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The meeting of the man and the woman—it is to this that every story in the world goes back for its beginning. At noon on a day late in September the express train from Paris rested, panting and impatient, on its brief halt in the station at Rouen. The platform was covered with groups of passengers, pushing their way into or out of the throng about the victualer’s table. Through the press passed waiters, bearing above their heads trays with cups of tea and plates of food. People were climbing the high steps to the carriages, or beckoning to others from the open windows of compartments. Four minutes of the allotted five had passed. The warning cries of the guards had begun, and there was even to be heard the ominous preliminary tooting of a horn. At the front of the section of first-class carriages a young woman leaned through the broad window-frame of a coupé, and held a difficult conversation with one of the waiters. She had sandwiches in one hand, some loose coin in the other. Her task was to get at the meaning of a man who spoke of sous while she was thinking in centimes, and she smiled a little in amused vexation with herself at the embarrassment.
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The sky was dappled azure overhead, the water calm and fresh-hued below. When the ship’s company had disposed itself, and the vessel was making way outside, there were numerous long gaps of unpeopled space on the windy side, and to one of these the young couple tacitly bent their steps. They leaned against the rail, standing close together, with their faces lifted to the strong sweet breeze.
Viewed thus side by side, it could be seen that of the two the young man was just perceptibly the taller, but his extreme fragility excused his companion’s conception of him as a small man. On his head he had pulled tight for the voyage a little turban of a cap, which accentuated the foreign note of his features and expression. He was dark of skin and hair, with deep-brown eyes both larger and softer than is common with his sex, even in the South. The face, high and regular in shape, had in repose the careworn effect of maturer years than the boyish figure indicated. In the animation of discussion this face took on, for the most part, the rather somber brilliancy of a strenuous earnestness. Now, as it confronted the stiff Channel wind, it was illumined by the unaccustomed light of a frivolous mood. The ends of his slight mustache were lifted in a continuous smile.
“ It is my gayest day for many, many years,” he told her, after a little pause in the talk. They had become great friends in this last half-hour. In the reaction from the questionable restraint of the coupé to the broad, sunlit freedom of the steamer’s deck, the girl had revealed in generous measure a side of her temperament for which he had been unprepared. She had a humorous talent, and, once she had gained a clew to his perceptive capacities in this direction, it had pleased her to make him laugh by droll accounts of her experiences and observations in Paris. She had been there for a fortnight’s holiday, quite by herself, she told him, and there was something in her tone which rendered it impossible for him to ask himself if this was at all unusual among English young ladies. His knowledge of Paris was also that of a stranger, and he followed her whimsical narrative of blunders and odd mistakes with a zest heightened by a recollection of his own.
“ When have I laughed so much before?” he cried now. A long sigh, as of surprised relief, followed his words. “Well—I had looked forward to coming in a different spirit to England. With some hopes and a good courage—yes. But with a merry heart—how could I have foretold that? It was my good angel who put that coupé ticket into my head, and so brought me to you. Ah, how angry you were! I see you now, pulling at that door.”
“ Ah, well,” she said in extenuation, “how could I know? I never dreamed that the whole coupé was not mine—and when I saw that odious guard opening the door, to force in some wretched little Continental creature—I mean, that was my momentary thought—and naturally I—”
An involuntary sidelong glance of his eyes upward toward the crown of her hat, passed mute comment on her unfinished remark. She bit her lip in self-reproof at sight of the dusky flush on his cheek.
“ It is the only un-English thing about me,” he said, with a pathetically proud attempt at a smile. “My father was a tall, big man, and so is my brother Salvator.”
A new consciousness of the susceptibility of this young man to slights and wounds spread in the girl’s mind. It was so cruelly easy to prick his thin skin! But it was correspondingly easy to soothe and charm him—and that was the better part. His character and temperament mapped themselves out before her mind’s eye. She read him as at once innocent and complicated. He could be full of confidence in a stranger, like herself, but his doubts about his own values were distressing. The uneased antennæ of his self-consciousness were extended in all directions, as if to solicit injury. She had caught in his brown eyes the suggestion of an analogy to a friendless spaniel—the capacity for infinite gratitude united with conviction that only kicks were to be expected. It was more helpful to liken him to a woman. In the gentle and timid soul of a convent-bred maiden he nourished the stormy ambitions of a leader of men. It was a nun who boldly dreamed of commanding on the field of battle.
“ I had a feeling,” she said to him, so softly that the tone was almost tender, “that you must be like your mother.”
She rightly judged him to be her elder, but for the moment her mood was absorbingly maternal. “Let us sit down here,” she added, moving toward the bench facing the rail. “You were going to tell me—about her, was it?”
He spread his rugs over their knees as they sat together in the fresh wind.
“ No, it was not so much of her,” he said.
“ I have much to think about her—not much to put into words. She died five years ago—nearly six now—and I was so much at school that I saw very little of her in the latter years. Salvator was with her always, though, to the end, although he was not her own son. We are half-brothers, but no one could have been fonder than he was of my mother, or a better son to her. After she died, he still kept me in school, and this was curious too, because he hated all my teachers bitterly. Salvator is fierce against the church, yet he kept me where I had been put years before, with the Christian Brothers at the Bon Rencontre, in Toulon. When at last I left them, Salvator took me with him for a period—he is an expert and a dealer in gems—and then I became a private tutor. Four years or so of that—and now I am here.” He added, as upon an afterthought: “You must not think that I failed to love my mother. She was sweet and good, and very tender to me, and I used to weep a great deal after I left her, but it was not my fortune to be so much with her as Salvator was. I think of her, but there is not much to say.”
The repetition of this formula suggested no comment to his companion, and he went on.
“ The real memory of my childhood is my father, although I saw him only once. Salvator says I saw him oftener, but if so all the recollections jumble themselves together in my mind, to make a single impression. I was five years old; it was in the early summer, in 1875. My father had been fighting against the Prussians when I was born. By the time I was old enough to know people, he was away in Spain with Don Carlos. He died there, of wounds and fever, at Seo de Urgel, in August of that same year, 1875. But first he came to see us—it would have been in June, I think—and we were living at Cannes. He had some secret Carlist business, Salvator says. I knew nothing of that. I know only that I saw him, and understood very well who he was, and fixed him in my mind so that I should never, never forget him. How strange a thing it is about children! I have only the dimmest general idea of how my mother looked when I was that age; I cannot remember her at all in the odd clothes which her pictures show she wore then, though I saw them constantly. Yet my father comes once and I carry his image till Judgment Day.”
“ Poor mothers!” sighed the girl, under her breath. “No, it was nothing. Go on.”
“ I knew that he was a soldier, and that wherever there were wars he went to have his share of fighting. I suppose it was this which gripped my imagination, even as a baby. I could read when I was five, and Salvator had told me about our father’s battles. He had been in the Mutiny in India, and he was in Sicily against Garibaldi, and he was with the Austrians four years before I was born, and in the French Foreign Legion afterward. I think I knew all this when I saw him—and if I did not, then I feel that I could have learned it from just looking at him. He was like a statue of War. Ah, how I remember him—the tall, strong, straight, dark, hardfaced, silent man!”
“ And you loved him!” commented his companion, with significance.
He shook his head smilingly. The analysis in retrospect of his own childish emotions had a pleasant interest for him. “No; there was no question of love, at all. For example, he liked Salvator—who was then a big boy of fifteen—and he took him off to Spain with him when he left. I cannot remember that he so much as put his hand on my head, or paid the slightest attention to me. He looked at me in a grave way if I put myself in front of his eyes, just as he looked at other things, but he would not turn his eyes to follow me if I moved aside. Do you know that to my fancy that was superb? I was not in the least jealous of Salvator. I only said to myself that when I was his age, I also would march to fight in my father’s battles. And I was proud that he did not bend to me, or put himself out to please me, this huge, cold-eyed, lion-like father of mine. If he had ever kissed me I should have been ashamed—for us both. But nothing was farther from his thoughts. He went away, and at the door he spoke for the first time in my hearing of me. He twisted his thumb toward me, where I stood in the shelter of my mother’s skirts. Mind, he’s an Englishman! he said—and turned on his heel. I have the words in my ears still. ‘Mind, he’s an Englishman!’”
“ There is England!” she cried.
They stood up, and his eager eye, following the guidance of her finger, found the faint, broken, thin line of white on the distant water’s edge. Above it, as if they were a part of it, hung in a figured curtain soft clouds which were taking on a rosy tint from the declining sun. He gazed at the remote prospect in silence, but with a quickened breath.
“ It is the first time that I have seen it like this—coming toward it, I mean, from somewhere else,” she remarked at last. “I had never been outside England before.”
He did not seem to hear her. With another lingering, clinging gaze at the white speck, he shook himself a little, and turned. “And now I want to tell you about this new, wonderful thing—about why I am this minute within sight of England. You will say it is very strange.”
They moved to their bench again, and he spread the wraps once more, but this time they did not sit quite so close together. It was as if the mere sight of that pale, respectable slip of land on the horizon had in some subtle way affected their relation to each other.
“ A week ago,” he began afresh, “at Nice, a messenger from the Crédit Lyonnais brought me a note saying they wished to see me at the bank. They had, it seems, searched for me in several towns along the Riviera, because I had been moving about. It was demanded that I should prove my identity by witnesses, and when that was done I was given a sum of money, and a sealed letter addressed to me, bearing simply my name, Mr. Christian Tower—nothing more. I hurried outside and read its contents. I was requested to get together all my papers—”
He stopped short, arrested by a sharp, half-stifled exclamation from her lips. She had continued looking at him after his mention of his name—at first absent-mindedly, as if something in his talk had sent her thoughts unconsciously astray; then with lifted head, and brows bent together in evident concentration upon some new phase of what he had been saying. Now she interrupted him with visible excitement.
“ You say Christian Tower!” She pushed the words at him hurriedly. “What was your father’s name?”
“ He was always known as Captain Tower, but I have read it in my papers—his first name was Ambrose.”
She had risen to her feet, in evident agitation, and now strode across to the rail. As he essayed to follow her, she turned, and forced the shadow of a smile into her lips; her eyes remained frightened. “It is all right,” she said with a gasping attempt at reassurance. “I was queer for just an instant; it’s all right. Go on, please. You were to get together your papers—”
“ And bring them to Brighton,” he said, much disconcerted. “That is all. But won’t you sit down?”
“ I think I would rather stand,” she answered. Her composure was returning, and with it the power to view altogether, and in their proper relation to one another, the several elements of the situation his words had revealed to her. Upon examination, it was curiosity that she felt rather than personal concern—an astonished and most exigent curiosity. But even before this, it grew apparent to her as she thought, came her honorable duty to this young man who had confided in her.
“ I think I ought to tell you,” she began, beckoning him nearer where she stood; “yes, you should be told that in all human probability I know the story. It is impossible that I should be mistaken—two such names never got together by accident. And I can assure you that the whole thing is even more extraordinary and astounding than you can possibly imagine. There are people in England who will curl up like leaves thrown on the fire when they see you. But for the moment”—she paused, with a perplexed face and hesitating voice—“go on; tell me a little more. It isn’t clear to me—how much you know. Don’t be afraid; I will be entirely frank with you, when you have finished.”
He patted the rail nervously with his hand, and stared at her in pained bewilderment and impatience. “How much do I know?” he faltered vaguely. “Very little; almost nothing. There was no explanation in the letter. The bankers said nothing, save that they were to give me a thousand francs. But one does not get a thousand francs merely because the wind has changed. There must be a reason for it; and what reason is possible except that there is some inheritance for me? So I argued it out—to myself. I have thought of nothing else, awake or asleep, for the whole week.”
He halted, with anxious appeal in his eyes, and his hands outspread to beseech enlightenment from her. She nodded to show that she understood. “In a minute or two, when I have got it into shape in my mind,” she said soothingly. “But meantime go on. I want you to talk. What have you done during the week?”
Christian threw his hands outward.
“ Done?” he asked plaintively. “Murdered time some way or the other. I was free to move an hour after I had read the letter. The money was more than I had ever had before. It was intolerable to me—the thought of not being in motion. In the ‘Indicateur’ I got the times of trains, and I formed my plan. Avignon I had never seen, and then Le Puy—there was a wonderful description of it in a magazine I had read—and then to Paris, and next to Rouen. It was at Rouen that I slept last night. It was my first night’s good sleep—I had tired myself out so completely. Always walking with the map in my mind, going from one church to another, talking to the Suisse, bending back my head to examine capitals and arches, forcing myself to take an interest in what I saw every little minute—so I have come somehow through the week. But now here is rich England within plain sight, and here are you, my new friend—and all my life I have been so poor and without friends!”
He tightened his hand upon the rail, and abruptly turned his face away. She saw the shine of tears in his eyes.
“ Come and sit down again,” she said, with a sisterly hand on his arm. “I know how to tell it to you now.”
“ But you truly know nothing about the Towers—or Torrs—your father’s family?” she continued, when they were once again seated. “It sounds incredible! I can hardly realize how you could have lived all these years and not—but how old are you?”
“— And not got some inkling of who—of who your father was?”
“ My mother never told me. Perhaps she did not know altogether, herself. I cannot say as to that. And if Salvator knew—that I cannot tell, either. He is a curious man, my brother Salvator. He talks so you would think you saw him inside out—but he keeps many things to himself none the less.”
“ Yes—that brother of yours,” she said abstractedly. “I have been thinking about him. But it can’t be that he has any importance in the game, else the Jews would have sent for him instead of you. They waste no time,—they make no errors.”
“ The Jews!” he murmured at her, with no comprehension in his eyes.
She smiled. “I have been arranging it in my mind. The thing was like a black fog to me when you first spoke. I had to search about for a light before I could make a start. But when I stumbled across the thought, ‘It is the Jews’ work,’ then it was not very hard to make out the rest. I could almost tell you who it is that is to meet you at Brighton. It is Mr. Soman. Is it not?”
He assented with an impulsive movement of head and hands. The gaze that he fixed upon her sparkled with excitement.
“ He is Lord Julius’ man of business,” she explained to his further mystification. “No doubt he has had one of those green eyes of his on you ever since you were a fortnight old. It frightens one to think of it—the merciless and unerring precision of their system. Is there anything they don’t know?”
“ I am afraid of Jews myself,” he faltered, striving to connect himself with what he dimly perceived of her mood. “But what have they against me? What can they do to me? I owe nothing; they can’t make me responsible for what other people, strangers to me, have done, can they? And why should they give me a thousand francs? It is I,” he finished hopelessly, “I who am in the black fog. Tell me, I beg you, what is it that they want with me?”
She put a reassuring hand upon his arm, and the steady, genial light in her calm eyes brought him instantaneous solace. “You have not the slightest cause for fear,” she told him, gently. “Quite the contrary. They are not going to hurt you. So far from it, they have taken you up; they will wrap you in cotton-wool and nurse you as if you were the Koh-i-noor diamond. You may rest easy, my dear sir; you may close your eyes, and fold your hands, and lean back against Israel as heavily as you like. It is all right so far as you are concerned. But the others”—she paused, and looked seaward with lifted brows and a mouth twisted to express sardonic comment upon some amazing new outlook—“eye-ee! the others!”
“ Still you do not tell me!” For the first time she caught in his voice the hint of a virile, and even an imperious note. Behind the half-petulant entreaty of the tired boy, there was a man’s spirit of dictation. She deferred to it unconsciously.
“ The Lord Julius that I spoke of is—let me see—he is your great-uncle—your grandfather’s younger brother.”
“ But if he is a Jew—” began Christian, in an awed whisper.
“ No—no; he is nothing of the sort. That is to say, he is not Jewish in blood. But he married a great heiress of the race—whole millions sterling came to him from the huge fortune of the Aronsons in Holland—and he likes Jewish people—of the right sort. He is an old man now, and his son, Emanuel, has immense influence over him. You should see them sitting together like two love-birds on a perch. They idolize each other, and they both worship Emanuel’s wife. If they weren’t the two best men in the world, and if she weren’t the most remarkable woman anywhere, they would utterly spoil her.”
“ He—this lord—is my great-uncle,”
Christian recalled her to his subject. “He and his son are good men.”
“ They are the ones I referred to as the Jews. That is how they are spoken of in the family—to distinguish them from the senior branch—the sons and grandsons of your grandfather. Fix that distinction in you mind. There is the elder group, who have titles and miles of mortgaged estates, no money to speak of and still less brains—”
“ That is the group that I belong to?” He offered the interruption with a little twinkle in his eyes. It was patent that his self-possession had returned. Even this limited and tentative measure of identification with the most desirable and deep-rooted realities in that wonderful island that he could see coming nearer to meet him, had sufficed to quell the restless flutter of his nerves.
She nodded with a responsive gleam of sportiveness on her face. “Yes, your place in it is a very curious one. But first get this clear in your mind—that the younger group, whom they speak of as the Jews, have money beyond counting, and have morals and intelligence moreover. Between these two groups no love is lost. In fact, they hate each other. The difference is the Christians go about cursing the Jews, whereas the Jews wisely shrug their shoulders and say nothing. No one suspected that they would do anything, either—but—oh, this is going to be an awful business!”
He held himself down to a fine semblance of dignified calm. “Tell me more,” he bade her, with an effect of temperate curiosity.
“ Now comes tragedy,” she went on, and the hint of sprightliness disappeared from her face and tone. “It is really one of the most terrible stories that could be told. There is a very aged man—he must be nearly ninety—lying at death’s door in his great seat in Shropshire. He is at death’s door, I said, but he has the strength and will of a giant, and though he is half paralyzed, half blind, half everything, still he has his weight against the door, and no one knows how long he can hold it closed. It is your grandfather that I am speaking of. His name also is Christian.”
The young man nodded gravely. “My father would have fought death that way too, if they had not shot him to pieces, and heaped fever on top of that,” he commented.
The girl bit her lip and flushed awkwardly for an instant “Let me go on,” she said then, and hurried forward. “This old man had three sons—not counting the priest, Lord David, who doesn’t come into the thing. The first of these sons, also Christian, had three sons, and he and they were all alive six months ago. They are all dead now, two drowned in their yacht, one lost in the ‘Castle Drummond,’ one killed in Matabeleland. Lord David, the priest, the next brother, died last year—childless of course. There remained in England two sons of another brother who died some years ago, Lord Edward, and this horrible mowing down of human lives left them apparently nearest to the very aged man, your grandfather. Do you follow all that?”
“ I think I do,” said Christian. “If I don’t I will pick it up afterward. In mercy’s name, do not stop!”
“ The Jews, saying nothing, had lost sight of nothing. There was still another brother who had lived abroad for many years, who died abroad twenty years ago. You are getting to the climax now. The Jews must have kept an eye on this wandering cousin of theirs; it is evident they knew he left a son capable of inheriting, and that they did not let this son escape from view. Because Lord Ambrose Torr was older than Lord Edward, his brother, it happens now that the son of that Ambrose—”
The young man abruptly rose, and moved along to the rail. He had signified by a rapid backward gesture of the hand his momentary craving for solitude; he stretched this hand now slowly, as if unconsciously, toward the sunset glow on sky and sea, in the heart of which lay imbedded a thick line of cream-colored cliffs, escalloped under a close covering of soft olive-hued verdure. The profile of his uplifted face, as he gazed thus before him into the light, seemed to the eyes of the girl transfigured.
He stood thus, rapt and motionless, for minutes, until her mind had time to formulate the suspicion that this was all intolerable play-acting, and to dismiss it again as unworthy. Then he returned all at once to her side, apparently with a shamefaced kind of perception of her thoughts. He was flushed and uneasy, and shuffled his hands in and out of the pockets of his great-coat. He did not seat himself, but stood looking down at her.
“ What is my grandfather?” he asked, with a husky, difficult voice.
“ The Duke of Glastonbury.”
“ I do not understand,” he began, hesitatingly; “it is not clear to me about my father. Why should he—”
She rose in turn, with swift decision, as if she had been alertly watching for the question. “That is what you must not ask me,” she said, hurriedly. “I think I will move about a little. The wind is colder here. I am getting chilled.”
They strolled about together, conducting a fitful conversation, but as often gazing in silence at the bulk of the headlands they were approaching, gray and massive now in the evening light. She answered freely enough the queries he put, but between these he lapsed into an abstraction which she respected. More than once he spoke of the extraordinary confusion into which her story had thrown his thoughts, and she philosophically replied that she could well understand it.
An hour later they had passed the fatuous inspection of the customs people, and confronted the imminence of leave-taking. Constraint enveloped them as in a mantle.
It occurred suddenly to him to say: “How strange! You possess the most extraordinary knowledge of me and my—my people, and yet the thought just comes to me—I have not so much as asked your name.”
She smiled at him with a new light in her eyes, half kind, half ironically roguish. “If I may confess it, there have been times today when I was annoyed with you for being so persistently and indefatigably interested in yourself—for never dreaming of wondering, speculating, inquiring something about me. But that was very weak of me—I see it now—and very wise of you, because—what does it matter about a nobody like me?—but next week the whole world will be bearing witness that you are the most interesting young man in England.”
He gave a swift glance down the train toward the guards noisily shutting the doors. “No, it is too bad,” he said, nervously. “You will always be my first friend in England—my very deeply prized friend everywhere. I know you only to-day—but that day is more to me than all the rest of my life—and it is full of you. They are closing the doors—but you will tell me? The notion of not seeing you again is ridiculous. You are in London—yes?—then how do you think I could come to London without first of all, before everything else, wanting to call upon you?”
“ Oh, I daresay we shall meet again,” she answered, as perforce he stepped into the compartment. Her smile had a puzzling quality in it—something compounded, it seemed to him, of both fear and fun. “In a remote kind of way I am mixed up with the story myself.”
There was no time for any hope of further explanation. He put his head out of the window, and shook hands again. “Remember!” he called out fervently. “You are my first friend in England. Whenever—whatever I can do—”
“ Even to the half of your kingdom!” she laughed at him, as the movement of the carriage drew him past her.
The tone of these last words, which he bore away with him, had been gay—almost jovial. But the girl, when she had watched him pass out of sight, turned and walked slowly off in the direction of her own train with a white and troubled face.
Many builders in their day have put a hand to the making of Caermere Hall. Though there were wide differences of race and language among them and though the long chain of time which binds them together has generations and even centuries for its links, they seem to have had thus much in common: they were all at feud with the sunlight.
On the very pick of summer days, when the densest thickets of Clune Forest are alive to the core with moving green reflections of the outer radiance, and hints of the glory up above pierce their way to the bottom of the narrowest ravine through which the black Devon churns and frets, somehow Caermere remains wrapped in its ancient shadows.
The first men, in some forgotten time, laid its foundations with no thought save of the pass at the foot to be defended. Later artificers reared thick walls upon these foundations, pushed out towered curtains, sank wells, lifted the keep, cut slits of corner windows or crowned the fabric with new turrets for watchmen, each after the need or fashion of his age, but all with minds single to the idea of blocking the path that Caermere overhung. In due time came the breath of the king’s peace, blowing equably over the vexed marches, albeit loaded with the scent of gunpowder, and my lords slowly put aside their iron harness for silken jackets, and unslung the herses in their gateways. Men of skill set now about the task of expanding the turfed spaces within the inclosure, of spreading terraces and forming gardens, of turning stone chambers into dames’ apartments, and sullen guard-rooms into banquet-halls. Their grandsons, in turn, pulled down even more than they erected; where the mightiest walls had shouldered their huge bulk, these men of Elizabeth and James left thin façades of brickwork, and beams of oak set in a trivial plaster casing. The old barbican was not broad enough to span their new roadway, stretching to the valley below over the track of the former military path, and they blew it up; the pleasure-ground, which they extended by moving far backward the wall of the tilting yard, was bare of aspect to their eye, and they planted it with yews and, later, with cedars from the Lebanon.
Through all these changes, Caermere remained upon its three sides shadowed by great hills, and the thought of making wide windows in the walls on the open fourth side came to no one. When at last, in the earlier Georgian time, the venerable piles of bastioned masonry here were replaced by a feebly polite front of lath and stucco, windows were indeed cut to the very floor, in the French style, but meanwhile the trees had grown into a high screen against the sky, and it was not in the Torr blood to level timber.
When a house and family have lived together for a thousand years, it is but reasonable that they should have come to an understanding with each other. Was Caermere dark because the mood of the Torrs, its makers and masters, had from the dawn of things been saturnine? Or did the Torrs owe their historic gloom and dourness of temperament to the influence of this somber cradle of their race? There is record of the query having been put, in a spirit of banter, by a gentleman who rode over Clune bridge in the train of King John. Of convincing answer there is none to this latest day. The Torrs are a dark folk, and Caermere is a dark house. They belong to one another and that is all.
Thus, on the first morning of October, a gray and overcast morning even on the hilltops, and though it was past the half-hour towards nine, there was barely light enough to see one’s way about by in the big breakfast-room.
A tall young man in rough, light-brown clothes stood at one of the windows, drumming idly on the glass and staring at the black cedars beyond the lawn. At intervals he whistled under his breath, in a sulky fashion, some primitive snatches of an unknown tune. Once or twice he yawned, and then struck a vicious ring from the panes with his hard nails, in protesting comment upon his boredom.
About the large fireplace behind him were dishes huddled for heat, and their metallic gleam in the flicker of the flames was repeated farther away in the points of red on the plate and glass of the long breakfast table spread in the center of the room. From time to time a white-faced youngster in livery entered the room, performed some mysterious service at the hearth or the table in the dim twilight and went out again.
The man at the window paid no heed to the goings and comings of the servant, but when the door opened presently and another tweed-clad figure entered, his ear told him the difference on the instant, and he half turned his head.
“ In God’s name, what are you all doing?” he growled angrily. “I said eight—you heard me!—sharp eight!”
“ What does it matter?” protested the newcomer, stooping at the fire-place to lift the covers from the dishes in a languid inspection of their contents. He yawned as he spoke. “If you won’t let fellows go to bed till four, how the devil do you expect them to be down at eight?”
“ Oh, is that you, Pirie?” said the man at the window. “I thought it was my brother.” The other stood for a moment, with his back to the fire. Then he lounged to the window, stretching his arms as he moved. He also was tall, but with a scattering of gray in his hair.
“ Beastly black morning,” he commented in drowsy tones, after a prolonged observation of the prospect. “Might as well stopped in bed.”
“ Well, go back then!” snapped the other. “I didn’t make the rotten weather, did I?” This was wanton ill-temper. The elder man also began drumming with his nails on the window. “Turn it up, Eddy,” he remonstrated, smoothly enough, but with a latent snarl in his tone. “I don’t like it.”
The younger man moved his head, as if he would have looked his companion in the face. Then he stared away again, out of the window.
“ Beaters been waitin’ half an hour already,” he grumbled, sulkily. “What’s the good of makin’ a time if you don’t keep it?”
“ I didn’t make any time,” responded Major Pirie with curtness. Upon reflection, he added: “What does it matter about the beaters?”
There seemed no answer to this, and for several minutes nothing was said. Finally the younger man thought of something. “I say,” he began, and after an instant’s pause went on: “It’d suit me better not to be called ‘Eddy’ among the men, d’ye see? That fellow Burlington began it last night—he got it from you—and I don’t like it. When we’re alone, of course, that’s different.”
Major Pirie laughed—a dry, brief, harsh laugh—and swung around on his heels. “Your man didn’t get those sausages I asked for, after all,” he remarked, going back to the dishes at the fender.
“ Probably couldn’t,” said Mr. Edward, “or else,” he added, “wouldn’t. I never saw such a houseful of brutes and duffers. I’m keen to shunt the lot of ‘em, and they know it, the beggars. You’d think they’d try to suck up to me, but they don’t, they haven’t got brains enough.”
The major had brought a plate from the table, and was filling it from under the covers on the hearth. “Shall I ring for the tea?” he asked.
Mr. Edward moved across to the chimney corner and pulled the cord himself. “Do you know what that old ass, Barlow—the butler, you know—had the face to say to me yesterday? ‘I’—God, you couldn’t believe it! ‘I ’ope, sir,’ he says, ‘you’ll think better of shootin’ on the First, for His Grace’ll hear the guns in the covers, and it won’t do His Grace no good.’ Fancy the beggar’s cheek!”
“ Well, do you know, Torr,” said Major Pirie, slowly, speaking with his mouth full but contriving to give a significantly nice emphasis to the name, “I was thinkin’ much the same myself. For that matter, several of the fellows were mentionin’ it. It doesn’t look quite the thing, you know.”
The entrance of the servant created an interval of silence, during which Mr. Edward in his turn rummaged among the dishes before the fire.
“ It’s Gus, is it?” he demanded, from where he knelt on one knee, plate in hand.
“ He thought it would be funny to queer my game, eh?”
“ Your brother hasn’t said a word, so far’s I know,” replied the major, pouring his tea. “It was merely some of the fellows, talkin’.”
“ God Almighty!” cried Mr. Edward, springing to his feet. “Here’s a precious outfit of pals for you! You come down here, so help me—”
“ Don’t say ‘you’; say ‘they,’ if you’ve got to say anything,” interposed the major, quietly.
“ Well, they, then,” the other went on, in loud heat. “They come down here, and take my mounts, by God; they drink my wine, they win my money, they drain me dry—and then they go behind my back and whisper to one another that I’m an outsider. And you too, Pirie,” he continued, with defiance and deprecation mingled in his tone, “you admit yourself that you talked with them.”
“ My dear Torr,” replied the major, “it’s a mistake for you to turn out so early. You’ve tried to quarrel before breakfast every day I’ve been here. It’s the worst morning temper I ever heard of in my life. You ought to have tea and eggs and things brought to you in your room, and not show yourself for at least two hours afterward—you really ought. It isn’t fair to your friends.”
The door opened and still another tall man came in. He nodded to Pirie as he passed him, with a tolerant “Well, major,” and went straight to the dishes by the fire.
“ Pirie’s got it into his head we oughtn’t to shoot to-day, Gus,” said Mr. Edward.
The other rose with a dish in his hands.
“ It is dark,” he assented, glancing toward the window. “Afraid of pottin’ a beater, major?”
“ No—it’s about the duke,” explained Edward. “It seems some of the fellows funk the thing—they think he’ll hear the guns—they want to go to church instead, or something of that sort.”
Augustine Torr, M.P., looked at his brother inquiringly. The tie of blood between them was obvious enough. They were both slender as well as tall; their small round heads merging indistinguishably behind into flat, broad necks, seemed identical in contour; they had the same light coarse hair, the same florid skins, even the same little yellow mustaches. The differences were harder to seek. Edward, though he had borne Her Majesty’s commission for some years, was not so well set up about the shoulders as his younger and civilian brother. Augustine, on the other hand, despite his confident carriage of himself, produced the effect of being Edward’s inferior in simple force of character. It was at once to his credit and his disparagement that he had the more amiable nature of the two.
“ How do you mean—the duke?” he asked. “Is there a change?”
Edward put out his closed lips a little, and shook his head. Major Pirie sprinkled salt on his muffin while he explained.
“ All there is of it is this,” he said. “There was just an idea that with the—with your grandfather—dyin’ in the house—it might look a little better to give the first the go-by. Nobody’d have a word to say against shootin’ to-morrow.”
“ Well, but what the hell”—Augustine groped his way with hesitancy—“I don’t understand—we’ve been shootin’ partridges for a month, and how are pheasants any different? And as for the duke—why, of course one’s sorry and all that—but he’s been dyin’ since June, and the birds have some rights—or rather, I should say—what I mean is—”
“ That’s what I said,” put in Edward, to cover the collapse of his brother’s argument.
Major Pirie frowned a little. “Partridges are another matter,” he said testily.
“ Damned if I know what you’re driving at,” avowed Augustine. He paused with fork in air at his own words. “Drivin’ at,” he repeated painstakingly. “Drivin’ at pheasants, eh? Not bad, you know. Pass the mustard, Pirie.”
“ God!” said the major, with gloom. “You know well enough what I mean. To work through fields miles off—that’s one thing. To shoot the covers here under the duke’s nose, with the beaters messin’ about—that’s quite another. However that’s your affair, not mine.”
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