THE MAUVE MICRASTER
G. APPLEBY TERRILL
THE Thompsons of Templarsbourne, which is probably the most beautiful sixteenth-century house in Kent, take paying guests.
The girl who knelt by the big fire in the hall late on a cold Spring afternoon, was one of these—a guest who came frequently. She had just arrived now. She still wore her hat, and she was exchanging greetings with the youngest Miss Thompson, who sat on the arm of a lounge regarding her affectionately.
She was an orphan, this guest. She lived in some isolated place in Lincolnshire, and she made no secret of the fact that she was much happier at Templarsbourne than anywhere else. Yet, although she appeared to be quite her own mistress, she never stayed for more than a fortnight at a time.
The contour of her face was pretty; her grey eyes, which occasionally she raised when speaking, were pretty too, but their expression was not normal. They were very weary, very mournful; and they were something else. There came to Miss Thompson this afternoon a vague idea that they were afraid.
“Betty,” she said, puzzled, concerned, yet managing to restrain her tongue in a certain degree, “you look more knocked-out than ever. Either Lincolnshire doesn’t agree with you, or—”
“Lincoln-sheer's a’ right, ma lass,” murmured the other playfully in dialect, but without a smile. Then she added quickly:“Well, who besides the Lerrards are here?” “Maurice Fmlock, and Dick—they’re playing golf at Deal to-day; the Scudamores, the Brownings. Oh, they’re all people you know' . . , except the Rikkeiths. I say, you’ll like them.” Miss Thompson’s features regained their brightness. “Professor Rikkeith is no end of a big gun in scientific circles, but he’s stunningly nice. He’s a bachelor. He’s here with his mother.”
“His mother! I thought professors were ancient and white-bearded, without—” the girls’ voice faltered a little —“without mothers.”
“Not our professor. Why, he's the merest infant. At least he isn’t more that thirty-five.”
"What does he—profess?”
"Palaeontology, my dear. It’s a branch of geology which consists of going out with a bag and stealing the parish council’s road stones.”
Betty's lips quivered with a smile.
"Nonsense,” she said, distending her slim fingers in the
“Absolute fact,” replied Joan Thompson, gratified to notice that the spell of Templarsbourne was already working on the guest, who really gave the impression that she had not smiled since her last visit. “Absolute fact, though, of course, that’s not quite all he does. He tells you incredible things—about stones. He writes books; he lectures; and he has travelled far and adventurously—after stones. He doesn’t talk overmuch of his escapades in savage lands,
but his mother will tell you......Apparently the parish
councils of Patagonia or Papua very naturally objected to their road metal being bagged, and chucked weapons at the prof—Hello! here comes tea—and his mother. I’ll introduce you.” Miss Thompson slipped from the lounge. “Mrs. Rikkeith, this is Betty Dreux.”
DURING tea, the bell for which brought a dozen cheery folk—Thomspons and guests—into the hall, Betty and the professor’s mother sat together. Mrs. Rikkeith at once liked the girl with the queerly-shadowed eyes, who plainly was striving hard to be bright and careless and plainly found it difficult even to pretend to be so. And Betty was considerably attracted by the slender, whitehaired woman, who presently was admitting with simple candour her love and admiration for her son. When Mrs. Rikkeith spoke of him as Adrian, Betty suddenly remembered having seen, more than once, the name and style “Professor Adrian Rikkeith” in big letters in publishers’ advertisements in the newspapers.
The professor did not appear until tea was practically over. He let himself in by the front door, which opened directly into the hall. He was a spare, clean-shaven, surprisingly young man, with a strong chin and a pair of very blue eyes, which, Betty marked, had a gay and reckless— certainly an unprofessorial—flash in them. He carried a small, muddy haversack and was extremely muddy himself.
“Professor, you look very cold. Please don’t bother to clean up. Come to the fire,” said Mrs. Thompson, pouring
out some tea for the belated newcomer.
The professor rubbed his fingers in a noticeably white handkerchief and walked across and sat by his mother. He enjoyed his tea and answered shortly, but pleasantly enough, the var-, ious commonplace remarks addressed to him. There was something very light-hearted and boyish about him, but Betty perceived that everyone, the rather irresponsible Miss Joan included, treated him with more than a hint of deference.
His mother had introduced him to Betty, but was sitting between; and it was not until she got up that he gave the girl any of his attention. Unobtrusively he took advantage of a clear view of her.
“Do you mind cigarette smoke so near you?” he asked, pulling a silver case from his pocket. He stared at it. “Oh, hang!” he ejaculated. Then he begged Betty’s pardon. “I’m always doing that,” he half explained.
He pointed to a freshly made scratch on the case and produced from the pocket it had been in—a stone.
It was grey flint, about the size of a golf ball, and almost entirely smooth. Its shape was exactly that of the human heart (as popularly depicted), and a whitish, feathery star design was bitten deeply into its face.
“A stone heart with a star!” cried Betty, “How pretty! May I see?” She held out her hand. “What is it?”
“It’s an echinoderm of the Upper Cretacious System of the Mesozoic Period,” he said gravely.
BETTY, who had it in her palm, looked up with reproach. He had expected that, and he laughed. But then he
realized that even mock pain in those eyes which seemed to hold so much real pain was somewhat too poignant to
“That was unkind of me,” he said quickly. “Look here, shall I tell you all I can about it? It’s called a micraster—” He lit his cigarette, had a hurried puff, and moved nearer. “It’s a fossil. It is, in a sense, the body of a little sea urchin that died on Kentish soil when Kent was sea bottom— aeons of time before man was created.... The sea urchin’s body changed—actually changed, into mud, and then into stone—that’s the theory I support—or, as the body decayed, mud crept into the shell, taking its place, and, of course, changing into stone. . . .1 found it just now on a roadside flint heap.”
She hung over the micraster, thrilled with interest, studying intently the star pattern which had been traced long before the age of human eyes. “How old is it?” she asked.
“I simply can’t tell you. I might be ten million years
“Ten—million!” She gazed at him in amazement. “Has there been—so much time?”
“Since the world began? There has indeed.” He leaned back a little with a retrospective light in his eyes. “Ten million years! Why the word ‘day’ which the Bible uses in speaking of the Creation stands in most instances for tens of millions of years. There has been life of a sort on this earth for more than one hundred millions of years. In that great line of life stretching from the beginning to now I could point out to you just where the micraster occurs; but as to how old it is—” He shook his head slowly. “We have no sure basis for calculating. I—I hope that one day I shall discover such a basis. Until then I can only put the micraster’s age at vague millions.”
His voice had fallen to a soft note; and Betty’s, as she repeated his phrase “vague millions”, was equally low pitched. They had forgotten that other people were sitting round them.
Presently the professor, with his keen blue eyes on Betty’s, perceived that he had made her forget, temporarily at any rate, something else. By her request he had gone on talking of the past. He had told her of colossal beasts, of eerie flying reptiles, of a world she had never imagined; and her eyes were shining so eagerly that all the worst of the shadow had gone from them.
The dressing-bell sounded, but for a quarter of an hour the two sat on, with the hall to themselves.
“Oh, it’s wonderful, wonderful!” said Betty, when she stood up at last. She looked at the micraster, which she still held. She breathed tremulously. “I must find a micraster. I’d love to have one!”
“Keep that,” said the professor; “and—where the mischief did I put my sack? Ah, yes.... I’ve three more in that I wish you’d take. I don’t want them.
I’m collecting some merely to give to my pupils.
At least that’s my excuse. Really I potter after them for sheer love and on chance of tumbling across something rare.”
“No,” said Betty; “I want to find one for myself—to taste the joy of discovery.”
WELL, what luck?” asked Professor Rikkeith at lunch the next day. Betty shook her head.
“I’ve dragged Joan Thompson for miles, exhausted her, made her thoroughly angry; but I haven’t seen a sign of a micraster. Still I’m going out again at once.”
At tea the professor repeated his inquiry.
“No,” said Betty disconsolately. “And I so hoped—”
The professor peered meditatively into his cup. “Why not come out with me tomorrow afternoon? I needn’t do the real finding. I’ll just put you on the right
Betty’s face lit up. “I should be a nuisance,” she said.
“Nuisance? I’d be delighted to have your company, if you wouldn’t mind me squirming for a few minutes in an old quarry we shall pass.”
Then the professor, recollecting with perturbation that he had observed to several of the guests now present, who once had manifested an inclination to share his walks, that a companion would seriously distract his thoughts, drank hastily.
By half past two the next afternoon Betty and he had left Templarsbourne a mile behind. The weather was breezy. The sky was deep blue with dazzling white clouds; the roads were sparkling from a recent shower.
The proessor, in an old suit and older leggings, haversack in hand, with his cap in one of his side pockets, and a polished, vicious, beautifully made hammerhead sticking out of the other, was giving further vivid word pictures of the past; and Betty’s spirits soared.
“Here’s a promising heap,” he said as they reached a long mound of stones. “And just the conditions for micraster-hunting—sunshine and everything washed clean. Now, Miss Dreux, make your first find.”
She searched vainly. When she had given up he searched, and showed her what she had missed—two micrasters. one blue, one crimson and yellow.
“Have these,” he urged.
But she would not.
At the next stone heap neither found anything and at the next Betty failed again, missing another blue micraster, which fell to Rikkeith.
For half an hour nothing more was discovered. Then the professor, having lifted and scrutinized a big, knobbed chunk of flint,laid it down and slipped on a pair of goggles.
“Look away, please,” he said. There was the crack of his hammer on the flint; and Betty, facing round, saw the stone in two sections, and a broken micraster protruding from the core of one of these.
“Another way of hunting ’em,” he remarked, wrenching out the fossil. “But I can’t let you crack stones. If you damaged yourself what would your people say—to me?” “I haven’t any people, if you mean parents,” she answered, with a catch in her voice, as they walked on.
“I’m sorry,” replied Rikkeith. He studied her profile, the shine of her dark-gold hair, and did feel very sorry.
“With whom do you live?” he said presently. She raised her chin, almost as though the question hurt, and gazed straight before her.
“My half-brother, Dr. Glantwhitt.”
“Medicine? It’s a noble, grand profession, isn’t it?” he said thoughtfully. “Do you know, I’m a qualified medical man myself, 'among other things. But I haven’t time to practise, except on my mother, to please her, when she believes she has finger-ache.”
HE LAUGHED reminiscently, affectionately, hoping to make Betty respond to his blithe mood. And then: “Does your half-brother write or do anything like that?” he asked. “I’ve heard of a Dr. Glantwhitt—James Glantwhitt, but for a minute I can’t recall. It was about three years ago.”
“You would soon remember,” she said, “so I will tell you.... I don’t think anyone at Templarsbourne knows—” He perceived the appeal in that. “Trust me,” he said quietly.
“Three years ago some men were tried for attempting to cheat an insurance company. Jimmy, my half-brother,
was mixed up with the matter; he narrowly escaped being tried himself; he was very nearly struck off the Medical Register.”
Rikkeith’s hand happened to touch one of hers just then. His fingers closed on it for an instant.
“Poor little girl, you’ve had your troubles,” he said softly.
Then he halted and caught up a splinteof flint, wet and gleaming, from the centre of the road “Book at the color of this. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Mauve—mauve-pink. You can see through it,” said Betty, bending over the chip.
HE USED that term in similar circumstances twelve days later. Betty by this time owned twenty-eight stone hearts and one professorial heart. But, despite her possession of the latter, she was in the lowest spirits. For the past two days her eyes had been full of shadows again; and Rikkeith, try as he would, could not dispel them.
He was in an unenviable mood himself. Betty was leaving Templarsbourne the next day. She loved him—there was no mistake about that. But, though he begged her persistently, she would not promise to many him. She averred that, this question must be left, that she required months to consider it, that she had certain duties she could not abandon; and in all her excuses she was wilfully indefinite, obviously withholding something, choked with misery.
Rikkeith was extraordinarily uneasy. They were at the spot where the Mauve Micraster had been found. The sight of the hole from which Betty had gouged it., still there in the road, had brought, them to a standstill, shoulder to shoulder, Betty frankly leaning hard against Rikkeith.
“That afternoon when we found it!” she said. “Wasn’t I happy then! I guessed I should have lots more hunts with you; lots more blue-sky afternoons on the roads, with you making me forget my—” she hesitated and struggled to speak lightly—“my housekeeping worries. . . What afternoons!” she whispered. “And now we’ve come to —to the last we’re ever to have together.... quite probably.” Again she tried to sound a lighter note. “Gracious! Adrian, I’ve been laying bare my thoughts to you. Did any other girl ever-
“No, she didn’t,” said the professor. “But the point is, you're not laying bare your thoughts.” He turned his head, looking into her eyes. “Why ‘quite probably ?’ he asked severely. “Why such downright ill-omen . . Are you -afraid of something?”
“Afraid?” The denial in her tone was indignant, but her eyes were startled and confused. After a moment she looked down. “I—I only think, now and then, I shan t • live,” she said. Continued on page IfS
“A micraster like that!” he exclaimed. “I’ve often yearned for one, but never found it.” He scanned the surface of the by-road they were in. “All the flint just here is that color.” He began to rake with his hammer among the mauve fragments which filled the ruts. Presently he gave a call of triumph.
“You haven’t got it!” cried Betty. She was searching a few yards away. She straightened herself excitedly.
“No; but look at this.” He went to her and exhibited a curved shred of the flint.
“This is part of the nest it was in. See the marks of it on the inner side. And the tint of this stone is perfect. . . The micraster may easily be the same color, and it can’t be far off.... If only the stone-breaker’s hammer hasn’t knocked it to atoms! Hunt—hunt for all you’re worth. Take the hammer. I’ll use my fingers. You’ve dropped into a rare chase.”
It was Betty who ran the prize to earth. It was sunk deep in the roadbed, only the star design showing. She saw that suddenly and vividly, and thrilled. With the hammer she gouged it out—a great mauve-pink, almost translucent micraster, thirteen ounces in weight, as the scales were to prove. Wiping it with her handkerchief, she called to Rikkeith.
“It’s like an enormous jewel,” she said trembling with gratification as he examined it. “It must be the prettiest micraster in the world.”
“I’m certain it is,” he answered. “And it’s so different from any I know that you must lend it me occasionally for exhibition purposes.”
He regarded .it enviously. “I’m so pleased at your good fortune,” he said, holding it out to her.
She motioned it away. “I wouldn’t think of keeping it. You wanted one like it. I give it to my master in palaeontology.”
Her eyes were very eager, more free from shadows than he had yet seen them.
“You won’t refuse it?” she begged. “I refuse it absolutely.”
Betty took it. “I’ll leave it to you.... if I die,” she said.
She made the unexpected remark with an odd intonation. There was a nervous twitching at her nostrils which Rikkeith strongly disliked.
“Don’t be morbid,” he said sharply.
Continued on page 45
The Mauve Micraster
Continued, from page 13
Rikkeith swung round and whipped his arms about her with vast impatience.
“You miserable, morbid little girl!” he exclaimed. “What are you talking about? Put out your tongue. Oh, very well, don’t......But when you’re Mrs. Pro-
fessor you’re going to be jolly well dosed and jolted out of this state of mind. I hope your half-brother gives you talkingsto!”
Then his voice became desperately entreating as he reverted to the subject of marriage. But it was the same story; Betty would not say when or whether she would be his wife, though her eyes were aswim with tears.
^ Rikkeith’s strong mouth quivered at
“Betty, you’re hurting the old professor —badly,” he said.
She got at his hands, gathered them up, and kissed them many times. But she did not yield.
D ETTY utterly forbade Rikkeith to ■*-' come to Lincolnshire to see her. She gave no reason. The professor believed her motive was chiefly apprehension that if they met she would find it harder to oppose their marriage. Had he suspected nothing more he would have sought her out promptly. But he had a feeling that, with ultra-sensitiveness, she. wished to conceal from him her home surroundings in which the somewhat disgraced half-brother figured largely, and so delicacy held him back.
He was in London throughout the summer, corresponding with Betty, of course, and trying vainly to persuade her to meet him at Templarsbourne. Very often he wrote for the Mauve Micraster that he might show it at a lecture, returning it to her immediately after the function; the result being that the relic of the Mesozoic Period had a really strenuous time of it, speeding between Lincolnshire and London in a registered, brown-paper package.
It was early in September that, by turning up in London uninvited, it accomplished the most fateful achievement of its long career. Rikkeith, coming into his study one Saturday afternoon, was surprised to see the familiar package on his table. Undoing it, he read on a slip of writing-paper which had encircled the micraster:
"Do not return it until I ask. If I don’t ask, remember, my dearest, that I ioved, loved, loved you.”
Rikkeith put the writing to his lips for an instant. But his mouth was grimly tightened as he glanced round for his telegraph forms.
The message he mentally sent to Betty just then was: “You didn’t want to say too much, my dear, but, being agitated, you’ve fairly done for yourself—so far as keeping me away is concerned.” The message he wrote was:
“Miss Dreux, Claniston, near Thorpirris, Lincolnshire : I shall call on you this evening between eight and nine.—Rik-
Then he went down to Lincolnshire by train with his forehead puckered in a frown and torment in his mind. Betty considered she was in danger of immediate death. Her words, and the arrival of the micraster, which she always meant to leave to him, and was taking care that he should have, made that absolutely plain
^-so he reasoned......He might not
find her alive!. .. .Yet, to judge from the formation of her writing, she was neither in bed nor particularly weak. The puzzle was inexplicable.... She had manifested ân unnatural expectancy of being shortlived, but she was organically sound when he last saw her. He was certain of that. Her nerves were pretty badly strained. But she was living with a medical man, who would promptly have taken that trouble in hand had it become acute and seriously menacing to her health. .. .What was she afraid of—months ago? Violence? An attack from a refused lover? Bosh! Fancy any man harming a hair of little Betty’s head. Still, some crazed lover— Oh, he was abominably to blame for not having gone to her before and insisted upon explanations.
"THE village of Thorpirris is eight miles * from Skegness. Reaching this thronged and hilarious resort as the sun was
getting low, Rikkeith hired a motor-car to take him to Thorpirris. The lights of the hamlet were just springinglout in the twilight when his driver, whom he sat beside, remarked:
“There it is, sir. We’re close on it.”
“Know Dr. Glantwhitt?” asked Rik-
The fellow made a sour grimace. “Him that was in the ‘will’ case? Urn! folks don’t go much by him.”
“Don’t they?” said Rikkeith. “Generally unpopular,” he commented to himself, analysing the crude sentence. “Figured badly in another case. Oh, Jimmy Glantwhitt! No wonder you worried her.”
He knew that Claniston, the doctor’s house, was half a mile on the other side of the village; he almost knew that Betty would try to intercept him as he approached the house—unless he had come too late! So he left the car at Thorpirris and walked swiftly through the deepening twilight.
He was within twenty yards of the gates of a house which undoubtedly was Claniston when a figure stepped into the road and confronted him, a figure that a second afterwards he was holding to him.
For a time neither Betty nor he said anything coherent. But presently he happened to press one of her hands with his arm, and she gave a little cry which brought his lips quickly away from her
‘Why, what’s the matter?” he asked.
She raised the hand. He saw the white of bandages.
“I hurt it, dear, with-—” her cheek rested on his coat—“a geologist’s hammer.”
“Aha!” laughed Rikkeith in taunting reproof. In his relief at finding Betty seemingly in good health he was not greatly troubled by smashed fingers. But his relief was not to last long.
“I hurt it weeks ago,” she said; “and it hasn’t got well—and it’s to be operated on to-morrow morning. The surgeon is here—Dr. Prelturn, from London, a friend of my half-brother.” She sighed. “But come to my sitting-room; I’ve some coffee and things for you—this way, and don’t talk for a moment. I would rather Jimmy didn’t guess you were here. Luckily he was out when your telegram came.... I—I had wanted to send for you, but Jimmy wouldn’t let me. He flew into a rage. He said he wouldn’t have a ‘medical amateur’ fooling round me at present. Now, ssh!”
“I’m beginning to hate Jimmy,” whispered Rikkeith.
Betty brought him into her sitting-room by a French window. He shut it, pulled the curtain across, and then, with his hands on her shoulders, steered her under the hanging lamp and examined her face. At length he kissed her tenderly.
“Sit down,” he said. He went to the supper-tray prepared for him, took a white basin, and poured water into it from a kettle on a spirit stove and added cold water, biting his lower lip hard the while, for Betty’s face, drawn and piteous in the lamplight, had unmanned him. He controlled himself. He sat down opposite her.
“Now,” he said, holding out his hand.
She hesitated. “Jimmy will be perfectly furious.”
“I don’t mind in the least. I mean to take those bandages off and see my little girl’s trouble formyself. What is it they’re to operate for?”
“Unusual—here,” he said, busy with the bandages. He spoke lightly, but the information made him wince.
TT WAS the left hand, and it was very -*■ bad. Evidently the first and second fingers had been fairly caught between a heavy, descending hammer and a chunk of stone. They had been fractured; they had been set; then something had gone wrong —that was evident too. He examined them with slow deliberation.
The pain he caused Betty was awful. In her effort to bear it she kept her eyes on his face, feeling helped by that, and thus she saw his expression gradually change—from ill-concealed dismay to relief, then to astonishment, then to exasperation. However, there was a momentary gleam of laughter, doubtless to cheer her, in the glance which he shot up at her.
“Necrosis your grandmother!” he said
He began rebandaging. He breathed with queer heaviness. It seemed to Betty that he was half-choked with anger. “The operation is cancelled,” he said. “Was it Jimmy who diagnosed necrosis?” She nodded.
“And the surgeon—Prelturn—do you mean to say that he consented to operate?” “He didn’t agree with Jimmy at first-he said so in front of me; but Jimmy is a much older man and an authority on this disease, so Dr. Prelturn gave in.”
“Well, Jimmy—forgive me saying so— and Prelturn are an appalling scandal to their profession and ought to be kicked out of it. With sane treatment your fingers would have been practically well by now. As it is, I’ll have them in a healthy state in a fortnight.” Rikkeith fixed the last safety-pin and frowned thoughtfully. “Jimmy is worse than a scandal. What did he inject into them?” “Only something to soothe the pain.”
“It was an irritant. It looks almost as though he has been scoundrel enough to inflame them in order to support his theory. Yet that’s impossible, inconceivable.”
“An irritant—to bring about the operation!” Betty stared into space, whitelipped.
Rikkeith shifted his chair and put his arm round her. “Not feeling faint?” he asked. Then he got up and made his way to a cupboard where he found a stimulant. Pouring out a little, he made her drink it. Then he resumed his posture. “All right?...,I know I mauled them horribly. But it was worth it, wasn’t it? I’ve saved two pretty fingers.”
“Perhaps more,” she said in a faltering whisper. “I wonder if I was right to be afraid. . . .1 wonder if Jimmy meant. . . . Oh-h!” With a quick movement she pressed her forehead against his breast, clinging to him with her uninjured hand. “I wonder if Jimmy meant—” she whispered again. “And I love him so! I never would have told.”
“You must tell me—everything,” said Rikkeith gently.
“I can’t. I won’t.”
EJE PACIFIED her. “You must, 11 Betty. You’re hinting at something which is far too serious to be kept from me —at something terrible. And you may be all wrong regarding it. I’ll decide that for you.”
For ten minutes he insisted, calmly, firmly. Then, still with her brow against him, she spoke;
“When my father married mother he was a widower with a grown-up son, Jimmy. Jimmy was nearly thirty when I was born. He became very fond of me, and when I grew older we were tremendous chums. But Jimmy had a bad flaw in his character, which got worse and worse. He would do dishonest things if there were a considerable chance of making money by them.... When I was twelve there was one trouble, which was hushed up. There was another a few years after. We thought Jimmy would be put in prison then, but somehow father, old man though he was, managed to set matters straight.... Dear mother was dead by then, and next year father died. Just before he died he asked me to do something. I had quite a lot of influence over Jimmy—who hasn’t a wife to restrain him. Father asked me to stay by Jimmy after his death and try to hold him straight, to stay till perhaps Jimmy reformed.”
“Not right,” said Rikkeith under his breath.
“I said I would. Jimmy was glad to have me here in his house, but I couldn’t control him. He was degenerating steadily .....Three years ago there was that
insurance case. Just on two years ago Jimmy was defendant in a civil case about the will of his uncle.... Jimmy won. He secured eighteen thousand pounds by winning; but it was rumored that he would be prosecuted for forgery. He wasn’t, but I knew he had forged, for I had run down to the dining-room late one night—and caught him at it, though I didn’t realize I had discovered him forging till after the
She paused to get her breath.
“Ever since, Jimmy has been afraid I shall tell, and I’ve thought of the people he cheated, and known I ought to....I told him that for his sake I would not, but that did not make him easier, and he has been simply struggling between love of me and fear of me, degenerating all the time;
and I have seen his fear slowly getting the upper hand.”
She gave a little shiver.
“But, remembering father, and loving Jimmy, I couldn’t bring myself to leave him except for short stays at Templarsbourne to keep myself from a break-down.
.. . Jimmy’s fear of me became so great, he looked at me so strangely, that I wondered if ever he wished me dead, and then, though I fought against it, if eventually he would think of—of—Oh, Jimmy, dear! ... I can’t say the words,” she whispered sobbingly.
“Think of killing you,” said Rikkeith bluntly.
SHE nodded against his breast. “That’s why I was afraid of to-morrow. He was to give me the anaesthetic.”
“Exactly,” observed Rikkeith. “An overdose—a deplorable mistake.”
His arm tightening about her, he muttered hoarse, ominous words.
“You’re not to hurt Jimmy!”
“You—you splendid little heroine, I won’t raise afinger againstthebruteyou’ve stood by, if you say I mustn’t, since, thank Heaven! I’ve got you safe. But why didn’t you refuse to be operated on? Why didn’t you insist on seeing me first?”
“I thought it was necrosis. I thought I might wrong Jimmy by breathing a word to you of—of what I dreaded. And though —in this room, dear—I cried for hours and hours, because I might go without seeing you, yet I wouldn’t insist on sending for you, lest I might say something—”
She looked up, immense appeal in her eyes. “Adrian, I’ve told you everything. But we’ve no proof that Jimmy intended— it. We’ve only a vague suspicion, have we? Nothing more?”
“Nothing more. We’re just a weeny bit suspicious, that’s all.”
He patted her cheek and then disengaged himself and sprang up. “Well, get your hat and coat,” he said in matter-offact tones. She looked at him. scarcely understanding.
“We have a tiny suspicion,” he remarked quietly, lightly, “and that’s enough for me.” Then his manner changed to brief sternness. “Can you imagine for an instant that I would let you spend another hour under Jimmy’s roof? No, my girl. You must break your promise— if promise it was—to your father. You’re coming with me now."
The reckless, the unprofessorial, flash leapt in his blue eyes. “Betty, the old professor’s roused, and he’s still muscular. If you don’t consent he’ll carry you off by force.. . .Now, fetch your hat.. .If you’re not back here in three minutes I’ll storm into the house and have it out with Jimmy —smash him. .. .kill him probably.”
She made no attempt at protest. The three minutes were little more than up when she returned; and, despite all poignant emotions, happiness was creeping, into her face. She carried a small bag crammed in wild haste, which she had not been able to shut, with one hand help-
Rikkeith snapped it and took possession of it.
“We’re going straight to my mother in London,” he said, opening the French window. “We’ll motor to Skegness, and if there’s no late train we’ll take the car on to London. And on Monday I shall get full information about special marriage licenses.”
Betty crossed the threshold, slipping her arm within his when he followed, and a moment later they were on the road.
She gave a long, happy sigh as they swung off towards Thorpirris; and when she spoke, hugging Rikkeith’s arm to her, there was no echo in her words of the sorrow and the dread which had been hers for so long.
“It’s the sweetest night,” she whispered. “I hope there’s not a train. I’d love to motor. But will your driver take us all that distance?”
“No choice,” said the professor serenely. “I shall make him—abduct him, so to speak. I’m In a thoroughly abductive mood to-night. . . We’ll go by car—have a rare run along the night roads.” Then he chuckled. “I’m wondering what my mother and my dad—you haven’t met him; you and he will be huge friends in no time—I’m wondering what they will say when we pull up at their little place about three in the morning and start ‘honk-honkhonking’ for admittance.”
He laughed delightedly, and Betty’s laugh, sheer joy thrilling in it, rose with