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The Halo They Gave Themselves
by [?]

It was not until I was eighteen that he first spoke to me. To my dying day I shall never forget that evening; nor his words, which bit themselves into my mind as a red-hot iron bites its way into cheese.

“Nell,” he said, for that was my name, though he had never used it before, “I’ve arranged that you are to marry Lord Wurzel two months from to-day.”

At these terrible words the blood ebbed slowly from my ears and my hands grew hot.

“I do not know him,” I said in a stifled voice.

“You will to-morrow,” he laughed brutally, and with another rough word he strode from the room.

Lord Wurzel! I ran upstairs to my room and flung myself face downwards on the bed. In my agony I bit a large piece out of my pillow. The blood flowed forward and backward over me in waves, and I burst every now and then into a passion of weeping.

By and by I began to feel more serene. I decided that it was my duty to obey my father. My heart leapt within me at the thought of doing my duty, and to calm myself I put on my hat and wandered into the glen. It was very silent in the glen. There was no sound but the rustling of the leaves overhead, the popping of the insects underfoot, the sneezing of the cattle, the whistling of the pigs, the coughing of the field-mice, the roaring of the rabbits, and the deep organ-song of the sea.

But suddenly, above all these noises, I heard a voice which sent the blood ebbing and flowing in my heart and caused the back of my neck to quiver with ecstasy.

“Nell!” it said.

It was the voice of my old comrade, Andrew Spinnaker, who had played with me in our childhood’s days, and whom I had not seen now for eight years.

“Andrew!” I cried, as I turned round. “What are you doing here?”

“I am just off to discover the South Pole,” he said. “My shipmates are waiting for me to command the expedition.”

I noticed then for the first time that he was dressed in a seal-skin cap and a pair of sleeping-bags.

“Nell,” he went on, “before I go, tell me you love me.”

My heart fluttered like a captured bird; my knees trembled like a drunken spider’s; my throat was stifled like a stifled throat. A huge wave of something or other surged over me and told me that the great mystery of the world had happened to me.

I was in love.

I was in love with Andrew Spinnaker.

“Andrew,” I cried, falling on his startled chin, “I love you.” All the back of my neck thrilled with joy.

But my joy was shortlived. No sooner had I become aware that I loved Andrew Spinnaker than my conscience told me I had no right to do so. I was going to marry Lord Wurzel, and to love another than my husband was sin. I shook Andrew off my lips.

“I love you,” I said, “but I cannot marry you. I am marrying Lord Wurzel.”

“That beast?” cried Andrew, in the impetuous sailor fashion which so endeared him to his shipmates. “When I come back I will thrash him as I would thrash a vicious ape.”

“When will that be?”

“In about two months,” said my darling boy. “This is going to be a very quick expedition.”

“Alas, that will be my wedding day,” I said with a low sob like that of a buffalo yearning for its mate. “It will be too late.”

Andrew took me in his strong arms. I should not have let him, but I could not help it.

“Listen,” he said, “I will start back from the Pole a day before my shipmates, and save you from that d-sh-d beast. And then I will marry you, Nell.”

There was a roaring in my ears like the roaring of the bath when the tap is left on; many waters seemed to rush upon me; my hat fell off, and then deep oblivion came over me and I swooned.