For some time after the lawyer had left the house, the letter lay unheeded at Agnes's feet. She could only say to herself, “The pity of it! The pity of it!” as her eyes overflowed with tears. It seemed very pitiful to her to see lying there the letter which the man to whom it was addressed would never see. She thought of the gladness which receiving that letter would have brought into the life that had passed away. Not for a single moment did she feel jealous because it had arrived in England unaccompanied by any letter to herself. She felt that it was fitting that the first letter written by Claude since his return to civilisation—such civilisation as was represented by the sending and receiving of letters—should be to the brother whom he loved so well.

It was some time before she could take it up and open the cover. When at last she did so, standing at the window leading into her garden to catch all the light that remained in the sky, she failed to detect any but the most distant resemblance in the handwriting to Claude's, as she had known it. But as she read the first words her tears began to flow once more, and she could only press the letter to her lips and say, “Thank God, thank God, for allowing me to see his handwriting once more!”

The letter was not a long one. The writer assumed that his brother would think that he was reading a message from another world. “And by Heaven you won't be so far wrong, old boy,” he wrote, “for I don't suppose any human being ever went so near as I did to the border-line of that undiscovered country without passing over into the land of shadows.”

He then went on to give a brief sketch of the massacre of all the members of the expedition with the exception of himself, and to tell how he had been not merely held in captivity by the strange tribes whom they had met, but promoted to the position of a god by them, owing to the accident of his having found his way into a sacred cave, after taking the precaution to knock out the brains of the two witch doctors who had previously killed every native who had attempted to enter. The position of a god he found great difficulty in living up to, he said, for the gods of that nation Were carefully guarded lest they should make a try for the liberty of an ordinary layman.

In short, the letter gave a résumé of the writer's terrible hardships when living as the captive of one of the most barbarous of African savage tribes. For nearly eight years he had lived as a savage, and when at last he contrived to escape, he had spent another six months wandering from forest to forest of the interior, in almost a naked condition, and with no weapon except a knife, which had once belonged to Baines, the explorer, and had been given by him to a friendly native when painting the falls of the Zambesi. When at the point of starving he had been fortunate enough to come in contact with an ivory hunter on his way to Uganda, where they had arrived together.

“If you only knew the difficulty I have in holding a pen you would give me unlimited praise for writing so long a letter instead of confounding me—as I fear you will—for being so brief. The chap who takes this to the coast for me will not fail to make as much as he can out of my story for transmission to the papers, so that the chances are that you will have got plenty of news about me by cable a fortnight or so before you get this.”

The writer did not indulge in any more sentimental passages than may be found in the letter of any average Englishman who writes to a brother after taking part in a campaign in a distant country, or fighting his way through savages in the hope of opening up a new land for English trade—and occasionally German.

Only as a postscript he had written:

“I often wonder what you are like now. Of course you have found a wife who adores you, and your children have been told that they once had an uncle who went out to Africa and was killed by men with black on their faces, and if they aren't good children the black men will eat them up too. Well, now you will have to untell all that you have told those innocent little ones, if they exist; and I'm afraid that you'll have to invent another path to virtue than that presided over by the black men.

“By the way, I take it for granted that Agnes Mowbray has followed the example which I assume you have shown her, and that she also has children round her knees. What strange memories the writing of names awakens! I am nearly sure that I told Agnes Mowbray that I loved her—nay, worse than that, I'm nearly sure that I did love her. Don't make mischief, old man, by hinting so much to her husband, i may see her when I get back to England; but I shall not be able to stir from here for at least six months. You can have go idea how thoroughly broken down I am.”

Her tears did not flow when she had finished reading the letter, written in that curiously cramped hand that scarcely bore any resemblance to the bold scrawl which ran over the old pages of his letters that she treasured. She did not weep. She felt a curious little sting of disappointment as she read the latter part of the postscript—a curious little stab, as with the point of a sharp needle.

He had said no word about her in any part of the letter: he had made no allusion to her until he had that afterthought which he embodied in the postscript, and then he had only alluded to her in order that he might express a doubt in regard to her constancy.

Yes; he had actually taken for granted that she had cast to the winds the promise which she had made to him—the promise to love him and him only, and to wait patiently until his return should unite their lives for evermore. Did it seem to him impossible that any woman should remain faithful to one man when apart from him? Was it possible that he knew so little of her nature as to fancy that the passing of years would weaken her faith? What has time got to do with such matters as love and faith?

For a moment she felt that sharp stab, but then the pain that it caused her passed away in the thought of the rapture which could not fail to be his when he became aware of the truth—of her truth, of her love, of her faith in the bounty of heaven. It was not pride in her own fidelity that she felt at that moment: she could not see that she had any reason for pride, for fidelity was so much a part of her nature she had ceased to think of it, just as a man with a sound heart never gives a thought to his heart. It had never occurred to her that there was anything remarkable in the fact that she had passed eight years of her life waiting for the return of the man whom all the world believed to be dead. If she had been waiting for double the time she would not have felt any cause for pride. The glow which came over her, making her forget the pain that she had felt on reading the careless words of her lover's postscript, was due to the thought of the delight that would be his when he came to know that she had never a thought of loving any one save himself.

Would it seem such a wonder to him? Well, let it seem a miracle to him so long as it gave him pleasure. If she had been overwhelmed with happiness at the miracle of his restoration to her, why should he not be overjoyed at the miracle of her restoration to him?

She sat for a long time at the open window, thinking her thoughts, while before her eyes the soft velvety darkness of the exquisite July night slipped over the garden. The delicate dew scents filled the air, and the perfume of the roses mingled with that of the jessamine which dropped from the trellis-work of the verandah. The drone of a winged beetle rising and falling in musical monotone, like the sound of a distant bell borne by a fitful breeze, came to her ears. A bat whirled past the opening of the window, and the cat that was playing after the moths on the lawn, struck out at it for a moment. And then a servant brought lamps into the room.

She started from her reverie, and became aware in an instant of the details of the scene before her.

It was such a scene as had been before her many times during her life. How often had she not sat there in the early night, wondering if the man whom she loved would ever sit by her side again in the long twilight of a summer's day in England—at home—at home.

And now she thought of him lying alone among the strange trees—the mighty broad-leaved palms, the enormous ropes of the trailing plants falling around him. Was he thinking of the English home which he had forsaken, but which was waiting for him? How often had not he found comfort in the midst of his desolation through picturing the garden at The Knoll, as he had walked in it on those summer nights long ago?

Alas! alas! With his thoughts of the old garden and the old times there must have come that terrible thought which he had hinted at in his letter—the thought that she had been unfaithful to him. Ah, how could he ever have had such a thought? She had heard of fickle women—loving a man passionately one day, and the next carried away by the glamour of a new face and a changed voice—but how could he fancy for a moment that she was such a woman?

Thus she sat, with her thoughts and her memories and her anticipations, until the full moon had arisen behind the trees of Westwood Court and was flooding the sky with light and sending the great shadows of the elm far over the lawn. When the sound of the striking of the church clock roused her from her reverie, she was conscious of one thought: that the pang that must have been his when he wrote that postscript would soon pass away in the joy of knowing that she had been true to him.

But it was a long time before she went to sleep that night.

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