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Running Water by A. E. W. Mason

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"I too. It will be daybreak before we say good-by. I wonder whether you
will sleep at all to-night. I never do the first night."

He spoke lightly, and she answered him in the same key.

"I shall hardly know whether I sleep or wake, with the noise of that
stream rising through my window. For so far back as I can remember I
always dream of running water."

The words laid hold upon Chayne's imagination and fixed her in his
memories. He knew nothing of her really, except just this one curious
fact. She dreamed of running water. Somehow it was fitting that she
should. There was a kind of resemblance; running water was, in a way,
an image of her. She seemed in her nature to be as clear and fresh; yet
she was as elusive; and when she laughed, her laugh had a music as
light and free.

She went into the chalet. Through the window Chayne saw her strike a
match and hold it to the candle. She stood for a moment looking out at
him gravely, with the light shining upward upon her young face. Then a
smile hesitated upon her lips and slowly took possession of her cheeks
and eyes. She turned and went into her room.

CHAPTER VII

THE AIGUILLE D'ARGENTIERE

Chayne smoked another pipe alone and then walking to the end of the
little terrace looked down on to the glistening field of ice below. Along
that side of the chalet no light was burning. Was she listening? Was she
asleep? The pity which had been kindled within him grew as he thought
upon her. To-morrow she would be going back to a life she clearly hated.
On the whole he came to the conclusion that the world might have been
better organized. He lit his candle and went to bed, and it seemed that
not five minutes had passed before one of his guides knocked upon his
door. When he came into the living-room Sylvia Thesiger was already
breakfasting.

"Did you sleep?" he asked.

"I was too excited," she answered. "But I am not tired"; and certainly
there was no trace of fatigue in her appearance.

They started at half past one and went up behind the hut.

The stars shimmered overhead in a dark and cloudless sky. The night was
still; as yet there was no sign of dawn. The great rock cliffs of the
Chardonnet across the glacier and the towering ice-slopes of the Aiguille
Verte beneath which they passed were all hidden in darkness. They might
have been walking on some desolate plain of stones flat from horizon to
horizon. They walked in single file, Jean leading with a lighted lantern
in his hand, so that Sylvia, who followed next, might pick her way
amongst the boulders. Thus they marched for two hours along the left bank
of the glacier and then descended on to ice. They went forward partly on
moraine, partly on ice at the foot of the crags of the Aiguille Verte.
And gradually the darkness thinned. Dim masses of black rock began to
loom high overhead, and to all seeming very far away. The sky paled, the
dim masses of rock drew near about the climbers, and over the steep
walls, the light flowed into the white basin of the glacier as though
from every quarter of the sky.

Sylvia stopped and Chayne came up with her.

"Well?" he asked; and as he saw her face his thoughts were suddenly
swept back to the morning when the beauty of the ice-world was for the
first time vouchsafed to him. He seemed to recapture the fine emotion of
that moment.

Sylvia stood gazing with parted lips up that wide and level glacier to
its rock-embattled head. The majestic silence of the place astounded her.
There was no whisper of wind, no rustling of trees, no sound of any bird.
As yet too there was no crack of ice, no roar of falling stones. And as
the silence surprised her ears, so the simplicity of color smote upon her
eyes. There were no gradations. White ice filled the basin and reached
high into the recesses of the mountains, hanging in rugged glaciers upon
their flanks, and streaking the gullies with smooth narrow ribands. And
about the ice, and above it, circling it in, black walls of rock towered
high, astonishingly steep and broken at the top into pinnacles of an
exquisite beauty.

"I shall be very glad to have seen this," said Sylvia, as she stored the
picture in her mind, "more glad than I am even now. It will be a good
memory to fall back upon when things are troublesome."

"Must things be troublesome?" he asked.

"Don't let me spoil my one day," she said, with a smile.

She moved on, and Chayne, falling back, spoke for a little with his
guides. A little further on Jean stopped.

"That is our mountain, mademoiselle," he said, pointing eastward across
the glacier.

Sylvia turned in that direction.

Straight in front of her a bay of ice ran back, sloping ever upward, and
around the bay there rose a steep wall of cliffs which in the center
sharpened precipitously to an apex. The apex was not a point but a
rounded level ridge of snow which curved over on the top of the cliffs
like a billow of foam. A tiny black tower of rock stood alone on the
northern end of the snow-ridge.

"That, mademoiselle, is the Aiguille d'Argentiere. We cross the
glacier here."

Jean put the rope about her waist, fixing it with the fisherman's bend,
and tied one end about his own, using the overhand knot, while his
brother tied on behind. They then turned at right angles to their former
march and crossed the glacier, keeping the twenty feet of rope which
separated each person extended. Once Jean looked back and uttered an
exclamation of surprise. For he saw Chayne and his guides following
across the glacier behind, and Chayne's road to the Col Dolent at the
head of the glacier lay straight ahead upon their former line of advance.
However he said nothing.

They crossed the bergschrund with less difficulty than they had
anticipated, and ascending a ridge of debris, by the side of the lateral
glacier which descended from the cliffs of the Aiguille d'Argentiere,
they advanced into the bay under the southern wall of the Aiguille du
Chardonnet. On the top of this moraine Jean halted, and the party
breakfasted, and while they breakfasted Chayne told Sylvia something of
that mountain's history. "It is not the most difficult of peaks," said
he, "but it has associations, which some of the new rock-climbs have not.
The pioneers came here." Right behind them there was a gap, the pass
between their mountain and the Aiguille du Chardonnet. "From that pass
Moore and Whymper first tried to reach the top by following the crest of
the cliffs, but they found it impracticable. Whymper tried again, but
this time up the face of the cliffs further on to the south and just to
the left of the summit. He failed, came back again and conquered. We
follow his road."

And while they looked up the dead white of that rounded summit ridge
changed to a warm rosy color and all about that basin the topmost peaks
took fire.

"It is the sun," said he.

Sylvia looked across the valley. The great ice-triangle of the Aiguille
Verte flashed and sparkled. The slopes of the Les Droites and Mont Dolent
were hung with jewels; even the black precipices of the Tour Noir grew
warm and friendly. But at the head of the glacier a sheer unbroken wall
of rock swept round in the segment of a circle, and this remained still
dead black and the glacier at its foot dead white. At one point in the
knife-like edge of this wall there was a depression, and from the
depression a riband of ice ran, as it seemed from where they sat,
perpendicularly down to the Glacier d'Argentiere.

"That is the Col Dolent," said Chayne. "Very little sunlight ever creeps
down there."

Sylvia shivered as she looked. She had never seen anything so somber, so
sinister, as that precipitous curtain of rock and its riband of ice. It
looked like a white band painted on a black wall.

"It looks very dangerous," she said, slowly.

"It needs care," said Chayne.

"Especially this year when there is so little snow," added Sylvia.

"Yes. Twelve hundred feet of ice at an angle of fifty degrees."

"And the bergschrund's just beneath."

"Yes, you must not slip on the Col Dolent," said he, quietly.

Sylvia was silent a little while. Then she said with a slight hesitation:

"And you cross that pass to-day?"

There was still more hesitation in Chayne's voice as he answered:

"Well, no! You see, this is your first mountain. And you have only
two guides."

Sylvia looked at him seriously.

"How many should I have taken for the Aiguille d'Argentiere? Twelve?"

Chayne smiled feebly.

"Well, no," and his confusion increased. "Two, as a rule, are
enough--unless--"

"Unless the amateur is very clumsy," she added. "Thank you,
Captain Chayne."

"I didn't mean that," he cried. He had no idea whether she was angry or
not. She was just looking quietly and steadily into his face and waiting
for his explanation.

"Well, the truth is," he blurted out, "I wanted to go up the Aiguille
d'Argentiere with you," and he saw a smile dimple her cheeks.

"I am honored," she said, and the tone of her voice showed besides that
she was very glad.

"Oh, but it wasn't only for the sake of your company," he said, and
stopped. "I don't seem to be very polite, do I?" he said, lamentably.

"Not very," she replied.

"What I mean is this," he explained. "Ever since we started this morning,
I have been recapturing my own sensations on my first ascent. Watching
you, your enjoyment, your eagerness to live fully every moment of this
day, I almost feel as if I too had come fresh to the mountains, as if the
Argentiere were my first peak."

He saw the blood mount into her cheeks.

"Was that the reason why you questioned me as to what I thought and
felt?" she asked.

"Yes."

"I thought you were testing me," she said, slowly. "I thought you
were trying whether I was--worthy"; and once again humility had
framed her words and modulated their utterance. She recognized
without rancor, but in distress, that people had the right to look on
her as without the pale.

The guides packed up the _Ruecksacks_, and they started once more up the
moraine. In a little while they descended on to the lateral glacier which
descending from the recesses of the Aiguille d'Argentiere in front of
them flowed into the great basin behind. They roped together now in one
party and ascended the glacier diagonally, rounding a great buttress
which descends from the rock ledge and bisects the ice, and drawing close
to the steep cliffs. In a little while they crossed the bergschrund from
the glacier on to the wall of mountain, and traversing by easy rocks at
the foot of the cliffs came at last to a big steep gully filled with hard
ice which led up to the ridge just below the final peak.

"This is our way" said Jean. "We ascend by the rocks at the side."

They breakfasted again and began to ascend the rocks to the left of the
great gully, Sylvia following second behind her leading guide. The rocks
were not difficult, but they were very steep and at times loose.
Moreover, Jean climbed fast and Sylvia had much ado to keep pace with
him. But she would not call on him to slacken his pace, and she was most
anxious not to come up on the rope but to climb with her own hands and
feet. This they ascended for the better part of an hour and Jean halted
on a convenient ledge. Sylvia had time to look down. She had climbed
with her face to the wall of rock, her eyes searching quickly for her
holds, fixing her feet securely, gripping firmly with her hands,
avoiding the loose boulders. Moreover, the rope had worried her. When
she had left it at its length between herself and the guide in front of
her, it would hang about her feet, threatening to trip her, or catch as
though in active malice in any crack which happened to be handy. If she
shortened it and held it in her hands, there would come a sudden tug
from above as the leader raised himself from one ledge to another which
almost overset her.

Now, however, flushed with her exertion and glad to draw her breath
at her ease, she looked down and was astonished. So far below her
already seemed the glacier she had left, so steep the rocks up which
she had climbed.

"You are not tired?" said Chayne.

Sylvia laughed. Tired, when a dream was growing real, when she was
actually on the mountain face! She turned her face again to the rock-wall
and in a little more than an hour after leaving the foot of the gully she
stepped out on to a patch of snow on the shoulder of the mountain. She
stood in sunlight, and all the country to the east was suddenly unrolled
before her eyes. A moment before and her face was to the rock, now at her
feet the steep snow-slopes dropped to the Glacier of Saleinaz. The crags
of the Aiguille Dorees, and some green uplands gave color to the
glittering world of ice, and far away towered the white peaks of the
Grand Combin and the Weisshorn in a blue cloudless sky, and to the left
over the summit of the Grande Fourche she saw the huge embattlements of
the Oberland. She stood absorbed while the rest of the party ascended to
her side. She hardly knew indeed that they were there until Chayne
standing by her asked:

"You are not disappointed?"

She made no reply. She had no words wherewith to express the emotion
which troubled her to the depths.

They rested for a while on this level patch of snow. To their right the
ridge ran sharply up to the summit. But not by that ridge was the summit
to be reached. They turned over on to the eastern face of the mountain
and traversed in a straight line across the great snow-slope which sweeps
down in one white unbroken curtain toward the Glacier of Saleinaz. Their
order had been changed. First Jean advanced. Chayne followed and after
him came Sylvia.

The leading guide kicked a step or two in the snow. Then he used the adz
of his ax. A few steps still, and he halted.

"Ice," he said, and from that spot to the mountain top he used the pick.

The slope was at a steep angle, the ice very hard, and each step had to
be cut with care, especially on the traverse where the whole party moved
across the mountain upon the same level, and there was no friendly hand
above to give a pull upon the rope. The slope ran steeply down beneath
them, then curved over a brow and steepened yet more.

"Are the steps near enough together?" Chayne asked.

"Yes," she replied, though she had to stretch in her stride.

And upon that Jean dug his pick in the slope at his side and
turned round.

"Lean well way from the slope, mademoiselle, not toward it. There is less
chance then of slipping from the steps," he said anxiously, and there
came a look of surprise upon his face. For he saw that already of her own
thought she was standing straight in her steps, thrusting herself out
from the slope by pressing the pick of her ax against it at the level of
her waist. And more than once thereafter Jean turned about and watched
her with a growing perplexity. Chayne looked to see whether her face
showed any sign of fear. On the contrary she was looking down that great
sweep of ice with an actual exultation. And it was not ignorance which
allowed her to exult. The evident anxiety of Chayne's words, and the
silence which since had fallen upon one and all were alone enough to
assure her that here was serious work. But she had been reading deeply of
the Alps, and in all the histories of mountain exploits which she had
read, of climbs up vertical cracks in sheer walls of rocks, balancings
upon ridges sharp as a knife edge, crawlings over smooth slabs with
nowhere to rest the feet or hands, it was the ice-slope which had most
kindled her imagination. The steep, smooth, long ice-slope, white upon
the surface, grayish-green or even black where the ax had cut the step,
the place where no slip must be made. She had lain awake at nights
listening to the roar of the streets beneath her window and picturing it,
now sleeping in the sunlight, now enwreathed in mists which opened and
showed still higher heights and still lower depths, now whipped angrily
with winds which tore off the surface icicles and snow, and sent them
swirling like smoke about the shoulders of the peak. She had dreamed
herself on to it, half shrinking, half eager, and now she was actually
upon one and she felt no fear. She could not but exult.

The sunlight was hot upon this face of the mountain; yet her feet grew
cold, as she stood patiently in her steps, advancing slowly as the man
before her moved. Once as she stood, she moved her foot and scratched the
sole of her boot on the ice to level a roughness in the step, and at once
she saw Chayne and the guide in front drive the picks of their axes hard
into the slope at their side and stand tense as if expecting a jerk upon
the rope. Afterward they both looked round at her, and seeing she was
safe turned back again to their work, the guide cutting the steps, Chayne
polishing them behind him.

In a little while the guide turned his face to the slope and cut upward
instead of across. The slope was so steep that instead of cutting zigzags
across its face, he chopped pigeon holes straight up. They moved from one
to the other as on a ladder, and their knees touched the ice as they
stood upright in the steps. For a couple of hours the axes never ceased,
and then the leader made two or three extra steps at the side of the
staircase. On to one of them he moved out, Chayne went up and joined him.

"Come, mademoiselle," he said, and he drew in the rope as Sylvia
advanced. She climbed up level with them on the ladder and waited, not
knowing why they stood aside.

"Go on, mademoiselle," said the guide. She took another step or two upon
snow and uttered a cry. She had looked suddenly over the top of the
mountain on to the Aiguille Verte and the great pile of Mont Blanc, even
as Revailloud had told her that she would. The guide had stood aside that
she might be the first to step out upon the summit of the mountain. She
stood upon the narrow ridge of snow, at her feet the rock-cliffs
plastered with bulging masses of ice fell sheer to the glacier.

Her first glance was downward to the Col Dolent. Even at this hour when
the basin of the valley was filled with sunshine that one corner at the
head of the Glacier d'Argentiere was still dead white, dead black. She
shivered once more as she looked at it--so grim and so menacing the
rock-wall seemed, so hard and steep the riband of ice. Then Chayne joined
her on the ridge. They sat down and ate their meal and lay for an hour
sunning themselves in the clear air.

"You could have had no better day," said Chayne.

Only a few white scarfs of cloud flitted here and there across the sky
and their shadows chased each other across the glittering slopes of ice
and snow. The triangle of the Aiguille Verte was over against her, the
beautiful ridges of Les Courtes and Les Droites to her right and beyond
them the massive domes and buttresses of the great white mountain. Sylvia
lay upon the eastern slope of the Argentiere looking over the brow, not
wanting to speak, and certainly not listening to any word that was
uttered. Her soul was at peace. The long-continued tension of mind and
muscle, the excitement of that last ice-slope, both were over and had
brought their reward. She looked out upon a still and peaceful world,
wonderfully bright, wonderfully beautiful, and wonderfully colored. Here
a spire would pierce the sunlight with slabs of red rock interspersed
amongst its gray; there ice-cliffs sparkled as though strewn with jewels,
bulged out in great green knobs, showed now a grim gray, now a
transparent blue. At times a distant rumble like thunder far away told
that the ice-fields were hurling their avalanches down. Once or twice she
heard a great roar near at hand, and Chayne pointing across the valleys
would show her what seemed to be a handful of small stones whizzing down
the rocks and ice-gullies of the Aiguille Verte. But on the whole this
new world was silent, communing with the heavens. She was in the hushed
company of the mountains. Days there would be when these sunlit ridges
would be mere blurs of driving storm, when the wind would shriek about
the gullies, and dark mists swirl around the peaks. But on this morning
there was no anger on the heights.

"Yes--you could have had no better day for your first mountain,
mademoiselle," said Jean, as he stood beside her. "But this is not your
first mountain."

She turned to him.

"Yes, it is."

Her guide bowed to her.

"Then, mademoiselle, you have great gifts. For you stood upon that
ice-slope and moved along and up it, as only people of experience stand
and move. I noticed you. On the rocks, too, you had the instinct for the
hand-grip and the foothold and with which foot to take the step. And that
instinct, mademoiselle, comes as a rule only with practice." He paused
and looked at her perplexity.

"Moreover, mademoiselle, you remind me of some one," he added. "I cannot
remember who it is, or why you remind me of him. But you remind me of
some one very much." He picked up the _Ruecksack_ which he had taken from
his shoulders.

It was half past eleven. Sylvia took a last look over the wide prospect
of jagged ridge, ice pinnacles and rock spires. She looked down once
more upon the slim snow peak of Mont Dolent and the grim wall of rocks
at the Col.

"I shall never forget this," she said, with shining eyes. "Never."

The fascination of the mountains was upon her. Something new had come
into her life that morning which would never fail her to the very end,
which would color all her days, however dull, which would give her
memories in which to find solace, longings wherewith to plan the future.
This she felt and some of this her friend understood.

"Yes," he said. "You understand the difference it makes to one's whole
life. Each year passes so quickly looking back and looking forward."

"Yes, I understand," she said.

"You will come back?"

But this time she did not answer at once. She stood looking thoughtfully
out over the bridge of the Argentiere. It seemed to Chayne that she was
coming slowly to some great decision which would somehow affect all her
life. Then she said--and it seemed to him that she had made her decision:

"I do not know. Perhaps I never shall come back."

They turned away and went carefully down the slope. Again her leading
guide, who on the return journey went last, was perplexed by that
instinct for the mountain side which had surprised him. The technique
came to her so naturally. She turned her back to the slope, and thus
descended, she knew just the right level at which to drive in the pick of
her ax that she might lower herself to the next hole in their ice-ladder.
Finally as they came down the rocks by the great couloir to the glacier,
he cried out:

"Ah! Now, mademoiselle, I know who it is you remind me of. I have been
watching you. I know now."

She looked up.

"Who is it?"

"An English gentleman I once climbed with for a whole season many years
ago. A great climber, mademoiselle! Captain Chayne will know his name.
Gabriel Strood."

"Gabriel Strood!" she cried, and then she laughed. "I too know his name.
You are flattering me, Jean."

But Jean would not admit it.

"I am not, mademoiselle," he insisted. "I do not say you have his
skill--how should you? But there are certain movements, certain neat ways
of putting the hands and feet. Yes, mademoiselle, you remind me of him."

Sylvia thought no more of his words at the moment. They reached the
lateral glacier, descended it and crossed the Glacier d'Argentiere. They
found their stone-encumbered pathway of the morning and at three o'clock
stood once more upon the platform in front of the Pavillon de Lognan.
Then she rested for a while, saying very little.

"You are tired?" he said.

"No," she replied. "But this day has made a great difference to me."

Her guides approached her and she said no more upon the point. But Chayne
had no doubt that she was referring to that decision which she had taken
on the summit of the peak. She stood up to go.

"You stay here to-night?" she said.

"Yes."

"You cross the Col Dolent to-morrow?"

"Yes."

She looked at him quickly and then away.

"You will be careful? In the shadow there?"

"Yes."

She was silent for a moment or two, looking up the glacier toward the
Aiguille d'Argentiere.

"I thank you very much for coming with me," and again the humility in
her voice, as of one outside the door, touched and hurt him. "I am
very grateful," and here a smile lightened her grave face, "and I am
rather proud!"

"You came up to Lognan at a good time for me," he answered, as they shook
hands. "I shall cross the Col Dolent with a better heart to-morrow."

They shook hands, and he asked:

"Shall I see no more of you?"

"That is as you will," she replied, simply.

"I should like to. In Paris, perhaps, or wherever you are likely to be. I
am on leave now for some months."

She thought for a second or two. Then she said:

"If you will give me your address, I will write to you. I think I shall
be in England."

"I live in Sussex, on the South Downs."

She took his card, and as she turned away she pointed to the Aiguille
d'Argentiere.

"I shall dream of that to-night."

"Surely not," he replied, laughing down to her over the wooden
balustrade. "You will dream of running water."

She glanced up at him in surprise that he should have remembered this
strange quality of hers. Then she turned away and went down to the pine
woods and the village of Les Tines.

CHAPTER VIII

SYLVIA PARTS FROM HER MOTHER

Meanwhile Mrs. Thesiger laughed her shrill laugh and chatted noisily in
the garden of the hotel. She picnicked on the day of Sylvia's ascent
amongst the sham ruins on the road to Sallanches with a few detached
idlers of various nationalities.

"Quite, quite charming," she cried, and she rippled with enthusiasm over
the artificial lake and the artificial rocks amongst which she seemed so
appropriate a figure; and she shrugged her pretty shoulders over the
eccentricities of her daughter, who was undoubtedly burning her
complexion to the color of brick-dust among those stupid mountains. She
came back a trifle flushed in the cool of the afternoon, and in the
evening slipped discreetly into the little Cercle at the back of the
Casino, where she played baccarat in a company which flattery could
hardly have termed doubtful. She was indeed not displeased to be rid of
her unsatisfactory daughter for a night and a couple of days.

"Sylvia won't fit in."

Thus for a long time she had been accustomed piteously to complain; and
with ever more reason. Less and less did Sylvia fit in with Mrs.
Thesiger's scheme of life. It was not that the girl resisted or
complained. Mrs. Thesiger would have understood objections and
complaints. She would not have minded them; she could have coped with
them. There would have been little scenes, with accusations of
ingratitude, of undutifulness, and Mrs. Thesiger was not averse to the
excitement of little scenes. But Sylvia never complained; she maintained
a reserve, a mystery which her mother found very uncomfortable. "She has
no sympathy," said Mrs. Thesiger. Moreover, she would grow up, and she
would grow up in beauty and in freshness. Mrs. Thesiger did her best. She
kept her dressed in a style which suited a younger girl, or rather, which
would have suited a younger girl had it been less decorative and extreme.
Again Sylvia did not complain. She followed her usual practice and shut
her mind to the things which displeased her so completely, that they
ceased to trouble her. But Mrs. Thesiger never knew that secret; and
often, when in the midst of her chatter she threw a glance at the
elaborate figure of her daughter, sitting apart with her lace skirts too
short, her heels too high, her hat too big and too fancifully trimmed,
she would see her madonna-like face turned toward her, and her dark eyes
thoughtfully dwelling upon her. At such times there would come an
uncomfortable sensation that she was being weighed and found wanting; or
a question would leap in her mind and bring with it fear, and the same
question which she had asked herself in the train on the way to Chamonix.

"You ask me about my daughter?" she once exclaimed pettishly to
Monsieur Pettigrat. "Upon my word, I really know nothing of her except
one ridiculous thing. She always dreams of running water. Now, I ask
you, what can you do with a daughter so absurd that she dreams of
running water?"

Monsieur Pettigrat was a big, broad, uncommon man; he knew that he was
uncommon, and dressed accordingly in a cloak and a brigand's hat; he saw
what others did not, and spoke in a manner suitably impressive.

"I will tell you, madame, about your daughter," he said somberly. "To me
she has a fated look."

Mrs. Thesiger was a little consoled to think that she had a daughter with
a fated look.

"I wonder if others have noticed it," she said, cheerfully.

"No," replied Monsieur Pettigrat. "No others. Only I."

"There! That's just like Sylvia," cried Mrs. Thesiger, in exasperation.
"She has a fated look and makes nothing of it."

But the secret of her discontent was just a woman's jealousy of a younger
rival. Men were beginning to turn from her toward her daughter. That
Sylvia never competed only made the sting the sharper. The grave face
with its perfect oval, which smiled so rarely, but in so winning a way,
its delicate color, its freshness, were points which she could not
forgive her daughter. She felt faded and yellow beside her, she rouged
more heavily on account of her, she looked with more apprehension at the
crow's-feet which were beginning to show about the corners of her eyes,
and the lines which were beginning to run from the nostrils to the
corners of her mouth.

Sylvia reached the hotel in time for dinner, and as she sat with her
mother, drinking her coffee in the garden afterward, Monsieur Pettigrat
planted himself before the little iron table.

He shook his head, which was what his friends called "leonine."

"Mademoiselle," he said, in his most impressive voice, "I envy you."

Sylvia looked up at him with a little smile of mischief upon her lips.

"And why, monsieur?"

He waved his arm magnificently.

"I watched you at dinner. You are of the elect, mademoiselle, for whom
the snow peaks have a message."

Sylvia's smile faded from her face.

"Perhaps so, monsieur," she said, gravely, and her mother
interposed testily:

"A message! Ridiculous! There are only two words in the message, my dear.
Cold-cream! and be sure you put it on your face before you go to bed."

Sylvia apparently did not hear her mother's comment. At all events she
disregarded it, and Monsieur Pettigrat once again shook his head at
Sylvia with a kindly magnificence.

"They have no message for me, mademoiselle," he said, with a sigh, as
though he for once regretted that he was so uncommon. "I once went up
there to see." He waved his hand generally to the chain of Mont Blanc and
drifted largely away.

Mrs. Thesiger, however, was to hear more definitely of that message two
days later. It was after dinner. She was sitting in the garden with her
daughter on a night of moonlight; behind them rose the wall of
mountains, silent and shadowed, in front were the lights of the little
town, and the clatter of its crowded streets. Between the town and the
mountains, at the side of the hotel this garden lay, a garden of grass
and trees, where the moonlight slept in white brilliant pools of light,
or dripped between the leaves of the branches. It partook alike of the
silence of the hills and the noise of the town, for a murmur of voices
was audible from this and that point, and under the shadows of the trees
could be seen the glimmer of light-colored frocks and the glow of cigars
waxing and waning. A waiter came across the garden with some letters for
Mrs. Thesiger. There were none for Sylvia and she was used to none, for
she had no girl friends, and though at times men wrote her letters she
did not answer them.

A lamp burned near at hand. Mrs. Thesiger opened her letters and read
them. She threw them on to the table when she had read them through.
But there was one which angered her, and replacing it in its envelope,
she tossed it so petulantly aside that it slid off the iron table and
fell at Sylvia's feet. Sylvia stooped and picked it up. It had fallen
face upward.

"This is from my father."

Mrs. Thesiger looked up startled. It was the first time that Sylvia had
ever spoken of him to her. A wariness come into her eyes.

"Well?" she asked.

"I want to go to him."

Sylvia spoke very simply and gently, looking straight into her mother's
face with that perplexing steadiness of gaze which told so very little of
what thoughts were busy behind it. Her mother turned her face aside. She
was rather frightened. For a while she made no reply at all, but her face
beneath its paint looked haggard and old in the white light, and she
raised her hand to her heart. When she did speak, her voice shook.

"You have never seen your father. He has never seen you. He and I parted
before you were born."

"But he writes to you."

"Yes, he writes to me," and for all that she tried, she could not
altogether keep a tone of contempt out of her voice. She added with some
cruelty: "But he never mentions you. He has never once inquired after
you, never once."

Sylvia looked very wistfully at the letter, but her purpose was
not shaken.

"Mother, I want to go to him," she persisted. Her lips trembled a little,
and with a choke of the voice, a sob half caught back, she added: "I am
most unhappy here."

The rarity of a complaint from Sylvia moved her mother strangely. There
was a forlornness, moreover, in her appealing attitude. Just for a moment
Mrs. Thesiger began to think of early days of which the memory was at
once a pain and a reproach. A certain little village underneath the great
White Horse on the Dorsetshire Downs rose with a disturbing vividness
before her eyes. She almost heard the mill stream babble by. In that
village of Sutton Poyntz she had herself been born, and to it she had
returned, caught back again for a little while by her own country and her
youth, that Sylvia might be born there too. These months had made a kind
of green oasis in her life. She had rested there in a farm-house, after a
time of much turbulence, with the music of running water night and day in
her ears, a high-walled garden of flowers and grass about her, and the
downs with the shadow-filled hollows, and brown treeless slopes rising up
from her very feet. She could not but think of that short time of peace,
and her voice softened as she answered her daughter.

"We don't keep step, Sylvia," she said, with an uneasy laugh. "I know
that. But, after all, would you be happier with your father, even if he
wants to keep you! You have all you want here--frocks, amusement,
companions. Try to be more friendly with people."

But Sylvia merely shook her head.

"I can't go on any longer like this," she said, slowly. "I can't, mother.
If my father won't have me, I must see what I can do. Of course, I can't
do much. I don't know anything. But I am too unhappy here. I cannot
endure the life we are living without a home or--respect,--" Sylvia had
not meant to use that word. But it had slipped out before she was aware.
She broke off and turned her eyes again to her mother. They were very
bright, for the moonlight glistened upon tears. But the softness had gone
from her mother's face. She had grown in a moment hard, and her voice
rang hard as she asked:

"Why do you think that your father and I parted? Come, let me hear!"

Sylvia turned her head away.

"I don't think about it," she said, gently. "I don't want to think about
it. I just think that he left you, because you did not keep step either."

"Oh, he left me? Not I him? Then why does he write to me?"

The voice was growing harder with every word.

"I suppose because he is kind"; and at that simple explanation Sylvia's
mother laughed with a bitter amusement. Sylvia sat scraping the gravel
with her slipper.

"Don't do that!" cried her mother, irritably. Then she asked suddenly a
question which startled her daughter.

"Did you meet any one last night on the mountain, at the inn?"

Sylvia's face colored, but the moonlight hid the change.

"Yes," she said.

"A man?"

"Yes."

"Who was it?"

"A Captain Chayne. He was at the hotel all last week. It was his friend
who was killed on the Glacier des Nantillons."

"Were you alone at the inn, you and he?"

"Yes."

"Did he know your father?"

Sylvia stared at her mother.

"I don't know. I suppose not. How should he?"

"It's not impossible," replied Mrs. Thesiger. Then she leaned on the
table. "It was he who put these ideas into your head about going away,
about leaving me." She made an accusation rather than put a question, and
made it angrily.

"No, mother," Sylvia replied. "He never spoke of you. The ideas have been
growing in my mind for a long time, and to-day--" She raised her head,
and turning slightly, looked up to where just behind her the ice-peaks of
the Aiguilles du Midi and de Blaitiere soared into the moonlit sky.
"To-day the end came. I became certain that I must go away. I am very
sorry, mother."

"The message of the mountains!" said her mother with a sneer, and Sylvia
answered quietly:

"Yes."

"Very well," said Mrs. Thesiger. She had been deeply stung by her
daughter's words, by her wish to go, and if she delayed her consent, it
was chiefly through a hankering to punish Sylvia. But the thought came to
her that she would punish Sylvia more completely if she let her go. She
smiled cruelly as she looked at the girl's pure and gentle face. And,
after all, she herself would be free--free from Sylvia's unconscious
rivalry, free from the competition of her freshness and her youth, free
from the grave criticism of her eyes.

"Very well, you shall go to your father. But remember! You have made your
choice. You mustn't come whining back to me, because I won't have you,"
she said, brutally. "You shall go to-morrow."

She took the letter from its envelope but she did not show it to
her daughter.

"I don't use your father's name," she said. "I have not used it
since"--and again the cruel smile appeared upon her lips--"since he left
me, as you say. He is called Garratt Skinner, and he lives in a little
house in Hobart Place. Yes, you shall start for your home to-morrow."

Sylvia stood up.

"Thank you," she said. She looked wistfully at her mother, asking her
pardon with the look. But she did not approach her. She stood sadly in
front of her. Mrs. Thesiger made no advance.

"Well?" she asked, in her hard, cold voice.

"Thank you, mother," Sylvia repeated, and she walked slowly to the door
of the hotel. She looked up to the mountains. Needle spires of rock,
glistening pinnacles of ice, they stood dreaming to the moonlight and the
stars. The great step had been taken. She prayed for something of their
calm, something of their proud indifference to storm and sunshine,
solitude and company. She went up to her room and began to pack her
trunks. And as she packed, the tears gathered in her eyes and fell.

Meanwhile, her mother sat in the garden. So Sylvia wanted a home; she
could not endure the life she lived with her mother. Afar off a band
played; the streets beyond were noisy as a river; beneath the trees of
the garden here people talked quietly. Mrs. Thesiger sat with a little
vindictive smile upon her face. Her rival was going to be punished. Mrs.
Thesiger had left her husband, not he her. She read through the letter
which she had received from him this evening. It was a pressing request
for money. She was not going to send him money. She wondered how he would
appreciate the present of a daughter instead.

CHAPTER IX

SYLVIA MAKES THE ACQUAINTANCE OF HER FATHER

Sylvia left Chamonix the next afternoon. It was a Saturday, and she
stepped out of her railway-carriage on to the platform of Victoria
Station at seven o'clock on the Sunday evening. She was tired by her long
journey, and she felt rather lonely as she waited for her trunks to be
passed by the officers of the custom-house. It was her very first visit
to London, and there was not one person to meet her. Other travelers were
being welcomed on all sides by their friends. No one in all London
expected her. She doubted if she had one single acquaintance in the whole
town. Her mother, foreseeing this very moment, had with a subtlety of
malice refrained from so much as sending a telegram to the girl's father;
and Sylvia herself, not knowing him, had kept silence too. Since he did
not expect her, she thought her better plan was to see him, or rather,
since her thoughts were frank, to let him see her. Her mirror had assured
her that her looks would be a better introduction than a telegram.

She had her boxes placed upon a cab and drove off to Hobart Place. The
sense of loneliness soon left her. She was buoyed up by excitement. The
novelty of the streets amused her. Moreover, she had invented her father,
clothed him with many qualities as with shining raiment, and set him high
among the persons of her dreams. Would he be satisfied with his daughter?
That was her fear, and with the help of the looking-glass at the side of
her hansom, she tried to remove the traces of travel from her young face.

The cab stopped at a door in a narrow wall between two houses, and she
got out. Over the wall she saw the green leaves and branches of a few
lime trees which rose from a little garden, and at the end of the garden,
in the far recess between the two side walls, the upper windows of a
little neat white house. Sylvia was charmed with it. She rang the bell,
and a servant came to the door.

"Is Mr. Skinner in?" asked Sylvia.

"Yes," she said, doubtfully, "but--"

Sylvia, however, had made her plans.

"Thank you," she said. She made a sign to the cabman, and walked on
through the doorway into a little garden of grass with a few flowers on
each side against the walls. A tiled path led through the middle of the
grass to the glass door of the house. Sylvia walked straight down,
followed by the cabman who brought her boxes in one after the other. The
servant, giving way before the composure of this strange young visitor,
opened the door of a sitting-room upon the left hand, and Sylvia,
followed by her trunks, entered and took possession.

"What name shall I say?" asked the servant in perplexity. She had had no
orders to expect a visitor. Sylvia paid the cabman and waited until she
heard the garden door close and the jingle of the cab as it was driven
away. Then, and not till then, she answered the question.

"No name. Just please tell Mr. Skinner that some one would like to see
him."

The servant stared, but went slowly away. Sylvia seated herself firmly
upon one of the boxes. In spite of her composed manner, her heart was
beating wildly. She heard a door open and the firm tread of a man along
the passage. Sylvia clung to her box. After all she was in the house, she
and her baggage. The door opened and a tall broad-shouldered man, who
seemed to fill the whole tiny room, came in and stared at her. Then he
saw her boxes, and he frowned in perplexity. As he appeared to Sylvia, he
was a man of about forty-five, with a handsome, deeply-lined aquiline
face. He had thick, dark brown hair, a mustache of a lighter brown and
eyes of the color of hers--a man rather lean but of an athletic build.
Sylvia watched him intently, but the only look upon his face was one of
absolute astonishment. He saw a young lady, quite unknown to him, perched
upon her luggage in a sitting-room of his house.

"You wanted to see me?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, getting on to her feet. She looked at him gravely. "I
am Sylvia," she said.

A smile, rather like her own smile, hesitated about his mouth.

"And--

"Who is Sylvia? What is she?
Her trunks do not proclaim her!"

he said. "Beyond that Sylvia has apparently come to stay, I am rather in
the dark."

"You are Mr. Garratt Skinner?"

"Yes."

"I am your daughter Sylvia."

"My daughter Sylvia!" he exclaimed in a daze. Then he sat down and held
his head between his hands.

"Yes, by George. I _have_ got a daughter Sylvia," he said, obviously
recollecting the fact with surprise. "But you are at Chamonix."

"I was at Chamonix yesterday."

Garratt Skinner looked sharply at Sylvia.

"Did your mother send you to me?"

"No," she answered. "But she let me go. I came of my own accord. A letter
came from you--"

"Did you see it?" interrupted her father. "Did she show it you?"

"No, but she gave me your address when I told her that I must come away."

"Did she? I think I recognize my wife in that kindly act," he said, with
a sudden bitterness. Then he looked curiously at his daughter.

"Why did you want to come away?"

"I was unhappy. For a long time I had been thinking over this. I hated it
all--the people we met, the hotels we stayed at, the life altogether.
Then at Chamonix I went up a mountain."

"Oho," said her father, sitting up alertly. "So you went up a mountain?
Which one?"

"The Aiguille d'Argentiere. Do you know it, father?"

"I have heard of it," said Garratt Skinner.

"Well, somehow that made a difference. It is difficult to explain. But I
felt the difference. I felt something had happened to me which I had to
recognize--a new thing. Climbing that mountain, staying for an hour upon
its summit in the sunlight with all those great still pinnacles and
ice-slopes about me--it was just like hearing very beautiful music." She
was sitting now leaning forward with her hands clasped in front of her
and speaking with great earnestness. "All the vague longings which had
ever stirred within me, longings for something beyond, and beyond, came
back upon me in a tumult. There was a place in shadow at my feet far
below, the only place in shadow, a wall of black rock called the Col
Dolent. It seemed to me that I was living in that cold shadow. I wanted
to get up on the ridge, with the sunlight. So I came to you."

It seemed to Sylvia, that intently as she spoke, her words were and must
be elusive to another, unless that other had felt what she felt or were
moved by sympathy to feel it. Her father listened without ridicule,
without a smile. Indeed, once or twice he nodded his head to her words.
Was it comprehension, she wondered, or was it only patience?

"When I came down from that summit, I felt that what I had hated before
was no longer endurable at all. So I came to you."

Her father got up from his chair and stood for a little while looking out
of the window. He was clearly troubled by her words. He turned away with
a shrug of his shoulders.

"But--but--what can I do for you here?" he cried. "Sylvia, I am a very
poor man. Your mother, on the other hand, has some money."

"Oh, father, I shan't cost you much," she replied, eagerly. "I might
perhaps by looking after things save you money. I won't cost you much."

Garratt Skinner looked at her with a rueful smile.

"You look to me rather an expensive person to keep up," he said.

"Mother dressed me like this. It's not my choice," she said. "I let her
do as she wished. It did not seem to matter much. Really, if you will let
me stay, you will find me useful," she said, in a pathetic appeal.

"Useful?" said Garratt Skinner, suddenly. He again took stock of her, but
now with a scrutiny which caused her a vague discomfort. He seemed to be
appraising her from the color of her hair and eyes to the prettiness of
her feet, almost as though she was for sale, and he a doubtful purchaser.
She looked down on the carpet and slowly her blood colored her neck and
rose into her face. "Useful," he said, slowly. "Perhaps so, yes, perhaps
so." And upon that he changed his tone. "We will see, Sylvia. You must
stay here for the present, at all events. Luckily, there is a spare room.
I have some friends here staying to supper--just a bachelor's friends,
you know, taking pot-luck without any ceremony, very good fellows, not
polished, perhaps, but sound of heart, Sylvia my girl, sound of heart."
All his perplexity had vanished; he had taken his part; and he rattled
along with a friendly liveliness which cleared the shadows from Sylvia's
thoughts and provoked upon her face her rare and winning smile. He rang
the bell for the housemaid.

"My daughter will stay here," he said, to the servant's astonishment.
"Get the spare room ready at once. You will be hostess to-night, Sylvia,
and sit at the head of the table. I become a family man. Well, well!"

He took Sylvia up-stairs and showed her a little bright room with a big
window which looked out across the garden. He carried her boxes up
himself. "We don't run to a butler," he said. "Got everything you want?
Ring if you haven't. We have supper at eight and we shan't dress.
Only--well, you couldn't look dowdy if you tried."

Sylvia had not the slightest intention to try. She put on a little frock
of white lace, high at the throat, dressed her hair, and then having a
little time to spare she hurriedly wrote a letter. This letter she gave
to the servant and she ran down-stairs.

"You will be careful to have it posted, please!" she said, and at that
moment her father came out into the passage, so quickly that he might
have been listening for her approach.

She stopped upon the staircase, a few steps above him. The evening was
still bright, and the daylight fell upon her from a window above the
hall door.

"Shall I do?" she asked, with a smile.

The staircase was paneled with a dark polished wood, and she stood out
from that somber background, a white figure, delicate and dainty and
wholesome, from the silver buckle on her satin slipper to the white
flower she had placed in her hair. Her face, with its remarkable
gentleness, its suggestion of purity as of one unspotted by the world,
was turned to him with a confident appeal. Her clear gray eyes rested
quietly on his. Yet she saw his face change. It seemed that a spasm of
pain or revolt shook him. Upon her face there came a blank look. Why was
he displeased? But the spasm passed. He shrugged his shoulders and threw
off his doubt.

"You are very pretty," he said.

Sylvia's smile just showed about the corners of her lips and her
face cleared.

"Yes," she said, with satisfaction.

Garratt Skinner laughed.

"Oh, you know that?"

"Yes," she replied, nodding her head at him.

He led the way down the passage toward the back of the house, and
throwing open a door introduced her to his friends.

"Captain Barstow," he said, and Sylvia found herself shaking hands with a
little middle-aged man with a shiny bald head and a black square beard.
He had an eye-glass screwed into his right eye, and that whole side of
his face was distorted by the contraction of the muscles and drawn upward
toward the eye. He did not look at her directly, but with an oblique and
furtive glance he expressed his sense of the honor which the introduction
conferred on him. However, Sylvia was determined not to be disappointed.
She turned to the next of her father's guests.

"Mr. Archie Parminter."

He at all events looked her straight in the face. He was a man of
moderate height, youthful in build, but old of face, upon which there sat
always a smirk of satisfaction. He was of those whom no beauty in others,
no grace, no sweetness, could greatly impress, so filled was he with
self-complacency. He had no time to admire, since always he felt that he
was being admired, and to adjust his pose, and to speak so that his
words, carried to the right distance, occupied too much of his attention.
He seldom spoke to the person he talked with but generally to some other,
a woman for choice, whom he believed to be listening to the important
sentences he uttered. For the rest, he had grown heavy in jaw and his
face (a rather flat face in which were set a pair of sharp dark eyes)
narrowed in toward the top of his head like a pear.

He bowed suavely to Sylvia, with the air of one showing to the room how a
gentleman performed that ceremony, but took little note of her.

But Sylvia was determined not to be disappointed.

Her father took her by the elbow and turned her about.

"Mr. Hine."

Sylvia was confronted with a youth who reddened under her greeting and
awkwardly held out a damp coarse hand, a poor creature with an insipid
face, coarse hair, and manner of great discomfort. He was as tall as
Parminter, but wore his good clothes with Sunday air, and having been
introduced to Sylvia could find no word to say to her.

"Well, let us go in to supper," said her father, and he held open the
door for her to pass.

Sylvia went into the dining-room across the narrow hall, where a cold
supper was laid upon a round table. In spite of her resolve to see all
things in a rosy light, she grew conscious, in spite of herself, that she
was disappointed in her father's friends. She was perplexed, too. He was
so clearly head and shoulders above his associates, that she wondered at
their presence in his house. Yet he seemed quite content, and in a most
genial mood.

"You sit here, Sylvia, my dear," he said, pointing to a chair.
"Wallie"--this to the youth Hine--"sit beside my daughter and keep her
amused. Barstow, you on the other side; Parminter next to me."

He sat opposite Sylvia and the rest took their places, Hine sidling
timidly into his chair and tortured by the thought that he had to amuse
this delicate being at his side.

"The supper is on the table," said Garratt Skinner. "Parminter, will you
cut up this duck? Hine, what have you got in front of you? Really, this
is so exceptional an occasion that I think--" he started up suddenly, as
a man will with a new and happy idea--"I certainly think that for once in
a way we might open a bottle of champagne."

Surprise and applause greeted this brilliant idea, and Hine cried out:

"I think champagne fine, don't you, Miss Skinner?"

He collapsed at his own boldness. Parminter shrugged his shoulders to
show that champagne was an every-day affair with him.

"It's drunk a good deal at the clubs nowadays," he said.

Meanwhile Garratt Skinner had not moved. He stood looking across the
table to his daughter.

"What do you say, Sylvia? It's an extravagance. But I don't have such
luck every day. It's in your honor. Shall we? Yes, then!"

He did not wait for an answer, but opened the door of a cupboard in the
sideboard, and there, quite ready, stood half a dozen bottles of
champagne. A doubt flashed into Sylvia's mind--a doubt whether her
father's brilliant idea was really the inspiration which his manner had
suggested. Those bottles looked so obviously got in for the occasion.
But Garratt Skinner turned to her apologetically, as though he divined
her thought.

"We don't run to a wine cellar, Sylvia. We have to keep what little stock
we can afford in here."

Her doubt vanished, but in an instant it returned again, for as her
father came round the table with the bottle in his hand, she noticed that
shallow champagne glasses were ready laid at every place. Garratt Skinner
filled the glasses and returned to his place.

"Sylvia," he said, and, smiling, he drank to her. He turned to his
companions. "Congratulate me!" Then he sat down.

The champagne thawed the tongues of the company, and as they spoke
Sylvia's heart sank more and more. For in word and thought and manner her
father's guests were familiar to her. She refused to acknowledge it, but
the knowledge was forced upon her. She had thought to step out of a world
which she hated, against which her delicacy and her purity revolted, and
lo! she had stepped out merely to take a stride and step down into it
again at another place.

The obsequious attentiveness of Captain Barstow, the vanity of Mr.
Parminter and his affected voice, suggesting that he came out of the
great world to this little supper party, really without any sense of
condescension at all, and the behavior of Walter Hine, who, to give
himself courage, gulped down his champagne--it was all horribly familiar.
Her one consolation was her father. He sat opposite to her, his strong
aquiline face a fine contrast to the faces of the others; he had an ease
of manner which they did not possess; he talked with a quietude of his
own, and he had a watchful eye and a ready smile for his daughter.
Indeed, it seemed that what she felt his guests felt too. For they spoke
to him with a certain deference, almost as if they spoke to their master.
He alone apparently noticed no unsuitability in his guests. He sat at his
ease, their bosom friend.

Meanwhile, plied with champagne by Archie Parminter, who sat upon the
other side of him, "Wallie" Hine began to boast. Sylvia tried to check
him, but he was not now to be stopped. His very timidity pricked him on
to extravagance, and his boasting was that worst form of boasting--the
vaunt of the innocent weakling anxious to figure as a conqueror of women.
With a flushed face he dropped his foolish hints of Mrs. This and Lady
That, with an eye upon Sylvia to watch the impression which he made, and
a wise air which said "If only I were to tell you all."

Garratt Skinner opened a fresh bottle of champagne--the supply by now was
getting low--and came round the table with it. As he held the neck of the
bottle to the brim of Hine's glass he caught an appealing look from his
daughter. At once he lifted the bottle and left the glass unfilled. As he
passed Sylvia, she said in a low voice:

"Thank you," and he whispered back:

"You are quite right, my dear. Interest him so that he doesn't notice
that I have left his glass empty."

Sylvia set herself then to talk to Wallie Hine. But he was intent on
making her understand what great successes had been his. He _would_ talk,
and it troubled her that all listened, and listened with an air of
admiration. Even her father from his side of the table smiled
indulgently. Yet the stories, or rather the hints of stories, were
certainly untrue. For this her wanderings had taught her--the man of many
successes never talks. It seemed that there was a conspiracy to flatter
the wretched youth.

"Yes, yes. You have been a devil of a fellow among the women, Wallie,"
said Captain Barstow. But at once Garratt Skinner interfered and sharply:

"Come, come, Barstow! That's no language to use before my daughter."

Captain Barstow presented at the moment a remarkable gradation of color.
On the top was the bald head, very shiny and white, below that a face
now everywhere a deep red except where the swollen veins stood out upon
the surface of his cheeks, and those were purple, and this in its turn
was enclosed by the black square beard. He bowed at once to Garratt
Skinner's rebuke.

"I apologize. I do indeed, Miss Sylvia! But when I was in the service we
still clung to the traditions of Wellington by--by George. And it's hard
to break oneself of the habit. 'Red-hot,'" he said, with a chuckle.
"That's what they called me in the regiment. Red-hot Barstow. I'll bet
that Red-hot Barstow is still pretty well remembered among the boys at
Cheltenham."

"Swearing's bad form nowadays," said Archie Parminter, superciliously.
"They have given it up at the clubs."

Sylvia seized the moment and rose from the table. Her father sprang
forward and opened the door.

"We will join you in a few minutes," he said.

Sylvia went down the passage to the room at the back of the house in
which she had been presented by her father to his friends. She rang the
bell at once and when the servant came she said:

"I gave you a letter to post this evening. I should like to have it
back."

"I am sorry, miss, but it's posted."

"I am sorry, too," said Sylvia, quietly.

The letter had been written to Chayne, and gave him the address of this
house as the place where he might find her if he called. She had no
thought of going away. She had made her choice for good or ill and must
abide by it. That she knew. But she was no longer sure that she wished
Captain Chayne to come and find her there.

CHAPTER X

A LITTLE ROUND GAME OF CARDS

Sylvia sat down in a chair and waited. She waited impatiently, for she
knew that she had almost reached the limits of her self-command, and
needed the presence of others to keep her from breaking down. But her
native courage came to her aid, and in half an hour she heard the steps
of her father and his guests in the passage. She noticed that her father
looked anxiously toward her as he came in.

"Do you mind if we bring in our cigars?" he asked.

"Not at all," said she; and he came in, carrying in his hand a box of
cigars, which he placed in the middle of the table. Wallie Hine at
once stumbled across the room to Sylvia; he walked unsteadily, his
features were more flushed than before. She shrank a little from him.
But he had not the time to sit down beside her, for Captain Barstow
exclaimed jovially:

"I say, Garratt, I have an idea. There are five of us here. Let us have a
little round game of cards."

Sylvia started. In her heart she knew that just some such proposal as
this she had been dreading all the evening. Her sinking hopes died away
altogether.

This poor witless youth, plied with champagne; the older men who
flattered him with lies; the suggestion of champagne made as though it
were a sudden inspiration, and the six bottles standing ready in the
cupboard; and now the suggestion of a little round game of cards made in
just the same tone! Sylvia had a feeling of horror. She had kept herself
unspotted from her world, but not through ignorance. She knew it. She
knew those little round games of cards and what came of them, sometimes
merely misery and ruin, sometimes a pistol shot in the early morning. She
turned very pale, but she managed to say:

"Thank you. I don't play cards."

And then she heard a sudden movement by her father, who at the moment
when Barstow spoke had been lighting a fresh cigar. She looked up.
Garratt Skinner was staring in astonishment at Captain Barstow.

"Cards!" he cried. "In my house? On a Sunday evening?"

With each question his amazement grew, and he ended in a tone of
remonstrance.

"Come, Barstow, you know me too well to propose that. I am rather hurt. A
friendly talk, and a smoke, yes. Perhaps a small whisky and soda. I don't
say no. But cards on a Sunday evening! No indeed."

"Oh, I say, Skinner," objected Wallie Hine. "There's no harm in a
little game."

Garratt Skinner shook his head at Hine in a grave friendly way.

"Better leave cards alone, Wallie, always. You are young, you know."

Hine flushed.

"I am old enough to hold my own against any man," he cried, hotly. He
felt that Garratt Skinner had humiliated him, and before this wonderful
daughter of his in whose good favors Mr. Hine had been making such
inroads during supper. Barstow apologized for his suggestion at once, but
Hine was now quite unwilling that he should withdraw it.

"There's no harm in it," he cried. "I really think you are too
Puritanical, isn't he, Miss--Miss Sylvia?"

Hine had been endeavoring to pluck up courage to use her Christian name
all the evening. His pride that he had actually spoken it was so great
that he did not remark at all her little movement of disgust.

Garratt Skinner seemed to weaken in his resolution.

"Well, of course, Wallie," he said, "I want you to enjoy yourselves. And
if you especially want it--"

Did he notice that Sylvia closed her eyes and really shivered? She could
not tell. But he suddenly spoke in a tone of revolt:

"But card-playing on Sunday. Really no!"

"It's done nowadays at the West-End Clubs," said Archie Parminter.

"Oh, is it?" said Garratt Skinner, again grown doubtful. "Is it,
indeed? Well, if they do it in the Clubs--" And then with an
exclamation of relief--"I haven't got a pack of cards in the house.
That settles the point."

"There's a public house almost next door," replied Barstow. "If you send
out your servant, I am sure she could borrow one."

"No," said Garratt Skinner, indignantly. "Really, Barstow, your bachelor
habits have had a bad effect on you. I would not think of sending a girl
out to a public house on any consideration. It might be the very first
step downhill for her, and I should be responsible."

"Oh well, if you are so particular, I'll go myself," cried Barstow,
petulantly. He got up and walked to the door.

"I don't mind so much if you go yourself. Only please don't say you come
from this house," said Garratt Skinner, and Barstow went out from the
room. He came back in a very short time, and Sylvia noticed at once that
he held two quite new and unopened packs of cards in his hand.

"A stroke of luck," he cried. "The landlord had a couple of new packs,
for he was expecting to give a little party to-night. But a relation of
his wife died rather suddenly yesterday, and he put his guests off. A
decent-minded fellow, I think. What?"

"Yes. It's not every one who would have shown so much good feeling," said
Garratt Skinner, seriously. "One likes to know that there are men about
like that. One feels kindlier to the whole world"; and he drew up his
chair to the table.

Sylvia was puzzled. Was this story of the landlord a glib lie of Captain
Barstow's to account, with a detail which should carry conviction, for
the suspiciously new pack of cards? And if so, did her father believe in
its truth? Had the packs been waiting in Captain Barstow's coat pocket in
the hall until the fitting moment for their appearance? If so, did her
father play a part in the conspiracy? His face gave no sign. She was
terribly troubled.

"Penny points," said Garratt Skinner. "Nothing more."

"Oh come, I say," cried Hine, as he pulled out a handful of sovereigns.

"Nothing more than penny points in my house. Put that money away, Wallie.
We will use counters."

Garratt Skinner had a box of counters if he had no pack of cards.

"Penny points, a sixpenny ante and a shilling limit," he said. "Then no
harm will be done to any one. The black counters a shilling, the red
sixpence, and the white ones a penny. You have each a pound's worth," he
said as he dealt them out.

Sylvia rose from her chair.

"I think I will go to bed."

Wallie Hine turned round in his chair, holding his counters in his
hand. "Oh, don't do that, Miss Sylvia. Sit beside me, please, and
bring me luck."

"You forget, Wallie, that my daughter has just come from a long journey.
No doubt she is tired," said Garratt Skinner, with a friendly reproach in
his voice. He got up and opened the door for his daughter. After she had
passed out he followed her.

"I shall take a hand for a little while, Sylvia, to see that they keep to
the stakes. I think young Hine wants looking after, don't you? He doesn't
know any geography. Good-night, my dear. Sleep well!"

He took her by the elbow and drew her toward him. He stooped to her,
meaning to kiss her. Sylvia did not resist, but she drooped her head so
that her forehead, not her lips, was presented to his embrace. And the
kiss was never given. She remained standing, her face lowered from his,
her attitude one of resignation and despondency. She felt her father's
hand shake upon her arm, and looking up saw his eyes fixed upon her in
pity. He dropped her arm quickly, and said in a sharp voice:

"There! Go to bed, child!"

He watched her as she went up the stairs. She went up slowly and without
turning round, and she walked like one utterly tired out. Garratt
Skinner waited until he heard her door close. "She should never have
come," he said. "She should never have come." Then he went slowly back
to his friends.

Sylvia went to bed, but she did not sleep. The excitement which had
buoyed her up had passed; and her hopes had passed with it. She recalled
the high anticipations with which she had set out from Chamonix only
yesterday--yes, only yesterday. And against them in a vivid contrast she
set the actual reality, the supper party, Red-hot Barstow, Archie
Parminter, and the poor witless Wallie Hine, with his twang and his silly
boasts. She began to wonder whether there was any other world than that
which she knew, any other people than those with whom she had lived. Her
father was different--yes, but--but--Her father was too perplexing a
problem to her at this moment. Why had he so clearly pitied her just now
in the passage? Why had he checked himself from the kiss? She was too
tired to reason it out. She was conscious that she was very wretched, and
the tears gathered in her eyes; and in the darkness of her room she cried
silently, pressing the sheet to her lips lest a sob should be heard. Were
all her dreams mere empty imaginings? she asked. If so, why should they
ever have come to her? she inquired piteously; why should she have found
solace in them--why should they have become her real life? Did no one
walk the earth of all that company which went with her in her fancies?

Upon that her thoughts flew to the Alps, to the evening in the Pavillon
de Lognan, the climb upon the rocks and the glittering ice-slope, the
perfect hour upon the sunlit top of the Aiguille d'Argentiere. The
memory of the mountains brought her consolation in her bad hour, as her
friend had prophesied it would. Her tears ceased to flow, she lived that
day--her one day--over again, jealous of every minute. After all that
had been real, and more perfect than any dream. Moreover, there had been
with her through the day a man honest and loyal as any of her imagined
company. She began to take heart a little; she thought of the Col Dolent
with its broad ribbon of ice set in the sheer black rocks, and always in
shadow. She thought of herself as going up some such hard, cold road in
the shadow, and remembered that on the top of the Col one came out into
sunlight and looked southward into Italy. So comforted a little, she
fell asleep.

It was some hours before she woke. It was already day, and since she had
raised her blinds before she had got into bed, the light streamed into
the room. She thought for a moment that it was the light which had waked
her. But as she lay she heard a murmur of voices, very low, and a sound
of people moving stealthily. She looked out of the window. The streets
were quite empty and silent. In the houses on the opposite side the
blinds were drawn; a gray clear light was spread over the town; the sun
had not yet risen. She looked at her watch. It was five o'clock. She
listened again, gently opening her door for an inch or so. She heard the
low voices more clearly now. Those who spoke were speaking almost in
whispers. She thought that thieves had broken in. She hurried on a few
clothes, cautiously opened her door wider, slipped through, and crept
with a beating heart down the stairs.

Half way down the stairs she looked over the rail of the banister,
turning her head toward the back part of the house whence the murmurs
came. At the end of the passage was the little room in which the round
game of cards was played the night before. The door stood open now, and
she looked right into the room.

And this is what she saw:

Wallie Hine was sitting at the table. About him the carpet was strewn
with crumpled pieces of paper. There was quite a number of them littered
around his chair. He was writing, or rather, trying to write. For Archie
Parminter leaning over the back of the chair held his hand and guided it.
Captain Barstow stood looking intently on, but of her father there was no
sign. She could not see the whole room, however. A good section of it was
concealed from her. Wallie Hine was leaning forward on the table, with
his head so low and his arms so spread that she could not see in what
book he was writing. But apparently he did not write to the satisfaction
of his companions. In spite of Parminter's care his pen spluttered.
Sylvia saw Archie look at Barstow, and she heard Barstow answer "No, that
won't do." Archie Parminter dropped Hine's hand, tore a slip of paper out
of the book, crumpled it, and threw it down with a gesture of anger on to
the carpet.

"Try again, old fellow," said Barstow, eagerly, bending down toward Hine
with a horrid smile upon his face, a smile which tried to conceal an
intense exasperation, an intense desire to strike. Again Parminter leaned
over the chair, again he took Wallie Hine's hand and guided the pen, very
carefully lifting it from the paper at the end of an initial or a word,
and spacing the letters. This time he seemed content.

"That will do, I think," he said, in a whisper.

Captain Barstow bent down and examined the writing carefully with his
short-sighted eyes.

"Yes, that's all right."

Parminter tore the leaf out, but this time he did not crumple it. He
blotted it carefully, folded it, and laid it on the mantle-shelf.

"Let us get him up," he said, and with Barstow's help they lifted Hine
out of his chair. Sylvia caught a glimpse of his face. His mouth was
loose, his eyes half shut, and the lids red; he seemed to be in a stupor.
His head rolled upon his shoulders. He swayed as his companions held him
up; his knees gave under him. He began incoherently to talk.

"Hush!" said Parminter. "You'll wake the house. You don't want that
pretty girl to see you in this state, do you, Wallie? After the
impression you made on her, too! Get his hat and coat out of the
passage, Barstow."

He propped Hine against the table, and holding him upright turned to the
door. He saw "the pretty girl" leaning over the banister and gazing with
horror-stricken eyes into the room. Sylvia drew back on the instant.
With a gesture of his hand, Archie Parminter stopped Barstow on his way
to the door.

Sylvia leaned back against the wall of the staircase, holding her
breath, and tightly pressing a hand upon her heart. Had they seen her?
Would they come out into the passage? What would happen? Would they kill
her? The questions raced through her mind. She could not have moved, she
thought, had Death stood over her. But nothing happened. She could not
now see into the room, and she heard no whisper, no footsteps creeping
stealthily along the passage toward her, no sound at all. Presently she
recovered her breath, and crept up-stairs. Once in her room, with great
care she locked the door, and sank upon her bed, shaking and trembling.
There she lay until the noise of the hall door closing very gently
roused her. She crept along the wall till she was by the side of the
window. Then she raised herself against the wall and peered out. She saw
Barstow and Parminter supporting Hine along the street, each with an arm
through his. A hansom-cab drove up, they lifted Hine into it, got in
themselves, and drove off. As the cab turned, Archie Parminter glanced
up to the windows of the house. But Sylvia was behind the curtains at
the side. He could not have seen her. Sylvia leaned her head against the
panels of the door and concentrated all her powers so that not a
movement in the house might escape her ears. She listened for the sound
of some one else moving in the room below, some one who had been left
behind. She listened for a creak of the stairs, the brushing of a coat
against the stair rail, the sound of some one going stealthily to his
room. She stood at the door, with her face strangely set for a long
while. Her mind was quite made up. If she heard her father moving from
that room, she would just wait until he was asleep, and then she would
go--anywhere. She could not go back to her mother, that she knew. She
had no one to go to; nevertheless, she would go.

But no sound reached her. Her father was not in the room below. He must
have gone to bed and left the others to themselves. The pigeon had been
plucked that night, not a doubt of it, but her father had had no hand
in the plucking. She laid herself down upon her bed, exhausted, and
again sleep came to her. And in a moment the sound of running water was
in her ears.

CHAPTER XI

SYLVIA'S FATHER MAKES A MISTAKE

Sylvia did not wake again until the maid brought in her tea and told her
that it was eight o'clock. When she went down-stairs, her father was
already in the dining-room. She scanned him closely, but his face bore no
sign whatever of a late and tempestuous night; and a great relief
enheartened her. He met her with an open smile.

"Did you sleep well, Sylvia?"

"Not very well, father," she answered, as she watched his face. "I woke
up in the early morning."

But nothing could have been more easy or natural than his comment on
her words.

"Yet you look like a good sleeper. A strange house, I suppose, Sylvia."

"Voices in the strange house," she answered.

"Voices?"

Garratt Skinner's face darkened.

"Did those fellows stay so late?" he asked with annoyance. "What time was
it when they woke you up, Sylvia?"

"A little before five."

Garratt Skinner's annoyance increased.

"That's too bad," he cried. "I left them and went to bed. But they
promised me faithfully only to stay another half-hour. I am very sorry,
Sylvia." And as she poured out the tea, he continued: "I will speak
pretty sharply to Barstow. It's altogether too bad."

Garratt Skinner breakfasted with an eye on the clock, and as soon as the
hands pointed to five minutes to nine, he rose from the table.

"I must be off--business, my dear." He came round the table to her and
gently laid a hand upon her shoulder. "It makes a great difference,
Sylvia, to have a daughter, fresh and young and pretty, sitting opposite
to me at the breakfast table--a very great difference. I shall cut work
early to-day on account of it; I'll come home and fetch you, and we'll go
out and lunch somewhere together."

He spoke with every sign of genuine feeling; and Sylvia, looking up into
his face, was moved by what he said. He smiled down at her, with her own
winning smile; he looked her in the face with her own frankness, her own
good humor.

"I have been a lonely man for a good many years, Sylvia," he said, "too
lonely. I am glad the years have come to an end"; and this time he did
what yesterday night he had checked himself from doing. He stooped down
and kissed her on the forehead. Then he went from the room, took his hat,
and letting himself out of the house closed the door behind him. He
called a passing cab, and, as he entered it, he said to the driver:

"Go to the London and County Bank in Victoria Street," and gaily waving
his hand to his daughter, who stood behind the window, he drove off.

At one o'clock he returned in the same high spirits. Sylvia had spent the
morning in removing the superfluous cherries and roses from her best hat
and making her frock at once more simple and more suitable to her years.
Garratt Skinner surveyed her with pride.

"Come on," he said. "I have kept the cab waiting."

For a poor man he seemed to Sylvia rather reckless. They drove to the
Savoy Hotel and lunched together in the open air underneath the glass
roof, with a bank of flowers upon one side of them and the windows of the
grill-room on the other. The day was very hot, the streets baked in an
arid glare of sunlight; a dry dust from the wood pavement powdered those
who passed by in the Strand. Here, however, in this cool and shaded place
the pair lunched happily together. Garratt Skinner had the tact not to
ask any questions of his daughter about her mother, or how they had fared
together. He talked easily of unimportant things, and pointed out from
time to time some person of note or some fashionable actress who happened
to pass in or out of the hotel. He could be good company when he chose,
and he chose on this morning. It was not until coffee was set before
them, and he had lighted a cigar, that he touched upon themselves, and
then not with any paternal tone, but rather as one comrade conferring
with another. There, indeed, was his great advantage with Sylvia. Her
mother had either disregarded her or treated her as a child. She could
not but be won by a father who laid bare his plans to her and asked for
her criticism as well as her assent. Her suspicions of yesterday died
away, or, at all events, slept so soundly that they could not have
troubled her less had they been dead.

"Sylvia," he said, "I think London in August, and in such an August, is
too hot. I don't want to see you grow pale, and for myself I haven't had
a holiday for a long time. You see there is not much temptation for a
lonely man to go away by himself."

For the second time that day he appealed to her on the ground of his
loneliness; and not in vain. She began even to feel remorseful that she
had left him to his loneliness so long. There rose up within her an
almost maternal feeling of pity for her father. She did not stop to think
that he had never sent for her; had never indeed shown a particle of
interest in her until they had met face to face.

"But since you are here," he continued, "well--I have been doing fairly
well in my business lately, and I thought we might take a little holiday
together, at some quiet village by the sea. You know nothing of England.
I have been thinking it all out this morning. There is no country more
beautiful or more typical than Dorsetshire. Besides, you were born there.
What do you say to three weeks or so in Dorsetshire? We will stay at an
hotel in Weymouth for a few days and look about for a house."

"Father!" exclaimed Sylvia, leaning forward with shining eyes. "It will
be splendid. Just you and I!"

"Well, not quite," he answered, slowly; and as he saw his daughter sink
back with a pucker of disappointment on her forehead, he knocked the ash
off his cigar and in his turn leaned forward over the table.

"Sylvia, I want to talk to you seriously," he said, and glanced around to
make sure that no one overheard him. "I should very much like one person
to come and stay with us."

Sylvia made no answer. Her face was grave and very still, her eyes dwelt
quietly upon him and betrayed nothing of what she thought.

"You have guessed who the one person is?"

Again Sylvia did not answer.

"Yes. It is Wallie Hine," he continued.

Her suspicions were stirring again from their sleep. She waited in fear
upon his words. She looked out, through the opening at the mouth of the
court into the glare of the Strand. The bright prospect which her vivid
fancies had pictured there a minute since, transforming the dusky street
into fields of corn and purple heather, the omnibuses into wagons drawn
by teams of great horses musical with bells, had all grown dark. A real
horror was gripping her. But she turned her eyes quietly back upon her
father's face and waited.

"His presence will spoil our holiday a little," Garratt Skinner continued
with an easy assurance. "You saw, no doubt, what Wallie Hine is, last
night--a weak, foolish youth, barely half-educated, awkward, with graces
of neither mind nor body, and in the hands of two scoundrels."

Sylvia started, and she leaned forward with a look of bewilderment plain
to see in her dark eyes.

"Yes, that's the truth, Sylvia. He has come into a little money, and he
is in the hands of two scoundrels who are leading him by the nose. My
poor girl," he cried, suddenly breaking off, "you must have found
yourself in very strange and disappointing company last night. I was very
sorry for you, and sorry for myself, too. All the evening I was saying to
myself, 'I wonder what my little girl is thinking of me.' But I couldn't
help it. I had not the time to explain. I had to sit quiet, knowing that
you must be unhappy, certain that you must be despising me for the
company I kept."

Sylvia blushed guiltily.

"Despising you? No, father," she said, in a voice of apology. "I saw how
much above the rest you were."

"Blaming me, then," interrupted Garratt Skinner, with an easy smile. He
was not at all offended. "Let us say blaming me. And it was quite natural
that you should, judging by the surface. And there was nothing but the
surface for you to judge by."

While in this way defending Sylvia against her own self-reproach, he only
succeeded in making her feel still more that she had judged hastily where
she should have held all judgment in abeyance, that she had lacked faith
where by right she should have shown most faith. But he wished to spare
her from confusion.

"I was so proud of you that I could not but suffer all the more. However,
don't let us talk of it, my dear"; and waving with a gesture of the hand
that little misunderstanding away forever, he resumed:

"Well, I am rather fond of Wallie Hine. I don't know why, perhaps because
he is so helpless, because he so much stands in need of a steady mentor
at his elbow. There is, after all, no accounting for one's likings. Logic
and reason have little to do with them. As a woman you know that. And
being rather fond of Wallie Hine, I have tried to do my best for him. It
would not have been of any use to shut my door on Barstow and Archie
Parminter. They have much too firm a hold on the poor youth. I should
have been shutting it on Wallie Hine, too. No, the only plan was to
welcome them all, to play Parminter's game of showing the youth about
town, and Barstow's game of crude flattery, and gradually, if possible,
to dissociate him from his companions, before they had fleeced him
altogether. So you were let in, my dear, for that unfortunate evening. Of
course I was quite sure that you would not attribute to me designs upon
Wallie Hine, otherwise I should have turned them all out at once."

He spoke with a laugh, putting aside, as it were, a quite incredible
suggestion. But he looked at her sharply as he laughed. Sylvia's face
grew crimson, her eyes for once wavered from his face, and she lowered
her head. Garratt Skinner, however, seemed not to notice her confusion.

"You remember," he continued, "that I tried to stop them playing cards at
the beginning. I yielded in the end, because it became perfectly clear
that if I didn't they would go away and play elsewhere, while I at all
events could keep the points down in my own house. I ought to have stayed
up, I suppose, until they went away. I blame myself there a little. But I
had no idea they would stay so late. Are you sure it was their voices you
heard and not the servants moving?"

He asked the question almost carelessly, but his eyes rather belied his
tone, for they watched her intently.

"Quite sure," she answered.

"You might have made a mistake."

"No; for I saw them."

Garratt Skinner covered his mouth with his hand. It seemed to Sylvia that
he smiled. A suspicion flashed across her mind, in spite of herself. Was
he merely testing her to see whether she would speak the truth or not?
Did he know that she had come down the stairs in the early morning? She
thrust the suspicion aside, remembering the self-reproach which suspicion
had already caused her at this very luncheon table. If it were true that
her father knew, why then Barstow or Parminter must have told him this
very morning. And if he had seen either of them this morning, all his
talk to her in this cool and quiet place was a carefully prepared
hypocrisy. No, she would not believe that.

"You saw them?" he exclaimed. "Tell me how."

She told him the whole story, how she had come down the staircase,
what she had seen, as she leaned over the balustrade, and how
Parminter had turned.

"Do you think he saw you?" asked her father.

Sylvia looked at him closely. But he seemed really anxious to know.

"I think he saw something," she answered. "Whether he knew that it was I
whom he saw, I can't tell."

Garratt Skinner sat for a little while smoking his cigar in short,
angry puffs.

"I wouldn't have had that happen for worlds," he said, with a frown. "I
have no doubt whatever that the slips of paper on which poor Hine was
trying to write were I.O.U's. Heaven knows what he lost last night."

"I know," returned Sylvia. "He lost L480 last night."

"Impossible," cried Garratt Skinner, with so much violence that the
people lunching at the tables near-by looked up at the couple with
surprise. "Oh, no! I'll not believe it, Sylvia." And as he lowered his
voice, he seemed to be making an appeal to her to go back upon her words,
so distressed was he at the thought that Wallie Hine should be jockeyed
out of so much money at his house.

"Four hundred and eighty pounds," Sylvia repeated.

Garratt Skinner caught at a comforting thought.

"Well, it's only in I.O.U's. That's one thing. I can stop the redemption
of them. You see, he has been robbed--that's the plain English of
it--robbed."

"Mr. Hine was not writing an I.O.U. He was writing a check, and Mr.
Parminter was guiding his hand as he wrote the signature."

Garratt Skinner fell back in his chair. He looked about him with a dazed
air, as though he expected the world falling to pieces around him.

"Why, that's next door to forgery!" he whispered, in a voice of horror.
"Guiding the hand of a man too drunk to write! I knew Archie Parminter
was pretty bad, but I never thought that he would sink to that. I am not
sure that he could not be laid by the heels for forgery." And then he
recovered a little from the shock. "But you can't be sure, Sylvia! This
is guesswork of yours--yes, guesswork."

"It's not," she answered. "I told you that the floor was littered with
slips of the paper on which Mr. Hine had been trying to write."

"Yes."

There came an indefinable change in Garratt Skinner's face. He leaned
forward with his mouth sternly set and his eyes very still. One might
almost have believed that for the first time during that luncheon he was
really anxious, really troubled.

"Well, this morning the carpet had been swept. The litter had gone. But
just underneath the hearth-rug one of those crumpled slips of paper lay
not quite hidden. I picked it up. It was a check."

"Have you got it? Sylvia, have you got it?" and Garratt Skinner's voice
in steady quietude matched his face.

"Yes."

Sylvia opened the little bag which she carried at her wrist and took out
the slip of paper. She unfolded it and spread it on the table before her.
The inside was pink.

"A check for L480 on the London and County Bank, Victoria Street," she
said.

Garrett Skinner looked over the table at the paper. There was Wallie
Hine's wavering, unfinished signature at the bottom right-hand corner.
Parminter had guided his hand as far as the end of the Christian name,
before he tore the check out and threw it away. The amount of the body of
the check had been filled in in Barstow's hand.

"You had better give it to me, Sylvia," he said, his fingers moving
restlessly on the table-cloth. "That check would be a very dangerous
thing if Parminter ever came to hear of it. Better give it to me."

He leaned over and took it gently from before her, and put it carefully
away in his pocket.

"Now, you see, there's more reason ever why we should get Wallie Hine
away from those two men. He is living a bad life here. Three weeks in the
country may set his thoughts in a different grove. Will you make this
sacrifice, Sylvia? Will you let me ask him? It will be a good action. You
see he doesn't know any geography."

"Very well; ask him, father."

Garrett Skinner reached over the table and patted her hand.

"Thank you, my dear! Then that's settled. I propose that you and I go
down this afternoon. Can you manage it? We might catch the four o'clock
train from Waterloo if you go home now, pack up your traps and tell the
housemaid to pack mine. I will just wind up my business and come home in
time to pick you and the luggage up."

He rose from the table, and calling a hansom, put Sylvia into it. He
watched the cab drive out into the Strand and turn the corner. Then he
went back to the table and asked for his bill. While he waited for it, he
lit a match and drawing from his pocket the crumpled check, he set fire
to it. He held it by the corner until the flame burnt his fingers. Then
he dropped it in his plate and pounded it into ashes with a fork.

"That was a bad break," he said to himself. "Left carelessly under the
edge of the hearth-rug. A very bad break."

He paid his bill, and taking his hat, sauntered out into the Strand. The
carelessness which had left the check underneath the hearth-rug was not,
however, the only bad break made in connection with this affair. At a
certain moment during luncheon Garratt Skinner had unwisely smiled and
had not quite concealed the smile with his hand. Against her every wish,
that smile forced itself upon Sylvia's recollections as she drove home.
She tried to interpret it in every pleasant sense, but it kept its true
character in her thoughts, try as she might. It remained vividly a very
hateful thing--the smile of the man who had gulled her.

CHAPTER XII

THE HOUSE OF THE RUNNING WATER

A week later, on a sunlit afternoon, Sylvia and her father drove
northward out of Weymouth between the marshes and the bay. Sylvia was
silent and looked about her with expectant eyes.

"I have been lucky, Sylvia," her father had said to her. "I have secured
for our summer holiday the very house in which you were born. It cost me
some trouble, but I was determined to get it if I could, for I had an
idea that you would be pleased. However, you are not to see it until it
is quite ready."

There was a prettiness and a delicacy in this thought which greatly
appealed to Sylvia. He had spoken it with a smile of tenderness.
Affection, surely, could alone have prompted it; and she thanked him very
gratefully. They were now upon their way to take possession. A little
white house set back under a hill and looking out across the bay from a
thick cluster of trees caught Sylvia's eye. Was that the house, she
wondered? The carriage turned inland and passed the white house, and half
a mile further on turned again eastward along the road to Wareham,
following the valley, which runs parallel to the sea. They ascended the
long steep hill which climbs to Osmington, until upon their left hand a
narrow road branched off between hawthorn hedges to the downs. The road
dipped to a little hollow and in the hollow a little village nestled. A
row of deep-thatched white cottages with leaded window-panes opened on to
a causeway of stone flags which was bordered with purple phlox and raised
above the level of the road. Farther on, the roof of a mill rose high
among trees, and an open space showed to Sylvia the black massive wheel

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