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Title: The Iron Stair
Author: Eliza Humphreys (a.k.a. Rita)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1800171.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2018
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Iron Stair
Author: Eliza Humphreys (a.k.a. Rita)

*

THE IRON STAIR

A ROMANCE OF DARTMOOR


BY


"RITA"

(aka Eliza Margaret Jane Humphreys and Mrs W. Desmond Humphreys)


Author of

"Calvary," "Peg the Rake," "The Ink Slinger," etc.



"The warders with their jangling keys Opened each listening cell, And
down the iron stair we tramped Each to his separate Hell."

The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
by Oscar Wilde.



CONTENTS:


CHAPTER

I.--"I Walked with Other Souls in Pain"

II.--"A Great--or Little Thing?"

III.--"By Each Let This be Heard"

IV.--"A System--and its Principles"

V.--"His Step Seemed Light and Gay"

VI.--"Down the Iron Stair"

VII.--"When Love and Life are Fair"

VIII.--"A Hiding-Place for Fear"

IX.--"To Help a Brothers Soul"

X.--"To Comfort or Console"

XI.--"As One who Lies and Dreams"

XII.--"For Fettered Limbs go Lame"

XIII.--"To Feel Anothers Guilt"

XIV.--"Whose Feet Might Not Go Free"

XV.--"And by Each Side a Warder Walked"

XVI.--"Robbed of its Prey"

XVII.--"The Bitter Lot that Waits for Fool and Knave"

XVIII.--"He Does Not Win who Plays with Sin"

XIX.--"More Lives than One"

XX.--"The Memory of Dreadful Things"

XXI.--"He--is at Peace"

XXII.--"Whether Laws be Right or WHETHER Laws be Wrong"

XXIII--"Lifes Iron Chain"

XXIV.--"The Prison and its Prey"

XXV.--"A Debt to Pay"

XXVI.--"Through Bars that Hide the Stars"

XXVII.--"In Gods Sweet World Again"



THE IRON STAIR




CHAPTER I.--"I WALKED WITH OTHER SOULS IN PAIN."

To say that Aubrey FitzJohn Derringham was bored to death with life and
its banalities is to say very little for that gentleman's appreciation
of Fortune's gifts. Yet the fact remains. He was bored. He suffered
existence rather than rejoiced in it. He looked out on the world and
appraised its values by the light of a dilettante experience. He had
tasted pleasure warily and sipped laborious delights with cautious
lips. Surface value meant little or nothing to him. He wanted to
plunge into depths of meaning; to pierce the shallows of sensation, to
gauge actualities and deal with the Day of Reckoning in advance. These
methods had effectually blunted any possibility of enjoyment measured
by an accepted standard, and life, as the actual important factor of
happiness, was to him but the treadmill of necessity.

Aubrey was the second son of a highly respectable Peer of recent
creation. His elder brother was equally respectable and equally keen on
doing his duty "in that state of life" to which the Catechism refers,
and which the accident of birth renders obligatory, even to the most
rebellious of its victims. He had married well and suitably, provided
heirs for the due carrying on of family honours, and occasionally made
a blundering speech in that House so hated by Radicals, and beloved by
snobs. To Lord Dulcimer the Honourable Aubrey FitzJohn was a source of
dire unrest and perplexity. It was not what he had done but what he
might do that was a thorn in the flesh of prosperous self-satisfaction.
Aubrey was thoroughly unorthodox in every sense that word represents
to prigs, and Puritans. That his life owned no open scandals only
assured his brother that there must be secret and terrible ones hidden
beneath its careless indifference. He was always distrustful of Aubrey;
always afraid that something quixotic or unorthodox would send its
flashlight across the path of dull propriety marked out as his own
pied--terre. When they met at exclusive clubs, or political dinner
parties, the contrast between the two brothers was the despair and
delight of their respective hosts, or hostesses. A greater contrast
could not well be imagined. Both then were friendly and agreeable,
and too well bred to resort to absolute reprisals, yet there was a
subtle undercurrent of animosity running beneath the surface of every
discussion and embittering every argument.

Thus matters stood when one April morning the Honourable Aubrey
FitzJohn discovered he had arrived at the venerable age of thirty.

It had pleased him to ignore the fact, but the morning post, brought
up by his valet and factotum, William Chaffey, aroused him to the fact
that his relatives were not oblivious of a matter so important. There
was a brief word of congratulations from Lord Dulcimer, a letter from
his mother, and a box of violets gathered in the woods of Derringham
Chase, and sent to "dear Uncle Aubrey" by his twin nieces.

Added to which Chaffey the imperturbable added to his usual respectful
greeting the banal congratulation suitable to the occasion. "Thanks,
but I hoped you'd forgotten," said Aubrey, accepting early tea and the
morning papers, after a glance at his correspondence.

"Forgotten, sir, no, sir," said Chaffey, standing respectfully at
attention. "Six years to-day, sir," he added in a subdued tone.

Aubrey looked up. "Six years--what?"

"Since you honoured me with your trust, sir, and took me into your
service."

Aubrey looked at the queer wizened face, the short alert figure, the
wistful dog-like eyes. "Is it--as long?" he asked.

"It seems short to me, sir. But then I've been happy."

"Queer," said his master. "I wish anything or anybody on the face of
this dull old earth could give me a chance of such a sensation."

"Don't you ever feel happy, sir? You always doin' a kindness, and that
generous with your money. It seems extraordinary, if you'll pardon my
sayin' so, sir."

"I think you know you can pretty well say anything you like to me,
Chaffey," said his master.

"Lord love you, sir! How am I ever goin' to repay you for your
trust--the chance you gave me!"

"Well, it's been well placed. So that's all we need say about it. Any
news this morning?"

It was one of Chaffey's duties to skim the cream of the morning papers,
and then direct his master's attention to any item of interest,
sensation, or importance.

"Yes, sir, that--that case will be concluded. Judgment to-day."

"Case?" Aubrey yawned, and half closed his eyes. "Not Lady
Featherstone's?"

"No, sir, the one I spoke of, a month or two back. That young fellow
supposed to have forged his uncle's signature. Perhaps you've
forgotten?"

"No. Didn't we take out one of my own cheques and prove how easy it
was?"

Chaffey's queer eyes glistened. "Yes, sir. You trusted me as far as
that."

"It was easy enough. Too easy. I wonder it hasn't been done oftener.
Four into forty; just the first stroke of the u into r; the
second into t, the last letter a y. Then the figures--only an
0 after the four, if there happens to be a space. There was a space,
I suppose?"

The man took out a crumpled slip of paper from a dirty leather
pocket-book. "This is it, sir. You threw it into the waste paper
basket, and I took it out."

"What made you do that?"

"Curiosity, sir, and also the fact that it was a cheque, and--and
signed, sir."

Aubrey FitzJohn sat up. "Did I sign it? I don't remember----"

"See for yourself, sir."

The man gave him the crumpled paper, and then walked across the room to
draw the curtains and let in the sunlight. These duties accomplished he
glanced at the occupant of the bed. Aubrey was sipping his tea with a
preoccupied air. The cheque lay on the silk coverlet beside the letters
and morning papers.

"Shall I get your bath, sir?"

"Not yet. It's only eight, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir. But the Law Courts open at ten, sharp, sir."

"Law Courts! What have I to do with the Law Courts?"

"You told me always to direct your attention to any case of real
interest, sir. I venture to do so in the present instance."

"You mean this--forgery?"

"Yes, sir. Verdict, to-day."

"I wonder if it would interest me. What are the facts, as far as you
have gathered them?"

The queer little valet came a step nearer. "Concisely, sir, as neat as
I can put it, they're as follows. Two brothers, orphans, left to care
of a rich uncle, wealthy manufacturer, Midlands. One goes into the
Church. The other, a sort of happy-go-lucky, 'self worst enemy' chap,
idles about Manchester. Uncles likes eldest--best. Bein' twins, there's
only a matter o' twenty minutes or so majority----"

"Seniority--is I think the word," suggested Aubrey.

"Thank you, sir. Yes, sir. It is the word. My education is, in a
manner o' speakin', self-made, sir. I beg your leniency."

Aubrey nodded. "Taken as read," he murmured.

"Exactly, sir. I've some knowledge of Board Meetings, sir."

"What haven't you a knowledge of, Chaffey? It would be hard to say."

"A student of life, and of the world, sir, has to have his eyes open
and use his wits. But to resume the story. Eldest boy was the fav'rite
always, 'cept with the cousin, uncle's only daughter."

"Oh, the inevitable woman!"

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry I can't leave her out. Seventeen or eighteen.
Pretty, and both brothers fell in love with her."

"Sounds like popular fiction for the middle classes?"

"Exactly, sir. It do seem sort of melodramatic. But to get on with the
interest, sir. There came a time in London when the young fellow was
rather goin' it a bit, and then followed the usual 'pull up' for want
of funds. Uncle, girl, and young feller were in town. Elder brother had
just fixed up for Holy Orders, so called, and was expecting a curacy in
a little out of the world parish in Devonshire. Before settlin' down he
and the family were doin' a little sight seein', and stayin' at one of
the big London hotels. It was there the forgery was committed. Uncle
gave the young nephew a cheque for four pounds one morning to pay a
bill. He changed the amount to forty pounds. Uncle only got his London
Bank book twice a year. He had another account in Manchester. Young
fellow thought he'd got a clear six months----"

"Wasn't the cheque crossed?" asked Aubrey.

"No, sir. Negligent. But even business men are that--on occasions.
Young feller paid the bill, got thirty-six pounds in change of the
cheque and--is now brought up to answer the charge. That's the case,
sir. You'll be able to hear the details better explained in Court, and
to follow it out, if it interests you. I think it will, sir."

"It seems to interest you, Chaffey. Do you know these people?"

The man hesitated for a moment. "I can't say I do, sir. Only a case
like this has interest for me, as you may imagine, sir."

"I can believe it. One question more. What's your opinion? Did the
young fellow commit the forgery?"

"Never, sir! I'd swear it!"

"I wonder how you arrived at that conclusion?"

"I've studied many criminal cases in my time, sir, since--since you so
generously helped me back to a decent life again."

"Never mind that. It's old history. You deserved all I did for you.
Honest service is hard to come by. I'm the envy of all my friends, and
the despair of all my enemies. They were sure I should repent of my
bargain."

"Not if I can help it, sir, as there's a God to judge me!"

"Words--between us are superfluous, Chaffey."

"I know you'll never hear anything, sir."

"Go and get my bath ready, and telephone for the car. Ten o'clock you
say at the Courts. Well, ten minutes ought to do it."

"I'll see that it does, sir."

Aubrey FitzJohn laughed. "Oh--you! Endangering your license and my
reputation!"

"I can drive, sir. You'll allow that?"

"You certainly can. What is there in point of fact you can't do,
Chaffey? You're an admirable valet, a fair cook, a past master in
the art of boot cleaning, and the veriest devil of a chauffeur. The
proverbial 'handy man' of Naval records should take off his cap to you."

"You're pleased to overrate my services, sir," said Chaffey humbly. "I
do my poor best. But when every duty is a labour of love, manner o'
speaking, why there's no merit in it, not that I can see."

"Life is only what our own point of view means for us," observed his
master, as he threw aside the bedclothes, and slipped out in mauve
silk pyjamas. He was fond of mauve as an aesthetic colour, and deemed
it hard that fashion forbade it for masculine apparel. He sought
compensation in his sleeping toilet. Dressing-gown, slippers, and
pyjamas, all bore hints of this unusual taste. Oddly enough it suited
him. His clear pale skin and light brown hair set off the somewhat
trying shade, and yet gave no hint of effeminacy.

When the valet returned from the adjoining bathroom he found his master
standing before the glass with a hair-brush in each hand. His hair was
in as correct order, as if he were ending instead of beginning his
toilet.

Chaffey went up to the bed, collected the letters and papers, and
placed them on a table. He kept one slip of paper in his hand, and
glanced from it to the figure at the dressing glass.

"Excuse me, sir," he said apologetically, "but this cheque----"

"Well?"

"You've left it--with your letters."

Aubrey turned round, still holding a brush in each hand.

"You're very mysterious this morning, Chaffey. I can't imagine why
you've preserved that old slip of paper. Pitch it into the fire."

He turned to the glass again.

"Yes, sir. Certainly, sir. But--I wanted you to be quite sure you
had signed it."

"Of course I must have done so. But I can't remember----"

"Would you mind looking at it again, sir?"

The man came nearer, still with that air of apology and
self-consciousness. Aubrey FitzJohn put down one brush, and turning
took the crumpled cheque in his fingers.

"Of course it's my signature. I could swear to it! What I can't
understand is why you've kept it all this time."

"I kept it, sir, to prove your memory for one thing."

"My memory!"

"Yes, sir, and--my honesty for another."

"You mean you could have cashed this cheque as easily as--well, as this
young fellow we are to see, has done?"

"No, sir. I didn't mean that--exactly. I only wanted to convince you
that memory isn't the only sense that plays tricks with us."

"You are excelling yourself this morning, Chaffey. I know my service is
a liberal education, but I fail to see what your pertinacity respecting
this cheque has to do with the day's programme."

"Nothing, sir, nothing at all. I am conscious of a liberty, sir. I
crave your pardon."

"All right. Order the car and a--devilled kidney--it has a legal
flavour about it!"

He turned to the glass again, and put the brush in his hand down beside
the other. Reflected in the mirror he caught sight of the valet's
imperturbable face. It seemed less stolid. There was a twist of the
queer mouth, a sort of twinkle in the eyes. What had come to the man he
wondered? At the door the valet turned again.

"I'm sorry, sir. But you were right in your doubts. You never did
sign that cheque!"

His master flashed round on him, more in surprise than anger.

"You old villain!"

"No, sir. It was only a try-on. You said once that your signature was
absolutely unforgeable. I--well it sort o' put me on my metal, sir, and
I fished out that cheque when you threw it in the waste paper basket,
and I said to myself I'll have a try. It took you in, sir. You must
allow it took you in."

"It certainly did. But what an odd thing to do. Let me see--it wasn't
for that sort of thing you had two years of His Majesty's pleasure?"

"No, sir. I told you--burglary."

"Of course." He laughed with sudden amusement. "A great achievement
that came to grief, and in which I was greatly interested. Well, having
forged my signature, and taken me in rather successfully, you may as
well hand back that cheque. Temptation is never so near as when we put
it away from us."

"I hope, sir, as you don't think I had any motive in doing this; only
to prove that I could do it?"

"I think you are an estimable valet, Chaffey, and I don't bother about
your private life, or adventures. All the same, I'd like to see that
bit of paper again."

The man brought it and gave it to him. He scrutinized it carefully near
and at a distance. "Yes. It would deceive me if I had to swear to it. I
wonder you didn't try the experiment on the Bank?"

"Sir!" Not injured innocence but genuine hurt feeling spoke out in the
man's voice. "I hoped--I thought this might show you you could trust
me. It wasn't a right thing to do, sir, I know, but, as an experiment,
it sort of interested me. I have your own authority for saying that an
interest is worth the sacrifice of a prejudice."

"Good Lord! Chaffey, if you're going to bring up my own epigrams as
accusers I shall have to cry off our bargain! Here, be off! You're
wasting my time, and I shall never be dressed, and the car won't be
here!"

He tore the cheque in pieces, and turned quickly to the bathroom. The
man laid out his shaving things, and then retired, that queer twisted
smile still lighting up his face.

*  *  * *  *  *

The car drew up at the ugly undignified buildings sacred to British
judicature, and emblematic of British architecture.

"You can garage the car, and go up in the gallery if you like," said
Aubrey to his chauffeur. "If I'm interested I'll wait till the court
rises. If not, I'll go home after lunch. Be here at one o'clock."

Chaffey touched his cap, and closed the door.

Aubrey Derringham sauntered into the great central hall and enquired of
a policeman as to the special court he was seeking. As he turned off to
the stairway, a bewigged and brisk young barrister hurried past. They
greeted each other as old friends.

"Who'd have thought of seeing you here!" exclaimed Harcourt
Cunninghame. "What's up? Not D. C., eh?"

Aubrey looked injured innocence. "Certainly not! The forgery case: Gale
and Jessop. I want to hear it."

"Then you'd better come with me. I'll get you a seat, else you'll have
to pretend you're a witness, or go to the stranger's gallery. We're so
cramped here there's no room for the lookers-on."

"Who, possibly, might see most of the game," said Aubrey Derringham.

"No doubt. There never was a case yet that someone didn't believe could
have been better carried out by somebody else than the special somebody
who did muddle through with it. That's Rufus Isaacs. He has a big
thing on to-day."

Aubrey looked at the dark intelligent face and wiry frame of the
eminent counsel. He passed on, with brows knit, and eyes on the ground.
His self-absorbed aspect spoke of important issues behind some of those
closed doors.

The young barrister ushered his friend into the Court Room, where the
forgery case had been tried. The judge was just coming in. The court
rose in greeting to his curt nods. Then seats were resumed, and a
general rustle of papers and murmur of voices evidenced the opening of
business.

Aubrey glanced at the dock, where the prisoner sat between two warders,
a pale-faced handsome boy about three or four and twenty. From thence
his eyes wandered to the group sitting near the solicitor's table: a
stern-faced stolid man; a slim girl, whose face was partially hidden
under a large shady hat, and a youth in clerical dress, startlingly
like the prisoner that involuntarily his eyes turned from one face to
the other. The resemblance was extraordinary. Aubrey marvelled at it as
he traced outline, colouring, features, height. "The two Dromios," he
muttered to himself. "Groundwork for tragedy here."

Then he seated himself on one of the hard wooden benches provided for
the spectators of daily recurring drama.

It was not his first experience of Law Courts, or criminal trials.
In a life of boredom he had found temporary excitement in such cases
as Chaffey brought to his notice. That was one of the queer valet's
duties, and it provided mutual interest for master and man. Rarely
was the reformed criminal's instinct at fault. A case pronounced by
him worth hearing was invariably a cause clbre before it had run
through the first edition of the evening papers. Before an hour had
passed this morning Aubrey FitzJohn was keenly conscious of that human
document in the prisoner's dock. A document whose leaves of life were
turned by relentless hands, whose records were voiced by the lash of
prejudice inseparable from the traditions of prosecution.

How clever it all was, and how damning to the white-faced boy who
listened. Aubrey, watching closely, caught the flash of an eye, an
impetuous gesture, spontaneous denial sternly checked. And still the
pitiless voice went on, and took up its line of argument till the net
was drawn closer and closer round the accused's helplessness, and the
listeners confessed it looked more than black for him.

The court rose at the luncheon hour, and Aubrey FitzJohn shared a
cutlet and bottle of Bass with his barrister friend. He learnt from him
a few details not given in evidence. He learnt also that the case was
a foregone conclusion of "Guilty." Circumstance was too strong for the
other plea, and by the time the loosely strung defence was over, Aubrey
FitzJohn knew once more "how easily things go wrong" in this delightful
world.

In his own mind he was convinced of the boy's innocence. Certain that
he had never forged that cheque though the evidence had proved debts,
and an evening's escapade in doubtful company, while the defence had
been unable to explain either facts in a satisfactory fashion.

The jury retired. In fifteen minutes they had decided their verdict,
and Aubrey, watching the haggard young face thought how cruel a thing
was Fate. He never took his eyes off the boy. He was reading his life,
his temptations, his very soul. When the sentence was delivered he was
scarcely surprised at the dramatic episode which closed the scene. The
boy sprang to his feet, one arm upraised to heaven.

"I am not guilty!"

His voice rang out and over the hushed court like a clarion call. It
thrilled even callous hearts indifferent to the momentous consequences
of such a verdict. But the warders seized the boy's arm, and hurried
him off. The court rose. Barristers and solicitors put up their papers,
or gave directions to their clerks; the reporters collected fragments
of last written words ready for press, and Aubrey Derringham heard
himself saying--"What next?"




CHAPTER II.--"A GREAT--OR LITTLE THING?"


What next?

It was a persistent question. One that haunted him through his saunter
homewards; that faced him in flaunting content bills of late editions;
that gave him an uncomfortable half-hour at the club, and was still
clamouring for response as he rested in his luxurious quarters in the
Albany, preparatory to dressing for dinner.

He was dining out at eight o'clock, in Grosvenor Square, and expected
to be bored as usual. He glanced at the card on his mantelshelf, and
then at the clock, and wondered why he had accepted the invitation.
There would be politicians who bored you with facts, and lamented
a Radical Government largely constituted by their own laziness and
inefficiency. There would be a strain of that Semitic element now
forcing its way into every channel of society--Finance, Art, and the
Press--by reason of its money bags. There might be a few decent women,
but that would depend on whether Bridge was or was not the raison
d'tre of the evening. Mrs. Daniel Schultze's card parties were
noted for high play, and society had grown a little shy of them since
the clat of a Club scandal had brought her name into prominence.

Aubrey rather liked Bridge, but the women who played it in Mrs. Daniel
Schultze's drawing-rooms had a rooted objection to losing, and an
equal objection to paying their losses. He hated to remind a woman
of a debt. The result of such unusual chivalry was disastrous to his
purse, and trying to his temper. Besides chivalry and generosity were
thrown away on the class of women who made Bridge the sole object of
existence. It was the day of the outsider; the moneyed plutocrat of
any nationality. Fine feelings were wasted on such people. Yet Aubrey
FitzJohn Derringham could not divest himself of a certain delicacy and
generosity of mind and manner even in dealing with them. Such traits
deserved to be the heritage of a descendant of a hundred Earls, instead
of the hallmark of a New Peerage.

"If it had been one of them!" he reflected. "They've done meaner
things, wickeder things than that poor boy in the dock to-day. Card
sharping is as dishonourable as forgery . . . and yet I'll have to grin
and smile and put up with pretences of 'forgetfulness' when there's a
palpable revoke, or a subterfuge of shuffling when a 'no trump' hand is
desired."

Only that Mrs. Schultze was witty and amusing, and gave dinners that
put the Marlborough and the Automobile into the shade, he would not
have accepted her invitation. As it was----

He pressed the button of the bell, and Chaffey appeared. He and the car
had been sent back from the Law Courts at the conclusion of the case.

"I want to ask you something," said Aubrey, as he lit a cigarette. "You
waited for the verdict, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir. You were kind enough to----"

"I know, I know. I saw you were interested. Then you heard what that
boy called out?"

"Spontaneous, wasn't it, sir? Sort o' made a lump come up in one's
throat when they seized his arms and hurried him off."

"Dramatic," said Aubrey, "but not convincing. At least I suppose not.
What I want to ask you, Chaffey, is to--well, to put yourself in that
boy's place for the time being. Tell me exactly how you felt, when
you were hurried off and--away, as he was? I want to know what comes
next?"

The man fidgeted nervously at some pretence of tidying a scrupulously
tidy room. As far as lay in his power he had tried to outlive the
memory of his own downfall and its consequences. That the Law still
honoured him with undesirable supervision he knew, and his master
knew. The magnificent idea of treating a criminal as a "suspect" in
perpetuo is one of the triumphs of legal obscurity; an idea worthy
of a nation where Christianity is the hypocrite's defence and the
honest man's despair. Chaffey owed his quixotic master a deeper debt
than even his dog-like fidelity acknowledged. It had been possible to
hold up his head among honest men, and work once more in an atmosphere
of trust and confidence.

The question now put threw him off his balance for a moment. There lay
so sharp a sting in its demand; so painful a memory behind its answer.

"I'll try to go back, sir. It's all a bit--a bit confused, so to say.
One isn't quite oneself as you may suppose, sir. There's been the
waiting, and the suspense, and the worrying of lawyers, and the feeling
that you're not believed, no matter whether you're innocent or not."

"That must be the hard part of it," said Aubrey.

"No, sir. There's worse than that. It's the--degradation, sir. The
feeling that you're treated as a mere brute beast; no sense; no
feelings, no decent instincts. That's what makes criminals of us, sir,
ninety-nine times out of every hundred. . . . But you want to know how
it's going on with young Gale--now?"

Aubrey nodded.

"He'll be taken from the court in the van, sir. To one of the nearer
prisons, temporary. Then there's the stripping and searching and
photographing and impressioning, and his first night in the cells. Then
he may be taken on to Wormwood Scrubs, or one of the large convict
prisons. I can't say which. There he'll have to work out his sentence.
It's a hard one for a first offence, sir, but it struck me there was a
sort o'--o' anymus, don't they call it? A dead set against him from
the first."

"It's rather hard, I suppose? That--first night in the cells and
afterwards--the waking?"

"It is, sir. You feel desperate. At war with the whole world, so to
say. When you're condemned--wrongful, I don't know what it must be.
Hell, sir, I'd say, if you'll excuse the langwidge."

"We make our own hells, Chaffey, and pretty hot ones sometimes."

"I'm not religious, as you know, sir, an' what I've seen and heard
hasn't 'elped to make me so. But those as sins don't want much after
punishment I'd say, if so be as they've had a taste of prison life
here."

"That boy--I can't forget his face, somehow. Do you think his sentence
will do him much harm, morally speaking?"

"He'll never be the same again, sir. The prison taint don't wash off.
Pitch is soapsuds to it! No, it sticks and sticks, and burns and burns,
and you don't ever feel yourself clean and self-respecting again!"

"Never, Chaffey? I hoped----"

"I know your goodness, sir. I know what you've done for me. Times I
do feel that it's all been a bad dream, and that I am what you're
kind enough to think me, sir. But then, it'll come back. It's bound to
come back. Pitch, Sir, that's what it is. Sticks so fast, and so close,
You're bound to know it's there!"

Aubrey was silent, and the man went quietly out of the room. "Poor
beggar," thought his master, "I suppose he'll never really forget!"

He turned to the low bookshelf which ran along one side of the wall,
and took out a volume, and opened it. It treated of English prison life
in the old convict days when foetid hulks and Botany Bay spelt the doom
of manhood however justly punished.

Aubrey had read it before. He read portions of it again on this May
evening, while the sun sank low in the west, and the life of the Great
City rolled on and on like waves of a restless sea. In his quiet
retreat no sound reached his ears save the occasional hoot of a motor,
or the faint hum of Piccadilly traffic. The season was in full swing,
and the fashionable world was trying to cheat itself once more into the
belief that pleasure is an inventive goddess.

Aubrey put back the volume in its place and rose at last. He must dress
and get off to Grosvenor Square, unless he wished to keep the table
waiting.

Everything was ready for him. Chaffey never neglected a duty, or a
collar stud. As Aubrey changed into immaculate evening dress his
thoughts went again to that boy in his prison cell, cut off from every
enjoyment, sentenced to a living death by the Law he was supposed to
have outraged.

"I don't believe he ever did it!"

Aubrey's own voice startled himself. He was conscious of standing
before his toilet glass gazing at his own reflection, and yet seeing
behind it only that young passionate face, and the trembling lips that
proclaimed innocence.

"Funny. I can't get away from that memory!" he said to himself. "Sort
of obsesses me! To think of him to-night, and then look at this!"

"This" meant the luxury of his own dressing-room, with its appointments
and comforts; its note of refined taste, and bachelor independence. The
sight of his face in the glass showed it less bored and indifferent
than its wont. A certain uneasiness and distress replaced its usual
composure. What was the reason? Aubrey asked himself that question
again, and found no answer. He had gone to hear this case out of pure
curiosity. He had heard it with a sense of indignant helplessness; an
irritation provoked by every word of the dogmatic counsel who voiced
the prosecution. He had read prejudice into every stilted phrase and
stereotyped theory. He had focussed blunders and smiled at deductions.
Yet--he had done nothing; he could do nothing. And for two years that
unfortunate boy would be condemned to the horrors of which he had been
reading. The coarse food, the tyranny, the hateful routine, the hard
labour, and worst of all the loneliness and isolation of undeserved
imprisonment.

"For he never did it!" Aubrey repeated. "I'll swear be never did it!"

"You're right, sir," said the subdued tones of his attentive valet,
at hand to fasten sleeve links, and brush specks from speckless
broadcloth. "He never did, if I'm any judge of guilt, or innocence. I
ought to be, I've sampled some."

"Chaffey," said his master, "do you think you could possibly find out
anything about this case that hasn't transpired in evidence? It seems
to me there must be something behind it all. A motive of some sort.
Supposing any one bore the boy a grudge? Had an interest in getting him
into a false position? Would it be possible to make such enquiries as
would lead to a clearing up of the mystery?"

Chaffey shook his head. "I shouldn't worry, sir. The thing's over and
done with. No good could come of raking up an old scandal to cover a
new one. You see his own people were dead against him. They must have
known."

"One's own people are sometimes one's harshest foes," said Aubrey,
taking the proffered handkerchief and gloves. "I wish you'd think it
out, Chaffey. You're rather keen on detective blunders."

"If you wish it, sir, I'll give the matter my best attention. It's a
bit queer, if I may say so, that we should both feel so concerned about
this young Gale. . . . Taxi, sir?"

"Yes. I suppose five minutes'll do the trick?"

"The streets are a bit congested, sir. But I'll tell the man to do his
best."

As Aubrey Derringham was whirled in and out of the noisy motor traffic
that had begun to disorganize London's thoroughfares, he wondered
who he was to meet at Mrs. Daniel Schultze's dinner. His previous
acquaintance with her hospitality had been limited to an afternoon
At Home, or a furious evening of Auction Bridge. There would be sure
to be Bridge after to-night's dinner, but he was determined to leave
before the dreaded "fours" were arranged. He felt in no mood for such
excitement as those rabid enthusiasts proffered.

He was thinking of the different meanings of life as typified by
individual interests. Social position to one, wealth to another,
success, fame, ambition, achievement. So it had been in past ages,
in cities as magnificent, empires as imposing. And Time's relentless
scythe had passed over them all, leaving only histories more or less
credible. So much, so little; so little, so much. And the same sun
still shone on the just and the unjust, the same moon rose on the
mysteries and sorrows and wickedness of nights such as this present
one. Bringing hope or joy, peace or woe, desire or death. How wonderful
it was, and how puzzling.

He looked at the passing crowd. The cabs and carriages and motor cars,
each with their well-dressed occupants; each emblematic of some hope,
or gain, or intrigue, or mystery. And the houses. Those mansions of
the great and the rich, those humbler neighbours elbowing themselves
out of a mews, or a back street, in the endeavour to achieve postal
significance. What was the real meaning of it all? For what purpose
were these crowds, this wealth, these sated, wasteful, extravagant
lives, and the puppets who danced in and out of the show?

Before he could realize the drift of such a question his taxi drew up
at the Schultze mansion, and he found himself on crimson carpet, and
amidst obsequious flunkeys, to the tune of whose ministrations he was
soon shaking hands and listening to introductions in the blue and gold
drawing-rooms of Mrs. Daniel Schultze.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The lady, of ample presence and Semitic origin, called by her intimates
"Mrs. Danny," was extraordinarily gracious to Aubrey FitzJohn
Derringham. In the first place he was the son of a Peer. In the next
he was considered very exclusive, and extremely difficult to get hold
of. Again he was unmarried, and an excellent Bridge player. Mrs. Danny
had two fair, or strictly speaking two dark daughters, gifted with that
vivid oriental beauty for which their race is famed--in youth. It was
her earnest desire that they should become aristocrats by marriage, and
she hailed even impecunious younger sons with delight, if only they
possessed titled relations, or coroneted prospects.

One of those daughters was Aubrey's dinner complement. She was only
just "out," so the season and everything connected with it held charms
of the "unknown." Her more blas sister was trembling on the verge
of an engagement not yet announced.

Miriam Schultze was as lovely as a dream of the orient, but she
possessed no attraction for the Honourable Aubrey. He foresaw the
changes that a few years would bring even to a profile as faultless, a
figure as slim. Besides, in all she said, and looked, there lurked that
touch of vulgarity from which her father and mother suffered, and which
no education had eradicated in their offspring. But to-night the girl
embarked upon a subject of discussion that rendered her companion less
critical than usual. Nothing more or less than the forgery case which
was engrossing Aubrey's mind. "I'm so interested in it," she said, "for
Joss Myers, who defended the boy, is a cousin of ours. He was very full
of it. It's his first really important case. And I see by to-night's
paper there was a verdict of guilty. He'll be awfully sore about that."

Aubrey was astonished. He plunged straightway into a discussion of his
own day's occupation. He tried to find out from the girl what was her
cousin's real opinion of his client.

"Oh--he thought all along the boy hadn't done it!" she exclaimed. "And
that night out of which they made so much was a put-up thing. He was
made drunk, and then supposed to have got into a scrape for which he
had to pay the piper. Joss says he's inclined to think it was really
the other brother who's guilty, not Geoffrey Gale."

"The other brother!"

Aubrey rejected a sorbet in his excitement. "The young curate? What
on earth makes your cousin think that?"

"Have you read all the evidence?" asked the girl.

"Not any. I was present this morning by mere accident. I heard the
speeches for prosecution and defence, and the summing up, and the
verdict. The case interested me strangely. The boy was so young, and
then--that heart-broken cry of his--at the end. It made a lasting
impression on my mind."

"I read it in to-night's Pall Mall, while my hair was being done,"
she said. "I wish I had gone to the Courts. I was there the first day,
but I couldn't spare the time again. One's days are so full at the
commencement of the season."

Aubrey smiled indulgently at the affectation of importance. Then he led
her back to the all engrossing subject of the Forgery Case. He wanted
to hear what Joshua Myers had learnt of the boy's character, nature,
and associations. Before he left the dinner table he had made up his
mind to seek the young lawyer himself, and try to fit disjointed facts
and circumstances into the complicated puzzle that had meant Geoffrey
Gale's prosecution.

He did his best to avoid Bridge, pleading another engagement. He might
have succeeded but for Miriam's intervention. "Just one rubber. Do--and
play at my table. Joss Myers hasn't come yet. He promised to be my
partner."

"Myers? Is he coming?"

Aubrey hesitated, and was lost. He felt that he might as well stay on
the chance of an introduction to the barrister who had lost his first
case. He might learn some important facts that would throw light on
Geoffrey Gale's history.




CHAPTER III.--"BY EACH LET THIS BE HEARD"


JOSHUA MYERS turned up at the Schultze domicile too late for Bridge,
but early enough for that introduction desired by Aubrey. No one spoke
of his first failure, if indeed any one thought of it as an interest
sandwiched between lost rubbers, or hard-won victories on "no trumps."

Aubrey made himself specially agreeable to the dark sombre-looking
young man, who was spoken of as likely to be an ornament to the Bar,
and who brought to his profession the acuteness of his race, as well as
no mean portion of its wealth and influence.

When Myers took his leave Aubrey did the same, and finding his new
acquaintance inclined for exercise, discovered that their ways lay
sufficiently near for companionship. He made his opportunity and
contrived to lead the conversation to their mutual interest in the
Forgery Case. Myers was less reticent than his manner betokened; in
fact he seemed keen on explaining just how difficulties had been made,
the facts rendered unassailable. He seemed surprised at Aubrey FitzJohn
Derringham's interest in criminal matters. More than surprised when,
accepting his invitation for a smoke and an apollinaris, he accompanied
him to his rooms, and witnessed the luxury of his surroundings.

Over cigarettes and whiskey they touched on political difficulties, and
the prospects of prolonged Liberalism. Then, very cautiously, Aubrey
led the conversation to the subject that so obsessed him. If the Law
was so strong, and yet could make mistakes so vital to human liberty,
who was safe?

Joshua Myers sprang eagerly into argument.

"The boy was to blame--in a manner," he said. "He held something back.
I couldn't get it out of him. I told him the case was pretty black, but
he wouldn't believe me. Even up to the moment that the jury returned
with their verdict cut and dried and agreed upon, he didn't seem to
realize what it meant."

"That accounts for his declaration of innocence, I suppose?"

"As if that was any use," answered the barrister. "A dramatic
episode worked up into the best journalese; warranted to sell a few
hundred 'extra specials.' But--it convinced no one."

"It convinced me."

Myers flashed his vivid dark eyes on the quiet face. "Really? You
formed your own opinion of the case, in spite of evidence?"

"I heard none. I only attended the last act of the drama."

"Ah--if it was only that! I saw the poor boy to-night, in his cell.
It was very--painful."

Aubrey thought none the worse of legal authority for manifesting a
little natural feeling. He lit a fresh cigarette, and paid renewed
attention to the syphon, before resuming the conversation.

"You won't appeal, I suppose?"

"No use. The judge had made up his mind. That carries weight in the
higher courts. Besides, he has no money."

"It seems hard that his own relative should be the prosecutor."

"Hard! My dear Mr. Derringham, have you any conception of the hardness
of the Nonconformist conscience? A nether millstone is cotton wool to
it! Wrong--judged and condemned as wrong--demands fire and brimstone,
and the 'worm that never dies,' and all the horrors that only true
piety can paint as its avenger!"

"That's the uncle! What about the brother? Twins are supposed to be
devoted?"

"This must be the rare case that means exception. These brothers
seem as antagonistic as Charles and Joseph Surface. One all careless
good-humour, generosity, and recklessness; the other--well, two words
paint him: Canting hypocrite!"

"I thought so. I watched his face."

"I believe he knows something that would have saved the boy. That he
could have spoken but he wouldn't. He wanted him disgraced, and he
wanted him out of the way."

"Love complications?"

"Exactly. The everlasting she, who from birth to burial plays havoc
with men's lives!"

"We are both--safe--so far, I presume?" said Aubrey. "A married man
wouldn't have said that."

"No. I'm no Benedict, and have no desire to become one. As for you----"
he looked round. "You're wise if you know when you're well off."

"I hope I do know it. On the other hand empty vices don't appeal.
I shun morning reflection and the chorus of musical comedy spells
only--inanity."

"Yet you're young enough for a loose end or two?"

"Oh, I don't set up as a moral example! It's my fault I suppose that
I'm so easily bored, and that human nature interests me more as a study
than an incentive."

"A study. Is it that? If you followed a profession like mine----"

"Blame indolence, and the absurd conventions of family pride. A new
family, a double edition of pride."

"You do--nothing, I suppose?"

"I specialize a little in travelling, but there's not a quarter of the
habitable globe without its hotel, and its telephone. I'm thirty years
of age--to-day, and I confess the problem of cui bono is the bogey
of my present, possibly of my future----"

"Is that why you sought distraction in the Law Courts?" asked Myers.

"One reason. Yes . . . I've been worrying myself over the result ever
since. I expected an interest, I've gained an experience."

"How is that?"

"Something about that boy appealed to me. It wasn't only his youth, his
good looks, but that sense of thoughtless innocence baiting a trap that
has closed upon him. I seemed suddenly confronted by a problem of Life.
I wanted to solve it. I asked myself how such things could be, and why?
It looks as if a fiendish calculation was at work behind the regulated
machinery of our civilized habits. Setting all precedent at naught;
mocking at safeguards as at moral standards."

"One could almost believe it," agreed Myers, "if one pursued the
subject deeply enough. In the present case, this of Geoffrey Gale, we
both seem to have arrived at the same conclusion though we travelled
there by different routes. I can't tell you how gratified I am at
finding someone who shares my opinion."

"Illogically, I presume?" said Aubrey.

"I'm not so sure of that. You pay me the honour of convincing you as
you heard no direct evidence."

"That's true. But I fancy the boy himself had something to do with it."

"You did not, by any chance, see the young lady, Miss Jessop--cousin of
the brothers?" enquired Myers.

"I only saw a girlish figure, and a big black hat. Why do you ask?"

"Perhaps to find if any other influence is at work," smiled the young
barrister, as he rose and pushed aside his chair.

"Rest assured there isn't," said his host, also rising. "Must you go?
I'm sorry. I hope this first meeting isn't our last."

"I hope so also. This is my address. I live in the Temple. I find I can
work better there. Give me a look in any day after five, if you're ever
in such an unfashionable direction."

They shook hands. Aubrey conducted Myers to the outer door, and then
returned to his comfortable room, and the perusal of the last post.

"I don't feel quite as bored as usual to-night," he said to himself.
"But to-morrow, I suppose, it will all come back. Flat, stale,
unprofitable! If only I hadn't come up against this blank wall. If I
could do anything for that boy, but, of course, I can't. The Law's
got him hard and fast."

He turned out the electric light, and sauntered into his bedroom. There
flashed into his mind one of those seemingly inconsequent memories
that at times surprise us. The lines of a schoolboy recitation; a
reminiscence of schoolboy days----


"And Eugene Aram walked between, 
With gyves upon his wrist."


That was the fate of Geoffrey Dale. The fate of once bright happy
boyhood. To be shut fast between prison walls, spending to-night with
the memory of that cruel sentence ringing in his ears--"Two years penal
servitude."

*  *  *  *  *  *

Aubrey FitzJohn slept badly.

Towards morning he had a strange dream. He seemed to be standing
amidst bleak grey moorland, stretching either side of bare heights,
under a grey sky. Huge blocks of quartz and granite lay scattered
around as if thrown up by some fierce explosion, or some under-world
force. And as he stood, and looked around, he saw a chain of human
beings moving in linked apathy towards the blocks. They commenced to
hew at them with queer pointed axes. He seemed to hear the monotonous
blows, to watch the rise and fall of the various arms. No one spoke.
Two by two the gang worked, and two by two the scattered warders
watched their efforts. It was a weird sight. Grey sky, grey moor, grey
figures. Suddenly the whole space grew misty and indistinct. A sort
of curtain veiled the intervening spaces and shrouded the chained
groups. He strained his eyes, but could see nothing. He tried to move,
but his feet seemed paralysed. Then he became conscious of something
approaching through the mist. A rush of rapid feet; hoarse breathing.
He felt rather than saw that the approaching figure had discovered
him. His legs were clasped by chained hands. Something crouched at his
feet; a sobbing voice besought mercy. The face was hidden, but the
voice sounded familiar. Aubrey was suddenly wide awake, and it was
ringing in his ears. "Don't give me up! I'm innocent!"

Sitting bolt upright in his bed he stared at the lemon-coloured
sunlight filtering through a screen of silk draperies. He rubbed his
eyes; he told himself it was but a dream born of the disturbances of
the previous day.

He flung himself back on the pillows, and glanced at his watch. Only
seven o'clock! It was annoying to wake so early, and so completely,
for he felt that sleep was effectually banished. He must lie awake and
think, or stop awake and read. He always kept a book or two by his
bedside. He stretched out a hand, and took the nearest volume. It was
the last novel of D'Annunzio's. Aubrey remembered he had begun to read
it the previous day. Chaffey had also remembered the fact. As he opened
it some newspaper cuttings fell out. He took up one, and an exclamation
escaped him. Chaffey again! He had taken the trouble of cutting out the
Case of Geoffrey Gale from the first hearing to the verdict. It was a
concise and complete history ready for Aubrey to peruse.

He did peruse it from beginning to end. He wondered no longer at the
verdict. The summing up was directed to guilt. A harsh, cold, biassed
speech, that could not but influence the minds of a British jury. Yet
throughout the whole sordid tale Aubrey wondered what had tied the
prisoner's tongue. Why he could not have cleared up certain facts that
might have thrown more favourable light on his actions? There was
something "mulish" about the boy's proceedings. Something that had
prejudiced the "twelve good men and true" on whom his fate depended.

Aubrey finished the last paragraph. Re-read that passionate
exclamation, learnt how "the prisoner had been hurried off under the
charge of the warders," and felt again that someone had blundered
seriously. He threw the papers down, and clasping his hands behind his
head, gave himself up to thought.

His dream came back with an added significance. The fact of opening
his eyes on a fresh day in no way relieved his mind of that previous
obsession. His vision of the figure flying to him through mist and
obscurity, clasping him in frenzy, entreating aid, was a vivid
remembrance. He summoned Chaffey before his usual hour in order to gain
distraction. No previous experience had ever affected him in such a
manner. He was unable to account for it.

"It's not as if I were a philanthropist. I don't think I've ever done
much good to my fellow-man," he reflected. "I took Chaffey as a freak.
It amused me to watch his daily wonder at my unsuspicious attitude.
My carelessness in the matter of loose silver and sleeve links. The
experiment has been a success, still, I don't see where a second
enterprise of the sort could land me. . . . That poor chap--I suppose
he's feasting on skilly, washing his cell, making his bed, and here am
I luxuriating in comfort that I've done little to deserve!"

Chaffey entered with tea and its morning accompaniments, and Aubrey
opened the usual morning discussion.

"Thoughtful of you to cut out those press reports," he said. "I suppose
there's nothing new to-day?"

"No, sir, not a word. That's the way, sir, with the press. They piles
up an interest, and then drops it."

Aubrey took the steaming cup of tea, and sipped it with lazy enjoyment.

"You'll be surprised to hear," he said, "that I met last night the
very counsel who defended young Gale. More, I brought him here to talk
matters over. He is quite convinced of the boy's innocence."

"Yet he couldn't get him off, sir?"

"No; nor will there be an appeal. The boys fate is sealed for two
years. I wonder what life will mean for him--afterwards? I suppose
prison discipline hasn't a--softening effect, upon one's sensibilities,
Chaffey?"

"It depends, sir. Some takes it hard, and some is resigned, and some,
of course, gets credited with ill-health, and have only light tasks.
But there's those as rebels from first hour to last. Rebels, and
suffers, and plots escapes, and revenge. You see, sir, it's harder to
suffer injustice than to bear what one's deserved."

"Plot and plan escapes," repeated Aubrey. "Do prisoners often
escape, Chaffey?"

"Not often, sir. Specially from Portland, or Dartmoor. They say no one
ever has really got off from either one o' them. You've never seen a
big prison p'raps, sir?"

"No, Chaffey."

Aubrey put down his cup, and sat up. "Do you think it would interest me
to visit one?"

"I can't say, sir. I only thought that as you'd taken up
this--hobby--ain't it, sir?"

"We'll leave it at that, Chaffey."

"Well, sir, bein' interested in criminal law, and queer cases, you
might like to see the sort o' place they criminals get put away in?"

"Would I be able to get into one of those prisons, Chaffey?"

"If you've got influence, sir. You could apply to the Home Secretary.
Of course you'd have to give a reason. You might say you wanted to
inspect 'em for a political purpose, or that you were going to write a
book. Lord Dulcimer bein' in the Upper House, it wouldn't be difficult,
sir."

"I declare you're a genius, Chaffey! Why did I never think of this
before?"

"I'm proud, sir, to do anything that 'ud make you take a real interest
in life, so to say. It has hurt me, sir, to see you so bored, and so
indifferent to everything. Excuse the freedom o' speech, sir, but
you've give me leave to say out what's in my mind."

"Yes. It's good for you. As for my boredom, well, you've done more to
relieve it than any one I know. It's a queer thing to say to one's
valet--but then I'm by way of being queer, eh, Chaffey? Give me my
cigarette case, and I'll think over your suggestion. I--I suppose
Geoffrey Gale won't be sent to one of those prisons you mentioned, just
yet?"

"I can't say, sir. But the barrister gentleman would be able to tell
you."

"I suppose he would. But he might wonder at my curiosity. In fact he
did wonder at it. You see I don't know those people. If any one of them
had been a personal acquaintance, my interest wouldn't have seemed so
remarkable."

Chaffey was silent. He had nothing more to suggest, nor could he see
what use his master could make of further information. The case was
over and done with. The prisoner's fate sealed. Penal Servitude was
a hard fate to face any one so young, but the Law has a long arm and
a sharp claw. Geoffrey Gale was safe in its clutches. There he must
remain for the proscribed period unless good behaviour, or ill-health,
got him a shorter term.

Chaffey knew enough of rigorous penal discipline to know also how
rich a crop of sickness, insanity, and desperation it produced. He
had heard many a sordid tale; seen more than one broken-down "lifer."
He knew how promising careers might be wrecked, moral integrity
abandoned, good intentions abolished, and the seeds of future ill-doing
sown in reckless hearts. Not to many "gaol birds" is a helping hand
outstretched. Few there are who find it possible to establish a new
record; to wipe the smirch off the slate, and start afresh on life's
highroad.

"Once a criminal, always a criminal" is the accepted verdict of
conviction, and it is little wonder that prison records teem with
repetitions of crime, instead of justifying a system that should
abolish it.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Aubrey Derringham took his morning bath, and made his usual toilet, and
then suddenly recognized that the routine of his life was disorganized.

A taste for criminal subjects had taken the place of fashionable
pleasures. To stroll past the Motor Mile, to lunch at his Club, to
visit his tailor, to take his car at reckless speed forty or fifty
miles out of London, by way of getting an appetite for dinner, to
sample the chefs of the Ritz, or the Carlton, to "do" a play, or
make one of a crush to witness the last contortions of fashionable
waltzing, these occupations had seemed hitherto to fill up the day's
programme.

But as he surveyed them in turn he found that the "motor spin" through
the sweet spring country alone tempted his leisure. He swept aside
lunch engagements with indifference. He ordered the car to be ready at
twelve o'clock, and prepared to be his own driver.

"I'm a bit out of practice," he told Chaffey, as he ventured mild
remonstrance. "I mean to work it up again. One feels more independent
when one drives oneself."

So he attired himself in leather and goggles, and got into the long
low touring car whose "records" had nearly brought him into various
county courts. Then cautiously and cleverly he steered through outlying
traffic and congested suburbs, and so away to the Surrey hills, with
Chaffey watchful and admonitory by his side.

They spoke very little. Speed and an open car are not conducive to
conversation. But the queer valet noted something was "up" with his
master. Some subject, or plan, was engrossing him, independently of his
pride in his car, and the speed limit.

"It ain't my business," thought this student of human nature. "But I
could give a pretty good guess what's in his mind."




CHAPTER IV.--"A SYSTEM--AND ITS PRINCIPLES"

AUBREY FITZJOHN DERRINGHAM accepted another invitation to the Daniel
Schultzes' in the hopes of again meeting Joshua Myers. It was to a
Sunday luncheon, and Mrs. Schultze was posing as a devoted mother
for the benefit of an effete Dukelet, whom she had purloined for the
occasion.

The usual luxury, the usual perfection of food and service gave the
usual advertisement of successful Jewish finance. The Dukelet, a youth
of twenty-two, who was an impoverished and fatherless orphan, seemed
to have fallen an easy prey to the beautiful Miriam. He had appraised
her charms as scarcely secondary to Gertie Ellerslie, of musical comedy
fame, but her conversation as vastly inferior. The girl was too well
educated for flippancy; her slang had a touch of epigram.

Aubrey Derringham shelved his young Grace by his usual cool method of
appropriation. He learnt that Myers was expected to drop in either to
lunch, or after.

"He nearly always comes to us on Sundays," said Miriam. "How did you
get on?" she added.

"He is interesting," said Aubrey, "and very clever. I should think he
had a career before him."

"Oh--that of course!" said his cousin. "K. C. and then--Judgeship. It's
all on the cards. Are you interested in politics, Mr. Derringham?"

"I can't say I am."

"But your brother is in the House. I read a speech of his not long ago."

"He'd be flattered I'm sure," said Aubrey. "It's more than I've ever
done. Politics are only another word for self-seeking. No politician
can afford a larger outlook on national demands than his party permits.
Besides--they make you feel that life is a mere table of statistics,
and men and women mere decimal fragments of parliamentary arithmetic."

The girl laughed. "It sounds clever, but it's rather cruel. I am an
Imperialist at heart, and I like to think the legislators of the
country do their best for its honour and welfare."

"We all like to think that," he agreed. "But very few of us believe it.
Ah, there is your cousin!"

The Dukelet seized the opportunity, and took the seat his temporary
rival had vacated.

"Fancy your talking to a political Johnnie," he remarked facetiously,
and his eyes followed Aubrey in wide amazement. "Why--it's a man
he's left you for!"

"Don't crush me," said Miriam. "And don't fancy I mind being left--for
such a man."

"Who is he?" asked the youth. "Looks----"

"Jewish? You'd better say it. I know it was in your mind. He is a
cousin of mine, and on the way to achieve great things." She rose,
"Mother's going down now. Will you come?"

"May I sit next you?"

"If you wish. But I warn you 'the political Johnnie' will be on the
other side."

She threw him a glance which he translated as the "glad eye," and said
a word to Myers and to Aubrey which placed them next each other and
near herself.

It was a very brilliant luncheon, for Mrs. Schultze was a very clever
woman and dispensed popularity, as well as attracted it. Finance was,
of course, represented in its heaviest and most enterprising aspect;
the very courses breathed out "shekels," but plutocratic importance was
so much the trend of the age that even the young Dukelet was ready to
promise his name to a Board of Directors.

Aubrey Derringham found the rising barrister an even more delightful
companion than at their last meeting. On that occasion his pride had
been overshadowed by an unsuccessful case. To-day he was brimming over
with the importance of a brilliant achievement on some technical point
that promised an infinitude of "briefs." It was not easy to bring
him down to the level of prison life, its rigours, and its deeply
hidden mysteries. But Aubrey had come for a purpose, and worked for it
manfully.

It surprised him a little when after one of his questions, Myers
showed a sudden change of front. He took the subject right out of his
questioner's hands, went into it, summed up wrongs and rights, errors
and possibilities. Then--it was as if he laid it flat and clean on the
table before him, and said, "Now, do you mind telling me why you
want to know all this?"

Aubrey was rather taken aback. The question was so direct, the
brilliant eyes so penetrating.

"'Pon my word," he said, "I hardly know. I happened to take up a book
on prison life the other day, and I remembered that I had never seen
such a place."

"It's a queer museum of human curiosities. Not a pleasant place,
believe me. There's something rather--terrifying, in being confronted
by the criminal side of existence. The endeavour to place your
fellow-man before your mental vision as an expert in deeds your own
mind scarcely conceives as committable. Every tree has a crooked
branch. That of life can't expect to be exclusive."

"Do you think reformation possible? I mean is the type the result of
environment, or the effects of a wrong system?"

"Both. The upbringing and the sordid misery of one class turn it into a
monster fighting for its rights; demanding equal share in the world's
good things. It can't argue, it can't reason. It has only a brutal
hatred of the better class, a brutal envy of the ease and comfort it
doesn't possess; and that it could never do anything but abuse if it
did possess. We have had vast cyclonic upheavals; towns and cities
destroyed in a moment of nature's fury. I sometimes wish she would turn
her attention to our criminal class and their habitat. Sweep them
aside, avalanche them, burn them on one gigantic pyre, and leave the
world free and clean, and able to breathe peace and good will to a new
race."

"But there are innocent victims of the system. Would you give them no
chance of repenting?"

"The innocent victim is branded to his life's end by the searing iron
of error. The principle of a system is its own worst enemy. It can't
afford to condemn what it discovers to be inefficient."

"You'll think I'm unusually pertinacious," said Aubrey. "But I'd like
to ask one more question. If you, or some legal official equally
responsible, knew that a man was suffering unjustly, knew that
this system would have an injurious effect upon his life, would you try
to--well, to help him? I mean would it be against your conscience to do
it?"

"There you have me," said Myers seriously. "Speaking as an upholder
of the majesty of the Law, I could not disobey its orders. Speaking
as a man compassionating a fellow-man, I would do my very utmost;
even at attendant risks! It's a very serious matter you know, Mr.
Derringham----"

"What are you two discussing so gravely?" interrupted Miriam's voice.
"You might be conspirators by your appearance! Mr. Derringham, you've
been offered orange salad for the past two minutes. If you don't want
it, pass it on."

Aubrey apologized, and helped himself to the delicacy in question.
After which Miriam demanded his attention, and kept it till her mother
gave the signal for departure.

"Come up and smoke on the balcony, it's quite private," she called out.
"And it will be more companionable than the sheep-and-goat business."

The invitation meant a general movement for such of the guests as were
remaining. Aubrey and Myers were among them. The astute barrister had
begun to ask himself what could be the reason for the young man's
extraordinary interest in criminal matters. To-day's discussion on
prisons, and prison life, following up their previous discussion on
Geoffrey Gale's conviction, seemed to hint at something beyond casual
interest. Yet Aubrey Derringham had only gone to the Law Courts on
chance. He had no personal interest in the forgery case; not even an
acquaintance with any of the parties concerned in it.

It seemed odd, but the very oddity attracted Myers. He began to wonder
whether Aubrey Derringham had ever done anything that might have
brought him into such a position as Geoffrey Gale's? Was there some
mystery in the background of his own life?

Queer things lurked behind the respectability of those exclusive
chambers in the Albany. Odd stories had circulated; now and then a
scandal had leaked out. Sybarite manhood hugged queer company to itself
in the seclusion of bachelor freedom. Art had strange ideals, and its
followers were not always what the outside veneer pretended. Could
it be that his new friend was hovering on the brink of an exploding
episode, or inculpated by reason of moral weakness in the meshes of
some ghastly secret?

Myers looked at the pale, clear-cut face, the indolent eyes, the air
of ease and good breeding so distinctive of Aubrey Derringham. All and
each gave denial to any imagining connected with the wild comedies
of aristocratic life. Aubrey's own confession had been that of the
onlooker, impelled by curiosity, and withheld by indolence. He had
lived in the world, watched and shared some of its stage play, but
neither fierce grief nor hungry passion had developed the emotional
side of his nature. And he was thirty years of age. Thirty--and more
interested in a boy's blundering crime than in any woman's charm or
loveliness.

Queer. But yet interesting. The fact of its queerness made it that,
and Joshua Myers found himself inclined to watch results. This unusual
sympathy with purely impersonal matters was a study in that book of
human characteristics which daily opened fresh leaves to his ambitious
soul.

The wild comedy of life! What revelations it brought, what secrets it
held. What untold, and untellable, interest. And each of these meant
a stepping-stone to that career he had mapped out. Each was a rung on
the ladder of success. His busy mind ascended to imagined heights even
as he smoked cigarettes with Aubrey Derringham, and listened to the
banalities of the little Duke with whom Miriam Schultze was flirting
outrageously.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The result of Myers' frank revelations showed itself later when Aubrey
Derringham found himself the possessor of a letter to the Governor of
Portland Prison. Only when he received the permit to go over the huge
citadel safeguarding British subjects did he question himself as to its
significance. Why visit such a place? Why peer into the inner sanctuary
of legal mystery typified by legal penalties? It would not raise his
estimate of his fellow-man, it would only introduce him to a certain
section of society "under a cloud," and environed by conditions that to
the free and law-abiding citizen were incredible hardships.

He discussed the matter with Chaffey, but received little
encouragement. As a reformed character the queer valet shunned
everything connected with police espionage.

"It'll look different to you, sir," he allowed. "P'raps you'll be
surprised at the accommodation, and feedin', and rules. I've heard
visitors say we were too well treated; and it was no wonder we tried to
get back. Silly talk, sir! No one 'ud ever want to go back, unless
life was made too hard for him after he got out."

"I think I'll go to Portland," said Aubrey. "I shall motor down to
Weymouth, and put up at a hotel, and go over the prison next morning."

"Will you be wanting me, sir?"

"Can the car be trusted?"

"Certainly, sir. And you'll pass heaps of towns with motor works. No
fear of a breakdown."

"All right, then I'll dispense with your services. I suppose," he added
carelessly, "you've not heard where that poor young fellow has been
sent?"

"Not to Portland, sir."

Aubrey started slightly. "Why did you say that?"

"Beg pardon, sir, no offence. I just happened to hear he was still at
the Scrubs, and you're goin' further afield."

"He's been there a month, hasn't he?"

"Yes, sir. Might I take the liberty of adding another bit of
information, sir? The curate brother has gone to a parish in South
Devon. And he's goin' to be married to the young lady, Miss Jessop, in
a few months."

"You've found out that!"

"It came round to me, sir, in a manner o' speaking. I have friends in
Manchester, sir."

"I understand. . . You don't happen to know the name of that Devonshire
parish, I suppose?"

"I could find out, sir. I rather fancy the uncle put it into one
o' them ere Christian papers, as prints sermons, and has queer
advertisements."

Aubrey laughed. "It seems that the Non-comformist conscience isn't
above a pardonable pride in worldly achievements, or indifferent to
secular advantage!"

"You'd like to know the parish, sir?"

"I should. Also, if by your indirect methods you could find out what
Miss Jessop is like, and whether this--marriage, is one of inclination
it might add to the interest of the story."

"Story, sir?"

"You advised embryo authorship as a reason for my curiosity respecting
government offices. It seems to me there is a very fair opening
chapter, dating from my visit to the Law Courts. How does it strike
you, Chaffey?"

"I never can make out, sir, whether you're laughing, or in earnest.
Writing books isn't easy, I should say. I'd leave it to them as has
to do it for a living, if I was you, sir."

"Perhaps you're right. Still it isn't every author who gets hold of a
human document. Truth is stranger than fiction, you know."

"Stranger, sir, perhaps, but not so pleasant to read about."

"Go and put the car in order," said his master. "And get me a road
map. I'll start this afternoon and come back to-morrow night. Take a
holiday, Chaffey. You deserve it."

"Thank you, sir. But my life here seems all holiday. There's nothing to
tempt me away, sir, unless you'd like me to run up to--Manchester?"

"Why Manchester?"

"I thought, sir, that the young lady, and her intended marriage, had
some interest for you?"

"The young lady represents a big black hat, and a loose wave of fair
hair. That's all I've seen of her."

"Exactly, sir. But there's more interest in what one doesn't see,
than in what one does. Leastwise where women is concerned."

"You're a rip, Chaffey! I shall have to remonstrate seriously with you."

"No, sir. The sex has no attractions for me. I wouldn't exchange your
service, sir, not for anything in petticoats."

"Flattering to the sex. But I don't want to put you to the test,
Chaffey."

The valet paused at the door. His face was imperturbable as ever.

"Am I to go to Manchester, sir? You didn't say?"

"Go--where you like, man! If it pleases you to play amateur detective,
one place is as good as another."

"Not exactly, sir. But having started the matter in London, it seems a
pity to drop it. I think I did find a--a object of interest for you,
sir, at last."

"Confound you! I'm inclined to wish you hadn't."

"I'm sorry for that, sir. But if I may be excused for reminding you,
you sort of put it to me, sir, to do something to rouse you to real
things."

"Well, this is real enough. And I suppose having started an interest I
must prove whether it will continue interesting?"

"I think it will, sir. I'll go and see to the car myself, if you don't
want anything more?"

"All right."

"There's road maps in the writing table drawer, sir, left hand.
Weymouth's about a hundred and twenty-eight miles. What time shall the
car come round, sir?"

"About two-thirty," answered his master carelessly, as he opened the
drawer indicated.

The door closed, and he remained standing there staring at the lines
and names of the route indicated. He folded the map again, and for a
moment stood looking round his room; its harmonious proportions, its
artistic colouring, its generous company of books which filled the low
shelves around the walls.

He took a turn up and down, asking himself if he was not a fool to
desert such comfort and such company? For in his mind a conviction was
growing that the object in life he had so long desired might become
more imperative in its demands than at first seemed possible. Yet it
struck him as in keeping with his various idiosyncrasies that he should
taken up the case of a stranger as more important than the social
eccentricities of personal friends.

"Any one would think I was mad," he said, bringing his walk and his
reflections to an abrupt halt. "Well--don't scientists say we're all
that, on one point or other. I suppose, if I really wished to sift
this matter out, I'd go to those relatives of the boy, in Manchester,
and find out if there was any animus against him, or any hope of
clearing up the mystery? As it is I'm investigating His Majesty's
strongholds of crime on a plausible excuse, and with a view to
discovering whether the punishment is deserving of the offence!"




CHAPTER V.--"HIS STEP SEEMED LIGHT AND GAY"


AUBREY DERRINGHAM took occasional "twenty-mile" spurts out of his car,
when a clear road, and no disturbing traffic, tempted him. He had a
brief rest at Salisbury, and started fresh and keen over rolling plain
and Roman roads by way of Blandford and Dorchester.

The sea spread like a glittering web below the cliffs, as he at last
dropped from the heights, and followed the steep road to the curve of
the bay. He then drove along the esplanade. The clean old-fashioned
town was basking in the glow of sunset. The sands and promenade were
thronged with holiday folk. At the end of the long sea frontage
he could see the heights of the Nothe, and the outlying "Bill" of
Portland. He slowed down, and then drew up at the Gloucester. Having
engaged a room, and delivered his car to the mercies of the garage,
there remained only to bathe, and dress, and dine.

The long hours in the open air had braced his energies and sharpened
his appetite. He secured a table in the window, and glanced round at
the various occupants of the dining-room. There were not many. The
usual British family party who cling to hotel comforts on an annual
holiday, and a few scattered individuals who might be of naval or
military importance. That was all. The stout mother and over-dressed
daughters threw glances of curiosity at the solitary young man in
his correct evening dress, and with that air of detachment from his
surroundings that marked him from the tourist proper. Possibly they
were indulging hopes of acquaintanceship with someone who had scribbled
"Hon. A. FitzJohn Derringham" in the visitor's book, and had driven
himself in his own car from London.

Dinner over, Aubrey sauntered out on the esplanade, and strolled along
to the harbour. A beguiling boatman induced him to take a row round
the Nothe headland which forms the southern point of the harbour.
From there he could see Portland lying like a crouched lion in its
impregnable lair. The Government dockyards, and the curious stretch
of the Chesil Beach showed dimly under the clear sky, and by the
illumination of the vessels and warships in the Roads. Aubrey found
his boatman communicative. He had lived in the place for thirty years.
He knew all the points of interest, and discussed submarines and
destroyers and training ships with his passenger.

Aubrey questioned him as to the great prison frowning in gloomy
isolation on the heights above. It surprised him to learn that a
complete town lay at the base of that rocky tableland. A place of
many inhabitants, shops, gardens, dwelling places. Commerce and life
rejoicing in immunity from the rigours and horrors above. From the edge
of the town stretched that mysterious and most dangerous ridge called
the Chesil Beach.

"Pebbles and stones for seventeen miles," said Aubrey's informant. "And
forty feet high, sir. No one can say how it came there, and the pebble
varies in size from a potato to a horse bean. You can walk on the top
of the ridge right along to Bridgport. Not that I'd be advisin' it,
sir. If any one does try they find they've had enough walking for the
rest o' their nat'ral life."

"Do the convicts ever try to escape?" enquired Aubrey.

"They has tried, now and then. But it never comes off, sir. No one
could get away from there. You'll see for yourself if you're thinkin'
o' visitin' the prison."

"Do many people visit it?" asked Aubrey.

"Oh, yes, sir. Heaps on 'em. I don't know what interests 'em. It's a
fearful high hill to climb to begin with, and you can't see much o' the
convicts as they do all of the stone quarrying within the walls. And
there's warders everywhere. And if so be as any one walks two or three
times past the gates he's watched with suspicion. I've 'eard there was
an escape attempted about five or six years ago. The man got off in a
fog, and somehow made his way down through the town, and to the Chesil
Beach. Some says he was caught, and some that he fell into Deadman's
bay, as 'tis called. I couldn't rightly say what happened. They keeps
such things dark of course, sir. Myself I don't see how any one could
escape what with them cliffs on one side and armed warders at signal
boxes all the way to the road, and no way of getting off save through
the town, where, of course, the dress 'ud give 'em away. A cousin of
mine is one of the warders up there. Terrible monot'nus the life. He
says as 'ow he nearly goes off his chump sometimes. You'll see the
Church if you goes up there, sir. Saint Peter's. All built by the
prisoners. Stone work, carving, everything. Surprisin' what they can
do when they've a mind for honest work. They 'ave a choice o' eight or
nine trades, I've been told, and the workshops is something wonderful."

Aubrey listened with increasing interest. It was new to hear that
prison life had its ambitions and compensations. He had pictured
chained gangs at hard and toilsome labour. It seemed strange to learn
of individual choice, and lighter forms of workmanship than stone
breaking.

He remained on the water till ten o'clock, encouraging his loquacious
friend to tell him all he knew of the place so beloved by George III.
and turned by a royal whim into a fashionable seaside resort. That
its glories had departed was evident. The South coast had sprung into
favour without drawing Weymouth into any remarkable prominence. But
it had a charm of its own that May night as the moon silvered the old
stone houses, and the quiet waters reflected the lights of yachts and
steamboats.

Aubrey paced slowly to and fro before the hotel front, enjoying the
change from London turmoil. The crowd of pleasure seekers had left the
sands; the band had ceased playing. The air was deliciously cool and
soft.

"How much we sacrifice for pleasure," he reflected. "If it is
pleasure, to eat unwholesome food, and too much of it, and stand for
hours in crowded rooms listening to a babel of voices, or attempting to
steer through a giddy romp called 'dancing.' And then the Club, and the
last scandal, and the last unnecessary drink, and home to sleep away
the morning hours, and get up and dress, and go through it all again!
No one the better for it all, many very much the worse!"

Yet despite the philosophical reflections he suddenly asked himself why
he was idling here; what reason he could give for such a freakish
enterprise? It seemed as if the Aubrey Derringham he knew had become a
stranger desiring fresh introduction. He paced to and fro and looked
over the sea and across to that crouching headland. To what trouble he
had gone for a mere whim. For the sake of following up a phase of life
hitherto unknown and unknowable.

It was unaccountable, if he tried conventional explanations, but when
he looked at it from the standpoint of the importance of human life
it took on another aspect. He turned from the view of curving bay and
walked slowly towards the end of the promenade. It was almost deserted.
He passed the stiff row of lodging houses, and came to an asphalted
walk and some modern pleasure grounds with seats and tennis courts.

Before him lay the old coastguard station, and above under the young
moon rolled the great sloping downs; chalky patches like the white
crests of waves breaking the green monotony of their bare expanse.
He could trace the great equestrian figure on the slope, supposed to
be that of royal George on horseback, paying the town the doubtful
compliment of turning his back on it. Farther on came gardens of modern
houses sloping down to the cliff walk. Low iron railings separated them
from publicity. Some of the windows opened on a verandah or a terrace,
and the rooms within could be seen distinctly.

As Aubrey passed along he noted one room. It was lit by a gas pendant
over its centre table, and sitting at the table, her head bent on her
hands, was a girl. Before her lay a heap of newspapers. She seemed the
only occupant of the room. Something in her attitude and the drooping
lines of her figure spoke of dejection or trouble. Involuntarily Aubrey
stopped and gazed without thought of intrusion. He saw her lift her
head, and dry her eyes with her handkerchief. Then she rose and seemed
to call out an answer to some enquiry. He heard the clear tones of her
voice: "I'm coming directly."

She raised her arm, extinguished the light, and came to the open
window. A moment she stood there, her white gown showing against the
darkness, then she ran out and over the green stretch of lawn and so to
the edge of the railings.

Aubrey started, suddenly conscious of a breach of good manners in thus
intruding upon another person's privacy. He was moving on, but the girl
called softly through the dusk: "George, is it you?"

"No," he answered impulsively.

She leant over the railings. "I--oh, I'm sorry! I was expecting a
friend. I thought----"

"I was lingering here, tempted by the beauty of the evening," said the
young man. "Is it a private road? I'm a stranger to the place."

"No," she said, "it's not private. This is a new part of Weymouth; the
road goes on to the coastguard station."

"I've strolled further than I intended," said Aubrey. "But this bay is
a good excuse."

"It is very beautiful," she answered, but the tone of dejection was
evident in the words, and rendered them meaningless. He felt he had
no excuse for lingering there, or continuing conversation, and yet he
wanted to see the face of the speaker. It was in shadow; its outline
was youthful; but the hair and colouring were vague. The simple white
dress clung about a slender shape, and that slenderness and youth
made him curious as to the special trouble her previous attitude had
signified.

Was it connected with a love affair? Was "George," the expected, its
hero, and was a broken appointment the cause of those tears he had
unwittingly beheld?

Her voice broke over his silence in frank and simple curiosity.

"You said you were a stranger. Have you come to stay, or are you merely
waiting for the Channel boat?"

"The Channel boat," he echoed vaguely.

"Jersey and Guernsey. Many people stay a night before crossing."

"Oh, yes, of course! But I'm not crossing. I've only motored down from
town to have a look at Portland. I'm staying at the Gloucester."

She repeated the word--"Portland?" Then asked: "Are you interested in
that?"

"Not specially. But I happen to have an order, and I've never seen a
convict prison, that's all!"

"A convict prison!" He saw the white fingers close over the dark
rail against which she stood. "It's very horrid! One can't get away
from it if one lives here. I--I hate it! . . . From my window I
see it, always lying out there, a hateful; hideous thing! Always
reminding one of horrors! The men come in gangs. I've seen them at the
station--brought here. I've seen them taken away to other places as
cruel. Ever since I was a little child this place has been associated
with those chained gangs; those sullen figures; the hopelessness of it
all!"

He was silent.

"It's bad enough," she went on, "when one only looks at it, as a
stranger, unconcerned with one of those fettered souls, but----"

She broke off suddenly. Aubrey Derringham's thoughts pictured the
weeping figure, the scattered papers, the sad young voice.

"I hope," he said gently, "that the meaning of Portland is not a
personal one for you?"

"Personal? You mean that any one I know . . . Oh, no! Thank God!
There's no one there--not yet . . ."

The disjointed fragments of speech were sharply detached; the tone of
her voice had grown harsher. Aubrey felt he ought to take his leave;
that he had no right to be here carrying on a conversation with an
unknown girl, in a strange place, at an unconventional hour. And yet he
lingered. That queer "not yet," seemed pregnant with foreboding.
And the girl herself was labouring under stress of excitement that made
her self-revealing.

"Not yet? I hope such a fate may never befall you."

"Oh!" she cried suddenly. "It has! It has!"

Like a bow overstrung her strength gave way; she was clinging to the
railings and weeping in the heart-broken desperate fashion of a child
who has never learnt to control an emotion.

Aubrey Derringham was perplexed. This was a situation for which
experience had no precedent. He stood there helpless before a storm he
had unconsciously raised. He was terribly distressed.

"Pray, pray, don't cry so!" he said, in that foolish man-consoling
fashion, which seems to look upon feminine emotion as a supply fitted
with special taps to be turned off at will. "I'm sorry if I said
anything----"

"Oh, no, it wasn't you!" She spoke between sobbing breaths. "I don't
know who you are! I don't care! Aren't there times when one seems to
get straight out of conventional swaddling bands? When all the ordinary
petty things look just petty? When one wants to speak out just as one
feels and thinks?"

"Yes," he said.

"And that's how I felt, and feel! I'm in great trouble and--it's partly
my own fault. That doesn't help though, does it? But I was expecting,
hoping for, someone who had promised to help, and--he hasn't come!"

"That d----d George!" thought Aubrey.

Aloud he said: "I know we're strangers. I know I haven't exactly
the right to be keeping you here talking to me, but, as you say,
circumstances are sometimes too strong for civilized artifices. Perhaps
this is such an occasion? I wonder if I could be of any help to you? I
wonder if I might say that I'd willingly be of such help if only--only
you could trust me?"

"You've a nice voice," said the girl frankly. "I can't see your face
distinctly, but your voice rings true. Would you mind--shaking hands?"

Somewhat surprised at the request Aubrey Derringham took the slender
white hand frankly extended and clasped it as frankly.

She released his. "Thank you, that's all right. I always judge new
acquaintances by the way they shake hands. There's character in it,
you know. Your grasp is just right. Firm and assuring. I could trust
you."

"Perhaps it's as well 'George' isn't here," thought Aubrey.

Aloud he said: "If you feel that, couldn't you tell me what's troubling
you?"

"No," she said, "not to-night. I must go in. But to-morrow--I'll see
you to-morrow--if you like?"

Aubrey remembered that he was returning to London, after going over the
prison. But he only said: "What time?"

The girl debated a moment. Then she said: "Five o'clock. I'm staying
here with an old governess. I used to come to her school. She's given
it up, and lives there"--(nodding back to the house). "I'll meet you
just beyond the road. Perhaps you will tell me about--the life inside
those walls? I'd like to know."

Aubrey thought it a surprising announcement. But the whole adventure,
if it deserved the name, was surprising. Even while her last words
echoed in his ears she was gone. A white slender shape flitting over
the sward and melting into the shadows of the shadowy house. He heard
the closing of the long French window, the turn of a key. Then, as he
waited, a light flashed in a room above. He remembered what she had
said about her window looking over to that menacing monster crouched
low on its narrow neck of land. Was that her room? For a few moments
he walked up and down the strip of asphalt, wondering if the echo of
his steps was audible, half hoping she might raise the blind and look
out. But nothing happened, and he at last retraced his steps to the
hotel. Only when he reached it did he remember that they had had no
clear vision of each other. That they were ignorant of names, or any
identifying sign.

"But I think I'd know her," he said. "Even if a dozen other girls were
strolling on that road. I suppose I'll not get back to town, unless I
make a night journey of it."

He entered the hotel, took a whiskey and soda in the smoking-room, and
then retired.

As he was unfastening a collar stud, one of those temperamental storms
to which he was subject swept over his mind. "What the devil does it
all mean? Why am I here? What am I letting myself in for? I, who
hate girls!"

The more he thought of that meeting the less he could explain it. To
his fastidious mind it seemed in the worst possible taste.

Talking to a girl over a wall like any seaside cad who dispenses with
introduction; accepting the suggestion of a second meeting? Never in
his life had he been guilty of actions so irregular, where a girl was
concerned. With women of the fast and loose type it was different.
They knew what they were about, they could take care of themselves.
But--this girl was of a type hitherto unmet, and untabulated.

Why did she wish to meet a total stranger again? And who was the man
she had expected to meet, and who had failed to keep his appointment?
These questions buzzed in his brain as he took off his evening clothes
and tossed them here and there. He forgot that the invaluable Chaffey
was not at hand to brush, press, and fold. He almost forgot why he had
come here at all. He was hearing a girl's voice; soothing a girl's
grief, of whose source and nature he was ignorant; wondering about a
face dimly seen, and which he was pledged to recognize by light of day.

And he was going to recognize it. He was going to find out what special
grief, or perplexity, was racking that young heart, and had driven it
to confide in a stranger.




CHAPTER VI.--"DOWN THE IRON STAIR"

AUBREY DERRINGHAM learnt from the hall porter that he could take his
car over to Portland, instead of going by train, and climbing the steep
hill afterwards.

He ordered it round from the garage, and told the manageress he would
retain his room for another night. Then he drove to the post-office,
and wired to Chaffey that he was not returning to town as arranged.
After which he set forth for that visit of inspection which had
promised a new interest in his practically unoccupied life.

"Fortune's Well" seemed to him an ironical designation for the island's
capital, and he glanced with some amusement at the piled-up houses,
and steep sloping streets. The ascent went on and upwards to the
Portland Arms, again of George III. importance. An impregnable fort
with heavy guns showed itself on the left, but his way led still higher
to that stretch of tableland with its network of quarries, its hideous
machinery, and dreary grey loneliness. He slackened speed, and gazed
around.

It was here that men had worked like dumb helpless brutes for desolate
years. Here where the rough blood-stained criminal and the educated
gentleman were linked together by common shame. Here where agonies of
longing and tears of blood were alike unavailing to alter one rash act
of a lifetime. Here too, perchance, innocence had worked by side of
guilt and vainly prayed for release. Such things had been and would be
again.

What a twisted web was life. How queer its patterns, how intermingled
its threads and skeins!

He changed speed, and sent the car forward, past the narrow street
of dingy houses and poor-looking inns, that fronted the high stone
walls of the prison yards, where the men worked at what the quarrymen
excavated. He saw the queer little sentry-boxes, each with its armed
patrol, but of the convicts he saw nothing. The walls were too high.
Only from some upper window of one of the houses, or inns, could the
interior of the stone works be seen. He inquired for the Governor's
house, and sent in his card and letter of introduction. He learnt
that the official himself was over at the Prison, but a subordinate,
recognizing government seal and importance, conducted the visitor
through the great iron gates, and left him in charge of a warder.

Aubrey Derringham looked around with vague curiosity. Presently the
Governor came out and, after a brief conversation, took him within the
great building, and instructed another warder to conduct him over it.

For the next two hours Aubrey Derringham felt as if he had strayed
into a new world. A place such as imagination, or invention, had never
portrayed. A place of iron system, harsh rules, cold prudence, stern
environment. Here, watched, guarded, controlled, were some eight
hundred prisoned lives. Each condemned to some daily ordeal, more or
less distasteful. Each chafing against the all iron bondage recklessly
challenged, and henceforth the Nemesis of such recklessness. Here
were criminals by reason of Fate, or environment, or heredity. Beings
brutalized by nature's harsh laws, or life's unequal service. Men
who passed him with scowling brows and lowered eyes. Men young, old,
middle-aged. Some hardened by crime and proud of achievements, others
trapped by force of circumstance, or led into error by one of those
human passions that prey on men's souls, and wreck them for sheer
malevolence of Destiny, so it would appear.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It was not the official's place to satisfy curiosity, or give more than
general information, but Aubrey Derringham knew that the Majesty of the
Law would be something more than a name to him henceforward.

It stood forth as a relentless Inquisition. A Force necessitated by the
very Civilization it safeguarded; the result of that civilization as
well as its guardian.

He learnt of rules and discipline. Of the routine of life as these
chained and lawless beings knew it. A routine unthinkable to his
own experience, the fruits of penal economy, the carefully wrought
machinery of State and policy. His interest grew along with his
knowledge of facts. What he heard, what he saw, as he wandered from
cell to cell, from kitchen to workshop, from chapel to infirmary,
filled his mind to the exclusion of all else.

Chaffey had thrown side-lights of personal experience on the subject,
but Chaffey had not been incarcerated for years in an impregnable
fortress, where every locked gate, and chained door, and barred window
spoke of despair and hopelessness. For to places like this came only
the law's worst offenders. Men to whom life, or honour, or property
were never sacred. Men who gloried in records of crime as others might
glory in records of honourable industry.

Aubrey Derringham was conscious of sickness of heart as the last
key grated into its lock. What must it be to enter such a place for
the first time? What must it be to enter it conscious of wrongful
conviction? Chafing, maddened, hopeless, as those fierce souls who
risked death to escape, and sought death to end despair. He remembered
the story of that prisoner implicated in a fraud, and made the
scapegoat of more skilful accomplices. How he had cursed and prayed
and struggled and suffered with a memory of seventeen of such years
ever before him. How one day passing along the gallery leading from
one range of cells to another he had flung himself over before the
horrified warder could fathom his intent.

"Suicide in a prison" seemed a fitting record for a desperate soul,
unable to suborn human justice, or secure human aid.

"Yes, some on 'em takes it hard, precious hard," the warder had said.
He had a twenty years' record of prison guardianship, and yet retained
some human sympathy.

To him Aubrey Derringham had put that question as to possibilities of
escape. A grim smile answered it. "Not from Portland, sir. Never from
Portland."

And looking around, and listening to rules and regulations attending
even "privileges" outside the gates, Aubrey felt the man was speaking
the truth.

A verse haunted him; the inspiration of a soul desperate as these.


"And down the iron stair we tramped
Each to his separate Hell."


He recalled two words, spoken by that girl whom he was to meet in a few
hours' time. "Not yet," she had said. Was someone whom she knew, for
whom she was suffering, destined to this Hell? It almost seemed so,
judging from her grief and her strange words.

They shared a common interest. Possibly for that reason she desired
to hear what he had learnt of this impregnable fortress and its
hopelessness. He felt he could say nothing cheerful, nothing to
alleviate any fear or anxiety on her part. He wondered vaguely who it
was that she had expected with the news last night? Who it was to whom
those two words applied so significantly? Not yet. He refused the
Governor's proffered hospitality and returned to Weymouth. Making a
detour of the outer boundary of the town he ran through Wyke and its
ancient village. Then past the estuary and on to Abbotsbury. There he
lunched, and then visited the famous Swannery. After that he returned
to his car and drove back to the Gloucester. It was half-past four. He
had time only to brush off dust and change his cap for a hat. Then,
with a queer feeling of "doing the thing one ought not to do," he set
off for his unconventional appointment.

The sky had clouded, and seemed to threaten rain. He walked briskly
down the length of the Parade, and then took the inner road to the left
of Grenville Gardens. Arrived at the end of the houses he looked down
the long road skirting the sea, and extending to the old coastguard
station. There were many figures walking, cycling, or sitting on the
miniature pebble ridge which formed a sort of rampart to encroaching
tides. He paused and scrutinized them in turn. Non offered any
suggestion of the slim white-gowned girl who had asked him to meet her.
A feeling of annoyance took the place of curiosity. Had she intended
only to make a fool of him? Treat him as she would treat one of the
seaside "bounders" who forced acquaintance on any girl they chanced to
meet?

Yet it was she who had made the advance; who had proposed the meeting.

He sauntered slowly on, glancing at each figure he passed. Conscious of
much criticism of many girls, yet convinced she was not one of them.
On, and still on he walked; the sound of the sea in his ears, a sullen
resentment in his heart.

Why had he promised to come? Why had he not carried out his original
intention and returned to town? He looked at his watch and found it was
a quarter past five. He turned back and retraced his steps. Perhaps
he had come too far? She might be at the upper end where the gardens
joined the road. His glance travelled far ahead of his feet, but no
waiting figure showed itself. With a hot thrill of anger at his own
folly Aubrey Derringham walked back to the Parade. "Serves me right for
being such a fool!" he told himself, and vowed "never again" with all a
man's hatred of such an experience. It was his first, and he owned the
mature age of thirty. All the more reason to be angered and ashamed.
That hand-clasp, that assurance of trust--what had they meant? Less
than nothing, so it seemed. He vainly tried to clothe that phantom of
the night with any reality now that daylight and expectation had shown
no sign of her.

Well, no matter. He would dine, and order the car, and return. He
loved motoring at night when the roads were free, and police traps
improbable. A sudden splash of rain however reminded him that storm and
an open car did not exactly spell enjoyment. London was a hundred and
thirty miles distant, and possibly Chaffey would not be at his room
after receiving that morning's telegram. The Fates were against him for
once. He had better make up his mind to remain, and start early the
next morning. A run in the first cool sunny hours of the day was, if
anything, more enjoyable than a moonlight journey without a moon.

His indecision lasted him through a drenching shower, and alternated
with the smothered humiliation he vainly opposed. He went into the
smoking-room and read the papers, and smoked innumerable cigarettes.
The stout old gentleman, with the pretty wife and curious daughters,
endeavoured to make conversation, but Aubrey Derringham was terse
and unapproachable. He didn't want to talk to strangers. He felt he
had nothing in common with Brummagem millionaires, and their local
importance.

He left the smoking-room and went into the entrance hall. There he
stopped suddenly. A sense of relief and embarrassment surged through
his brain. He caught sight of a slender black figure, heard an eager
voice. It was she, and here. As he paused she caught sight of him;
hesitated then advanced.

"I'm sure I'm right. You are--I mean I didn't know your name--I could
only ask for the gentleman who arrived yesterday, in a motor car, and
was staying till to-morrow. I--Oh, where can I speak to you for a
moment?"

She glanced round at the surprised faces of the porter and a waiter,
and the manageress at her official desk. Aubrey murmured something
about "drawing-room," and led the way there, fervently hoping the stout
lady and her daughters were not its occupants. His anxious glance
assured him it was vacant. He offered the girl a chair, but she walked
to the window and sat down on a low couch beside it.

"I couldn't meet you," she said abruptly. "At least I'd have been half
an hour late. I could hardly expect you to wait so long. Did you go?"

"Yes," he said, conscious of a sudden warmth in his face, and annoyed
that he should be conscious. "But--I didn't wait." He said it to save
his self-respect, and yet he told himself that she would have been
worth waiting for.

"I'm glad," she said, clasping and unclasping her hands in a nervous
fashion. "I don't ask what you think of me. Somehow it doesn't seem to
matter. . . . I've heard what I wanted to hear."

He looked the surprise he could not express. No words seemed to fit the
situation.

"I forgot all about you," she went on frankly. "And then when I
remembered it was too late. I came here, on the chance. I remembered
you said 'the Gloucester.'"

Then she rose abruptly. "Well, that's all. I suppose you went to that
place to-day?"

"Yes. I found it very interesting."

"Interesting! You can say that! What if anyone you knew, who had
been dear to you, and whom you saw helplessly trapped, caught, put away
there, out of God's sunlight, out of decent life . . ."

Her voice broke. She turned to the window and looked with fierce
unyouthful eyes over the grey waters of the bay. A low ominous growl of
thunder broke the stillness, a splash of rain blurred the windows.

Aubrey was conscious of painful embarrassment. Everything about the
girl was so strange, so utterly unlike any experience of any other of
her sex, that he was inclined to think grief had unhinged her brain.
Yet, amidst all his bewilderment, he thought how strange it was that
both their minds should be running in the same groove. A personal
interest in a criminal offence, and its consequences.

"I'm sorry," he began awkwardly----

She held out an impulsive hand. "Oh! don't mind me. I'm distracted!
There's no one who'll speak of it, except in their own prejudiced way.
And it was so sudden! So awful! He was like my brother. . . ."

Aubrey started. He looked at the bent head, caught the sweep of fair
hair loose over brow and ear. Memory brought back that scene in court.
A stern red-faced man; a girl's despairing figure.

"Are you Miss Jessop?"

"Yes." She looked up at him as if questioning how he knew.

"I saw you, in the Court that day----" he went on rapidly, "when the
case of----"

"Geoffrey Gale," she said. "Yes, I am his cousin. It was my father
who----"

A gesture finished the sentence. Her tear-filled eyes turned again to
that outlying fortress, so eloquent of meaning.

"So you were in the Court," she said suddenly. "I wonder if you
thought--what everyone else seemed to think?"

"No," said Aubrey firmly. "The one certain thing in my mind was that
there had been a mistake. That Geoffrey Gale was innocent."

"Oh, thank you for saying that! It is a comfort. No one pays any
attention to me. They think I'm only a child, a schoolgirl ignorant
of life. Father is so angry because I won't believe anything against
Geoffrey that he sent me away from home. The subject is not to be
discussed, and I will discuss it. I can think of nothing else."

"That accounts for last night," said Aubrey.

Then something flashed to his mind. She had called out a name. Was it
George Gale she had expected? If so---- He was conscious of sudden
heart sinking; annoyance, disillusion. Into what an imbroglio had
that chance visit to the Law Courts led him. There seemed an ironical
meaning behind it all.

"Last night? Oh, yes. I was expecting Cousin George. He did not
come--until this morning--Well, that can't interest you. But it's
odd you should have been in the Court that day, stranger that you
should share my belief. No one else does."

"Not his brother?" asked Aubrey.

"George? No! He seems very sad, and shocked, but he thinks everything
went to prove Geoffrey did it."

"And you think----?"

"I don't think," she said. "I know!"

Something in the light and fervour of the young face was more eloquent
than any words. Aubrey found himself wondering how it was that a
woman's intuition defied a man's logic. Before that splendour of
assurance he was dumb. What use to question it?

"You said you were sent here? It is not your home?"

"Oh, no! Manchester is where father lives. But as I have no mother he
has kept me at school. She--she and father couldn't get on. When I was
about six years old she ran away; with a Frenchman, I believe. She was
French."

Aubrey stared. This was frankness with a vengeance. Had they taught her
no better at school than to throw aside all family conventions; its
secrets, and disasters?

"French people are different from us," she went on. "We should not
judge them on the same grounds. They are not so cold, so strict, so
morale. I remember my mother. She was lovely, and full of life and
gaiety. Perhaps that was it. She could not stand English prudery. And
Manchester----"

She made an expressive gesture. "Si bon morale, if you like.
Anyway that's how it goes. And now I've left school, and am going to be
married."

Aubrey was dumb.

"It's not my wish," she went on rapidly. "But father has arranged
it. He says after this scandal, no one will want to know us. To me,
that seems little loss, as applied to Manchester. Here, it makes no
difference. Madame Gascoigne has been like a mother to me always.
She thinks no worse of us for the misfortune. But they all want this
marriage. They think it so suitable, so I've agreed."

"Agreed? Don't you feel it's you who are being sacrificed to
conventions!" exclaimed Aubrey.

She shrugged her shoulders. He knew now from where she got her pretty
trick of gesture; her frank odd speech.

"What matter! A girl must marry--someone. George is kind and good,
and he loves me. It will amuse me to be a cur's wife. I love the
country; the peace, the quaint people, the old churches and villages.
Oh, yes! I have no fault to find with my rle. Geoffrey was my dear
brother. In three months' time I shall be his sister--really."

Aubrey Derringham could find nothing to say. This girl seemed capable
of reducing his brain to pulp, and his usual ease of speech to silence.
Yet there was something in her very outspokenness that he could not
rebuke.

He continued looking at her, wondering why they had met? Why a mere
whim, born of idle curiosity, had had such curious results? For here
he was, confronted with another actor in the drama, by an incident
as palpably careless as the lighting of a cigarette. If he had not
strolled quite so far, if a girl's grief had not touched his heart, if
a hand-clasp had not meant--something--that no other hand-clasp had ever
meant?

If--? But what use to sum up more trivialities? He had reached a blind
alley. He would go no further. For two years Geoffrey Gale was shut
away from friend, or help of friendship. And this girl was to be his
brother's wife.




CHAPTER VII.--"WHEN LOVE AND LIFE ARE FAIR"


"THE rain is over," she said suddenly. "I must go." Aubrey started. His
thoughts had led him to and fro in a maze of speculation. He woke to
reality with the sense of the day's importance.

"Oh, please, not yet!" he exclaimed. "I mean I haven't said half of
what I wished to say. Last night----"

"Ah, last night!" she interrupted him in her impetuous fashion. "It
was strange, was it not? We seemed friends not strangers. To-day it is
different. I--feel you don't like me--so much."

"Don't like you?" he faltered. "What makes you say that?"

"Oh, it is how I feel. I can't explain. One knows some things by
instinct. Of course it must seem strange to you that I should have
spoken or acted, as I did. This morning I felt angry with myself. I did
not tell Madame Gascoigne--or George," she added.

Aubrey laughed; a short mirthless laugh. "Perhaps it was as well," he
said.

"You have nothing to say to me to-day," she went on. "You too feel
everything is different."

"You--are different," he said impulsively.

"I? Oh, no! I am always the same. What I feel, what I think, that I
say. It is not convenable, I suppose. Madame has always rebuked me.
But there----" She shrugged her shoulders again. "As one is, one is.
That is me. And now----" She turned swiftly to him. "I suppose it is
adieu. I wonder if we shall ever meet again?"

"Hardly possible," he said stiffly.

"Ah, one never knows! Perhaps some day you will be driving your motor
car over the moors of Devon, even as you drove it over those great
downs yonder. Perhaps it will stop at a little village, with an old
church, and queer little thatched houses, and you will look around and
say: 'How charming, how idyllic!' And then Monsieur le Cur will invite
you to see his church, and Madame le Cur will ask you to step into her
ivy-covered presbytre and have a cup of tea, and lo! it is I, whom
you meet again. It is in books, is it not?"

"Yes," he said. "But life isn't exactly like books."

"Life is horrid I think. That's why I shall go away, right out of it,
with only nature and my little parish to concern me--until Geoffrey is
free."

"Is his brother very much grieved at his sentence?" asked Aubrey.

"George? Yes, of course. Dsol, troubled as never before. And he is
not strong, poor boy. He has what you call heart-affection, maladie
de cur. Partly for that I am going to marry him. He would suffer if
I refused. I should not like him to suffer."

"You are a most--extraordinary young lady!" exclaimed Aubrey.

"Am I?" She looked quietly at him. "Other people say so too. I suppose
I must be. It is the French side of me, I expect."

She held out her hand. "I must go now. I have taken up your time. It
must be near table d'hte. Do you go to-morrow? I should love to
have seen your motor car!"

"Would you! Well, why not?" exclaimed Aubrey eagerly. "I'll take you
for a run in it, if you like?"

"You would! You would! Ciel! But I should love that!" Excitement
seized her. "Let us go then, to-night, when the moon rises! Oh! I have
so longed for a motor drive in the moonlight! Over those downs, away
into the green heart of the country!"

She clasped her hands. Her eyes, darkly blue as violets are, looked
entreaty to his own. Of convention, propriety, she never seemed to
think. Aubrey asked himself why should he?

"To-night?" He went to the window and looked out. "Yes, if you wish.
The sky is clearing. I think by eight o'clock it will be quite fine."

"Eight o'clock? It is a hundred hours!" she cried enthusiastically.
"But I will be ready. I will come. Oh! how can I thank you! Never had I
believed such a pleasure would be mine!"

Aubrey smiled. "Am I to call at your house? What about the fianc?"

"George? Oh, he is gone! He left by train, this afternoon. And Madame
Gascoigne, she will not forbid it. I do as I please in that mnage.
She adores me. When you see her, you will adore her."

"Am I to see her? What if she refuses?"

"Why should she? I will tell her it is my wish. That is enough. She
knows I am in grief. She hates me to cry. Anything that will please me
for a little moment is enough for her. Besides----"

She paused and took a thoughtful survey of the young man. "You are
si vrai gentilhomme," she said softly.

He coloured to the roots of his hair. Her voice sounded like a strain
of exquisite music. The look in her eyes set his pulses beating to an
unknown rhythm. Never had he felt quite such a fool, or quite so happy.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The girl had gone leaving the impression of her bewildering memory to
the exclusion of all else.

Aubrey Derringham did not dress for dinner. It seemed hardly worth
while when in half an hour he would have to get out his car and don
leather coat and cap. He wondered if the girl had a thick wrap, or a
motor veil? Would a shop be open where he could buy one? He rang for a
chambermaid and questioned her. She proffered assistance, and he gave
her half a sovereign for the purchase. When he came up from dinner,
a parcel lay on his dressing-table, which proved itself a long filmy
grey veil of approved design. Rugs he had in plenty, and it was with
a thrill of previously unknown excitement that he sought his car, and
gave it personal test and examination.

The sky had cleared. The air was soft and exhilarating. The Mercedes
was in perfect condition and purred contentedly beneath his skilled
touch. The clock tower on the Promenade was pointing to eight as he
glided past. Sixty seconds brought him to the house the girl had
indicated. He pressed the hooter. The door was opened immediately. She
stood there dressed in a long woollen jersey and a cap to match. Beside
her was a white-haired, frail-looking old lady. She came out to the car
to be introduced as Madame Gascoigne.

The girl clambered in to the seat beside him with a joyous greeting.

"You will have care, monsieur?" pleaded the old lady. "The child, she
is wilful, and one refuses her nothing, but she is dear to my heart."

"I will take every care of her," promised Aubrey, wondering if he had
strolled into Arcadia, a place of simple trust, and frank speech, and
unconventional actions.

He gave the girl the motor veil, and showed her how to adjust it over
her cap. "It is cold, even on a warm night, in an open car," he said.

"Ah--that you should think of that!" she cried ecstatically. She
wound the soft folds about her head and throat, looking lovelier than
ever in their shrouding mysteries. Then with a murmured farewell, a
wave of her hand, they were off, gliding along the sea road, and so up
to the great rolling downs. The dusky evening shadows closed around as
they sped up and onwards. The girl sat quite still save for occasional
little soft cries of ecstasy.

It astonished Aubrey that anything so familiar to himself could be pure
unmixed delight to another person. He showed off the powers of the car
with a novel sense of pride. Its magnificent hill flights; its perfect
obedience to clutch and accelerator, its swift yet perfectly controlled
speed. Over the white roads they glided, as mysteriously and easily as
only a perfect car can travel. The world seemed their own. The moon
rose clear and bright in a cloudless sky. The air rushed by like wings
of living creatures, eloquent with the meaning of speed and freedom.
Everything around was charged with an electric force of sensation,
excited by novelty. The current of life was flowing to a fuller
tide. Just to be, and to breathe, and to feel, made up a sense of
enjoyment new to both.

Yet even a perfect car is subject to the hazard of accident. Quite
suddenly the still air was rent by an explosive sound; the car swerved
slightly to the left, then obeyed the peremptory check of driver. The
girl had uttered a startled cry, but she sat perfectly still though
it seemed as if a cannon had been fired behind her. The car stopped
suddenly.

"What is it?" she cried.

"Only a tyre gone. I was afraid of this road. It's been newly stoned."

"Oh! can't we go on any more?" she cried plaintively.

Aubrey laughed. "Why, of course. I'll put it right in ten minutes."

He was on the ground and taking off his motor coat and rolling up his
sleeves before she had quite realized what he was about to do. Then she
flung aside her rugs and got out also.

"Do you mean to say you can mend it, set it going again? But how
wonderful!" she exclaimed.

"It wouldn't be much good my driving a car if I didn't know how to
supplement a burst tyre, or mend a puncture!" said Aubrey. "I have a
very clever chauffeur, and he's taught me as much about motor mechanism
as would serve a mechanic seeking employment. You see this wheel? Well,
I'm going to put it on, alongside of the other. It's called a Stepney.
Praised be the inventor!"

He had got out the "jack," and she watched him with absorbed interest,
as he gradually raised the useless wheel, and then fitted the Stepney
to it.

"How clever you are!" she murmured admiringly. "I didn't think you
could do anything of that sort. Your hands----"

"Perhaps they're not as useless as they look."

"I wouldn't say they looked--useless. Only the sort of hands that had
never done any sort of work, like that."

"If you had been where I was yesterday, you'd have seen hands as
delicate doing harder work than adjusting a tyre," he said.

"Ah!"--it was a sharp little sound. He looked up to where she was
standing, her loosened veil floating over her shoulders.

"Are there men--like you in that horrible place? You--you did not tell
me."

"You never asked. Besides, what use to talk of them, or the place? They
have all brought themselves under the penalty of broken laws."

"Did you see them in the quarries, working?"

"Yes."

"Are they guarded, chained, watched, as one hears?"

"Some, the desperate characters, had leg chains; not all."

"Do you know," she said suddenly, "what I was thinking when we were
flying, flying, along across the downs, over the roads?"

"How can I guess your thoughts?"

"I was thinking if I saw one of those poor prisoners how I would help
him escape. How I would snatch him up in this swift wonderful machine,
and carry him away, away where no one could find him, no cruel law
touch him. And as I thought I seemed to see--Geoffrey."

Aubrey rose, and began to unscrew the "jack" again.

"It wouldn't be possible, my child," he said gently, "to
help--Geoffrey, or any one in such a way. Every car has a number.
It could be traced as easily as--as the prisoner it sought to aid.
Besides, there is a penalty for such aid."

"I wouldn't care for that!"

"You wouldn't like to be deprived of your liberty also?"

"Is that what is done to one for showing a little mercy?"

"The Law doesn't choose that anyone should supply what it denies."

"The Law! Ah, I remember those hard men, that stern old judge, the
dull, heavy, unfeeling jury! That was the Law, and what it said has
to be, has it not?"

"Yes. A sentence passed is fixed and unchangeable. Very, very rarely
has it been altered."

"Not if they found out afterwards that the man they had condemned
was innocent?"

Aubrey put away his tools, and took up his Motor coat. "I have never
heard of such a case," he said.

"But it's not impossible; it might happen?"

"My dear young lady, anything might happen, so long as the sky's
above and the earth beneath us. Now, the car is ready again, if you
will enter."

"For how long will you drive me?" she asked, as she re-tied her veil.

"That depends on where you want to go. At present we are on the way to
Wareham, I believe. The last milestone said so."

"Wareham? It is a market town. I have been there, by train."

"Well, shall we turn off somewhere else? Only I prefer the main road,
at night, as the country is strange to me."

"It is strange to me, like this," she said. "Oh! let us go just on. It
doesn't matter."

"It would matter if we went on--say to London," said Aubrey. "I fancy
Madame Gascoigne would hardly approve. You are a very self-willed young
person, but even you can't contemplate a whole night's run in a motor
car, with a comparative stranger."

"Now, you are horrid!" she said. "And talking like the prim old people
in Manchester talk. How I hate Manchester--after this!" Her hand
swept out with a gesture embracing the country round. "But I hate all
towns! Don't you?"

"Not all," he said. "I happen to live in London. I am very fond of it."

"Fond! Fond of London? That dark, dismal, horrible Place. All fogs and
grey skies, and dark streets. And the noise--oh! the terrible noise!"

"You mustn't judge it by the Law Courts side. Where did you stay?"

"Somewhere in the Strand, isn't it called?"

"And is that all you saw of England's capital?"

"It was enough for me. Never do I want to see it again. Those great
dark buildings, those narrow noisy streets! And the sad, harassed
faces. I never saw one smile, I never saw one happy. Oh! I was glad to
come away!"

"Did you come here, at once, or go back with your father?" asked Aubrey.

"I went back, but I became ill. I suffered--ah, no one knew how I
suffered! And the doctor said Manchester did not agree with me, so my
father sent me back to Madame. She was glad to have me. She loves me as
her own child. She has retired now, and given up the school, but her
home, it is always mine, so she says."

"Why do you want to leave it, then?" enquired Aubrey. "If you are happy
there, and it is a home, why are you going to be--married?"

He hesitated over the word. It seemed absurd to picture this prattling
innocent child a wife. She looked scarcely sixteen, despite her tall
height.

"Why? But I told you. It is arranged for me. And George has his curacy,
and he has loved me--always. You see--it has to be."

Aubrey did not see it at all. He thought there was no absolute
necessity for the arrangement, or for her meek yielding to it. She
was so young, and her eyes were only a child's eyes; trusting and
innocent. He asked her how old she was, and she told him quite frankly.
"Seventeen. But in three months I shall be eighteen. Then, they they
wish the marriage to take place."

"You say your cousin loves you," said Aubrey. "But what about yourself?
Do you----"

"Do I love him?" she put in quickly. "Have I not said we are as
sister and brothers. He, and Geoffrey, and I. Of course I love him. Not
as I do Madame Gascoigne, but that is, of course, different. I know
George, I have always been used to see him at home. My father loves him
as a son. Oh--it is quite well arranged, I assure you."

Aubrey Derringham felt again that odd sense of hopelessness. This
girl affected him so strangely. There was such fascination about her
youth and simplicity; about that clear unfaltering gaze, and that
quaint outlook on life. He seemed to see her in that Manchester house,
rebelling at convention, yet playing daughter and sister effectively
enough. And then had come this shock, and life had turned to vital
vivid drama. She had been a passive spectator of the opening scenes.
Had learnt what suffering and suspense could mean. And now----

"You are going very slow," said the voice beside him. "Are you tired of
holding that wheel?"

"Tired? No, of course not. I was thinking we ought to be turning back.
We must have been out an hour. It will take another to reach the town."

"Only an hour! Oh--I should like to stay out all the night, and see the
stars fade, and the dawn come, and yet be flying on and on, as if time
didn't exist!"

"Has no one ever told you that there are things one must not do,
although they are perfectly harmless in themselves?" asked Aubrey.

"If they have told me I didn't pay any attention. Some things in my
life are unusual I know, and my father thinks I have had too much of
my own way. But what of that? I've never done anything I'm ashamed of.
Have you?"

"That's hardly a fair question. The same rules don't regulate a man's
life and a woman's."

"Why not?"

"Because they're different. The one goes forth into the world to battle
with life and learn its lessons--bitter ones--sometimes. And the other,
she is sheltered and protected, and kept from harsh, unlovely things so
that her nature may be pure and lovely, as herself."

"That is all very absurd, you know," said the girl. "Men are good and
bad, and so are women. That much I know, but the badness seems ever so
much more fascinating than the goodness. My mother--I suppose you would
call her bad? My father did, and does, and he--oh, he is all that is
good, and honourable, and uninteresting. Yet I don't love his reality
as dearly as I love her memory!"

"You are so young," said Aubrey feebly.

"Not too young to think and feel. Besides, I've read so much, I'm not
ignorant."

Her face took on a strange dignity, as he turned his bewildered eyes to
it.

"I must say you are the most surprising specimen of your sex I have
ever met!" he exclaimed.

"Have you met many?"

"A few hundred, or so."

"And have you ever been in love with any of them?"

Aubrey laughed. "'Pon my word I don't believe I have. They all bore me,
or disgust me, after a time."

"Which do I do?"

"You?"

"Yes. Do I bore you, or the other thing? It didn't sound--nice. Tell
the truth now!"

"I hardly know," said Aubrey. "If I think of how you have impressed me
it represents a series of shocks, more or less startling. You look such
a child, and yet----"

"Do go on! I've never heard myself described before."

"And yet, last night, you seemed a woman in your grief, and loneliness."

"Last night seems a long way off," she said. "I don't think it's
in me to feel very deeply, or very long. Something comes to me,
or tears at me, and then--it's all over, and I forget. I think I
must be like my mother, only I hope I shan't fall in love with someone
after I've married George. It would distress him I'm afraid. And a
clergyman's wife must be of good behaviour."

"Powers above!" muttered Aubrey. "Did ever man hear the like!"




CHAPTER VIII.--"A HIDING-PLACE FOR FEAR"


UNTHINKING Aubrey Derringham had taken the road to Wareham. They passed
Wool, and crossed the railway line. To the right lay desolate moorland
ascending to the cliff heights of Durdle Bay, and St. Aldhelm's Head.
The moon escaping a bank of clouds shone full and clear over the wide
expanse.

"We shall see Corfe!" exclaimed the girl. "Oh, go on, please go on!
There is a gap in the hills, and we shall see the Castle! You know it,
do you not? That old, old ruin of Saxon times. It looks so strange, and
the village is so ancient."

"Corfe Castle? No, I have never seen it."

The sound was reminiscent of school days, and of English history
reduced to digestive tabloids for the youthful mind. Obedient to her
whim he took the road which mounted sharply upwards. Then he checked
the car, and for once shared the youthful enthusiasm of enjoying "a
view."

For suddenly the old ruin had shown itself. Great walls agape, and keep
and tower and bastion dimly suggested by an outline. Rugged and defiant
it stood on its lonely hilltop; with sightless windows gazing like
blind eyes on desolation. A strange record of man's strength, and man's
treachery.

"Beautiful--is it not?" murmured the girl. "Oh! I'm glad to see it
again, like this. The first time it was daylight, a school picnic. They
spoilt it for me. It was nothing to them. That wonderful old castle, so
old, so old, so old! One's mind can't believe it! They only laughed,
and ran races down the slope. Myself--I planned it all; the moat, the
keep, the drawbridge. It is there, between those two towers. How near
it seems, does it not? And yet there are miles between us."

"And a bad road. I fancy. Besides----"

He looked at his motor clock. The hands on the dial pointed to
half-past nine. She followed his glance.

"I suppose we must return? I am sorry." She suddenly clasped her hands.
"Oh--when one is happy, when one enjoys, why must it always end!"

"You have enjoyed this evening?" he questioned.

"More than anything in my life!" she exclaimed. "It goes to mark one of
its--sensations. I mean one of the things one really feels, and that
one knows one will never regret."

An odd little thrill, a sudden inability to say anything quite in
keeping with such frank simplicity stirred Aubrey Derringham's heart.
To anyone less frank and innocent it would have been easy to affect
recognition of a compliment. But he could not play man of the world
to-night. He too felt that there were times in life when the simple
things were the best; when one turned involuntarily to nature as friend
instead of foe.

He said nothing therefore, and the girl did not seem to remark his
silence. Her eyes, dark and glowing in the soft light, were gazing to
where the old castle towered in lonely glory. A landmark of time and
its changes. Her mind was absorbed in some dreams of those far-off
days. Kings and queens and belted knights, and royal vicissitudes.
Stirring times when a man's foot was in the stirrup, and the sword
was in his hand, and life for those who lived it was hazardous and
therefore sweet.

At last she drew a deep breath and turned to him. "That's over," she
said. "Let us go home."

His engine had stopped. He got out and set it going. Then backed the
car till turning was possible, and ran at full speed over the moorland
road and retraced the route to Weymouth. Not a word was spoken between
them. From time to time he glanced at her absorbed face, as she sat
with hands clasped on the Jaeger rug, and eyes staring straight ahead
at swiftly passed turns and twists and signposts. Only a browsing
horse, or a stray dog, relieved the picture of still life. The cottage
windows were dark; the road deserted. It seemed to the girl as if
she and her companion and the throbbing swift car that carried them
through the night were the only things in the world. All else was
dead, or dumb, or asleep. Never had she felt so vividly alive. So
conscious of something new and wonderful close at hand, yet not to be
translated into words. That rush through the air; the accident; the
queer disjointed talk, and then that long quiet meditation on the side
of the desolate moor, in sight of that desolate ruin, what a picture
they made. Something to be set aside, and treasured by reason of its
strangeness. Framed in beauty and unspoken mystery.

Then she thought how soon it would be all over. He would plunge back
into the great swirling torrent of life as London and society must mean
it, and for her there remained only its insignificant backwaters. He
had been so nice to her too, treated her, not as a foolish schoolgirl,
but as she had always wanted to be treated. No one believed she had
outgrown childish ideas, but she knew she had. She had known it since
that fateful day when her favourite cousin had turned that agonized
look on her from the prisoner's dock. She knew it now as her heart grew
sick and cold with every mile that measured a parting.

Only a few hours ago she had looked upon life as a thing settled and
ruled for her by wiser heads. She had been willing to accept what they
had decreed; had looked for content, if not for happiness. But now--a
restless dissatisfied spirit was at war within her heart, arguing,
suggesting. She shook herself impatiently and Aubrey asked she was
cold? His voice recalled her to the mediate present.

"Cold? Oh no! I was only wondering if I'd ever see you again."

"You suggested it, did you not, when Madame le Cur was to offer me the
hospitality of her parish rectory?"

"Ah--that! It was just foolish nonsense. I didn't know you, I mean.
I don't think I should like to see you in my house when I am Madame le
Cur."

"Indeed?" he said coldly. "I regret I have left so bad an impression."

"Bad!" She turned impulsively. "Bad--impression, did you say? Mon
Dieu! How stupidly I must have expressed myself! No, you are wrong;
quite wrong! It would not please me that we met under my husband's
roof. I might compare him with you. Do you see?"

"What then?" asked Aubrey, half inclined to laugh, and yet uncertain of
the wisdom of mirth at a crucial moment.

"What then? Ah! that I can't say now. I have to find out whether he
makes me content, as one says."

He noted she did not say "happy." Did she really expect nothing more
of wedded love and life than just--content? It added another link to
the puzzle she had become to him. All his knowledge of the world,
his experiences, convictions, instincts, left him only baffled and
perplexed before this extraordinary girl, who had whirled him from
surprise to surprise, emotion to emotion, only to disconcert him
more than ever by an admission too flattering to accept. A vain
coxcomb might have accepted it, and traded on its nave betrayal,
but Aubrey Derringham was essentially what the girl had frankly
characterized--vrai gentilhomme.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"Ah, the lights again! It is over!"

The girl turned impulsively as she spoke. One hand touched the arm of
her companion. "It was good, that long silence, was it not? Only two
who understand can be together in thought."

Aubrey slackened speed, and looked at the beautiful young face, so
strangely, unyouthfully grave.

"You don't even know my name," he said, "nor I yours."

"Yet we have known each other since last night, have we not? That
proves what I said. One finds a friend by instinct, not by any sort of
introduction."

"Yes, that must be so," he said.

The car swept round the curve of the road. The bay lay to their left,
a sheet of molten silver pierced here and there by a golden trail of
light from the moored vessels, or the waiting yachts.

"It has been beautiful this night, this drive, everything," she said
softly. "And now it is adieu. You go back to London to-morrow, do not?"

Something within him tempted him to say he was master of his own
actions. He need not go back on the morrow unless he desired, but
quickly following that thought came one more prudent. What use to
continue this acquaintanceship, to learn more of this quaintly
fascinating child than three meetings had shown him?

Mystery is alluring, but it is also dangerous. A character such as
had unfolded itself in so surprising a fashion was interesting beyond
doubt, but he was man enough to realize that though what one admires
may be forgotten, what interests one is apt to disturb. And he did not
care to be disturbed, by a girl, at thirty years of age!

"Are you never going to answer? I asked if you go back to-morrow?"

"Yes," he said abruptly. And then felt angry at having signed his own
warrant of banishment.

"So it must be adieu. I don't suppose we shall ever meet--again."

"You may come here sometimes?" he suggested.

"I wonder? . . . I think not. Everything will be different. I knew this
place as a child, as a girl. Somehow I don't want to come back when
that is all changed."

He slowed down more and more, trying to lengthen the few remaining
yards of distance.

"And what about your name? Am I to know it?"

"My name? Ah, I forgot! I have two. One, my mother gave me, and I love
it, and Madame calls me it. It is Rene."

"It suits you," he said softly. "It is a charming name."

"It is not altogether a girl's name," she went on. "But I was supposed
to be a boy. Mother used to pretend. Sometimes I was the little son she
had so desired. Perhaps had I been so, she would not have left me?"

Aubrey was conscious of sudden hot indignation. That a mother, her
mother, could have behaved so atrociously! It was unpardonable.

"The other name, my father's name, is Mary," she went on. "I don't like
it, though it is the name of Christ's own mother. It doesn't suit me. I
am not good, I am not a saint. Ma foi! Non! And yet I suppose I
must alter all that when I marry George Gale."

The car stopped. They were at the house, and he was gently unfolding
the soft folds of the Jaeger rug.

"It's no use to thank you!" she said abruptly. "But I'm sure you know
what it has been. Now, adieu--mon ami."

"You don't ask my name?" he said, as he took off his thick driving
glove, and accepted the frankly extended hand.

"No. I am not curious. I can remember you as you are without any silly
labels."

He released the slender hand.

"I hope," he said, "your life will be happy. And that this
first--trouble, may be its last."

"That sounds very nice. But you can't really believe that trouble stops
short at one dose, even a big one like this? I expect plenty more. It
is life, I know. What is it Balzac says? 'One must paint life in tints
of Fate.' And he knew something of the human heart, did he not?"

"You have read Balzac?"

"But, of course! Why not? Madame has him beautifully bound, all his
wonderful volumes. I read them in the last holidays. Cousine Bette,
and the Peau de Chagrin, and Eugnie Grandet, and Cousin Pons.
Poor, old, lonely man! Ah! that is sad, if you like. To be old, and
lonely, and unloved. You had better find yourself a wife, monsieur, or
that may be your fate."

She turned the handle of the door and it opened suddenly. Aubrey caught
sight of her, a slender figure standing under the dim gaslight of a
narrow hall; a loose wave of hair blown from under her cap, falling
over one flushed cheek.

Then she waved her hand, and closed the door. He drove back to the
hotel.

To think that he had once been bored with life! Had declared it a
succession of monotonous days without one real interest!

*  *  *  *  *  *

Chaffey was feeling a little perplexed.

The master whom he served so faithfully, loved so devotedly, had come
back to town a day later than arranged. More than that, he had come
back altered in some subtle and indescribable way. He was no longer
bored, listless, indifferent. On the contrary, a curious restlessness
had evinced itself, demanding active outlet.

He sought distraction in a confused and hurried fashion quite unlike
his former lazy indifference. He went out a great deal, returned home
at unseemly hours; would accept half a dozen engagements for one
evening and endeavour to keep them. The season was setting the pace at
a reckless expenditure of time, and money, and human energy. Aubrey
Derringham tried to keep up with it. No more dreaming hours of study
and solitude. Scarcely even time for those friendly semi-humorous
confabs beloved of the faithful valet. Above all, no return of interest
in that case which had, so it seemed, set the spark to hitherto
unkindled energies. That subject was closed, so it seemed. Chaffey had
spoken of his visit to Manchester, and his master had listened. But
after hearing the bald facts of old Jessop's return to a blameless
life, of the departure of the favoured nephew to his first "cure of
souls," of the absence of the "young lady," who was to be the partner
and sharer in such laudable enterprise, he had never returned to the
subject. Chaffey knew his place better than to force it upon him. He
ended his information by the remark that prisoners, on good conduct
terms, receive a visit from friends once in three months.

Aubrey had looked up quietly. "Is that so? How does one arrange it?"

Chaffey gave the details of request, formalities, and permission. Then
the subject dropped. He did not suspect that his master had made a
mental register of the facts; that at a later time he discussed the
matter with Joshua Myers, the prisoner's counsel; that there had sprung
up in his mind a longing to pay at least one visit to that place of
incarceration where Geoffrey Gale was detained.

Meantime the season was hurrying on through that mle of operas,
dances, picture shows, royal garden parties, races, river pageants,
which culminate in Goodwood and expire with Cowes. He seemed to be
everywhere and at everything worth being at. His friends chaffed him
for his unusual energy. Society mothers regarded him with hopeful eyes.
Derringham was really good-looking, and interesting when he liked; not
half so cynical or ill-natured as his reputation. So time sped on, and
only when he indulged in some long lonely "spin" did Aubrey ever let
himself think of that oddly fascinating child, who had once been his
companion. He wondered if she was still content to leave her fate in
other hands? The thought of her youth, her absolute unlikeness to the
pretty frivolous dolls he daily met, and danced and talked with, kept
her memory a thing apart, and in some way sacred. Innocence is one of
the most puzzling and beautiful attributes of feminine youth. He never
lost that impression of Rene Jessop's innocence. Yet he told himself
he did not wish to see her again. She had had a curiously disturbing
effect, and any pretence of friendship between a man of his experience
and a girl of her charm and loveliness would be impossible. It could
lead only to disaster, and he felt no desire to seek trouble or to
cause it. So it was that he threw himself into the frivolous stream
of life, and thrust disturbing memories aside by the reminder that
she might be married by now. In any case, her life and his must lie
apart--henceforward.

*  *  *  *  *  *

He was running up the steep hill to Hindhead. It was a Saturday night,
and he had suddenly resolved to spend Sunday in that lovely district.
As he reached the heights above the wonderful "dip" he paused, and
looked round. It was a perfect evening, warm and still; the scents of
pine and heather filled the air. After the closeness of London the
change was delicious. He felt glad he had come. But as he paused and
drank in the serene beauty of air and scene it occurred to him that
he was very lonely. His pleasures, such as these were, seemed always
solitary pleasures. It was rare to find a soul in unison, a mind
attuned to his own tastes or feelings. He looked at the vacant seat
beside him and knew that among all the crowds of men and women with
whom his life and the past three months were associated, there was
not one whom he would have cared to see in that vacant seat. It was
odd, very odd. But he ran through the catalogue, and again came that
conclusion. He drew out his case, and lit a cigarette, sitting there by
his steering wheel, and gazing with sudden discontent at the roseate
glow of the sky, and the grey shadows gathering in the great hollowed
bowl at his feet.

"How she would love this," he thought, and seemed to see again a
vivid face, and deep soft eyes, and hair that fell across the oval
outline of a young cheek.

What was there about this girl that set her apart and aloof in his
memory? That brought the sound of her voice; its rapid utterance, its
quick flights and fancies so close to his inner senses that to think
was to hear? Nothing in those past weeks had deadened that vivid sense
of her. He could put it aside for a time, but in moments like these
it rushed back like a tumultuous force. He felt he wanted to know if
her resolution held good, and yet he had not the courage to seek her.
Besides, it was no business of his whom she married.

He flung the cigarette away, and set the car in motion. He had wired
for a room at the hotel, and it was already dusk. "I wish I could
forget her!" he muttered savagely. "She seems to have a trick of
intruding on my solitude, and I hate it!"

But did he hate it--really? Would he rather have never met that
disturbing personality than know that his solitude was shared by her?
It was a difficult question to answer. And the answer was not given
then, or in the manner he expected.




CHAPTER IX.--"TO HELP A BROTHER'S SOUL"


WHEN romance first flashes across a hitherto colourless life it
is apt to be disturbing. It makes no direct appeal to heart and
senses as passion can and does make; rather it represents warmth and
colour hitherto lacking. It is as the subtle fragrance of unseen
flowers; a silent appeal to the latent chivalry in man, or the softer
susceptibilities of woman. It sends him to nature, and her to poetry;
exacerbating and yet fulfilling life. The "light that never was
on land or sea" gives hints of remoter glory. Absence and silence
become pleaders for a cause, and yet there has been no need of its
presentation.

To Aubrey Derringham these "off Sundays," when he escaped the madding
crowd and the pressure of engagements, were as fragments of solitude
broken off from the great fabric of social insincerities. Removed from
their influence he indulged in lonely rambles, queer unreasonable
thoughts, odd fancies of life as it never had been, and never could
be--for him.

But when he woke on that Sunday morning at Hindhead, he suddenly
recognized that peace of mind was not his for the seeking. Somehow it
had vanished, leaving only a riotous disorganization of thoughts and
desires behind it. And in that moment he faced the greatest thing in
life, and knew he must "have it out" with himself, in so facing it.

Without the motive power of love the human machine is only a machine
running without method. Aubrey Derringham had not exactly scoffed
at love as a weakness, he had ignored it as a force. It had seemed
perfectly easy to amuse oneself with a woman and then--forget her. The
world was so full of women, and they were all so much alike considered
as a sex. He had reached the safe vantage point of thirty years without
a serious entanglement, or a disturbing influence. And then in a moment
a girl's face, a girl's odd reckless confessions, had flashed across
his mind's content and lo!--there was content no longer!

It was humiliating; it was puzzling; but he had to face it as a truth.
To learn that however strong a man may be individually, a stronger than
he may force a confession of weakness, and though disarming him with
one hand, glorify him with the other.

He had spent the morning strolling, lounging, lazing in shady hollows,
with the aromatic breath of heather and pine in his nostrils; the
deep cloudless sky above the inky blackness of the woods. And in all
those hours he was fighting a desire to see this girl once more. To
see her while she was still--a girl. Before that man, whom he had seen
only once, but never forgotten, should have set the seal and right of
possession on her careless irresponsible youth.

He fought the idea in these solitudes as he had fought it in crowds,
and streets, amidst the babel and confusion of fashionable life. And
hard as was the fight, the longing triumphed.

He spent an hour consulting maps and routes, arguing that there was
no need to go back to town; that these long clear nights were made
for motor runs, and country solitudes. One could select one's route,
and go on and on to--Land's End, if one desired. Five hundred miles,
or thereabouts. A fascinating run. He looked at the long list of
stopping places; at the bordering counties. Surrey, Wilts, Hants,
Dorset--Dorset? Well, why not?

A curious tingling warmth came to his checks, as he asked himself that
question; his eyes still on Route No. I., and its connecting links with
No.'s XIV. and XV.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Abruptly he closed the book, and went back to the hotel for luncheon.
He read and dozed the hot afternoon hours away. At four o'clock
he ordered some tea, and directed that his bag should be brought
down. Then he paid his bill and took out his Mercedes, and with an
exhilarating sense, as of truancy from rigid discipline, he sped off
and away through the bordering lanes, and across wide highroads towards
Winchester.

So do men cheat themselves, all "pour le bon motif." So does Fate
weave her webs, and set her snares, smiling at the subterfuge which
alike entangles or entraps her victims.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Aubrey Derringham had never driven quite so recklessly as on that July
night. But then he had never driven to such a fury of stirring pulse
and mutinous heart-throbs.

The miles chased each other on the dial of his speedometer; the cool
air fanned his brow; the dust clouds swirled and eddied before his
eyes, and passed into confused density behind the big automobile.
And with every mile and every ascent and every recurring landmark,
his spirits rose, and he could have sung aloud for sheer joy of a
long-denied freedom.

*  *  *  *  *  *

He stopped twice. Once for some needed refreshment; again for petrol.

Then in the cool delicious night he caught sight at last of those
remembered heights of Purbeck, and it seemed to his foolish fancy
that the car recognized them also; so softly it glided, so sweetly it
purred. "Perhaps she will be with us again," it seemed to say, and
Aubrey wondered how owners of perfectly disciplined cars could ever be
ignorant of their intelligence.

Across those undulating downs he swept. At last before him lay the
sheeted silver of the bay, with enlacing threads of gold from vessels
and harbour and lighthouse. How familiar it looked. His heart grew
reminiscent as he rounded the curve of Preston, and ran rapidly along
by the shining pebble ridge. There, before him, lay the cluster of
houses. One of them her dwelling place. Marvel that it should
be just commonplace brick and stone, set amidst a dozen others as
commonplace.

He passed it slowly, the faint hoot of his horn sounding a signal. It
was all in darkness. He remembered that her window was on the other
side overlooking the bay. Of course she would not hear signals, or
associate them with his automobile if she did. The car rolled on, and
he stopped it again at the Gloucester. He was dusty, and tired, and
very hungry. A sleepy waiter offered the usual hotel fare.

"Cold roast beef, chicken, ham, tongue."

Aubrey ordered beef and salad, and a bottle of Bass, and felt a new man
before his meal was over. It was twelve o'clock when he went up to his
room, and threw the window wide to the sea and the night, and the quiet
stars.

Life seemed good to him at that moment. Peace settled on his soul.
He forgot that ominous monster crouched in stony defiance beyond the
breakwater. He only smoked and dreamed in the placid moonlight while
the gentle murmur of the sea came ever and anon to his ears.

"To-morrow," it seemed to say, and a sense of joy and expectance surged
to his brain, as he listened. "To-morrow?" . . . and that was here
almost. A few hours' sleep, a dream or two, and then the day.

It seemed now that he had foolishly sacrificed other days, other
hours. That he might have stayed in his Arcadia instead of flying to
other distractions just to put out of his head what never could be put
out of it. His eyes took in the beauty of sea and sky and space; the
beauty over which his eyes had so often rested. A sense of comradeship
returned. She had said once that she could trust him; she must never
unsay it. He would see her just once more, take the cool flower-like
hand in his own, wish her Godspeed in her new life, and then--well,
then he must cease to dream, and learn to live.

There was something to do in that great world beyond. Some fellow-soul
to help, some saner, cleaner mode of life than the flneurs and
wasters of cities believed in. He would go abroad again. To Africa and
its wilds, or Asia and its mysteries. Away from this endless round
of pretended pleasures, the vapid frothy extravagance of a corrupt
civilization. He would take Chaffey with him, and seek adventure on
new lines. Give up these idle dreams; these indolent comforts. Follow
in the footsteps of pioneers of new industries; new lands brought
new interests. He would--well, there was everything apparently that
he would do, and only one thing he would not: set forth on such
enterprise without one more sight of Rene Jessop's face; one more
clasp of Rene Jessop's hand.

Rene--the name was on his lips, softly breathed as a prayer or
blessing. She was his last thought as sleep overtook him, and he passed
with a single stride out of a soiled and difficult world to the Kingdom
of Rest.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"It is you! Really you!"

She was standing by the open window when he had first seen her. He was
holding her hands, both of them. Her face was like a rose in its fresh
young beauty, her eyes--he thought of violets with the dew of morning
in their hearts. And all about her waved the splendour of her hair,
sun-dried after her morning swim.

He had waited for her return, and Madame Gascoigne had entertained him.
He had seen her cross the lawn, and come swiftly up to the house. Had
heard her soft cry of amazement, and then found himself holding her
hands, and stammering something about a "motor tour," embracing this
Special coast en route for the Land's End.

"How perfectly lovely!" she cried rapturously. "All by yourself!" she
added. "I call that selfish!"

A sudden idea flashed across Aubrey Derringham's mind. If she and
Madame Gascoigne would like a motor run, he would be only too happy to
take them.

Rene gave a little cry of delight. "Oh, Madame! did you ever hear
such a perfectly entrancing suggestion! A tour, a thing of
days--not hours, and in that exquisite car, that rolls on velvet,
and flies the hills like a bird! Oh! I've lived that night over and
over again! But I never thought you would remember me! I suppose it was
only because this was on your route of the tour?"

"Yes," said Aubrey mendaciously. "I was going to Bridgeport, and
thought I'd just stay here for the night. Then, this morning, I called
on the chance of your being still with Madame Gascoigne."

"It is my last week here," she said. "I have a right to make the most
of it, have I not? Madame, you hear? What do you say?"

The old lady seemed unable to say anything very clearly. The suggestion
was alarming in its suddenness, besides being unconventional enough
to startle her slow travelling wits. She stammered objections. Rene
combated them all. Distance meant nothing in that winged marvel! And
they had never been to Cornwall, and she had always wanted to go, and
now here was the chance! Incommode Monsieur? But why? If he was going,
and there was room, two passengers would not make much difference!
Luggage? Well, what would they want except a dressing-bag, and a rug
strap? Was there room for that?

Aubrey declared there was plenty of room. He would show them if they
came round to the garage. Rene declared that quite unnecessary. Did
she not know the space and convenience and comfort of the beautiful
thing! Besides, there were arrangements to make. The servants must be
left in charge, and dressing-bags packed, and a motor veil purchased
for Madame. Why waste any of the precious hours of the wonderful day?

"And what of letters?" demanded the bewildered Madame. "Money matters
too? This impetuosity----"

Aubrey interposed. The tour was to be his affair. A--a wedding present
to Mademoiselle Rene, if she would look at it in that light?

Mademoiselle Rene decided it was a perfectly charming point of view.
The best wedding present she had received! Fancy comparing salt-cellars
and sugar-tongs and toast-racks with a proper automobile tour in--oh,
such an adorable car!

She concluded her arguments by smothering Madame Gascoigne with kisses,
and hurrying her off to the kitchen to give parting directions to the
servants. Then she flashed round upon Aubrey Derringham, and for a
moment seemed to contemplate a similar bewildering form of gratitude.
However she stopped short at a butterfly touch on his hands, and a
whirlwind of thanks for the splendid idea.

It had occurred to Aubrey only five minutes previously and now it was
an arranged plan of action.

He marvelled at the audacity of the suggestion but then told himself
that after all it is audacity that carries men to success. Here was an
instance.

"You won't let Madame change her mind," he urged. "You will come?"

"Trust me! Such a chance is altogether too glorious to be thrown aside.
How long do we tour? Three, four days?"

"It is a long way to Land's End," said Aubrey diplomatically.

"No matter! We have a week!" cried the girl recklessly. "One free
glorious week, for which I shall have to thank you. Not one single
thing in all the world could make me so happy--except----"

"Yes?" questioned Aubrey, as he watched the paling face.

"Except--that my poor Geoffrey was free once more, that I could see him
again before----"

Her voice broke suddenly. "No, I won't think! I must not! I have
cried enough. I want to be happy a little while, and not think of
anything--anything in the world----"

Their eyes met. What she saw in his stopped her speech, drew a little
puzzled frown to her brows. How strangely he was regarding her.

"Except ourselves," she finished abruptly. "Which sounds selfish and
abominable, and is therefore perfectly nice, as all bad things are!
Now, when do we start?"

"Will an hour be sufficient for you, or would you rather have your
luncheon first?" asked Aubrey. "We could get it at Bridgeport, if you
like?"

"Ah, yes!" she cried eagerly. "The sooner we go the better. I shall not
feel it really has happened until we are off!"

"You don't think Madame Gascoigne will change her mind?" again asked
Aubrey anxiously.

"If she does I shall not change mine!" was the defiant answer. "And as
it would not be convenable that I go a motor tour alone with a young
man she must come to chaperone me. You see?"

He saw, and hoped it would be as she said. The mad suggestion of a
moment had suddenly materialized into a bewildering reality. He could
hardly credit that for long hours, days, they would be together,
side by side in cool mornings, sunny noons, moonlit nights. Life was
unfolding itself to him in a new fashion. He was not going to question
its purport. Sufficient the day and the hour and the joy they brought.

It was odd that he never asked himself how that "sad word joy" was
to be translated by such incongruous elements as a motor tour and a
schoolgirl!




CHAPTER X.--"TO COMFORT OR CONSOLE"


PUNCTUAL to the moment the car drew up.

An ecstatic face appeared at the door, and hailed it. "It's all right!
We are ready! I've told Madame we can buy motor veils in the town. I
wouldn't lend her mine. It was my first, and you gave it to me!"

Aubrey Derringham's heart gave a foolish throb. Careless as the words
were they seemed significant of some deeper meaning beneath. Then a
neat maid appeared carrying a fair-sized dressing-bag and some rugs.

"You will get frightfully dusty," said Aubrey to Rene. "You ought to
have a regular motor coat. Alpaca, or something, that would go over
your ordinary dress. Get that too, at the draper's in Thomas Street.
I'll wait for you."

She nodded. "It can go down to my trousseau account," she said.

Aubrey winced at the careless words. They awoke a memory before which
the glory of the day and the thoughts of its projects shrank into
sudden disfavour. At the same moment Madame Gascoigne appeared. She
evidently had some sense of travelling wraps, and was shrouded in a
long loose dust cloak. He helped her into the car, and wrapped a rug
round her. She made room for Rene.

"Oh, no! I sit there, in the front," exclaimed that wilful young
person. "I am to get out at Talbot's," she added, "and secure a motor
coat, and a veil for you, chrie."

"Are you quite comfortable? Would you like a cushion?" enquired Aubrey.

"Oh, no, this is a most delightful seat." She leant back and smiled and
nodded at them both.

"Ah--but wait till it flies!" exclaimed Rene. "Then--it is to live."

Aubrey helped her in, and then crossed to his own seat. He pulled the
lever, and they glided off. He drove very slowly along the sea front,
and through the main street. Rene made her purchases with surprising
quickness, and returned in a long grey coat, that matched her veil. It
had a collar that turned up over her pretty ears, and defied dust to
disfigure it. She arranged a dust-coloured veil over the old lady's
close-fitting toque, and then sprang up to her seat beside Aubrey; a
cool grey figure, with flushed cheeks and eager eyes.

They had to make a detour for the main Dorchester road, and then ran
through Upwey, and its pretty wooded valley. Thence past Maiden Castle,
with its stupendous earthworks reminiscent of Roman invasion, and so
through the quaint old town to Dorchester.

From time to time Rene would look back to talk to the old lady, or
demand admiration of the scene, or the car's progress. At other moments
she insisted upon being told the various meanings of regulating or
changing speeds, use of brakes and handles and throttle and lever,
until at last she suggested driving it herself.

"Wait till we get to Cornwall," said Aubrey. "Then one morning I'll
find a quiet deserted road, and you shall experiment. In the meantime
if you watch me you'll acquire the technique of your lesson, before
the first trial."

She did watch him very closely, and got into her head the methods of
changing speeds "uphill," and the mode of steering or driving by the
curious round wheel which demanded equal skill of left and right hand.

At Bridgport they lunched and rested an hour. Then they ran on, and
began to ascend the heights which dip gradually to the coast, and so
lead to Charmouth and Lyme Regis. At that enchanting spot they halted
again for tea, and, as Madame Gascoigne said: to shake off dust for
a time. Aubrey had suggested Exeter as their stopping place for the
night, but as it was only thirty miles further, he advised waiting till
the cool of the evening. Madame had her tea, and was then shown to a
room to rest and refresh herself. Rene, having delivered up her dusty
wraps to the attentive "Boots," declared she must run down to the sea.
Aubrey put up the car and accompanied her.

The exquisite little seaside nook enchanted them as it does most
people on first sight. The "Cobb" seemed infinitely more desirable
than the Weymouth Pier, with its garish modern Pavilion. The little
town, nestling amidst wooded hills, breathed of peace and harmony to
tired souls. They sat down on the sands, and watched the boats and the
children at play. Then Rene wished to know if they couldn't motor
only in the early mornings and cool of the evenings, and spend the
intervening hours "exploring," as she termed it. They pored over the
"motor map," and traced the mileage, and Aubrey discovered they might
really spend two days in accomplishing 173 miles!

He laughed to himself as he said it. An average of 86 miles a day for
his Mercedes. But if Rene had suggested ten, he would have agreed.
Eagerly she planned where they would stop; what they should do, and
see. It involved a good deal of circumlocution as to route, but of
that Aubrey made light. A week seemed long enough to do anything her
wilfulness desired. At last they put aside the map, and an elaborate
pencilled calculation of Rene's own making, and returned to the "Lion"
for Madame. A quarter of an hour later they were again switchbacking
over hills, and heights, and dropping gradually down to the Axe Valley.

Long before they reached Cornwall Madame Gascoigne expressed herself
"enchanted" with her first experience of motoring. Well she might, for
everything ran on velvet, so to say. Aubrey telegraphed for rooms and
dinners, so that every stopping place meant convenient arrangements.
The long days in the open air induced sleep, and a pleasant sense of
fatigue. Madame would retire early after dinner, but Rene usually
insisted on seeing the special sights of any town where they stayed.
Aubrey Derringham had to provide himself with guide-books, so as to
satisfy her ardent curiosity on every point.

The Wednesday night found them speeding over the bleak Cornish
moorland, which stretches from Penzance to the Land's End. Rene had
decided she must see that famous promontory under the most romantic
auspices.

"Don't speak a single word to me!" she commanded. "Just leave me alone
till we come right up to the cliff, as far as we can go. I know it.
I've seen the picture, and I want to feel what it must be--the end
of the land; the end of England and before one the great raging ocean,
and the far-off lights of the Scillies! Let me see if it is like that!
I hope so. I do so want it to be!" They had left Madame Gascoigne
at Penzance, she having decided to visit Land's End and other notable
places by daylight. But she had not gainsaid Rene's wish to go off in
the moonlight with their kindly guide. It was a queer fancy, but the
child was full of queer fancies, and if it pleased her to see that wild
place under odd conditions why--she would see it. There was no more to
be said.

The trustful spirit of the old French lady put Aubrey Derringham on
his honour. She never seemed to think that the beauty, and youth, and
witchery of her young charge might hold any power to fire a man's
pulses; or tempt his senses into paths where they had no right to
stray. To Madame she was still "the child." Still the adored and
spoilt creature who had been her charge so long. The nearness of her
marriage only seemed a safeguard where other men were concerned. Aubrey
Derringham knew of it, therefore Aubrey was safeguarded.

Had she seen the young man's face, or pried into his heart as he sat
beside that silent girl, she might have altered her opinion.

The car sped swiftly over the stony road. Past granite towers of queer
little churches, and granite houses in queer little villages. Past
hedgerows and outcrops of the same stony substance. There was no colour
in the landscape. It was all dull grey, and dull granite, save for
queer patches of moss, or lichen, or a spark of mica where the moonrays
caught the stone.

Nothing seemed to move in that shadowy greyness. No figure; not even a
stray sheep, or a wandering dog. To Aubrey Derringham it seemed like
part a dream, in which he acted mechanically. A dream from which he was
awakened by the thunder of the sea, and the lights of scattered houses.

He stopped and turned to his companion. "We must walk to the cliff," he
said.

She made no answer, save to throw her rug aside and spring out. Aubrey
loitered a moment to switch off the engine. Its noise seemed to jar
with the peace and beauty of the scene. When he turned to follow the
slim grey figure it was far in advance. The ground was all broken
granite and rough turf, leading to the dangerous edge of sheer stony
cliffs. Below, the sea broke and thundered over boulder and reef. A
mile away rose the tall shaft of the Longship lighthouse. To the south
towered the Wolf, and all before them lay the wide Atlantic, heaving
and restless as a chained force restrained by savage strength.

The cliff towered above a jagged mass of broken rocks, whose outer
points severed the advance of the water like the teeth of a saw.
Nothing seemed alive but those restless waves, the ever dominating
voice of nature's strength.

The girl was standing motionless on the cliff edge, gazing down at the
fierce turmoil below. Aubrey joined her, and stood silently by her
side, awaiting her pleasure to speak. Once as he glanced around he
thought how utterly alone they were. How removed from all the falsities
and insincerities of the world beyond. Just the sky, and sea, and the
solemn peace of night, and that strange harmony of the restless waters
at their feet.

Suddenly the girl drew a long deep breath. "What little foolish things
we seem--here!" she said.

"I was thinking that," said Aubrey.

"Chattering, laughing, pretending," she went on. "As if our stupid
affairs mattered to the Creator of that!" She pointed outwards to
the great silvered ocean, so vast, so mysterious, so unutterably beyond
man's power to control, or defy.

"Pretending?" echoed Aubrey, snatching at the one word which was
self-revealing.

"Pretending to be important; to be happy; to want our lives changed for
us because--because we have changed to them."

He was silent; startled by the expression of her face, as she lifted
her head to the clear moonlight. All its soft young beauty seemed to
quiver with passionate resentment. What did it mean? What had changed
her life, or its outlook?

She put up her hand, and pushed the hair from her brow. Then she moved
a few steps backward. "It makes me giddy. I had no idea the sea could
be like that."

"You have seen it only as a bay."

"It is awful!" she whispered. "So strong, so fierce, so
merciless. . . . Is life like that--ever?"

"Yes," he answered. "Very like that. A relentless force carrying us on
and on, to--achieve our destiny, or face our failures."

"Face our failures; our defeat, you mean. We are not so strong as
nature, are we?"

"That's a puzzling question. Not so strong as the force you are facing
there, below. That's why one hopes that mistakes will be forgiven.
They're so easy to make; so hard to remedy."

"I was thinking of Geoffrey," she said.

"I was thinking of--you."

When he had said it he felt angered at the folly of such a speech. She
turned quickly to him.

"Of me? . . . You think I have made a mistake?"

"I have grown to know you rather well, in these long days together. The
more I know of you the more afraid I feel for you."

"You don't like my marriage?" she said, very low. "Is it the fact, or
the person? No, it can't be that. You don't even know him."

"I have seen him," he said impulsively.

"Where?"

"In the Court, that day when--when I first saw you."

"You can't judge of a person's character by just seeing them--once?"

"Perhaps not. An opinion looks like prejudice."

Again she sighed.

"I'm beginning to wish I'd never met you," she said. "You make me
think."

"Perhaps it is as well you should begin to do that," he said, "if you
are so soon to take the responsibilities of life upon your shoulders."

Impulsively she seized his arm. "Oh, but that's just why I wanted these
seven perfectly empty days! I know that never again will such days
or hours come to me. . . . I don't want to spoil one. That's why I
wish you hadn't been--been so different----"

"Different?" he echoed.

"From them. From George, from Geoffrey. I know no other men. Father
doesn't count."

"And am I very different from George and Geoffrey?"

She nodded, and released his arm.

"Absolutely. I can't understand why. Look here," she flashed round
again. "As I'm speaking out my mind to-night, I want to ask you
something."

"Ask," he said tersely.

"You mustn't be angry. I know I oughtn't to. But, the others don't
care, and they don't believe in him as I do."

"Believe--in who?"

"In Geoffrey, in his innocence. I have learnt that after three months
he can receive one visit from a friend. Father won't go, nor George.
I can't. There's only you. I made up my mind I'd ask you. And
when I stood there, and looked down at that fierce raging sea below,
it seemed to me like life, gripping, pressing one down to depths of
despair! Oh--I don't want my poor boy to get desperate! I want him to
know--someone--believes in him, and loves him, and remembers him! And I
want you to go and tell him that."

Aubrey felt too astonished for words. "But--I'm not a friend," he
stammered. "He might think it an impertinence if I visited him."

"Not if you say I sent you."

"And what of his brother? He may ask why he did not come?"

"Perhaps he will. Say you don't know, that's all."

"And you think he will rest satisfied with that? Hadn't I better say he
is on his honeymoon?"

She flashed round like a fury. "How perfectly hateful of you to say
that! And to-night of all nights!"

Aubrey tingled with shame at her passionate words.

"Please forgive me. It was thoughtless."

"Cruel!" she said. "Didn't I tell you I had emptied my heart of
everything, just for seven perfect days, and now--you've spoilt it
all!"

"I--I didn't know----"

"Not only have you hurt me, but you want to hurt Geoffrey. What would
he think of my getting married, only three months after he had been
condemned to such a fate?"

Aubrey was silent. He could not tell her how illogical she was. He was
afraid of tears. They seemed dangerously near her eyes. If she wept he
felt his self-command would go to pieces. It was hard enough to keep it
under control, even as things were.

"Why don't you speak?" she went on presently. "Have I asked something
you don't want to do? If so, just say no, at once, and there's an end
of it."

"But I want to see Geoffrey!" he exclaimed. "Don't you know I've always
believed in him?"

"Then why didn't you say so at once, instead of--very nearly
quarrelling about it?"

"Because, you ought to consider your cousin's feelings, even if you
don't trouble about him."

"Geoffrey would be only too glad that someone from the outer world had
remembered. If you said what I told you to say, he would know you were
a friend of mine."

"Listen to me, you child of impulse!"

"No, not if you're going to argue. That'll bring all the trouble back,
all the memories I've put away. If you are my friend, as you said
once, then all I want is for you to say: 'Yes, I'll go.' We needn't
talk about it any more. We needn't spoil--a night like this. We shall
understand it's a compact, and when I get home again I'll tell you the
date, and how to apply for admission."

"Perhaps I could find that out myself," he said. "My brother is
a friend of the Home Secretary. Could, I think, procure an order
independent of the family."

"Then it is--yes?"

"Of course," he said.

She regarded him gravely. "I've often wondered," she said, "if you were
some great person? You've let out so many things, and you seem to know
so many people. Yet 'Mr. Derringham' doesn't convey anything to me. If
you were Lord Derringham now----"

Aubrey laughed. "I assure you I'm only a plain 'Mister.'"

"And you seem so rich?" she said thoughtfully. "Yet you have no
business, or profession? Madame was saying yesterday that she could not
imagine why you should have taken all this trouble about us? It wasn't
as if you knew us? We were never even introduced, were we?"

"Do you think that matters?"

"With you--no. But it might with some men. Now, really and truly, why
did you bother to take us this motor tour?"

"Simply to give you a pleasure you desired."

"But isn't it rather unusual for--people, almost strangers, to do such
generous things?"

"You called me selfish, and I felt I must rise above such an
accusation. For goodness' sake don't talk as if I'd done anything very
wonderful! Here was my big empty car, and my stupid empty life. What
better use could I have found for them--than--than just what I have
found?"

She turned her soft eyes to his face. There were tears in them now.

"To think I called you selfish! You, who never seem to think of
yourself at all, only of us and for us. It's I who am a selfish little
beast! Making you do everything I want, never asking you if it's a
trouble, or if you want to do it, or, or----"

"Oh, hush!" he said, deeply shocked at the misapplied epithet. "I've
enjoyed these days more than any I've ever known. As for trouble--it's
been no trouble to go where you wanted to go, or stop where you wanted
to stop, or let you hold the steering wheel on a quiet road. I'm only
sorry that we've come to the end of the trip, so far. Of course there's
the return journey."

"But every day will mean going back instead of going on," she said
regretfully. "And I'm not 'empty' now, I've begun to fill up again.
Thoughts, duties, memories, they'll all come crowding back as soon as
we leave Cornwall. And that's to-morrow, isn't it?"

"There's plenty of Cornwall to see, besides this," he said. "And I
thought we might return by a different route."

"But still it will be return. Do let us stay here all to-morrow?
Friday is soon enough to go back."

"Too soon, if you ask me," he said.

"That sounds nice. I am glad we haven't bored you."

She moved away a few steps, and stood again looking down at the foaming
waters.

"It is wonderful, and I shall always be glad I saw it with you," she
said softly. "Often and often I shall think of to-night and how you
said you believed in Geoffrey, and that you would do what I asked."

He thought jealously that she spoke of Geoffrey Gale more often and
more tenderly than she ever spoke of his brother. Then a sudden sharp
suspicion rushed through his mind. Could it be that it was the younger
brother she loved? And was she sacrificing herself for some reason of
which he, Aubrey Derringham, was ignorant?




CHAPTER XI.--"AS ONE WHO LIES AND DREAMS"


"ALL the best things of my life have come to me at night," said Rene
suddenly.

Aubrey Derringham started from a long reverie in which thought had
revolved like a squirrel in a cage, round and round from one special
centre.

"My first friend, my first motor drive, and now--this!" She pointed
to the silvered width of the sea, and the great broken battlements
stretching far and wide as the land's defence against its force.

"Oh! I am glad I saw it at night," she went on. "I am glad I saw it
with--you."

"Isn't there someone you would rather have had in my place," asked
Aubrey, striving for indifference yet jealously fearful of reply.

"No," she said promptly. "You suit it, and me, and the way it all came
about. I shall love to think of that long silent drive; that great
purring thing conveying us so swiftly and surely through lonely spaces.
The stars above, the cool air in my face, and all this waiting for
me."

She paused, but he said nothing. What was there to say? She was only a
child, speaking frankly as a child speaks.

"And now it's over," she said suddenly. "We must go back. I wonder if
I shall ever come here again? Somehow--I don't think I shall want to.
Things never happen twice in the same way, do they?"

"No," he said huskily. "You can't repeat an emotion, in exactly the
same way."

"Will you ever come here again?" she asked. "But of course you will.
You are free to do what you please, and your car is like the Genie of
the Lamp. You say: 'Take me here, or there,' and it obeys."

"I wonder," said Aubrey suddenly, "if--I might----?" He broke off
abruptly. He hated to say the one word that would excuse a gift,
however costly.

"Might--what? How you do break off your sentences to-night."

"I was wondering if I might send you a little car? Just for yourself?
Easy to drive, and keep in order."

"A car! For myself! My very own! You perfect angel of a man, do you
really mean it?"

She clasped his hand in both her own. Her face was joy and wonder
incarnate. Her eyes like stars.

"Of course I mean it. I've seen the very thing. It only holds two, and
is so simple a child could drive it."

"But then, there's the cleaning, and repairs, and a place to keep it
in? Oh--I'm afraid it can't be! Besides, George might not like me to
have one."

"You're surely not going to sign away your freedom with your name?"
said Aubrey savagely.

The magic of the night was in his veins. He wanted to see that rapture
kindle for him; to thrill at her warm hand-clasp, and know himself the
bringer of all that joy and delight which overflowed from eyes and lips.

"It will be yours--yours alone. A gift from a friend. He can't
interfere. Besides, why should he? Life will be dull enough for you in
one of those remote Devon villages. A car to take you about over the
moors, and through the lanes, will be a little relief from the dulness."

"Relief? It will be heaven! But----"

"Never mind the 'buts.' We'll find a way to answer them. I'll give you
a few lessons, and it will be quite an easy car. They're specially made
for ladies. You're sure to have a gardener, or some man of all work,
attached to the place, and he'll be able to keep it in order. If he
can't, there's a garage in nearly every town. The car would be looked
after there. By the way, what will be your nearest town?"

"I don't know," she said.

"Don't know?"

"The parish is called Shapsdown. George said it was very remote, and
the church very old."

"I will look it out in the guide-book," said Aubrey. "Unless"--he
paused, and glanced at her excited face. "Unless you'd like to
return that way?"

"But it's somewhere up on Dartmoor, miles and miles from towns and
roads. We'd never be able to get there!"

He laughed. "You forget the 'Genie of the Lamp,'" he said.

"No, I don't forget." Her face grew troubled. "I don't want to see the
place," she added, "only to know if there is a town anywhere near."

"Well, let us go to the town, not to the place."

"But could we, really? In three days? I want to be in Manchester on
Monday, and I must go back to Weymouth first."

"You would have to sacrifice the idle day you promised yourself
here. We must get back to Plymouth, and branch off to Dartmoor. But
I must look at the map."

"You really are a perfect angel!" she repeated. "What is it one calls
'the time of one's life'? That's what you're giving me."

"Oh, my dear," he said, with sudden passion breaking through restraint,
"what is there I wouldn't give you--if I only might!"

She stood quite still, and looked at him with the puzzled wonder of a
child. What had he meant? Why was his face so white, and his eyes so
strange? A momentary fear came to her in that moment. The fear of some
force she had called up, and which threatened disaster.

"Let us go!" she said hurriedly. "Madame will be anxious. She said I
must go to her room when I get back, and tell her all about this."

She turned quickly towards the car, and Aubrey followed. What madness
had prompted him to betray himself? To startle that dreaming peace of
girlhood, and shake her trust in the friend whose care she claimed?
He said not a word, only helped her to her seat, and wrapped the rugs
round her slender figure. Then he started the engine, and sent the car
back over the bleak moorland, with its weird cairns and crosses and
circles, and so past the little hamlets of St. Buryan and Sennen to
that pretty Cornish seaside resort--Penzance.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Not till they were in sight of its lights did Aubrey break the silence.
Then he said softly: "You're not angry with me, Miss Rene?"

"Angry?" She turned swiftly. "Why, I've been thinking it all over
again, and wondering why you are so good to me?"

"But you've not spoken a word?"

"No more have you."

"I waited your Highness's pleasure," he said, with an effort at
lightness. "I promised to do everything you wished to-night."

"You're spoiling me!" she cried passionately. "Madame was quite right.
She said so, and I--only laughed."

"Please laugh again?" he entreated. "For it isn't true, I couldn't
spoil you. Indulgence hurts no one so young, and frank, and innocent
as yourself. And the greatest pleasure I've ever known has been
this--happy time we've had together--you and I."

"You and I--and the car," she added. "Yes. It has been happy. I'm glad
you're not bored after all. I'm only a foolish schoolgirl, not much
company for a man, I should say."

"I wish I had never had--worse," said Aubrey passionately. "But there,
child, for goodness' sake don't let us get sentimental. We've steered
clear of that, so far. Now, there's to-morrow to think of, and plan
for. I'll have it all cut and dry. We needn't make too early a start.
You ought to see Mousehole, and Newlyn, the artists' quarters here, and
there's Saint Michael's Mount. I'll take you to them all, and then,
later in the day, we'll start for Plymouth again."

She clasped his arm in her impetuous way. "You dear man! I think I love
you almost as much as Geoffrey!"

And again Aubrey's heart said jealously: "Is it--Geoffrey--after all?"

*  *  *  *  *  *

The night of Friday found them at Tavistock.

Aubrey and Rene had pored over maps measured mileage, and come to the
conclusion that it was the nearest town to her future home. But it was
odd that the girl refused to go to that special home, where her life
was to be spent.

Her slender finger, tracing out so many names, so many meanings, had
paused--once--at Princetown. She looked at Aubrey Derringham, and he
read what was in her mind.

"But--he--isn't there," he questioned.

"No, not yet. He may--be."

"Good heavens!"

In a flash he seemed to read some fresh trouble in store, linked with
association, carrying her into a region of danger and perplexity. If
Geoffrey was drafted from his present quarters to that remote convict
prison at Princetown--would it not be a constant reminder of his
proximity?

He looked at the map. Princetown was only seven miles from their
present stopping place, and the little parish of Shapsdown was hidden
away in one of those dips of the moor above which tower the granite
tors of Crockern and Hessary. It was so small and so insignificant as
not to be worth guide-book description. Aubrey wondered why it needed a
Parish Church or a rector and supplementary curate at all? The thought
of burying such lovely bright youth as Rene's in so desolate a region
seemed an absolute cruelty. Quickly his eyes scanned the names or
unimportance of the scattered towns. Plympton, Ashburton, Chagford,
Moreton Hampstead. Well, at least there would be some semblance of
life there, and the little car would bring her into touch with it.
The history of the great moor suddenly began to live for him in this
history of tor, and hut circles; of barrows and cairns. He wondered it
had never occurred to him to motor over so interesting a district. He
pictured its rugged desolation; its granite strength; the fantastic
ridges and formations, which had made some sixty miles of prehistoric
history, and had now become a tourist-exploited region with a fame of
its own.

"Why are you staring at that name?" asked Rene at last.

He glanced down to where his finger rested, and saw a name that
conveyed nothing.

"Two Bridges."

"It's a queer name," said the girl. "Why are there bridges on a moor?"

"I don't know, unless there's a river. We seem deplorably ignorant
of the locality." He turned to the hotel guide-book and read: "'Two
miles in an easterly direction we cross the Blackbrook by a clapper
bridge'--there's the explanation."

"But only one bridge!"

He laughed. "Shall we go over to-morrow and see if there are two?"

"Oh--shall we?" She sprang to her feet. "But--wait," she added. "Isn't
it near--Shapsdown?"

"A few miles. But there's no motor road."

She glanced to where Madame Gascoigne was placidly slumbering in a deep
old-fashioned chair by the fireplace.

"She might wish to see it."

"Well, why not?" he said sharply.

She looked at him as if surprised at his tone. "I told you I didn't
want to go there--before I must."

"I suppose you have a reason? But it seems to me that now you are
so near, your future husband might reasonably expect you would feel
sufficiently interested in his parish to visit it?"

"What a horrid prim speech! I'm not interested, and I'm not going.
We've found out all that's necessary, haven't we?"

"But we could have found that out by the guide-book."

"Yes, I suppose so. Only I wanted to see what Tavistock was like."

"There are places nearer and more convenient for your car," he
suggested. "I really think we ought to explore a little."

"Aren't you very tired of driving so long, and so far?" she asked
suddenly. "It seems such hard work."

"It isn't exactly--easy. But the car has behaved so well that I don't
mind."

"May I try it on the moor, if we go?"

Aubrey laughed. "That's saying you want to go after all?"

"I do, and I don't. I want to see it--with you. But I don't want you
to see--that place."

"We will pretend that it doesn't exist. There seems to be a charming
hotel at this 'Two Bridges.' Let us lunch there, and do a little of the
moor on foot. Madame can have her afternoon rest. We will come back in
the cool of the evening. The next day we start on the homeward route.
We shall have to travel all day Sunday."

She looked at him thoughtfully. "And you go back to London?"

"Yes. I'm going to see about your car."

"How am I to learn to drive it, if . . . if you send it?"

"I will send someone to teach you. He is my own chauffeur. Excellent,
and very careful. He can stay until you are quite perfect."

They were both taking it for granted that George Gale would make no
objections either to gift, or instructor.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The sky was dull and overcast next morning. There was a promise of rain
in the air. Madame Gascoigne decided that she would not go up on the
moor. She had read of it as a wild lonely place, and pictured it devoid
of shelter, or habitation. She requested to be left at the comfortable
"Bedford," and announced a determination to see what there was to be
seen of the town. The long days in the car were a little tiring, though
she would not acknowledge it, and she rather desired a day to herself.

So Aubrey Derringham and Rene started alone over the wide splendid
road, and made their first acquaintance with the region that was
destined to play an important part in their lives.

At first sight Dartmoor looks like some medival giant's playground.
A place of rugged crests and curious peaks; of rushing torrents, and
semi-volcanic upheavals. Everywhere are grotesque shapes; everywhere
are rock and granite, shattered and disintegrated by some freak of
nature. Yet in some softened mood she has tried to atone for such
freaks by a gift of lovely gorges, of wild ravines, of green valleys,
melting into huge tracts of morass and bog. Wide and well-cared roads
cross and re-cross the moorland; ascending to heights, dipping to river
beds, bringing to town and village the tourist, or explorer, or some
student of nature bent on geological information.

Clouds were still ominous when the car reached the hotel at Two
Bridges. The place looked very desolate. Crocker Tor was shrouded in
mist; the grey stone hostelry looked bare and uninviting. But as they
entered Rene gave an exclamation of rapture.

She had stepped into a long low room, where a cheerful fire blazed
welcome. Low tables, and chintz-covered chairs and couches gave a
modern yet homely touch. After the bleak moor and cold grey mist, it
all looked delightfully home-like and inviting.

Such a place in the midst of such a desolate region was a surprise. It
turned out to be a favourite summer resort for anglers, a crowd of whom
came in to lunch.

"Princetown is just above," said Rene, who had been talking to an
attentive waiter. "He asked if we were going there. Most people do."

"But we decided that we wouldn't, you know? This is a dreary region. I
think Madame Gascoigne was wise to remain behind."

"Shapsdown is only six miles off," said the girl, with a sudden shiver.

She looked out of the queer little casement at the bleak tors and the
rushing stream. Then suddenly her face paled. She turned to Aubrey, who
had come up to her side.

"Did you see those two fishermen, just coming in!" she exclaimed
breathlessly. "One of them is my cousin--George!"




CHAPTER XII.--"FOR FETTERED LIMBS GO LAME"

ALMOST on her words the two anglers came into the warm bright room,
carrying their rods and baskets.

The girl went swiftly forward, and Aubrey, watching, caught sight of
the astonished face of the young cleric as he recognized her.

She explained matters in her usual "taken-for-granted" fashion. But
a very sullen and disconcerted introduction followed. It might have
been only natural that a prospective bridegroom should object to his
fiance's explanation of a motor tour, suddenly arranged, though
adequately chaperoned. But when the originator was a good-looking
young man and the chaperon had been unwarrantably left behind, cordial
greetings were scarcely possible.

Aubrey Derringham felt that explanations only complicated the
situation. He stood there stiff and uncomfortable while Rene
rhapsodized over the joys of motoring, and her own efforts in that line.

She had introduced Aubrey as "a friend of Madame Gascoigne's--and
mine," and George Gale got it into his head that he was a resident at
Weymouth.

"Were you going on to Shapsdown?" he asked Rene. "You might have told
me."

"I didn't know. I mean I only wanted to see what the moor was like. We
just stopped here to lunch."

"We may as well lunch together," said Gale. "If--Mr. Derringham has no
objection?" he added stiffly.

Aubrey had to murmur acquiescence, and pretend a sociability he was
far from feeling. The day was spoilt for him. Doubly spoilt when the
Curate suggested they should drive over to his "moorland cot," as he
called it, so that Rene might give her opinion on various matters. The
girl treated the suggestion with cool indifference, but he argued so
persistently that refusal looked ungracious.

"I don't like Dartmoor at all," she announced. "Those great bare
spaces, and hideous old tors, like frowning giants in the background.
And they say there is always mist, and storm, and cold even in
summertime. Look at that!" she nodded towards the window, where all
outward view was being gradually excluded.

George Gale looked, and his brow darkened. It was not likely he could
persuade them to motor over a rough road, in one of these Dartmoor
mists.

"It may lift," he said. "Half an hour makes all the difference
sometimes."

"Do you often come here to fish?" asked Aubrey.

"Not very often. I happened to meet a college friend, who is doing a
walking tour, and we arranged a fishing excursion for to-day, but the
mist spoilt it."

"I shall come here--often," observed Rene, looking round approvingly.
"I like this place. It is so home-like. I shall make my sitting-room
just like that; all chintzes and panelling; rose and cream against
brown and white. I hope there is a room--adaptable. Long and low, with
little latticed casements?"

"The house is very small," said George Gale. "But the rooms are
low ceilinged enough! There is no chintz yet," he added. "I left
decorations to you."

"Ah--that will be something to do!" said the girl eagerly. "When I have
my little Runabout, I can go to the towns and get what I want quite
easily."

"Runabout?" questioned George Gale, in a puzzled tone. "But, my dear, I
don't keep any sort of conveyance. The old rector has a village cart,
and a boy to drive it. He says it is to be at your disposal."

"A village cart!" Rene's eyes flashed contempt at such a proposition.
"I am going to have a little motor car, and drive it myself. It is the
best wedding present I've had, or shall, or could have."

"A wedding present! That alters the case. But who is the generous
friend who is going present you with it?"

"This----" Rene laid an impulsive hand Aubrey Derringham's arm.

"You--Mr. Derringham?"

The uplifted eyebrows and cynical smile annoyed Aubrey.

"It is nothing," he said. "A little Runabout just to amuse Miss Jessop,
and prevent her forgetting how to drive. They are useful in country
places."

"No doubt," said George, somewhat arrogantly. "Still, I was not aware
you were such a very old friend of the family as to feel it incumbent
to give any wedding gift to my wife. Least of all so costly, and
unusual a one!"

"How perfectly horrid you are to talk like that!" exclaimed Rene.
"He's the kindest and most generous friend I've ever had. And Madame
Gascoigne doesn't object to the present, so why should you? If I'm
to be buried alive in these desolate regions it will at least be a
compensation."

"Flattering to me," said the young man, trying to smile, but succeeding
badly.

Rene shrugged her shoulders. "I never pay compliments, you know that.
Besides it holds two. I can take you about in it also, unless you're
afraid to trust yourself."

"I should have to see that you were efficient, for both our sakes."

"You need have no fear," interposed Aubrey. "The man who brings the
car down will be able to teach Miss Jessop all about it. They are very
simply constructed, these small ones."

"But where is it to be kept, and who is going to clean it and look
after it? It strikes me, Mr. Derringham that this princely gift of
yours will be somewhat of a white elephant to a country curate's wife!"

Aubrey flushed consciously. The words held possessive significance.

"That's what we came to see about to-day!" exclaimed Rene. "Why can't
it stay here, until you build a motor house? For, of course, you will,
and isn't there anyone in the village who could wash and clean a little
motor car? If not--I'll do it myself."

"I could hardly allow that," said George Gale superciliously. "I
suppose if you--and Mr. Derringham--have decided on a car, there's
nothing more to be said. It only remains for us to accept the gift, and
be duly grateful for its--doubtful benefits."

"Us!" flashed Rene stormily. "Please remember, George, that the car is
mine, and I can quite well see to its upkeep! There's no need to create
difficulties, where none exist."

His face whitened. "I beg your pardon, I'm sure. You see this is a
surprise to me, though an accepted fact to yourself. Let us say no more
about it."

Aubrey felt at once enraged and uncomfortable. He had had no thought
of George Gale when be proffered so unusual a gift. Possibly the young
man was right in his estimation of it as "extraordinary." Aubrey had
thought only of Rene. Her pleasure, her comfort, her amusement. Now it
seemed there would be trouble over this too generous proposal. If it
brought her annoyance it would have been better not to have offered it.

Instinctively he felt he hated George Gale, and that the dislike was
mutual. Yet jealousy was not unnatural in a prospective husband who had
suddenly come upon his bride touring the country with a comparative
stranger. Rene had given the impression of friendship with Madame
Gascoigne, but half a dozen words from that excellent lady would have
exploded the fiction. Irritated as he was at the rencontre Aubrey
Derringham felt Gale's attitude was excusable. Rene's admissions as
to his wedding gift had added fuel to the fire of his resentment.
Altogether it was a most uncomfortable luncheon.

It appeared also that Rene had not thought fit to acquaint her
fianc with her movements. He had pictured her in her own home in
Manchester. A not unnatural surmise considering that their wedding day
was but a week distant.

"I told father," she said. "I thought he would be writing to you. I'm
going home on Monday. I wanted a holiday badly. Thank goodness I got
the chance of one!"

George Gale tried to look pleasant, and accept her frank confession
as part and parcel of her well-known wilfulness. But he lacked savoir
faire, and his pretence was a poor one. To make matters worse the
mist had settled down so determinedly that a visit to Shapsdown seemed
impossible. It was like a thick grey curtain, blotting out distances,
and confusing nearness.

Aubrey Derringham felt it his duty to leave the engaged pair to
themselves over coffee, and made some excuse about fixing up the hood
of his car. Rene threw him a reproachful glance from her cosy seat
by the fire, but he was by now in a thoroughly bad humour both with
her and himself. It was an unpleasant situation, and had awakened
unpleasant memories. The dislike he had felt to George Gale in the
witness box was increased tenfold by his manner and his words. They
were rivals by instinct, and they recognized the fact. He left Rene to
make the best of it, and went out.

His car was standing in the open frontage before the hotel. The sound
of rushing waters came to his ears. He could trace the footpath, and
the road. But sound was muffled, and the air had grown strangely chill.
It would be a dreary progress to Tavistock. He almost decided to light
his lamps. True they were going back the same way, but he remembered
the steep hills, and twists and turns, and the chance of meeting other
motors, and vehicles. Princetown had a curious fascination for moorland
visitors. While he was looking at the dreary scene George Gale came out
of the hotel and approached him.

"I am going to ask a favour of you," he said. "I would rather you did
not give my cousin so expensive a wedding present."

"Indeed!" said Aubrey curtly. "What is your objection?"

"The acquaintance seems to me of too recent a date to warrant such a
gift."

"I never go back on a promise," said Aubrey coldly. "Besides, the car
is ordered."

"It could be countermanded."

"If Miss Jessop desires it; not otherwise. She is still in a position
to express her own wishes, and control her own actions."

"She is very wilful, and by no means the best judge of what is fitting
for a young girl to accept from a comparative stranger."

"You seem bent on starting your married life with a grievance!"
exclaimed Aubrey. "I understood the matter was settled when I left you
a few minutes ago?"

"I did not wish for a scene, and Rene is quite capable of making one.
I thought it better to appeal to you, your sense of what is due to me
and our position."

"I was under the impression that the early Victorian attitude of
obedience and humility was no longer a necessity of that position. It
seems to me a somewhat selfish action on your part to wish to deprive
your cousin of something to which she is looking forward so eagerly."

"Had I been in Weymouth," said Gale savagely, "this tour would never
have been undertaken. I regret that you can't see the matter in the
same light that I do. I can only repeat that I do not consider a motor
car a fit possession for a curate's wife, with a stipend of a hundred a
year."

Aubrey started. "I understood Miss Jessop's father was a very wealthy
man?"

"The neighbourhood, and my parishoners, will judge of my wife by what
they know of me. I live humbly and quietly; she must do the same. She
has consented to marry me; she must suit her whims to my standard, not
her own!"

Aubrey's blood tingled with indignation at the insolent attitude and
arrogance of the man. With difficulty he controlled his temper, for he
felt that a quarrel under such circumstances would be fatal to future
acquaintance with Rene.

"I regret you are adopting such an attitude," he said at last. "But I
never go back on my word. The car will be sent here. You may do what
you please with it after it is here."

He turned on his heel, and went back to the stable yard to summon one
of the men as assistant in raising the hood and lighting the lamps.
George Gale looked after him; his lips set in a hard line; his eyes
dark with anger. "Insolent puppy! It's as well he should be shown his
place! If he dare send that car now----"

The sentence was unfinished for Rene came to the door, and called out
that she was ready to return.

It was not pleasant to see her spring to her seat beside the driver as
if action and attitude were frankly familiar. Not pleasant to watch
the tucking in of rugs, the quick gestures, the questions and replies
signalling "off."

The girl waved her hand, the car glided smoothly into the misty
distance, and George Gale stood there looking after it with anger in
his eyes and murder in his heart, could that heart have been read.

*  *  *  *  *  *

They drove swiftly and silently; the soft curtain of the mist enfolding
them; in both minds a sense of injury and opposition.

Aubrey said nothing. He was determined that hers should be the opening
speech, and apparently she had no desire to allude to the recent
disturbance. Now and then she stole a look at the grave face by her
side. How good he had been to her--this man--and how hateful to think
that someone would soon have the right to interfere with their frank,
delightful intimacy?

"I suppose," she said, breaking the silence at last, "I couldn't break
it off now?"

Aubrey gave a quick startled glance. His thoughts had followed hers; he
did not question what was to be broken off.

"You are a free agent I imagine in the matter of your own future. It is
very important. A woman should be quite sure."

"How can one be that? What can we know of men before we belong to them?
I thought I knew George and Geoffrey. But to-day--well, it was a new
George. I suppose there will be a new Geoffrey--if we ever meet again."

Aubrey was silent. In her simple outspoken way she had hit upon a
truth. The truth that underlies sex inequalities, and will underlie
them as long as there is a world of women and of men.

What did the one really know of the other, until they belonged to
each other, in that strange uneasy bondage which means everything--or
nothing?




CHAPTER XIII.--"TO FEEL ANOTHER'S GUILT"

A LIMP and melancholy Rene descended at the Bedford, and sought her
room without apology or explanation. It was left to Aubrey to explain
the happenings of that last little jaunt. For it was the last, and he
knew it. Rene refused to come down to dinner, and the next morning
they set out on the return journey. A thing of heat, and dust, and
speed in which the girl showed little interest or enjoyment.

"When do you go back to London?" she asked him, as they drew up at
Madame Gascoigne's door.

"To-morrow," he said briefly. "Is this to be good-bye, or may I come
round for a few moments this evening?"

She hesitated. Then looked up and met his eyes. "Yes, about eight
o'clock."

Aubrey told the old French lady that he would call at that hour, and
then drove off weary, dusty, dispirited; asking himself why he had ever
embarked on so foolish an enterprise.

The wrench had come at last. The dividing of the ways. She would go to
Manchester on the morrow, he to London and the Albany and the old life
of which he was so tired.

He stood in his room, and looked out at the bay and the familiar ridge
of Portland. Was it only a week since he had stood there, alert, eager,
keen on this project? Willing to sacrifice peace of mind, just for a
girl's brief companionship? Well, it was all over. He could never have
such a tour again--nor she. At that thought conscience pricked him.
He had not dealt wisely with this girl if, by word, or deed, he had
stirred her unuttered discontent into active unhappiness. And that she
was strangely altered, broodingly unhappy, he knew. Was it because
of that little jarring interlude, or because she had read something
in George Gale's eyes which had made her uneasy? Aubrey sighed and
wondered. Intuition was a purely feminine gift, and served the sex as
a safeguard from inexplicable and unspoken dangers. Some such flash
of intuition had warned Rene Jessop of danger in store for herself.
Without a word of explanation Aubrey Derringham knew that. Knew it, and
feared for her, and asked himself if it would be more dishonourable to
interfere, or to leave her to that danger--unwarned?

Rene was in the garden when he went round to say farewell. Madame
Gascoigne was busy unpacking wedding presents and trousseau fineries
in the room where he had first seen that girlish figure in its first
abandonment to sorrow. He walked out through the open French window and
joined her where she stood leaning on the railing and looking over the
bay. His step made no sound on the soft turf. He was beside her before
she knew it, and he saw that her eyes were full of tears.

He said nothing for a moment, but both had learnt to recognize silence
as a danger. These long pauses, filled by heart beats, unspoken
desires, tremulous uncertainties, had become part of the magical week
in which they had learnt to know each other, and to fear the knowledge.

She spoke at last. "There was a letter from Geoffrey. Would you like to
see it?"

Geoffrey had been far from his thoughts. The words were like a douche
of cold water to a fever patient.

"It is private, isn't it?"

"Private? It was read by half a dozen people before it was sent! Even
that's forbidden, to write as he feels and thinks. But the date is
fixed. Twelfth of August. Will you go?"

"You still wish it?"

"Oh--I do, I do! There's no one else I can trust to tell me the real
truth!"

Aubrey was silent. He felt that Fate was driving him into a tight
corner. When he got there--what would happen?

Perhaps his face expressed some sense of the irony of the situation
for she said: "You don't care about doing it as much as you
did--before--you met George?"

"Frankly, I don't," he said. "Your cousin may take objection to a
second intrusion on his private affairs."

"His? They are as much mine as his--more! He does not love Geoffrey as
I do."

"I suppose you would wish me to write a full and particular account
of--the interview? Perhaps you forget that you'll be married by then?"

"No, I don't. How can I?" She half turned, and looked at the open
window, and the busy figure. "All that reminding me!" she went on.
"But I don't want you to write, I want to see you. Letters are stupid.
You'd never tell me all I want to know."

"To see me--impossible!"

Aubrey spoke quickly; a vivid picture before his eyes of bleak
moorland, and a stern, revengeful face.

"Why--impossible? If I choose to ask you to my home who can prevent it?"

"Your--your husband I suppose," stammered Aubrey. "He did not like me.
I'm sure he wouldn't care to have me on a visit."

"Ah----" she said quickly. "You shall stop at Two Bridges, and I will
come there."

Aubrey felt desperate. "Would it be wise? Believe me I had better
write."

"You don't want to see me again!" She flashed round. "I know, I feel
it! Well, I won't ask you. You're another disillusion."

She turned and walked a few steps away. They brought her to an iron
gate leading to the road outside. She opened it and was gone.

*  *  *  *  *  *

For a moment or two Aubrey stood by the railings too confused for
action. He saw the white figure flash out into the space between the
road and the sea. He noted its impetuous progress. He asked himself
should he follow it? Then, with a rush of angry pride, he recalled her
last words. "A disillusion." That's what he was, in a schoolgirl's
memory.

If that was all why trouble to strengthen the impression? He had spent
time and thought on a thankless service; been the slave of a thousand
whims and fancies. This was his reward, because he would not consent to
the role of tame cat in the future!

One of those extraordinary revulsions of feeling that at times rouse a
man's hurt pride to dignity swept over his heart. He saw himself the
victim of an infatuation that had made him do many foolish things, and
checked the impulse of wise ones. He recalled the contemptuous flash of
those eyes of Rene's, he watched the young erect figure marching into
distance, and he said to himself: "Better to part so, and now----"

There was enough anger and indignation between them to rob sentiment of
any danger. He could not have held her slender hand and looked into her
eyes--here--in this enchantment of sea and moonlight, without danger.
That he confessed. The confession braced him to action. He too turned
on impulse and walked swiftly to the house. He made a formal speech of
farewell to the old French lady, and answered her enquiry about Rene
by saying she was still looking at the sea.

"The poor child, she loves it so; she will hate to leave it," murmured
Madame Gascoigne. Then she thanked him warmly for the "great pleasure"
of that motor tour, hoped to see him again, when he chanced to visit
Weymouth, and so accompanied him to the door with all her nation's
grace and superfluous compliment.

Still proud and angered, Aubrey Derringham returned to the Gloucester.
He went to his room conscious of the sudden fatigue of one who has
laboured hard, and done--nothing. Passion and disappointment had burnt
up his nervous power for the time being. He felt a sudden desire for
the stir of life, the nostalgia of cities, the restlessness of action.
He told himself he had been a fool and dreamt a fool's dream. Yet all
the telling and all his cynicism could not blind him to one fact.

His hour had come, and he had rushed to meet it. It had come--and gone.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The next night he was back in his own comfortable quarters in the
Albany, ministered to by Chaffey, and awakened to results of impetuous
action by a word.

"I've got the car, sir. A Renault--the very thing. The moment I had
your telegram I went to Long Acre. They showed me all their stock. I
was allowed to try this. She's a beauty. Anyone could drive her after
a couple of lessons. I had her put aside for you to see, but I'm
sure, sir, you'll agree she's the very thing for a lady." He looked
apologetically at his master's grave face. "Your--young lady, sir,
might I ask?"

Aubrey's lips whitened. "No, you fool, of course not! It's for a
wedding present."

"I beg pardon, sir. You'll excuse----"

"I shall want you to take the car down to its destination," said
Aubrey sharply. "You will stay with it, and give the lady necessary
instruction. She is a clergyman's wife."

Astonishment struggled with respect in Chaffey's expressive visage. A
clergyman's wife? Not even daughter, or widow? What had come to this
eccentric master of his?

"Yes, sir. Of course, sir. But you----"

"Oh, I'm going to--Norway," said Aubrey hurriedly. It was the first
name that occurred to him. "Yachting," he added. "I shan't want you.
Take a month's holiday."

"Thank you, sir. Might I ask--where the lady resides, sir?"

"Dartmoor," said Aubrey. "A little moorland parish. Do you know Two
Bridges?"

"Do I--know?" Chaffey's face was a study of conflicting emotions. "Do I
know Princetown, or the old Bailey! You don't mean to say, sir, I'm to
go to Dartmoor?"

"Oh--I forgot!" Aubrey looked at the perturbed face with sudden
compassion. "Really I never associated you with the place, Chaffey,
when I arranged this business."

"Thank you for that, sir. But it might be a bit awkward?"

"Nonsense! No one would recognize you now. It's years ago, and a
chauffeur's dress and goggles would disguise--the King of England!"

"That's true, sir. But when I'm not driving where am I to stay?"

Aubrey reflected. "I think you'll have to decide that for yourself,"
he said. "There's the hotel, or perhaps they'd take you in at some
farm-house, or cottage. I'm not sufficiently acquainted with the
district to mention any particular spot. You'll soon find out. It won't
be for long."

"Why can't I stay at the rectory, sir? Doesn't the lady wish it?"

"There's no room, no stable even. The car will have to be garaged at
Two Bridges. Shapsdown is five or six miles off, and a very bad road."

"But where will the lady keep her car, sir? It will be very
inconvenient to have to tramp five or six miles whenever she wants it,
and back again, when she's done with it?"

"I know. But there seemed no other way, at present. Perhaps she'll
build a motor house later on, and keep it there."

Chaffey said no more. It was a somewhat mysterious business. He
wondered if it had anything to do with the change in his master? With
restlessness, late hours, much smoking, and absinthe. All of these
represented a variation on the boredom and cynicism of a former Aubrey
Derringham. All of them marked the week of his return. Then came a
morning when a brief look at the Manchester Courier, forwarded
by post, sent him to and fro the outlying districts of London as a
scourge to poultry, and stray dogs, and feeble-minded pedestrians. The
nights following those police-defying expeditions were more or less
disastrous to former peace and temperance. Chaffey was alternately
bewildered and alarmed. Then he hit upon the clue to the mystery, and
apostrophized it mentally as "a jade." The jade had something to do
with the mysterious wedding gift, he felt sure. He became curious as to
the sort of clergyman's wife who was to have a car of her own, and yet
lived in a remote moorland district with impassable roads, and no motor
accommodation.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Another week went by in which Aubrey Derringham watched the posts with
feverish anxiety, but the expected letter never came. Evidently that
visit to Geoffrey Gale was not to be paid by him. He bitterly resented
the indifference shown to his existence; he thought out and wrote a
dozen different letters in which irony and hurt feelings and studied
indifference struggled for adequate expression. He sent none of them.
And then one morning Chaffey came to him brimful of that mysterious
sort of information he always managed to obtain.

"You know that young chap, sir, as was had up for the forgery case,
well, they say he tried to break out of prison. He's forfeited all good
conduct privileges, and they've drafted him to Dartmoor."

Aubrey was startled into something more than attention. Was this
outbreak the result of that privileged visit which no one had troubled
to pay? Had the boy been driven to desperation by neglect and coldness?
Was Aubrey himself, in a manner, the cause of these renewed hardships,
he, and his petty scruples and his paltry human dignity? He looked at
Chaffey's perturbed face, and read in it a great pity and regret.

"It will be harder, there, will it?" asked Aubrey.

"Harder! I believe you, sir! 'Tis a cold, brutal, dreary place, and
they works you to death, and the poor chap, he won't get no letters,
nor visitors now."

But Aubrey Derringham's mind was far away, drifting over a sea of
strange happenings. A boy's face of white despair, staring from a
dock; a girl's tear-filled eyes. A misty space of bare wide Moorland
through which trickled the music of a stream; the savage fury in a
voice proclaiming what was due to a husband's right of decision. The
chill of estrangement, of misunderstanding, laid its cold touch upon
his heart once again. He saw a white figure flying into distance,
outlined against a moonlit sky, a width of waters. That had been their
parting. No word, no sign since then. She was disillusioned, he was
savagely affronted. That visit to the prison had never been paid, and
now Geoffrey Gale was to be immured in that stony, impregnable fortress
set amidst a moorland waste, standing as a memory in its desolation. A
constant reminder to the girl who would be within sight and reach of it
before many days were over her head.

Chaffey coughed an apologetic reminder of his presence. Aubrey started
and came back to facts.

"Oh--you're there still! I forget . . . . You were saying----"

"I was goin' to say, sir, that it seems queer, don't it?"

"Queer?"

"That I should be goin' up there now, to Two Bridges didn't you say,
and he at Princetown. Seems as if we couldn't get away from him, sir,
somehow."

A harsh groan escaped Aubrey Derringham. "I wish to God, Chaffey----"
he said, "that you'd never persuaded me to go and hear that Forgery
Case."




CHAPTER XIV.--"WHOSE FEET MIGHT NOT GO FREE"


It was unusual for Aubrey Derringham to linger on in London after
the season had sounded its note of dissolution. Altogether unlike
him to frequent Park and Club in an endeavour to secure any sort of
companionship favourable to any sort of interest that would pass away
the hours from noon till midnight.

One such endeavour found him the host at a small dinner given at his
own Club to two or three bachelor acquaintances. One of them was Joshua
Myers, the barrister.

Aubrey had come across him by chance, and given a hasty and accepted
invitation. He learnt that the Daniel Schultzes were at Cowes, and that
the beautiful Miriam had not captured her Dukelet after all. Musical
comedy had rivalled her. As consolation she had hurriedly secured a
foreign Count, who hailed from Italy, and was concerned with Argentine
prospects.

Myers expressed some natural surprise that Aubrey Derringham was not
at society's aquatic pleasure resort. The "yachting trip to Norway"
served as an explanation, but the keen-eyed barrister read something
amiss. This was not the languid, bored man of fashion whom his set and
his Club had known so long. Neither was it quite the curious questioner
who had studied the pros and cons of criminal technique--up to a
certain point. Something had roused him from languor to restlessness,
had quickened his sympathies to life, and yet left him actively
dissatisfied.

"Are you as much interested in the psychology of crime as you were, Mr.
Derringham?" he asked, in an endeavour to secure Aubrey's wandering
attention.

"I--oh, yes! It's a subject that has its fascination as well as its
dangers."

"You mean--that a criminal can cease to be an abstract figure in the
general outlook?"

Aubrey gave him a surprised glance. "Why do you say that?"

"Am I right?"

"I don't know any--criminal, other than the press, or the pages of a
novel have introduced to me."

"I thought you knew that young Gale, who was sentenced for forgery some
months ago?"

Aubrey's face remained impassive. "No, I don't know him."

"His family, then?"

"What makes you think so?"

"That little matter requesting permission to visit Portland, for one
thing."

"But he was not at Portland."

"Not then."

"Do you mean to say he is there now? I thought it was Dartmoor?"

Then Myers smiled. "Didn't I say you were interested. How else
could you know he had been drafted to Dartmoor? The press gives no
information of that sort."

Aubrey was at a loss for explanation. How could he say that he had
learnt of this fact by accident, when no accident could have betrayed
it.

"I met his brother, up on the moors," he said suddenly.

"His brother, the curate?"

"Yes."

"Oh, but I wonder how he knew! The boy was foolish enough to try
to escape. That brought the rigours of prison law upon him. He had
to forego privileges, and do harsher tasks. That's why he's being
transferred."

"Dartmoor is as impregnable as Portland, isn't it?" asked Aubrey.

"Not quite. There have been escapes from the moor. Portland is guarded
by sea and land both. It's next to impossible to get away from there.
You were near Princetown then? Had you the curiosity to visit the
famous prison?"

"No. I was at Tavistock, and only motored a little over the moors. I
did not go near Princetown."

"And yet," thought Myers, "you were keen on seeing Portland, and you
knew--somehow--young Gale is going to Dartmoor."

Aubrey turned the conversation to a more frivolous topic. A new star of
musical comedy whose advent, late in the season, had herald lucrative
engagements for the Autumn.

"It was good of her Grace of Barleycorn to retire in her favour," said
Aubrey. "One star goes out that another may shine."

"And she shines best who shines last," said young Forrester of the
Guards, who was famed by non-copyright epigrams.

"Her voice isn't up to much," said Myers. "It's like listening to the
mechanical complainings of a motor car."

"How cruel!" said the young guardsman. "As if the voice mattered, in
musical comedy."

"I thought it did. Excuse my ignorance."

Aubrey laughed. "Unlimited cheek, and fascinating outlines are the
stock in trade. Shall we go to the smoking-room?"

There was a general movement. As they left the table a page came up to
Aubrey and handed him a letter. He glanced at it carelessly enough. The
writing was unknown. Then he looked at the post mark. With a sudden
flush, he turned aside, and opened the envelope. Very brief were its
contents.


"DEAR MR. MOTOR-MAN:

"I've been a beast. Do forgive me. I'm back again on the moor. Am I
to have my Runabout? Or have I been too wicked and ungrateful for
forgiveness?

"Your unhappy little friend,

"RENE."


Aubrey crushed up the letter, and thrust it into his pocket. What a
child she was, and how apparently changed! How could he have harboured
such resentful feelings against her? He felt as if a sudden weight
had been removed from his heart. As if a troubled dream had given
place to morning's light and glory. He followed his three friends into
the smoking-room, and astonished them by a burst of wild spirits,
disjointed witticisms.

No one was more surprised than Joshua Myers.

What had changed lassitude and cynicism into eager enjoyment? Brought
smiles to the lip, and joy to the eye, and a certain rollicking
lightness to the voice of this incomprehensible man? A woman? A message
in that letter? Surely this and nothing else could account for the
change brought in a moment of time?

"The common fate of the common multitude," he thought to himself. "I
wonder who she is? His tastes are too exclusive for light loves, or
passing amourettes. I wish I could see the postmark of that letter."

If he had seen it he would have been more bewildered than ever. What
was there in common between this aristocrat of Clubland and a little
insignificant townlet on the wild moors of Devon?

*  *  *  *  *  *

Two days later a car was running merrily over the hilly twisting road
from Moreton to Two Bridges. It held two occupants, both men, capped,
coated, goggled to face that wind-swept desolation, which is the happy
meeting ground of every wind that blows. Merrily the little car sped up
hill and down, dipped into hollows, breasted stony heights, hummed its
merry song of speed and progress as the miles fell back, and finally
drew up before that delightful hostelry which defies even mist and cold
to lessen its attractions.

At the doorway stood a slender figure, watching with intent eyes the
graceful down-coming of that pale grey Renault. Rene's figure and
Rene's welcoming voice. Yet Aubrey was conscious of a shock as of one
who expecting a friend meets a stranger.

"I didn't think you would come," she said, and then a hot flush
crept from throat to cheek, and spread to the delicate temples. Her
eyes fell. There was something in them to hide now. She knew it and he
recognized it. He broke the embarrassed pause by a murmured apology for
his presence.

"I wanted to be sure it was all right. I came with Chaffey, but I'm
not going to stop."

"But is that the car? Oh! it's much too good! What a perfect little
beauty! I thought it was only going to be a little wheelbarrow sort of
thing, or I wouldn't have written! That's fit for a princess."

"It is for you," he said gravely, "if you will honour me by its
acceptance."

"I don't know what George will say!"

She was looking at the grey cushions; the bright brass, the beautiful
"latest" improvements that specialized this splendid wedding gift.

Aubrey Derringham heard an unpleasant reminder in those words. "Haven't
you settled the matter with him?" he asked.

"Oh! I told him I expected the car. He only said: 'I hope it won't
prove more trouble than pleasure.'"

"He--is not here?" asked Aubrey, glancing round with involuntary
repugnance.

"No. He is busy with some parish work. Oh! may I try it?" It was the
old Rene, impulsive, eager for the moment's joy, casting care to the
winds of chance.

"Try it? Of course! Shall I come with you, or Chaffey?"

"Oh, you, please!" She twisted a motor scarf round her small
close-fitting hat, as Chaffey left his steering wheel, and went to the
stable yard for water.

"She's gone beautifully," said Aubrey. "We've come on from Exeter. Did
it in a little over an hour. How's that?"

She smiled up at him; less radiantly than of old. "Splendid! What a
gem! Show me the mechanism, will you?"

He explained briefly. "It's so easy and so light," he said, "after my
big Mercedes. You'll be quite at home with it in a couple of hours."

Then came the lesson, an easy one for both. A thing of trials, and
speeds, of hill flights and turns. Rene's light hand and quick eye
served her well. The car had no complicated gears and levers to worry
her. She brought it back to the hotel, and to the admiring Chaffey in
a mood of ecstasy. Not one word had she or Aubrey said of that parting
"tiff," or of her marriage. It was the immediate moment for both. No
more; no less. The car took up all their attention, and repaid it.

"You will stay and have some tea?" she said, as they drew up before the
hotel again.

Aubrey hesitated. "I was going on to Tavistock," he said. "If I may
borrow your car, Chaffey will bring it back. It can stay here until you
make other arrangements. He remains for a week or more, as you desire."

"But--do I need him?"

Aubrey smiled. "I think it would be better to have someone, just at
first."

"You're coming in?"

She moved towards the door and he followed her. Chaffey watched them,
and muttered below his breath: "Clergyman's wife! Golly! Here's a lark!"

*  *  *  *  *  *

They had tea in the charming chintz room, and Rene presided with
matronly dignity. There was no one else there, and they soon dropped
into the old friendly duologue. It almost seemed as if those
intervening weeks had had no existence. Once Aubrey found himself
wondering whether she knew that Geoffrey Gale was to be sent to
Princetown? Might even be there already. He did not like to mention the
fact, and she did not allude to her cousin. It appeared she had been to
Paris, which was hot and stuffy, and crowded with English and American
tourists.

"Not a bit like Madame Gascoigne's Paris," she said. "The only thing I
liked was the steamers, going up and down the river, and once I went to
Versailles to see the fountains. I suppose you know Paris very well?"

"Almost as well as London. It was the wrong time of year to go. Didn't
you know that?"

"I?" She looked at him and again that hot flush crept up to her
temples. "I had nothing to do with it. George said we were going, and
we went."

An embarrassed silence followed. Aubrey drank his tea, and trifled with
the cake on his plate, and wondered what to say next. She saved him the
trouble of a subject by asking if he was staying in London. "I wrote
to your Club on chance. I hardly thought you'd be there. I suppose you
bought it was awfully cheeky of me?"

"Not at all. I was--delighted."

"I was afraid we shouldn't be friends again," she said softly. "You've
no idea how horrid I felt. A dozen times I tried to write, and
couldn't. I said to myself: 'He's gone off without word. He's really
offended this time!'"

Aubrey laughed despite the gravity of her own expression. "I should
have sent the car all the same," he said.

"Would you--really? How good you are to me! I wish I could do something
for you in return. But there--you're rich and happy, and life must be
just splendid."

"Not altogether--happy," he said. "But who is? Except a child who lives
in and for the moment, and asks nothing of the future."

"That's what I was," she said gravely. "It seems so long ago--now."

That "now" almost broke down his fund of reserve. His determination
to ask nothing, hear nothing of changed conditions.

"I don't lack brains. I'm not a fool," she went on rapidly. "But, it
appears one must only speak, think, act, as directed, when one is
married."

Aubrey was silent. She had referred to the subject at last, and as she
referred to it he thought of the wilful imperious girl who had been his
companion for one magical week. She had seemed happy then, and content.
Her face had been eloquent of life and joy. It was grave now, and
perplexed, and the eyes were shadowed by unrest.

"Did you know it would be like that?" she said abruptly. "Are all men
tyrants? It is cruel that we are not allowed to know, that we are kept
ignorant, and then--snap--the chains are round us, fast and sure.
Ugh--it's hateful!"

She sprang up and went to the window. Aubrey felt powerless. What could
he say or do? The situation was at once delicate and perplexing. He
rose also, and rang the bell and paid for the tea. As the waiter left
the room, she turned and came back. There were traces of tears in her
eyes. They looked up at Aubrey as a child's eyes might look; a child
wounded and hurt, and unconscious of doing anything to deserve the hurt.

A wave of hot anger surged through the young man's breast; his whole
body seemed one nerve of fierce repressed feeling. He was a man, and
she only a child. A child rudely awakened to the meaning of life and
womanhood; rebelling instinctively against the fate which had made her
helpless before the tyranny of nature, imploring help when no help was
or could be given.

*  *  *  *  *  *

He sent her home in the car with Chaffey. At least it was to take her
as far as the road rendered progress possible. "And remember," he said,
as he bade her farewell, "it is yours, and you are to do what you like
with it. The man here will clean it and look after it, and come ever
day for your orders, when Chaffey leaves."

"I can't thank you," she said brokenly. "But--if it's any good to
know it you've done the one and only thing that could bring a little
pleasure into my life. Am I to see you--ever again?"

"Oh, yes, I hope so," he said huskily. "If you wish it. You know my
address. A word there will always find me."

"I shan't forget," she said, and gave him her hand.

He put the light rug about her, as if it were part of the car, and went
with it, and watched her pull the lever and clasp the steering wheel.
Chaffey grave and impassive sat by her side. She threw back a smile and
waved her hand.

"It's not good-bye," she cried, "only au revoir!"

Then the grey car and the slender grey figure melted into the faint
rose of the fading twilight. Aubrey Derringham listened to the throb of
the engine, and the little tinkle of the stream as it flowed beneath
the bridge. There came to his heart at that moment a sudden chill of
fear. He could not say what he feared, or why. He only knew that like a
spectre out of the dusk it crept up to, and close to him; so near, so
close, that the fever died out of his veins, and his pulses seemed to
beat by sheer effort.

"What's come to me?" he thought, and glanced round and about half
fearful of some tangible presence to be translated into meaning. But
there was no one. Nothing. Only from afar a faint "hoot," like a signal
of farewell, and below at his feet the ever murmuring stream.




CHAPTER XV.--"AND BY EACH SIDE A WARDER WALKED"


A WEEK had passed and still Aubrey Derringham lingered on in town,
though now he avoided the more public thoroughfares and dined at queer
restaurants, or river-side hotels.

No word came from the moors. Nothing from Chaffey or from her. He
was again conscious of impatience and desire. Why couldn't the fool
send some sort of information? But there seemed nothing to do save wait
his return.

It happened unexpectedly. Chaffey walked into the Albany and presented
himself to his master one evening as if he had never left the one or
neglected the other.

Aubrey was smoking discontentedly and trying to make up his mind what
special restaurant or grill-room he would seek. The sight of his errant
servitor roused him to immediate activity.

"So you're back, Chaffey?"

"To the day, sir, the hour I might say."

"I expected to hear from you," said his master.

"Did you, sir? You never mentioned it. I didn't like to take the
liberty."

"Well, well, perhaps it was my fault. How did you get on?"

"Very satisfactory, sir; the lady's a wonder. Drives like a
professional I might say. And the car's quite satisfactory, as I said,
sir. Not even a puncture yet."

"I'm glad to hear it. Where did you put up?"

"At the hotel, sir. I happened to know one of the ostlers; made it more
companionable like."

"I--I suppose so. And the young lady, how is she?"

"In health, sir, she seems all right. But as far as spirits goes a
bit--fluctuaty--shall I say, sir. One day as bright and cheery as a
spring morning, next, clouded-like and sad, and hardly a word for
anyone. It's queer, sir, for I take it she's in her bridal days,
leastwise I heard so."

Aubrey moved impatiently. "Did she go out every day?"

"Every day, and pretty well all day, sir. There ain't much of Dartmoor
that we couldn't give account of. A queer place it is, sir, when you
begins to move about in it, so to say. I came across surprisin' places,
hid away so that no one would ever have thought they was there."

"What sort of places?"

"Them 'Clitters,' sir, as they calls them; little sort o' huts built
o' them at foot of the tors. Queer sort o' farm houses too with scarce
grazing for couple o sheep, or a stray head o' cattle. There was one
place, sir, we came across, the young lady she was wonderful took with
it."

"Indeed?"

Chaffey being fairly launched on his subject might be trusted to go on.

"Yes, sir. It was a little house, the queerest little place, in a
hollow o' the moorland, sheltered by a big stretch of them tors, and
a stream running along at end of the garden. There was a garden, sir,
and cultivated proper as if someone had lived there and taken a deal
o' trouble with it. Nothing would suit the young lady but to go in and
see the house. It was empty and the door unlocked. We went in, sir.
I was surprised. Quite a nice room, and a kitchen, and two bedrooms
above. A bit dusty and derlapidated of course, but not a bad little
shooting-box, so to say."

Aubrey felt interested. "Was no one living there?"

"No, sir, but there had been. An eccentric sort o' writing gent, I was
told."

"Who told you?"

"Bill Ockment, sir, the ostler I spoke of."

"And so you explored the place?"

"Yes, sir. That young lady, well she did go on about it, sir. As pretty
as a child with a doll's house it was to see her and hear her. She said
as how you ought to take it, sir, and come up and stay on the moor
summer times."

"I!" Aubrey was conscious of sudden heightened colour. "Why in the
world should I do such a thing?"

"It would be a change, sir, of course. And quiet--there's only fishing,
and walking, as you're not a h'artist, or a writer. But since you've
begun to take more interest in life, sir, it might bear thinking of.
'Tis wonderful how one gets to love these sort o' places. Makes one
feel clean and strong somehow. Beg pardon, sir, I'm talking too free
perhaps? It comes of bein' away so long."

Aubrey had seated himself by the window, his face in shadow.

"Go on," he said. "I don't mind. I was getting a bit sick of my own
company."

"I was half expecting to find you'd started, sir."

"Started?"

"For Norway, as you said, sir."

"Oh, yes, of course. It's put off till later; end of the month."

"I see, sir. And you're not going to Cowes?"

"No," said Aubrey abruptly.

He wished Chaffey would take into his head to tell him less of that
Dartmoor district and more of Rene herself. But he hesitated to put
leading questions.

After a moment the man resumed the subject of that moorland retreat.

"I do wish you could see that house, sir. I'm sure you'd feel it was
worth getting hold of, just to run down to when you wants to be quiet.
Spring time or summer it would be lovely."

"Oh--is it to be let?" asked Aubrey carelessly.

"Yes, sir, or sold. So Bill Ockment told me. Belong to a old lady in
Tavistock. She built it for her son. He's dead, and she don't want it
any more. A hundred pounds would buy it."

Aubrey laughed. "You seem to have your eye on the place, Chaffey," he
said. "I suppose you see it as an old-age pension reserved for faithful
services."

"No, sir. It never entered my head. It was only you I was a-thinkin'
of."

Aubrey wondered why a fresh temptation should have to be met? For it
was a temptation. The idea of securing for himself a little retreat
within reach of the girl who had called him friend, and who might one
day need a friend's help and counsel. He wondered whether Chaffey had
ever seen George Gale? It was odd he had not mentioned him.

"And so she used the car every day?" he observed, with as casual a
manner as he could assume. "Didn't she ever drive her husband in it?"

"She said he was afraid to trust himself with her, sir."

"But not afraid of her coming to any harm?"

"It seemed so, sir. I didn't like the gent, if I may say so. I only saw
him once. That was at the hotel. I think he'd been--drinking a bit."

"What!" Aubrey turned quickly. "Surely you're mistaken, Chaffey? He's a
clergyman."

"I know, sir, but a clergyman's only a man, ain't he, sir? And there's
good and bad of them same as other men."

"Of course. Their cloth can cover sins as well as proclaim virtues. But
Mr. Gale----"

"Yes, sir. He's the brother o' that poor young chap. We've come round
to that, sir. I was half afraid to tell you. I've seen him, sir."

"Seen who?"

"Geoffrey Gale, sir."

"Good God! Is that so?" Aubrey sprang up impulsively. "You've been a
long time getting to the kernel of your nut. Where did you see him?"

"Just goin' in at the prison gates, sir, one afternoon. Two and two,
poor chaps; chained in couples they was, like dogs. I saw him quite
distinctly, sir. So--did she."

"Miss Rene--I mean Mrs. Gale?"

"Yes, sir. It was awful, sir, for a moment. I could have cried like a
baby. There--I couldn't help it, sir; those two young faces, pale as
death, and their eyes, his eyes! My, what a story they told!"

Aubrey was silent, deeply moved; his imagination stirred to kindred
sympathy. The old jealousy lived again at thought of that meeting, at
thought of what it meant for her if she loved the supposed criminal and
had given herself to his accuser.

"Then she did go to Princetown?" he said, very low.

"Quite against my wishes, sir. But she would go. And it happened just
as I feared. . . . Lor, sir, the way she cried, afterwards, and the
things she said, as I drove her home. 'Couldn't I help her to get a
word with him? Couldn't some message be sent?' I told her to ask her
husband to go and see the chaplain. It might do some good. But she just
looked at me. I don't know, sir, if you've ever seen her look like
that? Sort of way a child does when you've struck it, and it hasn't
done nothing to deserve it. And then not another word did she say all
the way home."

"When was this?"

"The last day, sir, we was out. Yesterday, of course. It seems longer
somehow."

Silence followed.

"Shall I turn on the light, sir?"

Aubrey started. "No, not yet. I'm going out."

"Can I get out your evening things, sir?"

"No, Chaffey. I'm not going to dress. I think I shall take the car, and
run down to Richmond."

"Shall I drive it, sir?"

"Yes."

*  *  *  *  *  *

Aubrey Derringham knew why he had said that "yes." It was an excuse to
hear more, without expressing a desire to do so. And Chaffey was not
reticent.

During the drive to Richmond he continued his narrative. He threw the
side-lights of his shrewd observation on many points concerning Rene
and her husband. He had seen the old rectory too where the ancient
vicar resided. He had seen him also.

"Doddering, sir, next door to a lunatic, so it seemed to me. Mr.
Gale's house is very small and dark and unwholesome-looking. A dreary
place for that beautiful young lady. I think, sir, if you'll excuse
the liberty of saying so, that that there car will be the saving o'
her reason. Enough to give one melingcholics that place is. A parish
compounded o' ancient tipplers, and scoldin' dirty shrews o' women. And
the farm houses scattered like plums in a work'us pudding. Such folk
too; with their queer talk, and their queer little houses, and their
dreadful ignorance. I feel sorry for the young lady that I do. And now,
since she's got to know her cousin's up there at Princetown, well, sir,
I leave you to conjekture what it means. There's another thing too. If
anything happened to that little Renault? I used to think that often.
It would have to be sent to Tavistock to be repaired, and what would
she do meantime. They don't keep any sort o' car at the hotel, nor yet
at Post Town."

"That's true!" exclaimed Aubrey. "The best car isn't infallible. And
we know what 'repairing' means, even here in town. A provincial garage
might take a month where a week would suffice."

"And you can't give her two cars, sir. That's where the white
elephant comes in."

Aubrey was silent for a while meditating the point.

"Chaffey," he said suddenly, "did--Mr. Gale--ever see you, or speak to
you?"

"He only saw me once, sir. That day when he was--well, what I told you
he was. And then I had my goggles on. No, I never spoke to him, so to
say."

"He wouldn't know you if he met you, without your chauffeur's dress?"

"No, sir. I'm sure he wouldn't."

"Then, Chaffey, I see nothing for it but--that old-age pension!"

"Sir!" Astonishment very nearly meant a collision with a passing cart.
Some bad language punctuated the difference of opinion that ensued.

"Yes, I mean it. I'll take that queer house, and you shall be its
owner, and have a small Runabout for emergencies. You need not betray
who you are to anyone in the neighbourhood. In fact, you may be a
naturalist, or an artist, or some equally unassuming tenant. You might
even have an occasional lodger. As you said, Chaffey, the whole region
of Dartmoor is full of interest. I have no doubt we should find plenty,
if we sought it."

"We--sir?"

"You're not going to object to a country life, and a pension, are you,
even if hampered by an occasional lodger?"

"No, sir. I think it's a fine idea. I was only wondering about--you?"

"What about me?"

"Well, sir, who's to do for you, and drive the car, and see to things
here? I don't wish to be superseded, if I may say so, sir."

"You shan't be, Chaffey. I'll have only a temporary valet. As for the
car I can be my own chauffeur, you know, and the garage people will
keep it in order."

"It will be a bit dull don't you think, sir? At least once the summer's
gone. Terrible desolate that moor is in winter time."

"One can brave desolation--occasionally," said Aubrey.

"Yes, sir, but, if you'll excuse me sayin' it, how long is this to go
on, sir?"

"To go on?" Aubrey reflected over that question. "It is you who are
responsible for it, Chaffey," he said presently.

"I--sir!"

"You interested me in that forgery case. But for you I should never
have troubled about the fate of young Gale. Never seen Miss Jessop,
never----"

"Taken her motoring, sir?"

"I suppose not. One thing led to another. It's led me on, and now it
must lead you. Heaven knows how far!"

"Or how long, sir? Perhaps you haven't thought of that?"

The lights of Richmond Bridge flashed over the darkness of the river.

"Yes," said Aubrey. "I have thought of that. As long as Geoffrey
Gale is in prison."

Chaffey was silent till the bridge was crossed. Then he said: "Yours to
command, sir!"

Master and man dined in their respective fashion at the Star and
Garter. Aubrey had ordered the car for ten o'clock, and told Chaffey
to have a good square meal. He strolled down to the river when he had
finished his coffee and "fine champagne," and stood watching the
boats and punts as they moved to and fro; listening to the voices that
stirred the air with laughter and melody. It seemed to him that this
should be her life: joy, gaiety, song, and melody, not that dreary
moorland and that desolate home of which Chaffey had spoken. His heart
ached for her lost girlhood, and her shadowed fate. That fate with
which he now seemed irretrievably entangled. Come what might he could
not leave her friendless. The hint of George Gale's failing had filled
him with sudden alarm. A young inexperienced girl could not cope with
horrors of that description. It was not right or fitting that she
should. He thought of that week of intimate confidences, interests,
revelations. Of how she had trusted him, openly announcing happiness
as a daily factor in their lives. Then of her little spurt of anger
on that night of parting. Her quick spontaneous acceptance of renewed
friendship; the tender gratitude in her eyes when she spoke of his gift
as "the one and only thing that would bring a little pleasure into her
life." Well, that was something. Whenever she used the car, or felt it
obey her touch, and carry her where she willed, she would think of him.
She might even acknowledge that "disillusion" didn't mean severance of
friendship. And, if in any time of stress, or trouble, she felt he was
near at hand, the fact might give her courage to bear what, he knew,
she would have to bear.

The river murmured at his feet, the cool air swept across his face as
he stood bare-headed gazing down at the shining water. In that moment
Aubrey Derringham touched a greater height of selflessness than he had
ever reached. Felt that to renounce and to suffer were better things
than to selfishly grasp the moment's joy.

The appeal made to him by a girl's fresh youth and loveliness had
been the appeal of sex. The appeal made by a woman's martyrdom meant
a call to honour as well as a call to the unselfish depths of an
unacknowledged passion.

As he ran through the whole sequence of impressions made by Rene
Jessop he was stirred to an intense pity for the life so strangely set
to tragic meanings. He felt he could not put it aside from his own save
by some stronger intervention than had yet dealt with their joint fate.
For George Gale he was conscious only of a feeling of contempt. The man
was a coward, and selfish, and weak too as only cowards are weak. He
had the courage to persecute, but not to defend. That he loved Rene
was undoubted, but it was the cruel, exacting love of a tyrant who
claims a slave, and shuns a conqueror.

As Aubrey turned back to the hotel he knew that the lethargy and
boredom had gone out of his life for ever. Henceforth it was dedicated
to an unasked service for which it could expect no reward, nor claim it.




CHAPTER XVI.--"ROBBED OF ITS PREY"


AUTUMN winds howled and raged, and autumn rains swept fiercely over
the wild wastes of Dartmoor. Up on the heights a man could scarcely
stand against the raging gale. Down in the valleys it was a moan and
a protest, rising at times to a spiteful effort at destruction of all
the hardy produce that had been guarded and stacked and fenced about
in an endeavour to preserve some bounty of nature against her erratic
cruelties.

A queer little house sheltered itself under the protecting sides of
a giant tor. It was built of stone and roofed with granite, and had
queer small windows, and a big comfortable living-room very plainly
furnished. It held merely a table, a dresser, some chairs, and one big
deep Chesterfield couch, that stood by the open fireplace. A range of
low bookshelves ran round the side of the wall, filled with odd volumes
and quaint bits of pottery and here and there a photograph or tiny
picture framed in dark oak, and in no way distinctive. The walls had
been distempered in a mellow orange colour which contrasted well with
the beams of the ceiling, and the dark panelling below.

A great wood fire burnt in the open hearth guarded by a tiled curb. It
was the only light. It gave a rich and glowing tone to the room, and
played over the dark oak dresser and its queer load of delf and pewter.

The one adjective that described the room was "comfort." On the floor
were warm richly coloured rugs, on the big couch some square tapestry
cushions. Every chair was low and deep and delightful as a seat. The
old gate-table held a big pewter bowl of autumn leaves and berries;
before the fire lay a little fox terrier with black ears, and thrown
back in a chair opposite the big Chesterfield was the occupant of the
place.

At first sight no one would have recognized him as "gentleman's man,"
or "chauffeur," or any of the attributes that had really meant him
a few months previously. His face was tanned to rosy healthfulness,
he looked stouter, though that fact may have been only an excuse of
loose-fitting tweed clothes; his hair had been suffered to grow long,
and he wore a moustache and beard, both of a grizzled and elderly
nature that might have meant fifty years of age, and indifference to
personal appearance.

He was smoking a pipe, and conversing at intervals to the terrier whose
eye and tail gave eloquent attention to the subject of discussion.

"He ought be here you know, Boxer. A wild night, and the mist thick on
the moor. Can't think what's come to him, always up there nigh them
quarries."

He lifted his head suddenly and seemed to listen. The little dog gave a
sudden sharp bark.

Chaffey, for it was the ex-valet of Aubrey Derringham, crossed the room
and went to the front door, and opened it. A wild gust of wind swept
over him and into the hall behind. The heavy curtain of rain and mist
blotted out everything else.

He was just about to close the door when a faint "hoot" stopped him.
There came the sound of a car approaching at incautious speed, over the
ill-made strip of road, whose construction had been one of Chaffey's
methods of passing time.

A voice called to him from the darkness.

"Chaffey! here, quick!"

It was his master's voice. He closed the door behind him and went
forward. A ray of firelight shone from the window and shot across
the intervening space. It showed the dim outline of a car. Beside
the driver was something crouched and huddled together, as if it had
slipped from the seat. Chaffey came up and tried to peer into the
dimness. A voice hoarse and hurried gave rapid orders.

"Get him out, for God's sake! He's half dead! Don't speak! Don't ask
anything! Do what I say!"

A limp figure was lifted, thrust into his arms, and the man staggered
back to the house.

"I'll put the car in, and then come to you!" cried Aubrey. "We've a
clear start of half an hour! Give him some brandy at once!"

The car moved off. Aubrey Derringham knew its position blindfold. He
left it in the motor house, switched off the engine, and then rushed
into his own habitation, fastening up the door behind him. His eyes
fell on the prostrate figure lying on the rug before the blazing fire.
It was limp and helpless, stained with blood and mire. A pitiable
object enough without its hanging chains and hideous dress.

"Quick, shutter the window!" ordered Aubrey. "Thank God it's such a
wild night! They'll not be too keen in pursuit."

While Chaffey obeyed he knelt by the unconscious boy, chafing his
hands, trying to get some drops of brandy between the closed lips.

Chaffey came back and tendered his help. "My! Here's a go! He's done it
a second time," he said. "How did you find him, sir?"

"He found me! I had heard the guns, and stopped the car. Then someone
rushed out of the darkness and cried to me. I saw who it was. I helped
him in, and the mist did the rest!"

"But they could hear the car, sir?"

"If they were near enough. But I don't think they were. Not a soul came
this way. I think there were two who escaped. See, the wrist chains are
filed, so there must have been another fastened to him. But I asked
nothing. The poor boy was exhausted. Ah--he's coming round! Hold up his
head, Chaffey. I'll get another drop of brandy down."

The boy's eyes opened, glanced round in sudden terror, and then,
catching sight of the two compassionate faces, brimmed over with sudden
tears of helplessness.

"Don't give me up," he whispered. "I'd rather die than go back. I'd
rather you shot me--now."

"You shan't go back," said Aubrey. "Have no fear, you're safe and with
friends."

"Friends!" The wild eyes glanced from one to the other. "I don't know
you----"

"But I know you. You're Geoffrey Gale. Come, drink this and try to
rouse yourself. Everything depends on the next few hours. They may come
here, you mustn't be found. I hardly think they'd search my house, but
they might. I want to get you out of these clothes, and--oh, Chaffey,
bring a file. These things must come off at once."

The boy sat up, white faced, haggard, with little semblance of youthful
manhood about him. He held out first one wrist, then the other,
and watched Chaffey's deft manipulation. Then with hurried fingers
they unfastened the prison garments, and put him into a loose warm
dressing-gown.

"Now you must come upstairs," said Aubrey. "You've got to do a little
play acting. Chaffey, burn these things in the kitchen stove."

"Not just at once, sir, if I may advise. The stuff'll take a lot of
burning, and, besides it'll smell like the devil, if I know anything.
I'll hide them safe enough, sir, but no burning yet awhile."

"I daresay you're right. Don't forget those--chains."

"Don't forget a movable hearthstone," said Chaffey with a grin.

Aubrey took the boy's arm and helped him up the stairs into a bedroom,
in which stood an old-fashioned four-post bed. A bright fire burned in
the grate, the room was furnished in a comfortable, old-fashioned style.

"Now, one moment," said Aubrey. He poured out some water into a basin,
and sponged the bloodstains and the wet earth. Then he opened a drawer
of the bureau and took out a white wig. He fitted it on the boy's shorn
head, and transformed him into an old man to all appearance.

"Splendid! Now, you'll get into that bed, and keep your face turned
to the wall, leaving your head visible. I'll cover you up, and see to
the rest. Mind, if there is a pursuit and they come here to search,
you're not to move or speak. I shall say you're my father, and an
invalid. They'll never think of suspecting you. But I've an idea they
won't come, at least to-night. You said your companion went off towards
Merivale? Probably they'll think you're together. Now--Oh, those
shoes--I forgot----"

He removed them, and then took off the worsted stockings, and replaced
them by a pair of his own. He concealed the prison things under the
wood in the square iron wood-box by the fireplace.

"Now, into bed, and in ten minutes' time you shall have a basin of
soup. After that, you must try to sleep. Feel sure you're safe. Rene
has thought it all out."

"Rene!" The boy started. "Do you mean to say she's helping? I've seen
her on the moor. I wondered what on earth could have brought her there."

"Yes, she's helping," said Aubrey. "I am a friend of hers, and I live
here. I'm quite above suspicion," and he smiled. "Even if the warders
pay me a visit it will only be a perfunctory one. But to-morrow I'll
explain everything. I want you to sleep to-night, and only think you're
safe."

The boy held out his hand silently. As silently it was taken. Then he
got into bed, and Aubrey arranged the clothes so that only a white head
showed innocently above them. "Mind," he repeated, "whatever happens
you're not to move or speak."

"I'll remember. May I just say one thing?"

"What is it?"

"I'm innocent. I swear it! I want you to believe that."

"I've always believed it," said Aubrey Derringham.

*  *  *  *  *  *

An hour later master and man sat before the fire in the sitting-room
listening to the havoc of the storm. Listening, even more keenly, for
sound or signal of any pursuit of the escaped convict. None came. The
little lonely house shut away into desolate solitude was scarcely
known. Certainly it was too far out of the radius of Princetown to
excite suspicion.

When Aubrey visited it he usually arrived at night, motoring over
from Tavistock, or Exeter. As for Chaffey, the ostensible owner of
Thrushelcombe, he was supposed to be an artist, or a naturalist, or
some equally eccentric speciality to whom this wild district and its
scenery or geological interests appealed.

On this November night of mist and storm the two inhabitants of the
queer stone house were as isolated as if on a desert island. Upstairs,
the escaped prisoner slept the deep sleep of utter exhaustion. Below,
beside the blazing fire, his rescuer related the adventure. "I don't
know what took me there to-day."

"No, sir? Pure chance of course, sir?"

"Chaffey, you're a brute!"

"Thank you, sir. Perhaps I am, but even they have instincts, sir, and
gratitude," he added.

"What does your instinct tell you, Chaffey"?

"That a motor car is a blessed invention, sir, and a disguise, however
long 'tis kept, may come in handy at last."

"Yes," said Aubrey. "Trust a woman's wit to think of everything. The
one difficulty in the matter would have been that shorn head of his.
I'd never have thought of a wig."

"You don't think, sir, that perhaps the face and the wig are a bit out
of keeping, so to say?"

"I do think it. But he will not go out of this house until--well until
all search is over."

"And then, sir?"

"Oh, Canada . . . South America, the Brazils, we don't know yet."

"Alone, sir?"

"Do you suppose I do things by halves? He'll go, wherever it is, as my
valet. I think I'm above suspicion."

"I hope you are, sir. It's a big risk you're running, and there's a
heavy penalty. I suppose--she--Mrs. Gale, I mean, didn't think of that?"

Aubrey moved restlessly. "What does it matter! The thing's done now.
And mind you, Chaffey, I'd do it again, not only for him, but for
anyone who came to me with despair in his eyes, and desperation in his
heart, as--he did!"

"He looks pretty bad. I'd never have known him again. Shall you tell
the young lady, sir?"

"I must. But we'll have to be very careful, Chaffey. It's a mercy she
has been here once or twice."

"And the reverend gentleman, too. I've a sort of idea he suspected
'twas you she came to see. And as luck would have it, there was I,
and Boxer there, having our tea as comfortable and innocent as babes in
the wood."

"And he never recognized you?"

"Not he, sir. I played eccentric, as you told me. Besides, hinting I
wasn't exackly a parishoner o' his, nor too fond o' parsons, at any
time."

"Did you think--I mean was there anything about him to confirm your
previous suspicions?"

"Was there anything about him?" Chaffey's voice was incarnate sarcasm.
"He was just all one shake and tremor. Nigh on D. T., I'd say, if I was
giving a purfessional opinion, sir."

"She goes in terror of her life, she told me so----" exclaimed Aubrey.
"And I don't know what to do. That's the truth, Chaffey, I don't. I
daren't go there. In his drunken fits he abuses me like a pickpocket.
He has forbidden her to see me."

"Well, sir, if you'll excuse my saying so, you've brought yourself into
a confounded muddle. That's the truth. It wasn't bad enough before,
with only the young lady to consider, but now you've gone and got
incriminated with this 'ere escaped prisoner. You'll have to pick your
steps pretty wary, I can tell you, sir."

"I'm sure of that."

"Of course he's, in a measure, safe, even if they brought a search
party here. Not a soul knows of that cave, nor could find it. It seems
to me that's safer than the white wig, sir. Night time it would serve,
but not by daylight, not with that face. Makes it look younger, sir,
not older."

Aubrey paced to and fro the room, smoking a freshly lit pipe as comfort
and consolation. He had indeed arrived at an impasse. It was barely
a month since Rene had given him a first hint of communication with
the great convict establishment on the moor. The hint was connected
with a daughter of one of the warders, who lived just outside
Princetown. Through the girl's influence, which included a doting
father as well as a young and sturdy lover, a message had been given
and a message received. Of their nature Aubrey was not informed but he
knew that any day a Dartmoor mist, or one of its autumn storms, would
be a signal of attempted escape. Escape to a given point on the moor; a
point where a little unobtrusive car might happen to be standing. And
so it had all come about. For sake of a girl, in pity for her grief, in
blind obedience to her entreaties, Aubrey Derringham, a possible peer
of the realm, the fastidious, bored, dilettante man about town, whom
his friends had known only as such, found himself in as tight a corner
as ever man had found himself.

He was answerable to the law for his present action. He had abetted and
concealed the escape of a prisoner. He held that prisoner under his
own roof. And more, in doing all this he had implicated the faithful
servitor, whose own records were not of a nature to lighten the
position of "accessory after the fact."

No wonder Aubrey Derringham paced his room in perturbed self-communing.
No wonder his nerves gave false alarms, and lent a new terror to the
night; the stormy clamour of the wind, the lashing fury of the wind.

And worse was to come. On the morrow Geoffrey Gale was raving in the
throes of fever and delirium. And over the wide wastes of Dartmoor
mounted officials and zealous helpers were scouring every hamlet and
village in search of an escaped convict. One Geoffrey Gale--known as
No. 96.




CHAPTER XVII.--"THE BITTER LOT THAT WAITS FOR FOOL AND KNAVE"


THE little stone house was not molested. Day followed day, and Aubrey's
nerves quieted, and Chaffey nursed and physicked what he termed "a
touch of prison fever" with the skill of experience. Quinine, and a
milk diet, and cold compresses worked wonders with a physical system
too enfeebled for even disease to make claims upon resistance. In three
days the boy's pulse and temperature were normal, and he lay passive
and content in the old four-poster, asking nothing of life but the
peace of the immediate moment. Meantime, his fellow fugitive had been
captured on the Plymouth Road, and the authorities ceased to search
for No. 96 very assiduously. The boy had possibly perished in that
awful storm. Anyway, the local papers made light of the matter, and
local gossip convinced itself that only death, or disaster, could have
rewarded such a mad attempt.

Meanwhile the bleak and cold of December days sped into weeks. It
had been the 28th of November when Geoffrey Gale had been brought to
Thrushelcombe. It was the 15th of December when he left his bed and
sat by the fire, wrapped in Aubrey Derringham's warm dressing-gown, in
nervous expectance of a visitor.

The sound of a car on that outlying clearing, called by courtesy a
"road," sent his pulses leaping to fever heat. Rene's car. Clever,
tender-hearted Rene, who had thought of and planned all this, and
sent him a friend so powerful and so generous! His brain was still
weak and confused. He could not clearly recollect how it had happened.
That sudden sweep of mist descending on the working party, blotting
out faces and figures. The snap of a chain, the hoarse whisper of his
comrade, and then flight! Headlong impetuous flight, the irrational
instinct of escape. Then the sudden appearance of a figure, the hum
of a motor car, a frenzied entreaty, and a quick jerky passage over
rough roads, a plunge into darkness, the checking of speed to cautious
progress. Lights, humanity, safety!

This represented the fevered memory of his escape, but not its method,
or complicity. Of these he was to hear to-day from Rene's lips. Rene
who was now his sister. He must remember that. But when the door opened
and he saw her he remembered nothing except that she was Rene. As he
met her brimming eyes his self-control vanished.

She came swiftly forward. Her arms were round him and his head on her
shoulder. A storm of sobs shook her. His own eyes were wet.

"Oh! my poor, poor Geoffrey!" That was her cry again and again; every
time she looked at the haggard face; at the bruised hands, and the
broken nails, at the shorn cropped head, and shaking figure.

"How cruel they have been to you! . . . Oh, God! how changed you are!"

The two young sorrowful creatures sobbed in sympathy; childhood,
boyhood, girlhood all merging into memories that set their seal upon
this harrowing moment.

Rene first achieved self-control, possibly by aid of that instinctive
"mothering" instinct which hates to see a man's grief, and nerves
itself to consolation at cost of future self-abandonment. She put him
back into his chair, and stood beside him, her hand on his shoulder;
her voice strung to a braver key.

"We won't think of it, it's all over and done with. They've not come
troubling to look for you, and you're safe here; perfectly safe, Aubrey
says so."

"Aubrey?" The boy glanced up, shaking the tears off his lashes. "You
call him that?"

"He is a great friend of mine."

"And Mr. Chaffinch?"

"Mr.--Oh, you mean Chaffey? Yes, he too. Isn't he a dear? I don't
believe there's a thing in the world he can't do! He's been doctoring
you, I hear. That's another accomplishment. You--you're really better,
Geoffrey?"

"Oh yes, the fever's quite gone. I'm only weak."

She turned aside, and fetched a low wooden stool and placed it beside
him. Then she sat down and held his hand in hers, and began to talk.
There was so much to tell him. Much he wished to hear; much he dreaded
to ask. Of her long anxious planning for this, of her care and
diplomacy--of Aubrey Derringham.

"Darrell," corrected Geoffrey.

"Oh, yes, when he's here! I forgot."

"Is there some mystery?"

"No, at least, he, we--thought it best his real name shouldn't come
out. The house is supposed to be Chaffey's, and Aubrey--I mean Mr.
Darrell--comes occasionally as a visitor."

"But I can't understand why he should have run such a risk as this for
someone he doesn't know?"

"He was in court. He heard your trial. He never believed you guilty."

"He's told me that. I--I felt I couldn't stay here if he believed it."

"No one with two grains of sense ever did!" exclaimed Rene, with
a passionate condemnation peculiarly her own. "Never mind, we're
not going to talk of that, at all. But is there really such a risk,
Geoffrey?"

"He'd have to take his chance of imprisonment. I think it's two years."

She sprang up. "Oh, Geoffrey--and I made him do it! I thought it out,
and then suggested about the car, and he's stayed on here, all these
weeks, waiting for a chance! Oh! but I never knew--I never thought that
he--he----"

She turned frightened eyes to the boy's face. It was pale and concerned
like her own.

"You--made him do it? I--can't understand. And George, I thought he----"

"George! He doesn't care. I haven't even told him you've escaped, and
the papers never gave your name, only----"

"I know--my number."

The girl shivered suddenly. The voice from which all music of joy and
youth had gone conveyed more than the ill-omened words of pent-up shame
and suffering.

"George doesn't care!" he went on. "You don't mean that he believes
I deserved this?"

She leant her head against his knee, and made no reply. The boy put one
hand on that bright head, the other clutched the arm of his chair.

"I am sorry--for you. I often thought he'd turned against me. . . .
You've not told him anything?"

"No."

"But he must have known I had been transferred here?"

"He may. He never said. We never spoke of you."

"One thing I want to know," he said sternly, "Why did you marry so
soon--after----?"

"Father wished it. It was all arranged."

"But you--you could have held out, had you wished?"

"I . . . I suppose so. I never thought of it then. Never till it was
too late."

"You're not--happy, Rene?"

"Happy!" She lifted her head, and he saw the change in her; read the
hidden secret of her life.

"I warned you, don't you remember?"

She looked away, into the depths of the fire, remembering only too
well; remembering so many other things that made up a sum of misery to
which every day added another figure.

"My saintly brother! How well he's worked for his object. I suppose
your father still looks upon him as the 'white boy' of the family?"

"I have never seen father since I . . . since I came here."

"I couldn't believe you really lived here! In this God-forsaken
place!"

"Yes, Geoffrey, I do. The parish is only a few miles off. It's a dreary
moorland village, the church is crumbling into decay. The rector keeps
it company, a senile old idiot, and George----" She paused. Their eyes
met. "Oh--I'm ashamed to see him put on the vestments of a priest, or
take a service! It's sheer mockery! But very few people come to the
church, they all go to chapel. It's wise of them, whether they know it,
or not."

"I was always afraid of George--lapsing," muttered the boy. "I knew he
had a tendency that way. Oh, Rene, my dear! what have you done for
yourself?"

"Never mind me! What does it signify? It's of you I'm thinking,
Geoffrey. Of how we're to get you away, to some place of safety.
It's surprising no one has been here. They came to Shapsdown and Two
Bridges, and all the scattered farms and cottages were searched. . .
Oh, Geoff, even now--they might----"

"Chaffey, as you call him, knows of a secret hiding place where I could
never be found."

"But he can't be always on the watch, to guard against surprises? And
if----"

"Yes, they'd make it harder than ever. I got badly punished for that
first time, but it would be nothing to what this would mean."

The girl clasped his hand in silent agony. She had thought and planned
and worked for this escape so long, achieved it so skilfully, only to
learn that the penalty of it would be like a millstone round his neck
and hers and that other which she had forced into the same danger.

"Oh! but they must never find you!" she cried passionately. "Already,
the stir and fuss is dying out. They think you couldn't have breasted
such a storm--that bog, or river, or mine shaft has got you. Aubrey
seems quite convinced the search is over. He has a plan. . . I don't
know what it is, yet, but we can safely trust him. He is so clever, and
oh--so kind!"

"How did you get to know him?" asked Geoffrey jealously.

"At Weymouth. He was staying there. He took Madame Gascoigne and myself
for a motor tour, and then he sent me a darling little Renault for a
wedding present. You saw me in it?"

"Yes, but I didn't know it was your own. I thought you might have hired
it."

"No, it's my very own."

"What did George say to that?"

"He tried to prevent my having it. But I wouldn't give in. It's just
the one little bit of pleasure I have, that car. Wasn't it a blessing
that on that night it was safe in the garage. They came to the
hotel and questioned the stable people, because I had been seen driving
it to Princetown so often."

"Hadn't Mr.----, your friend here, been seen in his?"

"He's not so well known. And he never went to Princetown--by daylight."

"Still, if it got known that he was out with his car--that day?"

"They'd have been here before this. It's over two weeks. He isn't at
all afraid. He's even talked to some of the warders, and suggested
places to search."

"And they don't think it odd that a gentleman like Mr. Darrell should
bury himself in this queer Out-of-the-way spot?"

"They've not said so. He's supposed to be writing a book on Dartmoor,
that's answer enough."

"He's saved my life, and my reason," said Geoffrey hoarsely. "Another
six months and I should have gone mad."

His face changed suddenly. It seemed to shrivel, and grow old and
wilted as a leaf the frost has touched.

"Some of them do, you know," he went on presently. "But no one ever
hears of it. If you've done evil and are punished it's hard enough, but
when you know you're innocent and have to suffer the indignities, the
shames, the brutal indifference, the awful hardships--God! That's what
makes criminals of men who once loathed crime, as--I loathed it."

"Geoffrey---- Oh, hush, dear, hush!"

The blazing eyes, the fever spot on each white cheek terrified her.
She rose to her feet. "I must go. I daren't stay longer. But I'll come
again, soon, I promise. Meantime, you'll do all--he--tells you, won't
you, Geoffrey?"

"Yes, that I will. I don't know why he should be so good to me, why he
has put himself into such a position for me. But it isn't likely I'll
forget it! I was half dead, a frozen numbed corpse that he brought back
to life. That life is his--to deal with as he chooses."

The girl's eyes shone like stars; her lips quivered. She held out her
hands and the boy took them.

"Rene, the thought comes to me that some day we'll regret this. That I
ought to have had patience, waited till the end."

"Oh, no! No!" she cried. "You couldn't, you'd have died! I never saw
anyone so changed. . . . I thought when I first caught sight of you,
in that chained gang---- Oh, my dear, my heart seemed to break. . . .
I couldn't bear it. Night and day I saw you, with those chains, and
that look of despair in your eyes. If my life could have bought your
freedom I'd have given it if only to escape the torture of thought,
for, Geoffrey--I know who did it."

"So do I," said the boy. "No wonder he tries to drown memory. No wonder
he didn't come to see me--suffer--in his place."

Her eyes fell on the thin scarred hands that clasped her own. A
silence, sadder than words, marked a moment's tortured hesitation. Then
their hands unclasped. The girl drew her veil about her, and turned to
the door. His eyes followed her.

"You'll come again?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Yes, as soon as I can. . . . Be brave, dear, it will all come right."

The door closed. The shivering figure sank back into the chair, and hid
his face between his hands.

"All come right? . . . How can anything ever be right again . . . for
I've lost--her, damn him!"

Aubrey Derringham came upstairs after Rene's departure. He affected a
hopefulness he was far from feeling. Chaffey brought up tea and he had
it in the invalid's room, and then sat on smoking and talking in the
firelight, till it was too dark to see each other's faces.

"It really does seem as if the pursuit had died out," he said suddenly.
"I suppose you didn't confide anything to that other man, did you?"

"No, I trusted no one. Besides, I had only the very vaguest hint given
me."

"The young warder?--yes, I know."

"It wasn't likely I'd get him into trouble, the only one who spoke
decently to me, or seemed to have a spark of feeling."

"They have to be hard," said Chaffey. "Think of the ruffians they deal
with, and the risks. A couple of hundred officials against a thousand
desperate men, all on the look-out for a chance to evade a rule, or
escape from hell's bondage."

Geoffrey Gale glanced with surprise at the excited face. "They're not
so bad as they used to be," he said. "You seem to know?"

"I've heard a lot, and I can put two and two together."

"The Governor was very kind," said the boy, "but one warder was a
brute. He disliked me. Somehow, I don't feel easy in my mind about him.
He'd want proof of death, or escape, before he'd believe in either."

"He was at the hotel, one day. I spoke to him," said Aubrey. "A hard
brutal type, as you say. I put in an uncomfortable ten minutes when he
questioned my fancy for motoring over Dartmoor at this season of the
year. I told him the chance of a punctured tyre was preferable to the
vagaries of wayside stations, or local time-tables."

"He wouldn't get much change out of you, sir," said Chaffey. "All the
same----"

He paused abruptly. "Wheels!" he exclaimed. "My God, sir, I do
believe----"

"Hush!" said Aubrey. "Don't lose your head now! I'll see them, while
you get him away."

Geoffrey sprang up from his chair. "Oh! for God's sake, hide me! Don't
let them get me again!"

"Pull yourself together! Do what Chaffey tells you! They shan't get
you, don't be afraid!"

Even as he spoke his eyes took in the aspect of the room. Noted that
the bed was made, that nothing pointed to a third person's occupancy.
He put the tea-table aside, as Chaffey seized the boy's hand, and
pressed a panel in the wall covered by a small bookcase. It gave,
showing only a well of darkness that meant a staircase.

Aubrey closed it on them, as a loud knock sounded at the door. Then he
descended in his usual leisurely fashion, and faced two plain-clothes
officials, each carrying a lantern.




CHAPTER XVIII.--"HE DOES NOT WIN WHO PLAYS WITH SIN"


THERE was no light in the entrance. One of the men lifted his lantern
and it showed the impassive face of the owner of Thrushelcombe tuned to
adequate surprise.

"May I ask?"----

"We want to have a look round, sir. We've heard a rumour that an
escaped prisoner was seen hereabouts."

"Indeed? I assure you no one has been here--to my knowledge. However,
you've got your lanterns, you're welcome to search. There's the motor
house, and the fowl house, and the tool house. Can you find your way?"

"Any objection to seeing inside as well as outside, sir?"

It was the harsh gruff voice of the warder whom Aubrey had once seen at
the hotel.

"Objection?--decidedly. I can see no reason for any suspicion that
needs other defence than my word. I lodge quietly here with Mr.
Chaffinch, the geologist. Do you suppose we should be likely to harbour
escaped convicts?"

"We've been ordered to search every house in the district. I've a
warrant, sir, if you want to see it?"

"Oh, no. If it's your duty--why you must do it. But I tell you plainly
it's time and labour lost. Only Mr. Chaffinch and I live here."

He stood back, and the men entered. Aubrey sought excuse for further
parleying.

"Excuse the darkness. We hadn't lit the lamps. Our hour for a quiet
smoke and a chat in the firelight. If you'll wait a moment, I'll get
matches. That's the door of the sitting-room--on the right."

He went back to the kitchen, leaving the men to examine the other
room, hoping that by the time they got upstairs, Chaffey would be back
and sitting in the old easy chair in the character of inoffensive
scientist, which had accounted for eccentricities.

Whistling carelessly, he came back along the passage, and entered the
living room. "Well?" he questioned smiling, and held the lamp above his
head.

"Nothing--here, of course," said the surly warder, whose eyes had
strayed in dull surprise over the shelves of heavy literature,
a writing-table with piles of MSS. covered with writing and
hieroglyphics, and four walls guiltless of anything excepting fitted
corner cupboards, and the ordinary prosaic furniture of civilized
humanity.

Aubrey Derringham set the lamp down on the table. "Can I offer you
anything?" he asked. "It's a cold night, and you've had a long drive,
if you've come from Princetown?"

The surly warder declined hospitality; the other looked regretful.

"I suppose you'd like to see the kitchen next?" smiled Aubrey. "I
flatter myself that its conveniences would be hard to beat. My friend
and I didn't wish to be bothered with servants, so we've everything to
help and nothing to hinder."

He persisted in showing ingenious contrivances; opening cupboards,
explaining how wood cellar and scullery and wash-house had been put
under cover, so that weather should not be actively inconvenient.

The gruff warder looked at everything, examined the cupboards, and
the woodstack, pounced at last upon a queer little twisting staircase
veiled by an innocent-looking door, and demanded where it led.

"To the bedrooms. There are only two. Would you like to go up? Do." The
man flashed his light up the little corkscrew stairs. A peevish voice
from above demanded who was there?

"My friend," explained Aubrey. "He's got a bad cold. He's in his
bedroom."

The man went silently up the staircase and came out on a narrow
landing-place. An open door faced him, and huddled by the fire sat the
figure of the other occupant of the house.

"Two--gentlemen--from Dartmoor," announced Aubrey. "Anxious to see that
there's no suspicious person in hiding hereabouts."

He threw open the door of the second room. Comfortable enough, innocent
of any sign that could be construed into suspicion.

The warder looked round. "Two beds--here," he said sharply. "I thought
there was only you and the scientific gent livin' here? What d'ye want
three beds for?"

"My good friend," said Aubrey, "I might ask you what business that is
of yours. An Englishman's home is sufficiently his castle to permit of
his furnishing it as he pleases. However, the explanation is too simple
for any mystery. There are three beds in this house because I happen
to possess three bedsteads. I and my friend furnished it with odds and
ends of joint possessions. Also, it might not be quite unreasonable to
suppose we have an occasional visitor."

The man turned on his heel. Aubrey breathed a sigh of relief. If the
fool had taken it into his head to examine the beds he would have seen
that both showed signs of present occupation, and even a scientist
could not sleep in two beds at the same time. However, he closed the
door explaining that draughts were bad for his friend's cold--a remark
that produced a violent fit of coughing and sneezing from the armchair.

The warder flashed his lantern over the firelit room, muttered a surly
apology for intrusion, and then took his leave. Aubrey accompanied him
to the door.

"You may as well examine the outhouses," he said.

"You've got a motor car, haven't you?" enquired the man.

"Scarcely a motor car. A little two-seater, that I drive myself. It's
useful for getting about."

"You didn't happen to be out in it the afternoon of the twenty-eighth
of November by any chance?"

"Twenty-eighth of November," said Aubrey. "What day of the week? I
don't pay much attention to dates. One day is very much like another
down here."

The man mentioned the day. Aubrey reflected.

"I might have been. Yes--I believe I was. But I thought a storm was
threatening, and ran home as quickly as I could. I didn't escape. It
caught me at Post Bridge. I was wet through."

"I've got the number of a car seen near where our men got off," said
the warder. "Doesn't happen to be yours, I suppose?"

"You'd better see for yourself," said Aubrey. "The key's in the door of
the motor house. Now, I'll wish you good evening. If you do find that
runaway, I wish you'd let me know. This is rather a lonely place, and
my friend and I aren't provided with firearms against desperadoes."

He closed the door. That had been a very bad half-moment. The number of
his motorcar? How was it he had not thought of that?

"A cool chap, ain't he?" remarked the second warder to his surly
companion, as they walked away.

"Cool? I believe you. I only tried that on about the number of his car.
I haven't got it. Never had. But I'll take it--now."

*  *  *  *  *  *

Upstairs in the firelit bedroom the "cool chap" listened with beating
pulses to the sounds without. Not until the sound of a horse's feet and
rattle of wheels proclaimed departure did he speak.

Then he said hoarsely: "By Jove, Chaffey, I was in a blue funk, and no
mistake! . . . Well, there's one good thing they won't pay us another
visit."

"Shall I--fetch him now?" asked Chaffey.

"No, wait a few minutes. I don't trust that warder. He may make some
excuse to come back. That's been done before."

"On the stage, sir."

"Well, the stage teaches many useful lessons. I shall go down now, put
up the shutters, lock the motor house, and have a look round."

"Can't I, sir?"

"You forget you're an invalid. I'm going to leave this light here, and
this window as it is. We are 'on view' from that dog-cart. Let us play
the game, Chaffey."

"Lord, sir! to think that you . . . you to whom everything was a
trouble, not to say a bore, to think that you should have risen to
emergencies such as these, sir! It's wonderful that it is!"

"Life's wonderful, Chaffey, when we look at it apart from our own small
interests. Stop where you are! I'm sure you make an excellent picture
viewed from the road beyond."

He laughed softly, and left the room; cool enough to all outward
appearance. Inwardly distraught and perplexed.

With bloodhounds on the scent how was he to keep this boy in hiding, or
how was he ever to get him away?

*  *  *  *  *  *

White and shaking and terror-struck, Geoffrey Gale crept from out of
his hiding-place. It was nothing but an underground cave that ran for
some distance alongside the foundations of the queer house. A place to
which Chaffey's ingenuity had discovered the way by means of that very
corkscrew staircase that looked so innocent.

The shock coming upon recent illness, and the excitement of Rene's
visit, threatened a return of the fever. Aubrey sent the boy back to
bed, and Chaffey gave him a sleeping draught of chlorodyne which, if
unusual, had at least the effect of soothing his nerves.

Meanwhile the subject of future escape was seriously discussed by
master and man.

"You could see they were suspicious," said Aubrey. "That means we shall
be watched. It will be no easy matter to get three people away, when
only two are supposed to live here?"

"No, sir, it won't. But what's the use worrying? He's safe enough now.
They'll not come nigh us again. And you'll hit upon something, sir, I
bet. Never saw the like o' you for circummounting obstacles, sir."

Aubrey Derringham smiled at the remark, but the smile was a bitter one.
Well enough he knew that obstacles were not always to be circummounted
not even by skill, or thought, or all one's heart's desire.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It was Christmas Eve.

A steely sky shone over a waste of snow that carpeted the moor, and
lay on the crests of the Tors, and gave a strange mysterious aspect to
that ever mysterious region of peaks and crests and ravines. The cold
was intense. Not for many a year had such bitter weather signalized the
season. The cattle were safely herded; peat and wood had been brought
in and stacked for fuel in every cot or farm-house. Lights twinkled
from out of curtained windows. Here and there a village proclaimed
itself as a starry centre against surrounding whiteness. The road
lost itself in hollows and breasted heights, with a vain endeavour to
baffle snowdrifts. Desolation gave the keynote to the scene. No Vehicle
or pedestrian would willingly have braved the intense cold, or the
baffling tracks.

In the queer little hamlet of Shapsdown the villagers held high wassail
at the inn, where lights shone valiantly, and branches of holly
gave a festive touch to the bar-room. It was simply an extension of
the kitchen, and consisted mainly of a long wooden table, and some
benches. The weather was the general topic of conversation coupled with
sundry animadversions on the new "passon," who had not been, to all
appearance, very generous in the matter of Christmas doles.

The "little lady" had gone to and fro with gifts of tea and sugar,
and warm garments for the children, but the old vicar and his young
assistant had bestowed nothing more valuable than good advice, coupled
with hints of overdue rent, or non-attendance at the parish church.

By way of revenge no assistance had been given in the way of
decoration. Not a single offer of holly or ivy had been received. The
old mouldy church was left severely alone to its mouldiness and gloom,
and judging from expressed opinions the ceremony of a Christmas-Day
service would be purely perfunctory. It seemed the height of folly to
be going to church on a week-day, celebrating two Sundays between the
important duties of five working days.

"He ha' given I a fair order," observed the innkeeper. "Jar o' whiskey
went up along, not to tell o' wine cases sent from Tavistock by rail.
Seems as ef they be goin' to have a fair frisk up to th' rectory."

"I thought you said 'twas the young passon as liked his drop?"

"So 'tes. But th' ould 'un cud help empty a glass wi' anyone, so 'im
cud."

"But who did they wine cases go to?" persisted the intelligent
blacksmith, who had closed his forge by way of celebrating the season.
"Th' old man, or th' young?"

"Mister Gale av course. Didn't I zay so?"

"Yew only said as 'ow they'd been sent by rail. Yew don't suppose
'twere for us? Maybe we oughtern't to ha' neglected th' church. Th' old
man did use to giv' us a shilling or two cum Christmas time. Th' young
'un----"

"Well, this be 'is fust Christmas," interrupted another voice.

"Don't let's judge 'im too hard. Wait till to-morrow's out. It's not
too late."

"Seed him goin' over by the cleave afore sundown," observed another
parishioner. "'E looked queer. White an' mazed-like, an' all see-saw in
th' manner o' takin' th' road. 'E was talkin' to hisself too."

"Sayin' off his sermon, per'aps?"

"Didn't sound much like a sermon. 'Ere, landlord, glasses round, us
be goin' to sing one o' th' ould songs. Uncle Biddlelake there, he'm
brought 'is concertina. 'Twill liven us up a bit."

Song followed song, and glasses were filled and emptied. Outside
the wind blew over a white world, and a pale moon shone over heaped
snowdrifts, and the twisting track of the road. It was late, almost
midnight, when a little car came slowly over that track, its lights
flashing right and left where the heaped snow had been cleared by the
passage of carts, or foot passengers. It ran on through the village
street, and across the common, and drew up before a house in which a
single light shone through a crimson blind.

The blind was raised as the faint hoot of warning sounded. A moment
later the door opened, showing a slender figure outlined against
the darkness of the entrance hall. The driver of the car helped his
companion to alight. A huddled figure muffled in coat and cap, half
supported by the arm on which he leant.

The girl in the doorway gave a sudden cry of astonishment.
"Aubrey--what's happened?"

"I've brought--your husband--home. Is there any one else up beside
yourself?"

"No." The white face looked unutterably weary. She stepped back,
listening to the lagging step, as if it were no new thing.

"The usual state, I suppose? But where did you find him?"

"Near the Clapper Bridge. Steady now, you're all right. You're
safe--home. Try and get that into your head. Home."

Startled by the tone of his voice, which conveyed a deeper meaning than
the mere words, Rene turned and looked at the speaker, and then at the
figure sinking so wearily into the chair by the fire. Aubrey Derringham
had piloted him there, and now stood looking from his face to that
piteous ashamed one of the young wife.

"You're sure--you're alone? There's no one else?" he said in a hoarse
whisper.

"Quite sure. This is no new experience for me."

"My poor child!"

Involuntarily he put out his hands and took hers into their warm
protecting clasp. "My brave little Rene! Now sit down, there. I've
got to tell you something that will need all your courage." He glanced
round. "Have you any wine, at hand?"

"Not more--for him?" she gasped protestingly.

"No, for yourself. Ah--I see!"

He went to the door and closed it. Then opened the sideboard, and took
out a decanter. Glasses stood on the shelf. He brought one over, and
filled it, and gave it to her.

"Don't be afraid. You'll need all your strength. Now--look."

She followed the gesture of his hand. Saw the figure lift its head,
take off the tweed cap. Saw the close curling hair, the clear-cut face,
the round clerical collar. Saw in a sudden flash of terror they were
not George Gale's features but Geoffrey's.

Geoffrey's face, Geoffrey's eyes, looking at her from the dress and
living presentment of his brother.




CHAPTER XIX.--"MORE LIVES THAN ONE"


SPEECHLESS and bewildered the girl looked from one to the other. Her
trembling lips could frame no words in that first shock of surprise.

Aubrey went to the door, looked out, then shut it firmly, and came
back. "Now listen," he said. "Whatever you may think, or feel, or
suspect, this is George Gale--your husband."

"No, no!" she cried wildly. "That's not true."

"For you--no. For the world--yes. Rene, fate has played a strange
trick upon us. Nothing so strange, so impossible, could ever have been
brought about except by the accident that has brought it. Even I, even
Chaffey wouldn't have dared do what--such an accident has done, and
we've been pretty daring as you know. . . ."

He paused, glancing from her white face to that other, scarcely less
white or strained in its attention.

"Two hours ago," he went on hurriedly, "Chaffey came in from an errand.
On his way back he stumbled across a figure lying in the roadway. There
was light enough to see the face, light enough to recognize George
Gale--your husband."

"George--then he----"

A sense of mystery, of dread, was weighing on her heart. She could not
voice what this discovery meant, or involved.

"He was--dead," said Aubrey gravely.

"Dead----"

"He may have struck his head against some rough stones that the snow
had hidden, or succumbed to the cold. We don't know. Only Chaffey put
him gently to one side, and rushed to me to tell me of the discovery,
and of what it meant."

The white lips shook, but no words escaped. Her heart told her what
it had meant. What wild project had been framed and carried through
in a moment's mad impulse. The changed identity safeguarded by an
extraordinary resemblance; the transference of the living for the dead,
the dead for the living.

She rose, and stood leaning against the table. "I think--I know,"
she stammered. "George is dead. Geoffrey is to take his place, and
yet--how?"

"Do you realize what it means, Rene? Safety for life. For life.
No need for flight, for subterfuge. No possibility of suspicion.
Chaffey did his work thoroughly. The prison clothes had never been
destroyed."

She made a hurried gesture. She saw in a flash the whole scheme, the
extraordinary deception to which they were all committed, but in her
heart she only cried: "It is just. It is just!" Just--that the real
sinner should suffer in some measure for his sin. Just--that the
martyred life should know itself rehabilitated, set in safety and
honour once again.

In honour? Could it be that? Could it ever be that? It was
Geoffrey's turn to speak now. He rose and steadied himself against the
table, looking eagerly at the girl's lowered eyes.

"Do me justice, Rene," he said. "Believe me I was not told of this,
not of the danger or the magnitude of the scheme till we were on our
way here! Even now I won't consent to it unless you--wish it."

"I must wish it!" she cried passionately. "It is the only way out of
our difficulty. Not a soul will know. You--almost deceived me. In that
dress you can pass for George--anywhere. I doubt if even father would
recognize you."

"But, Rene, have you thought what it means to--you?"

The colour mounted slowly to the haggard young face. No, she had not
thought of that. Had not remembered that change of identity meant also
change of relationship. That if Geoffrey Gale lived here as George
Gale, he must live here as her husband.

White as death she turned to Aubrey Derringham. "How--can we?"

"It rests between you both," he said.

"Between us." Her eyes turned to Geoffrey's. For a moment their sad
entreaty held her powerless. She was conscious of the ticking of the
clock, of the fall of the ashes in the grate, of the dull heavy throbs
of her heart.

George was dead--she was free. George lived again--she was bound to
a yet heavier bondage. Over and over she said this to herself. Life
seemed a stupid aimless thing in which human beings were caught in
traps of steel, and told to move and live as if the trap did not exist.
She had felt the trap close on her once; open, as if for freedom, then
it snapped closer than ever, leaving her maimed, and tortured, and
despairing.

Had she ever been a child? Ever romped with and teased these two
boys, who had become her tyrants? Ever run races with them in cowslip
meadows, and laughed for joy of a spring morning?

She was bound to the living and the dead. The joy of life was gone.

And how old she seemed . . . how old!

*  *  *  *  *  *

"Sit down, Geoffrey," she said suddenly. "I've thought it out. I'll do
it."

She turned to Aubrey Derringham. "It's being so unprepared that--upset
me," she stammered. "What's the use of pretending I'm sorry for--him.
I hated him, and he knew it. My life here has been intolerable.
To-day even, in church, he was abusing me, because I wanted to make
it a little like Christmas. And then he sat there, drinking himself
into semi-stupor, until he went out----" She shuddered. "Went out
to his death. But that ends everything. It's of you I must think,
Geoffrey--you . . . . How can you take his place--publicly?"

"I never thought of that----" faltered the boy.

No more had Aubrey thought of it. He did now and realized that the pass
between Scylla and Charybdis was no fable. "You told me no one ever
came to the church? That the service was a mere farce conducted for a
deaf sexton and empty benches?"

"So it is. But sometimes a straggler from the parish drops in, and
there are burials--and christenings," she added, flushing suddenly.

"We must only hope there won't be any while Geoffrey's here," said
Derringham. "He can resign the curacy, you know. His health would be
excuse enough, and that the place didn't agree with him, or you. That
difficulty is not insurmountable. What we have to do is to throw dust
in the eyes of the Princetown officials, so as to preclude all future
suspicions. This seemed to me the one and only way. Of course Geoffrey
must not leave too suddenly. But in a few months the story will be
forgotten, and he won't be the first man in Holy Orders who resigns his
office. What I wish to impress upon you both is that the future is
now clear. That no one will ever be able to throw this convict episode
in Geoffrey's face. It's over, and will be buried with the man they
must find soon or late in that snow drift. The fact of his hair having
grown will be attributed to the length of time since the escape. If
there's a post mortem it will be held in the prison. Nothing can be
found out. No one will know that the Reverend George Gale of Shapsdown
was the brother of No. 96. No one need ever know--now."

Rene looked at No. 96. At the despairing eyes, the unsteady hands and
lips. The whole story of physical prostration and disordered nerves
spoke in every line of the altered face, and the nerveless figure.
Would he ever have strength to carry this through? To masquerade his
whole life long as the brother who had wronged him, and now was paying
the price of such wrong?

"It is getting late," said Aubrey suddenly. "And I have to make my
way back over that awful road. You must arrange all this between you.
Only, for God's sake, remember that you're not Geoffrey; that Rene
mustn't call you Geoffrey, ever again."

"I'll remember," said the girl. She threw back her head, and looked
from one to the other. "It's been all my doing. I must fight it out.
I want you to go . . . right away--now, Mr. Derringham. I never
thought of the harm I was doing; of the risks you ran! But--I'm not
a foolish girl any longer. I seem to have awakened to the purpose of
life. . . . I'll think it all out--for myself, and for--George."

Aubrey started. That word seemed to set the seal of conclusion on the
whole matter.

This was George Gale, and she, Rene, was his wife--to the world, and
he was to go away, right away, as she had said, and leave her to fight
out the battle for herself, and the man he had saved.

"I . . . I can't go--away, till I see how it works," he said hurriedly.
"There will be a hundred things to guard against, and arrange. George's
habits, his handwriting, his friends. How is Geoffrey to know all about
these?"

"It sounds more difficult than we thought, at first," said the boy.
"For one thing I can't play drunken wastrel in the village, even if
I've the courage to face an empty church from the altar."

"No, I don't wish you to do that," said Aubrey. "You must take your
chance of a sudden reformation. Rene will be seen with you more
frequently. The gossips here can draw their own conclusions."

"And what about the servants?"

"We've only one," said Rene," and a silly half-witted boy for the
garden. Ann Whyddon is a stupid girl, and she was always frightened of
George. You needn't take any notice of her."

"I must remember her name."

"It's an easy one," said Aubrey, turning up his coat collar, as he
moved to the door. "Well, you get off to bed now, and don't worry over
problems that may solve themselves. I'll come round to-morrow, and
settle up the remaining details. No, Rene, don't come out in the cold.
This isn't good-bye--yet."

She looked after him as he went into the hall, her face white and
strained and eager. "If it was," she said in her heart, "it might make
this easier for me."

Then she turned to the waiting figure. "I'll show you your room. The
house is very small. You won't lose your way."

"What about the morning?" he said, as he lit the candle she offered him.

"Breakfast is at nine o'clock. Ann will call you."

They looked at each other. She was calm enough. It was Geoffrey who was
conscious of deeper meanings; tragic possibilities; things far removed
from the brother and sister days in the Manchester home. Well, he had
made his bargain with Fate. He must pay for it sooner or later.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Rene turned out the light in the sitting-room, and led the way
upstairs. On the narrow landing two doors faced each other. She pointed
to one.

"Mine?"

"Yes."

"That's--how it's been?"

"Yes."

"I only ask because of the servant. Where does she sleep?"

"Above; there are two attics, that's the extent."

"And she'll knock--here?"

The girl nodded. "You'll find everything you want. Of course it's not
as comfortable as Mr. Derringham's, but you'll have to put up with it."

"About the service? There isn't an early one, I hope?"

"No, nothing till eleven o'clock."

"I hope to God," he said, "I can get through! Shall I have to read a
sermon?"

"No, there won't be anyone to listen. Even on a Sunday there isn't. And
the people don't approve of making Christmas day into that."

"Christmas day," he muttered. "It's that, Rene. A strange one for us."

"Good-night," she said, and opened her door to fall in tearless misery
on widowed pillows, and wonder why she had so entangled herself in the
meshes of life's perplexities.

If she had not interfered? If Geoffrey had been left to work out his
sentence, and be released in the ordinary way? If----

But why pursue the subject? It was done. Nothing could undo it. George
Gale slept beneath the cold shroud of the snows, and Geoffrey--slept
across that narrow space of landing which had meant divided hearts, and
now divided lives.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The stage was set and the play began.

The servant suspected nothing. What was there to suspect? Master and
mistress facing each other at the breakfast table. Master's face
very pallid, his hand a little shaky as he took his cup. Very little
conversation while she was in the room. Afterwards, when they were left
alone, Geoffrey was the more embarrassed. Rene for all her pallor, and
tense nerves, had accepted the situation and played up to it.

"I'll go to the church with you. I'll sit in the usual place. You know
what to do, I suppose?"

"Read the morning service, and--must there be a sermon?"

She rose, and went to a bookshelf by the fireplace. "There are plenty
here," she said. "All sorts, and lengths. You'll have to look up one
for Christmas day."

"What--afterwards?"

"Nothing, I suppose. I don't know if we ought to call on the Rector.
You see this is my first Christmas here."

"But oughtn't I to visit the parishioners, give them tea and sugar and
things?"

"I did that, yesterday," she said. "That's how I spent my Christmas
eve."

He breathed a sigh of relief. "The Rector won't be likely to notice any
difference?"

"Not he. He's half blind and half witted. Besides, I'll go there with
you."

"And, for the rest, for the other days and duties, you'll tell me,
won't you, Rene?"

"Of course. Oh, my dear, it will be easy enough. Too easy I almost
think."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that where there seems no obstacle, or impediment, one is
almost afraid that Fate's lying in wait to play some trick. Could
anything be imagined so strange and yet so easy as this?"

Geoffrey pushed aside his cup, and leant his head on his hands.

"I shall feel easier," he said, "when they've found--him."

The girl's face flushed, then grew deadly white. "So shall I. Oh,
Geoffrey, was there anything, any mark, scar, something making a
difference between you? Your hands?"

He turned them palm upwards. The nails had grown and been trimmed. They
were to be George Gale's hands, but what of Geoffrey's?

"Whatever they notice," he said, "they'll not say anything. We're
stripped, and searched, and described, and it's all put down in a book,
but what answers for me will answer for him. The prison clothes would
be enough, and the colour of hair, shape of features, height, they're
exactly the same. I'm not afraid of there being any doubt, though I
don't fancy facing any of those fellows myself."

"You needn't. There's no one likely to come here, and there's no
necessity for you to go to Princetown. George never did."

She rose. "He used to sit in that chair and smoke after breakfast, or
potter round the garden. But that's impossible now, owing to the snow.
You'd better look out that sermon, Geoffrey, in case of accidents."

"You're not to call me Geoffrey."

"I forgot. That's the hardest part. I hate to have to give you his
name."

"When once we can go away from here, you needn't."

"No!" she cried eagerly. "That will alter everything. You can be
yourself, and I----"

She paused. Their eyes met. "I forgot. If you are to pass as George,
I--I must pass as your wife?"

"Unless we go away somewhere where we're not known."

"But that will mean money. You--you haven't any, Geoffrey, and I--so
little."

"I must go through the farce of resigning Holy Orders, as Mr.
Derringham said. Then I'll work, do something that will make money. Mr.
Derringham has promised to help me."

"What about father? If you give up being a clergyman he won't be
pleased. You'll have to see him and explain your reasons."

"I could write, or--or you might tell him I was--changed, Rene.
Anyway, that's for the future. We needn't trouble about it yet. When
shall you be ready for church?"

"In half an hour. You're quite safe in recognizing any one in the
village. They're all your parishioners, only they don't attend the
services."

But whether it was the result of the Christmas gifts, or from sudden
desire to hear a Christmas sermon, there were quite a dozen people as
congregation; mostly women, and two very ancient men, whose wives had
persuaded an attendance that might possibly mean more bounties.

It was a shock to Rene, and a surprise. But when the white-robed
figure came out of the vestry, and stood in the appointed place, she
held her breath for sheer amazement. It might have been George in the
life. George as she had seen him scores of times. George as he had
stood and looked at the empty aisles, and the untenanted seats, and
gabbled over excerpts of the service with stolid indifference.

Geoffrey was nervous, but not perceptibly so. He made mistakes but
no one was able to criticize them. He read out a brief sermon of
safe platitudes, as the prison chaplain had so often done, and then
he dismissed them all with a novel blessing that bade them enjoy the
day each in their respective fashion. They shuffled out of the cold,
dreary edifice and loitered about the churchyard in hopes of an odd
shilling or sixpence. Rene had provided Geoffrey with small change and
he dispensed it nervously as he hurried down the path. He could not
address them by name, but they were too engrossed in their Christmas
boxes to notice the omission.

He breathed a sigh of thankfulness as the last curtsey was dropped and
the last "thank 'ee, sir," sounded. The first ordeal was over. He felt
more self-confident. He could face facts more steadily, and in this
frame of mind he accompanied Rene to the old Rectory.




CHAPTER XX.--"THE MEMORY OF DREADFUL THINGS"


WHATEVER there was of gloom, or shabbiness, or dust seemed to have
gathered about and inside the queer old tumble-down place called
Shapsdown Rectory. Its owner, as revealed to Geoffrey Gale's astonished
eyes, was a blear-eyed, bald old man of some fourscore and odd years.
So many of those years had been spent in this desolate moorland hamlet
that he had lost all touch with the outer world. He lived alone, with
no relative, only an old housekeeper to look after his needs, and take
charge of the house, such as it was.

She showed Rene and Geoffrey into the one living-room, where the
reverend gentleman sat crouched over the fire, sipping weak whiskey and
water into which he occasionally dipped a mouldy-looking biscuit. This
was his luncheon.

He looked up as the door opened, and blinked his eyes, and muttered
some sort of greeting.

Geoffrey went up and held out his hand, but the old man was too
occupied with his glass and his biscuit to notice it.

"Service over? Any one there to-day?" he asked.

"Yes," said Rene. "Quite a dozen people including myself."

"A dozen! Never. . . . Lord above! You're waking them up, Mr. Gale. I
said you were too young. Young men are too zealous. They believe what
they preach. I did--once."

His harsh laugh was as disconcerting as the grating of a key in a rusty
lock.

"Sit down," he went on. "Have some whiskey. It's Christmas day isn't
it?"

"Yes," said Geoffrey. "But I don't want anything, so early."

"Early? Why, you've had your glass at ten o'clock! It's the first time
you think it too early. . . . Ah, your wife's here! She keeps you in
order. That's right. Do what she tells you. . . . Pretty chick!"

He grinned and nodded at Rene, who turned aside with an expression of
disgust.

"So they came to church . . . and didn't stone you, eh? They used to
throw bricks at me--once. Pleasant brutes! Oh--we loved each other, I
assure you!"

Again he laughed, and nodded, and spluttered. Geoffrey thought it was
surely by some oversight of "those in authority" that such a wreck
of decency should usurp the office of a dignitary of the church. He
glanced appealingly at Rene. She rose.

"We just came in to wish you--the usual Christmas wishes, Mr.
Ramsdown," she said, and put her chair back in its place against the
patched and faded wall paper.

"Yes . . . yes . . . very kind. I'm an old man, my dear, no one
remembers me. All dead and gone, everyone I knew, dead and gone. . . .
I'll soon be joining them. . . . You're going home? Ah . . . Christmas
dinner, and plum pudding, and sitting over the fire, cracking nuts,
drinking good old port. . . . Lucky folk. If I were ten years younger
I'd have joined you. I used to have my Christmas dinner with the other
man. . . . He was old too. . . . He could tell a good story though,
over the port, and the fire. Well, well, everything has an end. . . .
Good-bye then. Take care of the pretty chick . . . this isn't the sort
of roost for her. . . . Mind she doesn't spread her wings and fly away.
She wouldn't be the first. . . . I know . . . I know. . . ."

To the sound of his harsh chuckles they closed the door and went out
into the cold fresh air with a sense of relief. As they moved over the
frozen snow they caught the sound of a motor horn. Rene started.

"Aubrey--Mr. Derringham! Oh, I'm so glad! He will have dinner with us.
I wondered--I hope he's brought Chaffey too. He's such a dear! He'll be
company for Ann."

Geoffrey's voice was a reminder. "Ann? You forget he's not the
chauffeur to her!"

"So I did. Well, he can dine with us. You won't mind?"

"Have I the right to mind anything? What am I now but a passive agent,
in the hands of you all?"

They hurried on and reached the house. The little Renault was standing
before the gate. Chaffey held the wheel.

Rene's face made enquiry as she ran up.

"Mr. Darrell's inside, ma'am--waiting."

He had accustomed himself to call Aubrey that. Even now he glanced
round to see if there were inquisitive loiterers to hear it. Then he
looked at Geoffrey.

"You must come in too!" exclaimed Rene. "You're to have your Christmas
dinner with us. I insist on it. It's to be ready by two o'clock, Ann
promised. We----" she stopped abruptly.

"Perhaps you'll ask Mr. Darrell about it?" said Chaffey. "Where's the
car to go?"

"Can't it stay--there?"

"Yes, of course. But the sky looks threatening. There'll be snow before
night, and the road is something awful."

His eyes shifted restlessly from Geoffrey's face to Geoffrey's figure.
They expressed surprise as well as admiration for an achievement. Who,
in Princetown, or Dartmoor, would ever associate that wasted desperate
looking No. 96 with this handsome well dressed cleric. And who, who had
ever seen George Gale, would believe this was not that person?

"And I did it all!" he thought complacently. "A stroke of genius,
that's what it was. Lord! if they only knew up there how they'd been
tricked!"

*  *  *  *  *  *

It was a strange meal, that Christmas dinner to which they all sat
down. Rene the pale and anxious hostess; Geoffrey masquerading as
master of the ceremony. Chaffey assuming the role of genial friend.
Aubrey Derringham stern and perplexed and painfully nervous now that
the machinery had been set in motion, and results had to be ascertained.

Ann Whyddon thought it a very stiff, unfriendly sort of party. No one
seemed to have any appetite for boiled turkey and its accompaniments;
and the plum pudding, laboriously manufactured during the past anxious
weeks, refused to take fire, or stand up, or represent anything that a
moral, well-brought-up pudding should have represented. When she had
removed the plates and the cloth, and set nuts and apples on the table,
flanked by a decanter of the port wine that the old Rector had sent,
Rene told her she might go home, and take the rest of the pudding with
her.

"Don't wait to wash up," she added. "It will do when you come back."

The girl gasped. This was a proper sort of "missus." One whose praises
might well be sung to less favoured contemporaries.

She lost no time in availing herself of the permission. They heard the
door slam before ten minutes were over their heads.

Then Chaffey rose. "Begging your pardon, ma'am, and you, sir, I'll
retire now. I know you want to talk things over."

Aubrey nodded. The door of the room closed, and Geoffrey got up and
stirred the fire; they drew their chairs closer around it.

"So far all has gone well," he said. "But I don't mind telling you that
it's a strain."

"You must have patience," said Aubrey. "It would look strange if you
left here very suddenly."

"I wouldn't mind if I hadn't to play at wolf in sheep's clothing," said
the boy bitterly. "I'm not what you call religious, never was. But I
hated standing in that church this morning, dressed in that surplice,
reading out those--prayers. And as luck would have it some people did
come."

"You did it very well," said Rene.

"My prison experiences stood to me," he said in the same bitter tone.
"I used to wonder what the chaplain felt. What he really thought was
the good of it."

"Don't you think it was any good?" Aubrey asked.

"No, not a bit. Some took to canting by way of currying favour, but
most of us felt more inclined to follow job's example--'Curse God and
die'--than bless his name, or ask his pardon. When life is poisoned,
and day for day means only hardship and despair, you're not exactly in
tune with spiritual things! By the way, Rene, you've no music in the
church. What's happened to the organ?"

"It's no use at all. There's a wheezy old harmonium. I used to play it
at first but--he, we thought it made matters worse."

"I'd like to do something, if I could," he said, "just to, well, to
know that I had done something. I want to have no time to think! Let
me have every day, every hour, filled up, if you can."

Rene cowered down into her chair, and covered her face with her hands.
That was how he felt, and how she felt. Both their lives darkened and
perplexed. So much to forget; so little to do; and everything to fear.

Aubrey Derringham glanced at the bent head, and his heart ached for the
girl. If he could have helped to avert this catastrophe he would have
made any sacrifice, but it had been already too late to do anything
when Chaffey had staggered into the house carrying in his arms those
clothes George Gale had worn. In the excitement of the project all
sight of future difficulties had lapsed into present hopefulness. So
little had been said at the moment. So much taken for granted.

Aubrey had not even known that Chaffey's daring had not been exhausted
by his first action. Had not guessed that not only was the clerical
dress removed, but replaced by that of the escaped convict. The man had
had the courage to do this thing, and having done it, the consequences
had to be endured.

In cool blood Aubrey Derringham recognized the danger as well as the
frightful liabilities to which he was pledged. He and Rene. Would she
have the strength to go through with it? To live on here with the man
who was not her husband and yet who loved her? That secret he had
quickly discovered.

To-day, seeing them playing a part that held all the intimacy and
commonplace interests of married life, he was appalled by the
difficulties before them. For a time, while danger threatened, while
they had to remain in this moorland district, they might play their
respective parts--but afterwards--what complications would have to be
faced?

Rene lifted her head suddenly. "There's one way out of it," she
faltered. "Couldn't I go home to father? At least for a time? I'm no
use here; no one will miss me, and Geoffrey will be quite safe. No one
suspects."

Geoffrey looked at her, read the fear, the agony, the suffering of the
young haggard face. Saw too that it was to Aubrey she turned, to Aubrey
she appealed.

"It's a good idea," he said harshly. "I'll be better alone."

"You can have the car," said Rene eagerly. "Chaffey would show you how
to drive it. And then, perhaps in a month, or two, you could write and
say you were giving up this curacy----"

"And the priestly humbug?" he added. "But I'll have to keep clear of
Manchester, Rene. I daren't face your father. Somehow, I think he's
the only one who would see that the 'clothes are the clothes of Esau,
but the hands are--Jacob's.'"

Aubrey Derringham rose. "I agree with Rene. It is the best plan. We
have no right to tax her with daily subterfuge; a daily struggle.
Besides, to quote Stevenson--'there's a decency to be observed.' To all
intents and purposes she is a widow, in the first days of her loss. We
seem to have lost sight of that fact in our eagerness to reinstate you,
Geoffrey."

He paced the room slowly; his brows knit, his eyes on the carpet.
Certainly this was the best plan, that Rene should go home for a time,
and Geoffrey remain here. Once that--discovery--was made, once the snow
drift gave up its secret, he would be safe. Then he could slip out of
George Gale's shoes as far as the ministry was concerned. He came back
to the fire, and lit a cigarette, and offered his case to Geoffrey.
They sat there silently for a few moments, each busy with their own
thoughts. A knock at the door and the entrance of Chaffey disturbed
them. He held some letters in his hand.

"Post just come," he announced. "Morning's delivery--Christmas time!"

He put the letters on the table, and Rene rose and looked them over.
Two for George; one for her. As she saw the writing, she started. Then
tore it open and read the brief lines.

She turned to Geoffrey. "From father! He's coming here! To spend
Christmas--a little surprise. . . ." The letter fell from her shaking
hand. "He's--at Princetown, on the way. Oh, Geoffrey!"

Aubrey picked up the letter. He too had grown very pale.

It was an affectionate reminder that Andrew Jessop was desirous to see
his dear son and daughter, and escape the loneliness of a Christmas
fireside. He would be with them either on Christmas eve, or Christmas
day. No need to meet him. He'd make his way over the moor and drop in
as a "pleasant surprise."

"Pleasant surprise!" Aubrey echoed the words and glanced at the two who
were to be surprised so pleasantly. Here was a complication to be faced.

Geoffrey sprang to his feet. "He's not come--yet. But he's on his way.
Rene, what's to be done?"

She lifted her white face. "We've got to go through with it. . . .
He'll have to stay here. . . . Perhaps it will only be a few days,
Geoffrey. You'll----"

"For God's sake don't call me that!" he said. "Try and remember who
I am now."

"The room?" she faltered. "Yours----"

"I must give it up?"

"Yes, there's no other."

"What about the attics?"

"They're not furnished. At least only Ann's."

"Let her sleep at home," said Aubrey. "She won't mind; it's in the
village."

"Yes, that would do," said Geoffrey quickly. "We must play up to the
situation now. We're in a tight place, but I promise I'll do my best,
Rene, for your sake."

"For her sake you must," said Aubrey. "This is a thing we couldn't have
expected, or prepared against. And he must be on his way. He might be
here at any moment. What's the date of the postmark?"

Geoffrey picked up the envelope. "December twenty-fourth. He was at
Princetown yesterday. I wonder why he didn't come on?"

They looked at one another. The same thought flashed to each mind. Had
Jessop stayed on to visit the prison, to interview those in authority
as to the escape of that unfortunate No. 96?

Rene sprang up impulsively. "Wheels! I hear them! Oh, Aubrey,
stay--help us! We . . . I don't know how to face this!"

He took her hands, and held them tightly. "I'll stay, of course. But
you must control yourself. You can't break down now. You mustn't."

"And, after all, it needn't alter your plan," said Geoffrey. "You can
say you want a change--that it's too bleak for you up here--and then go
back with him."

A loud knock at the door warned them of arrival.

"I'll go," said Rene desperately. "Keep there Geof--George, in the
shadow. The fire's low. If we get through the first few minutes we're
all right."

They heard the stir and bustle in the hall. The dumping down of a
portmanteau; the grumbling of the driver, who had brought the unwelcome
visitor, and evidently expected a larger tip than one that doubled his
ordinary fare.

Then someone came in, and Geoffrey rose.

"Uncle----"

"My dear boy!" His hands were seized, the voice was strangely agitated.
"My dear George, a word with you alone! I've had a shock. . . . I'm
terribly upset! Send Rene away. I must speak to you!"

Aubrey came up. "I'll take Mrs. Gale into the next room, shall I?"

Andrew Jessop peered at him in the dusk of the waning firelight.

"Who is this? A friend of yours, George?"

"Mr. Darrell, a neighbour. My uncle, Mr. Darrell."

"Say father, my boy; I'm that now, you know. Well, just a moment,
Mr.--ah--Darrell. Get Rene away. I want a word with George."

Aubrey seized the opportunity. Rene was just entering; he stopped her.

"Come into the kitchen for a moment," he whispered.

"What's happened?"

"I don't know. He wants to speak to Geoffrey."

"Geoffrey--again! Shall we ever remember? Oh--I wonder what it is?
Something dreadful I'm sure. He looked so strange. He hardly seemed to
see me. And the first thing he said was, 'Where's George? I must speak
to George!'"




CHAPTER XXI.--"HE--IS AT PEACE"


GEOFFREY GALE dragged forward a chair, keeping his face well in the
shadow.

"Sit down, uncle. What's happened to upset you?"

The old man was trembling greatly. Geoffrey poured out a glass of wine,
and gave it him.

"It's port, good old stuff. Drink it up, and then tell me."

"Ah, my boy, that's like you--always thoughtful."

He gulped down the wine, and set the glass on the table.

"George," he said solemnly, "they've found--him."

"Who?" faltered Geoffrey.

"Your brother. It appears word came to the prison this morning of a--a
body, found in the snow, somewhere on the moor. I--I drove with them,
George. I had a presentiment. . . . We found him--frozen--dead, half
hidden by the snow, in the prison clothes. It was a shock. Yes, I
confess that. He was so changed . . . it was awful! Well, well, that's
the end of it and his mad idea of escape. I was planning something
for his future, George. I was learning to forgive. . . . I was trying
to believe he'd been tempted, led astray, in one of those hours when
he wasn't himself. In those long solitary months, my boy, I've tried
to think things over calmly. I--had succeeded, in a way. And when I
went over that place yesterday, and saw the faces, heard some of the
stories--well, George, I . . . I broke down. I confess it. I wished I
hadn't been so hard. I wished I'd let him off. Who knows--it might have
been a lesson? Well, it's too late now, poor lad; it's too late. His
eyes were wide open, George. They seemed to accuse me. And that hateful
dress, and his pinched blue face, and--once you and he had played in my
garden, with my own little child . . . happy, innocent . . . God have
mercy on me, George, if I've been too harsh! Do you ever blame me in
your heart?"

Did--he--ever blame him? All the bitterness of those past months of
savage endurance swept like a storm over Geoffrey's tense nerves.

"I do blame you--everyone! All the fools who judged and condemned and
sent a living soul to hell!"

"George--you forget you yourself condemned! You were as bitter as I
was."

The boy checked himself, and remembered the change of parts that
necessitated a change of moral nature.

"I know," he muttered. "But perhaps I've changed too."

"You never went there, George, to see him?"

"Never."

"Nor I. Now it seems as if the hand of God was in it. That I should
have come here, that I should be crossing that awful moor where he
met his death, and there--face him again."

Suddenly he bent his head on his hands, his shoulders shaking in a
sudden storm of weeping.

"There's Rene," he said at last. "She'll have to be told. What a
melancholy Christmas time . . . and I've not seen--you or her--since
your wedding day."

Geoffrey was silent. What could he say?

"I suppose she's heard of the escape?" the old man went on. "They
notified me. But I didn't write. Being so near I felt sure you'd hear
of it. At first I thought he might have come to you for safety. But
there, of course, you couldn't do it. The risk was too great. Yet it
wasn't so very far from here we found him, George."

"We--yes, we heard."

"It's four weeks since he got away. I wonder what he'd been doing
all that time? How could he have got food, or kept hidden--in those
clothes?"

"The moor has strange hiding places," said Geoffrey. "And someone may
have taken pity on him. We're not all police spies."

The old man looked up eagerly. Even in the dusk he could see how moved
and fierce that young face was. "You--you have forgiven him, George.
You'd have taken pity, wouldn't you?"

"I--I think so."

"And Rene? She always said he was innocent. I wonder if she knew where
he was hiding, if she helped? She has a motor car, hasn't she?"

"Only a little thing that holds two people."

"It occurred to me that--but no--it's a foolish idea. Still, as you
said, George, someone must have played good Samaritan, and at what a
risk."

"A terrible risk, as you say, uncle."

His voice was hard and harsh with the supreme effort to keep all
emotion out of it; for despite himself, his sufferings, his just anger
with those to whom he owed these sufferings, he could not forget that
the dead man in the snow had been his brother, bound to him by an even
closer bond than ordinary brotherhood. And now, they would never touch
hands, nor speak forgiveness. Between their two lives yawned the grim
depths of a prison grave.

Suddenly he seized the old man's hand. "Oh, can't we spare him
that!" he cried hoarsely. "At least claim him; give him Christian
burial, a decent resting place?"

"I asked them," faltered the old man. "I thought of that too, George,
but they only said it couldn't be done. He hadn't served his sentence;
he'd incurred fresh penalties by that escape."

"This is a Christian land," said Geoffrey bitterly. "One must expect
such mercies as these as evidence of Christianity."

"It's very hard. . . . I know what you must feel, my boy. If even you
had had the consolation of reading the last offices over a simple
grave, in some quiet corner, here--but that's denied us. He's gone out
of our lives for ever, God rest his soul."

"Yes. . . . God rest his soul--if he deserves it," muttered Geoffrey,
as he stooped to stir the dying fire.

"And now we've Rene to think of," said the old man. "She must be told.
There's no help for it, is there?"

Geoffrey sprang at the suggestion. "She's far from well. It will be a
great shock. I've been thinking, uncle, of sending her away for a time,
for change. It's so cold and desolate here. Your arrival has put the
idea into my head that she might go back with you. I'm sure it would do
her good."

"My dear boy, I'd be only too delighted. But what about yourself? Can
you spare her? I thought a clergyman's wife was as necessary to the
parish as himself?"

"So she is, but I mustn't sacrifice Rene's health to personal
considerations and the parish. No, no, she sadly needs a change. Take
her back to Manchester with you. She wants to go, I know."

"George, my boy." The old man's voice was troubled. "Tell me--is there
anything wrong? Aren't you happy?"

"Of course--perfectly. Don't get that into your head; I mean don't
fancy that we don't hit it off. It's nothing to do with that. It's
the place . . . it's awful, uncle, you've no idea----"

"I formed an idea when I saw your surroundings. By the way, whose car
was that at the door?"

"Mr. Der--Darrell's, that gentleman you saw. He's been dining with us."

"Does he live here?"

"No--o; only stays occasionally, with a friend, who has a house near
Two Bridges."

"He looked a nice, well set up sort of chap. By the way, where is he,
and Rene?"

"You said you wanted to speak to me alone."

"So I did, but call her in now, my boy. I want to see her. See how
happy she looks, and how she fits the post of clergyman's wife. Call
her in."

"What about telling her--this?"

"Ah--true, true! Suppose we keep it to ourselves, just for to-day, my
boy. No need to sadden her . . . your first Christmas together too as
man and wife. No, we'll keep it to ourselves, as I said before. Oh--I
do hope you've got a spare room? I gave very short notice, didn't I?"

"Oh! that's all right," said Geoffrey. "We have a room. I'll call
Rene, and get a lamp. Our maid has gone off to her own people. You
must excuse any shortcomings."

He hastened away. He wondered what he should say to Rene? How explain
this long conversation?

They were standing in a group before the kitchen fire. She, and Aubrey
Derringham, and Chaffey. In each face he read a question that he felt
his own answered.

"They've found him?" gasped Rene. "I knew it."

Geoffrey said nothing. He saw the lamp standing on a side table, and
went up to it and lit it.

"Your father wants you, Rene," he said hoarsely. "You're not to
know of this till to-morrow. He doesn't want to spoil our first
Christmas--together."

Her eyes turned from one face to the other. "Geoffrey, Aubrey--oh--I
can't go through any more! I can't!"

She threw herself into a chair. She was shaking from head to foot. The
great tears rolled unchecked down her piteous face.

Aubrey turned to Geoffrey. "It's no use," he said. "She's gone through
too much. You'll have to say she guessed--what's happened. Let her go
to her room, and leave her to herself for a while."

The girl staggered to her feet. "Yes, yes, let me go, let me be alone!
Aubrey--help me!"

He drew back from the outstretched hand; from the shaking figure.

"It's your duty," he said to the white-faced boy. "Take her to her
room. I'll explain to her father."

And Geoffrey Gale put his arm round the trembling girl and led her away.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Andrew Jessop accepted explanations, and accepted Aubrey Derringham
also as a friend of the family, and someone keenly interested in both
his nephews. They sat by the fire talking and smoking together, while
Geoffrey ministered to the poor distraught girl above stairs, and
Chaffey wondered how they were going to get home? For a sudden thaw had
set in, and sleet and hail were beating against the window panes, in a
manner that promised slushy roads and a perilous journey.

Disliking idleness, he made up the fire, and put on the kettle, and got
out the tea things. In Ann's absence he deemed it as well to perform
her duties. Besides the old gentleman had had a long cold drive, and
Rene might like a cup of tea, when her hysterical fit was over.

"Poor girl, she's gone through a lot, I must say," he told himself.
"And after all he was her husband."

To Geoffrey's amazement, he found tea made and set out on a tray, when
he came downstairs. He carried it into the dining-room, with an excuse
for Rene's absence.

"She's quieter now. She thinks she can sleep. I'm sure, uncle, you
won't mind if she doesn't come down to-night. This has been a trying
time for--for us all."

"I'm sure it has. Mr. Darrell here has been explaining about the search
parties, and the excitement everywhere. Ah, my dear boy, how welcome
that tea is. I see you're quite a domestic character now."

Geoffrey was thankful for Aubrey Derringham's presence, for his
tact and energy, and the skill with which he directed the old man's
attention from painful or personal matters. Suddenly the idea of a
room to be prepared occurred to him. It must be his own room, and the
old man must not know it. He had decided to sleep on the couch in the
dining-room, but there were details and he worried over them. Clean
sheets and towels, a fire to be lit, and he knew nothing of linen
cupboards, or wood house. He thought again of Chaffey and his character
of "handy man."

He rose and put the tea things together. "I'll just see if the girl's
come back," he said. "She must air your room, uncle. I wish we had
known a little sooner, but you were here on the heels of your letter."

"I know, my boy, it's all my fault. But don't bother yourself. I'm
quite comfortable here. I'll wait as long as you please."

So Geoffrey went back to the kitchen, and explained difficulties, and
the invaluable Chaffey met and smoothed them away with the skill of
an expert. He found the wood house and lit the fire, and discovered
where the linen was and made the bed. He brought up the old gentleman's
portmanteau, and made everything comfortable for him. He even tiptoed
across to Rene's room, where she slept the sleep of exhaustion, and
saw that her fire was made up, and the lamp put where it would not hurt
her eyes.

The question of the homeward journey recurred to his mind, as the rain
beat against the windows with persistent animosity. "We might stop
at the inn? I suppose they've got rooms?" he reflected. "I wonder if
master would mind? I don't care to take the car over that road. It
would have to swim, I'm thinking."

Aubrey was thinking the same. He saw no possibility of getting
home through quagmires of mud and melting snow. He came out of the
sitting-room to discuss the matter just as Chaffey came down the stairs.

"Been getting the old gent's room ready, sir," he whispered. "And she's
asleep, poor soul. Best thing too. I'd have given her some hot port
with chlorodyne in it, if I'd had my way."

"Your medical ambitions will be your ruin, Chaffey," said Aubrey, with
a faint smile. "I want to know what we're going to do?"

"If I might suggest, sir, I'd say stay where we are."

"What--here?"

"Not exactly this house, sir. What about the inn? I thought I might run
round and see if we could have a couple of rooms for the night. The car
could be put up somewhere. I suppose they've a stable or a cow house?"

"I doubt it," said Aubrey. "And the inn is only a beer house. Couldn't
we get as far as Two Bridges?"

"I'll try, sir, but there's an awful bit of road when you get out of
the village."

"Well, do your best; I leave it to you."

"Thank you, sir. Everything's shipshape here. I expect that girl, Ann
Whyddon, will puzzle her head a bit. But the old gent will be all
right, and so'll Mrs. Gale. I suppose Mr. Geof--I mean Mr. Gale, will
give an eye to her, now and then. I haven't much faith in that Ann."

"I'll tell him," said Aubrey.

He was conscious of sudden weariness; of long strain, and repressed
emotions.

"You look very tired, sir," said Chaffey. "This is getting a bit too
much for you."

He came nearer, and lowered his voice. "It'll be all right now, sir,
don't you worry. Right down providential I call it that the old gent
should have been there to identify. No one will say a word, even if
they thought--but why should they think? No one, sir, in the prison
ever saw Mr. George. No one here ever saw Mr. Geoffrey. Only his
uncle and ourselves know of the likeness. To-day, sir, has finished
it up. Believe me, we needn't fear. You see how easy Mr. Geoffrey has
passed into his place, just as I said he would. Not a soul suspects,
nor ever will--now."

"I hope to God you're right, Chaffey!" said Aubrey fervently. "Somehow I
feel--afraid."

"Afraid of what, sir?"

"I don't know. That's just it. Perhaps it's of--Geoffrey Gale--himself."

"I don't understand, sir. Why, it's to his interest to keep up the----"

"The deception. You don't like the word, Chaffey, any more than I do.
We've been playing a dangerous game. We can't stop playing, that's the
worst of it, and we've dragged a woman into the business, and she--she
has to go on too. You never thought of that, Chaffey?"

"Thought of--her, sir?"

"Yes, of her. If she loves Geoffrey, if he loves her--what then?"

"That would make it all the easier, sir, if it's the case. But I don't
believe it is. I'm sure the young lady doesn't care for Mr. Geoffrey,
except as the cousin he is."

"And she didn't care for George Gale, yet she married him. Do you
understand that?"

"No, sir, I don't."

"We've driven her into a corner, Chaffey. We'd no right to do it. We
should have thought--but there, I was wrong, I was a fool."

He passed to and fro the brick floor of the little kitchen.

In all this confusion, this clash of personalities, he was conscious
only of a girl's helplessness. It was as if he saw her sinking into
deep waters and could only stand on the bank watching her struggles,
impotent, panic-stricken, as one bound by the horrors of nightmare.

"Come, come, sir, pull yourself together. What's the good of looking at
the worst side of things? I know it's my fault. I took you by surprise,
but I'm sure, sir, we'll get through all right. Look how things are a
playing up to us. Who'd 'a' thought of Mr. Jessop turning up here.
That's the odd trick for us, sir, my word on it!"




CHAPTER XXII.--"WHETHER LAWS BE RIGHT, OR WHETHER LAWS BE WRONG"


THEY secured rooms at the inn for the night, rough and queer, but
endurable. Chaffey spent half an hour in the bar, and learnt many
things concerned with the "young passon" and his wife. Geoffrey Gale
had no enviable reputation to keep up judging from what was said of
George. There was talk too of that discovery on the moor. The driver of
old Jessop's carriage had stopped to refresh his horses, and himself.
Then, being weather-wise, and amply paid for his journey thither, he
resolved to postpone departure till daylight. The news he brought was
exciting enough to procure him "free drinks" for the sake of it.

The point at issue seemed that of where the young convict could have
lain hidden, and where he could have procured food?

"Stole it, of course," suggested Chaffey. "Ain't there hens and eggs to
be had, and wild rabbits? Heaps of ways to keep oneself alive."

"But in the end, sir, he's died o' starvin'," said the landlord of 'The
Poor John.' "He'd ha' bided in his hidin' place but for want o' food,
that be sure."

"Didn't seem as he look starved," observed the flyman from Princetown.
"Not a scarecrow sort o' corpse, so to say. Han't yew missed things
anywhere about 'ere?"

There was an immediate proclamation of strayed poultry, mysterious
disappearance of bread. Even a joint or two from the local butcher's
stall shared in the new glory of exploited thefts.

Chaffey felt he was being rewarded.

"What'll they do to un, now he'm captured?" enquired an eager voice.

"Can't ha' th' law on a dead corpse," said the landlord. "They'll let
un bide quiet now, I reckon."

"They might try an' find out who'd been concealin' o' he all this
time," said the flyman. "They'd get punished, sure 'nough. Aidin' an'
abettin' a criminal is th' same as bein' a criminal offender. Tes wrote
so in print up against police court walls, an' that's evidence."

"Yew knaws a powerful lot I s'pose, driver, seein' as ow yew lives up
to Prince's town?"

"I du," said the flyman modestly. "Us gets to know an' to see an' to
'ear what ere's goin' round. Them married warders tells things to their
wives, an' wimmen must clack. We all knaws that."

"'Twas surprisin' 'ow 'e ever got away," said the landlord. "It du seem
as someone 'ad 'elped 'e. Wonder ef 'twill ever cum out?"

Chaffey found himself devoutly hoping it never would. The superiority
of his present position gave him the right of interfering with the
debate. He deemed it wise to try and throw them off the track.

"It wasn't necessary to be helped," he said. "There were two men,
and they managed to break their chains, and get off in the fog. They
weren't the first either."

"That be trew," observed another convivial soul. "It's been tried
afore, an' it'll be tried again. But it baint no manner o' use. They be
allays caught; dead or alive."

"This un ha' been the longest to keep out o' th' way, poor chap! Seems
mortal 'ard to 'ave to give in arter all. Can't think why 'e didn't get
right away, when 'e 'ad th' chance."

"Them clothes o' course," said the flyman. "'E couldn't 'a' got off
the moor no how. Every place was watched, an' every train. They even
'ad search parties to call round at all th' 'ouses an' cottages. It du
seem mysterious. 'Owever they'll 'ush it up now, an' glad to do it.
Them other chaps'll suffer for it though. They'll not be allowed out of
prison bounds for long 'nough."

Chaffey rose, declining the landlord's suggestion as to further orders.
He was not so comfortable in his mind when he thought of the risks run,
and the danger still to be faced.

Proud as he was of his own part in the achievement of an escape from
Dartmoor he had a disconcerting memory of formalities concerning that
discovered body. If any eyes were sharp enough to detect a difference,
if suspicion was voiced as to the identity of the man in No. 96's dress
with the actual 96--what then?

He must warn Geoffrey on no account to go near Princetown. And, for the
rest--well, they must trust to providence to keep any official out of
this district until he was able to leave it.

Aubrey Derringham was told of the discussion and the conjectures. "A
good thing that that flyman didn't catch sight of Mr. Geoffrey, sir. I
was thinking that all the time."

"We're not out of the wood yet," said Aubrey. "We must be very careful.
It's fortunate that George Gale was never the genial house-visiting
sort of cleric. The quieter and more aloof Geoffrey keeps himself the
better for all concerned."

Then he dismissed the man, and threw himself down on the uninviting bed
in a vain endeavour to snatch a few hours' sleep.

He was realizing every day, every hour, the danger of complications,
and the danger of discovery. They had set themselves to play a game of
Chance with Fate, and no one could decide yet who held the last trump
that would decide the issue.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The next day the roads were as bad as ever. Aubrey walked, or rather
waded, to the hotel at Two Bridges, and resolved to stay there until it
was possible to use the car. He left Chaffey on the ground to pick up
information, and give the necessary warning to Geoffrey as to stations.

"Above all he mustn't go to Princetown. When they leave suggest Moreton
Hampstead, and motor them over. Mrs. Gale can take her own car, and
I'll drive the other with the luggage. I shall feel easier and safer
somehow when they are gone."

Chaffey brought word that Mrs. Gale was equally anxious to leave at
once, and that he had put a wholesome terror of being "snowed up" into
the old gentleman's mind, if he didn't seize the first fine day and get
off.

So the third day after that fateful Christmas they arranged to leave.
The roads were bad still, but passable. Aubrey, fearing Rene's skill
might be too severely taxed, offered to drive her, thus leaving Chaffey
to pilot the "old gent," as he called him. This arrangement precluded
Geoffrey's company, or parting scenes at the station. And as Aubrey
tucked the rugs around the girl, and took his place by her side, he
wondered if all that had happened since that last eventful time were
not some evil dream. If, soon, he would not awake, and find the sun
shining over the Cornish sea, and hear a laughing voice proclaiming the
route for the day.

Neither of them spoke for some moments. He drove slowly and cautiously
for fear of skidding, and she made no effort at attracting his
attention. Chaffey was leading. Her eyes were on his car, and the
muffled figure of her father.

Aubrey glanced at her as they reached the open road which ran through
the centre of the moor. "You've nothing now to fear, Rene," he said.
"The worst's over."

She drew a deep breath. "I can't feel safe while he's there. The very
likeness that helped us is now a danger."

"But I've warned him. He won't run any risks. It's wonderful how things
have happened."

"You've heard nothing from--up there?"

He shook his head. "These things don't get into the papers. They're
kept dark for fear of blame. Ah, my dear, try and put it out of your
mind, and think only of yourself. Why not go to Madame Gascoigne for a
time, after you leave your father?"

She shook her head. "No. She'd talk and question, and I'd have to
pretend he was--alive. If I could only go away where no one knew,
where I'd never hear his name."

"You must have patience. That day will come, but not just at once. Your
father has no suspicion?"

"I'm sure he hasn't. Why should he?"

"One fears everything, just at first. In cool blood we could never have
brought about this project. It's only on looking back one realizes
what's happened, and its daring."

"It was--daring. Even now, when I wake from sleep, I can't realize
what's happened. That's why I don't want to face Madame Gascoigne. I
couldn't pretend--always. She's known me all my life; she'd guess there
was something wrong. Besides at Weymouth I should be reminded of you,
and all that lovely time together. I--I couldn't bear it!"

He set his teeth and said nothing. It was no time for speech; such
speech as burnt his heart like a hidden flame, and which her grief
tempted into burning utterance.

She spoke no more till the pretty market town came into sight. Then she
said: "I don't know when I am to see you again. Will you write?"

"If there's anything to tell," he said. "But, if all goes smoothly,
there's no need. Geoffrey will be sending letters of course?"

She drew up her head with the little proud gesture he knew.

"I beg your pardon. I shouldn't have asked. Of course there's no need
for you to write. You'll be glad enough to get rid of us all. We've
only brought you trouble and annoyance."

"Rene!"

"Please understand I don't want to trouble you in the future in
any way. I'm more sorry than I can tell that you ever came to
Thrushelcombe. I suppose that was my fault too, like everything else.
Understand though, that if ever anything of this comes out, I will take
all the blame on myself. I'll deny that you had anything to do with
it. There's always the warder's daughter to back me up, and my car was
well-known, and George----"

"You're a foolish little girl, Rene! You don't know what you're
talking about!"

"I know perfectly well, Mr. Derringham," she said coldly.

The whistle of the train was a signal that stopped further
conversation. The next few moments were hurried and confused; Andrew
Jessop being a fussy traveller, and convinced that his only safeguard
was to ask the same question of every railway official some dozen times
over. He shook hands with Aubrey, and thanked him for what he called
"the lift." It had been pleasanter than a musty jolting fly. Rene gave
her hand, but said nothing, even when he whispered remorsefully--"I'll
write--soon."

She sank back in her corner, the signal was given, and the puffing
noisy little train bore its freight off and away to the life of towns
and cities beyond this desolate moor.

Aubrey Derringham watched it out of sight. It was bearing away the
only joy of his changed life. With her seemed to go all of interest
that kept him here, chained to dull inactive days and lonely nights.
And once again they had parted in anger. She was hurt and offended,
as on that night at Weymouth, when she had proclaimed him another
"disillusion." This time it was not altogether his fault. He foresaw
a danger of which she was unconscious. He knew to what he had been
drifting, and as he compared those later happenings with previous
incidents the lights and shadows showed up with startling distinctness.

Chaffey's voice roused him at last. He had been wondering why on earth
his master remained on that cold draughty platform, staring after a
departing train.

"Beg pardon, sir. I suppose we each take a car? Am I to have Mrs.
Gale's, or yours?"

Aubrey started. "Oh . . . yes, of course, we must get back! I'll drive
Ren--, I mean Mrs. Gale's. You can take mine to the hotel."

"We're not going home then, sir?"

"Home?"

"To Thrushelcombe, I meant, sir. The house has been left to itself a
pretty fair time."

"We'll go back--to-morrow," said Aubrey.

"Then oughtn't I to get there to-night, sir; to light fires and air the
place?"

Aubrey looked at him vacantly; his thoughts had been far away. What had
she meant when she said that she couldn't bear to go back to Weymouth,
because it would remind her of--him?




CHAPTER XXIII.--"LIFE'S IRON CHAIN"


AUBREY turned and left the platform in the same vague undecided manner.
Chaffey looked at him wonderingly. All this trouble and bother was
beginning to affect him. There ought to be an end to it now.

He got into Aubrey's car, and watched him start the engine and get into
the one that Rene had so often occupied. Something in the way his
master looked at the wheel, and touched the rugs, startled the man. An
uneasy suspicion darted into his mind.

"Good Lord! . . . is that what it means?" he thought. Then the
little car glided off ahead of him. He followed, a new expression in
his watchful eyes.

There seemed to be no end to the complications arising out of that
Forgery Case.

Aubrey drove up to the house, and got out. Rene kept her car in a
disused coach house at "The Poor John." He wanted to tell Geoffrey
that, and also ask if he would like to learn how to drive it.

He found him in the parlour crouched over the fire. His whole aspect
listless and dispirited.

"They're safely off," said Aubrey. "It's a good thing this has been
arranged. Now--about yourself? We have to remember that you and I were
not the best of friends. It was Rene I knew. If I stayed on here it
might look suspicious. So I'm going back to the house. Then, there's
the car. You'll have to learn to drive it. Perhaps Chaffey----"

The boy lifted his head wearily. "What a lot of trouble I'm giving you,
and I'm not worth it. It was playing the fool brought me into this
scrape. Having only myself to blame I should have tried to bear it. But
I seem to have lost my head, and my courage too."

"You mustn't do that. A great deal depends on the next month."

"Month? Alone here! I'm supposed to be a drunkard, and unpopular. I
can't even salve my conscience by doing a little good; playing my part,
as I could play it."

"Do you mean----?"

"I mean I'd like to visit those queer villagers. Have some sort of
straight talk with them. Give a helping hand where it was needed.
Instead I must slink about like a cur afraid even of that tumble-down
old church, that doddering sexton!"

"Yes, but my dear boy, remember you've burned your boats. You mustn't
look back. If you wish to play at parish priest, there's nothing
against it. They may think your wife has converted you. She's a prime
favourite here."

"They're more likely to think I've driven her away."

"I suppose your uncle never suspected anything?"

"Never. He was just the same as he'd always been. Perhaps he expected a
little more outward show of connubial felicity, but Rene's health and
grief quite accounted for--the difference."

"She's gone through a terrible time," said Aubrey gravely. "I know
that."

"He--George wasn't violent--to her?" questioned the boy fiercely.

"She wouldn't say. But I often feared, especially after her suspicions
were aroused as to his guilt."

"Ah!" Geoffrey drew a quick breath, his hand clutched the arm of the
chair. "Tell me about that; she never would."

"I think he must have let something out when--well, when he didn't know
what he was saying. After that, she was desperate about releasing you.
My only fear was that she'd betray herself and that suspicion would
light on her."

"Did the search party ever come here?"

"Only once, and fortunately George was away. No one saw him, and Rene
could prove that neither she nor her car had been on the road that day
of the--escape."

"It's still a sort of nightmare. I don't know how I did it."

He sprang up and began to pace the room. "Three days; surely nothing
could come out now? The enquiries must be over, and he's buried as I
should have been, if I'd stayed in that awful place."

"I wish you could forget all that."

"Forget it! I never can. Who could forget the maddening indignities
put upon one! The stripping in a cold stony corridor before brutal
officials, pulling, peering, questioning, as if your body was a bit
of mechanism. The taking of finger impressions, the marking of every
spot or blemish. The misery of a lonely cell, the filthy food, the
vile company; the knowledge that you're watched and spied on, of no
more account than the cog in a wheel which helps to keep the machinery
going. The tasks, the harsh rules, the callous faces, and a smug-faced
chaplain telling you of God's mercy and Christ's atonement every
Sunday, by way of showing up the contrasts of the week! I know lots of
them took it philosophically, but I couldn't. I was degraded in my own
sight, and the iron branded my soul. It seared out all the good that
had ever been there. I could have murdered that warder with absolute
joy in the stripping a brute of the power to brutalize another living
soul, as mine had been brutalized! I often thought I'd try. He knew I
hated him, and he made good use of the knowledge."

"It was unwise to make an enemy," said Aubrey. "Supposing there was
something about George that did not tally with the description of
yourself? Supposing that man ever met you?"

"I'm always thinking that. My only hope is that he'd be satisfied with
getting his prisoner back. We're like enough to pass for each other.
There'd be no one to raise a question."

"What about the inquest?"

"The authorities would keep that dark. The papers announced that the
missing man had been discovered. To all intents and purposes he had.
He'd died from exposure and exhaustion. The doctor would only make a
perfunctory examination. They'd be glad enough to hush it up to prove
what they always maintain that no one has ever managed an escape from
Dartmoor, though many have attempted it."

"Fate has played into our hands," said Aubrey. "But for your likeness
to George, and his to you, we could never have done it."

"I've often wondered," said Geoffrey suddenly, "whether
he--George--suspected I was hiding somewhere near. Whether he thought
that Rene knew--something."

"She says he never mentioned your name. It may be that he was glad you
had got off. He knew that you were undergoing an unmerited punishment."

"Of course he knew that. It was preying on his mind, driving him to
one sort of desperation, as it drove me to another. I had been a young
light-hearted fool when this blow crushed all the youth and freedom of
life out of me. You say I look young still? God knows I don't feel it!"

"Time is your best cure, Geoffrey. Time heals all, consoles all. Don't
give yourself leisure for thought. Read, work, do things. Perhaps
the car will bring you some consolation. It did to Rene. I leave it to
you and Chaffey. He'll show you all about it."

He held out his hand. Geoffrey seized it, and held it in both of his.

"What a thundering good chap you are, Derringham! God knows what I'd
have done but for you, and Rene says the same."

"You mustn't take it all too seriously," said Aubrey. "I've only tried
to help you as you've helped me. I was a useless idler on the highway
of Life, when one day I walked into a courtroom, and realized what a
fierce tragic thing life could be. After that--I couldn't idle away
hours and opportunities, and Fate sent me a mission."

He released his hand and laid it on the boy's shoulder; looking down at
the tragic young eyes.

"To all intents and purposes I've done a wrong thing," he said. "But
before God, Geoffrey Gale, I feel it's a right one! Anyhow, I don't
regret it, neither must you. After all, human justice isn't infallible.
It plays up to a theory for a given purpose. Sometimes the theory
doesn't fit the purpose. Here was an instance. You had committed no
crime, why should you be treated as a criminal? Again, suffering that
is merited may be wholesome, but unmerited suffering turns men into
relentless savages, for the time. I've seen it, you've known it.
Viewing your case from a psychological standpoint I hold you justified
even as I hold myself. There's only one point unsettled----" He dropped
his hand. "Have you any direct proof that your brother committed the
crime for which he allowed you to suffer? In case of any future trouble
we ought to have that cleared up."

Geoffrey shook his head, "I've no direct proof, as yet. But there are
all his papers and documents to look through. I might find something."

"Are they--here?"

"Yes, so Rene said. In an old bureau in my room. It used to be his
room."

"Well, I should look them through; that's to say, if Rene doesn't
object."

"She gave me the keys last night," he said.

"That looks as if you were to be her deputy."

"Everything in that room is as he brought it from home, so she told me.
His books, and clothes, and trunks, and that old bureau. He always kept
letters and papers there."

"An unwise thing to do. But you wanted some employment. Here it is,
ready made. And now, I must really be off."

"You--couldn't look in again to-night, I suppose?" faltered Geoffrey.
"I shall be alone, and I hate to be alone! Every sound, every footstep
is like a threat of pursuit!"

"But there can be no pursuit now. You must pluck up courage and learn
to rely upon yourself. I'd come again, of course, only, as I told you,
he and I were never friends. It will excite comment, and that must
be avoided at any cost."

"I know you're right," said the boy. "I'll do my best."

He followed him out into the little hall, and opened the door. He
watched him get into the car and drive down the narrow street. Then he
went back to the lonely house, and to the consolation that it at least
meant safety, and that he had not to keep up any more false pretences
so far as Rene was concerned.

*  *  *  *  *  *

That evening when Ann Whyddon brought in his tea, she informed him that
she was going home to sleep every night while "the missus" was away.

"Mother ses I be a vartuous maid, an' it baint vitty to bide 'ere alone
with a man, even ef 'e be a clargyman. So I'll tidy up th' kitchen,
sir, an' go 'ome."

"All right, you can go," said Geoffrey, recalled again to his brother's
unenviable reputation. Evidently there had been scenes here, and the
girl was not desirous of witnessing one played for her sole benefit. No
doubt she pictured him revelling in a solitary debauch to-night. His
wife had gone, so had the visitor. There was no restraining influence
to keep him in check.

The boy smiled somewhat bitterly as the door closed. Had he been
inclined to deaden thought, or drown his sorrow and fears, there was a
sideboard of temptation in the room. Fortunately for himself excesses
in that line made no appeal. Besides he had decided upon an occupation
for to-night. He would open that old bureau of his brother's, and
search through its contents for some proof of that innocence he had
always avowed and of which George had been fully conscious.

*  *  *  *  *  *

With the whole evening before him, Geoffrey Gale yet postponed that
self-given task from moment to moment, and hour to hour. The solitude
of the house oppressed his nerves, and every creak in the wainscot, or
crack of burning log, set them jangling like wires unstrung. From time
to time he looked around as if doubtful that it could be himself alone
here in George Gale's house, attired in George Gale's habit? Events
had marched so quickly, situation after situation had been so forced
upon his acceptance, that his memory only held confused pictures of the
actual facts. Had he known of what this masquerade would mean he felt
he could never have gone through with it, but its developments had been
gradual, brought about by a sequence of coincidences that no plotting
or planning could have suggested.

The very change in his uncle had rendered deception easy, for old
Jessop harassed and distressed by the tragedy of the prisoner's escape
was no longer the stern exacting accuser who had arraigned and brought
him to justice. Against these things he set his own sufferings, and the
memory of those prison days.

Again he felt the nerve-shock of clanging doors, of rattling keys,
heard the rough voices and harsh commands of those to whom innocence or
guilt made no difference seeing that a gaol bird was only a victim of
the laws they were bound to enforce. Again he saw the sullen face of
that one man he had instinctively hated, and had once fiercely insulted
in a moment of uncontrollable passion. Would he remember him if by any
chance they met?

He rose and looked at himself in the small oval chimney glass. How pale
he was, and how terrified his eyes still looked. Would they ever lose
that strained expression; that sense of covert fear? Would he ever be
able to rise above the sense of deception; to take his place in life,
and look men in the face unflinchingly?

He nerved himself again to that task he had resolved to accomplish. He
would go through with it now--at last.

He lit the candle left for him on the sideboard, and went up the
creaking wooden stairs to that room above. He had hated to use it, even
for that one night. It seemed haunted by the man in whose place he
stood. Now that Rene had left, he had determined to use her room, and
had taken possession of it that afternoon, and ordered Ann Whyddon to
light the fire before she left.

He put his candle down on the dressing-table, and looked at the old
oak bureau. It stood in a corner of the room, closed and locked. He
took out the keys Rene had given him, and tried them in the lock of
the closed flap. One fitted, and he turned down the ledge, and looked
at the row of pigeon-holes filled with papers, letters, memoranda
of all sorts; things of school and college days; one or two pocket
diaries. He remembered that George had always been in the habit of
noting engagements, duties, appointments. He looked at the dates of the
diaries. One was of the present time, the others ran back to three or
four years previously. He put them aside. Then took out the letters and
the neatly docketed and tied papers.

There were three drawers below to be examined, but he felt he had
material enough for the present. He put them all together, and closed
the bureau and locked it again. Then he took the papers into the room
opposite, and stood a moment regarding it as one regards a holy place.
It spoke of her in every simple detail that made it so purely feminine.
In the white hangings, and the toilet trifles on the dressing-table,
the chintz-covered chair by the fire, the half-open cupboard where hung
a dress or petticoat that she had worn. A bright fire blazed in the
grate. The room spoke to him, like herself, offering the comfort and
rest he had found nowhere in this house. He went in and laid the papers
and the diaries down on a small table by the fire.

"I'll read them here," he said softly. "He doesn't seem to haunt this
room, like the others." Then he went down to put out the lamp and lock
the doors; a memory of that dead man echoing in every grating sound.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The curtains were drawn, the candles lit. An atmosphere of peace
reigned in the quiet room. Before the fire Geoffrey Gale sat and read
the extracts in those diaries. Queer disjointed fragments, notes of
college exploits, of friendships and enmities, of home incidents.
Underlying an occasional entry flashed a spark of jealousy; an ever
constant fear, dating from boyhood, that Rene preferred Geoffrey to
himself. Here and there initials pointed to a growing dislike of his
brother. "That hateful G." "That insufferable young idiot." "Hot-headed
fool," and similar complimentary remarks. Here and there too came hints
of escapade or trouble of his own. Then a series of blanks. Then rough
brief hints of coming discovery, followed by notes of a discussion with
his uncle. Then a description of the trial; carefully worded, ending
with the sentence, and a brief--"Thank God, that's over!"

Thank God!

Geoffrey flung the book on the floor in a spasm of rage and
indignation. He could say that! Write that, knowing that the
accusation was false, the evidence false, the verdict unjustified, the
sentence--undeserved!

He could thank God for that martyrdom, the horrors and indignities
which had broken health and nerve and fortitude! He could thank God!
why? Because it left the field free for himself. Because Geoffrey was
safely out of the way. Because he could claim Rene, cold, passive,
reluctant, for his wife.

After a stormy moment or two, he again lifted the book, and went on
with it, turning the pages with rapid fingers. It seemed that whatever
George had done it had brought no satisfaction. No single record
breathed happiness, or dignified his married life with anything save
brief hints of wasted passion, baffled ardour, cold tolerance that
was driving him to a drunkard's consolation. He had sinned, and the
fruits of sin were bitter. His conscience was a hell, and in the
pure reproachful look of his young wife's eyes he daily read his own
condemnation.

Geoffrey hurried on. He reached the last records of this last month.
They were blotted, feverish, scarce readable, but one and all betrayed
the obsession of an idea. Geoffrey had escaped. Geoffrey might come
here one day. Geoffrey knew, and would murder him in his rage at
what had been done. The tortured spirit went in fear of every chance
meeting; every received letter, every newspaper paragraph. No wonder
he had sought oblivion in drink, nor dared to show himself beyond his
parish boundaries till after nightfall.

Geoffrey closed the last diary with a feeling of pity. A tortured soul
had faced him, its despair outweighing his own a thousand times, for it
was self-wrought, the fruit of evil thought and evil deeds.

What stood against himself was but the folly of youth; its brief sins,
its long repentance. He looked at the letters. Some were in his own
writing; some were from his uncle, some from Rene.

"I won't read them," he thought. "I know as much as I shall ever know.
It's not likely that he'd have left any proof of his own misdoings. I
don't suppose these incoherent ravings would mean anything to any one
but myself. Still, I'd better keep them. Derringham might like to see
them."

He threw the letters in the fire, and watched them blaze and flutter
into black fragments. Then he rose, and threw himself on his knees by
Rene's bed, and for the first time since all this trouble and terror
had fallen upon his life--Geoffrey Gale prayed.




CHAPTER XXIV.--"THE PRISON AND ITS PREY"


RENE the girl was slowly changing into Rene the woman. Waking, so it
seemed, from the sleep of indifference to life's fuller meaning.

In her old home, surrounded by associations of her girlhood, she
wondered how she could ever have been persuaded into that mockery of
union which had meant marriage. She saw herself outraged, tortured,
wounded, and distraught. Saw illusion after illusion stripped and
mocked at. Saw all the horrors of a false position, and watched, as it
were, the whole edifice of domesticity tumbling into wreck and ruin
around her.

And she could say nothing. She must say nothing--now. Her father's
questioning was an added torture for he had never met the George that
she knew. How could he believe ill of that other George, under whose
roof he had spent three days and nights of renewed intimacy; renewed
favouritism?

Always in his eyes it was George who had stood for all the virtues,
and Geoffrey for all the sins. So they stood still, though the tragic
fate of the sinner had in some measure softened hostility, and aroused
compassion. The harping on one or other of these strings became
intolerable to Rene. In desperation she kept to her room, and declared
herself too ill and upset for any long talks. The family doctor agreed
with her. He had known them all for long, and knew of their trouble
of the previous year. He had known Rene as a girl. He had seen her
married, a pale, too serious bride, yet as a clergyman's wife that was
not surprising. But this nerve-shattered sorrowful creature who had
returned to her home bore no likeness to either the radiant girl, or
the serious young bride. He was appalled at the change. He could only
counsel entire rest, and the exclusion of anything likely to excite or
disturb her.

The New Year came and passed, and was rung in hopefully to all ears
but hers, or so she thought in sorrow's exclusiveness of sorrow.
The cold bleak days lapsed into cold empty weeks. Geoffrey wrote of
course. His handwriting and George's were as alike as their personal
appearance, and her father would bring the letters to her with a remark
on husbandly attentions, and a hope that they would cheer her up.
Geoffrey wrote stiffly and coldly. He dared not let himself go. He told
her of his daily life, of Ann's guarded "vartue"; of his empty church,
and its useless services. Of his terror that something in the shape
of a wedding or funeral might lay formal demand upon him. Of Aubrey
Derringham's return to Thrushelcombe, and Chaffey's instructions in
motor driving.

But he said nothing of his horror of that lonely house, of the long
dreary days, the long haunted nights. Neither did he say anything of
those diaries, or of a discovered cheque book, in which George seemed
to have practised signatures and figures, with extraordinary ability.
It had been thrust into a secret aperture of the bureau. Only by the
merest chance had Geoffrey discovered it. A hundred times might that
receptacle have been searched and examined and no one would have
noticed that little fitted panel. Possibly George had thrust this book
into the hollow behind it, and forgotten all about the fact. Or again
possibly he might have kept it as incriminating Geoffrey, for the
writing was curiously like his own.

Evidently this was the missing cheque book spoken of at the trial. It
showed the cunning and the patience of the forger in every detail. Also
it showed how much skill had been wasted, for after all it was not
Andrew Jessop's signature that had been forged, only the figures of the
cheque and their written counterpart.

But what use to tell Rene all this. Geoffrey locked away the diaries
and that cheque book in a leather portfolio he had discovered.
They were useless now. The extraordinary resemblance of the two
handwritings, the absence of George Gale's name as identification
was only another link of confusion; it could do nothing towards
establishing a crime, or proving an error of law.

Cold bitter weather and heavy snow-storms made January a month to
remember. Rene seemed to grow paler and thinner every day, and her
father became seriously alarmed. The doctor spoke of a warmer climate,
south of France, or south of England. Could she not go there? This
bleak midland air was quite unsuited to her. Her father suggested
Weymouth and Madame Gascoigne, but she refused. If she went anywhere it
would be Cornwall; to a little sheltered corner of the coast where the
sun shone, and the air was soft and healthful. She remembered such a
place, and its quaint inn and fishers' cottages. It was near enough to
Penzance to be assured of all necessary requirements. Let her go there,
and let her go alone!

Old Jessop was astonished at the earnestness of the request. He
consulted the doctor, and by his advice wrote privately to Madame
Gascoigne for help in this dilemma. The old French lady replied by
return of post, putting herself at their disposal, ready to come to her
chre petite at any moment, if she desired.

Rene was informed that she might go to Cornwall, if she chose, but not
unaccompanied. And when she heard of the old French lady's offer she
gave in.

Her father wrote to Geoffrey, and told him of the arrangement,
lamenting the circumstances and the distance, but cheering him with the
hope that his wife's health would improve, and that in a month or two
she would be able to return to Dartmoor.

Geoffrey read the letter with a sense of relief. A month or two might
mean the end of his own ordeal. Already he had told the Rector that
the place did not suit "Mrs. Gale," and that he must throw up the
curacy. His next trouble was concerned with the formalities that would
enable him to resume an independent position. How was that to be done?
He had no desire to be interviewed by a Bishop; give reason for a
change of opinion that meant resigning his position in the church.
He was no theological student. He could not argue, or explain, or
seek explanation. He could only say he must resign, hoping to avoid
unnecessary lies.

The impassable roads had made it impossible for him to get to
Thrushelcombe. Chaffey had returned before the heavy snow-storm had
cut off communication, and Geoffrey had remained shut up in the dreary
little village, and the lonely house; trying to steady his nerves and
bear his solitude as best he could.

Not a word had reached them from Princetown. They could only suppose
there had been no doubt raised as to identification. The dead man was
accepted as Geoffrey Gale, Convict 96, and as such had been buried and
registered.

As the days passed into weeks, Geoffrey began to feel safer. The
perfunctory duties of his Sundays made no claim on his conscience for
scarce a soul came to hear him preach, and his efforts with the wheezy
harmonium were only a source of amazement to the ancient sexton and
his more ancient wife. As for the old Rector, he slept and drank, and
drank and slept through the dreary winter days, forgetful of everything
except creature comforts; indifferent alike to his parish or his curate.

When Geoffrey suggested that he should seek another helper he only
gave an asthmatic chuckle, and promised to "think about it." It seemed
to Geoffrey that the thought would never resolve itself into action,
and that if he was to have a substitute he must provide one himself.
All this made him the more eager to see Aubrey Derringham, and ask his
advice. He knew nothing of the discovery in the bureau. They had not
met since Rene left. Sometimes Geoffrey wondered uneasily whether
anything had happened? whether Aubrey had gone to London? But surely
if that were so, he would have written. There was nothing for it but
patience, and the writing of long letters to Rene, which were never
sent when written, for fear of adding to her distress, or falling into
her father's hands.

When he heard of the Cornish project, and was asked to give his consent
to it, he felt the relief of coming freedom. Once he got away from here
he resolved to go abroad. South America for choice. If Rene wished to
accompany him they could travel as brother and sister. If she preferred
remaining in England some excuse of health, or difference of opinion,
would have to satisfy her father. But, as he thought and planned, the
longing to see Aubrey became more and more intolerable. He looked at
the steely clouds, and the melting snow, and cursed the fate that kept
them apart.

Inactivity was torture in his present frame of mind, for it showed
him only too clearly how helpless he was, and tried the stoicism of
hard-won fortitude to the uttermost. But an end comes to all things,
and one day the sun shone, and the snow melted, and a message reached
him from Aubrey Derringham. If the roads were passable next day
would Geoffrey come to Two Bridges? They could lunch together and
discuss matters. Geoffrey prayed devoutly that the roads would be at
least--fordable. One could hope for nothing better; but waterproof
boots were at hand, part of George's fishing equipment, and the sun
rose again in a clear sky, and he set forth.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The two young men held a long and serious discussion.

Both had had time and opportunity to think out the whole matter, and
Aubrey Derringham was ready with projects more or less feasible. He
had risked the meeting here, and watched keenly the faces of landlord
and waiters, all of whom had seen George Gale many times. They were
absolutely unsuspicious. Aubrey had taken care that the meeting should
have only the appearance of accident. Neither he nor Geoffrey showed
any special cordiality. The conversation was kept to every day topics,
and not till they sat over coffee and cigarettes in the deserted lounge
was the real object of their meeting broached.

Geoffrey hurriedly related what he had heard from Rene. There was
no question now of her returning here. He had sent in a formal
resignation of his curacy. He was to sell up the furniture and effects
by Rene's desire, and then leave the place for ever. He told Aubrey
of his difficulties respecting formal resignation of clerical orders.
Derringham promised to enquire into that.

"I am leaving for London to-morrow," he said. "That's why I came here.
I shall stop the night, and take the first train from Moreton. Chaffey
remains a week or two longer. Then he will shut up Thrushelcombe and
join me."

"Are you giving up the house?" asked Geoffrey.

"No. That might look suspicious. I keep it on. It will serve as a
retreat for Chaffey, or I can let it in the summer, for the fishing."

"You did not take it for that reason? I've often wondered----"

"I took it," said Aubrey coldly, "for a whim. I was motoring over the
moor and had a fancy to see more of it. The place was to let, and I put
Chaffey in, and came when the fancy took me."

"Pray don't think I'm impertinent," said Geoffrey flushing hotly. "But
it was such a queer out-of-the-way place, I couldn't help wondering.
And something Rene said made me curious. Surely, surely you didn't do
it for my sake, because you knew that she was planning my escape?"

"I'm afraid I did," said Aubrey, with a sudden smile. "Quixotic, wasn't
it? Never mind. I've done one good deed in my life, at least in my
opinion, and I suppose in yours? Now that's enough. You haven't told me
yet of any discovery among those papers."

Then Geoffrey related the incident of the secret drawer, the cheque
book, the diaries. "None of these things prove anything," he said.
"A third person might not, in fact would not, be able to say whether
the writing was mine, or his. It was our misfortune to be alike in so
much, and different in so little."

"Still I should like to see them," said Aubrey. "There are two people
whom I should like to convince of your innocence. Whom I mean to
convince, if I can. One is your uncle, Andrew Jessop. The other----"

He paused, and looked at the flushed face and eager eyes.

"The other?"

"You'd never guess, my boy. It is your counsel. The man who defended
you--Joshua Myers."

*  *  *  *  *  *

All the colour went out of the boyish face. That name brought back
the tragedy of his life. The awful moments in the court house, the
questions and accusations, the pitiless condemnation that had been his
fate.

"For God's sake, Derringham, don't rake that up again!" he implored.
"If you spoke to Myers he'd suspect a reason. I suppose he knows of the
escape."

"No doubt, and of the discovery. But what of that? These documents may
have been found by Rene."

"But you forget who I am. Is it likely she would betray
her--husband?"

"There will be no question of betraying you, Geoffrey. Have no fear.
I shall not move in the matter until it is perfectly safe. And for your
own satisfaction let me tell you that Myers has always believed in your
innocence."

"But he would not feel justified in concealing my escape. You couldn't
expect it."

"I'm not going to tell him of that, till the term of your sentence has
expired. There'd be no use then in raking up the story. You can't be
tried again. Your death has been accepted and notified."

"There's more than a year to run," faltered Geoffrey. "If I could get
away, out of England, I'd feel safe. But here--I feel there's danger in
every curious eye that looks at me."

"You must try and get over that."

Aubrey rose. "I'll walk back with you," he said. "The road on this side
is better than mine."

"Will you? I'll be delighted!" Geoffrey sprang to his feet, and Aubrey
summoned a waiter, and told him to bring their overcoats and hats.
Together the two walked out of the porch and past the window of the
bar. Geoffrey Gale was on the inner side and glanced casually into the
room, where three men were standing and drinking. His wide soft hat was
slightly pushed back; his face was distinctly visible. One of the men
caught sight of it, and hastily put down his tankard, and rushed to the
door. He stood there a moment gazing after the two figures, then went
slowly back.

"Who's the young parson?" he enquired of the barman. "Living anywhere
hereabouts?"

"Parson? D'you mean the young un as 'elps the Rector up to Shapsdown?"

"He was here. He's just gone past."

"That be the curate. 'E ain't been 'ere for long 'nough. Used to come
fishin' summer time, now and again."

"Know his name?"

"Never 'eard on't. Landlord knows he I've no doubt."

The man asked no more questions, but slowly emptied his tankard and
went out and into the hotel porch. A waiter demanded his business.

"Is there a gentleman staying here--a clergyman sort o' chap?" he
enquired.

"The clergyman's not staying," said the waiter. "The other gent is,
only for the night. He goes to London to-morrow."

"D'ye happen to know the name o' the clergyman? I seem to know his
face."

"He's the Reverend Mr. Gale; lives at Shapsdown Rectory."

"Gale! Well, that's queer!"

"D'ye mean the name, or the gent? He's all right when he's not too free
with the drink. Used to run a pretty score here, he did."

"You know him then? You're quite sure he is Mr.--Gale?"

"As sure as I know myself."

"It's queer," repeated the man. "Well, good afternoon, I must be
getting back."

The waiter watched him as he got into the little trap, in which he
had driven from Princetown. He wondered why he had been so curious.
There was nothing in his appearance to connect him with the Great
Palace of the Duchy set in the midst of these moorland wastes, for even
officialdom can at times have its "day off," and divest itself of state
liveries. Yet the man was the surly warder of whom Geoffrey Gale had
such a horror; the man, whom of all connected with his prison life, he
most feared and hated.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Driving over the steep road, and through melting snow and running
water, the man puzzled himself over that likeness.

The face that he had seen passing the window in the pale glow of the
wintry sunlight was the face that had so often flashed defiance, and
open hatred to his own. The figure in its clerical garb was in every
respect of height and build the figure of that escaped prisoner. How
was such a likeness possible? The more he thought the deeper grew his
perplexity.

He ground his teeth with a sudden vicious snap. "By God--if he's
tricked me, I'll make him pay for it! I swear I will! It could have
been done that way--no other! And p'raps that cool insolent Londoner
has had a finger in the pie after all. The question is how on earth are
we going to explain that we've got hold of the wrong man! The
Guv'nor would never believe me, no, nor any of the authorities! Catch
them acknowledge a mistake once it's made. The only thing they'd do
would be to watch my gentleman in future. I don't know that I hadn't
best keep this to myself. But I can try frightening that young fool up
at Shapsdown. He was always a bit of a coward. And the Londoner, he'd
look queer, I'm thinking, if we could bring him in 'accessory after the
fact.' Wonder if I could work this out? There's money in it. An income
for life--properly worked!"




CHAPTER XXV.--"A DEBT TO PAY"


THE mild days of February seemed to promise atonement for previous
stress and storm. There was a hint of blue in the sky, of warmth in the
sun. The frozen streams trickled a merry release, and the highways of
the great moor were again passable.

Geoffrey Gale's fears grew less with each departing day. He drove
his little car along the unfrequented roads, and explored queer old
tumble-down villages, and tried to hope that life might soon fulfil
itself in fresh interests and occupations.

Rene wrote him fully and frankly from her Cornish retreat. Aubrey
Derringham was back in London investigating the necessary formalities
of resignation of office. Geoffrey had grown used to the lonely house,
and to Ann Whyddon's virtuous ministrations. He read service in the
church to a scattered congregation of three to six parishioners, and
with every such reading found his task easier. It was a task bound
to grow mechanical, even for those whose duty it was to perform it.
There were times when Geoffrey blessed the mechanical effort for all
it brought of consolation. It would not be needed much longer. Aubrey
hoped a month, or less, might bring release, and set him free to follow
his own inclinations.

One sunny afternoon he fetched the car from its queer garage, and
thought he would run over to Thrushelcombe. He knew that Chaffey was
shortly to leave the house and rejoin his master in London. Geoffrey
wanted a last word with him, and to hear again that reassurance of
safety which meant so much to the three conspirators, and meant
everything to himself.

The little car jolted and rolled over the terrible rough ground which
made such demands on tyres. Chaffey had instructed its driver in the
simpler mechanical duties of chauffeur, and specially in the use of
the Stepney. So far the strong sturdy little Renault had resisted even
stones and ruts to effect a puncture.

On this occasion however an ominous "bang" warned Geoffrey of fatality.
The car was in an open space of roadway. He got it as much to the side
as possible, and then dismounted, threw off his coat and hat, rolled
up his sleeves, and set to work. The sound of wheels coming down the
hillside behind him disturbed his labours at last. He rose and looked
round. Even as he did so, a sense of the folly that is a man's undoing
hammered useless warnings in his ears.

The vehicle was a light two-wheeled dog-cart. The driver was looking
down at him with the look that had so often driven hatred and despair
into his soul. For a brief second fear held him powerless. Dressed as
George Gale he might have assumed George Gale's personality. In this
mechanic's garb of rolled up sleeves and coatless negligence, he felt
it was himself that he looked. That his eyes betrayed him to his
enemy even while his dry lips strove for speech.

"There's plenty room to pass!"

That was what he said, and even as he said it knew the man had no
intention of passing. That he had drawn up his horse, and was sitting
on the high seat, and would remain sitting there watching efforts which
that surveillance turned to nervous feebleness.

"Oh yes, there's room," said the man. "Puncture--I suppose?"

"Speaks for itself," muttered Geoffrey, stooping down over the rim, and
mechanically forcing his hands to do something which his brain could
not visualize.

"P'raps I could help you?" suggested his enemy, smiling the old hateful
smile as he watched the nervous hands.

"No, thanks, I quite understand. You'd better get on. Your horse is
fidgety."

"He'll have to stand as long as I want him to," answered his tormentor.
"I'm not used to giving in to beast or man."

Geoffrey said nothing. His pulses beat like hammers. The blood throbbed
in his temples as if the throbbing veins must burst. He pulled and
twisted and jerked, but seemed to get no further with his task. And all
the time those merciless eyes watched, and those thin lips sneered, and
Geoffrey felt the gaze and the sneer in every fibre of his trembling
body.

At last the courage of despair came to him. He looked up and spoke the
anger he felt.

"I wish you'd go on. I hate to be watched while I'm working. I don't
need your help."

"Hate to be watched? Always did, didn't you?"

The evil face looked its insolent assurance, and anger sprang as of old
to incautious lips.

"How dare you speak like that! What do you mean?"

"I think you know very well what I mean--Mr. Geoffrey Gale!"

The boy's heart seemed to stand still, as when those cold irons had
first touched his wrists. Then all of manhood that he could summon
rallied itself for a final effort. He straightened himself and looked
full at the taunting face.

"You must be mad," he said, "or drunk! I'm not Geoffrey Gale!"

"Never heard of him perhaps?" sneered the warder.

Geoffrey took his courage in his hands for a last desperate effort.
"Heard of him," he said slowly. "Of course I've heard of him. He was
my--brother."

Perhaps the calm avowal disconcerted the arrogant questioner. Suspicion
wavered for a moment, doing battle with the instinct that assured
him he was right. The eyes that looked back at him were no longer
frightened or defiant. They simply challenged a denial of a statement.

"Brother? If you're his brother, and a clergyman at that, you didn't
show much brotherly interest in him while he was up there, that I'll
say."

"May I ask what business that is--of yours?" demanded Geoffrey.

"You don't know me I suppose? Never saw me before?"

"I certainly never wish to see you again! Will you drive on, and mind
your own business, and leave me to mine!"

"Look 'ere," said the man. "Bluff's a good dog, but my name's Holdfast.
There's been a clever bit of trickery done round here, and I'm going
to search it out. All very easy for you to pretend you're the Reverend
George, but I'm not convinced that way. A straight collar and a long
coat aren't everything. There's hands--for instance. Perhaps you forget
we've got Geoffrey Gale's finger prints? Suppose you had to prove your
hands weren't the hands from which we took 'em, what then, Mr. Gale,
what then?"

"You'd learn 'what then' in due course," said Geoffrey coolly. "You're
talking rank nonsense, and so I tell you, as I'd tell any one who made
such statements. Do you suppose there aren't dozens of people to speak
of the likeness which has deceived you? Dozens of people to prove that
I am--who I say I am?"

"Oh! I grant you've got a clever case," said the man. "But don't think
it's going to be all plain sailing. You've been watched, and you'll be
watched again. You've had your warning; take it or leave it. There's
some eyes as you can't throw dust into, clever as you may be!"

He touched his horse and it sprang forward, and the dog-cart rolled on,
leaving Geoffrey stooping still over that ill-adjusted Stepney. It was
true then. He was suspected. There had been a difference between George
and himself. A difference that raised doubt and might yet demand proof.

He felt his heart sink. Those words "You've been watched" rang
unpleasantly in his ears. Perhaps his changed habits, his sobriety,
had challenged remark. Yet it seemed to him impossible that the fame
of such actions could have reached as far as Princetown. He was so
agitated that the wheel slipped from his hands. At the same moment a
familiar "toot-toot" sounded, and he saw a small car running towards
him. He recognized the other Renault, and Chaffey driving it.

In a couple of moments it was beside him, and he was explaining his
difficulties. Chaffey jumped down and came to his assistance.

"I was on my way to you," said Geoffrey eagerly.

"And I thought of looking you up, sir. I'm leaving here in a day or
two. Mr. Derringham said I was to let you know."

Then Geoffrey related what had taken place. It sounded an alarm for all
concerned. Chaffey's consternation was not reassuring.

"Just what I always feared!" he exclaimed. "Finger prints, or some body
mark that meant a difference. Damn that brute! Couldn't he have let
well alone!"

"Whether I go or stay it's equally dangerous," said Geoffrey gloomily.

"But stay a little longer if you can, sir. Don't show the white
feather at first alarm. After all he's not everyone, this warder. And
he'll have his work cut out to make folks believe him. Them prison
authorities are only too glad to let sleeping dogs lie."

"It was unfortunate I had taken off my hat," said Geoffrey. "But what
use to quibble. He's had his suspicions and he means to work on my
fears, or perhaps it's blackmail he's after?"

"A risky game for one in his position. I don't know what to say, sir. I
wish Mr. Derringham was here."

"I'm glad he isn't," said Geoffrey. "I hope to goodness he'll keep away
from here, and from me, too, for the next twelve months."

"He's not likely to do that, sir. Once he takes a thing into his head
he'll see it through. And it's astonishing how he believes in you, sir,
and did from the first."

"He's been the best friend I ever had," said Geoffrey earnestly.

"I say the same!" exclaimed Chaffey. "What he's done for me the Lord
only knows. I'd give my right hand to help him, sir, if he wanted it.
That I would."

The boy lifted his head, and looked away over the moor to the distant
ring of hills. His hatred of the place, the longing to be free of it,
and its associations, swept over him like a flood.

"Chaffey, I can't bear it--I must go! If you knew what it was shut
up in that dismal house. . . . Rene gone, Derringham gone, now you.
Why can't I take the car and get off with myself? Catch some outgoing
steamer at Plymouth. Defy them all."

"You could, sir, of course, but it would look suspicious. You've done
it so well up to now. Can't you be patient a little longer? There's
your cousin to think of, you know?"

"True, I forgot. Yes, we must save her from any suspicion. But oh--if I
only knew what that brute means to do! It's the suspense that's so hard
to bear!"

"D'you think I don't know it, sir? There--your wheel's all right. What
are you going to do. Come to my place and talk it out? If so I'll run
on ahead."

"Yes, I'll come to your place," said Geoffrey, putting on his coat
again. "I wonder if any one's watching us, Chaffey?"

"Don't get thinkin' of that, sir. It'll unnerve you. Believe me, it's
best to put a bold face on things. I hope you didn't let him see you
were frightened, sir?"

"I think not. I absolutely denied his accusation. He answered: 'Bluff
was a good dog, but Holdfast was a better.' I take that to mean he's
going to hold on to his idea. Only I don't see how he can possibly
prove it."

"No more he could, sir. I shouldn't worry. It's my belief he's playing
a low-down trick to get money out of somebody. If he took this
cock-and-bull story to the Guv'nor I'm sure he'd be told to go about
his business. What could he prove against your uncle's word, the old
Rector, your own wife! They'd all stand to it you were George Gale, and
who's to prove you're not?"

So Geoffrey took heart again, and went back to that first refuge, and
spent the next hour weighing the pros and cons of the situation
until once again he felt that the exchanged identities would never be
challenged, or that if challenged could never be proved.

*  *  *  *  *  *

In her quiet retreat in that sunny nook of Cornwall Rene rested and
reflected, and took counsel with her own heart.

The kind old French lady had so much of her nation's tact and delicacy
that she made no attempt to force the confidence of "her child" as she
still called her. She had been terribly shocked at the change in the
girl. Shattered health and broken nerves were a sad experience for
a bride of six months. But Rene would say nothing, and her father
knew nothing, so the old lady drew her own conclusions, and contented
herself with such ministry of love and care as was best suited to the
situation.

There had been open rebellion on Rene's part when both the doctor
and her father opposed her desire for solitude as well as change of
scene. But when Madame Gascoigne met her with neither question, nor
observation, her resolution gave way.

"Just leave me alone," was all she said, as she freed herself from the
tender embrace of a first greeting. And she had been taken at her word.

If she read, or walked, or merely sat gazing for long hours at the
shining sea before the cottage window, no questions were asked, no
interference offered. After two weeks of such absolute rest her mind
began to calm down again. She was still so young, and life might yet
atone for this marred and tragic opening. She read Geoffrey's letters
again and again, wishing they revealed more of Geoffrey himself. She
looked at first anxiously, then wistfully, for one other letter that
had never come, though promised. The omission was her own fault, that
she knew. Her temper again. That quick petulance which had so often
stood between her best interests and her impetuous desires.

The warm sun, the delicious air, the simple food and life began to
exercise their due effects. She woke with a sense of strength instead
of a tired indifference. She found in exercise a solace for troubled
thoughts, and in books an interest that could force attention, instead
of seeking to gain it. Once she turned the corner her improvement was
rapid. Madame Gascoigne saw, and rejoiced, and waited. Some day the
child would speak; some day the burden be shared with this truest and
oldest friend. Meanwhile, she contented herself with the improvement of
which she had almost despaired. Those letters must surely be from her
husband, and to write so often meant that he was not indifferent, or
faithless, or any of the tragic, dreadful things that she had feared at
first. Such being the case the change could only be attributed to grief
for that other cousin, the one of whose tragic end she had been told by
old Jessop in their confidential talk.

Naturally such an event had been a shock to the girl; she of the tender
heart, and warm quick impulses, and generous nature. "But it will all
come right," thought the old lady, nodding over her delicate needlework
in the sunny cottage parlour. "Time heals everything, and when one is
young one can forget so easily."

So when Rene went out with the old fisherman, who was their landlord,
and learnt to row, and fish, and set a sail, and would come in with the
salt of the sea in her hair, and the flush of the sun on her cheeks,
and the innocent joy of some fresh nautical experience to relate, her
wise old friend rejoiced with her and encouraged her, thankful that the
cloud had lifted at last.

She wrote of all this to Rene's father. She never doubted but that
such welcome news was given to George Gale by Rene herself.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Then one day came a letter in an unknown handwriting, bearing the
London postmark. Madame Gascoigne expressed surprise, and the fact drew
Rene's attention.

"Hadn't you better open it?" she said, and a hot flush rose to her
face. She stooped to pat the head of the old Bobtail who belonged
to the fisherman, but had devoted himself to the young lodger.
She chattered disjointed phrases to the animal by way of showing
indifference. But the rustle of the paper, the quick occasional
comments of the reader were so many pricks to her nerves. She had
recognized the writing at once. She was wondering how Aubrey Derringham
had secured their address.

"To think of it!" exclaimed the old lady, laying down the letter at
last. "Figure to yourself, my child, that Mr. Derringham, who calls
himself my 'old friend,' writes here to propose himself a visit! He
will not come unless your health is equal to receiving him. Your
health!" She smiled. "I would that he could see you now, all rosy, and
joyous once again. But he is to be commended for his thoughtfulness, is
he not?"

"How did he know where you were?" asked the girl.

"Oh, that--it was a simple affair. He addressed himself to your
father." She turned to the letter again. "He says here that an affair
of some importance requires your attention. But on no account would he
trouble you unless your health was restored sufficiently for such an
interview."

"I'm quite well--now," said Rene.

"Then do you wish that I tell him to come? He will motor down, he says,
and awaits a wire of permission."

"Motor!" Rene's eyes flashed. She thought of the lovely Mercds; the
delight of long sunny days spent in riot of speed and glory of scenery.
Did he intend to stay? Had he thought of her passion for motoring, and
was he coming down for that reason? But why had he not written to her?
Was he still offended?

She rose from the breakfast table, and pushed back her chair. "I'll go
into Penzance and send the wire," she said. "It's a lovely day, I'll
enjoy the walk."

"It is too far, chrie," remonstrated the old lady.

"Nonsense! I'm as strong as ever I was. If I feel tired I can drive
back. What am I to say?"

"That remains for you, my child. Simply tell him he may come when he
pleases."

And Rene went off for her hat, and called the dog for company. Spring
was in her heart, and in her feet, and in every copse and lane she
traversed. Birds were singing on bare boughs that soon would be aflush
with new leafage.

"Oh! it must be good news that he brings!" she told herself. "And he
hasn't forgotten! I tortured myself for nothing, imbecile that I am!"

She thought of a dozen ways of wording that "wire of permission." But
after all it was only a very simple message that went.

"Come when you please. Rene."




CHAPTER XXVI.--"THROUGH BARS THAT HIDE THE STARS"


THE first glance at Aubrey Derringham's face showed it grave and
anxious enough to alarm the girl whose hand he held. Ordinary greeting
was an effort. The fact of having to sit at the tea table and talk
conventions to the old French lady was a greater effort. And every
moment the girl's heart grew heavier, as she asked herself what had
happened now? What could have happened to disturb Aubrey so seriously?

The moment tea was finished she sprang up. "We will go down to the
sea," she said. "It is a lovely evening and warm. I'll take you for a
row, if you like?"

Aubrey rose with alacrity, offered excuses to the old French lady, who
only smiled and nodded, and said: "Enjoy yourselves, my children,"
and then they were side by side once more, petulance and differences
forgotten, the graver side of life demanding all their attention.

As briefly as possible Aubrey Derringham related what had happened.
There was no doubt that someone was suspicious of Geoffrey. No doubt
that he was shadowed and watched. No doubt that Ann Whyddon had been
interviewed, and the villagers questioned.

The one thing that did not fit the changed identity was that new habit
of temperance. That fact and Rene's departure had been the significant
discoveries of their joint enemy. After that meeting on the moor,
and Chaffey's return to London, Geoffrey had become the prey of his
own terrors, and the recipient of vague threats, which had at last
culminated in a direct menace. Receiving it the boy seemed to have
lost all self-command. He rushed off to Moreton, took train, and came
straight to Aubrey's rooms in the Albany. Once there he collapsed, and
was now in a state of fever and nervous prostration that was really
alarming. All he had gone through of hardship and anxiety, of lonely
terrors, and strained nerves had resulted in a complete breakdown.

"The cause," said Aubrey, "is here."

He took out a letter from his pocket book, and gave it to the girl. She
stood steadily enough, though sky and sea seemed whirling round her, as
she read.

It was an insolent letter, full of veiled threats, but its end was
significant enough: "You best know if you can afford to be blown on,
or if a matter of 1000 is worth the price of your safety. You've rich
friends, and plucky ones. Ask their advice."

"Those last words are a veiled threat," said Aubrey, as he took the
letter from her shaking hand. "It's a hit at me. The man knows well
enough that Geoffrey can't give him a thousand pounds. That he daren't
ask your father, or that you daren't ask him either. He's got us all in
a trap, and he knows that we know it. Yet not a name is mentioned, nor
is his name signed."

Rene looked at him, unable to frame the question trembling on her lips.

"Do you doubt that I'd give it, twice, ten times over, if I thought
it would save Geoffrey?" said Aubrey passionately. "But that's the
question we've to face. It's blackmail of the most blackguardly sort.
And no blackmailer rests satisfied with one attempt. This means fresh
demands; never-ending fears; life turned to hellish torment for us all.
No wonder the poor boy has broken down under the strain. But, for all
that, he's done the worst thing he could have done. He's--run away from
a threat, instead of facing it."

Rene turned her white face to the sea, and wondered whether implied
cowardice might not include herself. Was she not prime mover in
all this mischief? From first to last had she not dragged Aubrey
Derringham's name into the sordid horrors of her family life?

"I was reluctant to tell you," said Aubrey presently. "But Geoffrey
seemed to think it best. We daren't say anything to your father. You
and I have got to decide it between us. It's horrible for you, Rene,
either way. You'd have to swear Geoffrey was your husband against even
your father's doubts; the hateful records of that prison. You'd have to
face it, and make him face it before those authorities whose duty it is
to search to the bottom of the mystery--or else----"

"Is there any other way?" she cried.

"I said 'either' way. There is an alternative. I could see the man, and
try to bind him down to--this one exaction. I might succeed--I don't
know. I should play a very bold game, for I would bring a lawyer with
me, and the matter would be made legally binding. I think we might
secure him in that way."

"A lawyer?" she faltered. "But surely no lawyer would consent to hide
such a secret? You would have to tell him the whole facts of the case?"

"The--man--I have in my mind," said Aubrey, "knows the facts of the
case. Knows that there was a miscarriage of justice; that Geoffrey
suffered for sake of another. I could prove now who that other was!"

"George----" she gasped. "You've found out?"

"We have as much proof as can be got from circumstantial evidence apart
from strong suspicion. I have come here, Rene, to put both cases
before you, and ask for your decision. Don't speak at once, or even
to-night. Think it over, and tell me the result. I must go back to town
to-morrow."

"So soon?" The words escaped her with scarce conscious regret. She had
hoped he was going to stay for a few days at least.

"Yes. We have to settle this matter as quickly as possible. If
Geoffrey's mind were set at rest, his health would soon recover. As
it is, all this has preyed upon him to such a degree that the doctor
is very anxious. You know the boy was hardly strong enough to leave
us when he had to play up to Chaffey's desperate ruse. Think of all
he has gone through since? Loneliness and constant fear, and now this
dastard's threat."

"I ought not to have left him," she faltered. "I see it now. It must
have roused suspicion. But I'm always doing the wrong things, and
regretting them!"

She looked up at him, the tears wet on her pale face. How pale and
childish it looked in that twilight obscurity.

"You--ought to hate me!" she went on. "I've dragged you into all this,
and not even shown you common gratitude. Oh--why don't you treat us as
we deserve! Go away, and leave us to get out of the scrape that we got
ourselves into!"

He took her hands in both his own. "Dear little girl," he said gently,
"you know you are talking foolishly. Is it at all likely that having
put my hand to this particular plough I should decline to drive the
furrow? Have I not told you that I owe you the reclaiming of a very
useless life? Is that nothing to be grateful for? Chaffey could tell
you a different story. Now, pull yourself together for one last effort!
It shall be the last, I promise you."

She drew away her hands, and wiped her eyes.

"Very well," she said. "I will go back to town with you, and marry
Geoffrey!"

Aubrey felt his heart stand suddenly still. The declaration was so
absolutely unexpected.

"I will not have you pay this money!" she went on passionately. "I
will not have your name dragged into this sordid business! Let me
marry Geoffrey at once; at his bedside even. Then I can swear he is my
husband. The authorities must believe me."

Still Aubrey Derringham said nothing. With all he knew of her
impulsiveness, her swift and sudden twists of temper, he could not
have credited her with such a daring scheme as this. It was as if she
had leaped over the very barrier that he had been trying to evade. And
having achieved the leap, she calmly confronted him as victor.

Marry him! Marry Geoffrey Gale, her husband's brother! Would it be even
legal, he wondered, thinking confusedly of tables of affinities, of the
deceased wife's sister's bill; of the facts connecting George Gale's
death with the quick termination of widowhood?

So white, and stern, and silent he was, that the girl grew alarmed. She
touched his arm. "Oh! do speak!" she implored. "What is the matter with
you? Have I done something wrong again?"

"No--not yet," he said harshly. "But I think it would be wrong to do
what you said. I mean unless it was excused by one fact."

"What?"

"That it was Geoffrey you had loved, never his brother."

The colour ebbed from the upraised face, leaving it white as death.

"Geoffrey? loved Geoffrey?" she repeated. "Of course I loved him
always--as a brother--but I hated George!"

"Only as a brother?" said Aubrey. "Rene, are you sure? Oh--are you
sure?"

"I am as sure as that I am here--saying it," she answered.

The pendulum of feeling swung back again. The reaction of that moment,
its sudden relief, set Aubrey trembling with long repressed emotion.
He had struggled, suffered, endured, and after all she had never loved
either of the two men who had controlled her life, and still affected
its future.

"Then--then--you shall not do this thing! You shall not be sacrificed
a second time! No, not if it costs me everything I most value--that I
swear!"

She drew back a step or two, frightened by his impetuosity. She had
never seen him so moved, so stirred.

"But--why not?" she said faintly.

"Why not? Because I--love you, Rene! Because ever since that hour
that night at Weymouth, your sorrowful girl's face has haunted me, and
lived with me, and become to me the dearest thing in life! What it
cost me to let you go out of it, to meet you as I met you on the moor,
you'll never know, for I could never tell you. And I always thought you
loved Geoffrey Gale, and from some foolish idea of self-sacrifice had
married his brother. And I've been wrong. Oh, my dear, don't look so
frightened! I--I won't ask anything of you. We will be just as we have
been until this black cloud has passed, for pass it must. I told you
there were two alternatives. Well, now there's only one, and that one I
shall take. The bold course is often the best. To face a coward often
frightens him into a deeper cowardice. Leave it all to me, Rene. Only
promise to do as I ask, and to--trust me?"

He held out his arms, and caught the sobbing shaken wreck of girlhood
to his heart, and held her there while the storm had its way. Of all
the love that had grown up for her, and shrined her wayward, adorable,
impulsive self so jealously, he said nothing. He knew it was not the
moment. She was now only realizing what a man's love might mean.
Possibly she was ignorant of her own heart; terrified to acknowledge
what she had never allowed herself to believe.

The quiet touch of his hand on the bright uncovered head, the quiet
tones of his voice in her ear, gradually calmed those wild sobs.

"I--oh, I have been so unhappy. . . . Oh--I never thought . . I never
thought . . ."

"Don't think now," he said, "of anything, except that you are to get
well and strong again, and that I am going to manage everything for
you--as your friend. I am that you know, my child. You allowed me to
call myself so."

"Was there ever such a friend!" she cried brokenly. "And I've behaved
so horridly--always--to you."

"I forgive it all," he said gently. "I don't think I ever bore you any
resentment for it. You don't suppose I shall do so--after this?"

She raised her head and shook back the loose soft hair, and met the
passionate tenderness of those remembered eyes. No other eyes had ever
looked at her as his had looked, yet she had never read their true
meaning until now. Helpless, sorrowful, nerve shattered as she felt
herself to be, that gravely tender look brought assurance and comfort
and a joy she had never known till now.

"I don't know what to say," she faltered. "Except that I trust you. I
always have, you know. You make me feel so safe."

He smiled then, and bending touched her lips with the restraint he had
learnt in a hard school.

"If you feel--that," he said, "I am content. The rest can wait."

*  *  *  *  *  *

He drew her hand within his arm, and they walked on in silence. Both
were too agitated, too deeply moved for commonplace speech. There were
issues ahead to be dealt with, but the present moment had also its
importance.

Aubrey Derringham had long known that he had committed himself to a
grave responsibility from the hour when he had promised to help Rene
in her scheme for Geoffrey's escape.

It is no use to set private judgment against the strong forces of that
huge machine which can grind men's lives to dust, and break their
spirit and wear out their energies by its complicated ingenuity. No
matter of absolute right and absolute wrong has ever been judged on
these merits of wrong and right by any Law Court in the world. They
never will be so judged. It would be too simple a method of dealing
with the obvious, and it would effectually barricade any side issue
on which right and wrong are fought. Law is for those who have made
it what it is, not for those who desire its help in any matter of
self-justification. Like the Church it is set upon a pedestal of
importance, and surrounded by such an enormous paraphernalia of pomp,
pageantry, and superstition that the lay mind, or the distracted
public, can only lament their inability to affect it.

When it has driven a desperate soul to suicide, or crime, it takes
refuge in the ordered platitude of "unsound mind." Aubrey Derringham
knew that that verdict was very near a fresh challenge when he had
rescued Geoffrey Gale from his desperate plight. He had saved him,
helped him, consoled him. He could not allow that in acting thus he had
done wrong. On that point his conscience was clear. On the other hand
he trembled to think what might happen to Rene, Chaffey, himself, if
their part in this adventure ever came to light.

In his longing to defend the girl who trusted him so entirely he felt
he must nerve himself for a trying ordeal. He must brave the very law
he had broken; face the whole structure of difficulties, contingencies,
fiction, fact, and procedure contained in these two words "legal
advice."

*  *  *  *  *  *

When at last he spoke to Rene, her tears were spent; her voice had
lost its tremor.

"You understand, my dear, that your first suggestion is impracticable.
You have been sacrificed once. I cannot permit a second 'burnt
offering.' Now, my plan may succeed, or it may not. But even if it
fails, we are no worse off. If this brute has to be muzzled, well,
muzzled he must be. As soon as Geoffrey is well enough, I shall get him
out of the country. All I want to ask you is to go back to Shapsdown
as soon as possible, and arrange to dispose of, or despatch, your own
possessions. Would you have the courage for this? I don't like to ask
you, but it must be you, or your father. I have heard of an old broken
down cleric who would be only too glad to take George's place. He has
written to the Rector and offered himself. He is very poor and has
an old sister to maintain. I thought if you could leave two or three
rooms furnished it would be a charity. You will not need anything, save
your own personal belongings. The fact of your being seen again, and
making such arrangements, will prevent suspicion at Geoffrey's sudden
departure. You must tell your servant that his health broke down;
that the place did not agree with him, or with you. There's also the
question of the car. I could send Chaffey if you wish. He could bring
it away----"

"Oh--couldn't I come away in it?" she cried. "The few things I want out
of the house could be packed and sent off by rail. But if I could have
my dear little car again, and come back here----" She looked up.

"You wish to come back here, not Weymouth?"

"Weymouth? . . ."

"Will it make you so unhappy?" he asked.

"Not now!" she said, her face a vivid flame, her eyes dark with
emotion. "Everything is changed since you came. I feel strong enough to
bear whatever there is to bear."

"I hope there will not be very much more, my child, for both our sakes."




CHAPTER XXVII.--"IN GOD'S SWEET WORLD AGAIN"


"You have put a very remarkable case, Mr. Derringham. As strange a one
as I ever heard. Now, is it my professional advice you are seeking, or
do you wish me to speak as a friend?"

Aubrey Derringham was in Joshua Myers's chambers, in the Temple. He
had come there by appointment, and the meeting had been one of real
pleasure at the renewal of intimacy. Aubrey, speaking for a friend,
as he put it, had laid before the shrewd young barrister a rsum
of facts of his own experience. The fiction of that "second person"
did not deceive Myers for a moment. He smiled to himself as he thought
that in a certain drawer close to his hand lay a red-taped bundle of
documentary evidence which would have given name and date and place and
person of every actor in the drama so lucidly described.

"I should like your professional opinion of course," said Aubrey. "But
I should value a friendly chat on the subject even more. Will you come
round to my rooms to-night? At least . . . I forgot----"

"Is he staying there?" questioned Myers, an amused smile touching
the corners of his mouth as he glanced at the confused face.

"He--who?"

"The friend, of course, about whom you have been consulting me."

Aubrey hesitated a moment.

"It's best to tell the truth to two people in the world, if no more,"
said Myers. "Your doctor and your lawyer. You can trust me fully, my
dear Derringham. I am the recipient of secrets enough to divorce half
the leaders of society, and send a score or two of commercial magnates
to the treadmill. Do you suppose--we--who follow the Law are not
sometimes the Law's sternest accusers?"

"You ought to be, God knows!" said Aubrey impulsively. "For you make
more criminals than you condemn."

"That's rather sweeping," said Myers. "But, possibly you're a little
hurt at the present moment. Well, I'll just look over those papers,
if you'll leave them, and let you know my opinion to-night. What time
shall I be at your rooms?"

"At eight o'clock. I can offer you some sort of a dinner, unless you
prefer to go out?"

"No, I should prefer to stop in, and have a full talk. Your story is
interesting enough for a modern novel. Only in a novel no one would
believe it could have happened. Coincidence is rarely the slave of
opportunity. Your--friend should be congratulated."

Still with that enigmatical smile he opened the door and showed Aubrey
out. But it left his lips with the closing of the door.

"My quixotic friend has got himself into trouble," he said. "This
is the Jessop v. Gale case, or I'm much mistaken. I remember how
interested he was in it, at the time."

*  *  *  *  *  *

Aubrey walked back to his rooms in the cold spring sunshine. That
letter had given a week for decision. There were yet three days before
he need decide.

Geoffrey Gale had thrown off his feverish attack, but it had left him
very shaken, and very weak. It needed all Aubrey's hopefulness and
all his patience to cope with the growing melancholia that held him
in thrall. Fear and intimidation had broken down his small reserve
of strength. Even here, with only Chaffey's kindly nursing, and
Derringham's safeguarding presence, he was a prey to every sort of
terror and anxiety.

His one desire was to get away, to get out of this harsh unlovely
country and seek fresh scenes, and strive for fresh energies. But the
doctor declared he was unfit for travel yet. He must rest, and feed up,
and get his strength back. Even then he must not go unaccompanied. To
Aubrey he spoke even more seriously than to his patient. The boy--for
Geoffrey's twenty-four years meant only that--had received a severe
shock. Something that had shattered the delicate fibres of a delicate
organization, in a fashion that defied mere drugs to restore.

"If the source of the trouble could be traced, if his mind could be set
at rest, the physical forces might rally again. You are his friend,
perhaps he will confide in you. . . . I have done all I can."

Aubrey listened in silence. There was nothing to confide. He knew
Geoffrey's secret, and Geoffrey's danger, but the knowledge brought no
hint of how to cope with its disastrous effects. He tried his best to
cheer the boy. He told him that all the skill of Myers's astute brain
would go to the unravelling of this tangled skein, and he tried also to
impress upon him that if the worst came, hush money would be paid, and
the matter closed for ever.

*  *  *  *  *  *

He and Myers dined alone, with Chaffey in attendance. Chaffey, as the
deus ex machina of all this tragedy, alone kept cool and impassive.
The fact of the barrister's presence in his master's rooms spoke of
final desperation. It was the last stand against the enemy, and it
must mean conquest, or defeat. He left the two over their coffee and
liqueurs, put the silver box of cigarettes on the table, and then
retired.

He would have given a great deal to know what went on behind those
closed doors, but it spoke well of his reformed habits that he had
learnt resistance of temptation as well as its meaning. So he went
quietly away to Geoffrey's room, and gave him the opiate without which
sleep had become impossible.

He sat there by the fire reading until the strained eyes closed and
sleep sent its ministering calm to the restless frame.

Then he lowered the light, and went away to his own duties. He had no
suspicion that these bachelor quarters were doomed, that his master was
regaling himself with a prospective vision of a country house and home
fireside, and a companion that Chaffey's faithful devotion could never
rival.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It was twelve o'clock before that conference ended. Twelve o'clock
when, wearied, but no longer harassed by doubts, Aubrey Derringham
clasped Myers's extended hand and tried to thank him for a service
beyond all thanks.

The barrister answered the pressure with the silence of strong emotion.

"The survival of the fittest is the best principle of nature," he
remarked. "I'd like to have seen my young client again, but I must
remember that he is not my client. The case is as clear as anything
can be in this pettifogging world. I think our friend, the blackmailer,
will be a little astonished when he is summoned by the Governor for a
private conference, and confronts me."

"It's a bold game," exclaimed Aubrey. "But I agree with you that
boldness is the only way to meet such a charge. Of course I will hold
myself in readiness to come, if called upon--and so will Rene."

"You won't be called upon, trust me. I know the Governor well. I shall
take a firm stand; that of the loftiest integrity, considering what an
important part I played in the case. George Gale's flight to London was
for legal advice. His breakdown can be certified as the result of grief
for his brother, and the villainous threats of our friend at Dartmoor.
Oh, trust me, my dear Derringham, there's no strenuous anxiety on the
part of those in authority to parade such a matter as this. If one man
was wrongfully convicted, as we know he was, well, better hush it up.
If the other has suffered indignity, he suffered it in the cold silence
of death. Let it rest at that. But the wretch who has tried to trade
on an accidental circumstance, to persecute an unfortunate family,
who have already suffered so much, why for such a one we demand swift
justice. If he is dismissed we do not threaten active proceedings.
We are not unmerciful. But there must be an end, once and for ever,
to these dastardly attempts. There--have I pleaded sufficiently to
convince you?"

"Indeed you have. It's like cutting the ground from under his feet. I
almost wish I could see him. He gave me a bad half hour once, when he
searched my house."

"You keep yourself out of it," said Myers, putting the papers in his
pocket, "and trust to me. I'm not pleading before a blundering old
dunderhead this time, too obsessed by his own ills and ailments to
bring clear judgment to any case!"

*  *  *  *  *  *

Chaffey stole in to minister to any last requirements. Possibly to hear
results.

His master's face was reassuring. "I do believe we're out of the wood
at last," he said. "Our friend has overreached himself for once. It's
not likely that the Governor would credit his story in face of the
array of evidence we can bring, with the prisoner's own counsel to back
up our defence. With the holy terror of publishing legal error as our
strongest weapon against the laws we've defied."

"It's splendid, sir!" exclaimed Chaffey. "Splendid! I--I think I
brought you an interest in life at last, sir?"

"More than we reckoned for, Chaffey, but I'm not sorry. I can never
pretend again that life is not--interesting."

*  *  *  *  *  *

With all his confidence, Aubrey Derringham waited with feverish
apprehension for the result of that interview with the authorities.
Myers had promised to wire the result very guardedly. Neither of
them desired the post-office officials at Princetown to get wind of
who demanded such urgent information. Myers had suggested sending
the message through his own clerk, who was to wire it on to Aubrey's
chambers. He had to command his soul in patience; to cheer Geoffrey; to
write to Rene.

He had schooled himself to do that with the same restrained tenderness
that he had shown her on that night of self-betrayal. In her distress,
and confusion, and with the consciousness of that tragic widowhood it
would have seemed to him the worst possible taste to play the ardent
lover. She knew what he felt. She knew he had saved her from another
sacrifice. Her own heart would tell her the rest.

She was still in Cornwall. He had advised her remaining there until
this affair was settled. Besides, he could not spare the invaluable
Chaffey just yet.

He and Geoffrey Gale were in his sitting-room awaiting that expected
telegram. Aubrey sat in his favourite chair, a heap of newspapers
beside him, a cigarette between his lips.

Geoffrey's face was deadly white; the muscles of his face twitched
nervously. He started at every sound, though there were not many to
reach that quiet retreat.

"If--we don't hear to-night," he muttered. "Derringham, isn't it time?
Surely it's time? The interview was to be this morning."

"It might not have been till this afternoon," said Aubrey. "Mr. Myers
would have to wait the Governor's own time."

"Of course. . . . Oh, do tell me again, do you think it was a wise
move? Do you think they'll believe?"

"My dear boy, I can only repeat what I've said before. Myers would not
have done such a desperate thing had he not felt sure he would bring
it off. So, for God's sake, try and calm yourself. Will you have a
cigarette, a whiskey and soda, anything?"

"I'll have a drink. Yes, you must pardon me, Derringham. It was living
in that beastly house--the loneliness--it got on my nerves, and then
that threat finished me."

Aubrey gave him the drink for which he had asked, and took a small
quantity himself. He had a difficult task, that of seeming cool and
indifferent, while in reality he suffered as keenly as the boy. He
began to talk to him of plans he had formed. Of how they would take
the mail boat for San Francisco, as soon as his health permitted. Of
the benefit he would obtain from a sea voyage, the lovely climate, the
freedom from future anxiety.

"We--do you mean to say you are coming with me?" exclaimed Geoffrey.

"I said so. It's a long time since I've had a sea voyage. I mean to see
you safely established, and then----"

"What then?"

"There is Rene to think of, and your uncle."

The boy clasped his hands together, and leant forward in his chair.

"Derringham, you're doing all this--for her sake! I know----"

Aubrey's face lost some of its composure.

"What then?" he said.

"What then? It's such a big thing; it means so much! It makes me
ashamed."

The ready tears sprang to his eyes. They were never very far away.

"You've no need to be ashamed," said Aubrey. "And it will rest with you
to repay her--for the big thing--as you call it. No one else can."

"How--in what way?"

"I will tell you later."

"No, no! Now, tell me now?" entreated the boy. "I'm not such a weak
fool as you think. Why, even to know that I could do something for her,
or you, puts strength into me. It means an object in life; it gives me
something to live for. Do you know, last night, if it hadn't been for
Chaffey I should have finished that morphia. Taken a double dose and
ended everything. There, it's out. You can despise me a little more."

"God forbid that I should do that," said Aubrey compassionately. "I
know what you've gone through. It would have tried stronger nerves than
yours."

"But tell me--tell me what it is I can do--live for?"

"You force my hand," said Aubrey. "I had not meant to say anything yet.
Simply as I can put it, Geoffrey, the facts are these. I--love Rene.
She--cares for me."

"I--I guessed that."

"Well, you know the situation. As long as you are in this country she
must keep up the pretence of being a wife."

"But I'm going away almost immediately."

"But--can you stay away? Remember, that to all who know this story,
Geoffrey Gale is dead. All your life you have to play that other part."

"It means--banishment? That was what you meant when you said I could do
one thing for you both?"

"Yes, it means banishment. Even your uncle must not know--yet. When
he does, he will have to believe in your innocence, but he will be
powerless to atone for his injustice. I have thought--sometimes, he
might choose to make atonement. He might go to you, as Rene and I will
go. Don't fear you will be forgotten, my boy. Ah----"

He started violently. There was a loud ring at the outer door. He heard
Chaffey go to answer it. Geoffrey sank back in his chair, his eyes
resting on the door, whose opening meant life or death, or so it seemed
to him.

Chaffey ushered in a lanky youth; sandy-haired, self-important. He held
a yellow envelope in his hand. "Mr. Myers sent this to me. I thought it
would save time if I brought it myself, sir."

Aubrey held out his hand, marvelling at its steadiness.

The envelope was open. He took out the slip of paper, and read:

"Perfectly satisfactory. Wire all settled to the client for whom I
am acting."

He looked at Geoffrey. "It's all right. The message is from Myers."

He turned to the youth, anxious to screen the half fainting figure in
the chair. "Thank you so much for your trouble in coming here. Can my
man give you some refreshment?"

The youth coloured and mumbled thanks, and Aubrey piloted him to the
door, and called Chaffey. Then he closed it, and went back to Geoffrey.

"It's all right, it's all right! We're safe now! Yes, cry if you
please, don't mind me. It'll do you good . . . it'll do us both
good . . . it'll do Chaffey good!"

For somehow Chaffey was there too; white and shaken, and holding their
hands, and murmuring confused congratulations, but in his heart was a
thankfulness that he could never have expressed, or they could never
have understood. For--was not he the cause and originator of the whole
business? He--who had determined to rouse his bored and listless master
to the realities that underlie all phases of life?

*  *  *  *  *  *

A year later a beautiful steam yacht glided majestically into the
harbour of San Diego, a thriving port of Southern California. As it
came to anchor, flying the Union Jack at its masthead, a boat shot
out from the quay. It held a solitary passenger, whose coming seemed
expected by two eagerly watchful figures leaning over the vessel's side.

"At last! Oh! he's waving his hand! Look, Aubrey! How well he looks,
how changed!"

Changed indeed was the alert brisk figure that ran up the lowered
ladder and reached the deck, and gave the hearty English greeting to
remembered friends. The face was bronzed and healthy, the figure looked
taller. But the eyes were Geoffrey's eyes, and the voice was Geoffrey's
voice.

"To think you've come at last! I hardly dared hope it!"

"And we've brought father!" exclaimed Rene. "He's determined to see if
Los Angeles is the paradise you've declared, and if it is--oh, here he
comes! He must speak for himself."

But there was very little to say, as the young man and the old gripped
hands, stood face to face, forgiving and forgiven.

"Geoffrey, my boy----"

"Uncle----"

"I've come to stay with you, if you'll have me. I'm a little tired of
Manchester."

"We'll all stay with you, if you'll have us," cried Rene's eager
voice. "Serves you right for describing an 'earthly paradise.' Not but
what this is a very good beginning!"

She looked at the lovely scene, her eyes brimming, her face one flush
of joyous welcome.

"A good beginning!" Geoffrey's voice thrilled "I should say it was!
Yes, you shall all come to my ranch. There's room enough--for all!" He
glanced round. "Why--where is he?"

"Who?" asked Rene.

"Chaffey, of course."

"Here, sir. Hope you're well, sir? Pleased to meet you again, sir."

Geoffrey stared, then laughed, and seized the extended hand.

"Another disguise?"

"My steward," said Aubrey Derringham gravely. "A very capable man, my
dear Geoffrey, though this is his first appearance in that character."


FINIS


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