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  • 1907
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“YOU! YOU!” she murmured, but stopped herself almost as she uttered the exclamation. “I will not ask you,” she said when she spoke again. “But now I shall not be so ashamed. You are a beauty and wonderful, and I am not; but if you KNOW, that makes us almost the same. You will understand why I broke down. It was because I could not bear to think of what will happen. I shall be saved and taken home, but Nigel will wreak revenge on HIM. And I shall be the shame that is put upon him–only because he was kind–KIND. When father comes it will all begin.” She wrung her hands, becoming almost hysterical.

“Hush,” said Betty. “Hush! A man like that CANNOT be hurt, even by a man like Nigel. There is a way out– there IS. Oh, Rosy, we must BELIEVE it.”

She soothed and caressed her and led her on to relieving her long locked-up misery by speech. It was easy to see the ways in which her feeling had made her life harder to bear. She was as inexperienced as a girl, and had accused herself cruelly. When Nigel had tormented her with evil, carefully chosen taunts, she had felt half guilty and had coloured scarlet or turned pale, afraid to meet his sneeringly smiling face. She had tried to forget the kind voice, the kindly, understanding eyes, and had blamed herself as a criminal because she could not.

“I had nothing else to remember–but unhappiness–and it seemed as if I could not help but remember HIM,” she said as simply as the Rosy who had left New York at nineteen might have said it. “I was afraid to trust myself to speak his name. When Nigel made insulting speeches I could not answer him, and he used to say that women who had adventures should train their faces not to betray them every time they were looked at.

“Oh!” broke from Betty’s lips, and she stood up on the hearth and threw out her hands. “I wish that for one day I might be a man–and your brother instead of your sister!”

“Why?”

Betty smiled strangely–a smile which was not amused– which was perhaps not a smile at all. Her voice as she answered was at once low and tense.

“Because, then I should know what to do. When a male creature cannot be reached through manhood or decency or shame, there is one way in which he can be punished. A man–a real man–should take him by his throat and lash him with a whip–while others look on–lash him until he howls aloud like a dog.”

She had not expected to say it, but she had said it. Lady Anstruthers looked at her fascinated, and then she covered her face with her hands, huddling herself in a heap as she knelt on the rug, looking singularly small and frail.

“Betty,” she said presently, in a new, awful little voice, “I–I will tell you something. I never thought I should dare to tell anyone alive. I have shuddered at it myself. There have been days–awful, helpless days, when I was sure there was no hope for me in all the world–when deep down in my soul I understood what women felt when they MURDERED people –crept to them in their wicked sleep and STRUCK them again –and again–and again. Like that!” She sat up suddenly, as if she did not know what she was doing, and uncovering her little ghastly face struck downward three fierce times at nothingness–but as if it were not nothingness, and as if she held something in her hand.

There was horror in it–Betty sprang at the hand and caught it.

“No! no!” she cried out. “Poor little Rosy! Darling little Rosy! No! no! no!”

That instant Lady Anstruthers looked up at her shocked and awake. She was Rosy again, and clung to her, holding to her dress, piteous and panting.

“No! no!” she said. “When it came to me in the night– it was always in the night–I used to get out of bed and pray that it might never, never come again, and that I might be forgiven–just forgiven. It was too horrible that I should even UNDERSTAND it so well.” A woeful, wry little smile twisted her mouth. “I was not brave enough to have done it. I could never have DONE it, Betty; but the thought was there–it was there! I used to think it had made a black mark on my soul.”

. . . . .

The letter took long to write. It led a consecutive story up to the point where it culminated in a situation which presented itself as no longer to be dealt with by means at hand. Parts of the story previous letters had related, though some of them it had not seemed absolutely necessary to relate in detail. Now they must be made clear, and Betty made them so.

“Because you trusted me you made me trust myself,” was one of the things she wrote. “For some time I felt that it was best to fight for my own hand without troubling you. I hoped perhaps I might be able to lead things to a decorous sort of issue. I saw that secretly Rosy hoped and prayed that it might be possible. She gave up expecting happiness before she was twenty, and mere decent peace would have seemed heaven to her, if she could have been allowed sometimes to see those she loved and longed for. Now that I must give up my hope –which was perhaps a rather foolish one–and now that I cannot remain at Stornham, she would have no defence at all if she were left alone. Her condition would be more hopeless than before, because Nigel would never forget that we had tried to rescue her and had failed. If I were a man, or if I were very much older, I need not be actually driven away, but as it is I think that you must come and take the matter into your own hands.”

She had remained in her sister’s room until long after midnight, and by the time the American letter was completed and sealed, a pale touch of dawning light was showing itself. She rose, and going to the window drew the blind up and looked out. The looking out made her open the window, and when she had done so she stood feeling the almost unearthly freshness of the morning about her. The mystery of the first faint light was almost unearthly, too. Trees and shrubs were beginning to take form and outline themselves against the still pallor of the dawn. Before long the waking of the birds would begin –a brief chirping note here and there breaking the silence and warning the world with faint insistence that it had begun to live again and must bestir itself. She had got out of her bed sometimes on a summer morning to watch the beauty of it, to see the flowers gradually reveal their colour to the eye, to hear the warmly nesting things begin their joyous day. There were fewer bird sounds now, and the garden beds were autumnal. But how beautiful it all was! How wonderful life in such a place might be if flowers and birds and sweep of sward, and mass of stately, broad-branched trees, were parts of the home one loved and which surely would in its own way love one in return. But soon all this phase of life would be over. Rosalie, once safe at home, would look back, remembering the place with a shudder. As Ughtred grew older the passing of years would dim miserable child memories, and when his inheritance fell to him he might return to see it with happier eyes. She began to picture to herself Rosy’s voyage in the ship which would carry her across the Atlantic to her mother and the scenes connected in her mind only with a girl’s happiness. Whatsoever happened before it took place, the voyage would be made in the end. And Rosalie would be like a creature in a dream–a heavenly, unbelievable dream. Betty could imagine how she would look wrapped up and sitting in her steamer chair, gazing out with rapturous eyes upon the racing waves

“She will be happy,” she thought. “But I shall not. No, I shall not.”

She drew in the morning air and unconsciously turned towards the place where, across the rising and falling lands and behind the trees, she knew the great white house stood far away, with watchers’ lights showing dimly behind the line of ballroom windows.

“I do not know how such a thing could be! I do not know how such a thing could be!” she said. “It COULD not.” And she lifted a high head, not even asking herself what remote sense in her being so obstinately defied and threw down the glove to Fate.

Sounds gain a curious distinctness and meaning in the hour of the break of the dawn; in such an hour they seem even more significant than sounds heard in the dead of night. When she had gone to the window she had fancied that she heard something in the corridor outside her door, but when she had listened there had been only silence. Now there was sound again–that of a softly moved slippered foot. She went to the room’s centre and waited. Yes, certainly something had stirred in the passage. She went to the door itself. The dragging step had hesitated–stopped. Could it be Rosalie who had come to her for something. For one second her impulse was to open the door herself; the next, she had changed her mind with a sense of shock. Someone had actually touched the handle and very delicately turned it. It was not pleasant to stand looking at it and see it turn. She heard a low, evidently unintentionally uttered exclamation, and she turned away, and with no attempt at softening the sound of her footsteps walked across the room, hot with passionate disgust. As well as if she had flung the door open, she knew who stood outside. It was Nigel Anstruthers, haggard and unseemly, with burned- out, sleepless eyes and bitten lip.

Bad and mad as she had at last seen the situation to be, it was uglier and more desperate than she could well know.

CHAPTER XLV

THE PASSING BELL

The following morning Sir Nigel did not appear at the breakfast table. He breakfasted in his own room, and it be came known throughout the household that he had suddenly decided to go away, and his man was packing for the journey. What the journey or the reason for its being taken happened to be were things not explained to anyone but Lady Anstruthers, at the door of whose dressing room he appeared without warning, just as she was leaving it.

Rosalie started when she found herself confronting him. His eyes looked hot and hollow with feverish sleeplessness.

“You look ill,” she exclaimed involuntarily. “You look as if you had not slept.”

“Thank you. You always encourage a man. I am not in the habit of sleeping much,” he answered. “I am going away for my health. It is as well you should know. I am going to look up old Broadmorlands. I want to know exactly where he is, in case it becomes necessary for me to see him. I also require some trifling data connected with Ffolliott. If your father is coming, it will be as well to be able to lay my hands on things. You can explain to Betty. Good-morning.” He waited for no reply, but wheeled about and left her.

Betty herself wore a changed face when she came down. A cloud had passed over her blooming, as clouds pass over a morning sky and dim it. Rosalie asked herself if she had not noticed something like this before. She began to think she had. Yes, she was sure that at intervals there had been moments when she had glanced at the brilliant face with an uneasy and yet half-unrealising sense of looking at a glowing light temporarily waning. The feeling had been unrealisable, because it was not to be explained. Betty was never ill, she was never low- spirited, she was never out of humour or afraid of things–that was why it was so wonderful to live with her. But–yes, it was true–there had been days when the strong, fine light of her had waned. Lady Anstruthers’ comprehension of it arose now from her memory of the look she had seen the night before in the eyes which suddenly had gazed straight before her, as into an unknown place.

“Yes, I know–I know–I know!” And the tone in the girl’s voice had been one Rosy had not heard before.

Slight wonder–if you KNEW–at any outward change which showed itself, though in your own most desperate despite. It would be so even with Betty, who, in her sister’s eyes, was unlike any other creature. But perhaps it would be better to make no comment. To make comment would be almost like asking the question she had been forbidden to ask.

While the servants were in the room during breakfast they talked of common things, resorting even to the weather and the news of the village. Afterwards they passed into the morning room together, and Betty put her arm around Rosalie and kissed her.

“Nigel has suddenly gone away, I hear,” she said. “Do you know where he has gone?”

“He came to my dressing-room to tell me.” Betty felt the whole slim body stiffen itself with a determination to seem calm. “He said he was going to find out where the old Duke of Broadmorlands was staying at present.”

“There is some forethought in that,” was Betty’s answer. “He is not on such terms with the Duke that he can expect to be received as a casual visitor. It will require apt contrivance to arrange an interview. I wonder if he will be able to accomplish it?”

“Yes, he will,” said Lady Anstruthers. “I think he can always contrive things like that.” She hesitated a moment, and then added: “He said also that he wished to find out certain things about Mr. Ffolliott–`trifling data,’ he called it–that he might be able to lay his hands on things if father came. He told me to explain to you.”

“That was intended for a taunt–but it’s a warning,” Betty said, thinking the thing over. “We are rather like ladies left alone to defend a besieged castle. He wished us to feel that.” She tightened her enclosing arm. “But we stand together– together. We shall not fail each other. We can face siege until father comes.”

“You wrote to him last night?”

“A long letter, which I wish him to receive before he sails. He might decide to act upon it before leaving New York, to advise with some legal authority he knows and trusts, to prepare our mother in some way–to do some wise thing we cannot foresee the value of. He has known the outline of the story, but not exact details–particularly recent ones. I have held back nothing it was necessary he should know. I am going out to post the letter myself. I shall send a cable asking him to prepare to come to us after he has reflected on what I have written.”

Rosalie was very quiet, but when, having left the room to prepare to go to the village, Betty came back to say a last word, her sister came to her and laid her hand on her arm.

“I have been so weak and trodden upon for years that it would not be natural for you to quite trust me,” she said. “But I won’t fail you, Betty–I won’t.”

The winter was drawing in, the last autumn days were short and often grey and dreary; the wind had swept the leaves from the trees and scattered them over park lands and lanes, where they lay a mellow-hued, rustling carpet, shifting with each chill breeze that blew. The berried briony garlands clung to the bared hedges, and here and there flared scarlet, still holding their red defiantly until hard frosts should come to shrivel and blacken them. The rare hours of sunshine were amber hours instead of golden.

As she passed through the park gate Betty was thinking of the first morning on which she had walked down the village street between the irregular rows of red-tiled cottages with the ragged little enclosing gardens. Then the air and sunshine had been of the just awakening spring, now the sky was brightly cold, and through the small-paned windows she caught glimpses of fireglow. A bent old man walking very slowly, leaning upon two sticks, had a red-brown woollen muffler wrapped round his neck. Seeing her, he stopped and shuffled the two sticks into one hand that he might leave the other free to touch his wrinkled forehead stiffly, his face stretching into a slow smile as she stopped to speak to him.

“Good-morning, Marlow,” he said. “How is the rheumatism to-day?”

He was a deaf old man, whose conversation was carried on principally by guesswork, and it was easy for him to gather that when her ladyship’s handsome young sister had given him greeting she had not forgotten to inquire respecting the “rheumatics,” which formed the greater part of existence.

“Mornin’, miss–mornin’,” he answered in the high, cracked voice of rural ancientry. “Winter be nigh, an’ they damp days be full of rheumatiz. ‘T’int easy to get about on my old legs, but I be main thankful for they warm things you sent, miss. This ‘ere,” fumbling at his red-brown muffler proudly, ” ’tis a comfort on windy days, so ’tis, and warmth be a good thing to a man when he be goin’ down hill in years.”

“All of you who are not able to earn your own fires shall be warm this winter,” her ladyship’s handsome sister said, speaking closer to his ear. “You shall all be warm. Don’t be afraid of the cold days coming.”

He shuffled his sticks and touched his forehead again, looking up at her admiringly and chuckling.

” ‘T’will be a new tale for Stornham village,” he cackled. ” ‘T’will be a new tale. Thank ye, miss. Thank ye.”

As she nodded smilingly and passed on, she heard him cackling still under his breath as he hobbled on his slow way, comforted and elate. How almost shamefully easy it was; a few loads of coal and faggots here and there, a few blankets and warm garments whose cost counted for so little when one’s hands were full, could change a gruesome village winter into a season during which labour-stiffened and broken old things, closing their cottage doors, could draw their chairs round the hearth and hover luxuriously over the red glow, which in its comforting fashion of seeming to have understanding of the dull dreams in old eyes, was more to be loved than any human friend.

But she had not needed her passing speech with Marlow to stimulate realisation of how much she had learned to care for the mere living among these people, to whom she seemed to have begun to belong, and whose comfortably lighting faces when they met her showed that they knew her to be one who might be turned to in any hour of trouble or dismay. The centuries which had trained them to depend upon their “betters” had taught the slowest of them to judge with keen sight those who were to be trusted, not alone as power and wealth holders, but as creatures humanly upright and merciful with their kind.

“Workin’ folk allus knows gentry,” old Doby had once shrilled to her. “Gentry’s gentry, an’ us knows ’em wheresoever they be. Better’n they know theirselves. So us do!”

Yes, they knew. And though they accepted many things as being merely their natural rights, they gave an unsentimental affection and appreciation in return. The patriarchal note in the life was lovable to her. Each creature she passed was a sort of friend who seemed almost of her own blood. It had come to that. This particular existence was more satisfying to her than any other, more heart-filling and warmly complete.

“Though I am only an impostor,” she thought; “I was born in Fifth Avenue; yet since I have known this I shall be quite happy in no other place than an English village, with a Norman church tower looking down upon it and rows of little gardens with spears of white and blue lupins and Canterbury bells standing guard before cottage doors.”

And Rosalie–on the evening of that first strange day when she had come upon her piteous figure among the heather under the trees near the lake–Rosalie had held her arm with a hot little hand and had said feverishly:

“If I could hear the roar of Broadway again! Do the stages rattle as they used to, Betty? I can’t help hoping that they do.”

She carried her letter to the post and stopped to talk a few minutes with the postmaster, who transacted his official business in a small shop where sides of bacon and hams hung suspended from the ceiling, while groceries, flannels, dress prints, and glass bottles of sweet stuff filled the shelves. “Mr. Tewson’s” was the central point of Stornham in a commercial sense. The establishment had also certain social qualifications.

Mr. Tewson knew the secrets of all hearts within the village radius, also the secrets of all constitutions. He knew by some occult means who had been “taken bad,” or who had “taken a turn,” and was aware at once when anyone was “sinkin’ fast.” With such differences of opinion as occasionally arose between the vicar and his churchwardens he was immediately familiar. The history of the fever among the hop pickers at Dunstan village he had been able to relate in detail from the moment of its outbreak. It was he who had first dramatically revealed the truth of the action Miss Vanderpoel had taken in the matter, which revelation had aroused such enthusiasm as had filled The Clock Inn to overflowing and given an impetus to the sale of beer. Tread, it was said, had even made a speech which he had ended with vague but excellent intentions by proposing the joint healths of her ladyship’s sister and the “President of America.” Mr. Tewson was always glad to see Miss Vanderpoel cross his threshold. This was not alone because she represented the custom of the Court, which since her arrival had meant large regular orders and large bills promptly paid, but that she brought with her an exotic atmosphere of interest and excitement.

He had mentioned to friends that somehow a talk with her made him feel “set up for the day.” Betty was not at all sure that he did not prepare and hoard up choice remarks or bits of information as openings to conversation.

This morning he had thrilling news for her and began with it at once.

“Dr. Fenwick at Stornham is very low, miss,” he said. “He’s very low, you’ll be sorry to hear. The worry about the fever upset him terrible and his bronchitis took him bad. He’s an old man, you know.”

Miss Vanderpoel was very sorry to hear it. It was quite in the natural order of things that she should ask other questions about Dunstan village and the Mount, and she asked several.

The fever was dying out and pale convalescents were sometimes seen in the village or strolling about the park. His lordship was taking care of the people and doing his best for them until they should be strong enough to return to their homes.

“But he’s very strict about making it plain that it’s you, miss, they have to thank for what he does.”

“That is not quite just,” said Miss Vanderpoel. “He and Mr. Penzance fought on the field. I only supplied some of the ammunition.”

“The county doesn’t think of him as it did even a year ago, miss,” said Tewson rather smugly. “He was very ill thought of then among the gentry. It’s wonderful the change that’s come about. If he should fall ill there’ll be a deal of sympathy.”

“I hope there is no question of his falling ill,” said Miss Vanderpoel.

Mr. Tewson lowered his voice confidentially. This was really his most valuable item of news.

“Well, miss,” he admitted, “I have heard that he’s been looking very bad for a good bit, and it was told me quite private, because the doctors and the vicar don’t want the people to be upset by hearing it–that for a week he’s not been well enough to make his rounds.”

“Oh!” The exclamation was a faint one, but it was an exclamation. “I hope that means nothing really serious,” Miss Vanderpoel added. “Everyone will hope so.”

“Yes, miss,” said Mr. Tewson, deftly twisting the string round the package he was tying up for her. “A sad reward it would be if he lost his life after doing all he has done. A sad reward! But there’d be a good deal of sympathy.”

The small package contained trifles of sewing and knitting materials she was going to take to Mrs. Welden, and she held out her hand for it. She knew she did not smile quite naturally as she said her good-morning to Tewson. She went out into the pale amber sunshine and stood a few moments, glad to find herself bathed in it again. She suddenly needed air and light. “A sad reward!” Sometimes people were not rewarded. Brave men were shot dead on the battlefield when they were doing brave things; brave physicians and nurses died of the plagues they faithfully wrestled with. Here were dread and pain confronting her–Betty Vanderpoel–and while almost everyone else seemed to have faced them, she was wholly unused to their appalling clutch. What a life hers had been– that in looking back over it she should realise that she had never been touched by anything like this before! There came back to her the look of almost awed wonder in G. Selden’s honest eyes when he said: “What it must be to be you–just YOU!” He had been thinking only of the millions and of the freedom from all everyday anxieties the millions gave. She smiled faintly as the thought crossed her brain. The millions! The rolling up of them year by year, because millions were breeders! The newspaper stories of them–the wonder at and belief in their power! It was all going on just as before, and yet here stood a Vanderpoel in an English village street, of no more worth as far as power to aid herself went than Joe Buttle’s girl with the thick waist and round red cheeks. Jenny Buttle would have believed that her ladyship’s rich American sister could do anything she chose, open any door, command any presence, sweep aside any obstacle with a wave of her hand. But of the two, Jenny Buttle’s path would have laid straighter before her. If she had had “a young man” who had fallen ill she would have been free if his mother had cherished no objection to their “walking out”–to spend all her spare hours in his cottage, making gruel and poultices, crying until her nose and eyes were red, and pouring forth her hopes and fears to any neighbour who came in or out or hung over the dividing garden hedge. If the patient died, the deeper her mourning and the louder her sobs at his funeral the more respectable and deserving of sympathy and admiration would Jenny Buttle have been counted. Her ladyship’s rich American sister had no “young man”; she had not at any time been asked to “walk out.” Even in the dark days of the fever, each of which had carried thought and action of hers to the scene of trouble, there had reigned unbroken silence, except for the vicar’s notes of warm and appreciative gratitude.

“You are very obstinate, Fergus,” Mr. Penzance had said.

And Mount Dunstan had shaken his head fiercely and answered:

“Don’t speak to me about it. Only obstinacy will save me from behaving like–other blackguards.”

Mr. Penzance, carefully polishing his eyeglasses as he watched him, was not sparing in his comment.

“That is pure folly,” he said, “pure bull-necked, stubborn folly, charging with its head down. Before it has done with you it will have made you suffer quite enough.”

“Be sure of that,” Mount Dunstan had said, setting his teeth, as he sat in his chair clasping his hands behind his head and glowering into space.

Mr. Penzance quietly, speculatively, looked him over, and reflected aloud–or, so it sounded.

“It is a big-boned and big-muscled characteristic, but there are things which are stronger. Some one minute will arrive– just one minute–which will be stronger. One of those moments when the mysteries of the universe are at work.”

“Don’t speak to me like that, I tell you!” Mount Dunstan broke out passionately. And he sprang up and marched out of the room like an angry man.

Miss Vanderpoel did not go to Mrs. Welden’s cottage at once, but walked past its door down the lane, where there were no more cottages, but only hedges and fields on either side of her. “Not well enough to make his rounds” might mean much or little. It might mean a temporary breakdown from overfatigue or a sickening for deadly illness. She looked at a group of cropping sheep in a field and at a flock of rooks which had just alighted near it with cawing and flapping of wings. She kept her eyes on them merely to steady herself. The thoughts she had brought out with her had grown heavier and were horribly difficult to control. One must not allow one’s self to believe the worst will come–one must not allow it.

She always held this rule before herself, and now she was not holding it steadily. There was nothing to do. She could write a mere note of inquiry to Mr. Penzance, but that was all. She could only walk up and down the lanes and think–whether he lay dying or not. She could do nothing, even if a day came when she knew that a pit had been dug in the clay and he had been lowered into it with creaking ropes, and the clods shovelled back upon him where he lay still–never having told her that he was glad that her being had turned to him and her heart cried aloud his name. She recalled with curious distinctness the effect of the steady toll of the church bell–the “passing bell.”

She could hear it as she had heard it the first time it fell upon her ear, and she had inquired what it meant. Why did they call it the “passing bell”? All had passed before it began to toll–all had passed. If it tolled at Dunstan and the pit was dug in the churchyard before her father came, would he see, the moment they met, that something had befallen her–that the Betty he had known was changed–gone? Yes, he would see. Affection such as his always saw. Then he would sit alone with her in some quiet room and talk to her, and she would tell him the strange thing that had happened. He would understand–perhaps better than she.

She stopped abruptly in her walk and stood still. The hand holding her package was quite cold. This was what one must not allow one’s self. But how the thoughts had raced through her brain! She turned and hastened her steps towards Mrs. Welden’s cottage.

In Mrs. Welden’s tiny back yard there stood a “coal lodge” suited to the size of the domicile and already stacked with a full winter’s supply of coal. Therefore the well-polished and cleanly little grate in the living-room was bright with fire.

Old Doby, who had tottered round the corner to pay his fellow gossip a visit, was sitting by it, and old Mrs. Welden, clean as to cap and apron and small purple shoulder shawl, had evidently been allaying his natural anxiety as to the conduct of foreign sovereigns by reading in a loud voice the “print” under the pictures in an illustrated paper.

This occupation had, however, been interrupted a few moments before Miss Vanderpoel’s arrival. Mrs. Bester, the neighbour in the next cottage, had stepped in with her youngest on her hip and was talking breathlessly. She paused to drop her curtsy as Betty entered, and old Doby stood up and made his salute with a trembling hand

“She’ll know,” he said. “Gentry knows the ins an’ outs of gentry fust. She’ll know the rights.”

“What has happened?”

Mrs. Bester unexpectedly burst into tears. There was an element in the female villagers’ temperament which Betty had found was frequently unexpected in its breaking forth.

“He’s down, miss,” she said. “He’s down with it crool bad. There’ll be no savin’ of him–none.”

Betty laid her package of sewing cotton and knitting wool quietly on the blue and white checked tablecloth.

“Who–is he?” she asked.

“His lordship–and him just saved all Dunstan parish from death–to go like this!”

In Stornham village and in all others of the neighbourhood the feminine attitude towards Mount Dunstan had been one of strongly emotional admiration. The thwarted female longing for romance–the desire for drama and a hero had been fed by him. A fine, big young man, one that had been “spoke ill of” and regarded as an outcast, had suddenly turned the tables on fortune and made himself the central figure of the county, the talk of gentry in their grand houses, of cottage women on their doorsteps, and labourers stopping to speak to each other by the roadside. Magic stories had been told of him, beflowered with dramatic detail. No incident could have been related to his credit which would not have been believed and improved upon. Shut up in his village working among his people and unseen by outsiders, he had become a popular idol. Any scrap of news of him–any rumour, true or untrue, was seized upon and excitedly spread abroad. Therefore Mrs. Bester wept as she talked, and, if the truth must be told, enjoyed the situation. She was the first to tell the story to her ladyship’s sister herself, as well as to Mrs. Welden and old Doby.

“It’s Tom as brought it in,” she said. “He’s my brother, miss, an’ he’s one of the ringers. He heard it from Jem Wesgate, an’ he heard it at Toomy’s farm. They’ve been keepin’ it hid at the Mount because the people that’s ill hangs on his lordship so that the doctors daren’t let them know the truth. They’ve been told he had to go to London an’ may come back any day. What Tom was sayin’, miss, was that we’d all know when it was over, for we’d hear the church bell toll here same as it’d toll at Dunstan, because they ringers have talked it over an’ they’re goin’ to talk it over to-day with the other parishes–Yangford an’ Meltham an’ Dunholm an’ them. Tom says Stornham ringers met just now at The Clock an’ said that for a man that’s stood by labouring folk like he has, toll they will, an’ so ought the other parishes, same as if he was royalty, for he’s made himself nearer. They’ll toll the minute they hear it, miss. Lord help us!” with a fresh outburst of crying. “It don’t seem like it’s fair as it should be. When we hear the bell toll, miss—-“

“Don’t!” said her ladyship’s handsome sister suddenly. “Please don’t say it again.”

She sat down by the table, and resting her elbows on the blue and white checked cloth, covered her face with her hands. She did not speak at all. In this tiny room, with these two old souls who loved her, she need not explain. She sat quite still, and Mrs. Welden after looking at her for a few seconds was prompted by some sublimely simple intuition, and gently sidled Mrs. Bester and her youngest into the little kitchen, where the copper was.

“Her helpin’ him like she did, makes it come near,” she whispered. “Dessay it seems as if he was a’most like a relation.”

Old Doby sat and looked at his goddess. In his slowly moving old brain stirred far-off memories like long-dead things striving to come to life. He did not know what they were, but they wakened his dim eyes to a new seeing of the slim young shape leaning a little forward, the soft cloud of hair, the fair beauty of the cheek. He had not seen anything like it in his youth, but–it was Youth itself, and so was that which the ringers were so soon to toll for; and for some remote and unformed reason, to his scores of years they were pitiful and should be cheered. He bent forward himself and put out his ancient, veined and knotted, gnarled and trembling hand, to timorously touch the arm of her he worshipped and adored.

“God bless ye!” he said, his high, cracked voice even more shrill and thin than usual. “God bless ye!” And as she let her hands slip down, and, turning, gently looked at him, he nodded to her speakingly, because out of the dimness of his being, some part of Nature’s working had strangely answered and understood.

CHAPTER XLVI

LISTENING

On her way back to the Court her eyes saw only the white road before her feet as she walked. She did not lift them until she found herself passing the lych-gate at the entrance to the churchyard. Then suddenly she looked up at the square grey stone tower where the bells hung, and from which they called the village to church, or chimed for weddings–or gave slowly forth to the silent air one heavy, regular stroke after another. She looked and shuddered, and spoke aloud with a curious, passionate imploring, like a child’s.

“Oh, don’t toll! Don’t toll! You must not! You cannot!” Terror had sprung upon her, and her heart was being torn in two in her breast. That was surely what it seemed like–this agonising ache of fear. Now from hour to hour she would be waiting and listening to each sound borne on the air. Her thought would be a possession she could not escape. When she spoke or was spoken to, she would be listening– when she was silent every echo would hold terror, when she slept–if sleep should come to her–her hearing would be awake, and she would be listening–listening even then. It was not Betty Vanderpoel who was walking along the white road, but another creature–a girl whose brain was full of abnormal thought, and whose whole being made passionate outcry against the thing which was being slowly forced upon her. If the bell tolled–suddenly, the whole world would be swept clean of life–empty and clean. If the bell tolled.

Before the entrance of the Court she saw, as she approached it, the vicarage pony carriage, standing as it had stood on the day she had returned from her walk on the marshes. She felt it quite natural that it should be there. Mrs. Brent always seized upon any fragment of news, and having seized on something now, she had not been able to resist the excitement of bringing it to Lady Anstruthers and her sister.

She was in the drawing-room with Rosalie, and was full of her subject and the emotion suitable to the occasion. She had even attained a certain modified dampness of handkerchief. Rosalie’s handkerchief, however, was not damp. She had not even attempted to use it, but sat still, her eyes brimming with tears, which, when she saw Betty, brimmed over and slipped helplessly down her cheeks.

“Betty!” she exclaimed, and got up and went towards her, “I believe you have heard.”

“In the village, I heard something–yes,” Betty answered, and after giving greeting to Mrs. Brent, she led her sister back to her chair, and sat near her.

This–the thought leaped upon her–was the kind of situation she must be prepared to be equal to. In the presence of these who knew nothing, she must bear herself as if there was nothing to be known. No one but herself had the slightest knowledge of what the past months had brought to her–no one in the world. If the bell tolled, no one in the world but her father ever would know. She had no excuse for emotion. None had been given to her. The kind of thing it was proper that she should say and do now, in the presence of Mrs. Brent, it would be proper and decent that she should say and do in all other cases. She must comport herself as Betty Vanderpoel would if she were moved only by ordinary human sympathy and regret.

“We must remember that we have only excited rumour to depend upon,” she said. “Lord Mount Dunstan has kept his village under almost military law. He has put it into quarantine. No one is allowed to leave it, so there can be no direct source of information. One cannot be sure of the entire truth of what one hears. Often it is exaggerated cottage talk. The whole neighbourhood is wrought up to a fever heat of excited sympathy. And villagers like the drama of things.”

Mrs. Brent looked at her admiringly, it being her fixed habit to admire Miss Vanderpoel, and all such as Providence had set above her.

“Oh, how wise you are, Miss Vanderpoel!” she exclaimed, even devoutly. “It is so nice of you to be calm and logical when everybody else is so upset. You are quite right about villagers enjoying the dramatic side of troubles. They always do. And perhaps things are not so bad as they say. I ought not to have let myself believe the worst. But I quite broke down under the ringers–I was so touched.”

“The ringers?” faltered Lady Anstruthers

“The leader came to the vicar to tell him they wanted permission to toll–if they heard tolling at Dunstan. Weaver’s family lives within hearing of Dunstan church bells, and one of his boys is to run across the fields and bring the news to Stornham. And it was most touching, Miss Vanderpoel. They feel, in their rustic way, that Lord Mount Dunstan has not been treated fairly in the past. And now he seems to them a hero and a martyr–or like a great soldier who has died fighting.”

“Who MAY die fighting,” broke from Miss Vanderpoel sharply.

“Who–who may—-” Mrs. Brent corrected herself, “though Heaven grant he will not. But it was the ringers who made me feel as if all really was over. Thank you, Miss Vanderpoel, thank you for being so practical and–and cool.”

“It WAS touching,” said Lady Anstruthers, her eyes brimming over again. “And what the villagers feel is true. It goes to one’s heart,” in a little outburst. “People have been unkind to him! And he has been lonely in that great empty place –he has been lonely. And if he is dying to-day, he is lonely even as he dies–even as he dies.”

Betty drew a deep breath. For one moment there seemed to rise before her vision of a huge room, whose stately size made its bareness a more desolate thing. And Mr. Penzance bent low over the bed. She tore her thought away from it.

“No! No!” she cried out in low, passionate protest. “There will be love and yearning all about him everywhere. The villagers who are waiting–the poor things he has worked for–the very ringers themselves, are all pouring forth the same thoughts. He will feel even ours–ours too! His soul cannot be lonely.”

A few minutes earlier, Mrs. Brent had been saying to herself inwardly: “She has not much heart after all, you know.” Now she looked at her in amazement.

The blue bells were under water in truth–drenched and drowned. And yet as the girl stood up before her, she looked taller–more the magnificent Miss Vanderpoel than ever– though she expressed a new meaning.

“There is one thing the villagers can do for him,” she said. “One thing we can all do. The bell has not tolled yet. There is a service for those who are–in peril. If the vicar will call the people to the church, we can all kneel down there– and ask to be heard. The vicar will do that I am sure–and the people will join him with all their hearts.”

Mrs. Brent was overwhelmed.

“Dear, dear, Miss Vanderpoel!” she exclaimed. “THAT is touching, indeed it is! And so right and so proper. I will drive back to the village at once. The vicar’s distress is as great as mine. You think of everything. The service for the sick and dying. How right–how right!”

With a sense of an increase of value in herself, the vicar, and the vicarage, she hastened back to the pony carriage, but in the hall she seized Betty’s hand emotionally.

“I cannot tell you how much I am touched by this,” she murmured. “I did not know you were–were a religious girl, my dear.”

Betty answered with grave politeness.

“In times of great pain and terror,” she said, “I think almost everybody is religious–a little. If that is the right word.”

There was no ringing of the ordinary call to service. In less than an hour’s time people began to come out of their cottages and wend their way towards the church. No one had put on his or her Sunday clothes. The women had hastily rolled down their sleeves, thrown off their aprons, and donned everyday bonnets and shawls. The men were in their corduroys, as they had come in from the fields, and the children wore their pinafores. As if by magic, the news had flown from house to house, and each one who had heard it had left his or her work without a moment’s hesitation. They said but little as they made their way to the church. Betty, walking with her sister, was struck by the fact that there were more of them than formed the usual Sunday morning congregation. They were doing no perfunctory duty. The men’s faces were heavily moved, most of the women wiped their eyes at intervals, and the children looked awed. There was a suggestion of hurried movement in the step of each–as if no time must be lost–as if they must begin their appeal at once. Betty saw old Doby tottering along stiffly, with his granddaughter and Mrs. Welden on either side of him. Marlow, on his two sticks, was to be seen moving slowly, but steadily.

Within the ancient stone walls, stiff old knees bent themselves with care, and faces were covered devoutly by work- hardened hands. As she passed through the churchyard Betty knew that eyes followed her affectionately, and that the touching of foreheads and dropping of curtsies expressed a special sympathy. In each mind she was connected with the man they came to pray for–with the work he had done–with the danger he was in. It was vaguely felt that if his life ended, a bereavement would have fallen upon her. This the girl knew.

The vicar lifted his bowed head and began his service. Every man, woman and child before him responded aloud and with a curious fervour–not in decorous fear of seeming to thrust themselves before the throne, making too much of their petitions, in the presence of the gentry. Here and there sobs were to be heard. Lady Anstruthers followed the service timorously and with tears. But Betty, kneeling at her side, by the round table in the centre of the great square Stornham pew, which was like a room, bowed her head upon her folded arms, and prayed her own intense, insistent prayer.

“God in Heaven!” was her inward cry. “God of all the worlds! Do not let him die. `If ye ask anything in my name that I will do.’ Christ said it. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth–do not let him die! All the worlds are yours–all the power–listen to us–listen to us. Lord, I believe–help thou my unbelief. If this terror robs me of faith, and I pray madly–forgive, forgive me. Do not count it against me as sin. You made him. He has suffered and been alone. It is not time–it is not time yet for him to go. He has known no joy and no bright thing. Do not let him go out of the warm world like a blind man. Do not let him die. Perhaps this is not prayer, but raging. Forgive–forgive! All power is gone from me. God of the worlds, and the great winds, and the myriad stars–do not let him die!”

She knew her thoughts were wild, but their torrent bore her with them into a strange, great silence. She did not hear the vicar’s words, or the responses of the people. She was not within the grey stone walls. She had been drawn away as into the darkness and stillness of the night, and no soul but her own seemed near. Through the stillness and the dark her praying seemed to call and echo, clamouring again and again. It must reach Something–it must be heard, because she cried so loud, though to the human beings about her she seemed kneeling in silence. She went on and on, repeating her words, changing them, ending and beginning again, pouring forth a flood of appeal. She thought later that the flood must have been at its highest tide when, singularly, it was stemmed. Without warning, a wave of awe passed over her which strangely silenced her–and left her bowed and kneeling, but crying out no more. The darkness had become still, even as it had not been still before. Suddenly she cowered as she knelt and held her breath. Something had drawn a little near. No thoughts–no words–no cries were needed as the great stillness grew and spread, and folded her being within it. She waited–only waited. She did not know how long a time passed before she felt herself drawn back from the silent and shadowy places–awakening, as it were, to the sounds in the church.

“Our Father,” she began to say, as simply as a child. “Our Father who art in Heaven–hallowed be thy name.” There was a stirring among the congregation, and sounds of feet, as the people began to move down the aisle in reverent slowness. She caught again the occasional sound of a subdued sob. Rosalie gently touched her, and she rose, following her out of the big pew and passing down the aisle after the villagers.

Outside the entrance the people waited as if they wanted to see her again. Foreheads were touched as before, and eyes followed her. She was to the general mind the centre of the drama, and “the A’mighty” would do well to hear her. She had been doing his work for him “same as his lordship.” They did not expect her to smile at such a time, when she returned their greetings, and she did not, but they said afterwards, in their cottages, that “trouble or not she was a wonder for looks, that she was–Miss Vanderpoel.”

Rosalie slipped a hand through her arm, and they walked home together, very close to each other. Now and then there was a questioning in Rosy’s look. But neither of them spoke once.

On an oak table in the hall a letter from Mr. Penzance was lying. It was brief, hurried, and anxious. The rumour that Mount Dunstan had been ailing was true, and that they had felt they must conceal the matter from the villagers was true also. For some baffling reason the fever had not absolutely declared itself, but the young doctors were beset by grave forebodings. In such cases the most serious symptoms might suddenly develop. One never knew. Mr. Penzance was evidently torn by fears which he desperately strove to suppress. But Betty could see the anguish on his fine old face, and between the lines she read dread and warning not put into words. She believed that, fearing the worst, he felt he must prepare her mind.

“He has lived under a great strain for months,” he ended. “It began long before the outbreak of the fever. I am not strong under my sense of the cruelty of things–and I have never loved him as I love him to-day.”

Betty took the letter to her room, and read it two or three times. Because she had asked intelligent questions of the medical authority she had consulted on her visit to London, she knew something of the fever and its habits. Even her unclerical knowledge was such as it was not well to reflect upon. She refolded the letter and laid it aside.

“I must not think. I must do something. It may prevent my listening,” she said aloud to the silence of her room.

She cast her eyes about her as if in search. Upon her desk lay a notebook. She took it up and opened it. It contained lists of plants, of flower seeds, of bulbs, and shrubs. Each list was headed with an explanatory note.

“Yes, this will do,” she said. “I will go and talk to Kedgers.”

Kedgers and every man under him had been at the service, but they had returned to their respective duties. Kedgers, giving directions to some under gardeners who were clearing flower beds and preparing them for their winter rest, turned to meet her as she approached. To Kedgers the sight of her coming towards him on a garden path was a joyful thing. He had done wonders, it is true, but if she had not stood by his side with inspiration as well as confidence, he knew that things might have “come out different.”

“You was born a gardener, miss–born one,” he had said months ago.

It was the time when flower beds must be planned for the coming year. Her notebook was filled with memoranda of the things they must talk about.

It was good, normal, healthy work to do. The scent of the rich, damp, upturned mould was a good thing to inhale. They walked from one end to another, stood before clumps of shrubs, and studied bits of wall. Here a mass of blue might grow, here low things of white and pale yellow. A quickly-climbing rose would hang sheets of bloom over this dead tree. This sheltered wall would hold warmth for a Marechal Niel.

“You must take care of it all–even if I am not here next year,” Miss Vanderpoel said.

Kedgers’ absorbed face changed.

“Not here, miss,” he exclaimed. “You not here! Things wouldn’t grow, miss.” He checked himself, his weather- toughened skin reddening because he was afraid he had perhaps taken a liberty. And then moving his hat uneasily on his head, he took another. “But it’s true enough,” looking down on the gravel walk, “we–we couldn’t expect to keep you.”

She did not look as if she had noticed the liberty, but she did not look quite like herself, Kedgers thought. If she had been another young lady, and but for his established feeling that she was somehow immune from all ills, he would have thought she had a headache, or was low in her mind.

She spent an hour or two with him, and together they planned for the changing seasons of the year to come. How she could keep her mind on a thing, and what a head she had for planning, and what an eye for colour! But yes–there was something a bit wrong somehow. Now and then she would stop and stand still for a moment, and suddenly it struck Kedgers that she looked as if she were listening.

“Did you think you heard something, miss?” he asked her once when she paused and wore this look.

“No,” she answered, “no.” And drew him on quickly– almost as if she did not want him to hear what she had seemed listening for.

When she left him and went back to the house, all the loveliness of spring, summer and autumn had been thought out and provided for. Kedgers stood on the path and looked after her until she passed through the terrace door. He chewed his lip uneasily. Then he remembered something and felt a bit relieved. It was the service he remembered.

“Ah! it’s that that’s upset her–and it’s natural, seeing how she’s helped him and Dunstan village. It’s only natural.” He chewed his lip again, and nodded his head in odd reflection. “Ay! Ay!” he summed her up. “She’s a great lady that–she’s a great lady–same as if she’d been born in a civilised land.”

During the rest of the day the look of question in Rosalie’s eyes changed in its nature. When her sister was near her she found herself glancing at her with a new feeling. It was a growing feeling, which gradually became–anxiousness. Betty presented to her the aspect of one withdrawn into some remote space. She was not living this day as her days were usually lived. She did not sit still or stroll about the gardens quietly. The consecutiveness of her action seemed broken. She did one thing after another, as if she must fill each moment. This was not her Betty. Lady Anstruthers watched and thought until, in the end, a new pained fear began to creep slowly into her mind, and make her feel as if she were slightly trembling though her hands did not shake. She did not dare to allow herself to think the thing she knew she was on the brink of thinking. She thrust it away from her, and tried not to think at all. Her Betty–her splendid Betty, whom nothing could hurt–who could not be touched by any awful thing–her dear Betty!

In the afternoon she saw her write notes steadily for an hour, then she went out into the stables and visited the horses, talked to the coachman and to her own groom. She was very kind to a village boy who had been recently taken on as an additional assistant in the stable, and who was rather frightened and shy. She knew his mother, who had a large family, and she had, indeed, given the boy his place that he might be trained under the great Mr. Buckham, who was coachman and head of the stables. She said encouraging things which quite cheered him, and she spoke privately to Mr. Buckham about him. Then she walked in the park a little, but not for long. When she came back Rosalie was waiting for her.

“I want to take a long drive,” she said. “I feel restless. Will you come with me, Betty?” Yes, she would go with her, so Buckham brought the landau with its pair of big horses, and they rolled down the avenue, and into the smooth, white high road. He took them far–past the great marshes, between miles of bared hedges, past farms and scattered cottages. Sometimes he turned into lanes, where the hedges were closer to each other, and where, here and there, they caught sight of new points of view between trees. Betty was glad to feel Rosy’s slim body near her side, and she was conscious that it gradually seemed to draw closer and closer. Then Rosy’s hand slipped into hers and held it softly on her lap.

When they drove together in this way they were usually both of them rather silent and quiet, but now Rosalie spoke of many things–of Ughtred, of Nigel, of the Dunholms, of New York, and their father and mother.

“I want to talk because I’m nervous, I think,” she said half apologetically. “I do not want to sit still and think too much–of father’s coming. You don’t mind my talking, do you, Betty?”

“No,” Betty answered. “It is good for you and for me.” And she met the pressure of Rosy’s hand halfway.

But Rosy was talking, not because she did not want to sit still and think, but because she did not want Betty to do so. And all the time she was trying to thrust away the thought growing in her mind.

They spent the evening together in the library, and Betty read aloud. She read a long time–until quite late. She wished to tire herself as well as to force herself to stop listening.

When they said good-night to each other Rosy clung to her as desperately as she had clung on the night after her arrival. She kissed her again and again, and then hung her head and excused herself.

“Forgive me for being–nervous. I’m ashamed of myself,” she said. “Perhaps in time I shall get over being a coward.”

But she said nothing of the fact that she was not a coward for herself, but through a slowly formulating and struggled– against fear, which chilled her very heart, and which she could best cover by a pretence of being a poltroon.

She could not sleep when she went to bed. The night seemed crowded with strange, terrified thoughts. They were all of Betty, though sometimes she thought of her father’s coming, of her mother in New York, and of Betty’s steady working throughout the day. Sometimes she cried, twisting her hands together, and sometimes she dropped into a feverish sleep, and dreamed that she was watching Betty’s face, yet was afraid to look at it.

She awakened suddenly from one of these dreams, and sat upright in bed to find the dawn breaking. She rose and threw on a dressing-gown, and went to her sister’s room because she could not bear to stay away.

The door was not locked, and she pushed it open gently. One of the windows had its blind drawn up, and looked like a patch of dull grey. Betty was standing upright near it. She was in her night-gown, and a long black plait of hair hung over one shoulder heavily. She looked all black and white in strong contrast. The grey light set her forth as a tall ghost.

Lady Anstruthers slid forward, feeling a tightness in her chest.

“The dawn wakened me too,” she said.

“I have been waiting to see it come,” answered Betty. “It is going to be a dull, dreary day.”

CHAPTER XLVII

“I HAVE NO WORD OR LOOK TO REMEMBER”

It was a dull and dreary day, as Betty had foreseen it would be. Heavy rain clouds hung and threatened, and the atmosphere was damp and chill. It was one of those days of the English autumn which speak only of the end of things, bereaving one of the power to remember next year’s spring and summer, which, after all, must surely come. Sky is grey, trees are grey, dead leaves lie damp beneath the feet, sunlight and birds seem forgotten things. All that has been sad and to be regretted or feared hangs heavy in the air and sways all thought. In the passing of these hours there is no hope anywhere. Betty appeared at breakfast in short dress and close hat. She wore thick little boots, as if for walking.

“I am going to make visits in the village,” she said. “I want a basket of good things to take with me. Stourton’s children need feeding after their measles. They looked very thin when I saw them playing in the road yesterday.”

“Yes, dear,” Rosalie answered. “Mrs. Noakes shall prepare the basket. Good chicken broth, and jelly, and nourishing things. Jennings,” to the butler, “you know the kind of basket Miss Vanderpoel wants. Speak to Mrs. Noakes, please.”

“Yes, my lady,” Jennings knew the kind of basket and so did Mrs. Noakes. Below stairs a strong sympathy with Miss Vanderpoel’s movements had developed. No one resented the preparation of baskets. Somehow they were always managed, even if asked for at untimely hours.

Betty was sitting silent, looking out into the greyness of the autumn-smitten park.

“Are–are you listening for anything, Betty?” Lady Anstruthers asked rather falteringly. “You have a sort of listening look in your eyes.”

Betty came back to the room, as it were.

“Have I,” she said. “Yes, I think I was listening for– something.”

And Rosalie did not ask her what she listened for. She was afraid she knew.

It was not only the Stourtons Betty visited this morning. She passed from one cottage to another–to see old women, and old men, as well as young ones, who for one reason or another needed help and encouragement. By one bedside she read aloud; by another she sat and told cheerful stories; she listened to talk in little kitchens, and in one house welcomed a newborn thing. As she walked steadily over grey road and down grey lanes damp mist rose and hung about her. And she did not walk alone. Fear walked with her, and anguish, a grey ghost by her side. Once she found herself standing quite still on a side path, covering her face with her hands. She filled every moment of the morning, and walked until she was tired. Before she went home she called at the post office, and Mr. Tewson greeted her with a solemn face. He did not wait to be questioned.

“There’s been no news to-day, miss, so far,” he said. “And that seems as if they might be so given up to hard work at a dreadful time that there’s been no chance for anything to get out. When people’s hanging over a man’s bed at the end, it’s as if everything stopped but that–that’s stopping for all time.”

After luncheon the rain began to fall softly, slowly, and with a suggestion of endlessness. It was a sort of mist itself, and became a damp shadow among the bare branches of trees which soon began to drip.

“You have been walking about all morning, and you are tired, dear,” Lady Anstruthers said to her. “Won’t you go to your room and rest, Betty?”

Yes, she would go to her room, she said. Some new books had arrived from London this morning, and she would look over them. She talked a little about her visits before she went, and when, as she talked, Ughtred came over to her and stood close to her side holding her hand and stroking it, she smiled at him sweetly–the smile he adored. He stroked the hand and softly patted it, watching her wistfully. Suddenly he lifted it to his lips, and kissed it again and again with a sort of passion.

“I love you so much, Aunt Betty,” he cried. “We both love you so much. Something makes me love you to-day more than ever I did before. It almost makes me cry. I love you so.”

She stooped swiftly and drew him into her arms and kissed him close and hard. He held his head back a little and looked into the blue under her lashes.

“I love your eyes,” he said. “Anyone would love your eyes, Aunt Betty. But what is the matter with them? You are not crying at all, but–oh! what is the matter?”

“No, I am not crying at all,” she said, and smiled–almost laughed.

But after she had kissed him again she took her books and went upstairs.

She did not lie down, and she did not read when she was alone in her room. She drew a long chair before the window and watched the slow falling of the rain. There is nothing like it–that slow weeping of the rain on an English autumn day. Soft and light though it was, the park began to look sodden. The bare trees held out their branches like imploring arms, the brown garden beds were neat and bare. The same rain was drip-dripping at Mount Dunstan–upon the desolate great house–upon the village–upon the mounds and ancient stone tombs in the churchyard, sinking into the earth–sinking deep, sucked in by the clay beneath–the cold damp clay. She shook herself shudderingly. Why should the thought come to her–the cold damp clay? She would not listen to it, she would think of New York, of its roaring streets and crash of sound, of the rush of fierce life there–of her father and mother. She tried to force herself to call up pictures of Broadway, swarming with crowds of black things, which, seen from the windows of its monstrous buildings, seemed like swarms of ants, burst out of ant-hills, out of a thousand ant- hills. She tried to remember shop windows, the things in them, the throngs going by, and the throngs passing in and out of great, swinging glass doors. She dragged up before her a vision of Rosalie, driving with her mother and herself, looking about her at the new buildings and changed streets, flushed and made radiant by the accelerated pace and excitement of her beloved New York. But, oh, the slow, penetrating rainfall, and–the cold damp clay!

She rose, making an involuntary sound which was half a moan. The long mirror set between two windows showed her momentarily an awful young figure, throwing up its arms. Was that Betty Vanderpoel–that?

“What does one do,” she said, “when the world comes to an end? What does one do?”

All her days she had done things–there had always been something to do. Now there was nothing. She went suddenly to her bell and rang for her maid. The woman answered the summons at once.

“Send word to the stable that I want Childe Harold. I do not want Mason. I shall ride alone.”

“Yes, miss,” Ambleston answered, without any exterior sign of emotion. She was too well-trained a person to express any shade of her internal amazement. After she had transmitted the order to the proper manager she returned and changed her mistress’s costume.

She had contemplated her task, and was standing behind Miss Vanderpoel’s chair, putting the last touch to her veil, when she became conscious of a slight stiffening of the neck which held so well the handsome head, then the head slowly turned towards the window giving upon the front park. Miss Vanderpoel was listening to something, listening so intently that Ambleston felt that, for a few moments, she did not seem to breathe. The maid’s hands fell from the veil, and she began to listen also. She had been at the service the day before. Miss Vanderpoel rose from her chair slowly–very slowly, and took a step forward. Then she stood still and listened again.

“Open that window, if you please,” she commanded–“as if a stone image was speaking”–Ambleston said later. The window was thrown open, and for a few seconds they both stood still again. When Miss Vanderpoel spoke, it was as if she had forgotten where she was, or as if she were in a dream.

“It is the ringers,” she said. “They are tolling the passing bell.”

The serving woman was soft of heart, and had her feminine emotions. There had been much talk of this thing in the servant’s hall. She turned upon Betty, and forgot all rules and training.

“Oh, miss!” she cried. “He’s gone–he’s gone! That good man–out of this hard world. Oh, miss, excuse me– do!” And as she burst into wild tears, she ran out of the room.

. . . . .

Rosalie had been sitting in the morning room. She also had striven to occupy herself with work. She had written to her mother, she had read, she had embroidered, and then read again. What was Betty doing–what was she thinking now? She laid her book down in her lap, and covering her face with her hands, breathed a desperate little prayer. That life should be pain and emptiness to herself, seemed somehow natural since she had married Nigel–but pain and emptiness for Betty–No! No! No! Not for Betty! Piteous sorrow poured upon her like a flood. She did not know how the time passed. She sat, huddled together in her chair, with hidden face. She could not bear to look at the rain and ghost mist out of doors. Oh, if her mother were only here, and she might speak to her! And as her loving tears broke forth afresh, she heard the door open.

“If you please, my lady–I beg your pardon, my lady,” as she started and uncovered her face.

“What is it, Jennings?”

The figure at the door was that of the serious, elderly butler, and he wore a respectfully grave air.

“As your ladyship is sitting in this room, we thought it likely you would not hear, the windows being closed, and we felt sure, my lady, that you would wish to know—-“

Lady Anstruthers’ hands shook as they clung to the arms of her chair.

“To know—-” she faltered. “Hear what?”

“The passing bell is tolling, my lady. It has just begun. It is for Lord Mount Dunstan. There’s not a dry eye downstairs, your ladyship, not one.”

He opened the windows, and she stood up. Jennings quietly left the room. The slow, heavy knell struck ponderously on the damp air, and she stood and shivered.

A moment or two later she turned, because it seemed as if she must.

Betty, in her riding habit, was standing motionless against the door, her wonderful eyes still as death, gazing at her, gazing in an awful, simple silence.

Oh, what was the use of being afraid to speak at such a time as this? In one moment Rosy was kneeling at her feet, clinging about her knees, kissing her hands, the very cloth of her habit, and sobbing aloud.

“Oh, my darling–my love–my own Betty! I don’t know–and I won’t ask–but speak to me–speak just a word –my dearest dear!”

Betty raised her up and drew her within the room, closing the door behind them.

“Kind little Rosy,” she said. “I came to speak–because we two love each other. You need not ask, I will tell you. That bell is tolling for the man who taught me–to KNOW. He never spoke to me of love. I have not one word or look to remember. And now—- Oh, listen–listen! I have been listening since the morning of yesterday.” It was an awful thing–her white face, with all the flame of life swept out of it.

“Don’t listen–darling–darling!” Rosy cried out in anguish. “Shut your ears–shut your ears!” And she tried to throw her arms around the high black head, and stifle all sound with her embrace.

“I don’t want to shut them,” was the answer. “All the unkindness and misery are over for him, I ought to thank God– but I don’t. I shall hear–O Rosy, listen!–I shall hear that to the end of my days.”

Rosy held her tight, and rocked and sobbed.

“My Betty,” she kept saying. “My Betty,” and she could say no more. What more was there to say? At last Betty withdrew herself from her arms, and then Rosalie noticed for the first time that she wore the habit.

“Dearest,” she whispered, “what are you going to do?”

“I was going to ride, and I am going to do it still. I must do something. I shall ride a long, long way–and ride hard. You won’t try to keep me, Rosy. You will understand.”

“Yes,” biting her lip, and looking at her with large, awed eyes, as she patted her arm with a hand that trembled. “I would not hold you back, Betty, from anything in the world you chose to do.”

And with another long, clinging clasp of her, she let her go.

Mason was standing by Childe Harold when she went down the broad steps. He also wore a look of repressed emotion, and stood with bared head bent, his eyes fixed on the gravel of the drive, listening to the heavy strokes of the bell in the church tower, rather as if he were taking part in some solemn ceremony.

He mounted her silently, and after he had given her the bridle, looked up, and spoke in a somewhat husky voice:

“The order was that you did not want me, miss? Was that correct?”

“Yes, I wish to ride alone.”

“Yes, miss. Thank you, miss.”

Childe Harold was in good spirits. He held up his head, and blew the breath through his delicate, dilated, red nostrils as he set out with his favourite sidling, dancing steps. Mason watched him down the avenue, saw the lodge keeper come out to open the gate, and curtsy as her ladyship’s sister passed through it. After that he went slowly back to the stables, and sat in the harness-room a long time, staring at the floor, as the bell struck ponderously on his ear.

The woman who had opened the gate for her Betty saw had red eyes. She knew why.

“A year ago they all thought of him as an outcast. They would have believed any evil they had heard connected with his name. Now, in every cottage, there is weeping–weeping. And he lies deaf and dumb,” was her thought.

She did not wish to pass through the village, and turned down a side road, which would lead her to where she could cross the marshes, and come upon lonely places. The more lonely, the better. Every few moments she caught her breath with a hard short gasp. The slow rain fell upon her, big round, crystal drops hung on the hedgerows, and dripped upon the grass banks below them; the trees, wreathed with mist, were like waiting ghosts as she passed them by; Childe Harold’s hoof upon the road, made a hollow, lonely sound.

A thought began to fill her brain, and make insistent pressure upon it. She tried no more to thrust thought away. Those who lay deaf and dumb, those for whom people wept–where were they when the weeping seemed to sound through all the world? How far had they gone? Was it far? Could they hear and could they see? If one plead with them aloud, could they draw near to listen? Did they begin a long, long journey as soon as they had slipped away? The “wonder of the world,” she had said, watching life swelling and bursting the seeds in Kedgers’ hothouses! But this was a greater wonder still, because of its awesomeness. This man had been, and who dare say he was not–even now? The strength of his great body, the look in his red-brown eyes, the sound of his deep voice, the struggle, the meaning of him, where were they? She heard herself followed by the hollow echo of Childe Harold’s hoofs, as she rode past copse and hedge, and wet spreading fields. She was this hour as he had been a month ago. If, with some strange suddenness, this which was Betty Vanderpoel, slipped from its body—-She put her hand up to her forehead. It was unthinkable that there would be no more. Where was he now–where was he now?

This was the thought that filled her brain cells to the exclusion of all others. Over the road, down through by-lanes, out on the marshes. Where was he–where was he–WHERE? Childe Harold’s hoofs began to beat it out as a refrain. She heard nothing else. She did not know where she was going and did not ask herself. She went down any road or lane which looked empty of life, she took strange turnings, without caring; she did not know how far she was afield.

Where was he now–this hour–this moment–where was he now? Did he know the rain, the greyness, the desolation of the world?

Once she stopped her horse on the loneliness of the marsh land, and looked up at the low clouds about her, at the creeping mist, the dank grass. It seemed a place in which a newly- released soul might wander because it did not yet know its way.

“If you should be near, and come to me, you will understand,” her clear voice said gravely between the caught breaths, “what I gave you was nothing to you–but you took it with you. Perhaps you know without my telling you. I want you to know. When a man is dead, everything melts away. I loved you. I wish you had loved me.”

CHAPTER XLVIII

THE MOMENT

In the unnatural unbearableness of her anguish, she lost sight of objects as she passed them, she lost all memory of what she did. She did not know how long she had been out, or how far she had ridden. When the thought of time or distance vaguely flitted across her mind, it seemed that she had been riding for hours, and might have crossed one county and entered another. She had long left familiar places behind. Riding through and inclosed by the mist, she, herself, might have been a wandering ghost, lost in unknown places. Where was he now–where was he now?

Afterwards she could not tell how or when it was that she found herself becoming conscious of the evidences that her horse had been ridden too long and hard, and that he was worn out with fatigue. She did not know that she had ridden round and round over the marshes, and had passed several times through the same lanes. Childe Harold, the sure of foot, actually stumbled, out of sheer weariness of limb. Perhaps it was this which brought her back to earth, and led her to look around her with eyes which saw material objects with comprehension. She had reached the lonely places, indeed and the evening was drawing on. She was at the edge of the marsh, and the land about her was strange to her and desolate. At the side of a steep lane, overgrown with grass, and seeming a mere cart-path, stood a deserted-looking, black and white, timbered cottage, which was half a ruin. Close to it was a dripping spinney, its trees forming a darkling background to the tumble-down house, whose thatch was rotting into holes, and its walls sagging forward perilously. The bit of garden about it was neglected and untidy, here and there windows were broken, and stuffed with pieces of ragged garments. Altogether a sinister and repellent place enough.

She looked at it with heavy eyes. (Where was he now– where was he now?–This repeating itself in the far chambers of her brain.) Her sight seemed dimmed, not only by the mist, but by a sinking faintness which possessed her. She did not remember how little food she had eaten during more than twenty-four hours. Her habit was heavy with moisture, and clung to her body; she was conscious of a hot tremor passing over her, and saw that her hands shook as they held the bridle on which they had lost their grip. She had never fainted in her life, and she was not going to faint now–women did not faint in these days–but she must reach the cottage and dismount, to rest under shelter for a short time. No smoke was rising from the chimney, but surely someone was living in the place, and could tell her where she was, and give her at least water for herself and her horse. Poor beast! how wickedly she must have been riding him, in her utter absorption in her thoughts. He was wet, not alone with rain, but with sweat. He snorted out hot, smoking breaths.

She spoke to him, and he moved forward at her command. He was trembling too. Not more than two hundred yards, and she turned him into the lane. But it was wet and slippery, and strewn with stones. His trembling and her uncertain hold on the bridle combined to produce disaster. He set his foot upon a stone which slid beneath it, he stumbled, and she could not help him to recover, so he fell, and only by Heaven’s mercy not upon her, with his crushing, big-boned weight, and she was able to drag herself free of him before he began to kick, in his humiliated efforts to rise. But he could not rise, because he was hurt–and when she, herself, got up, she staggered, and caught at the broken gate, because in her wrenching leap for safety she had twisted her ankle, and for a moment was in cruel pain.

When she recovered from her shock sufficiently to be able to look at the cottage, she saw that it was more of a ruin than it had seemed, even at a short distance. Its door hung open on broken hinges, no smoke rose from the chimney, because there was no one within its walls to light a fire. It was quite empty. Everything about the place lay in dead and utter silence. In a normal mood she would have liked the mystery of the situation, and would have set about planning her way out of her difficulty. But now her mind made no effort, because normal interest in things had fallen away from her. She might be twenty miles from Stornham, but the possible fact did not, at the moment, seem to concern her. (Where is he now–where is he now?) Childe Harold was trying to rise, despite his hurt, and his evident determination touched her. He was too proud to lie in the mire. She limped to him, and tried to steady him by his bridle. He was not badly injured, though plainly in pain.

“Poor boy, it was my fault,” she said to him as he at last struggled to his feet. “I did not know I was doing it. Poor boy!”

He turned a velvet dark eye upon her, and nosed her forgivingly with a warm velvet muzzle, but it was plain that, for the time, he was done for. They both moved haltingly to the broken gate, and Betty fastened him to a thorn tree near it, where he stood on three feet, his fine head drooping.

She pushed the gate open, and went into the house through the door which hung on its hinges. Once inside, she stood still and looked about her. If there was silence and desolateness outside, there was within the deserted place a stillness like the unresponse of death. It had been long since anyone had lived in the cottage, but tramps or gipsies had at times passed through it. Dead, blackened embers lay on the hearth, a bundle of dried grass which had been slept on was piled in the corner, an empty nail keg and a wooden box had been drawn before the big chimney place for some wanderer to sit on when the black embers had been hot and red.

Betty gave one glance around her and sat down upon the box standing on the bare hearth, her head sinking forward, her hands falling clasped between her knees, her eyes on the brick floor.

“Where is he now?” broke from her in a loud whisper, whose sound was mechanical and hollow. “Where is he now?”

And she sat there without moving, while the grey mist from the marshes crept close about the door and through it and stole about her feet.

So she sat long–long–in a heavy, far-off dream.

Along the road a man was riding with a lowering, fretted face. He had come across country on horseback, because to travel by train meant wearisome stops and changes and endlessly slow journeying, annoying beyond endurance to those who have not patience to spare. His ride would have been pleasant enough but for the slow mist-like rain. Also he had taken a wrong turning, because he did not know the roads he travelled. The last signpost he had passed, however, had given him his cue again, and he began to feel something of security. Confound the rain! The best road was slippery with it, and the haze of it made a man’s mind feel befogged and lowered his spirits horribly–discouraged him–would worry him into an ill humour even if he had reason to be in a good one. As for him, he had no reason for cheerfulness–he never had for the matter of that, and just now—-! What was the matter with his horse? He was lifting his head and sniffing the damp air restlessly, as if he scented or saw something. Beasts often seemed to have a sort of second sight–horses particularly.

What ailed him that he should prick up his ears and snort after his sniffing the mist! Did he hear anything? Yes, he did, it seemed. He gave forth suddenly a loud shrill whinny, turning his head towards a rough lane they were approaching, and immediately from the vicinity of a deserted-looking cottage behind a hedge came a sharp but mournful-sounding neigh in answer.

“What horse is that?” said Nigel Anstruthers, drawing in at the entrance to the lane and looking down it. “There is a fine brute with a side-saddle on,” he added sharply. “He is waiting for someone. What is a woman doing there at this time? Is it a rendezvous? A good place—-“

He broke off short and rode forward. “I’m hanged if it is not Childe Harold,” he broke out, and he had no sooner assured himself of the fact than he threw himself from his saddle, tethered his horse and strode up the path to the broken- hinged door.

He stood on the threshold and stared. What a hole it was– what a hole! And there SHE sat–alone–eighteen or twenty miles from home–on a turned-up box near the black embers, her hands clasped loosely between her knees, her face rather awful, her eyes staring at the floor, as if she did not see it.

“Where is he now?” he heard her whisper to herself with soft weirdness. “Where is he now?”

Sir Nigel stepped into the place and stood before her. He had smiled with a wry unpleasantness when he had heard her evidently unconscious words.

“My good girl,” he said, “I am sure I do not know where he is–but it is very evident that he ought to be here, since you have amiably put yourself to such trouble. It is fortunate for you perhaps that I am here before him. What does this mean?” the question breaking from him with savage authority.

He had dragged her back to earth. She sat upright and recognised him with a hideous sense of shock, but he did not give her time to speak. His instinct of male fury leaped within him.

“YOU!” he cried out. “It takes a woman like you to come and hide herself in a place of this sort, like a trolloping gipsy wench! It takes a New York millionairess or a Roman empress or one of Charles the Second’s duchesses to plunge as deep as this. You, with your golden pedestal–you, with your ostentatious airs and graces–you, with your condescending to give a man a chance to repent his sins and turn over a new leaf! Damn it,” rising to a sort of frenzy, “what are you doing waiting in a hole like this–in this weather–at this hour–you –you!”

The fool’s flame leaped high enough to make him start forward, as if to seize her by the shoulder and shake her.

But she rose and stepped back to lean against the side of the chimney–to brace herself against it, so that she could stand in her lame foot’s despite. Every drop of blood had been swept from her face, and her eyes looked immense. His coming was a good thing for her, though she did not know it. It brought her back from unearthly places. All her child hatred woke and blazed in her. Never had she hated a thing so, and it set her slow, cold blood running like something molten.

“Hold your tongue!” she said in a clear, awful young voice of warning. “And take care not to touch me. If you do–I have my whip here–I shall lash you across your mouth!”

He broke into ribald laughter. A certain sudden thought which had cut into him like a knife thrust into flesh drove him on.

“Do!” he cried. “I should like to carry your mark back to Stornham–and tell people why it was given. I know who you are here for. Only such fellows ask such things of women. But he was determined to be safe, if you hid in a ditch. You are here for Mount Dunstan–and he has failed you!”

But she only stood and stared at him, holding her whip behind her, knowing that at any moment he might snatch it from her hand. And she knew how poor a weapon it was. To strike out with it would only infuriate him and make him a wild beast. And it was becoming an agony to stand upon her foot. And even if it had not been so–if she had been strong enough to make a leap and dash past him, her horse stood outside disabled.

Nigel Anstruthers’ eyes ran over her from head to foot, down the side of her mud-stained habit, while a curious light dawned in them.

“You have had a fall from your horse,” he exclaimed. “You are lame!” Then quickly, “That was why Childe Harold was trembling and standing on three feet! By Jove!”

Then he sat down on the nail keg and began to laugh. He laughed for a full minute, but she saw he did not take his eyes from her.

“You are in as unpleasant a situation as a young woman can well be,” he said, when he stopped. “You came to a dirty hole to be alone with a man who felt it safest not to keep his appointment. Your horse stumbled and disabled himself and you. You are twenty miles from home in a deserted cottage in a lane no one passes down even in good weather. You are frightened to death and you have given me even a better story to play with than your sister gave me. By Jove!”

His face was an unholy thing to look upon. The situation and her powerlessness were exciting him.

“No,” she answered, keeping her eyes on his, as she might have kept them on some wild animal’s, “I am not frightened to death.”

His ugly dark flush rose.

“Well, if you are not,” he said, “don’t tell me so. That kind of defiance is not your best line just now. You have been disdaining me from magnificent New York heights for some time. Do you think that I am not enjoying this?”

“I cannot imagine anyone else who would enjoy it so much.” And she knew the answer was daring, but would have made it if he had held a knife’s point at her throat.

He got up, and walking to the door drew it back on its crazy hinges and managed to shut it close. There was a big wooden bolt inside and he forced it into its socket.

“Presently I shall go and put the horses into the cowshed,” he said. “If I leave them standing outside they will attract attention. I do not intend to be disturbed by any gipsy tramp who wants shelter. I have never had you quite to myself before.”

He sat down again and nursed his knee gracefully.

“And I have never seen you look as attractive,” biting his under lip in cynical enjoyment. “To-day’s adventure has roused your emotions and actually beautified you–which was not necessary. I daresay you have been furious and have cried. Your eyes do not look like mere eyes, but like splendid blue pools of tears. Perhaps _I_ shall make you cry sometime, my dear Betty.”

“No, you will not.”

“Don’t tempt me. Women always cry when men annoy them. They rage, but they cry as well.”

“I shall not.”

“It’s true that most women would have begun to cry before this. That is what stimulates me. You will swagger to the end. You put the devil into me. Half an hour ago I was jogging along the road, languid and bored to extinction. And now—-” He laughed outright in actual exultation. “By Jove!” he cried out. “Things like this don’t happen to a man in these dull days! There’s no such luck going about. We’ve gone back five hundred years, and we’ve taken New York with us.” His laugh shut off in the middle, and he got up to thrust his heavy, congested face close to hers. “Here you are, as safe as if you were in a feudal castle, and here is your ancient enemy given his chance–given his chance. Do you think, by the Lord, he is going to give it up? No. To quote your own words, `you may place entire confidence in that.’ “

Exaggerated as it all was, somehow the melodrama dropped away from it and left bare, simple, hideous fact for her to confront. The evil in him had risen rampant and made him lose his head. He might see his senseless folly to-morrow and know he must pay for it, but he would not see it to-day. The place was not a feudal castle, but what he said was insurmountable truth. A ruined cottage on the edge of miles of marsh land, a seldom-trodden road, and night upon them! A wind was rising on the marshes now, and making low, steady moan. Horrible things had happened to women before, one heard of them with shudders when they were recorded in the newspapers. Only two days ago she had remembered that sometimes there seemed blunderings in the great Scheme of things. Was all this real, or was she dreaming that she stood here at bay, her back against the chimney-wall, and this degenerate exulting over her, while Rosy was waiting for her at Stornham–and at this very hour her father was planning his journey across the Atlantic?

“Why did you not behave yourself?” demanded Nigel Anstruthers, shaking her by the shoulder. “Why did you not realise that I should get even with you one day, as sure as you were woman and I was man?”

She did not shrink back, though the pupils of her eyes dilated. Was it the wildest thing in the world which happened to her– or was it not? Without warning–the sudden rush of a thought, immense and strange, swept over her body and soul and possessed her–so possessed her that it changed her pallor to white flame. It was actually Anstruthers who shrank back a shade because, for the moment, she looked so near unearthly.

“I am not afraid of you,” she said, in a clear, unshaken voice. “I am not afraid. Something is near me which will stand between us–something which DIED to-day.”

He almost gasped before the strangeness of it, but caught back his breath and recovered himself.

“Died to-day! That’s recent enough,” he jeered. “Let us hear about it. Who was it?”

“It was Mount Dunstan,” she flung at him. “The church- bells were tolling for him when I rode away. I could not stay to hear them. It killed me–I loved him. You were right when you said it. I loved him, though he never knew. I shall always love him–though he never knew. He knows now. Those who died cannot go away when THAT is holding them. They must stay. Because I loved him, he may be in this place. I call on him—-” raising her clear voice. “I call on him to stand between us.”

He backed away from her, staring an evil, enraptured stare.

“What! There is that much temperament in you?” he said. “That was what I half-suspected when I saw you first. But you have hidden it well. Now it bursts forth in spite of you. Good Lord! What luck–what luck!”

He moved to the door and opened it.

“I am a very modern man, and I enjoy this to the utmost,” he said. “What I like best is the melodrama of it–in connection with Fifth Avenue. I am perfectly aware that you will not discuss this incident in the future. You are a clever enough young woman to know that it will be more to your interest than to mine that it shall be kept exceedingly quiet.”

The white fire had not died out of her and she stood straight.

“What I have called on will be near me, and will stand between us,” she said.

Old though it was, the door was massive and heavy to lift. To open it cost him some muscular effort.

“I am going to the horses now,” he explained before he dragged it back into its frame and shut her in. “It is safe enough to leave you here. You will stay where you are.”

He felt himself secure in leaving her because he believed she could not move, and because his arrogance made it impossible for him to count on strength and endurance greater than his own. Of endurance he knew nothing and in his keen and cynical exultance his devil made a fool of him.

As she heard him walk down the path to the gate, Betty stood amazed at his lack of comprehension of her.

“He thinks I will stay here. He absolutely thinks I will wait until he comes back,” she whispered to the emptiness of the bare room.

Before he had arrived she had loosened her boot, and now she stooped and touched her foot.