* * * * *
Captain Pratt did not remain long in the smoking-room. He had only a slight acquaintance with Hugh, which did not appear capable of expansion. Captain Pratt made a few efforts, proved its inelastic properties, and presently lounged out again.
Hugh moved slowly to the window, and leaned his throbbing forehead against the stone mullion. He was still weak, and the encounter with Lady Newhaven had shaken him.
“What did he mean?” he said to himself, bewildered and suspicious. “‘Perhaps I should be staying at Westhope later on!’ But, of course, I shall never go there again. He knows that as well as I do. What did he mean?”
The Bird of Time has but a little
To flutter—and the Bird is on the wing.
It was the third week of November. Winter, the destroyer, was late, but he had come at last. There was death in the air, a whisper of death stole across the empty fields and bare hill-side. The birds heard it and were silent. The November wind was hurrying round Westhope Abbey, shaking its bare trees.
Lord Newhaven stood looking fixedly out eastward across the level land to the low hills beyond. He stood so long that the day died, and twilight began to rub out first the hills and then the long, white lines of flooded meadow and blurred pollard willows. Presently the river mist rose up to meet the coming darkness. In the east, low and lurid, a tawny moon crept up the livid sky. She made no moonlight on the gray earth.
Lord Newhaven moved away from the window, where he had become a shadow among the shadows, and sat down in the dark at his writing-table.
Presently he turned on the electric lamp at his elbow and took a letter out of his pocket. The circle of shaded light fell on his face as he read—the thin, grave face, with the steady, inscrutable eyes.
He read the letter slowly, evidently not for the first time.
“If I had not been taken by surprise at the moment I should not have consented to the manner in which our differences were settled. Personally, I consider the old arrangement, to which you regretfully alluded at the time”—("pistols for two and coffee for four,” I remember perfectly)—“as preferable, and as you appeared to think so yourself, would it not be advisable to resort to it? Believing that the old arrangement will meet your wishes as fully as it does mine, I trust that you will entertain this suggestion, and that you will agree to a meeting with your own choice of weapons, on any pretext you may choose to name within the next week.”
The letter ended there. It was unsigned.