The Summons (novel)/XXIV

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Rackham was a red Georgian mansion with great windows in flat rows, and lofty rooms made beautiful by the delicate tracery of the ceilings. It has neither wings nor embellishments but stood squarely in its gardens, looking southwards to the Downs. The dining-room was upon the east side, between that room and the hall was the library, of which the window faced the north. Mrs. Croyle's bedroom, however, was in the south-west corner and from its windows one could see the smoke of the train as it climbed from Midhurst to the Cocking tunnel, and the gap where the road runs through to Singleton.

"You won't be going to bed yet, madam, I suppose," said Jenny.

She had not troubled to bring upstairs into the room the book which she had picked out at random from the stand that was lying on the hall table.

"No, Jenny. I will ring for you when I want you," said Stella.

Stella was dispirited. Her week was nearly at an end. To-morrow would be the last day and she had gained nothing, it seemed, by all her care. Harry was kind—oh, ever so much kinder than in the old days when they had been together—more considerate, more thoughtful. But the skies of passion are stormily red, and so effulgent that one walks in gold. Consideration, thoughtfulness—what were these pale things worth against one spurt of fire? Besides, there was the ball to-night. He would dance with her, would seek the dim open spaces of the lawns, the dark shadows of the great elms, with her—with Joan.

"I'll ring for you, Jenny," she repeated, as her maid stood doubtfully by the door. "I am quite right."

"Very well, madam."

Stella Croyle's eyes were drawn when she was left alone to that cupboard in which her dressing-bag was stowed away. But she arrested them and covered them with her hands.

"This is my last chance," she said to herself aloud in the anguish of her spirit. If it failed, there was nothing in front of her but a loneliness which each year must augment. Youth and high spirits or the assumption of high spirits—these she must have if she were to keep her place in her poor little circle—and both were slipping from her fast. "This is my last chance." She stood in front of her mirror in her dancing frock, her dark hair exquisitely dressed, her face hauntingly wistful. After all, she was beautiful. Why shouldn't she win? Jenny thought that she could.

At that moment Jenny was slipping noiselessly along a corridor to the northern side of the house. The lights were all off; a pencil of moonlight here and there from an interstice in the curtains alone touched her as she passed. At one window she stopped, and softly lifted the blind. She looked out and was satisfied.

"Thought so!" she murmured, with a little vindictive smile. Just beneath her was that long window of the library which Joan had been at such pains to arrange.

Jenny stationed herself by the window. The night was very still. She could hear the voices of the servants in the dining-room round the angle of the house, and see the light from its windows lying in frames upon the grass. Then the light went out, and silence fell.

From time to time the hum of a motor-car swelled and diminished to its last faint vibrations on the distant road; and as each car passed Jenny stiffened at her post. She looked at her watch, turning the dial to the moonlight. It was ten minutes past nine now. The cars had left Rackham Park well before nine. She would not have long to wait now! As she slipped her watch again into her waistband she drew back with an instinctive movement, although the window at which she stood had been this last half-hour in shadow. For under a great copper beech on the grass in front of her a man was standing. The sight of him was a shock to her.

She wondered how he had come, how long he had been there—and why? Some explanation flashed upon her.

"My goodness me!" she whispered. "You could knock me down with a hairpin. So you could!"

Whilst she watched that solitary figure beneath the tree, another motor whizzed along the road. The noise of its engine grew louder—surely louder than any which, standing at this window, she had heard before. Had it turned into the park? off the main road. Was it coming to the house? Before Jenny could answer these questions in her mind, the noise ceased altogether. Jenny held her breath; and round the angle of the house a girl came running swiftly, her skirt sparkling like silver in the moonlight, and a white cloak drawn about her shoulders. She drew open the window of the library and passed in. A few seconds passed. Jenny imagined her stealthily opening the door into the hall, and listening to make sure that the servants were in their own quarters and this part of the house deserted. Then the girl reappeared at the window and made a sign. From beneath the tree the man ran across the grass. His face was turned towards Jenny, and the moonlight revealed it. The man was Mario Escobar.

Jenny drew a little sharp breath. She heard the window ever so gently latched. Suddenly the light blazed out from the room and then, strip by strip, vanished, as if the curtains had been cautiously drawn. The garden, the house resumed its aspect of quiet; all was as it had been when Jenny Prask first lifted the window of the corridor. Jenny Prask crept cautiously away.

"Fancy that!" she said to herself, with a little chuckle of triumph.

In the room below Mario Escobar and Joan Whitworth were talking.