Part 5 out of 5
Thresk asked himself in vain what was his share. He had done a cowardly
thing years ago a few miles from this spot. He had never ceased to
reproach himself for the cowardice. But that it had lived and worked like
some secret malady until in the end it had made him an all-unconscious
accomplice in that midnight tragedy, a sharer in its guilt, if guilt
there were--here again was news for him. But the knowledge which her
first words had given to him, that all these years he had never got the
truth of her, kept him humble now. He ceased to be judge. He became pupil
and as pupil he answered her.
"I am ready to shoulder it."
He was seated on a cushioned bench which stood behind the writing-table
and Stella sat down at his side.
"When we parted--that morning--it was in the drawing-room over there in
my cottage. We parted, you to your work of getting on, Henry, I to think
of you getting on without me at your side. There was a letter lying on
the table, a letter from India. Jane Repton had written it and she asked
me to go out to her for the cold weather. I went. I was a young girl,
lonely and very unhappy, and as young girls often do who are lonely and
very unhappy I drifted into marriage."
"I see," said Thresk in a hushed voice. The terrible conviction grew upon
him now, lurid as the breaking of a day of storm, that the cowardice he
had shown on Bignor Hill ruined her altogether and hurt him not at all.
"Yes, I see. There my share begins."
"Oh no. Not yet," she answered. "Then I spoke when I should have kept
silence. I let my heart go out when I should have guarded it. No, I
cannot blame you."
"You have the right none the less."
But Stella would not excuse herself now and to him by any subtlety
"No: I married. That was my affair. I was
beaten--despised--ridiculed--terrified by a husband who drank secretly
and kept all his drunkenness for me. That, too, was my affair. But I
might have gone on. For seven years it had lasted. I was settling into a
dull habit of misery. I might have gone on being bullied and tortured had
not one little thing happened to push me over the precipice."
"And what was that?" asked Thresk.
"Your visit to me at Chitipur," she replied, and the words took his
breath away. Why, he had travelled to Chitipur merely to save her. He
leaned forward eagerly but she anticipated him. She smiled at him with an
indulgent forgiveness. "Oh, why did you come? But I know."
"Do you?" Thresk asked. Here at all events she was wrong.
"Yes. You came because of that one weak soft spot of sentimentalism there
is in all of you, the strongest, the hardest. You are strong for years.
You live alone for years. Then comes the sentimental moment and it's we
who suffer, not you."
And deep in Thresk's mind was the terror of the mistakes people make in
ignorance of each other, and of the mortal hurt the mistakes inflict. He
had misread Stella. Here was she misreading him and misreading him in
some strange way to her peril and ruin.
"You are sure of that?" he asked. She had no doubt--no more doubt than he
had had of the reason why she stood preparing her rifle.
"Quite," she answered. "You had heard of me in Bombay and it came over
you that you would like to see how the woman you had loved looked after
all these years: whether she retained her pretty way, whether she missed
you--ah, above all, whether she missed you. You wanted to fan up into a
mild harmless flame the ashes of an old romance, warm your hands at it
for half an hour, recapture a savour of dim and pleasant memories and
then go back to your own place and your own work, untouched and unhurt."
Thresk laughed aloud with bitterness at the mistake she had made. Yet he
could not blame her. There was a certain shrewd insight which though it
had led her astray in this case might well have been true in any other
case, might well have been true of him. He remembered her disbelief in
all that he had said to her in that tent at Chitipur; and he was appalled
by the irony of things and the blind and feeble helplessness of men to
"So that's why I came to Chitipur?" he cried.
"Yes," Stella answered without a second of hesitation. "But I couldn't be
left untouched and unhurt. You came and all that I had lost came with
you, came in a vivid rush of bright intolerable memories." She clasped
her hands over her eyes and Thresk lived over again that evening in the
tent upon the desert, but with a new understanding. His mind was
illumined. He saw the world as a prison in which each living being is
shut off from his neighbour by the impenetrable wall of an inability to
"Memories of summers here," she resumed, "of women friends, of dainty and
comfortable things, and days of great happiness when it was good--oh so
very good!--to be alive and young. And you were going back to it all,
straight by the night-mail to Bombay, straight from the station on board
your ship. Oh, how it hurt to hear you speak of it, with a casual
pleasant word about exile and next-door neighbours!" She clasped her
hands together in front of her, her fingers worked and twisted. "No, I
couldn't endure it," she whispered. "The blows, the ridicule, the
contempt, I determined, should come to an end that night, and when you
saw me with the rifle in my hand I was going to end it."
"And then the stupidest thing happened. I couldn't find the little box
Stella described to him how she had run hither and thither about the
tent, opening drawers, looking into bags and growing more nervous and
more flurried with every second that passed. She had so little time.
Ballantyne was not going as far as the station with Thresk. He merely
intended to see his visitor off beyond the edge of the camp. And it must
all be over and done with before he came back. She heard Ballantyne call
to Thresk to sit firm while the camel rose; and still she had not found
them. She heard Thresk's voice saying good-night.
"The last words, Henry, I wanted to hear in the world. I thought that I
would wait for them and the moment they had died away--then. But I hadn't
found the cartridges and so the search began again."
Thresk, watching her as she lived through again those desperate minutes,
was carried back to Chitipur and seemed to be looking into that tent. He
had a dreadful picture before his eyes of a hunted woman rushing wildly
from table to table, with a white, quivering face and lips which babbled
incoherently and feverish hands which darted out nervously, over-setting
books and ornaments--in a vain search for a box of cartridges wherewith
to kill herself. She found them at last behind the whisky bottle, and
clutched at them with a great sigh of relief. She carried them over to
the table on which she had laid her rifle, and as she pushed one into
the breech, Stephen Ballantyne stood in the doorway of the tent.
"He swore at me," Stella continued. "I had taken the necklace off. I had
shown you the bruises on my throat. He cursed me for it, and he asked me
roughly why I didn't shoot myself and rid him of a fool. I stood without
answering him. That always maddened him. I didn't do it on purpose. I had
become dull and slow. I just stood and looked at him stupidly, and in a
fury he ran at me with his fist raised. I recoiled, he frightened me, and
then before he reached me--yes." Her voice died away in a whisper. Thresk
did not interrupt. There was more for her to tell and one dreadful
incident to explain. Stella went on in a moment, looking straight in
front of her and with all the passion of fear gone from her voice.
"I remember that he stood and stared at me foolishly for a little while.
I had time to believe that nothing had happened, and to be glad that
nothing had happened and to be terrified of what he would do to me. And
then he fell and lay quite still."
It seemed that she had no more to say, that she meant to leave
unexplained the inexplicable thing; and even Thresk put it out of
"It was an accident then," he cried. "After all, Stella, it was an
But Stella sat mutely at his side. Some struggle was taking place in her
and was reflected in her countenance. Thresk's eager joy was damped.
"No, my friend," she said at length, slowly and very deliberately. "It
was not an accident."
"But you fired in fear." Thresk caught now at that alternative. "You shot
in self-defence. Stella, I blundered at Bombay." He moved away from her
in his agitation. "I am sorry. Oh, I am very sorry. I should never have
come forward at all. I should have lain quiet and let your counsel
develop his case, as he was doing, on the line of self-defence. You would
have been acquitted--and rightly acquitted. You would have had the
sympathy of every one. But I didn't know your story. I was afraid that
the discovery of Ballantyne outside the tent would ruin you. I knew that
my story could not fail to save you. So I told it. But I was wrong,
Stella. I blundered. I did you a great harm."
He was standing before her now and so poignant an anguish rang in his
voice that Stella was moved by it to discard her plans. Thus she had
meant to tell the story if ever she was driven to it. Thus she had told
it. But now she put out a timid hand and took him by the arm.
"I said I would tell you the truth. But I have not told it all. It's so
hard not to keep one little last thing back. Listen to me"; and with a
bowed head and her hand still clinging desperately to his arm she made
the final revelation.
"It's true I was crazy with fear. But there was just one little moment
when I knew what I was going to do, when it came upon me that the way I
had chosen before was the wrong one, and this new way the right one. No,
no," she cried as Thresk moved. "Even that's not all. That moment--you
could hardly measure it in time, yet to me it was distinct enough and is
marked distinctly in my memories, for during it _he_ drew back."
"What?" cried Thresk. "Don't say it, Stella!"
"Yes," she answered. "During it he drew back, knowing what I was going to
do just as I suddenly knew it. It was a moment when he seemed to me to
bleat--yes, that's the word--to bleat for mercy."
She had told the truth now and she dropped her hand from his sleeve.
"And you? What did you do?" asked Thresk.
"I? Oh, I went mad, I think. When I saw him lying there I lost my head.
The tent was flecked with great spots of fire which whirled in front of
my eyes and hurt. A strength far greater than mine possessed me. I was
crazy. I dragged him out of the tent for no reason--that's the truth--for
no reason at all. Can you believe that?"
"Yes," replied Thresk readily enough. "I can well believe that."
"Then something broke," she resumed. "I felt weak and numbed. I dragged
myself to my room. I went to bed. Does that sound very horrible to you?
I had one clear thought only. It was over. It was all over. I slept."
She leaned back in her chair, her hands dropped to her side, her eyes
closed. "Yes I did actually sleep."
A clock ticking upon the mantelshelf seemed to grow louder and louder in
the silence of the library. The sound of it forced itself upon Thresk. It
roused Stella. She opened her eyes. In front of her Thresk was standing,
his face grave and very pitiful.
"Now answer me truly," said Stella, and leaning forward she fixed her
eyes upon him. "If you still loved me, would you, knowing this story,
refuse to marry me?"
Thresk looked back across the years of her unhappy life and saw her as
the sport of a malicious destiny.
"No," he said, "I should not."
"Then why shouldn't Dick marry me?"
"Because he doesn't know this story."
Stella nodded her head.
"Yes. There's the flaw in my appeal to you, I know. You are quite right.
I should have told him. I should tell him now," and suddenly she dropped
on her knees before Thresk, the tears burst from her eyes, and in a voice
broken with passion she cried:
"But I daren't--not yet. I have tried to--oh, more than once. Believe
that, Henry! You must believe it! But I couldn't. I hadn't the courage.
You will give me a little time, won't you? Oh, not long. I will tell him
of my own free will--very soon, Henry. But not now--not now."
The sound of her sobbing and the sight of her distress wrung Thresk's
heart. He lifted her from the ground and held her.
"There's another way, Stella," he said gently.
"Oh, I know," she answered. She was thinking of the little bottle with
the tablets of veronal which stood by her bed, not for the first time
that night. She did not stop to consider whether Thresk, too, had that
way in his mind. It came to her so naturally; it was so easy, so simple a
way. She never thought that she misunderstood. She had come to the end of
the struggle; the battle had gone against her; she recognised it; and
now, without complaint, she bowed her head for the final blow. The
inherited habit of submission taught her that the moment had come for
compliance and gave her the dignity of patience. "Yes, I suppose that I
must take that way," she said, and she walked towards the chair over
which she had thrown her wrap. "Good-night, Henry."
But before she had thrown the cloak about her shoulders Thresk stood
between her and the window. He took the cloak from her hands.
"There have been too many mistakes, Stella, between you and me. There
must be no more. Here are we--until to-night strangers, and because we
were strangers, and never knew it, spoiling each other's lives."
Stella looked at him in bewilderment. She had taught Thresk that night
unimagined truths about herself. She was now to learn something of the
inner secret man which the outward trappings of success concealed. He led
her to a sofa and placed her at his side.
"You have said a good many hard things to me, Stella," he said with a
smile--"most of them true, but some untrue. And the untrue things you
wouldn't have said if you had ever chanced to ask yourself one question:
why I really missed my steamer at Bombay."
Stella Ballantyne was startled. She made a guess but faltered in the
utterance of it, so ill it fitted with her estimate of him.
"You missed it on purpose?"
"Yes. I didn't come to Chitipur on any sentimental journey"; and he told
how he had seen her portrait in Jane Repton's drawing-room and learnt of
the misery of her marriage.
"I came to fetch you away."
And again Stella stared at him.
"You? You pitied me so much? Oh, Henry!"
"No. I wanted you so much. It's quite true that I sacrificed everything
for success. I don't deny that it is well worth having. But Jane Repton
said something to me in Bombay so true--you can get whatever you want if
you want it enough, but you cannot control the price you will have to
pay. I know, my dear, that I paid too big a price. I trampled down
something better worth having."
Stella rose suddenly to her feet.
"Oh, if I had known that on the night in Chitipur! What a difference it
would have made!" She turned swiftly to him. "Couldn't you have told me?"
"I hadn't a chance. I hadn't five minutes with you alone. And you
wouldn't have believed me if I had had the chance. I left my pipe behind
me in order to come back and tell you. I had only the time then to tell
you that I would write."
"Yes, yes," she answered, and again the cry burst from her: "What a
difference it would have made! Merely to have known that you really
She would never have taken that rifle from the corner and searched for
the cartridges, that she might kill herself! Whether she had consented or
not to go away and ruin Thresk's future she would have had a little faith
wherewith to go on and face the world. If she had only known! But up on
the top of Bignor Hill a blow had been struck under which her faith had
reeled and it had never had a chance of recovery. She laughed harshly.
The heart of her tragedy was now revealed to her. She saw herself the
sport of gods who sat about like cruel louts torturing a helpless animal
and laughing stupidly at its sufferings. She turned again to Thresk and
held out her hand.
"Thank you. You would have ruined yourself for me."
"Ruin's a large word," he answered, and still holding her hand he drew
her down again. She yielded reluctantly. She might misread his character,
but when the feelings and emotions were aroused she had the unerring
insight of her sex. She was warned by it now. She looked at Thresk with
"Why have you told me all this?" she asked in suspense, ready for flight.
"I want to prepare you. There's a way out of the trouble--the honest way
for both of us: to make a clean breast of it together and together take
She was on her feet and away from him in a second.
"No, no," she cried in alarm, and Thresk mistook the cause of the alarm.
"You can't be tried again, Stella. That's over. You have been acquitted."
"I?" and he shrugged his shoulders. "I take the consequences. I doubt if
they would be so very heavy. There would be some sympathy. And
afterwards--it would be as though you had slipped down from Chitipur to
Bombay and joined me as I had planned. We can make the best of our lives
There was so much sincerity in his manner, so much simplicity she could
not doubt him; and the immensity of the sacrifice he was prepared to make
overwhelmed her. It was not merely scandal and the Divorce Court which he
was ready to brave now. He had gone beyond the plan contemplated at
Bombay. He was willing to go hand in hand with her into the outer
darkness, laying down all that he had laboured for unsparingly.
"You would do that for me?" she said. "Oh, you put me to shame!" and she
covered her face with her hands.
"You give up your struggle for a footing in the world--that's what you
want, isn't it?" He pleaded, and she drew her hands away from her face.
He believed that? He imagined that she was fighting just for a name, a
position in the world? She stared at him in amazement, and forced herself
to understand. Since he himself had cared for her enough to remain
unmarried, since the knowledge of the mistake which he had made had grown
more bitter with each year, he had fallen easily into that other error
that she had never ceased to care too.
"We'll make something of our lives, never fear," he was saying. "But to
marry this man for his position, and he not knowing--oh, my dear, I know
how you are driven--but it won't do! It won't do!"
She stood in silence for a little while. One by one he had torn her
defences down. She could hardly bear the gentleness upon his face and
she turned away from him and sat down upon a chair a little way off.
"Stand there, Henry," she said. A strange composure had succeeded her
agitation. "I must tell you something more which I had meant to hide
from you--the last thing which I have kept back. It will hurt you, I
There came a change upon Thresk's face. He was steeling himself to
meet a blow.
"It isn't because of his position that I cling to Dick. I want him to
keep that--yes--for his sake. I don't want him to lose more by marrying
me than he needs must"; and comprehension burst upon Henry Thresk.
"You care for him then! You really care for him?"
"So much," she answered, "that if I lost him now I should lose all the
world. You and I can't go back to where we stood nine years ago. You had
your chance then, Henry, if you had wished to take it. But you didn't
wish it, and that sort of chance doesn't often come again. Others like
it--yes. But not quite the same one. I am sorry. But you must believe me.
If I lost Dick I should lose all the world."
So far she had spoken very deliberately, but now her voice faltered.
"That is my one poor excuse."
The unexpected word roused Thresk to inquiry.
"Excuse?" he asked, and with her eyes fixed in fear upon him she
"Yes. I meant Dick to marry me publicly. But I saw that his father shrank
from the marriage. I grew afraid. I told Dick of my fears. He banished
them. I let him banish them."
"What do you mean?" Thresk asked.
"We were married privately in London five days ago."
Thresk uttered a low cry and in a moment Stella was at his side, all her
"Oh, I know that it was wrong. But I was being hunted. They were all like
a pack of wolves after me. Mr. Hazlewood had joined them. I was driven
into a corner. I loved Dick. They meant to tear him from me without any
pity. I clung. Yes, I clung."
But Thresk thrust her aside.
"You tricked him," he cried.
"I didn't dare to tell him," Stella pleaded, wringing her hands. "I
didn't dare to lose him."
"You tricked him," Thresk repeated; and at the note of anger in his voice
Stella found herself again.
"You accuse and condemn me?" she asked quietly.
"Yes. A thousand times, yes," he exclaimed hotly, and she answered with
another question winged on a note of irony:
"Because I tricked him? Or because I--married him?"
Thresk was silenced. He recognised the truth implied in the distinction,
he turned to her with a smile.
"Yes," he answered. "You are right, Stella. It's because you
He stood for a moment in thought. Then with a gesture of helplessness he
picked up her cloak. She watched his action and as he came towards her
"But I'll tell him now, Henry." In a way she owed it to this man who
cared for her so much, who was so prepared for sacrifice, if sacrifice
could help. That morning on the downs was swept from her memory now.
"Yes, I'll tell him now," she said eagerly. Since Henry Thresk set
such store upon that confession, why so very likely would Dick, her
But Thresk shook his head.
"What's the use now? You give him no chance. You can't set him free"; and
Stella was as one turned to stone. All argument seemed sooner or later to
turn to that one dread alternative which had already twice that night
forced itself on her acceptance.
"Yes, I can, Henry, and I will, I promise you, if he wishes to be free. I
can do it quite easily, quite naturally. Any woman could. So many of us
take things to make us sleep."
There was no boastfulness in her voice or manner, but rather a despairing
recognition of facts.
"Good God, you mustn't think of it!" said Thresk eagerly. "That's too
big a price to pay."
Stella shook her head wistfully.
"You hear it said, Henry," she answered with an indescribable
wistfulness, "that women will do anything to keep the men they love.
They'll do a great deal--I am an example--but not always everything.
Sometimes love runs just a little stronger. And then it craves that the
loved one shall get all he wants to have. If Dick wants his freedom I
too, then, shall want him to have it."
And while Thresk stood with no words to answer her there came a knocking
upon the door. It was gentle, almost furtive, but it startled them both
like a clap of thunder. For a moment they stood rigid. Then Thresk
silently handed Stella her cloak and pointed towards the window. He
began to speak aloud. A word or two revealed his plan to Stella
Ballantyne. He was rehearsing a speech which he was to make in the
Courts before a jury. But the handle of the door rattled and now old Mr.
Hazlewood's voice was heard.
"Thresk! Are you there?"
Once more Thresk pointed to the window. But Stella did not move.
"Let him in," she said quietly, and with a glance at her he
unlocked the door.
Mr. Hazlewood stood outside. He had not gone to bed that night. He had
taken off his coat and now wore a smoking-jacket.
"I knew that I should not sleep to-night, so I sat up," he began, "and I
thought that I heard voices here."
Over Thresk's shoulder he saw Stella Ballantyne standing erect in the
middle of the room, her shining gown the one bright patch of colour. "You
here?" he cried to her, and Thresk made way for him to enter. He advanced
to her with a look of triumph in his eyes.
"You here--at this house--with Thresk? You were persuading him to
continue to hold his tongue."
Stella met his gaze steadily.
"No," she replied. "He was persuading me to the truth, and he has
Mr. Hazlewood smiled and nodded. There was no magnanimity in his triumph.
A schoolboy would have shown more chivalry to the opponent who was down.
"You confess then? Good! Richard must be told."
"Yes," answered Stella. "I claim the right to tell him."
But Mr. Hazlewood scoffed at the proposal.
"Oh dear no!" he cried. "I refuse the claim. I shall go straight to
He had actually taken a couple of steps towards the door before Stella's
voice rang out suddenly loud and imperative.
"Take care, Mr. Hazlewood. After you have told him he will come to me.
Hazlewood stopped. Certainly that was true.
"I'll tell Dick to-morrow, here, in your presence," she said. "And if he
wishes it I'll set him free and never trouble either of you again."
Hazlewood looked at Thresk and was persuaded to consent. Reflection
showed him that it was the better plan. He himself would be present when
Stella spoke. He would see that the truth was told without embroidery.
"Very well, to-morrow," he said.
Stella flung the cloak over her shoulders and went up to the window.
Thresk opened it for her.
"I'll see you to your door," he said.
The moon had risen now. It hung low with the branches of a tree like a
lattice across its face; and on the garden and the meadow lay that
unearthly light which falls when a moonlit night begins to drown in the
onrush of the dawn.
"No," she said. "I would rather go alone. But do something for me, will
you? Stay to-morrow. Be here when I tell him." She choked down a sob.
"Oh, I shall want a friend and you are so kind."
"So kind!" he repeated with a note of bitterness. Could there be praise
from a woman's lips more deadly? You are kind; you are put in your place
in the ruck of men; you are extinguished.
"Oh yes, I'll stay."
She stood for a moment on the stone flags outside the window.
"Will he forgive?" she asked. "You would. And he is not so very young, is
he? It's the young who don't forgive. Good-night."
She went along the path and across the meadow. Thresk watched her go and
saw the light spring up in her room. Then he closed the window and drew
the curtain. Mr. Hazlewood had gone. Thresk wondered what the morrow
would bring. After all, Stella was right. Youth was a graceful thing of
high-sounding words and impetuous thoughts, but like many other graceful
things it could be hard and cruel. Its generosity did not come from any
wide outlook on a world where there is a good deal to be said for
everything. It was rather a matter of physical health than judgment. Yes,
he was glad Dick Hazlewood was half his way through the thirties. For
himself--well, he knew his business. It was to be kind. He turned off the
lights and went to bed.
"Six, seven, eight," said Mr. Hazlewood, counting the letters which he
had already written since breakfast and placing them on the salver which
Hubbard was holding out to him. He was a very different man this morning
from the Mr. Hazlewood of yesterday. He shone, complacent and serene. He
leaned back in his chair and gazed mildly at the butler. "There must be
an answer to the problem which I put to you, Hubbard."
Hubbard wrinkled his brows in thought and succeeded only in looking a
hundred and ten years old. He had the melancholy look of a moulting bird.
He shook his head and drooped.
"No doubt, sir," he said.
"But as far as you are concerned," Mr. Hazlewood continued briskly, "you
can throw no light upon it?"
"Not a glimmer, sir."
Mr. Hazlewood was disappointed and with him disappointment was petulance.
"That is unlike you, Hubbard," he said, "for sometimes after I have been
deliberating for days over some curious and perplexing conundrum, you
have solved it the moment it has been put to you."
Hubbard drooped still lower. He began the droop as a bow of
acknowledgment but forgot to raise his head again.
"It is very good of you, sir," he said. He seemed oppressed by the
goodness of Mr. Hazlewood.
"Yet you are not clever, Hubbard! Not at all clever."
"No, sir. I know my place," returned the butler, and Mr. Hazlewood
continued with a little envy.
"You must have some wonderful gift of insight which guides you straight
to the inner meaning of things."
"It's just common-sense, sir," said Hubbard.
"But I haven't got it," cried Mr. Hazlewood. "How's that?"
"You don't need it, sir. You are a gentleman," Hubbard replied, and
carried the letters to the door. There, however, he stopped. "I beg your
pardon, sir," he said, "but a new parcel of _The Prison Walls_ has
arrived this morning. Shall I unpack it?"
Mr. Hazlewood frowned and scratched his ear.
"Well--er--no, Hubbard--no," he said with a trifle of discomfort. "I am
not sure indeed that _The Prison Walls_ is not almost one of my mistakes.
We all make mistakes, Hubbard. I think you shall burn that parcel,
Hubbard--somewhere where it won't be noticed."
"Certainly, sir," said Hubbard. "I'll burn it under the shadow of the
Mr. Hazlewood looked up with a start. Was it possible that Hubbard was
poking fun at him? The mere notion was incredible and indeed Hubbard
shuffled with so much meekness from the room that Mr. Hazlewood dismissed
it. He went across the hall to the dining-room, where he found Henry
Thresk trifling with his breakfast. No embarrassment weighed upon Mr.
Hazlewood this morning. He effervesced with good-humour.
"I do not blame you, Mr. Thresk," he said, "for the side you took
yesterday afternoon. You were a stranger to us in this house. I
understand your position."
"I am not quite so sure, Mr. Hazlewood," said Thresk drily, "that I
understand yours. For my part I have not closed my eyes all night. You,
on the other hand, seem to have slept well."
"I did indeed," said Hazlewood. "I was relieved from a strain of
suspense under which I have been labouring for a month past. To have
refused my consent to Richard's marriage with Stella Ballantyne on no
other grounds than that social prejudice forbade it would have seemed
a complete, a stupendous reversal of my whole theory and conduct of
life. I should have become an object of ridicule. People would have
laughed at the philosopher of Little Beeding. I have heard their
laughter all this month. Now, however, once the truth is known no one
will be able to say--"
Henry Thresk looked up from his plate aghast.
"Do you mean to say, Mr. Hazlewood, that after Mrs. Ballantyne has told
her story you mean to make that story public?"
Mr. Hazlewood stared in amazement at Henry Thresk.
"But of course," he said.
"Oh, you can't be thinking of it!"
"But I am. I must do it. There is so much at stake," replied Hazlewood.
"The whole consistency of my life. I must make it clear that I am not
acting upon prejudice or suspicion or fear of what the world will say or
for any of the conventional reasons which might guide other men."
To Thresk this point of view was horrible; and there was no arguing
against it. It was inspired by the dreadful vanity of a narrow, shallow
nature, and Thresk's experience had never shown him anything more
difficult to combat and overcome.
"So for the sake of your reputation for consistency you will make a very
unhappy woman bear shame and obloquy which she might easily be spared?
You could find a thousand excuses for breaking off the marriage."
"You put the case very harshly, Mr. Thresk," said Hazlewood. "But
you have not considered my position," and he went indignantly back
to the library.
Thresk shrugged his shoulders. After all if Dick Hazlewood turned his
back upon Stella she would not hear the abuse or suffer the shame. That
she would take the dark journey as she declared he could not doubt. And
no one could prevent her--not even he himself, though his heart might
break at her taking it. All depended upon Dick.
He appeared a few minutes afterwards fresh from his ride, glowing with
good-humour and contentment. But the sight of Thresk surprised him.
"Hulloa," he cried. "Good-morning. I thought you were going to catch the
"I felt lazy," answered Thresk. "I sent off some telegrams to put off my
"Good," said Dick, and he sat down at the breakfast-table. As he poured
out a cup of tea, Thresk said:
"I think I heard you were over thirty."
"Thirty's a good age," said Thresk.
"It looks back on youth," answered Dick.
"That's just what I mean," remarked Thresk. "Do you mind a cigarette?"
"Not at all."
Thresk smoked and while he smoked he talked, not carelessly yet careful
not to emphasize his case. "Youth is a graceful thing of high-sounding
words and impetuous thoughts, but like many other graceful things it can
be very hard and very cruel."
Dick Hazlewood looked closely and quickly at his companion. But he
"It is supposed to be generous."
"And it is--to itself," replied Thresk. "Generous when its sympathies are
enlisted, generous so long as all goes well with it: generous because it
is confident of triumph. But its generosity is not a matter of judgment.
It does not come from any wide outlook upon a world where there is a good
deal to be said for everything. It is a matter of physical health."
"Yes?" said Dick.
"And once affronted, once hurt, youth finds it difficult to forgive."
So far both men had been debating on an abstract topic without any
immediate application to themselves. But now Dick leaned across the table
with a smile upon his face which Thresk did not understand.
"And why do you say this to me this morning, Mr. Thresk?" he asked
"Yes, it's rather an impertinence, isn't it?" Thresk agreed. "But I was
looking into a case late last night in which irrevocable and terrible
things are going to happen if there is not forgiveness."
Dick took his cigarette-case from his pocket.
"I see," he remarked, and struck a match. Both men rose from the table
and at the door Dick turned.
"Your case, of course, has not yet come on," he said.
"No," answered Thresk, "but it will very soon."
They went into the library, and Mr. Hazlewood greeted his son with a
vivacity which for weeks had been absent from his demeanour.
"Did you ride this morning?" he asked.
"Yes, but Stella didn't. She sent word over that she was tired. I must go
across and see how she is."
Mr. Hazlewood interposed quickly:
"There is no need of that, my boy; she is coming here this morning."
Dick looked at his father in astonishment.
"She said no word of it to me last night--and I saw her home. I suppose
she sent word over about that too?"
He looked from one to the other of his companions, but neither answered
him. Some uneasiness indeed was apparent in them both.
"Oho!" he said with a smile. "Stella's coming over and I know
nothing of it. Mr. Thresk's lazy, so remains at Little Beeding and
delivers a lecture to me over breakfast. And you, father, seem in
Mr. Hazlewood seized upon the opportunity to interrupt his son's
"I am, my boy," he cried. "I walked in the fields this morning
and--" But he got no further with his explanations, for the sound of Mrs.
Pettifer's voice rang high in the hall and she burst into the room.
"Harold, I have only a moment. Good morning, Mr. Thresk," she cried in a
breath. "I have something to say to you."
Thresk was disturbed. Suppose that Stella came while Mrs. Pettifer was
here! She must not speak in Mrs. Pettifer's presence. Somehow Mrs.
Pettifer must be dismissed. No such anxiety, however, harassed Mr.
"Say it, Margaret," he said, smiling benignantly upon her. "You cannot
annoy me this morning. I am myself again," and Dick's eyes turned sharply
upon him. "All my old powers of observation have returned, my old
interest in the great dark riddle of human life has re-awakened. The
brain, the sedulous, active brain, resumes its work to-day asking
questions, probing problems. I rose early, Margaret," he flourished his
hands like one making a speech, "and walking in the fields amongst the
cows a most curious speculation forced itself upon my mind. How is it, I
It seemed that Mr. Hazlewood was destined never to complete a sentence
that morning, for Margaret Pettifer at this point banged her umbrella
upon the floor.
"Stop talking, Harold, and listen to me! I have been speaking with Robert
and we withdraw all opposition to Dick's marriage."
Mr. Hazlewood was dumfoundered.
"You, Margaret--you of all people!" he stammered.
"Yes," she replied decisively. "Robert likes her and Robert is a good
judge of a woman. That's one thing. Then I believe Dick is going to take
St. Quentins; isn't that so, Dick?"
"Yes," answered Dick. "That's the house we looked over yesterday."
"Well, it's not a couple of a hundred yards from us, and it would not be
comfortable for any of us if Dick and Dick's wife were strangers. So I
give in. There, Dick!" She went across the room and held out her hand to
him. "I am going to call on Stella this afternoon."
Dick flushed with pleasure.
"That's splendid, Aunt Margaret. I knew you were all right, you know. You
put on a few frills at first, of course, but you are forgiven."
Mr. Hazlewood made so complete a picture of dismay that Dick could not
but pity him. He went across to his father.
"Now, sir," he said, "let us hear this problem."
The old man was not proof against the invitation.
"You shall, Richard," he exclaimed. "You are the very man to hear it.
Your aunt, Richard, is of too practical a mind for such speculations.
It's a most curious problem. Hubbard quite failed to throw any light upon
it. I myself am, I confess, bewildered. And I wonder if a fresh young
mind can help us to a solution." He patted his son on the shoulder and
then took him by the arm.
"The fresh young mind will have a go, father," said Dick. "Fire away."
"I was walking in the fields, my boy."
"Yes, sir, among the cows."
"Exactly, you put your finger on the very point. How is it, I asked
"That's quite your old style, father."
"Now isn't it, Richard, isn't it?" Mr. Hazlewood dropped Dick's arm. He
warmed to his theme. He caught fire. He assumed the attitude of the
orator. "How is it that with the advancement of science and the progress
of civilization a cow gives no more milk to-day than she did at the
beginning of the Christian era?"
With outspread arms he asked for an answer and the answer came.
"A fresh young mind can solve that problem in two shakes. It is because
the laws of nature forbid. That's your trouble, father. That's the
great drawback to sentimental enthusiasm. It's always up against the
laws of nature."
"Dick," said Mrs. Pettifer, "by some extraordinary miracle you are gifted
with common-sense. I am off." She went away in a hurricane as she had
come, and it was time that she did go, for even while she was closing the
door Stella Ballantyne came out from her cottage to cross the meadow.
Dick was the first to hear the gate click as she unlatched it and passed
into the garden. He took a step towards the window, but his father
interposed and for once with a real authority.
"No, Richard," he said. "Wait with us here. Mrs. Ballantyne has something
to tell us."
"I thought so," said Dick quietly, and he came back to the other two men.
"Let me understand." His face was grave but without anger or any
confusion. "Stella returned here last night after I had taken her home?"
"Yes," said Thresk.
"To see you?"
"And my father came down and found you together?"
"I heard voices," Mr. Hazlewood hurriedly interposed, "and so naturally I
Dick turned to his father.
"That's all right, father. I didn't think you were listening at the
keyhole. I am not blaming anybody. I want to know exactly where we
Stella found the little group awaiting her, and standing up before them
she told her story as she had told it last night to Thresk. She omitted
nothing nor did she falter. She had trembled and cried for a great part
of the night over the ordeal which lay before her, but now that she had
come to it she was brave. Her composure indeed astonished Thresk and
filled him with compassion. He knew that the very roots of her heart were
bleeding. Only once or twice did she give any sign of what these few
minutes were costing her. Her eyes strayed towards Dick Hazlewood's face
in spite of herself, but she turned them away again with a wrench of her
head and closed her eyelids lest she should hesitate and fail. All
listened to her in silence, and it was strange to Thresk that the one man
who seemed least concerned of the three was Dick Hazlewood himself. He
watched Stella all the while she was speaking, but his face was a mask,
not a gesture or movement gave a clue to his thoughts. When Stella had
finished he asked composedly:
"Why didn't you tell me all this at the beginning, Stella?"
And now she turned to him in a burst of passion and remorse.
"Oh, Dick, I tried to tell you. I made up my mind so often that I would,
but I never had the courage. I am terribly to blame. I hid it all from
you--yes. But oh! you meant so much to me--you yourself, Dick. It wasn't
your position. It wasn't what you brought with you, other people's
friendship, other people's esteem. It was just you--you--you! I longed
for you to want me, as I wanted you." Then she recovered herself and
stopped. She was doing the very thing she had resolved not to do. She was
pleading, she was making excuses. She drew herself up and with a dignity
which was quite pitiful she now pleaded against herself.
"But I don't ask for your pity. You mustn't be merciful. I don't _want_
mercy, Dick. That's of no use to me. I want to know what you think--just
what you really and truthfully think--that's all. I can stand alone--if I
must. Oh yes, I can stand alone." And as Thresk stirred and moved,
knowing well in what way she meant to stand alone, Stella turned her eyes
full upon him in warning, nay, in menace. "I can stand alone quite
easily, Dick. You mustn't think that I should suffer so very much. I
shouldn't! I shouldn't--"
In spite of her control a sob broke from her throat and her bosom heaved;
and then Dick Hazlewood went quietly to her side and took her hand.
"I didn't interrupt you, Stella. I wanted you to tell everything now,
once for all, so that no one of us three need ever mention a word of
Stella looked at Dick Hazlewood in wonder, and then a light broke over
her face like the morning. His arm slipped about her waist and she leaned
against him suddenly weak, almost to swooning. Mr. Hazlewood started up
from his chair in consternation.
"But you heard her, Richard!"
"Yes, father, I heard her," he answered. "But you see Stella is my wife."
"Your--" Mr. Hazlewood's lips refused to speak the word. He fell back
again in his chair and dropped his face in his hands. "Oh, no!"
"It's true," said Dick. "I have rooms in London, you know. I went to
London last week. Stella came up on Monday. It was my doing, my wish.
Stella is my wife."
Mr. Hazlewood groaned aloud.
"But she has tricked you, Richard," and Stella agreed.
"Yes, I tricked you, Dick. I did," she said miserably, and she drew
herself from his arm. But he caught her hand.
"No, you didn't." He led her over to his father. "That's where you both
make your mistake. Stella tried to tell me something on the very night
when we walked back from this house to her cottage and I asked her to
marry me. She has tried again often during the last weeks. I knew very
well what it was--before you turned against her, before I married her.
She didn't trick me."
Mr. Hazlewood turned in despair to Henry Thresk.
"What do you say?" he asked.
"That I am very glad you asked me here to give my advice on your
collection," Thresk answered. "I was inclined yesterday to take a
different view of your invitation. But I did what perhaps I may suggest
that you should do: I accepted the situation."
He went across to Stella and took her hands.
"Oh, thank you," she cried, "thank you."
"And now"--Thresk turned to Dick--"if I might look at a _Bradshaw_ I
could find out the next train to London."
"Certainly," said Dick, and he went over to the writing-table. Stella and
Henry Thresk were left alone for a moment.
"We shall see you again," she said. "Please!"
"No doubt. I am not going out into the night. You know my address. If you
don't ask Mr. Hazlewood. It's in King's Bench Walk, isn't it?" And he
took the time-table from Dick Hazlewood's hand.