The war played many queer tricks, but none, perhaps, so cruel as to those from whom it took a normal mental life. This is a story of long, dark years, bitten through by a single shaft of dazzling light.
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
A SINGLE shaft of golden light poured through the tall French window. A spare wide - shouldered figure
slumped in a great Madeira chair, took on the sharp blackness of a silhouette, save where the sun’s rays traced the fine outline of the head with its scrupulously brushed and parted hair. He was sitting in profile, so motionless as to suggest a carving in ebony. The sky beyond burned yellow in
the Kentish sunset.
The woman in black touched his hand.
“Colonel—Colonel Kingsmill—are you better? Can you see me?” she asked. Her tone was low and sweet—the tone of a gentlewoman. Her face, in the half light, was startling in its wistful beauty.
The man became suddenly intent. He turned towards her, revealing a lean face from which the bronze of weather had faded. He had a thin black moustache over fine lips, a soldier’s dogged chin, and deepsunk eyes that held no objective gaze; not the eyes of the blind, but the unwavering look of one who sees through and far beyond.
“Yes, dear lady, I see you perfectly. It is awfully sporting of you to come over like you do, just to cheer up an old crock”—his voice seemed muffled, as though coming from a distance. Occasionally he halted for a "word— “and to thank you I have sat without movement nor speech for—how long is it? - two three hours?”
“Don’t bother about that,” Lady Joan Allison assured him gently, “my afternoon was yours! I am so glad that you are better—that you know me to-day.”
Kingsmill did not see the spasmodic tightening of the little palms, the sudden flame in the deepfringed eyes. He was conscious only of his own dumb, impotent yearning. He reached out a great gaunt hand and laid it over hers.
“I think I always know you, even when my mind is farthest off!” he said. “I can’t tell you what your visits mean to me! It is lonely here at times. Just Williams and the other servants and the dogs.” He reached down to scratch the furrowed head of a magnificent Great Dane that lay stretched out lazily at his feet.
“I know,” she replied. “Why don’t you go up to London occasionally? You would meet friends, different scenes, and the change would be good for you, I am quite sure.” “No; I’d hardly care for it, I think. You see, most of my old army pals are scattered, or in business. They have new interests, and one can hardly foist oneself upon them, especially when one is so —er —dependent upon others, and that sort of thing, you know.” There was no self-commiseration in the voice. He was too genuinely unaffected to realize the unbounded delight it would have afforded any of his old regiment to meet him, for his name was hallowed in a certain famous corps since that
November day in 1917, when a moment of bloody splendor saved his brigade and earned him a shocking head wound and the dull red ribbon of the Victoria Cross. He was a mental cripple, whose uncertain cognizance of things dated only from the end of 1920, when he regained sight, hearing and partial memory. He arose as his visitor prepared to leave.
“Must you go? I am afraid I am rather selfish.”
“Can’t you ride over to Stang-gar for lunch to-morrow, if you are feeling fit enough?”
“Thank you!” He could not hide his pleasure. “My old pal Major Prentice—Ted Prentice—is coming to-
night, for a day or so,
“I should love it!” she smiled. “I will look for you both then.” She gave him her hand and gazed up at him through sweeping lashes.
As he looked down at her that dreaded cloud passed before his eyes, and he saw through a mist in which she gradually dissolved, until there was nothing before him but soft, grey fog That is how it always happened; a few hours, or days, maybe, of coherency, then a blank which might last for a minute or linger for hours. He did not know that she placed him gently back in his chair, and before ringing for a servant she knelt at his feet and crooned his name, wet-eyed, with an agony of longing in her heart.
Kingsmill’s attacks terminated quietly. He came to himself as though awaking from a sleep. There was a movement behind him. He turned towards the deepene I shadows of the room.
“That you, Williams?”
“Yes, sir—only me.” A sturdy, soldierly set man came towards him over the rich carpet, and leaned to his chair with an old servant’s solicitude. “About time for lights, sir, isn’t it?” He switched on the delicately tinted globes. “It won’t be long now afore we have twilight lastin’ until —”
“Has Lady Allison left?”
“About 'arf an hour ago, sir.”
“Thank you. That will do—oh, and have another place laid at dinner to-night for—” His brow creased for a moment.
“Major Prentice, sir? I’ve not forgotten it, sir.” “That’s right. I’m gojngjip now to dress.” Colonel Kingsmill left the room with a long, fairly active stride which contrasted strangely with his hesitancy of speech and the aimlessness of his eyes. Physically he was fit, and could per from a limited amount of outdoor exercise such as golf, or an occasional gallop. Williams followed him to the door, concern written deep in his hard-bitten face, and watched him mount the wide stairs.
“Pore beggar,” he mused; “fancy forgetting the major!”
AFTER dinner that evening the two friends sat on opposite sides of the wide hearth. Although it was early summer, nights grew chilly in the valley when the Channel mist rolled in. A cheerful fire touched with dancing rose-light the oak panelling and priceless carving of the old room, and flickered in points of purest amber through the Victorian liqueur set and decanted Chartreuse that rested between them.
Prentice was a big, solidly built man, glowing with that healthy vigor which is the hallmark of the Fnglish sportsman. A small light moustache contrasted pleasantly w ith his weather-reddened skin, and his white teeth flashed in constant goodhumpr. He was the backbone cf bis cçqr.ty hounds, and, with Kingsmill, had been a famous Leander in his day. LTnder his quizzical heartiness was an undying admiration and affection for his friend.
Under his influence Kingsmill lightened perceptibly. Thoughts came with less hesitation, although, now and then, he halted in momentary groping for a word or idea. Their talk at first was in generalities—the local elections, hunt gossip, the Irish Free State, unemployment doles Prentice, meantime, striving to strike a current of thought confluent with the object of his visit—an estimate of the other's progress towards recovery. He sympathized with the tremendous conflict which must be raging in the mind of the man once so active and powerful mentally, and the unending pluck with which Kingsmill tried to conquer his affliction. The latter leaned forward and filled his glass; then, his eyes glancing suddenly sidewise at his friend, spoke the question that lay behind the other’s lips.
“Go on, Ted, say it!” he said. “How’s the old
bean progressing? That what you’re thinking, |......
The other grinned: “You’ve caught me fair ¡ enough, Tony. Yes, I’ve been wondering how it | was coming on.” ¡
“What do you think?" ¡
“Hum! I’d rather you gave me your own im¡
pressions first. Are things any clearer?” ¡
“Yes— I rather think so. I get as foggy as ever ¡
at times, but my periods of normality are longer. ¡
I think it is gradually improving. Only a matter ¡ of time, I am confident of that. I have a queer ¡ desire now and then to indulge in a bit of violent ¡ head-wagging, as though, by flopping it about, I ¡
could shake the rotten thing loose. Know what I | mean? Still, my glimpses of the normal world are ¡
certainly more distinct and I feel improved ¡
physically. I have a daily ride now with Williams
and the dogs. By the way, Ted--” ¡
“Go on!” Prentice nodded.
“Where did I spend my convalescence—Italy? ¡
I seem to have a vivid recollection at times of ¡ palms, warm air, brilliant sunlight, and tall, redroofed villas, set in groves of fig trees. The idea is soothing, somehow.”
“No, it wasn’t Italy; it was the Riviera—Cote d’Azur, you know. Below the Corniche Road, just outside Nice. You had a little rose-covered villa down by the sea. By Jove, it was a lovely spot! I saw you there when I got my leave and joined you after the Armistice. We came home together, don’t you remember?”
“No, I can’t say I do. However, that doesn’t matter. Point is, I seem to recollect a place. Of course, it’s all rather indistinct, but the other night I awakened in bed and saw the whole thing. There was a violin—and a full moon—and someone singing; it’s all elusive as the devil, of course. Still, I felt indescribable things and a great happiness.”
He drew back his chair from the fire so that a shadow fell across his face, and from its shelter eyed his friend intently, watching the effect of his next words.
“Ted, I’m thinking of marriage,” he said quietly. Prentice, in the act of lighting his pipe, stopped and stared. The match scorched his fingers. He dropped it, and his pipe followed.
“But, good lord, man, you can’t!” he blurted, and could have bitten out his tongue. His face, as he stooped to recover his pipe, was scarlet. “Your mental condition, you know,” he ended lamely as he straightened.
The colonel’s lips tightened. Anxiety, roughly suppressed, flitted across his deep eyes, and he kept his gaze steadily upon the other’s face. Prentice, like a great boy caught in some misdeed, tried to eye him out, but his confusion only deepened. His agitation, as he essayed to light his pipe again, was apparent.
“There’s another reason, Ted,” Kingsmill said, “out with it! Forgive me for tricking you, but I had to know. I already have a wife—is that it?”
The major nodded, a silly lump in his great throat. He could not trust himself to speak.
“Where is she, old boy?”
“Look here, Tony, old bird, don’t bother your head------”
“Where is she?” inexorably.
“ ’Pon my honor, I don’t know! I have never seen her. You lived in America, you know. Now, let’s not ’
“In America—d’you mean the United States?”
"Yes, Boston, Massachusetts.”
“H’mm!” Kingsmill’s lips twisted into a queer, forced smile. “This is bally thrilling! What else, Ted—any
Prentice raised his head and looked squarely at him. His face still suffused, but his lips were grim with purpose.
“I’m afraid it’s a bit of a nasty mess, old fellow,” he said; “but I’ll give you the straight of it so far as I can. First I have a confession to make. It’s not pleasant, but what’s done is done and, after all, hang it, man, it was for your own sake I did it!”
“No need to assure me of that, Ted, whatever it was,” Kingsmill put in.
Prentice continued miserably: “When you played the
glorious ass at Passchaendale, I, as your pal, took charge of your things. There was every chance of your snuffing it before I got you to the main dressing station, and as no one knew anything about your private affairs I went through your papers, as was customary, to prevent anything intimate from falling into wrong hands. You know how we used to do that sort of thing for the fellows who were pipped?”
Kingsmill nodded, his eyes in the fire. Prentice continued:
“Well, I ran across a letter and took possession of it meaning to give it to you if you came out all right. If you’d been done in, I’d have burnt it! Then, later, when I visited you at Nice, and saw that all memory of the past had been wiped out, I had a decision to make: whether friendship, such as ours had been, justified me in withholding what might cause needless recurrence of forgotten
JVhat Ails the Maritimes ?
Most Canadians are vaguely conscious that there are rumblings and grumblings in the Maritime Provinces. They have heard a phrase—“Maritime Rights”—but its meaning is obscure—even in the Maritimes.
In a forthcoming issue of MacLean s, IV. B. Macodrum sets down in plain language just what it is that is irritating the Provinces by the Eastern Sea. It is a fair, unprejudiced, sensible presentation of all sides of the question. Every Canadian who has the unity of his land at heart will find it worth reading.
pain. I decided that it did. This playing Fate in the lives of our pals is pure hell, Tony! For your sake I retained that letter. I am willing to accept full responsibility, and if you consider that I haven’t played the game—well, I’m sorry, old boy, but I would do the same to-morrow. I intended, when you were in a fit condition to receive it, to restore the letter to you. You have forced my hand, that’s all.”
The colonel broke a long silence: “Where is it, Ted?”
“I have it here. I would never let it out of my keeping.” He produced his pocket-book and drew forth a letter, enclosed in an outer sealed envelope, handed it to his friend and then arose. Kingsmill detained him with an earnest, affectionate grip.
“Sit down, Ted, old son, and don’t play the fool,” he said.
Prentice resumed his seat, and the colonel drew from the inner envelope a single, close-written sheet, and as he read the other saw his fine eyes cloud.
It was addressed to Antony Kingsmill at Boston, Massachusetts, and read:
“Tampa, Fla., 22nd June, 1924.
“My Dear Tony,—This had to come. I have seen it for months, and had you not been the blind, stupid old dear that you are, you must have known it too. Our dream together was beautiful—too beautiful to endure - and the chill of the awakening is more than I can bear. I want you to forgive me for my bitter, shameful words of last night. I had this on my mind, and blamed you so harshly because I have so little justification with which to ease my own way.
“Our marriage was a mistake, dear. You are so staid —so stern—for such a butterfly as I, and our life together is not alone killing me, it is an injustice to yourself and your work. You fascinated me, young fool that I am, on that night—that Silver Night that seems so long ago, yet is only a year. Your strength and quiet, and the romance of your adventurous life swept me away—that, and—yes, I must admit it now—the triumph of taking you from those others. Well, I have lived through the sweetness of that time. We have tried together and failed miserably. Do not think I am blaming you. I am not; but I must live my life as the young were meant to live. I know—and still am cruel enough to wish otherwise—that this will be an unutterable relief to you, too, for, my dear, I have seen the disillusion in your eyes as they followed me about, though you were ever too loyal and too big to breathe it.
“So it is best for both of us to say good-bye. I so hope you will forgive, and, better, forget your unhappy.
KINGSMILL was the first to speak. “Don’t mind, Ted. The effect of this—this letter, is not in itself, for it brings back nothing that I remember. Who Sylva may be, or where, is nothing to me compared with the terrible
fact that she must be presumed to exist. I had hoped for something better. I will not deny, for I had determined, if my past was clear, to offer myself for what I am to a splendid woman, whom I must for ever regard with grateful love. I couldn’t speak before. This”—indicating his wife’s letter—“clamps the lid on it! So that’s that,” he concluded with finality, and poured himself a drink. “May I ask, old lad, who----”
“Yes. I want you to know. She is Lady Joan Allison.” “What! Not the widow----”
“Yes, of poor young Allison of the Royal Warwdcks. He copped it in Sanctuary Wood, I believe, in 1916. Have you met her?”
“No, I’ve heard of her, of course; her beauty is a byword in the county; but, of course, she is new to this part of the country. Her family were Devonshire, I’ve heard. By gad, Tony, old bird, I—well, dash it, I can’t say it, but—you understand. Sympathy and all that!” “I know, Ted! Thanks! She is an angel. I
.....U won’t try to describe what she has done for me. I
I owe my present improvement and, I sometimes I think, my sanity to her calm, sweet helpfulness, I and encouragement on my blackest days. Possibly 1 —indeed probably—I have mis-interpreted her
I interest in such a tiresome crock as myself. This I business, thank goodness, has brought me round.” I “Have you spoken----”
I “No. I was waiting until we both—you and I,
1 that is—agreed that I was sufficiently recovered
I to justify it. I was rather in hopes that to-night
1 we could have set a time on it. Now, of course, it
I makes no odds what shape I’m in.”
1 “But your wife may have divorced—”
I “Possibly; but I doubt it, somehow. In any
I event, I don’t feel equal to raking over what must I have been a sordid mess. Later, perhaps, I may.” I “Then look here, old bird. I’ve poked my offi-
! cious nose into it so far, why not let me dig up
I what I can?” Prentice checked the other’s nega-
! tive shake of the head, and went on earnestly:
I “You stand to lose nothing by knowing how things
""""" stand, and you may, possibly, find that you are
no longer tied. It’s well worth a fling, at any rate —that is, if you are willing to trust my none too tactful hand. What say?”
“As you like, Ted. In the meantime, let’s apply my excellent Sylva’s advice and forget it, old son!”
Long hours after he retired Kingsmill lay staring at the ceiling with unseeing eyes, beating against a wall of mental fog in vain endeavor to penetrate the past. Despite his offhand assurances to his friend, the sick man had been deeply scored by the revelations of the night. An endless procession of events and figures passed in maddening parade before his mind, but there was none among them that he could not identify with his present life, and each, as it appeared, was swept away before the ever-recurring presence of Joan Allison: Joan, wraith-
like, ephemeral, her shadowed eyes with their blue-grey tint of f her wonderful, sweeping lashes that lay on
the velvet d the whole golden beauty of her,
so very, very like—vvnat? What was she like? He found himself crying the question with a stabbing, undefined pain. If only that terrible mist would rise!
Again she came to him, with her cool white fingers pressed soft against his burning eyes, their very coolness turning his blood to fire, and dream-like the fragrant petals of her lips rested against his own. So had he imagined that very afternoon, when his spell had come upon him and she had drifted away in the fog. It had been a beautiful fantasy, that was all.
Cold reason pounced upon him. Supposing this Sylva had not risen from the darkness, could he have spoken even then? Money, position—she had need of neither. He was forty-four, she twenty-six. How could he twist her visits, her flowers and kindness into other than what they meant: the outward manifestation and perpetuation of the memory of her gallant young husband. She was one of those few who would not forget the bitter red years and the wreckage which they had cast upon life’s shores. A splendid woman! It was disloyalty to interpret her goodness as more; but still he hungered grippingly, so that he lay with whitened fists, and grim, tight lips, and eyes that glowed into the dark of his room. Then, insensibly, he heard a clear, faint, singing voice. She came again in a garb he had long forgot. A cool and gentle breeze murmured through the fronds of whispering palms. The ceiling melted to a night hung with tremulous jewels. The sea rippled to a moonlit shore, and through the scent of an old-world garden came the poignant crying of a violin. A great peace entered him and he slept.
PRENTICE had remained for the night, and the friends breakfasted together on the broad side-terrace, with its clustered roses and the well-kept lawn sparkling in the morning. Before them swept a splendid vista of farmland and rolling down, dotted with the yellow ochre of broom and gorse against a cloudpiled summer sky. A salt breeze blew from the coast of France, tempering the early sun, and blue Channel water flashed through a dip in the dewContinued on page 72 sweetened hills. Far across country, from a patch of ancient woods, arose the grey towers of Strang-gar Castle, Lady Allison’s country seat. They brought yesterday’s promise to Kingsmill’s mind. He felt nervous, high-strung, after his restless night, and the thought of the brisk ride lent relief. _
“I’ve ordered horses for half-past ten, Ted,” he said. “We are going over to Stang-gar for lunch.”
“Ah, that’s top-hole, old lad! But are you sure you’re feeling fit? You’re looking a bit seedy—what?”
“Oh, I’m all right! Right as rain!” They mounted later, accompanied by Williams and the dogs—Perseus and Andromeda, magnificent beests, with a frantic worship for their master—and cantered down the drive to the high road. Kingsmill’s nervousness did not decrease, and before long communicated itself to Corsair, the splendid anirral he rode. He curveted and danced, the dainty hoofs drumming with temper, and satin hide rippling in the sun as his rider curbed him; then, with an angry “Curse you, then, take it!” gave him his head. He shot off at a mad gallop, which Prentice, well-mounted and practised rider though he was, had difficulty in matching. Finally, Kingsmill pulled up to a walk.
“What the devil’s into you this morning, Tony?” his friend remonstrated. “Not so loose with the leather, old son! You’re dashing about like any old thing!” “I’m sorry, Ted!” he said, and rode for a while in silence. Then: “D’ye know, I decided last night to get away for awhile. Change of scene sort of thing. It may help out a bit. I can’t, go on like this.” He read the question in the major’s eyes. “The Riviera, I think, I was dreaming of it again last night. The place where I spent my convalescence; the very house, if I can get it. Just the idea of it is refreshing. Just now, as things are, I’m in a bit of a turmoil, and I believe that is the place to fix me up. You understand?”
The other nodded: “I do—and I think you are wise. It’s a lovely spot.”
After a time they dipped into the wood about Stang-gar, a wood whose sturdy oaks had matched the shadows of the druids long centuries ago. Rooks circled and cawed about the upper branches, and wheeled in sable clouds about the crumbling battlements of the castle. The dogs raced through the green aisles, speckled with dripping light, and the horses’ hoofs made a pleasant, subdued rustling amid the crisp, brown leaves. Stone-pillared gates opened to them, and a lodge-keeper in green corduroys touched his cap and told them that “’Er Ladyship be’m abart t’groun’s.surs.” They met her as they left the last of the trees. She smiled gaily and waved greeting, giving her gardening gloves and a pair of grass-stained hedge-shears to a bow-backed old gaffer with her. She was wearing a light attractive garden dress of a soft rose and grey, and the sunlight filtered in concentric circles through the fringe of her lovely hair. Her eyes were a match for the clean-washed sky, and Prentice felt a thrill of admiration of her beauty, and wondered a bit at the wistful quality of her soft red lips.
The men dismounted, and Kingsmill presented his friend.
“This is a real pleasure, Major Prentice,” she said unaffectedly, and the big man was inordinately pleased. “I have heard of you, of course. One could hardly know Colonel Kingsmill and not know something of you.” Her eyes strayed laughingly to the other man.
“He’s rather a cheeky bounder to bring me over on such short notice, Lady Allison,” he replied cheerfully. “I have always understood that it’s not the sportin’ thing to do.”
“I expect he knows he is privileged,” she returned. “Come along to the house; but you can’t come in if you’re not hungry, mind!”
When they reached the wide-stepped terrace before the main wing, a groom relieved them of their horses, and the two great dogs, instantly at home, curled up in the sunlight beside the banking urns.
“Aren’t they darlings?” Lady Allison cried, and knelt to pet them. Prentice, happening to glance at his friend, saw swift adoration leap into his eyes. He realized for the first time the severity of the blow he had been forced to deal the previous night. The thought rendered him unnaturally silent for a time.
After a delightful meal they had a walk about the historic old place, and later strayed to the sunken rose court, which was a riot of crimson, yellow and cream. There they stood for a space beside an ancient sun-dial, trying to detect the movement of its creeping shadow.
“Do you come often to this side of the county, major?” Lady Joan asked suddenly.
“Once or twice a month. Someone’s got to keep an eye on this irrepressible youth, you know,” he said with a laugh.
“You must come here again next time you are over. When will that be—a fortnight, say? But then, of course, Colonel Kingsmill will settle that.”
Kingsmill, who had been idly wrinkling the hide of one of the dogs, looked up quickly. “I’m afraid you will have to count me out,” he said. “You see, I am going away for a time.” He essayed to make his voice casual, detached.
“Going away!” Her lips were suddenly white, her tone astringent.
“Yes; to the Riviera for a few months. I need the change!” he ended rather brusquely.
She sat, benumbed, with swelling throat. “I—I hope it will do you good,” she faltered. “I—when are you going?”
Prentice regarded them both, his blue eyes puckered. He cut in, trying to lighten the moment: “About the beginning of the week, didn’t you say, Tony?” he said cheerfully. “It’ll do you no end of good to get out of yourself for a while.” He turned to the girl. “It’s a priceless spot where he’s going! The place where he was convalescent, you know!”
Kingsmill’s strong hands gripped the sides of his chair. He felt that if he spoke then he would kick up a scene, make an ass of himself.
They rose to leave. Prentice went ahead to the horses to give them the opportunity of a word alone. She watched him descend the steps, then laid her hand lightly on Kingsmill’s arm.
“When shall I see you again?” she asked softly.
He evaded her eyes, his own fixed on ,the distant hills.
“I don’t know,” he said huskily.
“You will write?”
He brought his gaze back to her flowerlike face. “Yes, I will write.”
Good-bye, then.” She gave him her hand.
“Good-bye, my dear.” He brushed it with his lips.
A FEW days later Kingsmill stood in his drawing-room, looking out of the long windows towards the towers of Stang-gar. He was in traveling tweeds and a light overcoat was thrown over the chair behind him. Williams had taken his luggage to the station, and was to return for him. Kingsmill intended to stay the night in London, and get the morning boat-train for Dover. Deep in thought he did not note the sound of a motor-car on the gravel of the front drive, so swung about with a start when a servant announced Lady Allison. He caught his breath as one who is suddenly immersed in icy water.
She stood between the portieres, hesitant, and he turned towards her, exultant blood filling his cheeks. Words rushed to his tongue, but he restrained them for ones more suitable.
“This is delightful—I was thinking of you—of your kindness—”
“I wanted to see you again before you left,” she replied simply. “I hope you don’t mind.” Her face was lacking something of its usual bloom. Her deep eyes were shadowed.
They sat, looking silently out over the sunlit downs, held in complete unity of thought. Each lived in the mind of the other, neither wondering nor questioning the knowledge that filled the hearts of both. It needed no avowal. They simply knew. Thus they remained for half an hour.
There was a rap on the door. Kingsmill turned.
“I expect it’s Williams for me. Excuse me, please! That you, Williams?” “Yes, sir, the' car’s ready, and the train leaves at twenty past four, sir.” “Very well.”
He turned again to where she sat, slimshouldered against the light. His eyes traced the curving lashes that lay along
her cheek. As though feeling his eyes upon her, she rose and faced him, a slow, brave smile about her lips.
“You must go now?” Her voice was steady—even a little hard, perhaps. Her eyes burned, but they looked directly into his.
Kingsmill gazed down at her, and his deep chest filled. His heart beat heavily. He took the cool, white hand she extended and held it; then suddenly something knocked the key-log from his dam of control. He drew her towards him, a madness filled his brain, and he caught her to him until she returned the pressure of his hungry lips. Then, like a tempest quitting an oak, the paroxysm passed, leaving him shaking, a tiny muscle in bis lean jaw beating like a pulse.
“I am ashamed,” he said hoarsely “1 shall not forgive myself!”
“There is no need,” she replied. Her eyes shone, star-like.
His brain was whirling. He did not hear. All his thought was that now he must tell her all—how impossible it was.
“Joan—in Heaven’s name, my darling —it can’t be! I am married! It—it—I crave your pardon--”
She did not seem to hear. He placed his hands upon her shoulders and swung her to meet his eyes. She looked up at him, and she was smiling—a soft, tender curving of her lips that caused him to groan inwardly. He went on:
“You don’t realize, dear—you must understand! I love you unutterably, but it mustn’t be—ever! My wife---”
“I know,” she said.
“You know?” he said incredulously. “You know? Who—Prentice?”
She shook her head. “I am a woman; I—I just know.”
“You knew—and yet you—Joan!” he breathed.
“Yes!” she replied, defiant almost, but her lips trembled. Her voice rose to quick passion. “I knew, and yet I came to you, wanting you, shamelessly longing for your love—and I glory in it!” She was fighting for the prerogative of all women. Then reaction came. Her voice became uncertain. “It is I who should be ashamed,” she ended, as one who had held herself cheaply.
There was another tap at the door. Williams spoke. His matter-of-fact voice restored them.
“Beg pardon, colonel, time is getting short, sir!”
“You must go now, dearest,” she said, and walked with him to the car.
FOR many, summer on the Riviera holds no charm.
Kingsmill, however, was singularly at peace. He had taken rooms at a Nice hotel, for the villa which he was to occupy needed thorough overhauling before habitation. It was rather an outof-the-way little place, on the shore of the Mediterranean, rimmed by dazzling sand, and dotted with emerald and silver of olives and fig trees. There were palms, too, and a tiny bamboo grove, and the place had been let but twice since those long months of darkness and blank despair that Kingsmill had spent there. The former owner, a light-hearted son of the South, had gone to his death on the Chemin des Dames, and the agent was plainly glad to have the place off his hands.
In the meantime Kingsmill, resolutely refusing harborage to disturbing thoughts, passed his time in the mild enj oyment of the place. The days and nights slipped by, until gradually he began to tire of the town and became impatient for the time when he could seek the seclusion of his villa. This desire was made imperative by an occurrence one evening about a fortnight after he arrived. Walking slowly along the Promenade des Anglais before dinner he heard his name. Turning, he saw approaching him a tall, grey-haired woman with a sweet, distinguished face and friendly eyes. Her hands were outstretched.
“Anthony Kingsmill! My dear boy, where have you been for so many years? And Sylva—how is she?”
A dull red flushed Kingsmill’s face. He had not the slightest idea whom she might be, and to complete his embarrassment two girls of eighteen or nineteen who were with her gazed at him with undisguised interest. Not before had the awkwardness of his infirmity been so driven home. He must say something, however. So with the directness of his nature told the simple facts.
“You must pardon me,” he said. “You see, I—well, frankly, I am unable to recall you—the war, you know—er— head-wound—loss of memory. It’s very annoying; I—I hope you will forgive me.” He halted, conscious of the lameness of his words. What a position! But he saw the quick sympathy and understanding in the woman’s eyes.
“Oh, my dear, I am so sorry. I did not dream—” She laid her hand on his arm. “Let me sit on this bench for a moment until we re-establish things. We are old family friends, you see. I am the Comtesse de Barat, and these are my granddaughters, Helene and Therese. I knew you and your dear mother when you were—oh, quite a youth! And when you were married, I was, for Sylva—such a sweet darling—a mother, or—shall I say?—aunt. We have been living in
Tunis since, a dreadful hole—and now we are home again. Don’t you think the girls have changed? But, then, you don’t remember, do you, poor dear? However, you must come to us, and Sylva. I suppose she is with you, n’est ce pas?”
Thus the good lady ran on, each word a deeper barb. Kingsmill turned to her, patient misery in his fine eyes.
“I again ask your pardon, but I’m afraid I can’t—just yet. My wife— Sylva—is not here. I have come for rest —seclusion. I fear I’m not much good at explaining things,” he concluded with one of his rare smiles.
“Say no more, dear boy! When you are ready you will find us at the Chateau de Barat on the Chemin de Fabrin. Come, dears.”
She arose with a kindly smile, and, giving him her hand, continued her walk. Kingsmill, returning to the hotel, directed Williams to hasten the work on his villa with all possible dispatch. He did not care to risk a recurrence of the evening’s adventure.
THAT night Kingsmill was again attacked by his malady. He had been congratulating himself upon his improvement when this spell, occasioned doubtless by the nervous strain of his interview1 with the comtesse, swept upon him and blotted a night and a day from his consciousness. Weak and exhausted in his long fight for returning cognizance, he lay on his 1 1, watched by his sleepless servant. He had neared that dim border1 land wherein the light of the world was penetrating the gloom, when there flashed upon his mind a scene—a recrudescence of his former life—so vivid, ' so searing, that he gasped with the choking, incredible pain of it.
There was a room furnished in quiet, expensive taste. A man—himself, he knew—stood tight-lipped, gripping the edge of a polished table whereon were spread books of reference and an unfinished manuscript, and listened, with a dull ache at his heart, to the words of the woman before him. She, barely more than a girl, stood in slim, indignant beauty—a beauty of which he could distinguish no feature save for the fringed, blue-grey eyes that flashed with impotent anger. Her voice, low-pitched, held, beneath its hardness, a note of pleading.
“How long is it to last, then? You always refuse to go with me! Am 1 for ever to wait upon your priggishness and I your childish whims? Oh, I hate it— hate it all! I tell you, I want life and light! Music—theatres, bright people to talk to—and all 1 see from week to week is you, poring over your beastly work!
If it’s not that, you’re riding across country somewhere, and the moment you return you are back at your books again. It’s not fair! It’s killing me! I'm going to ask you once again—will you come to-night?”
“I can’t possibly, my dear! Do try to see it my way. I have promised this paper—”
“There you are!” she returned passionately. “The paper! and I have to give up every pleasure and follow the musty book-worm burrowings of an old man. How could I have been so blind as to marry you?” Suddenly the voice broke, and the cry of a passionate, thwarted woman became the broken sobbing of a child. He knelt beside her where she sat, crumpled up, sobbing in a great tapestried chair, and sought to comfort her with promises and crooning love. The vision faded. Frantically, Kingsmill tried to recall it—to get one glimpse of the tear-stained features of his girl-wife. It was useless. The picture was gone.
'TWO days later, when he had fully recovered, Kingsmill took possession of the Villa Stella Rose, and when he went out to it, the peace and beauty of it entered into his heart. It was tinted, southern fashion, in delicate creamy yellow, with roof tiles of a cheery red. At the side, locking alike on mountain and sea, was a quaint old garden, smothered in fragrant blosson s, and laid out with no regard to symmetiy. The result was a mass of gorgeous color. A crumbling brick wall bordered the grounds, and, beside the wall, stood an ancient summer-house, its floor overgrown with flowering vines.
In the days that followed, Kingsmill divided his time between the summerhouse and the shore. He read, wrote a bit, and tock long walks about the surrounding country, more and more successfully fighting the spectre of his malady. He improved appreciatively until, by early September, the attacks had almost ceased. Nor had he again experienced that scene in the library of his forgotten Boston home.
There came a day soon when he could safely tell himself that his memory was coming back. A series of recollections, imperfectly limned, true, but all bearing upon his pre-war past, came upon him, generally when he lay, half dreaming, in his big chair in the summer-house, with its balcony facing the sea.
Then, one day, when it seemed that he had for ever said good-bye to his old attacks, Williams found him lying on the floor of the summer-house, breathing stertorously, his body a mass of quivering nerves, and babbling the name of his forgotten wife. He regained consciousness the following day at five o’clock in the afternoon. Against the remonstrance of his faithful man, he insisted upon rising, and, when dressed, made his way to the shore and stood for a long time, looking out over the rippling sea. Something, he did not know what, had happened. He felt that he had but to reach ■out a hand and he could snap up tha blind, now threadbare, which separated him from his old life—but he did not dare.
In England at that moment, his friend Prentice, just returned from a day in the field, stood, his booted legs apart, and ripped open a letter which had been brought up from the little village postoffice that afternoon. It bore the United States post-mark, and was from an internationally known investigation bureau. As he abstracted the contents a newspaper clipping fluttered to the floor. He picked it up and placed it on the mantel, then turned to the letter, and, as he read, a smile of huge relief and thankfulness overspread his good-humored features.
Boston, Mass., August 30, 1923.
“ Major T. A. Coles-Prentice, D.S.O..M.C., “Crantill House, Attley, Kent. “Dear Sir,—In response to your inquiry re the marriage of Col. Anthony Kingsmil!, V.C., in this country in 1913, our operatives have secured a limited amount of information and are still employed on the case, but we are confident that the balance will be forthcoming in a very short time.
“To date we have ascertained that Col. Kingsmill was not married in this country. Indications are that the ceremony took place either in Italy or Southern France. Following his marriage Col. Kingsmill undertook research work of an important character for the United States Government, concerning tropic toxins, on which he was an authority. The sedative life which this work occasioned was the cause of increasing discontent on the part of young Mrs. Kingsmill. This lady disappeared about the latter end of June, 1914, and later obtained a divorce in the State of Nevada. So far as we can learn there was no untoward incident in the marital relations of this lady and gentleman which would lead to such a course, nor did the action of the lady give rise to undesirable comment at any time. Our agents are at present engaged in ascertaining the present whereabouts of the late Mrs. Kingsmill, although it is possible that she returned to her family home in Devonshire, under her maiden name of Brenchley. Enclosed is a Press reproduction of Mrs. Kingsmill’s photograph, which appeared in this city. Be
assured, sir, that further information will be forwarded as received. “Respectfully yours,
“H. H. Dryden,
Prentice took the clipping from the mantel and examined it. As he did so a remarkable change came over him. He stared again. It was unmistakable.
“Good lord!” he breathed, and the blood rushed to his face. He rang the bell. “Order the car!” he directed, when the servant appeared; then five minutes later countermanded his instructions, and, grasping the telephone, put in a distance call.
Presently the bell tinkled; he grasped the appliance and spoke into it for a minute, and then waited for a reply. A thin, faint voice responded. Prentice cursed impatiently under his breath.
“Beg pardon. Speak a little louder, please. What did you say?” he asked.
“Lady Allison left for France three days ago, sir,” it said.
KINGSMILL sat by an open window, his cigarette glowing like a ruby in the purple night. The moon arose, strong and full, over the Mediterranean. It gleamed through the palms in silver wonder, and touched leaf and branch of the swaying fig-trees with delicate tracery of light. A soft breeze from the Moroccan coast, cool and fragrance-laden, drifted through the sleeping garden. The sky was aflame with stars.
The man’s brain was a crater of doubt and cruel longing; continually Joan’s face arose to his mind. He pictured the wistful, shadowed eyes, that mobile, child-like mouth, her matchless body and the satin-texture of her rounded arms— and always, as he dreamed, came fragmentary pictures of that other almost remembered time. He bent his conscious effort to a recollection of those other days. Now he had it! -almost, for the picture faded again to the limbo of forgotten things. He lit another cigarette with nervous hands, and as he did so there came from some obscure corner of the old town the sweetly haunting notes of a violin—now low, as of a brooding mother, now swelling to a note of deep and twisting poignancy. A liquid voice took up the theme and the heart of a man flowed into the distant music. “Coeur de mon coeur . . . qui j’adore . . .” it sobbed, that forgotten love-song of a long dead master, and, as the last note sighed into the listening night, Kingsmill remembered.
It was in this very garden that he had spent the first hours of married life. That accounted for the unwonted familiarity and soothing of the place, for which not even the association of his illness had been able to account. Here it was that he had brought his worshipped girl-bride, and here had been spent his happiest hours.
The recollection brought him no concern. It seemed that he always had known. And now he would complete the dream. As a man in a trance he arose and made his way through the old garden, with its mosaic of moonlight and shadow on blade and branch and flower, towards the summer-house. He was under a spell—a deep, sweet spell—that desired no awakening. He knew that he should find whom he sought, and there, in the deep shade of the foliage-covered summerhouse he saw her. The thought came— he and his love and this trysting-place were old, old as those time-worn hills that soared to Switzerland from the sea, and in all the bitter latter years his spirit had lived in this old-world garden, always keeping watch for her home-coming. And she had come at last.
She walked to him, narcissus-like in the moon’s rays, and as lovely. It was Joan, of course—Joan, for whom he had waited in the shadows for a hundred
thousand years—Joan—and yet--
“Sylva—Sylva, my darling!” He sobbed hoarsely and swept her into his arms. They stood so for a space, wordless. It came upon him that thus they had stood on that other Silver Night, ten years ago. And, as he had done then, so he did again. He picked her up in his arms and bore her to the balcony of the summer-house that looked out upon the sea. A long, deep chair was there, and he placed her in it so that she was bathed in the radiance of the sky, crushed her soft hand against his lips and sank to his knees at her feet.