quietly she sat down on the
arm of his chair and laid her hand upon him, gently rubbing it to and
"My own boy, don't fret, don't fret!" she said. "You will be happier
by-and-by. I am sure of it."
He took the little hand from his shoulder, and held it against his
eyes. At last after several seconds of silence he spoke.
"Daisy, I have broken my engagement."
Daisy gave a great start. A deep glow overspread her face, but it
faded very swiftly, leaving her white to the lips. "My dear Blake,
why?" she whispered.
He answered her with his head down. "It was Nick Ratcliffe's doing. He
"Made you, Blake! What can you mean?"
Sullenly Grange made answer. "He had got the whip-hand, and I couldn't
help myself. He saw us on the shore together yesterday afternoon, made
up his mind then and there that I was no suitable partner for Muriel,
got me to go and dine with him, and told me so."
"But Blake, how absurd!" Daisy spoke with a palpable effort. "How--how
utterly unreasonable! What made you give in to him?"
Grange would not tell her. "I shouldn't have done so," he said
moodily, "if he hadn't given his word that he would never pester
Muriel again. She's well rid of me anyhow. He was right there. She
will probably see it in the same light."
"What did you say to her?" questioned Daisy.
"Oh, it doesn't matter, does it? I didn't see her. I wrote. I didn't
tell her anything that it was unnecessary for her to know. In fact
I didn't give her any particular reason at all. She'll think me an
infernal cad. And so I am."
"You are not, Blake!" she declared vehemently. "You are not!"
He was silent, still tightly clasping her hand.
After a pause, she made a gentle movement to withdraw it; but at
that he turned with a sudden mastery and thrust his arms about her.
"Daisy," he broke out passionately, "I can't do without you! I can't!
I can't! I've tried,--Heaven knows how I've tried! But it can't be
done. It was madness ever to attempt to separate us. We were bound to
come together again. I have been drifting towards you always, always,
even when I wasn't thinking of you."
Fiercely the hot words rushed out. He was holding her fast, though had
she made the smallest effort to free herself he would have let her go.
But Daisy sat quite still, neither yielding nor resisting. Only at
his last words her lips quivered in a smile of tenderest ridicule.
"I know, my poor old Blake," she said, "like a good ship without a
rudder--caught in a strong current."
"And it has been the same with you," he insisted. "You have always
wanted me more than--"
He did not finish, for her hand was on his lips, restraining him. "You
mustn't say it, dear. You mustn't say it. It hurts us both too much.
There! Let me go! It does no good, you know. It's all so vain and
futile--now." Her voice trembled suddenly, and she ceased to speak.
He caught her hand away, looking straight up at her with that new-born
mastery of his that made him so infinitely hard to resist.
"If it is quite vain," he said, "then tell me to go,--and I will."
She tried to meet his eyes, but found she could not. "I--shall have
to, Blake," she said in a whisper.
"I am waiting," he told her doggedly.
But she could not say the word. She turned her face away and sat
He waited with absolute patience for minutes. Then at last very gently
he took his arms away from her and stood up.
"I am going back to the inn," he said. "And I shall wait there till
to-morrow morning for your answer. If you send me away, I shall
go without seeing you again. But if--if you decide otherwise,"--he
lowered his voice as if he could not wholly trust it--"then I shall
apply at once for leave to resign. And--Daisy--we will go to the New
World together, and make up there for all the happiness we have missed
in the Old."
He ended almost under his breath, and she seemed to hear his heart
beat through the words. It was almost too much for her even then. But
she held herself back, for there was that in her woman's soul that
clamoured to be heard--the patter of tiny feet that had never ceased
to echo there, the high chirrup of a baby's voice, the vision of a
toddling child with eager arms outstretched.
And so she held her peace and let him go, though the struggle within
her left her physically weak and cold, and she did not dare to raise
her eyes lest he should surprise the love-light in them once again.
It had come to this at last then--the final dividing of the ways, the
definite choice between good and evil. And she knew in her heart what
that choice would be, knew it even as the sound of the closing door
reached her consciousness, knew it as she strained her ears to catch
the fall of his feet upon the flagged path, knew it in every nerve and
fibre of her being as she sprang to the window for a last glimpse of
the man who had loved her all her life long, and now at last had won
her for himself.
Slowly she turned round once more to the writing-table. The unopened
letter caught her eye. She picked it up with a set face, looked at
it closely for a few moments, and then deliberately tore it into tiny
A little later she went to her own room. From a lavender-scented
drawer she took an envelope, and shook its contents into her hand.
Only a tiny unmounted photograph of a laughing baby, and a ringlet of
Her face quivered as she looked at them. They had been her dearest
treasures. Passionately she pressed them to her trembling lips, but
she shed no tears. And when she returned to the sitting-room there was
no faltering in her step.
She poked the fire into a blaze, and, kneeling, dropped her treasures
into its midst. A moment's torture showed in her eyes, and passed.
She had chosen.
THE EAGLE'S PREY
During the whole of that day Muriel awaited in restless expectancy the
coming of her _fiance_. She had not heard from him for nearly a week,
and she had not written in the interval for the simple reason that
she lacked his address. But every day she had expected him to pay his
promised visit of farewell.
It was hard work waiting for him. If she could have written, she would
have done so days before in such a fashion as to cause him almost
certainly to abandon his intention of seeing her. For her mind was
made up at last after her long torture of indecision. Dr. Jim's
vigorous speaking had done its work, and she knew that her only