The stranger stood with his back to whatever light there was remaining in the sky, but Dick Westwood and his guest could see what manner of man he was. He wore a short beard and moustache. His clothes were shabby, and so was his soft hat. He might have been a foreman of mechanics just left off work.

Westwood stepped to the wall and switched on a lamp. Then he scrutinised the stranger closely. The man had entered the room through the French window.

“Who are you, and what do you want, my good fellow?” said Westwood. “It is customary for visitors to pull the bell at the hall door.”

“I pulled the bell. They told me you were at dinner and could not be disturbed, sir,” replied the man.

No one who heard him speak could think of him as an ordinary mechanics' foreman. He spoke like a person of some culture.

“And they told you what was true,” said Westwood. “Allow me to say that it is most unusual for a total stranger to force himself into a house in this fashion. I must ask you to go away at once unless you have something of importance to communicate to me; unless—good heavens! is it possible that you come with some news of my brother?”

Dick had given a start as the idea seemed to strike him. Cyril also started, and looked at the stranger narrowly.

“I know nothing of your brother, Mr. Westwood,” said the man. “But I know you. I know that it was into your hands I put my money a year ago, and I have come to you for it now. I tried to come before the bank closed, but I missed the connection of the trains at the junction. I live in the North now. I want my money, Mr. Westwood.”

Mr. Westwood turned upon the man.

“You should know well enough that this is not the time or the place to come about any matter of banking business,” said he. “I don't remember ever seeing you before, but even if I did remember you, I could only give you the answer I have already given. I shall be pleased to go into any business question at the bank. I decline to hold any business communication with you at this time or in this place. I have had business enough and to spare for one day. I must ask you to come to the bank in the morning.”

“I've no notion of being put off in that way, Mr. Westwood,” said the man. “How am I to know that your bank will open to-morrow or any other day? I got a telegram at noon telling me that Westwoods' would be the next of the county banks to go to the wall, and I hurried up from Midleigh, where I am employed, hoping to be in time to pluck my savings out of the ruin; but, as I told you, I missed the train connection. But here I am and here”—

“I do not wish to hear anything further about you or your business at this time, my good sir,” said Richard. “I have been courteous to you up to the present. I must now insist on your retiring. It would be insufferable if a man in my position had to be badgered on business matters at any hour of the day and night. Come, sir.”

He had gone to the side of the window and made a motion with his hand in the direction of the garden.

“Look here, Mr. Westwood,” said the man, “you know me well enough. My name is Carton Standish, and I lodged with you just a year ago the six hundred pounds which I had saved for my wife and child. You know that I speak the truth. Psha! What's the use of going over the matter again?”

“That's what I ask too; so I insist”—

“It's not for you but for me to insist,” broke in the man. “It's for me to insist, and I do insist. Come, sir, hand over that money of mine without the delay of another minute. It's my money, not yours, and I decline to be swindled out of it by you or any other cheat of a bankrupt.”

“You have mistaken your man,” said Richard Westwood quietly. “Stay where you are, Cyril.” Cyril had taken an angry step toward the stranger. “Stay where you are; I think I am equal to dealing with this gentleman alone. Come now, Mr. Stand-ish, if that is your name, the last word has passed between us; if you don't clear out of my house inside a minute I shall be forced to throw you out.”

“You infernal swindler!” shouted the man. “This is your last chance—this is my last chance. Hand me over my money or I'll kill you!”

He had drawn a revolver and covered Dick Westwood with it in a second. At the same instant the door of the room opened and a footman appeared.

Cyril had sprung toward the man, but Dick Westwood restrained him by a gesture, and then turning to the servant, said quietly:

“Bentley, show this gentleman out by the hall door.”

The man had lowered his revolver—it had only been pointed at Westwood for a moment. He looked at the weapon strangely, then with an exclamation he tossed it out of the open window. It fell with a soft thud on the grass border of the terrace, but did not explode.

The footman drew a long breath. He did not seem to relish the duty of showing out an excited man with a six-chambered revolver in his hand. He felt that that was outside the usual range of a footman's duties. He went to the door and stood beside it in his usual attitude.

“If you have swindled me, you need not think that you will escape,” said the visitor, striding across the room until he faced Dick. “I have not been a good husband, or perhaps father, at times; but I was making amends for the past. I had saved that money for my wife and child, and now—now—if it's lost, I swear to you that I'll kill you.”

“You'll not do it to-night, at any rate,” said Dick. “Are you so sure? Are you so sure of that?” said the man in a low tone, going still closer to him, his hands clenched in an attitude of menace.

Then he suddenly wheeled about, and walking to the door, left the room without a word. His steps died away up the hall, followed by the soft-treading servant. The sound of the closing of the hall door reached the room before either Westwood or Cyril spoke. Then it was the former who said:

“Is it possible that you have allowed your cigar to go out? Oh, you young chaps; good cigars are thrown away upon you!”

He was smoking his own cigar quite collectedly. Cyril gave a laugh. He did not feel quite so much a man of the world as he had felt when giving his friend the benefit of his advice some minutes before.

“I fancied that something exciting was about to take place to rouse this stagnant neighbourhood,” said he. “Like you, Dick, I'm interested in men. That chap looked a desperate rascal. Do you remember anything of him? Did he actually lodge money with you a year ago?”

“Yes; what he said was quite true,” replied Westwood. “I can't for the life of me recollect who recommended him to the bank, but I'm nearly sure that he opened an account with us. I felt that his arriving here to-night was a sort of last straw so far as I am concerned. Good heavens! haven't I gone through enough to-day to last me for some time, without being badgered by a fellow like that—a fellow whose ideas of diplomacy are shown by his calling one a swindler—a cheat! That was the best way he could set about coaxing a man like me to do him a favour.”

“Is he a dangerous man, do you think? There was a look in his eye that I did not like,” said Cyril.

“A man is not dangerous because of a look in his eye, but rather because of a revolver in his hand; and you saw that that poor fool was more afraid of it than I was,” said Westwood. “Oh, he's a poor sort of fellow after all. No man shows up worse than one who tries to be threatening in a heroic way. He sinks into the mountebank in a moment. He'll be all right in the morning when he handles his money—assuming that he will draw out his balance, which is doubtful. Most likely he will have recovered from his panic, and will apologize. Take another cigar, and don't spoil this one by letting it go out.”

Cyril helped himself from the box, and immediately afterwards the footman entered with a tray with decanters. Cyril took a whisky and Apollinaris, and Dick helped himself to brandy.

“The first spirituous thing I have handled to-day,” he said with a laugh. “And yet before I left the bank I could hear my clerks inquiring anxiously for brandy.”

“What nerves you have!” said Cyril. “I suppose they run in your family. Poor Claude must have had something good in that line.”

“Yes,” said Dick, “he has good nerves.”

Cyril noticed that he declined to accept the past tense in regard to Claude.

“Do you mind testing mine by playing a game of billiards?” asked the younger man.

“I should like a game above all things—but only one. I must be early at the bank in the morning, if only to receive our friend Standish's apology. Come along.”

They went off together to the billiard-room, which was built out at the back of the dining-room; and they had their game, Finishing with the scores so close together that Westwood, who, when Cyril was ninety-seven and he only eighty, ran out with a break of twenty, declared that he had felt more excited by the game than he had at any time of the day—and he confessed that he had found it a rather exciting day on the whole.

It was past eleven when Cyril set out for home, and the night being one of starlight and sweet perfumes, Dick said he would stroll part of the way with him and finish his cigar. They went along together through the shrubbery and across one of the little subsidiary tracks that led from the broad avenue to a small door made in the park wall, half a mile nearer The Knoll than the ordinary entrance gates. Cyril unlocked the door, for the year before Dick had given him a private key for himself and Agnes in order that they might be saved the walk round to the entrance gates when they were visiting the Court. For a few minutes the two men stood chatting on the road, before they said goodnight, and while the one went on in the direction of The Knoll, the other returned to the park, pulling-to the door, which had a spring lock.

The night was wonderfully still. The barking of a dog at King's Elms Farm, nearly a mile away, was heard quite clearly by Richard Westwood, and now and again came the sharp sound of a shot from the warren on Sir Percival Hope's estate, suggesting that a party were shooting rabbits in the most sportsmanlike way, the chances being, on such a night, largely in favour of the rabbits. After every shot one of the peacocks that paraded the grassy terraces of the Court by day, and roosted in the trees by night, sent out a protesting shriek.

All the nocturnal creatures of the woodland were awake, Dick knew. As he paused for a few moments on the track he could hear the stealthy movement of a rat or a weazel among the undergrowth, the flicker of the wings of a bat across the starlight, the rustle of a blackbird among the thick foliage. He had always liked to walk about the park at night, observing and listening, and the result was that none of his gamekeepers had anything like the knowledge which he possessed of the woodland and its inhabitants.

When he reached the house and had let himself in with his latchkey, he went to the drawing-room where he had sat with Cyril after dinner. He threw himself back in his easy-chair, and he seemed to hear once again the voice of Cyril asking him that question:

“Why shouldn't you marry Agnes?”

He asked himself that question as he sat there now. He had put it to himself often during the past two years. Was there any treason toward his brother in the fact that that question had come to him, he wondered. Could any one fancy that his brother was still alive? Could any one believe that the insatiate maw of tropical Africa, which has swallowed up so many brave Englishmen, would disgorge any one of its victims?

He might still pretend that he believed that Claude was still alive, but in his heart he could not feel any hope that he should return. He wondered if Agnes had really any hope—if she too were trying to deceive herself on this matter—if she were not trying by constant references to his return to make herself believe that he would return.

Had Fate ever dealt so cruelly with two people as it had with himself and Agnes? He believed that if any direct evidence had been forthcoming of Claude's death, Agnes might, in course of time, have listened to him, and have believed him when he told her that he loved her—that he had loved her for years—long before Claude had come to tell her that he loved her. Even now.... He wondered if he were to go to her and ask her for his sake to leave the world of delusion in which she was content to live—the atmosphere of self-deception which she was content to breathe and to call it life when she knew it was nothing more than a living death—would she listen to him?

He sat there thinking his thoughts until the sound of the church clock striking the hour of midnight came to him through the still air.

He rose with a long sigh—the sigh of a lover who hopes that hope may come to him before it is too late to dissipate despair, and he was about to switch off the light, when he was startled by the sound of a footstep on the gravel of the walk between the grass of the terrace and the French window. The sound was not that of a person walking on the path, but of one stepping stealthily from the grass.

In another moment there came a tapping on the window—light, but quite distinct.

He switched off the light in an instant, and stepped quickly to one side, for he had no wish to reveal his whereabouts to whatever mysterious visitor might be watching outside. He slipped across the room to the switch of a tall pillar lamp standing close to the window, and when the tapping was repeated, he turned on the light, and looked from behind a screen through the window.

He quite expected to see there the man who an hour and a half before had threatened him, and he was, therefore, greatly surprised when he saw the figure of a girl peering into the room. He hastened to the window and opened it.

“Good heavens, child, what has brought you here at such an hour?” he said. “Lizzie, I'm ashamed of you; it is past midnight.”

“Every one is ashamed of me, sir,” said the girl; she was a very pretty girl of not more than twenty. She was a good deal paler and her features had much more refinement than the face of an ordinary country girl.

She stepped through the window as she spoke. He knew that she did so quite innocently—she would not keep him standing at the open window.

“You have made a little fool of yourself, Lizzie,” he said; “and I fear that you have not learned wisdom yet, or you would not have come here at such an hour. What have you got to say to me? Let us go outside. We can talk better outside. But I hope you haven't got much to say to me. I have to get up early in the morning.”

She stepped outside, and he followed her. They walked half-way round the house until they came to the rosery, which was at the side opposite to that where the servants' rooms were situated.

“I don't want you to fall into worse trouble, my dear,” said he. “Now tell me all that you think I should be told.”

“I knew that I had no chance of speaking to you in an ordinary way, sir,” said the girl, “so I slipped out of Mrs. Morgan's cottage and came here.”

“That was very foolish of you. Well, what have you to say to me?”

“You know my secret, sir. Cyril—I mean Mr. Mowbray, told me that you knew it; but no one else does—not even my father—not even Miss Mowbray—and I'd die sooner than tell it to any one.”

“Yes, yes, I know. To say you were both foolish would be to say the very least of the matter. But you at any rate have been punished.”

“God knows I have, Mr. Westwood.”

“Yes, it is always the woman who has to bear the punishment for this sin. I wish I could lighten yours, my poor child.”

“You can, sir, you can!” The girl had begun to sob, and she could not speak for some time. He waited patiently. “I have come to talk to you about that, sir,” she continued, when she was able to speak once more. “Sir Percival Hope's sister has promised to give me a chance, Mr. Westwood; but only if I agree never to see him again.”

“And, of course, you agreed. You are very fortunate, my girl.”

“Yes, sir, I agreed; but—oh, Mr. Westwood, he has promised to marry me when he gets his money in two years, and I know that he will do it, for I'm sure he loves me, only—oh, sir, I'm afraid that when I'm away, where we may never see each other, he may be led to think different—he may be led to forget me. But you, Mr. Westwood, you will be on my side—you will not let him forget me. That is what I come to implore of you, sir: you will always keep me before him so that he may not forget that he is to marry me?”

“Look here, Lizzie,” said he, after a pause; “if I were you I wouldn't trust to his keeping his promise to you. But I'll tell you what I'll do. I have been talking to Cyril, and he knows what my opinion of his conduct is. He has told me that he would marry you to-morrow if he only had enough money to live on. I advised him to confess all to Miss Mowbray, and if he does so I have made up my mind to send him off to a colony with you, making a provision for your future until he gets his money.”

“Oh, sir—oh, Mr. Westwood!” cried the girl, catching up his hand and kissing it. “Oh, sir, you have saved me from ruin.”

“I hope that I have saved both of you,” said he. “Now, get back to Mrs. Morgan's without delay. I hope that it may not be discovered that you were wandering through the park at midnight. Why, even if Cyril discovered it he might turn away from you.”

After a course of sobs mingled with thanks, the girl went away, and Richard Westwood strolled back toward the house.

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