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to start most unmistakably as " Then
have been in South her name tripped innocently from Africa too?” Mrs Heathcote asked her brother's lips. He always with peculiar eagerness. prided himself on not having a West smiled with dry satisfacnerve in his body, yet Mrs Heath tion. “As far as I can make out," cote's searching eyes made him he said, quietly, “there are few very uncomfortable. As their countries in which I have not shed hands touched there again shot blood, either my own or that of through him the weird feeling others-generally that of others," that in the dim recesses of the he added, with grim humour. past there was a mysterious bond Mrs Heathcote was fingering between them.
nervously the white lace on her The conversation was at first parasol; her brother also had beirredeemably stupid. The weather, come very attentive. West felt St Germain, the Forest, Paris, the that the conversation had reached Americans — all had their turn. a crisis. Young Jackson, however, was not “You are interested in South to be balked, and before long West Africa ?” he asked, carelessly. had to tell in embarrassed jerks “Perhaps,” he went on, with an the story of that wonderful cam- awkwardly light laugh, " you have paign on the Indian frontier—the shares in revolt, the great ride, the holding “Oh no!” she replied, almost of the fort, the sortie and its vic- petulantly. Her voice dropped. tory — with which England had "I had a friend who went out been ringing. By the time that there.” Then she stopped abruptly. the fort was relieved they had re But her look, West asked of himgained the Terrace, now bathed in self, what did that look mean? an afternoon sun. After all, it is There are some looks, surging up not so very unpleasant even to a from the depths of the soul, whose modest hero to dilate on one's ac- tragedy no can mistakechievements when the audience in- looks like those of a dumb animal cludes a young woman who will in inexpressible torture—and this adroitly punctuate your stories was one of them. He felt rather with the silent homage of glowing than saw that his questioner was eyes and deep-drawn breaths. Nor on the verge of tears. was the place so incongruous. True,
“Hullo !” he cried, jumping up the Forest was sinking into the and pulling out his watch, "sixblood-red peace of a perfect sunset, thirty. I must be getting back to and round them the nurses and Paris. I had no idea it was so children played in blissful con- late.” tempt for the English tourist; but Mrs Heathcote rewarded his not so long ago this smiling valley adroitness with a glance of deep too had suffered the long-drawn gratitude, but she left her brother agony of a heroic siege, and had to speak. shuddered at the shriek of Prussian “What! you are going back to shells. In answer to Mrs Heath- Paris !” the young man said, in cote's questions, West gaily rattled genuine dismay. “I thought you on from skirmishes with dervishes were staying here, and I was hopin the Soudan to dacoit-hunts in ing he turned appealingly to Burmah and the “twisting of the his sister. tails" of restless Indian tribes. Captain West wavered. Why South Africa of course could not not stay? But he waited for Mrs be forgotten.
Heathcote to decide. She had,
however, already divined the mean- the fumoir, he put his yellow relic ing of his glance.
beside the entry of the day. The “Oh, do stay, if you can!” recent writing, “Mrs Heathcote, she intervened, almost pleadingly. England," was certainly more fully “ You have not half told us all I formed, but even to the unpractised want to know. You have still got eye it was clearly the same hand to tell me all about South Africa." as that which had penned the scrap
With a little more coaxing he in his possession. " And her name agreed to wire for his things. is Ida," he murmured. " Dash it The piquant aroma of mystery
all! this is rum. I am glad I am which hung round her stirred him staying." vaguely; but even apart from this, To his disappointment, however, an hour in her society had created Mrs Heathcote did not appear at in him a longing to sip a few more dinner. She had gone to bed, her draughts of the refreshing spell brother apologetically explained, which her voice and eyes had to with a bad headache. So West offer. He flattered himself, too, perforce had to defer further unthat he had read in her looks that ravelling of the mystery until a kind of interest in himself which more favourable season. He tried deserves the reward of further self- to dismiss the subject from his indulgence.
mind, but when bedtime came he Yet, when alone in his room, was reminded in the most provokhe took himself severely to task. ing way that even “V.C.” heroes “Come, come,” he said, "you are human. West, who had slept haven't come to Paris to make a on a rain-soaked ridge to the lulfool of yourself over a woman who laby of a sputtering musketry-fire, is already married—you, too, who found it impossible to sleep, and in have been wooed by women until the early morning, vanquished by you are sick of the sex. Dash it the unusual struggle, he sallied all !” with a vicious dab of the forth to explore the Forest. brush at his hair, "you know If St Germain had looked better than that. But I mean to splendid the day before, it was see it out,” he added, firmly. Then positively entrancing in all the he broke into a long whistle. cool glory of the rising sun. To “This is rum, deuced rum,” he eyes long blistered by the glare of muttered, as he produced his Egyptian sands or the scorched pocket-book and drew from it a plains of the Punjaub, this sylvan scrap of yellow foreign notepaper. paradise of winding paths and coy His fingers trembled as he looked at glades just awakening from their it, and he swore softly. The soiled dewy sleep, this riotous maze of fragment was merely the end of a ever-changing greens, was an inletter, but the faded ink distinctly toxicating dream. In this magic bore the signature "Ida Heath- fairyland new charms revealed cote.” “I thought I could not be themselves at every step-now a mistaken,” was his comment at peep of the Seine a dazzling riblast; “no wonder I jumped in the bon of silver grey, now a vista Forest.” And he swore softly again. of the plains reluctantly parting He stuck his hands in his pocket, from the embrace of the dawn, now sat down on the bed, and gazed some unexplored copse wreathed stupidly at his boots. Presently in a broken aureole of dancing an idea struck him. He hurried light. Before the soothing breath off to the portier and demanded of the breeze, the carolled matins the visitors' book. Once safe in of the birds, and the lingering
fragrance of the lilacs, the feverish His voice rang with a reproachful visions of the night dissolved as note. before an enchanter's wand. In “Well, you are a cynic; that a fit of sheer ecstasy West had is to say, you value human motives to fling himself on the grass, as if very low.” nothing but physical contact could "On the contrary,” he replied, enable him to drink deep enough quickly, “I have a high opinion of the beauty lavished all round of my fellow · men. Generally him. Lying there he heard a speaking, they are at bottom a bush rustle, and turning over good deal better than they aplazily, found himself confronted pear.” by Mrs Heathcote. He bounded “And your fellow - women ?” to his feet, and they gazed shyly at she slipped in, with a mischievous one another.
tilt of her parasol. Captain West's “ Your head is better ?” he re face bronzed. “I cannot speak of marked, with a sedate twinkle in women,” he said, quickly, "I know
so little of them.' She nodded brightly.
Mrs Heathcote stopped to con“The morning,” she replied, front him. “Is that quite can“has made a headache impossible. did ?" she asked, boldly. “I But how early you are !”
knew a great “I am sorry," he answered, deal about them -or fancied that gravely,"to have disturbed your you did.” walk. Early rising is one of those “Oh, the latter of course," he vices which I acquired in the said, laughing. “Fancied' is the East, and I am not yet civilised right word. What man canor young enough to have learned "There is the cynic," she put in, to drop it.”
smiling up at him. “After that speech," she said, “But really, Mrs Heathcote, avoiding his quizzing eyes, "you you must admit that—" can only pay the penalty of ac "I admit nothing of the sort. companying me." Accordingly You say you take men
as you they rambled off together. West find them. Why not be equally observed that she had discarded generous with women? Why inher black frock for one of clinging sinuate motives when they don't grey, which harmonised to perfec- appear?” tion with the fresh tones of her "Well, to be candid, because I complexion, so piquant a contrast am convinced that women are so to the sallow brunettes of Paris, different from men.
All my exand a sprig of lilac thrust with perience" artful carelessness into her bosom “Which you admit is small,” supplied the subtle relief in colour she interrupted. Then she flushed. for which the eye craved.
“I am bothering you. It is very Their conversation rapidly be- extraordinary of me to talk like came confidential.
you this; but you will understand, I know," she remarked, thought- hope She supplied the refully, in answer to one of his mainder of the sentence by an sardonic aphorisms, “I am going eloquent glance. to say something rude—but will West was prevented from reyou tell me why a hero must also plying suitably, for at this mobe a cynic?”
ment Mrs Heathcote tripped on “A cynic ! Pray explain.” a branch which had caught in the
bottom of her skirt. She turned eyes. “That. ring !” she panted aside to wrestle with the offend- out, pointing to his left hand. ing obstacle.
“In heaven's name, where did you "I am afraid,” she said, with get that ring?" excusable petulance, “I must go West drew the ring off-a plain back. Walking is impossible with signet-ring with a small figure cut a loop in one's petticoat like that.” on its worn face. “You know it?" She looked down comically at the he queried, half to himself. edge of her dress. “I know what She took it with burning fingers you are burning to say,” she added, and examined it. The pallor on with
a provoking side glance, — her face deepened; he could see “only another proof of the in- the pitiful heaving of her bosom. feriority of the sex.” She shook “Know it !” she repeated with the delicate pink ruche impa a bitter laugh. “ Know it! It tiently.
husband's. In God's name, “ Cannot I assist you ?” he where did you find it?" asked, mischievously.
“Your husband's?” he muttered, She glanced reprovingly at him. confusedly. They stared at each “To get yet another proof of other in desperate silence. " It is feminine vanity—vanity, as usual, a strange story," West at last on a silken foundation.”
stammered out, "a very strange West was searching in his pocket. story.” Then slowly, "But I “Old campaigners," he remarked, believe I am near the solution “can do most things.
Let me now.
When you feel better I of
your silken in- will tell you all I know; it is not feriority.” He had whipped out much.” a pair of scissors.
"I am quite calm now," she “Ah!” she exclaimed, with a replied, bravely. And indeed he
man, cynical man, can could not help admiring the magniof course provide what woman ficence of her self-mastery. Save needs.” She stooped down to hold for the pallor on her cheeks, she up to him with dainty gravity the was as composed as she had been pale pink frilling of her silk petti- a brief quarter of an hour before. coat. West applied his scissors, “I am sorry to have alarmed and their hands met on the guilty you,” she said, with the ghost of a frippery
smile on her still quivering lips, He had hardly begun to cut “but some day you will underwhen he felt her start back with stand. Women,” she added, “after a sudden paroxysm of horror. all, I suppose, are different from "Good God!” he heard her gasp
But before we talk, suppose in a choking whisper which was we finish off my skirt." almost a moan. He dropped the In that prosaic operation they scissors like one shot, and turned found the necessary sedative for to her. Her face was blanched shattered nerves. Five minutes into a death-like pallor, and she later, when they emerged on to the had almost fallen back against the Terrace, they were apparently only nearest tree.
an ordinary man and woman. “ What is the matter ?” he “I am quite ready,” she said asked, with the brusqueness of in a low voice, as she sank into a genuine fear. She recovered her- seat. “But you must promise to self with an effort and looked at conceal nothing-nothing." him, a strangely excited light in her "I promise," he replied, and
will be brief. I warn you, though, it plications. When I reached the is not a pleasant story.” He shifted farm there was not a soul in it, uneasily on the seat, and then man, woman, or beast. But in began. "Some six years ago I the sitting-room I found”-his was in command of the police on our voice deepened as the memory South African frontier.” (“South surged over him—“that loafer, Africa!” she murmured.) “One face downwards, in a pool of his afternoon I had ridden over to the own blood. An assegai had gone inn in the town—we call them through his back and had ended towns, you know—which was my his miserable life. No one knew headquarters, and there I came anything about him, and so we across two strangers. New-comers buried him in the farm -steading. are always interesting, especially to I made discreet inquiries, but no a police officer, and I can remem evidence as to his identity was ber them distinctly-I have good forthcoming. The only clue was to. One
the ring. I found it on his finger, of about thirty, a loafer if ever How he came to have it I can't there was one, with that sort of say: I only know that the last face one would not trust round time I had seen it, it had been on
the other man's hand. I kept the "And the other ?” she broke in, ring, and told no one. The misereagerly.
able creature had ended miser“The other was rather young. ably; that assegai had sent him er — a gentleman, but—” he and his story together into death. paused nervously.
I kept the ring, hoping that some “ You promised to
tell the day I might meet its real owner, truth,” she said, reproachfully. but from that hour to this it “ Well, he looked
has remained with me. I can if-pardon the expression—he had only suppose that the real owner not been altogether wise in his died or was murdered—who can life. I liked his face, but it was a weak face, and I pitied him for be Mrs Heathcote still sat with ing found in such company as that her face in her hands. " Thank other rascal was. I noticed par- you,"
," she whispered, "thank ticularly two things. He had a you.” slight mole high up on his left West was awed. A terrible cheek
consciousness of human helplessShe buried her face in her hands. ness in the iron grip of fate had “My husband,” she said, with a numbed his mind. Presently he sob.
was able to add, “I ought per" And he was wearing that haps to tell you that I did find ring. They rode away together something else. In one of the shortly afterwards, and I never saw cupboards there was a coat, and in him again. How, then, did I get one of its pockets I came across the ring? Strangely enough. Some
He fumbled for his six months later I had news that pocket-book and produced the tiny a farm in my district had been relic of yellow notepaper. “Perraided, and it was my duty to haps I was wrong," he went on, collar the raiders. These things, "but of that discovery also I told you know, don't get into the Eng- no one. It confirmed my worst lish papers, and it is well they suspicions, for the coat no more don't. They would cause than the ring belonged to the dead