AUTHOR OF "THE KEY OF THE DOOR," "THE STRAW," ETC.
London: HUTCHINSON & CO.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
In Cloth Gilt, 6s.
THE KEY OF THE DOOR
"The story fascinates; it contains some of the best descriptions of
fox-hunting we have met with, and there is a crispness in the
delineation of all the characters which proves that the author is no
commonplace dabbler in fiction."--_Pall Mall Gazette_.
"One of the most humorous
books that have appeared this
year. It contains some fine descriptions of hunting, and a vivid
picture of county society. The whole book is written with vivacity and
"Told with a literary
skill and a mature
judgment which promise well
for future work from the author."--_Times_.
"Miss R. Ramsay has written but two novels, but if her future work
fulfils the promise of these, or even maintains their standard, her
public should be large and enthusiastic. She describes fox-hunting
from the true sportsman's point of view, but with a dashing
and humour. There is rare matter in even the best of contemporary
sporting novels, but there is more in Miss Ramsay's. There is no doubt
that Miss Ramsay possesses exceptionalliterary
"It is a jovial story, vigorously
and vivaciously written. The book is
invigorating, fresh, and quite excellent in its descriptions of hunting
country, and hunting
"This story, briskly
written, has plenty of exhilarating pictures of
field in its lively
course. It has plenty of fresh, breezy
humour in the delineation of people who hunt, is clever in
construction, and written with a literary
skill that keeps the story
TO THE MEMORY OF
The lamp flickered and jumped at the stamping in the bar.
There was a frantic
quality in that noise, laughter
mixed with a wild shouting that made the crazy partition
was a mad reaction
from the common weight of despair.
From the bed in the room behind you could watch the door....
Paradise Town was a broken link in the chain of civilization; it might
have been written in letters of rusted blood on the map. Its pioneers
it cursing, its trees had been burned for firewood, its
earth had been riddled in vain for gold. All that was left of it was
huddled near the shanty where men could buy drink and blur the spell of
that shut them away from life. It was worse at night.
With the darkness fell a heavier sense of the distance of human help,
and Paradise was an island in a black sea of haunted
land. East and
west, wide and silent, the unknown emptiness lapped it in.
Ill-luck and some bitter trick had stranded the M'Kune Tragedy Company
in this dreadful
place. Night after night they played in a shingle
with their uselessscenery
stacked outside; night after night M'Kune
broke it to his scared company that they hadn't yet got their fares.
Fear and a kind of superstition
worked in their minds until they were
seized with panic. In the daylight
the men hung about the bar,
muttering; and the women herded by themselves, packed like hens in a
strange run, hysterically afraid. Prisoners in a desert, when night
had fallen they wandered away to the railroad track and watched.
would rise a red gleam on the far horizon, and they
would hear a distant rumbling, gathering
to a roar, till the darkness
was split by a whizzing bar of light. By it went, the great, glaring
thing full of life, terrible in its rush, and leaving the night
immeasurably darker. Among the watchers the men would affect
whistle. If they couldn't board her to-night they might manage it
to-morrow.... But the women caught each other's hands fast, and
shuddered. Latterly they had felt as if the train were a devil that
counted and kept them there.
But their desperateplight
inspired them. Never in their lives had
these poor mummers so hurled themselves into their parts; never again
would they murder and cheat and punish
with such passionate
Their fate hung upon it. Penniless and trapped, their solitary
lay in witching all Paradise to stare at them and furnish the
"Keep it up," urged M'Kune when a tired actress
flagged. The hut was
full and airless, but a few men were sullenlyhanging
back in the
doorway, drawn thither, but arguing if it was worth it to step inside.
"Keep it up!" hissed M'Kune.
And the heroine
flung herself between the hero and the villain's knife,
slipped as she ran, and was hurt, but struggled up and cried out her
tottering defiance, bringing the house down before she dropped on her
That was the last night of crazed endeavour. The curtain came rocking
down, and the villain--M'Kune--cheated the gallows
to run feverishly
through his receipts. All Paradise was vociferating behind that
flapping rag, but amidst
the din the players had heard their manager's
yell of triumph. They had made up their fares at last.
The Tragedy Company scattered and fled, each in search of his own
belongings; but they had little to gather, and the night wind blew them
together like drifting leaves. They durst not squander their means of
escaping, durst not loiter. The train, thundering by in its midnight
passage, must lift them out of this nightmare
town. Waiting they
filled the bar, singing and shouting like lunatics, beside themselves
The door in the partition
rattled, but stayed shut, and on the inner
side was silence. Nobody lifted the latch, though the bursts of noise
shook it from time to time. A selfish
panic had left no room for any
other feeling. Probably they had all forgotten that one of the Tragedy
Company who could not escape out of Paradise; and it was all in vain
that the crazy bedstead was turned in its corner to face the door.
She lay without moving. It seemed as if there were nothing of her but
the long black hair covering the pillow. In their hurry those who had
carried her in had not taken out all the pins, and a few glistened in
it still. Looking closer, one saw that her hands were clenched tight
against her breast, as if to keep her heart quiet.
How fast the minutes went! It must be nearly train time. And surely
there was a vast thing, pulsing, pulsing, like an engine, far away in
the night? She could bear the hubbub of voices, but not the dread of
silence. Was it quite impossible to rise up and struggle to them, and
reach a human face? ... Suddenly she took a panting breath, short like
a sob, still gazing.
The door had opened at last, and a woman looked in hastily, and,
flinging a word over her shoulder to the rest, stepped forward,
shutting out the streak
of light and the voices in the bar. Then she
paused, irresolute. It was so dim in here, the atmosphere
anxious.... And nothing stirring
... just a glimmer
of wild black hair.
"You poor little thing!" she said.
Her voice was warm with the cheap kindness of a nature tuned to play
with emotion, but incapable
of feeling it from within. Her sympathy
smacked of the stage, but as far as it went was ready to proffer
"Like the Flight out of Egypt, isn't it?" she said. "It's a shame to
leave you behind. If M'Kune would hear reason, and any of us had a
cent to spare, I'd make a bundle
of you, and carry you on to the train
myself. But it won't run to it. I asked him. We're nothing but
ranting beggars.... You'd better write to your friends."
The girl on the bed laughed.
So much of despair
betrayed itself in that tragic
note that the woman
was startled. She came a little nearer.
"You don't mean it's as bad as that?" she said, lower. "All dead?--I
might have known it. They wouldn't have let a thing like you fling
about with us. But you'll be all right; you'll rub along somehow. We
all do.... And that man who was once a doctor--"
But at her words a quick terror
came to drive out the girl's submission
to despair. She threw out her hands, clutching at the other woman's
"What?" said she, comprehending. "Then the brute's charity
promising to M'Kune--Oh, Lord, what a horrible
place it is----!"
"Don't go!" The girl's voice was a choking cry.
The woman swung round and listened. Were the rest starting already?
Her fine eyes darkened. She was wrapped up for the night journey in a
cloak, her usual wear in tragedy, alike as empress
villainess. Its dull glow warmed a beauty that was, like her soul, not
quite real. Perhaps she was repenting the hasty impulse
brought her in. But she could not pull herself loose from that piteous
The younger one looked up beseechingly in her face. Her spirit failed
her; she hardly knew what an impracticable
thing she was asking, how
uselessly she was clinging, in her horror
"I'm so frightened ... I'm so frightened..." she whispered, panting
because the effort hurt her; her lips were pale, and her forehead
damp with pain.
Suddenly the woman clapped her hands.
"I've got it!" she said. Her face cleared, and she began to laugh like
one whose mind was rid of a burden. Twisting a ring off her finger,
she caught the little desperate
hand still clutching at her skirt, and
thrust the ring on.
"There!" she said. "Change with me."
"I can't understand," said the girl faintly. The other woman burst
"It's Providence!" she said. "Never tell me--! I'm used to this life
with its ups and downs, and its glitter
of luck ahead. It's in my
bones; the restlessness, and all that. I couldn't give it up. I
wouldn't. But you--! You didn't guess there was a lawyer
did you?--that I'm a widow?--that I'm wanted to go and live in England
with his mother. Perhaps she'd have to pay somebody if I hadn't a
sense of duty.... _Me_ picking up stitches in her knitting, yawning in
a parlour with a parrot!--But you'd be safe there, you child--!"
She paused for breath, triumphant.
"I'll tell him to fetch you," she said. "The lawyer. Wait a minute--I
have his letter; warning
me that there is no money in it--no
settlements, as he calls it. I'd be depending on the old woman's
chanty, like any stray cat."
She went down immediately on her knees, and plunged into a kit-bag that
she had slung on her arm, turning out its miscellaneous
was a shiver
of glass as she fumbled, spilling things right and left;
and the stale air was scented with heliotrope.
"That's all you want," she said, throwing a heap of papers on the bed.
"Here's his photograph. You can have it. I can't tell you much about
him, but you'll find the clues in there. He was good-looking, too,
poor fellow; a great gawk of a good-for-nothing working
with his hands.
John Barnabas Hill--the boys called him Lord John among themselves, and
persuaded me he was incognito. But when I asked him after the wedding
if I was now my lady, he just laughed and laughed; and I went right off
in a passion
and never saw him again. It wasn't his fault. I was just
too eager; that's all there was to it. And I'll tell the lawyer
left you ill in this wilderness. He'll rush to your side, and take it
for granted that you are me. Don't look so scared. What's the matter?"
"I can't do it," the girl panted, staring with a dizzy wonder at the
casual Samaritan on her knees. Surely the lamp was sinking, the
darkness seemed dangerously
near, the kneeling figure brilliant
blur. She tried to keep a picture of that kind human face wherewith
fill the darkness, while instinctively
repudiating her mad suggestion.
"Rubbish!" said the woman. "It's the simplest thing. You do
nothing.--And you're an actress."
"But I cannot," the girl said over and over again, holding
"You'll hurt nobody," urged the woman, attaining to some imperfect
apprehension of an attitude of mind that would not, even in extremity,
buy help with falsehood. "If I'm willing
to have you stand in my
shoes, who else has a right to grumble? It's perfectly
fair all round.
Look! I'm stuffing these papers under your pillow. I'll tell them all
outside that an English lawyer
is coming for you, and that'll make
things easy. Don't hinder
me leaving you with a clear conscience.
I've been your friend, haven't I? Hush, hush! I tell you you must....
I'll not let you die in this den. I'll not be haunted----!"
There was a tramping in the bar without. They were going. She tumbled
into the bag, and clapped it shut. The rest of them
"Luck!" she said, "and good-bye."
Her eyes dimmed unexpectedly, and she bent in a shamefaced hurry,
printing a kiss on the girl's cheek ... and fled.
The door closed. In imagination
one might see the midnight
thundering towards the watchers--hear the grinding of the brakes. To
had succeeded a dreadful
stillness. They had all gone like
shadows, and the listener
"I can't ... I can't ... I can't!" she reiterated in a sobbing whisper,
casting the strange chance from her with a last effort of
consciousness. The lamp was dying, and the world seemed to be turning
round. In that unfriended darkness the ring on her finger was
glittering like a charm.
The day's hunting
Of the hundreds who had jostled each other in the first run, a
disreputable few survived, pulling up after that last gallop. They
grinned contentedly, drawing
out their watches. Thirty-five minutes
from the wood; a straight fox and elbow-room. It had been worth
stopping out for, though now the dusk was thickening fast, and the
huntsman was calling
off his hounds.
"Where's Rackham?" asked one man, peering into the hollow.
"Gone home. I saw his back as we came through Pickwell."
"That wasn't Rackham. That was Bond, hurrying home to tea."
"He's probably come to grief. His horse had had about enough when I
Another man popped his head over the hedge that had worsted him. His
hat was stove in, and his tired animal was blowing on the farther side.
"_He's_ all right," he said. "The devil looks after his own. I turned
the most horrible
somersault back yonder, through my horse catching his
leg in a binder; and before I could pick myself up, over shoots
Rackham, practically on the top of us. If he'd even given me time to
roll into the ditch!--Down he went to the water.... I wish I could
think he was swimming in it."
"He's not far, anyhow. Hark to him. I'd know that laugh of his a mile
off. There he goes--'Haw, haw, haw!'--all by himself, in the valley."
They turned their heads to listen, with a broadening and sympathetic