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Whatsoever a Man Soweth

William Le Queux

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Whatsoever a Man SowethBy William Le QueuxPublished by F.V. White and Co Ltd.This edition dated 1906.

  Whatsoever a Man Soweth, by William Le Queux.


  ________________________________________________________________________WHATSOEVER A MAN SOWETH, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.



  "Then you really don't intend to marry me, Wilfrid?"

  "The honour of being your husband, Tibbie, I must respectfully decline,"I said.

  "But I'd make you a very quiet, sociable wife, you know. I can ride tohounds, cook, sew clothes for old people, and drive a motor. Whathigher qualifications do you want?"

  "Well--love, for instance."

  "Ah! That's what I'm afraid I don't possess, any more them you do," shelaughed. "It isn't a family characteristic. With us, it's everyone forherself," and she beat a tattoo upon the window-pane with the tips ofher slim, white fingers.

  "I know," I said, smiling. "We are old friends enough to speak quitefrankly, aren't we?"

  "Of course. That's why I asked you `your intentions'--as the matercalls them. But it seems that you haven't any."

  "Not in your direction, Tibbie."

  "And yet you told me you loved me!" said the pretty woman at my side inmock reproach, pouting her lips.

  "Let's see--how long ago was that? You were thirteen, I think, and Iwas still at Eton--eh?"

  "I was very fond of you," she declared. "Indeed, I like you now. Don'tyou remember those big boxes of sweets you used to smuggle in to me, andhow we used to meet in secret and walk down by the river in the evening?Those were really very happy days, Wilfrid," and she sighed at thememory of our youthful love.

  We were standing together in the sunset at one of the old diamond-panedwindows of the Long Gallery at Ryhall Place, the ancient home of theScarcliffs in Sussex, gazing away over the broad park which stretched asfar as the eye could reach, its fine old avenue of beeches running in astraight line to East Marden village, and the Chichester high road.

  My companion, the Honourable Eva Sybil Burnet, third daughter of thelate Viscount Scarcliff, was known to her intimates as "Tibbie," becauseas a child she so pronounced her Christian name. In the smart set inLondon and at country houses she was well known as the prettiest of ahandsome trio, the other two sisters being Cynthia, who married LordWydcombe, and Violet, who a year ago became Countess of Alderholt.Young Lady Wydcombe, who was perhaps one of the smartest women in town,noted for her dinners and her bridge parties in Curzon Street, and hersmart house parties up in Durham, had unfortunately taken Tibbie underher care after she had come out, with the result that although unmarriedshe had prematurely developed into one of the most _blase_ and go-aheadwomen in town. The gossips talked of her, but the scandal was inventedby her enemies.

  The country people whispered strange things of "Miss Sybil" and herwhims and fancies. The family had been known as "the reckless Burnets"ever since the Georgian days, when the sixth Viscount had, in one nightat Crockford's, gambled away the whole of his vast Yorkshire estate, andhis son on the following night lost forty-five thousand guineas at thesame table. Dare-devilry ran in the Scarcliff blood. From the Wars ofthe Roses down to the present day the men had always been fearlesssoldiers--for some of their armour, and that of their retainers, stillstood in long, grim rows in the dark-panelled gallery where we were--andthe women had always been notable for their beauty, as proved by thefamous portraits by Gainsborough, Lawrence, Lely, Reynolds, Hoppner, andothers, that hung in the splendid gallery beyond.

  But surely none of those time-mellowed portraits that I could see fromwhere I stood was half so beautiful as the little friend of my youthbeside me. In those long-past days of our boy-and-girl affection shehad been very fragile and very beautiful, with wondrous hair of thatunusual gold-brown tint, and eyes of clear bright blue. But even now,at twenty-three, she had in no way lost her almost child-like grace andcharm. Those deep blue eyes, turned upon me in mock reproach, werestill fathomless, her cheeks were perfect in their symmetry, her mouthsmiling and sweet, and her brows well arched and well defined, while herchin, slightly protruding, gave her that piquant air that was sodelightful.

  Though unmarried, she was entirely unconventional, just as theScarcliffs had ever been. Smart London knew Tibbie well. Some day shewould many, people said, but the wiseacres shook their heads andsecretly pitied the man who became her husband.

  As a friend Tibbie was perfect. She was a man's woman. She could shootor fish, she would play bridge and pay up honourably, she rode well, andshe drove her 60 h.p. "Mercedes" better even than her own chauffeur.Old Lady Scarcliff--a delightful old person--had long ago given her upas hopeless. It was all Cynthia's doing, for, truth to tell, herextravagances and her utter disregard for the _convenances_ were theoutcome of her residence with the Wydcombes.

  I own frankly that I was sorry to see this change in her. The slim,rather prudish little love of my youth had now developed into thatloud-speaking, reckless type of smart woman who nowadays is so much inevidence in Society. I much preferred her as I had known her years agowhen my father and hers were intimate friends, and when I came so oftento stay at Ryhall. True, our friendship had been a firm one always, butalas! I now detected a great change in her. Though so handsome, shewas, as I had so very frankly told her, not exactly the kind of woman Ishould choose as a wife. And yet, after all, when I reflected I oftenthought her very sweet and womanly at home in the family circle.

  My visit to Ryhall was to end on the morrow, and she had promised todrive me up to town on her car.

  The men of the party had not yet returned from shooting, and in thatcalm sunset hour we were alone in the fine old gallery, with itssplendid tapestries, its old carved coffers and straight-backed chairs,its rows of antlers and its armour of the dead-and-gone Scarcliffs.High in the long windows were the rose en soleil of Edward IV, the crownin the hawthorn bush of Henry VII, the wolf's head crowned, the badge ofthe Scarcliffs, and other armorial devices, while the autumn sunlightslanting in threw coloured reflections upon the oaken floor worn smoothand polished by the feet of generations.

  She was dressed in cream serge, a slight, dainty, neat-waisted figure,thrown into relief as she leaned back against the dark old panelling,laughing at my retort.

  Her musical voice echoed down the long corridor, that old place thatalways seemed so far remote from the present day, and where the countryfolk declared that at night could be heard the footfall of the knightand the rustle of the lady's kirtle.

  Ryhall was indeed a magnificent old place, built by Sir Henry Burnet inthe Tudor days, and pre-eminent to-day among the historic mansions ofEngland, an architectural triumph that still remained almost the same asit was on the death of its builder. Its great vaulted hall with thewonderful fireplace and carved minstrels' gallery, its fine oldtapestries in King James's room, the yellow drawing-room, the redboudoir, and the Baron's hall, full of antique furniture, were allsplendid apartments breathing of an age long past and forgotten.

  Being something of an antiquary myself, I loved Ryhall, and took a keendelight in exploring its quaint passages and discovering its secretdoors in picture-frames and panelling. Tibbie, however, who had no lovefor old things, hated Ryhall. She preferred everything essentiallymodern, the art nouveau, art colourings, and the electric light of hermother's house in Grosvenor Street. She only came down to Ryhall whenabsolutely necessary, and then grumbled constantly, even worrying Jack,her brother--now Lord Scarcliff--to "put some decent new furniture intothe place," and declaring to her mother that the
house was full of mothsand rats.

  "Look!" she suddenly exclaimed at last. "The boys are coming home!Can't you see them there, down in the avenue?" and she pointed with herfinger. "Well," she added, "you're not a bit entertaining, Wilfrid.You refuse to become my husband, so I suppose I shall have to marrysomeone else. The mater says I really must marry somebody."

  "Of course, you must," I said. "But who is to be the happy man? Haveyou decided?"

  "M'-well, I don't quite know. Ellice Winsloe is a good fellow, andwe're very friendly," she admitted. "The mater approves of him, becausehe's well off."

  "Then she wouldn't approve of me," I laughed. "You know I haven't gotvery much."

  "I've never