• Prologue. The Players Are Set
• Chapter I
• Chapter II
• Part I. The Play Begins
• Chapter I
• Chapter II
• Chapter III
• Chapter IV
• Chapter V
• Chapter VI
• Chapter VII
• Chapter VIII
• Chapter IX
• Chapter X
• Chapter XI
• Chapter XII
• Chapter XIII
• Part II. Man's Adjustment
• Chapter I
• Chapter II
• Chapter III
• Chapter IV
• Chapter V
• Chapter VI
• Chapter VII
• Chapter VIII
• Chapter IX
• Chapter X
• Chapter XI
• Chapter XII
• Chapter XIII
• Chapter XIV
• Chapter XV
• Chapter XVI
The place was a lonesome one—lonely on a large scale. There were cottages near in twos and threes, an inn not a quarter of a mile away, a wheelwright's shop and a Primitive Methodist chapel, but Ferriby Grange found no company in these.
The loneliness was beyond the recognition of most: the old house stood bereft of its kind, lonely for the days of joyous mirth and plenteous fullness that had so long ceased to be.
There was only one friend left of all—one true old friend, and that was the sea, and even the sea had changed. From the flat roof you looked out now upon a different coast-line and looked afar; the sea was three miles further off than in the days when the rough wall was built—to keep it at bay. Ah, but the sun was the same and the winds, only they for that very reason, perhaps, scarcely seemed to ward off loneliness. When the sun touched the eastern windows on a May-day morning, radiant faces were no more there to peep over upheld flowers for the greetings of the sweethearts below, and at Yuletide the winds drove neither snow nor carol-singers before them as they used. The sunshine and the winds only raised sad memories.
Within the house the great hearths were half of them dark and cold; secret places were forgotten and unopened year by year; in the garrets treasures of the past mouldered into the rubbish of to-day; the garden wearied for a lover's tread—the great house was lonely.
This however, was an inner and perceptive view of Ferriby. To the outer and casual gaze the Grange was in a state of fine repair and gave bounteous evidence of prosperity.
What matter absence of neighbours? There were horses and traps in plenty in the stable to carry the owner whithersoever he willed. Petsham was a humming country town not half a dozen miles away with a railway station—the key to the world. The fishing hamlet of Droitlet was reached in a before-breakfast gallop, and in Droitlet the folk almost to a man were tenants of the Grange. And the owner of the Grange was the owner, too, of half the boats on Droitlet shore and of the wharf and the couple of coaling barges-from time immemorial the Ferribys had farmed the sea as well as the land, and when the sea withdrew they followed.
Gentlefolk to begin with—what were the Ferribys now? Gentlefolk still they called themselves.
Over the arched entrance where in Tudor days a drawbridge had hung were the remains still to be seen of the stone-cut quarterings of the ancient holders.
Ancient the Ferribys were as was their dwelling, but as that had lost drawbridge and moat and outer wall and castellated battlements, and shrunk from castle to mansion, from mansion to farm, so had the family lost appanage and renown, and now in the countryside had fallen into that anomalous position that is neither fish, fowl nor good red-herring.
At the Grange lived John Ferriby. He made as little pretence as his father before him to the circumstances and surroundings of a gentleman, though his grandmother was an Earl's daughter and his mother a Fairfax of the Fairfaxes from over the border, one of the proudest and poorest of old families.
There was a bad strain in the race somewhere; it had showed in Cornelius Ferriby; it was rampant in his son—Devil Ferriby they called him. Education in the Petsham Grammar School had more than sufficed for him. He disdained an establishment; his father's house-keeper was his house-keeper, and she did what she pleased; and Jane Skidfell's pleasure was to save, and so long as she satisfied him—let her, said Ferriby.
John Ferriby was not beloved—that did not trouble him. He rode and shot and handled a boat as well as a man can. He was tall and strong, and knew what the wenches thought of his dark face and his bold eyes and bold ways. He ran his farm as easily as he drove tandem. He could put his hand—and did—to anything he chose. He had a good balance at the bank, and a 'heart as rough as Esau's hand.'
He was equipped to get through life well, and he thought so, and looked as if he did.
Management takes the place of means. Where there are both working together, results are achieved as by enchantment. To the passers-by the work of Ferriby Grange seemed always done, never doing.
Outside the house John Ferriby himself kept things up to their standard; inside, Jane Skidfell maintained an inviolable order, holding a rod of iron over half a dozen unpolished, hard-handed country maids.
Look at the Grange this wild autumn evening. Rain and wind together had driven across its red-brick frontages in a grey whirl since dawn, and now, at sunset, the clouds broke in the west, showing red as if bloodstained fingers had dragged them apart, and the western casements were set glowing as if a lantern had been swung up behind them. The rain ceased while the wind freshened to half a gale. As usual about Ferriby Grange, whether wet or fine, there were few signs of actual activity. The great gates into the outer court stood wide open, proof the master was still abroad, but there was no evidence of anyone in waiting to take his horse; and in the wide yards beyond work seemed over—beasts foddered and stall-doors closed—with no one there to do it. Pass through that low, arched, nail-studded door between those two strips of railed-in garden, and you will find inside the same spell—results achieved in silence. The great house was in twilight; every door seemed closed, neither lights nor cheer, though even through the dusk the perfection of order was apparent. But suddenly, as the grey sky had been rent by the red sunset, so the stillness of Ferriby Grange was broken by the violent opening of a heavy door, and Jane Skidfell burst from the great kitchen in a blaze of wrath, driving before her a struggling and screaming girl.
The girl is Irene Garth, cousin to John Ferriby, and cousin to Paul, also a Ferriby. He will be on the scene shortly, for Irene is seldom in a scrape without Paul appearing as a rescuer.
Mistress Skidfell pushed the slim figure before her as easily as the wind skurried the leaves along the garden walks. She was a woman of terror-striking aspect, so uncompromising her glance and upright and commanding her form. Roused as she was now, her appearance was so relentless and grim that bolder stuff than Irene Garth might have felt uncomfortable in her shoes.
Jane's obvious goal was the buttery. Its massive oak door loomed large and ominous at the other end of the long stone passage.
'I won't! I won't!' screamed Irene; but Mrs. Skidfell held her like Fate with inflexible grip upon the shoulder, and, turning the key in the huge lock, with the other hand forced Irene down the flight of steps into the large but low and vaulted chamber, a buttery aforetime, and still retaining the name, but used now principally as a storeplace for the ale John Ferriby consumed as few people do water.
The buttery had no windows. Light and air were supplied by slits in the massive outside wall, and now it was in utter dark save for the straight and ghostly glimmer of them.
At the sight Irene's frenzies redoubled. She turned to wriggle past her captor, and escape up the steps to the passage behind them, that, though dark with shadow, appeared a place of light and joy itself compared to this black cell. Jane held her firm.
'It's no use, Irene Garth. I've warned 'ee oft. Thee stays here, thou upstart minx. Slap me in t' face, wilt 'ee, thou charity-clad brat! I'll show thee thou must respect thy betters. Bide here a while, and cool thy tantrums off.'
In Jane's speech, provincial and with a touch of dialect, there was still a deliberation that hinted she spoke as she chose, not as she must, and in her grim bearing and bitter use of words there was determination rather than passion. To anyone who knew Jane Skidfell even slightly, it was plain she was dealing with the girl to carry out a principle, not to satisfy dislike, though, indeed, little was the love lost between the pair of them. Feeling her way unerringly in the gloom, Jane steered her victim to where the rounded buttress of an arch projected seat-wise into the room.
'You shan't put me here!' shrieked Irene, struggling like a cat. 'I'll tell Cousin Ferriby.'
'Tell th' A'mighty thee'rt sorry for thy sins—that'll help thee sooner,' was the grim response. 'Cousin Ferriby himself don't say "shan't" to Jane Skidfell.' Then, spite of struggles, the strong arms planted the young figure firmly on the stone seat. 'When thou'rt come to thysen, thou canst say so,' she said, a little breathless, spite of her strength. With one hand she began deftly to loosen her long white apron.
'What are you doing?' asked Irene fearfully, checking her sobs.
'I am going to settle thee to cool,' said Jane.
Of experience Irene guessed her intention. She was to be fastened to the iron ring in the pillar. She had noticed it with Paul when on a former occasion they had explored the buttery between them. Paul had said it was a ring prisoners were fastened to to be tortured.
Sudden realization touched Irene into a paroxysm of shrieking fear.
'You shan't, Jane Skidfell! You shan't! you shan't! I'll kill you!'
And she bit and tore at Jane's hands and half-bared arms till Jane shook her, smarting from the pain; but she had her fast all the same, with the apron round her waist and fixed behind her to the ring, like a martyr in truth, if martyrs ever met their holy fate with such a scandalous display of earthly temper.
Irene's sharp teeth broke the skin. 'Thou limb of evil, take that!' and Jane slapped her soundly. 'I've half a mind to set thee bare-ended on t' flags. A fine cure for temper!'
She turned and made her way to the door. Irene could see her figure mounting the steps against the background of the darkening passage. Old Skidfell was really going, really going to leave her there!
'Jane! Jane!' she cried, her tone changed to desperate entreaty. 'Dear Jane, don't leave me here! There are rats—you've said so yourself, Jane! Don't go! I shall die of fright. Dear Jane, I'll be good—I will, really!'
Jane turned in the doorway.
'Ah, you're no Ferriby, Irene Garth,' she said with ringing scorn. 'Ye'd bite and bless in a breath. There's no truth in you—but you're out of it with me.'
'But the rats, Jane!' screamed the girl—'the rats! There's one there. Let me go, Jane, let me go!'
'There are no rats in my buttery, and screamin' to me won't help ye,' was the grim answer. 'Cry to thy Maker to change t' heart in thee. Hark! t' A'mighty is riding the gale wi'out. Thou'rt a wicked lass—pray to Him to spare thee.'
And Jane closed and locked the heavy door. There was a roar from the gale, a shriek from Irene. At the same moment she struggled free—the apron, indeed, being only very lightly fastened—and rushing wildly up the steps, battered with her fists upon the scarcely echoing oak panels.
'Let me out! let me out! You're a beast! I hate you! I'll pull your hair out! I'll kill you! You're Satan's wife! God will strike you! Let me out! let me out!'
It was no use, and Irene knew it. As well try to move the wind or the old walls as Jane Skidfell. She dropped in a heap on the steps, crying loudly. At last, exhausted, she lifted her head and, listening and peering, finally took courage, and rising to her feet, stood hesitating.
Irene was a young lady of an unusually acute observation, and a memory retentive of detail. This sprang from an intensely curious, prying disposition. Curiosity, vanity, and greedy selfishness divided Irene Garth's nature pretty equally between them.
The girl remembered that, on her former stolen visit to the buttery with Paul, she had noticed a shelf close to the steps on which stood candlestick and matches, placed there convenient to the hand of anyone descending into the buttery gloom.
Irene put her hand out—she had remembered well. The matches were within her fingers' reach. She struck one joyfully. Ah, wouldn't old Skidfell like to see her now! And there was the candle. She lit it, and proceeded to take survey. What she principally revealed, however, was the one thing she could not see, and that was herself.
Irene Garth was an amazingly pretty girl. Her features and colouring were perfect. She was endowed, too, with absolute superfluities of loveliness. Hair that curled distractingly of itself about her neck and forehead, dimples, a charming smile, and the power of grimacing and pouting and screaming and crying and showing off every species of sulks and temper without spoiling her fascinating appearance. Irene was over fourteen. Hopelessly spoilt by a feeble-minded mother, she was not ashamed to be childish still—'and it's a mercy,' said Jane Skidfell, and that was why she meted punishment as to a child, according to the primitive and deadly notions of her own rigid bringing-up.
'Once let Irene Garth give up being the spoilt child she is, and she'll go to ruin swift,' said Jane Skidfell.
Apart from her beauty, Irene had the charm that no man ever ignores. Her destiny was plain, and she was equipped for it.
Holding the candle high above her head, Irene took a timorous survey. She saw on the shelf whence the candle had come a stone ink-bottle and pen and an account-book. This she would dearly have liked to overhaul—she was always wanting a chance to find out what money Cousin Ferriby had, and what he spent it on—but just then was not the moment. She saw flitches of bacon and bundles of herbs hanging from the arches. She scarcely knew them for what they were. They looked like the awful things in wizards' shops. The beer-barrels were more familiar—there seemed enough of them to provision a siege. Some big sacks stood up in a corner under one of the slits. Irene went towards them fearfully with beating heart; she had a very good memory for the gruesome, and, unable to retain even the leading dates of English history, recalled on the slightest provocation every item of the horrible she had ever read. Dead bodies were concealed in sacks, and she believed Jane Skidfell capable of murder—and Cousin Ferriby, too, for that matter. But the sacks contained flour, and flour, Irene remembered, is always associated in fairy-tales with goodness and the people who are 'put upon.'
In her undisciplined young heart there was a leaning towards the dash and the masterfulness of what is known as evil; but unconsciously exemplifying how little our theories go with our practice, she was glad to find in the dark buttery something typical of 'good.' The candle-light, very welcome at first, now began to frighten her with its strange shadows. Holding it this way and that, trying to drive them away, she discovered another flight of stone steps, sunk in a recess and leading to a second door, but one so low and narrow it looked as if no man could enter it. She and Paul had overlooked this door and steps before, but they had explored in haste, and fearful of being discovered. Starting at every sound of the wind, her breath still coming in little sobs of rage and suspended terror, Irene went up the steps and tried the little door. She was half relieved to find it locked. A grating sound came from somewhere. She turned in alarm, and thought she saw a hideous black object run across the floor. With a piercing shriek she flung the candle at it, then cowered down in the dark, hiding her face and screaming loudly. The wind seemed to lull itself to listen, and presently a voice came faintly from without, the sound borne in through the slit: 'Hello! Hello there! Who's that?'
Irene leapt to her feet with a rapturous cry. In a moment more she had scrambled up the sacks, and was shouting through the deep-set opening.
'Paul! Paul! It's me! Where are you?'
'I'm on the ledge,' came back the voice. 'I dropped my knife. I'm climbing over for it. Where on earth are you?'
'In the buttery. I slapped old Skidfell's face, and she's locked me in.'
The voice sounded nearer and stronger. The ledge apparently skirted the buttery walls.
'What did you scream for? Frightened?'
'Of course not, but I don't like rats. And—Paul—'
Irene's voice took on a very sweet and coaxing tone.
'You're going to make old Skidfell let me out, aren't you?' she said anxiously.
'She won't—at my bidding. Isn't Cousin Ferriby back?'
'You're not going, are you?'
'I am, though,' came back the voice. 'Can't keep a footing in this wind. Skidfell 'll let you out all right, and if you're not frightened...'
Irene broke into tears. 'But I am frightened. So would you be. It's pitch-dark, and there are rats swarming, scratching all over the place, and ghosts moving. Jane won't come near me. Paul, do...do let me out! I...dear...dear Paul!...'
Her voice fell like music on the name.
'All right,' came the boy's answer after a pause. 'Don't cry. Wait a bit. I'll see what I can do...Keep your pecker up.'
Irene drew back and settled herself down upon the good-hearted sacks. She did not dare leave their wholesome contact to search for matches or candle, and she had implicit faith in her champion. But long before Paul could have had time to crawl along and off the ledge, as Irene even in the dark could calculate, the little door at the head of the narrow steps close by was opened noisily, and getting through it somehow, slamming it behind him, down came—Cousin Ferriby.
Irene knew him as instantly as instinctively, the same instinct that, stronger than fear, kept her motionless in her place.
Ferriby crossed the buttery like someone who knows his way in the dark. He paused on the other steps, however, and Irene heard him fumbling for the candle.
'Confound the woman!' he muttered. 'Can't she leave the things where I put them?'
He took matches from his own pocket, and, lighting one, held it above his head. The flare showed him Irene, who slipped from her meal-bags and came forward meekly.
'Please, Cousin Ferriby, it's me.'
'You!' He started, and, staring at the girl's lovely face, let the match burn his fingers, and dropped it with an oath. 'What the devil are you doing here?'
'Mrs. Skidfell locked me in; and, oh. Cousin Ferriby, she called me awful names, and shook me and boxed my ears!'
'You jolly well deserved it, I've no doubt,' was the rough answer. 'Where's the candle?'
'It's over there on the ground somewhere. A rat jumped up and knocked it out of my hand, or else it was a ghost. You'll take me with you when you go, won't you. Cousin Ferriby?'
The hint of the imperial power of sex and beauty, combined with the coaxing of a dubious child, were curiously blended in Irene's musical young voice, and Ferriby seemed to recognize it. He laughed, and, lighting another match, found the candle, adjusted, and lit it.
'I don't know,' he said, taking another good look at her. 'It might tame you a bit to leave you shut up here all night. I've half a mind to try it. Why can't you behave yourself, and do what you're told without so much fire-spitting? Bring me that jug.'
Irene looked round, saw the blue pitcher, and brought it obediently, but stared with widening eyes to see Cousin Ferriby turn on ale by a tap as if it were water, fill the blue jug to foaming-point, and, tilting back his head, empty it at a draught.
She gave a fastidious simper. 'Oh, Cousin John, how can you drink out of the jug—just like some labouring man! It's horrid!'
Ferriby's reply was checked. There was a noise in the stone passage, acrid and violent. He put down the jug to listen. Irene, with an anxious eye on him, sidled a little nearer. It was Paul coming to the rescue.
Jane Skidfell's voice rang out clearly in terrible tones, only hampered by want of breath: 'Thou'lt touch that door at thy peril, ma lad.'
Paul's young voice rose in answer. 'Give me the key; if you don't I'll smash it in. If you weren't an old woman, I'd smash you.' A tremendous bang on the old oak panels followed this. 'It's all right, Irene,' the boy called. (Bang!) 'I'm coming.' (Bang!)
'Let go of my hair, Jane Skidfell! Let go, I say, or I'll kick!'
Irene cowered closely to John Ferriby's side, terrified. The young man looked down on her with a rough laugh.
'You're a beauty, aren't you? Beginning bright and early with your sweethearts and your rescuers!' Then, as if the continued scuffling outside suddenly fired him, Ferriby snatched up his riding-whip and sprang up the steps.
'Open the door, Jane!' he shouted. An instant silence followed the sound. Slowly the key turned gratingly, and the massive door swung back slowly, revealing Jane's gaunt, panting figure, and beside it a tall boy of a noble and most handsome bearing. His face was flushed, his clothes in disorder, but his eyes flashed defiance, and he stood with clenched fists and heaving breast, not bating an inch of what he had undertaken.
'So it's you, master,' said Jane. 'And time, too. This is a pair of young devils—'
'That'll do,' interrupted Ferriby. 'You needn't tell it to me.' He mounted a step higher, and took the boy by the shoulder. 'Devils, eh? Well, Devil Ferriby can look after his own, then. That'll do, Jane,' he added. 'I'll manage them now. Leave the key in the lock.'
While he spoke he tightened his grip on Paul's shoulders and began to half push, half drag him down the steps into the buttery. Irene, thinking her cause won, began to dance up and down behind the screen of Ferriby's broad form, and wreathed her pretty face into exulting grimaces.
'Aye, mop and mow!' exclaimed Jane, turning to her. 'He says true. The Ferribys are devils' brood, and ye'll know it. Ill-luck to the faithful that serve them.'
And with almost a majestic gesture the old woman turned and disappeared down the stone passage.
John and Paul had regained the level of the buttery floor. The boy tried to shake himself free.
'You needn't hold me, Cousin John,' he said, his voice so clear there was in it something like the silvery tone of song. 'I'm not going to run away—I've done no harm. I was on the ledge, and I dropped my knife, and I was trying to climb down when I heard Irene scream...'
'That was when the rat jumped,' struck in Irene hastily. 'I only just called out.'
Ferriby's hand dropped from the boy's collar, and he looked from one to the other.
'You screamed at the top of your voice,' said Paul, 'and...' he turned his eyes boldly on Ferriby's face, 'she said she was frightened, and cried and begged me to let her out. And when a girl does that, what are you to do. Cousin Ferriby? I asked old Skinflint—Jane, I mean—for the key quite civilly, I'm sure I did, and she tried to smack my face, and called me a beggar's brat—'
'She called me that, too,' remarked Irene, sticking up her chin.
'She's always calling us names. Cousin John, and when your back's turned she makes Irene do things that only servants do.'
Ferriby laughed. 'Well, and why not, my young cock-of-the-walk?'
'Oh, but it's washing up and sweeping and scrubbing. Cousin John!' cried Irene.
'Well, and I say why not?' repeated Ferriby.
'Oh, you're joking, Cousin John!' said the boy.
'This is Ferriby Grange, and we are Ferribys.'
'Oh no!' cried Ferriby. 'That string needs letting down a peg or two. Listen to me, the pair of you.' He looked round a moment, then seated himself upon the stone where Jane had previously deposited Irene. He motioned the boy to stand in front of him. At the same moment the white apron caught his eye.
'What's this?' he asked.
'Old Skinflint's apron,' answered Irene. It seemed as if Cousin Ferriby were not going to be so very nice after all, and her voice dropped into a whimper. 'She tied me up with it while she locked me in—her nasty old smelling kitchen apron. Ugh! No servant was ever allowed to touch me at home. I wish I was at home.' Irene began to cry. 'I wish mamma hadn't died,' she sobbed.
'Stop that blubbering, now, Irene,' cried Devil Ferriby.
There was a pause. Irene drew out a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes, while Paul looked at the wall before him steadily, with set lips and indignant mien. Cousin John spoke to them almost as roughly as did Jane. Meanwhile, Cousin John heeded neither of them, but sat, one hand resting on his knee, the other switching his riding-whip lightly up and down the flags while he mused, his eyes bent upon the ground.
Suddenly he looked up and bent his dark gaze keenly first on Paul's handsome bearing, then on the girl's downbent, charming head and half-hidden, wonderful little face.
'How long have you been here?' he asked abruptly.
'Three months. Cousin Ferriby,' answered Paul.
'And you're—let me see—fifteen, aren't you, and the lass here a year younger?'
'Yes, Cousin Ferriby.'
Ferriby laughed, not pleasantly. 'Well, it's time we understood one another,' he said. 'I've been busy and a good deal away since you turned up here, but I'm not away from home as a rule, and when I am at home I'll have things as I please, and I'll have you do as I please, too.'
'Oh,' struck in Paul eagerly, 'whatever you please, of course, Cousin John, but that old woman—'
'She frightens me awfully, sometimes,' said Irene, looking up from her handkerchief, 'and she says you're afraid of her, too.'
'Perhaps I am,' returned Ferriby grimly; 'at any rate, Jane Skidfell's word is law here, under mine, and when I'm not there to order you myself, you'll both do what she bids you.'
The boy's eyes darkened. 'Why, Cousin John?' he asked, his chest heaving.
'She wants to make a servant of me,' cried Irene-' of me. Cousin John!'
John gazed in silence on her upthrown face. The cold light falling in through the wide-open door showed him its beauty; a queer look came over the young man's face. Paul didn't notice. He was eager to make much of almost the first chance given him of clearing things up with this relative, into whose household he had been thrown.
'The other day,' he said stoutly, 'Jane Skidfell told me to go and help the man clean out the stables.'
'And did you?' demanded Ferriby.
The boy read the dark face in amazement. 'Why, Cousin John, of course not.'
'Well, you'll go now,' was the answer.
'What do you mean. Cousin Ferriby?'
'You'll go now. Isn't that plain? You needn't be turning stables out this time of day; but Scarside isn't back from Petsham yet, and my horse is standing in the yard. Unsaddle him, and try your hand at bedding him down. It will be a good beginning.'
'You're joking, Cousin Ferriby,' stammered the boy.
'Am I? Don't lads of your size earn their living?'
'Yes, but not like that. The Ferribys are gentlefolk.'
'What's that to you?' demanded the other.
Paul stood proudly. 'Everything. I am a Ferriby.'
'With a difference, my fine cockerel—with a difference. And that difference has got to be understood if you want peace between us as well as cousinship.' And as John Ferriby spoke, he rose, with a laugh, and stood over the two, running his hand up and down his whip.
'You're fifteen,' he said; 'I'm four-and-twenty. What d'ye suppose I want with a school-whelp and a baby ready-made '—and he took Irene's chin between his fingers. 'How long since your father died?' he asked of Paul.
'Two years,' the boy answered, choking.
'And I'm in black for mamma still,' put in Irene. 'She said you'd be so kind to me, Cousin John.'
'Look here '—Ferriby bent over her savagely—' if you're going to whimper like a puppy, I'll tell Jane Skidfell to whip you like one.'
'Cousin Ferriby!' cried the boy indignantly.
Ferriby swung round on him. 'And you as well, for barking. Listen to me, Cousin Paul, and I'll tell you exactly how far our cousinship is going to help you. The Ferribys are not long-lived, and don't marry into long-lived families, it seems. We haven't got a relation above ground between us. But my father left me Ferriby Grange and a little to keep it going with. Your father—'
'Don't talk about him in that tone. Cousin Ferriby,' broke in the boy with quivering lips. 'He—I—you didn't know him. He's—he—' For the choking lump in his throat he could say no more.
Irene looked from one to the other, the lovelier for her parted lips and anxious eyes. She was pretty sure she herself would come out all right, but she didn't know about Paul. He ought not to stand up to Cousin John like that, and yet there was a certain instinct in her that liked to see this man-and-boy dispute.
Ferriby swung up the blue jug and strode across the buttery to the ale-barrel.
'Your father died, my young buck,' he said, 'and left you nothing. And my father told me that he would. "You've got an uncle somewhere, my lad," he said on his deathbed, "my only brother. And I had a sister, too," he said—"fair Lavinia."'
'That was mamma,' struck in Irene eagerly.
'That was mamma,' mimicked her cousin. He took a deep quaff from the jug he had refilled. 'And she ran away from Ferriby Grange when she wasn't much older than you,' he resumed, looking at Irene with a rough laugh as he set the jug down; 'and she took up with a mummer, and she and Mr. Mummer spent every penny they ever made or came by. Why not? Wasn't there always Ferriby Grange, and a Ferriby in it to look after their leavings?'
'Cousin John,' cried Paul, standing up to the other with hot indignation, 'it's a shame to speak like that to a girl, and about her own mother.'
'Hark at the whipper-snapper!' sneered Ferriby. He drank again, and then turned on the boy as if inspired by the draught with sudden fury, 'D'ye want your head cuffed?' he shouted. 'How dare you take me to task!'
Irene shrank back trembling at the threatening tones, and made a danger-sign of wrinkling brows and restless fingers; but Paul took no heed of her, his head high, his eyes splendid.
'If it's anything you say about them. Cousin John,' he cried, 'I always shall! My father and Irene's mother were Ferribys, both of them, and this was their home as much as it is yours.'
'Now, that's just where you make the mistake,' said
Ferriby, advancing to him. 'When my grandfather died, there was precious little left for anybody; but what there was was left between the old man's three children equally—between my father, your father, and her mother equally—' He paused, tightening his lips.
'Well, Cousin Ferriby, and that was fair,' said the boy.
'That's spoken like a fool,' was the rough answer. 'My father, with his portion, had this Grange thrown in, the house to keep up, the farm to restock, the land to redeem, timber to replace, and then he'd been working on it hard for years for nothing. His brother and sister had gone their own sweet way, but came back when the old man died. Oh yes, fast enough then. And my father put it to them: "This is an unfair will," he said; "you have no right to share alike with me. But let that pass, only I'm burdened with the Grange and the land; lend me some of your portion to keep it together." But not they. Not one penny would they let him have.'
'No,' put in Irene, with interest suddenly revived in something that once had been a thrice-told tale; 'I've heard mamma talk of it. They'd expected a great deal more, she and Uncle Paul. The whole three portions together came to no more than what they had each expected. Mamma often said she wondered what Gran'papa Ferriby could have done with all his money.'
'And at Petsham Station,' said Paul, eyeing the other with a high-spirited boy's proud disfavour, 'a porter told me you were the richest man of your age in the county.'
John Ferriby laughed. He finished the ale in silence, wiped his moustache, and stood, legs slightly apart, holding his whip lightly before him, and looking evilly from one young thing to the other.
'No,' he said presently, 'I'm not a rich man, even for my age, and I'm not fond of mummers' vixens or upstart collops. It was my father's whim that when your folks left you beggars, as he knew they would, that I should have you here; but if it had been left to me you should have rotted in the workhouse, both of you, before I would have stirred a finger.'
'If that's what you think,' answered the boy, with heaving breast, his lips white, his eyes flashing, 'I'd rather be in the workhouse than stay here. Papa had friends. I'll go to them—I'll leave your house to-night.'
Irene uttered a little cry, starting forward, and in Devil Ferriby's dark face the evil look deepened.
'Not so fast,' he said; 'you'll stay where you are till you've paid for the two years' schooling you've just had—all the schooling you'll get, too.'
'You're a cad, Cousin Ferriby!' burst from the boy's white lips. 'I'm only a boy; I have no money yet.'
'No,' returned Ferriby, with a savage sneer, 'but you have hands and feet and head. Old Scarside can do with a boy like you to help. Be off now and see if he's home, and if not get my horse bedded down, as I told you just now.'
Paul did not stir. Irene made a little terrified movement.
'Well!' cried John Ferriby.
'I'm not going. Cousin John,' said the boy. 'Not when you put it like that.'
Devil Ferriby advanced. 'Think a bit, my lad. You're not going?' He raised his whip.
'No!' The boy faced him undauntedly. 'I'd bed down my father's horse, but not yours. You're not a gentleman. You taunt us with having no money, you call girls names, and speak cruelly of my father, and I won't bed your horse down if you kill me for it.'
'You d—d whelp!' said Ferriby. 'Take that!'
The stroke fell clean across the boy's face, bringing blood freely. He stood unblenching, and tossed his head back with a laugh, so that the red drops flew.
'Now will you go?'
Irene darted forward and caught the upraised arm, screaming.
'Oh, Cousin Ferriby, don't!' she cried—' don't, don't! How can you? His face is bleeding!'
Ferriby shook her off furiously. 'Get out of the way!' he shouted. He turned again to Paul: 'Well—'
Paul looked at him steadily. 'You're a cad and a coward,' was his answer, 'and I'll feed other people's pigs before I'll serve you ever—'
As he spoke, his clear voice a ringing cry, there came a sudden vision to the buttery door, and John Ferriby stood arrested, his hand falling to his side.
The apparition was a girl—a woman. Vision, apparition, either word conveyed without extravagance the effect of Daphne Estorel as she stood in the grey light of the stone passage looking down on the grim little drama at the foot of the buttery steps.
There seemed a grace and brightness about the whole figure savouring at that moment of the unearthly.
A full and straight grey gown fell round Daphne's ankles, and across her shoulders lay a muslin kerchief; in the knot of it, upon her bosom, a bunch of autumn flowers. Her hair was like a saint's halo, of the purest and palest gold. Grave blue eyes looked from an oval face of the same strange purity of colour.
Irene stared with all her eyes. Devil Ferriby's hand falling to his side, he stared too, then hailed the newcomer with his rough laugh—in it, perhaps, a note of apology for what he had been caught at.
Paul alone kept his bleeding face turned stolidly away.
'You, Daphne?' said Ferriby. 'When did you get back?'
'Ten minutes since—just long enough to take off my things.' Daphne's voice was bright and pleasant-cordial even. She took no notice of Irene or of the boy. 'Aunt Skidfell sent me to show you that I'm here again, and to tell you tea is ready and the cakes spoiling.'
'Why didn't Jane tell me she was expecting you?' growled Ferriby.—' You've grown into a fine young lady, I suppose.' He mounted the steps.—' Did Scarside bring you from Pet sham?'
'Yes.' A laugh broke from the girl's lips. 'Scarside has not changed in these three years, Mr. John. He opened his lips twice in seven miles.'
'Ah!' answered Ferriby, 'these Yorkshire moors don't breed chatterers.'
Without a backward glance, Daphne moving away lightly before him, the young man, doubling the lash of his whip into his hand—it was sticky—followed into the passage, closing the door upon the boy and girl.
Irene remained where she was, too absorbed in astonishment to make resistance. Paul, his back to the interruption, had not stirred, did not now.
'Whoever can she be?' exclaimed Irene in an utter amazement. 'She called old Skinflint "aunt." I wonder if she's a servant? She said "Mr. John." She hadn't any cap or apron on. Her hair is golden. Did you like it, Paul? I wonder if I should look better with fair hair?' Irene took her red-brown curls between her fingers...' Paul, did you think she was pretty?'
There was no answer. Irene crept up the steps, and, as she sniffed through the huge keyhole, there came a sense of warmth and fragrance down the passage.
'Oven-bottoms and potato-cakes,' said Irene. 'Oh! I wonder if she'd give me some if I said I was sorry.' She cautiously tried the massive, circular handle. 'Paul!' she called in an excited whisper. 'Paul! The door isn't locked. Let's go, and I'll say I am sorry.'
There was no answer. Irene, looking round, surveyed the still motionless figure of the boy a little dubiously. Descending the steps, she approached him with a touch of timidity; then, peeping round at his averted face, she started back with an exclamation of aversion and horror.
'Oh, I say, your cheek is bleeding, Paul! Does it hurt?'
Paul sharply turned his shoulder.
'You needn't be so cross,' pouted the girl. 'It wasn't my fault. He'd have hit you a second time if it hadn't been for me.'
'If it hadn't been for you he'd never have hit me at all!' cried Paul, his full heart breaking into speech.
'You are always dragging me into your scrapes. And you'd nothing to do with his not hitting me a second time—it was that woman opening the door.'
'It wasn't a woman!' cried Irene—'only a girl not much older than I am.'
'Well, I don't care who it was!' The boy stamped savagely, fighting fiercely with the passion swelling in his throat. 'I wish I was dead! He struck me like a dog. I...I...I'd like to kill him!'
'Oh, I don't mind Cousin John so much,' said Irene glibly. 'It's old Skinflint: I wish someone would kill her! Don't cry, Paul.'
Paul shook her off. 'I'm not crying. Go away! I don't want you—you only get me into rows. Make up to Cousin John.'
The girl came and laid an arm against his shoulder and her lovely face coaxingly against his sleeve.
'Don't be cross, Paul—dear old Paul!' she murmured caressingly. 'I like you so awfully, Paul. If it weren't for you I'd run away.'
'There's no "if" about my doing it,' said the boy. 'I'm going to-night.'
Irene's eyes dilated. Her face went white. She clung to him in a terror most unmistakably real.
'Oh no, Paul; you mustn't. I couldn't stay here without you. You knew mamma, you know, and she'd beg you not to leave me, I know. Promise me you won't go! Besides, you're so brave. Cousin John will never touch you again. Say you won't go. If you do I shall follow, and I shall die on the moor, and you'll be sorry then. You won't go, will you? Say you won't, for my sake—poor little Irene, who loves you so. Paul, say you won't run away.'
She had forgotten the shudder his bleeding cheek inspired. She clung both arms about his neck. Her breath was as sweet as flowers. Her warm lips touched his throat in eager caresses. Paul did not move. He stood erect with down-thrust hands and fingers clenched, his head high; but when he spoke the first bitterness of tone was mollified.
'Well, I don't believe you do care,' he said; 'but I'll see.'
Irene looked up into his face. 'You won't go? Promise me, Paul.'
Again she kissed him. The boy stirred suddenly beneath her lips. 'Dear Paul, you couldn't leave Irene, could you?'
'All right,' he said, putting her away from him, 'you needn't bother. I shan't go to-night, at any rate.'
'You must never go.' Irene spoke with satisfaction—the tone of one who has gained her point and fancies she always can. 'When we're grown up quite I'll marry you. Then we'll go away together, and we'll make Cousin John give us some money, and we'll travel...Oh, your poor, poor cheek! He has cut it. Sit down and let me wipe it with my handkerchief.'
'No,' said Paul, rousing himself to a sudden practical decision, 'don't wipe it...Is it bleeding much?' he asked.
Paul dabbed at the cut an instant with his hand, then looked round as if in search of something. On the shelf inside the door, at the head of the steps from which Ferriby had brought the candle, stood an old-fashioned schoolroom inkstand, a pen upright in one of the holes, and beside it the account-book Irene had noticed in which Jane set down her firkins of butter and her gallons of milk.
The boy's eyes lit on these items with satisfaction. He resumed his dictatorship. 'Get me down that book and the pen, Irene!' he commanded.—' I don't want the ink.'
Irene went and came obediently. 'What are you going to do?' she asked curiously.
'Write a vow of vengeance in my blood,' said Paul. 'I saw a fellow do it once at school.' He tore a leaf as he spoke from the account-book.—' There, put that back, Irene.'
Irene hastened to obey and to return to watch with eager eyes. Paul spread the piece of paper on the buttery shelf and tried to fill the pen with blood.
'Bring the candle, Irene,' he commanded. 'The wretched stuff's got thick.'
Irene brought it. 'Oh, I say, Paul,' she giggled, 'isn't it wicked?'
'I don't care. I'd rather be wicked than a coward.' He tried the pen again. 'No, it's got too thick.' He set the pen down and gingerly pulled the weal open so that fresh blood flowed.
Irene stepped back with a fastidious shudder. 'Oh, how can you!' she said with disgust; but Paul thought it was sympathy.
'That doesn't hurt,' he said proudly. 'It was his doing it. Now, here we are.' He filled the pen with some trouble and began to write, stopping almost after every letter to laboriously refill. Irene tiptoed to see over his shoulder and read the words aloud as they shaped themselves under Paul's fingers.
'I, Paul Ferriby, do hereby vow—' ('That's how the other fellow began,' interpolated Paul) 'the most deadly vengeance—You've not spelt "vengeance" right,' she broke off.
'Oh, bother! it's spelt in blood. That's near enough.'
'Vengeance,' read Irene, 'on my cousin Devil Ferriby. Oh, Paul,' she said, 'dare you write "devil" in blood? Something might happen, mightn't it?'
'It wouldn't matter if it did—to him,' answered Paul. 'The fellow whose blood it is stands all right, you know,' he added with the confidence of one well versed.
'Oh!' Irene's tone was dubious. She tiptoed again while Paul laboured on. 'Ah!' she cried, shuddering away again, this time with horror, 'the blood's dropping on your collar.'
'Let it!' said Paul. He held the paper up and read from it with appreciation: 'He is a cad and a brute. One day I shall strike him back, and I hope that I shall kill him. Written with my blood (he did it) this—What's the date?' he asked, as he bent again over the document.
'September 14, 18—'
'All right. I know the year. There,' he concluded triumphantly, looking up from the finished work. 'I'd put in something about you only there's no more blood. Golly, it does soon get thick.'
'Something about me,' cried Irene, startled. 'What?'
'Oh, that it's because of you, to stick up for you, and all that sort of thing.'
'How mean!' said the girl, with her delicious pout. 'To put it off on me! You want vengeance on Cousin Ferriby because he struck you.'
'Yes,' answered Paul; 'but you were at the bottom of it.'
At that moment the vision—girl, woman, divine, human—reappeared. The great door was opened, and Daphne Estorel stood a moment, vision-wise, upon the high threshold. 'You were at the bottom of it,' Paul had said. The new-comer must have overheard; almost as if for one second she saw into the future, her hand went to her heart. She came down. Her footfall was lighter than Irene's. In the candlelight her hair seemed to shoot out sparks and spokes of gold. She looked smilingly from one to the other, pausing at the foot of the steps.
Paul, startled, handed his paper hastily to Irene, who concealed it in her pocket, and began to wipe the pen upon his jacket-sleeve.
'Won't you come and have some tea?' said Daphne in her bright voice; and her clear, direct gaze saw nothing but what she bent it on. 'It's rather cold here, isn't it?'
Paul turned his face away; Irene stared silently.
'We don't know who you are,' she said, speaking as she had been taught to speak to her inferiors, a rising inflexion on the last word, her head held up, her well-bred voice pitched clear and high.
'I am Daphne Estorel,' was the answer; and though the speaker glanced at her, Irene was conscious of being overlooked. 'I am Mrs. Skidfell's niece, and I live sometimes here and sometimes with another relative in Devonshire. I have been away for three years, and as this is my first evening home, I'm having a grand tea. Won't you come?'
Irene looked at Paul. 'Come along, Paul. Shall we?' She ignored Daphne as she spoke, turning her shoulder.
'You go if you want to.' Paul did not show his face. 'I'm not hungry.'
And now Irene took a deliberate survey of the newcomer from head to heel. Old Skinflint's niece—a common person. She tossed her head.
'I think it's silly to stay here if one needn't,' she said. 'I shan't.' And she hurried to the door, but there a thought checked her, and she glanced imperiously at Daphne.
'Does old Sk—I mean, does Jane know?'
'Oh yes, Aunt Jane knows. She sent me.'
'Well, and I don't care if she didn't. Cousin Ferriby's there; she can't touch me. Come, Paul. Don't be silly. Come along.'
But the boy made a sullen gesture that he wanted to be left alone. The maddening smell of the frizzling ham touched Irene's delicately eager little nose—and Cousin Ferriby was there!
'Oh, you are a goose!' she cried, and with a laugh she ran lightly away.
There was a moment's pause. Paul was conscious that this new girl still lingered.
'Don't wait,' he said over his shoulder. 'I'd rather you didn't. I don't want any tea. I don't want to ever eat anything in this house again.'
'Your little cousin doesn't seem to mind,' said Daphne gently.
'Irene's a girl!' was the swift answer. 'And—and-he can't strike her.'
And then, because his heart was fuller than he could bear, and because Irene's desertion had stung him-she was always like that, edging a fellow on and then going dancing off—he suddenly turned sharply and completely away, and flinging his arms up against the buttery wall, laid his head down on them, and fought with the beastly lump in his throat that choked him. Daphne picked up the apron, then the pen that had fallen to the ground, set this back in the inkstand, rearranged book and candle, and made a fuss with the pans.
At last Paul turned round.
'I say,' he began—and there was a distinct note of gratitude in the young voice—' look here, you won't tell that I...I...but it's been so jolly lonely since my father died...and...and...it's so beastly, you know, when a fellow has no money...and...and my head's thumping.'
Daphne came up and put a hand upon his shoulder. She looked into his face, his handsome, strong, clear, and noble young face—from hair to chin ran the red brand Devil Ferriby had set there.
'That wicked cut is getting stiff and hurting, isn't it?' she said.
Paul did not try to throw her off. 'Yes, a bit,' he said in half apology. 'He did do it. I say, you saw him, didn't you?'
'Yes. What's your name?' asked Daphne Estorel.
'You're a splendid fellow,' she said.
Paul did not think she chaffed him. He looked into her face, and somehow his spirit was caught back to the summers at home—the 'days that were no more.'
He dashed the back of his hand to his eyes.
'I say,' he stammered...' I—I don't know what's wrong with me, but I'm so beastly wretched here, you know—and my father...we were such chums...I...'
Daphne stood silent, enfolding him with her presence.
Then, glancing up, she saw that Irene had stolen noiselessly back to the buttery door. The eyes of the two maidens met, and held each other a long second, the wordless beginning of battle.
The living-room at Ferriby was low and raftered, and had kept its old-fashioned furniture.
A living-room close to the kitchen, common to the use of any member of the family, it had for all that and furniture a hundred years old, gradually come to be looked upon as Irene Garth's apartment in particular.
When she returned from her school-days in London she had chosen to like it, and that was enough.
She liked it, she said, because she had society in it, and under that Miss Garth disguised several recommendations to its use too paltry to be recognized by any mind not akin to her own.
The window of the room, a casemented lattice, occupying the whole length of the outer wall, had a deep sill, and under the sill was a dais raised by a foot or so from the floor.
Here on this dais were a lounge and work-table and a basket chair, incongruous against the panelling, and showing signs of rougher wear than Irene's use could have given.
Devil Ferriby sat there.
Kneeling on the broad, low window-sill of the open casements, Irene could look over a small flower-garden. It was shut in by a hand-depth of brickwork, showing, above a hedge of yew, the angle of one of the red walls of the outer court; but turn to the left and there was a path leading from a side door to the side road that took away to Droitlet and the shore. Turn your gaze below, there was a narrow box-edged walk that, skirting window and kitchen wall, led through the yards into the grazing meadow and the home fields.
Upstairs in the great room where Irene slept, Daphne Estorel's twin to it across a landing, the sea was in the view and the changing lights of far stretches; but Irene preferred to see who passed from the yards, or who by chance came to the side door.
Cousin Ferriby did for one, cantering past into the stables with a flashing look at the casement, then returning to stride in on her through the narrow entry, gaitered, whip in hand, splashed often from head to foot.
But Irene liked this. She liked Devil Ferriby's bold ways. It was delightful to coquet with him to the very edge of his brutalities and his fierce strength, and see him pull himself up, and steady his passions to the leash, barely to the leash.
The vicinity of the kitchen Irene could have done without, but Jane Skidfell was little in those vast quarters now. Since Daphne Estorel had returned to the Grange to spend there the greater part of her time, Jane had assumed an added state. She made no pretence of altering her tongue or her ways, but she dressed in black without shawl or apron; a piece of fine lace was turned over the neck-band and fastened with a massive mourning brooch of gold, its rim touch ing her withered throat. Her cap was of lace, and over her spare shoulders on Sundays and high occasions a gold chain rested.
'I am t' housekeeper,' she would say, 'and no servant. And when Daphne Estorel is in t' hoose thee'll remember, Irene Garth, she stands here as well as thee dost—ay, an' better.'
Irene treated Jane to a curled lip and silence to her face, or outspoken disdain and slight behind her back.
Cousin John gave her her own way, and he was the master. In the corner of the living-room where she chose to spend her time stood a bureau black with age, its dropping handles of brass shaped like fuchsias. Here Devil Ferriby, opening the flap from a great bunch of keys that never left his person, would sit to his accounts, and Irene loved then to use her power and distract him.
In the wall near which the bureau stood were two latched doors, one into the entry ending in the side door and the garden, the other opening steeply on a flight of stairs up which Irene could fly light-footed to the floors above, or steal down from her room and out into the garden and no one the wiser—should she wish it. For these reasons Irene found the old-fashioned, low-ceilinged living-room desirous. The meals that it had been wont to serve there were laid instead in what had been the—'still-room' of the Grange in days gone by. This was a large and pleasant apartment, very sunny, opening through wide glass doors upon all that was left of a once fair pleasaunce. The lavender bushes from which ancient dames of Ferriby had distilled waters, still grew there, grey and gnarled, and beds of herbs were there and a broken wall by a half-buried sundial where peacocks had strutted. The place spoke of old grandeur, and, for all the sunshine that it stored, was perhaps too sad.
In this room Daphne Estorel spent a good many hours, and it pleased Irene that she should be the one whom the maid-servant must disturb when meal-times came.
There was a dining-hall, grand and galleried, in the great house; but John Ferriby would have no style, no attempt at it.
Jane Skidfell still saved as she pleased, but Ferriby spent, grudgingly, though freely, upon Irene. On matters outside his own interest he spent not a farthing; only where money was an investment he used it well, and the estate of the Grange flourished.
It was a swooning day in July. The casements of Irene's room were all wide open upon a glitter of sunshine and geraniums.
Over Ferriby and its gardens and great yards hung the drowse of a summer afternoon, of the in-between hours, when everybody is about his business, and doors stand open upon empty spaces, and sunlight scarcely moving across tidied floors. Irene seemed the only one alive in the lower rooms, but in her apartment there was considerable animation. Three burly men had just deposited upon the dais a dwarf piano in ebony and gold, and now stood mopping their brows and surveying their handiwork with a too obvious air of seemingly thinking of nothing else.
Irene, in a blue muslin gown, a bright note of colour against the red Hue of the geraniums, surveyed the operations with triumphant satisfaction. This was Cousin Ferriby's last concession.
'I am afraid it was very heavy,' she said, glancing from the piano to the men.
Her smile was indescribably and indiscriminately charming. The foreman touched his forehead.
'More awk'ard than heavy, miss. 'Tis the way with these little lady piannys—bound to be awk'ard, though not, as you may say, heavy.'
'Lady piano!' Irene laughed.
'An' me an' my mates have taken care this little lady shouldna' think as 'twasn't gentlemen a-handlin' of her,' went on the man, with a covered wink at the others.
His tone was respectful enough, but when Irene Garth talked to a man she lowered barriers. She laughed again at the foreman's wit, threw up the lid, and ran her white, ringed fingers lightly over the keys.
'Perfect,' she said.
'Like the weather, miss,' spoke up a second fellow with an open grin—' leastways, when you're not drivin' pianny carts in the sun.'
Irene dropped her hands and looked at the men with pretty puzzled brows. They looked back at her admiringly.
'Of course,' she said, smiling; 'that is just what you have been doing—driving six miles in the blazing sun! I am so sorry Mr. Ferriby is not here...Would you like some tea?'
Coquetry was as natural to Irene as the breath she drew—she would flirt with a plough-boy. It was life to her to watch her beauty and her charm strike fire in everyone—to watch for that moment when something leapt into the eyes of every man who gazed on her, and then spring away from the encounter and hope in her heart that still another would carry a mark of her branding.
The foreman laughed and glanced at his companions.
'Well, thank you kindly, miss, a glass of beer...'
'Of course—how stupid of me! Only how you men can prefer it to tea—' She moved towards the door into the kitchen, and, half-way, looked back over her shoulder as if she was charming Devil Ferriby himself, not three aproned workmen. 'Beer for all of you?' she smiled.
The men grinned in chorus.
'Well,' said one spokesman, 'since you're so passin' kind, miss, if so be there's a drop o' whisky handy—'
'Whisky!' Irene opened her lovely eyes. 'The stuff you take with soda-water?'
'No soda-water, thank you, miss—nothin' so heady.'
Irene nodded, and opened the door commanding the kitchen. 'Sophy!' she called. The men coming off the dais nudged each other and grinned, twirling their caps. 'Sophy!' called Irene impatiently. The bright silence answered, then in a moment a light footfall brought—Daphne Estorel.
In an instant the grin left the men's faces; they straightened themselves, and stood a little shamefaced.
It was Daphne Estorel again appearing vision-wise. About Daphne at two-and-twenty were still to the full the grace and brightness that had made her to Irene, years ago that memorable day in the buttery, appear as something and someone of another world. The gold of Daphne's hair was as pure and pale now as then, the face unchanged, lily-pale, with grave, rose-pink lips, and the grave blue eyes looked into Irene's with the same steady candour and the same challenge. Yet Irene Garth's beauty left Daphne Estorel's unseen—not her influence unfelt, but her beauty unseen. In that Irene was pre-eminent. She drew back frigidly.
'I was calling for Sophy,' she said in her well-bred accents.
'Sophy has taken the place of someone at the milking to-day,' said Daphne. 'There is no one here. Did you want anything?' She glanced at the three men.
'I did, but it's out of the question to trouble you,' answered Irene unpleasantly. 'I wanted some refreshment for these men. They've brought my piano all the way from Petsham in this heat.'
'A glass of ale, miss,' struck in the foreman in an altered tone, directed to Daphne, 'if it's handy, miss. The young lady needn't trouble.'
'It is so vexatious that Cousin John should be away...'
'He is seldom here in the daytime,' said Daphne; 'it need make no difference. Scarside is outside. He will give them anything they want. Will you come this way, please?'
The men followed a trifle sheepishly, taking no further notice of the young lady in blue, deferring to Daphne Estorel as everyone did defer, even Devil Ferriby. But Irene snapped her fingers at it. She made no bid for respect and obeisances. Let Daphne Estorel tread her saintly heights and wear her golden halo! Irene preferred to come into a personal contact with her fellows, to see and feel her power. Devil Ferriby would not swear in Daphne's presence: he did in Irene's. Irene cared nothing for the distinction. It was she who could flush Cousin John's cheek. It was when her beauty and her wiles urged him too far that he strangled the fierce oaths on his lips as he turned savagely on his heel. This was the tribute Irene Garth found savour in.
She had grown into great beauty. Everything about her was lavish, warm, voluptuous. Figures of speech for her were truths. Her red-brown hair was a wealth, her skin like milk and roses, her eyes 'violets steeped in dew,' her shoulders and arms curved in the lines 'no painter ever drew,' and the soft whiteness of her throat alone was temptation.
She had retained her girlish capacity of making grimaces and not spoiling her perfect features. As Daphne disappeared with the men she indulged in one, well aimed if unseen, and returned to the piano. A piano! In Ferriby Grange...bought and paid for by Devil Ferriby for his cousin, Irene Garth!...Jane Skidfell knew of it in silence. 'He'll not marry the wench,' she said to herself in those long hours when she sat pondering, unseeingly, through the horn glasses on her nose, upon the Bible open on her knee—'he'll not marry her. 'Tis nought of her destiny nor his. Leave 'em alone.'
Irene could play well. In her education she had pleased herself, carrying her way with Cousin John as she did in everything. She could play and sing; she could touch the guitar and dance; she could swim and ride; she could smoke a cigarette with Spanish grace; and wear a costume and recite tragically or comically, and both well.
'Mr. Mummer,' as John contemptuously called him, had been her father, and Irene had a good deal of his art.
But she had no thought of the stage. Her dreams, hazy still of some golden wordless future, included nothing of effort on her own part beyond the subjugation of men.
She sat down to her piano and began to play. Made for caresses, everything about Irene was soft with warmth and languor in it. In that dark-set room, in her blue gown against the red geraniums, playing softly, smiling as she played, she was excuse enough, even silent, for any man's infatuation; speaking, moving, wooing, she had a dozen added charms. A woman planned indeed.
She played a waltz, 'The Thousand and One Nights,' with its wild, wicked tune. A young man coming along the box-edged path beneath the window paused startled, and then sank against the wall beside the open casement, and his sun-reddened, work-hardened hands fell clenched to his sides. Irene saw him instantly, but she went on playing.
It would seem at sight it was one of the farm labourers whom the cymbal-like measure had arrested. His dress was rough and his coat hung over his arm; his shirt of coarse blue calico had neither cuffs nor collar. He could not help it, for he had given no thought to the fact that the blue suited his tanned throat and face and his dark hair that tumbled over his forehead from under a straw hat thrust back picturesquely, as any labourer can be picturesque. Tall and finely made, the young man's figure slouched, and the hands were coarsened and broadened. Handsome beyond a doubt, over the whole appearance distaste and sullenness lowered, puckering the stormy brows and blunting the finer lines. From brow to chin ran a thread-like scar, the mark of the lash of Devil Ferriby's whip six years ago.
Irene stopped playing. She glanced towards the kitchen door; it was shut.
'Paul,' she said softly, 'Paul.'
He did not move, yet he stirred through all his frame at the sound of her voice. She rose and went to the sill, and, kneeling there, looked out and down.
Paul Ferriby, this—Paul Ferriby...Irene smiled and touched his shoulder caressingly...so might Circe have smiled and touched one of the encased souls she had transformed.
'Cross, Paul?' she murmured.
He looked up at her slowly. 'Is that something more of Ferriby's giving?'
'You mean the piano? Of course.' Irene laughed. 'When Cousin John promises me a thing, I have it. Why should I do without a piano? To make Cousin John pay and pay and pay is the only way to get even with him. He has done us out of money, I am sure.'
Paul's answer was a sullen sound; then he moved, so suddenly and sharply she started back.
'Curse Ferriby and his money!' he said. He fixed her with his grey eyes; the dark brows might scowl, the eyes adored. 'Are you beginning it with that fellow Gisberne, too?' he said.
'That fellow Gisberne.' Irene laughed softly, 'Pray, who is he?' She curled her fingers softly about the young man's brow. 'Don't frown so, Paul; it spoils your beauty, and you're really awfully handsome, you know.'
He grew still under the light caress.
'Oh,' he broke out in a moment like a sick man who feels his delirium soothed, 'don't let this go on, Irene! You're true to me, eh? Come away. Marry me as you've promised. Give me a chance to get out of this before it is too late.'
'Too late.' She smiled, still playing with his thick locks. 'You talk as if you were forty.'
Paul caught her wrist. 'Why will you stay here under this roof? When you came back for good you promised me...'
'Now, don't be unreasonable...'
'Unreasonable! Look at me; look what I am!'
'It's a shame,' she murmured. 'You work like a labourer.'
'I am one. How else was I to stay here eating his bread? Oh, look here, Irene! Are you sure you do care? You keep me dangling on, and my heart's sick with it, and now that fellow Gisberne's going to hang round too...'
'Who is that fellow Gisberne?' she interrupted. 'I have not even seen him.'
'You passed him in the lane yesterday. He turned and looked after you.'
'Oh.' Irene's expression changed by the slightest. 'Is that who it was? But you are such a dear old stupid. You can scarcely call that hanging round-meeting a stranger in a lane.'
'It's what it will be.' Paul's face darkened. 'He is coming to live in Droitlet.' He caught her hand closer and straightened his big, slouching frame. 'Oh...' he breathed a strong word, 'do you care, Irene?'
She felt him tremble. How she loved it—to rouse them, these men; to see the heart-beat, the flush; to hear the stumbling words. She glanced a moment over her shoulder to acquaint herself that no one was there, then she bent down till her cheek touched his hair.
'I care for you very much,' she murmured; 'you know I do. What a big, strong fellow you've grown. You could stand up to Cousin John now if it came to it, couldn't you? Do you remember the first time you did? A shame it should have marked your handsome face—but it hasn't spoilt it, you dear.'
And she touched his cheek with her lips like the flicker of a flower, then caught herself back softly, laughing, keeping him off, telling him someone would come, he mustn't be so silly.
The flush faded in Paul's face. 'That scar was for you,' he said hoarsely.
'Oh, you said not at the time, you remember!' laughed Irene.
'It was for you. And, look here, there are worse scars on me than that—on my heart and on my soul.' He pressed nearer to the window, catching her hands again. 'I'm a clod! After six years I'm still here, still turning that fellow's soil, still taking his bread.'
'Don't be savage now.'
'Savage! Wasn't my father a Ferriby? And yet here I am, my birthright sold to a fellow who disgraces the name. I hate him, I curse and loathe him; and yet look at me—here I still am.' His lips were white, his dark face full of passion; it pleased her eyes framed in the open window, the red of the geraniums giving the whole picture a true Spanish touch.
'And it's my fault, you mean?' she said.
'Fault! No—not if you are dealing fairly with me. It's for your sake I've stayed, because you asked me to, because you came and went, and because I couldn't live without the sight of you. And what have you always said? "Some day I will go away with you—I will be no one's wife if I am not yours."'
Irene broke off a geranium spray silently, her eyes down-bent as if in thought. He stared at her.
'How could I stay,' he whispered, 'and accept favours from him—charity? I've stayed like this for pay—a labourer! And now, you're ashamed of me.'
'Oh, Paul...' She began to draw the flower spray through the buttonhole of his loose shirt.
'I tell you,' he went on, unheeding her touch, but vibrating to it, as well she knew, 'it's cost me more than you'll ever understand. I say, Irene, you won't break my heart into the bargain, will you? I can't share the same roof with Ferriby much longer...I can't lead this life. Are you true to me? You smile on Ferriby—'
'Oh,' she interrupted, 'when will you understand that I like Cousin Ferriby no more than you do? If I had not cared about you, Paul, do you think I should have come back when I'd finished school? There were fifty other things I could have done. But before I leave Ferriby Grange I mean to know the truth of things. There is some trickery somewhere about uncle's will, and Jane Skidfell knows there was—'
'Hang their cursed money!' broke from Paul. 'Are you true to me?'
But Irene sprang away from the window. She motioned to him—one of her girlhood's tricks—that someone was coming, and, dropping on the piano-stool, played chords at random.
Paul, with a savage sound, turned from the casement, and came in through the entry.
As he crossed the threshold of the room by the one door. Devil Ferriby strode in by the other.
Six years had changed John Ferriby. He stands there as changed as Paul, and for the worse even more decidedly, because in a worse way.
His hair, the same tint as Paul's, is grizzled; his face, dark-hued and tanned, is marked and lined by dissipation; but the free, bold air sits him as easily, and his dress is smart and jaunty. Smacking a silver-topped crop against his gaitered leg, he stood and stared at the spray of red in the 'hired man's' blue shirt.
In the lapel of Devil Ferriby's own well-fitting grey coat there blazed a crimson rose.
Irene dropped her hands from the piano.
'Helloa,' said Ferriby, roughly, taking no notice of her, 'what are you doing here?'
Paul came up to within touch of him, and stood and gave him look for look.
Then he passed on in silence, but with the latch of the door in his fingers, he gave a glance back at Ferriby, who had swung on his heel towards him.
'Did you speak—to me?' he said. Irene sprang forwards.
'I've had about enough of you!' cried Ferriby, still heeding only Paul, and he advanced threateningly.
Irene shuddered, as she always had, with selfish, physical revulsion at the thought of a blow, the sight of blood. She ran between the two, ran up to Paul, let him see her eyes, let him feel the touch of her fingers on his wrist, and so, pulling open the unlatched door, pushed him gently through; then, closing it, leaned against it, listened a moment to hear that Paul was gone, then laughed into Devil Ferriby's face.
'Never mind that great bear,' she said. 'Don't you want me to thank you for the new piano. Cousin John?'
Irene Garth did not speak falsely when saying she remained at Ferriby to find things out. There were many that puzzled her—Daphne Estorel in particular.
She was not Jane Skidfell's niece; Irene felt pretty certain on that point. Daphne had been brought up as a gentlewoman more carefully than Irene herself, whose early years had encountered some very hard times and unpleasant expedients. Whence the beautiful name of Daphne Estorel? And why was the relative in Devonshire with whom she had spent much of her time of a grade so different on the face of it to Jane Skidfell? When in Devonshire Daphne was received on an equality with exclusive county gentry.
Money had been spent upon her. Why should Cousin John do this? Irene had asked him, only to be warned off the subject with rough answers. To find out anything from Jane was as hopeless as striking a rock for water.
Irene would have given much to know if Daphne shared the secret that must obviously be; but there was too much enmity, scarcely veiled, between them, though never open warfare.
Irene's slights, and spite that went as far as it dared, fell away useless, blunted by Daphne's inviolable serene disdain. Why she stayed at the Grange, Irene could not fathom. She had discussed it with Paul and found she might as well discourse on the sunshine and the winds—he seemed to take Daphne as much for granted, as little needing explanation, as little within the compass of any explanation he could give. With Paul and Devil Ferriby alike infatuated for her, Irene could snap her fingers at Daphne Estorel as she did at Jane—yet another girl's bright, still presence about the place, another voice as soft as her own, hands as white and natheless far more useful, irked Irene. She hated Daphne. She felt her dead against her, but watch as she might, she could not tell which way the battle lay, nor what Daphne begrudged her, nor for what she silently fought.
Why Irene herself chose to shut her rare beauty away from mankind in this isolated home, she could hardly have told. The laziness, largely, of her voluptuous nature. Curiosity had its share, a vindictive intention to thwart Daphne, and above everything, unrecognized because so pervading, the controlling influence that 'shapes our ends.' Besides, did she not come back every long summer vacation to queen it more and more over 'passion's slaves'? Those early threats as to Irene's future withered as weeds by the wayside before the heat of her charm. It seemed to everyone save Jane Skidfell, and perchance one or two others who were not at hand to witness all, that Devil Ferriby would marry Irene Garth. She lived with everything at her command, good food, good service, a horse to ride, a boat to row, untroubled leisure, money to spend. She was only twenty: time to her was infinite, and she reaped from its golden hours Cousin John's bold homage and Paul's mad and bitter passion, and so the six years had gone. But this summer swung to its zenith big with change.
'Things will have to come to a head between they two soon,' said Jane. She was standing in the dairy watching Daphne skimming cream into a silver pitcher. Jane Skidfell's hard, fine face was dark with the austerity of one who looks on gloomily and prophetically at evil things. Her figure was sternly upright. In her handsome black gown with its touches of spidery fine lace at throat and wrists and on her iron-grey, abundant hair, Mistress Skidfell looked a Personage, and Daphne Estorel might call her aunt well without self-disparagement. But there was no other hint of kin. The dappling shadows from the pear-leaves outside the lattice rested on Daphne's bright, bent head and ivory-pale, still face. She was in a lilac gown with lace thrown fichu-wise about her shoulders.
'Where be Paul Ferriby now?' asked Jane after awhile, Daphne making no reply to her first remark.
'He is in the hay-field, I suppose, aunt.'
'Aye, he eats his bread by the sweat of his brow,' said Jane; 'but I tell thee, Daphne, there'll be trouble. These days past, since that young, wanton lass had her pianny here, storm's been brewin'. Now, I want no Ferriby blood spilt. Devil Ferriby they call him, and they're right. He's bad to the core, but he's the master's son...'
'What do you fear?' asked Daphne in a low voice.
'Bloodshed, and between they two,' answered the old woman grimly.
'Between Paul and John?' Daphne showed no tremor, but she ceased to skim.
'Aye, between Paul and John! They're mad, both on them, for Irene Garth; and the one is the master's son and master here, and the other the man o' the field that holds his own from one se'n-night to the next.'
'And yet they are both Ferribys,' struck in Daphne.
'Aye, and both her cousins. But the telling of that tale is done with I There's a man come now who is no cousin.'
'You mean Mr. Gisberne?' Daphne set down the ewer, a splendid old piece engraved with the Ferriby arms, its silver-gilt lining glowing pinky golden from the cream within.
'Aye,' said Jane, turning to leave the dairy, but with keen eyes darting into every spot and cranny; 'this Muster Gisberne will bring things to a head. The wench is winning him, too, into her toils...'
'I don't think so,' said Daphne quietly.
Jane eyed her keenly. Daphne, carrying the silver ewer, followed her to the door. 'Wait one moment, aunt,' she said. 'You fear trouble, you say. Why do you not speak to Paul?'
Jane shook her head. 'That is not for me, my lass.'
'You spoke once—'
'Aye,' interrupted Jane. 'I've spoken once, twice, thrice. Three times have I put it to him to go away; three times have I bid him not shame his Ferriby blood, but get out of t' way of that false wench's wantonness. I've offered him the money. I've pointed him to t' open door in Devonsheer with friends of thine, but he's bound hand and foot in t' passion for that lass. I maun speak no more.'
'Then what will you do?' said Daphne.
''Tis in the hands of God,' answered Jane sternly. 'To-night I speak to the master.'
'To John?' Daphne did not start, but her face showed a sudden glow as of flame upspringing behind transparent ivory.
'Aye. He shall send Paul out of t' place and shut the gates of Ferriby on him for ever.'
'But do you think that fair, Aunt Jane? Do you think that will stop ill-feeling or the risk of bloodshed?'
'Aye, needs must it—if Paul Ferriby be at the other ends of t' earth.'
Daphne's grave, bright eyes searched the old woman's face. 'Paul at the far ends of the earth!' she echoed in a strange voice. 'How will you get him there?'
Jane gave her an answering, searching glance. 'I have thee in trust,' she said enigmatically, 'and Devil Ferriby is the master's son—my master, the man I served and the man I—' She broke off with a grim setting together of the thin, withering lips over the unuttered word. 'But what is Irene Garth to me?' she went on, lifting the latch. 'What is Paul? Irene Garth will never marry t' master's son. That's plain to me. Then, shall Paul hang? And shall there be Ferriby blood on the floors for the sake of one who makes folly with 'em both? Let un go. Let the two lads part, and let her be the means to it.'
She passed on down the long passage, its runnel, full of clear water, purling past to encircle the great stone dairy and then flow limpid into a moss-lined trough beside the pear-tree roots.
Daphne followed slowly, the silver ewer in her white hands.
In the kitchen they entered there were a couple of buxom countryside wenches bustling between the huge oven and the white-scoured table. Baking was going on, the air filled with the tantalizing odour of oven bottoms and rich cakes. Apart from the finer cakes stood the vast array of pies and various baked meats to serve the harvesters and kitchen hands. There were flitches of bacon, and jars of jam brought from the store-room, ham ready to sizzle, oatcakes flung over the string line to dry, and in white osier baskets loaves of bread so different to loaves of bread that Sophy Bassett, on her arrival at the Grange six months ago, straight from Church Street, Paddington, did not know them by name. But this same Sophy Basset had rapidly overcome the drawback of first ignorances. In smart cap and gown she ruled the yokels in and out the back regions of Ferriby, and Jane Skidfell trusted her in much, even to the superintendence of the baking. Daphne Estorel's fair hands made the cakes and finer dainties; Jane still mixed and kneaded for bread and pies; Irene turned her lovely nose up at all domestic arts.
'T' bakin' seems to ha' turned out well, lass,' said Jane.
Sophy turned her bright, shrewd, sharply pretty face.
'You're right, mum,' she said. 'Miss Daphne's ('Dephne,' Sophy made it) cheese-cakes in partickler. Oh lor, miss, that reminds me: Mr. John, he's just been in. "Tell Miss Dephne, Sophy," says he, "as there's been an accident in the hay field."' She started forward to catch the cream ewer, for it seemed as if Miss Daphne would let it fall.
'An accident,' she echoed faintly.
'Oh lor, miss, I didn't mean to frighten you. Only to one of they machines. But you wasn't to wait tea, Mr. John said. If Mr. Gisberne came and Mr. John was kept, you was just to go on without 'im.'
'I have such a horror of accidents,' said Daphne, still faintly. Glancing up, she met Jane Skidfell's keen old eyes reading her, sifting her, knowing her. Sometimes to Daphne Jane was terrible as a figure of Fate, and she shrank from her.
'Thee hast the key of the silver closet,' said Mistress Skidfell. 'All is in order—thee'lt want me no longer.' And she went her way from the kitchen to the room above, where, for nearly fifty years now, she had spent hard-earned rests, and slept the sleep of toil. Leisure had come to Jane Skidfell these later years, but her austerity had strengthened. With keen, unwearying zest she still guarded the money and stores of—' t' master's son,' though her thrift was a large thing, embracing plenty, an art of wide thoroughness, incapable of meanness; and she reaped what she had sown in long hours of secure retirement, when she brooded alone with her Bible. In these hours in the old servant's mind concentration of thought became almost a trance, and single interest gifted her to the point of seeing visions.
'Has Mr. Paul been in to his tea?' asked Daphne, when Jane had gone.
'Lor, miss, no! He don't trouble about no tea these days.' Sophy put on a fine air of understanding what haying-time meant. 'They're short-handed, too, I heerd Scarside say. Want me to come and ly the cloth now, miss?' added Sophy smartly.
'No; I will do all that,' said Daphne, and, taking up the silver ewer again, she went slowly away by one of the many doors that kept the whole Grange in communication with the mighty kitchen—its heart and centre of life.
Sophy looked after Miss Daphne's bright, softly moving figure, and into the sharp Cockney face, expressing till this moment absolutely nothing save cheerful alacrity, came a knowing look.
Very knowing it was, with a hint of superior commiseration in it, and just a little speculation—only a very little. Sophy Bassett might not recognize a home-baked loaf of bread, but she had not been six weeks at Ferriby before she grasped what puzzled even Irene Garth. Much that might blind Irene did not hinder Sophy's vision. She knew 'right enough' why 'Miss Daphne' stayed at the Grange.
Through the cool, hushed house Daphne went her way. Some of the rooms were almost bare of furniture, in others modern and costly pieces bought and brought here by John Ferriby's mother in her brief reign stood about, shrouded in brown holland. And yet how the old house kept its air! Had it not its wainscotings and panelled ceilings? In the deserted dining-hall was the stained-glass window set up by Mary Ferriby 'To the glory of God and in great thankfulness of heart that His Majesty lying here two nights in the time of the late rebellion, did escape without hurt or hindrance. Praise be to God. 1660.'
In the wide gallery above the centre stairs so seldom used was a long line of portraits, going back to Tudor days—none there of Devil Ferriby's father, Cornelius, nor of his grandfather. To all the finer rooms were carved mantels and perfect doors in perfect walls—and all these things and many more, ignored by John Ferriby, and left to Jane Skidfell's heed, made a glory that could smile at emptiness and that needed nothing of style to uphold it, or modern bolstering. Daphne Estorel loved the Grange better than anyone who dwelt within it. Its serene loneliness was akin to her. She knew not whose child she was, nor how she came to be here. A shadow of something forlorn seemed to rest upon her life, yet mated with a high courage that would not know defeat; and she found sympathy with both forlornness and courage in the beautiful old rooms and spaces.
In her soul Daphne persuaded herself at times she, too, was a Ferriby, or else came at least from a race as old, and perhaps of higher strain, for Devil Ferriby mocked at state and scoffed at lineage; and Irene cared nothing save to boast she was a 'gentle,' and Paul had sold his birthright. But when Daphne Estorel opened the silver closet, as she did now, she was wont to thrill at its proud trophies of a nobler past. She could picture to herself Ferriby when those embossed tankards, duller now than lead, twinkled in the hands of the cavaliers as they toasted their King. With the aid of the ornaments that lay there forgotten, and the old discarded plate, Daphne would live again through many a gallant bright moment of history, in which the men and women of Ferriby had played a part, and, with the thrill of it still in her young and ardent blood, she would turn with love and sympathy to the old house that had lost it past recall.
But this afternoon Daphne took down the silver that she needed without any fanciful dallying with what was dead and gone. Sense of life and pain in herself were to-day too keen. From the silver closet she went on to the huge black press where the finer household linens were stored, and then back through the kitchen to Irene's room.
Mr. Gisberne was coming to tea, and, to suit Irene's whim, they were to sit down here.
Gisberne was a musician, it seemed, and there was to be music; and since Cousin John was absurd, and would not keep proper servants, and throw open the dining-hall and the ladies' bower, Irene declared it was in her room the new-comer should receive his first impressions. That there was too much of Daphne Estorel's atmosphere in the old 'still-room'—the lavender-room, as they called it now—was the truth of it, only Irene and the truth of things were separate quantities.
At Ferriby, leading its own life, thirty years behind the fashions of great towns, and, by all that was left of former greatness, mightily indifferent to them, an invitation to tea was a welcome to intimacy, a gallant occasion of brave hospitality.
Daphne spread a fine cloth worked with a delicate cross-stitch by the hands of the Earl's daughter two generations ago, and then from the baskets she had filled she took the silver pieces rubbed by her own hands this morning, and arranged them with the best rose-sprigged china. It made an imposing show, though, had Daphne been in some moods, the quick tears might have sprung to her eyes as she looked on what was and thought of what might have been.
But there was abundance to impress a stranger, and Daphne's white hands arranged with grace. Irene had no skill in even setting flowers in a vase; she had tossed that office to Daphne when she rode off that morning to the shore to bathe and loaf by the sea. Daphne, with regard to that line of red geraniums, had chosen bouquets of white and green, but in the centre of the table she had set blue lupins in a tall, clear glass.
'Lor', miss, it do look a picter!' said Sophy, entering, and she moved forward on tiptoe as if she were coming in late to church. 'And shall you wait for Mr. John, miss? The tea-cakes is jest done to a turn.'
'We must wait for someone,' said Daphne, smiling at her. 'And when Miss Garth comes she will have to change her dress. There is no hurry, Sophy. Be sure the water does not boil till I tell you to fill the urn. And remember how I showed you to change the plates. Don't get flustered, and be careful not to sniff, though you are almost quite cured of that. You look very nice. If you are as quick in the parlour as you are in everything else, you will be a very valuable servant, Sophy. And you have filled out so since you came. You are quite pretty. I am glad to look at you.'
Sophy drooped abashed. She stole from the room again, shutting the door upon Miss Daphne with a sense of shame. The little Cockney girl preferred Miss 'Rene. If she could look as Miss 'Rene looked when she took her her early cup of tea, and found her a vision of beauty that Sophy's limited memories could only liken to a pantomime fairy or a mermaid; if she could only get some young man to glower at her and to turn and watch her as Mr. John and that Mr. Paul glowered after Miss 'Rene, Sophy thought she could die happy. To have clothes like Miss 'Rene, to wear them as she did, and have such a face and ways—-Sophy Bassett could conceive of nothing more to envy.
Miss Daphne did not appeal to her nearly so much. She had never seen her with hair unbound or arms and shoulders bare. To Sophy's mind Daphne was always dressed, always composed, low-toned and gravely bright, always caring for household things. 'And to be in 'love with Mr. Paul!' Sophie pitied her with a half contempt. 'As if Miss Daphne had a chanst against Miss 'Rene.'
Yet Miss Daphne's words of praise were so sweet that Sophy felt ashamed to take them, as if some bright presence she had passed and passed and gazed upon slightingly had stooped, and, passing a hand over her hair, given her a sensation from another world.
Daphne looked slowly round the room, a room hateful to her—hateful I
There was nothing more to do; everything left to her to control was in the perfection of order and elegance. She would not sit down in the chairs Irene used; she passed through the stone-flagged entry, cool to chilliness even that hot afternoon, and into the little bit of garden beyond.
She looked along the box-edged path to the gate into the stackyard. Of this only a section was visible—the ground, golden with dragged straw and painted with a big shadow from a half-seen rick. Into the shadow round the rick suddenly stepped Paul; at the same instant, seeing Daphne, he stopped abruptly and then came forward, slowly fixing his eyes upon her, but giving neither smile nor greeting, yet his face changed. He was in the coloured shirt and the rough clothes he always wore. As has been said: that he looked the handsomer for them was no fault of his, for it was plain here was a young man who took his good looks rather more than most as a matter bearing very little on the question of existence. But handsome he was, with that indication of self-containment, that suggestion of 'something reserved for someone—'that is the mark of true virility and its chief attraction. As Daphne looked at him she turned dizzy with the pain of it. From head to foot Paul bore the marks of his bondage.
'You?' he said, reaching her; 'it's hot, isn't it?'
'Very hot. Were you coming in to tea?'
'Tea!' He laughed shortly. 'No; I wasn't exactly thinking of tea.' He leant against the worn stone of the doorway, in the arch of which Daphne stood. There was no need for his smothered glance towards the casement to tell why he was there, nor for further telling than Daphne's presence here that Irene was not in the room. He stood silently sullen, lowering. Far more than Irene Garth's lavish beauty did Daphne's still bright presence show up how far below that first estate of his frank boyhood Paul Ferriby had dropped.
Daphne could not bear to look at him, and he kept silence, making no excuses, a truant from work, here doggedly to see Irene, to encounter Ferriby—anything. In Daphne's heart in that pause something suddenly went out, as a candle, flickering bravely to the last, will suddenly drop into darkness. It was hope...
Daphne was twenty-two. From the first moment her eyes had met Irene Garth's six years ago she had silently disputed with her the possession of Paul Ferriby; at first, merely in the antagonism of a fine nature with a low one, but latterly, with all her woman's soul and flesh and blood.
And she had strangely hoped that in her silence she was drawing him, that silently she had a hold, thwarting Irene, and keeping him, at least, upon his feet. To-day, now, as he stood beside her, the warm quiet seemed to pulsate with Jane Skidfell's grim threats, and she glanced round into Paul's brooding face and suddenly knew him lost to her. Hope went out, and Daphne, under the pang and woe of it, stifled a cry.
There came a sound of horses' hoofs and laughing voices. The two were startled from their abstraction.
'Paul,' said Daphne with the new firmness of that sudden blankness in her soul, 'Mr. Gisberne is coming...'
'I know.' Paul's brows were scowling, his rough hands clenched.
Daphne put her hand on his arm; she had not touched him for long, long, long...' Sit down with us,' she said. 'I mean, at this meal...at tea...Oh, assert yourself—sit down with us—Mr. Gisberne's equal, Paul, for pity's sake—'
Paul turned his eyes on Daphne's face. He did not seem surprised at her intensity. He took everything that came with Daphne Estorel as he took the sun and winds, veiled or shining, cold or soft, the same, and nothing to wonder at.
'I'll not sit down at Ferriby's table,' he said hoarsely. 'I eat the bread I earn, and there's an end of it.'
'Paul, I entreat you. Take this moment when a stranger is coming. Sit down a Ferriby...'
'And be thrown from the place to-morrow?'
'Yes, that is what I mean. It is coming to that.'
'Aye.' Paul laughed, looking away from her down the lane, where in another moment the riders would come into sight behind the elms.
'Then meet it as John Ferriby's equal—a Ferriby and a gentleman...Assert yourself first. Sit down to-night, a Ferriby, a gentleman, whom he dare not strike—again—'
Paul glanced at her strangely, then away, 'I've sold my birthright,' he muttered. 'If he does anything of that sort I suppose I shall kill him—but I'm not going to leave Ferriby till—' The pleasant champing of the bits and bridle-chains was now close by, and men's voices and Irene's charming laugh. From behind the elm-clump she came first into sight, the bright chestnut she rode stepping daintily. Devil Ferriby was beside her stirrup, and the other side of her the new-comer, Mr. Robert Gisberne, finely mounted and sitting his horse well.
Mr. Robert Gisberne had made John Ferriby's acquaintance by renting one of his cottages at Droitlet. He was needing rest and change after some years roughing it in the States, where he had at last struck oil after some unnamed fashion, and made, presumably, a little money.
Devil Ferriby had no mind to increase his circle of friends; he was self-centred and disliked the amenities of life. His few intimates, men and women, were among his inferiors, but Gisberne had an ingratiating manner and assumed no airs. Also he gave a bank reference and produced a solicitor's credentials. Ferriby let him the cottage, and found himself insensibly attracted to Gisberne's company.
The fellow could do what Ferriby could: ride, handle a gun, manoeuvre a sailing craft, and by some degrees not so skilfully—enough, however, for congeniality. He was remarkably taciturn, with the gift of drawing speech from others. When he did speak it was to the point, and conveyed the idea forcibly that he meant his words. He played cards a little too well. That, however, was not in evidence at sight. At sight it was apparent that his hands and teeth were nice, his dress good, and his whole appearance—with nothing distinctive to mark it, boyishly smooth brown hair, clean-shaven lip and chin, and very ordinary eyes-was, all the same, singularly pleasant.
Pleasant was the word for Gisberne, and about him an easy detachment that, taken with his silence, produced the effect of some unconscious reminiscence in him of finer things than these around him now.
But Daphne Estorel, who had a sense for it as some people have for colours, did not take Gisberne for all he seemed.
He rode his horse well, yet not quite as Ferriby did. As the party came near, Ferriby flung his hand up to his hat at sight of her in the porch; Gisberne raised his from his head. But John's way was one thing, Gisberne's another—the difference was integral, unconscious; it lay in breed.
Not that Daphne weighed that now. Her hand had dropped from Paul's arm as Irene's chestnut rounded the elms, but she did not move from her place, nor did Paul.
Irene, with a light motion of the head to them, drew rein at the gate, and Ferriby dismounted her. Gisberne got lightly and easily to the ground. Daphne moved to give greeting, and Paul, suddenly rousing, followed her. He threw off his slouch for these few steps. He couldn't alter his shirt-sleeves and bare neck, but, drawing himself up, every inch of his height and breadth had play. He dwarfed Gisberne, and put Devil Ferriby into the second place. Having given no greeting to anyone, it was the more evident that his sudden movement meant something, and the air was charged with it. Yet Ferriby seemed not to see his cousin. Daphne felt a sudden elation spite of underlying fear. Her words, after all, had been an inspiration...
'You don't ride. Miss Estorel,' said Gisberne, opening the wicket for Irene. 'I'll take my horse, Mr. Ferriby. I guess you're short-handed these days.' That Gisberne gave way to speech was plain sign he had noticed something and was good-humouredly giving cover.
Devil Ferriby turned with a little laugh for Gisberne and a look straight at Paul.
Even Irene caught her breath. Into the minds of the four sprang that day when they all first met, when Devil Ferriby had bidden his penniless cousin bed down his horse—would he try it now with the fellow who took his wages? No.
The two kept their eyes on one another a few seconds with an understanding of hate plainly to be seen, but Ferriby attempted no advantage of inequality. The matter was put aside for adjustment another time as between two men upon a level.
'I shall find someone in the yard,' he said. 'Go into the house, Mr. Gisberne.'
Daphne turned, quivering with the triumph of it. Paul was not hers, would never be: he was doomed; that look just now was open war, and Paul must go or the terror of bloodshed settle down. Yet for all that might be, that must be, this moment now was sweet. The slavish fear of being driven out of sight of Irene had not weighed—at last—against her inspiration! As Daphne turned, not able for the joy of it to look at Paul or gather what he did, she heard Irene laugh delicately behind her.
'You know my cousin Paul, Mr. Gisberne?' she said; and Daphne, glancing round, caught the dart of malice in the lovely eyes. 'So you've been meddling, have you?' they said. 'See how you are rewarded.'
'Mr. Paul and I know something of each other,' answered Gisberne in his pleasant, sparing, yet all comprehensive way.
Irene, gathering up her holland skirt, slipped her hand under Paul's arm.
'We're two Ferribys to whom the Grange does not belong,' she said charmingly, 'and so we're the better friends. It's nice of you, Paul, to leave the fields for once—I see nothing of you in summer weather;' and she led him gently ahead, a slave to her touch, and passed into the house.
There come to all of us moments when we feel strongly that life is ending a chapter. There is to be a pause of days, hours, or seconds while the book is smoothed open afresh and another page turned. This was such a pause for Daphne. She moved on after Irene in a strange blank of feeling.
Gisberne, in deference to the occasion, had ridden up in plain dress, but the road from Droitlet was treeless and dry as chalk. He laid down whip and hat on the oak settle in the entry. 'Now, if you had such a thing as a whisk. Miss Estorel?' he said, glancing himself down.
Daphne opened the door of a small chamber built out by Cornelius Ferriby for the benefit of merry roysterers too far gone to face the pitch-black night ride home, and who from hence should slip out at the break of day unobserved and unwist of by the women. It was fitted now in simple fashion for Ferriby's rare visitors of the male kind. Gisberne entered—he was to know this little chamber.
Daphne herself stepped on into the living-room. Irene, in the centre of it, resting her arms upon Paul's crossed ones, leant against him and looked up into his dark, passionate face.
'You must, Paul,' she was saying; 'you shall. You are a Ferriby.'
'I will not eat his bread, nor sit at his table.' Paul did not see that Daphne entered: he only saw Irene's upturned face. Irene did not move; she knew who was there.
'Oh, you proud baby!' She caught his face down and kissed him on the cheek. 'But I will not have you a labourer, my cousin. Paul—to please me...'
He put her away from him roughly, turned dizzily and swung away and out of the room. It was plain he was half-blinded, driven beyond himself by the touch of her lips.
'How ridiculous these men are,' said Irene, to anyone who chose to hear. She turned nonchalantly towards the door upstairs.
'Oh, by-the-by. Miss Estorel,' she said, as if only then aware of Daphne, 'I have just told Paul he must sit down with us this evening. It is absurd he should give the impression he is not a member of the family. A place had better be left for him. He's not small enough to fit in anywhere.'
There was a cool laugh. The burnished latch of the door rose and fell like a little snap of mockery—Irene was gone.
So, she had snatched the triumph; she was so sure of Paul she could proclaim that he would do her bidding without even the shadow of a consent from him. If Paul sat down with them it would be because Irene bade him.
Gisberne through the half-open door saw Daphne bending over the table, and, though by no means an adept at observation except in one direction, where it was keen as a bloodhound is all scent, he could judge she bore her share in the family breach—and the breach concerned Irene. That he had gathered already.
Now, on whose side was this fair, still lady enlisted? He pushed open the door gently, and Daphne glancing up, their eyes met. Daphne had said she did not think Gisberne was smitten with Irene—there had certainly been no love at sight, no headlong submission; and now she saw in the pleasant, commonplace eyes unmistakable admiration of herself. But Gisberne said nothing. He was far from shy. He was not embarrassed. His air of unnoticing unconcern might very well convey that he was too used to the surroundings of ancient gentry to notice them. Yet Daphne felt magnetically he was impressed and taken aback. He made no remark on the fine room, the wonderful length of window, the queer piece of carving let into the panels over the mantel, treasure-trove from a Spanish galleon three hundred years ago; he remained seemingly unaware of the silver pieces on the table, the uncommon napery, and egg-shell china. It was a detachment too complete. Either it was assumed to cover ignorance, or it was the natural effect of soullessness. So might a dog or panther come into the living-room of Ferriby Grange.
It was proof of the new-comer's power of drawing attention to himself that Daphne should think about him and this aspect of him even now. At length Gisberne commented on the piano, and sat down to it.
'I imagine Miss Garth will take no exception to my trying it right away,' he said. He played very softly, and with a peculiar precision and tinkle in the touch-tricky, not that of any trained musician, but with expert skill, remarkably at home with the keys.
'What is that piece, Mr. Gisberne?' asked Daphne, and she left the table where she was silently directing Sophy, and moved to the dais as if drawn there.
'Give it a name,' said Gisberne, smiling at her. 'I don't know one.'
'Is it your own, then?'
'You are improvising?' Daphne's tone was eager. Over her music of any sort had influence.
'I do nothing else.'
'You play written music as well?'
'Not a note! I'll do this for you on any instrument you like to give me—on a teacup, with a spoon.' Gisberne laughed pleasantly. 'I'm fine, too, on the violin.'
'It is wonderful—to me,' sighed Daphne softly; 'most wonderful.'
Gisberne played a moment in silence, she watching him absorbed. It was like rain pattering on leaves and a bird's drowsy notes and—
'Do me a favour. Miss Estorel,' said Gisberne, looking up. 'Say nothing about the teacup and the spoon—'
'I do, just that. A secret. I play a few things by ear, from memory. There I begin, there I end.'
'Isn't that selfish, Mr. Gisberne?'
Daphne could not resist the pleasant look in these pleasant, everyday eyes. She smiled. 'I'm not to say you improvise?'
'If you please.'
'Very well. On one condition.'
'I know it—that I play upon the teacup with the spoon for you. I will, when we're alone. That's a bargain. Miss Estorel.'
Daphne laughed—a little low, bright note rarely heard. She was like an instrument strained to breaking-pitch suddenly unstrung enough to save the snap.
It was gratification to her, too, soothing every fibre, that Irene, stepping into the room again that moment, should have heard her laugh.
Daphne Estorel's still brightness, her pale glory of colouring, her slow movements and steady glance, stood for saintliness to many, for coldness, incapacity of passion. Sophy, for all her shrewd discrimination, placed her in a niche, like the stone figures she had seen above church doors, who lived for ever in a mantle. Devil Ferriby had much the same idea. Paul—but Paul's thoughts of Daphne were a sense, uncatalogued, of so wide a sweep they encircled his mad passions, even as the winds and sunlight encircled him.
Jane Skidfell knew something of Daphne's heart; Irene probed for it so far vainly. Scarcely to Daphne herself was it plain how great or strong her share of fierce emotion, anger, jealousy, revenge, and hate. But she was glad Irene should hear her laugh. If Irene guessed her secret, if the warfare were to be open now instead of hidden, she was glad Irene should have found her close to Gisberne—should have heard her laugh and seen him smile at her.
For Irene was attracted by Gisberne, and he, not yet by her and Daphne, knew it, and she was glad, verily very glad, to deal Irene out one smart.
That night, between ten and eleven, a late hour for the Grange, Ferriby sat smoking alone beside the black oak bureau. The flap was down, and on it stood a single candle burning. The flame did little more than pick out John Ferriby's head and face. The night was intensely warm, and held its own light; the dark without was scarcely more than a thick dusk. All the casements of the long window stood wide open. The piano was in plain outline, the uncovered keys faintly gleaming. Every sign of the little feast was gone, but Ferriby was looking towards the spot where the table had stood, and his thoughts were busy with it.
It was a strange thing for him, Devil Ferriby, to have been sitting down like that with a couple of girls and a stranger! He didn't know why he'd done it—as if Gisberne had been a new parson or some Devonshire 'swell' on a visit to Daphne. He had none of Daphne's fancies. Ferriby did not go below the surface nor seek in his acquaintance for the characteristics of a gentleman, but he rather wondered he should be attracted by Gisberne, and feel the desire to have him about him. That the desire and the attraction were much the same thing as prompted him when he bought a horse or tolerated a dog across his feet did not occur to him. He made no similes. Gisberne did not seem to be assuming anything, and as for soullessness, much Devil Ferriby thought of the soul! What he had noticed during the lavish meal and the hour's desultory talk and entertainment following was that Irene Garth 'had thrown herself at the fellow's head.' And the young witch had flouted him into the bargain, announcing with that air of hers that she had bidden Paul come in to tea. Well, the sulky ruffian had known better—he had not 'come in to tea.' But my lady had better take care—she had better take care how she set him and that upstart beggar too far by the ears.
The door from the kitchen quarters opened gently, and John looked round sharply, half startled.
'Is it thou, John Ferriby?' said Mistress Skidfell's voice.
'Hello!' answered Ferriby, not over-pleased at the intrusion. He was waiting—not for Jane Skidfell.
'I've come to speak to thee awhile,' said Jane, advancing into the candle-light and showing herself fully dressed, the filmy lace still on her grey hair, her figure stern and forbidding as ever. Jane Skidfell had been finely handsome once in some girlhood not so far off by reason of years as by change of nature. 'Put out the light,' she said. 'I can say what has to be said in t' dark, and that wench, Irene Garth, is not in t' house yet. We can see her the better wi'out t' candle if she comes creepin' to t' window to listen.'
Ferriby snuffed out the candle, laughed, and rattled the silver tongs into the tray again. 'What's up now?' he demanded. He paid Jane scant outward respect. It never entered his head to disobey her.
'This: I'll have no bloodshed in this house.' She spoke, and sat down in one of the chairs carved for backs rigid as hers. Ferriby was a few feet away in his seat by the bureau—nothing between them.
'Oh, that's an old scare, Jane,' he answered. 'It was always my father's notion he'd be murdered, and his father's before him. Who's to shed blood? You've been having dreams again.'
'I have. Strange dreams of thee. I have had one this afternoon...Thee'lt get rid of thy Cousin Paul.'
'Do you think he means to murder me?' Ferriby laughed dryly.
'I said no word o' murder,' answered Jane. 'I spoke of the shedding of blood. It may be thine spilt or his; it may be but a blow or it may be death, but it's threatening. He and thee are like two young bulls in the one herd. Thee'lt get rid of Paul.'
'How?' asked Ferriby, after a silence. 'Do you think turning him out of the Grange will alter things? How far would he go, think you? Do I never stir beyond the gates? Can't we meet at Droitlet or Petsham or—ten miles off? I'm not sure that I wouldn't rather keep the young devil under my own eyes here.' And Ferriby took out his pouch and began to fill his pipe.
'But thee shalt not,' said Jane across the dark. 'He shall take himself off to the far ends of f earth.' Ferriby interjected a scornful laugh.—' I say he shall,' the old servant's voice rose, 'and it's Irene Garth who'll set him on his way.'
'Irene! Not she! She'd love to see us at each other's throats.'
'Dost thee care for the wench?' asked Jane sternly.
Ferriby laughed, and struck a vesta sharply. As the light flared up he looked across and met Jane's keen, searching, withered eyes. He laughed again.
'I don't quite see myself looking on while she marries someone else,' he said shortly.
'Dost thee mean to marry her thysen?'
'I don't know.' Ferriby spoke impatiently. 'She's all right here, isn't she—my cousin? You're in the place, and Daphne...She's a young witch. Marry her...she might have something to say about it; but if it isn't Cousin John it shan't be Cousin Paul!'
He laughed again, and the bowl of his pipe glowed suddenly and fiercely.
'Aye, aye,' answered Jane strongly, 'and what's he saying in his heart?—"If it isn't Cousin Paul it shan't be Cousin John." Now, thee'll listen to me, John Ferriby. Irene Garth is not worth an honest woman's thoughts. I doubt if thee'lt marry her. As for her mind in t' matter, a Ferriby has ever done as he thought with t' woman he chose, and thou art no exception. But this Paul is a Ferriby, too, mind thee, and he loves wi' a cleaner heart than thou dost. I like t' lad. I'd ha' saved him from this mysen, but he wouldna' listen, an' he'll never listen to aught save the wench hersen. Now, to Irene Garth I'll not demean mysen to speak—she cares for neither of thee. But thee shalt speak to her, John Ferriby, and now, when she comes in from her wanton idlings.'
'She's not alone,' interrupted Ferriby. 'The Ibimays are with her.'
'Thou'lt speak to her when she comes in,' said Jane, unheeding. 'I have forebodings. I will have no harm happen to thee. Thou art t' master's son.' Her voice softened and trembled. 'Irene Garth is t' one to make Paul go, and she shall.'
'Play Delilah with him, eh?' said Ferriby. As a child, Jane had read the Bible to him and spared not.
'Aye.' The old woman rose, looking ghostly to Ferriby, standing there facing him upright in the dark. 'Now, keep back thy sneers as to the right and wrong of it, and keep back thy boast that thou canst snap thy fingers at Paul Ferriby. Thou canst not. He is as fine a man—he has a cleaner soul—but thou art t' master's son. I give fair warning, John: Irene Garth shall use hersen to part the twain of ye, or I set her with my own hands out upon t' road, and Paul may follow her—'
And without any greeting or word to end it, like the phantom visitant she almost seemed, Jane turned, and Ferriby could only be sure she was gone by the click of the latch softly falling into place.
He instantly rose, lit the candle again, and glanced at the time. Twenty to eleven. Irene could not be long now. He moved to the window, and sat down there. Jane's visit for once had chimed with his mood. All his life had used him to her stern, unloving exhortations. Expressions, startling in another, came naturally from Jane, and with the same effect and impersonal bearing as pulpit denunciation; but to-night Ferriby's feelings were in tune with the words, and gave them full value.
There was no need for Jane Skidfell to fill out her sentences for Devil Ferriby. She threatened to turn Irene out of doors, and Ferriby believed she had the power, with all that the use of that power involved in showing him up as being master of Ferriby Grange-yes, under her.
What Jane's power actually was John did not know. Lawyer Winch held the secret, no one else. But well John knew his father Cornelius had had a crooked mind; the bad strain was in him and his father before him. Devil Ferriby had no particular mind to pry into his father's vagaries. He was content to take the mastership and the money and leave Jane her mystery and her own way. But he believed in her hidden power. Jane Skidfell and her grim talk had been handed on to him by his father almost as a superstition. Another superstition was this very fear of bloodshed. Ferriby knew it by heart. He had mocked, scoffed, laughed at it, and seen his father, haunted by it, die in his bed of a silly fever after a hunting chill! But tonight he was depressed. Things took form. Hitherto Irene had been coming and going, half a child; now she was here 'for good,' here to live, here to abide till her destiny be settled. It had grown plain that issues would not longer be kept indefinitely in abeyance.
He hated Paul—he would have swept him from his sight long ago, only somehow the whelp kept out of his way, and was useful, and had struck a fool's bargain to serve seven years with him for hire.
'Seven years! He was thinking of Jacob serving for Rachel,' thought Ferriby with a sneer of sudden illumination, his mind stirred to Biblical recollections by the flavour of Jane's talk. 'Well, he'll find himself "left." I suppose he'd better go. I suppose I'd better put Irene up to it. She'll lend herself to that sort of thing fast enough, the young jade...Marry her! Humph! I don't know...' Another face rose in Ferriby's mind—not Irene's—a face dark almost as his own, with passionate, entreating eyes...He moved uneasily. Pshaw! Irene was his cousin; he was fond of her, he petted her. Ah! there she was...His heart gave a leap, spite of himself. A slim figure, beautiful even through the dusk, had stolen up on silent footsteps to the gate. And the dusk seemed to grow perfumed round her, and the light air to blow with sudden warmth. The light figure seemed to see at once the outline at the casement. It stopped, affrighted.
'Cousin John, is it you?' came a whisper after the startled pause.
'Who else should it be?' said Ferriby. 'What do you mean by being out so late?'
And he rose to meet her as she entered.
She fluttered in guiltily, with a delightful coaxing laugh and pleading gesture, breathless. There was about her a little air of stealing hurriedly away, sped by some pleasant past excitement.
'Have you shut the door?' asked Ferriby.
'No.' He stepped down the entry and softly shot the bolt. He wanted the moment the doing of it gave him, for with her actual presence the blood had flown to his head somewhat. It was suddenly and rather savagely clear to him that, leaving Paul out of the question, the idea of Irene and another man—this Gisberne fellow, for instance—was absurd.
Irene stood waiting for him, swinging her big hat.
'Whatever is this for, Cousin John?'
'I'll have that door blocked up,' said Ferriby. He came to her where she stood beside the bureau instinctively seeking the light.
'What do you mean?' she pouted. 'It's barely half past ten...'
'A quarter to eleven...'
'A quarter to eleven, then, and a July night. The Ibimays walked with me to the top of the lane...John—dear, sweet John, if you are going to begin this sort of thing there's an end of everything.'
'There'll be an end of that door,' returned John dryly.
Irene pouted, mocking him in her heart.
'Where have you been?' he demanded.
'Good gracious, Cousin John, I walked with the Ibimays and Mr. Gisberne to the cross-roads. He rode on there. We turned back, and I've been strolling up and down beside their pony-carriage ever since. Why on earth not, this beautiful night?'
'You've been with Gisberne alone,' said John shortly.
Irene turned him her shoulder with a little shrug...
If he was going to begin that—
'I should like something to eat,' she remarked. 'I had scarcely any tea.'
'No; you were too busy throwing yourself at Gisberne's head.'
'You are simply horrid,' returned Irene. 'May I have this candle a minute?'
'Where are you going?'
'To find something to eat.' She changed her tone. 'Come with me. Cousin John—to protect me.'
'From the mice?'
'I'm not afraid of mice. That's one of men's delusions. But I am afraid of Jane. She's a witch; she never sleeps; she might hear and come down.'
Ferriby suffered the girl to slip her hand under his arm and lead him out through the kitchen to the larder door, a small larder left open at night to suit the master, who might want to help himself when all the household was a-bed. Cautiously Irene entered, and John stood in the doorway, holding the light, watching her, tolerant and scoffing.
Irene was very fond of dainties, always greedy of nice things, very attentive to her stomach. She turned her nose up at the pasty, flouted the one jar of ale, made a grimace at the cheese, and finally selected some apple jelly and a slice of cake.
'What on earth good will that stuff do you?' scoffed John. He took the opportunity and helped himself to a mugful of ale.
As they turned from the pantry, Irene carrying her spoils—the cake beside the jelly in the one glass dish-Ferriby laid his hand on her shoulder, and, turning her about, pointed through one of the many doors—some standing open—down the passage that ended in the buttery.
'Do you remember the time Jane locked you in there?' he said.
'I remember how hateful you were.' Irene pulled herself away. 'I shall have to use one of the kitchen spoons, I suppose. Please bring the candle, Cousin John.'
'I suppose if you were mistress here you wouldn't care whether the silver was locked up or not,' said John behind her.
'But I'm not the mistress here.' She took spoon and fork from the drawer and flitted away before him back to the living-room. 'Do let us have a little more light,' she said. Another characteristic of Irene: she still retained her old fear of the dark—the dark of a house; she burnt a light all night in her wide room upstairs. Ferriby, following her quickly but cautiously, latched the door, cautiously also, as if he also would run no risk of disturbance, and set the candle again on the flap of the bureau.
'Look here,' he said abruptly, 'you don't want to sit and eat that now.'
'I do. I'm hungry.' Serenely she commenced on the jelly, and broke off a mouthful of the cake. She had seated herself in the old-fashioned chair, regal in shape and with broad arms wide enough for a man's glass and pipe, black with age, polished, and as strong as smooth.
John watched her a moment longer. Everything Irene did was done charmingly. She looked up suddenly with a bewitching grimace. 'What is the matter? You make me nervous.'
'You nervous!' Ferriby caught the glass dish away from her and set it down beside the candle. 'It would make some girls nervous to be in your shoes now; but not you.' He seated himself on the arm of the chair.
'What do you mean?' asked Irene stoutly; but she made no attempt, playful or otherwise, to recover her supper.
'I reminded you just now of that buttery affair years ago,' said Ferriby. 'You rather enjoyed it, didn't you?'
'Enjoyed it, my little beauty. You like to set folks by the ears. Do you know what I believe your little game is now? To work that sulky lout up to making a shindy with me, and then, when we've damaged each other to your heart's content, you'll stick yourself all over with the glory of it and walk off with someone else. That's about it—eh?'
Irene stared into her cousin's dark face. She was so used to it she could scarcely have told what it was like. She found herself now looking as a stranger at a stranger. It was not a face to have near one alone and unprotected either with love in it or hate, not that any mood greatly changed it. To the girl it seemed now a much, much older face than she had thought it. It was lined, and heavily, about the eyes; there was grey in the black hair; the pallor of weariness under the swarthy skin—a handsome face, a face to attract-a woman, some women—not any girl.
Irene felt fear. For all her coquetries, she had strongly the sense of maidenhood and its prerogatives-not as Daphne had it, but regarding it as a possession her own as her beauty was, at no man's bidding, her own free gift or unapproachable. She would not be chary of the gift very possibly should feeling prompt its bestowal, but, meanwhile, her untried confidence flattered itself she could defend it and manage a man in any mood. Behold, she knew nothing of men's moods. Ferriby bent a little closer.
'Are you going to marry me?' he said. 'Steady, steady now,' as she gasped and made to rise; 'don't try any fuss. What did you think—that I was waiting here to read prayers with you? Don't make pretence. You're as cool as a cucumber. Why didn't you clear off upstairs while I was shutting the door? Not you; you thought about your supper and—' He put his arm round her shoulders, their eyes met, and he gave a slight laugh. He moved his head to kiss her.
'Cousin John'—she pushed him away vehemently—'this is too bad of you.'
'Oh, rubbish! Don't try that with me. Are you going to marry me?'
'You haven't asked me.'
She sprang suddenly from the chair, but she did not free herself. He caught her arm and rose beside her.
'Well, I do ask you.' His voice dropped suddenly to a softer note. 'You can't go on playing with fire. We'll put an end to it. Marry me before there's murder.'
She looked at him, lovely as a dream vision, with widened eyes, her lips parted.
'You'd turn any man's head,' he said, holding her spellbound with that look in his eyes, the note in his voice, not soft exactly, yet, for him, very soft—how did he do it? 'There's that lout Paul; it will be Gisberne next.' His breath quickened. 'I come first, eh? I can make you mistress here.'
'Oh, you don't care about me,' murmured Irene, trying to laugh. She was frightened, she was fascinated. She felt the arm her cousin had slipped round her tremble. Devil Ferriby—it trembled! The strong fingers caught her about, held her, spreading beneath her heart.
'You don't care about me,' she murmured again dizzily.
'How do you know?'
'You admire Mrs. Ibimay.'
'Oh, rubbish! I—'
Suddenly he crushed her up against him. She dashed her hands over her face and hunched her shoulders round her neck. 'This isn't fair,' she panted—' this isn't fair!'
As suddenly he let her go. He turned to the bureau and began to shut drawers and gather papers together. Irene fell back against the chair. She felt put out into the dark, a door shut that she must instantly beat upon again to have thrown open.
'Want to finish your supper?' said Ferriby presently, in his ordinary tone, picking up the glass dish.
She took it from him, went with it into the kitchen-in the dark. She didn't know it was dark; she directed herself unconsciously, unerringly. She came back noiselessly, and found Cousin John fastening the casements.
'Cousin John,' she breathed. He didn't heed her. There was plenty of time for her to slip across and gain the stairway. She didn't want to. She wanted him to speak to her, to come near to her again. 'Cousin John!'
He stepped from the dais. 'You'd better be off to bed, hadn't you?' he said.
Irene's heart leapt as if it would break from her body. A savagery seized her. She hated Ferriby; she hated him.
'Good-night,' he said coolly.
Unsteadily she moved to the door and put her hand up to the latch. He made no sound, and she rested her face against her arm. It was a struggle. To go away now would be to give herself an advantage of dignity, to withdraw a firebrand, to put one man at least safely the other side of a rift, easily widened into a breach, and a breach between herself and Devil Ferriby would cool brewing hate and stave off tragedy. But she could not do it. She hated the man who had stripped her own nature bare to her, who made plain to her how little she could do save yield to this. She hated him, but she turned.
He was looking towards her from the bureau.
'What is the matter?' he said, and came leisurely towards her.
'Why are you so cross?' she whispered, trembling.
'Cross! You little fraud!' He laughed unsteadily. 'Now listen: I'm not going to be trifled with. You don't work me up like this to-night and then start to-morrow opening your eyes at me: "Cousin John, whatever do you mean?" You're going to marry me?'
'Oh no, no, no!' she said, leaning back, head upthrown, a hand still on the latch.
'Don't talk like an idiot,' said Ferriby, words unloverlike, but breathing strong passion, and that was the life of her, the love of her—oh, he made it plain. 'You know you are, you little witch...You, you...Come, you must go to bed. I'll talk to you in the morning. Be off. I...I...confound you!' He opened the door. When she had mounted a couple of steps, suddenly he put his hand out, detaining her. They could barely see each other in the gloom.
A smothered cry from her. But he drew her back against his shoulder; her lips yielded to his in a long, mad kiss.
Irene Garth was sitting by her chamber window when the dawn of the next morning broke. But summer dark is short. It was only three o'clock when the chirping and singing of the birds roused her jarringly. She had been crying violently, for her face showed still stained. After parting from Ferriby she had fled and broken into her room, sobbing tearlessly, her hand held to her throat to stifle herself. In quick, breathless movements she lit the lamp and began to undress. She tumbled her hair about her shoulders. She flung off skirt and bodice, then, catching sight of herself in the glass, cowered away before her own image, rallying herself the next instant passionately. She had done nothing wrong. Cousin John had asked her to marry him—he had kissed her—what was that?...Everything was the same: she would undress, go to bed, sleep—everything was the same...Suddenly she was weeping, weeping madly, wildly. She struggled with hysteria successfully; she would not have roused Daphne Estorel and brought her to her side for much, but she could not restrain her tears. She sobbed herself sick and dizzy, throwing herself face downward on the old square Chesterfield, smothering sound in a pillow dragged from her bed. She hated Ferriby. He had branded her with the mark of her own nature, and the touch hurt her; it blemished her. She hated him. What was her beauty to be worth to her? In this moment's acute revelation she could see the end of it. Day-dreaming had never been much in Irene Garth's way, but the formless glow of it had coloured the days, hiding nameless hopes. She felt, she saw now that glow go out, vanish, and leave her in a place where dreaming did not come. Ferriby had kissed her; he had said no word of love. Irene hated the man who made plain that love and kisses were two things. She wept to have the knowledge. The vague horizon of womanhood, with its dim outlines of the ideal, had always been for her a formless, ungraspable thing of the clouds; all the same, cloud-like it had brooded over her mind, softening and hiding realities of character, equalizing her with Daphne, with everyone.
Ferriby's kiss had scattered cloudland. She wept to stand unshrouded; wept at a loss as if her hair had been cut away, or her dimpled shoulders seared and puckered by fire. But she would not weep too long, she would not weep again. It pierced her heart awhile to understand herself all in a moment and so violently. Responsive, not to the man but to the mood, with no strength in herself, passion leaping to passion, whither would she be tossed—where her guiding star, what her safeguard? None. She wept to have it made so plain. But gradually the smart lessened. She sobbed herself into inertia and lay supine, barely conscious, till the twitter of the swallows told her the night had gone. And as the dawn brightened and the light spread, Irene began to mock herself. She could scarcely piece together what she had been weeping for. Cousin John had startled her, and coming as it did on those few moments with Mr. Gisberne—as the recollection touched her Irene lay back along the couch. She was half-clothed, and shivered in the cool morning breeze, but she was too spent just yet to move. She closed her swollen lids and recalled timorously, and yet in flashes, through her heart how Robert Gisberne had moved and turned his head, and what he had said and how he had said it, and the way he took the bridle as he sprang into the saddle. He had parted with her alone at the end of the lane, minutes after the Ibimays had walked away; and with the pleasure she had found in him still about her she had gone in and yielded to Ferriby's arms, submitted to his kiss—submitted, returned it...as she would return any kiss so given. And there was Paul. Slowly Irene rose. There was Paul. Thought of him jarred at first as did the birds and the return of brightness in the light.
Then she began to handle it with a revival of self esteem. Paul at least loved her. The great, fine, senseless fellow who had hired himself out as little better than a labourer in order to be near her, and yet at the same time not eat the bread of charity from the hand of the man he hated—and for her sake too the hatred, mind you—surely he loved her. Yes, thought the girl, his were colours she could flaunt as proudly as any maiden ever did a stainless knight's. Paul was young and proud and virginal. Irene caught her breath to think of Cousin John's lips on hers, of his betrothal kiss. She hated him. She smote herself suddenly upon the breast, hating him; a rageful gust shook her, and then again her face hardened. Feebly she made ready to lie down and try to sleep—feebly, for she was worn out with tears and waking, and her soft body could bear little strain, but all grace of emotion had gone by. She hardened herself against her own folly to have minded so.
As for marrying Cousin John? Had he meant that? She would marry nobody as yet—perhaps not ever. She shuddered a little as she sank down into the cold, lavender-haunted sheets.
How should she dare marry when one man who might be drawn by her beauty was the same to her as another drawn by it! She turned her face to her pillow to keep her swollen eyes away from the light, although it streamed in softly through the pale green curtains like sunshine through a wave.
Still, Paul loved her. She would keep that love a white possession. He should always love her—doglike, humbly, adoringly, touching the hem of her gown in the sight of others. And for the rest—she was as she was made. As for Cousin John—her thoughts, wandering on the borderland of sleep, dropped away from him, yet lingered round that vivid 'good-night' kiss, his image changing and confusing itself with another—with Robert Gisberne. Would he so kiss—'
A few hours later Sophy knocked on Miss 'Rene's door with her early cup of tea, and, as was her wont, waited for no answer. She stared, on entering, to see the curtains drawn and Miss 'Rene's clothes tumbled so about the room. Such beautiful clothes! such an air about them! Sophy stepped to the bedside. This visit to Irene's chamber in the morning was an excitement to the Cockney girl similar to those stolen doses of a penny novelette over her mouthful of food in the cheap restaurant in the Harrow Road.
Irene lay dishevelled in a deep sleep. 'Lord, ain't she lovely I' thought Sophy, gazing. 'It gets over me why she don't go to Lunnun an' marry a Nearl. Fancy her a-drivin' along! She'd make 'em sit up.'
Irene stirred and opened her eyes. Sophy gave a little cry. She couldn't help it. She had cried out just like that when, walking with Scarside one Sunday in spring, two big violets had all in a minute stared up at her from the hedgerow.
'Whatever is the matter, Sophy?'
'I can't help it, miss. Your eyes—you a-openin' them like that. You must excuse me, miss, but you are that lovely—'
'You've brought my tea.' Irene sat up thrilled with the warmth of sleep and—dreams. The sun was shining brilliantly with a sense of heat behind the seagreen drapery. Irene smiled to herself slowly. Had she really lain upon the couch last night and wept! One of her pillows had fallen from it to the floor, and was there to prove it. Wept! Why? Wept!...She remembered now and smiled, dropping her eyelids over the memory in her eyes while Sophy stared at her.
Devil Ferriby was not kept awake by his little scene with Irene. As he undressed he quoted to himself her remark about Dora Ibimay, with an ejaculation at the ways of women. His estimate of his lovely cousin was in no way disturbed or altered. Ferriby was incapable of single-mindedness towards a woman. He summed Irene up in the same terms he had ever used with any—Mrs. Ibimay excepted; but that lady, and his standing towards her, Ferriby had not so far treated to any summing up at all.
Irene was too lovely to be let go—that was the essence of the situation, and an easy thing to sleep on.
When he rose the next morning Ferriby debated with himself marriage with her. Jane Skidfell would hate the notion, might make difficulties over it. Dora Ibimay might make difficulties. Not likely; she might. Paul—ah! that reminded him. He had not forgotten Mistress Skidfell's instructions last night, but he had not found it a right moment to bother with them. However, if he married Irene, Paul would have to clear out. Ferriby decided it would be interesting to put to Irene Jane's proposal to hoodwink Paul into starting for the other ends of the earth, and see how she took it. He imagined she would fall in with it readily—enjoy the hoodwinking, play it to the life.
Descending to the 'lavender-room,' Ferriby found Daphne Estorel ready to attend to his breakfast.
It was Petsham market-day, and Ferriby entered gaitered and spurred for the seven miles ride, spruce and smart as he always was, a flower, just picked, in his buttonhole.
He could ride to Petsham with all the hay abroad, a change in the weather ahead, and a 'catch' reported from Droitlet, with remarkable ease and scant overseership, for he left Paul looking after things.
Paul wasn't paid to be manager, but, working shoulder to shoulder with the others, he managed them none the less. He would be a loss, and there was another year of their silly agreement still to run. However, Jane's warning was—a warning.
'I suppose it's no use hoping to see Irene,' said Ferriby, who was down late himself, and stood drinking his coffee.
Sophy came in with hot cakes. The glass door into the old pleasaunce stood wide open, the shadows of the bushes were already strong, the roses wide. There were roses on the breakfast table, and Daphne behind the urn, bright and quiet, dressed in pink print, and wearing flowers—only flowers seemed no coquetry in Daphne Estorel.
'Miss 'Rene's just a-comin', sir,' said Sophy. She admired the master. A fine sort, she thought him. The set of his riding-breeches, the swagger of gaiters and spurs—lor! it was scrumptious. Ferriby Grange was better than the play to Sophy Bassett.
'You're making no breakfast,' said Daphne.
'Oh yes; the coffee's enough. I'm late.' Ferriby's manner to Daphne was good. His speech, too, and ways with her the best show of himself he made; and Daphne's voice, bright like herself, curiously cordial, seemed to express an exceptional attitude towards Devil Ferriby.
There was always a quiet between them, a tacit recognition of something that, uniting them, yet kept them apart.
'Is there anything I can do for you in Petsham today?' he said, setting down his cup.
'No, thanks—nothing I could trouble you with.'
'When are you going to ride again? Pity to give it up. Let me get you a fresh mount,' he added. 'I saw the very fellow of Irene's chestnut—'
'What are you saying about Irene?' said Irene's voice at the door, and Ferriby looked up sharply to see the dazzling vision of her. She showed no trace of last night's emotions save a touch of pallor and some heaviness of her white lids. She was as fresh as the morning—fresh even as Daphne—in serge skirt and cotton blouse, cool and easy as could be; but Ferriby could guess her heart-beat by his own. He knew she was down early to see him.
'Hello!' he said. 'Wonderful for you to put in an appearance. I rather wanted to speak to you—about that bit of Droitlet beach,' he added after a barely perceptible pause. 'Dorrey tells me you want a bathing tent there. But '—he looked at the time—' I can't stop...Come with me round to the mounting-block. Good-morning, Daphne.'
Ferriby was used to Irene's scant courtesy towards Daphne, of Daphne's unmoved disregard of it. It was one of the acceptances of the household, of a piece with Paul's taking of his meals alone, with Daphne's calling an old servant aunt.
Ferriby did not even notice that Irene did not so much as glance towards the golden-crowned figure at the head of the table. He wanted to get her out of the room and to have her to himself again a moment. Their eyes met a brief second.
'Go and get your gloves and whip,' said Irene, looking swiftly away.—'I'm coming.'
'Well?' said Ferriby, looking down at her.
'Well?' Irene tried to give him glance for glance. Her eyes fell.
'We're in for it, eh?' He slipped his hand through her arm.
'I don't know what you mean, Cousin John.'
'I knew that would come,' he laughed, squeezing her arm to his side.—' We'll get married this summer—as soon as you like—the sooner the better.'
Irene came to a stand. They had passed out of the front entrance, little enough used now, the quadrangle of outbuildings to their left, the lavender-room to the right, but not overlooking. A flagged path led down to iron gates between stone supports.
'I don't believe you care enough about me,' said the girl.
'I'm thirty,' Ferriby spoke shortly. 'You're the only girl I've ever offered to marry.'
'And you mean it. Cousin John?'
He looked at her. 'Don't you?'
The colour flamed into her face. 'We're cousins,' she said, with something of defiance.
'That doesn't help us,' he answered, looking at her. 'And I fancy you'll be as safe with me as any man. You always did need a strong hand over you. Now, look here, I can't stop. I'll see you again this evening. But '—he laid his hand upon her shoulder—' I want you to think over something meanwhile. You know that mark on Paul's sulky face, eh?'
She raised her eyes. 'You were a brute!' she said.
'Yes, I am a bit of a brute.' His tone was expressive, and she looked away sharply. 'You've not suffered much by it. Paul's different. There's no room for him here. I'm sorry. He has his uses, but you've got to get rid of him.'
'Yes, my little beauty—you. We don't want murder.'
'Are you afraid of him?' she asked, with a lift of her chin.
'Jolly well afraid of him! You don't think it would matter.' He swayed her lightly to and fro. 'That mark on his precious face was put there because of you. You had got into my blood even then, and into his, though my young cock-of-the-walk didn't know it. Now it wouldn't stop at—marks. I'll not have Paul hanging round, sulky, after we're married. He won't go for me. It's your business.'
'To tell him I am going to marry you?'
'You can play the innocent, Irene! Tell him you're going to marry me! You'd better not. He might stick a hay-fork into you. You keep quiet about our marriage. I'll tackle Jane. Tell Paul what you like. You don't need my coaching...'
He was studying her face as he spoke, wondering if she would even pretend to indignation, noting her beauty, feeling his pulses quicken at it not a whit the less that she did not.
'I'm to ask him to go for my sake?' Her lovely eyes were languorous under the heavy lids, perfectly serene.
'Exactly. Over in Australia, or some such place, he'll forget you fast enough. I don't want to kill him. It would be a pity he should kill me, eh, wouldn't it?' He gave a glance towards the house-front, and put his arm round her. 'You don't want me killed just yet, do you? Not just yet? What shall I bring you from Petsham?'
Irene smiled, as she always would at personalities, at petting, let what would have been said before it.
'Well, if you're talking of buying Miss Estorel a mount...' she pouted.
'Leave Miss Estorel alone! It was the excitement of knowing you were coming. You little witch! Look here, I shall lose all the best men...I must be off. Give me a kiss.'
'No, Cousin John, no...'
'Nonsense!' She yielded as she would always yield. 'Come with me to the mounting-block,' he whispered loath to lose the contact of her.
'I can't—no, I can't. Scarside will be there. Do go, John.' Even as she spoke she flung her arms round his neck; he uttered a quick, caressing sound and strained her an instant to him. The next, without looking back, he clanged the gate open, and strode down the road.
Irene went very slowly back to the lavender-room. She had had no breakfast. She wanted some. The table was partially cleared. Daphne, her back to it, seated at an escritoire, bent over some accounts. Irene, unheeding her, touched the bell, and Sophy brought in fresh coffee, hot scones, a fillet of plaice, cool strawberries and cream. A meal at Ferriby was a matter, winter or summer, and Irene had no notion of supporting beauty on a wafer. But as little eating as sleeping could she do aught amiss. She had beauty.
Suddenly Daphne looked round, and Irene at that instant looking towards her, their eyes met.
'Well,' said Irene, her tone as near to insolence as she dared make it. Daphne always held her in check.
'I was thinking—' Not to Irene Garth would Daphne betray how she had had to nerve herself during the minutes of the other's luxurious repast to this calm tone of the disinterested onlooker. 'Is it not a pity,' she began again, 'to let things come to extremes between your cousins?'
'What do you mean?' Irene's favourite expression.
'There might be bloodshed.' It was superfluous to explain more nearly.
'Can I help it?'
'Do you want it?'
'Absurd. I don't believe in it.'
Daphne rose. 'Then you never notice now the mark on your Cousin Paul's face?' She spoke lightly—a horrible tightening round the heart told her, alone, the effort of it—and went from the room with the careless bearing of one who has discharged an indifferent duty.
Irene went on eating strawberries...But Daphne, calculating on an effect, had achieved it. Irene had thought last night, seeing Paul and Daphne together in the east porch, that possibly Daphne cared for Paul; then she had been thrown off the scent and annoyed, on entering the room later, to hear Daphne laugh-rare thing—and find she was alone with Robert Gisberne; and now she spoke of the Ferriby affairs with seemingly genuine indifference. Irene was again at sea about her, and Daphne's cool hint had the more effect. Ferriby desired Paul out of the way—sheer masculine dislike. Jane Skidfell desired it because of enmity to her, Irene, and dislike of quarrels in the house she served; therefore their talk of bloodshed was prejudice, and weighed for nothing against Irene's whims. Daphne's disdainful warning had force, because of its disdain. Bloodshed, bloodshed! The mark upon Paul's face...With a sudden start Irene remembered the paper he had written over with his blood. She had it still, bestowed carefully among her trophies. It had been shown and laughed over here and there, among girls at school...That paper—Irene put down a strawberry unfinished, and leant back to shudder. It was a recall of her disgust at sight—six years ago—of that dark, oozing line down Paul's cheek, dripping in full, dragging globes on to his collar. For a breath the sunny room danced, black and flecked, before her eyes; she also foresaw disaster, felt it touch her. Yes, Paul had better go...Then she steadied herself, the roses came back into shape and colour. She saw the big strawberry on her plate, white and red, showing the marks of her pretty teeth. She finished it, and dipped her finger-tips in the china bowl. Paul should not go.
Characteristically, Irene did not press Cousin John to announce an engagement between them. It equally suited Devil Ferriby to behave to her as he had always done, in and with a manner that obviously expressed her attraction for him, yet could always cloak itself behind their relationship. He would marry Irene, but he had no intention of inviting chaff or congratulations, and he preferred his caresses stolen.
Jane Skidfell was told. She received the news in a grim silence.
'I suppose you won't set yourself against it? My wife will be—my wife,' said Ferriby. 'You won't let it make any difference?'
'You're the master's son,' answered the old woman.
'Aye, but you were in the master's confidence,' returned Ferriby with meaning. 'I understand all that, though I may not all the confidence. Any marriage of mine has got to consider you.'
Jane Skidfell raised her keen, if withered, eyes, dimmed at this moment.
There was no good in Devil Ferriby, his heart hard as the nether millstone to God and judgment. There were wenches who cursed him, there were widows and fatherless who called him an oppressor. The traditions of an ancient race were nothing to him; he scoffed at his inheritance. But the old servant, gazing into the dark face, saw only 't' master and t' master's son.' She stretched out her toil-worn, finely-shaped hand with an almost maternal gesture of entreaty—not to him, to some Power who might ward off evil, who might forbear judgment; and Ferriby, so accustomed to it that he never saw it, perceived somehow all at once that thin gold ring upon the bent marriage finger. It gave him a momentary, strange sensation.
'Irene will behave herself when she's married to me,' he said, and his tone conveyed deference and a touch of the affection of life-long use.
'Oh, go thy ways,' answered Jane. 'I shall say naught.'
She did not believe this marriage would take place. No hint of its fulfilment came to her in her long abstractions—no hint of any marriage, only continual, vague warning of disaster.
'And what of Paul?' she asked, as John turned away.
'Irene will manage him.' Ferriby laughed with perfect appreciation of Irene's capabilities. 'He's keeping himself to himself these days; scents something out, perhaps. I'm asking Gisberne if he can suggest something in America that he could put into the fellow's head.'
'Is that t' wench's notion—Irene Garth's?'
Ferriby took the grim scorn in Jane's tone with utter unconcern. He rated Irene pretty much at her actual value—for him at any rate. He asked for no fine qualities in women, for all he might scoff at the absence of them. Moral disparagement, up to a point, rather whetted his passion.
'We're acting on your advice,' he said. 'Biblical, isn't it? Doing evil that good may come; deceiving that precious lout to save him from doing for me or—it might be that I did for him. Either way unpleasant, and just a nice finish, eh, to the Ferriby record?'
The scoff fell unheeded; even the announcement that John Ferriby would marry his cousin sharply, even before the corn was carried, passed Jane Skidfell by, arousing little attention.
She did not believe it; it would not overtake disaster: disaster would be here first. Bloodshed, bloodshed! The old house seemed to whisper the word; it fell like a red shadow over the page of the Bible as she read, and yet Jane Skidfell took no more initiative than her once-or-twice speech with Ferriby.
By some infatuation she would do no more. It seemed decreed that she should point to Irene Garth, then silently stand aside and let the event rest with her.
Subsequent to the invitation that had given Robert Gisberne the freedom of a friend at Ferriby, Paul had kept closely to himself.
Daphne had a sense of joy restored to her by his non-appearance that evening even after Irene's bidding; she debated whether, urged by her words, he was making up his mind to leave Ferriby and Irene, or whether he brooded some definite claim of passion.
Paul had gone his way all the years, taking his meals apart and finding his own solacement on Sabbaths and holidays. How he contrived to meet and talk with Irene privately she knew better than he; his intercourse with Daphne had ever been indefinable and subtle. Now, however, Irene could not come across him; he had altered ways and habits. Daphne, watching for him, knew when he sat in solitary fashion over his meals, brooding, slouching; but then she did not care to intrude. For the rest, the fields knew him, not the house. Daphne never entered his room.
And this fell at the middle of July. 'Well be married before the end of August,' said Ferriby to Irene. 'Say the twentieth: that gives you five weeks. I shall chance the corn. Not much about this year; and, for the Lord's sake, don't make flummery. Get what you want afterwards. I'll take you to London. We might go on to Paris; I've never seen it...Five weeks is a long time to wait, eh?'
'Five weeks is no time at all in which to get rid of Paul,' said Irene. Ferriby had an arm about her shoulder; over the other was slung the bridle of his horse, that followed sedately with light, curvetting movements, throwing round the lovers' meeting the air of grace and romance that goes with the equestrian. It was early morning. Ahead of them along the road were Droitlet and the sea. John was bound thither, and lately it had become Irene's custom to rise early and stroll with her cousin and lover on the way his day's ride took him. The voluptuary in her liked the freshness of it: John's immaculate linen, the morning's opened flower in his coat, the touch of him, cool, clean-shaven, the steadiness of his manner. At night his manner was not always steady, his cheek not cool, his love-making rough. They were upon a lonely bit of road, the dew not yet dry upon the grass.
'What's the matter with the young fool now?' said Ferriby. 'Do you think he knows what's up?'
'I don't think he'll go,' said Irene.
'The deuce, won't he? Not go! We'll see about that. You haven't put it to him yet?'
'No. How could I? I never see him. It seems to me I'm always with you. Cousin John.' She lifted her flower-like eyes, but drooped them again instantly on encountering his look.
'Not quite always,' he said. He stopped. 'Keep still, you brute,' he said to his horse. 'Stand off, will you!' He drew Irene to him.—' Divinely tall,' he had to stoop his head a very little way to meet her eyes. They kissed. 'I say, we're getting pretty fond of one another, eh?'
She leant against him, and he said something too low for even the soft summer air to mischief with. 'I don't believe you used to be quite sure you liked me,' he resumed. She held him silently. 'Get rid of that young fool,' he went on. 'I opened the ball with Gisberne the other day about prospects in America, but the fellow's so sparing of his words. You tackle him. Look here, with you between us it's not safe, and that's flat.'
'Perhaps, after all, he wouldn't mind,' suggested Irene meaninglessly, tentatively.
'Mind what? My marrying you?' Ferriby laughed. 'About as much as I should mind it in him, and that's to the extent of knocking the life out of him. D——d whelp! I've always hated him.' Her face was resting against his. He turned his head and kissed her throat.
'You speak to Gisberne,' he said, preparing to mount, 'and bribe that confounded interloper with a millionaire's business somewhere Chicago way...Steady now—steady.'
Horse and man showed each other off. The creature, with softly flashing eye and dancing feet, seemed in its own beauty to resent Irene's presence, and yet, in its nature, to completely understand it, and, unlike man's comprehension, with no judgment mingled.
Ferriby swung into the saddle, stooped almost as instantly, and Irene, tiptoeing, received his lips upon hers in an instant's swift, maddening intensity.
Then the horse sprang forward, prancing, curving, and Ferriby touched him into a hand-gallop without a backward look.
So their meetings always ended—on the throb of quickened desire left to electrify the blood through the hours of separation.
Irene understood Ferriby's method, though the pain of her first comprehension and its resentment had never returned to trouble her again. There was neither tenderness nor respect between her and Cousin John, no mutual hopes or fears, no stretching future on which to build; but Devil Ferriby's love-making had introduced an element into the days Irene could not forgo.
How far the man was making himself one with the passion he gave and took Irene would not let herself consider. She was going to marry him, without love, romance, or self-deception. The 'afterwards' they would have to face as they faced what they were doing now.
And concerning Paul, he whom, she claimed to herself, loved her. The first impulse to keep him had lost strength with the sense of maiden loss that prompted it. Her momentary idea that Daphne was interested had left her. Paul kept away from her, and seemed not to care to observe how much she was with Cousin John. Thus, spurs to counteraction lacking, Irene, languid with 'stolen caresses,' half made up her mind to act straightforwardly, as it seemed to her, considering the double deceit she had been contemplating-namely, to pretend to Cousin John she was asking Paul to go; to pretend to Paul she cared for him alone. She would let Paul go, persuade him to it, urge it upon him as for her sake.
This humour reached, Irene became more anxious to put it to the test with Paul than she had been to bid him stay. She would speak to him this evening without fail. She strolled on, almost burdened with the excitement of the senses, clothed in the knowledge of her own beauty that awoke them for her. The upper air was full of the sound of larks. The breeze stirred the pulses like a draught of wine, fragrant and rich as the honey of wild flowers. Irene kept her thoughts to the present hours, and sang as she walked along.
A bend in the road discovered to her a pony-carriage advancing rapidly. Beside the driver, attired in a countrified man-servant's dress, sat, as if she were fatigued already, even at this hour of the day, a lady—Dora Ibimay.
The Ibimays had been tenants of Fulbec Farm for a year. Not that Theodore Ibimay farmed. No land for farming went with the house, though the name of the old standing abode. In an isolated belt of trees, swept over by the wind from the sea, Fulbec hunched itself, an ugly whitewashed building at the foot of a shoulder of moorland sloping down a mile to Droitlet beach. And in the sweep between was a creek, showing for a space unutterably, unexpectedly, like an inland meadow stream. Theodore Ibimay had come here in the hope of finding air to suit him. He had tried many climates—a consumptive with a fair income, patient, incredulous of death, uninteresting. He seemed to think Fulbec agreed with him, and Dora, his wife, strenuously supported this view. She was wearied beyond words of wandering; it did her husband no good.
The Ibimays were of the few on visiting terms at Ferriby Grange. Irene, away in the South the greater part of the winter, had only had a month or so to make Mrs. Ibimay's acquaintance. She had been introduced to her by 'Cousin John,' and at the moment Irene had received an impression. Her own stress of feeling and John's change from petting to passion kept this impression in the background and blurred it. Irene rather liked Dora Ibimay, much the older, older than Devil Ferriby—thirty-five, no doubt, and a direct contrast to herself; thin to fragility, dark to sallowness, with weary, pleading eyes, and a wide, full-lipped, tragic mouth.
Dora Ibimay was always cold. She had lived in India, Ceylon, the Brazils, dragged about aboard and ashore in the South Seas. On this English summer morning she was wrapped in a fur.
'How is Mr. Ibimay?' said Irene, as they met and shook hands over the splashboard.
'Oh, he's not very well. I've been to the Grange for cream and some of your butter. Mr. Ferriby is very kind about it. Theodore will touch no other.'
'To the Grange! How did I miss you?'
'I never thought of asking for you,' said Dora. 'That you should be up so betimes!'
'Yes, I walked some of the way with Cousin John. He has gone to Droitlet. You are sure to see him.'
Irene was not altogether sorry to feel the involuntary colour rise as she spoke. She had neither intention nor desire to speak of her engagement. She found no derogation in its furtiveness, but she had no objection to allow this woman to note in her cheeks a flush at Ferriby's name and draw conclusions.
'He may call,' said Dora. 'He generally does. Are you going away this summer?'
Irene laughed consciously. 'I don't know. I'm lazy-minded, I think. I enjoy the moment. I can't understand what it can be to make plans.'
Mrs. Ibimay glanced at her sharply; then, with a little shuddering movement, declared she must not stop, but must get home quickly.
Irene stood idly aside and watched the pony-cart out of sight. Mrs. Ibimay did not look back. 'I wonder if her husband's illness wearies her, if she ever wishes it was over,' thought Irene. 'Did Dora care for her husband?' she thought. 'Did she care for Cousin John?' came an instant sequence like a flash. 'Did she? Yes, no, yes, no...did she?' She had made a distinction in her own mind between Cousin John and Cousin Paul. Paul loved her, she had said. But, after all, was there any difference in men, or in women, or in love? Her reflections rebounded to her contemplated interview with the one she had decided 'loved her,' and she grew eager for it.
Returning to the Grange by the east porch—not blocked up yet—Irene found by the little carriage clock set on her bookshelf that it was barely ten. She called Sophy, and asked if the breakfast had been cleared away.
'Yes, Miss 'Rene. Miss Daphne wanted the table; but I've kep' some 'ot, miss. I'll bring it in a jiffy.'
Irene smiled indulgently. Quick in everything personal, she noticed in Sophy a growing adoration, and (weaving the web of destiny unwittingly) encouraged it.
'It's against orders, Sophy,' she said. 'Dare we?'
'I'd dare a lot for you, Miss 'Rene'—the girl spoke almost with passion—' an' I'm not the only one, neither. Oh, an', miss, Mrs. Ibimay was here. I told her you an' Mr. John had gone together. She's a queer sort, ain't she, miss?'
Irene neither reproved nor resented the freedom of speech, never by any chance shown before Daphne Estorel.
She wrote a few lines, enclosed and addressed them to Paul, and bade Sophy, with hint of a lace blouse that might be hers, undertake faithfully to see that Mr. Paul had the message, either carried to him in the rick-field or handed to him should he come in to a meal.
In the note she asked him to meet her that evening in the old harness-room beyond the big barn, where they had trysted often in the days Jane Skidfell had tyrannized over—the days before the mark was on Paul's face, the first days of their coming to Ferriby, boy and girl.
'May I come in?' said Gisberne's voice. It was winning to late afternoon. The heat had been by many degrees less than for days past. Wisps of white mares' tails, looking as if they would merely shroud a woman's face, drawn across the blue, were enough to make it a hard background, and obscure the sunshine, and a little wind blew in baby gusts. Yet Irene lay back languidly, as if exhausted, in her chair upon the dais. The piano was shut—no books about her, or needlework, at which, strangely, perhaps, she excelled, rivalling, when she chose. Daphne Estorel. Gisberne had arrived unseen. He knocked on the inner door that stood ajar, the burnished latch down. Irene did not move.
'Is that you, Mr. Gisberne?'
He entered, other answer superfluous. After Devil Ferriby and Paul, Gisberne appeared slight, though in reality not of mean build, lithe and muscular. He came forward smiling, pleasant, detached, hat in hand, and sat down in silence. Irene studied him a moment. Every impression connected with that first little scene with Ferriby had been blurred by little scenes with him subsequent. She no longer, recalling them, slipped Gisberne into Ferriby's place. His attraction for her assumed the nature of a watchfulness of him. No more than Ferriby was she fanciful about him, but her feminine mind worked at him unconsciously as the fingers of someone busy talking will fumble at a knot. It was remarkable he should be so pleasant and so-nothing else. He hid something.
'Have you had tea?' she asked.
'Thank you, Miss Garth. I take tea if it's there. I wouldn't have anyone get it for me.'
Irene did not add to what had been a mere form of greeting.
'You don't seem bright,' said Gisberne.
'I am tired.' (He smiled.) 'You don't know the feeling, I suppose?' she added.
'I've been thinking.' (His glance met hers pleasantly, silently.) 'Are you going to say you don't know what that is, Mr. Gisberne?'
'I wasn't going to say so.'
'But you never think.'
'I wouldn't like to make an assertion. What is it?'
'Oh, you're teasing...Have you seen Cousin John to-day?'
'I called this afternoon on Mr. and Mrs. Ibimay. I found Ferriby there; I left him there.'
Irene moved a little. It did not disturb her that John should visit the Ibimays. It affected her to restlessness to see someone in her presence and seemingly so unaffected by it. The other evening Gisberne had bent his eyes upon her much as men always did-or so she imagined. Not so to-day.
'I have been thinking about my cousins,' she said, sitting forward and taking her chin in her palm. 'You know my cousin Paul. Don't you think he would do well in America? Couldn't you help him to a start there? Mr. Ferriby has already mentioned it to you, hasn't he?'
'He has—yes.' Gisberne gave her a good-tempered glance.
'We Ferribys seem to have no friends anywhere,' said Irene; 'only just ourselves, and the Grange, and a mile or two round. And it's too small—too small. Mr. Gisberne, do help me to get Paul away! You must know crowds of people. I am afraid—yes, afraid! There will be trouble if he stays here.' She rose with a charming gesture of agitation. 'Oh, you must have seen it for yourself. I can't bear that there should be any trouble about me.' It was a chance for a little theatrical effect. It came so naturally to Irene she could scarcely be blamed for using it.
'I'll have a talk with Mr. Paul,' said Gisberne pleasantly, but with no more than that for show of sympathy. 'I might put something in his way.'
'Oh, but please,' she cried, 'don't say a word to Paul—at any rate, not yet. That would spoil everything. It must come from me. Mr. Gisberne, you surely have noticed. Don't you remember the evening you came here to tea—the two of them, when we rode up...You've noticed the scar on Paul's face?'
'That's the mark of John's whip, when we first came here, years ago, Paul and I. I was between them; I am between them now. I can't bear to see Paul in the position he is in here. It is for my sake. And Cousin John—' She broke off. 'They are both my cousins. I am fond of them. It would kill me if anything happened. I am going to try and persuade Paul to go away. But where? What is he to do? Oh, if you can, help me?'
She turned to him, the tears in her lovely eyes, her bewitching mouth trembling, her attitude most naturally and charmingly that of being forced into this—carried out of herself.
Gisberne seemed to consider a moment or two, fingering his panama. Irene remaining standing, her eyes fixed upon him, he rose.
'You ought not to be here,' he said.
'What do you mean?' She had brought him to the personal note as she had meant, and more directly than she had expected. Her tone changed.
'I've travelled up and down the States,' said Gisberne, keeping his eyes on her, 'and a little bit in Europe. I never met anyone with more than your looks. Miss Garth.'
'Oh, please,' she assumed a nervous laugh.
'It is so. There is a world out yonder. You stay here.'
'Mr. Gisberne,' she protested, 'I am just back from school.'
The glance of his ordinary hazel eyes went through her little subterfuges with their pleasant good-tempered look. Irene perceived, it flashed through her in the way of such communications, that she had his attention—yes, the note was certainly personal—but she had not his interest or his belief. She was piqued.
'You don't understand me,' she said, turning away. 'I am sorry I spoke.'
'You needn't be. Say anything you like to me, any time.'
Ah, here again in him was the touch she had felt and responded to that night she had sped back in the light excitement of it to find—and yield—to Cousin John. She looked round at him swiftly.
No thinking beings refuse to believe in sensations that have as little connection with feeling as with the desire to put them into words; no one reading this story will refuse to credit that Gisberne and Irene, looking at one another, foreboded suddenly the end of it. As the sensation came, so it went. 'Say anything you like to me, any time.' These were the words that had struck out the electric flash that touched like lightning the distance waiting for them, like lightning was gone.
Irene turned away, her vanity half persuaded Gisberne was more interested than his manner showed. He himself was unconscious of expressing more than a temper that nothing could disturb or shock.
'I'll consider what you've told me. Miss Garth,' he said. 'I've no doubt I can give you a letter to one or two in the States if you tell me your cousin means to go. Now,' he made a motion towards the piano, 'will you play awhile?'
She shook her head. 'Play to me.'
He shook his head and produced a cigarette-case. 'May I smoke?'
'Yes, and so will I.' He handed the case with his pleasant air and unmoved face. As the light wreaths of smoke rose between them, Gisberne fell into his usual silence, and Irene did not try to break it. He smoked sitting forward, his elbows resting on his knees. Irene lay far back and sent the wreaths slowly and languidly before her, her hand moving in indolence in keeping with her relaxed form. They would have appeared to an onlooker in the unreserve of intimacy, but since Gisberne did not think at all, it could not be now of her. And she was not thinking of Gisberne. There was Paul to be met within the hour. Thought of his passion had lain on Irene's heart a couple of summers as lightly as a rose-leaf; it weighed on her anticipations now, slightly burdensome. She found herself listening for the sound of hoofs; like a child hungry for its mother, she began to turn to Cousin John's return...But he would not be back for hours yet; it would be night, moonlight, her interview with Paul over, before she would be in his arms again.
The sunshine faded completely from the light, with drowsy chirp of bird and sudden perfume from evening flowers.
'We are having supper early,' said Irene, rousing herself. 'Cousin John won't be home till late. I don't know what is the matter with me to-day; I was in the sea too long yesterday, I think. I am going to ask Miss Estorel to make some coffee. Come with me; she can't say "no" before you.'
Gisberne made no comment. He accepted the invitation to remain to the evening meal as tacitly as it was given. He followed Irene, pleasant, self-contained. The girl moved along before him, breathing sex and beauty, palpitating with life. Gisberne, aware of it, was quite unmoved...
Once, years ago, he had sat on the stoop of a saloon shanty outside a mining camp and read between a flare of gas and the moonlight out of a tatterdemalion book—read of a woman with pale gold hair. His pockets were empty at the time. Inside the shutter, men were gambling and staking money—golden. Gold in the gas-flare; money; gold out here in the tattered romance in a page lit by the moon; a woman's hair; he with pockets empty. Here was the connecting link that had brought the scene back as Gisberne followed to the lavender-room. His pockets were empty; he must get Ferriby or someone to the cards. He saw gold on a table! Daphne Estorel had golden hair.
'There is a world out yonder.' Little can we judge, when conversing with one another, which of our words will stick, or what phrase make the impression. 'There is a world out yonder.' Gisberne had used the words in their talk just now, and over and over Irene said them as she went that evening to her tryst with Paul. 'There is a world out yonder.' She felt no desire towards it. Dora Ibimay, who knew it, spoke with no affection of it. Contrasting it with the lot of most of her mates at school, Irene knew hers, spite of early threatenings, to be fortunately cast. Like Circe with an island for her kingdom and the turning of shipwrecked sailors into brutes for her sport, Irene was content with Ferriby Grange and to play with the passions of the men it found for her. She, with her great beauty, was of the god-endowed, and sense of it sufficed.
Gisborne's words had little meaning, but she went over them again and again: 'There is a world out yonder.' It became a refrain, ominous, not alluring.
She passed through the rickyard, deserted and hushed by the moonlight into strange repose. Tarpaulins, ladders, and farm-gear assumed that remove of themselves and unfamiliarity that comes at once to objects of daily usage when man has gone and night has come. As she went by the stables, Scarside came out of a door swinging an unlit lantern—not the Scarside of six years ago: the son, brawny, and bearded, and young.
'I am looking for Mr. Paul, Solomon,' she said.
'I haven't seen un, miss, not for an hour past.'
She smiled. 'It did not matter.' It did not, indeed. Paul would come. She went on to wait for him.
Any child that has ever known such a place as the old harness-room at Ferriby has a heritage of remembrances and a storehouse of associations worth all the fairy-tales in the world.
Outside its great door was a slab newly sanded every day; either side of the doorpost was a rounded stone, and in the crevice between the stones and the wall grew snapdragons—yellow ones, with mouths opening to be fed at a pinch of the finger. Within the place a raftered roof rose into such black secrets as the cave of Ali Baba never knew. Lower down, over the beams that crossed where the whitewash stopped, spiders weaved and old bits of harness hung, telling tales of ghosts, not human, and more fearful far. The atmosphere was like nothing in ordinary spaces, a wonderful smell in it, a warmth and cleanliness, a savour of the earth, and yet not the earth that belongs to human beings—earth of gnomes and pixies, of talking beasts. In the old harness-room was sense of golden afternoons, of stolen security with apples in the pocket, a book under the eyes, of youth, of childhood, and the long, long hours when their golden sands streamed through hands wide open—wide, wide open to let them go the faster. On the floor of such places as the old harness-room some of the grains are still scattered, and one here and there may be picked up and held a perilous moment of exquisite pain.
Against one wall stood stacks of beans, onions, potatoes—not for eating—set apart for some wordless destiny, for which faces and tufts like hair and eyes and little twisted bodies seemed to mark them. At the far end hay was tossed as if it were worth nothing, but woe to the one who dragged wisps of it into the yard. There were horse-blankets waiting repair, gardening tools and empty flower-pots, faggots and turf, and, high up on the inaccessible window-sill, certain round and suggestive dark balls, about which the ghastly legend ran they were of hair, and had once been in the stomachs of calves.
As Irene pushed the door open she glanced up and saw them there still, like little black heads. She remembered how she had screamed when she first was told what they were—screamed and wept in fastidious disgust; and Paul, to please her, had mounted to remove them, and been caught by Scarside, who snatched the ladder away, bore it off, and left him hanging up there by his finger-tips. He had barked his leg dreadfully as he scrambled down, declared his ankle was broken, and jolly well upbraided her for days afterwards.
Ah! gradually and insensibly those upbraidings had ceased; gradually, insensibly the light in Paul's eyes changed, and the clear brightness of his face. After that day in the buttery, even as the mark of Devil Ferriby's whip-lash died away into a scar, so did Paul's boyhood die into a young man's passion, scarring his life as the line of the whip did his face.
The holidays came when he refused Irene's kiss; his hands, spread with work and roughened, trembled and avoided her touch. She had coaxed and driven him into speech, made him pretty vows, said she would marry him when the time came, and (amazing!) he had sold himself into slavery for her sake, and was waiting, and believed in her. Well, she would persuade him now to go, and let it all end happily.
As this resolution renewed itself, Irene felt a glow of self-commendation, an idea that, after all, she misjudged herself. Cousin John would be the one she must marry, and she would be quite content with him. The harness-room was in such black shadow, the moonlight so ghostly where it broke through the door and the one high window, that Irene would not go in. Her superstitious fears were never far. It was so still she fancied she could hear the tide three miles away. She walked slowly to and fro. No window overlooked the spot. One of its joys in the past was its seclusion, a place where Jane Skidfell ceased from troubling, and old Scarside left them in peace.
Not long was it before Irene heard Paul's tread. With the first start through her of the coming footfall she suddenly felt unequal to her task. Suppose Paul turned on her. 'Bloodshed, Do you never notice the mark on Paul's face?' Suppose Paul thought of murder—yes, but in connection with her! The sensation—it did not amount to more—was gone as Paul rounded the building and, seeing her before him in the moonlight, stopped silently.
'Paul!' She was glad to see him. She hated to be alone. She moved quickly towards him. He was dressed in what he owned in the way of complementary dressing—cheap blue serge vest and jacket, square-cut. His gaiters and stout boots were second nature to him. His neck had round it only the low collar of a flannel shirt, grey, a black tie loosely knotted under it. He was bareheaded. A fine spaniel came at his heels with a soft furtiveness, very far from sure she ought to be there.
'Well,' he said, 'you are really here.' His tone checked the girl. She scanned his unsmiling face.
'Did you think I shouldn't come?' she said. She laid her hand on his arm. 'I have been wanting to speak to you for days. Fancy, Paul, my having to write to you! What have you been doing?'
'Keeping out of your way.'
'Why, what have I done?'
Irene was well equipped. She had not only her beauty. She took up her cues instantly, responsive to every phase of a man's prompting. She looked at Paul now gravely, with an unshaken front, no hint of coquetry. He stepped away from her, looked away from her, and leant against the wall beside the open door of the harness-room.
'I've had enough of it,' he said, in his sullen way.
'What do you mean?'
'You may marry Devil Ferriby or anybody you please,' said Paul, with a rough laugh. 'I am going away.'
Irene started. Of all things she had not expected this. She had come to ask him to go away. She had indifferently resolved he might as well go as not, that one cousin was enough. She had not allowed for this-to lose Paul like this. She was taken aback, and showed it.
'Is this something Daphne Estorel has put into your head?' she asked.
'You let her talk to you about me?'
'I don't talk to her or to anyone about you or anything. But she's there. I don't think she would be the sort to let a fellow she cared for drop below his level and make of him a convenience and a butt—'
'You're unjust. It's your own silly temper,' she broke in, but gently, very gently, the tone of her reproof silky as a caress. 'Why, don't you remember that evening when we saw you in the porch, and I begged you to join us at tea and assert yourself, take your place—'
'Yes, to show off before Gisberne and Daphne. It was that settled me. I had some idea you did care for me. I trusted you, but it's rot...I'm a fool, and I've broken the back of it. I am the son of a gentleman, and I've been through a public school among gentlemen. No woman is worth this sort of thing. You're not. I am going to take myself off to Canada, and you'll have a clear field. I'm going to-morrow week, and that's why I came to-night. There'll be no need of any further bother about "good-bye."'
Irene felt as if the earth had opened and the whole Grange had vanished, leaving a blank through which she must fall headlong. Paul was part of life, of everything, even of her stolen interviews with Devil Ferriby. For a long moment she could only look at him, saying nothing.
'Good-bye to me,' she said at last. 'You can't really be meaning that?' Keenly observing him, she saw that his attitude did not change. He still leant against the wall looking away from her. There was no movement to express even an assumed indifference and ease. He held himself so tensely that the spaniel had settled to snooze at his side. His hands were crossed on his back against the wall behind him.
Wisdom had come to Irene Garth with Devil Ferriby's kiss. She had boasted to herself that Paul loved her, and this was the way love showed itself—in sulks and absences. For all his steadfast worship of her, Paul was still a boy. Temptation whispered to her. He should not go. She could not lose him. Daphne Estorel's saintly influence should not be stronger than her touch.
'You've startled me very much,' she said, and her voice was broken.—'Where can we sit down?...Come inside. I'm so tired, somehow, to-day.'
She passed in, not waiting to see if he followed, and seated herself on one of the stoutly-filled sacks facing the door. She could not see him where she sat...Would he go away—leave her? Was this a resolution or only a mood? If he came and sat beside her now he would not go from Ferriby. She held her breath...Ah! he was coming. The spaniel ran in, frisking, and Irene held out to it a suddenly friendly hand. Yes, Paul's big figure blocked the doorway.
'There's room here,' she said. 'How we used to love this place when we first came, didn't we? That was why I asked you to come here to-night. I thought you would understand...' She paused. He looked before him sullenly.
'It's no use,' he muttered. 'You care nothing about me...'
'And just to-night I wanted to tell you how much I do care...' He glanced at her sharply. 'I've missed you so much,' she said. 'It has been misery never to see you, to speak to you. The whole place has changed.'
He made a sound of incredulity. 'It's Ferriby you care for.'
They were quite plain to one another in the moonlight—she beautiful as some dream of Paradise, he a young man, god-like in strength, who had been drawn to her for long in virgin adoration and desire.
'I care for you,' said Irene, and she looked a moment into his eyes.
She was not wholly false in so far as she was true to herself. She cared for all beauty and strength in manhood, and, where it offered itself, she must make it hers. Paul was splendid, and that he should flout her, get better of her, go away, and perhaps one day fold those stalwart arms of his round Daphne Estorel and press on her lips his own first wholly awakened ones was out of the question. She was not wholly false when she laid an arm about his neck and drew near enough to rest her cheek against his shoulder. To her this was neither John nor Paul. She wooed the man—man, strong, dominating, too much for her, her master, and yet who trembled at her touch.
Ferriby was not so late home that night that he did not expect Irene to be somewhere in waiting for him. He stabled his horse himself—for he hated his incomings hampered, and would have no one hang round for him-and then went back to the house by way of the east porch. Far from having that entrance blocked up, he found it suited him. In the shadow of the entry his arms would find Irene. They would part at the foot of the stairway as they had parted that first night, and the open bureau and the candle set among account-books gave him any excuses ever needed for being in the living-room late or early. To-night Irene was not in the entry. There was no sound of her, no sign of her in the room. But she had heard him enter the house, holding in her breath by her window above. She did not dare to face him. She was dizzy still from her parting with Paul. She was for once afraid.
Young Solomon Scarside thought Sophy Bassett the queerest thing in woman's shape he'd ever clapped his eyes on. He had appeared for a snack and a drink midway through this mighty fine July morning, and Sophy came out to him in the bright cobbled yard and watched him handling his—'thumb' of bread and cheese, a quart jug, blue and white, standing on the bench against the door, with the row of shining pails end up upon it.
'Now then,' she said, turning up her shrewd little Cockney face, 'ain't you never going to be done?'
'What's thy haste, lass?' demanded Scarside.
Sophy perked up her nose at the giant's chin almost a couple of feet above her. 'A'hm in a hurry, ma lad,' she said, with laborious imitation of his accent.
'What speech does 'ee call that, naw?' Scarside stuffed in a mouthful with keen enjoyment of her.
'Gibberish hi call it!' said Sophy, smartly going back to her own vernacular. 'As I wrote to my young man, 'owever they hunderstands each bother parses me.'
'I don't believe in that young man o' yourn,' said Scarside.
'Lord, no!' Sophy briskly retied her apron. 'Yer ain't got the brains to take him in.' She sighed. ''E's a good sort, his my young man.'
Scarside gazed on her reflectively. 'His he, now? Wat's he doing down in Lunnon, then, and you up here?'
'Go on wi' yer, yer sawny!' cried Sophy. 'Dahn in Lunnon the men have smaller stumicks and littler 'eads, but there's more in 'em.'
'In theer stumicks?'
'Naw, in theer 'eads.'
Scarside shook his with slow decision. 'Yorksheer's hard to beat.'
'My young man'd beat the lot of ye,' retorted Sophy, waxing eager.—' What'U ye bet me? Sharp? Sharp as a needle—up to heverythink as you can know.'
'What is t' lad?' asked Scarside, unbelieving, but condescending to a lofty curiosity.
'Lad? He's one-and-twenty and next to the boss in the biggist greengrocery business in the 'Arrer Road.'
'What size is he?'
'Same as me, an' abaht as broad,' returned Sophy proudly.
Scarside reverted to scepticism in a loud guffaw. 'Any hair on his face?'
'Naw, he ain't then. He's no bloomin' monkey. "Sophy," sez 'e to me, an' 'e give me a sort of clutch...' She lost herself a moment in tender recollections, smoothing her apron, her head on one side.
'What's a clutch?' asked Scarside. 'Onyways like this?' He gripped her waist.
Sophy fought him off indignantly. 'Leave orf! He's no helefant. "Sophy," says 'e to me, "there's a haunt o' mine dahn from the North, an' she knows of a place she can git yer. You go," says 'e, "an' get some flesh on yer bones, an' then we'll be married comfortable," says 'e...'
Scarside exploded into Homeric laughter, bringing the wenches within up to the open door to look. And when they saw they waxed wroth. It was unfair to home product that this peaky scrap from 'Lunnon' should carry off a champion native; but it seemed as if Sophy Bassett would, though she scouted all suggestion of wanting Solomon Scarside—hadn't she a young man at home?
'What are ye larfin' at, ye great silly?' she cried angrily. '"Sophy," sez 'e, "ye'll go, won't yer, for my sake?" "Anythin' you asks me, Jim," sez I. An' then he clutches 'arder like, an' "Turn yer 'ead," he sez. I turns it...' She suited the action to the word, smiling in assumed rapture, and Scarside, not too slow to note the opportunity, caught her softly round, and gently brought her face against the middle of his waistcoat.
'That's wheer thy young man's face had a-come,' he laughed uproariously, 'but this is wheer mine is.' And he was about to lift her bodily to the level of it—would have done, only she fought him like a little cat.
'Yer great baby!' she flamed in a hot whisper, 'an' Miss Daphne just a-come into the kitchen! Now hev yer done, Solomon Scarside?' she cried aloud. 'I'm waiting for t' jug. You know Missis Skidfell won't have 'em stand around.'
Solomon was always as sobered as astounded by Sophy's finessing. With no diminution of respect, but through having grown a little more prepared for it, he expressed his appreciation in a huge wink as he turned away. Sophy gave a glance over her shoulder, ran after him, and caught his arm. 'You're sure it was Mr. Paul you saw Miss 'Rene with last night?' she whispered.
'Certain sure.' He stared at the anxiety in her sharp, pretty face. 'That be nothin'.'
'No, I know; only don't you breathe it to a soul, Solomon.'
'I've seen 'em together a good bit,' pursued Solomon, collecting memories, 'evenings—nights, I mean—this last week like.'
'Well, don't you let on about it, Solomon. Don't you speak of Miss 'Rene before Mr. John—'
'She's a-carryin' on wi' 'em both,' said Scarside. He scratched his cheek, and added reflectively: 'She always have.'
'You'll be careful, Solomon: say nothing, will you?'
'You're fair set on the lass,' said Solomon. 'She'll get hersen into trouble.'
Sophy's face whitened. 'That ain't no affair o' yours. If you say any think as makes mischief I'll never forgive you, so there.'
Scarside grinned good-humouredly, and strode off. Sophy ran back into the house.
Miss Daphne was in the kitchen. She glanced up at the girl as she entered, but said nothing. Sophy, her nerves a little strained, wished she would. She had remarked to her fellow-servants once or twice what a difference it would make did Miss Daphne speak out a bit more. She bustled into her work again, feeling guilty and conscious under Miss Daphne's heavenly blue eyes and in her still presence. There would be trouble at Ferriby. Miss 'Rene was going too far-and Sophy knew it. That morning Miss Irene had risen early and gone out with Master John. Sophy, at risk to herself, had taken to hanging round that fascinating bedroom when she went in with the early cup of tea. Only this morning Miss 'Rene had laughed in a scared fashion once or twice, and said she wished men weren't so silly and tiresome, and that it wasn't her fault; and she had asked the girl if she would come with her if she should ever want to leave the Grange, and then she gave her some wonderful gloves and a white veil, telling her to let no one see them. Now, on the other hand, Scarside, working it into a clumsy courtship, had mentioned to Sophy that Miss Irene met Mr. Paul these evenings, and went sweethearting with him on the sly. Sophy knew that Irene rose madly early and met John Ferriby long before he had need to ride away, and came back to her room with heightened colour, having made excuses not to walk with him openly from the farm. Very plain it was that Miss Irene didn't want Mr. John and Mr. Paul to come together and find her a third; and very plain it was to Sophy's sharp estimate of men and matters that that sort of thing couldn't go on long.
The little Cockney servant had developed in herself an adoration for Miss 'Rene. At this particular moment she felt mad with herself to think she should have wasted time 'gammoning' with Scarside about a young man 'as didn't exist,' instead of making him swear, the great sawny, he'd make no mischief. She felt uneasy under Miss Daphne's gaze, as if already an accomplice. It was all very well for Miss Daphne. She might be pretty her way, pretty as a tree or the stream in the meadow where the forget-me-nots grew, but she didn't set men by the ears. To bring men to a fighting-point about you seemed to Sophy Bassett, fed on the strong meat of Saturday nights in a coffee-shop in the Harrow Road and the Police News on Sunday, the last tribute. As great a glory enveloped the heroine of it as others see, in golden mist, round the figure of Helen of Troy. Should Sophy be called to stand by Miss 'Rene in any way, she was keenly ready. She racked her brain for devices set forth in the tales she had read to suit any possible emergency...
The beautiful summer day told off the hours that morning on the sundial in the old pleasaunce, and the shadow fell as lightly, fell just the same as on every other day—just the same. This feeling that comes to the heart, looking back on the time that preceded some great catastrophe, can never be trite even in statement, for it remains ever pungent and true. Just the same! 'Why did not the hours tell me what was coming?' cries the heart. 'Why did no one warn me—nothing-neither wind nor tree nor flower—while there was yet time? Could not heaven have spoken, earth or air, and given me just five minutes in which to know and do—five minutes out of all those sunny ones that moved on through the inexorable hours, letting me alone, saying nothing, caring nothing? Is there no pity in the warmth of day that I should have been left possessed and blindfold to go on to the fatal moment when no minutes, days, hours—no time more could avail?'
Daphne Estorel had hereafter cause for some such reflections. Now, sitting alone in the 'still-room,' she could see the dial and the creeping shadow, and reckoned time as she had done yesterday.
Everyone, it seemed, was about his usual avocation. The great house communicated nothing of what its isolated members did; but Daphne knew that Paul was in the clover-field, that Jane Skidfell was in her room preparing for a visit to a relative in Petsham, and that Irene Garth was taking tea with the Ibimays.
On the table before her lay a letter from one of her Devonshire friends, Sir William Evered; it was the initiative to an offer of marriage not unexpected by Daphne. Sir William was the other side of fifty, a great traveller. He had told Daphne long ago he coveted such as herself as a companion and transcriber. As she had done before, Daphne put the veiled proposal again aside still veiled, but she pondered over the world that lay behind it, deliberating its attractions. She knew very little of the world. There was Russia, where girls of her own age went to imprisonment and death for a Cause; there was the world of exploration where one wanders among big things like an insect in a garden, and yet, even as the hand with a yard measure, can find an intellect to compute the designs of God; there was the world of Art...Daphne rose and took a violin from a corner cupboard. Trembling and paling, she tuned it a moment, and with timid touch drew the bow, playing the melody from one of Beethoven's adagios. As always, the rapturous music opened up an endless, boundless vista; her spirit mounted on it, though produced by her own furtive fingers, and she felt as she had felt always, that she could make one with the glory and the hope and pain of the world's dreamers who can repeat their dream.
But between her and all of it, what she was ignorant of and what she might desire, uprose the figure of Paul Ferriby. Daphne put back the violin and folded up Sir William's letter.
The despair of that evening some three weeks ago, when Paul had stood beside her in the porch, numbed her anew. She, in common with other onlookers, saw how Paul had come back to his allegiance. Jane Skidfell had said nothing to her of John Ferriby's intention to marry his cousin, but an understanding of marriage was not needed to point to the inevitable issue. There was catastrophe ahead, and Daphne still remained under the spell of silence—the silent resistance, silent opposition, that from the first had been her only method. She would have given much to break it—to speak to Irene, to speak to Paul, to urge definite action upon Jane Skidfell. She could not. Paul was worth to her everything known and unknown, and she stood aside and watched and was silent, and the stage was set for a tragedy.
At half-past six the evening of that same July day Sophy Bassett announced to Miss Estorel that Mr. Gisberne was in the sitting-room and asking to see her. Daphne almost hailed the announcement. The oppression of storm was drawing near, and the bands about her soul, seeming almost to hold her lips, were growing intolerable. She went at once.
Gisberne was pale, and appeared slightly disturbed. He seemed relieved at Daphne's entrance, and glad to see her.
'You're alone,' he said. 'I've come to play for you, as I promised.'
'How did you know I was alone?' asked Daphne, lighter-hearted in a moment at speech with him. He was merely a being who, very happily, didn't care about anything save to live and behave himself as might some nice, intelligent dog. This was the worst Daphne Estorel fancied about Robert Gisberne now.
'Well, I happen to be aware that Miss Garth is at the Ibimays', and Mr. Ferriby is on his way to join them. I think I may reckon Mr. Paul is out and about. That leaves you to yourself, Miss Estorel.'
'It's very good of you to trouble to keep your promise to me,' she said, smiling.
'You've kept yours to me.'
'About your improvising. Such a little thing.'
'Little things are the only ones for me,' said Gisberne. She noticed his pallor. 'You're tired,' she remarked, woman-like. 'Have you walked from Droitlet?'
'Riding is less.'
'You need a horse.'
'You have one.'
Daphne glanced at him, startled and doubtful.
'I've had a touch of bad luck,' said Gisberne, responding to it. 'Never mind that now, Miss Estorel. Let me do my tricks. I almost think they'll give you pleasure. May I have this cup?'
And he took it from the shelf. She handed him a silver spoon at his request, and he began to play.
It was wonderfully sweet, indefinable, fairy-like, the music he made with it. Daphne found herself listening with more than pleasure. She grew intensely interested. Steadily, almost mechanically, as if following a routine he knew by heart, and pleased not with what he did, but with the effect upon her, Gisberne went from one thing to another. He played on the casement most cleverly, without any touch of the ridiculous. It was like the raindrops in a distinct, unearthly melody.
'How do you do it?' asked Daphne, her eyes softened and shining with the delight of simple marvel that makes childhood's joys so rapturous.
He sat to the piano, and, as his fingers moved with their strange deftness. Daphne drew close, liking him.
'Have you a fiddle?' asked Gisberne.
'This is an entertainment,' cried Daphne, 'and enchantment. It ought to make you famous.'
'Fame is burdensome,' he answered, with a little grimace—the first she had ever seen in him. 'That's why I trusted you. This is just between you and me. Let me have your fiddle, Miss Estorel.'
She led him almost gleefully to the room she called her own.
'You've been playing,' he said, as he took the instrument. She kindled towards him the more for the remark.
'Yes, a moment or two—this afternoon. I am very much out of practice, and you'll find I haven't got it perfectly strung.'
'That's no matter to me.' He smiled with the calm of exact self-appraisement. 'I'm no musician.'
If no musician, what then? He was no musician, but what then? As on the piano, he played very softly, and with the same extraordinary power of suggesting something that meant more than it did mean, as the pleading in a dog's eyes seems as if it must ask more than a tit-bit, or for leave to follow on his master's heels.
Gradually, as he went on, standing in the doorway, wide open on the great flag-stone laid between it and the grass, covered with the dropping petals of a monthly rose-tree. Daphne, seated opposite, felt a touch of self-consciousness so startling it sent the colour to her face. Her childlike joy in the marvel vanished. She perceived that Gisberne was wooing her, soliciting her personal notice, laying before her in this performance of his his one claim to recommendation.
With the insistence with which analogy with some pleasant animal came into her mind in connection with Gisberne, Daphne thought instantly of some great, good-tempered creature, dog or horse, showing her how he could fetch, and carry, and obey, and swim, retrieve, safeguard, gallop, endure—everything save speak and comprehend. This was what he could do...What did she think of him?...Her heart was touched.
'There!' said Gisberne, ceasing. 'I have been able to do that all my life, very little worse, and never any better. A curious thing, is it not?'
'The most wonderful I have ever met,' said Daphne.
'It's nothing.' Gisberne moved to put back the violin, taking as little notice of the beautiful Dutch cupboard, the inviting fittings of the room, and the chintz like a flower-painting by Huysmans, as he ever did of anything. 'It's just a trick,' he said; 'only most people learn their tricks. Mine was inborn. It's nothing.'
'It's the very soul of you—all there is of soul in you,' thought Daphne, with a pang of quick sympathy, 'and you've been showing it to me.'
For some reason—perhaps because after this she felt too alone with Gisberne in the isolated lavender-room—Daphne led the way back. It was now nearing eight o'clock, and growing dusk. On reaching Irene's room, Daphne did not ring for lights, knowing that Sophy had stolen to the fields, and that the two maids were out till nine. She lit the candles at the piano. Gisberne hung about a moment silently, then picked up hat and gloves.
'Oh, but you'll stay to supper, of course, Mr. Gisberne?'
'No, I guess not, thank you—Miss Estorel,' he added, hesitating a moment—this also new in him.
'Yes,' she said, full of kindly feeling.
He sat down slowly, dropping his hands between his knees, fingering his hat—a favourite attitude.
'What's your mind in the matter?' he said at last, looking up at her with his pleasant eyes. 'Is it anything to you which of these two Ferribys kills the other?'
A bolt from the blue. Fire springing in living flame between her and the speaker could not have startled Daphne more. A cry, a shriek swelled in her throat and stifled there, would not have stifled only for Gisberne's ordinary glance from such everyday eyes; his pleasant, commonplace manner steadied her. 'You mean,' she said, after a dizzy silence—'you mean,' and gazed at him.
'I mean I'm leaving Droitlet. Yes, I get tired of a place pretty soon. Now Miss Garth talks of getting her Cousin Paul away for fear there should be trouble between him and her Cousin John. I beg your pardon. Miss Estorel, but Miss Garth doesn't weigh with me seriously. If it's any consequence to you to save trouble, that's a different matter. I think,' he went on, putting it forth as an indifferent statement, 'that it's Mr. Paul will get the upper hand if it comes to it, and he'll very likely make it ugly for himself. I feel as pretty sure about that as I am that a storm is brewing just this minute. Now, if it's anything to you that there isn't murder done, I'll strike in and do what I can to get Mr. Paul away with me to the States,' he corrected himself, 'or wherever it might be I make for. Only, if it's nothing to you—'
Voices interrupted. Gisberne let them interrupt, rising at once 'ears pricked,' eyes set to listening, dropping what he had just been saying as if it had been a book or a neckerchief.
Irene entered, a step behind her Dora Ibimay, behind them both John Ferriby. Mrs. Ibimay with a laughing exclamation sank at once into a seat, protesting against the thundery heaviness. Irene markedly pale, smiled at Gisberne, and, murmuring something indefinite, went at once from the room by the inner door on to the stairway.
Ferriby took no notice of Gisberne, or, for that matter, of Daphne, beyond a rough general nod as he entered. Gisberne, in alert, pliant attitude, kept his eye on him half smiling.
Before anything further could pass, the door from the kitchen quarters opened upon Jane Skidfell. The room had rapidly darkened, and in the confusing gleam from the candles at the piano Jane sought an instant to find Ferriby.
'Is t' master there?' she said.
He turned to her as if annoyed at the interruption or out of temper already.
'Hast thee change about thee for a couple o' gold pieces, Mr. John?' Mistress Skidfell addressed him directly, taking no notice of the others; she was dressed in bonnet and shawl of superior make and fineness, and carried in her soberly gloved hands a small black bag, which she opened as she spoke.
Ferriby made a feint of feeling in his pockets. 'I haven't a sixpence,' he said.
'Then thee'lt look in t' bureau for it, please. I must ha' change an' quickly.'
Daphne came down to Jane's side; Ferriby swung round impatiently and moved to obey as he always obeyed. Dora Ibimay and Gisberne looked on.
The key of the bureau was one of a bunch Ferriby drew from a pocket jangling lightly. He let down the flap. The candle-light darted on to a little pile of money suddenly revealed, picked it out, gold and silver, and held it in a momentary startling shine. Ferriby removed a handful of silver, relocked the bureau and replaced the keys.
'What is the matter?' he said to Jane. 'Where are you going?'
Jane dropped the silver uncounted into her bag. 'I have told thee,' she said grimly: 'I'm going to Petsham.'
'To-night?' struck in Daphne.
'Aye, to-night, my dear. I've had word by t' post just now as Betty Hackett's man is ill; she's afraid to pass t' neet alone wi' t' sick, and t' nurse has failed her.'
'How are you going?' asked Ferriby. 'Is Scarside driving you?'
'Aye. He's due at Petsham five to-morrow morning. A few hours this side can mak' no differences.'
She went from the room. Daphne with her, turning as she did so with very definite intimation to Robert Gisberne that she was returning as soon as Mistress Skidfell should have gone.
This gave an excuse for a suspension of silence between the three remaining in the room. Gisberne could remain, as he did, obviously in attendance on Daphne's wish, leaning against the piano, his eyes on Ferriby as if for a signal. Ferriby, moving to Mrs. Ibimay's side, glanced through the window and hoped that Scarside would clear the storm.
'It's driving up from Petsham, though,' he said.
'And so over Droitlet,' cried Mrs. Ibimay, starting up. 'I must get back. The pony bolts at thunder.'
'Stay the night here,' said Ferriby.
'Impossible.' She laughed and gathered the invariable wraps about her.
'Well, wait five minutes,' he returned. 'The storm is not due for another hour. Wait till Daphne comes back. We can't very well leave Mr. Gisberne alone.'
And now Devil Ferriby faced his visitor squarely and gave him a look from head to heel...unmistakable accusation, deliberate contempt...
Cards were invented to amuse a brain-sick king, and persons of any sick leisure may become perfect at them. Theodore Ibimay, the consumptive with a life of vacant hours, had amused himself for a week past playing the duffer with a man who, expert as he was, knew less than he did. Gisberne had not paid up his losses. Yesterday Ibimay had called him—'card-sharper' to his face. Gisberne was now aware he had called him so to Ferriby.
For the time being, the day's occupations, and, at the present moment, the women kept the issue suspended. Gisberne, very quiet, slightly pale, could not know from Ferriby's look how much more he might be going to bring to bear upon the situation than Ibimay's sick cackle about cards. He made no movement. Dora touched Ferriby's arm. 'I really must go,' she said, seeing the opposite door was opening; and as Daphne came in she took the moment and sailed out into the entry as if she had not seen her, Ferriby behind her.
It was now between eight and nine o'clock. Scarside and Jane Skidfell had left the Grange behind them and were speeding along the Petsham road.
Of this departure Irene knew nothing. Nor was she at her window at the right moment to see Devil Ferriby and Dora Ibimay leave the house together.
Irene was in sudden and great fear. She had had an instance that afternoon of the readiness of Cousin John's passion to express itself in fury as strongly as in caresses. In Dora Ibimay's presence he had been rough with her. On the way home he had said a few words aside, commanding her that evening to the good-night interview between them that she had chosen lately to abandon, and giving her pretty plainly to understand he was aware of her new triflings with Paul.
These 'triflings,' Irene acknowledged to herself, had slipped beyond her management. She was in the absolutely mad position of having promised herself alike to John Ferriby and to Paul—not with any childish utterances of petulance and coaxings, but with a woman's caress and bond.
She had forgotten, ignored, that two lines converging steadily to one point must meet. As long as her falsity ran safely between them she had thought it was she managing to keep them apart. Now she saw them head together, inexorably, no power in her or in anyone to stay it, and she was afraid. She imagined Devil Ferriby killing her. She stood in the centre of her room holding her head. She was asking herself in an ecstasy of tearing, savage, stunned self-recrimination why she had been so mad that evening in the harness-room. Paul was actually going away, and she had actually lured him back, not to his own destruction-Irene Garth was no longer giving even transient thought to that—no, to her own. It would be upon her the horror would fall. When those two met across her falsity she would be hurt between them. She could picture, almost feel, Devil Ferriby killing her.
She went to her glass and stared at herself. Self-pity shook her. She could not help being what she was, she could not help it that men overmastered her. Again destiny weighed on her like death, and she asked herself what her beauty was worth. She had been mad to come back to Ferriby—mad, mad, to come back to be killed by Cousin John, killed...or...Her fears and dismay were entirely for herself. Had she needed anything to make plain her true relationship to John Ferriby, it was given in this panic. She had clung to his passion, returned his ardour, found it suffice. But Paul had ardour. And having drawn it forth, she had found it as strong and of far finer quality, with a trust and an exaltation in it she could no more put aside when offered than she could refuse the sunshine on her face because she also turned it to the stars and moon.
But, ah! this was not a case of abstract things, of sunshine and night! She was between two men, and she was afraid, amid elements that would meet without any concern for her.
This evening, at ten o'clock, she was to see Paul in the lane bounding the near clover-field. He believed in her, the young lover, whom her personal contact stultified, seeing her stealing forth to renew her vows, the victim of a tyranny he must trust to her a while longer to find escape from.
Evening after evening she told him, with his arms about her, she would go with him to Canada, only not yet—not just yet.
Then, in the early mornings, she glanced into Ferriby's expressive eyes, and toyed with nervous fingers with the dew-sprinkled flower in his coat, and begged him to let them go away and be married somewhere where no one would know. Paul would not go from the farm, she said—she had tried him. And Gisberne was no help. And Ferriby looked into her eyes, laughed, and asked her, Paul or no Paul, if by this time she was not quite sure that she was going to marry him.
Oh, she would have to marry him!...Irene paced softly to and fro, her hand pressing her bosom unconsciously, wishing Sophy by chance would come. In fact, she must come, or she must find her. She must get a message to Paul. She could not risk letting Cousin John, by not finding her waiting for him on his return, come in search to the fields.
Yet she dared not meet Devil Ferriby alone. Again she went to the glass and stared at her image. Her pallor gave her intensity. In the dilation of her terror, her form showed its rounded beauty the more through the light summer gown. She noted her own loveliness, and chilled at it. If she met Devil Ferriby and trifled, he would kill her. If she met him to renew her caresses and her promises, he would make her confirm them by vows from which there would be no going back. Ah! his kisses had made her wise. He would make her his indeed.
Quaking, she withdrew to the window-seat, and locked her hands upon her lap. A low sound of thunder made her glance out over the darkening scene. If a storm came up she could not keep the tryst with Paul. Yet would not that be best, to see Paul and run away with him, as she had said years ago?
Or should she go away alone, take Sophy with her, go to Droitlet, and get Mr. Gisberne to help her escape?
All unconsciously, the knowledge of Gisberne had been colouring Irene Garth's reflections. A man named Robert Gisberne, whom she knew, was there, down below, actually a flesh and blood being standing for the world outside. In her world of Ferriby, both from Paul and John, Irene had simply taken, giving nothing, asking nothing. Gisberne stood for another side of things, vague and untried, for that reason now to be considered. Gisberne seemed to be interested in her, in no way as were her cousins. In this moment of stress Irene did not conceal from herself the fact that her beauty had failed with him there; but if she appealed to him, if she threw herself upon his kindness, expecting nothing but what he would do for...for...Daphne Estorel, say, what then?
Irene had had almost enough of passion. The thought of kindness was relief, and Gisberne had kind, dog-like eyes. How could she fly with Paul, and take neither clothes nor money? Besides, would he fly? Yet to stay and be forced over the brink by Devil Ferriby! The unsounded future, her youth, her first resentment at the loss of all illusion, with deadly fear and natural shrinking added, rose against it...
No; she would get away to Droitlet...Had Gisberne gone? They were all very quiet down below...
Irene stole to the head of the stairs and listened, but the latched door at the foot was stout and made of no ill-seasoned wood. To hear nothing was not to be satisfied the room was empty. She crept down softly, and as she poised her steps she noticed, with the curious inconsequence of such moments, that she was wearing her best shoes, in which her feet were exquisitely fitted. From lovely creeping feet to her tumbled hair, her womanhood, her beauty, suddenly flushed her, but with pain and fire. She lifted the latch and stepped down, holding the door open in her hand. Someone had blown out the candles. The room was empty.
At the same instant Sophy came in opposite with a great show of bustle, stopping astonished to find this gloom and silence. Irene moved forward in her white dress, and Sophy gave a little shriek.
'Lor', Miss 'Rene, you did give me a turn!' she cried. 'I thought I should be that late...an' no one 'ere. Where's Miss Daphne going to have supper, miss?'
'Lay it here,' said Irene in a sudden impulse, as if in supper she might find some stay or barrier. 'Light the candles again, Sophy.'
As the girl obeyed she told Miss 'Rene of Mistress Skidfell's absence, Scarside with her. Sophy had learnt that outside, and more than that she could not repeat of anybody's movements. She had hurried in from the fields, knowing she was late; and here were her two fellow-servants not back yet—it was past nine—and not a soul had she met outside or in, save the lad who had told of Mistress Skidfell and Mr. Paul...
'Where is Mr. Paul?' broke in Irene, with a hurrying forward as if a thought had come to her.
'He was going up to his new room in the coach house, Miss 'Rene.' Then Sophy suddenly ran between Irene and the door, anticipating the other's impulsive movement thither. 'Don't go, Miss 'Rene!' she cried in a stifled whisper. 'Don't you do it...it isn't safe...'
Irene looked at her a moment, then she leaned forward and gave her a kiss upon the cheek—a touch with cold, nervous lips, but oh, so sweet, so sweet!...'I am frightened, Sophy,' she said, dropping all pretences. 'I must see Mr. Paul...No, no; don't stop me. It will save trouble. I don't know what is the matter: I am suddenly so dreadfully frightened...I must see Mr. Paul. Lay the supper here...don't forget...and then, if you can, go up to my room and get things together as if I were going away for a week...will you, can you...?'
'Don't you go near Mr. Paul, Miss 'Rene,' cried Sophy, white with the contagion of Irene's panic, her knowing features sharpened.
'There is no one about...' Irene put her aside, and hurried through the kitchens out into the yards and towards the coach-house. This was at half-past nine, the storm still lowering.
Dora Ibimay and John Ferriby had walked on together past the turning into the lane, where the ponycart was waiting to convey her back to Fulbec. This was allowed to jog along behind, Dora having pleaded not to be left yet, alone, to the oppression of the storm with the fretfulness of her husband to await her. John Ferriby seldom said no to anything Dora suggested; he subdued his stride to her languid steps, and paced beside her on the roadside grass. They discussed her husband's discovery respecting Gisberne.
'I made inquiries this morning by telegraph!' said Ferriby. 'I couldn't get at much that way, but there's no doubt the fellow's a common impostor. I don't know what his game is in a place like this, but he's tripped himself up like a fool.'
'What are you going to do?'
'His references are a fake: that's what I gather. His bank is in his pocket. A mere swindling adventurer who, perhaps, has an eye on the silver...'
Ferriby laughed. 'It must have given him a queer turn to be bowled over by your husband.'
'But what are you going to do?' she repeated. 'Give him the clean kick-out.'
'You won't say anything to the police?' she asked.
'That's not my trade,' said Ferriby, with his sullen glance. 'Informing doesn't run in the blood.'
The woman laid her hand upon his arm impulsively, kindling, as people do always at the generous touch in human sentiment. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. She knew Devil Ferriby's reputation for drink, gambling, light behaviour with women, and hard dealings with the poor. Many a harsh and uncharitable deed was to his score, and many an one ill-fitting his name and descent, but this contemptuous disdain of action in Gisberne's petty case put him in a moment on a new pedestal in Dora's eyes.
How different from her husband's summoning to council about it and his peevish and vindictive threats! She glanced at the figure beside her. Those marks of time and experience that had repelled Irene Garth at Ferriby's first definite advance attracted the woman whose time had been still longer, and who also had had experiences. Moreover, this Devil Ferriby summed up in one all that her life lacked, while she, her side. knew she could widen his narrow sphere. They would have suited one another...they did suit one another.
And he was going to marry this cousin of his, and degenerate and turn his back hopelessly on romance. And where was she—thirty-five, worn, world-wearied, cold to most and never yet beloved—to find again someone like this who was drawn to her, someone in his full strength and manhood? Where would she have hope of love again? She would not give it up; no, she would not—she would not.
As has been said, Dora Ibimay's estimate of Devil Ferriby was her own and went by force of contrast. She liked him for everything he was that he should not have been—liked him, she knew now, beyond bearing. She had imagined he liked her, liked her well enough to let nothing more come between them than-her husband. But, no. He could not wait and meanwhile give and take a silent sympathy; he must have his vent and marry a worthless girl, paying, in a fit of man's mere lavishness, a price like that for youth and beauty for an hour.
She could have held him, had she chosen, without either, so she passionately told herself. Instead, she had behaved herself. For this whole year, through all their growing intimacy she had been immaculate in word and look; and yet he knew, he knew—John Ferriby knew. Why should he marry Irene Garth and set up a new barrier between them? And when, at any hour, the one standing now might fall. Dora's heart, swelling within her ever since the little scene of Ferriby's anger with Irene, making plain the relationship between the cousins, came to breaking-point.
Through all this woman's thinking life passive acceptance of circumstances had summed up for her law and religion and the whole of human duty; but there come moments when the fear and custom under which we breathe drop away, and life springs up to have for once a try to manage destiny. Such a moment came to Dora now.
They had walked on at least half a mile beyond the lane in a silence, so little disagreeable to either, it itself expressed how much unconsciously they had advanced to intimacy.
A low wind began suddenly to moan and fall, chilly from seawards, where sulphurous-hued clouds were shaping themselves funnel-fashion.
'You had better get home,' said Ferriby, stopping to glance round, 'or drive back. There's going to be the deuce of a storm.'
And he motioned to the driver to whip up the pony. But Dora hung back.—' Your shepherd's cottage is just round that corner,' she said. She turned to the man. 'Drive on, Lee; we'll take shelter there, if need be, till the storm is over.'
'Far better turn back,' began Ferriby. Then he noticed how her face had whitened and her lips trembled, and he let the pony-cart go on. The storm might hang for an hour yet over the moors. He was never unwilling to be in Dora Ibimay's company.
'I...don't know what is the matter with me,' she said, catching her wrap about her shiveringly. 'I...don't want to go.'
'Don't tell me you are cold,' he laughed. 'It's like an oven.'
'I am cold. I am wretched.' She looked a moment round. There was little to offer privacy; but a stone fence shut off the pony-trap, and that was the only thing of life in the whole expanse. The ribbon of road ran under their feet back and forward, and around stretched the earth, sombre-hued, lean, and brown. Huge clouds came on slowly, showing up every pile of stones and bit of wall bleached and ghastly. And every now and again there was the little low moan of the wind.
'Come back to the Grange,' said Ferriby. 'Stay the night there. I'll drive you over first thing in the morning.'
She shook her head impatiently. 'I'm not thinking of the storm.'
Ferriby did not imagine she was. As she had been crying out to her own heart all along the road, he knew, he knew...
But neither his life nor his training had fitted John Ferriby to deal with the unusual, and Dora was unusual both in herself and as a woman debarred by the law.
With the laws of God Ferriby set himself on an equality. The laws of man kept him in check, and he had some time ago determined that this attraction between himself and another man's wife should remain as it was—unuttered. Besides, Dora was of different stuff to that young witch Irene. With Dora, Ferriby felt himself on the threshold of no vulgar intrigue, but of something new—so new as to be treated with respect, so new as to be a little beyond his management, and so for that and every reason better left at what it was-unuttered.
But to-day his humour was ready to chime with the unusual. He was fretted generally, vexed with the news about Gisberne. He liked the fellow. He should miss him as he should have missed a dog, though there was no reason in it. Gisberne had not said or done a thing worth remembrance. Further, thought of Irene Garth heated him, and the air was stifling. Not a word till this moment had passed between John Ferriby and Dora all the world might not have heard, and for an instant he reflected on the security this gave, whatever mutual knowledge there might be. Then, with a sudden reckless laugh, he looked round, and his eyes spoke into hers, asking, permitting, responding.
'What is the matter?' he said unmistakably.
They stopped, facing one another. Dora shuddered nervously closer into her wrap.
'I suppose you are going to marry her?' she said, with averted gaze. There was by much no need to mention names.
'I don't know...perhaps. Why, does it matter?' Then suddenly their hands were strongly clasped, and their interest in one another stood bare and beyond the power of speech to play with or deny. 'It can't matter, can it, to you?' said Ferriby, choosing the words for nothing save to give her an opening. And she took it, carried out of herself. She told him that it did matter...She clung to his strong hands. Dora Ibimay was not ill-disciplined in mind or body. She could feel wonder at her outburst even as it came, but she was fighting with something that threatened this man whom she cared for. She could have given it no name. She thought it only her sudden passionate impulse not to lose him, not to give him up to another. And yet something more than mere passion was urging her. Here stood Ferriby in flesh and blood, in his completeness, in his splendid strength, the desire of her eyes, met late, but met...Dora Ibimay had given no heed to Paul's young beauty. To her John Ferriby alone stood the finest man she had beheld, a column that could have taken her weight, falling, without a tremor, firm as on pillars of brass. And something threatened this epitome of man, and her woman's yearning leapt to defend it.
On the morrow Mrs. Ibimay better understood what was prompting her now, and knew she had been inspired, but with only a half-knowledge. Now she pleaded with Devil Ferriby not to marry Irene Garth, not to block his future, not to cheat her, Dora! She spoke wildly of surrendering everything there and then and going away. And she pointed to the gloomy sky and spoke of golden sunshine and blue seas far away, and madness generally. She clung to him, her white face raised to his, her pleading eyes reading every line, every ravage in his softened face.
'I will make you happier than any woman you have ever known,' she said. 'I will make life a different thing, and I will pay any price to do it. I will not grow old, I will not die and never have known the utmost life can give me because I had not the courage to clutch at it when it came. I care for you, I care for you. You must not go back to the Grange...Come, walk on with me.'
And on the morrow Dora came to know that in this extravagance she had been blindly fighting death.
Extravagance it seemed even while uttering it, and she knew it neither would nor could affect anything; but on the morrow, in the anguish of unavailing recall, she asked herself why Heaven so cruelly had let her stop at such poor stuff. Her wild, red-hot words had been as senseless as putting out a hand to stop an avalanche, and she had had him there and wasted time on words. He was alive, in her sight and touch. And she had pleaded with him. She had had him there. And she had let him go.
Ferriby his side said—nothing. Nature has taken good care man shall not be woman's mentor. He said nothing, but it was he made her say all. He listened, knowing she would repent herself, but, for his part, she should have everything to repent of. Still, his words were nothing. But if at the parting moment the march of life shows like a spectacle seen from a height, then strangely within the next hour or two must this interview have flashed before John Ferriby. It took place within an hour or two of his violent death. 'Within...an...hour...or two.' Those few words were to be Dora Ibimay's portion, to go over and over, as if she were a soul in penance counting her beads of torture. Little they grasped it then. Ferriby glanced at the funnel-shaped clouds over seawards and the lowering masses overhead, but only to keep watch on Dora's safety; and she, for all her desperate emotion, when it came to it, let him go falling back in thought upon the morrow...And for him there was to be none.
Their first parting was a mere feint, and only carried them a few yards. Then Ferriby swung round and looked back. She had turned also. There was still no one in sight. The whole interview had been a matter of minutes, in face of the storm coming up and the fact that she would be drenched and frightened.
Dora would have remembrance of that to mock her, too, upon the morrow. She had subdued herself, restrained within bounds her mad desire to snatch this man away with her to the ends of the earth, and had let him go because of a thunder-storm and the possible curious gaze of a yokel in a pony-cart!
She stood there looking at him. Ferriby, who never noticed a woman's dress, noticed that she was in black and white. In a black straw hat she wore white feathers, and around her shoulders the inevitable wrap.
And the face was white, marked by the dark eyes framed in her heavy hair.
She noted him, too. The picture was to last her longer—a man's figure with face and look absorbed in her. His dress was blue serge, a rose, red, drooping there from his buttonhole. Ferriby glanced a moment and stepped back.
'I don't like to leave you. I will see you to the cottage,' he began.
'No, no, I would rather not.'
'Shall I come over to-morrow morning first thing?' he asked, standing close to her.
She shook her head, then broke down into the sheer feminine. 'I am sorry...forget it,' she said, struggling with blinding tears.
He made some inarticulate sound, stood regarding her, then moved his head gently down as if he would kiss her. But she caught herself away.—' Oh, no, no...good-bye.' Her hand touched his an instant, then she hurried forward without looking back.
Ferriby remained where she left him, and watched the graceful figure till the stone fence hid it. He did not want to let her go. Man-like, he had not allowed her to estimate by half how much she had moved him. When, finally, he turned also from the scene, he felt his face harden and brutalize, and he was shaken by a curious anger—a blind, mounting anger towards Irene Garth. Even in her self-abandonment Dora Ibimay could not speak of waiting for her husband's death. She would as soon have hastened it. But well Ferriby understood on what grounds she could cry out to him that he was cheating her by a senseless marriage his side now. At any moment Dora Ibimay might be free. He knew, she knew, everyone knew Theodore Ibimay's days were numbered, and that the daisies growing now must wither over his head, and in the face of that here he was binding himself to this young light-o-'love, this cousin of his, Irene.
But how could he have guessed Dora Ibimay cared for him in such fashion? She whose words and look roused in him the new emotion of humility and deprecation, and yet made his blood leap, almost for the first time, to know he was a Ferriby, and so worthy of any woman's regards. She cared for him, she with her delicacy, her haunting pallor and marvellous eyes, her suggestive touch and hint of the inexpressible, and he must needs be complicated with Irene Garth.
Ferriby's lips shaped over the name with an oath. The old feeling of six years ago assailed him, when he had stood over the young vixen and her precious defender, two intruders, most unwelcome, and drawn the lash of his whip through his fingers. He would draw that lash again over both of them!
At the head of the lane a flash of lightning roused him. He stopped and looked back, as if it were possible to see Mrs. Ibimay. It thundered loudly. Her pony bolted at thunder, but she would be home by this time. He strode on, bringing her image sacredly forth from amid his furious brutal thoughts towards Irene, and holding it as it were a treasure against his heart. At the gate again the lightning flashed, showing him the rickyard, the farm buildings, the green of the elms against the dark. Ferriby stopped. An indescribable pang assailed him. Everything settled again into darkness. A cry rose within him to Dora, to the woman who had talked of a new world. He wanted to get there. He wanted to hear Dora speaking, to see her eyes—to feel her lips upon his cheek...
Through the thunder Ferriby caught the sound of the stable-clock striking ten. Supper must be over, or had they waited for him? Where was Irene? He passed quickly into the house and living-room. Candles were burning and the table set, but no one there, and he could hear no sound. The next instant there was a rap upon the door behind him, and Gisberne entered.
A prophet has no honour in his own country, and in similar fashion Gisberne's commonplace remarks about trouble ahead if Paul did not leave the Grange weighed in their single utterance more with Daphne Estorel than the days and weeks of Jane's gloomy prophecies or than all her own forebodings.
She had taken hurried leave of Jane, and re-entered the living-room in time to notice the scant courtesy towards Gisberne of Ferriby's departure, but she had not heeded it. Devil Ferriby had bad manners. Gisberne was still pale, still slightly disturbed, but as little as an animal's could his self-control show agitation. He smiled at Daphne, and went at once back to the subject that had been interrupted. For himself, he said, as she might think, he didn't care a cent; but if it mattered anything to her that Mr. Paul didn't get himself into a mess he'd lay himself at Mr. Paul's disposal, and no doubt he could fix him up something somewhere in the States. He was going back there straight away. Gisberne's introductions (faked or whatever they were) had so far placed him on the footing of a gentleman. His attitude and tone with Daphne to-day over the playing, and now over Paul, denied that pretension, but she was not repelled. The pleasant nature of the man seemed only the simpler for it and the more attractive. She felt anew the sensation that he was wooing her notice, trying hard to please her, and it touched her afresh to think he had not and would never find the courage for anything further-that he would leave Ferriby these his only advances.
The low room became oppressive, and with sense of movement and going away stirred in her, Daphne led Gisberne out into the lane. There presently he left her, telling her to let him know upon the morrow, first thing, if he could serve her...
So strongly had Gisberne's matter-of-fact remarks affected Daphne that now, alone with the memory of them, she felt as if face to face with a disaster that had actually occurred. In reality nothing is so great a cheat as the brain. Plain speech at last had so undisguisedly shaped visionary fears that it came before Daphne with the force of conviction that a catastrophe was inevitable, that it would happen to-night, and that Paul would he the active mover in it. She looked instinctively towards the outbuildings. She could almost persuade herself she heard Paul's footstep advancing stealthily, saw his figure lurking in the shadows...Only that morning Daphne had read in a weekly paper of a great disaster by fire in a famous city abroad, in another paragraph of wars and rumours of wars. Sir William had written again, deprecating her refusal of his overtures. He was about to start for the East. Magnificent explorations were afoot. They had come upon the perfect tomb of a king, dead four thousand years. He should spend a night in London, and go to the opera—almost the last of the season. In Paris he hoped to meet M. Carrousel, the great painter, and the young scientist, Victor. How he wished she would reconsider her long stay in the North! But he was an old man. He feared he could not hope she would ever find in him her guide into the world's wonders and delights. The world's wonders and delights! Overhead the thunder-clouds were massing, but towards Droitlet was still in the dim sky the faint marvel of a few pale stars.
Daphne forced her mind upon these things—the world, and all its big interests, in which hers were nothing, and the pettiness of her thoughts against the bigness of earth and sky. It was no use. For three years now to live was to think of Paul Ferriby—to think and to be silent.
Silence had grown to be her second nature. To seek Paul now and urge upon him to leave the Grange for fear of the results of a jealous outburst concerning Irene Garth would be a strange violation of it. Yet, as Gisberne left her, she stood there goaded to it almost as if some violent deed were already accomplished, and Paul in danger of freedom and life.
She set out to go to him.
The coach-house, to which, since Irene had thrown herself into his arms, Paul had chosen to remove his effects, abandoning his cousin's roof for ever, was at the far wall of the great enclosure, a long way from the back of the house. A moonless evening, the usual dusk of the hour was deepened by thunder-clouds to an obscurity dense enough to hide anyone stealing from shadow to shadow, as Daphne did. And the big out-buildings cast big shadows. As she passed into the last yard a light shining through the open doors of the coach-house opposite brought her to an instant halt. She drew out of sight against a waggon, and saw Paul step out into the yard, showing himself plainly against the light behind.
Oh! the world with its wonders and delights; the sky with its stars and its awe! Small use to remember them or to quote them to herself. A man, a young man, no one to be proud of—in bonds to another woman, outweighed it all. 'Youth calls to youth the whole world over.' Daphne's girlhood met her, and claimed her.
Paul stood strangely still, as if listening. He seemed to look straight towards her place of concealment. She was only two-and-twenty. Her heart exalted him as he showed there in his strong young manhood as the most that God could do, and she loved him to the utmost love could go. She could not move or speak. Habit was still too strong, and her unrealized fears were still not equal in effect to the sight of him controlled and quiet; but into her silence she concentrated all her being. As if under its influence, Paul remained there motionless. Her heart clamoured towards him. The silent strain of her must span this little distance between them, and strive with him, convince him, win him! Could the mere utterance of words really avail more than this passion of every fibre, this agony to communicate her feeling?
A play of lightning suddenly showed up the rooflines, and at the same instant there came a sound of hurrying footsteps, and quickened, frightened breath, and a white-clad figure brushed by Daphne's hiding place. It was Irene.
Daphne did not wait to see them meet. She returned to the house, and went up to her room. Her silence was still unbroken. While she had wrestled in her soul with Paul, he had stood there motionless-yes, listening for Irene Garth!
'What the dickens—you!' said Ferriby.
Gisberne advanced, not pausing at all upon his entrance, giving no hint of offence taken or intended.
'I wanted to speak to you,' he said. 'I was waiting. You passed me in the lane.'
'Passed you in the lane—just now?'
Ferriby uttered an angry exclamation. His thoughts had been so private and intense he felt as if he had been spied upon.
'What do you want, Mr. Gisberne?' he asked roughly. 'I thought you understood there was an end of things. You'd better clear out. I don't want to give information about you.' As he spoke Ferriby went up to the table. A spirit-stand was by the carver's place, the bottles well filled. He mixed a big drink and drained it.
'I wish you would lend me a little money, Mr. Ferriby,' said Gisberne, drawing nearer to him.
Ferriby set down the glass and stared. If one of the dogs had asked it he could not have been more surprised.
'Lend you money!' he echoed.
'Yes. I'm in a fix. I throw myself upon your mercy. I want a little money to get away to the States with. I'll pay you back.'
'Well, upon my word!' Ferriby was too astonished to be angry. 'You've got the cheek of the devil,' he said.
'I've done you no harm.' Gisberne spoke quite pleasantly. 'There's been some little friendliness between us.' And he stood waiting.
Ferriby regarded him in a divided humour. Gisberne's unconsciousness was worth something. What sort of a fellow could he be? Not the slightest agitation! His pallor and quiet manner, and the earnest look of the eyes, were confounding. Lend him money!...Ferriby stared, and hesitated between such impatient toleration of something outside himself as he showed his horse and ordinary anger with colossal impudence.
Heated by the spirits he had just taken, the latter triumphed, and flared out. He called Gisberne a few hard names, and showed him the door, Gisberne making little answer, and seeming rather reflective than hurt.
'No need to make a noise,' he said. 'I wanted the money. You've got it, and could very well spare it.'
'To a card-sharper and a swindler?'
'That's only one man's talk,' said Gisberne.
'What are you clearing out for, then?' scoffed Ferriby. 'You came here as a gentleman and a musician!' He laughed roughly. 'Come, now,' he added, 'don't try any of this rubbish. You must have enough change to take you away with. Think yourself lucky you can go.'
It never occurred to Ferriby that Gisberne might carry a revolver or think of violence. His notions that way were native of the soul. Besides, Gisberne was too quiet. He turned with an appeal about him like a disappointed dog.
Ferriby flung after him to the gate. The lightning was now continuous. Still no rain! He looked after the clean-cut, lightly-moving figure—walking away. The beggar had sold his horse! To Devil Ferriby here was a touch of the abject, smiting him with a pang of relenting. It was turning a dog from the door, and, to carry the fancy further, a creature Dora Ibimay would have given him a glance from those eyes of hers for being kind to.
'Here, you'd better shelter till the storm is over!' he called after the grey, shadowy figure; but Gisberne did not seem to hear, hurrying on into the darkening space.
Daphne, moving about her room—it was not her way to brood seated or in idleness—thought to hear Irene entering hers opposite. It was a hasty rush of light footsteps and the soft closing of a door. She could not be sure, for her room was immense, and at the far end of it all sounds, even close without, were vague and uncertain. If it were Irene, she had used, as she very rarely did, the main stairway and the entrance to the bedroom facing her own. Then, thought Daphne, there is someone below in the living-room whom Irene wished to avoid. She descended, and found Devil Ferriby. He had only that moment returned after seeing Gisberne depart, and, as Daphne entered, was helping himself to spirits, his manner quiet to brooding—Devil Ferriby's manner when he set himself to drinking freely.
He made a remark, pointing to the unused table.
'There seems nothing alive, inside or out. What's the matter, that nobody has had any supper?'
'The storm, perhaps. I don't know...we scattered. Did you meet Mr. Gisberne?'
'What makes you mention him?' asked Ferriby, subduing his tone, as he always did with Daphne Estorel.
'I was only wondering if he would reach Droitlet before the storm,' she answered.
Ferriby seemed about to speak, checked himself.
'Where is Irene?' he asked abruptly.
'In her room.'
Daphne flung the words out swiftly, astonishing herself. She did not know Irene was there.
'Oh...Well, I'll take Scarside's rounds to-night. You're going to bed, I suppose?'
'Yes.' She was watching him intently, though half unconsciously, in the beginning of a strain of the senses, to increase as the night went on, till, by dawn. Daphne Estorel would know the highest pitch to which nerves can be strung. 'Will you leave the little gate open?' she said.—' The two girls are not back—frightened at the storm, I suppose. I don't expect them now, but I shall not bolt the kitchen door, in case.'
Ferriby nodded shortly. A bolt not shot, or a door unfastened, counted for little in the nightly defences of the Grange. They were pretty complete and widely well known.
'Good-night,' he said. 'Better shut those windows. The rain will be driving in any minute.'
As Daphne obeyed she caught sight of Ferriby outside, illuminated strangely by a lightning flash, and the flowers on the sill ran an instant into colour in ghastly fashion.
'Good-night,' she called, suddenly and clearly.
She heard his steps into the yard, and the rhythmical decrease of the little jangle of the gate as it fell into place behind him. Her heart was beating fast, every nerve on the alert. It occurred to her strongly that Paul and John Ferriby were alone out there in the open. But the meeting witnessed between Paul and Irene had altered her mood, and thrown her back into the spell-bound spectator of something inevitable. Leaving a couple of candles burning—for Ferriby would return here—she hurried again upstairs. It struck her that the house echoed to her footsteps. What a host seemed to have gone in Mistress Skidfell and two maidservants! To what fate was Ferriby deserted? She knocked on Irene's door.
'Yes,' came instant answer in Irene's voice. 'Yes-who is there?'
'I only wanted to be sure you were in,' said Daphne. Before she could move away the door was opened, and Sophy appeared, showing a pale and anxious face.
'Miss 'Rene's dreadfully frightened about the storm, miss,' she said,—' and so am I. I can't sleep alone, Miss Deffny—you won't mind if I stay here?'
For a breath Daphne gazed on the girl, the mad thought crossing her that Paul was in the room behind her. Then she turned away ashamed, and entered her own room, but gave no thought to bed. The storm came nearer. By half-past ten thunder and lightning had grown violent and continuous, and the more awesome since, from a sky blackened and bursting, there was still no rain.
Ferriby, re-entering the house by the way he had left it, bolted the door and stood in the pitch-black entry, giving an ear to any chance movement in the living-room. The candle-light, steady since the casements were all shut, sent a yellow gleam across the flags, gone the next instant in a blue and blinding glare. Nothing stirred. 'No, she wouldn't be down waiting alone in a thunderstorm, the jade!' thought Ferriby savagely. Yet he had the instinct of some human presence near. He strode on into the room, throwing the door wide. Instantly there touched him the curious impression that everything in the room was shouting out at him-shouting something. It was the effect of life-long familiarity and the intense stillness—he had had it before, entering this room alone at night, when the rest of the household slept. He moved down to the bureau. Here the candle-light shone faintly and played strange tricks with the old picture sunk above the mantelshelf.
'What's the matter with you?' said Ferriby, looking up at the painted faces watching him from the panel. He opened the bureau, let down the flap, and stood unheeding, erect and still. Was he thinking? Scarcely. The storm was making a wild noise. Some vague, tumultuous notion of battles, far off or long ago, caught him into a sudden trance. In a vision of feeling (or remembrance) he felt himself out in a mad tumult, dashing through crash and clatter, and hurtling of hoofs and steel. Against a pitch-black sky, a woman's figure flashed into sight above grey battlements, arms outstretched to him below, passionate eyes alight like stars, and heavy hair. He felt the wind sing through tossing plumes upon his head, and the lightning run blue up an outstretched sword. Then a sudden dart touched the pile of gold by Ferriby's hand. He came to himself with a start, and moved towards the window. 'I hope the ricks won't fire,' was his reflection, and he gave a satisfied remembrance to that young whelp Paul, who slept outside. He had not seen him on his rounds, or troubled to. Irene was a different matter, and Ferriby's thoughts swerved anew to her with wrath. Again he helped himself freely, and drank. The visions of his race were swept from the blood, and left him there, brutalized, to meet a death unworthy of his name.
'Irene!' Ferriby spoke aloud, for he had again the feeling someone was about. Perhaps the young witch was hiding. He stood steadying himself, lit a cigarette and went softly up the stairs—the first time, he fancied, he had been up them in his life—and rapped on her door. 'Are you there?' he said. 'I want to speak to you-you knew it. What d'ye mean by keeping yourself up here?'
The sound of the rap and the voice, and the tone of it, fell the other side of the closed door between Sophy Bassett and Irene, bending together over a drawer taken from its chest and set in the middle of the room, and turned them for a breath as if to stone. The green curtains were drawn close, and in a blaze of lamp and candle light the two girls had selected clothes from a tumbled heap, laying them stealthily into a trunk. A small hand-valise stood on a chair, already locked and strapped.
'The master!' gasped Sophy. 'Lor, Miss 'Rene, I told you so.'
Irene was staring at the door. 'Is it locked, Sophy?'
'Now then, Irene!' came Ferriby's voice, and they noticed he was smoking. 'You're not in bed?'
'I'm just going to bed. Cousin John.' Irene's lips were white, but such her loveliness that, even at that moment, frightened as she was, Sophy, from her kneeling posture, stared up at it absorbed. 'I have a headache through the thunder, Cousin John.'
'Rubbish! Who is in there with you?'
The girls exchanged a horrified glance.
'Sophy, Cousin John.'
'Oh...Well, I want to speak to you. Come down and see me below, or I shall break this door open. I'll give you five minutes.'
They heard his retreating step, light for his build. Sophy sprang up.
'There, ain't I said it, Miss 'Rene? He saw you with Mr. Paul. Ain't I told you not to go?'
Irene stared at her. She was fully dressed as she had come in, a necklace of amber beads round her throat.
'He will kill me,' she said.
'Kill you? Don't talk such stuff. Miss 'Rene! Kill you?—not even if you went down to him: and you ain't thinking of that, are you?'
'He'll break in here.'
'Let him, miss! I'll tackle him...You just go across to Miss Deffny...'
'And let her know that I am afraid of Cousin John!'
Irene's eyes flashed, and she made a movement towards the door.
'Now don't be silly, miss.' Sophy caught her by the arm. 'The master's been drinking. Don't you go.'
'But I'm going to marry him,' whispered Irene, strangely, staring and shivering.
'And here you are packing to get away from him, miss. You hev' made a mess of it. Miss 'Rene, that you hev'.' And Sophy wrung her hands.
Irene looked at her and round the room wildly. 'Yes...I don't know—I'm frightened...I don't know what to do. I think I like Mr. John best, Sophy. Mr. Paul was very queer just now...an—I was mad, I think. I wish I had let him go when he wanted to.'
She moved again to the door; again Sophy intervened. 'Don't go. Miss 'Rene; you'll wish you hadn't.'
Irene looked into the other girl's shrewd, knowing eyes, the face sharp with feminine alarm, eager in her service, very plainly showing what she meant. 'Do you think he will kill me?' she breathed.
'No, Miss 'Rene—I don't' she answered, with desperate emphasis. 'Oh, Miss 'Rene, go over to Miss Deffny—leave me to manage.'
But Irene Garth's impulses had whirled again at the sound of Ferriby's voice. Paul to-night had been cold and strange, not the lover of the past weeks, not even the old, sullen, reproachful young adorer. She hated him...she was afraid of Ferriby; she was packing as if to go, kept up to it by the excitement of Sophy Bassett's wondering adoration and a vague thought of Gisberne and kindness—but Ferriby's voice had brought her back to an old thrill. And to seek refuge from Cousin John with Daphne Estorel—any fate at a man's hands would be more acceptable. Cousin John—she could manage him. And how could she go away from the Grange! She had been mad to give Paul a thought. She hated him...she would go to Cousin John; she would tell him she was afraid of Paul, as she had just now told Paul she was afraid of Devil Ferriby.
Pushing Sophy aside, white and shaking, but not to be turned, Irene caught up a blue wrap with wide sleeves, kimono-shaped. There was no reason in the action; it was the purely instinctive idea of something to shelter in. 'Wait here, Sophy,' she said, pushing her aside. 'Don't be absurd. I know what to do.' And she ran down the stairs, light as a phantom, and Sophy heard her drop the latch of the door below behind her.
Five minutes passed, six, seven. Sophy Bassett, straining her ears, could catch nothing from below; at the same time never in her life had she heard anything like the roar of the thunder-claps, coming up over the hollow moors, smashing upon the roof, reverberating like musketry through the empty rooms and galleries. The lightning to the street-bred girl was an unknown thing, wide as the world, appalling. She gave a thought to Miss Deffny. Amid this horrid clamour it was like thinking of the first pure stillness of dawn as she had learnt to know it this summer at the Grange. Should she go across to Miss Deffny? That would be to let her know Miss 'Rene wasn't here...
Sophy glanced round at all the tumbled clothes and sighed. 'Lor'! Miss 'Rene had gone a bit too far,' she muttered with locked hands.
Ten minutes passed, eleven, twelve, and then Sophy heard a sound below, the first, distinct in a sudden lull. It made the girl dart back from the open bedroom door. She wouldn't for anything have Miss 'Rene think she had been listening. She heaved a quick sigh of relief to hear her come up the stairs, and bustled to the dressing-table and snuffed a candle, turning round then with a word of welcome—arrested, never uttered. She ran forward and paused.
It was Irene, but Sophy did not know her. From that chalk-white face from which every drop of blood seemed withdrawn, and that rigid stark advancing figure, Sophy fell away as if before a spectre, too terrified to shriek.
'He's dead,' said Irene, pushing her before her, back towards the window—' he's dead!'
You're gammoning me, Miss 'Rene,' said Sophy. X She found she had got hold of the rigid figure and was shaking it to and fro. 'It ain't true...oh, my Lord! tell me it ain't true. The master dead! You ain't killed him, Miss 'Rene?'
'Hush! don't talk so loud...' It was like the voice of a sleep-walker, the words coming through lips that seemed frozen apart. 'He had been drinking; he was drinking when I got down...Hush, what is it? Is he coming?' One half-petrified figure dragged the other to the door. Irene thrust her head forward, listening, still gripping her companion in a mad terror.
'Look here, Miss 'Rene,' cried Sophy in a gasping whisper, but nerving herself. 'You ain't done nothing—that's my belief. I'm a-going down to see.'
'Wait...wait!' And then with renewal of shock Sophy noticed Miss 'Rene's blue wrap was not with her and the amber beads gone from her throat.
Her tears broke forth. 'What have you done. Miss 'Rene? Where's that blue thing? Where's your beads?'
'He put out the candles.' Irene was still staring down the stairs as she spoke, her voice a whisper, short, hollow sounds as from a throat dry as lime. 'He said I was a light-o'-love. He said he knew I'd been with Paul. He said he'd teach me my worth...The lightning...I could see his face...I didn't understand, you know—I didn't understand till then. You told me not to go—didn't you, Sophy?' She clutched closer, her white teeth rattling between the parted, frozen lips. 'What shall I do? He took hold of me...'
'Oh, Miss 'Rene!' It was a smothered cry, almost maternal.
'I fought him,' whispered Irene. 'I got away. But...'
'Oh, Miss 'Rene, and you didn't call,' wailed Sophy.
'Hush! I don't want Daphne to hear. I didn't think of calling...I did call...He shook me and...I don't know...I flung the wrap over him, right over his head...I ran down to the fireplace; he followed, and I saw him..."a sheeted ghost."' She threw back her head as if she laughed, and swayed and shuddered in Sophy's terrified hold—'"a sheeted ghost."...He couldn't get it off; he stumbled and fell; he struck his head against the fender—'
'Well,' gasped Sophy. 'Oh, Miss 'Rene, what then?'
'He's dead,' said Irene.
'You never touched him, miss?'
'Jest let him lie, and come up straight here to me?'
The strain that had sharpened Sophy Bassett's features relaxed. The tears of terror, flowing unconsciously, changed to a more wholesome sniff. 'Oh, lor', Miss 'Rene,' she said, 'you all but scared me to death. Ain't you got more sense? The master ain't dead. Lor'! I've seen 'em fall like that same as flies. It was just the drink in him and tumbling, and you confusin' of him like with the wrap—fency your a-thinkin' of it, Miss 'Rene!' Sophy sniffed with a touch of hysterical giggle. 'He ain't hurt, miss. He'll come to all right.'
'There are some spikes on the fender,' whispered Irene, but her tone had also grown more natural.
A moment Sophy's face paled again, but she recovered herself anew.—' Well, Miss 'Rene, it's his own fault—I'll swear to that. He ain't hurt 'imself, you'll find, though—not after drinkin'.' She set her head knowingly. 'But we can't leave him there, Miss 'Rene. He'll need some water or a drop o' brandy. I'll go down.'
During this the storm, though more intermittent, had grown more appalling, save that a spattering of rain announced a deluge; but the two girls had heard nothing beyond their own whispers, seen nothing but the white terror of the other's face.
Sophy crept down the stairs; a few steps from the bottom she looked back reassuringly. 'It's all right, Miss 'Rene; he's lighting a candle.' And even as she formed the words with her lips over her shoulder, rather than uttered them, the flare of a match and then the steadier gleam of the wax candle filled up the slit by which the door hung unclosed, and struck a line down the panelled wall like a ghostly barrier flung before Sophy's advance.
It acted as a barrier. There was no movement from the room, and the girls crouched, arrested.
Gradually, moving with the utmost stealth, Irene worked past Sophy, and placed herself close to the door. It was not latched. At a touch it would swing back and show her what was happening, but for a long time she did nothing. A strangely long time it seemed to Sophy, who would have urged her boldly forward; but Irene, with signs and resistance, bade her be still. The girl could not well see Miss 'Rene's face, but she felt that something in her attitude had changed. She became aware of the noise of the thunder, and it crossed her mind Miss Daphne might come over to the room above and find it empty. Only Miss Daphne wouldn't be afraid of thunder. The thought and image of Daphne came to Sophy, huddled there in the dark as if, gazing on a blackened world, she had suddenly seen, through a rift in hideous clouds, a far-off star. But she came swiftly back to the moment to hear faint movements from the room—to see Irene, strained and motionless, at the chink. Sophy tiptoed behind her. 'Best come away. Miss 'Rene,' she whispered at the other's ear. 'He's come to...hear him breathing?...Don't let him find you here, miss.'
Breathing was audible, and the faint lap of water and something of stumbling and shuffling, if they could be sure of discerning anything even with ears preternaturally sharpened, for the rain was now torrential, and the hurly-burly of a gale driving all noises to and fro in an incredible tumult.
Suddenly Irene glanced round, and her eyes, widened, half mad, gleamed into the ones behind her; then she thrust Sophy backwards, and pushed the door ajar...She looked straight at the figure of Devil Ferriby. He seemed to be lying where she fancied she had left him—he was huge, all-pervading, a colossal image of himself. There was a pad of something white, something wet, on his face. At the other end of the room a man, holding a candle, set down something heavy on the table. As he turned, stealthy as a cat, he blew out the candle; but even as he did so the lightning ran through the room, picked out things, and showed Irene who it was.
'He's drinking again, ain't he?' breathed Sophy, craning over Irene's shoulder. 'He's put out the light. Miss 'Rene...come...he's seen us.'
Irene left the door; she followed Sophy upstairs. Followed her!—rather seemed to bear her up with her in some resistless progress. When they reached the light Sophy saw Miss 'Rene look like an old woman, jabbering and mowing...she was mad!
The girl had no time to frame a thought. Irene bore her before her into the centre of the room, and dragged her down with her into a heap among the tumbled clothes. Her fingers seemed to dig into Sophy's shoulders. She was jabbering to herself. The door stood wide open behind them on the dark stairway.
'Hush! Be quiet! Don't move, don't move! I didn't see, I didn't see! Be quiet I Don't move! It's nothing, it's nothing!'
Sophy, paralyzed with fear, beside which the first shock Miss 'Rene had inflicted seemed as nothing, stared through the open doorway, her eyes glued there expecting she knew not what. The storm, making a quick circle, renewed itself in hideous clamour. The candles were burning down. The lamp, caught in the wind by their entrance, began to smoke, but Irene did not alter her fixed attitude nor the vice-like grip, which kept Sophy powerless and afraid to move.
Superstitious terror and wordless panic would not even let her try to
move. 'Be quiet! It's nothing, it's nothing!' jabbered Irene, with a mad face
close to hers. Sophy prayed and shook and kept her eyes fixed on the open
doorway and the stairway beyond. No one ascended it—no human sounds
could be distinguished coming from below or from anywhere in the great,
empty, storm-ridden house.
Daphne Estorel had not slept, nor thought of even undressing. With the feeling that Paul was gone beyond her influence, the goad to immediate action had been withdrawn. Robert Gisberne's words became more his way of expressing that he wished to serve her, a certain curious wooing of her, similar to his musical display, than the definite dread they had been. Paul and immediate violence ceased to be associated. Our spiritual warnings fail because too often timed too soon or too late. Daphne had let Devil Ferriby go off on a lonely walk around the premises with no thought of staying him. The panic that had driven her a short time previously to seek out Paul himself had expended itself. No fear assailed her that Paul might choose that moment and the cover of the storm to settle differences with the man he hated. His image, as waiting for Irene while she fought for and with him in silence, occupied her mind. She was glad of her silence now, glad that these fierce three years she had said no word to add to Irene's triumph or to add shame to her defeat.
Sophy Bassett thought Miss Daphne a saint in a niche, a statue for ever clothed. Statues and saints have a lonely fate, and to-night Daphne felt hers lonely. The saint was riven in her soul, the wrappings of temperament that had kept her so still were insupportable, and she tore at them.
She—even as Irene—would have been glad of company this witch-ridden night. She burnt no lights because she set her casement open and could not, but the outer air was better than the closed-in room, though the storm seemed to enter bodily. No nature, save to its own loss, can grow beyond the sense of awe, and Daphne blenched and held her breath, but still her spirit threw itself into the battle. Leaning at the window, her eyes grew dazzled, and she fancied she could catch the white quiver of waves tossed up against the blackness far away, and a sense of tossing freedom and wild disdain filled her with a kindred upleaping against her own fate.
Paul was lost to her—her lofty, sensitive silence had failed. Irene Garth—oh, thought of scorn!—had won him. But could she forgo her love and her desire? She shrank within herself, crying to the thunder to crash more loudly, to the lightning to be more violent. For love of Paul Ferriby, to keep near and dear his dark, marked face, she felt herself capable of madness and violence—for which she was glad to hail the sympathy and the encouragement of the storm.
Ferriby's return to the house she did not hear nor catch a glimpse of, nor any sound from Irene's room; each chamber was huge and the landing wide. The light from the living-room shone across the box-edged path below the window, and Daphne noted its disappearance. After a while, her eyes directed there now with a return of the strain of her senses swift as a tightening snatch at a slack string, she noted that the light gleamed there again. She watched; again it disappeared. Daphne rose, and looked at the time-a little past eleven! Devil Ferriby, then, was still below. Convinced of this, not consciously in the least questioning it. Daphne found herself lighting the old-fashioned wax taper which Jane Skidfell still supplied to be carried about the house at night. In the same fashion, calm, without any fears or questions, she found herself going from the room and proceeding quietly to make her way downstairs.
Daphne was some moments making her way through the vast house. She went slowly, almost thoughtfully, as if her destination were something apart from her reflections. The stairway and passages showed ghostly in the electric flare, that flitted the more strangely where the windows were few. Passing through the mighty kitchen, an ordinary house-length to traverse. Daphne paused an instant at the door into the living-room, and, lifting the latch, let it fall clearly, as if she meant a warning. She was sure that Devil Ferriby was within.
'John,' she said, stepping across the threshold. She imagined that he might have fallen into stupor and be exposed to some danger from the storm. It was the way her errand presented itself to her now she was face to face with it.
The feeble taper light could not show her much. Her first impression was of everything in order and as she had left it. The bureau was shut. She noticed that, for its polished surface winked back the little flame. She came up to the table, set for supper, and it flashed across her that she had strangely forgotten to gather up the silver. It gleamed, and her eye was caught by a mark of wet upon the satin surface of the cloth. A large china bowl filled with water to hold the centrepiece of white and crimson peonies had been disturbed; the petals of the flowers were strewn...From the taper Daphne lit one of the candles, and then she saw a man's body lying stark between the table and the bureau, feet to the window. The face was turned from her. Daphne set down the light she still held.
We read and we are told that at moments of great shock the faculties, stunned, refuse to carry emotion or expression, or else, like a system out of order, transmit insanities and panic. But Daphne's mind was clear. If that prone man were Paul, and he were dead, then she would die this instant, too. The personality of her love, the materialism of it, the capacity for anything that should express it, touched her as flame touching her naked heart. She could think herself dead already and in torment as she passed round the table to see his face—his face again, her love's face...his, his...
She saw the red rose drooping still in the smart coat. Paul wore no flowers. Daphne, stooping and recognizing Devil Ferriby, fell in the same breath from her heights of silence to the very groundwork of our human loves and fears. She was glad, selfishly and horribly glad for this dead man might have been Paul.
After one of those intervals in which the spirit stretches a moment to an age. Daphne found herself standing erect, and staring with renewed vision upon the contorted features, the prone, massive figure.
Then she heard her name breathed softly, and looked up without start or surprise to see that Robert Gisberne was standing in the further doorway.
In the medley of feeble light and the dartings of the lightning his face appeared ghastly pale. He was wet through, his soft hat dripping; but his voice was unchanged, his brown eyes as steady in their gaze, as pleasant in their look, as ever.
'What's the matter. Miss Daphne?' he whispered.
'Come here,' she breathed back; 'come here.'
'I'm drenched,' he answered. 'I've just done a fine thing: climbed in through the window of this room across here. The door was bolted, and I didn't want to rouse the house. I was drowning, though. I opened the door opposite to see if anyone was about, and saw your light. I thought it might be Mr. Ferriby, and that I'd better show myself. I'm glad I did.' He appeared now to see the figure on the floor. 'You don't want to be left here with a man in that state. Go away, Miss Daphne; I'll see to him. If only I could change this coat...I'm making a pool.'
Daphne did not hear half this. Perhaps Gisberne knew she didn't. He delivered it below his breath, with a strange facility for one usually so brief, the patter in it as of a set speech to divert an audience. He came smilingly a step or two, pointed to the marks he made, and stopped. Careless manner and words showed he took Ferriby to have succumbed to drunken sleep.
'Come here,' whispered Daphne again.
He looked into her face and obeyed. 'Why—' He turned his eyes on hers.
'He's dead, Mr. Gisberne.'
'I see it...Good God! what's this?'...He stooped and moved a knife that transfixed the coat one side. It had been driven down as if meant for the heart, but, as if glancing off the ivory-like surface of the starched waistcoat, had pierced instead the open coat close to the dead man's side.
'A muff shot,' said Gisberne, showing the clasp-knife on his palm.—' That's not hurt him.'
The knife was Paul's! 'You keep that,' whispered Gisberne, letting down the snapping blade cautiously. 'Now, let's see. Perhaps he isn't dead, Miss Daphne, after all.'
Daphne took the knife and stood while Gisberne knelt and listened for the heart-beats. He shook his head. 'But I tell you what,' he said, rising, 'this is Mr. Paul's work or it's nothing. Now, we don't want anybody more in this business than we can help till we know which it is, or—Don't let me take too much on myself...Do you think well to rouse somebody?'
'Who is there to rouse?' she answered, looking at him strangely.
'That's true,' said Gisberne. 'Well, then, suppose you help me carry this poor chap into that room yonder. I'll try all I know to get him round, and you might see if Mr. Paul is handy to go slap off for a doctor. If he's not, well, I'll do anything I can. I've said that.'
He spoke and looked with a perfect understanding that something might have to be understood between them in a moment or two, and his dog-like eyes assured her with a glance of tender kindness of a dog-like service.
Daphne slipped the clasp-knife into her bosom. 'We'll see if we can bring him round,' she said. 'He will be better on the bed.'
She looked into Gisberne's eyes the rest, the rest still for the moment thrust away, unutterable, unexpressed.
'Take the feet,' he commanded.
It was an experience like flying, like walking the waves, like anything impossible to humanity suddenly made possible and being done, that transit of twenty yards or so, the inert body between them. Daphne was conscious of no strain, only of a semi-delirious, incongruous elation that Ferriby should dare to be this dead weight on them and she and Gisberne to be so equal to it.
They laid the great figure decently upon the bed, and Gisberne mopped his livid forehead. 'Has it hurt you V he gasped, when he could get the words.
'Sit down,' he went on, through his painful breaths. 'I'm going for a light and to leave things straight.'
He took off his sopped coat and hat and laid them down. 'Can you find a cloth?' he whispered. 'I've made a pool in there.'
The room was arranged for use, but she glanced at the towels and then slipped off her white petticoat and gave him that, and followed him across the passage. Deft were his movements, quick and clever. He disarranged the table completely, pulling the cloth as if it had been dragged at by some helpless hand, turned over a chair and displaced the hearthrug. Then, latching both doors, he brought away the lighted candle and the taper. It all occupied only a matter of seconds.
As the door into the living-room shut behind them, and Daphne and Gisberne were revealed to each other plainly, he spoke instantly.—' We've got it right so far,' he said, and the figure, stretched darkly on the bed, seen through the open door, gave ghastly point to his still laboured breathing and whitened lips. 'Now, Miss Daphne, will you go and see if Mr. Paul is there, and can start right off for a doctor? Is it worth that to you?'
'And if he is there?' She searched Gisberne's face.
'Well, I guess we can manage. If he isn't there'—he gave her a kind, far-seeing look—' well. Miss Daphne, we must think what to do. Put on this waterproof; it has a hood. And what sort of shoes are you wearing? Why, here are a pair of rubbers. First-rate!'
Of all the mad, the blasphemous incongruities, could aught be madder than this—thought for her shoulders and her feet at such a moment? But it did not so strike Daphne Estorel; rather it seemed a nice exactitude in the scheme of thought on which she and Gisberne had entered unanimously, to be followed out without any fuss, but with a purpose as straightforward as unalterable. The monstrous thing that had happened was already in the background of what must now be done.
In the entry hung an array of outdoor garments-men's and women's, old and new—of every description. Gisberne took down the waterproof, and Daphne arrayed herself, paying a curious attention to detail; then, with a swift glance of understanding, a little unconscious bracing of herself together, she stood by while Gisberne noiselessly and deftly slipped the bolt. He remained, giving her cautious lighting till she had passed the gate. Daphne's nerves were strained to their uttermost, strung beyond any possibility of jar; she was moving in an unreflective world, unhampered by any fear, save the fear not to achieve what she was about, but her senses were clear and cognizant. She remembered her footsteps might leave marks, and was careful where she trod, and she kept clear of the ricks that every other moment flashed out into ghastly vision.
She had the fancy as she passed the waggon, where an hour ago she had drawn back from the sight of Paul, that she still stood there a phantom shape. Yes, she turned and saw herself nebulous, but most distinct to her own view, and she noted the pale gold of the hair, and the fixed, wide, blue eyes as she had never noted them. Was she like that? Did Paul so see her?...
Paul was not in his room; there was no light about the coach-house. One of the fierce watch-dogs came and sniffed and observed her silently, squatting on his haunches, coming and going in the flashes horribly, like a spectre in a witch's cavern. Paul was not there, nor anywhere about the premises. He was not there. She tried the doors: locked. She called his name; she cried out, turning her face to the sky, 'He is not there!' Taking the knife from its hiding-place, she held it out blankly in her palm as if in a madness she summoned him to answer.
The lightning threw the coach-house into a sudden flare, mocking her like a diabolical smile; in the crash of thunder she threw herself upon the lock, wrestling with it, shouting, 'Paul! Paul!'
He was not there. The dog came sniffing to her side. She spoke to it—' He's gone!'—and as she stooped and revealed her face the creature showed his fangs at it with a half-snarl as though he would have sprung. He followed as she turned, halting only at the end of his beat. Daphne felt his eyes through the dark as she crawled and ran now as though through water, as though every limb were leaded; now before fire, as though flames darted behind her; and so back to the house.
Gisberne met her in the entry.
'Well?'—he swiftly took the waterproof from round her and stooped to remove her shoes—' well?'
'He is not there,' said Daphne.
Gisberne motioned towards the body. 'I've done what I could. It's no use. He's done for.'
They went together back into the room. The figure, inert, yet seemed to greet them. Daphne clutched Gisberne's arm. 'You have not had time for much,' she said, agonized. 'You are quite sure?'
'Miss Daphne, if it was your life depending on it, it would be no use...He's dead.'
Gisberne spoke in his pleasant way, softly, with the kind, quiet, everyday look of his brown eyes directed gravely upon the imperiously quiet figure. He was concerned for her—concerned for her sake that this fact was so, but the fact would seem to touch him not more nearly. His pallor had not gone; he was nerved, however, cool and steady.
But Daphne, gazing, felt her face change and wither as though fingers crept there, drawing it together.
'How did it happen?' she said. And her lips and tongue were strange instruments she found it difficult to use.
'Well, Miss Daphne, I imagine he'd been drinking, and he stumbled and fell, and the rest was easy to anyone whose blood was up. I'm sorry Mr. Paul's cleared out, though there wasn't anything else to do once he'd left that knife and his fury cooled.'
'The knife didn't do it,' she whispered.
'No; just a freak of rage. Miss Daphne. Ferriby was dead already, I take it—smothered, strangled...See'—Gisberne picked up the candle and held it down over the head, and the flame brought out faintly fingermarks upon the throat—'they got at it in there alone, and—' Gisberne set the light down again, shrugging his shoulders.
The pricking, ice-cold fingers were still playing over Daphne's face; they seemed now to be fumbling for her heart, to find it and crush it, scrolling it up like a leaf. She moaned in the intolerable agony, not knowing she did, holding herself rigid, staring upon Ferriby.
'Miss Daphne, bear up now. I guess we can manage,' said Gisberne's voice in her ear. 'Will you trust it to me?'
She turned, holding her hands to her heart; and the kindness in his eyes loosened its agony enough for her to breathe.
'He's a young fool to have lit out,' said Gisberne, 'for he couldn't tell I should turn up to square things for him. Now, there's no desperate mark here.' He made a movement towards the body. 'I fancy those fingerings won't count for much by morning. It will pass muster that Mr. Ferriby came to his death by accident.' He paused, studying her face. 'You'd like that, wouldn't you?' he asked gently. 'You'd rather Mr. Paul didn't get called to account for this?'
She looked the word...Gisberne nodded.
'It's murder—yes, I'm afraid so.'
'Hush! Hush!' She started and looked round. Gisberne spoke below his breath, but the echo seemed a shout. Again she looked—again Gisberne understood.
'Miss Daphne, I don't know. Mr. Paul might get off at penal servitude, taking it as manslaughter under provocation. He might be—hanged.'
'No,' said Daphne, 'no.'
'You don't want that? Not likely you do. Well then, you'll leave it to me.'
'What are you going to do?'
'Well, Miss Daphne, we'll have to transport him to the yard. It's a night for anything, in your favour entirely. I'm afraid I'll have to get your help so far...The rest you leave to me.'
Daphne backed from the bed, the loose hair rising round her temples.—' You...won't hurt him?'
'Hurt him!' Gisberne started as though the dead man, not she, had moved. He snatched up the light and held it to the bed, and a flicker went over the settling features as of a smile. Gisberne kept his face turned away a moment, then went back to her more quietly.
'You want Mr. Paul got out of this?' he breathed.
'At any price?'
'Then—you must give me a free hand.'
'I can't have him hurt.' She pointed to the dead and shook in a transport of horror. 'Not hurt, no bruises...I can't...' she clung to the bed-post. 'We will call someone.' There was a silence between the three—yes, the three, for Ferriby began to count as though he lived. Gisberne glanced from one to the other reflectively.
'Well, that's just as you like,' he said very gently. 'It mayn't save Mr. Paul's neck either way.' He looked at his watch.—' Half-past eleven. Well now, who'll you call, Miss Daphne?'
She looked at him silently.
'You're not going to call anyone! Well, it's the best way to serve Mr. Paul—the best way you can think of, just as I think of no better one to serve you...You're ready, then?'
Gisberne drew a deep breath, bracing himself for the tremendous. 'Put those wraps on again,' he commanded. 'And get down some more. Now, by your leave.' He turned with a little air to the dead man, and at the same instant detained Daphne by a hand on her shoulder. 'There'll be no hurt done,' he said; 'have no fear.'
Daphne bent in sudden impulse over the body. 'John!' she cried under her breath, 'John!' She stretched a hand out as if to touch him, to take away the withered rose...
Gisberne caught her back. 'Leave all that,' he breathed beside her. He drew her away. 'Be quick,' he whispered, 'be quick. It's a different business to the last—the carrying, I mean. Hurry now! Suppose Miss Garth came down...'
Daphne wrapped herself again in the waterproof and put on the shoes. Gisberne improvised a stout support which he passed under the dead man's arms and over his own head. Not without scuffling and stumbling, they lifted him from the bed and carried the dead weight into the open, leaving a darkened room and a house echoing to storm, fit orchestration for the scene.
It was a slow and desperate progress. Within the gate of the second yard were the huge flaps of an outside cellarage and store-room. Here was Gisberne's destination. 'Set him down,' he whispered pantingly. For a long minute he and Daphne stood erect, caring only to breathe. Gisberne groaned at the stabs through his choking lungs. A stealthy pattering, strangely audible through the downpour of the rain, was coming swiftly nearer—one of the dogs!
'Keep him off!' cried Gisberne, starting into action again with a sudden touch of panic.
Daphne called the creature's name. It knew her too well for sound or opposition—the watch-dogs of the Grange were silent or—were deadly. She stooped to it and felt the wet bristles stiffening and the dribbling jaws drop with instinct to howl, and the horror of what she was doing touched her in hideous sympathy. She, too, could have dropped to the ground and raised her face and howled aloud on high.
Gisberne spoke from his place fiercely. 'There is no time to lose,' he urged. 'The storm is breaking—go back to the house. I must do the rest alone...No, wait!' He touched her with wet hands, cold as ice. 'How does the flap open, Miss Daphne? You know, perhaps better than I do.' Much of his coolness seemed gone. She helped him with the bolts of the flap, helped him to lift it and set it open. Then he drove her away. 'Wait in the porch,' he said. 'Don't bedraggle the house again with wet.'
Ferriby was at their feet, wraps huddled over him-Gisberne's forethought that the body should not be too drenched. The open space yawned—a willing grave, Gisberne's plan too plain. Daphne swayed forward, wringing her hands.
'We will not! We will not!' she gasped.
'Oh, come, you mustn't begin that now!' Gisberne put her back feverishly, trembling violently. 'Get away! Get away—I'll do the rest. Stop it. Miss Daphne, or my heart 'll burst...If we don't watch it, it won't be saving Mr. Paul: it'll be destruction to us all.'
She left him with the body...She made her way back to the porch. A fearful fancy took her that Irene Garth, awake and watchful, might have come down, and be awaiting her to question and discover. She reached the house, entered, and everything was as she had left it. Not heeding Gisberne's injunctions, but desirous rather to forestall his orders, and what he might think requisite, she began to be busy—getting a light, and putting back into its own exact semblance the room from which Ferriby had been carried. Relief gradually possessed her to see no one on the bed. She straightened the stiff coverlet. That that had lain there seemed to have been taken away long—immeasurably long—ago. She looked the floor over carefully, not quite clear why, but to anticipate Gisberne's desiring it. A big amber bead lay near the threshold. Picking it up, Daphne knew it to be from Irene Garth's necklace. It conveyed no more to her than that Irene had broken the necklace, and a bead had rolled in here. She stood staring at it in her palm, and, as if the bead had been a crystal and she mesmerized, she felt herself caught away, away, away, till a very ecstasy of love possessed her.
'Paul! Paul! Oh, my love! It is I who will have saved you and no other—not Irene: she sleeps while you escape. I am saving you—I, and no other!'
For a breath the warmth of it transformed her, and turned the blackness to a summer day, and Paul's face smiled. Then she was aware of a stealthy movement—Robert Gisberne had got back.
He was exhausted to the point of swooning, and trembling with hysteria; but the effect of it was still of something wholly impersonal, something for her.
'Half-past twelve,' he got out: 'we've been quick.'
Quick! Devil Ferriby could have echoed that. It was striking ten as he turned in at the gate. They had been quick.
'Now, if Mr. Paul has any sense,' said Gisberne, leaning heavily against the wall, 'he'll come back when he hears what's happened and explain his absence to-night, or make out he's never been away. You have that knife—stick to it...Mr. Devil Ferriby was drunk—that's not a startling fact—and, fooling round the yards in his man's absence, he pitched head downwards and—there it is. You know nothing of that. Miss Daphne. Say, if you like, you came down and looked round, thought everything was quiet, and went back...That will cover the waterproof and shoes.'
'And you?' she asked.
'I'm starting now for Droitlet—I've not been near you. Take your skirt, Miss Daphne. These other wraps must go for what they are. If there's any question, you used them, going in and out, listening and uneasy. Of course, we mayn't bring it off for Mr. Paul yet. I don't know how you're going to work it with him. It may pan out yet that they think he threw him down; but I rather fancy there's no fear...Now, you get to your room. Miss Daphne...It'll be bad for you for an hour or two, I'm afraid—wish I could help you there...' His voice broke. 'Miss Daphne, have I been any use?'
And she, standing close to him in the doorway of the room, empty—that would be the sense of this room to Daphne Estorel, henceforth, always, its emptiness-heard the choke in his throat, and his head bowed itself down against her arm. She heard him mutter, exculpating himself, shaken, done. She herself shook with the force of upspringing tears that could not flow.
'Don't! don't!' she gasped.
'I've been of some use, eh?' he muttered again, and then he stood erect, unsteadily. 'Don't take any notice of me. Miss Daphne; I—I—'
He turned about, and made ready to depart.
Daphne looked at him, the ordinary yet lithe, good figure, the commonplace bearing, the everyday face and kindly manner marking him even now as he busied himself finally.
As Macbeth with 'Amen,' the words 'Thank you' for such help as his stuck in her throat.
'It doesn't matter about taking this candle back,' said Gisberne; 'it will look more natural set down here. You take your taper. Now, I hate to leave you, but it's safest. Shall I come with you across the kitchen?'
'You can't go out in all this storm,' she said.
'Oh, don't mind me.' Strange was this little exchange of concern between them, both wet and wretched, spent as though from running hard, the breath coming badly between their pallid lips. Gisberne put the taper into her hands. 'Best go. Miss Daphne,' he said. 'We must leave it now to what befalls...Are you frightened?'
He noiselessly opened the door into the living-room and held it back for her. As she passed him, the taper lighting up her wanness and bedraggled golden hair, she turned her head and put her ice-cold lips to his chilled damp cheek.
He made no response in word or movement.
She crossed the room, opened the door, and, in the doorway, looked back at him, shown by her taper-gleam dimly. Then the doors closed simultaneously and without a sound.
Gisberne stepped swiftly to the row of wraps. From under a heavy ulster of
Welsh cloth he lifted Irene Garth's blue garment. In one of the loose sleeves
were knotted a number of amber beads. The flimsy silk and cambric went into a
small flat compass, and when Gisberne left, a moment later, he had it
buttoned securely beneath his vest.
Daphne's arms hung by her side like ropes of lead. She kept wondering to herself why she could scarcely lift them, and then remembering she had been carrying Devil Ferriby.
Lawyer Winch was speaking. His voice fell upon a hush—the hush at a graveside when the parson reads the Burial Service clearly into the live air and the human being's soul shrinks into silence.
It was the living-room of the Grange, and the lawyer sat in the stately and ancient arm-chair near the bureau. Facing him was Mistress Skidfell, unchanged to look upon, grim, rigid, and watchful.
Every one of the household was there, indrawn upon themselves in that sharp guard of the mind on any betrayal by the body that is a man's most delicately wonderful achievement.
In the deep window-sill sat Paul Ferriby, his head thrown back against the frame of the open casement. Daphne, in a black muslin that showed her 'arms and neck, sat near Jane, and, opposite to her, drawn to the table, was Irene. She was in pure white; her elbows rested on the table; her forehead was bowed upon her hands. By the door, closed behind them, was grouped the meagre household, dressed in black, that had a pathetic appearance, being a badge, not a tribute, and by so much the more expressive. Sophy stood by Scarside; behind them the three stout kitchen-wenches.
Anyone looking at Sophy and remembering her would have looked again. She appeared to have grown; her face showed both a new attraction and a new hardness. Her gaze alone now and then stealthily wandered from the lawyer to Irene Garth.
It was late afternoon, a month since Devil Ferriby's death. All shine in the light had long gone from the low room; the air was still hot with the closeness of it, of August dusk.
Lawyer Winch, an old man, pleasant to look on and vigorous, a reminder of bygone fashions in his dress and bearing, looked round upon his company.
'Mr. Ferriby, sir, and you. Miss Garth,' he said, poising his gold-rimmed glasses and rising from preparatory remarks into sudden firmness and poise, 'Mistress Jane Skidfell has asked me over here to-day to tell you her mind. It is a private gathering. I'm here rather as the man whom John Ferriby's father trusted than as the co-executor of his will. What I have to say. Mistress Skidfell bids me tell you, is meant for your ears alone. The time, delayed by circumstances unusually long, has come, at last, to state openly that your cousin, so unhappily deceased, left no will.' He paused, glancing at the little group by the door. 'I am instructed, however, to tell you, the members of his household, that you will be remembered, and as suitably as if your master had lived his full time or you served your full limit. This by Mistress Skidfell's wish.'
Daphne Estorel glanced round with the sudden movement of the hand to her bosom. Something clutched her heart, forcing the desire to laugh or cry aloud. Bequests to these! This absurd little group the last of a Ferriby's household! It was the culmination of some wrong surely, that this should be so. A wrong self-inflicted by the dead! These gaping rustics all his household!
'Details will be duly given you,' continued Lawyer Winch. And Jane Skidfell made a motion that they-the retainers of the Grange—could now retire. Sophy went reluctantly, the last, casting a look towards Irene.
'Now,' resumed the lawyer instantly, 'to state the fact once more: John Ferriby, lately and unhappily deceased, left no will.'
Irene looked up. 'Why do you talk of him?' she said...'I can't bear it.' And she half rose, her face white, her eyes wild.
'There will be very little more of it, Miss Garth.' Lawyer Winch spoke with marked kindliness. He waited a breath, and Irene sank back into her seat and resumed her former attitude. 'It is of your uncle we must speak,' continued the lawyer, 'known also as Devil Ferriby. By his will coming now again into force, and which I shall presently proceed to read to you, he, Cornelius Ferriby, appoints Daphne Estorel, here present, his sole heiress should his only son and issue die unmarried...'
Paul moved, lapsed an instant again into immobility, then roused himself as if words were in waiting and must come. Daphne sat back in her chair, and the change about her was plain. Her colouring was deeper-hued—the gold of her hair, the pink of the lips, the light and shade of her eyes; her form was rounded into a new fullness. She looked at Jane with breath, it would seem, suspended. Irene Garth, lifting her head, looked at her.
'I would have you all now listen attentively,' said Lawyer Winch. 'Ferriby Grange is a lonely place, and, leading too solitary a life here, the Ferribys have grown eccentric. Your Grandfather Ferriby did some strange things. He had three children: your mother, Miss Garth; your father, Mr. Paul; and your uncle. It was your grandfather's fancy to plead poverty. He kept the Grange up miserably. Your father and your mother. Miss Garth and Mr. Paul, grew tired of it, and went their way into the world. The eldest son, Mr. John's father, stayed by the stuff, like the good son in the parable...'
'Thee'll amend that, lawyer,' said Jane quietly, looking up.
'He was utterly unlike any good son in any parable, but, I repeat it, he stayed by the stuff,' said Lawyer Winch. He and Jane regarded each other a moment. Winch continued calmly: 'And the stuff accumulated, and so did your grandfather's partiality for his firstborn, till, shortly before his death, he made over by deed of gift the greater—by far the greater—part of a large fortune to this eldest son. The matter was kept a secret between them, with no reason for it save the eccentricity I referred to. Subsequently a will was drawn up, dividing the remainder—I am bound to add, the comparatively very small remainder—of the property into three equal portions.'
Irene started up. She flung out a hand towards Jane. 'You called us charity-brats,' she cried—' Paul and me; and you knew, you knew how we were being cheated!'
'Cheated! No, Miss Garth,' struck in the lawyer. 'A man may do as he will with his own.'
'And Ferriby is left to Daphne Estorel!' screamed Irene. 'Paul, you will dispute it...'
Paul rose and came forward. 'I see you know there is no disputing it, Mr. Winch,' he said. 'May we hear the will?'
As Paul stood, one hand resting on the table, he was nearer to Daphne than to Irene Garth. In that low room he seemed to tower. There was no slouch visible about him now. He had shaken off the weight of the soil and the drag down of the plough. His eyes were steady and uncompromising, the mouth firm and as if for very little it could be cruel. The old lawyer glanced up at him furtively, with that tribute of admiration that might easily turn to malignancy, the envy of age so handicaps its kindliness.
'Read the will,' said Jane.
The lawyer read aloud, Paul still standing, Daphne gazing as before on Jane, Irene staring at her. From a certain change, indefinable but there, breathed out every breath from the three of them, it was evident some strain was loosened—something that had caused it set aside. New and astounding feelings had been stirred, and were for the moment supreme. They had forgotten Devil Ferriby's death in listening to what had come of it.
The lawyer read out in language startlingly clear the will of Cornelius Ferriby. Should his son John Ferriby die unmarried, before the age of forty, Ferriby Grange and all Ferriby Grange represented was to become the property of Daphne Estorel. This, with so few words wasted upon it that it stood out like a challenge, was the whole of it—Daphne Estorel had all!
'And who is Daphne Estorel?' cried Paul, as the lawyer finished reading, and looked up over his gold-rimmed glasses, his delicate yellow and wrinkled hand falling softly as a gentle finale upon the document he had laid down. 'Who is Daphne Estorel?' Irene's eyes echoed the question with a blaze of hate, Daphne endorsed it voicelessly, rising to her full height, her bosom swelling. Lawyer Winch, with the narrowed face of one who is looking back too far almost to see, studied the three faces. Jane Skidfell made ready to speak.
'Who is Daphne Estorel?' said Lawyer Winch. 'You mean, Mr. Paul, in relation to your grandfather's will. Yes, yes, I understand that. Who is Miss Estorel? An unanswerable question. I do not know.'
'She is that woman's daughter!' cried Irene, with the laugh of a vindictive triumph—' a servant's daughter!'
'No,' said Lawyer Winch abruptly. Then he paused as if he had said too much, and glanced at Mistress Skidfell.
'No,' said Jane, with strange quiet. 'Thee hast not much discernment, Irene Garth. Neither mine nor any servant's daughter.'
'Who is she?' repeated Paul. His voice rang out, giving the question every iota of meaning.
With a strange stillness about the movement. Daphne resumed her seat. Jane lifted her hand finely towards the lawyer. 'Your Grandfather Ferriby, Mr. Paul,' said Winch, obeying the gesture, 'had a step-brother. The step-brother married. The issue of that marriage was one daughter, by name Daphne. In this daughter your Uncle Cornelius was interested. He told me so much himself. The young lady lived abroad, and married abroad, presumably. Miss Estorel, here present, is the child of that union, and, seemingly, was accepted as a sacred trust from your grandfather by your uncle. In his will he makes her his conditional heiress. The conditions occurring, Miss Estorel succeeds to the property. I can say no more, for I know no more. Mistress Skidfell is not better informed. There is no mystery. Miss Estorel's parentage is easily traceable. Your uncle's interest in her had something in it, no doubt, of the superstition the Ferribys show in treating each other's peculiarities. If you could discover why your grandfather was interested in—his-stepbrother's child, then you would know a great deal, Mr. Paul—much more than I do, or anyone living, and still not be able to alter this will by one jot or tittle.'
'Oh, we can understand,' cried Irene. 'Grandfather Ferriby—his step-brother's wife, his m—' She stopped as if someone had clapped a hand on her mouth, then, cowering in her seat, stared at the others as one who has let slip a clue, and waits aghast to see it recognized.
But the moment passed her by. Jane looked up commandingly. 'That is t' master's written will and testament,' she said; 'but, when he came to die, he spoke into my ear. "Let a Ferriby rule at Ferriby," he said. He wor t' master.' Her voice sank, and the glance of her withered eyes fell upon the ring upon her withered hand. Then she looked up at Paul.—' Thou art a Ferriby,' she said. 'Wilt thou stay here and step into thy dead cousin's shoes?'
Lawyer Winch, glancing up as if to speak, refrained. Jane Skidfell rose, inspired. 'Dar'st thou stay here, my lad?' she said, with a Sybillic utterance, her rigid form kindling. 'The place is hers '—she pointed to Daphne—' but this is between thee and me and t' master...Dar'st thou stay here? Wilt thou? Thou hast been serving here six years—for what?' The old woman leant upon the table. Paul, opposite, eyed her with a bitter smile. 'Art thou t' stuff to go on serving here till thy serving is a master's service, and thy obedience law? Then is Ferriby thine—'
'And I take it,' said Paul swiftly, lifting his hand. 'On those terms. I take it.'
Lawyer Winch moved delicately. 'This is, of course, beside the original mark,' he said, with a deferential little cough. 'Such matters rest with Miss Estorel—'
'Nay! nay!' struck in Jane, as if exultant.
'No doubt everything will adjust itself,' pursued the lawyer.
'Paul,' broke in a gasping whisper from Irene, 'you will dispute this will?'
He looked at her as if he did not know her, and turned back to the others. 'I stay here,' he said. 'I take up Jane Skidfell's challenge. I make Ferriby mine, or it goes ill with Ferriby.'
'That sounds like a threat, Mr. Paul,' remarked the lawyer dryly.
'You all hear me make it,' was the answer. 'My uncle's treachery, his devilish deception—'
'Be careful, ma lad,' struck in Jane. 'He wor t' master—'
'He was a villain, and the maker of an unjust will,' said Paul, with uplifted voice. 'It has cried out like blood for vengeance. It has had it! It will have it!...You, Miss Estorel, have you anything to—say-to—me?'
There was no weakening nor change, only a curious faltering on the last words. He looked straight at Daphne, she at him.
'Jane speaks,' she said.
'Then you are witness, Lawyer Winch,' cried Paul, turning from her instantly. 'I have been serving here—I, a Ferriby—six years, for one thing. I have been a strange fool! I will go on serving here with another object now, and perhaps not showing myself quite such a fool. I stay! Ferriby for a Ferriby!'
'Unguarded! most unguarded!' muttered Lawyer Winch; but his accent was applause.
Paul turned to the door. Irene, starting with a cry, got there first, and barred his way. 'And what about me?' she gasped. 'Me, Paul! me—Irene?'
For answer, Paul, towering and uplifted, looked at her again, as if he asked who she might be, put her aside and went out; and they saw him the next instant, upright, fierce in his bearing, passing the long casement on his way to the yards. Irene, huddled against the door on to her stairway, rested her arm upon the latch, and, putting her face down, began to sob and moan. 'Cousin John, come back, come back! I want you. Cousin John! Oh, Cousin John!' The lawyer winced. The cry seemed to call forth the disdainful silence of the grave. 'Cousin John, Cousin John!' and no answer.
But when Daphne, wan, trembling, with a cold tenderness, approached, Irene turned on her in snarling fury, and, beating her off, rushed up the stairs, flinging the door wide behind her.
Daphne, closing it again, leant there almost as Irene Garth had done, her head bowed and face hidden, her cry ascending not from the lips but from the soul.
Some moments of utter silence followed, and then everyday matters were again in motion. Sounds were audible from without, the twitter of the sparrows, voices outside, the buzz of a machine. Lawyer Winch wiped his glasses.
'Well?' he said softly. 'Well, Mrs. Skidfell?'
'I have set a-going a man,' answered Jane grimly, pointing towards the window Paul had passed. 'Ferriby for a Ferriby, that wor t' master's word in my ear when he came to die—'
'He should have written it down,' said Lawyer Winch, with a glance towards Daphne. 'It would have saved trouble.'
'Aye,' answered Jane, 'and cheated t' Grange of a man;' and again she pointed to the window through which they had just seen Paul, upright and fierce.
'Ah!' sighed the lawyer, 'ah, indeed!' He began to gather his papers together.
Gradually every trace of inspiration faded from Jane Skidfell's face. She sank into her seat, an old woman, bowed and sorrowful.
'Bloodshed!' she muttered, rocking herself. ''Tis come. An' he wor' t' master's son. T' master's son! I'm fain to echo that miserable lass's cry. I'm fain to see his face again.' Her face sharpened and paled to a livid hue. 'I'm loath his death should go unavenged,' she whispered.
'It's poor work calling the Almighty to account,' said the lawyer expressively.
Jane looked up at him, and as the dimmed, keen, envious old eyes met, his and hers. Lawyer Winch stooped.
'Hold to the evidence of the jury. Mistress Skidfell,' he said: '"A fall in the dark; accidental; a broken neck." Hold to that for the sake of the old name...Don't let your wits wander. Is that my room, dame?' he added, as Daphne turned towards them. He pointed to the one across the entry, and with an old-fashioned bow that became his bearing well, and looking a sadder and an older man now that he moved, he departed slowly, leaving Daphne and Jane together.
The girl flung herself by the old woman's side. 'Who am I?' she said.—' Who am I? A Ferriby?'
'Wouldst thou be one?' asked Jane, touching her hair.
Daphne shrank from the touch, shaking herself free. 'No, no!' she cried. 'But I shall keep it.' She sprang again to her feet. 'Don't ask me to give up anything. It is mine?'
'Yes, lass, thine.'
'Then I keep it, every stick and stone and every farthing!' And Daphne stood expanding over the old servant's grim and withered dignity, like some goddess that has burst bonds, and needs to, and will take the whole of space for room. She pressed her hand on her bosom. Her beauty leapt forth as from behind a veil. 'Am I a Ferriby?' she demanded again.
'I cannot tell thee,' said Jane, surveying her. 'I do not know.'
'You can swear that to me, Jane? You do not know?'
'Aye, I can swear it. I do not know.'
Daphne threw back her head with a sound like laughter. 'If you do not know, then I never shall,' she said; 'but I shall keep what has come to me.' She stooped and took Jane's shoulder. 'Did you want me to give it up to Paul? I shall not.'
Jane rose and faced her. 'I have cared for thee, my lass,' she said, Mike my own, but not because I took thee from thy dead mother's side, but because t' master sent me for thee. I spoke just now to Paul Ferriby because t' master's words ha' never left me. I ha' cared for you, I ha' had kind thoughts o' Paul, but that's gone by wi' the death o' t' master's son! T' master's son!' Her voice rose into a keening cry. 'T 'master's son! I turn from all of ye. Ferriby for a Ferriby. T' master said it, an' I ha' passed it on. Thou'lt keep it, an' Paul will have it. Fit it together as ye please. I turn from all of ye.' She lifted her hands in an apostrophe of grief, locking them above her head. 'Ride again past yon window, my lad, my master's son!' she wailed. 'Stride across t' threshold once more, my lad! Fight out o' t' grave!...Mr. John! Mr. John! t' master's son!...'
Daphne drew back from her with bated breath. Slowly the old woman's hands dropped, slowly her whole body sank together. At the kitchen door she turned and, her withered hand resting on the latch, the ring showing large on the shrivelling finger, looked across at Daphne. 'The place is thine,' she said.
'Thou'lt order it as thee likes.'
Daphne sprang to her side. 'You won't desert me, Aunt Jane?' she said passionately. 'You won't go?'
Jane Skidfell smiled—a smile that scorned the thought. 'From here! Nay, nay. But I turn from all of ye. Thee mayst very well be a Ferriby, Daphne'—the old eyes fixed her with a heart-reading look—'bad strain and all.' And she went out. Daphne, darting at the closing latch, caught and made it come down noiselessly. It had become a habit with her. She could not bear the click of the latches of these doors, rising or falling. Leaning against the woodwork, she surveyed the room, dusk-filled, close, no air stirring. An expansion of feeling possessed her that was both sublime and terrible. Ferriby was hers, money was hers, the largeness was hers of the meaning of the words—to he able. She was not astounded by the news of her inheritance. It came as the natural solution of her quietude of mind and body. She had been held in waiting—and for this. Now the soul in her strained to the uttermost bounds. Let Paul Ferriby draw never so large a circle, she could draw one larger, and still encompass him. Bad—was she? Daphne laughed to herself with her hand to her throat, glorying, trembling. She must needs be bad. She must needs take every iota her new position offered. She must needs search earth and hell for impulse, for heaven had gone. The serene silence of Daphne Estorel's love had vanished. Her feeling for Paul was beyond herself—a whirlwind of enmity, of desire to hurt, of fierce resentment, a passion to fight and tear, to overmaster him, convict, destroy. Ferriby was hers. And he would stay and serve in order to make it his. Daphne's blood leapt to the encounter...
She looked across the dusk of the room to the place where Devil Ferriby had lain, prone and huge. Such a transport of emotion seized this girl, this woman from whom silence had been struck as the clay from the bronze, that she clasped herself in her own arms to stay it. Life had begun—in exultant hatred of Paul Ferriby. It included pity, too, and comprehension of Irene Garth.
Daphne threw open the kitchen door. 'Is Sophy there?' she called. Sophy came running, pale, sharp-eyed, her fresh and decent lips spoiling themselves fast by compression. She looked at Miss Daphne, catching her breath.
'Go up to Miss Garth,' said Daphne. 'She may need you. Where is Scarside?'
'Outside, Miss Daphne.'
'He is to carry logs into the dining-hall and light a fire. When you leave Miss Garth lay supper there, Sophy, on the table under the stained glass. I will take the head, Mistress Skidfell the foot. Lay for Mr. Paul one side. Miss Garth the other. Silver in plenty, Sophy, lights, no flowers.'
'Yes, miss,' muttered Sophy. She fell back, staring at her—staring
at the whiteness under the black—staring at the golden hair, the full,
slightly smiling lips. This was Miss Daphne! And her poor, dear Miss 'Rene!
Putting the two together it was like thought of sunrise, as the Cockney girl
knew it now, turning to sickliness the city lights. Sophy's heart beat fast
as she ran up to Miss 'Rene's room. If Miss Daphne was going to begin to look
like that, if the saint was going to throw off her mantle, the statue step
down from above the church door—if a miracle was going to happen, then
what about Miss 'Rene?
Irene lay along the couch on which she had wept the night of Ferriby's first kiss, the night he had first kissed her on the mouth. Sophy had left her, lighting her lamp and candles and telling her the news of supper in the dining-hall. She had glanced on Miss Irene's drawn face, and forborne to speak her thought of Miss Daphne's transformation. But Irene had noticed it. 'She has got everything, Sophy,' she said. 'I'm dependent on her charity—and because Cousin John died un married.'
Sophy Bassett's eyes at this had met Irene's strangely. Irene's eyes spoke.
'Lor'! Miss 'Rene,' said Sophy, whispering, 'you could never have put in any claim—you could never have managed it. Oh, my dear, you be thankful you're so well out of it, Miss 'Rene. The days and nights I've had...'
'I should have been married to him by now,' said Irene. She drew the girl down. 'We were fools to be so frightened. I've been asking myself ever since I came upstairs just now why we were so frightened. I was going to marry Cousin John...I could even have told them that that was why—that it had gone so far between us that...'
'Now, Miss 'Rene,' said Sophy, white and stern, 'don't you begin no nonsense.'
'I think I shall tell,' said Irene, half rising.
'Oh no, you won't. Miss 'Rene. Lie down now; keep still, there's my dear young lady.'
'But I should like them to know,' Irene struggled up, very quiet, and the more impressive. 'Perhaps...if they knew...they couldn't say anything. I would say—I could say I killed him for it...'
'Miss 'Rene, you're mad!' Sophy spoke with authority, hardly earned, still barely rising above nervous terror.
'Yes, I think I am. To see her like that! To know she has got the Grange! Yes, I think I am mad.'
Sophy laid her back. 'You lie quiet till I come back. Miss 'Rene,' she said, 'and we'll talk it all over. You'll forget this after a bit, an' go away and marry, an', my gracious! you'll be glad you kept your mouth shut then, Miss 'Rene. There, take some of this...' With trembling fingers Sophy poured a wine-coloured liquid from a bottle bearing a chemist's name, and administered it with a finely stern air; but over the sharp, white features such a maternal solicitude and care were brooding as lifted and redeemed the scene.
When Sophy had gone, Irene fell back on the couch. She and Daphne Estorel were to change places. Her portion now would be the quiet and the isolation and beauty eclipsed. She lay quite still. So may a person buried alive lie still, lest in moving he touch certainty. For Irene to move much in her thoughts would be to touch madness. Since Cousin John's death she had been ill, and recovered from illness only to fall into a terror, suggested and nursed by Sophy, and fraught with the first instincts of a girl's preservation. It had become an obsession. Once passed, she wondered at it...Why had she not spoken—why had she not told of her relations with him, and the scene that night? She could have excused herself...she could have worked it, possibly, to flout Daphne. Now, Daphne had the Grange and—money. Paul—ah, but she loathed Paul...and Cousin John was dead...actually buried...dead...murdered...Her thoughts, distracted by illness and personal fears, and kept suspended by the question of the disposal of the property, settled now, swerved violently to that main fact: dead—murdered. The word took shape, the shadowy likeness of a human form, and, it seemed to her, came to a place beside her on the couch and looked at her questioningly. Irene sat up slowly, staring. Impalpable, unrecognizable. Something stared back. Murdered! Yes, she knew that, and she knew by whom, and she said nothing. Strangely, but none the less actually for that, Irene Garth had succeeded in keeping remembrance of that night's work at bay, first in swooning shudderings, guarded by Sophy and put down to shock, then in illness and terror of the flesh and bated hopes and fears as to what might fall to her with the discovery of Cousin John's will.
And there was no will! Daphne Estorel had everything, and Cousin John was dead, buried...murdered. And she had said nothing.
Quite still Irene kept herself, staring at the Something that, faceless and formless, yet stared back.
Gradually, not knowing that she put them there, she found her hands pressing her heart and sank back. A sick desire possessed her to be caressed...It passed or she must have died. She began to move now restlessly. Rising at length, it would seem by her movements her thoughts had cleared and steadied. She rearranged her hair and prepared to change her dress, and found herself whispering a name...Robert Gisheme. How did she stand towards...Robert Gisberne? What manner of man was Robert Gisberne?
'Say anything you like to me,' Robert Gisberne once said. How would Robert Gisberne answer if she asked him what he had done with the blue wrap and the amber beads?
Irene Garth's eyes began to shine, some colour to creep into her blanched face.
Wonderful was the clear openness of the great stretch above the moorland. Too early yet for clouds, ineffable was the purity of the faint blue, spreading so far it touched the sadness of distance and ringed the horizon with yearning.
The milk-pans gleamed and glinted in the sunshine; a white rime still lay along the eaves. Sophy Bassett, shading her eyes with her hand, looked up from the smocked figure of Scarside, scouring busily, and her gaze searched the fields wistfully.
'These here summer mornin's,' she said, with something of a sigh—' I never did see nothink like 'em, these 'ere mornin's—never.'
'Don't have 'em in t' Harrer Road, do ye?' said Solomon.'
'What o' Daisy and Dandy in t' cowslip meadow?' cried Sophy with abrupt change of thought, clothed in very fair Yorkshire speech. 'Thee hasna' forgot 'em, Sol?'
Scarside straightened himself with a ringing 'Ho! ho! Daisy and Dandy an' the cowslip meadow,' he mimicked. 'You do be comin' it. Plenty o' Solomon an' dew an' cows about ye now. We don't hear so much of the 'Arrer Road an' your young man. You've giv 'im up now yer've found I've got the brains to take 'im in!'
'Stop that guffawin' now!' cried Sophy sharply. 'We don't want they wenches round us yet.'
Solomon stopped scouring completely and looked at her with stolid satisfaction. 'Yer've got it pat,' he said. 'Ye talk better nor I do. I dunno wot's come to my talk since ye meddled wi' it.' He came nearer, his whole brawny figure softening. 'Tell me in good Yorksheer ye luv' me, Sophy,' he said.
She clung to him suddenly. 'I'd hate to go, Solomon,' she answered, trembling.
The great fellow looked down into the peaky pretty face. 'You bean't going,' he said. 'You be going to marry me.'
Sophy nodded. 'If Miss 'Rene goes I shall have to go with her, Solomon.'
Scarside stood considering the sharp, pale, wistful features. He fumbled with his thoughts, trying to force them beyond the point always recurring when he talked with Sophy, namely, that she was losing her colour and that there was something she and Miss Irene kept between them. Beyond this nothing was to be got at. Solomon's attacks were baffled continually by Sophy's turns and quickness of wit; but he seemed to see the way a bit clearer this morning.
'Miss Daphne's going to make big changes,' he said finally. 'An' did yer know, Sophy, that Muster Gisberne wor back?'
Sophy gave a great start. 'How d'ye know?' She stared at him.
'I seed un,' said Scarside, 'as I druv' out o' Petsham yesterday.'
'Now, what does he want here?' said Sophy.
'I dunno. He wor always friends wi' Muster Paul.' Solomon glanced round to be sure 'Muster Paul' was nowhere in sight. 'Miss Daphne liked un too.'
Sophy stood, her sharp eyes fixed keenly on Scarside's good-humoured, well-featured face; it would have been out of vision for her only Scarside never stood when he could sit. Planked on a milking-stool, his hands spread on his knees, the Yorkshireman's blue eyes were comfortably on a level with the girl's—pale and light-hued and shrewd.
Sophy Bassett did not know who it was Miss Irene had seen in the room that night: she did not know who it was had carried Devil Ferriby into the yard—but she knew that Miss Irene knew. She knew that someone had Miss Irene's wrap, that someone had the amber beads, broken in a struggle. Sophy felt that someone must be Mr. Paul—felt it rather than thought it, for her mental faculties entirely, her whole thinking process were concentrated on Miss Irene, her position towards the catastrophe and how she could be saved first from what had threatened her and now and always from self-betrayal. Horror of a crime, detestation of a murderer had not touched Sophy, any more than it had emanated from Irene. But common fear of detection, exaggeration of results and feminine shifts and secrecies were wearing Sophy thin and pale. She stared into Scarside's eyes, as big and beautiful and blue as a baby's, and wished she dare tell him things, half wished he were some pale, begrimed, London loafer with head thrust forward, collarless and slouching, but who would jump to every chance the master's death had opened up, and scent where danger lay, and tell her where she'd be a fool to do or say a thing, and how Miss Irene must be managed, rounding every period with the sharp 'See?' that bespoke his own wide perceptions.
Scarside was so big, so clean, so stupid! Suddenly he spoke. 'Do 'ee think Muster Paul had any hand in t' master's death?' he said.
'Oh!'...Sophy clapped her hand to her heart. There is always a shock in another person's perspicacity. It was a double one for Sophy—a bolt from the blue. She glanced round, openly scared, and fixed her gaze on the huge cellar-flaps, their tarred surface still white with rime. Scarside followed her gaze.
'They flaps were down when I left t' place that night,' he said slowly.
'At the inquest you said you didn't know,' breathed Sophy.
'And I don't know, if it comes to that,' returned Scarside.
Sophy was suddenly illumined. Scarside was not stupid. It made her dizzy, so that she leant upon him as he still sat unmoved.
'You're not against Mr. Paul, are you?' she said, with a new timidity.
'What do you know?' queried Scarside, with an answering mastery.
'Nothing. On my soul I don't. Nothing.'
'What's all this fashin' wi' Miss Irene?'
The blood flew into Sophy's face. 'Yer great sawny!' she said, woman again the superior. 'D'ye think I shouldn't care if you broke your neck? An' we've by a lot not gone so far as they did—she and Mr. John.'
Scarside turned this over a moment.
'Well,' he said, rising, 'so long as there's no one to bother...Mr. Paul 'll get some black looks,' he added, going back to the pails.
'Why?' began Sophy. 'Is there others think?...'
'Mr. Paul's stirring up a lot o' thinkin',' returned Scarside, condescending to Sophy with his new show of wisdom. 'He an' Miss Daphne...An' I hear this mornin' Mr. Ibimay's dying.'
'What's that got to do with it?' Sophy thrust forward her eager pointed chin. Again Solomon straightened himself and eyed the little figure, ending somewhere at five foot one.
'You bean't so sharp as I thought you,' he said complacently, chuckling. 'It's common talk in Droitlet as Missus Ibimay was gone on t' master. She wur queer at inquest, weren't she?...Mr. Paul's all right...so long as they let un be.'
By now the shining house-pails were scoured and arranged. The swallows were darting over the rooftrees of the barns, whistlings and bailings sounded cheerily from the yards, and the quick clatter of clogs within as Polly flooded and swished in the dairy. Sweethearting was over with the arrival of the breakfast hour. 'Gi' us a kiss, lass,' said Solomon, in his usual tones, and Sophy held up her cheek with a strange meekness.
She watched the great figure striding off. It stood to the girl for a revelation. Mr. Gisberne come back, Mr. Ibimay dying, Mr. Paul and Miss Daphne coupled together, and Mr. Paul looked askance at; and she and Miss Irene had huddled themselves together, thinking what they didn't hear didn't exist, and all the time here was talk going on.
Mr. Gisberne, Mrs. Ibimay, Miss Daphne, Mr. Paul. These weeks since Devil Ferriby's death Sophy had been seeing things through the medium of sick-room absorption, the transfusion of woman's nature aroused to protect and solace, and the confusion of a dozen complex, pettifogging personalities and fears. To know that Miss Irene knew what man was in the room that night, and to feel sure that it was Mr. Paul—who else save he could have handled the master's body?—had seemed to Sophy the whole of the situation and Miss Irene's silence the whole of her aim. But Scarside, coming out as he had, had put things into something more of true proportion. Sophy Bassett saw past the shadows of Irene Garth's deliriums. That night was no nightmare. She saw it a clear fact in the light of day, and men and women moving to and fro about it.
With a spasm that sent the blackness in a wave before her eyes, her faculties for one instant spanned the distance between romances and reality, between real murder, silent, waiting, doomed, and the sham crimes she had read of, wrapped in frenzies and in blood made up to thrill, and giving full value for the penny and the expectation...Sophy had thrilled at the sham, and sat up half the night with reeling brain, devouring details by a guttering light. There was no thrill in her pulses now. The bright air was cold. With uncommon quiet she stole back to her household duties. Primeval instincts stirred—caution, lightfootedness, thoughts of hiding and escape...Suppose Mr. Paul turned on Miss Irene? He had not spoken to her since that night. What about the blue wrap and those broken amber beads? Mr. Paul had changed. Suppose he said it was Miss Irene had done it herself?
When Robert Gisberne saw the garden trees of Ferriby once again through the early sunshine he was conscious of a distinct sensation. It was no more a pleasant one than the first light twinge in a man's breast of what is to prove long-lasting, growing, mortal agony. When had Gisberne ever sustained a distinct sensation? Never before, he would have said.
He was riding leisurely from Petsham on a well-groomed nag hired from the Petsham Arms, where he had spent the night. He looked well, trim, and fresh.
Mounting the final rise in the uneven track, he saw the pink and black of the Grange roof-lines and the noble stack of chimneys, showing with haughty familiarity against the pale glitter of the fair day. Gisberne kept his eyes on the great house and its great buildings, and under the slackened rein his mount dropped to a walk. At the turning that led past the elm-trees to the little gate and the side porch Gisberne stopped altogether. He turned in the saddle and looked long and steadily down the silent lane, but after a while rode on along the Droitlet road. No living thing was to be seen upon the lonely stretches. Larks sang, the plovers called, and a far-off brightness marked the sea. The isolated trees round the low, white house of Fulbec came now in view. Gisberne quickened his horse's pace, and, putting him on the turf to deaden the hoofbeats, struck into a hand-gallop, as if struck himself into a sudden heat. At the little mortared bridge over the creek, most like a meadow stream just here, he saw a woman. She sat on the low brick parapet, a thick white shawl wrapped round her head and shoulders. She was looking steadily towards him. Mrs. Ibimay, of course.
So suddenly did Gisberne draw up at sight of her that his horse, in such abrupt check, forced on him a display of neat horsemanship. Devil Ferriby himself could scarcely have done better. To dismount was instinct. With the same happy sense he knotted the bridle round a hedge-stake and went forward rapidly on foot. These trifles were to tell for him at a critical moment.
'You, Mr. Gisberne?' Dora looked up at him without moving.
'Yes. You are ill, Mrs. Ibimay.'
'No—perhaps...yes, a little. Mr. Ibimay is dead, Mr. Gisberne.'
Gisberne moved nearer, like a dog, silently expressive. Like a dog's, his brown eyes showed kindness and sympathy with her tone.
'This morning at sunrise,' said Dora. 'I needed space. I could not bear the house...What brings you back?'
'I found things straightened out a bit better than I thought,' said Gisberne, speech direct, unapologetic, as he had always made it. 'I didn't have to leave England. I'm drawn back to this place. But I wanted to know if it would hold me. Did your husband give away that card business, Mrs. Ibimay?'
'Are you disposed to speak of it, Mrs. Ibimay?'
'Thank you,' said Gisberne simply.
A silence followed. It was strange to notice how little a part in the ever-brightening day seemed to belong to these two human figures. The vanishing hoar-frost, the dancing water, the forget-me-nots and white flowers bordering it (a lyric written by a spirit), the wide expanse of moor and field over which the breeze was sighing lightly, droning bees and reddening touch in the leaves, tree-tops and fleecy clouds and the shining grass, distant sheep and Gisberne's impatient horse, even the lines of the white house near by, seemed all gathered by the day into a world that was no world to them, so plainly did they stand away from it, out of it, uninterested, untouched.
'I am glad you have come back,' said Dora at length. She made an effort to rise, so palpable that the man put out his arm. She rested on it. 'I am sick and dizzy for want of rest,' she said. 'Where are you going to stay?'
'At the inn, Droitlet. My record's clean at Droitlet,' said Gisberne, in his pleasant tones. His face did not change by a shadow. He was looking at her in kindly fashion. He stated a fact.
'I am glad you have come back,' repeated Dora. 'I have been wanting to see you. Will you come over to me in a few days? I will send you word. Why did you dismount just now?...It was kind...' Her breath suddenly quickened; the set lines of her white face stirred as if the repressed force was threatening bounds. 'You are kind, I think,' she gasped, stifling, swooning with mounting anguish. 'He always rode right up, didn't he, Mr. Ferriby—Devil Ferriby?' She caught a corner of her shawl to her mouth, thrust it between her lips, and so stood a breath or so, Gisberne supporting her with gentle, dispassionate concern. 'I think he met with foul play,' she whispered at length. 'I want to talk to you about it...I...'
She pressed her hand to her heart, and motioned that he should help her back towards the house.
That evening Gisberne, debating whether he should see Daphne, thinking he would not, found himself on the high road walking on steadily towards the Grange. His horse was stabled at the Droitlet Inn behind him—he had paid the hire for a fortnight, and there was gold about his person, enough, put together, to close his fingers round. The consumptive Ibimay was dead. Gisberne found the reputation he had left here six weeks ago waiting for him untouched, like an old coat still hanging where it had been overlooked, either to be kept or thrown away, as might befall. It had been left hanging to his benefit. There was luck in this, the commonplace, unexciting sort of luck Gisberne had had a good deal of. His career had been too mean and petty to challenge fate. What he had done, the moment had brought him to do, and his doings, till he came to Ferriby, had been purely sordid. And his deeds over, he had turned from them as detached as the dog that, at his master's whistle, bounds from the side of a dead companion.
It was Gisberne's nature as little to plan as to regret. His return to Droitlet involved a purpose, and to act with a purpose was so strange to him, action itself was paralysed. He had not spoken to Daphne Estorel since the day of the inquest on Devil Ferriby. That had gone off well, again with the commonplace, commonsense sort of luck Gisberne had counted on. Irene Garth had not appeared, too ill to attend—why not, since rumour said she was to have married her cousin? Sophy Bassett gave evidence. She had spent the night with Miss Irene. The storm was awful. They heard this, and they thought that, but they knew nothing till morning broke and the news came in.
And Daphne Estorel knew nothing. That had been a fine moment when Daphne Estorel stood up nobly serene and lied splendidly. Gisberne had the foolish fancy the dead man, close by, still unburied, might prove the one to betray her, breaking into a 'Bravo!' at something he could so well appreciate.
Paul Ferriby followed. He lied well, too—he swore he had not left his room that night. Gisberne's own gentle falsehoods seemed of a saintly meekness after these; and Dora Ibimay spoke truth, and, with only truth to sustain her, showed a pierced heart and troubled brain. Then the storm; the countryside still echoed to the ravages and excess of it. It was a background against which everything blended into the verdict, 'Death from misadventure.' Indeed, that night's doing had blown over so lightly, Gisberne could have gone abroad and forgotten them more easily than a loss at cards, save for Daphne Estorel. And he had no money. Gisberne was without the knack of being adequate; he had done no one thing that lifted him above the need of doing other things. He could not look ahead, nor balance risk and gain. If he came to hang, it would very well be for the lamb. But Gisberne's soullessness and lack of imagination ceased in view of Daphne Estorel. He did not know what had happened to him there. With a purpose totally unformed, and yet with a purpose most certainly there, bewildering him as a load suddenly thrust on a blind man, he was approaching her again.
In Petsham, Gisberne had been acquainted with the fact of Daphne's inheritance. It did not affect him, his interest in money being no more particular than his interest in anything else. He had been far more satisfied to learn of Ibimay's death, and Mrs. Ibimay's wish to confide in him touched him far more nearly with pleasant gratulation.
He walked on slowly. He could not have told what was in his mind—thinking was a process he made no use of. His air was pleasantly grave, his eyes kind and unstrained as ever, the attractiveness of his whole appearance heightened by an unconscious ease and strengthened by purpose—vague, unformed, perplexing-still, purpose that had begun to show. Debating always whether he should go on or not, Gisberne found he had walked to the turning. It struck him that probably he ought to seek the front of the Grange—that this was a private entrance that he, as an unusual friend, had been made free of Was he to resume the footing of an unusual friend?...These six weeks past Gisberne had been dodging the fact—the fact rather than the fear—that something might yet transpire to make Devil Ferriby's death an awkward matter. He had a score behind him that, if brought home, would trip him into jail and a little further—a contingency unlikely, for Gisberne had always played low, only up to the point the barren moment of his insignificant life required, and the individual items of his acts were worth no one's while to present for payment. It would have been folly, however, that even his naivete could appreciate, to draw to himself wholesale attention. He had also to live with nicety and in cleanly fashion. The money Ferriby might have lent him, and had not, he had been frustrated that night in obtaining in another fashion, though that fashion had been attempted. He had pawned his last valuable to live over the inquiry and get away to town. Therefore had Gisberne's time since he left Yorkshire been occupied not with a romance and a secret, but with wary shifts for cash and in petty precautions, everything besides suspended till a due interval should have safely passed the doings of that night into the catalogue of the unquestioned.
But when six weeks had gone, Robert Gisberne reckoned up, and finding it only six weeks, discovered that time between him and Daphne Estorel piled too soon into a mountain. He could not give safety any longer in which to crystallize; so he ventured precaution against coin, and found himself safely the winner of enough money to take him north for a month.
There was left only the one slight apprehension that Mr. Ibimay's talk might need explanation or have spoilt him for Droitlet, his nearest point to the Grange.
But that event with every other was in his favour and an unemotional gratitude to luck confirmed his pleasant expression and the kindliness of his look.
Here he was, again, under the wide, wide sky that stretched above the Grange. The elms appeared not to have changed a leaf. The elms—he was passing them then. He had turned the lane towards the entrance peculiar to unusual friends.
Yes. As moving slowly yet easily he came in view of wicket and gate into the yard, he stopped, bared his head, and drew a deep breath. The petty frets and debatings that had been piling up between him and that night were instantly behind, and the ground clear between him and Daphne. He looked along the path and saw himself and her carrying Ferriby's body. How to Heaven had they done it? He retraced their doings and felt her cold lips on his cheek.
If irresolution had been unconscious, resolve was not. Gisberne moved forward rapidly, spurred by something that gave him both fear and thrill. He felt the leap of life, the quickening of manhood.
'You, sir!' cried Sophy. She had come running in answer to his knock, a scared look on her face.
'I have startled you,' said Gisberne pleasantly.
'So few ever come to this door, sir, and—we thought you'd gone abroad.'
'I'm rather late for a visitor. Ask Miss Estorel if she will see me.'
'Will you step inside, sir?'
'No, I'll wait here.'
Sophy's manner showed an excellent training; the respect of it, the subtle taking for granted of the plane to which service is due were not lost on Gisberne. It strung him instantly to the answering pitch. He had passed with her before as a gentleman—he would still.
The entry was already gloomy. The garments hanging from the pegs had been, seemingly, weeded out some time since. The ante-room door was shut. Gisberne suddenly took a swift step and tried the handle. Locked!
'Will you come this way, sir?' said Sophy, returning.
He followed her, the way he had followed Daphne the day of his improvisations, but past the 'still-room' into the central hall. The girl opened one of the deep-toned, heavy doors. In the space beyond he saw the red glow of fire shining on polished wood. As he crossed the threshold his feet fell noiselessly into thick carpet. A figure came towards him with outstretched hand. It was Miss Daphne, of course, but Gisberne could realize nothing further. The room was strange, her dress strange. But we seldom fail ourselves. Gisberne found himself speaking with a fine naturalness. 'How d'ye do, Miss Estorel?' He bowed.
'I am very glad to see you.' Their hands touched. 'Sophy, will you put on another log?' said Daphne. 'You come in time for dinner, Mr. Gisberne.'
'It looks so, I admit it, Miss Estorel; but, to speak frankly, I hung back, feeling I had scarcely any business to be intruding on you at all. I am glad to see you looking so well. You scarcely expected me back north so soon, I fancy?'
Sophy closed the door. They were alone, but not by the flicker of an eyelid, the quiver of a finger did Gisberne change his attitude. He knew the girl had been kept back that moment to put on the log as a test of him. He could not tell whether he had taken the right tone. He judged so, by Sophy. His quickness of observation privately amazed him; he had been able to notice that she saw everything as most natural.
'We thought you were abroad,' said Daphne, motioning him to a seat.
He took it, seeing her with uncertainty, seeing nothing of the room, every nerve bent on not disappointing her trial of him.
It was something to have the instinct to know she was trying him. Gisberne felt an immense thankfulness. He had a purpose in being here—yes, no more doubt about that; and here behold him, showing himself equal to it from the start.
He, Robert Gisberne so called, of no education, no origin, insignificant, so far overlooked even by detection—he had managed to be here, fit for this woman to touch, to tolerate, associate with, and he was managing, too, to understand her, to play up to her idea. Gisberne pulled at his moustache a little, showing his nice hand. He was conscious of a glow of health, new sensations, of a sound body, an immaculate toilet—all part of an answer to her sudden test.
Her face was a blurred whiteness, but he was sure he gave no hint of it; his knees trembled with the strain to do and say, not the right thing, but the only thing, in her eyes. And presently—oh, unspeakable, scarcely bearable, the glow and relief!—he felt her liking, her appreciation going out of her, nearing him, touching him, under the talk of trains and roads just as if her hand had stolen forth under a coverlet and found and rested upon his.
He could have fallen upon his knees, upon his face. The first man who felt love may have been a king, free to rush forth shouting to a tribe to come and set up stones or shake a spear before the sun. Robert Gisberne, living ages after, felt love come, and sat quiet, talking pleasantly. And Daphne kept him long at the touch. After a while she led him outside and showed him, as to some agreeable acquaintance, old bits in the house he had not seen.
They walked up and down the hall, a door open on a great panelled room, where Sophy was setting a table under the painted window.
'You are sure you will not stay?' she asked again, making a motion towards the oasis of light and glitter.
'Ask me for to-morrow,' he said. 'I shall have, at least, more the semblance of being worthy of the honour.'
He took his leave casually in Sophy's hearing.
'I will take you back the way you came,' said Daphne. 'It saves you a quarter of a mile.'
'I have scarcely the right, even for that, to be taken twice through your kitchen, Miss Estorel,' he answered lightly.
So vast the kitchen, Daphne and Gisberne crossed the distant corner unnoticed by the humming wenches gathered round the fire. In the living-room Gisberne let the latch down noiselessly. Daphne saw that he did so, and the words died on her lips. They crossed to the other door in silence. Save the casements everything was shut—the bureau, the piano, the door on to the stairway; the chairs were in order.
Gisberne dropped the second latch with the same gentleness. 'Well, Miss Daphne,' he said, 'I'll bid you good-evening. It's been a great pleasure to see you again.'
As he spoke he drew back the porch door. Now, how was it to be between them? Was the test to go further? Was she meaning to ask of him this always, continually? No, for they had talked of everything-her inheritance, Mr. Ibimay's death, Irene Garth's seclusion in her chamber—but not once had she spoken of Paul. The reflection strengthened him, and he made an easy movement to go, but Daphne caught him back, stepping between him and the pathway. Gisberne could see her darkly against the golden dusk.
'I am glad you have come back,' she said intensely. 'I should have written, only—you gave me no address. You are splendid. To-morrow, be sure to come. Goodnight.'
She pressed his hands that met hers in pure instinct, Gisberne no longer knowing what he did.
He found himself in the lane. She had turned back from the porch at once. He found himself staggering, the earth whirling; he fought on to the shelter of the elms, stumbled to his knees, and fell forward blind and dizzy into the long grass.
Recovering consciousness after a headlong plunge down a yielding bank, a man may find his hand has closed round something tightly, and the first act of the senses is to see what he has got.
It was so with Irene Garth.
Robert Gisberne's return was her return to full consciousness of Devil Ferriby's murder. Alone in her room, she was examining what, in the silent terror of her knowledge, she had actually got.
On the table before her lay a letter from Lawyer Winch. She picked it up and read it again, and it led her away from that night and her secret into fierce, commonplace reflections. Mr. Winch informed her that, subservient to all the legal formalities, a sum of five hundred pounds yearly would be paid to her from the Ferriby estates, and that certain rooms in the Grange would be set apart as hers, and for her exclusive use, while she still remained unmarried. From the contemplation of this offer, satisfaction wrapped in hatred and the instant balancing of what it would mean, with instant resolve to fling it back into Daphne's face, Irene turned, and returned to the examination of her secret. Gisberne's re-arrival on the scene had electrified her delirious nightmares into realities. Through them the man she had seen blowing out the candle had moved, a shadow, a horror, not flesh and blood. Then, as her mind strengthened, it seemed to her vaguely that, in going away, Gisberne had gone away for ever, to death perhaps, to places utterly beyond her reach. Now her thoughts materialized still more in the shock of Daphne Estorel's inheritance, she was considering him anew as one of the possibilities left to her.
Why had he been silent?
What had he done with the wrap and the beads? She had put out the questions forth into space...and, behold I here he was, come back, at hand to answer her.
There was a tap upon the door, and Sophy entered. Irene made a quick movement of thrusting something away—she felt as if doing so. It struck her how wonderful it was that, telling Sophy everything else, she had not babbled Robert Gisberne's name. Whom did Sophy think she (Irene) had seen that night? Who did Sophy think could carry away Cousin John?
Sophy blenched for a breath at the steady stare of Miss 'Rene's great blue eyes, fixed on her as she thought these things.
'Miss 'Rene dear,' she said. 'Miss Daphne sends her hopes you're better, and would you care to join her this evening at dinner.'
'Is Mr. Gisberne coming?'
'I don't know, miss. He was asked yesterday. He didn't come, but he's here now. Miss 'Rene...He might stay.'
'She has Jane Skidfell in to dinner, hasn't she?'
'Mrs. Skidfell won't come, miss. Nor Mr. Paul.' ('And cruel they are to refuse,' she could have added.)
Sophy would not have let Miss Irene know the effect on her of Miss Daphne's lonely care of the graces of Ferriby Grange. It was as if, going about her work, she lifted her eyes to some rare painting she could not understand but felt.
'Miss Estorel should not ask us to sit down with a servant,' said Irene. 'I believe she is that woman's daughter, let them say what they please. She has no business with Ferriby. Oh, if Mr. Paul would only dispute the will!'
She had said this before, often. Whenever she did, Sophy turned on her, as now, swiftly and sharply. 'Don't talk so mad. Miss 'Rene.' And Irene had taken it as part of Sophy's general ruling to keep a still tongue. This time stronger reflective powers made her glance at Sophy strangely.
'You'll come down. Miss 'Rene dear, won't you?' the girl said anxiously. 'You can't stay up here always.'
'No; I shall come down—not to dinner. I'll take my meals in the living-room, as I used to—till I go. I'll see Miss Estorel after dinner, Sophy.'
Sophy dropped to her knees beside the beautiful, seated figure. A passion sometimes shook her when she gazed on Miss Irene—a touch of the passion of maternal yearning, of celestial pity, only Sophy Bassett dreamed of no such name.
'And you're better, Miss 'Rene dear?' she pleaded. 'You'll be able to meet everybody, and go on just the same? It's all over, my dear. You've come out safe. And you feel you can trust yourself to let it all be forgotten?'
Her voice was burdened with memory of Scarside's words: 'Mr. Paul's all right, so long as they let un be.' Perchance the name and the fear showed in her eyes.
'Sophy.' Irene looked into them, and bent down to her. 'You know who it was I saw in the room that night.'
Sophy's face sharpened and paled. 'Don't talk of it no more, Miss 'Rene...' She rose, busying herself a moment in nervous movements, flicking away the petals that had fallen from the vase of flowers among Miss Irene's brushes and things. 'Why don't you ever send to him, miss?' she said at last, over her shoulder, stopping her movements dead.
'Mr. Paul, you mean?'
'Miss 'Rene! Who else?...What's he staying on for, Miss 'Rene?...Miss 'Rene, you ought to see him.'
'I hate Mr. Paul!' Irene looked Sophy full in the face. 'I wish he had been killed instead!'
'Don't, Miss 'Rene,' whispered Sophy, very white. 'I can't bear to hear you. Mr. Paul's been crazy for you a long time, ain't he? Whatever was done that night...he done it worked up about you, and...oh, Miss 'Rene, it's too dreadful...' Sophy flung her apron to her eyes. She dropped helplessly into a seat; the tears rained down. 'If you're going to turn on him, too. Miss 'Rene—'
Irene watched her a moment curiously with a hard look, then she fell to comforting and petting. Tendernesses were as easy to Irene as the changing of her shoes. Sophy gradually fell back upon sniffs and apologies.
'I ain't had a good cry,' she said, 'not since that night. Miss 'Rene; I've been so worritted about you, an' so scared; and there's Mr. Paul—he don't never show himself, an' you keeping off and saying you hate him—'
Sophy's figure was pathetic, and she had been very stanch. Irene caught a momentary vision of her point of view. Her young lady and Mr. Paul! He a picture, she a picture. Why, it was a grand thing to keep your lover's secret. And what had he done? Fought another who would have taken advantage of Miss 'Rene—fought him and killed him! Well, there it was—a romance, and love could carry it off head high, if it came to it. Only, if there was no love, there was nothing between Sophy and the view of prison walls and a nightmare with a gallows in it...Momentarily Irene caught the pitifulness of the dilemma.
'Don't be foolish, Sophy,' she said gently. 'Mr. Paul is more than safe with me—you must know that...'
Even as the lie to the spirit left Irene's lips the first warning came of the price of it. Sophy rose, dabbing her face remorsefully.
'Now, shall I help you dress. Miss 'Rene?' she said, with a final sniff. 'I'm that sorry to have been so stupid.'
'No, thank you, Sophy.' Irene spoke quite quietly, stood quite quietly. She showed by no change or flicker that she had been touched as by a flame with desire to say aloud: 'It was not Paul Ferriby who killed Cousin John. You are quite mistaken. It was not Paul.' The flame touched and passed.
'And you'll speak to...Mr. Paul, Miss 'Rene?'
'Yes—to-night, very likely.'
'And you'll see Miss Daphne after dinner?'
Sophy turned her face wistfully. At this moment it looked very small and peaky and tragically city-bred. Irene stooped her goddess-like fullness and kissed the sharp cheek.
'Oh, Miss 'Rene, I think I'd die to have it never have happened...' Sophy choked back the sob. 'You'll make yourself look nice now, won't you. Miss 'Rene dear?' And she hurried off.
Irene re-seated herself, smiling, elated. So Sophy did think it was Paul. She had expected nothing else, but something uttered weighs more than something thought. And what had Sophy said about Gisberne? That he was downstairs now. Irene glanced at the timepiece—five o'clock; and Daphne Estorel's new idea of dinner was at half-past six.
She would not go in to dinner; she would see Daphne afterwards. First she would see Paul; she would see both Paul and Daphne before she saw Gisberne.
After the trances and stupors of the past weeks, consecutive thought, the merest planning of the merest thing, was a pleasure and a cordial.
Irene was well again. Gazing into her glass, she saw no change in herself. Wanness and hollows had vanished. She dressed herself with pains, though pains could end only in one effect—she was in white. She took long. Every now and again the emptiness of the day that would end never more in her cousin's bold kiss stabbed her into inaction, and after the stab and the inaction she applied again the stimulant of curious questions. Could Sophy be right in thinking Paul stayed on at the Grange for her? She had not seen him since he put her aside after the reading of the will. Why did he stay? Why was Gisberne back? What should she say to Daphne? It grew dark, but long before that Irene's room was in a blaze of light; she was very careful to avoid the dark. Sophy slept at the foot of her bed.
Once she was dressed, a spirit of expectancy came over her. Going to the door—the door not on to the stairway but opening on to the landing opposite—she heard Daphne enter her room across it. Irene listened carefully and heard when she left. She looked out and caught the soft swish of a dress upon the stairs. The house was very still. Let the kitchen-doors be open there was then a pleasant hum, for the number of serving maids was increased, there were a few more men needing meals, and Jane Skidfell's rule at the huge spit and ovens had been made over to a white-mobbed successor, who, though not much younger and 'nigh as skilful,' kept not so tight a rein. But the kitchen doors were closed and the great house was very still. Daphne's door stood ajar. Irene—suddenly, swiftly-stepped across and tapped. But she knew the room was empty. She peered in—it was a huge room. It seemed a journey to the bed in that far recess. On the hearth logs were smouldering to red embers. A shaded lamp burnt on a table. The casements were open, letting in a frosty air mingling with the sweet fresh warmth that was of the room itself. Irene took a step across the threshold and stood fascinated. She felt the wide space vibrant still with another woman's life. She smote her hands upon her breast, realizing Daphne Estorel. Gradually, a red-hot hate tingled through her, and the last shreds of sick weakness shrivelled in it. A frenzy of spite shook her and sent her panting back against the doorpost for support...Irene steadied herself. Those nameless sentinels that guard life and reason warned her—to steady herself. It took a few moments, some deep heavings of her bosom, her hand upon her heart. As she turned to go she looked again over her shoulder. A thought struck her, and she returned slowly and cautiously to the table. There was nothing here at a glance to tempt or to offer reward, but Irene looked with inner sight as if someone touched her and pointed where and how.
She bent over a sheet of note-paper; the date upon it and a few words:—'Dear Mr. Winch,—In answer to your suggestion as to a head bailiff or steward, Mr. Paul Ferriby—' Here the pen had been laid down. Beside the letter was a pencilled memorandum of certain purchases and sales relating to the farm, signed 'Paul Ferriby.' Close by was a handkerchief in a limp, crumpled ball...
Irene bent her face over the table. Looking up, she caught a sudden vision of herself in the swung mirror on the dressing-table, stared at it an instant, beginning, even as she stared, to tiptoe towards the door. Over a chair-back hung one of Daphne Estorel's garments. Irene caught herself away from it, crossing the threshold, drew the door to as she had found it, and went to the head of the stairs. They were lighted—a new thing—and the light threw her white figure and absorbed face into an instant picture against shadow and dark wood. Not a sound below. Irene stood, staring down absorbed, motionless.
'If,' she thought, 'Daphne Estorel cares for Paul; if she thinks it was Paul who was the death of Devil Ferriby'—her thoughts seemed to rise on an inward scream, though she did not stir—' then...then...If she cares, if she thinks he did it...She does care, she does think so...I know it! By her room, I know it.'
Curiosity had always had a large share in Irene Garth's nature. She had not found much scope for it, and it had directed itself so far to the discovery of facts. Now her curiosity was roused to engage itself with finer material. Here were the four of them-Gisberne, Paul, Daphne Estorel, herself, and Ferriby dead in the midst of them, murdered, and she held the key. She could watch each, she alone, holding this supreme advantage. The new grasp of the situation that had terrified Sophy renewed to Irene the old belief in herself. If Paul were indeed to be suspected or accused she possessed a power that equalized her with Daphne Estorel, and that took the sting out of the madness of self-reproach at her past folly.
An hour or two after she had been in Daphne's room Irene heard from Sophy that Mr. Gisberne had left before dinner, having gone away by the front entrance, and that Miss Daphne was just about to drive over to Fulbec, late though it was, in answer to a message from Mrs. Ibimay; but, since Miss Irene had said she would like to see Miss Daphne this evening, would she do so first?
Irene would. She had dined—not, when it came to it, in the living-room, used only that once of the reading of the will—but in the—'lavender-room' as of old. Luxurious food was no new feature at the Grange, but a certain special elegance conveyed in the meal and the change to formality from her own room affected her. Always fond of—' good things,' the delicate flavour and odours put her back to the days when she was queen. With scarcely an idea what she should say, but, in this humour, trusting to the insolence of the blood, Irene went across to Daphne Estorel. Daphne waited for her in the room she had begun to use continuously. The two had not met since Lawyer Winch's visit. They had not been face to face like this since that day in the buttery more than six years ago. Daphne stood in hat and wrap. Irene, closing the door behind her, stayed at it. In her hand she had Lawyer Winch's letter to herself.
'Good-evening,' said Daphne, in that strangely bright voice of hers.
'Good-evening.' Their eyes met in the inevitable summing up.
'Mrs. Ibimay has sent a message to me,' pursued Daphne, as if trying to take things naturally between them, her bright voice helping the effect. 'She cannot bear the house, and would like to come over here awhile.'
'Before her husband is buried?'
'No. The funeral is to-morrow. I am going over to stay with her to-night.'
Dora Ibimay had affected friendship neither for Daphne nor Irene. Her turning now to Daphne was characteristic. Irene's lip curled. Had the new heiress planned she could scarcely have devised a method more delicate or equally effective for emphasizing her position. There was a moment's pause, antagonism gathering.
'I have heard from Lawyer Winch,' said Irene.
'I am obliged to you for your offer. I could not, of course, dream of accepting it.'
'Why, of course?' asked Daphne.
Irene took a step forward. 'Because I do not think it is the right thing that you should have Ferriby-you, an outsider. I will not take as charity what I have the better claim to. You are profiting by the merest chance. I was engaged to Cousin John. By now I should have been his wife.'
'You should have made your engagement public,' said Daphne, as quietly as coldly.
Irene felt herself deadly white, her passion overmastering. She moved again forward. 'I kept my engagement quiet,' she said, 'because '—she paused-'I wanted to avoid—what had to happen after all!' She rushed the words in a gasp, then caught her hand to her side, and stood breathing deep, her eyes fixed on Daphne, her lips pressed together fiercely, as on some betrayal she had not meant.
'What do you mean?'
'Nothing, nothing. If you don't understand me, nothing. I am a Ferriby. I only want to tell you I will not take this money; but I am going to stay here-for a time, and Paul can pay, out of what you pay him, for what I cost you.'
Envy and all uncharitableness, hate and spite, were plain enough in Irene's words, an undisciplined nature behind them. Daphne thought, however, she could read in them something more. When she spoke her voice was low with great anger, with a superb, slow-growing, righteous wrath of years.
'Ferriby is mine,' she said. 'Stay in it if you like, but you will only stay because I let you. You might have been married to your cousin. You kept your engagement to him secret. Yes, why? Not to avoid the two men coming together, as you hinted just now, but because of the vile and wretched game you have been playing. You brought about your cousin's death—you! Stay here, but be careful in trying to go on with your double dealing. You shall behave yourself. You shall be very quiet, very careful how you abuse the hospitality of this house, or I shall be just as quick to defend it—and myself. You are false, you are wanton, and anyone to whom I say that will believe it. Better never try your word against mine.'
Daphne ended, but the end was not quite with the words. They seemed to pervade the room for a long moment after she ceased, then she caught her wrap round her and swept on the high tide of her outbreak towards the door. Choking, speechless, Irene threw herself between. She motioned with her hand.
'Wait...' she gasped, 'wait...'
Daphne laughed, her eyes blazing, and threw back her head and stood firm. She knew what was coming just as well as she could have guessed the event if she had seen a knife in Irene's hand.
'Shall I tell you why you hate me?' Owing to the madness of her fury Irene's voice came in a feeble whisper. 'I expected this...You're in love with Paul, and yet you have to know that he killed Cousin John—for me, for me...You are in love with him, and he turned his back on you. He killed Cousin John—for me.'
She tottered, and Daphne caught her by the arm and flung her to a seat.
'Ah,' she said—'ah!' And then minutes might have passed or hours. Irene, coming somewhat to her senses, gazed up into a face that made her own feel wan and nothing. Her fury went out before the blaze in Daphne Estorel's eyes like a candle in a fireflame. She cowered as if something were raised to kill her.
'You are mad just now. You don't know what you are saying. But you must understand,' Daphne spoke at last in a low voice, 'any mischief or scandal will only hurt yourself. Don't make any mistake about me. I am not to be insulted, nor to be mocked, nor—to be beaten. Now, do you want to...utter that again? Will you say it to the household?'
Irene, staring, knew that she fell together. After a moment or two Daphne's face and eyes went away, she heard the door close, and knew herself still huddled helplessly in her seat. From the grey-wrapped, still, bright, silent statue she had called Daphne Estorel there had leaped out living fire, and she was smitten. This Daphne Estorel! How she had laughed, this woman, Daphne Estorel! Her words bit and seared...After a while Sophy Bassett, entering, wearing hat and jacket, found Miss Irene alone in the warm, deep-toned brightness of the room still where Daphne had left her, her hands locked in her lap.
'Miss Irene dear, I beg your pardon coming in like this, but...Miss Irene, is anything the matter?'
Irene sprang up lightly. 'No, no, Sophy, nothing. I was only thinking...'
'Miss Daphne has gone, miss.'
'Yes, I know.'
Sophy gazed a moment dubiously.
'Were you going out?' asked Irene pleasantly.
'I did think of it, Miss Irene, for half an hour...Scarside—'
'Oh, don't waste a moment, Sophy! You have lost too many evenings off for me.'
'You'll be all right. Miss Irene?'
'Quite,' and Irene smiled.
Sophy, departing, took a last look at Miss 'Rene as if her manner did not wholly please her.
Irene herself was surprised at the ease with which she had been pleasant, and had given Sophy gracious looks. A smile, however, is the first and easiest of natural deceptions.
Sophy had come in upon Irene shaping within her heart no less a thought than to fasten Devil Ferriby's death openly upon Paul. She had taken the first step towards it in her mad words. It would be easy. In the swell of her fury it seemed a little thing to conceive as a revenge.
Daphne Estorel had towered over her, dwarfed her, blighted her: she had fallen before her like a mortal under the threat of a goddess. Irene recalled the spread golden hair, the wide shoulders, the eyes like a cut diamond, the full nostrils and curving, denouncing, scorning lips. Daphne Estorel from the first had stolen in upon her life like something superhuman. It was a small matter to plan anything that should drag her down, put her in the mire with the rest, agonize, humiliate her, make her crawl and cry! She lost sense of Paul. He was only a factor in her scheme against Daphne.
All unconsciously she was testifying to the difference between them. She would strike at Daphne through Paul. She, who had never loved, apprehended, seeing Daphne, how love can hurt and slay.
But Sophy Bassett's entrance broke the spell. Irene reflected. She had yet to meet Paul, yet to speak to Gisberne. She could not foresee the turn of either interview. Little had she foreseen this sharp encounter with Daphne. Curiosity revived. She must wait to know what to do. Only, she had one weapon forged.
Paul Ferriby retained his rooms in the coach-house, suggesting to Lawyer Winch the desirability of taking up his residence altogether at a distance. He had thrown off manual labour as he had done his slouch and clumsy clothes. He would, however, give his position no titles.
'But you've got the grip of a master on the property, young man,' said the lawyer. 'What's your motive?'
'I may as well earn my living here as anywhere,' said Paul.
'Humph!' returned Winch. 'I don't know. I don't know.'
But it was early days to interfere, still soon enough to be thinking of change. 'Let sleeping dogs lie,' quoth the lawyer to himself. To outsiders he remarked that Mr. Paul was penniless save for what Ferriby paid him, and that it was a pity to drive young men like that out of the country. He had a genius for management, saved the property twice what it paid him, and time enough for changes when Miss Estorel went out of mourning. That Paul was not well received in his new capacity Lawyer Winch knew as well as anybody, and ignored better. Let sleeping dogs lie—don't add a breath to float those birds of the air that carry a matter. Better a live Ferriby than a dead one. Thus the lawyer thought, and if everybody should be of his mind the better.
Meanwhile, Paul kept his own counsel, and was as little to be seen within the Grange as Solomon Scarside. This evening, leaning over the light iron railings of the steps up to the door, once the head coachman's own entrance, Paul heard the clang of the gate higher up the road, and knew that someone was entering or leaving the front garden of the house.
It was between nine and ten, the air frosty, the night thick with stars. He did not move, but, waiting and looking, saw a figure emerge from the dark.
'Paul,' said Irene Garth's voice softly, 'is that you?'
'I want to speak to you.'
'What is it?'
'Cannot I come up? I cannot say anything here.'
Silence was Paul Ferriby's only consent. Irene mounted slowly, helping herself by the rail. He let her pass him, slowly turned, and followed.
The room they entered looked no more than just a man's habitation. It was large enough, and so seemed barely furnished, though with enough of litter.
A small, old-fashioned bureau stood within the door, in the centre a table, armchairs either side the fireplace, guns and fishing-tackle. A brown setter lifted her beautiful head from a luxurious basket in a corner and spoke with soft, maternal eyes. One picture was on the wall—a steeplechase scene; on the window-sill, in a tumbler, set together without arrangement, a cluster of Michaelmas daisies and a crimson rose.
'Did you put those there?' cried Irene suddenly.
He glanced round surprised, saw she pointed to the flowers, looked back at her silently.
'What is the matter with you, Paul?' she said, her tone altered. 'I suppose I may sit down?...What have I done?'
He moved restlessly. It was plain that she intruded, that she was outside his thoughts, even of anger.
'What have I done? That day the will was read...I have been very ill...Why are you so strange?...' She put her hand out to touch his arm, but it fell again to her side. He eyed her.
'I should have thought you would have understood,' he said.
'I do not,' she said.
Her tone of security was unreasonable, considering the nature of the men she had been playing with, but her scene with Daphne Estorel had given her an insolence as of drink.
'What am I to understand?' she demanded.
He looked at her with sudden anger. 'If you didn't understand, why have you been so quiet all this time?'
Ah, Sophy had urged her so often to write, to send a message. Sophy had had her own reasons; it would have been better to have fallen in with them.
'I have been ill,' said Irene. 'Cousin John's death like that was enough surely.'
Paul turned away; the anger passed, leaving his face coldly troubled. It was very evident speech came to his lips; it was more evident still he could not, rather than would not, utter it.
'You were going to marry him,' he said at length.
Irene's breathing quickened. 'I always told you he wanted me to marry him.'
'He told me so, too,' answered Paul—' told me you were going to.'
'Well, he would say that.'
'Yes, you might have known it.'
Irene had thought it folly whenever she heard or read that a young man could scorn a young woman, a creature young and beautiful like herself. At Paul's tone, his pause, his turned shoulder, she started incredulously and leant forward and tried to see his face.
'I don't know what you mean.'
He was silent. She stood up, scarlet, her head thrown back.
'When did Cousin John talk to you about me?'
'That is not the question. He opened my eyes. You know what he could tell me. You know what there was between you.'
'Between us,' she echoed blankly.
The whole meaning of it was slow in reaching her-did not reach her.
In the long silence the setter, lifting her head, eyed them over the edge of her bed, and still eyeing them, was caught gently back to sleep.
'When did Cousin John tell you what there was between us?' she repeated at length.
'Not an hour after you were here in this very room asking me to take you away because you were afraid of him. It was all planned.' Paul flashed round on her. 'He told me so and laughed in my face. Marry me! Go away with me! He twitted me with having waited round you too long...He told me I was a fool, that I could have you when he'd done with you...that if I had chosen...'
She interrupted with a furious cry. 'And you killed him for saying it!' she half screamed—'you killed him for it!...'
Paul stood arrested, staring at her as she at him.
'I see it...' cried Irene. She clutched her breast, and as the wild thought gripped her, her knees began to knock together. 'It was that night,' she cried...'you met in the storm...You threw him down...Paul, you killed him!'
As she uttered it she believed it. In a flash she saw what could have happened. Ferriby had revived; he was not dead when she saw him lying there on the floor. He had left the house again, and Paul had met him and—killed him.
Then, a flash following a flash, she knew again that he had not; she knew it was not Paul who had killed Cousin John, for she had seen!
The desire to say so touched her like flame, and passed. There was a long pause. She sank back into her seat and watched Paul awhile. He had not lost his composure, though she had plainly startled him. His manner expressed an utter coldness and aversion.
'Of course, I did not mean that,' said Irene feebly. 'I came to speak to you—to ask you what to do—but—if you are so changed—if you are believing lies about me—'
He still found nothing to answer. He stood aside from the doorway as if making room for her to pass. She hesitated between the desire to force him further and the wisdom of going. She could easily have passed him—he meant her to—leaving all else unsaid, but the change in him fascinated her. It was greater than the change in Daphne Estorel. Irene perceived that she had come from the seclusion and safety of her room into a new place among new people.
'Why should you believe what a man like Cousin John said of a girl quite at his mercy?' she asked unsteadily.
Still Paul made no answer.
She waited, studying him. The scowl had left his brows, now firm, dark lines. His hands were supple, his clean-cut lips under the slight moustache reminded her that she had kissed them, and there he stood, a stranger to her, the more a stranger for that memory.
Irene had told Sophy she hated Paul; she had said so to herself insistently. No—she did not hate him.
Leaning against the door, he began, without otherwise moving, to fill his pipe. He was sincerely anxious to end the scene. She saw and felt it. He wanted no more of it. She, woman-like, was ready to run the whole gamut—she could not go.
'I came here to-night to ask you to tell me what to do,' she repeated, her eyes fixed on him. 'Daphne Estorel offers me money, so much a year, through Lawyer Winch. I have refused it. I saw her a little while ago.' Her breath caught at the recall of it. 'Don't you think you might dispute the will, Paul? It might be proved that uncle was out of his mind, coerced by Jane Skidfell.'
Acting being nature to Irene Garth, she had slipped in a breath into the tone and attitude, gentle and dispassionate, of an unavoidable discussion between two who certainly might have quarrelled, but two, nevertheless, whose interests were still identical.
Paul had always known her faults. He must still see her charm, still feel it. She would work him back through her helplessness and need of advice to forgiveness and reconciliation.
It was obvious that Paul saw her lead, and found it very hard to follow. He gave her the look of one encountering the incomprehensible. He seemed to struggle with a sheer refusal to answer or have any speech with her. Then he drew himself up, and spoke with an effort.
'I have no money to dispute the will, even if it could be of the slightest use.'
'Some one might take it up for you,' she pursued eagerly.
'No.' It was a sound of finality.
'Then '—Irene's voice dropped a little—' you are going to accept things—go on staying here?'
'For the present. I suppose so—yes.'
'What did you mean by saying—that day—the day of the will—that you were staying on to serve your purpose?'
'Nothing. It suits me to stay.'
'And what am I to do?'
Again he showed the effort with which he treated her, as some one still to be so treated.
'You had better take the money...Your father had friends.'
'You mean you want me to go away?'
'Oh'—she moved nearer and lifted her hand to her throat, as if to restrain rising passion—' you cannot be so indifferent as all this, Paul! You cannot mean to treat me so, repudiate me, turn your back on me! What have I done, after all? Do you think it was easy to steer between you and Cousin John?...You have been poisoned against me by Daphne Estorel.'
She had taxed him with that before in the old days. Perhaps now it would strike response and break him up into some passion or rage in which there might be something she could catch at, and so be dragged back to his heart.
Paul's face betrayed neither passion nor rage.
'Can't you forgive me, Paul?' she whispered. 'Can't we be friends?'
He moved suddenly, coming back to the table, and the setter leapt up with cocked ears and barked. Irene, a little frightened at what she might have evoked, dropped into her seat, gazing up at him. Her face was full in the lamplight, and, as one blows upon a flame, she made her whole being bear upon her own loveliness. She felt how beautiful she was—she breathed it from her. 'Don't be so cruel,' she murmured. She caught back a sob, and stretched out her hand to lay it upon his. She was not wholly acting any more than in the harness-room that evening. He overcame her with his strong presence and his beauty. It was beauty. But she gazed with all her beauty turned to it, and saw the fine, dark face still set and unmoved, felt him utterly unresponsive. Again she told herself: 'I hate you.' In her own despite she went still further. 'I thought you loved me,' she whispered. 'You have said so...Oh, you can't have forgotten.' He looked at her steadily, going slowly very pale, till the pallor touched his lips.
'No, and for that very reason,' he said, and paused. The blood had reached its ebb. Irene could not take her eyes away, fascinated to see Paul Ferriby's dark face so white. 'I begin to see what you are here for,' he said at length...I ought to have understood you before...You stand alone, and he was very plain with me. Do you want my help—to get away...or in anything?...'
As slowly as the paleness had overspread his face, so slowly did the full meaning of the words reach Irene's comprehension. She stood up, her face as bloodless as his.
'I see...I was stupid just now.' She took a breathless moment and controlled herself. 'I didn't understand when you said Cousin John had told you...he told you, and you didn't kill him.'
'No,' he answered, turning from her; 'I didn't care to. You seemed scarcely worth it. I believed him.'
In an instant everything was over. The integral truth or falsehood of such a moment makes no difference.
Irene, crossing to the door, stood there calling on herself to help herself. She summoned all her days and deeds in Ferriby to come to her rescue. They were all so smirched with falsity she could not shape denial out of any of them. It was no use to protest to Paul. She looked round. He was standing by the fireplace, his back to her, his head bent. A terrible sense of desolation overcame her, greater than when she first felt Cousin John was really gone—dead, buried. She crept back towards the big, motionless figure and caught the slack hand, and, holding it between her own, sank down in the armchair and lifted a piteous face.
'Paul, Paul, you don't believe it?'
He winced, and shrank from her. 'We're cousins,' he said. 'I...of course, if you didn't come here for my help—' He stopped, her hold slackened, and he drew his hand away. 'It's rough on you to have lost your chances,' he resumed, not looking at her again, making obvious and most painful effort to address her naturally and with any interest. 'I should take the money offered and leave the Grange. This is a mere nothing to you. You'll speedily forget it.'
'As you will,' said Irene, rising. His tone was like cold water on hysteria.
'I must tell you,' he added, 'Scarside is not yet back from Petsham. He will come in here.'
'I am going,' she said. And yet she hesitated, with a last impulse to struggle with him, agitate him, convince, infuriate. She looked at him, and saw him still deadly pale. It was sympathy with any show of emotion that made Irene Garth so good an actress. She gazed, and was lowered into the dust. She knew what his pallor meant—the effort of offering the common charity of men to women. He, a young man, having to offer it to the goddess of his young dream...Irene Garth winced, drew together, and stole from the room without more ado, without a word.
Scarside came presently riding into the yard, and after a while knocked at the great coach-house doors where Daphne Estorel had battered that night. Paul passed through his sleeping-room and the great building, opened a flap, and stepped out beside Scarside's swinging lantern.
'You're late, Scarside.'
'Yes, sir.' Scarside's explanation was feasible, without including the fact of Sophy Bassett's having come to meet him, thinking he drove instead of rode. This entailed humorous incidents entirely for his own edification. Sophy had been sent on in a passing tradesman's cart. Scarside was laughing inwardly to think of it.
Since Devil Ferriby's death Scarside and a boy slept on the premises over the stables. Paul walked thither with the man. One of the dogs ran up eagerly and nosed his hand.
'That brute 'll dee,' said Solomon gruffly. 'He's skin and bone, for ever nosing round the cellar-flap. It was his howlin' woke me that morning o' t' accident. 'I'd hae he shot, Mr. Paul.'
'Shot! Because he misses his master?'
Solomon grunted that if he did that it 'ud be a mercy to end it.
'You watch un,' he said. 'He'll take to howlin' regular. That won't do.'
Silence was the tradition of the Grange watch-dogs. 'If he's not right he'd better be taken off duty!' said Paul shortly.
His business with Scarside accomplished, the two exchanged a brief good-night, and, carrying the big keys delivered to him, Paul turned back to his quarters. Reaching the coach-house, he whistled guardedly. He did not wish Scarside by chance to hear. The dog came out of the dark slowly to his knees. Paul stroked and patted his head. 'You poor old chap!' he said very gently. He bent to the dog's level and looked into his eyes. 'You saw something that night,' he said, speaking into them.
At his tone the creature threw back his head, and his bristles rose.—' Ah!' Paul rose, still keeping the dog at his knee. He went back to Irene Garth's words: 'You killed Cousin John!' Killed! Devil Ferriby killed—in the sense of murdered! Was that a general idea, Paul asked himself, or only the flare of Irene's wrath and shame?
It was late for Scarside to be returning from Petsham, but still only a little past ten, when Irene returned to the house after her visit to Paul. One of the new maids was tending the fire in the room she had left—an elderly, superior person.
'Will you touch the bell, miss,' she said, 'when you're ready to go upstairs? Is there anything I can get you?'
'I don't want to keep you up.'
'Oh no, miss.'
'I should like some coffee.'
The woman departed. Irene dragged herself to a chair by the fire—dragged herself purposely, indulged herself in a tottering attitude, and fell into the seat, pushing back her hair, her lace gown trailing, twisted round her. She could imagine herself before an audience doing this upon a stage, after such a scene as she had had with Paul. She imagined Paul playing with her—how well he had played!—and then the parts thrown aside, and she, behind the scenes, his queen and he still adoring. Only this was her life, and in life, when acting behind the scenes, a woman is alone. The coffee was brought, elegantly. On the tray were pieces of beautiful old silver long kept hidden. Irene saw around her, in everything. Daphne Estorel's touch. She could divine plainly, from the platform of a lesser intelligence and poorer imagination, how the new owner would restore grace and beauty to the Grange, and how in her her uncle, Devil Ferriby, had thought for the redemption of a degenerate race, a race that had traitors in it like Cousin John!
For a while she lay back, inert in a painless reverie. In the warm comfort, under the fine stimulant, reflection gradually took on more vivid hues: her blood, stunned, began again to circulate. Ferriby was Daphne Estorel's...Cousin John was dead. Paul had done with her. Irene's knowledge of men and of herself, given by her own nature and set free in intercourse with Devil Ferriby, told her that passion has no judgment, and that love can forgive. She had plumed herself Paul loved her. He had not loved her. No man, she thought, ever would. The hate of Paul she had boasted of to herself had proved only a passionate interest. That had been put out like flame by water: she felt no hate now, only dull dislike of his escape from her. He had told her to take the money offered, and go away, and the saintly Daphne had turned upon her. It was all over, over for ever, thought Irene, for youth is nothing to the young. Life must be now, this instant, or it is nowhere, it is nothing.
Ferriby, with its triumphs, and amusements, and lovers, had gone with Devil Ferriby into his grave-gone out of reach. What was she to do...penniless, forlorn, alone? She possessed her secret...she had her beauty: there was Robert Gisberne.
To her secret Irene had added by twisting double a plain thread, firstly by her mad false words to Daphne, secondly by her mad and false suggestion to Paul.
It remained to see Gisberne. Irene had planned a meeting with him this evening, and, though it had grown late, her mind offered no objections to its still taking place.
At eleven she rang the bell, took her bedroom candlestick, and went up the wide stairway. She dragged herself still, as weary as if she had walked miles. She did not know agitation of mind could equally fatigue. In her room everything was ready, no one there. Sophy undressed in her own chamber, and came to Miss 'Rene the last thing, arranging her night-lights, and smoothing the coverlet with gentle touch.
Irene stood and looked round the wide and comfortable space. Emotion was spent. She felt she would be sorry to leave Ferriby. She regretted many things. She would have been glad, she thought, to die.
Then she heard the sound of horse's hoofs. The air, still and frosty, carried it clearly. Devil Ferriby! He used to come at that light canter down the lane!
Devil Ferriby was in his grave...A little cry parted Irene's lips, and she who a moment since had thought nothing could move her more ran to the window with wild eyes and unuttered, awful expectation...
No, no! Cousin John was dead.
The hoof-beats stopped, and presently Irene, straining her eyes, saw the figures of man and mount emerge into view, clear in the starlight, walking along the grassy border of the lane.
The man was Gisberne. As he stopped at the gate and began to secure the bridle, Irene, hearing a sound behind her, looked round and saw Sophy. She was still dressed.
'Miss 'Rene, I was so late, I thought—'
'Mr. Gisberne has just ridden up,' broke in Irene, her tone excited.—' Go down and let him in.'
Sophy fell into an attitude of terror. The tradesman who had given her a lift spoke of rumours spreading, ugly talk. This late visit, anything out of the ordinary, was alarming.
'Miss 'Rene,' she gasped, advancing breathlessly, 'it's something about Mr. Paul...'
'Is that you, Miss Garth?' came Gisberne's pleasant voice. 'I am very late, but riding back from Petsham, I thought I would venture to enquire if Miss Estorel is at home. She tells me she does not go to bed very early.'
Irene leaned from the window. She liked to know this man there, to hear his voice. Her secret knowledge of him tingled in her blood revivingly. Through her scene with Daphne, in her interview with Paul, this had been what she clung to, or she must have sprung upon them both, she thought, and tried to tear them to pieces. She had this man, at least, who should never dare to flout her.
'Miss Estorel is spending the night with Mrs. Ibimay at Fulbec,' she said.
'Ah, I will see her there, then, in the morning.'
'Is it something of importance?' she asked.
He paused a moment. 'No, not exactly. Only a question of her decision in time. She asked me to arrange a purchase for her.'
'It's something about Mr. Paul,' whispered Sophy, again from within the room.
'I'm sorry to have disturbed you,' said Gisberne below. 'I'm off now. Good-night, Miss Garth.'
Irene leaned further from the window, speaking very steadily: 'Mr. Gisberne, I should like to see you about something. Will you come on here to-morrow after you've called at Fulbec?'
'With pleasure. Of course. I am absolutely at your service. Good-night. What time? Noon, shall we say? Good-night.'
She moved her hand towards him, drew back, and dropped the curtain.
Gisberne remounting, felt a curious liking for the creature that seemed pleased to feel him on his back and know no difference in him to any other man.
He rode with relief out of the dark of the elms and the hedgerows into the open starlight. The half-seen road wound before him to Daphne Estorel—a long and hidden way. Behind him only the dark lane separated him from Irene Garth.
'She saw me that night,' he said to himself.
A little before noon the next day Gisberne walked up the lane. He knew he had been too ready to consent to an interview, chosen at a time and season when Daphne Estorel was away; on the other hand, there is little gained by fencing with a certainty.
Irene Garth had seen him that night...The great majority of us dress and sleep and eat and drink day after day, year after year. To discuss and read of, possibly imagine, the great emotions is a relaxation that pronounces us gifted; to experience them—how rare! A little careless enjoyment of the sun, idle longings, a heartache or two, a little love-making, a little marvelling at the way we are made, a few anxieties, philosophy at last instead of passion and slow tranquillity to end it, all 'rounded with a sleep'—this is the way with most. Rocks and trees and sky and land look the same to the crowd from one year to another.
But Robert Gisberne was touching limitations. He might be soulless, but he had been gripped by a human feeling that could carry him to either side, or above, or below, far as humanity can carry an experience. He knew it, and trembled at what he found in himself.
Also, he was coming to the end of his money—as ever. What man shall say what is salvation who has not been well attired and needing money? Nerve, however, was still his—a resource scarcely drawn upon. He had to give as yet no heed to his composure, nor fear any trembling of the hands or change in his smooth face.
But those pleasant brown eyes saw nothing as they used to.
They were bent now on the ground as Gisberne walked forward lightly, if thoughtfully.
He was asking himself questions on which his life depended. He could look up, however, and without a quiver see Irene coming as slowly towards him as he moved towards her.
Gisberne was neither astounded nor panic-struck to realize that Irene Garth was witness of his deed that night. At the time he imagined his usual luck had saved him, but that she had seen him was well within even probability. He had chanced her coming on the scene at any moment when he and Daphne were occupying themselves with the body.
He knew she had not seen Daphne, and that fact afforded room to turn round in. The brown eyes surveyed Irene very pleasantly and quietly as she approached.
The sun was hot, and she, in the invariable white, carried a parasol over her bare head. She showed tall and fair, and walked with a grace of animal pride in her upright figure and slim lines. Her loveliness was unmarred. There were no signs of tears or wakeful ness. Gisberne had heard of her illness—that she had shut herself in her room, and been like to die. He did not think it was of grief! She had recovered, he saw.
They met gravely, and she did not offer her hand, for which he was glad, just as he was glad his horse could know no difference. He took the white hand of Daphne Estorel. Irene Garth's soft fingers laid in his would have revolted, and not reassured him.
'Good-morning, Mr. Gisberne.'
'I am punctual. Miss Garth.'
'Yes...Have you seen Miss Estorel?'
'No; on second thoughts I decided not to disturb her. What did you want to say to me?' He spoke with calculated straightforwardness. It was a mere useless strain to beat about the bush, and Irene had, in fact, meant to meet him simply with three words—' I saw you.' Yet she faltered before his composure. There is tremendous power in the actual person. Gisberne struck her as improved, good-looking, easy, well-dressed. She felt at once as she had felt with him before—much older, free from all need of pretences, not afraid to discuss things; and so she faltered, for she needed a friend, and while her secret was unuttered Gisberne seemed still possible as one. Afterwards—'
He stood waiting and quietly watching.
'I am glad you have come back,' said Irene at last, in a low tone, looking away.
He started, and gave an involuntary glance towards the farm. Who was the prompter of this? Glad he had come back! So Dora Ibimay had said, so Daphne Estorel, so now Irene Garth.
'What is it?' he asked. 'Why do you say that?'
She hesitated still vaguely over an idea that she need not, after all, denounce Gisberne, even to himself, unless she chose. His deed was her secret—she did not call it, or feel it, crime—and she herself had been too closely connected with Devil Ferriby's death to look upon its nature dispassionately or disconnectedly. Since last night, moreover, she could think of Cousin John fiercely and with bitterness—a brute, a coward, a betrayor, and traitor. Should she pretend to Gisberne she had seen nothing? Should she wander on with him along the summer road and try to forget, and ask his help, as she had meant before any of it happened? No; if she did not tell him to-day she should to-morrow. She must see what he looked like—she must hear what he would say. 'Shall we go back to the house?' she said.
'I don't mind in the least,' was his pleasant answer, but he winced inwardly. He'd seen something of Irene Garth's dramatic instincts! He winced, and braced himself.
Was that servant-girl Sophy Bassett also a witness of what happened that night?
Gisberne moved very quietly...He felt no particular rage towards Irene. It was the way things had 'panned out.' Sick desperation touched him an instant with thought of complications ahead, but he had lived always by the moment, for the moment, and doing simply what the moment brought. The old habit ruled. Like a Circe, he at her heel, Irene led the way back to the house, through the porch, back into the living-room, as he knew she would.
The air of disuse was over the place, modified by a bright fire, reflected cheerily from bureau, table, and panelled walls.
Irene crossed to the door on to the kitchen quarters, and, opening it, listened.
'The servants are all at dinner,' she remarked.
Gisberne waited curiously to see how she would drop the latch. She snapped it into place, and he drew his breath, as if relieved.
'I had my breakfast here,' said Irene. 'I must begin to use this room again while I remain. It is the only one at my disposal. Will you sit down?'
'No, I don't think so,' said Gisberne.
She moved to the fire. The sun was hot without. The room, sunless till evening, and disused, was chill. She stood looking into the flames in silence.
And she remained silent—a long while.
It was as effective as words, and more unnerving. Gisberne gave a thought to his revolver, but knew it was the merest nervousness. That was a far-off end, and, before the end came, he had everything to win. He had been making shift at a paltry game for pettifogging gains. It was different now. His actions should not creep any more along the edge of things. They should march alongside destiny, for did he not love Daphne Estorel?
'Say anything you like to me at any time,' Gisberne had said in this room, and to Irene. But such a silence as lasted now between them went further than any speech—a silence only possible to strange sympathy and affinity, yet neither quite sympathy nor quite affinity: the something between that keeps creatures quiet when side by side upon the trail and on the one hunt, elemental, instinctive.
'What am I to do?' said Irene at length. There swelled in her throat the pang of bereavement; utterly unexpectedly, she was in tears. She missed Cousin John. It seemed to her this man should restore him. 'What am I to do?' she said. 'What am I to do?'
And then Gisberne knew that he was pretty safe. With him, till now, everything was personal; he knew neither abstractions nor ethics; the essence of a thing was nothing; actions he named by their results; for motive he had the moment's need, and for principle a suave trust in luck and personal ambitions that were fair and decent.
Irene Garth had no abstractions either. She also knew no ethics. They met on level ground with neither to cry, 'Conscience, conscience!' To this for sole education and habitude of mind add now on Gisberne's side an idea all at once as big as humanity: all the poetry and passion and all the dreams of all time to be expressed in the effect upon him of the person and nature of Daphne Estorel. There was no measurement even possible beside such a scale; nothing worth discussing as right or wrong any more than it is worth while whispering the principle of life into a dead man's ear.
Should Irene Garth once become so inspired and so obsessed, she and Gisberne would be fairly equally balanced.
They were so far now in unison. To begin with, Irene could not confuse Gisberne. Outside the new standard Daphne Estorel inspired he had none at all; outside that new absorption, natural promptings only. Irene was crying—he had seen girls with creamy skins, full-bosomed, petulant in charm, howling in log-cabins, screaming over fallen men; he had seen them comforted. He had heard them lie and bear false witness in Courts of Justice and before God and man, and then known them tear themselves to tatters over a wretched little bit of hidden truth; they were no ideals, these, scarcely fellow-creatures, man's summer mate, a breed that he domesticates, and tames, and pets to a level with the caressing hand. And Irene Garth was of this kind.
'What did you think of doing?' he asked, making no more pause. He had endured the silence to get a grip on his own nerves and weaken her. He knew what he was going to say. Irene struggled with her tears. Gisberne came gently nearer. Her weeping became violent.
'Don't!' he said. 'Come, come to the window. The air will revive you. The heat of the fire will cause headache. Come.'
He led her to the dais, and it did not strike her his arm was round her. He placed her in a chair. 'Shall I get you some water? Shall I call someone?' He bent towards her with a soothing gesture. She motioned and he waited, setting another casement open, pushing a stool out of the way. She heard him move down to the fireplace and replace a log.
These little natural touches in between tragic and momentous issues were peculiar and of strange effect. Daphne Estorel had found them so.
At last Irene's hands dropped from her face; she sank back wearily, closing her eyes, her bosom heaving.
'I can't believe it,' she whispered. 'I can't believe it.'
'No?...Why think of it, Miss Garth? Must you?'
She opened her eyes. Gisberne, seated on the music-stool opposite her low seat, met her look unmoved.
'I can't believe it,' she whispered. 'What am I to do? Mr. Gisberne'—her face changed and paled till every vestige of the flow of tears had gone—'that night...I saw you'
'H'sh!' said Gisberne gravely. 'Hush! Be very careful...Why! I know you did.'
'Why, Miss Garth, is this what you wanted to tell me? I should say you might have guessed I knew.'
She sat forward, tense in every muscle.
'I saw you,' she repeated.
He gave a whimsical twist to his eyebrows. 'I'm sorry,' he said, half smiling. Then, even as her lips parted ready to scream at him, the brown eyes narrowed, something in the quiet face warned her. Fear, most instantaneous of all instincts, swifter than thought, touched her, and she caught herself back.
'You had to see me,' said Gisberne. 'Why, of course. It was you taking the risk or I...I took it for you. Let me mention. Miss Garth, that I saw you. I've got your wrap and the broken string of beads.'
She rose to her feet, white-faced, wide-eyed—and the stare of blue eyes is deathly. 'But I saw you,' she whispered. She pointed to the floor by the bureau. 'He lay there with a white cloth on his face—a wet cloth...white...there. I saw you move away and set down a bowl of water. You turned. I saw you as you blew out the candle.'
Gisberne felt the room whirl suddenly and grow dark. In the dark he heard Irene begin again mechanically: 'He lay there with a white cloth on his...' He put out his hand...
The moment's faintness passed. Irene's face came back, and he found he was holding her gently by the shoulder.
'Then you think I murdered your cousin?' he said.
She drew nearer. 'I saw you.'
'Your cousin was dead already, my child, before I touched him. You killed him, tumbling him down.'
'No; I heard you scuffling.'
'Did Sophy Bassett hear?'
'Well...what are you going to do?'
She was close to him, almost in his hold. She began disjointed words:
'He was a brute...He lied about me; he betrayed me...I...I...miss him...I am dreadfully lonely. How could you?...I ought to speak.'
'Speak? Why, yes, speak if it'll help things,' said Gisberne.
'You'd say I did it.'
'They wouldn't hurt you for taking care of yourself,' he answered. 'I had no motive but to stand by you. You've been left to yourself these weeks, haven't you?...Good for you. Better than if you'd had to stand up, defending yourself, answering questions...I've seen your cousin's sort before, and your sort, too...We know what happened. I told you this place was too small to hold you...I told you to get out of it...I wish you'd let me know of this when it first came into your mind...I had no motive. There are others, though, who might have had a motive in killing Devil Ferriby for meddling with you.'
For the first time Irene looked at another human being with the uttermost desire to see. For the first time she listened with the utmost power of hearing.
Gisberne's tones were gentle to persuasiveness. He was pale, his attitude concerned. He conveyed by who knew what in his nearness that encroached no iota, the kindliness of his look, his touch, as encouraging as firm, that his concern was for her. She believed it against herself.
'I expect I'd better have left it all alone,' he said; 'but it seemed to me you none of you wanted Mr. Paul in trouble; and if I've got your wrap and beads, Miss Garth, why, so much the better for you. If Mr. Paul had found them you would have been dragged in, and there's no sense in that for a girl with your chances.'
Irene's throat went dry. She did not try to cry out, she made no motion of horror or rejection, nor did she recoil by so much as a quiver. The sensation caught her of cold and loneliness, as if water closed her in, and then she felt she could not drown or die alone. She must keep close to Gisberne. They were going to the same place. She began speaking incoherently...
'Put your arms round me...hold me...save me.' Her head fell forward on his shoulder.
In a dream, not fainting, she felt his arm about her, steadying her, and then the rim of a pocket drinking-cup against her lips.
'Take a little...you're faint.'
She put it from her, and stood upright. Her throat was moist and she spoke instantly.
'Mr. Paul...Is that what you would say, if—'
'If you feel called upon to make a fuss it would have to be that. Miss Garth, unless you care to own to it that it was yourself.' He slipped the flask back, his movements so dexterous that even at that moment she watched them, and looked at her steadily. Her eyes came back to his. A cat rose suddenly into view on the wide window-sill, and stretched itself grotesquely. It seemed suddenly that they had got very far from anywhere, that it was very late on some strange long day, in a remote, unfamiliar place.
'Are you better?' said Gisberne kindly.
'Yes, quite.' She moved towards the door. 'I cannot bear any more now,' she said faintly. 'I shall see you to-morrow?'
'It is more than likely, Miss Garth.'
'Why did you come back—to Ferriby, I mean?'
'Wasn't it natural I should? I wasn't easy. I had the notion to see for myself that things had settled down without any trouble.'
'You will find I shall give you no trouble,' said Irene. 'Good-bye.'
She offered her hand. Gisberne had no feeling in taking it. His only concern now with Irene Garth was to get the right clue as to the motive of an accomplice; he thought already that he had it.
Scarside, driving his mistress home that evening from Fulbec, pointed out with the handle of his whip that 'Muster' Gisberne was there, ahead of them, along the road.
Daphne was alone with her driver. At the last moment Mrs. Ibimay had changed her mind. She could not come to the Grange; it also was a house of mourning, she said. She would go away for a while to other friends at a little distance.
Gisberne walked to and fro at a bend of the road, obviously waiting for the pony-car to come within approach. Scarside eyed him sourly. It wasn't much to his liking to raise his forefinger to 'Muster—' Gisberne. Not so much that he didn't like him—no one at the Grange had cause of complaint with Gisberne-only there was a feeling he was after Miss Daphne. Miss Daphne had called Mistress Skidfell 'aunt' for years, and Mr. Paul, a Ferriby to the bone, had worked alongside Tom, Dick, and Harry in the fields—never mind for that. There were some few left with still enough instinctive sense of an old name to begrudge its abode to a Mr. Nothing from Nowhere, however plumed.
'He's a bold un,' thought Scarside behind his glower, 'to follow her up open like this be.'
And Gisberne took the matter boldly and very easily. It pleased Daphne to see how easily. Each time they met and spoke her confidence in him was to be increased, it seemed.
He came up to her side, calm, equable, pleasant. Her woman's eye decided there was about him the very right touch. Her soul, sad within her at the dreary day she had passed, the funeral train she had seen, brightened as at a sound of music.
Scarside, his whip erect, stared like a carven man over the pony's ears as she leaned forward and put out an eager hand.
'You must forgive my "holding you up" like this. Miss Estorel,' said Gisberne. 'I ought to have seen you this morning, but, as you'll understand, I couldn't intrude on you at such a time. Finding you would be driving home just now, I thought I'd venture waylaying you.' Their eyes met, in a code already established.
'About that picture?' said Daphne at once, paling.
'Exactly. It's worth looking into, but we've lost a day—I thought—'
'It's very good of you to trouble,' she said. 'I am deeply interested and obliged. I will get out and walk. Explain, Solomon, that I shall be home immediately.'
Gisberne helped her to alight. Scarside drove on smartly, and the two figures were left upon the lonely road. It was near the spot where Dora Ibimay and Devil Ferriby had parted—without a kiss—the day of his death. This evening the bare landscape gathered glamour in a rosy mist. The sun was setting for a frosty, starlit night.
'You are alone. Miss Estorel,' said Gisberne.
'Yes; Mrs. Ibimay went away with some friends. You've been to the Grange?'
'I went last night; I saw Miss Garth. I was there again this morning.'
'Miss Garth—' Daphne began. She closed her lips again.
'There's something wrong with Miss Garth'—Gisberne took her up quietly—'a little hysteria perhaps—over-excitement. You don't think?'...he stopped, and she turned a startled glance.
'What? You mean she may know something?'
'It strikes me that way, Miss Estorel, I am bound to admit.'
Daphne walked on silently, putting from her strongly this most hideous suggestion...If Irene shared her knowledge, if Irene also were screening Paul, and with Paul's connivance!...She reflected.
'It is impossible,' she said.
'I'm glad to hear you think so. Miss Estorel.'
She searched his face. 'Was this what you wanted to tell me?'
'No...I heard yesterday in Petsham that there's a hint starting of foul play. I thought I'd warn you. You might catch a word from a servant and be startled.'
'It's hinted against—'
The sun dropped, the rosiness vanished, and the low white mists rose quickly. They walked on, looking ahead, silent, preoccupied. Near by was the stone wall that had stood out in ghastly fashion under the storm. They had passed the shepherd's cottage; Scarside was long out of sight. It was not a cheering spot in which to say 'good-bye,' nor a bracing one in which to hear bad news.
Daphne looked round, then her glance came back to Gisberne. In the wide loneliness he stood for everything. Suddenly their quiet culminated. She stopped abruptly and pale, and terrified she put out her hands to him. 'I have made it worse by meddling,' she said hoarsely, 'and I have involved you! It is so awful! I think, without you to speak to, it would craze me.'
He pressed her hands a moment, put them from him. 'We'd better walk on,' he said; 'best not chance any show of a conspiracy. Don't get frightened. Miss Estorel. You may believe I wouldn't have told you, only it saves it being sprung on you...Did Mrs. Ibimay say anything about coming back?'
'Yes; she wants to keep on Fulbec' Her gasping tone and dilated eyes questioned him desperately.
'I'm afraid she's at the bottom of it,' said Gisberne. 'Miss Estorel, did it ever strike you that she and Mr. Ferriby...' He paused expressively.
She was startled evidently, silent, her eyes demanding, insisting: 'Go on, go on.'
'I don't know,'...she said after a moment. 'Yes, perhaps...no, I don't know.'
'Well, there was something—you remember her at the inquest,' said Gisberne. 'And the fact is, Miss Estorel, she put it to me herself.'
'Yes; the morning her husband died. I met her. She'll die of it—that's my idea.' Gisberne's colour began to change; his voice hurried.—' Brooding, you see, she's worked out the notion of foul play, and she means to try and bring it home.'
'She suspects Paul?'
'She did not say so. Miss Estorel. She left it at that.'
'And she told you? Why did she tell you?'
Gisberne faintly smiled; his smile danced in his eyes a moment, then suddenly caught his mouth exceedingly pleasantly with a little show of admirable teeth. 'I don't know. I wish she hadn't. I suppose I seem the outsider who can keep himself impartial.'
Daphne drew her breath deeply. The terror of her face changed. To Gisberne it seemed to brighten, yet to harden; he saw about her the rare, god-like expansion she could express, as of wings about to spread or feet stepping from the earth, spurning it. She made a gesture of entreaty. 'Will you come back with me to Ferriby? There is something I must put to you, ask you. I cannot here in the open road.'
He could have fallen to the ground and kissed her feet, yet he answered judicially: 'Only, let us beware of eavesdropping. Miss Estorel. I don't want to seem to occupy you too much.'
'I know! I know! You are considerate in everything. But—can you spare the time?...'
'I am absolutely at your service...always...'
They walked on, putting talk aside. Once or twice Daphne laughed, a little, bitter, woeful sound.
Instinctively as a dog, Gisberne guessed her humour. She was tearing at her own heart, hurting herself-dragging wounds open. What did she think of Mr. Paul Ferriby now!
'Go more softly. Miss Estorel,' he said gently, as they neared the turning.
She slackened her pace and her tightened grip upon her gown, giving him a glance, deprecating, but so sweet, with such gratitude in it, such pain and appeal in her whole aspect, expressed, too, with such a flash of friendliness that Gisberne, overwhelmed, looked at her, startled, incredulous, as if at the beginning of a desperate journey suddenly one should behold the end.
'What does he mean?' cried Daphne. 'How can he do it? What is he made of? Since the reading of the will he has not spoken to me. Then what was it? He defied me, threatened. He will not come into the house-he transacts his business with the lawyer. He sends me pencilled memoranda signed with his bare name—'
She broke off. Those rare bits of paper had been held to her lips, wept over, laughed over, read and re-read...
Gisberne leant over the back of the chair, staring into the fire—save in the burning August noons there were always fires at Ferriby. Daphne, her outdoor things put hurriedly off, paced the room.
'Miss Daphne,' said Gisberne softly, 'what did you expect?'
She stopped to look towards him, no longer commonplace, even in his aspect, in her eyes. She liked him-oh yes, she liked him—liked him for being there, liked him for his pallor, his agitation, obvious, yet so subdued and managed. He did things well. He could rise to the occasion, and, for all his quiet, his slim form and height—no greater than her own—she knew his resourcefulness, she had seen his strength. And she could open her heart to him as to a brother and comrade in arms.
'What did I expect?' she echoed. Her voice changed. 'I wanted to save him,' she said, with a gesture of shame.
'Well, you see. Miss Daphne, he's leaving it at that, I suppose. He is not going to put himself in anybody's power.'
She came close to Gisberne's standing place.
'He left...him...dead.' she said below her breath. 'Who did he think took the body away?'
'Would you have had him come and ask you if you did, Miss Daphne?'
If she had answered from her soul, she would have answered 'Yes.'
'He knows someone did,' she said.
'He knows someone has his knife.'
'There is a rumour stirring. Mrs. Ibimay...Irene Garth...' Daphne's figure stiffened, her hands clenched. 'Yesterday, here, in this room, she accused me of knowing Paul had done it—and—for her sake.'
Gisberne started violently. 'She said so—to you?'
'Then she saw us that night!'
Gisberne fixed his eyes on her with uncontrollable agitation. Had Irene Garth been tricking him?
'No, no—reflect!' she cried. 'It was only a bow drawn at a venture—her temper, her spite...She did not see us,' she said in agony. 'No one did...' She caught his arm, clasping both hands upon it. Her passionate face came close to his. The divine fire that takes no heed of persons, or what has been or what shall be, but 'goeth where it listeth,' flashed through Gisberne's body the power of a man and the ecstasy of a god. If he had needed anything to set his face beyond turning, against damnation, this moment gave it. He would go on, tell everything, on to win to the glory of love he lifted his eyes to above it all.
'Remember,' said Daphne, close to him, 'the doors were all shut...it was so dark...I could not live and think she had seen! And that you should be dragged in for helping me...Oh, I was mad!...I was mad!...I should have left him alone to answer for what he did. I dragged you in...I did an awful thing—an awful thing! And for what?—to screen a coward!' She threw her head back with a fine gesture of shame and scorn.
Her silence was ended—the statue had come to life indeed. She seemed to undulate as though in the very flame of it. As one thought after another possessed her, she moved her arms, her shoulders, her bosom heaved; she clasped and unclasped her hands—no heroine of tragic calm, no one difficult to understand, a woman, fire and softness, beauty and desire...in trouble, in love, loving, passionate, tender, weak as water, strong as death, capable of anything, impossible to degrade. Robert Gisberne had known no woman as Daphne Estorel was woman. He had seen yellow hair flared on in saloons, and fair faces tricked out to bargain...he had had woman's care and woman's company...that was all. Ecstasy and longing, a passion of gratitude towards the Maker of men, a passion of perception, an abandonment of desire and yet inexpressible tenderness, adoration, and humility—he knew now that—this clothed in all that can be imagined of perfection, was woman and the love of her.
'You think him a coward,' cried Daphne. 'You must despise us both.'
Gisberne smiled. In a strange boldness he put his arm about her shoulders. He knew she knew she was supreme to him, that even as he touched her he fell in spirit to her feet.
'I am going to take you in hand,' he said, gazing in this new boldness calmly into her eyes. 'You must not get these panics. I don't know about Mr. Paul being a coward—it's a large word.' He looked still silently into her eyes a moment, gently let her go, and turned back to his former place. 'I don't see what he could do,' he went on. 'He could not openly claim your connivance, could he? How could he be sure it was your connivance?'
'Who else?' she breathed.
'Irene Garth. Might he not think she...'
There was a silence, broken by Daphne's bitter little laugh; the colour blazed in her cheeks; her eyes were bright. 'Yes, it would be the way of things. But...alone...' Her voice sank; she shuddered as at some horror conjured up.
'What of that maid?'
'You mean Sophy Bassett?'
'Yes: a great deal can be done under desperation. It might easily seem to Mr. Paul possible that those...two...'
'Oh, don't, don't!' she winced. She covered her eyes, threw her hands out, moved here and there in the restlessness of pain. 'And he goes on his way in silence...' she said at last.
'Perhaps he may not be silent with Miss Garth, Miss Daphne.'
'They understand one another, you mean, in keeping silent?' She turned on him sharply.
'It is just possible, isn't it?'
Just possible they should understand one another—Paul and Irene Garth—she for whom and for whose beauty's sake he had bound himself, as Jacob for Rachel, and served as a hind in the fields...Daphne moved away and turned her face from Gisberne's eyes. 'He speaks to no one,' she said faintly...
'He may write to her. Oh, I'm only proposing it as a theory, Miss Daphne. But if it came to inquiry, his only excuse would be his infatuation for Miss Garth...That, past or present, secret or open, must be left him to save him.'
She did not move or speak. When he trusted himself to look towards her he saw the blood had ebbed from her face. She moved slowly back to the fire. 'I took that night upon my soul,' she said intensely, 'and let you take it, too, for nothing.'
She half held out, sorrowfully, a deprecating hand. His closed round it instantly. 'That night you did the only thing possible,' he said, 'for anyone in your place. And so did I. For the rest, you cannot imagine what it is to me to—' He could trust himself no further.
With the grace and restraint of emotion as true as it was strong, daring all because forgetting all, Gisberne bowed his head down to the hand he held. Daphne drew it away very gently.
'You are a wonderful friend,' she murmured brokenly, 'as long as you do not desert me...only,' she added unconsciously, 'it is so unfair to you—so wretched a position.'
He either moved at that or spoke—he did not know; something of the tumult of his heart escaped him. Their eyes flashed together, and Daphne's unconsciousness was gone. Yet, instantly, before she could as much as start away from the inevitable, he had controlled it so naturally and with such good effect that she did not rely on him the less and liked him the more.
'Hush!' said Gisberne gently, as she seemed about to to speak. He had heard what might have passed as inaudible. They moved apart. In another instant Sophy Bassett entered to ask if Miss Estorel would dine that evening.
'No,' said Daphne; 'no, I will take something by and-by. Ask Susan to bring coffee at once!' When the door had closed again she looked at Gisberne. 'I left orders I should not dine to-night, that if Mrs. Ibimay came home with me she would go at once to her room. Solomon must have told them I was alone.'
'No; he told them you were with me,' said Gisberne quietly. 'That girl came on Miss Garth's suggestion, to eavesdrop or spy...She confided in me yesterday that—'
Daphne broke in with a cry: 'She! Oh no...' She struck her hands together in an excited, half-laughing amazement. 'It is too much that she should be talking to you, too. I cannot have that...I am selfish...jealous...I want your help...'
'Ah, but,' he answered delicately, careful not to notice, to take no advantage even in his tone, 'for that reason! Miss Garth is not to be trusted. I think I should like to keep her in view.'
She looked at him vacantly, silently adjusting things. They were too much—too many. She gave a laugh of sheer and woeful helplessness and sat down, leaning back and pressing her eyes with her hand. 'I can't see my way; I can't see what will happen,' she said. 'I have put it out of his power to defend himself. If an inquiry is raised, if Mrs. Ibimay, if Irene...I have put it out...of...his...power...'
Her hand fell to her lap; the eyes looked up piteously with a sudden access of realization; he saw her lips whiten.
'No, no,' he said hastily. 'Remember they are bringing coffee. Miss Daphne.' His own breath was coming short and fast. 'He put it out of his own power,' he went on, 'by going away, by not being there when you called...At the inquest...he said nothing, you know...he'd heard nothing, you know...he lied as well as we...'
'What can be done?' she whispered,
'Ah, you must compose yourself,' he answered. 'A chance word or look when talk is flying is like fire in straw. Miss Daphne.'
He looked round. Part of the fitting of the beautiful old room was a spinet, a thing of fairy-like faintness of colour and delicacy against the dark wall. He sat down to it. When Susan entered with the coffee Mr. Gisberne was making music of a wonderful, fine, thin sweetness scarcely to be heard, and Miss Daphne sat listening sadly, as she might well, just back from Fulbec and a funeral. The woman set things in order, tended the fire, received Daphne's beautiful smile, and closed the two in again. The doors at Ferriby were hard on listeners. Once shut, no more could penetrate than through the wall.
But Gisberne played on.
'Come,' said Daphne gently, at last. 'Coffee is nothing if not hot.' Then he came across the room and stood looking down on her. The attractive, ordinary face, the pleasant, quiet manner, seemed to offer an assurance against disaster, somebody who stood for all the friendliness and ease and joy outside this little spot of tragedy.
'Your playing affects me very much,' she said, 'even half-dumb like that.' Her lips were trembling, her eyes full of tears. 'What were you playing?'
He smiled at her. 'You may know, I don't. Please don't move. May I fill a cup for you?'
She took it from him. He remained the other side of the table, knowing he was dreaming, but letting the dream go on, knowing he was not.
And curious elation seized him, triumph, confidence in himself. The dream should not end yet nor any waking change it.
'You are very tired,' he said presently. 'I am always at your service. I will come again to-morrow, any time, but you must not have too much. Can't you put it on to my shoulders?...Trust to me. Your part is silence. Not a word, a look. And thank you always,' he said, bending towards her, 'for the trust you have given me...for the way you treat me...'
She rose swiftly and looked into his eyes unflinchingly, and with a brave liking. Let what may of it come, her attitude, her marvel at him could not be stayed.
'You must not say that,' she breathed, 'or you will seem to mock me. Do you think I don't realize? I ask myself every hour of the day what would have happened without your help. Paul Ferriby would be in jail now, in danger of his life...I keep my senses together thinking of you. If you had not come back I should have searched the world for you...It may all come to light still, and then I shall come to you again to help me save a coward,' His eyes were on her, his breath bated to catch her very breaths. He saw her senses half-swooned under her steady words...' You see, I...have put it out of his power to defend himself.'
His arm closed round her to sustain her. He felt her heart beat, her body touching his. She moved away, but motioned to him not to leave her. Her soul must be unburdened.
'He is a coward,' she said faintly. 'He screens himself, without a word, a sign, behind—women!'
Gisberne saw her eyes grow dim, her lips grow so white that the words came dry and faint as from a distance. His instinct, guiding him swiftly forward, told him that her utterance of these words in his hearing, her taking them and laying them, as it were, across Paul's name, a bar sinister, that dishonoured passion and disfigured even crime, would rank as the one unforgivable thing should she ever discover the truth.
But it had been said. She saw something in his eyes she read as pity, and turned away from it blindly.
'I can't believe it,' she whispered. 'Look at him, think of him...He cannot be a coward...'
'His life is at stake...What is there but silence?'
'I know'—she kept her back to him—'only there must be something I do not understand. He cannot be a coward.' It was no statement, only a desperate appeal, the last evidence a woman could give of the utterly womanly, the final touch of a supreme trust.
Should he respond? He knew how. She inspired him; step by step he mounted, answering every test. Yet it was a risk. To utter what was in his mind, to raise himself still higher in her estimation, to come still nearer to her, he must take a deadly risk.
If he weakened her contempt of Paul he was staking his own perilous safety. The gambler in him hesitated. But to see her eyes turn on him in their beauty, on him, for him—'
'Miss Daphne,' he said softly. 'Mr. Paul may not know he killed his cousin.'
Once it was uttered it seemed to Gisberne the quiet room grew curiously still, as if his pulses and his breath had stopped, and hers. The words had pierced her heart, it seemed. She was so motionless.
Then her sweet, bright face flashed round on him. He saw she was half holding out her arms.
'Don't you see,' he said, 'he knocked him down and left him. He imagines there was recovery...and the rest really accident as it appeared.'
She kept still a long moment.
'And the knife?'
'Ah, I haven't thought it out. I only offer you that to comfort you.'
She seemed about to sink before him like a falling wave, then she caught his hands. A lovely colour showed in her cheeks, her eyes met his in a speechless wonder and tender feeling.
'You are splendid,' she said softly, as she had said the night of his return. 'Murder—ah, but not cowardice, too. How came I not to think of it?'
'It's only a notion of mine,' he said quickly, 'and, in any case, don't make too much of its being cowardice. Miss Daphne. Women are rather rough on men there. It's his life...There's no safety if there isn't silence.'
At Gisberne's side, as he walked his lonely three miles back to Droitlet, the vision of Daphne Estorel went all the way. If at first he had been drawn to her as a dog without a master to someone who will recognize he has his qualities; if that night he had helped her in his own self-defence; if he had returned, attracted like the prodigal son, by some remembrance of brightness and home, his feeling now was the love of man for woman in the completest sense.
She was more woman than Irene Garth—she, that still, bright-faced vision he had played to the day of his arrival. The firmness and decision of that night when he had seen her over Ferriby's dead body had broken into infinite colour, fire, and softness, like some rich bloom breaking from a pale, closed sheath.
She was weaker far than Irene, but with what a difference. Passionate, but ah, how infinitely kind! That she loved Paul Ferriby did not daunt Gisberne's thoughts of her. His feeling encircled everything that appertained to her, even her passion for another man.
The bright vision stayed beside him, and he felt no misgiving, only an incredible uplifting.
He sighed with overburdened ecstasy. At the turning into Droitlet, where he met the first smiting of the sea, he stopped. She seemed to be there. He looked up at the stars, round him into the quiet dark. If he had ever recked of God or a recording angel, he might think of them now. If he had ever walked in slippery places, he had cause to reflect to-night upon his foothold. He thought alone of Daphne. He breathed her name, and the blood rushed in boyish fashion into his cheeks. He opened his arms to the air that held her imagined shape. He towered in himself, high as heaven, far above all his ignoble deeds. Come one, come all! He was as great as the greatest, as worthy as the worthiest.
Gisberne had read no poetry: he lived it now. No legend or romance would have sounded to him less than true. The stars explained themselves. If his thoughts rose beyond them to the Infinite, it was with perfect trust that Irene Garth would not betray him.
Daphne received the news of his arrival on a few hours' visit with a sense of the inexpressibly strange.
Letters, condolences, congratulations, these had reached her from the outside world, not strong enough, though, to break the spell.
A personality is a different matter. For the first time since that night she was to be brought to the bar of the actual eyes of the world. She was concealing murder and her own connivance. The alternative, an always present underlying dread, was the accusation of Paul Ferriby from outside with the result of thwarted, disfigured love and ruined lives. And her only way between these burdens was the way of silence. Silence was comparatively easy in the largeness and repose and isolated luxury of Ferriby. The silence of love and danger seemed natural in the house over which Jane Skidfell's silent figure brooded, and which housed an understood enemy in the person of Irene Garth; but with the unexpected arrival of someone from outside the charmed circle of suspense, Daphne Estorel suddenly saw, felt, realized that this silence was her portion for life or death, to be carried with her everywhere, among old friends and new faces, and into trials and scenes unguessed at. She asked herself if she were equal to it. Paul Ferriby stood remote, the figure of a dream. She had connived at his crime, she supported his silence, but also in silence. He could never come nearer. Her love, in a long swoon of terror and amazement at him and herself, she thought would die. If that night's work should be brought to light she must die, but it might be with shame and horror at her share in it, not of love, she told herself. Sir William came as a sudden reminder, smiting unbidden into these weeks of strain and seclusion. She and her secret would have to adapt themselves to other surroundings, to a whole host of temptations that might lead her to betrayal or lure her to forget. Had she it in her to do either? Here was a first slight test. Her thoughts flew to Robert Gisberne. She found a singular excitement in bringing him to the touch. To-day she and he together would face the ordeal of being ordinary people in the eyes of an ordinary person, nothing in common and nothing concealed. Who knew how soon they might have to face it together, in far larger surroundings, to tremendous issues?
Sir William had arrived from Petsham an hour before luncheon. Daphne, writing a hasty note, dispatched it by a mounted messenger to Droitlet. She begged Gisberne to join her and an unexpected visitor. In writing she experienced the satisfaction of power—a strange and fascinating thrill. She had power over Robert Gisberne. She could conjure him from the far ends of the earth. He was hers to command. As Devil Ferriby's stolen wooing had coloured the days for Irene Garth, so the thought of Gisberne, with her secret in his heart, sustained Daphne Estorel. She said 'Go,' and he went; 'Come,' and he came.
Facing Sir William Evered an hour or so later as he took his seat at table under the painted commemoration window in the dining-hall was a correctly dressed, unpretentiously attractive-looking man. Daphne noticed, she knew not with what of curious sensations, that Sir William took his fellow-guest as a matter of course. In such a house and household as the Grange anomalies might be looked for. Yet the visitor did not apparently take Mr. Gisberne as one. In satisfying herself with her accomplice Daphne forgot her own liabilities, and so behaved completely naturally. Gisberne did not shine. He acknowledged briefly once or twice to want of information—and inexpressibly strange in Daphne's ears was the visitor's light chatter and careless anecdote—but his manner was invulnerable. He passed through the meal exactly and as easily as the man opposite him.
'I am mad,' thought Daphne suddenly. 'With what there is between us I am noticing how he holds his table-napkin and breaks his bread!' And yet, why not? If Gisberne were to be always near, her eyes always on him...
Neither Irene Garth nor Paul Ferriby was present. At the foot of the table sat Mistress Skidfell, stately in her stern silence, taking no part in the meal, the old family appanage to whom Daphne paid half-fetish honour. If Sir William found this an anomaly, he understood it easily.
'But why the other man?' he asked later, with a humorous glance at Daphne. 'Is Mistress Skidfell deaf? Were you afraid I should renew my proposal of marriage at the luncheon-table? My dear child, no...' He went off upon another topic—and her heart beat to think how easily—away from Gisberne. 'You have now the open door. I am not wanted in your life. What are you going to do with your life. Miss Daphne?'
She was showing her rare visitor over the yards and outbuildings. Robert Gisberne, not even questioning her with his eyes, had taken his leave. Irene Garth was absent. Daphne thought Paul was also. All at once she saw him cross the rickyard. All at once there was only this again in the whole matter: she loved him.
'Is that Paul Ferriby?' exclaimed Sir William, as if much struck.
An encounter was inevitable. Paul would have passed with the merest gesture of recognition, but Sir William interfered. He had heard a whisper in Petsham—he wanted a look straight into the young man's face.
At Paul's heels lurched a great dog with dropping head.
'Sick, eh, what?' said Sir William. 'Never saw a finer face,' he was thinking. 'Don't know that it would acquit him, though. That's the famous whip-mark on it, eh?'
Daphne, mechanically, blindly, only knowing Paul near, and fire before her eyes, mad joy in her heart, stooped to the creature and laid her hand upon its head. A howl broke from the dog. The great jaws came up, showing the fangs and the bloodshot eyes, agonized. The bristles rose. Paul caught at the collar.
'Why, what's the matter with him?' cried Sir William, snatching Daphne back.
The howl prolonged itself, rose, broke hideously.
Sir William was gone. As he disappeared, with him went the faint shadow of regret his coming had brought.
'Come South!' Sir William said before he had seen Paul Ferriby; but he did not repeat it. Daphne Estorel was young, very much a woman after all, seemingly; this Paul was a 'prince among men,' and no nonsense about it. The visitor had glanced from one to the other, and, for good or for ill, there was only one thing could befall, that was plain.
Man of the world and seasoned traveller, thinking on this, he glanced back over the years and what they had brought of pleasure and achievement and the joy of work, and he sighed. He would say no more to Daphne about leaving Ferriby with the swallows. Travel and society, even intensest interest in his fellow men, even praise and glitter and laughter and devilry, even days consecrated to what-not of unselfishness and devotion—Sir William knew that, putting them all in the balance, they weighed lighter than love. He knew that all our doings, like a banquet with an empty chair, leave a vacancy for the lord of life and of experience.
It could make small difference that Ferriby was threatened with ugly whispers. One can whisper long in these isolated regions.
'Your home is beautiful,' he said to Daphne. 'Don't forget if Mistress Skidfell should not seem enough, my Cousin Letitia will always come. If you are in doubt about anything, don't hesitate. Seek outside judgment at once. Come to me.'
Daphne read into this easily that the rumour of which Gisberne had warned her had caught Sir William's ear, but she let him go without a word or sign, undaunted. Since the meeting with Paul her love was again in pulsing life; she felt feverish elation.
Sir William, on his way to the South, to far countries, wide seas, big ideas, and many people, was, after all, the one going back to unsubstantial visions; the reality was here in this narrow compass in the shadow of Ferriby.
She walked slowly back towards it. She had waved her last good-bye to her visitor where the high road joined, and had watched him out of sight vacantly, her mind already back with that encounter in the yard, and Paul's voice, his dark, noble face. As she retraced her steps she heard, even at that distance, the moan of the sick dog. Pity thrilled her for an animal in distress, but in her mood of the moment she hailed the sound. It summoned her to Paul; it was a reference to that night that must provoke from him some acknowledgment—a glance, a tone.
So had the sudden speech and contact with him moved her that the mutual connivance that a few hours ago had seemed to make everything impossible seemed to her quickened passion now as nothing. She could say to him:—' Paul...I know. It makes no difference. I stand beside you equally guilty.'
She passed the garden gate and on through the great doors of the yard. The dog was now silent.
'Where is Mr. Ferriby?' she asked a boy sweeping up litter.
He touched his forehead, staring. 'In t' coach-house, missus,' he said,—' wi' t' dog.'
The huge black doors were closed. Daphne crossed to them and knocked. The thrill and awful sublimity of the night of the murder touched her; she drew herself up, with head high and ready eyes.
The big panel was opened by Scarside, astonished to see her. 'I have come to inquire about the dog,' said Daphne. At her voice a couple of men bending over the creature started up and looked round. Miss Estorel was almost a stranger to the new hands. They thought for a moment this must be Miss Garth; they'd heard tell of Miss Garth. They fixed their eyes as men do on women outside their reach—almost their admiration-and stood aside respectfully. There, farthest from her, against the wall, stooping. Daphne was very conscious, was Paul; she was conscious, too, of herself, her girlhood, her perfection of appearance, and warm loveliness. Love enfolded her in its glory and held her hand, and she felt neither terror nor shame.
'The dog is really ill?' she asked, advancing.
'He has had a fit,' said Paul, rising. 'He is better now. Scarside—'
But the dog leapt to its feet. As Daphne stood before it again, the head went up and the howl came forth, ending in sobbing exhaustion.
'You are strange to it. Miss Estorel,' said Paul. Scarside was looking at him queerly. Strange to a dog she had handled as a pup! 'Perhaps you had better not stay,' he added.
She needed no second bidding to go. As she walked back to the house the dog's howl dropped to moans behind her, then to utter silence. She could have moaned, too. Her blood was chilled, and the glory she had momentarily moved in gone. She was trembling with a strange inexpressible sensation of fear. Paul had spoken to her icily; he had not raised his eyes to hers.
She returned unthinkingly to the dining-hall. Here there were still traces of her visitor. How unreal, far off, Sir William seemed! In a chair by the fire sat Jane Skidfell, her mittened hands folded in her lap, her face rigid in abstraction.
Daphne paced to and fro. She unpinned her hat, and tossed it on to a seat. A convex mirror in gold-balled frame, hung between the windows, showed her her black figure and golden head, grotesque and at the end of a long vista. She tumbled her hair with her hands. Her cheeks began to burn and something to rise in her throat and suffocate her. She flung open a window giving on the misty dusk of the old pleasaunce. She felt she must shout—scream, when a servant's voice spoke suddenly from the open door:
'Mr. Ferriby would like to speak to you a moment, miss.'
'Ah!' her heart cried. 'Bring him here, Susan,' she said, and wondered if her voice had betrayed her. And she heard his every footfall, coming...coming...to her.
Paul had not crossed the threshold of Ferriby since the reading of the will. He had not been in this part of the house for years. He paused on the threshold and looked round on the place, swept and garnished. The silver gleamed in plentiful display. There were flowers to-day. By the majestic hearth sat the transformation of his boyhood's tyrant, the apotheosis of Jane Skidfell! And seated in the deep window-sill at the far end of the room, Daphne Estorel leaned her golden head against the polished shutter and eyed him strangely. She looked like a siren, not a saint. Paul's mouth set itself firmly in that little touch of cruelty. Jane took no heed of his entrance. At a movement from Daphne he crossed to her—with a fine air. He had flung the slouch off mighty easily. Where was his sullenness? Had the whip-mark gone too? Daphne leaned towards him; she had to hold herself back, lest she fell to her knees and clasped him to her.
'Will you sit down?' she said.
'Thank you, it's scarcely worth while. That dog—'
'Yes.' She looked up at him intently.
'I think—had he not better be shot? I came for your permission.'
'The dog is yours, a valuable creature and splendidly trained.'
Her eyes fell from his, hard and unrelenting as stone. The deadly fear came back fumbling about her heart.
'Will it not get better?' she asked.
'It may, yes. But you don't want an animal about that howls, do you, Miss Estorel?—howls at night—howls at sight of you?' His tone was marked.
She rose, looking at him steadily,
'Does it matter his howling at me?' she asked.
'That is just as you like,' he half laughed.
'Cannot he be sent away? Must he be killed?' She spoke blindly, feeling incredulous of him or her own senses.
'He won't stand any sending away, I fancy. His nerve has gone. Besides, I'm sorry for him. He's breaking his heart for his master. That night—he found him, you know. He must have seen him fall.'
It came too suddenly. Daphne gasped, and caught at a support.
'You want him shot,' she said, with short sharp breath. 'But it's only at me he howls.'
Paul looked at her with an open and a keen inquiry in his dark eyes. Utter bewilderment and utter fear unnerved her.
'Do as you think best,' she said, unable to conceal agitation...' If the dog is suffering—would you do it yourself?'
She turned away, hiding her face. 'Do as you think best,' she repeated.
He waited a moment and then she heard him leave her. A moment she hesitated, only to follow him swiftly to the door.
'One moment,' she cried; and he turned instantly, waiting. In piteous self-abasement she loved him that he even turned at her voice. She noticed the wave of his hair, and her eyes seemed to draw the beauty of the smooth brown cheek and lips and chin and throat into her very soul. His eyes dwelt questioningly on her.
'Paul,' she breathed. She did not know what her tone conveyed, but she knew she meant it to carry to him something wherewith to bridge the silence, something to tell him that he might, that she invited him to take the mask off, at least in his eyes when they were meeting hers—for pity, for pity's sake!
'It just occurs to me,' he said: 'I am taking up my quarters at Girdle's Cot. The dog can come there with me. I'll see what I can do.' He murmured a 'Good-evening,' and turned on his heel.
This was all...
'No, no, no, no!' Daphne said it to herself incessantly, falling again to her walking up and down. 'No, no!' She would not have it. There could not be anything so awful. She denied her chill agony of fear. She would not have it. She had put herself into eternal bondage for Paul Ferriby, and she was nothing to him! That was death in life, but the madness on which she had built a notion of anything different was the agony of death!
No, no! She put it from her. Why had she imagined that, because she loved Paul, he loved her? On what grounds had she been persuading herself he was really hers? Whence had come her hope that Irene Garth had passed from his life?
She shared his crime, and he looked at her with eyes that warned her, whatever secret she hid, she might bear the burden of it—alone for him. He owned to nothing, but bore himself towards her as to an enemy, as she might to Irene Garth.
Irene Garth! He was silent for Irene's sake. He had killed John Ferriby for Irene's sake. Irene had seen her and Gisberne bear away the body, and had told Paul. It was Paul's silence and Irene Garth's linked against hers and Gisberne's. And why did he think she was silent, bribing Gisberne? Irene would make that plain to him, too. If any look had slipped into view behind the coldness of Paul Ferriby's eyes it would have been one of pitying scorn. He defied her. He knew his crime and his motive. He defied her share in it. He scorned her for it. He used it and scorned it!
'No, no, no!' Daphne reiterated it. It was unbearable. She put the agony from her—or she must die that moment, and give him so much more advantage. She paced to and fro, staring. She did not know she breathed. Her heart shrank together to hide itself—to ward off the repetition of the stab. 'No, no, no!...' she muttered.
'What ails thee, child?' said Jane Skidfell's voice. 'Wor that Paul Ferriby here just now?'
Paul Ferriby! The name pierced her so that Daphne thought she must expire. She went to Jane's side and kneeling there, put the softness of her ice-cold cheek against the withered face. She held the gaunt, rigid form in the unconscious grip of her fierce pain.
'Am I your daughter?' she said.
The old woman put her from her. 'Nay, nay, thee art not. Not that thee might not ha' been so for me. He did as he pleased: he wor t' master.' The old eyes looked with their grim keenness deep into the young ones, wide and dimmed with anguish.
'Paul Ferriby,' said the old woman again. 'He ha' done it right enough. I warned un. He wor t' master's son. I warned un of Paul. Bloodshed! Bloodshed!'
'Hush!' cried Daphne. 'Hush!' and clasped her close.
'I know t' heart in thee,' said Jane after a long stillness and in a changed voice. 'I ha' guessed it long. The Ferribys bean't men to overlook.'
A cry broke from Daphne. Her hold dropped and she sank, her face downwards on the old woman's knee. Her golden hair, gathered high, showed her white neck, bare as if before the descending knife, and Jane Skidfell's figure rose behind her like an image of austere and pitiless fate. But after a while the old servant's knotted hand crept to the bowed head and caressed it gently. 'I canna weep,' she said in a troubled whisper-' I canna tak' heed more of ony of it. But let me tell thee, ma lass, an' let it comfort thee if it can...I'm afeared o' death, afeared because I be no sinner such as t' master. Dost 'ee grasp it? Afeared o' Heaven. T' master...I'm fain to see f master...This side o' death I hae his memory. I'm afeared to be separate even fro' that by godliness. Oh, I'm fain to see t' master.'
The trembling voice rose and strengthened. 'He wor an evil man. I pray t' A'mighty not to forget agin me I wor once his—soul and body. I'm fain to see him. I ha' sinned too. Let it not be forgot...I ha' sinned too...' The words fell upon a silence, the very awfulness, terror and sublimity of human love. After a long while Daphne shuddered and sobbed. She took Jane's hand in hers and kissed it passionately.
'Thee understands,' whispered Jane, rising. 'He ha' done it, but t' lad in t' grave would laugh to see how well he carries it. Ferriby for a Ferriby. He be one.'
Gisberne wanted money. It was strange how that fact met him. No matter to what heights his burning fancies climbed, the need of money was there awaiting and mocking him. He trod air these days, pined, burned, gloried, and had to remember money. By some curious affinity his eyes were for ever catching some passionate poem, some passage from a book he did not know was in the world, and he felt every word, every line—he knew it true, and there was no wonder in it to him. He had written them himself: he found them in his own soul and blood. And then he wanted money. To remain here, near Daphne, and watch events and seize his moment, even if from death and damnation themselves, meant that he must have money. There were two issues to the event: one stretching into the years, the other short, sharp, and decisive. Nothing pointed to the former save a chance that even his bland inconsequence could not believe in; but to the bringing about of a speedy climax went a threefold danger: Irene Garth, rumour coming to a head through Mrs. Ibimay, an understanding between Daphne and Paul—this least to be feared of all.
Nevertheless, Gisberne trod on air, and knew no fears' He remained in Droitlet, and it was noticed there that Mr. Gisberne had a new way with himself—a feeling, indeed, amounting to liking of him spread in the hamlet. The fishermen talked to him of Devil Ferriby, and did not conceal from him the whispers about Mr. Paul.
His luck again! Yet Gisberne felt himself—nay, knew himself—at the end of it: his wretched, commonplace, despicable luck. Such a thing as his love for a woman could not happen and his old luck run on—the gambler in him knew that.
His passion for Daphne must have expression. He must have money. To bring about these two things he foresaw pretty clearly was himself to bring about the end. Daphne herself was hastening it. He had been away to raise the few pounds to take him on from day to day—for the first time he cursed his pettifogging ways that brought him so low and safe an interest—and on his return she had been glad to see him, holding out both her hands, hurrying across the room. She told him the story of the dog—crying. She told him, with face bowed and turned from his sight, that she believed Paul screened Irene, and that they both knew—a secret against a secret, silence against silence, Paul's and Irene's against his and hers.
'I could make her mine,' thought Gisberne as he went away. 'She is so much a woman, so passionate, so good, so weak, so kind—a child, a darling...I believe that I could make her mine.'
It did not enter his head that she might love and long for Paul even as he loved and longed for her. Her feelings he imagined within his power to include and comfort—and as concerned his own, his thoughts returned to him finding no resting-place outside the one desire.
Daphne Estorel was now alone at the Grange. Irene Garth, taking Sophy Bassett with her, had removed to a cottage in Droitlet.
Here once more there was something in his favour. In thought of Irene Garth, however, Gisberne found foreboding. He dismounted at the inn where he lodged, and, without entering, went to an encounter with her.
The place where she had settled herself faced the sea, standing alone and a little apart. It was a cottage once furnished by Devil Ferriby and kept for his own uses. Stories were told of his doings there in earlier days that would pass in time into the legends of the place.
'What made you come over here?' asked Gisberne gently. Sophy Bassett had withdrawn with her sewing into an adjoining room. The doors of passage and parlour stood open on the light clatter and bustle of unsophisticated housework, carried out by a gaunt, capable figure of Jane Skidfell's generation.
The window of the parlour faced a grey sea, placid under a soft sky, and a stretch of low whitewashed seawall, against which stout flowers showed a yellow blossom, a commonplace, unsuggestive scene enough, savouring of peace and resignation. Only Irene did not fit it. She lay back opposite to him in the cheap wicker chair, the centre of a mass of tumbled softness. She had been playing on the cracked piano, turning a Shakespeare over, smoking. Cards and a banjo were on the shabby sofa. Some white sewing in process of construction lay on the table. Her hair was half loose, and at every motion her sleeves fell back from her arms.
'I am only here for the moment,' she said. 'I could not stand sleeping over that room. I am writing to my father's friends...I suppose I shall go on the stage.'
Gisberne felt his heart leap. For a breath the vision dazzled him of her going her way—alone, unguarded, letting him be, forgetting.
But he knew her eyes were resting on him, noting, holding him. The sublimities and fire of his emotions gave something notable to his good-looking face. Gisberne had seen it there himself. It struck him, and the thought roused fear, that she was seeing it, too. If she should begin to like him, if she should once grow jealous!...
'You will succeed on the stage,' he said. 'It is your career. You will be famous. Have you made any arrangements at all?'
He knew his words were idle. She rose, closed the door—too gently to be noticed—and came back to her seat. Her face had changed.
'I say that,' she said—' I talk like that before Sophy and others, but...I don't think I am going away—I dare not, I cannot. Cousin John haunts me...I dare not trust myself to go away...One day, when I am least thinking...just as I least want to...I shall blurt out the whole story...I shall scream out the truth...'
And she rose, excited even as she spoke, her eyes fixed on him, her hand at her throat, ready...But it was only a breath. She turned away with a dreary laugh, her natural self. 'I don't want to drag you in,' she said. 'I ought to hate and denounce you. I miss Cousin John—I cannot tell you how I miss him...I suppose there are other men...'
She waited for him to speak. Gisberne sat still, his hands dropping between his knees, his gloves lightly swaying in them, his gaze on the sea.
'Paul and I have done with one another. I have an idea he rather hates me because he did not kill Cousin John. You know what I mean. Anyhow, there it is. I don't want to blurt it out. It wouldn't do me any good, nor anybody, now...Only I keep seeing it...'
Gisberne looked round at her. She turned to meet his glance and read it instantly.
'I'm not mad,' she said—' nothing can make me out that. It's hysteria, I suppose.' She came back to him slowly and laid her hand on his shoulder. 'I wonder why I feel as I do?' she said softly. 'I can touch you, like you. I thought I had done it...He was horribly brutal...I have suffered horribly...He deserved it...But you don't know how I miss him. I must have someone in my life who cares for me.' She sank to her knees beside him. 'Be my friend,' she whispered. 'When you are there I don't feel it. I don't want to speak...I can make money. Look at me. I could be famous. Be kind to me. Help me.'
As a man swimming for dear life feels the clutch that in a second more will be a dead weight, so Gisberne felt Irene's words. It was the end, it was his destruction. He had the gambler's instinct to know when he was beaten. He had expected something of this—not quite so soon, perhaps—he had foreseen it.
Hysteria?—yes, and her own nature to prompt the remedy. It was in his mind to kill her as he felt her palpitating body against his arm, heard the sweetness of her voice in an inexorable bargain: himself or his destruction.
Kill her? A senseless thought. He must keep the road clear between himself and Daphne a little longer.
Daphne! He moved his gaze from the sea, and his eyes half smiled into Irene's lovely face. To argue would be as useless as to strangle. He would have strangled in cold blood, for she roused not even rage. Her eyes met his, limpid and flower-like and beseeching.
'You do not need my help,' he said. 'There is a world of people to help such as you.'
'No,' she answered. 'I am much older than I seem. I understand much more than I suppose I ought to. I never used to dream or plan. I have begun to now. I do not want to spoil a new life at the very beginning' I need someone to guard me and restrain me. I must have a friend. I can live and keep silence if you are there...I know it by your coming this morning. I felt like screaming it to Sophy. I want to rush out and seize the first person by the shoulder and point...It comes to me like that. I see him, his face covered...,'
He felt the shudder passing through her. She was silent a moment or two. 'But I can be quiet if you are there,' she said, rising...' It is very simple not to spoil your life or my own for a nightmare. We were drawn to one another from the first. You understand me; you're different. I...like you.'
He rose too. 'I understand,' he said. She looked at him, standing close, her head thrown back, the violet line of her eyes showing under the half-shut lids. He saw her for what she was, soulless—his breed in that-the creature of her instincts, nothing an offence that her desire showed her. Gisberne had known as little of the irony of fate as he had known of the fact that he was man. He could have laughed at it now, did laugh in his heart, even a little with his lips. Here was safety at the price of all he wanted safety for.
Irene leaned towards him. 'Be kind,' she murmured. 'I am wicked...weak. It is awful to tolerate you. But I say that with my lips. In my heart I only feel...I...'
'I know,' said Gisberne gently; 'I know.' He put his arms about her shoulder and kissed her.
She seemed to weigh his kiss, standing motionless with closing eyes.
'Leave your plans alone a little while,' said Gisberne, after a movement he knew she could not see. 'I'll come to you again.' At his pleasant voice, the sound of his turning to go, she made a sudden passionate movement between abandonment and despair.
'Do you mind?' she cried. 'Is it not better than betraying—us both? You must be the last, the very last, to judge me...Tell me what to do. Be there, be kind, and I will be true till death.'
For answer again he kissed her.
Gisberne went back to his room in the inn and sat down. It was a very simply furnished place, showing lavishly a hard-handed cleanliness. The bed and chest of drawers, the chairs and tables, uncompromising articles of usage and necessity, seemed, as he looked round, strange and, somehow, useless. Seated among them, he debated with himself whether he should take Irene Garth away. He debated which was more to him—the making Daphne Estorel his, with almost immediate discovery to follow, or the keeping from her for ever the knowledge of what he was.
Did he take Irene away. Daphne Estorel's opinion of him could scarcely alter, for supposing Paul should make clear to her he was not the murderer, nothing could ever prove to her Irene Garth was not, for that no one knew save Irene and himself.
Which should he do—save himself in her thoughts, waiting upon the long chances of the damned years, or hold her to his heart and to his lips and die—before she knew?
To whichever course Gisberne might, or had, in his heart committed himself, money was needed—the one thing ending with life he should not miss! He had always needed money, he had coveted the high road instead of the gutter, and lacked money for it till he stole it. He had coveted the society of better men, and the lack of money taught him card-sharping. He coveted a few more days on earth near a woman, with the fair show that alone could take him into her presence, and the lack of money was a devil plucking at his elbow for the last attention.
Gisberne was a seasoned gambler, but he was playing with dizzy stakes, time and chance against him. With something of a shock he learnt that Mrs. Ibimay had returned to Fulbec. Here was more matter for adjustment, and he was faint and sick with passion repressed on the edge of escape, and counting his days to a climax that would be death actually or effectually.
Mrs. Ibimay sent a message asking him to come to her. As he went along the road, Gisberne laughed aloud to find himself in such request. Everyone glad to see him! Everyone requiring him. His brain had quickened. All the sardonic humour and irony and bliss and tragedy of things were to be crowded before his notice in one experience.
Dora, at a glance unchanged save that her pallor was enhanced to ghastliness by her black, met him with remembrance at once conveyed of their last encounter.
'So you are still here,' she said. 'You remember, Mr. Gisberne, what I said to you the day my husband died...I feel the same about it...To my own soul I hold myself to blame for Mr. Ferriby's death...I was almost the last to speak to him. I had a strong warning of disaster, and—let it go...' She paused here, a silence he did not break. 'There was foul play,' she went on; 'and I cannot rest...But if I could find out privately...I don't want the help of the law or the law's vengeance...I should like to know how he died. I should like to be face to face with the one who did it—and certain of it, and how and why.'
Her eyes rested on him, dark and intense enough, it seemed, to read a man's soul. Yet Gisberne could sit behind his own steady gaze in security. The only thing stranger than our power with one another is our limit.
'You want me to play the spy at the Grange,' he said, not without agitation. 'You think I am the sort of man for that sort of thing.'
'I find you easy to confide in,' said Dora. 'I do not want to raise a hue and cry. But I cannot rest. I must speak about it to someone. I do not want you to do anything. I want you to let me talk to you about what I do...what I discover...I think Irene Garth knows something...I want to question her...And I must...I will!...' Her previous thought had been directed full against Paul. He wondered what had changed it.
'But what can I do in that?' said Gisberne, almost too quietly.
'I don't know...But I want someone at hand to talk to about that night.'
And he noticed with his new powers of observation the thinness of her hands, her hollowed cheeks, the spark of fever in her eyes and burning in her lips. She mourned for Devil Ferriby, and he was there as if sent by Heaven to give her the ease of speech.
It was the very irony indeed of vengeance, a judgment warrant in the hands of gentleness itself.
'I don't want to distress Miss Estorel,' said Dora, 'and Paul Ferriby is a Ferriby. Is there any attachment there—do you know?—between Daphne and Paul?'
Gisberne rose. 'I do not know,' he said. 'The whisper is, whatever Mr. Paul may have done, it was on account of Miss Garth.'
'I must find out what happened.' She did not speak in the agitation of any new resolve, but with the calm of one who has decided on the way to support existence. 'If I can do it by myself with your help—' She broke off, moving towards her writing-table. 'I say again, What is public vengeance to me?...only it must be that rather than nothing. I will know. I will keep his name alive, and use it and hear it at any cost.'
The words dropped as with the dead weight of bullets. Her back was to him, and she stood a moment as still as if listening to their fall; then sat down, her back turned as before, and began to gather something together, opening a drawer and rustling papers.
Gisberne knew what she was about. She was going to offer him money. She knew him for a cheat and a card-sharper. She had seen Ferriby's eyes strike him with contempt out of the consideration of decent folk. She was going to offer him money to spy.
He remained where he had risen, waiting. He was not aware he looked at her; but, inwardly or outwardly, he followed the movement of her hands with exact appreciation.
When in a moment or two she rose and came back to him, the envelope she had filled and sealed between her fingers, there was that in his face that startled her into a moment's pause. He lifted his eyes, and Dora Ibimay thought of a dog crouched for the blow.
She hesitated. 'I was going to ask you to take this,' she said, 'because it is plain if you remain in Droitlet...I assure you it is with no reference to...' She stopped. 'That was my husband's affair. I must have someone's help...Why should I not employ yours?'
He remained silent.
'If I speak to anyone else there is no redress,' said Dora. 'I am not seeking a police affair, but I will find out.'
'Yes,' said Gisberne; 'I quite understand.'
She offered the envelope gently. Gisberne took it, pale, but steady.
About five o'clock a couple of days later he was on the road towards the Grange. The seasons made little difference to the lean bare moorland. Soft white clouds floated low under a hazy sky, and the berries showed in the browning hedgerows.
Gisberne rode leisurely, aware with a piteous satisfaction that both himself and his mount were perfectly groomed. He turned into the lane, and as he passed under the elms the light wind shook down a shower of yellow leaves. Beckoning to a boy gaping from the yard, he gave up his horse, and knowing that would be sufficient announcement, stepped through the gate and waited by the porch door. It was open. His eyes rested quietly on the row of garment-hung pegs, on the shut door beyond them.
Miss Estorel was at home. He was taken to her in the room of the spinet, a dark-toned intimate room that shut one in privately.
Daphne received him with smiles, with a pleading attempt at natural brightness of manner. She was in her riding-habit.
'I was taking tea before I changed,' she said. 'You must join me and excuse me afterwards a moment.'
'You are going back to riding,' said Gisberne.
'Going back or beginning again with everything,' she answered, and her eyes smiled at him wistfully over her teacup.
When he was alone, Gisberne sat down and braced himself. He knew, and she knew, he was looked upon as her suitor; the understanding between them was an understanding, and looked like one. And she knew, and everyone knew, that Robert Gisberne was of neither origin nor pretensions, a nobody from nowhere, and without money or land or a home. He himself might know why she let this make no difference, but others could not, and this must be plain to her, yet she welcomed him openly and retained his privileges. To-day there was a hint in her manner of recklessness, of reaction, of having borne enough and touched a limit. It was a moment of rebound—his chance, emphatically.
When Daphne returned, the habit exchanged for a long gown's softnesses and undulations, she saw Gisberne seated by the window, his elbows resting on his knees, his forehead bowed on his hands. His smooth head was a silhouette against the dusk. Given instant pause, she stood startled, eyeing him askance; he did not move. She noticed his hands, the lithe, slim form How well he was dressed! The whole man appealed to her strongly.
She remained, her heart beating fast, half afraid to look, still glancing askance, remembering every item of that night, every word and detail since.
The moment between them she had known must come, but far off, like death or heaven, was all at once here. He cared for her. If it had not been for Paul...but was Paul still between them?
'I beg your pardon,' said Gisberne heavily, lifting his head. He did not look at her or say more. Now, should she leave him? She found herself going towards him slowly. Her liking and comprehension overflowed. He uttered an uncontrollable sound—a word, her name—and making an as uncontrollable a movement towards her, still not looking up, her hands met his, and as they clasped he bowed his head forward and rested it against her, dumb and helpless.
She did not move, nor by a quiver repel him; she had no wish to. With her one-time silence had gone Daphne Estorel's one-time defences, leaving her bare to every emotion—a tender, passionate creature, who saw her pure ideals, her spotless romance laid in the dust for the desires of Irene Garth to read. She had done a wild and mad thing for Paul Ferriby's sake, something so tremendous that in the pitch-dark when it rained she looked back disbelieving it. Vain and useless it appeared to her now, a degradation and a torture. Did this man care like this? Her breast heaved with sympathy. The impulse of recklessness was strong to defy herself and destiny, to snap her fingers at love, to let herself go to comfort Gisberne.
She had lied for Paul Ferriby. She had striven for him with her soul, had put herself under an eternal obligation, and the man who had been a priceless friend suffered. A fierceness shook her. She would spurn not only Paul, but also her love for him; she would glory in defaming it, for, although loving him, she would drive him and Irene Garth hence together, and, since this man cared like this...
She bent down to him. 'Are you thinking...' She broke off. 'Oh, what is it?...'
He made an effort with himself, rose, avoiding her look,
'I beg your pardon,' he repeated with difficulty, and moved away. 'I wanted to tell you...' he said, 'I am going to take Irene Garth away.'
'You—you are going to...Irene Garth...' Her tone utterly incredulous, she followed him to see his face.
'Yes; she is not to be trusted...If she remain here there will be a catastrophe...I think I can control—manage her...'
'She has told you so. She asks you to take her away.'
He was silent. She watched him. 'If it was not serious, I would not speak of it,' he said. 'She has hysteria. At any moment she may blurt it out.'
'Blurt out what?' There was a long pause. She came nearer, repeating it gently. 'Blurt out what?'
'She saw Mr. Paul.'
The paleness as of that night itself overspread Daphne's face. She put her hand on Gisberne's arm.
'She told you so?'
Gisberne was well-nigh as pale as she was. His breath came hard. 'Not in so many words. There was no need.'
'She saw us then, too?'
'No, no! she went upstairs. I fancy she may have had a slight seizure of terror. There was some paroxysm that left nothing else clear.' He glanced round an instant into Daphne's face. 'We know she did not see us.'
'She was with Mr. Ferriby, I suppose. He, Paul, found them together.'
'Something of that sort, Miss Daphne.'
'He did it in madness for her! It is as I said.'
'What we always said,' answered Gisberne. 'His only excuse! His only chance of making it manslaughter. He did it for her.'
Daphne stood back from him, her face transformed.
'Then give him his reward,' she cried, striking her breast; 'let her tell!'
'And you and me?' asked Gisberne hoarsely.
She was ready with her answer, fierce and undaunted. 'I have lies and horrors on my soul already,' she said. 'For what? For nothing! For Irene Garth.' She caught Gisberne by the shoulder, forcing him to look round at her. 'If there must be more lies,' she said, 'why should ours this time not be to save each other?'
She saw the drops had started round his hair and under his eyes. In a moment she was all softness and woe again, in a transport of sympathy. She clung to him.
'I will not have you suffer,' she said. '...Let her tell, let happen what will...Can you and I not lie again, if need be, to save each other? If I am ready...'
He grasped her by the shoulders, as if with anger, his face contorted.
'Why,' he said, scarcely articulate, 'do you know what you are doing? You are making it impossible for me—'
'Impossible for you to go!' she cried, beside herself. 'I mean to...Impossible for you to go away with her.'
Each looked into the other's white strained face.
'Death!' thought Gisberne. 'I will die.' He would know her lips had been to his, her heart against his heart. He would know it was so by her own will and gift. Ah! but he would know, too, she would never purge herself in her own sight of the stain. He would know, too, that she would shudder aghast at his memory.
She breathed his name, telling him she could not bear it—telling him he was dear to her; her friend and consoler.
He found himself saying something with his lips voicelessly...She pressed nearer. He prayed in his soul. Had he a soul, then, in which to pray? He put her back. He would forgo her—take Irene Garth away. He would be the jailer of the truth as long as both should live. And his reward should be that this woman should never know—for her own sake should never know.
Distracted by his dumb struggle, she laid her arms about him.
'What can I do?' she said. 'It breaks my heart.'
'What would it matter to me when dead?' thought Gisberne. He put his hand across his eyes to clear away the dark into which he seemed plunging. Her face was almost touching his.
'Is it possible that you could care?' he gasped.
She fell back, a little touched with fear; but her woman's heart torn for him, her spirit reckless and defiant of cross-purposes and tricks of fate...
'I could...I can,' she said. 'Oh, do not care so much...'
Dusk had passed into dark, but the room was lit by the blazing logs. A servant entered and stopped short instantly, aware of a mistake and an intrusion.
'I beg your pardon, miss; I thought that you had rung for candles.'
'No,' said Daphne. She scarcely moved. Gisberne, stepping from her instinctively, concealed his face. 'I want nothing,' said Daphne. The softly closing door was both comprehension and apology; there was an assurance in it they would not be disturbed again. It was the last smoothing of the way. Did not Gisberne know she could have hailed the interruption and forced the moment aside; she had, instead, refused, and sanctioned the only reading possible of an interview alone in agitation with someone known as a wooer.
'I am sorry,' he said unsteadily; 'I did not mean this to happen.' His movement seemed to say that in a moment he would go, his hesitation that he begged a moment for recovery, the chance for her sake to control himself before he left her door.
Daphne sat down. It was strange to her, even then, how in every little thing this man did he pleased her. One of the logs, piled too high, fell with a crash on the hearth and sent up a shower of sparks, and white-hot splinters flew, one near the folds of her gown. It fascinated her to see him come on the instant and set it right, with quiet deftness and quick arrangement, he with his ghastly face and tightened lips, his laboured self-control held in.
After a while that seemed long to her, he returned to his accustomed seat. He had fought himself into calm.
'I shall be very careful with my arrangements,' he said. 'I think of going to-morrow or so. As it stands now, Miss Garth will follow...I have been visiting here...Your servant just now...I shall avoid the barest suggestion of disrespect...'
For a while Daphne could not speak.
'You really mean to go?' Her voice was cold.
'It seems to me the only thing.'
She was silent; her blood chilled.
'Do you mean that you will marry Irene Garth?' she asked.
'That is as may befall. I do not think so. I shall watch her; keep her silent.'
For the first time Daphne did not believe in him.
'You will go after I have asked you to stay?' she said softly.
'I cannot stay near you.'
'If I want you to...if I say so?'
'There is Paul Ferriby.'
'He can never be anything to me.'
He looked up; their eyes met. He half rose, caught himself back...' You knew, of course, it must happen,' he said hurriedly—' with me, I mean. Or, no, I don't see why. But there it is. I can't put it into words: what another man might say won't pass my lips. I'm the dust under your feet; I'm less than that...'
'You are someone at whose mercy I stand,' she interrupted. 'You have been splendid! Do you think my life could balance what you did that night?'
'And what was it for?' Gisberne began in answer. He paused, a feeling took him that he could not go on, only, through the awful lie of it, as awful a truth dragged at him, pulling him through the suffocation of hell. 'I helped you that night,' he said, 'because you couldn't bear the thought of penal servitude or hanging for Paul Ferriby. Well, you couldn't bear it now.' He rose, gripping his chair, his bearing fine. 'Suppose I took you at your word—the kindness of your heart, dared to touch your hand—'
She rose and held it out to him impetuously, kindling.
He took it and laid it on his heart. 'Yours would beat like that,' he said—he was as someone suffocating-'if anything threatened Mr. Paul. Oh, it's not gone off into air. Miss Daphne; it might happen any moment. If I took you at your word, if I stayed on here it would...I must see it doesn't—'
'But you care for me?' she whispered, lifted out of herself, incredulous.
'God!'—it was a prayer, an invocation from man's knowledge to the unknown, from human limit to the limitless beyond—' I love you,' he said, and then stood before her, bowed and abased, as though he had dealt her a blow.
She wondered at him. Her hand had fallen from him. 'Oh! who am I?' she breathed. 'What did I do—I, who could care for a coward and a murderer?'
He looked at her swiftly. 'In your heart you know him neither!' he cried. It was a confession, and broke from him before he knew. Transported, he held to it, repeated it. 'You know him neither,' he said.
But her eyes shone at him. 'You are generous,' she cried. 'Oh! leave those two alone. We will take thought for ourselves.'
'No!' He made a great effort, and a ghost of his pleasant smile touched eyes and lips. 'See, Miss Daphne, it's like this. You've got your life before you. I'm going to clear out of your way the one thing you can't manage. It's drawing the sting out of that night's business to keep Miss Garth quiet. True, there's Mrs. Ibimay and Mr. Paul himself; but talk 'll go a long way without harm. He's denied it once; he can again. There's no proof without Miss Garth, and that proof I'll answer for. You may think you don't care. You do. Figure it out to the bitter end, just as you did that night. You'd die of it. That's a way of talking...You know...what it would be.'
She stared at him incredulous, baffled at a struggle beyond her powers.
'But if I know...what then of you?...' she asked with awe.
'Miss Daphne, it's the only thing I can do...' He turned from her, looking round blindly for his things.
She moved to the door, and was there when he came to it. She looked at him with that glow he had already seen in her—that rare expansion like the outward spring of the soul.
'This is all my fault,' she said, 'that you suffer for my wild madness. I can't believe in your plan. It seems beyond belief—that you should be ready to do that...But I won't have security at such a price! Do you want me to disdain Paul Ferriby more than I do? He shall take Irene Garth away, and you shall stay with me here, the master of this house—my hus—'
He stopped the word on her lips with a cry. He caught her from the door, and into his arms, holding her close. And yet—she remembered it to him in the time to come—and yet—with a difference.
'If I didn't love you,' he said in a madness of emotion—' if I didn't love you! But I do; I know it from top to bottom, from first to last, and it's true every syllable ever said or dreamed of it. Oh, you sweetest of women...you didn't say it I It was nothing! Your kindness, just kindness and pity...Look here, I haven't even kissed your hand...I'm going to live to straighten things...to serve you...to save you from ever...from ever...Oh, sweetest woman, sweetest woman!...'
A few moments later Daphne, gathering herself together, ran stealthily, glancing right and left, to the hall-door that had just closed. She opened it, and saw a figure moving through the clear dark towards the gate. She did not move or call. She stood in the gleam of the lamp; did he turn, he must see. But the light footsteps went on, the iron gates clanged softly. Daphne stood gazing into empty space. He had gone.
Paul Ferriby stood waiting in the living-room of the Grange. The season had come round to spring. Changing seasons made little difference to the dark tones of the rooms of Ferriby, with the flames of the burning wood seldom absent leaping or latent on the great hearths. The sun was creeping a little nearer to its summer blaze across the wide casement. For the rest, no change—and what change should there be in Ferriby? Paul had changed: as little like the boy who had received the whip-lash as the young man who had slouched against yonder casement, the sullen slave of untutored blood and proffered beauty. His dark face suited the room; he looked at home. All around him was an aid to his force and strength. No aloofness about him, no soulless detachment. He took in with his eyes, he breathed in and gave back every item, in work or conquest, in having or holding, that has passed through the hands of a man or has ever gone to his making.
The room was in perfect order, and seemed to have been treated with some little ceremony of expectation. On the table where the supper had been spread that night stood a huge green bowl, a thing of French manufacture, holding king-cups and water-flags. A Persian rug was laid along the dais; a scarf that might have come from Algiers was thrown over a chair; books strewed the wide window-sill between strange old pots of bizarre shapes.
Daphne Estorel had been away. She had been South and out of England awhile. It was said she had followed Robert Gisberne. That was nonsense.
It was said she meant to desert Ferriby altogether because of Devil Ferriby's Hush! said the gossips; but, said they, there was foul play, only keep the whisper below the breath. Paul Ferriby and Lawyer Winch had things between themselves, and never were the revenues more prosperous or the lands better farmed. Jane Skidfell brooded in her room. There went a tale among the women that Miss Estorel had always cared for Mr. Paul; it came in some fashion from Sophy Bassett, who had also gone South with Miss Irene, for that winter Solomon Scarside did a strange thing. He went to a night-school to acquire the art of reading strange and heathenish characters, and he had letters from London, and thus wrestled with them alone, saying naught. Yet from him or elsewhere that much had leaked out. For the rest, loneliness settled upon Ferriby. Paul had ridden alone day after day, under the sad winter sky, among the brown fields. He kept his thoughts to himself, and men meeting him kept theirs.
Yesterday in the spring-tide Daphne had returned; to-day, early; Paul was here to see her.
He paced the room in slow and thoughtful fashion. He was gaitered, well-dressed, and carried his riding-whip lightly in a strong, brown gentleman's hand.
The door from the kitchen opened upon Daphne in a rich gown of black and white, her hair done marvellously, gold upon her fingers and about her wrists, some white and yellow flowers at her breast.
Without speaking, she turned and let the latch down noiselessly; then, facing round, stayed there. He, arrested in his walk, halted by the bureau...
Without wonder, with an unutterable tranced relief, they knew joy in seeing each other there, looking cautiously at first as those who after long thirst fear to trust themselves to drink. They saw each other, and he knew what the missing her had been. She knew he was there, and she was glad. Not through anyone else's eyes, but through her own, Daphne Estorel had seen what makes a world. Behind her it fell away into nothingness, a tale of shadows. She moved forward as on air.
'You are back,' he said. A deep breath was drawn; his chest rose and fell; her bosom heaved, and it seemed one sigh. She stole to the fire and sat down. Their eyes were still on each other's.
'You are back,' he said again. Suddenly he laid his whip down gently and came to her side and took her hands. They leapt to his as the magnet to the steel. He smiled down into her face, upturned and smiling into his.
'You are back.'
'Yes, and you are here.' Her smile broke into a little tremulous laugh.
Then the glory was gone, and they were like two people under a black heaven, broken for a moment, staring round for the vanished gleam.
'You wanted to see me,' said Daphne with an air of embarrassment. 'Will you not sit down?'
'No, thank you; I must ride on immediately.' He walked back to his whip and hat. 'Miss Estorel, I have unpleasant news. Has any of it reached you yet?'
'You have not seen or heard anything of Mrs. Ibimay?'
'No.' Instant pallor had changed her face like a mask.
'She returned to Fulbec yesterday morning. She has with her Irene Garth...'
'I don't want to startle you,' said Paul; 'perhaps I shall not startle you. I hear it said that Mrs. Ibimay proposes to take out a warrant against me for the murder of Devil Ferriby, on the strength of Irene Garth's accusation. She has confessed she saw me kill him.'
Had the whole world been struck from her feet and she left with some supernatural foothold gazing into the blank, Daphne would have felt the same shock. Now she knew how all this while she had trusted Gisberne. Now that he had failed, she knew her world—the world that held Paul Ferriby—had been borne on his shoulders.
'Confessed!' she echoed stupidly. 'Confessed!'
Paul looked at her, reading her expression like a man incredulous. 'Did you see me do it?' he asked abruptly.
She drew from her dress a packet kept, it would seem, hidden next her heart, and with a look not to be rendered in words held it out to him on her palm. It was wrapped in a flimsy handkerchief warmed with her very body's warmth, fragrant of herself. He undid it, and laid bare his knife.
From the knife he looked to her face, from her face to the knife. Once, twice, he seemed about to speak, and changed his mind.
'Did you get this from Irene Garth?' he asked.
She pointed past him to the spot where Ferriby had lain.
His eyes followed her gesture; he stood confounded. She clutched the knife back against her heart and leant upon his arm.
'You did not know you had killed him, did you?' she said. 'You thought it was an accident?'
He gazed on her lost and wondering, yet half grasping it, half putting it together.
'I thought,' he began slowly, and then, breaking off, turned and looked towards the door into the entry. It opened with a jerk, and showed at once the face and figure of a man—Robert Gisberne.
He was pale from a night's sleeplessness, and spent a little from hard riding, and splashed with mud. Daphne loosed her hold of Paul and ran to him with a heartfelt cry.
'I knew it,' she said. 'I knew the moment I heard that it would bring you back.'
Gisberne had come for a last throw with fate. In every calculation the incalculable must be allowed for. He, allowing for it, was here now, ready to meet it, desperately ready, knowing neither its form nor how it could be done. If credit may be given to the leader, never mind of what forlorn hope, then Gisberne might claim it. He had the knowledge a dog may have, and beyond that, for sole inspiration, hope and fear, God and salvation, the desire of his blood towards a woman, and the dread of damnation in knowing himself discovered to her. He was here to ward off damnation if he could.
Paul Ferriby in himself was as nothing to Gisberne. His absorbing passion for and love of Daphne Estorel decreed that this darling, this one among women, would suffer more by knowledge of him revealed than by loss of Paul. Gisberne's love had risen high enough to put her from his arms. He had longed for her since with the dreariness of a slow and weary dying. He had been a coward, preferring a tenderness of remembrance to bliss, with death to follow, and her scorn to brand and sear him even in the burn of hell.
But in the cursed need of money, he had failed in the alternative that he had chosen. If vengeance did wait to close with him some day, he knew its shape—the sordid, intolerable, wretched need for money. Through need of money he had let Irene Garth slip through his guard.
Well, he had followed on her track recklessly, for once unkempt, his pockets empty, travelling hard to face—what he could not foresee.
He had passed along, expecting arrest at every step. Then, like a man who leaps in the dark and rises from the fall of it to see the sun, he heard Daphne Estorel's greeting, beheld her coming to him, felt her outstretched hands...
From that encounter, he lifted his eyes to Paul Ferriby's face...
Paul stood by the bureau where Devil Ferriby had lain...
His eyes, like enough to Devil Ferriby's eyes to serve, were fixed upon Gisberne with the same flash-light of inner recognition of him that had forced Gisberne to use murder to extinguish it. 'Thief!' Devil Ferriby had said that night, with his bloodshot eyes glaring through the candle flame as Gisberne turned a sharp face over his shoulder, his hand held out to the pile of gold, and saw that the stunned man was stunned no more, but coming on him. 'Thief!' And Gisberne had murdered him.
In the same fashion—'It was you,' cried Paul Ferriby's eyes now, and Gisberne narrowed his own and moved forward instinctively. Such an instant, a breath that allows of nothing either side save instinct, the instant when accusation flashes from the eyes to the lips, that is when a man accused strikes down in self-defence. The thing was too suddenly tense for speech, an onset to be met by onset, and Paul strode up to meet it. Nothing was clear, only the prompting of the blood in one man to denounce and avenge, in the other to hold what he had not yet lost.
And Gisberne had always had his little bits of luck, if luck it could be called, that got him respite. Daphne Estorel had her hand on his arm—who could overlook beyond a breath the brightness of her presence? Paul kept the outbreak back.
A little clock on the bureau-top had ticked away a minute. Neither of the three knew how that minute had been filled. They had moved in some automatic fashion. Paul glanced at the time.
'I don't want to go without a word with Mr. Gisberne,' he said, 'since he is here. May I speak with him alone?'
Daphne looked up instantly. 'No,' she said quickly; 'I must hear everything that passes.'
Gisberne had made his way to a seat with something of a half apology, as if to excuse his need of it. His forehead was damp, and he smoothed it as if conscious of dishevelment. His breathing was not steady, nevertheless it was plain that it was from haste and physical exhaustion. He looked like someone who would see the game through.
'Miss Daphne, wouldn't it be better?' he said.
'No!' She rose suddenly, holding by the stately carved back of her chair. 'No!'
A woman! How the difference was marked! She wore flowers at her bosom, to come decked into the presence of tragic issues. She translated everything, deception, lies, dishonour, into the one thought 'love,' and its opposite, separation. She would be sublime, she would be ignoble, only knowing of the one guiding line through every stress and possessed always by her own beauty, her self, a complex thing for no one love, for all love, for pity and compassion, big as life and encompassing all possibilities—a woman! The men saw less, and saw more too—differently.
Paul looked at her, hesitated, turned away. Instantly Gisberne rose with the uneasiness of a man fatigued, but moving quickly enough to get the custody of the door.
'Look here, Mr. Paul,' he said, 'I don't know what you want to say to me, but I came up here post-haste to have a word with you before the mischief is irrevocable. I killed Mr. John Ferriby. Through me he fell down that clumsy trap and broke his neck. It wasn't exactly my fault, and there seemed no cause to speak of it; and there wouldn't have been save for Mrs. Ibimay. She is crazy, and she has affected Miss Garth. I may tell you Miss Garth cares enough for me to put herself in my hands as my future wife. She's not answerable for what she says. She wants to make out it was you. It seems you and Mr. Ferriby did meet that night and have words about her, and—well, I'm here to clear you. I had words with Mr. Ferriby too that night, and it was my little fracas killed him.'
'You're lying,' said Paul.
'I don't see why you say so,' answered Gisberne.
The other's face darkened furiously and showed white under the tan. 'You're lying,' he said again. He turned to Daphne. 'Is this your suggestion?' he cried to her.
She lifted her face from her hands, where she had covered it while Gisberne spoke. She stepped forward, and her eyes blazed at him.
'No! It is his own lie to save you, because he knows I care...even for a coward...'
Strangely come love and death. Having spoken Daphne turned from both men, and seemed about to break from the room, or into some uttermost passion of tears and words. But she stayed herself by the door and leant against the wall with upthrown arms, her head bowed upon them.
Neither of the men stirred. The fury died from Paul's face, his gaze bent upon the ground. His mind withdrew itself from time and place and the occasion. It was as if all the soft air and sunshine he had ever breathed, the loneliness of the big stretches, the sighing winds and stars for ever in their places, the daily going from morning to the evening with fierce pulses or with languid ones, all and everything that had made up life itself instead of the mere feeling of life, were now transmuted into that woman's shape leaning yonder in passionate abandon. Daphne Estorel had been silent as the days, bright as the encompassing sunshine, and ever there about his hours like the winds and stars, and he had breathed her in as unconsciously.
But now in the garden of the soul he opened his eyes from a trance and saw the woman—sobbing, wild, weak, beautiful; fire and softness, folly and love; something sweet and conscienceless as the wild rose, yet pure enough to be a messenger from God; elusive as the light, and yet a warm, sobbing, piteous thing to take to his heart and soothe; someone to break his heart, to touch him into a madness and an ecstasy.
'Because he knows I cared—and for a coward—' From the silent brightness, still-lipped and aloof, such sweetness and weakness to blossom forth. She cared, and caring, she had let this other lie him into the coward's place. So much was clear. What else? At last Paul lifted his gaze to Gisberne's face comprehendingly, questioningly.
'Yes!' said Gisberne's look in answer, 'she stands to me for everything I know above the gutter and beyond damnation. I shall hold out to the end. Make the best of it you can.'
Someone rapped lightly.
'Mrs. Ibimay,' said Paul; and Daphne turned with a start. She dried her eyes and hurried to the door.
Even as she did it the incongruity of these little details struck her; she could have wrung her hands and laughed and screamed to see Dora as she entered quickly close a parasol. Behind her was Irene Garth and, shrinking in fine black attire, with all her colour gone, Sophy Bassett.
Irene started at the sight of Gisberne. She hurried to him, saying something, and slipped her hand within his arm.
'They have been frightening you,' said Dora, taking Daphne's hand. 'I thought it might be so. My dear, I am not going to do anything. But I had to find out.' She looked round her. 'There are some things one cannot bear. Mr. Ferriby's death is on my soul. I could not let it rest. I had to know. She'—her eyes dwelt unlovingly upon Irene—'had to tell!' She turned to Paul. 'So it came to it in the end. You avenged yourself; you killed him.'
With the advent of that white set face, the icy coldness of the voice, the room chilled and the brightness seemed drawn out of the sunshine as by ghostly fingers. One could fancy the blossoms in the great bowl grew pallid. A shudder touched Irene. Without moving, Gisberne's glance went down to her beside him. His hand moved cautiously. He had his revolver.
Irene spoke hurriedly. 'It's over now. There is no use in talking about it. It was my fault.' She looked at Dora. 'You said you were coming to arrange how best to hush it up.'
'To hush it up—the murder that I did.' It was Paul's voice ringing through the chilled atmosphere like a young god's. He bore down upon Irene, and she cowered, clutching Gisberne's arm. 'You saw me kill him?' he cried, superb with scorn and a mad elation.
White as snow, holding Gisberne close, she looked him in the eyes.—' Yes!'
'Thank God! You end my cowardice. I've been a coward! Afraid to say I killed Devil Ferriby. I've been screening behind lies, sneaking safety! God! to think I did kill him, and that you saw it, and that I'm avenged. You would see it; you knew I should do it!' He laughed in her face.—' Have you got that paper? I wrote it with the blood that dripped from this'—he flung his hand up towards his face—' and his brand across my life and my soul!—I told you of that too! And that I'd met him that night. But to think you saw me kill him—you! It's some amends. Merciful God, it's some amends!'
He turned from her; he had not touched her; it was just as if he flung her to the ground.
'I've been mad,' he said, looking round with a laugh. 'I've been tearing my heart out thinking I did not kill Devil Ferriby, thinking I must stand to most folk, as I did in my own eyes, for a poltroon and a mockery! But that was my coward's madness. Thank God I did kill him! I claim it! On her word! She saw me! What better witness!'
The burnished latch of the kitchen door lifted and fell behind Daphne, and the door opened and closed softly on Jane Skidfell. Daphne sank towards her sobbing and speechless, thrilled past belief or pain, or knowing what she felt.
The old woman's eyes dimmed to whiteness went round the group and rested upon Paul.
'So it was thee, ma lad,' she said. 'I be glad to think if t' master's son wor hurtled into t' grave it wor by one of his own blood.'
'Hush!' said Irene suddenly, 'he is in the room. Take me away,' she said to Gisberne. 'Sophy, take me away!'
The inevitable leaves no possibility of a mistake. Five minutes ago Gisberne stood beyond detection. Let him go on paying his own flesh and blood, and he would keep off a reckoning indefinitely. Five minutes ago by a stupendous tour de force he had set himself high almost as Daphne's heart.
But in arranging safety he had overreached it. Irene was the clay that slips slack from fingering to fingering. Gisberne's dog-like patient watchfulness and steady simple kindness, dedicated solely to keeping knowledge of him from Daphne Estorel, though it cost him unendingly the sight of her, were the strands of the rope he was to hang by. For Irene cared for him. She would lie Paul to destruction. She did not fear he would be hurt. But if she betrayed Gisberne—it was death. The madness to betray him, the awful impetus to speak, clutched her by so much the more.
She loosed her hold on Gisberne's arm and stepped away from him, and he knew it was the inevitable. It touched him that he might kill her before the words were out—an idle notion. She would shout them after she was dead!
'Stop me!' Irene cried out sharply, falling back against the table; and Sophy Bassett clasped her, white and frozen with fear.
'Oh, Miss 'Rene dear! Don't, now don't!'
Gisberne looked suddenly towards Daphne. 'I will take Miss Garth away,' he said; and Daphne gazed back mutely into his livid face. Gisberne could not tell what she divined. Her eyes met his in a dumb stare.
'We will go,' he said blindly.
Jane Skidfell crossed the room to the entry door.
'Thee doest not go,' she said. 'What has come to t' lass?'
Gisberne steadied himself. Even now it might avail to go on, to keep his place, to set down his stake once more.
In a dead stillness, Death and Damnation partners against him, Gisberne put down his last card.
'Irene,' he said very gently, 'tell them all you know.'
She gave him a wide look. 'Of course. Who is asking about it? Hasn't Paul said he killed him?...' She turned and looked down on the floor. 'It was here,' she said. Dora Ibimay uttered a cry. 'Why, is anyone saying Mr. Gisberne had anything to do with it?' said Irene. Then her voice changed, and she staggered, choking, with the attack rising in great sobs in her throat. She fell to her knees, calling on someone to stop her.
'She is mad,' said Gisberne. 'Miss Estorel, I warned you.'
And at something in Daphne's face Paul caught Irene up and looked into her eyes.
'Be still,' he said, in frenzied passionate entreaty. 'Haven't I claimed I did it?'
'But you did not...Ah, I warned you!' There broke from her the loud frightened cry of hysteria. She pointed frantically across the room, and Dora Ibimay, infected, rose with outstretched hands, whispering and sobbing across dry lips: 'John...John!...'
Irene cowered, covering her ears. 'Don't listen to him!' she shrieked.—' He's shouting out who murdered him. He knows I saw!'
She screamed, and tried to hide from the vision of pursuing eyes.—' Don't touch me. Cousin John...I will tell them! I will!...I will!'
It seemed to Robert Gisberne waiting for it that the dark of that spring day would never come. He sat in a room of the Droitlet Inn staring into the west, and saw, as far as he could recall, for the first time in his life, the changing hues of sunset—saw them. In the room where he sat he had been for hours, waiting at first for some communication from Ferriby to follow him. When Irene Garth had said her say he had left the house, mounted, and ridden away unhindered and unmolested.
Irene Garth had been very circumstantial, very deliberate. Gisberne did not waste a thought on questioning the absolute conviction with which everybody had heard her describe the wet cloth, and she had spoken of the blue wrap and the broken amber beads. The game was over. Death and Damnation had won the odd trick; but this being so, the fact that Daphne Estorel knew became as nothing, dwarfed by the realization of eternal separation from her.
Death is an idle word; but death itself waiting at the end of an hour for a man in his full vigour with everything to lose by it, nothing to gain, is a big thing.
Gisberne remained alone in the inn writing. No change became apparent in the demeanour of the innkeeper or of those who waited on him. Was he being given time in which to get away? They meant to keep the story quiet; they wanted to keep it quiet. What had Jane Skidfell said about one of Devil Ferriby's own blood?
Gisberne winced. 'But they can't,' he said to himself. 'I haven't the money to get out of England, and to shoot myself at any lesser distance won't save it. I wonder they don't think of that. It doesn't strike them that I have no money. It might occur to Mrs. Ibimay. She would not trust me.'
The irony of life was still present to him, and from another point of view. Mrs. Ibimay had tracked him and Irene down because she was dying of a thwarted passion, and must speak of the man who was dead, drag him among living folk again, turn his name on her tongue, make others talk of him, tear from Irene Garth mention of his every touch and caress that she might lacerate her own agony till it swooned and gave her ease. Would she think to bring Robert Gisberne fifty pounds that he might shoot himself beyond the reach of Ferriby or Daphne Estorel's association with it? And yet it would have been in passion's cause. For an hour he burned with fever for money to get away for her sake, that she should not loathe herself too much, her name coupled with a suicide, a pauper, a thief and murderer. Then came the shuddering fit, when the sweat broke on him at every footfall. To take money now! Who would believe he did not take it basely? But he was let alone.
He arranged with himself that when it was dark he would walk to Ferriby, find some means of entrusting to Sophy Bassett the papers he had written, and then turn aside and end it. He had not the money for a return ticket. The hire of the horse and his day's lodging at the inn must go unsettled.
Rose changed into yellow in the sky. He watched the yellow merge into a cool and ineffable green, in which pink cloudlets swam as in a lake; violet followed, and then the dark, and through the inn window Gisberne saw the stars begin to come.
Before the house closed for the night he went out. He made good the dishevelment of travel, but it irked him to know his linen was not fresh that day. All the ground he had gained was gone from under his feet. One step behind him the gutter and the jail. Before him—a stoppage. But he did not feel like death. He was too much alive; had waited too long. And what good was death? He was not sure—by any means sure—that it would be any service to him. He had no guarantee that he would not know things after death, and he did not feel at all assured that he could bear it. Overhead were the stars, thrice familiar. He trod the earth; the heart in his body was ready to go on beating against time for ever. He could not stop this rhythm of life and find himself in a place of neither stars nor foothold, nor with a beating heart in a thrilling body, but yet a something that languished and knew the fire of desire.
All his life Gisberne had gone quietly. He had known no passions. The brute in him had slunk out of sight along the wall. He had never taken to himself the right of a man. The brute bristled in him now and came into the open throb of the blood. Love had made the poetry of the world read to him like ABC. Brutality gave him in a flash as wide a knowledge. Murder! Men had embraced women reeking with their fathers' and their brothers' blood. His poor snivelling crime! He laughed with relief to think he had not killed himself before inspired to amend it with one worthier.
All along the road images of himself confronted him: the spot where he had encountered Mrs. Ibimay, the bend where he had waited for Daphne; he saw himself plain as a wraith, always quiet and cool, always controlled. And what had he achieved? What were nerve and coolness against the despicable hysteria of a wanton girl?
A brute fury against his own self-containment grew in Gisberne's blood, and drove him on along the lonely road as one possessed. It had been so clear what to do. It was now no longer clear. He was too alive to die. No shot could tell on fire; his blood ran with flame.
'Now, if I were to meet Mr. Paul Ferriby,' he thought as he turned into the lane, 'it would not be a bad beginning.'
As he emerged from the blossoming elms he saw the light in Irene Garth's room. With no definite plan of action, but without hesitation, he went up to the door he had quitted a few hours since, he thought finally. He tried it gently; there was no resistance, and he passed through. From the living-room came a sudden gleam, broadening as the light within was lifted and carried nearer.
Gisberne, stealthily as a panther, gained half-way down the entry and waited. The door opened wide on a woman's figure, not Daphne—Mrs. Ibimay. Her face was no longer so ghastly. His mind, centred brutally on the relief of violence, noticed that, and some curious detached perception conveyed that she did not recoil from him, that her eyes were softer, her voice less strained.
He stared at her fiercely, while she held the light high, assuring herself of his identity.
'It is you,' she said. 'I have been expecting you for hours. I was sure you would come back. I felt you must.' She looked at him closely. 'I am sorry,' she said; 'my distress goaded me. I did not sufficiently consider what I was doing in meddling with a creature like Irene Garth...Mr. Ferriby was going to ride over to you...I was sure you would come. Of course, she is mad, Mr. Gisberne. We know that...Did you think Miss Estorel believed her?'
Gisberne, staring at her, laughed. He thought he was mad. He thought he must have put a bullet through himself unwittingly, and that this must be the beginning of the mockery of hell...Then his senses cleared...She did not believe it. Irene Garth was mad...The flame went out in his blood and a weakness seized him, a feeling of self-pity, of being very cruelly handled.
'Come in,' said Mrs. Ibimay; and Gisberne followed her into the living-room like a man who has gone over the edge of destruction, but, clinging there, hears a voice above him, and for a moment lifts his eyes.
'She is the cause of his death herself,' said Mrs. Ibimay. 'Her madness fastens first on Paul and then on you. But that night's work will rest upon her head, and hers only...It will stop at that. I am satisfied, and no one else will ever meddle any more with the manner of Devil Ferriby's death—never openly.'
She had seated herself by the bureau on which she had replaced the candle, lit as her listening ear caught the sound of Gisberne at the door. He was huddled together at the table, his arms thrown over it, his head upon his arms.
Now it was plain that the softening of Mrs. Ibimay's face and voice was due to tears—wild tears, that had broken up the pitilessness of calm. She gazed on him distressed.
'I am sorry,' she said softly. 'You were doing a fine thing in keeping Irene Garth away...I have been suffering so terribly, it blinded me to everything. But sitting here waiting...I have realized this is where you and Daphne found him...' She looked down to the ground at her feet. Her voice ceased. Overhead could be heard a hurried footstep in Irene Garth's room and the soft closing of a door. 'I think there is a hereafter,' said Dora again into the silence. 'I feel sure of it...Love and strength...if they survive, nothing else can, surely—not our offences, not our mistakes—so it does not so much matter. You understand me? She does not believe Irene Garth. She was coming to you herself, only...I...we...I thought you might impetuously say something rash. I have suffered anguish...anguish. I see more clearly now. I would not hurt anyone who suffers...who loves...who has shown strength.'
Gisberne did not move. He had thought of everything in and out of damnation. He had not thought of this. Daphne Estorel refused to believe—could not, would not believe. He held his miserable confession between his fingers, and while he had been writing it she had been restrained from coming to him to tell him she did not believe.
If Mrs. Ibimay and Paul Ferriby believed him Devil Ferriby's murderer, they would never say so. In Irene Garth's crazy utterances the truth of that night's work was buried as safely as in the tomb. On her head it would rest. She could tear her heart to tatters uttering the truth and avail nothing. He need not even guard her. He could go. The world was open to him. Death stepped out of the way of life, dismissed.
But Gisberne did not move. Dora Ibimay came up once and laid her hand upon his shoulder. Did she think it remorse? Did she think it a wrestle with the agony of passion? She sighed, and after awhile went softly from the room.
Could he go on with it? Gisberne asked himself. His thoughts went searching through the places he had known. They were like desolate spaces over which a cold wind blew ashes. Could he go on? Love and strength. He had love. Had he strength to go off and live his life out till the old lie was beaten out, separated to its atoms, no more even a lie?...Could he live away from her, poor, obscure, fighting for decency, all there was to sustain him the knowledge that she thought him honest, thought him kind, a priceless friend? Paul Ferriby was between them. In his embrace she would forget...He, poor wretch! would go on living to keep his name sweet in the ears of a woman who would forget it. She would be Paul Ferriby's...
Gisberne struggled to his feet. He was smothering down there, his face hidden in the dark. He gasped for breath.
What if he did find the strength, and went and returned and conquered? What if he made of himself even now a man stronger than any destiny, strong enough to slip the past as a dog the leash, and start for the goal and win the utmost yet—against the utmost?...He drew himself erect and started forward...Ah!
He had no money. He could earn a living by the cards. He laughed, falling back against the table. He had made all the decent money he ever had made by the queer inborn skill he had shown Daphne Estorel that afternoon. He had asked her to keep it quiet. Well, yes, he couldn't very well turn that skill to account—his queer tricks with a teacup and the window-pane. Under the description of a famous 'improvisator,' he was wanted by the police.
He might ask Mrs. Ibimay...He looked round, and noticed that she was gone. Well, that would have been a fine way to begin the climb of all-conquering heights, to take money from the woman he had cheated once already...No...he was done...As he stood holding the chair he had risen from, he heard the door opposite pushed gently open, and he caught the fragrance of flowers that have been bruised and are dying. He heard a rustle of rich material, and, looking up, saw Daphne Estorel, her dress untouched since the morning, even to the blossoms she wore crushed and drooping.
As she came towards him, what he thought of was the unsettled bill at Droitlet, that his linen was of yesterday, his cheek rough. He had slipped back, failed, fallen...
'Oh, you have been thinking...' she began. She paused beside him, searching his downcast face, her own pale with contrition; her eyes showed only the tenderest compassion, the saddest self-reproach. 'Why did I not think of it?' she said, reiterating words that during these hours had grown mechanical. 'I might have known...all her wretched doing...all...Why did it not occur to me it was her wickedness, her cunning...hers?'
So true a woman...She saw the paper in his hands. 'You meant this for me?' she said. He let her take it. It was not so much that action was clear to him as that at such moments there is neither confusion nor resistance.
'You guessed it was she from the first?' said Daphne, 'or perhaps not at the very first, not the very night itself? Did you?...'
He turned his eyes to hers.
'I have confessed it there,' he said.
She tore the paper through and through and carried the pieces to the fire...
'I am no one to judge you,' she said. She came back to him, and in piteous agitation laid her hand upon his arm. 'Think what I did, what I was ready to do...because I cared...You only let me go on thinking it was Paul...He might very well despise me...and I don't think you were sure...not till that evening when...' She broke off, weeping. 'I made it very difficult for you...Do you forgive me? Oh, to me, always, spite of this, you have been...splendid!'
She turned her face towards him, her entreating eyes and trembling parted
lips. He kissed her closely, long, and tenderly.
He found himself walking away from the Grange. He reflected he must tramp to a distant town, pawn something there, tramp to London, and in some fashion get out of the country. His revolver was useless—a betrayal.
He had undertaken to Daphne Estorel to live; only by living could he justify himself. He must live at a distance. Only by that could he retain Paul Ferriby's silence. Paul Ferriby knew and understood. She under stood and would never know. Life's little subtleties again; he appreciated them.
He walked on steadily. Stopping at last, he knew himself exhausted. He was in a dull anguish, frightened at the hours before him piling one on the other for ever, for ever bringing the cursed want of money and the need of food. Oh, that he had not kissed her! He would go back.
His face turned again in the direction of the Grange, or what he thought to be, Gisberne stumbled on...Suddenly the riddle was answered. He felt a brightness, an uplifting, a strange and ghostly soothing.
'Was Irene Garth dead?' he thought. And then it came to him in some whisper that this was his own death. He sank down upon the ground, crossed his arms, and hid his face.
''Tis said that some have died for love.'
With this epitaph upon the man who had called himself Robert Gisberne, Paul Ferriby never meddled. His own explanations and his love and wooing of Daphne Estorel are another story.