Westwood Court had been in the possession of the family of bankers since the days of George II. It had been built by that Stephen Westwood whose portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In the picture the man's right hand carries a scroll bearing a tracing of the plans of the house. Before it had been completed, however, Sir Thomas Chambers had something to say in regard to the design, the result being sundry additions which were meant to impart to the plain English mansion the appearance of the villa of a Roman patrician.

It was a spacious house situated in the midst of one of the loveliest parks in Brackenshire—a park containing some glorious timber, some brilliant spaces of greensward, and a trout stream that was never known to disappoint an angler, however exacting he might be. It was scarcely surprising that love for this home was the most prominent of the characteristics of the Westwood family. Every member of the family, with but one exception, seemed to have inherited this trait. The one exception was Claude Westwood, the younger brother of Richard.

During his father's lifetime he had been in a cavalry regiment, and while serving in India, had taken part in a rather perilous frontier campaign against a strange set of tribesmen in the northwest. He had become greatly interested in the opening up of the conquered territory, and as soon as his father died he had left the regiment and had done some remarkable exploration work on his own account, both in the northwest of India and in the borderland of Persia.

He returned to England to recover from the effects of a snake-bite, and to stay for a month or two with his brother, to whom he was deeply attached. But when in Brackenshire he had formed another attachment which threatened to interfere with the Future he had mapped out for himself as an explorer. He did not notice any change in his brother's demeanour the day he had gone to him confiding in him that he had fallen in love with Agnes Mowbray, the beautiful daughter of Admiral Mowbray, who had bought a small property known as The Knoll, a mile from the gates of the Court. Richard Westwood had found it necessary for the successful carrying on of the banking business, which he had inherited, to keep himself always well in hand. If his feelings were not invariably under control, his expression of those feelings certainly was so; and this was how it came that, after a pause of only a few seconds, he was able to offer his brother his hand and to say in a voice that was neither husky nor tremulous:

“Dear old chap, you have all my good wishes.”

“I knew that you would be pleased,” Claude had said. “She is the sort of girl one only meets once in a lifetime. I have lived for a good many years in the world now, and yet I never met any girl worthy of a thought alongside Agnes. How on earth you have remained in her neighbourhood for a year without falling in love with her yourself is a mystery to me.”

A sudden flash came to Dick's eyes, and he was at the point of crying out, “Have I so remained?” But his usual habits of self-control prevented his showing to his brother what was in his heart He had merely given a laugh as he said:

“I suppose it must always seem mysterious to a man in love that every one else in the world does not display symptoms of the same malady.”

“I daresay you are right,” Claude had answered, after a pause. “Yes, I daresay—only—ah!—Agnes is very different from all the other girls in the world.”

“You recollect Calverley's lines:

“'I did not love as others do—

None ever did that I've heard tell of?

Ah! you lovers are all cast in the same mould. But how about your projected exploration—you can scarcely expect her to rough it with you at the upper reaches of the Zambesi?”

Claude Westwood looked grave. For some weeks he had talked about nothing else except the splendid possibilities of the Upper Zambesi to explorers; and his brother had offered to share the expenses of an expedition thoroughly well-equipped to do all that Livingstone and Baines left undone in that fascinating quarter of Africa.

“Perhaps she will refuse me,” said Claude.

“Ah! perhaps; but if she does not refuse you?”

There was a long pause. Claude rose from his chair and walked to the window. He looked out over the sloping lawns and the terraced Italian garden; the blue swallows were skimming the surface of the huge marble basin where the water-lilies floated. He seemed greatly interested in the movements of the birds.

At last he turned suddenly round to his brother, and laid his hand on his shoulder, saying:

“Dick, I should like to win her. I should like to offer her a name—the name of a man who has done something in the world. Whatever happens I am bound to make the expedition to the Zambesi.”

Dick Westwood had, while sitting before the empty grate, recalled all the incidents of eight years before—he recollected how a level ray of the red sunlight had flickered through the leaves of the copper beech and made rosy his brother's face—he could still feel the strong clasp of his hand as they had separated to dress for the dinner which Admiral Mowbray was giving that evening. He remembered how Agnes had looked at the head of the table—oh, he had felt even then that she was not for him, but for his brother—how could he have fancied for a moment that he would have a chance of her love when Claude was near?

The expression on Claude's face when they met to go home together told him all; but he did not need to be told anything. He knew that it was inevitable. Agnes had accepted Claude: she had accepted him and told him to go out to Africa; she would wait for him to return, even though he might not return for ten years, she had said, laughingly.

Alas! alas! the lover had gone at the head of his expedition to the Zambesi, and for seven months news had come from him at irregular intervals—for seven months only; after that—silence. No line came from him, no rumour of the fate of the expedition had reached England, though at the end of the second year a large reward had been offered to any one who could throw light on the mystery.

Eight years had now passed since the expedition had set out from Zanzibar, and there was only one person alive who rejected every suggestion that disaster had overtaken Claude Westwood and his companions. It had become an article of faith with Agnes that her lover would return. The lapse of years seemed to strengthen rather than to attenuate her hope. Her father had died when Claude had been absent for two years, and almost his last words to her had been of hope.

“Fear nothing for him; he will return to you. I know what manner of man it is that succeeds in the world, and Claude Westwood is not the man to fail. I shall not see him, but you will. Whatever happens, whatever people round you may say, don't relinquish hope for him.”

Those had been her father's words, and she had obeyed their injunction. She had not given up hope, although no one in the neighbourhood ever thought of mentioning the name of Claude Westwood in her hearing. It seemed that the very memory of the man had died out in Brackenhurst. She had not given up hope although now and again she had been startled to see a grey hair where a brown one had been.

And for eight years Richard Westwood had watched her, wondering what would be the end of her devotion—what would be the end of his own devotion. People in the neighbourhood could not understand him. They took the trouble every now and then to invent a theory to account for his singular rejection of the delicate hints that had been thrown out to him by mothers of many daughters—hints that the head of the house of Westwood had certain duties in life—social duties—to discharge. The theories were more or less ingenious; but even when some of them had come to his ears he remained as obdurate as ever. He merely laughed, and the man who laughs is well known to be the most discouraging of men.

But Cyril Mowbray did not find him very discouraging as he sat with him on this evening after dinner, for the dinner had been an excellent one and his cigars were unexceptional. They were in their easy-chairs in front of a French window, the leaves of which were open. The square of the window enclosed as in a frame an exquisite picture of the dim garden. The sound of cawing rooks in the distant elms was borne through the tranquil air. The scents of the earliest roses stole within the room at mysterious intervals. It was a perfect summer's night, and Cyril felt that though there were troubles in the world, yet on the whole it was a very pleasant place to live in.

There had been a pause in the conversation, which had related mainly to a very pretty young girl named Lizzie Dangan, the daughter of the head gamekeeper at Westwood Court—the man who had touched his hat as the dog-cart drove through the entrance gates. The silence was suddenly broken by Cyril's exclaiming:

“You are a first-rate chap, Dick. Why shouldn't you marry Agnes?”

Dick's eyes flashed upon him for a moment, and it seemed to Cyril that he detected a certain curious drawing in of his breath that sounded like the stifling of a sigh. The exclamation which came from him immediately afterwards seemed incongruous—it was an exclamation that suggested the putting aside of an absurdity.

“Oh, you may say 'psha!' as often as you please,” said Cyril; “it will not alter the fact that Agnes and you would get on very well together. I know that she thinks a lot of you—so do I.”

“That's very kind of you,” said Dick. “But you're talking nonsense—worse than nonsense. Agnes has given her promise to marry my brother Claude. Let us say no more about it.”

“It's all very well for you to say, 'We'll say no more about it,”' cried Cyril, with an air of responsibility—the responsibility of a brother who refuses to allow the affections of his sister to be trifled with. “It's all very well for you to say that; but when I think how long this sort of shilly-shallying has been going on—well, it makes me wild. Agnes is now over thirty—think of that—over thirty, and what's more, she's not getting any younger. I'm anxious to see her settled. I think I've a right to ask if she's engaged to marry Claude. Where's Claude now? Does any sane person believe that he is still in the land of the living?”

“Your sister believes it, and she is sane enough. However, I'm not going to discuss the question with you, my friend; or, for that matter, with anybody else.”

“That's all very well; the fact remains the same. Here's a fine house thrown away upon a bachelor, and there's Agnes, who would suit you down to the ground, waiting”—

“Waiting—waiting—that is exactly her position.”

“Waiting—yes; but for what? For what, I ask you as a man of the world? Your brother is dead, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and here you are alive and hearty. Doesn't it say something in the Bible that when a chap's brother dies”—

“Cyril,” said Dick Westwood, rising with an impatient jesture, “we'll have no more of this. I won't allow you to talk any longer in this strain. Shall we finish our cigars in the garden?”

“All right,” said Cyril, rising. But before they had taken a step toward the open French window, there seemed to arise from the earth the figure of a man, and he stood in the window space looking eagerly at each of them in turn.

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