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Those Who Wait
by [?]

Those Who Wait[1]

A faint draught from the hills found its way through the wide-flung door as the sun went down. It fluttered the papers on the table, and stirred a cartoon upon the wall with a dry rustling as of wind in corn.

The man who sat at the table turned his face as it were mechanically towards that blessed breath from the snows. His chin was propped on his hand. He seemed to be waiting.

The light failed very quickly, and he presently reached out and drew a reading-lamp towards him. The flame he kindled flickered upward, throwing weird shadows upon his lean, brown face, making the sunken hollows of his eyes look cavernous.

He turned the light away so that it streamed upon the open doorway. Then he resumed his former position of sphinx-like waiting, his chin upon his hand.

Half an hour passed. The day was dead. Beyond the radius of the lamp there hung a pall of thick darkness–a fearful, clinging darkness that seemed to wrap the whole earth. The heat was intense, unstirred by any breeze. Only now and then the cartoon on the wall moved as if at the touch of ghostly fingers, and each time there came that mocking whisper that was like wind in corn.

At length there sounded through the night the dull throbbing of a horse’s feet, and the man who sat waiting raised his head. A gleam of expectancy shone in his sombre eyes. Some of the rigidity went out of his attitude.

Nearer came the hoofs and nearer yet, and with them, mingling rhythmically, a tenor voice that sang.

As it reached him the man at the table pulled out a drawer with a sharp jerk. His hand sought something within it, but his eyes never left the curtain of darkness that the open doorway framed.

Slowly, very slowly at last, he withdrew his hand empty; but he only partially closed the drawer.

The voice without was nearer now, was close at hand. The horse’s hoofs had ceased to sound. There came the ring of spurred heels without, a man’s hand tapped upon the doorpost, a man’s figure showed suddenly against the darkness.

“Hallo, Conyers! Still in the land of the living? Ye gods, what a fiendish night! Many thanks for the beacon! It’s kept me straight for more than half the way.”

He entered carelessly, the lamplight full upon him–a handsome, straight-limbed young Hercules–tossed down his riding-whip, and looked round for a drink.

“Here you are!” said Conyers, turning the rays of the lamp full upon some glasses on the table.

“Ah, good! I’m as dry as a smoked herring. You must drink too, though. Yes, I insist. I have a toast to propose, so be sociable for once. What have you got in that drawer?”

Conyers locked the drawer abruptly, and jerked out the key.

“What do you want to know for?”

His visitor grinned boyishly.

“Don’t be bashful, old chap! I always guessed you kept her there. We’ll drink her health, too, in a minute. But first of all”–he was splashing soda-water impetuously out of a syphon as he spoke–“first of all–quite ready, I say? It’s a grand occasion–here’s to the best of good fellows, that genius, that inventor of guns, John Conyers! Old chap, your fortune’s made. Here’s to it! Hip–hip–hooray!”

His shout was like the blare of a bull. Conyers rose, crossed to the door, and closed it.

Returning, he halted by his visitor’s side, and shook him by the shoulder.

“Stop rotting, Palliser!” he said rather shortly.

Young Palliser wheeled with a gigantic laugh, and seized him by the arms.

“You old fool, Jack! Can’t you see I’m in earnest? Drink, man, drink, and I’ll tell you all about it. That gun of yours is going to be an enormous success–stupendous–greater even than I hoped. It’s true, by the powers! Don’t look so dazed. All comes to those who wait, don’t you know. I always told you so.”