THE CAT THAT CAME TO STAY
AT the corner where his road branched off from the suburban avenue connecting with the station Sydney Lamb crossed over to the gravelled footwalk on the far side to continue his homeward journey under the hedgerow separating Acacia Road from the open fields to the south. “ Belle View " that red-tile and stucco villa whose white-painted gate he was entitled to open and close with the feudal finality of a landed proprietor, lay back among the young trees on the other side of the road. Yet each evening this householder, returning from the City, made this slight detour. Approached from its own side of the road, the detached residence that flaunted his life’s savings presented but an end-on vista of neatly trimmed box hedging. From the southern flank a three-quarter aspect, embracing red roof and first-floor windows, opened itself to merge imperceptibly into a full-face greeting when the never-surfeiting moment arrived to pull up directly opposite that gate.
A neat, fragile-looking man, with hands and feet that had been wasted on one of his sex, and eyes mild and steady as those of a young nun, Mr. Sydney Lamb, of the Contracts Department, S. and A. Assurance Company, looked to his evening stroll up from the station as one of his few pleasures in life. It cost him nothing in a world where money was always short. It gave him fifteen precious minutes to himself, where there was no one to override him in conversation, forcing out the reluctant participation which he was far too timid to refuse. It brought him evanescent peace wherein he could call his soul his own. And, finally, it gave him, as on a stage, his house in all its suburban glory, solid as the British Constitution against the splendours of a setting sun.
From the footwalk under the hedgerow that evening he paused longer than was his wont. The sun had beaten him. Walking up the hill he had watched it, a great red penny balanced on the rim of the horizon lining the undulating ridge of the Surrey hills. It had slipped down behind when he arrived in front of the house, but the long crimson trailers still spread fanwise in its wake, silhouetting his western chimney-pot against a dull blaze of fire. Once, as he stood and watched, his breath coming and going silently, almost imperceptibly, he thought he caught a glimpse of Mrs. Lamb at a bedroom window, and with a guilty start he stepped out to cross the road. A second wary glance, however, showed the maid, and he stopped in his tracks to enjoy another moment or two of freedom from the domestic autocracy which somehow had enslaved him in the course of those long years since the care-free days of his early married life. There was something about the setting of the sun which roused his five-foot-seven of meagre manhood into a faint-hearted rebellion against the way Life had laughed at the heroic aspirations of his earlier days. Pirates, bloodshed, revolvers, madly daring acts of gallantry on the High Seas — that was the stuff he had fed his youthful ambition on, and it had taken the insidious discouragement of upwards of a score of the passing years to convince him finally of the futility of it all. There are no revolvers about life insurance, and acts of gallantry, however restrained, are apt to be misconstrued in a busy City office.
He removed his soft felt hat, and absently stroked at the streaks of grey about his narrow temples. Requiem — for the hundredth time — in the form of a half-conscious sigh, escaped him, and he made his way slowly across to the white gates. It was as he stretched out his hand for the catch that he became aware of an intruder in the clipped box-hedge. The wall of green shivered under the press of an unseen influence ; there came a frenzied scrape against the inside of the deal boundary wall, and, even as he withdrew his arm sharply with a nervous jerk, the head and paws of a strange cat appeared over the ledge. For a moment the animal eyed him distrustfully. An enormous brute with a flaming ginger head the size of a young spring cabbage. The almond eyes were clear as amber, and bottomless as a lake, and the fore paws, with their needle claws extended, were as broad as half-crown pieces.
“ Shoo ! Shoo ! ” Sydney began mildly. Commands, even to animals, had a habit of turning to absurdities on his lips, and the suddenness of it had upset him.
But the cat only stared him down. The amber eyes were impassive—a hundred miles away, beyond the owner of the front garden. Drawing up his back legs with the uncanny silence that goes with feline grace, the huge brute balanced for a moment on the top of the fence, then dropped, effortless, on to the footwalk at the man’s side.
“ Shoo-shoo-shoo ! ” Sydney tried again, backing carefully away from the ominous bulk. But the effect was equally unavailing. Squatting on his haunches, the cat turned its attention to a leisurely toilet of the hind paws.
In the ordinary way the indignant house-holder would have passed in to make his belated evening greeting to the lady whose word was more than law. But something about the cat — its unusual size, its vivid colouring, its entire disregard of the word of command, its uncanny eyes, perhaps — something about the animal made him pause and wonder. A magnificent brute : superman among cats. As he watched it licking, tugging a red tongue over the upturned velvet of a paw, an acknowledgment of hopeless inferiority stole on him. Sydney Lamb knew the dumb heart-stir of that feeling. A legacy of his youth — of the days when he used to journey out to Twickenham to see giants doing battle in the mud. It caught him still, sometimes : when he read of Dempsey and Tunney, of mad flights over the wastes of the Atlantic. . . . In the back of his mind, too, there made itself conscious that longing he had always had to possess an animal all to himself. A dog — a cat — a bird, even. But Constance kept her home far too spotless to allow of that faithful-dumb-friend complex developing into anything more than a mere complex, and that a suppressed one.
As a Parthian shot, he gave the animal a further “ shoo ! ” as he opened the gate. A look of mild surprise crept into the creature’s eyes. It stopped its licking and strolled over to the man’s boots. A sniff round the heel and an inch or so up the trouser leg, and the tail rose like a flaming mast in the stern. Sydney moved further away, but the cat followed, rubbing its ginger pelt against his legs. He jumped through the gate and closed it firmly behind him, but the animal took it at a bound. The merest touch on the top, and it dropped silent as a dead leaf on to the gravel at his side. It was purring now : a throb mellow as a distant drum, ingratiating as the subtlest flattery, warm as the fireside rug.
“ Puss, puss,” he offered warily, at length. It intrigued him to think that such a fine animal should trouble itself to take notice of him. Bus-conductors, ticket-collectors, office-boys habitually ignored the little man, with the sure instinct that brings men of blood and iron to the top of the tree. With Sydney Lamb the affair had long since extended to most animals. There were not many dogs in the neighbourhood who thought it worth while even to bite him. This cat — this magnificent prize-fighter among cats — was an epoch-making exception. He bent over warily to stroke its head. The cat yawned, disclosing a gaping row of fangs, and moved unconcernedly away.
“ Come here ! ” he found himself ordering. “ Come here. I want to stroke you. Puss, puss ! ”
For a moment the animal hesitated, then, to the unbounded astonishment of the man squatting on his heels on the gravel, it turned and marched obediently back to his side. For one wild moment Sydney strove to control his elation, then : “ Go away again ! ” he commanded sternly in a voice that made him look round nervously over his shoulder. From the depths of those amber eyes, the cat eyed him coldly for a moment, then lowering the colours flaunted in that mast-like tail, it turned sadly away.
“ Come here ! Here, I say,” he snapped, and this time the animal turned on the command without hesitation and trotted back to his side.
Levering himself to his feet, he wiped his brow. There was no doubt about it. This international Rugby footballer among cats had met its better. It came : it went. And Sydney Lamb was the man who ruled its Destiny ! This was the stuff his dreams were made of! He fixed the cat sternly with his eye for a disciplinary moment, then turned on his heel with a wheel little short of Napoleonic. Never once did he turn to Bee if his slave was following. He knew it. Just when he decided that the cat must be his, he was never quite sure. He was only certain that it must be. It was not until he was actually inside his own hall, with the giant purring round his legs, that the terror-striking thought of what Constance would have to say occurred to him. It came as a crisis, an acid test. The cat, of course, would have to go before his wife saw that he had brought it into the house. Push it out ? Command it ? If he said “ Outside ! " the giant creature would obey him. . . . But—there was the touch of that superman among felines at that very moment, offered in adoration, in fear and trembling, at his feet. An impulse stronger than himself galloped away with him.
“ Constance !” he bawled, in a voice that brought, in spite of that fateful impulse, unconquerable shivers of apprehension running down his spine. “ Constance !”
His wife appeared from the sitting-room on the left. It was clear that she was badly startled.
“ What’s that cat doing in my house ? " she demanded after a pause to recover her breath. “ And what were you doing shouting all over the house like that ? ”
The cat arched its back to spit triple-essence of fury at the mistress of the house, and it was this defiance which turned the scales wavering in the coward mind of its new master.
“I am not shouting all over the house,” rejoined Sydney seriously. “ Only in one place. But that is neither here nor there. This cat is mine. I’m going to keep it, Constance.”
“ You couldn’t be drunk at this hour,” put in Mrs. Lamb, after an amazed interval.
Sydney inclined his head. He was a teetotaler.
“ You couldn’t be insane. . .
“ But I could and can, and shall keep this cat,” persisted her husband, amazed, too, at the sound of his own voice.
For a long moment Constance eyed him, much as if he had been a caterpillar in the salad.
“ Very well,” she said, and closed the door of the sitting-room behind her far too quietly. The evening meal that night was a sore trial of nerve to the mild, but no longer insignificant, little man. In the brief interval before the Chinese gong sounded from the hall below, he brushed up the animal’s coat in his bedroom, balancing him — he was a tom-cat, of course — on the corner of his mantelpiece and caressing the luxury of his pelt, with an'old hair brush. He shone like satin, and it was perhaps the similarity in the words that made his master christen him, on the inspiration of the moment, “ Satan.” The cat represented all that was dark and mysterious, hitherto unthought of, in Sydney’s life; all that suggested power, lived with them year in and year out in the thin guise of amateur housekeeper ; and once Sydney really thought that the animal was going to eat Beatrice, the maid, as she foolhardily ignored his regal signs of displeasure in her presence round his side of the table. And yet—yet, this monarch among cats, unrelenting ferocity, that magnificent detachment from the puny comings and goings of this vulgar world. That hall-mark of the super-mind ! Satan, he thought, was a good name.
Satan sat by his chair as he dined. He spat again at Constance ; he arched his lordly back at Hetty, the sister-in-law who at a careless downward thrust of his fingers, brought a chirrup of joy out through his fangs and rose on tiptoe to press his gleaming pelt against the hand that was his master. Amazing ! But that was nothing by the side of his attitude to Constance and her elder sister. It was wilder than his wildest dreams, and like a dream it all came so easily to him. He had only to think of the adoration of that master cat and the rest of the world shrank into insignificance. Throughout the earlier part of the meal, he was conscious that the women had been in conference. There were the stony silence, the sly furtive glances, the way they stared at him whenever he chanced to be looking away. Once Hetty began a remark about Satan, but she dropped it at a glance, smothering it in a silence that dropped over it like an avalanche.. Most of the difficulty in the family came from Hetty. Years older than Constance, she sought to justify her existence at " Belle View ” in a loosely defined domestic character. But as Constance did all the shopping, superintended the housework, and managed such of the cooking as could not be entrusted to the maid-of-all-work, Sydney could never quite see where her usefulness came in. Not that he ever dared to ask. The woman terrified him — that is, she used to.
But for one solitary remark, the meal continued and ended in silence. He loitered over his courses to his heart’s content; he made a point of drinking with his food, a habit that never failed to rouse the dyspeptic Hetty to bitter comment; he rolled the soft of his bread up into minute balls and played football with them over the cloth at his side, dribbling with his fingers, and scoring goals between his tumbler and the vase in the centre of the table ; but to crown it all something perverse but insistent within him urged him to comment on the food.
“ These fritters,” he said, casually turning one over on the plate before him. “ Pity to waste oranges. Mine is scarcely warmed through.” He joined the handle of his spoon to the silvered shank of his fork and pushed the plate a highly significant inch and a half further from him. From the other end of the table came a quick intake of breath. A trenchant pause. But nothing else. It was not fair. Constance was a superb cook. Under the goad of her elderly and dyspeptic sister she could be acid in manner to the man she took pains to feed well, but —he had admitted it often — her domineering tongue was the only thing he regretted in her. Besides, the fritters were as perfect and succulent as ever. It tore him to leave them untouched on the plate, but in the intoxicating flush of his new confidence he was sober enough to realise the immense importance of the issue at stake. The thrust, however, drew no answer, and he was left with a highly satisfactory but negative victory.
Next morning he was up early. Satan had slept in a basket at the foot of his bed, and something of the indulgent tyrant in Sydney made him eager to do the proper thing by his slave. For half an hour he walked the cat round the gardens, back and front, showing him the estate. The house and the cat were the two things which meant most to him, and in some nebulous way he considered that they ought to meet and get acquainted. He was proud to show the house and its grounds to that monarch of cats, but he was, perhaps, prouder still to have Satan stepping elegantly at his heels as he wandered about his gravelled paths. At the French windows of the dining- room Hetty stopped him.
“ About this nonsense of that cat,” she began, a shade too hurriedly. “I’m not going to stand by and see dear Constance bullied like this. Either that brute goes, or I do.” She finished with a rush and stood facing him, more confident now, with her lean hands on her bony hips.
Sydney straightened himself leisurely from bending over the ginger monster at his feet.
“ Satan is not going,” he told her quietly. “ Whether you go or stay is your own affair. I shan’t try to stop you, I can assure you.”
He turned away to continue his stroll round by the kitchen and the back of the garage. From her bedroom window Constance watched him as he disappeared down the road on his way to the station. There was the faintest hint of a swagger in his stride — reminiscent somehow of the old days when he used to call for her at her father’s house. He had always been fond of animals then. ... But this cat! It was an outrage — not Satan himself, but the bringing of him to her house. Hetty said that she was the only woman she knew who would have stood it — for a moment. And she had stood it for a whole night. Satan was locked up in his master’s bedroom now, to keep him safe from following his master to the station. . . . There was a new tilt to that old felt hat, too, she found herself deciding, long after her spouse had passed out of sight. Just a shade of difference in the way he wore it, perhaps. That reminded her of the old days, too. . . .
“ Have you got the key to that room ? ” asked a voice at her elbow.
She jumped round almost guiltily. The sight of her sister at her side brought her back to the outrage of the moment.
“ Either that brute goes, or I do.'*
“ To Sydney’s bedroom ? Yes, of course. He gave it to me. The room has to be tidied.”
“ If you’ll give it to me I’ll deal with that cat.”
Constance hesitated, ignoring for the moment the other’s outstretched hand.
“ Well,” she began. “ Don’t you think we’d better wait until he comes back ? I mean . . .”
“ Give me the key, now ” repeated the older woman firmly. " If you’re too squeamish,
" I’m not being squeamish,” Constance protested weakly. “ What — what are you going to do ? ”
“ Never you mind. I’ll teach him to fill the house with stray cats ! What’ll he try to be doing next, I wonder! ”
For a moment the younger woman wavered, but she handed over the key. Anyone who hesitated with this dyspeptic spinster was lost. During the long years of residence at " Belle View ” Sydney had come to estimate his paces on that morning walk to the station within millimetre limits. Practice had made him perfect; there was not a hazard on the route that could make him waste half a minute on the station in unnecessary waiting, or exert himself a step more than the occasion demanded through cutting it too fine. Yet that morning — the first time ever — he missed his train. In the early days he could distantly recall having to hurry on one or two occasions. Once, even, he had to cover the last thirty yards in a run. But to miss the train absolutely, magnificently, unquestionably — it was undreamt of ! Although he was unaware of it, it was that swagger, risen from the ashes, and that cock to the brim of his hat that had done it. But it did not worry him. When he arrived on the station there was not even a view of the back of the guard’s van in the distance. Instead of finding himself prostrate with horror, he discovered that the tragedy did not appear to concern him in the least. He weighed himself on the penny-in-the-slot machine and stamped out his name on an aluminium slip at a neighbouring apparatus, and, whistling through his teeth, caught the 10.7 when it arrived — the City magnates’ train. The 9.14 had its third-class carriages full and its first empty. With the 10.7 the process was reversed. That was the difference of those fifty odd minutes. Sydney found himself travelling with the men who lived on dividends and directors’ fees — a nerve-shattering experience in the ordinary way, but it seemed nothing to him as he gazed inconsequently out of the window of his carriage.
On the inside of the door of " Contracts, " Thompson, a junior with a mere ten years of Assurance to his credit, stopped him. “ My word, Lamb ! ” he exclaimed. “ You should see the mess they’re in in your department ! Can’t get started. I've never known you late before . . .“
" I don’t suppose you'have,” replied the little man sharply. " I never have been. What’s the matter ? The chief’s there, isn’t he? ”
The junior grinned. " Old Bordass ? ” he inquired facetiously. “ He can’t do a thing. He doesn’t even know where the keys are — or what the filed cross-refs mean ! Work can’t start. Your system of duplicate tracing — why, I’ve been at it myself — me on my own job ! — and I can’t get a move on. Where do I ... ”
" Have—have I been asked for, then ? ” Sydney asked, with a trace of the old nervousness.
" Asked for ! The whole building’s been looking for you ! ”
The younger man laughed, but Sydney did not stop to listen. The mahogany desks of " Contracts ” were adrift with confusion. Bordass, his chief with an Oxford accent and a genius for taking credit for the work of others, was lost. Queries and demands bounced off him like india-rubber. The department was already an hour lagging, and every minute took this unit further out of synchronisation with the other parts of the machine. As Sydney appeared, slightly flushed, in the midst of it all, a dozen voices greeted him simultaneously with a hundred technical questions. But he paid no attention to them. His eye was riveted on a sombre figure in the background, a tall, sallow man who had arrived on the scene, unobserved, some few minutes before. That flustered hen Bordass had not seen him. " Sir Clement! ” Sydney breathed to himself, and wondered how much the Scotch baronet who was managing director had seen and heard.
The £5,000-a-year Scot beckoned to the little man who was late for his work, and Sydney followed him out of the long glass-lined room. Inside the inviolable sanctuary of the directors’ room, Sydney sank, in answer to a wave of the hand, into an easy chair facing the desk. " You should be terrified,” he was telling himself. " It’s Sir Clement! And you were late for your job ! You’re in his private room. He saw that you were late. He saw the confusion - the mess - up through your missing your train. You’re for it, now ! What about the mortgage on 'Belle View’ ? ” Instead of trembling, he found himself with an easy smile on his lips. He returned the director's keen gaze on level terms.
“You were late, this morning, Lamb ? ”
“ Missed my train,” the subordinate answered easily, but not disrespectfully. “ The first time I’ve been more than five minutes out of time for twenty-six years. The first time . . . ."
The Scot on the other side of the desk inclined his head in silence. His eyes seemed to be searching for something in the other’s face. There was not a wrinkle overlooked.
“ Tell me, Lamb,” he put in at length. “ Is your department always in a mess like that when you’re away ? ”
“ It isn’t my department,” Sydney put in with a quick confidence that amazed him, and the other nodded in acknowledgment of the point. The director was speaking with him on equal terms — nodding his head in approval, with both of them leaning back in their chairs ! “ Besides,” he went on, “ I’ve never been away from it before except for holidays each year. And then I’ve been able to arrange for things to run smoothly over the fortnight I’m away.”
For a long while, it seemed to the subordinate lounging in the easy chair, the mainspring of S. and A. Assurance continued to look over him. There was a kindly wrinkle to his eyes. But they were puzzled too.
“ How old are ye, Lamb ? ” he asked suddenly.
“I’m forty-four years old, sir,” Sydney told him.
" A Scot ? ” He shook his head.
“ It’s a pity,” mused Sir Clement. “ How long have you been with ‘ Contracts ’ ? ”
“ Nine years with Contracts, 26 in all with S. & A. ”
“ Ah, well,” the man behind the desk commented absently. He rose abruptly to his feet. “ That’ll be all, Lamb. I think you’ll be having a change soon. But I shouldn’t make a habit of being late. A man like you is far too valuable.”
As Sydney reached the door of the sanc tum, the older man stopped him. “ Perhaps I’d better be walking back with you,” he said with a thin-lipped smile.
“ Maybe it’ll make them think a wee bit more about my having interviewed you than they’d be thinking as it is.”
Inside the glass-lined department of " Contracts ” once more, he laid his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “ Let’s see what you can make of this now, Lamb,” he said in a voice that was meant to, and did, carry.
His wave of the arm embraced the room from the red face of Bordass to the litter of papers. Sydney’s head rose a centimetre or so on his shoulders. Sydney Lamb did not linger that night on his pitch facing the red roof and the upper windows at the end of his walk up from the station. Satan, the wonder-cat, was waiting for him up in his bedroom, and after the day’s happenings in “ Contracts ” he felt less of an impostor about receiving tribute from him. The cat was right. That conviction was growing on him. He was a man to be considered : a man of “ pep ” and “ punch ” — a “ go-getter,” as they called it in the American magazines. The only thought that troubled him was one which centred round the puzzle as to why he had never realised it before. In the hall he caught a glimpse of Hetty disappearing through a door. The smile — a sly, sneaking sort of grin — she gave him made him wonder inconsequently what it was all about. When he opened his door with the key that the maid handed to him, he knew.
For a desperate five minutes he hunted and searched, but from the first he knew it was hopeless. Satan was gone. Satan the prize-fighter among felines, who had looked on him and found the stuff to build up adoration. A bulwark against the contempt of the rest of the world had gone with him too. From that first desperate moment of realisation, his confidence evaporated, steadily and surely. If only the cat had been there to support him — a single peg on which to hang his self-respect — he would have had the courage to accost Hetty. He knew she had done it. That smile was enough in itself. But now, with the ginger tiger gone . . .
Sneaking out of the house by the back stairs, he lost himself in the gardens. He dared not risk meeting Constance yet, and he knew what to expect from the spinster when she realised that he had fallen back on the miserable ways of his former shrinking self. In his mind there was a vague idea to learn of Satan’s fate by trickery and stealth, and to recover him before his shame was known. As he trod softly among the currant bushes and glass frames at the end of the garden his heart was full of bitterness.
“ Why couldn’t they have left me my cat ? ” he moaned weakly to himself. Then : “It wasn’t Constance. She would never have done it. It was Hetty. She took my cat! ”
A shade of the man who had lost his train that morning, he was on the verge of tears. The mere thought of Sir Clement now made him tremble. To think that he had lounged in his arm-chair that morning and nodded with him, talked at him ! Treated the great man for all the world as if he were an acquaintance on the top of a bus ! It made his palms clammy to think of it. After that impertinence he would never be able to meet the great man’s eye again. A voice hailed him through the trees. It was useless to duck. He awaited the coming of his sister-in-law like a bird fascinated by a snake.
“ I want a word with you, Sydney,” the woman began grimly, after one satisfactory glance at his shrinking form. " I’ve not yet had your explanation about that cat you brought home with you last night. Well ? ”
“ Well, I ” he began weakly. “ I — saw it in the drive. It followed me in . . . you see.” He broke off hurriedly to dab at the grey streaks on his temples.
“ Followed you in ! ” the woman laughed mechanically. “Nonsense! But only what we might expect. The animal is safe now,” she went on, enjoying every word. “ I took him this morning to the Police Station. They tell me he’ll be destroyed in three days if he’s not claimed.”
His eyes wandered to the lean wrists hanging over the skirt opposite him. A keen thrill of satisfaction took him at the sight of bandages just over the right hand. Satan had done his best. He edged away towards the path leading round the bottom of the garden in between the rhododendrons and the wooden fencing.
“ I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous,” the voice followed him. “ Followed you up the drive ! A schoolboy could do better than that. Well, I promised Constance I’d see you about it, and I have. But don’t think that you’ve heard the last of ”
At this point Sydney’s ears ceased to register the sounds of this female voice. A scrape on the fencing was followed by a soft pad on the level with his ear. A ginger red streak poised for a moment light as a feather on the top of the fence, then dropped silent as a falling leaf at his feet. At the sight of his super-cat, the little man’s heart beat up into his throat in a rattle of a thousand tiny hammers.
“ Satan " he breathed, and gathered up the pelt to his cheeks as if he were frightened that at any moment the cat might disappear as suddenly as he had come. Then, setting the cat down, he burst through the bushes like a shot fired from a gun.
“ Hi, you ! ” he thundered at the figure turning back over the lawn, and in a moment he was at her side. “ What the devil do you mean :- A schoolboy could do better’? ’
The woman spun round on her heel. Her jaw dropped as she scanned the angry flush on his cheeks.
“ What do you mean by it ? What do you mean—eh ? ” he was repeating aimlessly at the top of his voice.
“ I — I don’t know,” the other faltered. " I . . .” Gathering her ample, skirts she buckled before the raking fire of his eyes and legged it instinctively for the French windows.
Like a flash Sydney was after her. His blood was up, and now that confidence had come back to him with his cat, it drowned him in its flood. He was Mussolini and Napoleon in one . . . with a mildly interested tom-cat cantering, tail erect, at his heels.
“You were talking this morning about going,” he yelled after the streaming figure as it ran. “ Why don’t you go ? I’ve had enough of you upsetting our life here. And what the devil do you mean : ‘ A schoolboy could do better ’ ? ” There was more of it, delivered through the key-hole of his sister-in-law’s bedroom, but there came no reply from the shaken woman within.
From her bedroom window, Constance had witnessed the flight. The sight of that sister who ruled her with a rod of iron flying before — Sydney, brought a gasp of amazement, to be followed immediately by a swift and inexplicable glow of admiration. The episode fitted in somehow with the hint of a swagger — that tilt to the hat. Nevertheless, when sounds of the chase indicated its progress to the stairs, she hastened to lock the door of her room. A vague but overpowering fear swept over her. What was he going to do next ? When he had finished with her sister, what then ? She collapsed weakly on the bed but not for an age of humdrum married bliss would she have foregone the thrill of that sharp stab of virgin fear. But the elemental man outside on the landing was rattling at the knob of her door.
“ Constance ! ” he barked. “ What’s the matter with you all ? Open this door at once! ”
Quaking deliciously with the apprehension of violence, she turned the key in the lock and stood back to await him.
“ Your sister,” he announced tersely but noisily, “ is leaving this house to-night. Now! She’s going for good. See ? ”
She nodded dumbly.
" And the cat is stopping. See that, too ? ”
She nodded again, wide-eyed and palpitating. This cave-man was overheated, dishevelled, soiled with rhododendron mould. But his eyes blazed and his chin jutted dangerously. For an age-long moment her eyes clung to those of her husband, lost in the throes of a new-found servitude. Then : “ Darling ! ” she breathed. And with an impulsive swoop she flung her arms round his neck.
For a round dozen of cannon-shot heartbeats, Sydney suffered the adoration of a weak woman, courteously, as a strong man should. Then, for the first time in his life, he untwined a woman’s arms from round his neck.
“ I’m going out now,” he announced gruffly, “ to call a cab for your sister. . . . Come along, Satan.”