The Dust of Conflict - Harold Bindloss - ebook

The Dust of Conflict ebook

Harold Bindloss

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Appleby has a steady look and the ability to quickly make the right decisions as well as composure in action. These qualities are useful in more serious cases than shooting from the game, and for Appleby, who was poor, lucky that he possessed them. Appleby had something uncertain in his head. He had fearlessness in his eyes. And no one knew what was on his mind. Whether to be afraid, or to admire.

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Contents

I. VIOLET WAYNE’S CONFIDENCE

II. DAVIDSON MEETS HIS MATCH

III. TONY CANNOT DECIDE

IV. THE VERDICT

V. APPLEBY MAKES A FRIEND

VI. THE SCHOONER “VENTURA”

VII. THE DESCENT OF SANTA MARTA

VIII. APPLEBY’S PRISONER

IX. THE BREAKING OF THE NET

X. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING

XI. THE ALCALDE’S BALL

XII. PANCHO’S WARNING

XIII. THE SECOND ATTEMPT

XIV. APPLEBY PROVES OBDURATE

XV. TONY’S LAST OPPORTUNITY

XVI. DANE COP

XVII. TONY IS PAINFULLY ASTONISHED

XVIII. NETTIE ASKS A QUESTION

XIX. POSITIVE PROOF

XX. FOUND GUILTY

XXI. TONY’S DECISION

XXII. MORALES MAKES A PROPOSAL

XXIII. APPLEBY TAKES A RISK

XXIV. RESPITED

XXV. MORALES SITS STILL

XXVI. THE SEIZING OF SAN CRISTOVAL

XXVII. HARDING’S APPROBATION

XXVIII. TONY MAKES AMENDS

XXIX. TONY PERSISTS

XXX. MORALES PRESERVES HIS FAME

XXXI. STRUCK OFF THE ROLL

XXXII. APPLEBY LEAVES SANTA MARTA

XXXIII. VIOLET REGAINS HER LIBERTY

XXXIV. THE RIGHT MAN

I–VIOLET WAYNE’S CONFIDENCE

THE November afternoon was drawing towards its close when Bernard Appleby stood with a gun on his shoulder in an English country lane. It was a costly hammerless gun, but it had been lent to him, and the fact that his right shoulder was sore and there was a raw place on one of his fingers was not without its significance. Appleby, indeed, seldom enjoyed an opportunity of shooting pheasants, and had been stationed at what proved to be a particularly warm corner of the big beech wood. Here he had, however, acquitted himself considerably better than might have been expected, for he had a steady eye and the faculty of making a quick and usually accurate decision, as well as a curious coolness in action, which was otherwise somewhat at variance with an impulsive disposition. These qualities are useful in more serious affairs than game shooting, and it was fortunate for Appleby, who was a poor man, that he possessed them, because they comprised his whole worldly advantages.

A little farther up the lane his kinsman, Anthony Palliser, was talking to a keeper, and though Appleby could not hear what they said, there was something in the man’s manner which puzzled him. It was certainly not respectful, and Appleby could almost have fancied that he was threatening his companion. This, however, appeared improbable, for Anthony Palliser was a man of some little importance in that part of the country, and endowed with an indolent good humor which had gained him the good will of everybody. Still, Appleby had seen that complaisance can be carried too far, and knowing rather better than most people how little stiffness there was in Palliser’s character, watched him somewhat curiously until the keeper moved away.

Then Palliser came up and joined him, and they turned homewards down the lane. They were not unlike in appearance, and of much the same age–Appleby twenty-six, Palliser a year younger. Both were healthy young Englishmen, but there was an indefinite something in the poise of Appleby’s head, and the very way he put his feet down, which suggested who possessed the most character. He had clear blue eyes which met one fearlessly, and into which there crept at times a little reckless twinkle, crisp brown hair, and lips which could set firmly together, while he held himself well, considering that he labored for the most part at a desk.

“What do you think of keeper Davidson?” asked Palliser.

“A surly brute!” said Appleby. “Ill-conditioned, but tenacious. Have you any reason for asking?”

He fancied for a moment that Palliser had something to tell him, but the younger man smiled somewhat mirthlessly. “I don’t like the fellow, and wonder why my respected uncle tolerates him,” he said. “He is certainly tenacious. You have a trick of weighing up folks correctly, Bernard.”

“It is fortunate I have some qualification for my profession, and it’s about the only one,” said Appleby dryly. “Still, it did not need much penetration to see that you and he held different opinions.”

Palliser appeared irresolute. “The fact is, he would have the netting put up in the wrong place, and spoiled what should have been our best drive,” he said. “It was by his bad management they had to put two of the game hampers in the dog-cart, which sent us home on foot. I hope you don’t mind that. It’s a pleasant evening for walking, and you know you don’t get much exercise.”

“Not in the least!” said Appleby. “Don’t make excuses, Tony. It isn’t everybody who would have walked home with me, and it was very good of you to persuade Godfrey Palliser to have me down at all. It is the only taste I get of this kind of thing–one fortnight in the year, you see–and I’m considerably fonder of it than is good for me.”

Palliser flushed a trifle, for he was sympathetic and somewhat sensitive, though his comrade had intended to express no bitterness. By and by he stopped where the lane wound over the crest of a hill, and it was possible that each guessed the other’s thoughts as they looked down into the valley.

A beech wood with silver firs in it rolled down the face of the hill, and the maze of leafless twigs and dusky spires cut sharp against the soft blueness of the evening sky, though warm hues of russet and crimson still chequered the dusky green below. Beyond it, belts of thin white mist streaked the brown plough land in the hollow where Appleby could see the pale shining of a winding river. Across that in turn, meadow and coppice rolled away past the white walls of a village bowered in orchards, and faded into the creeping night beyond a dim church tower and the dusky outline of Northrop Hall. As they watched, its long row of windows twinkled into brilliancy, and the sound of running water came up with the faint astringent smell of withered leaves out of the hollow. Appleby drew in a deep breath, and his face grew a trifle grim.

“And all that will be yours some day, Tony!” he said. “You ought to feel yourself a lucky man.”

Palliser did not appear enthusiastic. “There are,” he said, “always drawbacks, and when there are none one generally makes them. The place is over head and heels in debt, and setting anything straight, especially if it entailed retrenchment, was never a favorite occupation of mine. Besides, a good deal depends upon my pleasing Godfrey Palliser, and there are times when it’s a trifle difficult to get on with him.”

“Still, your wife will have plenty of money.”

Appleby almost fancied that Palliser winced as they turned away. “Yes,” he said. “Violet and I are, however, not married yet, and we’ll talk of something else. Are you liking the business any better?”

Appleby laughed. “I never liked it in the least, but Godfrey Palliser gave me my education, which was rather more than anybody could have expected of him, and I had the sense to see that if I was ever able to practise for myself the business he could influence would be a good thing for me. My worthy employer, however, evidently intends holding on forever, and the sordid, monotonous drudgery has been getting insupportable lately. You may be able to understand that, though you haven’t spent six years in a country solicitor’s office.”

“No,” said Palliser sympathetically. “I never go into such places except when I want money, as I frequently do. Still, is there anything else open to you?”

Appleby straightened his shoulders with a little resolute gesture, and–for they were heading west–pointed vaguely towards the pale evening star.

“There are still lands out there where they want men who can ride and shoot, and take their chances as they come; while if I was born to be anything in particular it was either a jockey or a soldier.”

Palliser nodded. “Yes,” he said, “you got it from both sides, and it was rather a grim joke to make you a solicitor. Still, it’s a risky thing to throw one’s living over, and I have a fancy that my uncle likes you. You are a connection, anyway, and one never knows what may happen.”

“Godfrey Palliser has done all he means to do for me, and even if there were nobody else, your children would have a prior claim, Tony.”

Palliser looked up sharply, and though the light was very dim there was something in his face that once more puzzled his companion. “I think that is a little personal–and I wouldn’t make too sure,” he said.

They said nothing further, but tramped on in the growing darkness, past farm steadings where the sleek cattle flocked about the byres, into the little village where the smell of wood smoke was in the frosty air, through the silent churchyard where generations of the Pallisers lay, and up the beech avenue that led to Northrop Hall. It would, as Appleby had said, all be his comrade’s some day. They parted at the head of the great stairway where the long corridors branched off, and Appleby looked at Palliser steadily as he said–

“One could fancy there was something on your mind tonight, Tony.”

Palliser did not answer, and Appleby went to his room to dress for dinner, which was a somewhat unusual proceeding for him. Nothing of moment occurred during the meal, and it was nobody’s fault that he felt not quite at home, as he had done at other functions of the kind. The gayeties of the Metropolis were unknown, except by hearsay, to him, and it was but once a year he met Tony’s friends at Northrop Hall. It was, however, not quite by coincidence, as he at first fancied, that he afterwards found Miss Violet Wayne, Tony’s fiancée, sitting a little apart from the rest in the drawing-room. He did not think that either of them suggested it, but presently she was walking by his side in the conservatory, and when they passed a seat almost hidden under the fronds of a tree fern she sat down in it. The place was dimly lighted, but they could see each other, and Appleby had realized already that Violet Wayne was distinctly good to look upon.

Her face was almost severely regular in outline and feature, with but the faintest warmth in its creamy tinting; but this was atoned for by the rich coloring of her hair, which gleamed with the hues of gold and burnished copper. There was also a curious reposefulness about her, and Appleby had wondered why a young woman of her distinction had displayed the kindliness she had more than once done to him. He was grateful for it, but what he had seen of men and women during his legal training had made him shrewd.

“This place is pleasantly cool and green, but I am not sure that is why we are here,” he said. “In any case, I am glad, because I am going away to-morrow, and wished to thank you for your graciousness to me. I am, as, of course, you know, an outsider here, and you have in several tactful ways made my stay pleasant to me.”

Violet Wayne looked at him with big calm eyes, but made no disclaimer. “You are a relative of Godfrey Palliser!”

“A distant one; but my mother married a penniless army captain, and a ranker. He had won his commission by worth and valor, but that was no reason why the Pallisers should hold out a hand to him.”

Violet Wayne nodded gravely. “Still, Godfrey Palliser sent you to school with Tony. You were always good friends, though I think he told me you were born abroad?”

“Yes,” said Appleby, “he was my first English friend. My father died at Gibraltar, and my mother stayed on there until she followed him. She did not want to forget him, and living is cheap in Spain. Tony and I fought our way through three schools together.”

“I think it was you who fought for him,” said Miss Wayne, with a little smile. “He has, I may mention, told me a good deal about you, and that is one reason why I feel that I could trust you. You would, I believe, respect any confidence a woman reposed in you.”

Appleby flushed a trifle. “I fancy I told you I was grateful,” he said. “The little kindnesses you have shown me mean so much to a man whose life is what mine has been. One gets very few of them, you see.”

“Still,” the girl said quietly, “when we first met you were not quite sure of me.”

The color showed a trifle plainer in Appleby’s forehead, for he had not had the advantages of his companion’s training, but he looked at her with steady eyes. “You can set that down as due to the pride of the class I sprang from on one side–I feared a rebuff which would have hurt me. I was, you will remember, Tony’s friend long before he met you!”

“And now?”

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