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All that his words suggested took form before her vividly. How well he understood what he was saying. But she answered him bravely.

“No. I do not mean to do that.”

He watched her for a few seconds. There was curiosity in his eyes.

“Don’t make the mistake of imagining that I will let my wife go with you to America,” he said next. “She is as far off from that as she was when I brought her to Stornham. I have told her so. A man cannot tie his wife to the bedpost in these days, but he can make her efforts to leave him so decidedly unpleasant that decent women prefer to stay at home and take what is coming. I have seen that often enough `to bank on it,’ if I may quote your American friends.”

“Do you remember my once saying,” Betty remarked, “that when a woman has been PROPERLY ill-treated the time comes when nothing matters–nothing but release from the life she loathes?”

“Yes,” he answered. “And to you nothing would matter but–excuse my saying it–your own damnable, headstrong pride. But Rosalie is different. Everything matters to her. And you will find it so, my dear girl.”

And that this was at least half true was brought home to her by the fact that late the same night Rosy came to her white with crying.

“It is not your fault, Betty,” she said. “Don’t think that I think it is your fault, but he has been in my room in one of those humours when he seems like a devil. He thinks you will go back to America and try to take me with you. But, Betty, you must not think about me. It will be better for you to go. I have seen you again. I have had you for–for a time. You will be safer at home with father and mother.”

Betty laid a hand on her shoulder and looked at her fixedly.

“What is it, Rosy?” she said. “What is it he does to you –that makes you like this?”

“I don’t know–but that he makes me feel that there is nothing but evil and lies in the world and nothing can help one against them. Those things he says about everyone–men and women–things one can’t repeat–make me sick. And when I try to deny them, he laughs.”

“Does he say things about me?” Betty inquired, very quietly, and suddenly Rosalie threw her arms round her.

“Betty, darling,” she cried, “go home–go home. You must not stay here.”

“When I go, you will go with me,” Betty answered. “I am not going back to mother without you.”

She made a collection of many facts before their interview was at an end, and they parted for the night. Among the first was that Nigel had prepared for certain possibilities as wise holders of a fortress prepare for siege. A rather long sitting alone over whisky and soda had, without making him loquacious, heated his blood in such a manner as led him to be less subtle than usual. Drink did not make him drunk, but malignant, and when a man is in the malignant mood, he forgets his cleverness. So he revealed more than he absolutely intended. It was to be gathered that he did not mean to permit his wife to leave him, even for a visit; he would not allow himself to be made ridiculous by such a thing. A man who could not control his wife was a fool and deserved to be a laughing-stock. As Ughtred and his future inheritance seemed to have become of interest to his grandfather, and were to be well nursed and taken care of, his intention was that the boy should remain under his own supervision. He could amuse himself well enough at Stornham, now that it had been put in order, if it was kept up properly and he filled it with people who did not bore him. There were people who did not bore him–plenty of them. Rosalie would stay where she was and receive his guests. If she imagined that the little episode of Ffolliott had been entirely dormant, she was mistaken. He knew where the man was, and exactly how serious it would be to him if scandal was stirred up. He had been at some trouble to find out. The fellow had recently had the luck to fall into a very fine living. It had been bestowed on him by the old Duke of Broadmorlands, who was the most strait-laced old boy in England. He had become so in his disgust at the light behaviour of the wife he had divorced in his early manhood. Nigel cackled gently as he detailed that, by an agreeable coincidence, it happened that her Grace had suddenly become filled with pious fervour–roused thereto by a good-looking locum tenens– result, painful discoveries–the pair being now rumoured to be keeping a lodging-house together somewhere in Australia. A word to good old Broadmorlands would produce the effect of a lighted match on a barrel of gunpowder. It would be the end of Ffolliott. Neither would it be a good introduction to Betty’s first season in London, neither would it be enjoyed by her mother, whom he remembered as a woman with primitive views of domestic rectitude. He smiled the awful smile as he took out of his pocket the envelope containing the words his wife had written to Mr. Ffolliott, “Do not come to the house. Meet me at Bartyon Wood.” It did not take much to convince people, if one managed things with decent forethought. The Brents, for instance, were fond neither of her nor of Betty, and they had never forgotten the questionable conduct of their locum tenens. Then, suddenly, he had changed his manner and had sat down, laughing, and drawn Rosalie to his knee and kissed her–yes, he had kissed her and told her not to look like a little fool or act like one. Nothing unpleasant would happen if she behaved herself. Betty had improved her greatly, and she had grown young and pretty again. She looked quite like a child sometimes, now that her bones were covered and she dressed well. If she wanted to please him she could put her arms round his neck and kiss him, as he had kissed her.

“That is what has made you look white,” said Betty.

“Yes. There is something about him that sometimes makes you feel as if the very blood in your veins turned white,” answered Rosy–in a low voice, which the next moment rose. “Don’t you see–don’t you see,” she broke out, “that to displease him would be like murdering Mr. Ffolliott–like murdering his mother and mine–and like murdering Ughtred, because he would be killed by the shame of things–and by being taken from me. We have loved each other so much–so much. Don’t you see?”

“I see all that rises up before you,” Betty said, “and I understand your feeling that you cannot save yourself by bringing ruin upon an innocent man who helped you. I realise that one must have time to think it over. But, Rosy,” a sudden ring in her voice, “I tell you there is a way out–there is a way out! The end of the misery is coming–and it will not be what he thinks.”

“You always believe—-” began Rosy.

“I know,” answered Betty. “I know there are some things so bad that they cannot go on. They kill themselves through their own evil. I KNOW! I KNOW! That is all.”

CHAPTER LX

“DON’T GO ON WITH THIS”

Of these things, as of others, she had come to her solitude to think. She looked out over the marshes scarcely seeing the wandering or resting sheep, scarcely hearing the crying plover, because so much seemed to confront her, and she must look it all well in the face. She had fulfilled the promise she had made to herself as a child. She had come in search of Rosy, she had found her as simple and loving of heart as she had ever been. The most painful discoveries she had made had been concealed from her mother until their aspect was modified. Mrs. Vanderpoel need now feel no shock at the sight of the restored Rosy. Lady Anstruthers had been still young enough to respond both physically and mentally to love, companionship, agreeable luxuries, and stimulating interests. But for Nigel’s antagonism there was now no reason why she should not be taken home for a visit to her family, and her long-yearned-for New York, no reason why her father and mother should not come to Stornham, and thus establish the customary social relations between their daughter’s home and their own. That this seemed out of the question was owing to the fact that at the outset of his married life Sir Nigel had allowed himself to commit errors in tactics. A perverse egotism, not wholly normal in its rancour, had led him into deeds which he had begun to suspect of having cost him too much, even before Betty herself had pointed out to him their unbusinesslike indiscretion. He had done things he could not undo, and now, to his mind, his only resource was to treat them boldly as having been the proper results of decision founded on sound judgment, which he had no desire to excuse. A sufficiently arrogant loftiness of bearing would, he hoped, carry him through the matter. This Betty herself had guessed, but she had not realised that this loftiness of attitude was in danger of losing some of its effectiveness through his being increasingly stung and spurred by circumstances and feelings connected with herself, which were at once exasperating and at times almost overpowering. When, in his mingled dislike and admiration, he had begun to study his sister-in-law, and the half-amused weaving of the small plots which would make things sufficiently unpleasant to be used as factors in her removal from the scene, if necessary, he had not calculated, ever so remotely, on the chance of that madness besetting him which usually besets men only in their youth. He had imagined no other results to himself than a subtly-exciting private entertainment, such as would give spice to the dullness of virtuous life in the country. But, despite himself and his intentions, he had found the situation alter. His first uncertainty of himself had arisen at the Dunholm ball, when he had suddenly realised that he was detesting men who, being young and free, were at liberty to pay gallant court to the new beauty.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing to him had been his consciousness of his sudden leap of antagonism towards Mount Dunstan, who, despite his obvious lack of chance, somehow especially roused in him the rage of warring male instinct. There had been admissions he had been forced, at length, to make to himself. You could not, it appeared, live in the house with a splendid creature like this one–with her brilliant eyes, her beauty of line and movement before you every hour, her bloom, her proud fineness holding themselves wholly in their own keeping–without there being the devil to pay. Lately he had sometimes gone hot and cold in realising that, having once told himself that he might choose to decide to get rid of her, he now knew that the mere thought of her sailing away of her own choice was maddening to him. There WAS the devil to pay! It sometimes brought back to him that hideous shakiness of nerve which had been a feature of his illness when he had been on the Riviera with Teresita.

Of all this Betty only knew the outward signs which, taken at their exterior significance, were detestable enough, and drove her hard as she mentally dwelt on them in connection with other things. How easy, if she stood alone, to defy his evil insolence to do its worst, and leaving the place at an hour’s notice, to sail away to protection, or, if she chose to remain in England, to surround herself with a bodyguard of the people in whose eyes his disrepute relegated a man such as Nigel Anstruthers to powerless nonentity. Alone, she could have smiled and turned her back upon him. But she was here to take care of Rosy. She occupied a position something like that of a woman who remains with a man and endures outrage because she cannot leave her child. That thought, in itself, brought Ughtred to her mind. There was Ughtred to be considered as well as his mother. Ughtred’s love for and faith in her were deep and passionate things. He fed on her tenderness for him, and had grown stronger because he spent hours of each day talking, reading, and driving with her. The simple truth was that neither she nor Rosalie could desert Ughtred, and so long as Nigel managed cleverly enough, the law would give the boy to his father.

“You are obliged to prove things, you know, in a court of law,” he had said, as if with casual amiability, on a certain occasion. “Proving things is the devil. People lose their tempers and rush into rows which end in lawsuits, and then find they can prove nothing. If I were a villain,” slightly showing his teeth in an agreeable smile–“instead of a man of blameless life, I should go in only for that branch of my profession which could be exercised without leaving stupid evidence behind.”

Since his return to Stornham the outward decorum of his own conduct had entertained him and he had kept it up with an increasing appreciation of its usefulness in the present situation. Whatsoever happened in the end, it was the part of discretion to present to the rural world about him an appearance of upright behaviour. He had even found it amusing to go to church and also to occasionally make amiable calls at the vicarage. It was not difficult, at such times, to refer delicately to his regret that domestic discomfort had led him into the error of remaining much away from Stornham. He knew that he had been even rather touching in his expression of interest in the future of his son, and the necessity of the boy’s being protected from uncontrolled hysteric influences. And, in the years of Rosalie’s unprotected wretchedness, he had taken excellent care that no “stupid evidence” should be exposed to view.

Of all this Betty was thinking and summing up definitely, point after point. Where was the wise and practical course of defence? The most unthinkable thing was that one could find one’s self in a position in which action seemed inhibited. What could one do? To send for her father would surely end the matter–but at what cost to Rosy, to Ughtred, to Ffolliott, before whom the fair path to dignified security had so newly opened itself? What would be the effect of sudden confusion, anguish, and public humiliation upon Rosalie’s carefully rebuilt health and strength–upon her mother’s new hope and happiness? At moments it seemed as if almost all that had been done might be undone. She was beset by such a moment now, and felt for the time, at least, like a creature tied hand and foot while in full strength.

Certainly she was not prepared for the event which happened. Roland stiffened his ears, and, beginning a rumbling growl, ended it suddenly, realising it an unnecessary precaution.

He knew the man walking up the incline of the mound from the side behind them. So did Betty know him. It was Sir Nigel looking rather glowering and pale and walking slowly. He had discovered where she had meant to take refuge, and had probably ridden to some point where he could leave his horse and follow her at the expense of taking a short cut which saved walking.

As he climbed the mound to join her, Betty rose to her feet.

“My dear girl,” he said, “don’t get up as if you meant to go away. It has cost me some exertion to find you.”

“It will not cost you any exertion to lose me,” was her light answer. “I AM going away.”

He had reached her, and stood still before her with scarcely a yard’s distance between them. He was slightly out of breath and even a trifle livid. He leaned on his stick and his look at her combined leaping bad temper with something deeper.

“Look here!” he broke out, “why do you make such a point of treating me like the devil?”

Betty felt her heart give a hastened beat, not of fear, but of repulsion. This was the mood and manner which subjugated Rosalie. He had so raised his voice that two men in the distance, who might be either labourers or sportsmen, hearing its high tone, glanced curiously towards them.

“Why do you ask me a question which is totally absurd?” she said.

“It is not absurd,” he answered. “I am speaking of facts, and I intend to come to some understanding about them.”

For reply, after meeting his look a few seconds, she simply turned her back and began to walk away. He followed and overtook her.

“I shall go with you, and I shall say what I want to say,” he persisted. “If you hasten your pace I shall hasten mine. I cannot exactly see you running away from me across the marsh, screaming. You wouldn’t care to be rescued by those men over there who are watching us. I should explain myself to them in terms neither you nor Rosalie would enjoy. There! I knew Rosalie’s name would pull you up. Good God! I wish I were a weak fool with a magnificent creature protecting me at all risks.”

If she had not had blood and fire in her veins, she might have found it easy to answer calmly. But she had both, and both leaped and beat furiously for a few seconds. It was only human that it should be so. But she was more than a passionate girl of high and trenchant spirit, and she had learned, even in the days at the French school, what he had never been able to learn in his life–self-control. She held herself in as she would have held in a horse of too great fire and action. She was actually able to look–as the first Reuben Vanderpoel would have looked–at her capital of resource. But it meant taut holding of the reins.

“Will you tell me,” she said, stopping, “what it is you want?”

“I want to talk to you. I want to tell you truths you would rather be told here than on the high road, where people are passing–or at Stornham, where the servants would overhear and Rosalie be thrown into hysterics. You will NOT run screaming across the marsh, because I should run screaming after you, and we should both look silly. Here is a rather scraggy tree. Will you sit on the mound near it–for Rosalie’s sake?”

“I will not sit down,” replied Betty, “but I will listen, because it is not a bad idea that I should understand you. But to begin with, I will tell you something.” She stopped beneath the tree and stood with her back against its trunk. “I pick up things by noticing people closely, and I have realised that all your life you have counted upon getting your own way because you saw that people–especially women –have a horror of public scenes, and will submit to almost anything to avoid them. That is true very often, but not always.”

Her eyes, which were well opened, were quite the blue of steel, and rested directly upon him. “I, for instance, would let you make a scene with me anywhere you chose–in Bond Street– in Piccadilly–on the steps of Buckingham Palace, as I was getting out of my carriage to attend a drawing-room–and you would gain nothing you wanted by it–nothing. You may place entire confidence in that statement.”

He stared back at her, momentarily half-magnetised, and then broke forth into a harsh half-laugh.

“You are so damned handsome that nothing else matters. I’m hanged if it does!” and the words were an exclamation. He drew still nearer to her, speaking with a sort of savagery. “Cannot you see that you could do what you pleased with me? You are too magnificent a thing for a man to withstand. I have lost my head and gone to the devil through you. That is what I came to say.”

In the few seconds of silence that followed, his breath came quickly again and he was even paler than before.

“You came to me to say THAT?” asked Betty.

“Yes–to say it before you drove me to other things.”

Her gaze was for a moment even slightly wondering. He presented the curious picture of a cynical man of the world, for the time being ruled and impelled only by the most primitive instincts. To a clear-headed modern young woman of the most powerful class, he–her sister’s husband–was making threatening love as if he were a savage chief and she a savage beauty of his tribe. All that concerned him was that he should speak and she should hear–that he should show her he was the stronger of the two.

“Are you QUITE mad?” she said.

“Not quite,” he answered; “only three parts–but I am beyond my own control. That is the best proof of what has happened to me. You are an arrogant piece and you would defy me if you stood alone, but you don’t, and, by the Lord! I have reached a point where I will make use of every lever I can lay my hand on–yourself, Rosalie, Ughtred, Ffolliott– the whole lot of you!”

The thing which was hardest upon her was her knowledge of her own strength–of what she might have allowed herself of flaming words and instant action–but for the memory of Rosy’s ghastly little face, as it had looked when she cried out, “You must not think of me. Betty, go home–go home!” She held the white desperation of it before her mental vision and answered him even with a certain interested deliberateness.

“Do you know,” she inquired, “that you are talking to me as though you were the villain in the melodrama?”

“There is an advantage in that,” he answered, with an unholy smile. “If you repeat what I say, people will only think that you are indulging in hysterical exaggeration. They don’t believe in the existence of melodrama in these days.”

The cynical, absolute knowledge of this revealed so much that nerve was required to face it with steadiness.

“True,” she commented. “Now I think I understand.”

“No, you don’t,” he burst forth. “You have spent your life standing on a golden pedestal, being kowtowed to, and you imagine yourself immune from difficulties because you think you can pay your way out of anything. But you will find that you cannot pay your way out of this–or rather you cannot pay Rosalie’s way out of it.”

“I shall not try. Go on,” said the girl. “What I do not understand, you must explain to me. Don’t leave anything unsaid.”

“Good God, what a woman you are!” he cried out bitterly. He had never seen such beauty in his life as he saw in her as she stood with her straight young body flat against the tree. It was not a matter of deep colour of eye, or high spirit of profile–but of something which burned him. Still as she was, she looked like a flame. She made him feel old and body- worn, and all the more senselessly furious.

“I believe you hate me,” he raged. “And I may thank my wife for that.” Then he lost himself entirely. “Why cannot you behave well to me? If you will behave well to me, Rosalie shall go her own way. If you even looked at me as you look at other men–but you do not. There is always something under your lashes which watches me as if I were a wild beast you were studying. Don’t fancy yourself a dompteuse. I am not your man. I swear to you that you don’t know what you are dealing with. I swear to you that if you play this game with me I will drag you two down if I drag myself with you. I have nothing much to lose. You and your sister have everything.”

“Go on,” Betty said briefly.

“Go on! Yes, I will go on. Rosalie and Ffolliott I hold in the hollow of my hand. As for you–do you know that people are beginning to discuss you? Gossip is easily stirred in the country, where people are so bored that they chatter in self-defence. I have been considered a bad lot. I have become curiously attached to my sister-in-law. I am seen hanging about her, hanging over her as we ride or walk alone together. An American young woman is not like an English girl–she is used to seeing the marriage ceremony juggled with. There’s a trifle of prejudice against such young women when they are too rich and too handsome. Don’t look at me like that!” he burst forth, with maddened sharpness, “I won’t have it!”

The girl was regarding him with the expression he most resented–the reflection of a normal person watching an abnormal one, and studying his abnormality.

“Do you know that you are raving?” she said, with quiet curiosity–“raving?”

Suddenly he sat down on the low mound near him, and as he touched his forehead with his handkerchief, she saw that his hand actually shook.

“Yes,” he answered, panting, “but ‘ware my ravings! They mean what they say.”

“You do yourself an injury when you give way to them”– steadily, even with a touch of slow significance–“a physical injury. I have noticed that more than once.”

He sprang to his feet again. Every drop of blood left his face. For a second he looked as if he would strike her. His arm actually flung itself out–and fell.

“You devil!” he gasped. “You count on that? You she-devil!”

She left her tree and stood before him.

“Listen to me,” she said. “You intimate that you have been laying melodramatic plots against me which will injure my good name. That is rubbish. Let us leave it at that. You threaten that you will break Rosy’s heart and take her child from her, you say also that you will wound and hurt my mother to her death and do your worst to ruin an honest man—-“

“And, by God, I will!” he raged. “And you cannot stop me, if—-“

“I do not know whether I can stop you or not, though you may be sure I will try,” she interrupted him, “but that is not what I was going to say.” She drew a step nearer, and there was something in the intensity of her look which fascinated and held him for a moment. She was curiously grave. “Nigel, I believe in certain things you do not believe in. I believe black thoughts breed black ills to those who think them. It is not a new idea. There is an old Oriental proverb which says, `Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.’ I believe also that the worst–the very worst CANNOT be done to those who think steadily–steadily–only of the best. To you that is merely superstition to be laughed at. That is a matter of opinion. But–don’t go on with this thing–DON’T GO ON WITH IT. Stop and think it over.”

He stared at her furiously–tried to laugh outright, and failed because the look in her eyes was so odd in its strength and stillness.

“You think you can lay some weird spell upon me,” he jeered sardonically.

“No, I don’t,” she answered. “I could not if I would. It is no affair of mine. It is your affair only–and there is nothing weird about it. Don’t go on, I tell you. Think better of it.”

She turned about without further speech, and walked away from him with light swiftness over the marsh. Oddly enough, he did not even attempt to follow her. He felt a little weak– perhaps because a certain thing she had said had brought back to him a familiar touch of the horrors. She had the eyes of a falcon under the odd, soft shade of the extraordinary lashes. She had seen what he thought no one but himself had realised. Having watched her retreating figure for a few seconds, he sat down–as suddenly as before–on the mound near the tree.

“Oh, damn her!” he said, his damp forehead on his hands. “Damn the whole universe!”

. . . . .

When Betty and Roland reached Stornham, the wicker-work pony chaise from the vicarage stood before the stone entrance steps. The drawing-room door was open, and Mrs. Brent was standing near it saying some last words to Lady Anstruthers before leaving the house, after a visit evidently made with an object. This Betty gathered from the solemnity of her manner.

“Betty,” said Lady Anstruthers, catching sight of her, “do come in for a moment.”

When Betty entered, both her sister and Mrs. Brent looked at her questioningly.

“You look a little pale and tired, Miss Vanderpoel,” Mrs. Brent said, rather as if in haste to be the first to speak. “I hope you are not at all unwell. We need all our strength just now. I have brought the most painful news. Malignant typhoid fever has broken out among the hop pickers on the Mount Dunstan estate. Some poor creature was evidently sickening for it when he came from London. Three people died last night.”

CHAPTER XLI

SHE WOULD DO SOMETHING

Sir Nigel’s face was not a good thing to see when he appeared at the dinner table in the evening. As he took his seat the two footmen glanced quickly at each other, and the butler at the sideboard furtively thrust out his underlip. Not a man or woman in the household but had learned the signal denoting the moment when no service would please, no word or movement be unobjectionable. Lady Anstruthers’ face unconsciously assumed its propitiatory expression, and she glanced at her sister more than once when Betty was unaware that she did so.

Until the soup had been removed, Sir Nigel scarcely spoke, merely making curt replies to any casual remark. This was one of his simple and most engaging methods of at once enjoying an ill-humour and making his wife feel that she was in some way to blame for it.

“Mount Dunstan is in a deucedly unpleasant position,” he condescended at last. “I should not care to stand in his shoes.”

He had not returned to the Court until late in the afternoon, but having heard in the village the rumour of the outbreak of fever, he had made inquiries and gathered detail.

“You are thinking of the outbreak of typhoid among the hop pickers?” said Lady Anstruthers. “Mrs. Brent thinks it threatens to be very serious.”

“An epidemic, without a doubt,” he answered. “In a wretched unsanitary place like Dunstan village, the wretches will die like flies.”

“What will be done?” inquired Betty.

He gave her one of the unpleasant personal glances and laughed derisively.

“Done? The county authorities, who call themselves `guardians,’ will be frightened to death and will potter about and fuss like old women, and profess to examine and protect and lay restrictions, but everyone will manage to keep at a discreet distance, and the thing will run riot and do its worst. As far as one can see, there seems no reason why the whole place should not be swept away. No doubt Mount Dunstan has wisely taken to his heels already.”

“I think that, on the contrary, there would be much doubt of that,” Betty said. “He would stay and do what he could.”

Sir Nigel shrugged his shoulders.

“Would he? I think you’ll find he would not.”

“Mrs. Brent tells me,” Rosalie broke in somewhat hurriedly, “that the huts for the hoppers are in the worst possible condition. They are so dilapidated that the rain pours into them. There is no proper shelter for the people who are ill, and Lord Mount Dunstan cannot afford to take care of them.”

“But he WILL–he WILL,” broke forth Betty. Her head lifted itself and she spoke almost as if through her small, shut teeth. A wave of intense belief–high, proud, and obstinate, swept through her. It was a feeling so strong and vibrant that she felt as if Mount Dunstan himself must be reached and upborne by it–as if he himself must hear her.

Rosalie looked at her half-startled, and, for the moment held fascinated by the sudden force rising in her and by the splendid spark of light under her lids. She was reminded of the fierce little Betty of long ago, with her delicate, indomitable small face and the spirit which even at nine years old had somehow seemed so strong and straitly keen of sight that one had known it might always be trusted. Actually, in one way, she had not changed. She saw the truth of things. The next instant, however, inadvertently glancing towards her husband, she caught her breath quickly. Across his heavy-featured face had shot the sudden gleam of a new expression. It was as if he had at the moment recognised something which filled him with a rush of fury he himself was not prepared for. That he did not wish it to be seen she knew by his manner. There was a brief silence in which it passed away. He spoke after it, with disagreeable precision.

“He has had an enormous effect on you–that man,” he said to Betty.

He spoke clearly so that she might have the pleasure of being certain that the menservants heard. They were close to the table, handing fruit–professing to be automatons, eyes down, faces expressing nothing, but as quick of hearing as it is said that blind men are. He knew that if he had been in her place and a thing as insultingly significant had been said to him, he should promptly have hurled the nearest object–plate, wine- glass, or decanter–in the face of the speaker. He knew, too, that women cannot hurl projectiles without looking like viragos and fools. The weakly-feminine might burst into tears or into a silly rage and leave the table. There was a distinct breath’s space of pause, and Betty, cutting a cluster from a bunch of hothouse grapes presented by the footman at her side, answered as clearly as he had spoken himself.

“He is strong enough to produce an effect on anyone,” she said. “I think you feel that yourself. He is a man who will not be beaten in the end. Fortune will give him some good thing.”

“He is a fellow who knows well enough on which hand of him good things lie,” he said. “He will take all that offers itself.”

“Why not?” Betty said impartially.

“There must be no riding or driving in the neighbourhood of the place,” he said next. “I will have no risks run.” He turned and addressed the butler. “Jennings, tell the servants that those are my orders.”

He sat over his wine but a short time that evening, and when he joined his wife and sister-in-law in the drawing-room he went at once to Betty. In fact, he was in the condition when a man cannot keep away from a woman, but must invent some reason for reaching her whether it is fatuous or plausible.

“What I said to Jennings was an order to you as well as to the people below stairs. I know you are particularly fond of riding in the direction of Mount Dunstan. You are in my care so long as you are in my house.”

“Orders are not necessary,” Betty replied. “The day is past when one rushed to smooth pillows and give the wrong medicine when one’s friends were ill. If one is not a properly- trained nurse, it is wiser not to risk being very much in the way.”

He spoke over her shoulder, dropping his voice, though Lady Anstruthers sat apart, appearing to read.

“Don’t think I am fool enough not to understand. You have yourself under magnificent control, but a woman passionately in love cannot keep a certain look out of her eyes.”

He was standing on the hearth. Betty swung herself lightly round, facing him squarely. Her full look was splendid.

“If it is there–let it stay,” she said. “I would not keep it out of my eyes if I could, and, you are right, I could not if I would–if it is there. If it is–let it stay.”

The daring, throbbing, human truth of her made his brain whirl. To a man young and clean and fit to count as in the lists, to have heard her say the thing of a rival would have been hard enough, but base, degenerate, and of the world behind her day, to hear it while frenzied for her, was intolerable. And it was Mount Dunstan she bore herself so highly for. Whether melodrama is out of date or not there are, occasionally, some fine melodramatic touches in the enmities of to-day.

“You think you will reach him,” he persisted. “You think you will help him in some way. You will not let the thing alone.”

“Excuse my mentioning that whatsoever I take the liberty of doing will encroach on no right of yours,” she said.

But, alone in her room, after she went upstairs, the face reflecting itself in the mirror was pale and its black brows were drawn together.

She sat down at the dressing-table, and, seeing the paled face, drew the black brows closer, confronting a complicating truth.

“If I were free to take Rosalie and Ughtred home to-morrow,” she thought, “I could not bear to go. I should suffer too much.”

She was suffering now. The strong longing in her heart was like a physical pain. No word or look of this one man had given her proof that his thoughts turned to her, and yet it was intolerable–intolerable–that in his hour of stress and need they were as wholly apart as if worlds rolled between them. At any dire moment it was mere nature that she should give herself in help and support. If, on the night at sea, when they had first spoken to each other, the ship had gone down, she knew that they two, strangers though they were, would have worked side by side among the frantic people, and have been among the last to take to the boats. How did she know? Only because, he being he, and she being she, it must have been so in accordance with the laws ruling entities. And now he stood facing a calamity almost as terrible–and she with full hands sat still.

She had seen the hop pickers’ huts and had recognised their condition. Mere brick sheds in which the pickers slept upon bundles of hay or straw in their best days; in their decay they did not even provide shelter. In fine weather the hop gatherers slept well enough in them, cooking their food in gypsy-fashion in the open. When the rain descended, it must run down walls and drip through the holes in the roofs in streams which would soak clothes and bedding. The worst that Nigel and Mrs. Brent had implied was true. Illness of any order, under such circumstances, would have small chance of recovery, but malignant typhoid without shelter, without proper nourishment or nursing, had not one chance in a million. And he–this one man–stood alone in the midst of the tragedy–responsible and helpless. He would feel himself responsible as she herself would, if she were in his place. She was conscious that suddenly the event of the afternoon–the interview upon the marshes, had receded until it had become an almost unmeaning incident. What did the degenerate, melodramatic folly matter—-!

She had restlessly left her chair before the dressing-table, and was walking to and fro. She paused and stood looking down at the carpet, though she scarcely saw it.

“Nothing matters but one thing–one person,” she owned to herself aloud. “I suppose it is always like this. Rosy, Ughtred, even father and mother–everyone seems less near than they were. It is too strong–too strong. It is—-” the words dropped slowly from her lips, “the strongest thing– in the world.”

She lifted her face and threw out her hands, a lovely young half-sad smile curling the deep corners of her mouth. “Sometimes one feels so disdained,” she said–“so disdained with all one’s power. Perhaps I am an unwanted thing.”

But even in this case there were aids one might make an effort to give. She went to her writing-table and sat thinking for some time. Afterwards she began to write letters. Three or four were addressed to London–one was to Mr. Penzance.

. . . . .

Mount Dunstan and his vicar were walking through the village to the vicarage. They had been to the hop pickers’ huts to see the people who were ill of the fever. Both of them noticed that cottage doors and windows were shut, and that here and there alarmed faces looked out from behind latticed panes.

“They are in a panic of fear,” Mount Dunstan said, “and by way of safeguard they shut out every breath of air and stifle indoors. Something must be done.”

Catching the eye of a woman who was peering over her short white dimity blind, he beckoned to her authoritatively. She came to the door and hesitated there, curtsying nervously.

Mount Dunstan spoke to her across the hedge.

“You need not come out to me, Mrs. Binner. You may stay where you are,” he said. “Are you obeying the orders given by the Guardians?”

“Yes, my lord. Yes, my lord,” with more curtsys.

“Your health is very much in your own hands,” he added.

“You must keep your cottage and your children cleaner than you have ever kept them before, and you must use the disinfectant I sent you. Keep away from the huts, and open your windows. If you don’t open them, I shall come and do it for you. Bad air is infection itself. Do you understand?”

“Yes, my lord. Thank your lordship.”

“Go in and open your windows now, and tell your neighbours to do the same. If anyone is ill let me know at once. The vicar and I will do our best for everyone.”

By that time curiosity had overcome fear, and other cottage doors had opened. Mount Dunstan passed down the row and said a few words to each woman or man who looked out. Questions were asked anxiously and he answered them. That he was personally unafraid was comfortingly plain, and the mere sight of him was, on the whole, an unexplainable support.

“We heard said your lordship was going away,” put in a stout mother with a heavy child on her arm, a slight testiness scarcely concealed by respectful good-manners. She was a matron with a temper, and that a Mount Dunstan should avoid responsibilities seemed highly credible.

“I shall stay where I am,” Mount Dunstan answered. “My place is here.”

They believed him, Mount Dunstan though he was. It could not be said that they were fond of him, but gradually it had been borne in upon them that his word was to be relied on, though his manner was unalluring and they knew he was too poor to do his duty by them or his estate. As he walked away with the vicar, windows were opened, and in one or two untidy cottages a sudden flourishing of mops and brooms began.

There was dark trouble in Mount Dunstan’s face. In the huts they had left two men stiff on their straw, and two women and a child in a state of collapse. Added to these were others stricken helpless. A number of workers in the hop gardens, on realising the danger threatening them, had gathered together bundles and children, and, leaving the harvest behind, had gone on the tramp again. Those who remained were the weaker or less cautious, or were held by some tie to those who were already ill of the fever. The village doctor was an old man who had spent his blameless life in bringing little cottagers into the world, attending their measles and whooping coughs, and their father’s and grandfather’s rheumatics. He had never faced a village crisis in the course of his seventy-five years, and was aghast and flurried with fright. His methods remained those of his youth, and were marked chiefly by a readiness to prescribe calomel in any emergency. A younger and stronger man was needed, as well as a man of more modern training. But even the most brilliant practitioner of the hour could not have provided shelter and nourishment, and without them his skill would have counted as nothing. For three weeks there had been no rain, which was a condition of the barometer not likely to last. Already grey clouds were gathering and obscuring the blueness of the sky.

The vicar glanced upwards anxiously.

“When it comes,” he said, “there will be a downpour, and a persistent one.”

“Yes,” Mount Dunstan answered.

He had lain awake thinking throughout the night. How was a man to sleep! It was as Betty Vanderpoel had known it would be. He, who–beggar though he might be–was the lord of the land, was the man to face the strait of these poor workers on the land, as his own. Some action must be taken. What action? As he walked by his friend’s side from the huts where the dead men lay it revealed itself that he saw his way.

They were going to the vicarage to consult a medical book, but on the way there they passed a part of the park where, through a break in the timber the huge, white, blind-faced house stood on view. Mount Dunstan laid his hand on Mr. Penzance’s shoulder and stopped him

“Look there!” he said. “THERE are weather-tight rooms enough.”

A startled expression showed itself on the vicar’s face.

“For what?” he exclaimed

“For a hospital,” brusquely “I can give them one thing, at least–shelter.”

“It is a very remarkable thing to think of doing,” Mr. Penzance said.

“It is not so remarkable as that labourers on my land should die at my gate because I cannot give them decent roofs to cover them. There is a roof that will shield them from the weather. They shall be brought to the Mount.”

The vicar was silent a moment, and a flush of sympathy warmed his face.

“You are quite right, Fergus,” he said, “entirely right.”

“Let us go to your study and plan how it shall be done,” Mount Dunstan said.

As they walked towards the vicarage, he went on talking.

“When I lie awake at night, there is one thread which always winds itself through my thoughts whatsoever they are. I don’t find that I can disentangle it. It connects itself with Reuben S. Vanderpoel’s daughter. You would know that without my telling you. If you had ever struggled with an insane passion—-“

“It is not insane, I repeat,” put in Penzance unflinchingly.

“Thank you–whether you are right or wrong,” answered Mount Dunstan, striding by his side. “When I am awake, she is as much a part of my existence as my breath itself. When I think things over, I find that I am asking myself if her thoughts would be like mine. She is a creature of action. Last night, as I lay awake, I said to myself, `She would DO something. What would she do?’ She would not be held back by fear of comment or convention. She would look about her for the utilisable, and she would find it somewhere and use it. I began to sum up the village resources and found nothing–until my thoughts led me to my own house. There it stood–empty and useless. If it were hers, and she stood in my place, she would make it useful. So I decided.”

“You are quite right,” Mr. Penzance said again.

They spent an hour in his library at the vicarage, arranging practical methods for transforming the great ballroom into a sort of hospital ward. It could be done by the removal of pieces of furniture from the many unused bedrooms. There was also the transportation of the patients from the huts to be provided for. But, when all this was planned out, each found himself looking at the other with an unspoken thought in his mind. Mount Dunstan first expressed it.

“As far as I can gather, the safety of typhoid fever patients depends almost entirely on scientific nursing, and the caution with which even liquid nourishment is given. The woman whose husband died this morning told me that he had seemed better in the night, and had asked for something to eat. She gave him a piece of bread and a slice of cold bacon, because he told her he fancied it. I could not explain to her, as she sat sobbing over him, that she had probably killed him. When we have patients in our ward, what shall we feed them on, and who will know how to nurse them? They do not know how to nurse each other, and the women in the village would not run the risk of undertaking to help us.”

But, even before he had left the house, the problem was solved for them. The solving of it lay in the note Miss Vanderpoel had written the night before at Stornham.

When it was brought to him Mr. Penzance glanced up from certain calculations he was making upon a sheet of note- paper. The accumulating difficulties made him look worn and tired. He opened the note and read it gravely, and then as gravely, though with a change of expression, handed it to Mount Dunstan.

“Yes, she is a creature of action. She has heard and understood at once, and she has done something. It is immensely practical–it is fine–it–it is lovable.”

“Do you mind my keeping it?” Mount Dunstan asked, after he had read it.

“Keep it by all means,” the vicar answered. “It is worth keeping.”

But it was quite brief. She had heard of the outbreak of fever among the hop pickers, and asked to be allowed to give help to the people who were suffering. They would need prompt aid. She chanced to know something of the requirements of such cases, and had written to London for certain supplies which would be sent to them at once. She had also written for nurses, who would be needed above all else. Might she ask Mr. Penzance to kindly call upon her for any further assistance required.

“Tell her we are deeply grateful,” said Mount Dunstan, “and that she has given us greater help than she knows.”

“Why not answer her note yourself?” Penzance suggested.

Mount Dunstan shook his head.

“No,” he said shortly. “No.”

CHAPTER XLII

IN THE BALLROOM

Though Dunstan village was cut off, by its misfortune, from its usual intercourse with its neighbours, in some mystic manner villages even at twenty miles’ distance learned all it did and suffered, feared or hoped. It did not hope greatly, the rustic habit of mind tending towards a discouraged outlook, and cherishing the drama of impending calamity. As far as Yangford and Marling inmates of cottages and farm- houses were inclined to think it probable that Dunstan would be “swep away,” and rumours of spreading death and disaster were popular. Tread, the advanced blacksmith at Stornham, having heard in his by-gone, better days of the Great Plague of London, was greatly in demand as a narrator of illuminating anecdotes at The Clock Inn.

Among the parties gathered at the large houses Mount Dunstan himself was much talked of. If he had been a popular man, he might have become a sort of hero; as he was not popular, he was merely a subject for discussion. The fever-stricken patients had been carried in carts to the Mount and given beds in the ballroom, which had been made into a temporary ward. Nurses and supplies had been sent for from London, and two energetic young doctors had taken the place of old Dr. Fenwick, who had been frightened and overworked into an attack of bronchitis which confined him to his bed. Where the money came from, which must be spent every day under such circumstances, it was difficult to say. To the simply conservative of mind, the idea of filling one’s house with dirty East End hop pickers infected with typhoid seemed too radical. Surely he could have done something less extraordinary. Would everybody be expected to turn their houses into hospitals in case of village epidemics, now that he had established a precedent? But there were people who approved, and were warm in their sympathy with him. At the first dinner party where the matter was made the subject of argument, the beautiful Miss Vanderpoel, who was present, listened silently to the talk with such brilliant eyes that Lord Dunholm, who was in an elderly way her staunch admirer, spoke to her across the table:

“Tell us what YOU think of it, Miss Vanderpoel,” he suggested.

She did not hesitate at all.

“I like it,” she answered, in her clear, well-heard voice. “I like it better than anything I have ever heard.”

“So do I,” said old Lady Alanby shortly. “I should never have done it myself–but I like it just as you do.”

“I knew you would, Lady Alanby,” said the girl. “And you, too, Lord Dunholm.”

“I like it so much that I shall write and ask if I cannot be of assistance,” Lord Dunholm answered.

Betty was glad to hear this. Only quickness of thought prevented her from the error of saying, “Thank you,” as if the matter were personal to herself. If Mount Dunstan was restive under the obviousness of the fact that help was so sorely needed, he might feel less so if her offer was only one among others.

“It seems rather the duty of the neighbourhood to show some interest,” put in Lady Alanby. “I shall write to him myself. He is evidently of a new order of Mount Dunstan. It’s to be hoped he won’t take the fever himself, and die of it He ought to marry some handsome, well-behaved girl, and re- found the family.”

Nigel Anstruthers spoke from his side of the table, leaning slightly forward.

“He won’t if he does not take better care of himself. He passed me on the road two days ago, riding like a lunatic. He looks frightfully ill–yellow and drawn and lined. He has not lived the life to prepare him for settling down to a fight with typhoid fever. He would be done for if he caught the infection.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Lord Dunholm, with quiet decision. “Unprejudiced inquiry proves that his life has been entirely respectable. As Lady Alanby says, he seems to be of a new order of Mount Dunstan.”

“No doubt you are right,” said Sir Nigel suavely. “He looked ill, notwithstanding.”

“As to looking ill,” remarked Lady Alanby to Lord Dunholm, who sat near her, “that man looks as if he was going to pieces pretty rapidly himself, and unprejudiced inquiry would not prove that his past had nothing to do with it.”

Betty wondered if her brother-in-law were lying. It was generally safest to argue that he was. But the fever burned high at Mount Dunstan, and she knew by instinct what its owner was giving of the strength of his body and brain. A young, unmarried woman cannot go about, however, making anxious inquiries concerning the welfare of a man who has made no advance towards her. She must wait for the chance which brings news.

. . . . .

The fever, having ill-cared for and habitually ill fed bodies to work upon, wrought fiercely, despite the energy of the two young doctors and the trained nurses. There were many dark hours in the ballroom ward, hours filled with groans and wild ravings. The floating Terpsichorean goddesses upon the lofty ceiling gazed down with wondering eyes at haggard faces and plucking hands which sometimes, behind the screen drawn round their beds, ceased to look feverish, and grew paler and stiller, until they moved no more. But, at least, none had died through want of shelter and care. The supplies needed came from London each day. Lord Dunholm had sent a generous cheque to the aid of the sufferers, and so, also, had old Lady Alanby, but Miss Vanderpoel, consulting medical authorities and hospitals, learned exactly what was required, and necessities were forwarded daily in their most easily utilisable form.

“You generously told me to ask you for anything we found we required,” Mr. Penzance wrote to her in his note of thanks. “My dear and kind young lady, you leave nothing to ask for. Our doctors, who are young and enthusiastic, are filled with delight in the completeness of the resources placed in their hands.”

She had, in fact, gone to London to consult an eminent physician, who was an authority of world-wide reputation. Like the head of the legal firm of Townlinson & Sheppard, he had experienced a new sensation in the visit paid him by an indubitably modern young beauty, who wasted no word, and whose eyes, while he answered her amazingly clear questions, were as intelligently intent as those of an ardent and serious young medical student. What a surgical nurse she would have made! It seemed almost a pity that she evidently belonged to a class the members of which are rich enough to undertake the charge of entire epidemics, but who do not usually give themselves to such work, especially when they are young and astonishing in the matter of looks.

In addition to the work they did in the ballroom ward, Mount Dunstan and the vicar found much to do among the villagers. Ignorance and alarm combined to create dangers, even where they might not have been feared. Daily instruction and inspection of the cottages and their inmates was required. The knowledge that they were under control and supervision was a support to the frightened people and prevented their lapsing into careless habits. Also, there began to develop among them a secret dependence upon, and desire to please “his lordship,” as the existing circumstances drew him nearer to them, and unconsciously they were attracted and dominated by his strength. The strong man carries his power with him, and, when Mount Dunstan entered a cottage and talked to its inmates, the anxious wife or surlily depressed husband was conscious of feeling a certain sense of security. It had been a queer enough thing, this he had done–bundling the infected hoppers out of their leaking huts and carrying them up to the Mount itself for shelter and care. At the most, gentlefolk generally gave soup or blankets or hospital tickets, and left the rest to luck, but, “gentry-way” or not, a man who did a thing like that would be likely to do other things, if they were needed, and gave folk a feeling of being safer than ordinary soup and blankets and hospital tickets could make them.

But “where did the money come from?” was asked during the first days. Beds and doctors, nurses and medicine, fine brandy and unlimited fowls for broth did not come up from London without being paid for. Pounds and pounds a day must be paid out to get the things that were delivered “regular” in hampers and boxes. The women talked to one another over their garden palings, the men argued together over their beer at the public house. Was he running into more debt? But even the village knew that Mount Dunstan credit had been exhausted long ago, and there had been no money at the Mount within the memory of man, so to speak.

One morning the matron with the sharp temper found out the truth, though the outburst of gratitude to Mount Dunstan which resulted in her enlightenment, was entirely spontaneous and without intention. Her doubt of his Mount Dunstan blood had grown into a sturdy liking even for his short speech and his often drawn-down brows.

“We’ve got more to thank your lordship for than common help,” she said. “God Almighty knows where we’d all ha’ been but for what you’ve done. Those poor souls you’ve nursed and fed—-“

“I’ve not done it,” he broke in promptly. “You’re mistaken; I could not have done it. How could I?”

“Well,” exclaimed the matron frankly, “we WAS wondering where things came from.”

“You might well wonder. Have any of you seen Lady Anstruthers’ sister, Miss Vanderpoel, ride through the village? She used sometimes to ride this way. If you saw her you will remember it.’

“The ‘Merican young lady!” in ejaculatory delight. “My word, yes! A fine young woman with black hair? That rich, they say, as millions won’t cover it.”

“They won’t,” grimly. “Lord Dunholm and Lady Alanby of Dole kindly sent cheques to help us, but the American young lady was first on the field. She sent both doctors and nurses, and has supplied us with food and medicine every day. As you say, Mrs. Brown, God Almighty knows what would have become of us, but for what she has done.”

Mrs. Brown had listened with rather open mouth. She caught her breath heartily, as a sort of approving exclamation.

“God bless her!” she broke out. “Girls isn’t generally like that. Their heads is too full of finery. God bless her, ‘Merican or no ‘Merican! That’s what I say.”

Mount Dunstan’s red-brown eyes looked as if she had pleased him.

“That’s what I say, too,” he answered. “God bless her!”

There was not a day which passed in which he did not involuntarily say the words to himself again and again. She had been wrong when she had said in her musings that they were as far apart as if worlds rolled between them. Something stronger than sight or speech drew them together. The thread which wove itself through his thoughts grew stronger and stronger. The first day her gifts arrived and he walked about the ballroom ward directing the placing of hospital cots and hospital aids and comforts, the spirit of her thought and intelligence, the individuality and cleverness of all her methods, brought her so vividly before him that it was almost as if she walked by his side, as if they spoke together, as if she said, “I have tried to think of everything. I want you to miss nothing. Have I helped you? Tell me if there is anything more.” The thing which moved and stirred him was his knowledge that when he had thought of her she had also been thinking of him, or of what deeply concerned him. When he had said to himself, tossing on his pillow, “What would she DO?” she had been planning in such a way as answered his question. Each morning, when the day’s supplies arrived, it was as if he had received a message from her.

As the people in the cottages felt the power of his temperament and depended upon him, so, also, did the patients in the ballroom ward. The feeling had existed from the outset and increased daily. The doctors and nurses told one another that his passing through the room was like the administering of a tonic. Patients who were weak and making no effort, were lifted upon the strong wave of his will and carried onward towards the shore of greater courage and strength.

Young Doctor Thwaite met him when he came in one morning, and spoke in a low voice:

“There is a young man behind the screen there who is very low,” he said. “He had an internal haemorrhage towards morning, and has lost his pluck. He has a wife and three children. We have been doing our best for him with hot- water bottles and stimulants, but he has not the courage to help us. You have an extraordinary effect on them all, Lord Mount Dunstan. When they are depressed, they always ask when you are coming in, and this man–Patton, his name is– has asked for you several times. Upon my word, I believe you might set him going again.”

Mount Dunstan walked to the bed, and, going behind the screen, stood looking down at the young fellow lying breathing pantingly. His eyes were closed as he laboured, and his pinched white nostrils drew themselves in and puffed out at each breath. A nurse on the other side of the cot had just surrounded him with fresh hot-water bottles.

Suddenly the sunken eyelids flew open, and the eyes met Mount Dunstan’s in imploring anxiousness.

“Here I am, Patton,” Mount Dunstan said. “You need not speak.”

But he must speak. Here was the strength his sinking soul had longed for.

“Cruel bad–goin’ fast–m’ lord,” he panted.

Mount Dunstan made a sign to the nurse, who gave him a chair. He sat down close to the bed, and took the bloodless hand in his own.

“No,” he said, “you are not going. You’ll stay here. I will see to that.”

The poor fellow smiled wanly. Vague yearnings had led him sometimes, in the past, to wander into chapels or stop and listen to street preachers, and orthodox platitudes came back to him.

“God’s–will,” he trailed out.

“It’s nothing of the sort. It’s God’s will that you pull yourself together. A man with a wife and three children has no right to slip out.”

A yearning look flickered in the lad’s eyes–he was scarcely more than a lad, having married at seventeen, and had a child each year.

“She’s–a good–girl.”

“Keep that in your mind while you fight this out,” said Mount Dunstan. “Say it over to yourself each time you feel yourself letting go. Hold on to it. I am going to fight it out with you. I shall sit here and take care of you all day –all night, if necessary. The doctor and the nurse will tell me what to do. Your hand is warmer already. Shut your eyes.”

He did not leave the bedside until the middle of the night.

By that time the worst was over. He had acted throughout the hours under the direction of nurse and doctor. No one but himself had touched the patient. When Patton’s eyes were open, they rested on him with a weird growing belief. He begged his lordship to hold his hand, and was uneasy when he laid it down.

“Keeps–me–up,” he whispered.

“He pours something into them–vigour–magnetic power –life. He’s like a charged battery,” Dr. Thwaite said to his co-workers. “He sat down by Patton just in time. It sets one to thinking.”

Having saved Patton, he must save others. When a man or woman sank, or had increased fever, they believed that he alone could give them help. In delirium patients cried out for him. He found himself doing hard work, but he did not flinch from it. The adoration for him became a sort of passion. Haggard faces lighted up into life at the sound of his footstep, and heavy heads turned longingly on their pillows as he passed by. In the winter days to come there would be many an hour’s talk in East End courts and alleys of the queer time when a score or more of them had lain in the great room with the dancing and floating goddesses looking down at them from the high, painted ceiling, and the swell, who was a lord, walking about among them, working for them as the nurses did, and sitting by some of them through awful hours, sometimes holding burning or slackening and chilling hands with a grip whose steadiness seemed to hold them back from the brink of the abyss they were slipping into. The mere ignorantly childish desire to do his prowess credit and to play him fair saved more than one man and woman from going out with the tide.

“It is the first time in my life that I have fairly counted among men. It’s the first time I have known human affection, other than yours, Penzance. They want me, these people; they are better for the sight of me. It is a new experience, and it is good for a man’s soul,” he said.

CHAPTER XLIII

HIS CHANCE

Betty walked much alone upon the marshes with Roland at her side. At intervals she heard from Mr. Penzance, but his notes were necessarily brief, and at other times she could only rely upon report for news of what was occurring at Mount Dunstan. Lord Mount Dunstan’s almost military supervision of and command over his villagers had certainly saved them from the horrors of an uncontrollable epidemic; his decision and energy had filled the alarmed Guardians with respect and this respect had begun to be shared by many other persons. A man as prompt in action, and as faithful to such responsibilities as many men might have found plausible reasons enough for shirking, inevitably assumed a certain dignity of aspect, when all was said and done. Lord Dunholm was most clear in his expressions of opinion concerning him. Lady Alanby of Dole made a practice of speaking of him in public frequently, always with admiring approval, and in that final manner of hers, to whose authority her neighbours had so long submitted. It began to be accepted as a fact that he was a new development of his race–as her ladyship had put it, “A new order of Mount Dunstan.”

The story of his power over the stricken people, and of their passionate affection and admiration for him, was one likely to spread far, and be immensely popular. The drama of certain incidents appealed greatly to the rustic mind, and by cottage firesides he was represented with rapturous awe, as raising men, women, and children from the dead, by the mere miracle of touch. Mrs. Welden and old Doby revelled in thrilling, almost Biblical, versions of current anecdotes, when Betty paid her visits to them.

“It’s like the Scripture, wot he done for that young man as the last breath had gone out of him, an’ him lyin’ stiffening fast. `Young man, arise,’ he says. `The Lord Almighty calls. You’ve got a young wife an’ three children to take care of. Take up your bed an’ walk.’ Not as he wanted him to carry his bed anywheres, but it was a manner of speaking. An’ up the young man got. An’ a sensible way,” said old Mrs. Welden frankly, “for the Lord to look at it– for I must say, miss, if I was struck down for it, though I s’pose it’s only my sinful ignorance–that there’s times when the Lord seems to think no more of sweepin’ away a steady eighteen-shillin’ a week, and p’raps seven in family, an’ one at the breast, an’ another on the way–than if it was nothin’. But likely enough, eighteen shillin’ a week an’ confinements does seem paltry to the Maker of ‘eaven an’ earth.”

But, to the girl walking over the marshland, the humanness of the things she heard gave to her the sense of nearness–of being almost within sight and sound–which Mount Dunstan himself had felt, when each day was filled with the result of her thought of the needs of the poor souls thrown by fate into his hands. In these days, after listening to old Mrs. Welden’s anecdotes, through which she gathered the simpler truth of things, Betty was able to construct for herself a less Scriptural version of what she had heard. She was glad–glad in his sitting by a bedside and holding a hand which lay in his hot or cold, but always trusting to something which his strong body and strong soul gave without stint. There would be no restraint there. Yes, he was kind–kind–kind –with the kindness a woman loves, and which she, of all women, loved most. Sometimes she would sit upon some mound, and, while her eyes seemed to rest on the yellowing marsh and its birds and pools, they saw other things, and their colour grew deep and dark as the marsh water between the rushes.

The time was pressing when a change in her life must come. She frequently asked herself if what she saw in Nigel Anstruthers’ face was the normal thinking of a sane man, which he himself could control. There had been moments when she had seriously doubted it. He was haggard, aging and restless. Sometimes he–always as if by chance–followed her as she went from one room to another, and would seat himself and fix his miserable eyes upon her for so long a time that it seemed he must be unconscious of what he was doing. Then he would appear suddenly to recollect himself and would start up with a muttered exclamation, and stalk out of the room. He spent long hours riding or driving alone about the country or wandering wretchedly through the Park and gardens. Once he went up to town, and, after a few days’ absence, came back looking more haggard than before, and wearing a hunted look in his eyes. He had gone to see a physician, and, after having seen him, he had tried to lose himself in a plunge into deep and turbid enough waters; but he found that he had even lost the taste of high flavours, for which he had once had an epicurean palate. The effort had ended in his being overpowered again by his horrors–the horrors in which he found himself staring at that end of things when no pleasure had spice, no debauchery the sting of life, and men, such as he, stood upon the shore of time shuddering and naked souls, watching the great tide, bearing its treasures, recede forever, and leave them to the cold and hideous dark. During one day of his stay in town he had seen Teresita, who had at first stared half frightened by the change she saw in him, and then had told him truths he could have wrung her neck for putting into words.

“You look an old man,” she said, with the foreign accent he had once found deliciously amusing, but which now seemed to add a sting. “And somesing is eating you op. You are mad in lofe with some beautiful one who will not look at you. I haf seen it in mans before. It is she who eats you op–your evil thinkings of her. It serve you right. Your eyes look mad.”

He himself, at times, suspected that they did, and cursed himself because he could not keep cool. It was part of his horrors that he knew his internal furies were worse than folly, and yet he could not restrain them. The creeping suspicion that this was only the result of the simple fact that he had never tried to restrain any tendency of his own was maddening. His nervous system was a wreck. He drank a great deal of whisky to keep himself “straight” during the day, and he rose many times during his black waking hours in the night to drink more because he obstinately refused to give up the hope that, if he drank enough, it would make him sleep. As through the thoughts of Mount Dunstan, who was a clean and healthy human being, there ran one thread which would not disentangle itself, so there ran through his unwholesome thinking a thread which burned like fire. His secret ravings would not have been good to hear. His passion was more than half hatred, and a desire for vengeance, for the chance to re- assert his own power, to prove himself master, to get the better in one way or another of this arrogant young outsider and her high-handed pride. The condition of his mind was so far from normal that he failed to see that the things he said to himself, the plans he laid, were grotesque in their folly. The old cruel dominance of the man over the woman thing, which had seemed the mere natural working of the law among men of his race in centuries past, was awake in him, amid the limitations of modern days.

“My God,” he said to himself more than once, “I would like to have had her in my hands a few hundred years ago. Women were kept in their places, then.”

He was even frenzied enough to think over what he would have done, if such a thing had been–of her utter helplessness against that which raged in him–of the grey thickness of the walls where he might have held and wrought his will upon her–insult, torment, death. His alcohol-excited brain ran riot–but, when it did its foolish worst, he was baffled by one thing.

“Damn her!” he found himself crying out. “If I had hung her up and cut her into strips she would have died staring at me with her big eyes–without uttering a sound.”

There was a long reach between his imaginings and the time he lived in. America had not been discovered in those decent days, and now a man could not beat even his own wife, or spend her money, without being meddled with by fools. He was thinking of a New York young woman of the nineteenth century who could actually do as she hanged pleased, and who pleased to be damned high and mighty. For that reason in itself it was incumbent upon a man to get even with her in one way or another. High and mightiness was not the hardest thing to reach. It offered a good aim.

His temper when he returned to Stornham was of the order which in past years had set Rosalie and her child shuddering and had sent the servants about the house with pale or sullen faces. Betty’s presence had the odd effect of restraining him, and he even told her so with sneering resentment.

“There would be the devil to pay if you were not here,” he said. “You keep me in order, by Jove! I can’t work up steam properly when you watch me.”

He himself knew that it was likely that some change would take place. She would not stay at Stornham and she would not leave his wife and child alone with him again. It would be like her to hold her tongue until she was ready with her infernal plans and could spring them on him. Her letters to her father had probably prepared him for such action as such a man would be likely to take. He could guess what it would be. They were free and easy enough in America in their dealings with the marriage tie. Their idea would doubtless be a divorce with custody of the child. He wondered a little that they had remained quiet so long. There had been American shrewdness in her coming boldly to Stornham to look over the ground herself and actually set the place in order. It did not present itself to his mind that what she had done had been no part of a scheme, but the mere result of her temperament and training. He told himself that it had been planned beforehand and carried out in hard-headed commercial American fashion as a matter of business. The thing which most enraged him was the implied cool, practical realisation of the fact that he, as inheritor of an entailed estate, was but owner in charge, and not young enough to be regarded as an insurmountable obstacle to their plans. He could not undo the greater part of what had been done, and they were calculating, he argued, that his would not be likely to be a long life, and if –if anything happened–Stornham would be Ughtred’s and the whole vulgar lot of them would come over and take possession and swagger about the place as if they had been born on it. As to divorce or separation–if they took that line, he would at least give them a good run for their money. They would wish they had let sleeping dogs lie before the thing was over. The right kind of lawyer could bully Rosalie into saying anything he chose on the witness-stand. There was not much limit to the evidence a man could bring if he was experienced enough to be circumstantial, and knew whom he was dealing with. The very fact that the little fool could be made to appear to have been so sly and sanctimonious would stir the gall of any jury of men. His own condoning the matter for the sake of his sensitive boy, deformed by his mother’s unrestrained and violent hysteria before his birth, would go a long way. Let them get their divorce, they would have paid for it, the whole lot of them, the beautiful Miss Vanderpoel and all. Such a story as the newspapers would revel in would not be a recommendation to Englishmen of unsmirched reputation. Then his exultation would suddenly drop as his mental excitement produced its effect of inevitable physical fatigue. Even if he made them pay for getting their own way, what would happen to himself afterwards? No morbid vanity of self-bolstering could make the outlook anything but unpromising. If he had not had such diabolical luck in his few investments he could have lived his own life. As it was, old Vanderpoel would possibly condescend to make him some insufficient allowance because Rosalie would wish that it might be done, and he would be expected to drag out to the end the kind of life a man pensioned by his wife’s relatives inevitably does. If he attempted to live in the country he should blow out his brains. When his depression was at its worst, he saw himself aging and shabby, rambling about from one cheap Continental town to another, blackballed by good clubs, cold-shouldered even by the Teresitas, cut off from society by his limited means and the stories his wife’s friends would spread. He ground his teeth when he thought of Betty. Her splendid vitality had done something to life for him–had given it savour. When he had come upon her in the avenue his blood had stirred, even though it had been maliciously, and there had been spice in his very resentment of her presence. And she would go away. He would not be likely to see her again if his wife broke with him; she would be swept out of his days. It was hideous to think of, and his rage would overpower him and his nerves go to pieces again.

“What are you going to do?” he broke forth suddenly one evening, when he found himself temporarily alone with her. “You are going to do something. I see it in your eyes.”

He had been for some time watching her from behind his newspaper, while she, with an unread book upon her lap, had, in fact, been thinking deeply and putting to herself serious questions.

Her answer made him stir rather uncomfortably.

“I am going to write to my father to ask him to come to England.”

So this was what she had been preparing to spring upon him. He laughed insolently.

“To ask him to come here?”

“With your permission.”

“With mine? Does an American father-in-law wait for permission?”

“Is there any practical reason why you should prefer that he should NOT come?”

He left his seat and walked over to her.

“Yes. Your sending for him is a declaration of war.”

“It need not be so. Why should it?”

“In this case I happen to be aware that it is. The choice is your own, I suppose,” with ready bravado, “that you and he are prepared to face the consequences. But is Rosalie, and is your mother?”

“My father is a business man and will know what can be done. He will know what is worth doing,” she answered, without noticing his question. “But,” she added the words slowly, “I have been making up my mind–before I write to him–to say something to you–to ask you a question.”

He made a mock sentimental gesture.

“To ask me to spare my wife, to `remember that she is the mother of my child’?”

She passed over that also.

“To ask you if there is no possible way in which all this unhappiness can be ended decently.”

“The only decent way of ending it would be that there should be no further interference. Let Rosalie supply the decency by showing me the consideration due from a wife to her husband. The place has been put in order. It was not for my benefit, and I have no money to keep it up. Let Rosalie be provided with means to do it.”

As he spoke the words he realised that he had opened a way for embarrassing comment. He expected her to remind him that Rosalie had not come to him without money. But she said nothing about the matter. She never said the things he expected to hear.

“You do not want Rosalie for your wife,” she went on “but you could treat her courteously without loving her. You could allow her the privileges other men’s wives are allowed. You need not separate her from her family. You could allow her father and mother to come to her and leave her free to go to them sometimes. Will you not agree to that? Will you not let her live peaceably in her own simple way? She is very gentle and humble and would ask nothing more.”

“She is a fool!” he exclaimed furiously. “A fool! She will stay where she is and do as I tell her.”

“You knew what she was when you married her. She was simple and girlish and pretended to be nothing she was not. You chose to marry her and take her from the people who loved her. You broke her spirit and her heart. You would have killed her if I had not come in time to prevent it.”

“I will kill her yet if you leave her,” his folly made him say.

“You are talking like a feudal lord holding the power of life and death in his hands,” she said. “Power like that is ancient history. You can hurt no one who has friends–without being punished.”

It was the old story. She filled him with the desire to shake or disturb her at any cost, and he did his utmost. If she was proposing to make terms with him, he would show her whether he would accept them or not. He let her hear all he had said to himself in his worst moments–all that he had argued concerning what she and her people would do, and what his own actions would be–all his intention to make them pay the uttermost farthing in humiliation if he could not frustrate them. His methods would be definite enough. He had not watched his wife and Ffolliott for weeks to no end. He had known what he was dealing with. He had put other people upon the track and they would testify for him. He poured forth unspeakable statements and intimations, going, as usual, further than he had known he should go when he began. Under the spur of excitement his imagination served him well. At last he paused.

“Well,” he put it to her, “what have you to say?”

“I?” with the remote intent curiosity growing in her eyes. “I have nothing to say. I am leaving you to say things.”

“You will, of course, try to deny—-” he insisted.

“No, I shall not. Why should I?”

“You may assume your air of magnificence, but I am dealing with uncomfortable factors.” He stopped in spite of himself, and then burst forth in a new order of rage. “You are trying some confounded experiment on me. What is it?”

She rose from her chair to go out of the room, and stood a moment holding her book half open in her hand.

“Yes. I suppose it might be called an experiment,” was her answer. “Perhaps it was a mistake. I wanted to make quite sure of something.”

“Of what?”

“I did not want to leave anything undone. I did not want to believe that any man could exist who had not one touch of decent feeling to redeem him. It did not seem human.”

White dints showed themselves about his nostrils.

“Well, you have found one,” he cried. “You have a lashing tongue, by God, when you choose to let it go. But I could teach you a good many things, my girl. And before I have done you will have learned most of them.”

But though he threw himself into a chair and laughed aloud as she left him, he knew that his arrogance and bullying were proving poor weapons, though they had done him good service all his life. And he knew, too, that it was mere simple truth that, as a result of the intellectual, ethical vagaries he scathingly derided–she had actually been giving him a sort of chance to retrieve himself, and that if he had been another sort of man he might have taken it.

CHAPTER XLIV

A FOOTSTEP

It was cold enough for fires in halls and bedrooms, and Lady Anstruthers often sat over hers and watched the glowing bed of coals with a fixed thoughtfulness of look. She was so sitting when her sister went to her room to talk to her, and she looked up questioningly when the door closed and Betty came towards her.

“You have come to tell me something,” she said.

A slight shade of anxiousness showed itself in her eyes, and Betty sat down by her and took her hand. She had come because what she knew was that Rosalie must be prepared for any step taken, and the time had arrived when she must not be allowed to remain in ignorance even of things it would be unpleasant to put into words.

“Yes,” she answered. “I want to talk to you about something I have decided to do. I think I must write to father and ask him to come to us.”

Rosalie turned white, but though her lips parted as if she were going to speak, she said nothing.

“Do not be frightened,” Betty said. “I believe it is the only thing to do.”

“I know! I know!”

Betty went on, holding the hand a little closer. “When I came here you were too weak physically to be able to face even the thought of a struggle. I saw that. I was afraid it must come in the end, but I knew that at that time you could not bear it. It would have killed you and might have killed mother, if I had not waited; and until you were stronger, I knew I must wait and reason coolly about you–about everything.”

“I used to guess–sometimes,” said Lady Anstruthers.

“I can tell you about it now. You are not as you were then,” Betty said. “I did not know Nigel at first, and I felt I ought to see more of him. I wanted to make sure that my child hatred of him did not make me unfair. I even tried to hope that when he came back and found the place in order and things going well, he might recognise the wisdom of behaving with decent kindness to you. If he had done that I knew father would have provided for you both, though he would not have left him the opportunity to do again what he did before. No business man would allow such a thing as that. But as time has gone by I have seen I was mistaken in hoping for a respectable compromise. Even if he were given a free hand he would not change. And now—-” She hesitated, feeling it difficult to choose such words as would not be too unpleasant. How was she to tell Rosy of the ugly, morbid situation which made ordinary passiveness impossible. “Now there is a reason—-” she began again.

To her surprise and relief it was Rosalie who ended for her. She spoke with the painful courage which strong affection gives a weak thing. Her face was pale no longer, but slightly reddened, and she lifted the hand which held hers and kissed it.

“You shall not say it,” she interrupted her. “I will. There is a reason now why you cannot stay here–why you shall not stay here. That was why I begged you to go. You must go, even if I stay behind alone.”

Never had the beautiful Miss Vanderpoel’s eyes worn so fully their look of being bluebells under water. That this timid creature should so stand at bay to defend her was more moving than anything else could have been.

“Thank you, Rosy–thank you,” she answered. “But you shall not be left alone. You must go, too. There is no other way. Difficulties will be made for us, but we must face them. Father will see the situation from a practical man’s standpoint. Men know the things other men cannot do. Women don’t. Generally they know nothing about the law and can be bullied into feeling that it is dangerous and compromising to inquire into it. Nigel has always seen that it was easy to manage women. A strong business man who has more exact legal information than he has himself will be a new factor to deal with. And he cannot make objectionable love to him. It is because he knows these things that he says that my sending for father will be a declaration of war.”

“Did he say that?” a little breathlessly.

“Yes, and I told him that it need not be so. But he would not listen.”

“And you are sure father will come?”

“I am sure. In a week or two he will be here.”

Lady Anstruthers’ lips shook, her eyes lifted themselves to Betty’s in a touchingly distressed appeal. Had her momentary courage fled beyond recall? If so, that would be the worst coming to the worst, indeed. Yet it was not ordinary fear which expressed itself in her face, but a deeper piteousness, a sudden hopeless pain, baffling because it seemed a new emotion, or perhaps the upheaval of an old one long and carefully hidden.

“You will be brave?” Betty appealed to her. “You will not give way, Rosy?”

“Yes, I must be brave–I am not ill now. I must not fail you–I won’t, Betty, but—-“

She slipped upon the floor and dropped her face upon the girl’s knee, sobbing.

Betty bent over her, putting her arms round the heaving shoulders, and pleading with her to speak. Was there something more to be told, something she did not know?

“Yes, yes. Oh, I ought to have told you long ago–but I have always been afraid and ashamed. It has made everything so much worse. I was afraid you would not understand and would think me wicked–wicked.”

It was Betty who now lost a shade of colour. But she held the slim little body closer and kissed her sister’s cheek.

“What have you been afraid and ashamed to tell me? Do not be ashamed any more. You must not hide anything, no matter what it is, Rosy. I shall understand.”

“I know I must not hide anything, now that all is over and father is coming. It is–it is about Mr. Ffolliott.”

“Mr. Ffolliott?” repeated Betty quite softly.

Lady Anstruthers’ face, lifted with desperate effort, was like a weeping child’s. So much so in its tear-wet simpleness and utter lack of any effort at concealment, that after one quick look at it Betty’s hastened pulses ceased to beat at double-quick time.

“Tell me, dear,” she almost whispered.

“Mr. Ffolliott himself does not know–and I could not help it. He was kind to me when I was dying of unkindness. You don’t know what it was like to be drowning in loneliness and misery, and to see one good hand stretched out to help you. Before he went away–oh, Betty, I know it was awful because I was married!–I began to care for him very much, and I have cared for him ever since. I cannot stop myself caring, even though I am terrified.”

Betty kissed her again with a passion of tender pity. Poor little, simple Rosy, too! The tide had crept around her also, and had swept her off her feet, tossing her upon its surf like a wisp of seaweed and bearing her each day farther from firm shore.

“Do not be terrified,” she said. “You need only be afraid if–if you had told him.”

“He will never know–never. Once in the middle of the night,” there was anguish in the delicate face, pure anguish, “a strange loud cry wakened me, and it was I myself who had cried out–because in my sleep it had come home to me that the years would go on and on, and at last some day he would die and go out of the world–and I should die and go out of the world. And he would never know–even KNOW.”

Betty’s clasp of her loosened and she sat very still, looking straight before her into some unseen place.

“Yes,” she said involuntarily. “Yes, _I_ know–I know–I know.”

Lady Anstruthers fell back a little to gaze at her.

“YOU know? YOU know?” she breathed. “Betty?”

But Betty at first did not speak. Her lovely eyes dwelt on the far-away place.

“Betty,” whispered Rosy, “do you know what you have said?”

The lovely eyes turned slowly towards her, and the soft corners of Betty’s mouth deepened in a curious unsteadiness.

“Yes. I did not intend to say it. But it is true. _I_ know– I know–I know. Do not ask me how.”

Rosalie flung her arms round her waist and for a moment hid her face.