Beatrice Harraden.

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to help and guide it. He could tell them, too, that a
heart can grow apace when the mind gets a grasp of life,
and experience ripens the understanding. And he could
show them that he had cared for the Old Country. His
two stripes for wounds would testify to that. But what
he wanted them to know, most of all, was that when the
call came, he had responded, not only with the gladness



McGRATH'S HOMECOMING 105

shared by thousands upon thousands of others, but also
with a deep gratitude for his chance of " making good."

So he strode on, filling his lungs with the clean, bracing
moorland air, and at last reached the big barn which he
had been told marked the beginning of Pattersen's land.
A few yards further, and he came to the farmhouse, a
low, long building, evidently old, with a fine roof and
mullioned and traceried windows. It had a clearing in
front of it through which he passed to a small garden,
and here he paused a moment before knocking at the door.
Even then, in spite of his heart hunger, he nearly turned
away.

Suddenly, from the side of the house guarded by a
great yew tree, appeared a tall, strong young woman
in Land Army attire, looking every inch like one of Shake-
speare's heroines setting forth on her adventures in men's
disguise. The description McGrath had heard of Hazel
helped him, of course. But out of the past leapt his
remembrance of the shape of her face and of her frank
blue eyes, which looked out on the world fearlessly, trust-
ingly, and with a quiet joyaunce.

"Hazel!" he cried, "I'm sure you're Hazel, aren't
you ? I'm your brother Andrew. Do you remember
me? "

She was carrying a large hay rake, which she cast down
as she made a dash for him, as she had always done in the
years gone by, and hugged him in exactly the same old
fashion as she had ever been wont to hug that trouble-
some big brother of long ago who had been unfailingly
good to her in all his ups and downs of home life.

" Andrew, Andrew, dear old Andrew," she cried.
" Home at last."

She grasped his hands and swung his arms backwards
and forwards in her glee, and kept on saying :

" Of course I should have known you. At least I
think I should. Yes, I'm sure I should."

He laughed happily. Never had it entered his head
that such a welcome awaited him from Hazel. She had
no idea of what she did for him, nor any faintest notion
of the resilience, the hope, the courage she imparted



106 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

to him by treating him as if there had been no break in
their intimacy.

" You know," she said, " we've been expecting you
ever since the war began. Mother has always declared
that if you were alive, you would be sure to come and
fight for the Old Country. And if you didn't come, she
would think you were dead. But she said you would
turn up. She knew it."

Andrew's eyes grew dim.

" And father ? " he asked hesitatingly.

" Father's top-hole," she answered with a smile. "I've
brought him up well. He isn't nearly as stern as he
used to be. I've knocked all that out of him. So has
Jimmy. He hasn't ever said audibly that you'd come.
But I can tell you that he has kept a sharp look-out on
the Australian Force, and he has always studied
the casualties in that paper which I'm sure you must
know also the British Australasian. And many a time
I've seen the look of relief on his face when he has finished
the last page. That has been his way of waiting for
you."

Andrew bowed his head.

" And little Jimmy ? " he asked. " What of him ? "

" Oh, Jimmy's great," she said. " He's a huge creature
and a huge joke. Everyone loves Jimmy. No one could
help it. We had a letter from him last week. He's at
the Front, of course. He's all right and in the best of
spirits. He has been expecting to see you, too. He
wrote that he hadn't come across that bloke of a brother
of his yet, but he shouldn't wonder if he did. Some
chum had found a long-lost brother from Canada and
they had palled up tremendously. He reckoned to do
that with you after he had given you a knock-out blow."

Andrew laughed.

" Little Jimmy," he chuckled.

" Six foot one," she went on. " And every bit of him
a darling. Not selfish, you know, and always ready to do
anyone a good turn. We've missed him fearfully. Every-
one has missed him here. And such a handsome lad.
Someone to be proud of, I can tell you."



McGRATH'S HOMECOMING 107

" You're a topping girl yourself," Andrew said, glancing
at her approvingly. " Smart get-up, Hazel."

" Yes," she answered, smiling. " Now just wait in
this room whilst I go and break the news of your arrival
to the old people. Shocks aren't good for them, not even
joyful ones."

" Will this shock truly be joyful ? " he asked with
sudden apprehension.

" Yes," she replied kindly. " Of course it will. You
stay here until I come back. I won't be long. Look
here is this week's British Australasian in the window-
sill an outward and visible sign, Andrew, that you have
not been forgotten."

She was running off, when McGrath suddenly remem-
bered the telegram.

" The telegram," he said, fishing it out of his pocket.
" I offered to deliver it as I was coming this way. The
girl wasn't inclined to trust me until I declared myself to
be a Pattersen."

" A telegram," Hazel said uneasily. " Who's wiring
to us, I wonder ? "

She paused for a moment before opening it, as if arrested
by some vague foreboding. Then she read it. It slipped
from her hands.

She stood as one turned to stone.
" Jimmy is dead," she said in a voice which seemed
to come from a far distance. ' Died of wounds.' '
McGrath stooped down and picked up the message.
" Little Jimmy dead," he repeated.
Hazel leaned against the wall, covered her face with
her hands and wept her heart out, silently, tearlessly.
McGrath did not make a sound or sign. He felt he had
no right to share that sacred grief. He was but an out-
sider who had left his home in anger and forfeited the ties
that linked him with it. Jimmy was interwoven with it
its life, its joy, its very essence, its pride, its mirth, its
kindness. And he was dead.

He stood by the window, staring at the British Austra-
lasian, saying to himself a thousand times that he would
fain have died in Jimmy's place, and that it was monstrous



108 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

that he should not have been the one to be taken he
who would not be missed could not be missed. And
by what irony of fate had it fallen to him to bring the
bad news, to return after twelve years and be the bearer
of the worst tidings the family could receive ? Did it
mean that he ought not to have come, and that he ought
to have remembered his father's prophecy, that he would
never bring luck to his home ?

Out of the past it echoed discordantly to him :

" You will never bring luck to this home."

That was what his father would say now. Far, far
better, then, to have stayed away, both for their sake and
his own. Again The Terrier's warning smote him, and
this time with added realisation of its bitter truth. If
he returned, he lost everything.

But in the midst of his misery, Hazel uncovered her
face, glanced at him standing forlorn and remote, guessed
at his suffering, at his need, and was seized with true pity.

" Andrew," she said as she put her arm through his,
" what good luck that you've come at this very moment
of trouble. You'll help me to comfort them, won't you ?
Wait here until I come to fetch you. Poor old Andrew
what a homecoming. Jimmy would never have wished
you to get this sort of knock-out blow. He had the
kindest heart in the world ; he "

She broke off, but kept up valiantly and tried to smile
at him.

Andrew pointed to the British Australasian.

" If only my name could have been there instead,
Hazel," he murmured.

" Such good luck for us that you've returned to help
us in our need," she repeated bravely as she turned to
the door. " That's what you have to remember whilst
you're waiting. Only that."



Later she returned to fetch him and signed to him
in grave silence to follow her to the living-room where
his mother and father were sitting close together on the
lang settle.



McGRATH'S HOMECOMING 109

He was gathered to his mother's breast, and his
father grasped his hand and said in a low voice :

" The Lord hath taken away and the Lord hath given.
Blessed be the name of the Lord."



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE

IT was about two o'clock in the middle of a June night.
Gweneth Sirrell lay awake in her bed, whilst her husband
was sleeping quietly and dreamlessly in his bed against
the opposite wall of the room. For weeks she had been
increasingly obsessed with one idea, which had now taken
such a strong hold on her, that she knew the moment
had come when she must decide between the claims of
her brain and the dictates of her conscience.

Her conscience said : " You are contemplating an
irreverent and an ungenerous act."

Her brain said : " You cannot stand this strain any
longer ; it is telling on you both mentally and physically."

Her conscience said : " You would never forgive your-
self for your paltriness ; it would for ever haunt you."

Her brain said : "It isn't as if you have not tried to
wrestle with this trouble ; you have wrestled. But
you have failed. There remains only one thing to be
done. Go and do it now and the network will loosen."

The network will loosen. The word echoed in her ears
loudly, softly, with a soothing cadence. Her decision
was made.

She crept from her bed, slipped on her dressing-gown,
and stood listening to her husband's quiet and regular
breathing. She opened the door carefully and passed
out into the landing, where she lingered, straining her
ears to be sure that no one save herself was stirring in
the house.

She was a good-looking woman, with an abundance
of soft, fair hair which fell caressingly around her shoulders.

Ill



112 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

Her bearing was gallant. One could have imagined that
even at that moment, chained as she obviously was by
some compelling secret circumstance, she would, never-
theless, have freed herself instantly, if some great and
unexpected demand had been made on her courage and
initiative.

But meantime there was an elusive expression of subtle
mystery on her face ; and the pupils of her eyes had con-
tracted to a pin's point. Her arms and hands were slightly
extended in a position of strained rigidity. She noticed
this herself, and let them drop to her side ; and as if
this simple movement had eased some painful tension,
she sighed and went with noiseless tread down the stairs
into the hall.

She found her way, without a light, into the drawing-
room. Here she switched on the electric lamps and
glanced around at the pictures : the portrait of an old
man by Raeburn, a silvery seascape, a Dutch interior,
two or three interesting impressionist country scenes,
and a specially fine Sargent, the portrait of a young relative
of her husband's, who had thrown up the Law and entered
the Order of the Jesuits.

At last she went to her little bureau at the right-hand
side of the fireplace, lit a candle, and took from the drawer
a pair of scissors and a strong penknife. She opened
this, and tested the larger blade against the back of an
oaken photograph frame. She nodded her head, satisfied
with the result of her experiment. Then, armed with
the candlestick, which she carried rather high, and with
these two intimate everyday life weapons which she had
thrust into her pocket, Gweneth Sirrell stole into the hall
once more, paused to reassure herself that no one had
been roused overhead, turned the handle of her husband's
library door, and entered the room.

She locked the door. She raised the candle, and let
the light fall on the amazingly lif elike portrait of a beautiful
young woman which alone occupied the wall facing the
great writing-desk. There was no doubt that this extra-
ordinary picture dominated the room. It would neces-
sarily have dominated anyone who sat in that room. It



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 113

would have been impossible even for a stranger glancing
at it casually, not to have been haunted by a vivid remem-
brance of it. And what, then, about the man who spent
all his spare time in its presence ? Was it to be supposed
that he could resist gazing at it day after day, week after
week, month after month ? If for nothing else, its magnifi-
cent imperiousness demanded, exacted a relentless homage.
Sargent had consciously or unconsciously read that
relentlessness in the woman's character, and had recorded
it in her lineaments and in her bearing. The woman
was what is called dead. Yet one had only to look at
the picture to know that her spirit was not dead, but
was hovering around, animating this presentment of her
former self.

Gweneth addressed the picture in quiet, incisive tones.

" You dominate the room, the house, his heart," she
said. " I can no . longer stand your tryanny. I have
tried to be patient and great- minded. When he and
I together visited your grave and I witnessed his grief,
I knew that I, his second wife, would have to battle with
your memory for his sake, for my sake. I vowed it
should be a generous contest not a contest at all, but
a fair and reverent understanding. You have made this
impossible. But one hope remains. This living pre-
sentment of you must vanish from his life."

She placed the candle on the writing-desk, and laughed
a curious, little, short laugh, the mirthlessness of which
attuned with her grave manner.

" It was one thing to plant snowdrops on her grave,"
she said, as she opened the penknife, " and quite another
thing to let them rise up and choke me."

She turned on two of the electric lights nearest the
picture, placed a chair before it, mounted up, and began
her appointed work. She inserted her knife carefully
at the extreme right edge of the lower end of the frame,
and by degrees cut out the whole canvas. The intensity
of her breathing betrayed the violence of the emotions
which were governing her. The portrait fell to the ground.
She picked it up leisurely, and as she rolled it into a long
roll, she said again :
8



114 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

" It was one thing to plant snowdrops on her grave."

She looked at the roll intently for a moment, and a
sudden thought struck her.

" Yes," she said, smiling craftily. " The other Sar-
gent, too."

Without any delay, but without any hurry, she returned
to the drawing-room, and in the most business-like fashion,
cut from its frame the portrait of her husband's young
Jesuit relative. She rolled it and bore it proudly to the
library, where she fitted it into the larger roll of the first
wife's picture. Once or twice she took alarm and fancied
that she heard a disturbance in the house. But when
she realised that it was only the wind which had been
gathering strength to spend itself in sudden tempestuous
gusts, she sank contentedly into the armchair. She
glanced in triumph at the long roll. She scrutinised with
alternations of anxiety arid relief the empty space which
had so recently been filled by that imperious personality.

" A blank now," she muttered, laughing softly.
" You've gone. Gone. And yet I still seem to see you
here. Ah, but that's only my fancy. You've gone.
Gone. And yet '

She snatched up the candle and stood before the empty
space.

" Of course. Gone," she said excitedly. " I thought I
could not be mistaken."

Once more she sank into the chair, but once more she
sprang up, with fresh doubts in her agitated brain.

" Still there still there, surely ? " she said.

Again she lifted the candle and held it with trembling
hand before the empty frame.

" No. Gone. Of course, gone," she whispered, with
a final sigh of reassurance. And for the time being, her
mind did not travel beyond the fact that she had accom-
plished her task.

She sat hugging her knees and smiling, wrapped in
her own strange thoughts, unconscious of the coldness
of the night, the desolation of the hour, the danger of
detection. Her face wore an expression of triumphant
pride, intermingled with an impersonal aloofness which



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 115

seemed to disclaim for her any share in her recent activities.

Twice she spoke aloud words which gave a leading
idea of the memories encompassing her.

" The honeymoon journey," she said. " All the identical
places she visited with him, taken in exactly the same
rotation. Exactly the same rotation. And ending up
with her grave, where I planted the snowdrops."

Inhere was a period of silence, during which she clasped
her knees still tighter.

" And that flower-bed in his country garden," she con-
tinued. " It spelt her name. It "

She broke off and shook her head impatiently. The
memory of the flower-bed aggravated her even more
than that of the honeymoon journey.

At last there floated across her mind the sudden realisa-
tion that her task was incomplete, and that she must
now remove these two portraits to some sure hiding-place.
Her brain leapt over all difficulties and impossibilities,
and arrived at the easiest and safest solution of this problem.
But this part of her programme was evidently of little
importance to her in comparison with the beginning :
for she took no further precautions of stealthy silence,
but went upstairs with an entire recklessness, carrying
the trophies unconcealed under her arm. She made
straight for the spare room at the end of the passage.
She turned on the light, and glanced in the direction
of a cupboard on the right-hand side of the fireplace.
She opened it. A large golf -bag rested against the extreme
corner.

" Ah, I thought I remembered seeing it there," she
said.

She hauled it out of the cupboard, unfastened it, and
took from it in leisurely indolence two or three of the
clubs. She even examined them, identifying now the
cleek, now the mashie, now the putter. Then she slipped
her Sargent roll in amongst the remaining ones, and nodded
her head gravely when she saw that her calculations had
been correct, and that there was more than enough depth
for the portraits, and plenty of space left over for the
clubs which she had dislodged. She replaced them,



116 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

restored the bag to its accustomed corner, and was on
the point of seeking her bedroom again, when she remem-
bered that she had left the candle burning on the desk
in the library, and her knife and scissors lying on the
floor.

Directly she crossed the threshold of the library, she
fixed her eyes on the empty portrait-frame.

" Surely, surely, it is still there," she said in a low,
agonised voice.

Her hands sought her head. She pressed them tightly
over her brow. She closed her eyes, as if unable to endure
the vision. But at last, with a supreme effort, she
gathered courage, snatched up the candle, and looked.
Gradually a joyful change came over the distress of her
countenance.

" Of course," she whispered, smiling. " It is gone.
No doubt about that."

In a few minutes all incriminating signs of the night's
work had been effaced ; and Gweneth was safely in bed.
She listened for a moment to her husband's continuously
regular breathing, nodded her head, gave a sigh of relief,
yawned from sudden infinite fatigue, turned on her side,
and fell peacefully asleep.



II

WHEN the discovery was made the next morning, the
whole house was in a state of consternation. Andrew
Sirrell stood as one turned to stone before the empty frame
which only the previous day had contained the portrait
of his idolised first wife. Suddenly a light broke in through
the wall of his stupefaction.

" Two Sargents," he said excitedly. " That speaks

for itself. C has always believed that the same

gang would start sooner or later on the New Masters.
And he said they would begin with Sargent. He was
right."

His mind never for one moment included Gweneth in
his suspicions. He was a selfish man, entirely without
imagination ; and these defects in his nature had caused



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 117

him to be unconscious of the demands which he had
made on her chivalrous forbearance. And since he had
no knowledge of her suffering, it was natural enough
that not even the barest idea of her guilt entered into the
region of his surmises. Indeed, now, as ever, he claimed
from her an inordinate amount of sympathy. He led
her into the library, pointed tragically to the empty
frame, and burst into an hysterical fit of sobbing.

" It's gone, Gwen gone," he cried.

" Gone ? " she echoed, in a questioning tone. " No,
no, surely it's there."

" I don't wonder you cannot believe your eyes," he
cried. " But it's gone, Gwen gone."

: ' Yes, yes, I see now," she said gravely. " It's gone."

"I shall have, the whole world ransacked," he went
on excitedly. " I can't live without it. It has been
everything to me^ everything to me. It is a wonderful
portrait. Sometimes I have almost cheated myself into
believing that it was really she herself."

" Yes, I know," Gwen said, in a low voice. " And
now you've lost it, Andrew."

" Oh, but it shall be found," he said desperately. " If
I have to spend my last farthing on the search, it shall
be found."

He had quieted down a little by the time the detective
arrived ; but he was still in a distressing state of excite-
ment. And it was to Gweneth that the official finally
addressed himself for sensible information on the usual
habits of the household. Gweneth gave all her answers
with an impersonal calmness which would have produced
a most favourable impression on any jury. One of her
replies was a masterpiece of unconscious subtlety.

" I have no reason to suspect anyone of our household,"
she said. " I might as well suspect myself."

The man smiled. Even Andrew Sirrell smiled at the
absurd remoteness of such a suggestion. And when, for
form's sake, the house was searched, it was Gweneth
who led the way into the zone of danger, opened the cup-
board door, and stood staring dauntlessly at the golf-
bag, impelled against her own interests to contemplate



118 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

the hiding-place of the lost treasure. If the detective
had not been a detective, and the husband had not been
obsessed by his one idea of tragic personal loss, Gweneth's
peculiar expression of countenance and her persistent
lingering in that spare room before that cupboard door,
would surely have made some impression on the minds of
her companions.

Nothing, however, reached them. No thought trans-
ference took place. The detective glanced at the golf-
bag, and an almost human light stole over his impassive
face. He thought immediately of his favourite golf
links at Seaford, and not of the First Wife's picture.
Andrew Sirrell travelled a little nearer. He recalled to
his saddened memory that bright May morning when he
and his first wife had together bought that golf -bag. But
the sight of it prompted no thought of the missing portrait.
Yet Gweneth almost pointed to the objects of their united
search. And once she nearly said aloud :

" Surely it is there there and nowhere else. Surely
I cannot be mistaken. I must look and know for certain.
This uncertainty is not to be borne."

Suddenly her unbalanced mind readjusted itself to the
requirements of the situation which she had created, and
with a last effort of will, which cost her dear, physically
and mentally, she was able to control her speech and check
her impulse of movement.

So the search in the house proved, of course, ineffectual.
The detective sped on his enlightened way, with his note-
book full of important but vain details, which, so he
and Andrew Sirrell believed, would provide him with
valuable clues connecting this theft with the interesting
series of picture robberies proceeding steadily for some time,
after judicious and fixed intervals. He had persuaded
himself that one was due now. Well, one had come.
Needless to say, nothing human or superhuman could
have ousted this belief from its geographical position in
the map of his mind. Andrew Sirrell, sharing this faith,
strengthened the active attitude of the detective and the
passive preventiveness of the real criminal. Yet once
Gweneth almost relented. For when she and her husband



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 119

*

were alone again in the library, he turned tragically to
the empty wall, and gave way to yet another paroxysm
of passionate grief.

" Do you care so fearfully do you care so fearfully,
my poor Andrew ? " she cried suddenly.

" She was all the world to me," he answered. " No one
could ever have taken her place."

" Then why did you ask me ? " Gweneth returned,
with a simple dignity.

He glanced at her, and for the first time a faint glim-


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Online LibraryBeatrice HarradenThirteen all told → online text (page 9 of 23)