The Ghost of a Chance

Mary Cholmondeley

First published in The Romance of His Life: and other romances, John Murray, 1921.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

The Ghost of a Chance

“Yes, but the years run circling fleeter,

Ever they pass me—I watch, I wait—

Ever I dream, and awake to meet her;

She cometh never, or comes too late.”

Sir Alfred Lyall.

“The thing I don’t understand about you,” I said, “is why you have never married. Your love affairs seem to consist in ruining other people’s. I was on the verge of getting married myself years ago when you lounged in and spoilt my chance. But when you had done for me you did not come forward yourself, you backed out. I believe, if the truth were known, you have backed out over and over again.”

Sinclair did not answer. He frowned and looked sulkily at me with lustreless eyes. He was out of health, and out of spirits, and ill at ease.

The large, luxurious room, with its dim oriental carpets and its shaded lights, and its wonderful array of Indian pictures and its two exquisite rose-red lacquer cabinets, had a great charm for me who lived in small lodgings in the city near my work. But it seemed to hold little pleasure for him. I sometimes doubted whether anything held much pleasure for him. He had just returned from China. The great packing cases piled one above another in the hall were no doubt full of marvellous acquisitions, china, embroideries, rugs. But he did not seem to care to unpack them.

“Did I really spoil your marriage?” he said listlessly. He looked old and haggard and leaden-coloured, and it was difficult to believe he was the magnificent personage who had diverted Mildred’s eyes from me ten years before.

“Don’t pretend you didn’t know it at the time,” I retorted.

His behaviour had been outrageous, and I, with my snub nose and crab-like gait, had been cast aside. I could not blame her. He was like a prince in a fairy tale. I never blamed her. She knows that now; in short, she knows everything.

“No, my pepper pot, I won’t pretend I didn’t know it. But I thought—I had a strong impression—I was mistaken, of course, but I thought that—”

“That what?”

His face altered.

“That it was she,” he said below his breath.

I stared at him uncomprehending.

“She looked like it,” he went on more to himself than to me. “She had a sweet face. I thought it might be she. But it was not.”

Silence fell on us.

At last I said:

“Perhaps you will be interested to hear that she and I have made it up.”

“I am,” he said, and his dull eyes lightened, “if you are sure she is the right woman; really sure, I mean.”

“I’ve known that for eleven years,” I said, “but the difficulty has been to get the same idea firmly into her head. At any rate, it’s in now. I’ve tattooed it on every square inch of her mind, so to speak. If I had been let alone she would have been my downtrodden, ill-used wife, and I should have been squandering her money for the last ten years. I shall have to hammer her twice a day and get heavily into debt to make up for lost time. Why don’t you marry yourself, Sinclair? That is what you want, though you don’t know it; what I want, what we all want, someone to bully, something weaker than ourselves to trample on.”

“Don’t I know it!” he said. “I know it well enough. But how am I to find her?”

“Marry Lady Valenes. I’m sure you’ve made trouble and scandal enough in that quarter. Now old Valenes is dead you ought to marry her; and she’s more beautiful than ever. I saw her at the opera last night.”

Sinclair stared straight in front of him with his long hands on his knees. His face, thickened and coarsened, fell easily into lines of fatigue and ill temper.

“What is the use of Lady Valenes to me?” he said savagely. “What is the use of any woman in the world, except the right one?”

“Well, you acted as if she was the right one when her poor jealous old husband was alive. It’s just like you to think she won’t do now he is dead and she is free.”

He was silent again.

I was somewhat mollified by the remembrance that I had got Mildred, the most elusive and difficult of women, firmly under my thumb at last, and I said:

“The truth is, you don’t know what love is, you haven’t got it in you to care a pin about anyone except yourself, or you would have married years ago. Who do you think you’re in love with now?”

“The same woman,” he said wearily, “always the same.”

“Then marry her and have done with it, and turn this wretched museum into a home.”

“I can’t find her.”

“What is her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Just seen her once, I suppose,” I retorted. “A perfect profile sailing past in a carriage under a lace parasol. And you think that’s love. Little you know.”

I expanded my chest. Since I had come to terms with Mildred, some thirty hours before—and I had had a very uphill fight of it before she gave in-I felt that I was an expert in these matters.

“Chipps,” said Sinclair. (Chipps is not my name, but it has stuck to me ever since I was at school.) “Chipps, the truth is, we are in the same boat.”

My old wound gave a sudden twinge.

“No,” I said. “No. We aren’t. I’m not taking any water exercise with you, so you needn’t think it. Mildred and I are walking on the towing-path arm in arm, and I don’t approve of boating for her because I don’t like it myself. So she remains on dry land with me. In the same boat, indeed!”

“I meant, we were both in love,” he said with the ghost of a smile, “if your corkscrew advances towards matrimony can be called love. I did not mean that we were in love with the same woman.”

“I don’t care if you are now. I did care damnably once, but I don’t mind a bit now. Do your worst.”

“The conquering hero, and no mistake,” Sinclair said, looking at me with something almost like affection, and he put out his hand. “Good luck to you, old turkey cock.”

I shook his hand harder than I intended, quite warmly, in fact.

“Why don’t you marry too?” I said. “It would make all the difference to you, as it has to me.”

We seemed suddenly very near to each other, as we had been in the old days; nearer than we had ever been since he had made trouble between Mildred and me.

He looked at me with a kind of forlorn envy.

“I cannot find her,” he said again.

The words fell into the silence of the large, dimly lighted room.

And perhaps because we had been at school together, perhaps because I had no longer a grudge against him, perhaps because I was not quite so repellent to confidences as heretofore, and he was conscious of some undefinable change in me, Sinclair said his say.

“I fell in and out of love fairly often when I was young,” he said. “You’ve seen me do it. But at the back of my mind there was always a deep-rooted conviction that I was only playing at it, and the real thing was to come, that there was the one woman waiting somewhere for me. I wasn’t in any hurry for her. I supposed she would turn up at the right moment. But the years passed. I reached thirty. As I got older I began to have sudden horrible fits of depression that she wasn’t coming after all. They did not last, but they became more severe as I gradually realised that I could not really live without her, that I was only marking time till she came.

“And one summer night, or rather morning, ten years ago, something happened. You need not believe it unless you like, Chipps. It’s all one to me whether you do or you don’t. I came home from a ball, and I found among my letters one dictated by my young sister saying she was very ill and wishing to see me. She was always ill, poor little thing, and always wanting to see me. She was consumptive, and she lived in the summer months with her nurse in a shooting-box high up on the Yorkshire moors, the most inaccessible place, but she liked it, and the doctor approved of it. I used to go and see her there when I had time. But that was not often. I had made provision for her comfort, but I seldom saw her.

“I laid the letter down, and wondered whether I ought to go. I did not want to leave London at that moment. I had been dancing all night with Mildred, and was very much épris with her. Then I saw there was a postscript in the same handwriting, no doubt that of the nurse. “Miss Sinclair is more ill than she is aware.”

“That settled it. I must go. Once before I had been warned her condition was serious, and had hurried up to Yorkshire to find her almost as usual. But, nevertheless, I supposed I ought to go. I felt irritated with the poor little thing. But as my other sister Anna was married and out in India, I was the only relation she had left in England. I decided to go.

“In that case it was not worth while to go to bed. I sat down by the open window, and watched the dawn come up behind Westminster. And as I sat with the letter in my hand a disgust of my life took hold of me. It looked suddenly empty and vain and self-seeking, and cumbered with worldly squalid interests and joyless amusements. And where was the one woman of whom I had had obscure hints from time to time? Other women came and went. But she who was essential to me, who became more essential to my well-being with every year—she never came. I felt an intense need of her, a passionate desire to find her, to seek her out. But where?

“And as I sat there I felt in my inmost soul a faint thrill, a vibration that gradually flooded my whole being, and then slowly ebbed away. And something within me, something passionate surrendered myself to it, and was borne away upon it as by an outgoing tide. It ebbed farther and farther. And I floated farther and farther away with it in a golden mist. And in a wonderful place of peace I saw a young girl sitting alone in the dawn. I could not see her face, but I recognised her. She was the one woman in the world for me, my mate found at last. And I was consumed in an agony of longing. And I ran to her, and fell on my knees at her feet, and hid my face in her gown. And she bent over me, and raised me in her arms and held my head against her breast. And she said, ‘Do not be distressed, I love you, and all is well.’

“And we spoke together in whispers, and my agitation died away. I did not see her face, but I did not need to. I knew her as I had never known anyone before. I had found her at last.

“I had never guessed, I had never dreamed, I had never read in any book that anything could be so beautiful. It was beyond all words. It was more wonderful than dawn at sea. I leaned my head against her and cried for joy. And she soothed me as a mother soothes her child. But she was crying too, crying for sheer joy. I felt her tears on my face. She needed me as I needed her. That was the most wonderful of all, her need of me. We had been drawn to each other from the ends of the earth, and we were safe in each other’s arms at last.

“And then gradually, imperceptibly, a change came. The same tide which had brought me to her feet began to draw me away again, and sudden terror seized me that I was going to lose her. I clung convulsively to her, but my arms were no longer round her. We were apart, stretching out our hands to each other. Her figure was growing dimmer and dimmer in a golden mist. In an agony I cried to her. ‘Where shall I find you? Tell me how to reach you?’ And she laughed, and her voice came serene and reassuring. ‘We shall meet. You are on your way to me. You will find me on the high road.’

“And we were parted from each other, and I came slowly back over immense distances and moving waveless tides of space; back to this room, and the dawn coming up behind the tower of Westminster.”

“You awoke in fact,” I said.

“No. I had not been asleep. I returned. And an immense peace enveloped me. But gradually that too, ebbed away as I began to realise that I had not seen her face. She was in the world, she was waiting for me. Thank God that was no delusion. But which of all the thousands of women in the crowd was she? How was I to know her? ‘You are on your way to me, you will find me on the high road.’ That was what she had said, and it flashed through my mind that she might be Mildred. ‘You are on your way to me.’ I was to motor Mildred to Burnham Beeches that very afternoon. I had arranged to take her there before I had received the letter about my sister. Chipps, I dare say you will think me heartless, perhaps you often have, but I simply dared not start off to Yorkshire that morning, even if my sister was dangerously ill. I had a feeling that my whole future was at stake, that I must see Mildred again, that nothing must come between her and me. I went with her to Burnham Beeches. We spent the afternoon together.”

“I have not forgotten that fact,” I said.

“And I found I was mistaken,” he said. “She knew nothing. The same evening I went to Yorkshire, but I did not find my sister. She had died suddenly that afternoon.”

“You would have been in time to see her if you had let Mildred alone,” I said brutally.

He did not answer for a long time.

“For ten years I looked for her, now in one person now in another, but I could not find her. I tried to go to her again in that waking dream, but I could not find the way. I could not discover any clue to her. For ten years she made no sign. At last I supposed she was dead, and I gave her up.

“That was last autumn. Gout had been increasing on me, and I had been up to Strathpeffer to take the waters there. And my other sister Anna, now a widow, pressed me to stay a few days with her at the little house on the moors where my younger sister had lived, and which I allowed Anna to use as her home as she was extremely poor. The air was bracing and I needed bracing, so I went, dropping down from Strathpeffer by easy stages in my motor. I was glad I went. The heat was great, but on those uplands there was always a fresh air stirring. Anna, who had hardly seen me for years, made much of me, and though she had no doubt become rather eccentric since her husband’s death, that did not matter much on a Yorkshire moor. I spent some happy days with her, and it turned out to be fortunate that I had come, for on the third afternoon of my visit, she had found out—she found out everything—that an old servant of mine, the son of my foster mother, had got into difficulties, and was being sold up next day at a distant farm. She urged me to motor over very early in the morning and stop the sale and put him on his legs again. I rather liked the idea of a thirty mile drive across the moors before the sun was up, and I agreed to go. I had no objection to acting Providence and pleasing Anna at the same time.

“I shall never forget that afternoon. We had tea together in the verandah, overlooking the great expanse of the heathered, purple moors. And the thunder which had hung round us all day rolled nearer and nearer. The moors looked bruised and dark under the heavy sky. The long white road grew whiter and whiter. My sister left me to shut all the windows, and I lay in my long deck chair and looked at the road.

“And as I looked the words came back to my mind. ‘You will find me on the high road.’ Lies! Lies! Ten years I had been seeking her. I should never find her. And far, far away on the empty highway I saw a woman coming. My heart beat suddenly, but I remembered that I had been deceived a hundred times, and this was no doubt but one more deception. I watched her draw nearer and nearer. She came lightly along towards the house under the livid sky with the heather on each side of her. She had a little knapsack on her shoulder. And as she drew near the breathless stillness before the storm was broken by a sheet of lightning and a clap of thunder. My sister rushed up and dragged the chairs farther back. Then her eye caught sight of the tall grey figure now close below us on the road. A few great drops fell.

“Anna ran down to the gate and called to the woman to take shelter. She walked swiftly towards us, and then ran with my sister up the steps, just as the storm broke.

“‘Magnificent,’ she said, easing her shoulder of the strap of her knapsack while her eyes followed the driving rain cloud. ‘How kind of you to call me in. There is not another house within miles.’

“She was a very beautiful woman of about thirty, with a small head and a clear-cut grave face. Her dark, parted hair had a little grey in it on the temples. She smoothed it with slender, capable, tanned hands. She had tea with us, my sister welcoming her as if she were her dearest friend. That was Anna all over.

“The thunderstorm passed, but not the rain. It descended in sheets.

“The stranger looked at it now and then, and at last rose and put out her hand for her knapsack.

“‘I must be going,’ she said.

“But Anna would not hear of it. There was not another house within miles. She insisted on her stopping the night. A room was got ready, and presently we all three sat down to a nondescript meal which poor Anna believed to be dinner.

“I was attracted by our guest, but not more than I had often been before by other women. She had great beauty, but I had seen many beautiful women during the last twenty years. She was gay, and I like gaiety. And she had the look of alertness and perfect health which often accompanies a happy temperament. She and Anna talked incessantly, at least, Anna did. I did not join in much. My cure had left me languid. When we had finished our meal we found the rain had ceased, and the moon shone high in heaven over a world of mist. The moors were gone. The billows of mist drifted slowly past us like noiseless waves upon a great sea. The house and terraced garden rose above it like a solitary island. The night was hot and airless, and we sat out on the verandah, and talked of many things.

“Of course, Anna is eccentric. There is no doubt about it. But the worst of her is that her form of eccentricity is infectious. She is extremely impulsive and confidential, and others follow suit if they are with her. I have known her once (at a luncheon party of eight people whom she had never met before) say, as a matter of course, that she remembered a previous existence, and sleeping seven in a bed in an underground cellar. I was horrified, but no one else was. And a grave man beside her, a minister, told her that when first he went to Madeira he remembered living there in a little Portuguese cottage with a row of sugar canes in front of it. He said he recognised the cottage the moment he saw it, and said to himself, ‘At any rate, I am happier now than I was then.’ A sort of barrier seemed always to go down in Anna’s presence. People momentarily lost their fear of each other, and said things which I have no doubt they regretted afterwards.

“I need hardly say that as Anna looked at the moonlight and the mist she became recklessly indiscreet. I could not stop her. I did not try. I shut my eyes, and pretended to be asleep. And she actually told this entire stranger all about her first meeting with her late husband, which it seemed had taken place on an expedition to Nepal. Anna was always wandering over the globe with Lamas, or sailing on inflated pigskins with wild Indians, or things of that kind. I had only known the bare fact of her marriage with a distinguished but impecunious soldier who had died some years later, and I was amazed what a dramatic story she made of her first encounter with him on the mountains of Nepal, and how his coolies had all run away, and she let him join on to her party. And how they walked together for three days through a land of rose-coloured rhododendrons; without even knowing each other’s name, and how she cooked their meals at the doors of the little mud rest-houses. There was something very lovable after all in the way Anna told it. I realised for the first time that she, too, had lived, that she had been touched by the sacred flame, and that it was natural to her to speak of her great happiness, the memory of which dwelt continually with her.

“I saw through my half-closed eyes the strange woman’s hand laid for a moment on Anna’s hand.

“‘You were very fortunate,’ she said gently.

“‘Was I?’ said Anna. ‘I suppose everyone else is the same. We all see that light once in our lives, don’t we? I am sure you have too.’

“‘I am unmarried,’ said the stranger, ‘and thirty years of age, and nothing of that kind has ever happened to me. I was once engaged to be married for a short time. But I had to break it off. It was no good. I suppose,’ she said, with a low laugh, ‘that the reason we are both talking so frankly is because we are entire strangers to each other.’

“‘I do believe the world would go all right, and that we should all be happy if only we did not know each other,’ said Anna earnestly.

“I felt sure the stranger would think her mad, but she answered tranquilly:

“‘There are two ways of living absolutely happily with our fellow creatures, I think. When you know nothing about them and have no tie to them, and when you know them through and through. But on the long road between where all the half-way houses are, there seems to be a lot of trouble and misunderstanding and disappointment.’

“‘We can never know anyone through and through until we love them,’ said Anna.

“‘No,’ said the stranger, ‘Love alone can teach that. Even I know that, I who have never seen love except once—in a dream.’

“‘Tell me about it,’ said Anna.

“‘I have never spoken of it,’ she said with the same tranquillity; her face as I took one glance at it serene and happy in the moonlight, ‘except to my sister. And it is curious that I should speak of it here; for it was in this house it happened to me.’

“‘You have been here before?’ said Anna.

“‘Yes. Ten years ago. That was why I went out of my way on my walking tour today just to look at the little place again. I stayed a month here, and I helped a friend of mine who is now dead, a trained nurse, to nurse a Miss Sinclair who was dying here.’

“‘We are her brother and sister,’ said Anna.

“‘I thought it possible when I saw you on the verandah. You are both like her in a way. My friend, who was in charge, was over-taxed, and I came down to help her. Two nurses were necessary, but she did not like to complain, and the family seemed rather inaccessible. Miss Sinclair liked me, and I did the night work till she died. I left directly she was gone.’

“‘My brother was too late,’ said Anna.

“‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I was grieved for him. I added a postscript unknown to her, to her last letter to him which I wrote at her dictation. My postscript would have alarmed him and brought him at once. But the letter must have been delayed in the post. The last night before the end I was sitting here on the verandah. I had just been relieved, and I ought to have gone to bed, but I came and sat here instead and watched the dawn come up, ‘like thunder,’ behind the moors. And as I sat I became very still, as if I were waiting in a great peace. And gradually I became conscious as at an immense distance of someone in trouble. I was not asleep, and I was not fully awake. And from a long, long way off a man came swiftly to me, and threw himself on his knees at my feet, and hid his face in my gown. He was greatly agitated, but I was not. And I wasn’t surprised either. I raised him in my arms, and held him to my breast, and said, “Do not be distressed, for I love you, and all is well.” It was quite true. I did love him absolutely, boundlessly, as I love him still. And gradually his agitation died away, and he rested in my arms, and ecstasy such as I had never thought possible enfolded us both. We both cried for sheer joy, and for having found each other. It was beyond anything I had ever dreamed. It was as beautiful as the dawn.’

“‘It was the dawn,’ said Anna.

“‘If it was the dawn, the day it spoke of never came,’ said the stranger quietly, ‘and presently we were parted from each other, and he began to be frightened again. And he called to me, ‘Tell me how to find you,’ and I laughed, for I saw he could not miss me. I saw the way open between him and me. Such a short little way, and so clear. I said, ‘You are on your way to me now. You will find me on the high road.’ It was such a plain road, that even a blind man could not miss it. And we were parted from each other and I came back to the other dawn, the outer dawn. For days and weeks I walked like one in a dream. I felt so sure of him, I would have staked my life upon his coming—that is ten years ago—but he never came.’

“Chipps, I thought the two women must have heard the mad hammering of my heart. She was there before me in the moonlight, found at last—my beautiful, inaccessible mate. And she was free, and we loved each other as no one had loved since the world began. I could neither speak nor move. Though it was joy, it was the sharpest pain I had ever known. I did not know how to bear it.

“‘My dear, he will come still,’ said Anna.

“‘Will he?’ said the stranger, and she shook her head. She rose and stood in the moonlight, a tall, noble figure. And for the first time there was a shade of sadness on her serene, happy face.

“‘I saw the road so clear,’ she said, ‘but I am afraid he has somehow missed it. I have an intuition that he will not come now, that he is lost.’

“Sitting far back in the shadow, I looked long at her, at my wonderful dream came true; and I swore that I would never lose sight of her again once found. I would take no risks; I would bind her to me with hooks of steel.

“And then, in a few minutes, it was bedtime, and Anna aroused me, and she and her guest went off together hand in hand. I dragged myself to my room, too. I was shaking from head to foot, and Brown, my valet, said ‘You aren’t fit, sir, to start at six in the morning.’

“I had clean forgotten that I had arranged to drive early across the moors to stop the sale of my foster brother’s farm. It was impossible to go now. I might come back in the afternoon and find my lady flown. There was no telegraph office within miles; I must think of some other plan. It was too late to countermand the motor, which put up several miles away. So I told Brown to send it back when it arrived at six, and to tell the chauffeur to bring it round again at eleven. Then, perhaps, my lady would deign to drive with me, and I might have speech with her.

“‘On the high road’—that was where she had said we should meet. Yes, when we were on the high road alone together, I would prove to her that I was her lover. I would boldly claim her. She would never repulse me, for she needed me as I needed her.

“I did not sleep that night. It seemed so impossible, so amazing, that we had met at last. I felt transformed, younger than I had ever been. Waves of joy passed over me, and yet I was frightened, too. There was a sort of warning voice at the back of my mind telling me that I should lose her yet. But that was nonsense. My nerves were shaken. I could not lose her again. I would see to that.

“Very early, long before six, I heard Anna stirring. I remembered with compunction that she had only one servant, and that she had said she would get up and cook my breakfast for me herself before I started. Anna was an excellent cook. I heard her rattling the kitchen grate and singing as she laid the breakfast and presently there were two voices, Anna’s and another. I knew it was the voice of my lady. I felt unable to lie still any longer, and when the motor came round at six I was already half dressed. There was a momentary turmoil, and an opening and shutting of doors, and then the motor went away again. I finished dressing and went into the garden into the soft September sunshine. There was no one about. I went back to the house and found the servant clearing away a meal and relaying the table for me. I asked her where her mistress was, and she said she had gone in the motor with the other lady and had left a note for me. Sure enough, there was a scrawl stuck up on the mantelpiece.

“‘So sorry you are not well enough to start, but don’t worry your kind heart about it. I have gone in your place and will arrange everything. Take care of yourself, and don’t wait luncheon.’

“I got through the morning as best I could. I was abominably tired after my sleepless night and getting up so early, and a horrible anxiety grew and grew in me as the hours passed and Anna did not return. I had luncheon alone, and still no Anna. Could there have been an accident? I thought of my careful chauffeur and my new Daimler. Nothing ever happened to Anna, but I could not tolerate the idea of any risk to my lady. At last I heard the motor, and Anna came rushing in.

“‘It’s all right,’ she cried joyfully. ‘Brian’s farm is saved, and he and his old mother can’t thank you enough. I told them both it was all your doing, and you had sent me as you were not well enough to go yourself. Brown told me how poorly you were. And it was only a hundred and fifty pounds, after all. I gave my cheque for it, as I didn’t like to wake you for a blank one. They were almost paralysed with surprise. They could hardly thank me—I mean you—at first. Old Nancy cried, poor old darling, and called down blessings on you.’

“‘Did your guest enjoy the drive?’ I said at last.

“‘She did,’ said Anna. ‘And, oh! how I wished you had been well enough to be driving with her instead of me. The world was all sky. Such a pageant I had never seen—such vistas and fastnesses and citadels of light. She said she should remember it always.’

“‘She is not tired, I hope?’ I said.

“‘Tired! She said she was never tired. She said she would have walked the whole way if there had been time; but of course she was delayed by last night’s storm. So she was glad of the lift, and I dropped her at the cross roads above Riffle station. That was a splendid woman, Gerald.’

“I turned cold.

“‘Do you mean to say she’s gone?’

“‘Yes. She sails for South America on Tuesday. I forget why she said she was going.’

“‘And what was her name?’

“‘I haven’t an idea.’

“‘Anna, you don’t mean to say you let her go without finding out her name and address?’

“‘I never thought of such a thing. She never asked any questions about me, and I didn’t ask any about her. Why should I? What does her name matter?’”

Sinclair groaned.

“I lost her absolutely just when I thought I was sure of her,” he said. “She walked into my life and she walked out of it again, leaving no trace. I haven’t had the ghost of a chance.”

“Perhaps you will meet her again,” I said at last, somewhat lamely. “She may turn up suddenly, just when you least expect her.”

He shook his head.

“I shall never find her,” he said. “She’s gone for ever, I know it. She knew it. Lost! Lost! Lost!”

And the shadowed room echoed the word “Lost!”

I told the whole story to Mildred next day. I dare say I ought not to have done, but I did.

“Poor Mr. Sinclair,” she said softly when I had finished.

“Do you think he’s off his head?” I said. “It sounds perfectly ridiculous, a sort of cracked hallucination.”

“Oh, no. It’s all true,” said Mildred, in the same matter-of-fact tone as if she had said the fire was out. Women are curious creatures. The story evidently did not strike her as at all peculiar.

“What a pity he did not stick to the high road,” she said.

“What high road, in Heaven’s name?” I asked.

“Why, his duty, of course. Don’t you see, it was there she was sitting waiting for him. It led him straight to her. She saw that, and that he couldn’t miss her. He had only got to take the train to his sister when she was dying and he would have found his lady there. That was what she meant when she said the road was open between them. But he went down a side track to flirt with me and lost his chance. And the second time, if he had only stuck to going to the rescue of his foster brother, he could have given her a lift in his motor as Anna did, and have made himself known to her.”

“What a preposterously goody-goody idea! I don’t believe it for a moment. Here have I been doing my duty for the last ten years, toiling and moiling and snarling at everybody, and it never led me to you that I can see.”

“It might have done,” said Mildred, “if you hadn’t been entirely compacted of pride and uncharitableness. I made a mistake ten years ago, and was horribly sorry for it, but you never gave me a chance of setting it right till last Tuesday.”

“I never thought I had the ghost of a chance till last Tuesday,” I said. “Upon my honour I didn’t. The first moment I saw it I simply pounced on it.”

“Pounced on it, did you?” said Mildred scornfully “And poor me, with hardly a rag of self-respect left from laying it in your way over and over again for you to pounce on. Men are all alike; all as blind as bats. I’m sure I don’t know why we trouble our heads about them with their silly ghosts and chances and pouncings.”

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