Part 2 out of 2
"This is a Toledo sixteenth-century sword--reported to have belonged to
Cosmo de Medici. You see here the '_palle_,' the Medici emblem. The one
next to it is a sword of the same period, only used by a meaner person.
I should prefer it, if there were any killing to be done."
He described one or two other weapons. Then, glancing over his shoulder
at Austin and Viviette, who were talking in low, confidential tones a
little way off, he stood stock still, and the beads of sweat gathered on
his forehead. Katherine's voice recalled his wandering wits.
"This is a cross-bow, isn't it? The thing the Ancient Mariner shot the
"A cross-bow," said Dick. "The iron loop at the end was to put one's
foot into when one wanted to load it."
"And this," said Katherine, pointing to a long steel thing with a great
knob adorned with cruel spikes, "is the family mace, I suppose. I've
seen it before, I remember."
"Yes, that's the mace."
"What a blood-thirsty set of people you must have been!"
Austin came up with a laugh. "There's a legend among us that once mother
was left alone in the house and insisted on having this mace near her
bed so as to defend herself against burglars. But why do you leave me to
tell the story, Dick?"
Dick clenched his fists, and, muttering something, turned and ascended
the gallery above the screen. Viviette followed him.
"You're not doing it at all nicely. I don't think you want to."
"Can you wonder at that?" he said hoarsely.
Viviette played deliciously with the fire.
"Why, aren't we intelligent enough for you?" she asked with childish
"You know what I mean."
"I haven't the faintest idea. All I know is that you may as well be
polite, at any rate."
He laughed. Ordinarily he had little sense of humour; but now he had the
flames in his heart and the hell in his throat, and red mist before
"Oh, I'll be polite," he growled. "By God, I'll be polite! One may be
suffering the tortures of the damned, but one must smirk and be polite!"
He snatched up the first thing to hand, a helmet that stood on a case,
and brought it down below the screen.
"Katherine, Viviette says I'm not delivering my lecture properly. I beg
your pardon. I'm rather shy at first, but I get warmed up to my subject.
What would you like to hear about?"
Katherine exchanged a glance with Austin.
"Don't you think we might put off the rest till another day?"
"Yes, old chap. Put it off till to-morrow. It's your birthday, you
"Birthday? What's that got to do with it? Who knows what may happen
between then and now? No--no. I'm all right," he cried wildly. "You're
here, and you've got to listen. I'll get into fine form presently.
Look!" he said, pointing to the helmet he was holding. "Here is a
Cromwellian morion. It was picked up by an ancestor at Naseby. It has a
clean cut in it. That's where an honest gentleman's sword found its way
into the knave's skull--the puritanical, priggish, canting knave."
He threw the helmet with a clatter on to the table as if it had been the
knave's canting head. He caught up a weapon.
"This is a partisan. All you had to do when you got it inside a man was
to turn it round a bit, and the wound gaped and tore. This tassel is for
catching the blood and preventing it from greasing the handle. Here's a
beauty," he went on, taking a sword from the row he had laid out for
display, and holding it out for Katherine's inspection. "One of the pets
of the collection. A French duelling sword of the middle of the
eighteenth century." He gave a fencer's flourish. "Responsive to the
hilts, eh? Ah! It must have been good to live in those days, when you
could whip this from your side at a wrong done and have the life of the
man that wronged you. The sweet morning air, the patch of green turf,
shoes off--in shirt and breeches--with the eyes of the man you hate in
front of you, and this glittering, beautiful, snaky thing thirsting for
his heart's blood. And then--"--he stood in tierce, left hand curved,
holding in tense fierceness the eyes of an imaginary opponent--"and then
a little clitter-clatter of steel, and, suddenly--ha!--the blade
disappears up to the hilt, and a great red stain comes on the shirt, and
the man throws up his arms, and falls, and you've killed him. He's dead!
dead! dead! Ha! what a time to live in!"
Katherine uttered a little cry of fear, and grew pale. Viviette clapped
"Bravo, Dick!" cried Austin. "Most dramatically done."
"I never knew you were such an actor," said Viviette.
Dick stood panting, his hand on the hilt of the sword, the point on the
"I really do think I've had enough," said Katherine.
"No, not yet," he said in a thick voice. "I've not shown you half yet.
I've something much more interesting."
Viviette interrupted her. "You must stay. It's only beginning to be
exciting. If you only do the rest as beautifully as you did that, Dick,
I'll stay here all day."
Dick, with a curious outward calm, contrasting with the fury of his mock
encounter, put down the sword and went to the end of the table, where
the case of pistols lay.
"At any rate, I must show you," said he, "the famous duelling pistols."
"They were the very pistols in the duel between his great-grandfather
and Lord Estcombe," said Viviette.
"They've not been used from that day--he killed Lord Estcombe, by the
by--till this. The case is just as it was left. I was going to tell you
the story yesterday."
"I remember," said Katherine, by way of civility. "But Mrs. Ware stopped
She was a mild-natured woman, and the realistic conjuring up of
gore-dripping tassels and bloody shirts upset her, and she desired to
get away. She also saw that Dick was abnormally excited, and suspected
that he had been drinking. Her delicate senses shrank from drunkenness.
"You must tell the story," cried Viviette. "It's so romantic. You like
romantic things, Katherine. The great-grandfather was a Dick Ware
too--Wild Dick Ware they used to call him. Go on, Dick."
Dick paused for a moment. He had a curious, dull, befogged sensation of
being compelled to do things independently of volition. Presently
"It happened in this very room, a hundred years ago. Lord Estcombe and
my great-grandfather were friends--intimate friends from boyhood. Wild
Dick Ware was madly in love with a girl who had more or less become
engaged to him. Now, it came to his knowledge that Lord Estcombe had
been using blackguard means to win away the girl's affections. And one
day they were here"--he moved a pace or two to one side--"just as Austin
and I are now. And the girl over there--"
Viviette, with a gay laugh, took up her position on the spot to which he
"Just in this identical place. I know the story--it's lovely!"
"An old Peninsula comrade of Wild Dick Ware's was here too--a man called
"Katherine shall be Hawkins," cried Viviette.
"And in his presence," Dick continued, "Wild Dick Ware told the girl
that he was mad for love of her, but that he would not force her choice;
yet one of those two, himself or Lord Estcombe, she must choose, for
good and all. She could not speak for shame or confusion. He said,
'Throw your handkerchief to whichever of us you love.' And they stood
side by side--like this"--he ranged himself by Austin's side--"opposite
"And she threw the handkerchief!" cried Viviette.
"Throw yours!" said Dick. He looked at her with fierce intensity beneath
rugged brows; Austin with laughing challenge. She knew that she was the
object of each man's desire, and her sex's triumph thrilled through her
from head to foot. She knew that this jesting choice would have serious
import. For some seconds the three remained stock still. She glanced
flatteringly from one man to the other. Which should she choose? Her
heart beat wildly. Choose one or the other she must. Outside that room
no man lived whom she would marry. Each second strained the situation
further. At last her spirit rose in feminine revolt against the trap
which Dick had set for her, and, with a malicious look, she threw the
handkerchief at Austin's feet. He picked it up and gallantly put it
to his lips.
"In the story," exclaimed Viviette, "she threw it to Lord Estcombe.
Austin is Lord Estcombe."
"And I'm Dick Ware," cried Dick, in a strangled voice. "Wild Dick Ware.
And this is what he did. He dragged the girl out of the room first."
He took Viviette by the arm and roughly thrust her past the screen.
"Then--that case was on the table. And without a word Wild Dick Ware
comes up to Lord Estcombe so--and says, 'Choose.'"
He gripped the pistols by the barrels, crossed them, and presented the
butts to Austin. Austin waved them away with a deprecatory gesture and
"Really, old man, I can't enter into the spirit of it, like that. You're
splendid. But if I took a hand, it would be tomfoolery."
"Oh, do, do," cried Viviette. "Let us go through with it and see just
how the duel was fought. It will be thrilling. You'll have to fall dead
like Lord Estcombe, and I'll burst into the room and tear my hair over
your poor corpse. Do, Austin, for my sake."
He yielded. Any foolishness for her sake. He took a pistol.
"You'll have to be Major Hawkins, Katherine," he said lightly, as if
inviting her to condescend to some child's game.
But Katherine put her hands before her face and shrank back. "No, no,
no. I couldn't. I don't like it."
"Then I'll be Major Hawkins," said Viviette.
"You will?" Dick laughed harshly. "Then be it so."
"I know just what they did."
She placed the men back to back, so that Austin faced the further end of
the room and Dick the open French window. They were to take three paces,
count one, two, three, and, at the end of the third pace, they were to
turn and fire.
Dick felt the touch of Austin's shoulder against his, and the flame at
his heart grew fiercer and the hell in his throat more burning, and the
universe whirled round in a red mist. Viviette moved to the
[Illustration: Dick glared at him]
They paced and turned. Dick levelled his pistol instantly at Austin,
with murderous hate in his eyes, and drew the trigger. The pistol
clicked harmlessly. Austin, self-conscious, did not raise his pistol.
But Dick, broadening his chest, glared at him and shouted,
"Fire, damn you! Fire! Why the devil don't you fire?"
The cry was real, vibrant with fury and despair. Austin looked at him
for an amazed moment; then, throwing his pistol on to one of the
arm-chairs, he came up to him.
"What fool's game are you playing, Dick? Are you drunk?"
Katherine, with a low cry, flung herself between them, and, clinging to
Dick's arm, took the pistol from his hand.
"No more of this--no more. The duel has been too much like reality
Dick staggered to a straight-backed chair by the wall, and, sitting
down, wiped his forehead. He had grown deathly white. The flames had
been suddenly quenched within him, and he felt cold and sick. Viviette,
in alarm, ran to his side. What was the matter? Was he faint? Let her
take him into the fresh air. Austin came up. But at his approach Dick
rose and shrank away, glancing at him furtively out of bloodshot eyes.
"Yes. The heat has oppressed me. I'm not well. I'll go out."
He stumbled blindly towards the French window. Viviette followed him,
but he turned on her rudely and thrust her back.
"I'm not well, I tell you. I don't want your help. Let me alone."
He passed through the French window on to the terrace. The sky had
clouded over, and a drizzle had begun to fall.
Viviette felt curiously frightened, but she put on an air of bravado as
she came down the gallery.
"Have you all been rehearsing this little comedy?"
No mirthful response lit either face. She read condemnation in both
pairs of eyes. For the first time in her life she felt daunted,
humiliated. She knew nothing more beyond the fact that in deliberate
coquetry she had pitted brother against brother, and that something
cruel and tragical had happened for which she was being judged. Neither
spoke. She summoned her outer dignity, tossed her pretty head, and went
out by the end door which Austin in cold politeness held open for her.
Then she mounted to her bedroom, and, throwing herself on her bed, burst
into a passion of meaningless weeping.
Katherine handed Austin the pistol which she had taken from Dick's hand.
"Now you'll believe what I told you."
"I believe it," said Austin gravely.
"That duel was not all play-acting."
"That," said he, "was absurd. Dick Has been drinking. It was a silly
farce. Viviette egged him on until he seemed to take it seriously."
"He did take it seriously, Austin. He's in a dangerous mood. If I were
you I should be careful. Take a woman's warning."
He stood for a moment in deep thought, his gaze absently fixed on the
weapon he held in his hand. Suddenly a glint of something strange caught
his eye. He started, but recovered himself quickly.
"I'll take your warning, Katherine. Here's my hand upon it."
A moment later, when he was alone, he uncocked the pistol--Dick's
pistol. The glint had not been imaginary. It was a percussion cap. With
trembling fingers he picked it off the nipple. He passed his hand across
his damp forehead, for he felt faint with dread. But the task had to be
accomplished. He unscrewed the ramrod and picked out the wad, a piece
of white paper which dropped on the floor. From the barrel held downward
a bullet dropped with a dead, fateful thud on the floor. More paper
wad--a slithering shower of gunpowder. He put the pistol down, and took
up the one he himself had used from the chair where he had thrown it. It
was unloaded. His eye fell on the bits of white paper. He picked them up
and unfolded them. The daily newspaper lay by the stove, with the corner
Then he understood. He sank into a chair, paralysed with horror. It was
Dick's pistol that was loaded. Dick had meant to murder him. By the
grace of God the pistol had missed fire. But Dick, his own brother, had
meant to murder him. An hour later he walked out of the room, the case
of pistols under his arm, with the drawn face of an old man.
It was not until Dick had stumbled five or six miles through the
drenching downpour that the thought reached his dulled brain that he had
left the pistols loose for anyone to examine. The thought was like a
great stone hitting him on the side of the head. He turned and began to
run homewards, like a hunted man in desperate flight.
Viviette having repaired the disorder caused by her tears went down to
tea. Mrs. Ware, Katherine, and a curate deliberately calling or taking
shelter from the rain were in the drawing-room. Austin, to his mother's
mild astonishment, had sent down a message to the effect that he was
busy. On ordinary occasions Viviette would have flirted monstrously with
the clerical youth, and sent him away undecided whether to offer to
share his lodgings and hundred pounds a year with her, or to turn
Catholic and become a monk. But now she had no mind to flirtation. She
left him to the undisturbing wiles of Mrs. Ware, and petted and
surreptitiously fed Dick's Irish terrier, whose brown eyes looked
pathetic inquiry as to his master's whereabouts. She was sobered by the
uncomprehended scene in the armoury--sobered by Dick's violence and by
Austin's final coldness. A choice had been put before her in deadly
earnest; she had refused to make one. But the choice would have to be
made very soon, unless she sent both her lovers packing, a step which
she did not for a moment contemplate.
"You must promise to marry one or the other and end this tension," said
Katherine, a little later, after the curate had gone with Mrs. Ware to
look at her greenhouses.
"I wish to goodness I could marry them both," said Viviette. "Have a
month with each, turn and turn about. It would be ideal."
"It would be altogether horrid!" exclaimed Katherine. "How could such a
thought enter your head?"
"I suppose it must have entered every woman's head who has two men
she's fond of in love with her at once. I said yesterday that it was
great fun being a woman. I find it's a d.d.d.d. imposition!"
"For heaven's sake, child, make up your mind quickly," said Katherine.
Viviette sighed. Which should it be? Dick, with his great love and rough
tenderness and big, protecting arms, or Austin with his conquering ways,
his wit, his charm, his perception? Austin could give her the luxury
that her sensuous nature delighted in, social position, the brilliant
life of London. What could Dick give her? It would always be a joy to
dress herself for Austin. Dick would be content if she went about in
raiment made of dusters and bath towels. In return, what could she give
each of these men? She put the question to herself. She was not
mercenary or heartless. She gave of herself freely and loved the giving.
What could she give to Austin? What could she give to Dick? These
questions, in her sober mood, weighed the others down.
When the rain ceased and a pale sun had dried the gravel, she went out
into the grounds by herself and faced the problem. She sighed
again--many times. If only they would let her have her fun out and give
her answer six months hence!
Her meditations were cut short by the arrival of a telegraph boy on his
bicycle at the front gate. He gave her the telegram. It was for Austin.
Her heart beat. She went into the house with the yellow envelope
containing Dick's destiny and mounted to the little room off the first
landing which had been Austin's private study since his boyhood. She
knocked. Austin's voice bade her enter. He rose from the desk where, pen
in hand, he had been sitting before a blank sheet of paper, and without
a word took the telegram. She noticed with a shock that he had curiously
changed. The quick, brisk manner had gone. His face was grey.
"It is _the_ telegram, isn't it?" she asked eagerly.
"Yes," said he, handing it to her. "It's from Lord Overton."
She read: "The very man. Send him along to me early to-morrow. Hope he
can start immediately."
"Oh, how splendid!" she exclaimed with a little gasp of happiness. "How
utterly splendid! Thank heaven!"
"Yes. Thank heaven," Austin acquiesced gravely. "I forgot to mention to
you that Lord Overton knows Dick personally," he added, after a pause.
"They met at my house the last time Dick was in London."
"This _is_ good news," said Viviette. "At last I can give him a birthday
present worth having."
"He will not be here for his birthday," said Austin, in cold, even
tones. "He must catch the mail to-night."
Viviette echoed: "To-night?"
"And in all probability he will sail for Vancouver in a day or two. It
won't be worth his while to come back here."
She laid a hand on her heart, which fluttered painfully.
"Then--then--we'll never see him again?"
"I didn't think it would be so sudden," she said, a little wildly.
"Neither did I. But it's for the best."
"But supposing he wants some time to look about him?"
"I'll see to everything," said Austin.
"Anyhow, I must be the first to tell him," said Viviette.
"You will do me a very great favour if you will let me have that
privilege," said Austin. "I make a particular point of it. I have some
serious business to discuss with him before dinner, and that will be the
time for me to break the news."
He was no longer the fairy godmother's devoted and humble factotum. He
spoke with a cold air of authority that chilled the fairy godmotherdom
in Viviette's bosom. Her prettly little scheme dwindled into
childishness before the dark, incomprehended thing that had happened.
She assented with unusual meekness.
"But I'm desperately disappointed," she said.
"My dear Viviette," he answered more kindly, and looking at her with
some wistfulness, "the pleasures and even the joy of life have to give
way to the sober, business side of existence. It isn't very gay, I know,
but we can't alter it."
He held out his hand. Instinctively she gave him hers. He raised it to
his lips and held the door open for her. She went out scarcely knowing
that she had been dismissed. Austin closed the door, stood unsteadily
for a moment like a man stricken with great pain, and then, sitting
down at his desk again, put his elbows on the table, rested his head in
his hands, and stared at the white piece of paper. When would Dick come
home? He had given orders that Dick should be asked to go to him as soon
as he arrived. Would Dick ever come home again? It was quite possible
that some misfortune might have happened. Tragedy is apt to engender
tragedy. He shuddered, hearing in his fancy the tramp of men, and seeing
a shrouded thing they carried across the hall. He bitterly accused
himself for not having sought Dick far and wide as soon as he had made
his ghastly discovery. But he had required time to recover his balance.
The horrible suddenness had stunned him. Attempted fratricide is not a
common happening in gentle families. He had to accustom himself to the
atmosphere of the abnormal, so as to state the psychological case in its
numberless ramifications. This he had done. His head was clear. His
unalterable decision made. Now the minutes dragged with leaden feet
until Dick should come.
Viviette was the first to see him. She had dressed early for dinner,
and, as the late June afternoon had turned out fine, was taking her
problem out to air on the terrace when she came upon him standing at the
door of his armoury. His hair was wet and matted, his eyes bloodshot,
his clothes dripping, and he himself splashed with mud from head to
foot. He trembled all over, shaken by a great terror. The case of
pistols had gone. Who had taken them? Had the loaded pistol been
As Viviette appeared, robed in deep blue chiffon that seemed torn from
the deep blue evening sky, and looking, in the man's maddened eyes,
magically beautiful, he held out imploring hands.
"Come in for a moment. For the love of God come in for a moment."
He stepped back invitingly. She hesitated for a second on the threshold,
and then followed him down the dim gallery, past the screen where all
the swords and helmets lay scattered on the table. He looked at her
haggardly, and she met his gaze with kind eyes in which there was no
mockery. No. Nothing had happened, he told himself; otherwise she would
shrink from him as from something accursed.
"My God, if you knew how I love you!" he said hoarsely. "My God, if you
His suffering racked her heart. All her pity melted over him. She laid
her caressing fingers on his arm.
"Oh, my poor Dick!" she said.
[Illustration: He held out imploring hands.]
The touch, the choke in her voice, brought about Viviette's downfall.
Perhaps she meant it to do so. Who can tell? What woman ever knows? In a
flash his arms were around her and his kisses, a wild, primitive man's
kisses, were on her lips, her eyes, her cheeks. Her face was crushed
against the rough wet tweed of his coat, and its odour, raw and coarse,
was in her nostrils. She drooped, intoxicated, gasping for breath in his
unheeding giant's grip, but she made no effort to escape. As he held her
a thrill, agonising and delicious, swept through her, and she raised her
lips involuntarily to his and closed her eyes. At last he released her,
mangled, tousled, her very self a draggled piece of chiffon like the
night-blue frock, soiled with wet and mud.
"Forgive me," he said, "I had no right. Least of all now. God knows what
is to become of me. But whatever happens, you know that I love you."
She had her hands clasped before her face. She could not look at him.
"Yes, I know," she murmured.
In another moment he had gone, leaving Viviette, who had entered the
room a girl, transformed into a woman with the first shiver of passion
in her veins.
Dick, vaguely conscious of damp and dirt, went up to his bedroom. The
sight of his evening things spread out on the bed reminded him that it
was nearly dinner-time. Mechanically he washed and dressed. As he was
buckling on his ready-made white tie--his clumsy fingers, in spite of
many lessons from Viviette, had never learned the trick of tying a
bow--a maid brought him a message. Mr. Austin's compliments and would he
see Mr. Austin for a few moments in Mr. Austin's room. The words were
like the dreaded tap on the shoulder of the hunted criminal.
"I'll come at once," he said.
He found Austin sitting on the chair by his desk, resting his chin on
his elbow. He did not stir as Dick entered.
"You want to speak to me?"
"Yes," said Austin. "Will you sit down?"
"I'll stand," said Dick impatiently. "What have you to say to me?"
"I believe you have expressed your desire to leave England and earn your
living in a new country. Is that so?"
The brothers' eyes met. Dick saw that the loaded pistol had been
discovered, and read no love, no pity, only condemnation in the hard
gaze. Austin was pronouncing sentence.
"Yes," he replied sullenly.
"I happen," said Austin, "to know of an excellent opportunity. Lord
Overton, whom you have met, wants a man to take charge of his timber
forests in Vancouver. The salary is £700 a year. I wired to Lord Overton
asking for the appointment on your behalf. This is his answer."
Dick took the telegram and read it with muddled head. Austin had lost no
"You see, it fits in admirably. You can start by the night mail. Your
sudden departure needs no other explanation to the household than this
telegram. I hope you understand."
"I understand," said Dick bitterly. A sudden memory of words that
Viviette had used the day before occurred to him. "I understand. This is
to get me out of the way. 'David put Uriah in the forefront of the
battle.' Vancouver is the forefront."
"Don't you think we had better avoid all unprofitable discussion?"
Austin rose and confronted him. "I expect you to accept this offer and
"And if I refuse?" asked Dick, with rising anger. "What dare you
threaten me with?"
Austin raised a deprecatory hand.
"Do you suppose I'm going to threaten you? I simply expect you not to
refuse. Your conscience must tell you that I have the right to do so.
Dick glowered sullenly at the wall and tugged his great moustache.
"You force me to touch on things I should have liked to keep hidden,"
said Austin. "Very well." He took a scrap of crumpled paper from the
desk. "Do you recognise this? It formed the wad of the pistol that was
in _your_ hand."
Dick started back a pace. "You're wrong," he gasped. "It was _your_
pistol that was loaded."
"No. Yours. The cap missed fire, or I should have been a dead
man--murdered by my brother."
"Stop," cried Dick. "Not murdered. No, no, not murdered. It was in fair
fight. I gave you the choice. When I thought I had the unloaded one I
called on you to fire. Why the devil didn't you? I wanted you to fire. I
was mad for you to fire. I wanted to be killed there and then. No one
can say I shirked it. I gave you your chance."
"That's nothing to do with it," said Austin sternly. "When you fired you
meant murder. Your face meant killing. And supposing I had fired--and
killed you! Good God! I would sooner you had killed me than burdened my
soul with your death. It would have been less cowardly. Yes, cowardly.
The conditions were not even. To me it was trivial fooling. To you,
deadly earnest. Are you not man enough to see that I have the right to
exact some penalty?"
Dick remained silent for a few moments, while the powers of light and
darkness struggled together in his soul. At last he said in a low voice,
hanging his head:
"I'll accept your terms."
"You leave by the night mail for Witherby."
"There's another point," said Austin. "The most important point of all.
You will not speak alone to Viviette before you start."
Dick turned with an angry flash,
"You will not speak to Viviette alone. When you are gone--for there is
no need for you to come back here before you sail--you will not write to
her. You will go absolutely and utterly out of her life."
Dick broke into harsh, furious laughter.
"And leave her to you? I might have known that the lawyer would have had
me in the trap. But this time you've over-reached yourself. I'll never
give her up. Do you hear me? Never--never--never! I would go through the
horror of to-day a thousand times--day by day until I die, rather than
give her up to you. You shall not take this last thing from me--this
hope of winning her--as you have taken everything else. You have
supplanted me since first you learned to speak. It has been Esau
"Or Cain and Abel," said Austin.
"You can taunt me if you like," cried Dick, goaded to fury, and the
whole bitterness of a lifetime surging up in passionate speech. "I have
got past feeling it. Your life has been one continual taunt of me. You
have thought me a dull, good-natured boor, delighted to have a word
thrown at him now and again by the elegant gentleman, and rather
honoured than otherwise to be ridden over roughshod, or kicked into the
mud when it pleased the elegant gentleman to ride by. No, listen to me,"
he thundered, as Austin was about to protest. "By God, you shall listen
this time. You've made me your butt, your fool, your doer of trivial
offices. I've wondered sometimes why you haven't addressed me as 'my
good fellow,' and asked me to touch my cap to you. I've borne it all
these years without complaining--but do you know what it is to eat your
heart out and remain silent? I have borne it for my mother's sake--in
spite of her dislike of me--and for your sake, because I loved you. Yes.
If ever one man has loved another I've loved you. But you took no heed.
What was my affection worth? I was only the stupid, dull boor ... but I
suffered it all till you came between me and her. I had spent the whole
passion of my life upon her. She was the only thing left in the world
for which I felt fiercely. I hungered for her, thirsted for her, my
brain throbbed at the thought of her, the blood rushed through my veins
at the sight of her. And you came between us. And if I have damned my
soul, by God! the damnation is your doing. Do you think, while I live,
that I'll give her up to you? I'll get my soul's worth, anyhow."
He smote his palm with his clenched fist and strode about the little
room. Austin sat for a while dumb with astonishment and dismay. His
cherished, lifelong conception of "dear old Dick" lay shattered. A new
Dick appeared to him, a personality stronger, deeper than he could have
imagined. A new respect for him, also a new pity that was generous and
not contemptuous, crept into his heart.
"Listen, Dick," said he, using the familiar name for the first time. "Do
I understand that you accuse me of sending you out to Vancouver and
hastening your departure so as to gain my own ends with Viviette?"
"Yes," returned Dick. "I do. You have laid this trap for me."
"Have you ever heard me lie to you?"
"No," said Dick.
"Then I tell you, as man to man, that until this afternoon I had no
suspicion that your feelings towards Viviette were deeper than those of
an elder brother."
Dick laughed bitterly. "You couldn't conceive a clod like me falling in
"That's beside the question," said Austin. "I did not behave
dishonourably towards you. I came down. I fell in love with Viviette.
How could I help it? How could I help loving her? How could I help
telling her so? But she is young and innocent, and her heart is her own
yet. Tell me--man to man--dare you say that you have won it or that I
have won it?"
"What's the good of talking?" said Dick, relapsing into his sullen mood.
"If I go she is yours. But I won't go."
Austin rose again and laid his hand on his brother's arm.
"Dick. If I give her up, will you obey my conditions?"
"You give her up voluntarily? Why should you?"
"A damnable thing was done this afternoon," said Austin. "I see I had my
share in it, and I as well as you have to make reparation. Man alive!
You are my brother," he cried with an outburst of feeling. "The nearest
thing in the world to me. Do you think I could rest happy with the
knowledge that a murderous devil is always in your heart, and that it's
in my power to--to exorcise it? Do you think the cost matters? Come.
Shall we make this bargain? Yes or no?"
"It's easy for you to promise," said Dick. "But when I am gone, how can
Austin hesitated for a moment, biting his lips. Then, with the air of a
man who makes an irrevocable step in life, he crossed the room and
rang the bell.
"Ask Mrs. Holroyd if she will have the kindness to come here for a
minute," he said to the servant.
Dick regarded him wonderingly. "What has Mrs. Holroyd to do with our
"You'll see," said Austin, and there was silence between them till
She looked from one joyless face to the other, and sat without a word
on the chair that Austin placed for her. Her woman's intuition divined a
sequel to the afternoon's drama. Some of it she had already learned.
For, going earlier into Viviette's room, she had found her white and
shaken, still disordered in hair and dress as Dick had left her; and
Viviette had sobbed on her bosom and told her with some incoherence that
the monkey had at last hit the lyddite shell in the wrong place, and
that it was all over with the monkey. So, before Austin spoke, she half
divined why he had summoned her.
Her heart throbbed painfully.
"Dick and I," said Austin, "have been talking of serious matters, and we
need your help."
She smiled wanly. "I'll do whatever I can, Austin."
"You said this afternoon you would do anything I asked you. Do you
"Yes, I said so--and I meant it."
"You said it in reply to my question whether you would accept me if I
asked you to marry me."
Dick started from the sullen stupor into which he had fallen and
listened with perplexed interest.
"You are not quite right in your tenses, Austin," she remarked. "You
said: Would I have accepted you if you had asked me?"
"I want to change the tense into the present," he replied.
She met his glance calmly. "You ask me to marry you in spite of what you
told me this afternoon?"
"In spite of it and because of it," he said, drawing up a chair near to
her. "A great crisis has arisen in our lives that must make you forget
other words I spoke this afternoon. Those other words and everything
connected with them I blot out of my memory forever. I want you to do me
an infinite service. If there had been no deep affection between us I
should not dare to ask you. I want you to be my wife, to take me into
your keeping, to trust me as an upright man to devote my life to your
happiness. I swear I'll never give you a moment's cause for regret."
She plucked for a while at her gown. It was a strange wooing. But in her
sweet way she had given him her woman's aftermath of love. It was a
gentle, mellow gift, far removed from the summer blaze of passion, and
it had suffered little harm from the sadness of the day. She saw that he
was in great stress. She knew him to be a loyal gentleman.
"Is this the result of that scene in the armoury?" she asked quietly.
"Yes," said Austin.
"I was right then. It was a matter of life and death."
"It was," said he. "So is this."
She looked again from one face to the other, rose, hesitated for a
moment--and then held out her hand. "I am willing to trust you,
Austin," she said.
He touched her hand with his lips and said gravely: "I will not fail
As soon as she had gone he went to the chair where Dick sat in gloomy
remorse and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Well?" said he.
"I agree," Dick groaned, without looking up. "I have no alternative. I
appreciate your generosity."
Then Austin spoke of the appointment in Vancouver. He explained how the
idea had occurred to him; how Viviette had come late the night before to
tell him of what he had never before suspected--Dick's desire to go
abroad; how they had conspired to give him a birthday surprise; how they
had driven over to Witherby to send the telegram to Lord Overton. And as
he spoke, Dick looked at him with a new ghastliness on his face.
"This afternoon--in the dining-room--when you said that Viviette had
told you everything--?"
"About your wish to go to the Colonies. What else?"
"And what I overheard in the armoury--about a telegram--telling
me--putting me out of my misery?"
"Only whether we should tell you to-night or to-morrow about the
appointment. Dick--Dick," said Austin, deeply moved by the great
fellow's collapse, "if I have wronged you all these years, it was
through want of insight, not want of affection. If I have taunted you,
as you say, it was merely a lifelong habit of jesting which you never
seemed to resent. I was unconscious of hurting you. For my blindness and
carelessness I beg your forgiveness. With regard to Viviette--I ought to
have seen, but I didn't. I don't say you had no cause for jealousy--but
as God hears me--all the little conspiracy to-day was lovingly
meant--all to give you pleasure. I swear it."
Dick rose and stumbled about among the furniture. The setting sun fell
just below the top of the casement window, and its direct rays flooded
the little room and showed Dick in a strange, unearthly light.
"I wronged you," he said bitterly. "Even in my passions I'm a dull fool.
I thought you a damned cad, and I got more and more furious, and I
drank--I was drunk all this afternoon--and madness came, and when I saw
you kiss her--yes, I saw you, I was peeping from behind the
screen--things went red before my eyes, and it was then that I loaded
the pistol to shoot you on the spot. God forgive me! May God have
mercy upon me."
He leant his arms on the sill and buried his face.
"I can't ask your forgiveness," he went on, after a moment. "It would
be a mockery." He laughed mirthlessly. "How can I say. 'I'm sorry I
meant to murder you--please don't think anything about it?'" He turned
with a fierce gesture. "Oh, you must take it all as said, man! Now, have
you finished with me? I can't stand it much longer, I agree to all your
terms. I'll drive over to Witherby now and wait for the train--and
you'll be free of me."
He turned again and moodily looked out of the window in the full flood
of the sunset.
"We must play the game, Dick," said Austin gently, "and go through the
horrible farce of dinner--for mother's sake."
Dick heard him vaguely. Below, on the terrace, Viviette was walking, and
she filled his universe. She had changed the bedraggled frock for the
green one she had worn the night before. Presently she raised her eyes
and saw him leaning out of the window.
"Have they told you that dinner is not till a quarter past eight?" she
cried, looking deliciously upwards, with a dainty hand to her cheek.
"Lord Banstead sent a message to mother that he was unexpectedly
detained, and mother has put back dinner. Isn't it impudence?"
But Dick was far too crushed with misery to respond. He nodded
dejectedly. She remained staring up at him for a while and then ran into
Dick listlessly mentioned the postponement of dinner.
"I'm sorry I asked the little brute, but I couldn't avoid it."
"What does it matter?" said Austin. He was silent for a moment. Then he
came close to Dick.
"Dick," said he. "Let us end this awful scene as friends and brothers.
As Heaven hears me, there is no bitterness in my heart. Only deep
sorrow--and love, Dick. Shake hands."
Dick took his hand and broke down utterly, and said such things of
himself as other men do not like to hear. Presently there was a light
rap of knuckles at the door. Austin opened it and beheld Viviette.
"I won't disturb you," she said; "I only want to give this note to
"I will hand it to him," said Austin.
She thanked him and departed. He closed the door and gave Dick the note.
Dick opened it, read, and with a great cry of "Viviette!" rushed to the
door. Austin interposed, grasped him by the wrist:
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to her," shouted Dick wildly, wrenching himself free. "Read
this." He held up the note before Austin's eyes, with shaking fingers.
"I can't bear to see the misery on your face, when I can make you happy.
I love you, dear, better than anything on earth. I know it now, and
I'll go out with you to Vancouver."
"She loves me. She'll marry me. She'll go out to Vancouver!" cried Dick.
"It changes everything. I must go to her."
"You shall not go," said Austin.
"Shall not? Who dares prevent me?'
"I do. I hold you to your word."
"But, man alive! she loves me--don't you see? The bargain is dissolved.
This is none of my seeking. She comes of her own free will. I am
going to her."
Austin put both his hands affectionately on the big man's shoulders and
forced him into a chair.
"Listen to me just for one minute, Dick. Dick, you dare not marry. Don't
drive me to tell you the reason. Can't you see for yourself why I've
imposed this condition on you all along?"
"I know no reason," said Dick. "She loves me, and that is enough."
The greyness deepened over Austin's face and the pain in his eyes.
"I must speak, then, in plain terms. That horrible murder impulse is the
reason. Today, in a fit of frenzied jealousy, you would have killed me,
your brother. Is there any guarantee that, in another fit of frenzied
jealousy, you might not--?"
A shudder ran through Dick's great frame. He stretched out his hand.
"For God's sake--don't."
"I must--until you see this ghastly business in its true aspect. Look at
the lighter side of Viviette's character. She is gay, fond of
admiration, childishly fond of teasing, a bright creature of bewildering
moods. Would she be safe in your hands? Might you not one day again see
things red before your eyes and again go mad?"
"Don't say any more," Dick said in a choking voice. "I can't stand it."
"Heaven knows, I didn't want to say as much."
Dick shuddered again. "Yes, you are right. I am a man with a curse. I
can't marry her. I daren't."
VIVIETTE TAKES THE RISK
Presently Dick raised the face of Cain when he told the Lord that his
punishment was greater than he could bear. Tears leaped to Austin's
eyes, but he turned his head away lest Dick should see them. He would
have given years of his life to spare Dick--everything he had in the
world--save his deep convictions of right and wrong. He was responsible
for Viviette. That risk of horror he could not let her run. He had
hoped, with a great agony of hope, that Dick would have seen it for
himself. To formulate it had been torture. But he could not weaken. The
barrier between Dick and Viviette was not of his making. It was composed
of the grim psychological laws that govern the abnormal. To have
disregarded it would have been a crime from which his soul shrank. All
the despair in Dick's face, though it wrung his heart, could not move
him. It was terrible to be chosen in this way to be the arbiter of
Destiny. But there was the decree, written in letters of blood and
flame. And Dick had bowed to it.
"What's to become of her?" he groaned.
"This will be her home, as it always has been," said Austin.
"I don't mean that--but between us we shall break her heart. She has
given it to me just in time for me to do it. My luck!"
Austin tried to comfort him. A girl's heart was not easily broken. Her
pride would suffer most. Pain was inevitable. But Time healed many
wounds. In this uncertain world nothing was ever so good as we hoped,
and nothing ever so bad as we feared. Dick paid little heed to the
"She must be told!"
"Not what happened this afternoon," cried Austin quickly. "That we bury
forever from all human knowledge."
"Yes," said Dick, staring in front of him and speaking in a dull, even
voice. "We must hide that. It's not a pretty thing to spread before a
girl's eyes. It will be always before my own--until I die. But she must
be told that I can't marry her. I can't ride away and leave her in doubt
and wonder forever and ever."
"Let us face this horrible night as best we can," said Austin. "Avoid
seeing her alone. You'll be with mother or packing most of the evening.
Slip away to Witherby an hour or so before your time. When you're gone
I'll arrange matters. Leave it to me."
He made one of his old, self-confident gestures. But now Dick felt no
resentment. His spirit in its deep abasement saw in Austin the better,
wiser, stronger man.
At a quarter-past eight they went slowly downstairs to what promised to
be a nightmare kind of meal. There would be four persons, Viviette,
Katherine, and themselves, in a state of suppressed eruption, and two,
Mrs. Ware and the unspeakable Banstead, complacently unaware of volcanic
forces around them, who might by any chance word bring about disaster.
There was danger, too--and the greatest--from Viviette, ignorant of
Destiny. Austin dreaded the ordeal; but despair and remorse had benumbed
Dick's faculties; he had passed the stage at which men fear. With his
hand on the knob of the drawing-room door Austin paused and looked
"Pull yourself together, man. Play your part. For God's sake, try to
Dick tried. Austin shivered.
"For God's sake, don't," he said.
They entered the drawing-room, expecting to find the three ladies, and
possibly Lord Banstead, assembled for dinner. To Austin's discomfiture,
Viviette was alone in the room. She rose, made a step or two to meet
them, then stopped.
"What a pair of faces! One would think it were the eve of Dick's
execution, and you were the hangman measuring him for the noose."
"Dick," said Austin, "is leaving us to-night--possibly for many years."
"I don't see that he is so very greatly to be pitied," said Viviette,
trying in vain to meet Dick's eyes. She drew him a pace or two aside.
"Did you read my note--or did you tear it up like the other one?"
"I read it," he said, looking askance at the floor.
"Then why are you so woe-begone?"
He replied in a helpless way that he was not woe-begone. Viviette was
puzzled, hurt, somewhat humiliated. She had made woman's great surrender
which is usually followed by a flourish of trumpets very gratifying to
hear. In fact, to most women the surrender is worth the flourish. But
the recognition of this surrender appeared to find its celebration in a
funeral march with muffled drums. A condemned man being fitted for the
noose, as she had suggested, a mute conscientiously mourning at his own
funeral, a man who had lost a stately demesne in Paradise and had been
ironically compensated by the gift of a bit of foreshore of the Styx
could not have worn a less joyous expression than he on whom she had
conferred the boon of his heart's desire.
"You're not only woe-begone," she said, with spirit, "but you're utterly
miserable. I think I have a right to know the reason. Tell me, what
She tapped a small, impatient foot.
"We haven't told my mother yet," Austin explained, "and Dick is rather
nervous as to the way in which she will take the news."
"Yes," said Dick, with lame huskiness. "It's on mother's account."
Viviette laughed somewhat scornfully.
"I am not a child, my dear Austin. No man wears a face like that on
account of his mother--least of all when he meets the woman who has
promised to be his wife."
She flashed a challenging glance at Austin, but not a muscle of his grey
face responded. Her natural expectations were baffled. There was no
start of amazement, no fierce movement of anger, no indignant look of
reproach. She was thrown back on herself. She said:
"I don't think you quite understand. Dick had two aims in life--one to
obtain a colonial appointment, the other--so he led me to suppose--to
marry me. He has the appointment, and I have promised to marry him."
"I know," said Austin, "but you must make allowances."
"If that's all you can say on behalf of your client," retorted Viviette,
"I rather wonder at your success as a barrister."
"Don't you think, my dear," said Austin gently, "that we are treading on
"Delicate ground!" she scoffed. "We seem to have been treading on a
volcano all the afternoon. I'm tired of it." She faced the two men with
uplifted head. "I want an explanation."
"Of what?" Austin asked.
"Of Dick's attitude. What has he got to be miserable about? Tell me."
"But I'm not miserable, my dear Viviette," said poor Dick, vainly
forcing a smile. "I'm really quite happy."
Her woman's intuition rejected the protest with contumely. All the
afternoon he had been mad with jealousy of Austin. An hour ago he had
whirled her out of her senses in savage passion. But a few minutes
before she had given him all a woman has to give. Now he met her with
hang-dog visage, apologies from Austin, and milk-and-water asseveration
of a lover's rapture. The most closely-folded rosebud miss of Early
Victorian times could not have faced the situation without showing
something of the Eve that lurked in the heart of the petals. So much the
less could Viviette, child of a freer, franker day, hide her just
indignation under the rose-leaves of maidenly modesty.
"Happy!" she echoed. "I've known you since I was a child of three. I
know the meaning of every light and every shadow that passes over your
face--except this shadow now. What does it mean?"
She asked the question imperiously, no longer the elfin changeling, the
fairy of bewildering moods of Austin's imagination, no longer the
laughing coquette of Katherine's less picturesque fancy, but a modern
young woman of character, considerably angered and very much in earnest.
Austin bit his lip in perplexity. Dick looked around like a hunted
animal seeking a bolting-hole.
"Dick is anxious," said Austin, at length, seeing that some explanation
must be given, "that there should be no engagement between you before he
goes out to Vancouver."
"Indeed?" said Viviette. "May I ask why? As this concerns Dick and
myself, perhaps you will leave us alone for a moment so that Dick
may tell me."
"No, no," Dick muttered hurriedly. "Don't leave us, Austin. We can't
talk of such a thing now."
Again she tapped her foot impatiently.
"Yes, now. I'm going to hear the reason now, whatever it is."
The brothers exchanged glances. Dick turned to the window, and stared
at the mellow evening sky.
Austin again was spokesman.
"Dick finds he has made a terrible and cruel mistake. One that concerns
"Whatever Dick may have done with regard to me," replied Viviette, "I
forgave him for it beforehand. When once I give a thing I don't take it
back. I have given him my love and my promise."
"My dear," said Austin, gravely and kindly. "Here are two men who have
loved you all your life. Don't think hardly of us. You must be brave and
bear a great shock. Dick can't marry you."
She looked at him incredulously.
"Can't marry me? Why not?"
"It would be better not to ask."
She moved swiftly to Dick, and with her light touch swung him round to
face the room.
"I don't understand. Is it because you're going out into the wilds?
That doesn't matter. I told you I would go to Vancouver with you. I want
to go. My happiness is with you."
Dick groaned. "Don't make it harder for me."
"What are you keeping from me?" she asked. "Is it anything you don't
think fit for my ears? If so, speak. I'm no longer a child. Is there
another woman in the case?"
She met Austin's eyes full. He said: "No, thank God! Nothing of that
sort." And as her eyes did not waver, he made the bold stroke. "He finds
that he doesn't love you as much as he thought. There's the whole
tragedy in a few words."
She reeled back as if struck. "Dick doesn't love me?" Then the
announcement seemed so grotesque in its improbability that she began to
laugh, a trifle hysterically.
"Is this true?"
"It's quite true," said poor Dick.
"You see, my dear," said Austin, "what it costs him--what it costs us
both--to tell you this."
"But I don't understand. I don't understand!" she cried, with sudden
piteousness. "What did you mean, then--a little while ago--in
Austin, who did not see the allusion, had to allow Dick to speak for
"I was drunk," said Dick desperately. "I've been drinking heavily of
late--and not accountable for my actions. I oughtn't to have done what
"And so, you see," continued Austin, with some eagerness, "when he
became confronted with the great change in his life--Vancouver--he
looked at things soberly. He found that his feelings towards you were
not of the order that would warrant his making you his wife."
Before Viviette could reply the door opened, and Mrs. Ware and
Katherine entered the room. Mrs. Ware, ignorant of tension, went
smilingly to Austin, and, drawing down his shapely head with both hands,
"My dear, dear boy, I'm so glad, so truly glad. Katherine has just told
"Told you what, mother?" asked Viviette quickly, with a new sharpness in
Mrs. Ware turned a beaming face. "Can't you guess, darling? Oh, Austin,
there's no living woman whom I would sooner call my daughter. You've
made me so happy."
The facile tears came, and she sat down and dried them on her little
wisp of handkerchief.
"I thought it for the best to tell your mother, Austin," said Katherine,
somewhat apologetically. "We were speaking of you--and--I couldn't
keep it back."
Viviette, white-lipped and dazed, looked at Austin, Katherine, and Dick
in turns. She said, in the high-pitched voice, to Austin:
"Have you asked Katherine to marry you?"
"Yes," he replied, not quite so confidently, and avoiding her
glance--"and she has done me the honour of accepting me."
Katherine held out a conciliatory hand to Viviette. "Won't you
congratulate me, dear?"
"And Austin, too," said Mrs. Ware.
But Viviette lost control of herself. "I'll congratulate nobody," she
cried shrilly. She burned with a sense of intolerable outrage. Only a
few hours before she had been befooled into believing herself to be the
mistress of the destinies of two men. Both had offered her their love.
Both had kissed her. The memory lashed her into fury. Now one of them
avowed that she had been merely the object of a drunken passion, and
the other came before her as the affianced husband of the woman who
called herself her dearest friend.
Katherine, in deep distress, laid her hand on the girl's arm. "Why not,
dear? I thought that you and Dick--in fact--I understood--"
Viviette freed herself from Katherine's touch.
"Oh, no, you didn't. You didn't understand anything. You didn't try to.
You are all lying. The three of you. You have all lied, and lied, and
lied to me. I tell you to your faces you have lied to me." She swung
passionately to each in turn. "'Austin can never be anything to me but a
friend'--how often have you said that to me? Ah--Saint Nitouche! And
you"--to Austin--"How dared you insult me this morning? And you--how
have you dared to insult me all the time? You've lied--the whole lot of
you--and I hate you all!"
Mrs. Ware had risen, scared and trembling.
"What does the girl mean? I've never heard such unladylike words in a
drawing-room in my life."
Dick blundered in: "It's all my fault, mother--"
"I've not the slightest doubt of that," returned the old lady with
asperity. "But what Austin and Katherine have to do with it I
The servant opened the door.
He entered a cold, strange silence. Everyone had forgotten him. He must
have attributed the ungenial atmosphere to his own lateness--it was
half-past eight--for he made penitent apology to Mrs. Ware. Austin
greeted him coldly. Dick nodded absently from the other side of the
room. Viviette, with a sweeping glance of defiance at the assembled
family, held herself very erect, and with hard eyes and quivering lips
came straight to the young fellow.
"Lord Banstead," she said. "You have asked me four times to marry you.
Did you mean it, or were you lying, too?"
Banstead's pallid cheeks flushed. He was overcome with confusion.
"Of course I mean it--meant to ask you again to-day--ask you now."
"Then I will marry you."
Dick strode forward, and, catching her by the wrist, swung her away from
Banstead, his face aflame with sudden passion.
"No, by God, you shan't!"
Banstead retreated a few paces, scared out of his life. Mrs. Ware sought
Austin's protecting arm.
"What does all this mean? I don't understand it."
Austin led her to the door. "I'll see nothing unpleasant happens, dear.
You had better go and tell them to keep back dinner yet a few minutes."
His voice and authority soothed her, and she left the room, casting a
terrified glance at Dick, standing threateningly over Lord Banstead, who
had muttered something about Viviette being free to do as she liked.
"She can do what she likes, but, by God! she shan't marry you."
"I'm of age," declared Viviette fiercely. "I marry whom I choose."
"Of course she can," said Banstead. "Are you taking leave of your
"How dare you ask a pure girl to marry you?" cried Dick furiously. "You,
who have come straight here from--"
Banstead found some spirit. "Shut up, Ware," he interrupted. "Play the
game. You've no right to say that."
"I have the right," cried Dick.
"Hush!" said Austin, interposing.
"There's no need to prolong this painful discussion. To-morrow--as
"To-morrow?" Dick shouted. "Where shall I be to-morrow? Away from
here--unable to defend her--unable to say a word."
"If you said a thousand words," said Viviette, "they wouldn't make an
atom of difference. Lord Banstead has asked me to marry him. I have
accepted him openly. What dare you say to it?"
"Yes," said Banstead. "She has made no bones about it. I've asked her
five times. Now she accepts me. What have you to say to it?"
"I say she shan't marry you," said Dick, glaring at the other.
"Steady, steady, Dick," said Austin warningly. But Dick shook his
warning angrily aside, and Austin saw that, once again that day, Dick
"Not while I live shall she marry you. Don't I know your infernal
"Now, look here," said Banstead, at bay. "What the deuce have you got to
do with my affairs?"
"Everything. Do you think she loves you, cares for you, honours you,
Viviette faced him with blazing eyes.
"I do," she said defiantly.
"It's a lie," cried Dick. "It's you that are lying now. Heaven and
earth! I've suffered enough to-day--I thought I had been through
hell--but it's nothing to this. She loves me--do you hear
me?--me--me--me--and I can't marry her--and I don't care a damn who
knows the reason."
"Stop, man," said Austin.
"Let me be. She shall know the truth. Everyone shall know the truth. At
any rate, it will save her from this."
"I will do it quietly, later, Dick."
"Let me be, I tell you," said Dick, with great, clumsy, passionate
gesture. "Let's have no more lies." He turned to Viviette. "You wrote me
a letter. You said you loved me--would marry me--come out to
Vancouver--the words made me drunk with happiness--at first. You saw me.
I refused your love and your offer. I said I didn't love you. I lied. I
said I couldn't marry you. It was the truth. I can't. I can't. But love
you! Oh, my God! My God! There were flames of hell in my heart--but
couldn't you see the love shining through?"
"Don't, Dick, don't," cried Katherine.
"I will," he exclaimed wildly. "I'll tell her why I can't marry any
woman. I tried to murder Austin this afternoon!"
Katherine closed her eyes. She had guessed it. But Viviette, with parted
lips and white cheeks, groped her way backwards to a chair, without
shifting her terror-stricken gaze from Dick; and sitting, she gripped
the arms of the chair.
There was a moment of tense silence. Banstead at last relieved his
feelings with a gasping, "Well, I'm damned!"
"It was jealousy--mad jealousy--this afternoon--in the armoury--the mock
duel--one of the pistols was loaded. I loaded it--first, in order to
kill him out of hand--then I thought of the duel--he would have his
chance--either he would kill me or I would kill him. Mine happened to be
loaded. It missed fire. It was only the infinite mercy of God that I
didn't kill him. He found it out. He has forgiven me. He's worth fifty
millions of me. But my hands are red with his blood, and I can't touch
your pure garments. They would stain them red--and I should see red
again before my eyes some day. A man like me is not fit to marry any
woman. A murderer is beyond the pale. So I said I didn't love her to
save her from the knowledge of this horror. And now I'm going to the
other side of the world to work out my salvation--but she shall know
that a man loves her with all his soul, and would go through any torment
and renunciation for her sake--and, knowing that, she can't go and throw
herself away on a man unworthy of her. After what I've told you, will
you marry this man?"
Still looking at him, motionless, she whispered, "No."
"I say!" exclaimed Banstead. "I think--"
Austin checked further speech. Dick looked haggardly round the room.
"There. Now you all know. I'm not fit to be under the same roof with
He slouched in his heavy way to the door, but Viviette sprang from her
chair and planted herself in his path.
"No. You shan't go. Do you think I have nothing to say?"
"Say what you like," said Dick sadly. "Nothing is too black for me.
Curse me, if you will."
She laughed, and shook her head. "Do you think a woman curses the man
who would commit murder for the love of her?" she cried, with a strange
exultation in her voice. "If I loved you before--don't you think I love
you now a million times more?"
Dick fell back, thrilled with amazement.
"You love me still?" he gasped. "You don't shrink--"
"Excuse me," interrupted Banstead, crossing the room. "Does this mean
that you chuck me, Miss Hastings?"
"You must release me from my promise, Lord Banstead," she said gently.
"I scarcely knew what I was doing. I'm very sorry. I've not behaved
well to you."
"You've treated me damned badly," said Banstead, turning on his heel.
Austin, moved by compunction, tried to conciliate the angry youth, but
he refused comfort. He had been made a fool of, and would stand that
from nobody. He would not stay for dinner, and would not put his foot
inside the house again.
"At any rate," said Austin, bidding him good-bye, "I can rely on you not
to breathe a word to anyone of what you've heard this evening?"
Banstead fingered his underfed moustache.
"I may be pretty rotten, but I'm not that kind of cad," said he. And he
went, not without a certain dignity.
Dick took Viviette's hand and kissed it tenderly.
"God bless you, dear. I'll remember what you've said all my life. I can
go away almost happy."
"You can go away quite happy, if you like," said Viviette. "Take me with
Austin joined them. "It is impossible, dear," said he.
"I go with him to Vancouver," she said.
Dick wrung his hands. "But I daren't marry you, Viviette, I daren't, I
"Don't you see that it's impossible, Viviette?" said Austin.
"I've explained it to Dick. He has hinted it to you. You're scarcely old
enough to understand, my dear. It is the risk you run."
"Such men as I can't marry," said Dick loyally. "You don't understand.
Austin is right. The risk is too great."
She laughed in superb contempt.
"The risk? Do you think I'm such a fool as not to understand? Do you
think, after what I've said, that I'm a child? Risk? What is life or
love worth without risk? When a woman loves a fierce man she takes the
risk of his fierceness. It's her joy. I'll take the risk, and it will be
a bond between us."
Austin implored her to listen to reason. She swept his arguments aside.
"God forbid. I'll listen to love," she cried. "And if ever a man wanted
love, it's Dick. Reason! Come, Dick, let us leave this god and goddess
of reason alone. I've got something to say which only you can hear."
She dragged him in a bewildered state of mind to the door, which she
held open. She was absolute mistress of the situation. She motioned to
Dick to precede her, and he obeyed, like a man in a dream. On the
threshold she paused, and flashed defiance at Austin, who appeared to
her splendid scorn but a small, narrow-natured man.
[Illustration: "I want you to love me forever and ever."]
"You can say and think what you like, you two. You are civilised
people--and I suppose you love in a civilised way according to reason.
I'm a primitive woman, and Dick's a primitive man--and, thank God! we
understand each other, and love each other as primitive people do."
She slammed the door, and in another moment was caught in Dick's great
"What do you want to say that only I can hear?" he asked after a while.
"This," she said. "I want you to love me strongly and fiercely for ever
and ever--and I'll be a great wife to you--and, if I fail--if I am ever
wanton, as I have been to-day--for I have been wanton--and all that has
happened has been my fault--if ever I play fast and loose with your love
again--I want you to kill me. Promise!"
She looked at him with glowing eyes. All the big man's heart melted
into adoring pity. He took her face in both his hands as tenderly as he
would have touched a prize rose bloom.
"Thank God, you're still a child, dear," he said.