What were his feelings as he read the telegram which she thrust into his hand—the telegram sent to her by a relative, who lived in London, acquainting her with the fact that an enterprising London paper had in its issue of that morning announced the safe arrival at Uganda of the distinguished explorer, Claude Westwood? “Authority unquestionable,” were the words with which the telegram ended.

Had he for one single moment an unworthy thought? Had he for a single moment a consciousness that she was lost to him for ever? Had he a feeling that he was being cruelly treated by Fate? Or was every feeling overwhelmed by the thought that this woman whose happiness was dear to him, was on her way to happiness?

She was leaning upon him as he read the telegram; and when he looked into her face he saw that the expression which it wore was not that of a woman who is thinking of her own happiness. He saw that her heart was not so full of her own happiness as to have no place for a thought for the man who in a moment had all hope swept away from him. Her eyes showed him that she had the tenderest regard for him at that moment; and that was how he was able to press her hand and say:

“With all my heart—with all my heart, I am glad. You will be happy. I ask nothing more.”

She returned the pressure of his hand, and with her eyes looking into his, said in a low voice:

“I know it—I know it.”

As he helped her to walk up to the house she kept putting question after question to him. Was the news that this paper published usually of a trustworthy character? She had heard that some newspapers with a reputation for enterprise to maintain, were usually more anxious to maintain such a reputation than one for scrupulous accuracy. Would Claude Westwood's brother be likely to receive a telegram to the same effect as hers, and if so, how was it that Dick had not come to her at once? Could it be that he questioned the accuracy of the news and was waiting until he had it confirmed by direct communication with Zanzibar before coming to her? And if Dick doubted the authentic nature of the message, was there not more than a possibility that there was some mistake in it? She knew all the systems of communication between Central Africa and the coast, she did not require any further information on that point; and she was aware of the ease with which an error could be made in a name or an incident between Uganda and Zanzibar.

Before she reached the house, the confidence which she had had in the accuracy of the message had vanished. With every step she took, a fresh doubt arose in her mind; so that when she threw herself down in the seat at the porch she was tremulous with excitement.

What could he say to soothe her? She knew far more than he did about the romance of African exploration, and being aware of this fact, he felt that it would be ridiculous for him to refer to the many cases there had been of explorers reappearing suddenly after years of hopeless silence. She was more fully acquainted than he was with the incidents connected with these cases of the lost being found. All that he could do was to assure her that no first-class newspaper, however anxious it might be to maintain a reputation for enterprise, would wilfully concoct such an item of news as that of which Agnes held the summary in her hand. It was perfectly clear that the newspaper had good reason for publishing in an authoritative manner the news of the safety of Claude Westwood, otherwise the words “Authority unquestionable” would not have been used in transmitting the substance of the intelligence.

This Sir Percival pointed out to her; and then, after a few moments of thought, Agnes rose from her seat, not without an effort, and announced her intention of going to Westwood Court.

“Dick cannot have received the news or he would surely be with me now,” she said. “Ah, what will he think of it? He never gave up hope. Everything he said to me helped to strengthen my hope. You have heard how attached he and Claude were?”

Sir Percival, seeing how excited she had become—how she alternated between the extremes of hope and fear, dissuaded her from her intention of going to the Court at once.

“You must have some rest,” he said. “The strain of going to the Court would be too much for you. You must not run the chance of breaking down when you need most to be strong. You will let me do this for you. I will see Westwood myself, whether he is at the Court or at the bank, and bring him to you.”

“I am sure you are right, my dear friend,” she said. “Oh yes, it is far better for you to bring him here. I cannot understand why Cyril has not come down yet. He should be the one to go. But you do not mind the trouble?”

“Trouble!” he said, and then laughed. “Trouble!”

He had gone some way down the drive when she called him back. She had left the porch of the house, and was standing against the trellis-work over which a rose was climbing. He returned to her at once.

“Listen to me, Sir Percival,” she said in a curious voice. “You are not to join with Dick in any compromise in regard to the news. If he believes that the report of Claude's safety is not to be trusted, you are to say so to me: it will not be showing your regard for me if you come back saying something to lessen the blow that Dick's doubt of the accuracy of the news will be to me. You will be treating me best if you tell me word for word what he says.”

“You may trust me,” he said quietly.

His heart was full of pity for her, for he could without difficulty see that she was in a perilous condition of excitement.

“I will trust you—oh, have I not trusted you?” she cried. “I do net want to live in a Fool's Paradise—Heaven only knows if I have not been living there during the past years. Paradise? No, it cannot be called a Paradise, for in no Paradise can there be the agony of waiting that was mine. And now—now—ah, do you think that I shall have an hour of Paradise till you return with the truth?—the truth, mind—that is what I want.”

He went away without speaking a word of reply to her. What would be the good of saying anything to a woman in her condition? She had all the sympathy of his heart. As he went along the road to the Court he began to wonder how it was that he had not guessed long ago that the life of this woman was not as the life of other women. It seemed to have occurred to no one in the neighbourhood to tell him what was the life that Miss Mowbray had chosen to live—that life of waiting and waiting through the long years. He supposed that her story had lost its interest for such persons as he had met during the year that he had been in Brackenshire; or they had not fancied that it would ever become of such intense interest to him as it was on this morning of June sunshine and singing birds and fleecy clouds and sweet scents of meadow grass and flower-beds.

He was conscious of a curious feeling of indignation in regard to the man who had been cruel enough to take from that woman her promise to love him, and him only, and then to leave her to waste her life away in waiting for him. He fancied he could picture her life during the years that Claude Westwood had been absent, and he felt that he had a right to be indignant with a man who had been selfish enough to bind a woman to himself with such a bond. Of course most women would, he knew, not consider such a bond binding upon them after a year or two: they would have been faithful to the man for a year—perhaps some of the most devoted might have been faithful for as long as eighteen months after his departure from England, and the extremely conscientious ones for six months after he had been swallowed up in the blackness of that black continent. They would not have been content to live the life that had been Agnes Mowbray's—the life of waiting and hoping with those alternate intervals of despair.

The man had behaved cruelly toward her, for he should have known that she was not as other women. It was the feeling that the man was not worthy of her that caused Sir Percival Hope his only misgiving. He wondered if he himself had chanced to meet Agnes before she had known Claude Westwood, what would her life have been—what would his life have been?

He stood in the road and tried to form a picture of their life—of their lives joined together so as to make one life.

He hurried on. The picture was too bright to be looked upon. He found it easier to think of the picture which had been before his eyes when he had looked back hearing her voice calling him—the picture of a beautiful pale woman, with one hand leaning on the trellis-work of the porch, while the roses drooped down to her hair.

“The cruelty of it—the cruelty of it!” he groaned, as he hurried on to perform his mission.

And these were the very words that Agnes Mowbray was moaning at the same instant, as she fell on her knees beside the sofa in her dressing-room. This was all the prayer that her lips could frame at that moment.

“The cruelty of it! The cruelty of it!” That was the result of all her thoughts of the past years that she had spent in waiting.

She and God knew what those years had been—the years that had robbed her of her youth, that had planted those grey hairs where the soft brown had been. All the past seemed unfolded in front of her like a scroll. She thought of her parting from her lover on that chill October day, when every breeze sent the leaves flying in crisp flakes through the air. Not a tear did she shed while she was saying that farewell to him. She had carried herself bravely—yes, as she stood beside the privet hedge and waved her hand to him on the road on which he was driving to catch the train; but when she had returned to the house and her father had put his arm round her, she was not quite so self-possessed. Her tears came in a torrent all at once, and she cried out for him to come back to her.

He had not come back to her. Through the long desolate years that had been her cry; but he had not come back to her. Oh! the desolation of those years that followed! At first she had received many letters from him. So long as he was in touch with some form of civilisation, however rudimentary it was, he had written to her; but then the letters became few and irregular. He could only trust that one out of every six that he wrote would reach her, he said, for he only wrote on the chance of meeting an elephant-hunter or a slave-raider going to the coast who would take a letter for him—for a consideration. She had not the least objection to receive a letter, even though it had been posted by the red hand of the half-caste slave-raider.

But afterwards the letters ceased altogether. She tried to find courage in the reflection that the rascally men who had been entrusted with the letters had flung them away, or perhaps they had been killed or had died naturally before reaching the coast. Only for a time did she find some comfort in thus accounting for the absence of all news regarding him. At the end of a year she read in a newspaper an article in which the writer assumed that all hope for the safety of Claude Westwood had been abandoned. The writer of the article was clearly an expert in African exploration. He was ready to quote instance after instance since the days of Hanno, of explorers who had dared too much and had been cut off—some by what he called the legitimate enemies of pioneers, namely, disease and privation, others by that cruelty which has its habitation in the dark places of the earth, and nowhere in greater abundance than in the dark places of the Dark Continent.

She recollected what her feelings had been as she read that article and scores of other articles, dealing with the disappearance of Claude Westwood. She had not broken down. Her father had pointed out to her the extraordinary mistakes so easily made by the experts who wrote on the subject of Claude Westwood's disappearance; and if they were able to bring forward instances of the loss of intrepid men who had set out in the hope of adding to the world's knowledge of the world, the Admiral was able to give quite as many instances of the safe return of explorers who had been given up for lost. Thus she and her father kept up each other's hopes until the question of Claude's safety ceased to be even alluded to in the press as a topic of the day.

She had never lost hope; but this fact did not prevent her having dreams of the night. She was accustomed to awake with a cry, seeing him tortured by savages—seeing him lying alone in a country where no tree was growing. And then she would remain awake through the long night, praying for his safety.

That had been her life for years, and now she was still praying for his safety—praying that the day of the realisation of her hopes had at last come.

She started up, hearing the sound of footsteps on the gravel path. She was at her window in time to see Sir Percival in the act of entering the porch. He had not been long absent. He could not have had a long conversation with Richard Westwood.

She met him while he was still in the porch. They stood face to face for a few moments, but no word came from either of them for a long time. She seemed to think that she was about to fall, for she put out a hand to the velvet portière that hung in an arch leading to the hall—that was her right hand—her left was pressed against her heart.

“You need not speak,” she whispered, when they had stood face to face in that long silence. “You need not speak. I know all that your silence implies.”

“No—no—you know nothing of what I have to tell you,” said he slowly.

“What have you to tell? Can you tell me anything worse than that Claude Westwood is dead?”

“It is not Claude Westwood who is dead.”

“Not Claude?—who—who, then, is dead?”

“Richard Westwood is dead.”

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