It was an interesting scene, beyond doubt,” said Mr. Westwood, the senior partner in the Bracken-shire Bank of Westwood, Westwood, Barwell, & Westwood. “Yes, I felt more than once greatly interested in the course of the day.”

“Greatly interested? Greatly interested?” said Cyril Mowbray, his second repetition of the words being a note or two higher than the first. “Greatly int——Oh, well, perhaps you had your own reasons for feeling interested in so trivial an incident as a run on your bank that might have made you a beggar in an hour or two. Yes, I shouldn't wonder if I myself would have had my interest aroused—to a certain extent—had I been in your place, Dick.” Mr. Westwood laughed with an excellent assumption of indifference, a minute or two after his friend had spoken. Cyril could not understand why he had not laughed at once; but that was probably because he had not been brought up as the senior partner in a banking business, or, for that matter, in any other business.

“The fact is,” said Mr. Westwood thoughtfully, when his laugh had dwindled into a smile, as a breeze on the water dwindles into a cat's-paw, “the fact is, Cyril, my lad, I've always been more or less interested in observing men—men”—

“And women—women,” said Cyril with a laugh. “You had a chance of observing a woman or two to-day, hadn't you? I noticed that Mrs. Lithgow—the little widow—among the crowd who clamoured for their money—yes, and that Miss Swanston—she was there too. She looked twenty years older than she is, even assuming that the estimate of her age made by the women in our neighbourhood is correct.”

“Yes, I was always interested in observing my fellow-men,” said Mr. Westwood musingly. “I noticed those women to-day. They were worth it. Women always give themselves away upon such an occasion. Men seldom do.”

“By George, Dick, there were some men in the crowd that filled the bank to-day who gave themselves away quite as badly as the women!” said Cyril.

“No doubt; but some of them met me with smiles and made a remark or two regarding the extraordinary weather we have been having for May; they wondered if the good old-fashioned summers were gone for ever—some of them went so far as to express a sudden interest in my pheasants, before they came to business. But the women—they made no pretence—they wasted no time in preliminary chatter. 'My money—my money—give me my money!' was what each of them gasped. They showed their teeth like—like”—


“Vampires rather, man. Isn't it wonderful that a woman—a lady—can change her natural expression of calm—the repose that stamps the caste of Vere de Vere—to that of a Harpy in a moment? It makes one thoughtful, doesn't it? Which is the real woman, Cyril—the one who smiles pleasantly on you and insists on your taking another hot buttered muffin as you loll in one of her easy-chairs in front of her drawing-room fire, or the one who rushes trembling into your office and stretches out a lean talon-like gloveless hand, glaring at you all the time, with a cry—some shrill, others hoarse—of 'My money!—give me my money!'—which is the real woman?”

“They are not two but one,” said Cyril. “Thunder and lightning are as natural as sunshine and zephyr. Revenge is as much a part of a woman's nature as love; constancy does not exclude jealousy. A woman is a rather complex piece of machinery, Dick.”

“What! Has Lothario turned philosopher?” cried Mr. Westwood. “Has Mr. Cyril Mowbray become a student of woman in the abstract and an exponent of her nature?”

“Mr. Cyril Mowbray isn't quite such a fool as to fancy that he knows anything about the nature of woman beyond what any man who keeps his eyes open may know; only, when he hears a cynic such as Dick Westwood suggest that a woman can't be sincere when she asks you to have another piece of toast—or was it cake?—because he has seen her anxious to get into her own hand her own money that is to keep her out of the workhouse, Mr. Cyril Mowbray ventures to make a remark.”

“And a wise remark, too,” said Westwood. “I've noticed that women believe in the men who believe in them. They believe in you”—

“Worse luck!” muttered Cyril.

“And they don't believe in me—shall I say, better luck?”

“They believed in you sufficiently to place their money in your bank.”

“But not sufficiently to be confident that I would refrain from swindling them out of it, should I have the chance. There's the difference between us—the difference in a nutshell. If the bank was yours and the rumour came, unaccountably as all such rumours come, that you were insolvent, the women whose money you held would say, 'Let him keep it and welcome, even if we have to go to the workhouse.' But the moment they hear that there is a chance of my not being able to pay my way, down they swoop upon me as the Harpies swooped down upon Odysseus and his partners. And yet I have been quite as nice to women as you have ever been—in fact, I might almost say I've been rather nicer. After all, they only entrusted their cash to my keeping, whereas to you they entrust”—

“Worse luck—worse luck!” groaned Cyril. “That brings us back to the matter we talked over when we were last together. Poor Lizzie Dangan! You told me that I should confess all to my sister; but, hang it all, I can't do that! I tell you, Dick, I can't bring myself to do it.”

“Psha! Let us talk of something else; I haven't much inclination to give myself up to the discussion of such trifles after what I have come through to-day. Heavens! how can you expect a man who has passed through such a crisis as only comes into few men's lives, to discuss the love affair of a boy and girl? Do you suppose that the men who had walked over the red-hot ploughshares would have made a sympathetic audience to the bard who had just composed a ballad about Edwin and Angelina? Do you think it likely that the three young men who passed through the seven-times heated furnace of King Nebuchadnezzar, or somebody, were particularly anxious, on coming out, to discuss the aesthetic elements in the Song of Solomon?”

“A few minutes ago you were referring to the run on the bank as if it was the merest trifle; you were making out that you took only an academic interest in the incident.”

“So I did, so I did; yes, while it lasted. I'm convinced, my friend Cyril, that a man who is being married, or hanged, or tried for some crime, regards the whole affair from quite an impersonal standpoint. Don't you remember how the Tichborne Claimant, on being asked on the hundredth day of his trial something about what was going on, said, 'My dear sir, I've long ago ceased to have any interest in this particular case'?”

“Yes, but the Tichborne Claimant was the most highly perjured man of the century.”

“He drifted into accuracy upon the occasion to which I refer. Psha! never mind. Here we are at the gates, safe and sound, thank Heaven!—yes, thank Heaven and your sister. Cyril, you should be proud of her. I'm proud of her. What she did went a long way toward saving the bank.”

“If those fools who were clamouring at the desks had only paused for a minute they would have known that the lodgment of a cheque could not save the bank.”

“But Agnes was clever enough to know that panic-stricken men and women do not pause to consider such things. When they knew that your sister had lodged a cheque for £15,000 they became reassured in a moment. You saw how the men who had drawn out their money at one desk relodged it at another? That's what's meant by a panic: the sheep that rush wildly down one side of a field will, if turned, rush quite as wildly back.”

“Anyhow, it's all over now, and the credit of the bank is stronger than ever. I wish mine was. What's that man doing at the side of the gate?”

Cyril's voice had lowered as he asked the question. He touched his friend's arm as he spoke.

“Why, can't you see that that's Ralph Dangan? What's strange about a gamekeeper being at the entrance to the park?” said Westwood. Then, as the dog-cart passed, the man in corduroy, who was standing just inside the entrance gates, touched his hat. Westwood raised his whip-arm replying to his salutation, and cried, “Good evening to you, Ralph.”

Cyril also raised his finger, and nodded to the man. But having done so he drew a long breath.

Westwood laughed.

“'The thief doth think each bush an officer,'” he said, shaking his head at his companion.

“I've been an awful scoundrel, Dick,” said Cyril.

“I'm a polite man. I'll not contradict you,” said Westwood. “You have every reason to be afraid of poor Lizzie's father, especially as his employment makes it necessary for him to have a gun with him at all times. An angry father who is a first-class shot with a gun is a man to be avoided by the impulsive sweethearts of his daughter.”

“I can trust Lizzie,” said Cyril.

“At any rate, she trusted you. More's the pity!”

Cyril groaned. “What am I to do, Dick—what am I to do?” he asked almost piteously.

“I think the best thing that you can do is to go out to Africa in search of Claude,” he replied. “Such chaps as you should be sent to the interior of Africa in their infancy. You're savages by nature. I suppose we are all more or less savages; but you see, some of us become amenable to the influences of civilisation and Christianity, so that we manage to keep moderately straight. But, really, after the example we have had to-day of savagery, I, for one, do not feel inclined to boast of the influences of civilisation, the foremost of which should certainly be the power to reason. Heavens! the way those men and women glared at the clerks—the way they struggled to get to the cashiers. By my soul, Cyril, I believe that if they had not got their money they would have climbed over the counter and torn the clerks limb from limb—the women would have done that—they would, by heavens!”

“I believe they would, all except Patty Graves. She is engaged to young Wilson, and she would have protected him with her life,” laughed Cyril.

“The savage instinct again,” cried Westwood. “Alas, Cyril, my lad, I'm afraid that our civilisation is nothing more than a very thin veneer after all.”

Then the dog-cart pulled up at the entrance to the hall, where a groom went to the horse's head while the two men, whose thoughts had clearly been moving on lines that were far from parallel, got down and entered the old house.

Cyril turned into the cloak-room of the hall whistling, for his troubles did not weigh him quite down to the ground; and Richard Westwood, also whistling, went up the shallow oak staircase, followed by a couple of small spaniels, who had responded with lowered muzzles and frantic tails to his greeting.

But when he had entered his dressing-room his affected nonchalance ceased. He dropped into an easy-chair and wiped his forehead with trembling hands. Then he leant forward and stared into the empty grate, as if he saw something there that demanded his most earnest scrutiny.

He gazed at that emptiness for a long time, the dogs inquiring in turn what he meant, and assuring him that it was impossible that a rabbit could be in any of the dark corners. When he paid no attention to them they retired to the window to discuss his mood between themselves.

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