The Taming of Sydney Marsham
VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER TWENTY-TWO
NOVEMBER 15, 1926
SUBSCRIPTION: TWO DOLLARS A YEAR TEN CENTS PER COPY
COPYRIGHT 1926 BY THE MACLEAN PUBLISHING COMPANY. LIMITED
Associate Editor: W. A. IRWIN
Editor: H. NAPIER MOORE
TO SAY that Sydney Marsham was wild, would be to err on the lenient side. She was the maddest, most harum-scarum child that ever donned a skirt. In fact, she frequently didn’t, until her mother and father combined in issuing an order that the said garment was indispensable for a young lady of seventeen, and that riding breeches, except on special occasions, would not do instead.
The more crack-brained the escapade, the more certain it was to attract her irresistibly. And it was useless trying to check her. Her mother had made one or two feeble attempts, but after a while she gave it up as hopeless.
“She’s you all over again, my dear only she’s a girl.” Thus to her husband, and he nodded and grinned. “Give the child her head, she’ll be all right. Look at me—how I’ve settled down.”
At the age of twenty, Sydney Marsham had become a singularly lovely girl. It always had been obvious that she would be pretty, but maturity had more than fulfilled the early promise. And Mrs.
Marsham, looking sometimes at the slim lithe figure, and the perfect head set so proudly on a pair of boyish shoulders, grew a little anxious as she thought of the future. Who was the man going to be?
She was so impulsive—just like her father: so apt to let her heart run away with her judgment. But, with a girl of Sydney’s type the wrong man would be worse than a tragedy: it would be a foretaste of purgatory.
So far, she had had no serious cause for worry. There had been, of course, a few boy and girl affairs, but they had made no impression—certainly no lasting impression—on Sydney. One, with a Sand hurst cadet, had lasted nearly six months, but that had died naturally with his departure to join his regiment in India.
True he had written twice, but Jack—the terrier—had consumed the second effusion before it had been answered, and Sydney had forgotten the address. So that had finished that . . .
And it, therefore, came as a little shock to Mrs. Marsham when Sydney announced one morning at breakfast that she’d met a new he-man.
No trace of her feelings, however, showed in her face as she asked placidly—
“Where, my darling?”
“In the sea,” answered Sydney, her mouth full of buttered egg. “I raced him to the sunken rock, and he won.”
“But, my dear,” reproved her mother mildly; “was he a complete stranger?”
“Well, darling,” said Sydney. “I really don’t know. It’s a point. I must buy a book of etiquette. Surely if two people undress on the beach with only a rock between them, that should constitute an introduction.”
Mr. Marsham chuckled behind his paper, and then tried to frown. “Look here, old thing,” he grunted, “you really must be careful.”
“Male parent’s cue,” laughed his daughter. “I am the soul of care, my beloved.”
Take a mad dog, a deadly cobra and an infallible antidote against the bite of either, shake the mixture vigorously in a well-written tale and you have a perfect remedy for boredom, as you will discover when you test the result of Sapper s handling of the prescription.
“I know, Sydney,” he answered. “But, honest Injun, Kid, there are so many damned cads about these days . . . Who is this man? Did you find out?”
“He’s taken the Manor House, Daddy. And he’s really rather a pet.”
“I heard it had been let to a Major Dacres,” said her
mother. “Bill, you’d better go up and call on him.”
“All right, my dear—I will.” He broke off suddenly. “Sydney, what on earth is the matter with Jack? He’s behaving in the most extraordinary way.”
She looked at the terrier with a puzzled frown. “I don’t know what’s the matter with him,” she answered. “I think he wants a dose of physic or something. He’s been very strange the last few days. Jacko!”
The terrier, who was lying in a corner of the room motionless, with its head buried under its forepaws, rose a little unwillingly and came to her. For a time it wandered restlessly round her chair, then sitting down it commenced to lick her hand.
“Don’t, Sydney—don’t,” cried her mother. “I hate to see a dog doing that.”
“Jacko’s different. Ain’t you, my pet?” “Still I’d take him to Rogers if I were you,” said her father. “He’s not a bad vet. And I don’t think the dog is fit.”
He pushed back his chair, and lit a cigarette.
“What was it I heard about this fellow Dacres,” he went on thoughtfully. “I know he’s spent most of his life in the tropics.”
“I was told he was a retired army doctor,” said Mrs. Marsham. “And a very br lliant man. And that he had come here to have a quiet place in which to carry on some research work.”
“Listen to her, Daddy,” laughed the girl. “I bet she knows the color of his eyes better than I do. You darling—how is it you always find out everything? But what is far more to the point—what is the size of his bank balance?”
“Well, he can’t be a pauper,” said her father. “When I was down yesterday asking Dobbs when the deuce he proposed starting work on that petrol-gas shed, he said that all his men had been busy making alterations up at the Manor House. And with building what it is these days, you can’t have that done for nothing.” “I will go up and investigate this morning,” announced Sydney.
“Dear, you must wait till your father calls,” protested her mother.
“Bless you, my pet,” said the girl. “I’ll be terribly proper. And there really was a rock between us, even if it was rather small. Come on, Jacko.”
She strolled through the open windows into the garden, and after a moment’s hesitation, the terrier got up and followed her. He paused by his bowl of water and drank greedily—drank until the last drop was finished: then he gave a sudden odd little run forward and snapped at the air.
“There’s something dashed funny about that dog,” said Mr. Marsham uneasily. “Sydney—take Jack to the vet. this morning.”
“All right, Daddy, I will. Come on, old man. And we’ll call, on the mystery man on the way,” she finished mischievously.
NO ONE would have been more surprised than Reggie Dacres at being called a mystery man. True, he was not of a talkative disposition: fifteen years of burial in impossible Backs of Beyond do not make for unnecessary conversation. But, apart from that, a more direct individ-
ual seldom lived. The least curious of men himself, it never occurred to him that the arrival of a stranger in a quiet English place would arouse any interest whatever.
As Mrs. Marsham had said, he had come there to be undisturbed. The unexpected death of an aunt had provided him with enough money to chuck the Army, and to devote his life to the only thing he cared about—original research work. What that work was, for the moment, he preferred not to say. Sufficient for it to be known, if, and when, it was successful. So he told himself, and wild horses would not have wrung from him the admission that that (vas not the real reason for his reticence. Some men, when they are walking hand in hand with the possibility of an agonizing death might not be averse to a little publicity: to Reggie Dacres the idea was abhorrent The thought that success would cause untold thousands to rise and call him blessed had nothing to do with it: all he could visualize, were queues of newspaper reporters.
On this particular morning, he felt singularly disinclined for work. When the slim figure of a girl, running over the sand with the sunlight glinting in her hair, insists on running over the paper you’re trying to write on, the result is often the same. And at length with a grunt of half amused annoyance he pushed back his chair and strolled into the garden.
For a while, he leaned over the gate smoking a pipe, and staring down the lane that led to the main road. And unconsciously the contrast struck him—the safe, sweet beauty of his present surroundings, the dangerous, exotic loveliness of the places in which most of his life had been spent, where death from a hundred causes lay in wait for the unwary.
Suddenly his eyes narrowed, as the figure of a girl came into sight. She was a long way off, but not too far for him to recognize. And once again he gave his little grunt of amusement and annoyance blended, as he realized his pulse had quickened. But his face was quite impassive as she came abreast of him.
“No worse for the swim, I hope,” he remarked with a smile.
“Good Lord! no,” laughed Sydney. “I do it every morning. What are you supposed to be doing?”
“Leaning over a gate,” he answered politely.
“But how terribly naughty of you! I thought you spent the day battling with all sorts of abstruse problems. ’ ’
“One’s sins always find one out, don’t they?” he said gravely. “But how do you know I'm not battling with one now?”
“You look altogether too peaceful,” she answered. “Your teeth aren’t gritting together, and your fists aren’t clenched. Are you really doing research work?”
Reggie Dacres nodded. “That’s the idea.”
“And is it a dead secret?”
“Not exactly,” he smiled. “But, personally, I never believe in talking about things until I pull them off. You look such a helpless fool, don’t you, if you start gassing and then fail? For instance, do you see that bottle?”
He pulled out from his pocket a small bottle with a distinctive red label on it.
“Now this is strictly between you and me. If I was to say that the stuff in there is going to be the means of saving millions of lives, and then, when it was put to the test, all it did was to produce nettle rash, I should feel a pretty drivelling ass.”
“Do you really think it will?,” said Sydney a little breathlessly.
“I hope so,” he answered. “But I’m not sure yet.” “And how are you going to make sure?”
“That’s a secret,” he laughed. “Even from you.”
He slipped the bottle back in his pocket.
“Don’t pass it on, will you?” he continued. “I’ve come here for peace and quiet, and ...”
He broke off abruptly, staring over her shoulder down the lane.
“My God! look at that dog.”
The girl swung round. “It’s Jacko, my terrier. He’s a bit off color. I’m just taking him to the vet.”
But the man was paying no attention to her. Motionless he stood there watching the dog, and suddenly Sydney felt a hand like a steel vise close on her arm.
“Inside the gate, please, at once.” Dacres’ voice, sharp and peremptory, made her stare at him in amazement. “If this wasn’t England, I should be certain. Tell me—has that dog been bitten lately? Had a fight or anything?” “He has. as a matter of fact,” said the girl coolly. “What on earth is the matter with you? You look quite frightened.”
There was a hint of amused scorn in her voice, but the man took no notice.
“What did he fight?”
The girl laughed openly. “What do you think? An elephant? He fought another dog, belonging to one of the fishermen, if you want to know.”
“Do you know anything about the other dog’s history?” The terrier was coming nearer: shambling slowly along —head lolling, and snapping every now and then at the air.
“It’s a dog he’s had for months. It came ashore with some shipwrecked people last winter.”
She heard him draw in his breath shortly, and with a shrug of her shoulders she opened the gate.
The terrier was close to her, and at the sound of her voice it sat down suddenly and gave a hoarse, strident bark, mouth open, head thrown back. A hideous sound, and one which to the man gave proof absolute.
“Don’t touch that dog! Don’t touch that dog, I tell you ...”
“Do you suppose I’m afraid of Jacko?” cried the girl scornfully. “Good old man! Is he coming to the vet., then?”
And before the man could move she bent down and picked up the terrier in her arms. So utterly unexpected was the action that for a moment he stood still. The dog was licking her hands, was on the point of licking her face before the power of movement came to him. What happened then was rapid.
In one stride he was beside her. His two hands shot out, gripping the dog by the throat. He wrenched it from her arms, and then he turned his back on her. Speechlessly she watched him: saw a sudden heave of his powerful shoulders; heard a sudden click to which she held no clue. And the next moment the body of the terrier still twitching convulsively was lying on the ground at his feet.
He turned round—his face grim and set. “Come into the house at once, please. I must examine you, immediately, for any cuts in your hand.”
It was then that full realization came to her. He’d killed Jacko: he’d killed Jacko before her very eyes. Dimly, she knew he’d said something: he might as well have spoken in Arabic for all the etfect that the words had had on her. The blood was pounding in her head: her eyes were blazing. The feeling of stunned incredulity that this impossible thing could have happened was replaced by such wild passionate anger that, for the moment, Sydney Marsham was mad. She saw his face through a haze of red: had she possessed the means she would have killed him where he stood.
Instead, she sprang at him like a tigress: saw him recoil instinctively as she struck.
“You brute: you devil: you beast.”
She stood there gasping, wondering hazily why the blood was flowing from a deep cut in his cheek bone. Between them lay the dead body of the terrier, and, suddenly, something snapped in her brain. She burst into a wild storm of sobs and knelt down beside the dog.
Once again those two strong hands shot out gripping her by each arm.
Continued on page 61
The Taming of Sydney Marsham
Continued from page 4
“Come into the house at once,” came a voice full of quiet authority. “I will fix up that poor little fellow later.”
For a moment or two she struggled furiously, then quite suddenly, she stood stock still. “You murderer,” she said calmly.
“Quite,” he answered with equal calmness. “Will you come, or am I to take you?”
“You’re to take your filthy hands off me.”
“The instant you promise to come, I assure you I will,” he returned grimly.
In silence she followed him into the house, and he opened a door leading out of the hall.
“In here, please.”
She found herself in a laboratory, and still in a half-dazed condition, she watched him light a burner on the bench. Methodically he selected a thin piece of glass, from the end of which there stuck out a wire. And in a few seconds the wire was glowing white hot.
“Come here at once.”
He took her hand, and examined it. It was still wet from the dog’s mouth, and taking down a bottle from one of the shelves he poured some of the contents on to a swab of cotton wool.
“This will sting when it touches that scratch,” he remarked. “And I’m afraid I’ve got to hurt you even more in a moment.”
“It seems your favorite form of amusement,” she said icily.
“Yes, I do it for fun.” His voice was expressionless. “Now, stand by, please: I’m going to hurt you terribly. But that scratch has got to be cauterized.”
He picked up the wire, and there was a sudden smell of burning flesh. One involuntary moan of pain did she give: then white-faced she stood stock still.
“Good,” he said quietly. “I congratulate you on your pluck.”
He was staring at her gravely, and, when she made no reply, he continued still in the same quiet voice.
“As soon as you feel fit enough perhaps you will go. I have to cauterize myself now, where your signet ring opened up my cheek. And it won’t be a pleasant operation to witness.”
He rang a bell, and a man-servant came into the room. “Dennett—outside the gate—you’ll find a dead dog. Pick it up by the hind legs and bury it in the garden. On no account touch its mouth. Where’s Binks?”
A joyful scurry of fat flopping legs, and a spaniel shot through the door yelping deliriously. For a moment or two, the girl watched it jumping round the man: then she laughed harshly. “Are you going to kill him now?”
“Is it possible,” he said in amazement, “that you are still in ignorance of why I killed your dog?”
“Complete,” she answered. “I can only assume that you’re mad.”
A faint smile flickered across his lips. “The ailment is right: but you’ve got the wrong sufferer. Your terrier was mad.” “I don’t believe you,” she cried incredulously.
“That, I fear, does not alter the fact. When you have seen as much rabies as I have—which I trust you neyer will—you don’t make a mistake about it. And when you’ve seen as many people die of hydrophobia as I have, you don’t take any risks.”
“He could have been cured,” she said furiously..
“Impossible,” he answered curtly. “Now do you mind going? I don’t want to leave this place on my cheek anyjonger than necessary without attention.”
“Yes: I’ll go. And if ever I have a chance of getting even with you over this I’ll take it.”
It was a rotten thing to say: it was a silly thing to say—and even as she said it she realized she was being unutterably cheap.
But she was not quite prepared for the answer she received—-an answer which fanned her anger to bursting point.
“You want smacking with the business side of a hair-brush, but I really haven’t the time to attend to you at the moment. There is the door.”
Which also was a stupid remark to make—very stupid. But Dacres had lost
his temper with a woman for the first time in his life.
THE trouble is that the mischief is always caused by foolish remarks of that type. Two days later, the dog belonging to the iisherman having run amok, was duly put under by the vet, and Sydney had to admit to herself that Dacres had been right. But all the time, ringing through her head were the words —-“You want smacking—”
Out of a sort of morbid curiosity she had made enquiries about what happened to people bitten by mad dogs: had heard something of what hydrophobia meant. But it was “the business side of a hair brush” that seemed more important than any symptoms.
And finally an uncle of hers—a general, who had done most of his soldiering abroad, came to stay. And from him she heard something about Dacres.
“A magnificent fellow, my dear,” he had said. .“One of the bravest men I’ve ever known. He’s spent his life tackling foul diseases, in fouler spots, with remarkably little hope of reward, save death if he made a mistake. I wonder what he’s doing here?”
Sydney neither knew nor cared. He was the man who “hadn’t time to attend to her at the moment.” Heavens! how she hated him. Conceited, overbearing brute : how dared he speak to her like that? And if at odd moments the thought stole into her mind that she fully deserved what he had said, and that she was deliberately fanning her rage to keep it alight, she dismissed it at once. How dare he say such a thing to her? How dare he? He might be a magnificent fellow as her uncle said, but tackling foul diseases seemed to have caused the same adjective to apply to his manners.
Her father, when he heard what had happened—or, rather, a slightly expurgated version of what had happened—-had straightway gone up to call on Dacres. And he had returned full of gratitude to the man who had acted so promptly.
“He asked me to tell you, my dear, how sorry he was at having had to do such a thing right in front of your eyes. But it never dawned on him that you wouldn’t know Jack was mad. I suppose it’s been such a common occurrence in his life, that he assumed you, too, would recognize rabies.”
Sydney had grunted non-commitally. “His eye is all bound up,” had gone on her father. “Tripped up and cut it, I gathered. Also he said you were the pluckiest girl he’d ever met.”
And Sydney, who had been brushing her hair, had paused for a moment and looked at the brush.
“How kind of him! I’m terribly flattered.”
And then as the days went on and lengthened into weeks, the feeling that she was behaving like a spoilt baby no longer could be beaten down. Twice had he been to dinner, and on each occasion she had almost openly ignored him. And when he had returned the compliment and invited them to his house, Sydney had suddenly developed a headache and refused to go.
But at last she forced herself to face matters fairly: things couldn’t go on as they were. And because she was as straight as a die, she knew there was only one thing to do. And because, also, she was now being honest with herself, she knew that at the bottom of her heart she’d been wanting to do it for days.
He’d be an easy man, too: she felt that instinctively. If she just walked up to him, held out her hand and said “I’m sorry,”—-he’d take it in just the same spirit as she said it. There would be no arriere pensee about Reggie Dacres.
And so on the afternoon of the day which had brought this momentous decision, she told Uncle Jimmy to fall in for a walk.
“My dear,” he said, “I’m going up to see Dacres this afternoon. He’s going to carry out a very big experiment, and I’m frightfully curious to see what it is. He’s refused to tell me up till now.” J
“Excellent, Jimmy, my dear,” said Sydney. “I’ll come with you. I want to talk to him.”
“It struck me you didn’t like him much,” commented her uncle as they started.
“My maidenly modesty, dear uncle,”
she answered. “I just want to say one word to him, and then I’ll leave you.”
Which was, once again, the signal for the Fates that move the pieces to sit up and take notice. Thing mustn’t be allowed to adjust themselves quite as easily as that.
Certainly, Uncle Jimmy gave her a wonderful opportunity. Whether that incorrigibly sentimental warrior imagined that the one word was the answer to a very important question or not is beside the point. The only sure thing is, that, on some utterly fatuous excuse, he left them alone in the very room where their last interview had taken place. And the words were trembling on her tongue; her hand was actually lifting when Dacres spoke.
“Still singing your little Hymn of Hate in the morning, Miss Marsham?”
Her hand dropped to her side, and she stared at him speechlessly. There was a faintly amused—to her mind almost contemptuous—glint in his eyes. So this was the man she’d been going to apologize to . . . this—this sneering brute
“Good Heavens! my dear man,” she said contemptuously. “You don’t imagine you were ever worth as much trouble as that, do you?”
And suddenly the smile flashed out on his face. “You perfectly adorable child,” he remarked. “What do you mean by telling such unholy tarrydiddles?”
And the next instant he was gone, leaving her gasping. The conceit of the man; the ineffable conceit ... To call her a child—an adorable child; to dare to imagine that she’d thought about him. The fact that she had, without cessation, was nothing to do with it; he couldn’t know that . . .
She stared round the laboratory blankly; was there no way she could pierce to the brute’s abominable swank? And at that moment her eyes rested on a small bottle with a distinctive red label on it. She recognized it at onceit was the bottle he had taken out of his pocket the day he’d killed Jacko—the bottle the contents of which were to save millions of lives. For a moment she hesitated; then glancing through the window she saw Dacres and her uncle at the other end of the garden standing by a small wooden shed. And she hesitated no longer. She had said she’d pay him back; she would. Two minutes later she had left the house.
TEA was over when Sydney, comfortably ensconced in a hammock at the end of the garden, saw her uncle step out to the lawn. He was talking to her father, and even from the distance she could see that something unusual had happened. It wasn’t like Uncle Jimmy to be agitated, and he was clearly in that condition now.
The two men were strolling towards her, and suddenly she heard her father’s voice -—“Good God! what an appalling thing.” And somewhere down her spine there seemed to run a little trickle of cold water.
“Do you hear what’s happened, Sydney,” cried her father. “Get your uncle to tell you about it.”
“Don’t get uneasy, my dear,” said her uncle reassuringly. “Dacres being the manner of man he is, there’s no gre?.t damage done. But the pluck of the blighter—that’s what gets me every time.”
“Do you mind telling me what you’re talking about?” said Sydney in a low voice. The trickle had become a rivulet.
“You know I told you about the big experiment he was going to carry out this afternoon,” began her uncle. And then he paused, for the girl’s face was as white as the muslin frock she was wearing. “It’s all right, Kid,” he said with a smile. “He’s quite all right.”
“Oh! go on, please—go on,” she cried urgently.
“Well, the experiment was one which not one man in ten thousand would have had the nerve to carry out. You know, don’t you, that a tremendous number of deaths occur annually from snake bites in India and elsewhere. And, in India particularly, the principal culprit is the cobra. Well, for months past Dacres has been experimenting with the idea of finding out some fairly simple antidote for the cobra venom; something that can be kept in every house—something that can be slipped into a man’s pocket if he’s out shooting or anything. And a little while ago he decided that he’d found it.”
“Oh! my God!”
If he heard the girl’s little bfoken
whisper he gave no sign: but then Uncle Jimmy’s appreciation of the situation, in military parlance, was a little wide of the mark.
“Now comes the point,” he continued. “In a wooden shed in his garden he keeps a full-grown cobra—he’s had it there for months. And this afternoon he’d determined to test his discovery. He asked me to go up in case—well, in case he was wrong. To tell people the truth—and to kill the cobra. Because you see—” the old soldier’s eyes were shining—“if he was wrong, he wouldn’t be there to kill the brute himself.”
“And so,” went on the General, after a little pause, “that singularly gallant man proceeded this afternoon to face one of the most agonizing deaths in the world. The antidote was in a little bottle which he placed close at hand. I was standing at the door with a double-barreled gun to shoot the cobra in case it escaped. And then I had the privilege of watching what was, I think, the bravest deed I’ve ever seen. He deliberately infuriated the cobra to make it bite him. He had covered up his left hand— all save two fingers; and it was at one of those that the snake struck. Then as calmly as if he was reaching for the cake at tea, he took up the bottle of antidote and poured it over his finger . . . And even as he did so his face changed.
“For the moment I couldn’t realize what had happened; and then, before I could speak, he had put the bitten finger on the muzzle of the gun and pulled the trigger. My first coherent thought was that he’d lost his nerve; that at the very end of his courage had failed him. His face was white— a hand wound is one of the most painful there is—but he shut the door quite calmly and started to walk up to the house. And it wasn’t until we got to the door that he spoke.
“ ‘Sorry, General,’ he said quietly, ‘the fault is mine. I quite forgot, like the silly ass that I am, that I’d put the antidote in another bottle. There was only water in that one.’
“It’s astounding how he could have made such a mistake,” said Mr. Marsham. “My dear child—what’s the matter with you? You look ghastly.”
But Sydney was half-way to the house, and the General solemnly dug her father in the ribs.
“You might find as good a son-in-law,” he remarked; “but I’ll be damned if you could ever find a better.”
Up to her bedroom tore Sydney. Her brain was whirling, and every now and then she caught her breath in a little sob. She hadn’t known; she hadn’t even had the remotest inkling when she’d done it. All she’d meant to do was to make him feel a fool when he tried his wonderful liquid, and found that nothing happened. And instead—she’d done this . .
Only one coherent thought was in her mind-—she must get to him and explain. Beg his pardon on bended knee; grovel. He must have known that she had changed the stuff in the bottle—but he hadn’t said anything. He never would say anything.
Breathless and panting, she arrived at his gate, clasping tightly in her hand the precious bottle into which she had poured the antidote. And suddenly she paused: she was staring at the wooden shed. The next moment, her mind made up, she was walking steadily toward it.
She tried the door; it was not locked. But a sudden hiss from inside made her draw back instinctively. Then, with a little shake of her head, she opened the door and went in.
At first she saw nothing: until there
came another hiss frormclose by her. And turning round she saw the cobra. It was erect and swaying slightly with hood extended; and she bit her hand to stop the scream of terror that rose to her lips. She stared fascinated at the brute—essence of evil personified, and then tremblingly she stretched out her hand towards it.
Came a deafening report from the doorway, and the head of the snake had disappeared. And all jumbled up, like a bad dream, she saw a still writhing body, felt a strong arm round her waist, realized that bending over her was a man whose chalk white face was wet with sweat. Then blackness . . .
She was back in the laboratory when she came to. At first she thought she was alone, and then she saw Dacres. In his hand he held the bottle of antidote, and he was staring at her with an inscrutable expression.
“Feeling better?” he said gravely.
“I’m sorry I was such an idiot,” she said shakily. “And, oh! can you ever forgive me for that?”
She was pointing at the bottle, and he placed it on the table.
“Why did you do it?” he asked. “Because I was a fool, and deserve to be smacked with the business side of a hair brush,” she answered steadily. “But one thing I would like you to know. I had no idea, when I did it, as to what it was, or that you were going to use it this afternoon.”
She bit her lip as she saw the bandages on his left hand. “I don’t suppose you can forgive me; what I did was utterly inexcusable. I’m—I’m sorry.”
With a little sob she buried her face in her hands.
“Of course, I forgive you,” he said. “The fault was mine in the first place.” “It wasn’t,” came a stifled choke. “I was a hateful beast.”
“But it was exceedingly naughty of you to go into that shed at all. If I hadn’t happened to see you from the house and arrived in time, you would most certainly have been bitten.”
She raised her face, and stared at him through her tears. “But I wanted to be bitten. That’s why I went there. I wanted you to find out if the antidote
“Good God!” Dacres sat down suddenly. And then again—“Good God!” “Surely you understood that,” she said desperately. “It was the least I could do to try and make up.”
“You mean to say,” said Dacres dazedly, “that, knowing there was a cobra in that shed, you deliberately went in there and risked your life to test my antidote?”
“I don’t think I cared much about the antidote,” she said with a tremulous little smile. “I wanted to show you I was sorry.’ Without a word, the man rose and walked over to the window. For if his life depended on it he couldn’t have spoken steadily at that moment. And it wasn’t until he heard the sound of the door opening that he swung round.
He caught her, just outside in the hall, and for a time they stared into one another’s eyes in silence.
“Sydney,” he said at length, and his voice was shaking badly. “Sydney, may I come and ask you a question in a day or two?”
“If you like,” she answered steadily. “Do you know what it is, my dear?” And suddenly she smiled, her face very close to his.
“Of course I know what it is. And I know what the answer is. So why wait a day or two—to ask it?”