Page images




[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"What?" cried Mereworth. "Fellow came in window and challenged me fight, and we were fighting when it happened, I suppose. The gloomy interest was changed to excitement, and "My dear fellow!" "Man came in at the window!" "What on earth do you mean?" came in chorus. Only Lady Betty sat silent. "That's all I know," continued Fairbrother slowly, "except that we quarrelled 'bout something. Waitoh yes, by Jove!"—and he half sat up and looked less vacuous. "Most extraordinary thing. He was just like your ancestor yes, he said he was Sir Eustace; and he was dressed like we are, you know-like the picture."

There was a silence of amazement. Bertha Mostyn's round blue eyes widened, and Mere

worth looked hard at his sister, who still looked at the floor. Hugh Sinclair was the first to speak.

"Tell you what my theory is," he said. "Old brother Fairbrother had been going rather strong with the drinks, and began fooling about with his sword, and very naturally fell down. Then " - turning to the victim on the sofa"then, when you were coming to, you sort of dreamt about Sir Eustace and all that. That's it."

Lady Betty looked up for the first time. "That must be it," she said quickly.

Mereworth bit his lip, and looked at her again. "I expect Hugh's right," he said; you must have imagined it, old man."


Fairbrother looked perplexed for a moment, and then spoke excitedly. "I tell you I didn't; I'm certain it was all real. He made me fight with swords "

his audience looked more and more incredulous-" and then— oh yes, I heard Betty call out my name in the hall."

"Well, but, Lady Betty," Sinclair, anxious for his theory, interposed, "did you hear any noise of swords clashing and that, while you were in the hall?"

1 Copyright in the United States of America.

"No, I didn't," said Lady Betty, with a faint air of being on her defence.

"And there was nobody but old Fairbrother lying about the room when you went in?" "Nobody.'

Sinclair was triumphant. "You see," he said to Fairbrother.

Mereworth interposed. "We mustn't bother him with arguments to-night. Go to bed, old chap, and we'll talk it out tomorrow. Get a good night's rest, and then see if you still think there was somebody; and if you do, we'll investigate it."

So Fairbrother went to bed, his last recollection being the wide-eyed face of Bertha Mostyn, and Sinclair explaining everything with laughter. An hour later Mereworth knocked at his sister's door and went in. She had not begun to undress, and was walking about the room, seeming to have wept. He looked keenly at her, and sat down on the edge of the bed. Then he said casually, "So old Herbert's on the warpath. Better confess, Betty." She said nothing till he went to her and took her by the arms and made her look at him. Then she saw that he was trying not to smile.

"You won't give me away, Bob?"

"No; but hang it, you know, they might have killed one another if they really fought with swords. Did you know he was coming?"

"No-no-no! I nearly died when I saw him. He just said he wouldn't have hurt Arthur, and then he then he went out

by the window. But-oh, Bob, I do love old Herbert, and I'm so sick, so sick!" and she began to cry again.

spoke kindly.


Mereworth "I'm sorry, old girl, but what's to be done? Herbert's as mad as a hatter, and he's a wrong 'un as well, more or less. You can't marry him, can you? His turning up like this, confound him, has probably made you think you care more than you do-it's taken you by surprise. Anyhow it's no good, is it? And you see we're committed to this Fairbrother chap. tell you candidly, if it doesn't come off I shall go broke, and this place will be sold: that would be rather beastly, wouldn't it? His father promised me to put things straight, as I told you, as soon as you were married wouldn't before, cautious old devil. Fairbrother's a bit of a bore, but that will be all right when you're married: you can have your own friends and all that, and it would be much worse if you married a regular brute, as you might have to do. And, by Jove! just think of having a few dibs! How many times were you threatened with the County Court last month? It must come off."

"But if he finds that it was Herbert who came?"

"He mustn't. If he found out that you were such friends with a wild chap like that

mad enough to do such a trick as this it's the very thing to make people like that cry off. And if it got about, people would talk and make things out much worse than

they are. We'll have to convince him he imagined it all, or at least stop his mouth. Her bert needn't be mentioned. And, for heaven's sake, tell him not to come here again. I tell you what, Betty, if Fairbrother's satisfied about this, we'd better rush things on. Never mind about the season. We'll have his people down here to stay, and keep quiet and bring it off in a month's time. That's the best plan. Old Herbert's quite capable of doing some other silly trick if we don't hurry things. Do you agree?"

Lady Betty thought. Yes: it was better that things should be finished quickly, if finished they must be. She was weary of small hypocrisies of gaiety, and of receiving pompous protestations, and marriage would end all that. She did not take, I fear, a very lofty view of that sacrament, but she meant no harm: married, she and Fairbrother might go their ways in peace and amity. So she consented, and her brother kissed her affectionately, and went to bed, convinced he was a born diplomatist. Lady Betty cried a little, and then went to sleep. The Flair family mostly lived for the day.

The next morning Mereworth went to his guest's bedside, and argued gravely that the encounter must have been a dream. Fairbrother stuck to his guns. He was quite certain that a man had fought him, though he was willing to admit that wine might have exaggerated his impression of the likeness to the portrait, and confused his

memory of the dialogue. Mereworth looked hard at the sensible face, and abandoned an alternative theory of a ghost. But he pointed out that if the man was real, it must have been some mad fellow of the neighbourhood who had heard of the masquerade and got some clothes from London and determined to thrust himself in, and lost his temper at being opposed. There would be no use in making inquiries: it would be extremely unpleasant if there was a fuss about it, and the thing got into the papers. So he asked Fairbrother to say nothing about it, and allow Sinclair and Miss Mostyn to suppose he had imagined it. After all, that was possible, and after all no great harm had been done. If the man turned up again, of course they would have to deal with him then. Probably he was either some harum-scarum young fellow or a lunatic. Above all, he implored Fairbrother to say nothing to Lady Mereworth, who was nervous, and might be frightened. Fairbrother length consented most reluctantly. He was for measures of retribution, but admitted at length that if they were possible, they would make himself ridiculous. He tried to discuss the matter with Lady Betty, but she laughed at him, made light of his tumble, and warned him against drink, so that dignity closed his lips. Sinclair and Bertha Mostyn, really amiable people, were easily persuaded that the subject was disagreeable to poor


Fairbrother, and had best be forgotten.

On the day after a letter came for Lady Betty from London:

thought I'd mystify him first, and establish a pleasant acquaintance in that way. With the result you saw. I won't say unpleasant things; but really, of all the disagreeable brutes I ever met he began to insult me at once, and flesh and blood couldn't have stood it. I thought how he had everything I wanted and was going to marry you-Betty, it was too much. Also I had had no dinner. Well, I went sort of mad, and made him fight with swords. I remember you said he could fence, so I think it was fair. He nearly had me when we began, and then I came to myself. It was all right: I simply played to tire him out, and would not have touched him. Then he fell, and you came. I went back to the cave when I left you and changed my clothes, and I sat there all night. My reflections were not amusing; but they brought me to the conclusion that I had been an idiot, and can't fight the inevitable. Tell that to Mereworth and comfort his fraternal heart, and marry Fairbrother and be good; but don't make him too happy, please. Only if you change your mind ou la la! Coolgardie is still there. I stay in England to do some business for Holland, who has wired to me, but Fairbrother shall rest in peace. Good-bye."

"I give you my word of honour I meant no mischief. I was feeling horribly out in the cold and rather mad about things. And I thought I would see the old place again, and have some fun with you all and go back to Australia immediately afterwards. My plan was to arrive while you were at dinner, and wait outside by the window till I heard Bob make his speech, and then come in and return thanks for Sir Eustace. I thought the surprise-my being so like the old boy and turning up at the moment - would put you all into a good temper, and then I trusted to tact to carry things off. Of course I meant to be polite to Fairbrother-to accept the situation, and leave things comfortable all round. I found my old kit and the sword your father gave me years ago among my things in Duke Street. Well, I missed the train, and arrived hours later than I ought to have. I walked from the station with my things in a cricket bag to the little cave under the cliff, you know -round by the cliff, and not going near the house. Then I changed, and came up the path to the little garden. looked in at the dining-room window and saw your nice Eustace Flair his portrait Fairbrother man alone, and I seemed to be ended.


And so the incident of Sir


Bertha Mostyn and Hugh Sinclair removed their amiable and frivolous presences from Mereworth a few days later, and were succeeded by guests of a more solid and serious character, whom Lady Mereworth came down to receive. These were Mr Fairbrother, Mrs Fairbrother, and her niece and "companion," Mabel Simpson. The head of the Fairbrother family and firm was a commercially successful man of the modern English type. That is to say, he did not boast of his wealth, nor openly express his conviction that a rich man was the grandest of God's creatures. There was little or no surface vulgarity upon him. He was quiet in manner and mild in argument. He had educated himself with some superficial effect, and had laboriously aoquired a sufficiency of outdoor and indoor accomplishments to sustain with credit his later rôle of country gentleman. A selfpossessed and inoffensive man. On the other hand, he was not an amusing man. His experiences of life, which had been mainly of successes and disappointments in getting the most work possible done by his workmen for as little money as might be, could not make a conversational show, and his remarks in general reflected the morning paper. He had no sense of humour, and an unconventional act or expression brought a magisterial look to his face. Perhaps he would have been a more genial man

if he had had a different order of woman for wife. I cannot in honesty call Mrs Fairbrother an agreeable woman. Her ideal in life was refinement, and her idea of refinement was to speak seldom, and then with a peculiar mincing of words which was apt to irritate downright people. Anything she did not understand caused her, as it were, to withdraw into an offended isolation, and she did not understand very much. She seldom made a remark which did not contain a resigned allusion to her delicate health, and thereby, I am afraid, irritated the unfeeling. In short, an irritating woman.

Remains to describe Mabel Simpson, who has some part in this story. She had lived with her aunt since she was sixteen, and had grown to be indispensable. For Mrs Fairbrother, to be quite plain, was a lazy woman, and disliked the trouble of managing a large house, which in her husband's primitive view was the reason for her existence: he declined to allow her a managing housekeeper. Mabel, almost without his perception, came to manage the house altogether, to engage and dismiss servants, to order dinners, to arrange accounts. The rest of her duty was to be somewhat exceedingly deferential and attentive to her aunt. I do not think we should blame her for lack of independence. She had been bred to reverence older relations in general, and especially rich relations. The

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »