Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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THE Christmas ball at Market Sidesley was in full swing. All the cars of the country places within a fifty mile radius, from old Lady Marsden's cumbersome and elderly limousine to the baby models of the younger generation, seemed to be parked in the market place. There was snow along the sills of the glowing windows of the assembly rooms at The Crown and snow clung to the sign of that ancient hostelry, for two days of hard frost had conserved a night's snowfall and transformed the little country town and the landscape about it into authentic Christmas- card scenery.
Christmas was three days away, but already the spirit of festival was in the air. There were mince pies and punch at the buffet, and holly and mistletoe gleamed darkly between the tall mirrors of the assembly rooms. The old-fashioned chandeliers swayed, tinkling to the feet of the dancers. Hunting pink and buff, evening coats resplendent with colored facings, the gold and scarlet of mess jackets, against the softer hues of the dance frocks were like the burnished glory of the pheasant's breast against the more sober tints of the forest.
The dance orchestra, imported from London, struck into an old- fashioned waltz. The magic rhythm of the "Blue Danube" went hammering forth upon the heated air. It plucked at the heartstrings of old and middle age, bringing old memories crowding fast and thick. The shires are the heart of Imperial Britain. From them go forth the Empire builders, men and women, into that exile that is the price of world dominion, and to them, if it may be, at Christmas, most English of all our feasts, the expatriates return. And so the memories stirred by the haunting lilt of Strauss' lovely melody, memories of love that was born and of love that died, were not alone of the English scene, of the stately ballrooms of Victorian and Edwardian England, but also of stifling nights in the East with white drill and dusky servitors as the background in place of hunting pink and the rosy faces of the waiters at The Crown.
The old brigade heard the call and forthwith took the floor. From the benches round the walls, from the bridge tables, from the buffet they came trooping. Each in mind was a stripling again, stalwart youth or comely maiden, for such is the wizardry of the gallant old waltz. Up and down the room they pumphandled zestfully, eager to snatch at this fleeting recollection of the days when "dancin' was dancin'" and the shires hadn't gone to the dogs. Post-war youth bostoned disdainfully, avoiding with polite resignation collision with its romping elders, or covered up its maladroit flounderings by sotto voce sarcasms about the undiminished vigor of "the ancestors."
DAPHNE HAMILTON, radiant in a silver gown, firmly removed her partner's arm from her waist.
"Archie," she observed firmly, "I've only got two feet and I need them both myself."
"I like that," grinned her companion, a flushed and fair- haired young man, and mopped his brow. "Somehow," he added philosophically, "I don't think this old-fashioned stuff is my long suit. Lord. I could do with a drink. How about it, Daphne?"
Behind them long tables, palms and the occasional hiss of siphons announced the situation of the buffet.
"Not for me," the girl rejoined. "But don't let me stop you. And, Archie, your collar's a wreck. Go and change it. Or haven't you got a spare?"
"I've got a spare all right," he said. "I suppose I am a bit moist. That's the worst of these prehistoric gymnastics: they do work up a lather. I'll be back in two secs. Let's have the next one, shall we?"
"Not if it's another waltz," the girl retorted and sat down. Her tone was severe but her smile disarmed.
Rid of her partner, she let her eyes, grey and reflective, rove slowly round the room as though in search of someone. At the entrance to the ballroom, across from where she sat, her gaze remained arrested. Just inside the door a man was talking to Lady Marsden, a grand dame of the Victorian age; a tall man, broad- shouldered and grizzled. He was smiling down into the dowager's keen black eyes as he held her thin, yellowish hand in his.
A voice at Daphne Hamilton's side said suddenly, "Surely that isn't Philip Wyndham?"
The girl glanced over her shoulder. A man in a scarlet mess jacket was talking to a youth in hunting pink who had a slightly fuddled air.
"Which is he?" demanded the vinous one.
"There! The tall feller talkin' to Lady Marsden."
The other shook his head solemnly. "That's not Philip, old boy. I can tell you that."
His friend looked at him sharply. "Are you sure you know Philip Wyndham by sight?"
"No," was the bland rejoinder.
"Then how do you know this isn't he?"
"Because I heard Lady Marsden call him Derek; that's how I know." His air was triumphant.
"It is the brother then," the first man remarked.
"Whose brother?" the other demanded owlishly.
"Philip Wyndham's brother."
"But you just said his name was Derek," his friend protested.
"Pull yourself together, George," said the soldier, laughing. "The feller talkin' to Lady Marsden is Derek Wyndham, Philip Wyndham's twin brother. You've heard of Philip Wyndham, the polo international, haven't you?"
"The feller who got knocked on the head in India, d'you mean?"
"That's right. This is his twin. I remember seeing him once when poor Philip and I were at Sandhurst. They were so much alike you couldn't tell one from the other—"
"Well, who wants to, anyway?" his friend interjected disgustedly.
"My hat," the other murmured, disregarding the interruption, "hasn't he gone grey? I was told he'd taken his brother's accident devilish hard—"
"I don't want to hear anything more about it," his companion declared with emphasis. "I want to ask you a simple question, Eric. As man to man, would you say I was tight?"
"Of course not, old boy."
"Then how about a small drink?"
They drifted toward the buffet. The band had stopped; the long room rang to the applause of the dancers. Daphne stood up, her eyes rather bright. Lady Marsden was crossing the floor toward her with the tall man in her wake.
THERE had been a time when she had often pictured to herself their meeting. She had planned it all out. She had always known they would meet again. She would be dignified but not distant: that would be too obvious. She would display a frank and friendly solicitude for him and his career, but without any suggestion that there had ever been words of love between them. He had been four years away, but he had ceased to write to her after the first six months. Now that she saw him again, she was glad to find she had no bitterness left. She had never forgotten him; only he seemed to belong to the past, to her childhood memories of Arundel and the Downs, memories glamorous in retrospect but no more substantial than a dream.
The band had attacked the "Blue Danube" again, and she was dancing with him and chatting away as though it were only yesterday that he had kissed her good-by in the winter brume of Fenchurch Street Station. It was he who had first broken the ice.
"The Blue Danube," he said. "How jolly! Doesn't it bring back to you Christmas parties when we were kids, Daphne?"
She nodded happily. "I am glad to see you again, Derek, after all these years," she told him. And meant it.
He gave her an understanding smile. "Not half so glad as I am to see you, Daphne."
"You haven't forgotten how to dance, Derek?"
"It's a wonder I haven't. I've been out of things for so long."
"And you've been in South America all this time? Peru?"
He nodded. "Yes. Weren't you surprised to see me here?"
"I should think I was. At first I wasn't sure it was you. You're thinner and older looking. And you've gone so grey—"
"I'd have known you anywhere, Daphne, though you've changed, too."
"For the better, I hope?"
He laughed. "I should say so. You're better looking, for one thing."
She laughed back at him. "Well! That's not much of a compliment."
"What do you mean? I call it a very good compliment. You were a plain child—"
They laughed together. She liked being with him. After all, there were no friends like old friends, and Derek and Philip had been like brothers to her who had no brothers or sisters of her own. She had been racketting about London for how long? Four seasons. She had scores of acquaintances, and two men had wanted to marry her. But she was not sufficiently attracted to either. She was often lonely. She was glad Derek had come back.
His protecting arm held her closer. "Mind the old buffer in pink," he cautioned. A skilful turn avoided the imminent clash.
"That's Colonel Lawton," she explained. "I'm with his party. And that's his wife over there with the lorgnette. She's a great rider to hounds—"
"She looks rather like a horse," he remarked. "Has it ever struck you how many hunting women have faces shaped like a horse's?"
"Hush, someone will hear you," she cried. Her laughter bubbled over. She gazed at him affectionately. That was the way he and Philip used to carry on in the old days—ragging from morning to night. Dear old days! She clung to his arm for an instant after the music stopped.
All about them, palms were pounded enthusiastically.
"Are you stopping with the Lawtons?" he asked.
"No. With my cousin, Edna Holt. I'm only down for the ball. I'm going home for Christmas. Edna has a weekend cottage down here—the sweetest place you ever saw, in the most romantic wood—"
"Do I know her? Which is she?"
"She's not here. Such rotten luck. She had to bolt up to town this afternoon—her mother's ill—and she'll be away for the night. So I drove myself over in my car and joined the Lawtons here. Where are you putting up?"
"Me? Oh, I'm at the inn over at Eversley. I don't believe I know a soul here except you and old Lady Marsden. Look here," he went on, as the band resumed, "let's slip out and find somewhere quiet to talk, shall we?"
She nodded. "All right."
THEY had the conservatory to themselves. A fountain dripped depressingly over wilted ferns and horribly arch gnomes set in a battered rockery—it was very romantic, they agreed jestingly. From the ballroom, shouts, stamping and hunting cries resounded. He cocked his head at the door. "Sounds like 'John Peel,' doesn't it?"
"Yes. It's the last dance, I think. Why ever did you come so late?"
He was delayed in London, he explained, and the train was delayed owing to the snow. There was a pause while they lit cigarettes. She was the first to speak.
"Do you know it's four years since we last saw one another?" she said.
His eyes smiled into hers. "As long as that?"
"Indeed it is. I was eighteen and you were twenty-four. And you've been out of England all that time?"
"And making lots of money?"
He shrugged his shoulders. The question she wanted to ask seemed to stick on her lips. But she had to ask it. Why not, after all? These things didn't matter any more. "Did you ever marry?"
He shook his head. "No."
It seemed to her that he was loth to talk about himself. Perhaps he had an uneasy conscience for breaking with her, as he had done, without a word. To change the subject, she said:
"Derek, I wanted to ask you about Philip."
She was watching his face. It appeared to wince.
"I'm afraid it must hurt you to talk about it," she went on rather hurriedly. "You know, the first thing I noticed about you was the expression of your eyes. It's so sad. You twins were always such pals—" And when he did not answer but remained gravely contemplating her: "Derek," she asked timorously, "he's not—dead?"
His headshake was curt. "No, unfortunately!"
She placed her small hand on his big brown one. "Is it as bad as that? Poor old Philip! I read about his accident in the newspapers last year. I'd have written to you if I'd known where to write. How is he now?"
"Much the same. He had to leave the army, you know. And he has been an invalid ever since."
Her nod was understanding; her grey eyes were troubled.
"I heard. Poor fellow, I'm so sorry. It must have been an awful shock for you, Derek."
He frowned. "It was pretty ghastly. But let's talk about you, Daphne. What are you doing with yourself?"
"Just like that?"
She laughed. "Nothing ever happens to me. I live with mother in London. The same old house—Eaton Square. You must come and see us."
"You're not married then?"
"Not even that." She gave him her even glance. "But that's no reason why you should hold my hand."
His eyes hungrily searched her face. Manhood became him well, she decided. His features were more regular, sterner, too, than she remembered them to have been. He kept her hand in his, gently-stroking the fingers.
"It's so white and soft," he said. "You always had pretty hands, Daphne."
"So you used to tell me," she answered in a low voice, and added; "But it's a long time ago, isn't it?" Why had she said that? she asked herself furiously. It was idiotic, sentimental. The past was past, wasn't it? But now the opening of the door admitted the hubbub of the ballroom. Archie appeared.
"I say, Daphne," he observed reproachfully, "I've been hunting for you everywhere. What about this dance of mine?"
The man at her side was gazing at her, imploringly, compellingly.
"Oh, Archie," she pleaded, "I don't believe I have the energy. I'm dead—"
"Have a heart," the youth urged her. "I've only had one dance with you the whole blinking evening. Listen, they're just warming up. This is the last number. You ought to be in at the death—old hunting custom and what not. And afterward there's breakfast—kippers and sausages and the whole bag of tricks."
She shook her head. "Honest, old boy, I'm fagged out. You'll have to let me off. Do you mind?"
He looked crestfallen. "Oh, all right. But you don't know what you're missing." The closing of the door as he went out shut out the noise.
The pair left behind exchanged a glance.
"What a grim prospect," the man remarked. "Or does it amuse you. Daphne?"
"Not very much, Derek."
His eyes snapped. "Let's get out of here, shall we?"
"How do you mean?"
"You said you had your car here, didn't you? Let's go for a run."
"But, Derek, the snow—we shall be perished."
"You have a heavy coat, haven't you? I mean, you must have wrapped up well to come here. It's a marvellous night—come on!"
"And what about my party?"
"They'll be starting in on breakfast. We'll be back before you're missed."
"But why should I go with you?" she asked him, wavering.
"Because I've a million things to say to you, that's why. Where did you leave the car? I'll fetch it round while you're collecting your coat."
"Don't do that. It's only in the market place—yellow coupé with one of the rear mudguards bashed in. It's in front of the post-office. I'll meet you there."
"Right you are. Don't let them see you or you'll never get away."
Derek had always been able to make her do what he wanted. But she didn't care. She was glad, glad, to be with him again.
THE wood looked entrancing under the snow. Every branch, every twig, every leaf, had its coating of hoar frost. The tree trunks were black against the white carpet. The crisp, cold air was full of little tinkling sounds. The night sky, dark and clear, glittered with stars. Under the tires of the car the snow on the road rasped and crackled.
"This is Baddeley Wood I told you of," spoke Daphne from the driving wheel. "Edna's cottage is just over the next rise." She sighed. "What a heavenly night!"
"Isn't it?" the man at her side agreed.
"Doesn't the snow look marvellous, stretching away under the trees? So ghostly—"
"Grand. I always loved a wood."
"You'd love Edna's cottage, Derek. It's up the quaintest little lane; just a cart track, really. You'd never know a house was there. It's like a witch's cottage in the middle of an enchanted forest." She glanced out over the high collar of her mink coat. "Hullo, what's that bright light over there?"
She stopped the car. The engine throbbed silkily in the silence.
"It's the moon rising behind the trees," the man replied. "Let's stay here a bit and talk, shall we? It's so restful. Switch off the engine, why don't you?"
Her hand fingered the dash, and the hush of the winter night enveloped them. Then she turned off the head lamps and they were plunged in a sort of grey twilight produced by the snow's reflection on the sky. She slipped off her fur gauntlet to take the cigarette he offered. He lit it for her.
"You've grown into a very lovely woman, my dear." he said as the match illuminated her face. The little flame burnt out. He uttered an exclamation. She laughed.
"Did you burn your fingers?" she enquired softly.
His deep laugh echoed hers. "Yes. Is that prophetic?"
They laughed together, then fell silent as though overawed by the white splendor of the night.
"Derek," she said at last, "why did you come to the ball?"
"To see you."
She shook her head. "I don't believe it."
With a thoughtful air she flicked the ash from her cigarette.
"Because—four years is a long time. You could have written."
She felt his hand on her arm, pressing it through the soft fur.
"It's so marvellous to be with you again, Daphne. Don't let's spoil it by inquests, shall we?"
His hair brushed her cheek, his arm stole about her. She did not resist. It seemed to her that time had slipped back, that the heartache of the years had never been. Now his cheek was laid against hers. Desperately, she clung to him.
"Why did you ever leave me?" she whispered. "When I sit like this, with my cheek against yours, I feel as though we'd never been parted. Is it real? Or is it just the moonlight that makes it seem real?"
The moon now cast a broad shaft athwart a clearing in the wood. A cluster of pines, standing up on a bluff, was silhouetted hard and black in the silvery light. Every leaf it touched twinkled like diamonds. The man's gesture embraced all the glittering scene.
"It's the moonlight, dearest." The deep voice rang huskily. "Look, all the wood is full of it. In your silver dress you're like a fairy princess."
She sighed. "The moon has a magic of its own," she said dreamily.
He drew her closer to him. "It has brought you back to me. Daphne, my love."
"I thought you'd forgotten how to make love to me," she answered.
"Look at me," he pleaded. "Daphne, dearest—"
Now she turned her head, raising her face, and he saw that her lashes were wet. "Why, you're crying."
"Derek," she faltered, and he caught her in his arms. Suddenly, she shrank away. "Listen!" she said in a low voice, "Did you hear anything? There it is again!"
A hoarse shout came floating over the snow, answered by another shout in the distance. Feet went trampling through the undergrowth. A whistle was blown twice and the shouts were repeated.
"What on earth can it be?" said the girl. "Let's make a move, shall we?" he proposed.
"But what's it all about?"
"Keepers chasing poachers or something—I don't know."
"But, Derek, how thrilling! Let's wait and see what happens."
His only reply was to touch the switch while his foot groped for the starter.
"We don't want to get mixed up in it," he declared as the engine sprang into life. "How far is this cottage of yours?"
"Not far. Over the next hill and up a lane. Why?"
"You don't want to go back to the ball. You're tired. I'll take you home."
"But what will you do? I can scarcely put you up, can I? You see, I'm all alone in the place."
"Yes; I told you. Edna's away for the night. And she has no servants down here; only a daily woman who comes in from the village."
"I can borrow your bus and bring it back in the morning. Come on, let's get out of this."
She went into first and the car slid forward. Behind them raucous shouts and heavy footsteps went echoing through the wood.
EDNA would certainly have a fit if she knew, Daphne told herself, as she put the water on to boil in the little kitchen. But she had wanted Derek to see the cottage, with its oak beams and diamondpane windows, and he had pleaded so nicely for a cup of coffee after their cold ride. They had made up the fire in the sitting room, and the cheerful crackle of the flames, coming to her as she bustled about the kitchen, was in agreeable contrast with the wintry scene without. The thought of Mrs. Lawton worried her rather but—she dismissed the subject. The question of what excuse she should make to her chaperone would keep until morning.
"How about some eggs and bacon?" she called through the open door into the sitting room.
"Splendid," came the reply; then: "I say, Daphne, how topping it is here with the wood all round."
"You should see the view from my room upstairs; it's too enchanting," she replied and took down the frying pan. "You can set the table if you like. You'll find the knives and things in the drawer."
When at length she emerged from the kitchen with the tray it was to find the table laid and her companion gazing out, enraptured, upon the woods all bathed in silver. To save her frock she had girded the daily woman's large white apron about her. The man turned and saw her now, the tray in her hands, gravely regarding him.
"You're the prettiest thing in that apron," he exclaimed gaily, advancing to take the tray.
Her eyes followed him as he set it down. "You know, Derek," she said, "I got quite a shock for a minute, seeing you standing there. I thought you were Philip. Are you two as much alike as ever?"
"So they say," he answered abstractedly as he unloaded the tray.
She began to cut bread. "You know," she remarked, "in those old days at Arundel I always thought Philip was a bit jealous of you because I liked you better—"
He laughed shortly. "Poor old Phil!" He drew up a chair for her.
"I never see the moonlight without thinking of him," she said. "I suppose that's what made me think of him just now. How he loved the moon! Do you remember?"
She poured out the coffee and they began to eat.
"Did you ever know," she resumed presently, "that sometimes, when the moon was full, Philip would slip out of the house by himself and climb to the top of the Downs and lie on his back on the grass? He used to tell me wonderful stories he would think of up there—"
"What sort of stories?"
"Oh, about an altar high up on the hilltop—the altar of the Moon God, he called it—where at the full moon a maiden was sacrificed. He used to describe the priest standing there with a great knife glittering in his hand and the girl, all in white—she had always to be dressed in white, I remember —advancing slowly up the hill. Oh, it was terribly dramatic! The priest would cry, 'Hasten, hasten, the Moon God waits!' and the girl would have to answer 'Moon God, I am ready!' because, as Philip would explain it, it was a sort of privilege to be sacrificed." Daphne smiled at the recollection, her chin propped on her hand. "Philip used to make me act it with him—he was a funny boy. He had his own name for me, a secret name, which he made me swear never to divulge to a living soul."
"And did you ever divulge it?" the man broke in.
With mock solemnity she shook her head.
"Never. I think he was afraid you'd laugh at him—he was always so sensitive." Then perceiving that her companion had stopped eating and was gazing at her with curious intensity, she laid her hand on his arm and said, "But perhaps it hurts you to talk about Philip?" As he did not speak, she added: "I only thought—I mean, you gave me such an odd look—"
"It doesn't hurt when you talk about him," he said.
"You know," she confided, "even in those days he used to frighten me sometimes. He talked so strangely. Derek, tell me—I must ask you this—is it true what they say; that he's hopelessly insane?"
He frowned and returned to his eggs and bacon. "Doctors make mistakes, don't they?" he retorted sombrely.
In the silence that followed, the brisk clatter of a motor cycle, approaching rapidly, reverberated through the cottage. It grew louder and louder until the staccato hammering was close at hand. The girl glanced over her shoulder at the front door which, cottage fashion, opened directly into the living room.
"My goodness!" she said in alarm. "I believe it's stopped outside." The noise ceased suddenly as the engine was shut off. She looked at her companion in dismay. "I say, this is a bit awkward. I hope it's not anybody for Edna—"
They both heard the crunch of gravel on the path leading up to the door. Daphne sprang up.
"Gracious, it is someone for us! Now what are we going to do?" A knock at the door. "There!" Her whisper was awestruck. "Oh, I was crazy to let you come in—"
The man frowned. "Let him knock," he said brusquely. "Here, I'll put out the candles."
Her hand stayed him as the door was rapped again. "Too late," she said in an undertone. "He has seen the light from outside—"
Now the door handle was rattled and the knock repeated. In the comer of the room a boxed-in stair led to the upper floor. The man pointed to it silently.
"I'll see who it is," he whispered. "You'd better disappear."
With an understanding nod, she left him and tiptoed upstairs.
HE opened the door. A bulky form stood under the porch. It was a policeman. The light from the room caught the silver badge of his helmet. A heavy man with a florid face. His blue trousers were caught up at the ankle. Beyond the gate the lamp of his motor cycle flung a long white beam along the low hedge.
"Hexcuse me troubling you this late, zur," the policeman said, "but Oi zee the loight. Can you put me on the roight road fer Market Zoidesley?"
"You've only got to follow the lane down the hill," the man at the door replied, "and you'll come to the main road."
On this he would have closed the door, only the constable's portly shape bulged across the threshold. He was a deliberate individual, slow thinking, and obviously not to be hurried.
"Thank you, zur," he drawled. "Oi doan't often git over as fer as this, and it bean't none too easy voinding yer way through the woods after dark. Oi'm from the station at Zoidesley, moizelf. Is that your car outzoide?"
"Ye-es. Yes. Why?"
The constable rubbed his nose. "'Appen you've bin to the ball over ter Zoidesley, zeeing as you're dressed up loike?"
"Yes, I was at the ball. What about it?"
"Didn't run across a chap acting woildlike 'twixt 'ere and Zoidesley, did yer?"
"No. I met no one."
The officer sank his voice. "Or 'eared annywan prowling about the wood sence you come 'ome?"
The policeman's tone became impressive. "They rung up from the station at Eversley to zay as 'ow a patient escaped tenoight from Dr. Wilson's zannytarian—leastwoise, that's wot they calls it; Oi'd call it a lunatic azoilum moizelf. They allow as 'ow this chap, 'e tuk to the woods. The keepers be beating the brush fer 'im now. Zargint, 'e packs me off on old motor boike to patrol the roads, zee?"
"Quite. Do you know who this poor fellow is?"
The officer pushed his helmet off his brow. "Zargint, 'e didn't roightly know 'is name. But 'e's praperly dang'rous, Oi reckon; wan of these 'ere 'ommyzoidal maniacs, as yer moight zay."
"A homicidal maniac, eh?"
"Aye. Noigh killed 'is keeper las' year, Zargint wuz telling me. And cunning as a fox. D'yer know wot 'e done tenoight? Toied up a gen'elman from Lunnon as came down to zee un and escaped in 'is 'at and coat—"
"Do you know what he looks like?"
"We 'aven't got a praper description of un yet. But 'e won't stop out long this perishing weather, Oi'll take my oath. It's crool cold to be out, Oi give you my word." On this the policeman made a hopeful pause, but perceiving that the other did not act on it, adjusted his helmet and said in an official voice:
"Well, zur, Oi'll be getting along. If you'll take my advoice, you'll see that doors and winders is fast before you go to bed. This cottage of youm loies moighty lonely loike. Good noight, zur."
"Good night, officer."
The man in evening clothes stepped swiftly and softly backward to the table, his outstretched hand groping.
DAPHNE's bedroom was on the back.
But from the window in the passage she had a glimpse of a policeman's helmet vanishing under the porch. "It's that tail light of mine again," she told herself, and wondered whether she should not run down and show Derek where the whisky was kept. Better not appear, she decided. Derek would give the man half a crown and get rid of him.
She went into her room. The fire was almost out. She poked it up, put on a log, and sat down before the mirror. The drive had blown her hair about. She tidied it and put some powder on her face. She felt elated, happy. He had not forgotten her; he still cared. Did she? The wave of color that deepened her reflection in the glass gave her her answer.
A sound from below made her look hastily over her shoulder at the door. She went to the door, opened it, listened. Then she advanced to the head of the stairs. All was quiet in the sitting room. Then she heard a stealthy step. She called softly: "Derek—" The staircase door opened. He was looking up at her out of a darkened room.
"I thought I heard you call out," she said. "Well, has he gone?"
"Yes." His tone was abrupt.
"I didn't hear the motor-bike. What did he want?"
He was mounting the stair. "He's gone, I tell you," he answered testily. Now he stood beside her at the head of the flight. His attitude puzzled her; there was something furtive about him.
"Derek," she said, "what's the matter?" He caught her hand and drew her along the passage.
"Not here," he said. "Let's go to your room. We must make no noise."
At the end of the passage her bedroom door stood open. On the dressing table a candle burned as she had left it—the cottage had no electric light. They went in. With wonder in her eyes she faced him.
"You're very mysterious all of a sudden," she said uneasily. "What on earth's the matter? What did that policeman want?"
"He was looking for someone," he answered and laid a finger on his lips. "Hush!"
She stared at him in perplexity.
"Looking for someone? What do you mean? I don't understand."
"I've put out the lights below," he told her in an impressive whisper. "They've men out everywhere, scouring the woods like a pack of hounds. If they find him, they'll send him back to that living hell—" His hand went out and flattened the candle flame. As it died the room was flooded with the moonlight which shimmered on the snow-clad wood below the window. The fire glowed redly.
"But, Derek dear," she said tremulously, "whom are you talking of?" She broke off. "You don't mean that—"
Her gaze, fearful, incredulous, had sought his face. The words died on her lips. She saw him with eyes wild, mouth set in a sardonic smile.
"Keep doors and windows fast," he muttered thickly and turned to the door. She heard the bolt shoot home.
"What are you thinking of?" she cried. "Derek, don't be silly, dear. You mustn't lock the door. Open that door at once."
An incredible suspicion was beating like a pulse in her brain. She set herself to ignore it, afraid that she would scream aloud in a paroxysm of fear. Sombrely he contemplated her.
"He's gone and we're alone," he said. "Just you and I in the heart of the woods." He caught her hand; his touch was icy. "How lovely you look in the window with the moonbeams playing on your silver dress. The High Priest is waiting. I've come to claim you. Daphne—moon maiden!"
Moon maiden? That was Philip's old name for her! She pulled her hand away, staring at him in a cold agony of terror. This was not Derek; it was Philip. And he had escaped from custody. She suddenly remembered those shouts and footsteps in the wood. Her heart thumping in her ears, she listened. Not a sound. The cottage and the trees all about were plunged in the silence of the winter night. And she was alone with this madman, alone in this solitary place.
He was muttering to himself, muttering and glancing at her out of burning eyes.
"Moon maiden, moon maiden!" he repeated rapturously, over and over again.
She must be calm, she told herself; must master this numbing sense of fear that gripped her.
"Philip, dear," she said, trying to steady her voice, "it's Daphne—you remember Daphne?" Her mind was groping for some plan of action. If she could induce him to open the door, the car was outside—her only chance.
"Lift your face to the moon, beloved," he raved. "Be not afraid. See, the moon is beckoning us out. Come!"
"Yes, Philip, yes," she soothed him. "But we must open the door—"
He puckered up his brow and shook his head.
"No, I was forgetting. There's danger in the woods. We will build the altar here. Let us hurry, Daphne. The Moon God waits."
"I know, dear, I know," she cried desperately. "We used to act it in the old days, didn't we? What fun we had! Do you remember the day in the park at Arundel when I fell in the pond and you built a fire and I scorched my stockings? Nanny was furious. And that day when Derek put a stone from his catapult through the window of the castle, and the funny old man who came rushing out was the duke himself? How scared we were!"
Hysteria was creeping into her voice. She fought against it; but it was hard to maintain a level tone when every time she raised her eyes she saw madness gibbering at her. He was gabbling to himself that they must lose no time, the altar was prepared.
She took herself in hand again.
"Have you forgotten our walks across the Downs, Phil? I used to take the dogs out—you remember my greyhounds, dear? You said that, with my hair streaming in the wind and the color in my cheeks and the dogs straining at the leash, I looked like Diana of the Uplands—"
But now he interrupted her angrily.
"The god will become impatient," he cried and tossed up his arm in the moonlight. "See, I am prepared—"
Her nerve cracked as she saw the knife glitter in his hand. It ran red and there was blood on his hand and cuff. Desperately, she whirled about and tore at the fastening of the window behind her. It was a casement window and the two sides opened inward. They fell apart now, letting in the icy breath of the forest. In a bound he was on her, striving to pinion her arms.
"A last kiss, Daphne, my love!" he raved.
His features were distorted in the wan light.
"No, no," she pleaded piteously. "Keep away from me, keep away from me. Phil, it's Daphne—you wouldn't hurt Daphne?"
She tried to fight him off. But he was strong. His arms were like steel. Now he held her fast and she felt her strength leaving her. His fingers slid up her arms toward her neck. Her senses were slipping.
"Dear God," she prayed aloud, "let someone come."
His fingers were at her throat. She screamed and screamed again. Suddenly the moonlight disappeared, and with it she felt the grip on her throat relax. Something rattled on the floor. Then all went black about her.
A CAR came nosing up the lane behind the glare of headlights. The strong beam picked out and held the whitened walls and overhanging thatch of the cottage. Above the throbbing of the engine as the car glided to a halt, a voice, prim and grave, said: "That's the place—the white gate. We'll leave the car here." A brake rasped; the engine sighed and stopped.
Two figures descended from the car. One of them pointed up the lane.
"Look, doctor, a yellow car. Then they're still here."
"I'd better switch off the lights," the prim voice answered. "It's safer if he's anywhere about."
Darkness dropped upon them like a cloak.
"Lord," the doctor grumbled, "how black it is in this infernal wood now that the moon has gone in. Have you got the torch, Derek?"
"Here you are," said his companion and handed it over.
"Come on then," the doctor urged him as he switched on the light. They walked toward the white gate. A dozen paces away the doctor halted. "It's dark," he commented, surveying the unlighted cottage. "And nobody stirring."
"Please God, we're in time," the other man said. "If anything has happened to Daphne—" He broke off and added miserably: "When I think there was a loaded pistol in that overcoat of mine—"
The doctor laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Steady, Derek, old man. Now listen before we go in. I must ask you to leave your brother to me. The sight of you may excite him. I know Philip of old. He's as dangerous as a wild beast when he's in these moods, and only I can handle him. And, as you say, he's probably armed. You keep back, but be ready to rush him when I give the signal. Hullo, what's this?" He had come into collision with the handlebars of a motor cycle propped against the hedge. "A motor-bike, eh? Now what's that doing here?"
His companion had opened the gate. "What the devil does it matter? Don't waste time; we've got to find her."
"Let me go first," the doctor cried and ran up the path. He tried the latch and stepped back. "The door's unfastened." He swung the door open and the white beam of the torch travelled round the dark room. "No one!"
The two men entered the cottage. At the doctor's bidding Derek lit one of the candles that stood on the table among a litter of cups and plates. Raising the candle aloft, Derek peered about him. The feeble flame guttering in the draught from the door, showed a dark mass on the floor. It was a policeman in uniform, face downward in a pool of blood. His helmet lay on the floor beside him.
They dropped to their knees beside the body. The doctor proceeded to turn the body over.
"Good heavens," he remarked in a hushed voice when he saw the face, "it's poor Porritt, of the County Police." He bent over the still form, then laid it back on the floor.
"Dead?" his companion asked.
The doctor nodded, absently brushing the dust from his knees as he stood up.
"Stabbed. But I see no knife."
Holding the candle down, the other was examining the floor.
"Doctor," he cried excitedly, "here's a trail of blood. It leads up these stairs."
So saying he dashed up a boxed-in flight that mounted from the room.
"Careful, old man," the doctor warned as he hurried after. "He may be hiding."
Derek's agonized cry of "Daphne, Daphne!" rang from above.
They tried two rooms before they found her. She lay crumpled up across the window seat, a pallid figure in her silver dress. Derek raised her up in his arms.
"He's killed her," he said and lifted a distraught face to the doctor. "Look, you can see the marks of his fingers on her throat."
THE doctor had knelt and was feeling pulse and heart. He was very composed. "Wait," he remarked, "she's still breathing. I think she has only fainted."
"Daphne, dearest," the young man implored her, "open your eyes and speak to me. It's I, Derek!"
Daphne moaned and stirred. The doctor put his hand on his companion's sleeve.
"Let me take her, old man. See, she's opening her eyes."
For an instant she stared uncomprehendingly at the two faces bent solicitously to hers. Then she shuddered and frantically clutched the doctor as he carefully supported her.
"Take him away, take him away," she wailed. "Don't let him touch me!"
"Daphne, darling," the young man began, but she screamed aloud. "Don't kill me, Phil, don't kill me!" The tears were streaming down her cheeks.
The doctor signed to him.
"Better let me handle this," he suggested. "This isn't Philip, young lady," he told the girl. "It's his brother, Derek, come all the way from South America to see you."
Wonderingly the startled eyes turned from the doctor's face to Derek's. "Philip escaped from my custody tonight," the doctor went on, "and took his brother's place at the ball."
"It's quite true," said Derek. "I landed in England only yesterday and came straight down here to spend Christmas with poor Phil. My intention was to dine with him and go on to the ball afterward. I met Lady Marsden in the train and she said you would be there. Philip seemed to be perfectly rational at dinner, but afterward, as we sat over our port, he suddenly attacked me with a chair. He must have stunned me, I suppose. At any rate, when I came to myself I was gagged and bound in a cupboard in the room. It was hours before I was released and long after they had discovered his escape. I'd told him I was hoping to meet you at the ball and had I shown him the ticket Lady Marsden gave I me. When I found that the ticket had disappeared I guessed where he'd gone—you know it was well known he was always so fond of you."
"We followed him to the ball," the doctor supplemented, "and there learned that he had last been seen in your company. As you both were missing, we followed you on the chance to the cottage."
Daphne had raised herself to a sitting position on the window seat.
"So it's really you," she said to Derek. "I can see the difference now. Your hair is black and Philip's is grey. And he looked so dreadfully sad." She smiled at him. "So you came back to me after all?"
"I didn't want to come until I could ask you to marry me," he told her. "Everything went wrong at first. My partner swindled me, I lost all my money—that's why I stopped writing. It's taken all this time to build things up again. But now I've found you again, Daphne darling, I'm never going to let you go."
She laid his hand against her cheek. "Dear Derek."
The doctor reminded them of his presence by a discreet cough.
"Do you think you're strong enough to tell us what happened?" he asked the girl.
"Poor fellow," he commented when she had finished, "he's as sane as the rest of us except at the full moon; dresses for dinner and takes his glass of wine like anybody else. It was that cloud across the moon that saved you. Look." He pointed at the wood below the window. "It's shining again as bright as day."
She turned to gaze out upon the snow. Suddenly she caught Derek by the hand.
"Derek! Doctor!" she gasped. "There's someone moving behind the trees." She sprang to her feet. "It's Philip!"
The three of them saw the tall, dark figure that now stepped out into an open space between the trees. The doctor took one look.
"You're right," he exclaimed and rushed from the room.
Silhouetted against the blinding whiteness of the snow, the figure stood motionless, arms outspread. The face, transfigured, exalted, was raised in profile to the paling moon. Then the right hand made an upward movement.
"Doctor, look out!" Derek called suddenly. "He's got a pistol!"
"Philip!" The girl's clear voice went ringing into the night. "Philip, stop! It's Daphne, your moon maiden!"
But the madman paid no heed. His voice, sombre and chanting, woke the echoes of the wood.
"Moon bride, moon bride," he intoned, "are you ready?" A shining surface gleamed darkly in the moon's ray as the right hand was raised to his temple.
"Philip!" Shrill with despair, the girl's voice resounded from the window.
The reverberating crash of the report drowned her cry. A dark form lay prone on the snow, twitched and was still. The doctor came running across the open. Now he was on his knees beside the body.
Daphne had covered her face with her hands as though to shut out the sight.
"Derek," she sobbed, "I tried to save him. Poor, poor fellow!"
The doctor had stood up and was walking, head bowed, toward the cottage. All about him the wood was bright with the moonlight. At the window the girl, her head pillowed on her arm, was sobbing convulsively.
Derek's arm slid about her. His face was dark with grief.
"Hush, dearest, hush," he whispered. "It's better so. He's at rest at last."
Very tenderly, he drew her to him.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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