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Chapter XII: On the Road Home


When Leonard Everard parted from Stephen he did so with a feeling of
dissatisfaction:  firstly, with Stephen; secondly, with things in
general; thirdly, with himself.  The first was definite, concrete,
and immediate; he could give himself chapter and verse for all the
girl's misdoing.  Everything she had said or done had touched some
nerve painfully, or had offended his feelings; and to a man of his
temperament his feelings are very sacred things, to himself.
'Why had she put him in such a ridiculous position?  That was the
worst of women.  They were always wanting him to do something he
didn't want to do, or crying ... there was that girl at Oxford.'
Here he turned his head slowly, and looked round in a furtive way,
which was getting almost a habit with him.  'A fellow should go away
so that he wouldn't have to swear lies.  Women were always wanting
money; or worse:  to be married!  Confound women; they all seemed to
want him to marry them!  There was the Oxford girl, and then the
Spaniard, and now Stephen!'  This put his thoughts in a new channel.
He wanted money himself.  Why, Stephen had spoken of it herself; had
offered to pay his debts.  Gad! it was a good idea that every one
round the countryside seemed to know his affairs.  What a flat he had
been not to accept her offer then and there before matters had gone
further.  Stephen had lots of money, more than any girl could want.
But she didn't give him time to get the thing fixed ... If he had
only known beforehand what she wanted he could have come prepared ... that was the way with women!  Always thinking of themselves!  And
now?  Of course she wouldn't stump up after his refusing her.  What
would his father say if he came to hear of it?  And he must speak to
him soon, for these chaps were threatening to County Court him if he
didn't pay.  Those harpies in Vere Street were quite nasty ... '
He wondered if he could work Stephen for a loan.
He walked on through the woodland path, his pace slower than before.
'How pretty she had looked!'  Here he touched his little moustache.
'Gad!  Stephen was a fine girl anyhow!  If it wasn't for all that red
hair ... I like 'em dark better! ... And her being such an
infernal boss!'... Then he said unconsciously aloud:
'If I was her husband I'd keep her to rights!'
Poor Stephen!
'So that's what the governor meant by telling me that fortune was to
be had, and had easily, if a man wasn't a blind fool.  The governor
is a starchy old party.  He wouldn't speak out straight and say,
"Here's Stephen Norman, the richest girl you are ever likely to meet;
why don't you make up to her and marry her?"  But that would be
encouraging his son to be a fortune-hunter!  Rot! ... And now, just
because she didn't tell me what she wanted to speak about, or the
governor didn't give me a hint so that I might be prepared, I have
gone and thrown away the chance.  After all it mightn't be so bad.
Stephen is a fine girl! ... But she mustn't ever look at me as she
did when I spoke about her not obeying.  I mean to be master in my
own house anyhow!
'A man mustn't be tied down too tight, even if he is married.  And if
there's plenty of loose cash about it isn't hard to cover up your
tracks ... I think I'd better think this thing over calmly and be
ready when Stephen comes at me again.  That's the way with women.
When a woman like Stephen fixes her cold grey on a man she does not
mean to go asleep over it.  I daresay my best plan will be to sit
tight, and let her work herself up a bit.  There's nothing like a
little wholesome neglect for bringing a girl to her bearings!' ...
For a while he walked on in satisfied self-complacency.
'Confound her! why couldn't she have let me know that she was fond of
me in some decent way, without all that formal theatrical proposing?
It's a deuced annoying thing in the long run the way the women get
fond of me.  Though it's nice enough in some ways while it lasts!' he
added, as if in unwilling recognition of fact.  As the path debouched
on the highroad he said to himself half aloud:
'Well, she's a mighty fine girl, anyhow!  And if she is red I've had
about enough of the black! ... That Spanish girl is beginning to
kick too!  I wish I had never come across ... '
'Shut up, you fool!' he said to himself as he walked on.
When he got home he found a letter from his father.  He took it to
his room before breaking the seal.  It was at least concise and to
the point:

'The enclosed has been sent to me.  You will have to deal with it
yourself.  You know my opinion and also my intention.   The items
which I have marked have been incurred since I spoke to you last
about your debts.  I shall not pay another farthing for you.  So take
your own course!

The enclosed was a jeweller's bill, the length and the total of which
lengthened his face and drew from him a low whistle.   He held it in
his hand for a long time, standing quite still and silent.  Then
drawing a deep breath he said aloud:
'That settles it!  The halter is on me!  It's no use squealing.  If
it's to be a red head on my pillow! ... All right!  I must only
make the best of it.  Anyhow I'll have a good time to-day, even if it
must be the last!'
That day Harold was in Norcester on business.  It was late when he
went to the club to dine.  Whilst waiting for dinner he met Leonard
Everard, flushed and somewhat at uncertain in his speech.  It was
something of a shock to Harold to see him in such a state.
Leonard was, however, an old friend, and man is as a rule faithful to
friends in this form of distress.  So in his kindly feeling Harold
offered to drive him home, for he knew that he could thus keep him
out of further harm.  Leonard thanked him in uncertain speech, and
said he would be ready.  In the meantime he would go and play
billiards with the marker whilst Harold was having his dinner.
At ten o'clock Harold's dogcart was ready and he went to look for
Leonard, who had not since come near him.  He found him half asleep
in the smoking-room, much drunker than he had been earlier in the
The drive was fairly long, so Harold made up his mind for a prolonged
term of uneasiness and anxiety.  The cool night-air, whose effect was
increased by the rapid motion, soon increased Leonard's somnolence
and for a while he slept soundly, his companion watching carefully
lest he should sway over and fall out of the trap.  He even held him
up as they swung round sharp corners.
After a time he woke up, and woke in a nasty temper.  He began to
find fault in an incoherent way with everything.  Harold said little,
just enough to prevent any cause for further grievance.  Then Leonard
changed and became affectionate.  This mood was a greater bore than
the other, but Harold managed to bear it with stolid indifference.
Leonard was this by time making promises to do things for him, that
as he was what he called a 'goo' fell',' he might count on his help
and support in the future.  As Harold knew him to be a wastrel, over
head and ears in debt and with only the succession to a small estate,
he did not take much heed to his maunderings.  At last the drunken
man said something which startled him so much that he instinctively
drew himself together with such suddenness as to frighten the horse
and almost make him rear up straight.
'Woa!  Woa!  Steady, boy.  Gently!' he said, quieting him.  Then
turning to his companion said in a voice hollow with emotion and
vibrant with suppressed passion:
'What was it you said?'
Leonard, half awake, and not half of that half master of himself,
'I said I will make you agent of Normanstand when I marry Stephen.'
Harold grew cold.  To hear of any one marrying Stephen was to him
like plunging him in a glacier stream; but to hear her name so
lightly spoken, and by such a man, was a bewildering shock which
within a second set his blood on fire.
'What do you mean?' he thundered.  'You marry Ste ... Miss Norman!
You're not worthy to untie her shoe!  You indeed!  She wouldn't look
on the same side of the street with a drunken brute like you!  How
dare you speak of her in such a way!'
'Brute!' said Leonard angrily, his vanity reaching inward to heart
and brain through all the numbing obstacle of his drunken flesh.
'Who's brute?  Brute yourself!  Tell you goin' to marry Stephen, 'cos
Stephen wants it.  Stephen loves me.  Loves me with all her red head!
Wha're you doin'!  Wha!!'
His words merged in a lessening gurgle, for Harold had now got him by
the throat.
'Take care what you say about that lady! damn you!' he said, putting
his face close the other's with eyes that blazed.  'Don't you dare to
mention her name in such a way, or you will regret it longer than you
can think.  Loves you, you swine!'
The struggle and the fierce grip on his throat sobered Leonard
somewhat.  Momentarily sobbed him to that point when he could be
coherent and vindictive, though not to the point where he could think
ahead.  Caution, wisdom, discretion, taste, were not for him at such
a moment.  Guarding his throat with both hands in an instinctive and
spasmodic manner he answered the challenge:
'Who are you calling swine?  I tell you she loves me.  She ought to
know.  Didn't she tell me so this very day!'  Harold drew back his
arm to strike him in the face, his anger too great for words.  But
the other, seeing the motion and in the sobering recognition of
danger, spoke hastily:
'Keep your hair on!  You know so jolly much more than I do.  I tell
you that she told me this and a lot more this morning when she asked
me to marry her.'
Harold's heart grew cold as ice.  There is something in the sound of
a voice speaking truthfully which a true man can recognise.  Through
all Leonard's half-drunken utterings came such a ring of truth; and
Harold recognised it.  He felt that his voice was weak and hollow as
he spoke, thinking it necessary to give at first a sort of official
denial to such a monstrous statement:
'I'm no liar!' answered Leonard.  He would like to have struck him in
answer to such a word had he felt equal to it.  'She asked me to
marry her to-day on the hill above the house, where I went to meet
her by appointment.  Here!  I'll prove it to you.  Read this!'
Whilst he was speaking he had opened the greatcoat and was fumbling
in the breast-pocket of his coat.  He produced a letter which he
handed to Harold, who took it with trembling hand.  By this time the
reins had fallen slack and the horse was walking quietly.  There was
moonlight, but not enough to read by.  Harold bent over and lifted
the driving-lamp next to him and turned it so that he could read the
envelope.  He could hardly keep either lamp or paper still, his hand
trembled so when he saw that the direction was in Stephen's
handwriting.  He was handing it back when Leonard said again:
'Open it!  Read it!  You must do so; I tell you, you must!  You
called me a liar, and now must read the proof that I am not.  If you
don't I shall have to ask Stephen to make you!'  Before Harold's mind
flashed a rapid thought of what the girl might suffer in being asked
to take part in such a quarrel.  He could not himself even act to the
best advantage unless he knew the truth ... he took the letter from
the envelope and held it before the lamp, the paper fluttering as
though in a breeze from the trembling of his hand.  Leonard looked
on, the dull glare of his eyes brightening with malignant pleasure as
he beheld the other's concern.  He owed him a grudge, and by God he
would pay it.  Had he not been struck--throttled--called a liar!...
As he read the words Harold's face cleared.  'Why, you infernal young
scoundrel!' he said angrily, 'that letter is nothing but a simple
note from a young girl to an old friend--playmate asking him to come
to see her about some trivial thing.  And you construe it into a
proposal of marriage.  You hound!'  He held the letter whilst he
spoke, heedless of the outstretched hand of the other waiting to take
it back.  There was a dangerous glitter in Leonard's eyes.  He knew
his man and he knew the truth of what he had himself said, and he
felt, with all the strength of his base soul, how best he could
torture him.  In the very strength of Harold's anger, in the
poignancy of his concern, in the relief to his soul expressed in his
eyes and his voice, his antagonist realised the jealousy of one who
honours--and loves.  Second by second Leonard grew more sober, and
more and better able to carry his own idea into act.
'Give me my letter!' he began.
'Wait!' said Harold as he put the lamp back into its socket.  'That
will do presently.  Take back what you said just now!'
'What?  Take back what?'
'That base lie; that Miss Norman asked you to marry her.'
Leonard felt that in a physical struggle for the possession of the
letter he would be outmatched; but his passion grew colder and more
malignant, and in a voice that cut like the hiss of a snake he spoke
slowly and deliberately.  He was all sober now; the drunkenness of
brain and blood was lost, for the time, in the strength of his cold
'It is true.  By God it is true; every word of it!  That letter,
which you want to steal, is only a proof that I went to meet her on
Caester Hill by her own appointment.  When I got there, she was
waiting for me.  She began to talk about a chalet there, and at first
I didn't know what she meant--'
There was such conviction, such a triumphant truth in his voice, that
Harold was convinced.
'Stop!' he thundered; 'stop, don't tell me anything.  I don't want to
hear.  I don't want to know.'  He covered his face with his hands and
groaned.  It was not as though the speaker were a stranger, in which
case he would have been by now well on in his death by strangulation;
he had known Leonard all his life, and he was a friend of Stephen's.
And he was speaking truth.
The baleful glitter of Leonard's eyes grew brighter still.  He was as
a serpent when he goes to strike.  In this wise he struck.
'I shall not stop.  I shall go on and tell you all I choose.  You
have called me liar--twice.  You have also called me other names.
Now you shall hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth.  And if you won't listen to me some one else will.'  Harold
groaned again; Leonard's eyes brightened still more, and the evil
smile on his face grew broader as he began more and more to feel his
power.  He went on to speak with a cold deliberate malignancy, but
instinctively so sticking to absolute truth that he could trust
himself to hurt most.  The other listened, cold at heart and
physically; his veins and arteries seemed stagnant.
'I won't tell you anything of her pretty embarrassments; how her
voice fell as she pleaded; how she blushed and stammered.  Why, even
I, who am used to women and their pretty ways and their passions and
their flushings and their stormy upbraidings, didn't quite know for a
while what she was driving at.  So at last she spoke out pretty
plainly, and told me what a fond wife she'd make me if I would only
take her!'  Harold said nothing; he only rocked a little as one in
pain, and his hands fell.  The other went on:
'That is what happened this morning on Caester Hill under the trees
where I met Stephen Norman by her own appointment; honestly what
happened.  If you don't believe me now you can ask Stephen.  My
Stephen!' he added in a final burst of venom as in a gleam of
moonlight through a rift in the shadowy wood he saw the ghastly
pallor of Harold's face.  Then he added abruptly as he held out his
'Now give me my letter!'
In the last few seconds Harold had been thinking.  And as he had been
thinking for the good, the safety, of Stephen, his thoughts flew
swift and true.  This man's very tone, the openness of his malignity,
the underlying scorn when he spoke of her whom others worshipped,
showed him the danger--the terrible immediate danger in which she
stood from such a man.  With the instinct of a mind working as truly
for the woman he loved as the needle does to the Pole he spoke
quietly, throwing a sneer into the tone so as to exasperate his
companion--it was brain against brain now, and for Stephen's sake:
'And of course you accepted.  You naturally would!'  The other fell
into the trap.  He could not help giving an extra dig to his opponent
by proving him once more in the wrong.
'Oh no, I didn't!  Stephen is a fine girl; but she wants taking down
a bit.  She's too high and mighty just at present, and wants to boss
a chap too much.  I mean to be master in my own house; and she's got
to begin as she will have to go on.  I'll let her wait a bit:  and
then I'll yield by degrees to her lovemaking.  She's a fine girl, for
all her red head; and she won't be so bad after all!'
Harold listened, chilled into still and silent amazement.  To hear
Stephen spoken of in such a way appalled him.  She of all women! ... Leonard never knew how near sudden death he was, as he lay back in
his seat, his eyes getting dull again and his chin sinking.  The
drunkenness which had been arrested by his passion was reasserting
itself.  Harold saw his state in time and arrested his own movement
to take him by the throat and dash him to the ground.  Even as he
looked at him in scornful hate, the cart gave a lurch and Leonard
fell forward.  Instinctively Harold swept an arm round him and held
him up.  As he did so the unconsciousness of arrested sleep came;
Leonard's chin sank on his breast and he breathed stertorously.
As he drove on, Harold's thoughts circled in a tumult.  Vague ideas
of extreme measures which he ought to take flashed up and paled away.
Intention revolved upon itself till its weak side was exposed, and,
it was abandoned.  He could not doubt the essential truth of
Leonard's statement regarding the proposal of marriage.  He did not
understand this nor did he try to.  His own love for the girl and the
bitter awaking to its futility made him so hopeless that in his own
desolation all the mystery of her doing and the cause of it was
merged and lost.
His only aim and purpose now was her safety.  One thing at least he
could do:  by fair means or foul stop Leonard's mouth, so that others
need not know her shame!  He groaned aloud as the thought came to
him.  Beyond this first step he could do nothing, think of nothing as
yet.  And he could not take this first step till Leonard had so far
sobered that he could understand.
And so waiting for that time to come, he drove on through the silent