The Truth about Clement Ker (I)

Title

The Truth about Clement Ker (I)

Description

The first installment of the novel, in which Clement Ker denies charity to a servant in need.

Creator

Fleming, Julia Constance (George Fleming)

Date

November 1888

Type

serialized fiction

Coverage

pp. 17–23

Text

Being an Account of some Curious Circumstances connected with the Life and Death of the late Sir Clement Ker, Bart., of Brae House, Perthshire. Told by his Second Cousin, Geoffrey Ker, of London.

INTRODUCTION

If I were writing this down as a story instead of a plain narrative of facts, I almost think that I should put it all in the third person. I should keep myself out of it altogether.

I was between seventeen and eighteen years old that summer. I was present, but, except for my brother Dick, I counted for simply nothing in that big home. They let me come and go. They were invariably pleasant in their manner to me, when they realised my existence; and, for the greater part of the time, they lived their own lives, acted out their own characters before me — talked, quarrelled, made peace or made love, with as naïf an indifference to my opinion as if I had been some harmless and familiar adjunct to the household furniture.

I was harmless, I hope. Sometimes, remembering those old days (I seem to myself to remember so much that they have forgotten) I am bewildered by the unconsciousness, the unaffected ease with which they bear the burden of what they have seen, of what they know. It is when I look at Eleanor that this feeling comes over me more particularly. Yet, perhaps, there I am wrong. Happiness works miracles with plastic natures. My sister-in-law is a very feminine woman; how could she be so unalterably charming if she had not that capacity to forget?

They live new lives. No doubt that growth, that eternal change, is the very condition of living. But I, whom circumstances have set aside, once and for all — who must ever remain a mere spectator of the game — I find it more difficult to shake off past impressions. In my own mind, I often go back to that darkened experience. I ask myself what it all meant? What part I was allowed actually to take in it? What share I had in bringing about that end?

I contemplate their prosperous, their commonplace existence, and there seems to me something tragic in its very prosperity, as I recall the awful price at which it was bought. As I said before, I am the only one now to remember. It is only of late that I have been fully convinced of this, and I won't deny that this singular unconcern of theirs is partly my reason for writing down the facts as I do remember them, before there can be any question of my own accuracy in the matter.

These facts — these impressions of fact, if you like the term better — that mystery of strange life, or stranger, more terrible, death-in-life, which seemed at one time to brood over our house, making of it a place condemned — all these things which still have the power to strike my spirit dumb in awe and reverence, in a humble gratitude for what temptation was resisted, for what horror was spared — those two, the chief persons concerned, have wellnigh forgotten. At all events they have put it outside of their habitual remembrance; holding the past lightly, as the mere stuff of which life is made. And again, I won't deny that there is something gallant about their attitude, a certain "relish of courage," as old Hobbes of the "Leviathan" would say, which attracts me; the more so, perhaps, that I am so utterly incapable of it myself.

I go back now to the time of which I began to speak, and it occurs to me that probably my lameness had much to do with the singular fashion in which I was initiated into their more private affairs. They were so accustomed to see me spend whole days in the same room that they ended, I believe, by accepting me and my inevitable presence as a matter of course. But I don't think it would have happened so if any of them had been very clever people; although, for the matter of that, I was far enough from wishing to complain. Their most involuntary confidences only served to interest me. For one who, like myself, is forced to seek the chief emotions of life in sympathy, who watches all positive action with the curiosity of an outsider, it is a great, an immense gratification to have that curiosity satisfied.

And now, without further words, I will commence writing down what happened from the very beginning. I shall begin with the morning after our arrival at Brae, and a conversation of poor Clement's, which I remember, and which took place in the little red morning room. As I write the whole place rises up before me; the rain beats hard against the windows; I see the firelight once more shining on their faces, I hear the words they use, and faces and voices alike belong to the old, old days when I was young.

Geoffrey Ker.

CHAPTER I.
I Listen to My Cousin’s Conversation

"And this, my dear Richard, is the sort of thing you may expect six days of the week. We don't go to church, at least I don't, so that I have known it to clear up on a Sunday. I don't apologise. I am growing accustomed to it. The old family instincts are waking up in me. I already begin to feel a kind of water-soaked enthusiasm for the whole affair; for the old family house; the old family customs; the old family weather. I accept the entire programme. And Eleanor ------"

The speaker glanced at his wife, whose face was turned away from him, and at the large end window, outside of which the rain fell in torrents, and smiled.

Clement was a small, thin, well-made man, of about thirty, with an ugly face. To me it was worse than that; it was an unpleasant countenance. It must have been his expression which repulsed me, for his features in a photograph were correct enough, with the exception of his upper lip, which was too long and out of proportion.

But I never liked his face from the first. He was very pale; he did not look nearly so strong as he actually was, for his muscles were like iron, and I have known him tire out Dick both at shooting in deep heather and at riding, more than once. His eyes, which were remarkably large, were dark and rather dull, except when he was excited. I have seen such eyes since then in people with an Eastern strain of blood in their veins. But the effect of Clement's glance was spoiled by the red rims about his eyelids. He was always very well and very carefully dressed. He wore his straight black hair rather longer than was the fashion even then, and I remember that one thick lock near the top of his head had a way of getting displaced and standing on end, so that he was continually putting up his hand to stroke it down into position.

He looked now at his wife. "Eleanor likes it, too; this life suits her. We have not too much to do; but then we have all been taught that labour is the consequence of a curse. We have no neighbours, it is true; but, on the other hand, our neighbours would be Scotch, undoubtedly."

Lady Ker lifted her eyes, and then looked down again.

"/ am Scotch," she murmured under her breath. She kept her eyes fixed upon her plate (for they were still sitting about the table), and the words were all but inaudible, yet her husband caught at their meaning instantly.
"Yes, I could not have endured you as a neighbour," he said; "I preferred you as my wife. Oh! I can assure you, I prefer it exceedingly!"

He laughed softly, tipping back his chair. "You are sure you won't have more lunch, Richard? A man should learn to make an occupation of his meals in such weather. But we shall have to look for some other way of amusing you, old chap. I say you, because naturally, Eleanor and I, we suffice to one another. But you will want something else — somebody else. It is always more amusing when it is somebody."

My brother Richard's face grew red all over. He has never lost that trick of blushing when anything vexes him or pleases him more than usual. At times it gives him the air of an over-grown schoolboy; he knows this, and hates to be reminded of it.

"Oh — it is very kind of you, but — I hope you won't think of asking any one here on my account," he said quickly, speaking in a very off-hand way, and I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was annoyed at something. "I'm the new variety of the British Workman, Clement. I did not come here to amuse myself; I came to do a job, you know. And as far as that goes, I am going to begin on some of those inside walls of yours this very afternoon. I just gave them a glance this morning; there are one or two nasty cracks."

He stopped short, and turned towards Lady Ker. I don't know why, but it struck me that he was embarrassed. "I think — I don't see why we should make changes — I think we are very well as we are," he said rather shyly.

"Pure amiability, Richard. You always were an amiable fellow. E bontà, sua! as they say abroad. But that is no reason why we should take advantage of you: none at all. The British Workman, too, has his hours of relaxation. Think of it, Nelly — consider. Even in this neighbourhood could you not find some pretty girl who would do to invite to the house? Don't be too hard to please; it is only to amuse Richard!"

Lady Ker did not answer immediately. "I wish you would not call me by that name," she said.

"My dear Nelly! Why, it is the name of our youth! of innocence and early love, and — and whatever is young and ingenuous. Nelly! Why, it takes me back seven — eight years, even to say it. I heard of you from Richard there as little Nelly Macalister, before I had ever seen you. All your old friends knew you as Nelly. You always think of her so; don't you, Richard?"

She rose abruptly from her seat at the head of the table. "I prefer — I have asked you this before," she repeated, a trifle incoherently, and without answering him further, crossed the long room to go and stand before the fire. She moved well — stepped lightly and freely, and her slender rounded figure more than carried out the ambiguous promise of her face.

Her husband followed her with his eyes, but he did not move from his chair. The same peculiar smile played for a moment over his lips; then he looked at Richard. " The cigars are in that gimcrack silver thing on the sideboard there; exactly behind you."

"Thanks; I won't smoke just now."

"Oh, Eleanor does not mind it; do you, Nell? She sits here for hours with me sometimes when I am alone. We sit together and listen to the rain, and cultivate the minor arts of conversation. Have a cigarette, then, Richard?"

"No, thank you."

A servant had come noiselessly into the room. At the first pause in his master's drawling sentences, the man stepped forward rather deprecatingly.

"If you please, Sir Clement —” He stopped short; then began again with a sort of nervous volubility, "It is old Patterson, if you please, Sir Clement — the old man. He has walked here through the rain. And he wishes to know would you please to see him. He is very sorry to trouble you, sir, but it is something — particular."

Clement was holding his head down, lighting his cigar. He took two or three delibemte puffs at it; passed his white hand thoughtfully over his hair, and then, without looking round, "Who is Patterson?" he asked slowly.

"Old Patterson, the old shepherd, if you please, sir. Him as lives on top of that hill where you go for the shooting, sir,' the man explained, looking puzzled. He added doubtfully, "He does say, if you please, sir, that he's known you since you was a boy."

"Never heard of him before. Fill Mr. Ker's glass. Can't you see that it is empty? What is the man doing here now?"

"He is a very old man, sir; a very old man indeed. Eighty or thereabouts, I should say, sir, and very striking-looking. And he has come here again "

"Come again, has he? And who the devil cares anything about his age or where he has been before?”

The footman, who was young and new to the place, and easily flustered, reddened all over his foolish face up to his large, innocent-looking ears. "I — I don't know, sir, please, sir," he said feebly.

I put down my book and looked at them all. I was sitting where I always did, in the south window, where is the recess. But partly for the sake of the light, and partly not to have to listen to their chatter (for I was, I remember, in a good deal of pain that day), I had drawn the heavy curtains across the opening until they nearly met. No one noticed me. There was a minute or two of silence. Dick kept his face turned to the window, and Clement was smoking. Presently —

"Have some claret, Richard. It's not bad in its way. You don't drink and you don't smoke," he said solicitously. He shifted the position of his arm a little across the back of his chair. "You're the new man, aren't you, that Bright brought down last week?"

"Yes, Sir Clement."

"What's your name? Parker? H-m! Bright used to know how to choose a servant. Tell him to come here. And — look here. Tell him to bring in the old man with him — Peterson — Patterson — whatever he calls himself."

He leaned languidly back in his chair, and half shut his eyes. I could see his figure reflected at full length, in grotesque foreshortening, in the old-fashioned convex mirror which hung high up on the wall between the windows. The firelight twinkled and shone on all the silver and glass upon the table before him; his face expressed nothing beyond the intimate satisfaction superinduced by warmth and light and delicate food. I did not know him very well in those early days; but he interested me. I was always watching him whenever he came into the room. I watched him now. The round table stood by the window in the deep embrasure of the old wall. It was raining harder than ever, and the slanting sheets of grey water made a sort of silver-coloured background to his dark, indolent figure; the lashing and driving of the storm seemed only to intensify by contrast its expression of complete wellbeing and absolute repose.

CHAPTER II.
I see an old man pay his debts

Richard had left his seat by the table and followed his cousin's wife. She was standing before the high, old-fashioned fireplace, resting one hand upon the shelf, which was on a level with her head. Her attitude and the glancing firelight brought out in fullest relief the charming lines of her rounded waist and shoulders; but Richard hardly looked at her.

"May I give you a chair ? Won't you sit down?" he asked.

"No."

He looked up then, with a sort of surprise.

"But I wish you would let me get you a chair. You look so tired," he repeated very kindly.

When my brother Richard speaks to any person — man, woman, or child — with that look and that smile, there are not very many people who can resist him. And Eleanor was not one of the few. I saw her turn round slowly, and then a curious thing happened. This time she did not even answer him, but her pale, heavily-modelled face suddenly glowed under his gaze, softened, awakened, was transformed — surprised for the instant into actual beauty.

"If I had only thought of it in time — before you came! But it never occurred to me to ask any one to meet you. I simply never thought of it," she said abruptly.

"No," the young man answered quite simply — " Why should you?"

“Ah!" she said, "but you----"

She turned her head sharply aside, and sat down in the chair which he had placed for her, without finishing her sentence.

"No; don't think about me. You are too kind to take so much trouble about me, Lady Ker. You forget what a paradise this seems to a man coming straight here from two rooms in the Strand. And the Strand in September! I hadn't been out of town for eleven months when I got Clement's letter. I think I had pretty well forgotten what it was to have a holiday. Just as now," Dick added with a laugh, "now I seem to have forgotten what it is to work."

Lady Ker's eyes filled suddenly with tears. She kept her face turned carefully away from him. "Oh, nobody does anything at Brae. Even Janet finds means to shorten her lessons," she said, in a curious hard sort of voice.

The door opened noiselessly; I saw it move backwards in the mirror, and Bright, the butler, came into the room, beckoning to some one else to follow.

A very tall, white-haired old man, in the decent Sunday garb of a shepherd, answered the summons. He held his bonnet in both hands, and halted just inside the doorway, bowing to each one of the persons present with simple yet formal respect. His collie dog followed at his heels as far as the open door. "But she'll no come farther. She kens her proper station. Your leddyship need na fear for the braw new carpets," the old man said, with a deprecatory wave of his immense knotted old hand. He stepped, himself, upon the edge of the Persian rugs with ludicrous, almost pathetic caution. It was evident that his gestures, his voice, the very choice of his words, were all subdued to some careful, unfamiliar standard. As he spoke to Eleanor a pleasant friendly smile flickered for an instant over his kindly, weather-beaten old face, but without altering its rugged lines — like a gleam of sunshine glancing across some rock. Then his eyes turned and rested rather anxiously upon Sir Clement

"Eh, sirs, but it is lang since we hae seen the Laird amang us! But maybe ye'll no hae forgotten my face, Sir Clement, even if ye have nae clear mind about the way they call me?"

Clement waved his hand, making some unintelligible sound in his throat, and I saw the smile die off the old man's face altogether.

"I made bold to trouble you myself," he went on again presently — "sirs, I came my ain sel’, tho' it's but an unwelcome messenger that brings the ill tidings ––– –––"

He stopped once more, breathing heavily, and shifting his gaze from the master's impassive countenance to Bright's solemn and sympathetic face.

"Eh, sir — Sir Clement— there can be nae manner o' doubt but ye will remember old Patterson o’ bonny Brae Head? Mony and mony's the time I've watched ye gang by there as a boy. It's nae so mony years syne; sir, ye canna hae clean forgotten?"

"Well?" says Clement, in his languid way. He had not looked up. He sat, I remember, playing with a curious signet ring which he always wore, twisting it around and around his finger in a fashion that was familiar to him. "Well?"

The old man straightened his bent shoulders. " Eh, sirs, God forbid that we should forget past kindness. Seven-and-fifty years hae I served in this family, and never aught but gude-will between us. I'm an old man now, Sir Clement, I was shepherd to your father before you, and to the old Sir Clement before that. I've served the family, man and boy, for seven-and-fifty years, sir. There's nae mony can say mair than that. All but seven-and-fifty years o' wark come Lammas."

"Well?" says Clement again.

He picked up his glass, held it at the level of his eyes, and looked curiously at the colour of the wine against the light. Then he added, “I suppose you have been paid for it, haven't you?”

The words were rendered a hundred times more brutal by the absolute lack of purpose, the unaffected indifference of his manner of speaking; yet, oddly enough, of all his auditors, the one directly addressed seemed least aware of the wrong done him.

"Nay, sir, I'm no complaining," he said simply. He clasped his great brown hands one over the other upon the head of his staff, and stood there looking down upon his young master, patiently, without a reproach, so that I could hardly endure the sight of his honest and troubled face. "I've had my just wage all these years — and whiles, something over in consideration of the long lifetime o' wark. I'm no complaining. The labourer is worthy o' his hire, Sir Clement; we a' ken that. An' I've had mine."

"Well, then?"

"Sir," returned the old man, his voice beginning to shake and quaver with perplexity, “perhaps it is ye can nae understand me. Ye hae been awa' sae lang ye may weel hae forgot our gude Scot's tongue — together wi' the old faces of those that served ye. It maun be that: ye canna understan'. Eh, sirs, I cam here thro' the rain with a heavy heart the day, but it sore misdoots me but I'll carry awa' a heavier — though they've ever been kind to me i' this house; an' God forgie me if I wrang the master by sic thinking."

"Now, look here," said Clement, quite good-naturedly, "we've had about enough of this already; do you see? You are taking up all my time, my good fellow; you can't stay there talking all night. Look here; what you've come after is more money."

“Sir ––– –––"

"Now, my good man, just hold your tongue and listen. I tell you I know your whole story. You've been drawing extra pay from this estate for years. But you've got into trouble. You've married off your grand-daughter and you've got into debt. You can't pay your rent. The man the girl married has run away from her and left her on your hands. And your son has had devilish bad luck with my sheep. I tell you I know every word of it. And now you have come here after money."

"Sir, she was aye respecktit, my Jean. But it's a' true, a' true."

"Of course it is," says Clement, still quite complacent. "I don't often trouble myself about details; but when I do want to know a thing ––– ––– And now I suppose you've been to the agent for nothing, and so came on to me, thinking I should let you off the rent."

“Sir," answers old Patterson, hanging his white head, "it's mair than just the rent of the bit cottage. It's one thing and anither. It's a matter of nigh thirty pund. And we hae sold the verra clothes frae off the women's backs to get it, and a' their bit brooches an' buckles. We hae nae mair."

"Thirty pounds, eh? Why, this wine costs me nearly eighty shillings a dozen. Thirty pounds? That's about what I give for seven dozen of this claret. And you won't drink it, Richard!" says Clement, smiling and tapping with his long white fingers upon the bottle.

I don't — I can't — believe that he meant it as it sounded; but Lady Ker — and, after all, his wife must have understood him better than we did — Lady Ker, sitting by the fire, rose sharply to her feet

"Mais c’est assez; c'est assez! Je vous en prie!" she cried out with a sudden burst of passion. Her voice thrilled and vibrated like some musical chord in that long, quiet room. The collie dog by the door blinked with both eyes; he fixed his sagacious glance upon her, and began beating the floor with slow, heavy thuds of his tail.

The old man walked close up to the table. He laid his shaking, knotted old hand upon the spotless damask. "I hae been to your factor, sir; he's had the master's orders. All to pay what is due, and no differences made between folk––– –––"

Clement nodded his head.

"But — God forgie us all! — there is differences in people! An' it's through nae seeing with their ain een and nae kenning wi' their ain minds that the warld o' men grows cruel; so, sir, I wad fain appeal to yoursel'. They've a' been kind to me, kind an' considerate folk i' this hoose for hard on sixty year. That's a lang lifetime, Sir Clement — there's no promise nor yet warranty given for mair than threescore years and ten. And if a mon here and there, by reason o' his strength, it may be––– ––––"

His voice quavered and sunk. I thought he would break down altogether. I saw Bright turn very red and begin to fidget with his hands. But in a minute or so the old man went on speaking—

"And sae I came to yoursel'. Sir Clement. I came to your house, and ye gave me nae welcome nor greeting. Ye're young enough to be my son's son. An' I'm no beggar at your gates. I hae saved and scraped a few shillings; twa pund or mair," he broke out incoherently. He thrust his hand inside his plaid and pulled out an old leather purse. "Ye'll no get bluid frae a stane. I hae na mair. It was a' for my Jeannie's lying-in; the lass is near her time. Ye ken that, Mr. Bright. Ye can testify to your master if I lee," he said brokenly.

He poured out the little heap of silver coin upon the table. His hand shook: the sixpenny-bits rolled about among the glasses.

"Ah, that's all right. Never mind that. Bright can pick them up. But you can't leave your money here, you know. Mr. Guest, the agent, is the man to give you a receipt for it," Sir Clement observed, still quite cheerfully and calmly. In all my experience of him, I never saw him manifest any outward sign of emotion more than twice, or at most thrice. His words could be bitter enough; but at the very moment of uttering them, and afterwards, he would watch the effect of some bruising speech or wounding epithet, with a sort of irresponsible curiosity, a frank incapacity of entering into other people's feelings, which, I am convinced, was perfectly natural to him and unaffected. He never resented in the least any form of stricture upon his own conduct. I believe that he was genuinely indifferent to public opinion. "As for Clement — Clement never cares!" his wife said of him once in my hearing; and it was quite true. Indeed, if it had not been for a sort of fierce loneliness which used to possess him at times — moods of uncertain duration, during which he remained chiefly out of doors, driving or riding for great distances over the countryside — (I shall never forget his overtaking me in one of the narrow lanes near the house on his return from one of these expeditions. It was wet weather, I remember; his riding-coat and his pale face were all stained with mud; he brushed close past me, his horse nearly touching my shoulder, and, boy as I was, I remember to this hour the impression of pity made upon me by his fixed, anguished, hunted look; a look I hope never to see again while I live on any mortal countenance) — if it had not been, I say, for these desperate variations of his humour, I, for one, should have set my cousin Clement down as a strictly unmoral being; a creature alien to all about him, as if he lacked some saving touch of humanity to make him wholly a man.

As he turned his dull, inscrutable glance now upon the old shepherd, and even half smiled in his face. Lady Ker sprang up from her seat.

"No. Don't stop me, Richard! Never mind— I must speak. I— I cannot bear this," she cried out passionately. In a moment, with one movement, as it were, she crossed the long room.

"Mr. Patterson! "

Sir Clement rose slowly to his feet "Will you not sit down, Eleanor? Allow me to offer you this chair."

She looked up then at her husband without answering him, but with a glance so wild, so overcharged with meaning and a hopeless bitter reproach, that neither Richard nor myself, who were looking on at this scene, could ever feel any doubt again in our own minds concerning the real relations existing between those two unhappy people. It was only for an instant. Then her head dropped on her breast and rested there, like that of a chidden child.

"Ah, you are cruel!" she said, speaking very low in a changed voice.

“Won't you sit down, Eleanor? See, here is a chair for you," her husband repeated steadily.

She hesitated for a moment; the muscles of her face relaxed: her eyes grew dull, and her glance wandered aimlessly about the room.

"I think — I am going upstairs to find Janet," she murmured, almost timidly. Indeed, her whole bearing was that of a woman who had been frightened. She paused for a moment in front of Patterson; he was gone back to his place beside the door, which Sir Clement was now holding open for her to pass through. "Will you leave me your address?" she said hurriedly. "I mean, will you tell me where you live? I do not know the country very well, but I could find it. I should like to go and see your granddaughter. Perhaps I might do something."

The old man did not appear to understand her at once. “Aye, it's mair than thirty pund: thirty pund twul’ shilling, an' a' the medicines an' the doctor to pay. Na, my leddy, 'tis money — thirty pund an' mair; 'tis na women's wark," he repeated with a kind of dogged despair.

He stood there, twisting his bonnet about between his hands. He had turned his back upon the master; it was evident that he was incapable of receiving any new idea, not even a suggestion of help. Bright, the butler, laid his hand upon his arm to lead him away, and the old man yielded to the pressure like a child.

"There, that will do, Bright. Well, good day to you, Patterson. Shut the door, Bright. Pick up that money, and see that it gets taken to Mr. Guest; and just see that the fire is kept up, will you?"

Sir Clement turned away from the dreary outlook of the window, rubbing his hands. "And this, Richard, as I have told you already, is the sort of thing you may expect six days out of every seven." He threw himself down in the armchair before the fire, which his wife had occupied. "Family scenes and rain; 'rain and scenes of domestic interest. We don't get out of that groove, my dear fellow. We don't get out of it. And yet Nell is an angel, you know; and I––” He laughed and looked up curiously into his cousin's flushed and angry face— "My dear Richard, if you only knew how glad I am to. see you!"

Richard's face grew darker and hotter still. He turned abruptly away.

"I always knew that you could be a bully, Clement. But a woman and an old man! And you let him pour out his miserable money — the pennies he had scraped together. And before your wife, too. Pah! the very thought of it makes me sick."

Sir Clement laughed again. "Well! that's a kind sort of thing to say to a man in his own house."

"Confound your own house then! The more shame to you that you let any human being leave it as heavy-hearted, as near despair as you have let that poor old man go to-day. And for thirty pounds! For a dirty bit of money you would fling away on the first whim that you fancied! "

Clement nodded gravely. "Yes, I’ve lots of money. I don't care very much about it. Sometimes I wish that I did," he said quietly.

"For Heaven's sake, Clement — you have had your own way. You have made your show of authority. I don't understand that sort of thing myself, but I suppose you must find a kind of satisfaction in it. Well, 'tis done. And now, in Heaven's name, for very shame's sake, let me go and fetch that old fellow back before he leaves your house!"

"No," said Clement very gently. He listened to the explosion of the other man's indignation with a puzzled, almost an incredulous air. "You don't know that old beggar, Richard. You've never even seen him before. In all likelihood you will never set eyes upon him again. You can't care about it. It's absurd. Why should you care?" he inquired at last with an air of some amusement.

It was this implied mockery which stung Richard to the quick.

"Carel" he repeated. He halted in the middle of the room, his eyes flashing. "No; I don't suppose you do understand! Do you imagine for one moment that if I had had that money in my pocket — if I were not the poorest devil alive, do you think I would not have spoiled your fine bit of amusement? Care? Isn't he a man? isn't he––––"

He walked abruptly over to the window and stood there, with his back to his cousin, staring out at the heavy rain. "I don't appeal to you for fine feelings, Clement, or — or even for commonplace kindliness. But —hang it all, man! there are things one does not do when one is a gentleman. There are attitudes one doesn't assume towards dependents — and before women."

"Well," said Clement, "I don't know. But doesn't it strike you that you are making a good deal of fuss about nothing?"

"I have taken your money to do this job," Dick broke out again, "and I suppose I have no choice but to stay here and finish it. You don't know, you have no means of knowing, how grateful I was to you for looking me up and sending for me just then. I've been in a good many tight places in my life, but never in a worse one than that. But if I had known then what I have seen just now I — I would rather have starved," said Richard Ker, "than have accepted your commission and taken your money."

He took a turn or two up and down the room. He came and stood over his cousin. "And I was so thankful to you for your remembrance of me, Clement. Though, God knows, I hesitated about coming "

"Oh, I knew you would come fast enough. I had my reasons," the other answered, smiling. He turned his red-rimmed eyes from the fire and fixed them upon his young cousin's face. "You have assured me already that you do not believe me. And, indeed, you may still live to detect in my feeling towards you some trace of that general perversity of moral vision with which you charge me. But I am glad to see you, Richard. It is eight years since we have met. And although I don't attach any very particular importance to friendship, I have always liked you. I liked you when we were boys together. I took some trouble to hunt up your address. I wanted you to come."

“Eight years," Richard echoed slowly.

He was silent for a minute or two, and in the interval his face cleared and softened. "Look here," he said, "I did not mean to be rough. I am always saying things and being sorry for them. But look here, Clement, don't let me have made things worse by my clumsy interference. Do let me call back poor old Patterson; you can't have meant to be so hard on him, you know. Let me call him back, and do you send him away rejoicing. Do, there's a good fellow."

For the first time, Clement seemed to turn impatient. His cheek flushed faintly, his eye grew restless; he shifted his glance about the room.

"That old man" he began. Then he checked himself with an odd sort of smile. "My dear Richard, one of my tenants owes me money. He doesn't pay me.

Well, then" He tossed the end of his cigar into the fire. "I have nothing to say to his private affairs. Why should they interest me? But I am master here."

"But you said you did not know him. You affected to be ignorant of his very name!"

"I don't remember. But I am master."

"Oh, the devil is master in hell!" Richard cried out, losing his head.

"That's as it may be; it's a matter of opinion," the other man retorted coolly. Then after a pause, "It seems to me that you are making this into a very awkward situation for both of us," he said. "I suppose it is your intention to insult me by using such an expression? I really do not care very much about the matter, but it appears to me that I cannot allow it."

"You may take it as you please. I don't stay in the house of a man whom I cannot — respect."

"No; you were always hard to please. You always were, as a boy. Now, I, for instance — I hardly know one man in the world whom I do respect — except yourself," Clement Ker added drily. "As a rule people strike me as a poor lot: driven like sheep, or chattering like monkeys in a tree. And what do they know of the very world about them? Why, even I, since I went back to India — I don't pretend to understand anything; but I could tell you such stories, Richard, if you'll give me time. Of course you can go if you please. I can't keep you. There's your work to be done, you know. And I'm perfectly willing to ask you to stay, if that will make things any easier. Why should I want to quarrel with you when I've taken so much pains to get you here?"

"I don't want to quarrel."

“Well, of course you can go if you wish. But there are plenty of reasons why you should not. Guest tells me there's a gang of twenty navvies coming up from Galashiels to-morrow. Who's to set them at work if you leave us? It all depends on you." He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and stretched out his feet to the fire. "And then," he said, after a pause, "then — there's Eleanor."