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The Man Who Intervened by Robert Smythe Hichens

I

The atmosphere of the room in which Sergius Blake was sitting seemed to him strange and cold. As he looked round it, he could imagine that a light mist invaded it stealthily, like miasma rising from some sinister marsh. There was surely a cloud about the electric light that gleamed in the ceiling, a cloud sweeping in feathery, white flakes across the faces of the pictures upon the wall. Even the familiar furniture seemed to loom out faintly, with a gaunt and grotesque aspect, from shadows less real, yet more fearful, than any living form could be.

Sergius stared round him slowly, pressing his strong lips together. When he concentrated his gaze upon any one thing—a table, a sofa, a chair—the cloud faded, and the object stood out clearly before his eyes. Yet always the rest of the room seemed to lie in mist and in shadows. He knew that this dim atmosphere did not really exist, that it was projected by his mind. Yet it troubled him, and added a dull horror to his thoughts, which moved again and again, in persistent promenade, round one idea.

The hour was seven o'clock of an autumn night. Darkness lay over London, and rain made a furtive music on roofs and pavements. Sergius Blake listened to the drops upon the panes of his windows. They seemed to beckon him forth, to tell him that it was time to exchange thought for action. He had come to a definite and tremendous resolution. He must now carry it out.

He got up slowly from his chair, and with the movement the mist seemed to gather itself together in the room and to disappear. It passed away, evaporating among the pictures and ornaments, the prayer-rugs and divans. A clearness and an insight came to Sergius. He stood still by the piano, on which he rested one hand lightly, and listened. The rain-drops pattered close by. Beyond them rose the dull music of the evening traffic of New Bond Street, in which thoroughfare he lived. As he stood thus at attention, his young and handsome face seemed carved in stone. His lips were set in a hard and straight line. His dark-grey eyes stared, like eyes in a photograph. The muscles of his long-fingered hands were tense and knotted. He was in evening dress, and had been engaged to dine in Curzon Street; but he had written a hasty note to say he was ill and could not come. Another appointment claimed him. He had made it for himself.

Presently, lifting his hand from the piano, he took up a small leather case from a table that stood near, opened it, and drew out a revolver. He examined it carefully. Two chambers were loaded. They would be enough. He put on his long overcoat, and slipped the revolver into his left breast pocket. His heart could beat against it there.

Each time his heart pulsed, Sergius seemed to hear the silence of another heart.

And now, though his mind was quite clear, and the mists and shadows had slunk away, his familiar room looked very peculiar to him. The very chair in which he generally sat wore the aspect of a stranger. Was the wall paper really blue? Sergius went close up to it and examined it narrowly, and then he drew back and laughed softly, like a child. In the sound of his laugh irresponsibility chimed. “What is the cab fare to Phillimore Place, Kensington?” he thought, searching in his waistcoat pocket. “Half a crown?” He put the coin carefully in the ticket pocket of his overcoat, buttoned the coat up slowly, took his hat and stick, and drew on a pair of lavender gloves. Just then a new thought seemed to strike him and he glanced down at his hands.

“Lavender gloves for such a deed!” he murmured. For a moment he paused irresolute, even partially unbuttoned them. But then he smiled and shook his head. In some way the gloves would not be wholly inappropriate. Sergius cast one final glance round the room.

“When I stand here again,” he said aloud, “I shall be a criminal—a criminal!”

He repeated the last word, as if trying thoroughly to realise its meaning.

Then he opened the door swiftly and went out on to the staircase.

Just as he was putting a hasty foot upon the first stair, a man out in the street touched his electric bell. Its thin tingling cry made Sergius start and hesitate. In the semi-twilight he waited, his hands deep in his pockets, his silk hat tilted slightly over his eyes. The porter tramped along the passage below. The hall door opened, and a deep and strong voice asked, rather anxiously and breathlessly:—

“Is Mr. Blake at home?”

“I rather think he's gone out, sir.”

“No—surely—how long ago?”

“I don't know, sir. He may be in. I'll see.”

“Do—do—quickly. If he's in, say I must see him—Mr Endover. But you know my name.”

“Yes, sir.”

The porter, mounting the stone staircase, suddenly came upon Sergius standing there like a stone figure.

“Lord, sir!” he ejaculated. “You give me a start!” His voice was loud from astonishment.

“Hush!” Sergius whispered. “Go down at once and say that I've gone out!”

The man turned to obey, but Anthony Endover was half-way up the stairs.

“It's all right,” he exclaimed, as he met the porter.

He had passed him in an instant and arrived at the place where Sergius was standing.

“Sergius,” he cried, and there was a great music of relief in his voice. “Hulloa! Now you're not going out.”

“Yes, I am, Anthony.”

“But I want to talk to you tremendously. Where are you going?”

“To dine with the Venables in Curzon Street.”

“I met young Venables just now, and he said you'd written that you were ill and couldn't come. He asked me to fill your place.”

Sergius muttered a “Damn!” under his breath.

“Well, come in for a minute,” he said, attempting no excuse.

He turned round slowly and re-entered his flat, followed by Endover.

II

For some years Endover had been Sergius Blake's close friend. They had left Eton at the same time; had been at Oxford together. Their intimacy, born in the playing fields, grew out of its cricket and football stage as their minds developed, and the world of thought opened like a holy of holies—beyond the world of action. They both passed behind the veil, but Anthony went farther than Sergius. Yet this slight separation did not lead to alienation, but merely caused the admiration of Sergius for his friend to be mingled with respect. He looked up to Anthony. Recognising that his friend's mind was more thoughtful than his own, while his passions were far stronger than Anthony's, he grew to lean upon Anthony, to claim his advice sometimes, to follow it often. Anthony was his mentor, and thought he knew instinctively all the workings of Sergius' mind and all the possibilities of his nature. The mother of Sergius was a Russian and a great heiress. Soon after he left Oxford, she died. His father had been killed by an accident when he was a child. So he was rich, free, young, in London, with no one to look after him, until Anthony Endover, who had meanwhile taken orders, was attached as fourth—or fifth—curate to a smart West End church, and came to live in lodgings in George Street, Hanover Square.

Then, as Sergius laughingly said, he had a father confessor on the premises. Yet to-night he had bidden his porter to tell a lie in order to keep his father confessor out. The lie had been vain. Sergius led the way morosely into his drawing-room, and turned on the light. Anthony walked up to the fire, and stretched his tall athletic figure in its long ebon coat. His firm throat rose out of a jam-pot collar, but his thin, strongly-marked face rather suggested an intellectual Hercules than a Mayfair parson, and neither his voice nor his manner was tinged with what so many people consider the true clericalism.

For all that he was a splendid curate, as his rector very well knew.

Now he stood by the fire for a minute in silence, while Sergius moved uneasily about the room. Presently Anthony turned round.

“It's beastly wet,” he said in a melodious ringing voice. “The black dog is on me to-night, Sergius.”

“Oh!”

“You don't want to go out, really,” Anthony continued, looking narrowly at his friend's curiously rigid face.

“Yes, I do.”

“Not to Curzon Street. They've filled up your place. I told Venables to ask Hugh Graham. I knew he was disengaged to-night. Besides—you're seedy.”

Sergius frowned.

“I'm all right again now,” he said coldly, “and I particularly wished to go. You needn't have been so deuced anxious to make the number right.”

“Well, it's done now. And I can't say I'm sorry, because I want to have a talk with you. I say, Serge, take off those lavender gloves, pull off your coat, let's send out for some dinner, and have a comfortable evening together in here. I've had a hard day's work, and I want a rest.”

“I must go out presently.”

“After dinner then.”

“Before ten o'clock.”

“Say eleven.”

“No—that's too late.”

A violent, though fleeting expression of anxiety crossed Endover's face. Then, with a smile, he said:—

“All right. Shall I ring the bell and order some dinner to be sent in from Galton's?”

“If you like. I'm not hungry.”

“I am.”

Anthony summoned the servant and gave the order. Then he turned again to Sergius.

“Here, I'll help you off with your coat,” he said.

But Sergius moved away.

“No thanks, I'll do it. There are some cigarettes on the mantelpiece.”

Anthony went to get one. As he was taking it, he looked into the mirror over the fireplace, and saw Sergius—while removing his overcoat—transfer something from it to the left breast pocket of his evening coat.

He wanted still to feel his heart beat against that tiny weapon, still to hear—with each pulse of his own heart—the silence, not yet alive, but so soon to be alive, of that other heart.

And, as Anthony glanced into the mirror, he said to himself, “I was right!”

He withdrew his eyes from the glass and lit his cigarette. Sergius joined him.

“I'm in the blues to-night,” Anthony said, puffing at his cigarette.

“Are you?”

“Yes—been down in the East End. The misery there is ghastly.”

“It's just as bad in the West End, only different in kind. You're smoking your cigarette all down one side.”

Anthony took it out of his mouth and threw it into the grate. He lit two or three matches, but held them so badly that they went out before he could ignite another cigarette. At last, inwardly cursing his nerves that made his hasty actions belie the determined calm of his face, he dropped the cigarette.

“I don't think I'll smoke before dinner,” he said. “Ah, here it is. And wine—champagne—that's good for you!”

“I shan't drink it. I hate to drink alone.”

“You shan't drink alone then.”

“What d'you mean?”

“I'll drink with you.”

“But you're a teetotaller.”

“I don't care to-night.”

Anthony spoke briefly and firmly. Sergius was amazed.

“What!” he said. “You're going to break your vow? You a parson!”

“Sometimes salvation lies in the breaking of a vow,” Anthony answered as they sat down. “Have you never registered a silent vow?”

Sergius looked at him hard in the eyes.

“Yes,” he said; and in his voice there was the hint of a thrilling note. “But I shan't—I shouldn't break it.”

“I've known a soul saved alive by the breaking of a vow,” Anthony answered. “Give me some champagne.”

Sergius—wondering, as much as the condition of his mind, possessed by one idea, would allow—filled his friend's glass. Anthony began to eat, with a well-assumed hunger. Sergius scarcely touched food, but drank a good deal of wine. The hands of the big oaken-cased clock that stood in a far corner of the room crawled slowly upon their round, recurring tour. Anthony's eyes were often upon them, then moved with a swift directness that was akin to passion to the face of Sergius, which was always strangely rigid, like the painted face of a mask.

“I sat by a woman to-day,” he said presently, “sat by her in an attic that looked on to a narrow street full of rain, and watched her die.”

“This morning?”

“Yes.”

“And now she's been out of the world seven or eight hours. Lucky woman!”

“Ah, Sergius, but the mischief, the horror of it was that she wasn't ready to go, not a bit ready.”

Sergius suddenly smiled, a straight, glaring smile, over the sparkling champagne that he was lifting to his lips.

“Yes; it's devilish bad for a woman or a—man to be shot into another world before they're prepared,” he said. “It must be—devilish bad.”

“And how can we know that any one is thoroughly prepared?”

Sergius' smile developed into a short laugh.

“It's easier to be certain who isn't than who is,” he said.

The eyes of Anthony fled to the clock face mechanically and returned.

“Death terrified me to-day, Sergius,” he said; “and it struck me that the most awful power that God has given to man is the power of setting death—like a dog—at another man.”

Sergius swallowed all the wine in his glass at a gulp. He was no longer smiling. His hand went up to his left side.

“It may be awful,” he rejoined; “but it's grand. By Heaven! it's magnificent.”

He got up, as if excited, and moved about the room, while Anthony went on pretending to eat. After a minute or two Sergius sat down again.

“Power of any kind is a grand thing,” he said.

“Only power for good.”

“You're bound to say that; you're a parson.”

“I only say what I really feel; you know that, Serge.”

“Ah, you don't understand.”

Anthony looked at him with a sudden, strong significance.

“Part of a parson's profession—the most important part—is to understand men who aren't parsons.”

“You think you understand men?”

“Some men.”

“Me, for instance?”

The question came abruptly, defiantly. Anthony seemed glad to answer it.

“Well, yes, Sergius; I think I do thoroughly understand you. My great friendship alone might well make me do that.”

The face of Sergius grew a little softer in expression, but he did not assent.

“Perhaps it might blind you,” he said.

“I don't think so.”

“Well, then, now, if you understand me—tell me—”

Sergius broke off suddenly.

“This champagne is awfully good,” he said, filling his glass again.

“What were you going to say?” Anthony asked.

“I don't know—nothing.”

Anthony tried to conceal his disappointment. Sergius had seemed to be on the verge of over-leaping the barrier which lay between them. Once that barrier was overleapt, or broken down, Anthony felt that the mission he had imposed upon himself would stand a chance of being accomplished, that his gnawing anxiety would be laid to rest. But once more Sergius diffused around him a strange and cold atmosphere of violent and knowing reserve. He went away from the table and sat down close to the fire. From there he threw over his shoulder the remark:—

“No man or woman ever understands another—really.”

III

Anthony did not reply for a moment and Sergius continued:—

“You, for instance, could never guess what I should do in certain circumstances.”

“Such as—”

“Oh, in a thousand things.”

“I should have a shrewd idea.”

“No.”

Anthony didn't contradict him, but got up from the dinner-table and joined him by the fire, glass in hand.

“I might not let you know how much I guessed, how much I knew.”

Sergius laughed.

“Oh, ignorance always surrounds itself with mystery,” he said.

“Knowledge need not go naked.”

Again the eyes of the two friends met in the firelight, and over the face of Sergius there ran a new expression. There was an awakening of wonder in it, but no uneasiness. Anxiety was far away from him that night. When passion has gripped a man, passion strong enough, resolute enough, to over-ride all the prejudices of civilisation, all the promptings of the coward within us, whose voice, whining, we name prudence, the semi-comprehension, the criticism of another man cannot move him. Sergius wondered for an instant whether Anthony suspected against what his heart was beating. That was all.

While he wondered, the clock chimed the half hour after nine. He heard it.

“I shall have to go very soon,” he said.

“You can't. Just listen to the rain.”

“Rain! What's that got to do with it?”

Sergius spoke with a sudden unutterable contempt.

“Ring for another bottle of champagne,” Anthony replied. “This one is empty.”

“Well—for a parson and a teetotaller, I must say!”

Sergius rang the bell. A second bottle was opened. The servant went out of the room. As he closed the door, the wind sighed harshly against the window panes, driving the rain before it.

“Rough at sea to-night,” Anthony said.

The remark was an obvious one; but, as spoken, it sounded oddly furtive, and full of hidden meaning. Sergius evidently found it so, for he said:

“Why, whom d'you know that's going to sea to-night?”

Anthony was startled by the quick question, and replied almost nervously:—

“Nobody in particular—why should I?”

“I don't know why, but I think you do.”

“People one knows cross the channel every night almost.”

“Of course,” Sergius said indifferently.

He glanced towards the clock and again mechanically his hand went up, for a second, to his left breast. Anthony leaned forward in his chair quickly, and broke into speech. He had seen the stare at the clock-face, the gesture.

“It's strange,” he said, “how people go out of our lives, how friends go, and enemies!”

“Enemies!”

“Yes. I sometimes wonder which exit is the sadder. When a friend goes—with him goes, perhaps for ever, the chance of saying 'I am your friend.' When an enemy goes—”

“Well, what then?”

“With him goes, perhaps for ever, too, the chance of saying, 'I am not your enemy.'”

“Pshaw! Parson's talk, Anthony.”

“No, Sergius, other men forgive besides parsons; and other men, and parsons too, pass by their chances of forgiving.”

“You're a whole Englishman, I'm only half an Englishman. There's something untamed in my blood, and I say—damn forgiveness!”

“And yet you've forgiven.”

“Whom?”

“Olga Mayne.”

The face of Sergius did not change at the sound of this name, unless, perhaps, to a more fixed calm, a more still and pale coldness.

“Olga is punished,” he said. “She is ruined.”

“Her ruin may be repaired.”

Sergius smiled quietly.

“You think so?”

“Yes. Tell me, Sergius”—Anthony spoke with a strong earnestness, a strong excitement that he strove to conceal and hold in check—“you loved her?”

“Yes, I loved her—certainly.”

“You will always love her?”

“Since I'm not changeable, I daresay I shall.”

Anthony's thin, eager face brightened. A glow of warmth burned in his eyes and on his cheeks.

“Then you would wish her ruin repaired.”

“Should I?”

“If you love her, you must.”

“How could it be repaired?”

“By her marriage with—Vernon.”

Anthony's strong voice quivered before he pronounced the last word, and his eyes were alight with fervent anxiety. He was looking at Sergius like a man on the watch for a tremendous outbreak of emotion. The champagne he had drunk—a new experience for him since he had taken orders—put a sort of wild finishing touch to the intensity of the feelings, under the impulse of which he had forced himself upon Sergius to-night. He supposed that his inward excitement must be more than matched by the so different inward excitement of his friend. But he—who thought he understood!—had no true conception of the region of cold, frosty fury in which Sergius was living, like a being apart from all other men, ostracised by the immensity and peculiarity of his own power of emotion. Therefore he was astonished when Sergius, with undiminished quietude, replied:

“Oh, with Vernon, that charming man of fashion, whose very soul, they say, always wears lavender gloves? You think that would be a good thing?”

“Good! I don't say that. I say—as the world is now—the only thing. He is the author of her fall. He should be her husband.”

“And I?”

Anthony stretched out his hand to grasp his friend's hand, but Sergius suddenly took up his champagne glass, and avoided the demonstration of sympathy.

“You can be nothing to her now, Serge,” Anthony said, and his voice quivered with sympathy.

“You think so? I might be.”

“What?”

“Oh, not her husband, not her lover, not her friend.”

“What then?”

Sergius avoided answering.

“You would have her settle down with Vernon in Phillimore Place?” he said. “Play the wife to his noble husband? Well, I know there's been some idea of that, as I told you yesterday.”

The clock chimed ten. Although Sergius seemed so calm, so self-possessed, Anthony observed that now he paid no heed to the little, devilish note of time. This new subject of conversation had been Anthony's weapon. Desperately he had used it, and not, it seemed, altogether in vain.

“Yes; as you told me yesterday.”

“And it seems good to you?”

“It seems to me the only thing possible now.”

“There are generally more possibilities than one in any given event, I fancy.”

Again Anthony was surprised at the words of Sergius, who seemed to grow calmer as he grew more excited, who seemed, to-night, strangely powerful, not simply in temper, but even in intellect.

“For a woman there is sometimes only one possibility if she is to be saved from ignominy, Serge.”

“So you think that Olga Mayne must become the wife of Vernon, who is a—”

“Coward. Yes.”

At the word coward, Sergius seemed startled out of his hard calm. He looked swiftly and searchingly at Anthony.

“Why do you say coward?” he asked sharply. “I was not going to use that word.”

Anthony was obviously disconcerted.

“It came to me,” he said hurriedly.

“Why?”

“Any man that brings a girl to the dust is a coward.”

“Ah—that's not what you meant,” Sergius said.

Anthony stole a glance at the clock. The hand crawled slowly over the quarter of an hour past ten.

“No, it was not,” he said slowly.

IV

Sergius got up from his chair and stood by the fire. He was obviously becoming engrossed by the conversation. Anthony could at least notice this with thankfulness.

“Anthony, I see you've got a fresh knowledge of Vernon since I was with you yesterday,” Sergius continued; “some new knowledge of his nature.”

“Perhaps I have.”

“How did you get it?”

“Does that matter?”

“You have heard of something about him?”

“No.”

“You have seen him, then; I say, you have seen him?”

Anthony hesitated. He pushed the champagne bottle over towards Sergius. It had been placed on a little table near the fireplace.

“No; I don't want to drink. Why on earth don't you answer me, Anthony?”

“I have always felt that Vernon was a coward. His conduct to you shows it. He was—or seemed—your friend. He saw you deeply in love with this—with Olga. He chose to ruin her after he knew of your love. Who but a coward could act in such a way?”

An expression of dark impatience came into the eyes of Sergius.

“You are confusing treachery and cowardice, and you are doing it untruthfully. You have seen Vernon.”

Anthony thought for a moment, and then said:

“Yes, I have.”

“By chance, of course. Why did you speak to him?”

“I thought I would.”

Sergius was obviously disturbed and surprised. The deeply emotional, yet rigid calm in which he had been enveloped all the evening was broken at last. A slight excitement, a distinct surface irritation, woke in him. Anthony felt an odd sense of relief as he observed it. For the constraint of Sergius had begun to weigh upon him like a heavy burden and to move him to an indefinable dread.

“I wonder you didn't cut him,” Sergius said. “You're my friend. And he's—he's—”

“He's done you a deadly injury. I know that. I am your friend, Serge; I would do anything for you.”

“Yet you speak to that—devil.”

“I spoke to him because I'm your friend.”

Sergius sat down again, with a heavy look, the look of a man who has been thrashed, and means to return every blow with curious interest.

“You parsons are a riddle to me,” he said in a low and dull voice. “You and your charity and your loving-kindness, and your turning the cheek to the smiter and all the rest of it. And as to your way of showing friendship—”

His voice died away in something that was almost a growl, and he stared at the carpet. Between it and his eyes once more the mist seemed rising stealthily. It began to curl upwards softly about him. As he watched it, he heard Anthony say:—

“Sergius, you don't understand how well I understand you.”

The big hand of the clock had left the half-hour after ten behind him. Anthony breathed more freely. At last he could be more explicit, more unreserved. He thought of a train rushing through the night, devouring the spaces of land that lie between London and the sea that speaks, moaning, to the South of England. He saw a ship glide out from the dreary docks. Her lights gleamed. He heard the bell struck and the harsh cry of the sailors, and then the dim sigh of a coward who had escaped what he had merited. Then he heard Sergius laugh.

“That again, Anthony!”

“Yes. I didn't meet Vernon by chance at all.”

“What? You wrote to him, you fixed a meeting?”

“I went to Phillimore Place, to his house.”

Sergius said nothing. Strange furrows ploughed themselves in his young face, which was growing dusky white. He remained in the attitude of one devoted entirely to listening.

“You hear, Sergius?”

“Go on—when?”

“To-day. I decided to go after I met you yesterday night—and after I had seen that woman die—unprepared.”

“What could she have to do with it?”

“Much. Everything almost.”

Anthony got up now, almost sprang up from his chair. His face was glowing and working with emotion. There was a choking sensation in his throat.

“You don't know what it is,” he said hoarsely, “to a man with—with strong religious belief to see a human being's soul go out to blackness, to punishment—perhaps to punishment that will never end. It's abominable. It's unbearable. That woman will haunt me. Her despair will be with me always. I could not add to that horror.”

His eyes once more sought the clock. Seeing the hour, he turned, with a kind of liberating relief, to Sergius.

“I couldn't add to it,” he exclaimed, almost fiercely, “so I went to Vernon.”

“Why?”

“Sergius—to warn him.”

There was a dead silence. Even the rain was hushed against the window. Then Sergius said, in a voice that was cold as the sound of falling water in winter:—

“I don't understand.”

“Because you won't understand how I have learnt to know you, Sergius, to understand you, to read your soul.”

“Mine too?”

“Yes; I've felt this awful blow that's come upon you—the loss of Olga, her ruin—as if I myself were you. We haven't said much about it till yesterday. Then, from the way you spoke, from the way you looked, from what you said, even what you wouldn't say, I guessed all that was in your heart.”

“You guessed all that?”

Sergius was looking directly at Anthony and leaning against the mantelpiece, along which he stretched one arm. His fingers closed and unclosed, with a mechanical and rhythmical movement, round a china figure. The motion looked as if it were made in obedience to some fiercely monotonous music.

“Yes, more—I knew it.”

Sergius nodded.

“I see,” he said.

Anthony touched his arm, almost with an awe-struck gesture.

“I knew then that you—that you intended to kill Vernon. And—God forgive me!—at first I was almost glad.”

“Well—go on!”

Anthony shivered. The voice of Sergius was so strangely calm and level.

“I—I—” he stammered. “Serge, why do you look at me like that?”

Sergius looked away without a word.

“For I, too, hated Vernon, more for what he had done to you even than for what he had done to Olga. But, Sergius, after you had gone, in the night, and in the dawn too, I kept on thinking of it over and over. I couldn't get away from it—that you were going to commit such an awful crime. I never slept. When at last it was morning, I went down to my district; there are criminals there, you know.”

“I know.”

“I looked at them with new eyes, and in their eyes I saw you, always you; and then I said to myself could I bear that you should become a criminal?”

“You said that?”

The fingers of Sergius closed over the china figure, and did not unclose.

“Yes. I almost resolved then to go to Vernon at once and to tell him what I suspected—what I really knew.”

The clock struck eleven. Anthony heard it; Sergius did not hear it.

“Then I went to sit with that wretched woman. Already I had resolved, as I believed, on the course to take. I had no thought for Vernon yet, only for you. It seemed to me that I did not care in the least to save him from death. I only cared to save you—my friend—from murder. But when the woman died I felt differently. My resolve was strengthened, my desire was just doubled. I had to save not only you, but also him. He was not ready to die.”

Anthony trembled with a passion of emotion. Sergius remained always perfectly calm, the china figure prisoned in his hand.

“So—so I went to him, Sergius.”

“Yes.”

“I saw him. Almost as I entered he received your letter, saying that you forgave him, that you would call to-night after eight o'clock to tell him so, and to urge on his marriage with Olga. When he had read the letter—I interpreted it to him; and then I found out that he was a coward. His terror was abject—despicable; he implored my help; he started at every sound.”

“To-night he'll sleep quietly, Anthony.”

“To-night he has gone. Before morning he will be on the sea.”

The sound of the wind came to them again, and Sergius understood why Anthony had said: “Rough at sea to-night.”

Suddenly Sergius moved; he unclosed his fingers: the ruins of the china figure fell from them in a dust of blue and white upon the mantelpiece.

“No—it's too late, Sergius. He went at eleven.”

Sergius stood quite still.

“You came here to-night to keep me here till he had gone?”

“Yes.”

“That's why you—”

He stopped.

“That's why I came. That's why I broke my pledge. I thought wine—any weapon to keep you from this crime. And, Sergius, think. Vernon dead could never have restored Olga to the place she has lost. That, too, must have driven me to the right course, though I scarcely thought of it till now.”

Sergius said, as if in reply: “So you have understood me!”

“Yes, Sergius. Friendship is something. Let us thank God, not even that he is safe, but that you—you are safe—and that Olga—”

“Hush! Has she gone with him?”

“She will meet him. He has sworn to marry her.”

The hand of Sergius moved to his left breast. Anthony's glowing eyes were fixed upon him.

“Ah, yes, Sergius,” Anthony cried. “Put that cursed, cursed thing down, put it away. Now it can never wreck your life and my peace.”

Sergius drew out the revolver slowly and carefully. Again the mist rose around him. But it was no longer white; it was scarlet.

There was a report. Anthony fell, without a word, a cry.

Then Sergius bent down, and listened to the silence of his friend's heart—the long silence of the man who intervened.

 
 
 

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