Away from Whitehall, where the ground was green with thriving grass, went Colonel Holles at speed. He set his face towards Islington once more, and swung along with great strides, carrying in his breast a heart more blithe than he had known for many a year. Blind and deaf to all about him, his mind sped ahead of his limbs to the goal for which he made.

Thus, until a sudden awful dread assailed him. Fortune had fooled and cheated him so often that it was impossible he should long continue in this new-born trust in her favour. It was, after all, four weeks since he had seen Nancy, and those in that house of rest where he had spent the period of his sequestration could tell him nothing of her since they held no direct intercourse with those who had their being in the pest-houses. In a month much may betide. Evil might have befallen her, or she might have departed thence. To soothe the latter dread came the recollection that any such departure would have been impossible until she, too, had undergone the prescribed period of disinfection. But the former dread was not so easily to be allayed. It would be so entirely of a piece with all his history that, now that apparently he held the earnest of Fortune in his hands, he should make the discovery that this had reached him too late; that, even as she bestowed with the one hand, so with the other did Fortune rob him.

You conceive, then, the dread anxiety in which he came, breathless, hot, and weary from the speed he had made, to the open fields and at last to the stout, spiked gates of that pleasant homestead that had been put to the uses of a lazaret. Here a stern and surly guardian denied him passage.

“You cannot enter, sir. What do you seek?”

“Happiness, my friend,” said the Colonel, completing the other’s conviction that he was mad. But mad or sane there was a masterful air about him now. He bristled with the old amiable arrogance that of late had been overlaid by despondency and lassitude of soul. And his demand that the gate should be unbarred for him held an authority that was not lightly to be denied.

“You understand, sir,” the gatekeeper asked him, “that, once you enter here, you may not go back whence you come for twenty-eight days, at least?”

“I understand,” said Holles, “and I come prepared to pay the price. So, in God’s name, open, friend.”

The gatekeeper shrugged. “Ye’re warned,” he said, and raised the bar, thus removing, as he thought, all obstacles that kept a fool from his folly.

Colonel Holles entered. The gates clashed behind him, and he took his way briskly, almost at a run, down the long avenue in the dappled shade of the beech trees and elms that bordered it, making straight for the nearest of the red-brick outhouses, which was the one which he himself had occupied during his sickness.

A broadly built, elderly woman perceived his approach from the doorway, and, after staring at him a moment in surprise and consternation, started forward to meet him, calling to him to stand. But he came on heedless and breathless until they were face to face.

“How came you in, you foolish man?” she cried.

“You don’t know me, Mrs. Barlow?” he asked her.

Startled anew by that pleasant, familiar address, she stared at him again. And then, under the finery and vigour investing him and rendering him almost unrecognizable to eyes that remembered only the haggard, meanly clad fellow of a month ago, she discovered him.

“Save us! It’s Colonel Holles!” And almost without pause she went on in a voice of distress: “But you were to have left the house of rest to-day. Whatever can have brought you back here to undo all again.”

“Nay, not to undo. To do, Mrs. Barlow, by God’s help. But ye’ve a singular good memory, to remember that I should be leaving to-day!”

She shook her head, and smiled with a touch of sadness. “’Twasn’t me that remembered, sir. It was Miss Sylvester.” And again she shook her head.

“She’s here, then! Ha! She is well?”

“Well enough, poor dear. But oh, so mortal sad. She’s yonder, resting, under the cedars—a place she’s haunted this past month.”

He swung aside, and, without more than a hurriedly flung word of thanks or excuse, he was gone swiftly across the lawn, towards that cluster of cedars, amid whose gnarled old trunks he could discern the flutter of a grey gown.

She had haunted the spot this month past, Mrs. Barlow had said. And it was the spot where they had spoken their farewells. Ah, surely Fortune would not trick him this time! Not again, surely, would she dash away the cup from his very lips, as so often she had done!

As he drew nearer over the soft, yielding turf that deadened all sound of his steps, he saw her sitting on that stone seat where a month ago he had left her in the conviction that he was never to behold her again with the eyes of the flesh. Her shoulders were turned towards him, but even so he perceived in her attitude something of the listlessness by which she was possessed. He paused, his pulses throbbing, paused instinctively, fearing now to startle her, as startle her he must, however he approached.

He stood arrested there, breathless, at a loss. And then as if she sensed his presence, she slowly turned and looked behind her. A long while she stared, startled, white-faced.

“Randal!” She was on her feet, confronting him.

He plunged forward.

“Oh, Randal, why have you come here? You should have gone to-day....”

“I went, and I have returned, Nan,” he told her, standing there beside her now.

“You have returned!” She looked him over more attentively now, and observed the brave suit of dark blue camlet that so well became his tall, spare frame, and the fine Spanish boots that were now overlaid with dust. “You have returned!” she said again.

“Nan,” he said, “a miracle has happened.” And from his breast he pulled that parchment with its great seal. “A month ago I was a beggar. To-day I am Colonel Holles in something more than name, commanding something more than a mere regiment. I have come back, Nan, because at last I can offer you something in exchange for all that you will sacrifice in taking me.”

She sank down slowly, weakly, to the seat, he standing over her, until they were in the same attitude of a month ago. But how different now was all else! She leaned her elbows on her knees a moment, pressing her hands to her throbbing temples.

“It is real, this? It ... it is true? True?” she asked aloud, though clearly not of him. And then she sat back again, and looked up into his face.

“It is not very much, perhaps, when all is said, though it seems much to me to-day, and with you beside me I shall know how to make it more. Still, such as it is, I offer it.” And he tossed the parchment down into her lap.

She looked at the white cylinder without touching it, and then at him again, and a little smile crept about the corners of her sweet mouth, and trembled there. Into her mind there leapt the memory of the big boast of conquest for her sake with which he had set out in the long ago.

“Is this the world you promised me, Randal?” she asked him. And his heart bounded at the old rallying note, which laid his last doubt to rest.

“As much of it as I can contrive to get,” said he.

“Then it will be enough for me,” she answered. And there was no raillery in her voice now, only an infinite tenderness. She rose, and, standing there close before him, held out the parchment still unfolded.

“But you haven’t looked,” he protested.

“What need to look? It is your kingdom, you have told me. And I’ll share your kingdom whatever it may be.”

“It is situate in the Indies ... in Bombay,” said he, with a certain diffidence.

She considered.

“I always had a thirst for travel,” she said deliberately.

He felt that it was due to her that he should explain the nature of this appointment and how he came by it. To that explanation he proceeded. Before he had reached the end she was in tears.

“Why? Why? What now?” he cried in dismay. “Does your heart misgive you?”

“Misgive me? Oh, Randal! How can you think that? I weep for thankfulness. I have spent a month of such hopeless anguish, and now....”

He put an arm about her shoulder, and drew her head down on to his breast. “My dear,” he murmured. He sighed, and held her thus in a silence that was like a prayer, until, at length, she raised her face.

“Do you know, Randal, that it is more years than I care to think of since last you kissed me, and then you vexed me by stealing what is now yours to take.”

He was a little awed. But, after all, with all his faults, he was never one to yield to fear.

They were married on the morrow, and their honeymoon was spent in that sequestration that the law exacted. Certified clear of infection at last, they were permitted to go forth to garner the honours that Fortune had stored up for Randal Holles to make amends for all that he had earlier suffered at her hands.



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