AN HONEST MAN AND A BRAVE ONE

‘Thank God!’ was Count Litvinoff’s inward ejaculation, as, followed by
Roland, he sprang through the laurel bushes into the gravel path that
skirted the lawn. For what he saw was not what he had feared to see.
Clare was safe. She was standing on the last of the stone steps that
led down from the verandah, her hands clasped over her eyes, as if to
shut out some intolerable sight.

On the lawn before her, half-a-dozen yards off, in brown shooting suit
and gaiters, lay her father, face downwards, on the grass, his gun
beside him, and his two sporting dogs sniffing round the hand that had
held it.

The two young men were at his side in an instant, and had half raised
him by the time Clare had shaken off the horror that had paralysed her
and had sprung towards them. Roland glanced at Mr Stanley’s face, and,
passing his arm round the old man’s neck, drew his head towards him,
and bent over it in such a manner as to keep it from her eyes.

‘Take her in, Litvinoff,’ he said, still bending forward; ‘make her go
in.’

‘Come in, Miss Stanley; you can do no good here,’ said Litvinoff,
rising and taking the girl by the arm. She shook him off.

‘Let me alone,’ she cried. ‘How dare you interfere? Let me go to my
father.’

‘Miss Stanley, be reasonable. You can do much more good in the house.
Don’t you know we must bring your father in?–and your mother must be
told.’

But Mrs Stanley needed no telling. From the window she had seen–when
the barking of the dogs told of Mr Stanley’s near approach–how Clare
had run out bareheaded to meet him–how he had stopped in the middle of
the lawn, as if expecting her to come to him–how he had taken his gun
from his shoulder, and dropped the butt on the ground–how there had
been a flash, a report, and how he had fallen. Now she came out.

‘Go in,’ she said to Clare, ‘and send for Doctor Bailey. Thomas can go
on Red Robin.’

By this time the servants were gathering from all directions.

‘Come,’ Litvinoff spoke in a low voice, but a voice of authority, and
led her towards the stable-yard. Coming round the corner they met
Thomas.

‘Oh, Thomas–‘ she began, when Litvinoff interrupted.

‘Saddle Red Robin, and ride for Doctor Bailey–ride fast for your life!
Now, Miss Stanley, for Heaven’s sake don’t give way; keep up. They may
want linen for bandages, and brandy.’

She looked at him with wide-open, frightened eyes, but she obeyed him;
and when those things were brought she stood looking mutely at him,
like a child asking for directions.

‘Sit down,’ he said; and, pouring out some brandy-and-water, held it to
her lips.

‘Drink, and then you will be able, perhaps, to be of some use.’

They were in the drawing-room. Litvinoff noticed, even at that moment,
the hundred dainty tokens of a cultivated woman’s daily presence. As he
set down the glass, past the closed door came the heavy tread of the
men who were bringing the master back to his home.

Then Clare rose up. ‘I will go to my father,’ she said, turning a
white, resolute face towards the door. ‘Twenty of you shall not stop
me!’

Litvinoff caught her two hands and held them tightly.

‘Wait, wait; they are getting him to his bed. You would only be in the
way. Trust me, Miss Stanley. I would not keep you from him if you could
be of any use to him. You may be of real service by-and-by.’

‘Very well,’ she said; ‘I will do what you tell me. But, oh, tell
me all you know; tell me where he’s hurt; did you see? Will it be
dangerous? For pity’s sake tell me what you saw, whether–‘

Here the door opened, and Roland came in. Her eyes searched his
face for re-assurance, but found there something more terrible than
her worst fears, and as he opened his lips to speak she cried in a
high-pitched voice, quite unlike her own, as she held out her hands as
if to keep off something, ‘Don’t tell me–don’t tell me anything–let
me go!’

And as Roland stood aside she rushed from the room. Litvinoff closed
the door.

‘He’s dead,’ said Roland.

‘I know. I knew that directly I put my hand on him. I have had my hand
on a man shot dead before to-day.’

Roland sat down on a low chair. It was the one Clare had occupied
half-an-hour before. There on the little table by it lay her
work-basket, and some pretty useless bit of sewing, and all the little
gilt working implements which she had put down when she went to meet
her father. Roland’s eye fell on them, and he groaned.

‘Good God, Litvinoff, what a terrible thing! What a frightful blow for
them!’

‘Does Mrs Stanley know?’

‘Yes.’

‘How soon can the doctor be here?’

‘In half-an-hour; but he’ll be no good when he does come.’

‘Not for him, but Miss Stanley may need him. Her face as she passed out
of the door was not reassuring.’

Roland groaned again.

‘What a horrible world it is!’ he said.

His father dead, his brother estranged, his sweetheart lost to him,
and now this new calamity had fallen near him. ‘It never rains but it
pours.’ And it seemed to be raining misfortunes in Firth Vale.

‘It _is_ a horrible world,’ said the other; ‘but reflecting on that
truth will not aid anyone just now. Is there nothing we can do?’

‘Not that I know of, but we won’t go till the doctor comes.’

‘Certainly not; and in the meantime let me suggest that a little of
this brandy would not be amiss, if you don’t want him to find a patient
in you. You look uncommonly shaky.’

Roland accepted the suggestion and the proffered glass.

‘Miss Stanley’s mother seems to have her wits about her?’

‘Yes, Mrs Stanley’s a sensible woman–but she’s not Miss Stanley’s
mother. Mr Stanley was married twice.’

‘There are no other children?’

‘No.’

‘Poor woman,’ said Litvinoff, sincerely enough, though for a certain
reason he was not displeased to hear that Clare was an only child. ‘He
seems to have been a rich man,’ went on Litvinoff, glancing round the
room.

‘Yes, he had more than he knew what to do with. It seems hard that he
should have had to leave it all so suddenly,’ said Roland, growing
sentimental.

‘It is a great pity men have to leave their wealth behind them. If they
could only take it with them, there would not be so many young people
growing up in vicious idleness.’ Then, as it suddenly occurred to him
that this might possibly be considered personal, he went on in his
most approved didactic manner,–‘Since death is inevitable, how lucky
we ought to think it that so few people have anything to live for. I
believe to a great many people the best thing in life is the certainty
that some day or other they’ll get out of it.’

Roland did not answer. There are moments when moral reflections are
particularly hateful.

The doctor arrived sooner than they had hoped, the man-servant
having met him about half-way between Aspinshaw and his own house,
but of course he could only confirm what they all knew. The whole
contents of the gun had lodged in the lungs, and death must have been
instantaneous. He asked the two young men a good many questions as to
the manner of the accident, but of course they had not seen it, and
were unable to throw any light on the cause of the disaster. He must
have been carrying the gun full-cock, and the concussion, when he
brought the butt down on the ground, must have started it.

‘Mrs Stanley bears up wonderfully well.’

‘And his daughter?’ put in Litvinoff.

‘Well, the poor child’s crushed at present, but she’ll soon be all
right. Young hearts soon throw off their troubles, thank Heaven! I
shall have to trouble you two gentlemen at the inquest,’ he said, as he
got into his gig and was driven off.

Roland Ferrier and Michael Litvinoff walked home almost in silence,
consumed a dinner enlivened by Miss Letitia’s comments on the events of
the day, and, when she had retired in tears, passed one of the most
melancholy evenings in the recollection of either. Roland did his best
to perform the difficult part of genial host to the guest who had been
introduced to Thornsett under such inauspicious circumstances; but he
was a young man who had not that within him which enables men to resist
the influence of the immediately surrounding circumstances, and his
attempt was a dead failure. Litvinoff could, perhaps, have succeeded
with a desperate effort in raising the cloud of gloom that hung over
them both, but it did not seem to him that the game was quite worth the
candle, and he let it alone.

Under the circumstances there could be no shooting, and none of such
social entertainments as would certainly otherwise have enlivened
his visit, and the prospect of his first Christmas in an English
country-house looked very bleak.

‘I suppose one mustn’t smoke here,’ he said aloud to himself, when,
the long evening over, he reached his bedroom, and sank down into an
easy-chair before the brightly-burning fire. ‘That antiquated lady is
the sort of person who would go mad if she smelt smoke in one of the
bedrooms. It is a great bore. I want to think–and how the deuce am I
to think if I can’t smoke!–and I must think. Yes, it must be done;
they must put it down to my foreign ways,’ he added, as he drew out his
cigar-case and lighted up.

Something in his surroundings reminded him of that night in October
when he had saved the life of the man who was now lying dead at
Aspinshaw.




‘Poor old boy,’ he said, ‘I didn’t renew his lease of life for very
long, after all; but I expect he lived long enough to have done almost
as much for me as he could have done had he lived longer. Perhaps my
“views,” as he would have called them, will not stand so much in the
way now. My crushed young host told me that she is beginning to share
those views and to be enthusiastic–thanks to that mysterious entity,
Petrovitch. I owe him that; I wonder if I owe him anything else? I
do owe many sums to many people. He had me for ten pounds, though,
any way. Pardieu! I hope he won’t try that again, or I shall have to
stay down here permanently. I shall attend a funeral in a few days,
I suppose. I wonder when I shall attend a marriage? She was obedient
to-day–a good sign. Things will go smoother so.’

He puffed at his cigar in silence a few minutes, then he spoke aloud
again, ‘And so that was John Hatfield, and he is one of us–or half
one of us. By Jove! that makes me feel a cursed traitor–that merits
death. Well, I’m not afraid of that, anyhow, nor of anything that may
come after. I’ve got memories enough to make a hell of my own here,
and death would be the end of _them_, at any rate, not the beginning.
And yet one must live, I suppose, though I don’t feel so sure of that
to-night. Poor little girl–dear little girl! I wish _you_ were the
heiress of Aspinshaw. The real heiress is pretty and charming, and
a lady,’ with a rather bitter laugh, ‘and she is beginning to have
“views;” but somehow I can’t get you out of my head to-night.’ He moved
his hand to and fro before his eyes, as though to clear away the smoke.
Then he rose. ‘Curses on conscience–curses on principle!’ he said; ‘I
must see if sleep will do it;’ and he went to bed.

During the next few days there was nothing to do except to call at
Aspinshaw every day and ask after Mrs and Miss Stanley. This was an
obvious duty, but as an occupation it was not engrossing. On the second
day, young Ferrier offered to ‘show his guest over’ the mill, and
Litvinoff, always glad of a new experience, joyfully consented. The
mill was charmingly situated in a little hollow in the hills, with a
big reservoir above it and a little stream below. On one side was a
wood, where a good many hollies kept up the impression of greenness,
though all the other trees were sere and brown. On the other side was a
very steep incline which shot up almost like a high wall, and was bare
and rugged and rocky, and from the top some rude steps cut out of the
grey rock led down to the mill. While the workings of the machinery
were being explained, and the various processes exhibited, it did
not escape the Count’s observation that the men looked particularly
discontented, and that there was none of that deferential submission
in their manner to Roland which he had been accustomed to see in the
manner of workmen towards their masters.

‘What’s the matter with the men?’ Litvinoff asked, as they walked back
to Thornsett. ‘They looked uncommonly disagreeable. My friend John
Hatfield doesn’t appear to be the only one who is dissatisfied with the
munificent two pounds a week.’

‘John Hatfield! What a memory you have for names. Oh, they’re not
dissatisfied with the amount of their wages. On the contrary, they only
wish they could go on at the same rate. But they soon won’t have any at
all from me. The mill stops working at the end of the year, and they’ve
somehow got it into their heads that I’m responsible for it, whereas
it’s just about as much my fault as it is that tree’s.’

‘Is it any one’s fault?’

‘You know that it is my brother’s. He made the quarrel, and forced it
on me, knowing what the results would be.’

‘And the results to these men will be–‘

‘Starvation, I’m afraid, for some of them, poor fellows, and very short
commons for them all; but it’s rather hard that I should be blamed for
it.’

‘Oh, beautiful system!’ said Litvinoff; ‘splendid organisation of
industry! Two brothers quarrel about nothing in particular, and a
hundred men and their families have to starve in consequence.’

‘It’s not the fault of the system, but of my father’s will and my
brother’s mad temper; but anyhow it is not my fault.’

‘Well, your father’s will is distinctly part of the system; but, as
you say, you are not to blame. No, Ferrier; you are certainly the most
hardly done by. As to these “hands,” as you call them, _qu’importe_? It
is you who are to be pitied. It is so much harder to be blamed than to
starve.’

‘What a cool fellow you are, Litvinoff!’ Roland laughed, but was yet a
little nettled too, for, like all Englishmen, he hated irony. ‘You’re
always mocking at something or somebody. But perhaps you forget that I
shall have hardly anything to live on either–a wretched hundred a year
or so.’

‘A hundred a year,’ said the Count, in the tone of one who is dealing
with a difficult arithmetical problem, ‘is just about two pounds a
week. Now the other day you said that two pounds a week was “not so
bad” for a man with a family; and, with all your misfortunes, you are
not what you English people call “a family man.”‘

‘But then you must remember how differently those sort of people are
brought up.’

‘I do remember it.’

‘They don’t have the same needs as we do.’

‘Don’t they?’

‘No. What do they care about music or art or poetry or travelling?
Fortunately for them they haven’t the tastes that run away with money.’

‘They have a taste for food and for warmth, I suppose,’ the Count was
beginning, when Roland interrupted him.

‘There, Litvinoff, it’s no good; you’ll never convert me. I’m a
Radical, not a Socialist. Let’s talk about something else.’

‘By all means. To return to John Hatfield. I noticed in the mill to-day
that he did not participate in the general scowl.’

‘No. I don’t think he bears me any ill-will. Our relations with the
Hatfields are peculiar. When my mother died–it was before my aunt came
to live with us–Mrs Hatfield took charge of my brother and me, and was
a sort of foster-mother to us. Her daughter Alice was our playfellow,
and a dear little girl she was.’

‘Was that the girl you said had–well, not acted very wisely?’ asked
the Count, feeling an insensate longing to talk about Alice, or to hear
some one else do so.

‘Yes; that was the girl,’ said Roland. ‘She was as sweet a little girl
as you would wish to see.’

Litvinoff mentally endorsed this statement to the full. Aloud he said,–

‘What was it–the old story?’

‘Yes. She met some fellow at Liverpool; I suppose lost her heart to
him, and gave the world for love, and considered it well lost, as they
say. Damn the brute! I wish I had the handling of him. I should like to
have half an hour with him without the gloves.’

Litvinoff was conscious of an insane desire to give Roland his wish,
and try which was the better man, but he said quietly,–

‘You don’t know him, then? I suppose nothing has been heard or seen of
her?’

‘No, only–it’s rather funny–when I went to the Agora that night I
fancied I saw her face, but it must have been fancy.’

‘Of course; unless,’ added the other, goaded by the Imp of the
Perverse–‘unless her lover was a gentleman interested in social
reform.’

‘Not he,’ said Roland contemptuously; ‘more likely some fool of a
counter-jumper or clerk. You know I looked upon her quite as my sister,
and I was very fond of her, and all that.’

‘Yes?’ interrogatively.

Roland had not meant to say anything more; but after that ‘yes’ he
found himself going on,–

‘And that’s why it’s so deuced hard that my brother should blame me for
it. Upon my soul, I seem fated to be blamed by everybody I know for
everything any one else has done!’

‘That, then, was your brother’s accusation?’

‘Yes. At least if it wasn’t I can make neither head nor tail of
anything he said. But I didn’t mean to have said anything about
it–it’s too preposterous! I don’t know how it is, but I’m always
finding myself telling you things that I didn’t mean to tell any one. I
wonder how it is? Natural affinity, I suppose.’

‘I suppose it’s because you know I am interested in you,’ said
Litvinoff cordially, as they turned in at the gate of Thornsett Edge.

‘It will be very dull for you here,’ said Roland, beating the shrubs
lightly with his ash stick as they walked up the path; ‘and, I am sorry
to say I shall have to be out this evening. I _must_ go down to our
solicitor to arrange about several things. You won’t think me an awful
bear?’

‘Don’t mention it; I shall be very well amused, I doubt not. I can take
a walk if I find I miss you very much, and then I shall be sure to lose
myself, and there is some excitement to be got out of that.’

That evening John Hatfield was sitting on the oak settle by his hearth,
his wife with her knitting in the substantial rocking-chair opposite.
The interior was cosy and bright enough. A high wooden screen protected
the inmates from any cold air that might else have come through the
door, which opened straight from the house-place into the street.
A short red curtain hung in front of the long low window, that was
nearly as wide as the room itself. There was a chintz flounce to the
chimney-piece, and a bright round table, on three legs, in the middle
of the room. There was a good deal of shining brass about, and a few
pieces of old china. Mrs Hatfield, a small fair woman, with grey,
short-sighted eyes, had more lines in her face than her years should
have traced there. But the poor age much more rapidly than the rich.
Significant reflection. And every trouble leaves its signet on our
faces, and Mrs Hatfield’s trouble had been a heavy one, and its traces
were easily discernible. So thought Count Litvinoff, as he tapped at
the door and entered John Hatfield’s house, and the thought was not a
pleasant one. Derbyshire was certainly not the place to come to for
pleasant thoughts, or pleasant incidents either.

‘Is’t thee, man?’ said Hatfield, leaning forward to discern the
features of his visitor in the comparative gloom by the door where
he stood. ‘Come in–come to the fire. Here, lass, this is the chap I
telled ye on.’

As Litvinoff held out his hand to Mrs Hatfield her husband went on,–

‘Ay, shake his hand, lass; you don’t so often get to shake hands wi’ an
honest man, and a brave man–‘

Alice’s father speaking of him to Alice’s mother! Another pleasant
incident for Count Litvinoff!