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The Pipe of Peace.

C. Haddon Chambers

I

BERTRAM and Conway Osborne were more than brothers—they were staunch friends. The death of their mother when they were both too young to understand, much less to measure the extent of their loss; the indifference and neglect of their father, a cold and selfish egotist; the absence of brothers and sisters to create domestic cliques and engender estrangement; dispositions which harmonised, and many other circumstances, combined to lay in childhood the foundation of an affection which the subsequent assaults of time and trial only served to strengthen.

A year, so terribly short to the middle-aged, is very long and important in the life of a child.

Only twelve months divided Bertram and Conway, and at seven Bertram was the guide, instructor, and protector, while his little companion


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looked up to him with becoming veneration. It was Bertram who planned their adventures and directed their sports; it was to him that the younger, and, at that age, frailer boy looked for comfort in distress and assistance when weary.

But as the years went on these conditions underwent a change, slow but certain. At the ages of thirteen and twelve respectively, the brothers were of equal height and strength, but three years later Conway had developed into a vigorous youth, powerful for his age, and an inch taller than his brother. Bertram was, in fact, destined never to exceed the medium height and average strength, while it was Conway's fortune to be gifted in his maturity with six feet of splendidly proportioned manhood.

At Harrow Conway thrashed a hitherto unconquered bully who had dared to insult his brother, and Bertram secretly coached his champion so that they might go up to college together. At Oxford Conway presented a stalwart bargeman with a pair of black eyes for having knocked his brother down during a street broil; and Bertram put the brake on his studies so that the inseparables might have the satisfaction of being plucked in company.

When they returned home subsequently with their triumphs, their father, who was deep in a


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realistic French author at the time, scarcely gave them a second glance, and returned to his novel. The brothers decided upon a visit to the Continent. They came home, more firmly attached to each other than ever, after rambling for a year; and were then separated for the first time.

Bertram, very much against his inclination, was sent to London to enter political life under the auspices of a prominent member of the House of Commons, an old friend of his father's. Conway was directed for the present to remain at home—which was a small estate in Hertfordshire, known as the Ferns. Mr. Osborne had never engaged actively in politics, or, for that matter, in any other pursuit except that of pleasure; but he was under a promise of many years' standing to attach himself to a certain party, and it was to avoid further embarrassing importunity that he now sacrificed the inclinations of his eldest son. The stalwart Conway, he reasoned, would relieve him of a great deal of trouble in managing the estate.

“Good-bye, Bertie,” said Conway, feeling rather ashamed of his abortive attempt to speak lightly, as he wrung his brother's hand at the railway station. “I shall be most horribly dull without you. The governor's not very congenial society, you know. You have the best of the bargain, for you're bound to get excitement of some sort or


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other in town. And perhaps,” with a jealous pang, “you'll make a new chum.”

“No fear of that, Con,” replied Bertram, heartily. “I'll meet lots of fellows, of course, but I shall never have but the one chum.”

They had shaken hands several times, the train came up, and Bertram jumped into it. “All aboard!” cried the guard, facetiously, waving his flag. Another grip of the hands, and Conway stood alone on the little platform, looking dimly after the fast-receding train. When it had disappeared he left the station without hearing the porter's suggestive salutation, “It's very chilly to-day, sir,” and drove home, making up his mind on the way to seize the very first excuse of a run up to town.

As he had anticipated, Conway found life at the Ferns without his brother very slow. He further found, upon a little investigation, that the estate, with the assistance of an old and prosy steward, whose probity was sans reproche, managed itself very comfortably, and he wisely decided that interference on his part would simply serve to display his own ignorance. There was a trout stream and an abundance of game, but he found such things stale and unprofitable without Bertram. Eventually he decided that if boredom was inevitable he might just as well take it on horseback as on foot. Accordingly he selected a stout


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roadster, on which he explored the neighbouring country.

On one of his dismal rides he met the parson of a neighbouring parish, who asked him to dinner. Parson Helden had frequently asked Mr. Osborne to dinner, but that gentleman, being timid of placing his digestion, which of late years had been far from robust, at the mercy of a local cook, had made excuses. Conway being more polite, less dainty, and thoroughly weary of his own society, gladly accepted the invitation.

When, on the following evening, he presented himself at the parsonage, and received a hearty welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Helden, Conway experienced no regrets; and when Miss Helden entered the room and was introduced, his feelings were akin to those of the settler who suddenly discovers that the piece of land on which he has failed to raise crops is richly auriferous.

For Miss Heldon was a vision of loveliness. She was petite, with a slender, supple form just ripening into womanly beauty. Her small head was crowned with a mass of hair the colour of virgin gold, cunningly arranged to display its uncommon wealth to the greatest advantage. Her large eyes, both in colour and in softness, plainly said “Forget-me-not,” an entreaty which Conway decided from the first moment was quite superfluous; while the


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long lashes which fringed them and the thick eyebrows above—too thick, perhaps, for absolute perfection—were several shades darker than her hair. If her features were not strictly regular they were none the less bewitching for that. Your classical beauty is often apt to lack expression: Una Helden bewildered you with a hundred new charms of face in an hour, notwithstanding that her nose might have been more exquisitely chiselled and her mouth less richly developed. But no one had ever ventured to suggest a blemish in the beauty of the parson's daughter. One glance from the “Forget-me-not” eyes, one quiver of the heavily-fringed lids, and the critic who came to criticise remained to adore. Men may admire the pale, faultless, spirituelle loveliness, but it is the intensely human, seductive beauty, such as Una Helden possessed, that sets their hearts aflame.

From that evening Conway found life at the Ferns more tolerable, and he missed the companionship of his brother less, although it is probable that he would have knocked the man down who ventured to hint such a thing to him. But after all, what could be more natural? He was young, and deeply, passionately in love. Cannot a great love for a woman and a great friendship for a man live peacefully side by side in a man's heart? A man would answer the question


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in the affirmative, a woman in the negative. Not, necessarily, that the feminine heart is smaller, but because it is more concentrative — because it contains but one chamber, and when that is filled there is room for nought else. The sentiment of friendship, as it is understood by men, is almost unknown among women, and they are suspicious and jealous of it accordingly.

Conway was bewitched. He saw Una Helden daily; he would not have missed a day for the wealth of the Indies. The sun might burn up the grass; the rain might flood the valleys; the hurricane might lay low the forest trees; but at some time during the twenty-four hours the young man would have presented himself at the parsonage. Love at twenty-two laughs scornfully at the elements, and defies them.

The brothers maintained a regular correspondence, and be it recorded to his credit, Conway's passion did not make him neglectful in that respect. He still wrote as warmly and as frequently as ever, but for the first time in his life he withheld a confidence from his brother. It was very unwise, and certainly a deviation from the principles which had always governed their friendship. Conway said nothing in his letters about Una, lest, as he naïvely and foolishly reasoned to himself, “Old Bert might be jealous.”




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At the end of three weeks, during which he walked, talked, rode, played tennis, and spent nearly all his time with Miss Helden, Conway was unable to determine how far, if at all, he had won his way into the young lady's affections. One evening an unmistakably tender glance, or a lingering, regretful softness in the good-bye, would send him home in an ecstasy of happiness; the next morning he would be greeted as though in the meantime his idol had forgotten the fact of his existence.

The truth, however painful, must be told: Una was a most accomplished coquette. An occasional visit in the season to Aunt Rachel, a relative in London who was “in society,” had afforded her opportunities of perfecting the dangerous gift Nature had bestowed upon her—opportunities of which Una had fully availed herself. Conway was some distance down in the list of Una's captures.

“I think, Maria,” remarked the parson to his spouse, one Sunday morning as they walked home from church some paces in the rear of the young couple, “I think that young Osborne is, to say the least of it, palpably attentive to our child.”

Mr. Helden's tone was that of a man who had just discovered an interesting phenomenon.

“So do I,” replied the wife, laconically.

“He is a fine, manly young fellow,” continued


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the parson, after a thoughtful pause, “and he will have a tolerable fortune—probably in cash. It would not be a bad match for Una.”

“Not bad; but not particularly brilliant, considering Una's beauty and accomplishments. Rachel tells me that she could number her admirers in London by the score. Now, if it were the other brother——”

“Maria, I fear you are terribly worldly,” remonstrated the parson, gently. “Remember that all things are ordered for the best. Our innocent child's affections”—the fond parents often spoke of Una as their “innocent child”—“will not be influenced by mundane considerations; although,” he added gravely, after another pause, “it is of course your duty to give her the benefit of your experience and advice.”

That very afternoon Mrs. Helden acted upon her husband's gentle suggestion.

“Una, my dear, do you think Conway Osborne is in love with you?”

“I am sure of it, mamma,” was the answer, soft but decisive.

“And do you reciprocate his feelings?”

“I am not sure of that, mamma.” And Una's face at that moment fully justified the expression, “our innocent child.” “I don't think I shall know until I have seen Bertram.”




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Mrs. Helden, recognising the influence of Aunt Rachael, who was more “in the world,” though perhaps not actually more worldly than herself, felt that a responsibility had been lifted from her shoulders, and said nothing more.

Bertram was coming home, and Una knew it, for Conway had told her. He had not volunteered the information; Una had gently pumped it out of him. She had also heard that Bertram was a “grand old fellow,” and a “perfect brick,” and she had permitted herself to display a curiosity—a childish curiosity, of course—to see the absent paragon.

On the day after the two brief conversations just recorded Conway made his way to the parsonage with a firm purpose in his heart. Ostensibly the object of his visit was a game of tennis with Miss Una; in reality it was to put an end once for all to the miserable uncertainty regarding the relations which were to exist between them. For weeks and weeks she had, in her own pretty, infantine, cruel way, played fast and loose with him. He now vowed that it must end at once, for he could bear the torture no longer. Bertram would arrive at the Ferns in the morning, and would remain for a month, and Conway felt that he could not be the jolly companion that his brother expected if he remained in his then state of mind. It must be Yes or No that very afternoon.




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Una was pleased to accord her lover a kind welcome. She was in one of her brightest moods, which made Conway's gravity and pre-occupation more marked. They played tennis for half-an-hour, and then Una threw down her bat, declaring that he was too horribly dull to be endured, and that she would leave him to bore himself. Conway suggested that they should sit in the arbour and talk, but the young lady, scenting his deep design afar off, made for the house.

But Conway was too quick for her. Resolutely imprisoning her tiny hands, he led her to the arbour, and gently pressed her into a seat. Then he stood before her, with brows gravely contracted, and an eager, anxious, yearning expression upon his handsome face, looking into her great Forget-me-not eyes—which gazed up wonderingly and innocently at him—and trying to read the thoughts that lay within their depths.

He could read nothing, poor fellow! And after all, she looked such a veritable child, with her straw tennis-hat bedecked with blue ribbon thrown back on her small head, and her dead-gold tresses escaping from their bondage, that he had not heart to speak as seriously to her as he had intended. “You are my prisoner, Una,” he said, still holding her hands in his.

“So it seems,” she replied, laughing. Then, with


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a bold determination to hasten what she felt to be inevitable, she added, “What ransom do you require, Signor Brigand?”

“Yourself, Una, yourself—to be my wife I love you with all my soul,” he went on, passionately. “It began when I first saw you, and it has gone on increasing ever since, until it has become too big for me to restrain. But I know you have seen it in my face, have heard it in my voice for days and weeks. And you have shut your eyes to it, and not given me one little peep at your heart to see if it was returned. But I must know now, dear.”

“Now you are making game of me,” said Una, pettishly, trying to withdraw her hands.

“I fear it has been the other way,” replied Conway, somewhat reproachfully. “But it's time now that the game was called. I must know how I stand to-day.”

“And suppose I don't choose to enlighten you?”

“But you must choose to enlighten me,” cried Conway, angrily. “I'm not a boy, to be trifled with. The most beautiful woman on earth shall not make a tennis-ball of my love.”

Una rose to her feet and struggled to release her hands, but she was unable to, so firmly did he hold them. Her face had changed, and now wore an expression that Conway had never seen before.


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Her eyes were contracted and their colour was deeper, while her trembling lips were unpleasantly contorted. For the moment the latent demon that lay unsuspected at the girl's heart had broken from control. Una was not beautiful then.

“No, you are not a boy to be trifled with,” she said, tauntingly. “You are a man; a great, strong, brave man, with the power and will to bully and coerce a weak woman; a courtly, gallant, chivalric man; in fact, a gentleman.”

Conway turned pale to the lips. Releasing her hands, he stepped back, still, however, barring her exit from the arbour.

“I am at least an honest man,” he said, simply. “I have not the art of concealing my feelings, nor the inclination to do so. I am not practised in deceit. Because I love much I am vehement in the expression of it. Some people prefer vehemence to self-control, as being honester. I ask you once more, Una—Do you love me? If you are honest you will answer me Yes or No. If you are not honest—I will never willingly look upon you again.”

“Another threat! What a dangerous fellow you are, Con.” This extraordinary young girl, whose mood was as changeable as the wind, was soft and smiling now—the Una as she was best known. “I'm sure that you must have practised just a little deceit, for you have never given me


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the slightest reason to suspect that you are the volcano you have shown yourself to be to-day. Now don't look black, but come and walk in the garden like a reasonable being, and when I've collected my poor scattered senses I'll answer your question.”

“You will answer me honestly?” asked the young man, eagerly.

“I will, from my heart.”

They paced the garden silently for some minutes—Una with her head bent, and her hands behind her, kicking up the gravel at each step with the point of her tiny shoe, and Conway, his anger, but not his anxiety, having flown, looking down at her golden head, wondering how much of the woman and how much of the child there was in this inexplicable little being.

Suddenly Una paused, and, looking up demurely into his face, said, “Now repeat your question, please.”

“Una, do you love me?” he asked, slowly and earnestly.

“Truly and honestly and from my heart I reply”—she stopped for a moment as he bent over her eagerly—“I don't know.”

Then she sprang lightly from him, and fled, with a swiftness that defied pursuit, towards the house.

As he watched her till she disappeared Conway


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muttered a hasty word. The best of us are impatient at being tricked. It wounds our self-love, which is the most enduring if not always the strongest of our passions. There was as much hatred and contempt as love for Una in Conway's heart at that moment.

“Bah!” he muttered again, “women are cheats —and men are fools!” A cynical observation for a youth of twenty-two, but the tenter-hooks upon which he had been kept dangling for the last few weeks had aged Conway wonderfully. “I'm glad it's over,” he continued, looking the reverse of glad; “and, thank God! old Bert will be down to-morrow.”

Then, to prove to his own satisfaction that he really was indifferent and light-hearted, and not in the least upset, he took up a bat and began to strike the balls over the net. They all went over the net, and also over the hedge, some distance beyond, and were lost in the adjacent corn-field. When the supply of balls were exhausted he threw the bat in the air several times, catching it dexterously by the handle as it descended. Then he tossed it away on the grass, picked up the walking-stick he had left on a garden-seat, and whistling with ostentatious cheerfulness, walked off towards the front gate. As he passed under the shadow of the house he heard a small, soft voice calling him.




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“Con! Con! Con!—Conway!”

Conway whistled louder, and walked on.

“Con—way!!”

This time he could not fail to hear. The call was louder than his whistling, and decidedly more musical.

“I beg your pardon, U——Miss Helden; you called me?”

Una laughed gaily. She was leaning from a little window just out of her lover's reach, with her face between her hands, and her arms resting on the sill.

“‘Miss Helden’ is beautiful,” she said, unconscious of the double construction that might be placed on her words. “How absurd that you should be the first to call me anything else but Una. Do I look more than a simple Christian name?”

Conway was fain to acknowledge to himself that she did not; but he said nothing nor relaxed his gravity.

“Yes, I called you,” she continued, “because I won't allow you to go away angry with me.”

“I am not angry with you but with myself,” he said, coldly.

“And very properly so. I'm glad to see that you still have a conscience. Con!”—and her voice sank to inexpressible softness—“you should not be


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hasty and unkind to me. I couldn't answer your question honestly in any other way. You must have patience with me, Con. At present I only think—perhaps before long I shall be sure. I'm only a baby, you know.”

It is not surprising that Conway relented under those soft words and still softer voice, both of which so plainly said, “You may hope!” As he looked up he saw the crystal tears gathering in her eyes, and he thereupon felt that ten years hard labour would have been a lenient sentence for his brutality.

“Forgive me, Una, dear. I'm afraid I was born a rough animal. I promise to be more gentle and patient in future.”

“And you will come and see me again very soon?”

“Yes. The day after to-morrow, if you like.”

“And bring your wonderful ‘old Bert,’ with you?”

“Yes, and bring my wonderful ‘old Bert,’ ” he answered, smiling, and tossing up a rose to her. And so they parted in peace.

But Conway, as he wended his way to the Ferns, did not walk on air, as successful lovers are popularly supposed to do. On the contrary, he trod the more prosaic and substantial road like any of his father's cottagers, only on this occasion more


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slowly and thoughtfully. He was thinking less of the great tear-brightened, forget-me-not eyes, the ripe, tender mouth, and the small, beautiful face, with its halo of gold hair, that he had just left, than of the weeks of coquetry that had drawn him on and ensnared him, and the pitiful trick by means of which Una had evaded the direct reply that his simple avowal of love deserved. He was so honest himself that he could endure nothing that approached deceit in those he loved. Perhaps in this respect the constant companionship of his brother had spoilt him, or at any rate left his nature too tender for a man to live at ease in this world of small and big deceits. The words “Only a baby” kept ringing doubtfully in his ears. “Only a baby,” he repeated, as he passed through the big gates of the Ferns. “And I certainly have no genius for nursing!”

II

AT the railway station again. The train rolls in, and once more the strong right hands of the brothers are joined. They have so much to say that they prefer to walk to the Ferns, and arm-in-arm they stroll along, Bertram for the most part doing the talking, and Conway the listening. Bertram had got over his repugnance for politics, but he had conceived a sturdy dislike for the party


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to which his father had introduced him, and for their principles, and he was on the eve of casting his lot with the enemy. A general election was looming in the near future, and he had great hopes of securing a seat in the House. Conway entered into his brother's hopes and fears, and listened to a great number of experiences and adventures with profound interest. In return he had nothing interesting to relate, unless he spoke of Una. But that was a confidence he preferred to postpone for a time, especially in view of the distressing uncertainty that prevailed regarding his relations with that young lady.

On the following morning, however, Conway, remembering his promise to Una, proposed a visit to the parsonage.

“Una Helden is an awfully jolly girl,” he affirmed, “and a capital tennis-player. I think I mentioned her in one of my letters,” he added, with a mendacity very foreign to his nature.

“Did you? I don't remember,” replied Bertram, unsuspiciously.

Una was at home, of course. She expected them, and her cunningly simple toilet was more studiously simple and more becoming than usual, although Conway, being short-sighted in such matters, did not remark it. Bertram had met many beauties in the season that had just passed,


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but he had seen no such original loveliness as Una's. She made even a stronger impression upon him than she had upon Conway when he had first seen her.

Una exerted herself to please that afternoon; but it was not for Conway's benefit, and the young man saw it. He knew Una pretty well now, and, although his passion was by no means dead, he more than suspected her sincerity, and was inclined to form but a moderate estimate of her moral calibre.

“She's the sweetest girl I ever met,” declared Bertram, enthusiastically, as they walked home, “and by far the most beautiful. It's a marvel to me, Con, that you haven't fallen head-over-heels in love with her.”

“Perhaps I'm not very impressionable,” was Conway's evasive answer. Evasion with his brother! Una, you had even then much to answer for!

Unconsciously Bertram felt relieved. If Conway had not fallen in love with Una, nothing stood in the way of his doing so, and something told him that that was not an improbable contingency.

“I don't think that Una would be a very safe girl to fall in love with,” continued Conway, with affected lightness. His loyalty urged him to warn his brother, while his sensitiveness restrained him


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from saying too much, lest he should afterwards appear in the unpleasant position of the fox in the fable.

“Why so?” asked Bertram, quickly.

“Because I fancy there's—what shall I say? A want of depth and solidity in her character. She strikes me as being naturally something of a coquette.”

“Nonsense, old boy. You're no judge of women. The child is artlessness idealised.”

A mental ‘Humph!’—a painful, anxious one—and Conway said no more.

What need to linger here in this veracious history? The story is a sadly old and tatter-torn one: the story of a fair, false woman, with an exterior to love and a soul to hate; a canker-worm hid in a blush-rose. Una fascinated Bertram Osborne at first sight, and she knew it. From that moment Conway was numbered among the numerous fleeting flirtations, and she made up her mind to marry the elder brother.

Conway saw it, and suffered alone. With his love for his brother and his love for Una, it was a hard case with him. In a few days he saw that Bertram's whole soul was bound up in the girl; and then he went out alone, sought a lonely place in the woods, and fought with himself. It was a great battle—the hardest by far he had ever fought,


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the longest and most fierce. But he came out a victor. No school bully ever received such a thorough and complete thrashing as Conway that day gave himself.

III

THAT same evening Bertram announced that he was going to ask Una to be his wife, and Conway took his hand and said, “Bert, old boy, the greatest happiness that man could have, whatever it may be, I wish to you.”

Conway had avoided the parsonage of late, but chancing to meet Una face to face in the village one day, he was obliged to stop and speak to her. After the awkward interchange of a few common-places between them, he suddenly said, seriously—

“Una, I loved you once, and you trifled with me. My brother loves you now, and you know he is very dear to me. You will make Old Bert happy, won't you, Una? He well deserves it.”

“Indeed I will try hard,” she replied. “And you forgive me now, don't you? You know I could not control my heart—no one can do that.”

He looked at her a little suspiciously, but could see nothing but innocence and earnestness in her upraised face.

“Yes, I forgive you. If you love Bert well, I can forgive you for not loving me.”




  ― 26 ―

Then he left her, and as she stood looking after him, biting a corner of her full lower lip, there was much of anger and something of regret on her pretty face.

Bertram, like an impatient lover, urged a speedy marriage, and easily secured his own way. In a few short weeks the marriage-bells were ringing. It was a quiet affair, by mutual consent. The bride was a vision of loveliness. The bridegroom was earnest, and a little pale. The best man was calm, and a little paler. And so the irrevocable deed was done, and a few hours later Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Osborne were on their way to the Cumberland lakes.

From thence the happy pair were summoned home within a fortnight of their stay by the receipt of a telegram from Conway, short but imperative—“Come home at once. Our father is dying.”

It was strangely and terribly sudden. Mr. Osborne had gone forth for his daily walk in apparently as good condition as he had been for years. He had been seen erect and firm by some of the villagers, and had received the respectful salutations of several of his tenants with his usual cold courtesy. But he had surprised the old woman who kept the lodge gate by asking her for the loan of a walking-stick, and when Conway


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met his father in the hall a little later he was inexpressibly shocked.

“Why do you look at me like that?” asked Mr. Osborne, irritably.

Receiving no reply, he supported himself to a mirror, and saw the reflection of a face grotesquely distorted and twisted on one side. The effect upon him was singular; he burst into an hysterical laugh. An hour afterwards Mr. Osborne was in bed and unconscious. “A stroke of paralysis,” said the doctor; “not a very severe one, but the story, I fear, has a sequel.”

The doctor was right. Mr. Osborne had a second and severer stroke, after which he never regained consciousness. He died the day after Bertram's return.

The brothers were shocked and grieved, but their father had ever shown such a lack of affection for them that their sorrow could not be expected to be so deep and lasting as it might otherwise have been. Una wept copiously; partly because she hated events of a dismal character, partly because she thought she should look hideous in black, and the rest for the sake of appearances. But when, upon trial, she found that black was most becoming to her, acting as a capital foil to her gold hair and forget-me-not eyes, she was consoled.




  ― 28 ―

But the world wags on despite the sweeps of the reaper's scythe. Bertram had his politics to attend to, and Una was burning to renew her acquaintance with fashionable life: not now as the pretty daughter of a poor parson, but as the wife of a landed proprietor of ancient name, with a rent-roll of six thousand a-year. And so the Ferns was deserted for South Kensington. Conway, whose portion was thirty thousand pounds in the Funds, also took up his residence in London for the present, partly because he had nothing better to do, and partly because he wanted to be near his brother. He refused a pressing invitation to stay at the house in Kensington, preferring to set up bachelor “diggings” of his own; but the brothers saw each other daily, and were as inseparable as ever.

Una made her second bow to society under the wing of Aunt Rachel, and was an immediate and decided success. She was beautiful, original, and piquante; her husband was regarded as a coming man, sufficiently wealthy for a young commoner of ability, and Aunt Rachel's introduction was all-powerful.

Elated with her success, Una gave herself up wholly to enjoyment. Her dream of happiness was realised; at least she thought it was.

Some months had passed away when one evening,


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in the wane of the season, Conway found himself alone with Una. His love for her having long since died out, or been self-slain, he had not avoided such an event. But on that evening he lamented his want of caution, for Una persisted in bringing the conversation round to the days when they had first known each other, before she had seen Bertram.

“You couldn't have loved me so very much, after all, Con.”

“Oh, no. A boy's fancy—very ardent and very brief. Are you going to Lady Lessington's garden party to-morrow?”

“No; you couldn't have loved me very much, or you would have told Bertram, and then things would have been very—different.”

“Very different,” replied Conway. “You would not have been my sister. I think I'll run down to the House and see what Bert is doing.”

“If I had not been your sister I might have been your—wife,” she murmured, in a tone which left it doubtful whether she was in jest or earnest.

Conway reddened. It was a subject that it was not in his nature to jest upon; and if she was in earnest—— But that was a thought he would not entertain for a moment.

“You showed me plainly enough that you never desired that honour, and I never cared for you sufficiently to ask you twice,” he said, rudely.




  ― 30 ―

“Con, you are telling an untruth.”

She was looking him straight in the face—a look which made him turn pale and tremble. Una was deliberately trifling with him; perhaps only for vanity's sake; but, in any case, it was terribly bad—she was his brother's wife.

“I never tell an untruth,” he said, rising in anger, and a few moments after he had left the house.

As Conway walked rapidly away his heart was in a tumult. “Fool that I was,” he thought, bitterly, “not to have told him that she was heartless and shallow, unworthy of any true man's love. Oh, Bert, Bert!”

Meanwhile Una, with a strange, unpleasant light in her eyes, had sunk into a chair with an unmusical laugh.

“He is a fool,” she purred softly. Then she set her white teeth fiercely, and added: “I hate fools!”

A few days afterwards the brothers were alone together in Bertram's sanctum. Conway sat in an easy-chair puffing at a cigar, while the master of the house stood with his back to the fire-place and his hands behind him, with the palms turned towards the grate; but there was no glow to the cigar, and the fire in the grate had been suffered to go out. The most unobservant onlooker, with


  ― 31 ―
any knowledge of the two young men, would have detected something very unusual in the atmosphere—an uneasiness and unpleasant constraint. Bertram's brow was moody and preoccupied, and on the handsome face of the younger brother, notwithstanding his easy attitude, there was perplexity and anxiety.

“Bert,” said the latter, breaking a long silence, “there's no use trying to disguise it from me; something has gone wrong with you. Tell me all about it. You never keep secrets from me.”

“Have you ever kept any from me?” asked Bertram, meaningly.

“None worthy of the telling,” replied Conway, colouring slightly. Then, to cover his confusion, he went on quickly: “It is some political worry, I suppose. I'm sure politics must be a disappointing pursuit—when you gain the prizes you'll find them Dead Sea fruit. Perhaps you are tasting the bitterness already. Is that it? Tell me the trouble, old fellow, whatever it is.”

Bertram shifted uneasily, and made a nervous attempt to clear his throat. Then, looking at the carpet, at the window, at the book-shelves, at the marble statuette of Psyche, at the painting of Una in a great garden hat which hung over his bureau—anywhere but at his brother—he began—

“I am upset, because I have something to say


  ― 32 ―
to you that I would give years of my life to avoid saying. But my honour and your honour are at stake, and it must be said. The fact is, Con” (how painfully he stumbled over that dear old familiar name), “I'd rather you didn't come to the house again.”

He paused and moistened his dry lips. Conway, deadly pale, sat as if frozen to stone.

“Not come to the house again?” he repeated, in a low, inquiring voice. But he saw it all—saw the deception that had been at work to separate him from his brother.

“No, it would be better not,” replied Bertram. “Of course we can see as much of each other as ever elsewhere; because, after all, we are brothers, and—and have always been chums.”

“How little you know me,” said Conway, with a strange calmness, “to think that I could accept such a proposal; and how little I can have known you, when I would have staked my life you would never have made it to me. But, as you have enlightened me, I must enlighten you. I declare now, before God, who knows how clear of offence my heart is, that I neither understand nor will accept any half measures. You and I, Bert, must be the same brothers”—here his voice trembled in spite of him—“we have always been, or—strangers.”

“Don't say that, Con!” exclaimed his brother,


  ― 33 ―
greatly distressed. “I have tried to speak gently and kindly, for my affection for you is as strong as ever. But, oh! why did you not tell me that you had loved Una?”

“Because I saw how much you were bound up in her, and I feared to upset your happiness. I may have been wrong—I see now that I was—but my motives were good. And my love was but passing; it died at the birth of yours. Never from that moment have I felt anything for her but the regard of a brother. You believe that, don't you, Bert?”

“Una has told me all,” replied the other, evasively. “The poor child was bitterly distressed.”

“You believe me, don't you?” persisted Conway.

“The best of us are, after all, but human, and however strong our sense of honour may be, it is better to avoid——”

“Stop!” exclaimed Conway, rising from his chair. He knew that a lie had robbed him of his brother's confidence, and of more than half his love; but of the author of that lie he would say nothing. “You avoid giving me an answer, because you believe an honest one would give me pain. But I'd rather have the honesty and the pain than your horrible doubting evasion. In all the past years have I ever been false to you? Have you ever


  ― 34 ―
seen a false look on my face, heard a false ring in my voice, felt a false grip of my hand? No! Then why doubt me now? I want to hear from you the words, ‘Con, I believe you.’ I demand them!”

Pale and gloomy, Bertram remained silent, gazing unconsciously over at the picture of his wife. Twice he moved his lips as if to speak; but no words came.

For fully a minute—ah! what a minute!—Conway stood looking at him, awaiting a reply. As the clock on the mantel-piece ticked the seconds away his face became more and more ashen, and the moisture of mental agony gathered on his forehead. At last he said, in low, husky tones—

“Your silence is more than sufficient. We are brothers no longer.” Then he turned, and, with his heart blighted and cold, left his brother's house.

Just six months after the breaking of that companionship, which only the influence of a woman could have severed, during which nothing had been seen or heard of Conway, Una and Bertram were in Paris. Bertram was looking pale and haggard. “Overwork,” his medical adviser had said, and recommended a change, and Una had greedily seized the opportunity of persuading her husband into a visit to the City of Pleasure.




  ― 35 ―

One morning Bertram was strolling aimlessly in the Champs Elysées, occasionally stopping to look in the shop-windows, when he suddenly met his brother face to face. Both paused instinctively. To pass an erstwhile dear friend and companion with cold composure requires long practice. In that moment each of the brothers must have seen how the other had changed, and have read the cause; have understood that if such a love as theirs could die, how hard and lingering a death it must be.

It was a fateful moment. The future hung upon a slender thread. A look, a word, and they would have been re-united. The yearning love was there, and the longing to forget and forgive. But pride was also there, lurking secretly in each heart. Each waited for an advance from the other; and so, alas! the heaven-sent moment passed. Conway suddenly turned and crossed the road, and with a bitter wail of regret and self-reproach in his heart Bertram passed on his way.

They heard a little of Conway after that. There came whispers of terrible dissipation in various Continental towns. He had desperately wounded a Prussian officer in a duel. He had broken the bank at Monte Carlo. (Bah! the bank is never broken!) Then the bank had broken him. After that they heard no more.




  ― 36 ―

IV

FAR away in the heart of Queensland, that great half-explored country which has acquired among Australians the dreamily suggestive name of the “Never Never Land,” two shepherds dwelt on the banks of a river which bordered an endless plain. Shepherding, in its old-world signification, is suggestive of green, soft pastures, clear, rippling brooks, a small flock of fat, contented-looking sheep, with gentle eyes and thick silky wool, and sportive lambs, tended and guided by one who carries a crook and is picturesque, and who weaves garlands of sweet-smelling clover.

But very far removed from such an occupation as that was the shepherding known to these world-forgotten men.

A succession of hot, rainless seasons had withered the once fertile plain, scorched the trees on its border, and licked up the shallow, sluggish waters of the river, leaving but an irregular chain of dark, pestilential pools, in which rotted the body of many a starved, thirst-slain animal. Hundreds of miserable wasted sheep lay panting, with extended tongues, on arid, dusty ground, or wandered listlessly about, dragging up the thick, yellow grass roots. Among a small clump of trees behind the shepherd's bark hut there was a very Golgotha.


  ― 37 ―
Scores of dying lambs had crawled to that poor shade, and there left their bones. And on all the lurid sun glared with relentless ferocity, and the burning heat was reflected back from the stricken plain into an opaque and brassy sky.

The two men who occupied the hut, one stretched on a sheepskin, his head supported on a folded coat, and the other sitting on the ground against the bark wall, were both young, and had been delicately nurtured. There was but little difference between their stories—the old story of dissipation ending in ruin. Then, when all was gone but pride and courage, the old world had been forsaken for the new. They belonged, in a word, to that too numerous class of “failures,” the more courageous and independent of which prefer a hard, rough livelihood abroad to a comparatively easy existence of polite mendicity at home. To such hardy “failures” the Colonies owe not a little of their backbone.

The man who sat against the wall was the older and slighter of the two. He had dark blue eyes and brown hair, and his face was tanned and half hidden by a short beard which grew high on his cheek-bones. His companion was a tall, grandly-built man, or rather the battered wreck of such a one. His form was wasted; his gold-brown beard was wild and unkempt; his cheeks were hollow


  ― 38 ―
and his eyes were dull. The former was Richard Bell, a younger son of a titled Ulster family, in the male members of which wildness was hereditary. His companion was Conway Osborne.

Conway had been in the colonies for nearly four years, during which he might have worked his way a considerable distance on the road to prosperity. But he was no ordinary “failure;” his downfall was due to no ordinary causes. His disposition had not sufficient lightness and elasticity to admit of his forgetting. With all his splendid manhood, his heart was as a woman's—tender, sensitive, and single—and the estrangement from his brother was slowly but surely breaking it.

He had lost the power of concentrating his energies, and was consumed by an eternal restlessness. His Australian wanderings had commenced in Victoria, where his recklessness and self-neglect had resulted in a severe attack of rheumatic fever, which prostrated him for many weeks, and from the effects of which he never wholly recovered.

In the back blocks of New South Wales he had known both hunger and thirst, and had suffered from sunstroke. Further and further north he aimlessly drifted, until he crossed the border into Queensland during one of the severest droughts the country had ever experienced. The whole colony was suffering under the distress; pastoral and


  ― 39 ―
agricultural interests were dead, and labour was at a premium. A great squatter king, whose monthly losses at that time might have been reckoned by thousands, sent Conway to try and find water and grass for some of his flocks. His mission was to save as many as he could, and Richard Bell was sent to assist him in that weary task.

Conway had been thus situated, seventy miles from the nearest habitation of man and ninety from a township, for three or four months, when two things happened to him.

He was stricken with a lingering, decaying illness—the combined result of rheumatic fever, sunstroke, exposure, heat, impure water, and hard fare, at a time when nature demanded gentle nourishment—and an old copy of a Brisbane newspaper was left in his hands by a passing traveller. Almost the first words to meet his eyes, when he opened the tattered, discoloured paper, were these:—

“CONWAY OSBORNE is earnestly requested to send his address to his brother at the Ferns, Herts., England.”

Upon reading that advertisement Conway had not hesitated a moment. There was now a possibility of that for which he had been pining for years—a reconciliation with his brother. He had


  ― 40 ―
no materials for writing, and he was too weak for the fatigue of a ninety miles' ride into Charters Towers, the nearest township. But Dick Bell had gladly undertaken the journey, and posted to Bertram a slip of paper simply containing an address—Conway Osborne, Post-Office, Charters Towers, Queensland.

It was of the expected letter from home that the two men were now talking. Conway was endeavouring to persuade his companion, who had ridden into Charters Towers but three weeks before for a fresh supply of tobacco, matches, tea, and other necessaries, and had found no letter waiting at the post-office, to make the journey again.

“I don't see the faintest probability of a letter arriving for another week or two,” reasoned Dick. “It's scarcely four months since we sent the address.”

“It is exactly four months and three days,” replied Conway. “I've counted every hour of the time. Do go, mate. I dreamt last night that there was a letter.”

“You dream that every night, I believe,” said the other, smiling compassionately. “I'd go in a moment, old fellow, if you were yourself; I'd ride five hundred miles for a letter that would set your mind at rest. But you're still so seedy that I hate to leave you alone.”




  ― 41 ―

“But see how much better I've been lately,” cried Conway, eagerly. “I've been knocking about the place to-day, walking as straight and as firm as an emu. Dick, I feel sure there's a letter, and that it will be the making of me. You know very well that it's not the weakness and pain in my bones that keep me down. Take my mare; she's bony enough, poor beast, but she's in better condition than your nag. There's plenty of ‘damper’ to last me, and you can leave both the ‘billies’ full of cold tea, in case I don't feel up to making it; and with two or three figs of tobacco I'll be as jolly as a sandboy. Now, you'll go for me, won't you?”

“Yes, I'll go, old fellow,” said Dick, after a thoughtful pause. “And I'll bring either a letter or a doctor,” he added to himself.

Two hours afterwards Conway was alone—alone in the parched desert with the starving flocks, unseen by any but the All-seeing Eye; alone in an atmosphere which stirred but to burn; enveloped in a silence which was rendered more startlingly impressive by the occasional fretful yelp of a dog, or the low plaintive “baa” of a dying sheep. To a dweller in cities such solitude would have been appalling, but Conway had grown used to it.

After Dick had gone he felt more cheerful than he had felt for months. Unusually free from the


  ― 42 ―
gnawing rheumatic pains, and with the hope in his heart as a sedative, he slept that night long and dreamlessly. In the morning he walked out for a little among the suffering animals, but the implacable heat soon drove him back to the shelter of the hut. There he lay for hours dreamily thinking, a little of the future, but more of the past. His thoughts dwelt in the far distant happy days, when he and Bert had been all in all to each other. For it was Bert, always Bert! They were children again at the Ferns—wild, neglected children—delighting in the chasing of butterflies and the seizure of birds' nests. And if, after a hard day's sport, he was tired, Bert took his hand and helped him home. They were boys at school again, and Bert helped him over the donkey's bridges which beset the path of the youthful student, while he pounded the bullies into jelly. He laughed aloud—so loud that a sheep-dog that lay in the doorway looked up in undisguised wonder—as in spirit he again thrashed the bargeman at Oxford and in his solitude he was merry over their doings on the Continent.

When he came to their first parting, and his meeting with Una, he arrested his thoughts by an effort of will. He would have none of that period, and of the weary days and years of pain that had followed. He would turn down those


  ― 43 ―
ill-written leaves, and set a great seal upon them. Rather let him go back to the beginning, and dream his dream over again, finding out and dwelling upon the thousand little interesting incidents which, in the rush of thought, had been neglected.

In such dreaming the first two days of Conway's loneliness passed unheeded.

During the afternoon of the third day there came an unexpected but blessed visitor. A small cloud arose in the eastern horizon; light and fleecy at first, but it rapidly grew until the heavens were hid in darkness. Then the lightning flashed and the thunder rumbled in the west, and a few great drops of rain were succeeded by a heavy downpour.

It was but a passing tropical shower of not more than an hour's duration; but the elements work vigorously in those climes, and by the time the clouds had rolled away, leaving the sky perfectly spotless, and the sun had come out again with unabated intensity, what had been dust was mud, and the pools in the river beds had grown larger and gained much in purity. The delighted dogs rolled in the cool, wet mud, the lean sheep baaed their gratitude to heaven, and the insects in the trees that had been long silent chirped a glad chorus.




  ― 44 ―

Conway walked out in the shower, and took comfort in getting wet. When he returned to the hut he found his sheepskin lying in a pool of water. An old bark roof that has borne a tropical sun for many months cannot be expected to remain waterproof. The young man's imprudence in getting wet and allowing his clothes to dry on him was rewarded in the evening by a return of the rheumatic pains, during the night by sleeplessness, and in the morning by symptoms of fever.

In the meantime Dick had arrived at Charters Towers within fifty hours of leaving the hut. He found, to his intense disappointment, that there was no letter for his mate. But learning from the postmaster that the English mail was due in Brisbane that day, and that packets by it would reach Charters Towers only thirty hours later, he determined to wait, on the chance of there being a letter for Conway. In any case his horse required a good rest before commencing the return journey. An accident on the railway line and a breakdown of the coach occasioned a delay of a full day in the arrivals of the mails at Charters Towers; but Dick felt he was amply compensated when a letter was handed him directed to Conway Osborne.

Then he lost no time in starting for home; and as he had been away for many hours longer than he had intended, he urged the mare to her best


  ― 45 ―
pace. When he arrived in sight of the hut he expected to see Conway looking out for him; but in that he was disappointed, and the anxiety he had felt, but tried to stifle on the road, was greatly increased. As he dismounted in the rear of the hut, he heard his mate's voice within, and both words and tone half awed and wholly alarmed him.

“Oh, why does he delay? Dick would not desert me; but he may have fallen on the road, and I shall die alone. God help me, and keep my senses from failing!

“ ‘Where shall we go for our garlands glad
At the falling of the year,
When the burnt-up banks are yellow and sad,
When the boughs are yellow and sere?' ”

The poor fellow was trying to allay the mental anguish, and to keep his brain from wandering, by repeating fragments of a poem by a bushman,note who in Victoria had been his friend.

“Dick, you've been a good, true mate; but if you don't come soon and bring Bert's letter——

“ ‘Where are the old ones that once we had,
And when are the new ones near?
What shall we do for our garlands glad
At the falling of the year?' ”




  ― 46 ―

“We're chums again, Bert and I, though the ocean rolls between us; and perhaps we'll take Dick into partnership, if he doesn't stay too long.

“ ‘But I go where last year's lost leaves go At the falling of the year.' ”

“Ah! Dick at last, thank God!” he exclaimed, as his mate appeared in the doorway. “And—yes, I see it in your face—you've brought me the letter.”

He tried to rise to a sitting posture, but fell back heavily again on the sheepskin. Dick saw that his eyes were hollower than ever, and lit with an unnatural brilliancy, and a chill of fear struck his heart.

“Yes, I've brought your letter, and some medicine and brandy,” he said, with a hopeless attempt to speak lightly. “I see you've not been taking care of yourself, and I must start to nurse you at once.”

“Give me the letter, Dick,” demanded the sick man, hungrily.

When it was placed in his hands, he gazed with dim, fond eyes at the well-remembered handwriting; and while Dick gently raised his pillow by adding a saddle-cloth, he covertly kissed the envelope.




  ― 47 ―

“Open it for me,” he pleaded, for his hands were trembling like an aspen-leaf.

When he had performed this service, and given the sufferer some brandy, Dick walked out of the hut to leave the brothers together, and stood in the sun, gazing at the distant mirage, but seeing nothing but a red darkness. Presently he heard the weak voice calling him.

“It's no use, Dick. I can't read it. I can scarcely see. You are so good—read it for me.”

Then Dick—the wild, intractable Dick Bell—sat on the ground by his friend's side, and, spreading out the letter, read in a husky and oft-broken voice:—

THE FERNS, 27 October 188—.

“MY DEAR LONG-LOST BROTHER AND CHUM,—

Ever since I last heard of you, I have been instituting unceasing inquiries, and making every effort to find you, for I feared that, having lost your fortune, you might be in want of the necessary, which I might possibly have the happiness of conveying to you in secret. But for the last twenty months, in particular, the impossibility of seeing you, and of holding your hand and imploring your forgiveness, has been a torture to me by night and day; for during that time I have known how deeply I have injured you.

“At last I heard that you had been seen and


  ― 48 ―
recognised in a country town in New South Wales, and then I directed that the advertisement, which I conclude you must have seen, although the address sent was not in your handwriting, should be inserted in all the Australian papers. When I received that address I almost decided to go to you instead of writing; but I thought it possible that you would see in the advertisement my longing to beg your forgiveness, and that your grand old brotherly heart being willing to take me back, you might have started for England, in which case I should have missed you. And so I have stayed at home at the Ferns waiting for you. But if it turns out that the mountain won't come to Mahomet—to effect which I enclose a bank draft in case you have not struck gold in Australia—then, most assuredly, Mahomet will go to the mountain.

“It was only on her death-bed that Una opened my eyes, and showed me how you and I had been parted by a lie. She died last Christmas year of inflammation of the lungs, brought on by a cold neglected in her mad race after pleasure. She could not have loved me very much, the poor child's nature was too vain and shallow. Her wickedness has given us years of pain, but if you will forgive my iniquity in doubting you—which must remain a life-long reproach within me—and take me back as your ‘old chum’ again, we will


  ― 49 ―
deal gently with her memory, Con, for God knows what imperfect creatures we all are.

“You will come back to me, Con; I know you will. Only one doubt—the shame of it burns me as I write—has ever come between us, and it was mine. But as you read this your brother's fault is forgiven. You are taught to forgive him seventy times—his one offence was equal to seventy; but your heart's forgiveness is big enough to cover it, and he will offend no more. Come to me; come to me without a moment's delay. I shall be counting each hour. Come to me, Con; I cannot live apart from you longer. All my own interests have been abandoned, and at thirty, without you, I am an old man.

“This is written in our old ‘barrack;’ there are two guns of yours on the wall, and a fishing-rod standing in the corner over there. The covers are teeming with partridges, and the stream is alive with trout. Make haste, old fellow, and come home! See here! I have a jar at hand of tobacco, our own particular mixture—your invention, you remember, at Oxford. Happy thought! we'll smoke a loving pipe together. There! I've charged my briar with it, and rolled up a pipeful in silver paper, which I'll flatten out and enclose with this letter. I fear it will be dust when it reaches you, but never mind that. Put it in your


  ― 50 ―
pipe and say, ‘Old Bert had behaved like a scoundrel to me, but I bury my just resentment, and from my soul forgive him, and with him now I smoke the Pipe of Peace.’ And when you have smoked it faithfully out, start up and come to me.

“And may God bless you, and guide you in safety home to

“Your ever-remorseful but ever-loving

“Brother and friend,

“BERT OSBORNE.”

As Dick finished reading he caught his breath in an irrepressible sob. Conway had listened with his face concealed by his poor wasted hands, weeping silently like a weary child.

“My pipe, Dick.” And Dick, knowing what was required of him, carefully opened the little silver paper, and poured the dry, dusty tobacco it contained into his mate's well-used clay pipe, pausing once in the delicate task to brush the blinding moisture from his sight with the back of his brown hand. Then he knelt on the ground, gently raised his companion, and, supporting him with one strong arm, gave him the pipe and struck a light for him. Weakly but eagerly Conway drew the smoke from the pipe of peace, and weakly and brokenly, but oh! so earnestly, he spoke to his mate the while.




  ― 51 ―

“Tell him—I smoked it, Dick—for you must go—and tell him everything——I know—you'll go, Dick—I don't want your word—you're so good—next in my heart—to my brother. He'll be—your friend. Tell him—how much I forgave him—as God—will forgive me—and how much—how much I loved him——The partnership's broken—but only for a time——Dick—mate—it's not very hard.”

The pipe of peace so faithfully and lovingly smoked fell from his hand, and more heavily the dying man lay in the arms of his sobbing friend.

“Bert—there you are—dear old fellow! You'll like Dick—and perhaps talk of me——I've smoked it all—right out—and we're—old chums again—Bert—real—dear—old chums for ever.”

A great, long-drawn sigh, and the tired life slipped away.

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