A Woman's Glory

By Sarah Doudney, 1883

[Editor's note: This three part story deals in character studies, with allusions to the Scripture and Pilgrim's Progress. It is a series of intertwined love stories that reveal hearts of integrity, and those of deceit.]
 

CHAPTER I

'OH THAT WE TWO WERE MAYING!'

The month was May; the time six o'clock in the evening; and the place a world forgotten piece of land, where the ruins of an old sea fortress were slowly crumbling away.

The tide was high, so high that it washed the sturdy Roman wall which had withstood its encroachments for many a reach of the waves, and were languidly watching the wave's advances on the shore.

A girl of twenty, and a man about six years older, were dreaming away golden hours in that quiet nook by the waterside.

The man, who lounged on the beach with a certain easy grace, could boast of little to distinguish him at a first glance from other men of his class. His face was oval, with delicate features and a sallow fair complexion; his figure, slightly made, did not rise above middle height. But, fragile as he seemed, the soldier was legibly stamped upon him; and you knew instinctively that the sleepy eyes, now shining softly in the evening sunlight, could be keen and watchful enough in front of the foe. Under that cheerful lack of concern lay the cool courage and ready daring which our drawing room triflers have so often displayed in the day of battle. But this was the day of peace; and Victor Ashburn was enjoying it after his own idle fashion.

'Nice old place, Seacastle,' he said lazily. 'I had no idea that I was going to get so fond of it. But then, of course, I didn't know'

'Didn't know what?' demanded his companion.

'That I should find you here, and be so jolly, and that sort of thing.'

'I haven't found it particularly jolly,' said the girl discontentedly. 'It's a dreadful place to live in year after year, I can tell you.'

'But you have not lived here many years, you sweet grumbler!'

'Four years, or rather four ages! It seems as if an indefinite number of dreary summers and winters had crawled by, while I've been getting "rusted with a vile repose." The first twelvemonth was not so bad; I had just left school, and any change was agreeable to the girlish mind. But after I had become intimately acquainted with everybody in the village, and they had all made themselves familiar with the weak points of my character, the torture began.'

'You shouldn't have got intimate with the people. In nine cases out of ten, intimacies are a mistake.'

'Ah, it is easy to see that you have never lived in a very small sphere! You may just as well tell the old castle wall that it shouldn't get intimate with the waves. Of course it shouldn't. They are gradually wearing away the masonry, and creeping a little farther into its crevices every day; but there it has got to stay, and be quietly worn out.'

'But why compare yourself with those inanimate stones?' asked Victor Ashburn, actually becoming so interested in the conversation that he propped himself upon his elbow for half a minute. 'You have got plenty of intelligence, and a strong will of your own.'

'True; but intelligence and will are but feeble barriers against the persistency of the Seacastle folk. They come in like a flood, and find their way into every cranny of your innermost life. You cannot have any good or evil happen to you without their knowledge. If you are seized with a fit of indigestion, they have seen the attack coming on, and have got a dose all ready for you to take. And they stand over you steadily until you do take it. The only way to be at peace here is to renounce independence of action and privacy of thought.'

'And is that what you have done? I can't believe that Gwen Netterville would submit tamely to such bondage!'

She smiled a little pensively.

'It is just because I cannot submit tamely, that I don't get on with my neighbors,' she answered. 'If I could only accept my fate, and let them have their will with me, all would go comfortably enough. But I must needs make a little show of resistance, and that accounts for my unpopularity. They don't like me.'

It would be very difficult to dislike her, he thought, gazing at her from under his heavy eyelids; that is, it would be very difficult for a man to dislike her. But then the population of Seacastle was chiefly composed of women.

Her straw hat lay beside her on the beach, and the golden atmosphere invested her head with a soft glow that reminded Victor of a portrait by Giorgione. Her hair, a warm brown shading off into ruddy gold, harmonized perfectly with the cream tints of her skin; but the eyebrows and lashes were very dark, adding a deep shadow to the large blue eyes. Those eyes seemed to be always musing, even when the mouth was faintly smiling; and faint smiles were more frequent with Gwen than any others.

Everything about this girl was delicate and refined, from the chiseling of her features to the shape of the little hands, lying loosely clasped in her lap. There was an unconscious stateliness, too, in her movements, and a peculiar quietness in her voice, oddly at variance, sometimes, with the sentiments that she uttered.

'Seacastle is a delusive old place,' she went on; 'it holds out all kinds of romantic possibilities, and perpetually disappoints you. For months I lived on the hope of discovering a subterraneous passage in the old castle; of course there ought to be one inside that grim square tower. But there isn't; and what do you find within its walls? Nothing but roughly boarded floors and bits of paper and orange peel traces of those excursionists whose "customs are nasty, and their manners, none."'

'But the village is really pretty; don't be too hard upon it!'

'Pretty if you only walk through it in the beginning of the summer, and are careful to hold your nose.'

'Why, there are big gardens, full of sweet smelling flowers!'

'And no drainage at all to speak of! Then, too, there is a scarcity of trees; and I can find no hawthorn save the pink sort that grows in the shrubberies.'

"Oh that we two were maying!"' chanted Victor, in his lazy tenor. 'Shall we go over the hills and far away?'

'We need not go over the hills to find hawthorn. There is plenty on that little island, and nobody goes to gather it.'

She pointed to an islet, rising out of the sunshiny sea, and showing its soft greenness above the surrounding blue. It was but a little way off just far enough to be glorified by distance; and the intervening space of water was asleep in a sunny calm, scarcely stirred by the gentle breath of a faint breeze. Victor's eyes followed the direction of her finger, and his face suddenly assumed a look of positive animation.

'By Jove, we'll go there!' he said, beginning to stir himself in earnest. 'The place isn't peopled with Calibans, or anything disagreeable, I suppose?'

'I have never been there,' she replied. 'But I know that there are neither people nor cattle on Hawthorn Island. There is a farm; but it is untenanted at present.'

'Then we'll take old Kumsey's boat, and be off at once. I've been wanting to give you a row.'

'We cannot take Kumsey's boat without telling him.'

'Nonsense! it would waste ever so much time to get to him, and the evening is slipping away. You have a shawl? That's right; it may be chill on the water.'

'I must not go,' said Gwen, still keeping her seat. 'Hannah will be expecting me, you know.'

'What does it matter about Hannah?' he asked, with a touch of fretfulness that was perfectly boyish. 'Your uncle and aunt are not at home, and there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy yourself. We shall be back again very soon.'

'I think we had better not go.'

'Oh, why not? Why did you put the island into my head if you did not mean to go there?'

'Let us forget it,' she said, picking up a stone, and throwing it away. 'I did want to go; but people would talk if we chanced to be seen in the boat, making for an uninhabited spot.'

'No one can see us from the windows of the houses. Besides, everybody is gone to the party at Marsham; the village is delightfully empty. And we shall be back again in a very little while; long before we can possibly be missed.'

There was a silence; just one of those slight pauses in which lives are made or marred, reputations saved or blighted, Heaven itself won or lost.

'Come,' he pleaded, 'why will you lose golden moments? "It is not always May;" perhaps we shall never have another evening like this.'

The faint ring of sadness in his voice touched her, and called forth a long sigh.

'We shall want some pleasant memories to feed on by-and-by,' he added gently.

By-and-by! To him it might mean change, fresh pleasures, mirthful companions; but her 'by-and-by' would be poor and bare enough. A girl's colorless life and tame occupations; days made bitter with unsatisfied longings, or wasted in sweet foolish dreams: this was all that she had to look forward to.

'I will go,' she said, suddenly looking up, and rising from her seat.

His face instantly brightened, and they walked down the slope of the beach to old Kumsey's boat.

Not a single human being was to be seen, and no sound of village life met their ears; the world around them seemed to be lulled to sleep by the sweetness and stillness of the time. And it was with a strange thrill of freedom and delight that Gwen felt the boat moving, and gave herself up to the enjoyment of the hour.

It was an evening of pure lights and delicate shadows, with no deep colors in earth or sky. The scene was full of soft greys and greens, all touched with a tender shine of gold; and the tint of the water was a pale azure. Every object was distinctly outlined, and yet idealized in the 'saintly clearness' of the air; and Hawthorn Island, with its clusters of trees and farm buildings, became a veritable Eden in Gwen's eyes.

At first it was pleasure enough to let her glance wander from the little isle to the shining sea around it, and then to the adjacent shores, all green with summer grass. But presently her eyes rested on the slim oarsman, pulling with long, steady strokes; and then a faint color tinged her cheeks, and the smile that answered his was sweeter, yet shyer, than it had ever been before.

There was a change, too, in the face she gazed upon: a swift, subtle change that half troubled, and wholly gladdened her. The dark grey eyes looked deeply into hers; the old insouciant languor was gone. It was a moment of involuntary revelations, although both were silent; and both were trying to forget the word 'tomorrow.' Stern realities and hard facts were put away from their thoughts: what had they to do with the future while they were together, and the present was so entirely their own?

At length the boat grated on the shallows, close to a spot which had evidently been often used as a landing place, and Gwen sprang lightly on shore.

'It is even prettier than I thought!' she cried, climbing up a rough bank, and finding herself on a piece of level ground.

Away to right and left stretched the greensward, dotted with little bushes here and there, and mirthful with the profusion of wildflowers which early summer always scatters over untrodden ways. The sod was sweet with those wild herbs which grow where human footsteps seldom come; and thymy scents were crushed out by the light pressure of Gwen's little feet.

After making fast the boat, Victor followed her; and the pair strolled slowly along a beaten track that led straight to the farm.

The house was simply one of those substantial old farm houses which are built to stand the test of time and weather: quaint little casements peeped out of the gambrel roof, and twinkled in the westering sun; but the lower windows were shuttered, and the door securely closed. There was a garden, which was fast becoming a wilderness: large moon daisies had sprung up among the rosebushes; wild camomile choked the paths, and buttercups flaunted over modest tufts of white pinks and pansies. Around the farm buildings, and all over the island, flourished the hawthorns which gave the place its name, and made it a very paradise of sweetness and bloom. Stately trees grew there too: oak and ash whispered the old lore of the merry greenwood, and the leaf music was as sweet as the ripple of the tide.

The pair who had come to this spot were only cut off from the neighboring shores by a little space of water, and yet they felt themselves completely severed from the world. The sense of isolation, in its earliest stages, is generally sweet; both were young enough to delight in anything that had the flavor of an adventure; and both were willful enough to enjoy the consciousness of being truants, escaped from the school of propriety and conventionalism. They laughed together over little incidents with the gaiety of children; broke off boughs of hawthorn, and piled them in a scented heap upon the grass; and crept on tiptoe to a bush to peep into a bird's nest. It was like breaking into the prose of life with an idyl, as fresh and pastoral as ever was sung in olden times.

At last the deepening gold in the west warned them that their little poem must come to an end. The sky colors were growing warmer; the shadows had gained in depth, and gathered soft purples as the day waned; and the transparent sea tints caught the mellow amber of evening. Even the grim tower of Seacastle took a touch of glory from the sinking sun, and a faint mist began to creep along the old walls, and dim the outlines of the shore.

'I have been so happy!' sighed Gwen, looking westward with wistful eyes.

Victor drew closer to her side. It was their last moment on this enchanted island, the last golden drop left in their cup of delight.

'Gwen,' he said, taking her hand in his, 'I have been happier than words can say; and I want to thank you now, dear, for all the pleasure you have given me. A man has worries and difficulties in his life that a woman can never know. But I will not talk about my troubles; I will only tell you that you have helped me to bear them. There are unspoken sympathies, Gwen, affinities that comfort one unawares.'

'I know it,' she answered.

'We have known each other six weeks,' he went on; 'and yet we are better acquainted than some couples who have lived under one roof for six years. I feel that you have taken root in my very life.'

'You are going away in a few days,' she said, in a low voice.

'Yes, I am going, going to scramble out of my sea of perplexities as well as I can. If it were not for all these bothers of mine, there should be no goodbye between us. I love you, Gwen.'

The last words escaped his lips in spite of an effort to keep them back. Just for one moment his arms closed round her, and he kissed her cheek, and felt her tremble in his clasp.

'Let us go now,' she said earnestly. 'I am afraid we have stayed too long. It is growing late.'

In silence they walked away from the hawthorns, leaving their fragrant spoils forgotten on the grass. A soft wind was rising, setting the trees rustling and the wildflowers quivering, as they hastened down the slope to the landing place.

The little wavelets were washing over white stones and masses of silky green weed, and the sea was getting more and more golden in the low sunlight. But the boat was gone.

 

 

CHAPTER II

'SHE LOOKIT EAST, AND SHE LOOKIT WEST.'

'The deuce!'

Any woman who has heard that exclamation uttered in a low tone by an undemonstrative man must surely know what it portends. It is his way of admitting that he has pulled up in front of a barrier that he cannot overleap, and that the demon, who so often thwarts 'the best laid schemes of men and mice,' has been too much for him at last. And Gwen, although inexperienced in masculine nature, had not spent six weeks in daily fellowship with Victor Ashburn without learning something from the companionship.

She made no despairing outcry; but her lips whitened in a moment, and a shiver passed over her frame. A woman of slower understanding would have poured forth a hundred suggestions, all equally valueless; but this girl took in the hopelessness of the situation at a glance, and accepted it in silence.

'Could I swim there, I wonder, and bring back a boat?' said Victor, after a moment's pause.

He could not. A stout swimmer, trained to his work, might have braved the strong current, and gained the opposite shore in safety; but Victor was wholly out of training, and the feat was beyond his powers.

'You would only drown yourself,' remarked Gwen, in the quietest of tones; 'and that would not mend the matter at all.'

'I almost think it would,' he muttered. 'Only that drowning is too good for me.'

She looked at him with all the womanly sweetness stealing back into her face.

'It is as much my fault as yours,' she said generously. 'Didn't I put the island into your head?'

The golden lights were fast changing into dusky saffron, and the sunset glitter was dying off the waves. As the glory faded, the chill breath of night came sighing over the sea, bringing a fresh sense of helplessness and misery to Gwen Netterville, and blanching her face once more.

She thought of old Hannah, watching patiently through long hours, and then going forth in desperation to give the alarm to the village. She pictured the shocked looks, the clamor of voices, and the general consternation that poor Hannah's tidings would call forth; and then, last of all, the inevitable construction that would be put upon her disappearance. She had been last seen in his company. Well did she remember the peculiar nod of disapprobation bestowed upon her by a certain Mrs. Goad, who had met her walking with Victor through the village street.

The absence of her uncle and aunt, too, gave a darker color to the affair. It must appear to everyone as if she had purposely slipped off while her lawful guardians were away; and altogether it seemed to Gwen that all 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' were turned against her at that moment. Unconsciously her hands met; and the slim fingers were interlaced in an anguish which was denied any other form of expression.

'My poor child!' said Victor, with a world of tenderness in his sad voice. 'I little thought that I should ever have brought you to such a pass as this. If only I could save you from their confounded tongues'

'You cannot,' she interrupted mournfully. 'As I said before, the fault is as much mine as yours, and I must decry my word. But oh, Captain Ashburn, I have been a willful girl from beginning to end!'

The words died away in a sob, and wrung a bitter groan from the man by her side.

'You must not stay here,' he said, after a pause of troubled thought. 'The wind is blowing up cold from the sea; we will go back to the farm, and find a sheltered spot. Poor child, how white and chilled you look already!'

'It will be only a short night,' she answered, plucking up spirit again. 'There will be boats putting out from Seacastle at early morning; and we can make signals. Something is sure to turn up for us, you know.'

'I hope so,' he replied, with a sigh.

They retraced their steps, slowly mounting the rugged bank again, and crossing the flowery green.

The little island, with the night softly descending upon it, was as sweet, or sweeter than it had been in the sunshine. Every perfumed thing that grew upon the spot sent out its fragrance, from the faintly scented elder to the mint and balm in the neglected garden. A smothered chirp or two came from a sleepy bird. Leaves whispered those mysterious secrets which they never reveal by day; a few white petals drifted down from the abundant bloom of the hawthorn. Then a nightingale was heard. Clear trills and shakes came trembling through the twilight, and Gwen's troubled heart began to yield to the spell of melody and peace.

'Isn't it lovely here?' she said. 'I could fancy myself in a bit of fairyland, and I think I feel something like a damsel spirited away by the elves.'

'I wish we could make the Seacastle people believe that you had been spirited away. It would be such a splendid way of accounting for the adventure,' said Victor gloomily.

'If I could only be Bonny Kilmeny!' sighed Gwen. 'They wafted her off to "the land of thought," and gave her the gift of eternal bloom.

'"When seven long years had come and fled,
When grief was calm, and hope was dead,
When scarce was remembered Kilmeny's name,
Late, late in the gloomin' Kilmeny came home."

Victor Ashburn looked down into the beautiful face, pale in the dusky light. It was almost too fair at that moment, he thought, to belong to a mortal maiden. Her voice, naturally plaintive, deepened the pathos of the quaint old lines, and toned well with the soft sounds around them. An everyday life, such as his had been, does not always quench the faculty of imagination. This girl's fanciful talk had a singular charm for him.

'Who are you, Gwen?' he asked, between jest and earnest. 'There is something a little unearthly about you    something that makes me believe you are half a fairy.'

'I wish I could end our difficulties by dissolving into the night mist,' she answered lightly. 'But there is a touch of mystery in my life, I confess.'

'You must tell me all about yourself; more than you have ever told me yet. It will help us to forget our misfortunes. But first let us examine the farm before it grows darker; I will find a roof to cover you if I can.'

They walked slowly round the old house, but doors and windows were found to be well secured. The dwelling had not been untenanted long enough for rust and decay to begin their work, and no way of ingress could be found.

'I am glad we can't get in,' said Gwen, with a little shudder; 'empty houses are always full of ghosts. Let us try the outbuildings; they don't look quite so eerie.'

Here their investigations were carried on with better success. The doors of barn and stable were padlocked; but there was a long low shed which had no door at all, and Victor, on entering, was glad to see the floor littered with hay, and a couple of bundles of straw in a corner.

'I can find no fitter resting place for you, poor child!' he said regretfully. 'Anyhow it will be better for you to sleep here than to stay out of doors all night, and I will mount guard outside.'

'But I am not in the least drowsy,' replied Gwen.

'Not yet; but you will be very tired before morning, and faint with hunger, I am afraid. As for myself, I wish I could forget the vulture that gnaws within me.'

'Let me sing to you,' she suggested, with ready cheerfulness. 'I am sure you are in a worse case than I am; it is such a dreadful thing for a man to miss his dinner. We will sit here, just within the shelter of the doorway, and you shall hear some of my old ballads.'

'You shall sing me one song,' he answered. '"Kathleen Mavourneen;" it will be sweet enough to drive dull care away.'

Never, perhaps, had Gwen's rich voice been heard to greater advantage. She sang as only those can sing who delight in their own music; and when at last her clear notes died away, the sea and the trees took up the melody, and murmured it all night long to Victor Ashburn. It haunted him, too, through many other nights when the singer was far off, and the little island had become only a shadowy remembrance. He knew, as he listened, that there is always one 'voice of the heart' that is never silenced until the heart itself is still.

'Talk to me about yourself, Gwen,' he said, breaking the pause that followed the song. 'Begin with your earliest recollections. You have often told me that you did not belong to Seacastle.'

'I was born near London,' she replied. 'Uncle Andrew was minister of a Presbyterian chapel there, and my mother died in his house soon after my birth.'

'And your father?'

'Ah, that is my little mystery! I have never once seen him, and he does not even write to me. Aunt Margery hears from him sometimes, and he sends her money, I suppose; but she never tells me anything about him. She even contrives to baffle the Seacastle people by simply saying that he is in bad health, and lives abroad. Nobody can get any more out of her than that; and Uncle Andrew is quite as reserved as she is.'

A very natural suspicion found its way into Victor Ashburn's mind; but her next words put it to flight.

'Hannah was present at my mother's marriage,' she went on. 'But when I ask her questions I can never get any satisfactory answers. I used to think that my father must be a pirate captain, like Cleveland, but I have quite given up that notion. Pirates always send home pearls and massive gold ornaments to their families, and I have never had even a coral necklace.'

'Too bad,' said Victor sympathizing. 'He ought to send you presents, of course; but I should object to see you bedizened with gold and coral. Flowers are the most fitting ornaments for you to wear.'

'Well, I don't care much for jewelry, you know, but I should like to have a token of remembrance. For years and years I used to expect my father's return; it was a favorite dream of mine. I always pictured him a tall dark stranger, wrapped in a cloak, and standing at the door in the moonlight. At the sight of me he started, extended his arms, and exclaimed: "Ha! my child; behold your long lost sire!"'

'There is no mystery in the matter,' said Victor, laughing. 'You may rely upon it, that he is merely a confirmed invalid with roving habits. But you are fond of the Ormistons?'

'Very fond of them, especially of Uncle Andrew. You can't imagine what a charming companion he is, and what delightful stories he can tell    stories of fairies and witches, and sanguinary tales of the Covenanting days.'

But Victor did not want to hear about Covenanters.

'I wish this was the Island of Monte Cristo,' he said, suppressing a yawn. 'Ah, Gwen, if we could only return to the opposite shore with our pockets stuffed with diamonds, we might set all the tongues at defiance!'

She was silent, and he gazed moodily out into the gloaming, until he heard a stifled sob by his side.

'Poor pet! poor darling!' he murmured sadly. 'I knew that brave spirit would break down at last! You don't know what it costs me, dear, to see you suffer, and have no power to help you!'

'I have been willful,' sighed Gwen. 'Aunt Margery said that people would talk if you and I were always mooning about together. But I went on in spite of warnings, and this is the end of it.'

He stretched his arms towards her, and then drew back again.

'Your words sting me,' he muttered. 'It's the old story: "evil is wrought by want of thought." We began our fellowship just to pass away the time in a dull place, and then it grew too sweet to be given up.'

She had stayed her sobs, but dared not trust her voice to speak.

He rose hastily, and paced up and down with quick strides before the doorway of the shed.

'You are a mere girl, dear,' he said, stopping in his hurried walk at last, 'and you are all the sweeter for that girlishness. A woman of the world would understand my position without any explanations. I am fettered with embarrassments, Gwen; mean fetters, that are more like brambles than anything else. They cling to me always, and if I tear one away, another clasps me. Of course, they grew out of my early recklessness and self indulgence, and I have never been able to get rid of them.'

'Oh,' she sighed, 'I did not dream that you had any troubles! I have quite envied your life sometimes; it seemed so pleasant and free.'

'I believe I am as happy as most men of my class,' he answered, more composedly. 'That is, I was tolerably comfortable until I got fond of you; life is becoming almost unendurable now! But I must not talk nonsense, pet: it will only make us both wretched. Try to get some rest. "You are inclined to sleep; 'tis a good dullness."'

But poor Gwen's sleep was not so sound as the slumber of Miranda. She retired in silence to the corner of the shed to court repose on her couch of straw; and youth and weariness so far prevailed over a troubled spirit, that she did indeed fall into a doze.

Her dreams were of that uncanny kind that often visit us when we lie down burdened in soul. Now she was in a boat gliding over smooth waters, while Victor, a drowning man, besought her in vain for aid. With a miserable sense of helplessness, she stretched out her hands towards him. And then the vision vanished, and another came in its place.

She saw herself arrayed in white robes, and wearing an orange blossom wreath: a bride, waiting at the altar for a bridegroom who never came. Fingers were pointed at her, as if in scorn; strange voices rang in her ears; and she looked around for familiar faces, and only saw the cold eyes of strangers turned upon her in disdain.

Waking up with a start, she found the soft light of a summer dawn stealing into the shed. Victor was at the doorway, speaking in a quick, eager tone.

'A boat is coming to us!' he cried. 'It's one of the Seacastle fishing boats. We shall get back before the village is astir!'

Still dreamy and bewildered, Gwen crept out into the sweet morning air, to find that the hopes of last night were realized. A waterman and his boy had put off from the opposite shore to cast their nets near Hawthorn Island, and Victor's signals had been quickly perceived. The boat, rowed by two sturdy pairs of arms, was rapidly nearing the landing; the time of relief had come indeed, and suspense and anxiety were at an end.

The man and his son were no strangers to Gwen. Aunt Margery Ormiston had often bought the fish that they brought to her door, and both were perfectly well acquainted with Miss Netterville. A few words from Victor explained the predicament; and then, in utter silence, the pair were rowed back to Seacastle, and landed at the very spot from which they had pushed off before sunset.

They parted at the landing place, with scarcely any form of leave taking. Victor lingered to pay the watermen for their services; and Gwen, like a scared, half guilty creature, hurried desperately along the silent street of the village.

A walk of a few minutes brought her to the gate of a thatched cottage, standing back from the road, and half smothered in creepers and roses. An elderly woman, shading her weary eyes with her hand, stood waiting at the open door.

'Thank God!' she murmured, as the girl hastened towards her. 'It's been an awful night, my dearie; and I was all alone, and knew not what to do! Ah me! you are as pale as a Spirit, poor child!'

But the strength which had nerved Gwen until she had gained her home failed her suddenly when she found herself safe within its walls. She tottered as she entered the little breakfast room, and was caught in Hannah's strong arms before she fell.

Some minutes elapsed before consciousness came back; and when at last she was able to sit up and take food, it was no easy task to tell her story. Hannah's face grew graver and graver as she listened; but while her faithful heart sank within her, she strove to comfort her nursling.

'It will never be forgotten while I live in this place!' the girl sobbed. 'Years may come and go, but it will still be remembered against me. Oh, Hannah, what is to be done?'

'Take courage, dearie,' the good woman answered. 'You must just live your daily life as usual, Miss Gwen, and let folks talk until they are tired of the matter. The longest tongue will stop wagging at last.'

'If I could only go away from Seacastle!' said Gwen, in a despairing tone.

'No, dearie, that wouldn't be the best way. There are gossips who would say worse things behind our backs, than they would dare to say if we stayed and faced them. Be quiet and calm; and if people speak to you about the mishap, just answer them straightforwardly, and tell them how it happened, that's all. But now try to get a little rest before the master and mistress come home; it would grieve them sorely to see you look so worn and white.'

And Gwen allowed herself to be soothed, and lay quietly on her little bed, watching the dance of leaves about the casement, and the sunbeams at play upon the broad windowsill.

Sheltered, consoled, and caressed, it was hard to realize that a heavy price must be paid for the folly of last night. Youth is slow to believe in the consequences of its misdoings; but middle age is always deploring its mistakes, and looking out feverishly for evil results. While Gwen, lulled by a sense of safety, sank into a peaceful sleep, Hannah was vexing the spirit with the fear of ill to come.

 

 

CHAPTER III

'WHEN I LOOK EAST, MY HEART GROWS SAD'

Mrs. Collington, of Verbena Lodge, was aunt to Captain Ashburn, and might, if she had cared about the honor, have been the leading lady of the village. But having once queened it as belle and beauty through two seasons in town, she was utterly indifferent to any distinction that could be conferred upon her by Seacastle. A general's widow, with ample means, she had stayed in the world long enough to marry her daughter satisfactorily, and had then come down to the country with a good cook and a strong desire to end her days in peace.

She had lived twelve months in Verbena Lodge, and there was only one person in Seacastle with whom she had condescended to associate. That person was the Vicar, an amiable bachelor of seventy, who found her so agreeable that he was quite ready to excuse the quiet haughtiness that excluded his flock. She was really delicate, he declared; her doctors had enjoined perfect repose, and she had entirely given up going into society.

But as months passed on, it was found that Mrs. Collington frequently had people to stay with her. Men and women, utterly unknown to the Seacastle world, came to Verbena Lodge and reveled in its roses. And the guest who stayed longest and attracted most notice, was a certain Miss Wallace, a beautiful woman of four or five and twenty. Seacastle girls secretly envied her dress and style, and would have been grateful for the smallest chance of beginning an acquaintance. But the beauty appeared to be tranquilly unconscious of their existence; and even Mrs. Goad, the most dauntless matron in the village, would hardly have ventured to brave the calm stare of Miss Wallace's splendid hazel eyes.

It was through the simpleminded Vicar that Captain Ashburn had obtained an introduction to the Ormistons and their young niece. He had persuaded the clergyman to take him to the old minister's cottage, under the pretense of examining some rare books; and then he had followed up his advantage with true military tact and skill. To the rest of Seacastle he was as calmly indifferent as Mrs. Collington herself. But Gwen, singled out as an object of special attention, had incurred a good many animosities, and not a few unpleasant speeches, from the neglected fair ones of the place.

After parting with Miss Netterville at the landing place, Victor Ashburn had struck across the fields to Verbena Lodge, and had let himself in with a latchkey. Before breakfast was over, everyone in the house was made acquainted with the adventure of the preceding night, and Victor read the knowledge in the face of the servant who brought his coffee upstairs.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when he left his room. The luncheon hour had found him too sleepy to come down, and cutlets had been benevolently sent to his chamber. But it was impossible to stay up there all day. The world had to be faced; yet, with genuine masculine cowardliness, he put off facing it as long as he could.

The garden was a place of refuge. There all one's troubles might be brooded over in delightful silence.

Mrs. Collington, seated in her most luxurious chair, with her feet upon her favorite footstool, was bewailing herself with gentle sighs to her friend, Miss Wallace.

'This is a very unpleasant affair, Cora,' she said. 'I am sorry now that I invited Victor here; but how could one suppose that a man would do any mischief in a place like this? I'm sure I didn't know that there was a pretty girl to be found in the village. In fact, I had a general impression that the women were all ugly and dowdy to the last degree. And I'm really fond of Victor, don't you know.'

'He is agreeable,' admitted Cora Wallace.

'Yes; he has nice, soft, lounging ways, which make him pleasant in a house. I never could endure a loud man with a great fund of animal spirits. That is why it is such a trial to have Maud's husband down here; he will talk perpetually in a comic strain, and be so dreadfully bluff and hearty! However, he was an excellent match for my poor darling.'

'I don't think there is any harm done,' said Cora, reverting to the subject first started. 'The whole thing will be merely a nine days' wonder. And after all, as the girl is not in society, it doesn't matter much. It will not affect her future prospects in the least.'

'Have you ever noticed her?' inquired Mrs. Collington languidly. 'She is good looking, I suppose? Has the charm of youth, and that sort of thing?'

'The charm of youth is absurdly overrated,' replied Miss Wallace, with rather a grim smile. 'Everybody talks of it, and nobody admires it. Girls never know how to make a good use of youth until it has fled; as soon as they have got over their young gawkiness they are stayed women. It takes half a lifetime to learn how to wear a frock properly, and sit down and get up in good style.'

'Perfectly true, Cora. But about this poor Miss Butterworth?'

'Netterville. It is by no means a plebeian name. Yes, I have noticed her with some interest. She is pretty indeed, more than pretty. A little careful training and dressing would make her a beauty of the first order.'

'Good gracious, Cora! I had no idea that she was so awfully attractive. Of course, I wouldn't have exposed Victor to danger on any account. Why, she has had no end of opportunities! They have been meandering together every day since he has been here. A seashore always does lead to so much nonsense; I have known some most undesirable matches come to pass through dreaming among seaweed and shells. Think of all the trouble that Maud gave me in the Isle of Wight picking up mussels, and hiding behind rocks with Captain Ludlow! And the perils I went through in scrambling after them, to see what they were about!'

'Don't excite yourself, dear Mrs. Collington,' said Miss Wallace, tranquilly amused. 'I was merely speaking of the possibilities latent in Miss Netterville. She isn't at all dangerous in her undeveloped state, and your nephew is too sensible to'

'Oh, yes, poor fellow! And too much embarrassed. It was quite too ridiculous of me to get frightened; but my nerves are unstrung. When Penton told me abruptly, this morning, that Victor and Miss What's her name had been alone on a desert island all night, I was terribly upset. Servants are so inconsiderate.'

'And they do so delight in a scandal,' said Cora. 'Feminine nature in the servants' hall is much the same as it is in the drawing room. We don't pull characters to pieces so roughly as our maids, perhaps; but our work of destruction is quite as effectual. It is the sole amusement of which women never tire. They may get sick of husbands, lovers, and children, and fancy themselves weary of life. But give them a hint of a reputation to be demolished, and they will fly to the task as if the very thought of it gave them fresh strength.'

Mrs. Collington's eyes sought her friend's face inquiringly for a moment. Cora had spoken with more energy than usual, and, perhaps, with a little more bitterness.

'You are right in the main, my dear,' she answered. 'But there are good women in the world; women who would rather patch up a character than tear it to shreds.'

'Dear Mrs. Collington, you are far more good natured than most of the gender.'

'Perhaps I am; but mine is merely that kind of good nature which proceeds from laziness. It costs me no effort to be amiable. Yet there are women who can really be influenced by a high motive; I mean, by the desire to support and save.'

'That is religion, I suppose,' said Cora coldly.

'It is the essence of religion. We recognize it as such when we have forgotten half the creeds.'

There was a brief pause, and the widow's placid face looked unusually grave. Even the most serene spirits are sometimes troubled with sudden glimpses of duties left undone. There are swift lights that flash in now and then upon our selfish natures, and show us things that we would rather hide from our own eyes.

'Shall I go and hunt up our Don Juan?' asked Miss Wallace gaily. 'He is loafing dismally in the garden, and keeping his back to the windows.'

'Yes, do go,' responded Mrs. Collington with gratitude. 'Make him tell you how it all happened; and then come back and tell me what he says. I am so puzzled to know where they could possibly have found a desert island! It must have been heaved up out of the sea on purpose for them.'

'It is evident that you have not studied the coastal scenery,' said Cora, laughing, and taking a shady hat from the table. She was a queenly woman, dark haired, but hardly brown enough to be termed a brunette. Her complexion had that faint tinge of olive which brings out the bright red of ripe lips and the soft carmine of the cheek. There was a cluster of yellow roses in the black lace that covered the hat; and all the advantages derived from dress, and careful choice of colors, were used to set off Miss Wallace's remarkable beauty.

Seacastle was marvelously rich in gardens, and Verbena Lodge had its paradise of bloom, shut in by moldering brick walls. May held a feast of roses in this favored spot; sheltered from sharp winds, and nourished by a kindly soil, they came early to perfection. Lilacs had flowered themselves to death, but laburnums swung golden tresses in the soft air; it was a time that made you forget yourself, and become a part of this little world of blossoms.

Victor, after vaguely enjoying perfume and sunshine for some minutes, looked about for an object to divert him from unpleasant meditations, and fixed upon a spider's web.

'What are you doing?' asked a clear voice behind him.

'Good day, Miss Wallace,' he said, wheeling sharply round and lifting his hat. 'I'm disappointing this brute by taking away his flies; that's all. Look, here goes another!'

'A sweet and kindly sport. The Humane Society ought to give you a medal.'

'I am too modest to make my merits known. But I flatter myself that with practice I might become the most successful baffler of spiders that the world has yet seen. How is my aunt today?'

'Very much concerned about you, and longing to hear the true history of last night,' replied Cora, smiling. 'But I tell her it will all be forgotten in a month. You are going off to India, and there will be nothing to revive an interest in the adventure.'

Victor's sallow cheek flushed. Those lightly uttered words, - 'You are going off to India,' fell like a sharp stroke upon his aching heart. There had never been anything deeper than ordinary acquaintance between Cora and himself. Yet, as a man and woman of the world, they had thought that they perfectly understood each other. How could she suppose that the idea of leaving England had now become an agony? Two months ago he would himself have laughed at anyone who had talked of regrets and sorrowful farewells.

'It was the most unlucky affair I ever knew,' he began, rather awkwardly. 'I thought I'd made the boat fast'

'Old Kumsey's boat, wasn't it? He'll demand a fabulous sum for compensation.'

'He's always good natured when he's a little screwed. I shall be base enough to ply him with liquor before we discuss the subject. It was an old brute of a boat that couldn't have held together much longer. But this is a wretched business. I am sorry for her sake, you understand?'

'Take my advice and treat the whole thing lightly,' said Cora. 'Nothing is ever gained by being too serious. Laugh yourself, and others will laugh too. You know how easy it is to start a joke.'

Victor's brow cleared a little.

'Miss Netterville is awfully upset,' he said; 'and the fault was all mine. She didn't want to go to that confounded island at all. She only consented out of good nature. I must have been a greater fool than usual when I took her there, poor child!'

Cora gave him a keen glance. Was this distress nothing deeper than the chivalrous regret of a gentleman who feels that he has unwittingly compromised an innocent girl? She could not quite fathom his feelings yet; but she spoke with the ready tact of a clever woman.

'I dare say she was terribly worried; it was a most disagreeable position to be placed in. I will call at her house by and by, and ask how she is.'

'Will you really be so good?' exclaimed Victor eagerly. 'It would be the best and kindest thing! I was going there myself; but I'm afraid Mr. and Mrs. Ormiston will hate the sight of me now. The old lady has never encouraged my visits.'

'All prudent dowagers frown on danglers,' remarked Cora lightly. 'I should be a perfect dragon, myself, if I had to be chaperon to a young girl. But we will make a call together, Captain Ashburn.'

Again Victor looked and spoke his gratitude. He was perfectly aware that any mark of attention coming from Verbena Lodge would help to set Gwen beyond the reach of slanderous tongues.

'There is no need for delay,' said Miss Wallace, moving towards the house. 'I will tell Mrs. Collington what we are going to do. She is so good natured that she is sure to approve of our plan.'

The widow had not changed her attitude of luxurious repose, and looked, as she always did, the very impersonation of matronly dignity. If, in the course of her life, she had ever known a trouble, it had not left the slightest mark upon her face. Serene, comfortable, and admirably dressed in the quietest taste, she was still quite handsome enough to give one a fair idea of the beauty that she had possessed in her prime.

She read little, worked less, and appeared to pass most of her time in a state of pleasant reverie. 'There is no joy but calm,' was her motto; and so perfectly trained were her servants, that guests came and went without giving her any trouble. Her house was always in order, her table always supplied with the fare she liked best, and her home sedulously guarded from the small worries that beset less fortunate establishments. To feel disturbed was such a new sensation, that she was disposed to regard herself as personally injured by Victor's misadventure.

And yet, as she sat in her shady room, with her favorite flowers around her, she could not help thinking a little about the young girl who had been compromised by her nephew's thoughtlessness. The Ormistons and their niece were retiring people. They had never made efforts to force their acquaintance upon her, as Mrs. Goad had done, and they were, moreover, respected and liked by Mr. Bassett, the Vicar. It was too provoking to think that Victor had brought discomfort into such a quiet family, and Mrs. Collington began to feel that she should like to do something to make amends.

'Captain Ashburn is quite miserable,' said Cora, coming to her side, and speaking in a low tone. 'He says it was all his fault, and I believe it was. So I think, Mrs. Collington, that I will call on the poor girl, and let the village know that I feel kindly towards her. Don't you see that it will be the right thing to do?'

'Certainly, my dear Cora. And I wish you to ask her to dine here tomorrow. It is Victor's last day; there can be no harm in sanctioning an intimacy that is so soon to be ended.'

'Then Captain Ashburn and I will go to the Ormistons' house this very afternoon. He will not be happy until we have shown them some civility.'

A few minutes later Miss Wallace and Victor Ashburn were walking through the village street on their way to the old minister's dwelling. Eager eyes surveyed them furtively through lace curtains, for the Seacastle ladies were adepts in the art of seeing without being seen, and feminine curiosity had now reached its height.

Mr. Ormiston's house, known as The Nest, was one of the smallest cottages in the place. So thickly was it covered with ivy and creepers, that the color of its walls could scarcely be seen; and the boughs of chestnut and walnut trees stretched far over its low thatched roof.

Seen in the afternoon sunshine, and muffled up in the luxuriance of May flowers and foliage, it was a perfect bower of blossom and greenery. It could boast of only two stories, and under its broad eaves the swallows found a comfortable shelter year after year. There was always a flutter of wings about the little house; an endless chirping and twittering went on from dawn until dusk, for the inhabitants of The Nest were on the best of terms with the birds. Small latticed casements, set deep in ivy, were opened to admit the soft air; and the door stood open too, under a porch that was laden with a mass of green.

Cora regarded this rustic cottage with an amused smile, and wondered how it was possible for anybody to live in it.

'It must be full of earwigs and snails,' she said, as Victor opened the gate. 'I should not like to pass even a single night under that dreadful thatch; but I suppose there are people who can get used to anything!'

 

CHAPTER IV

'SHY SHE WAS, AND I THOUGHT HER COLD'

What melancholy faces greeted Miss Wallace and her companion in the dim little parlor. The minister and his wife had come home, and Gwen had related her unlucky adventure with much fear and trembling.

Mrs. Ormiston had been severe in her censures. All her disregarded warnings were brought up against the ill starred Gwen; and the girl had not a word to throw at a dog.

But when the good lady's wrath had nearly spent itself, her niece stole timidly to the minister's side, and, sitting down on a low stool, laid her head upon his knee. There were no words, but the attitude was eloquent. It spoke plainly of a wounded and humbled spirit, and Davie Deans himself might have been melted by the mute self abasement expressed in that bowed head.

A slighter sign of penitence would have moved Mr. Ormiston to condemn a girlish indiscretion. He was one of those men in whom a stern creed was happily neutralized by a most gentle nature and a daily practice of charity. His sermons had been marred by 'hard sayings' that few could hear and receive. But his life was so full of sweetness and gracious deeds, that men forgot the harsh doctrines he preached, and thought only of the perfect gospel that he lived. And when his voice failed, and he gave up his church, there were few who missed his wearisome elaboration of theology, but many who felt the loss of his everyday example and never failing kindness.

His wife understood the look that came into his eyes when Gwen cast herself at his feet. Angry and excited as Mrs. Ormiston was, that look had power to seal her lips and soften her heart.

'We will speak no more about this matter, my child,' he said, laying his hand gently on the bright hair. 'Maybe you will be guided by our wisdom in future, seeing that you cannot trust your own. But be happy now, dear, and shed no more tears.'

There was still a Scotch accent lingering, in the minister's speech. To listen to him was to think of the scent of heather hills. His simple words came fresh from an unworldly heart, always tender and true. Gwen looked at him with grateful eyes, and kissed his cheek in silence.

The agitation of that little scene had left its traces on Mr. Ormiston and his wife. They were too unskilled in acting to receive their callers with a show of cheerfulness. But there was nothing churlish in their gravity. Miss Wallace found her task easier than she had expected, and seated herself in the dim little room quite at ease.

A furtive glance at Victor convinced her that he was far from feeling self possessed. Never, perhaps, had that illustrious baffler of spiders been so desperately uncomfortable or so utterly dependent on the tact of a companion. But Cora, knowing all that was required of her, was equal to the occasion.

'We came chiefly to inquire for Miss Netterville,' she said frankly. 'Mrs. Collington has been quite anxious. She persists in thinking that there has been a really dangerous adventure.'

'There was no danger, I think,' said the minister, in his quiet voice. 'The child was only frightened and distressed.'

'Ah, I suppose so. I have come to ask her to dine with us tomorrow. We want, you see, to hear the whole story from her own lips. Captain Ashburn does tell it so stupidly,' added Cora, smiling at him playfully.

'It is very kind,' replied Mrs. Ormiston, brightening. 'Gwen is well, quite well. But she has been nervous and overtired. I was almost afraid of an illness.'

Victor, flushed to the temples, and looking abjectly wretched, was incapable at that moment of uttering a single word. But Cora sustained the conversation with never failing ease and grace.

'The whole thing was so exquisitely absurd, wasn't it, Mrs. Ormiston?' she said lightly. 'To be so near home, and yet to be cut off from all communication with human beings! And to be obliged to fast all those hours, just because a stupid old boat got loose and drifted away! Is Miss Netterville very hungry? As to Captain Ashburn, he has been steadily consuming food ever since he returned to Verbena Lodge.'

The spell of gravity was broken. The minister's face gave way first, and then Aunt Margery permitted herself to smile. If the little world of Seacastle would take a comic view of the matter, surely no great harm could come of it. And why should not Seacastle look at the case with Miss Wallace's eyes? A heavy weight seemed to be suddenly lifted from Mrs. Ormiston's heart. A little while ago she had told herself that her niece's good name was blighted, and no one would ever get over the miserable escapade. Now it no longer seemed such a terrible thing that had taken place. Miss Wallace could treat the mishap as a mere joke, and they might all hold up their heads again.

Poor Gwen, sitting moodily in her room, caught an echo of the gaiety, and instantly brightened. After all, her sky was not entirely clouded if they could laugh downstairs. And with a natural impulse she sprang up and looked at herself in the glass, to see if her face had got back its usual expression.

The afternoon light came golden green into that small chamber. Sunbeams had to force their way through a screen of leaves before they illumined the figure at the vanity table. But the reflection in the glass was clear enough to satisfy her inquiring eyes.

Gwen had not wept long enough to be disfigured by her tears. Moreover, the faithful Hannah had stolen upstairs to comfort her with tender words and a cup of warm water. The girl smoothed her hair, and smiled at herself again as if all her troubles were ended. She was 'sweet and twenty,' and her lover was in the room below.

Her gown, of no costly material, was the color of the moss that made patches of olive velvet on the thatch, and took a richer tint wherever the sun touched it. Although untrained, she was as true an artist in dress as Miss Wallace herself, and understood the right use and value of flowers, those God sent ornaments of women. The casement was open: hundreds of roses were climbing up among the ivy; it was but the work of a moment to gather a handful, and arrange them in her own fashion. Bound into a full cluster, they lay in a mass of pale pink upon the bosom of the sober olive gown, and imparted their delicate bloom to the wearer.

Mrs. Ormiston entered the little chamber with a face that told of a relieved mind. Nevertheless, she still thought fit to address her niece with an air of gravity. The culprit might be pardoned; but her fault could not yet be wholly forgotten.

'You must come downstairs, Gwen,' she said. 'Miss Wallace and Captain Ashburn are here, and Mrs. Collington has sent you an invitation to dine tomorrow.'

'Am I really to dine at Verbena Lodge, Aunt Margery? You have not refused?'

'No, I have not refused. After what has occurred, Mrs. Collington's countenance and civility are worth having, and as tomorrow is Captain Ashburn's last day in Seacastle, I can make no objection. Had it been otherwise  .'

'Yes, Aunt Margery; I know. Had it been otherwise, you would have kept me at home. Well, I own I have been foolish and self willed; but it is all over now.'

'It will be all over after tomorrow,' said Mrs. Ormiston, true to her stern sense of duty. 'And I hope you will forget Captain Ashburn as easily as he will forget you.'

The eyes of the aunt and niece met. Gwen's graceful head took a backward pose, and her lips curled in scorn.

'Thank you, Aunt Margery,' she replied coolly. 'I can answer confidently for my own power of forgetting.'

And then, still carrying herself in regal fashion, she swept past the old lady, and went downstairs to the parlor.

It is doubtful whether the old ever realize the number of untruths they wring from the young. There was a dull pain in Gwen's heart which sadly belied her haughty words; but she was none the less proud of her falsehood. The consciousness of having sat upon Aunt Margery sustained her spirit. She was able to meet her visitors with admirable self possession, and even to return Victor's first anxious glance with an open smile.

'How composed the girl looks!' thought Cora, watching her with no small interest. 'She ought to get through life very well with that cool manner of hers.'

Gwen's cheeks were never reddened in moments of excitement. Her blush was merely a tinge of shell pink that came gradually and faded slowly. And Cora, who had looked for quick changes of color and a subdued flutter of nervousness, felt an involuntary respect for her new acquaintance.

The dress, too, was tolerable; nay, even creditable, when one considered the limited resources of the wearer. Miss Wallace was thoroughly cordial in her adieu, and went away in high good humor.

'What a pity that she should be buried in that earwiggy little Nest!' she remarked to Victor, as they walked homewards. 'She is really pretty, and such good form, too! I shall make Mrs. Collington take her up.'

'It is very nice of you,' said Captain Ashburn.

But he did not care to hear Gwen praised in Cora's cool fashion. He was conscious, moreover, that he did not want her to be lured out of her Nest, and invited often to his aunt's house. People were always going to Verbena Lodge; loungers came down from town to gather fruit in the old garden, and retail the latest club scandals to their pleasant hostess; military men turned up there frequently, sometimes with blushing honors thick upon them, and women were never insensible to anything in the shape of a hero. And yet what right had he to be uneasy about the matter? The flower that he coveted must be plucked and worn by someone else; it was not for him.

If Miss Wallace divined his feelings, she seemed to find a certain pleasure in skillfully playing upon them.

At dinner that evening she made frequent references to Gwen Netterville, and speculated on her possible future in a way that amused Mrs. Collington as much as it annoyed Captain Ashburn.

The two ladies ran through a long list of beautiful nobodies who had married well and taken high places in society; and Victor, ill at ease, and heartily sick of their teasing, excused himself from joining them in the drawing room, and went off, as he said, to write letters in his own room.

Meanwhile Gwen, in a favorite retreat at the bottom of the garden, was watching the sunset, and listening to the murmur of the west wind.

No one ever came to disturb her when she stole away to that rickety bench among the evergreens. Great bushes of laurel and lauristinus concealed her from prying eyes, and in front of her seat there was only the low wall that divided the garden from a lonely field. Beyond the stone fence lay the level waste of grass, glistening with the gilding of low sunbeams, and stretching away to the boundary hedge of another meadow, now growing hazy with a golden mist.

The wind was lisping a story to the syringa; a few ivory blossoms nodded above Gwen's head, and then a slight shiver ran over the buttercups, as if they, too, had caught the zephyr's whisper. The girl imagined that the breeze had a 'nevermore' murmur for her ears alone. It had talked with her so often across that ivied wall, that it had become a companion, and she had almost persuaded herself that she understood its language as well as the flowers and leaves did. At any rate, in her dreamy moods it was far better company than many beings of visible shape.

But it seemed that the west wind was unkind that evening. Over and over again it repeated Aunt Margery's words in another form, breathing them in a balmy sigh that stirred the fading roses on Gwen's bosom, and chilled the warm heart that beat beneath them.

Her glance wandered wearily across the golden meadow; and she began to ask herself if she must sit here in future evenings, always listening to that airy dirge? Was there no hint of a promise that might yet be fulfilled in this young life of hers? It was a lonely life, far too full of dreams and indefinite longings; and it was hard to go on living it without a hope of happy change.

There was a slight rustle in the grass, a hand crushed the ivy on the top of the low wall, and a lithe figure vaulted over it. Another moment, and Victor Ashburn had taken his place by her side.

'We shall meet tomorrow,' he said; 'but I wanted a quiet hour with you tonight.'

Too happy to look up into his face, she glanced downward at the yellow pollen of buttercups upon his feet, and wondered if he had been seen stealing through the meadows. Then everything was forgotten in the clasp of his arm round her waist and the touch of his lips.

'If I could take you with me to India!' he murmured.

Her heart said: 'Take me anywhere; only let there be no parting. Let us brave poverty, toil, danger ay, death itself, rather than be torn asunder. I can make any sacrifice, endure any privation, for your sake. Only do not leave me here alone, with the memory of your face haunting me always, and your kiss ever living on my lips.'

But aloud she spoke not a word. And in the silence he was looking far ahead at the solitary path that he must tread.

He began to think of all his shifts to raise money and satisfy the demands of impatient creditors. And then he remembered certain new burdens taken up that old ones might be laid down, a plan that sent the luckless pilgrim staggering on under a heavier load than before. At that moment, tossed about as he was by conflicting feelings, he almost cursed himself for letting this love spring up amid the weeds and brambles of his life.

Gwen sat calm and still, her face looking like an ivory cameo against the background of dark foliage. No suspicion of the real depth of her feeling crossed her companion's mind; he was absorbed in self-pity, self blame, and self disgust. The serene and delicate face by his side betrayed no secrets, and he was only conscious of his own pain.

'Dear,' he said abruptly, 'I have never had such good chances as other men, believe me! From the very beginning of my life I was guideless, and all but friendless. You will think as kindly of me as you can?'

'Why should I not think kindly?' she asked, in a very low voice.

'Because I have done you more harm than good. I cannot remember last night without blaming myself bitterly. My selfish folly dragged you into a scrape, and I can't help feeling like a brute at this moment! Everything would be different if I could but see a gleam of light upon the future; but I am not leaving you unhappy, Gwen?'

The question was asked suddenly. He had heard one little sigh beside him, but that was all. She had made no other sign of suffering.

'I shall try not to be unhappy,' she answered, with a simplicity that seemed almost childlike. ''But my life was very dull before you came, and it will be duller than ever when you are gone.'

'But you will be only dull, not miserable? Dear child, it would be agony to know that I had left you with a heartache like my own!'

'I shall miss you,' she said, drawing a long breath. 'I am only a girl, Captain Ashburn, and nobody ever noticed me very much until I met you. I think, perhaps, I shall get meeker and humbler when you are gone away. Aunt Margery won't find me so troublesome. But the days will seem long, and I shall wish and wish for some break in the dreadful sameness. You men have troubles, but you do not know what monotony is. It is the peculiar bane of womanhood.'

'The longest lane will have a turning,' he answered, half absently.

'Perhaps it will.'

She spoke the words with a sweet weary patience, the full meaning of which he could not fathom.

There are few men to whom it is given to get a deep insight into a woman's heart. It is women who read women, and know all that is conveyed in the change of a tone, in the sudden paling of a cheek, or the trembling of a hand.

'Her deepest self is untouched,' Victor thought. 'She will forget me, as children forget their playmates; but I shall remember her for many a day. 'What a calm child it is, and how she might have cooled the fitful fever of my life!'

Then aloud he said: 'Gwen, I must not even ask you to write to me. Time will not stand still at my bidding, and long before we meet again, you will have found out the true value of yourself. Unless I could learn the charm of "woven paces, and of waving hands," and leave you here in a trance until I came to claim you, you would never be kept for me.'

'Merlin's charm,' she answered, with one of her faint smiles. 'I would scorn to use it on one I loved. Should you care for the truth of a woman who could only be kept true by dulling her senses? I am not versed in love lore, but I fancy there is little worth in a heart which must be mesmerised before you can rely upon its constancy.'

'You are romantic,' he said sadly. 'But even the truest heart must have a prop of hope to lean upon. You could not expect a wide awake princess to be faithful for a hundred years, unless she was sure that the prince would really come at last.'

The west wind was whispering its old dirge again, and Gwen knew well what it was saying. To the shriveled lilacs it said, 'Your blossoms will be mirthful again next spring.' And to the laburnum, 'Your golden tresses are getting white and withered, yet another May shall restore their sunshine.' But in the girl's ears it breathed no promise, and she felt the warning conveyed in its scented sigh.

The light was now an amber mist, spreading far over the fields, and turning the familiar scenes into dreamland. Away to the right of the garden the old tower of the castle rose solemn and stern, untouched by any wandering rays, a grey mass standing against a dusky sky. The breeze rustled the leaves over their heads, and then went creeping off into the flowerbeds behind the shrubbery. Gwen slowly rose from her seat.

'Goodnight,' she said simply.

Aunt Margery herself could not have spoken the words in a calmer tone. All the result of Gwen's early training was making itself manifest at last. She had been no spoiled baby, allowed to yield to every whim; self repression had been one of the laws of her young life. Her nature had rebelled, often enough, at the stern discipline of a woman who had never had any children of her own. But in this moment of supreme anguish she was unconsciously guided by that very discipline.

'Goodnight,' he answered; 'not goodbye yet; but yes this is the real goodbye.'

To outward observers it would have seemed a passionless parting. So far as the girl was concerned, they would have said that the man was the only sufferer. He had had his early loves and farewells, like other men of his stamp, and he was not unused to that over redundancy of speech with which women sometimes bewail themselves on such occasions. But this unbroken calm was new to him. It crushed his own strong feeling back upon his heart, and left him to bear the burden of grief alone.

'I ought to be glad that you do not suffer, darling,' he said.

And yet as he spoke he held both her hands in his clasp, and looked yearningly into her face for some sign of pain. But no sign was given him. The chill little hands were gently withdrawn from his; and then, very quietly, she turned and went her way.

The wind followed her up that long, long garden path, where overarching boughs shut out the dim sky. Her old companions, the flowers, had many a greeting for her as she passed. A full blown rose swung its heavy head against her fingers; a sweetbrier tendril laid hold of her skirt; and a columbine shook its bells. But she heeded them not; they were a part of that girlhood which was over and done with forever. From henceforth they would be merely things of many colors, drinking in air and sunshine; no longer the playfellows and friends of blither days.

She went through the little kitchen where Hannah was sitting at rest in the gloaming, and paused to lay her hand upon the faithful woman's shoulder.

'I am tired tonight,' she said softly and wearily. 'I shall go straight to my room, Hannah, and I want you to come and sit by the bedside, as you used to do when I was a child and could not sleep. Just for tonight I want to make believe that I am a child.'

'I will come, dearie,' the servant answered, with a wistful glance. 'But there's little need to make believe. Your twenty years have hardly made you a woman.'

'Not my twenty years; but something else has taken away all the childhood that was left in me,' sighed Gwen. 'And I should like to get it back again, just for tonight.'

 

 

CHAPTER V

'I WOULD MY FATHER LOOKED BUT WITH MY EYES'

Myrtle Villa, as Mrs. Goad's house was called, ranked next in size and importance to Verbena Lodge, and presented a far more imposing appearance when you saw it from the road.

Excursionists, passing through the village street, could get a view of the interior of the drawing room. There was a big bay window through which you could see the glitter of Bohemian glass, and the sheen of gilding. 'Arry, in his holiday garb, had been heard to express his opinions freely that was the sort of 'house he should live in,' he said, if he was a gentleman,' a remark which Mrs. Goad had often repeated with satisfaction.

There was a Mr. Goad, but he had effaced himself in doing homage to his spouse. He was rewarded with every comfort that the heart of woman could devise; for there was nothing that Mrs. Goad liked better than making people comfortable. Her children, healthy and lively, bore witness to good maternal management; servants stayed long in that household, and spoke well of their quarters; and the Vicar found her always ready to consider the claims of the poor. Yet, in all Seacastle, there was no one who passed such stern judgment on Gwen Netterville as Mrs. Goad.

Gwen had spoken truth when she had said that her neighbors did not like her. She had not the qualities which ensure popularity in a small circle. She was reserved, and they called her sullen. She wanted to live her own life, quietly and privately, and they said that she was unsociable and selfish.

It was this desire for privacy that irritated Mrs. Goad. She loved to make people happy; but they must accept the happiness she manufactured for them. They must put themselves and their affairs into her hands, and give themselves up entirely to her management. A warm friend and a hot persecutor, she was liked and dreaded by the whole parish.

Seacastle was in the habit of giving in to Mrs. Goad. Her neighbors loved peace and quietness, and enjoyed the suppers and tea parties with which she frequently regaled them. They made a practice of agreeing with everything that she said. It saved them the fatigue and trouble of an argument which was sure to end in a quarrel; and, moreover, they were mostly too lazy to care much whether right or wrong prevailed.

As two weeks had passed by since Captain Ashbum's departure; the story of Hawthorn Island was still fresh in the minds of the village people. It had been known that Gwen had dined at Verbena Lodge on the day that followed the misadventure, and it was generally supposed that Mrs. Collington's civilities would stop short at that one invitation.

Two days after Victor had taken his leave of Seacastle, his aunt went up to town, accompanied by Miss Wallace; and although the timely notice of these two ladies had done good service to Gwen, the tongue of scandal began to wag afresh in their absence.

'They will ignore her on their return,' said Mrs. Goad. 'I always knew how it would be. Captain Ashburn talked his aunt over, and made her invite the girl, and Miss Wallace was good natured. But when Mrs. Collington comes home she will be as indifferent to Gwen Netterville as if she had never seen her!'

Mrs. Goad delivered herself of these remarks as she sat at her big bay window in the afternoon sunshine. She was surrounded, as she loved to be, by a little circle of friends, who never dreamed of disputing with her on any subject. Her father and two sisters were among her hearers; and never was a parent so submissive to a child, as old Mr. Swift to his daughter, Matilda Goad.

Mr. Swift was a broken down farmer, who had managed to save a pittance out of the wreck of his fortunes, and had come to end his days peacefully in Seacastle. Everyone knew that the cottage he inhabited belonged to his son-in-law, Mr. Goad, and that he paid no rent. And they also knew that wine and dainties found their way from Myrtle Villa to the old man's home. Matilda was a generous giver and a good daughter, bestowing her bounties with no grudging hand.

Of her two sisters, she decidedly preferred Lavinia Bertie, who was a widow, to Eunice, who was the youngest and most troublesome of the family.

Lavinia had made but a poor match, and was left with a hundred a year. She kept her father's house, and always submitted to Matilda's decrees without the faintest show of resistance. But Eunice was a rebel an undemonstrative rebel, as a rule, yet holding to her own opinions with exasperating firmness. She had sought and obtained a situation as daily governess, and nobody had been consulted about her plans. Mrs. Goad prophesied that no good would come of such a self relying spirit.

'No doubt you are right, Matilda,' said Lavinia Bertie, when the little speech was finished. 'You always saw the folly of that flirtation with Captain Ashburn. I was quite surprised that the Ormistons allowed it.'

'It seemed harmless enough in the beginning,' remarked Mrs. Barron, a good-natured woman, who loved peace and liked to let people alone.

'But we ought to watch beginnings,' said Mrs. Goad solemnly. 'The Ormistons have failed in their duty. However, we don't know what they had to contend with, and we won't be hard upon them! But, as a mother, I feel that Gwen Netterville ought not to go unpunished. Think of the example to the young ladies of Seacastle!'

'Oh, they are not at all likely to follow it!' exclaimed a Mrs. Cox, who had grownup daughters of her own. 'I assure you that my girls have never left off blushing since they heard of the affair!'

Here Harriet Cox, a girl of four or five and thirty, writhed in her seat, as if she suffered acutely on hearing the subject touched upon.

'No, they are not likely to follow it, I trust,' said Mrs. Goad. 'But these things are demoralizing. We ought of course to show our disapproval in a marked way. For my part, I have quite decided not to ask Miss Netterville to my garden party on Tuesday. I shall invite the Ormistons, and leave out their niece.'

A murmur of horror ran through the little assembly. Harriet Cox visibly shuddered. To be shut out of Mrs. Goad's garden party was to be excluded from the only festivity that Seacastle could afford.

'Of course it will be a severe blow,' Mrs. Goad went on. 'I am not a cruel woman; I don't love to inflict pain. But in this case the rod mustn't be spared if the culprit is to be brought to repentance. I have seen no sign of penitence yet.'

'You are quite right, Matilda,' said Lavinia, again dutifully uttering her formula.

'Oh, yes,' sighed Harriet Cox. 'It is very painful to make people suffer. But I cannot allow myself even to pity Gwen Netterville!'

A chorus of voices sang in this strain. Everybody was expected to say something; and even good natured Mrs. Barron felt herself constrained to chime in with the rest. There was only one person who maintained silence, and Mrs. Goad read disapproval in her face.

When the others had gone their ways, Mr. Swift and his daughters, Lavinia and Eunice, still lingered. He was full of gratitude and delight; a hamper of good things had been sent that very day to his cottage, and Matilda, as usual, was the donor. The feeling expressed was genuine enough, but there was a touch of submission in his manner which detracted a little from the dignity of his grey hairs. Mrs. Goad's eyes filled with tears of honest pleasure.

'I love to please you, papa,' she said heartily. 'Lavinia, you must be here early on Tuesday. Mademoiselle is not a bit of use in helping me. But she gets on with the children.'

Mrs. Goad had engaged a French governess, and flattered herself that mademoiselle raised her another step above all the mothers in Seacastle. Mrs. Barron, who paid Eunice Swift twenty pounds a year for teaching her little girls, was quite satisfied with their progress. But Mrs. Goad never lost a chance of pitying those poor little Barrons, and wondering how any sensible parent could entrust their education to a dreamy girl like Eunice.

'Certainly, Matilda. I will come in at two, and see to everything,' responded Lavinia readily.

'I hope Eunice will try to make herself agreeable,' said Mrs. Goad, with a sigh.

'You hear what your sister says, Eunice,' cried Mr. Swift, looking sternly at his youngest daughter. 'You are to make yourself agreeable, remember that.'

At that moment it must be confessed that Eunice's face gave small promise of any pleasantness. It was a thin, sallow face, careworn enough to have belonged to a woman of forty instead of a girl of twenty three. The features were irregular, and although the eyes were not without a certain beauty, they were too heavy and sad to light up the countenance. Weariness was the prevailing expression; the mouth, when closed, looked sullen; the forehead already showed a few faint lines. Mrs. Goad glanced at her sister Lavinia, and hopelessly shook her head.

'If you are determined to be gloomy, Eunice,' she said, 'it will be better for you to stay away from the party altogether. You have hardly opened your lips this afternoon. You sat perfectly still, and looked the very picture of sulkiness, while we were all talking pleasantly around you.'

'It was not pleasant talk, Matilda,' replied Eunice, her face suddenly flushing and kindling.

'Ah, I suppose you wish to imply condemnation of my behavior to Gwen Netterville,' said Mrs. Goad, growing very red. 'But as a married woman and a mother, I shall not shrink from doing my duty.'

'Do you really think it is your duty to cut that poor girl, Matilda?' Eunice asked, in a steady voice. 'It was a mere accident, as we all know. The boat got loose, and drifted away, and    .'

'Pray don't trouble yourself to repeat Miss Netterville's version of the affair. We have already heard it too often! Perhaps her getting into the boat and going to the island was a mere accident. Perhaps it is quite correct for young ladies to steal away with officers at nightfall. Oh, Eunice, I'm ashamed of you!'

'I should be ashamed of myself if I could think as you do,' said Eunice, nothing daunted.

'It's a blessing that you are a person of no importance,' Mrs. Goad went on. 'If you were not providentially kept in the background, you would put us all to the blush! A girl who can defend impropriety is capable of anything.'

'I didn't defend impropriety,' Eunice was beginning to say. But Mr. Swift interrupted her in a thundering voice.

'Silence!' he roared. 'Not another word! Your sister is always right.'

So Eunice went her way, with smothered anger burning in her heart. It was a generous heart, full of sympathies and kind feelings that never had full play. But it often seemed to this girl that she was most liberally endowed with useless gifts, gifts that were neither wanted nor appreciated. Of what use, she would ask herself, was a memory that could retain whole pages of Shakespeare? She never could remember the multiplication table, and had often wept copiously over her sums. Her fingers could sketch pictures of fairies and witches that enchanted children, but she could only do the commonest kind of needlework. Harriet Cox could cut out her own gowns, and make them up in the latest fashion. But Eunice, wholly unskilled in dressmaking, attired herself in the plainest garb, and looked, in Mrs. Goad's opinion, a perfect fright.

And yet, despite the many disadvantages of her lot, Eunice Swift was not a thoroughly unhappy woman. She possessed an interior world, into which she retired when the outside world was especially disagreeable. Into that inner sphere of hers she admitted only the beautiful and true. Her dream companions were always waiting to receive her among them. And in their society she almost forgot the many little cares and crosses of her real life.

So attached did she become to these phantoms, that she began to describe their looks and words on paper. She never could quite believe that she had created them. They had been her friends from childhood, growing with her growth, and changing as she changed from a girl into a woman. To them she confessed her shortcomings, her doubts, her fears. To them she confided the hopes, few and feeble, that were beginning to spring up in her lonely path.

It has been well said that 'fame usually comes to those who are thinking about something else    very rarely to those who say to themselves, "Go to, now; let us be a celebrated individual."' The idea of being a celebrity had certainly never occurred to Eunice. She could fancy the airy laughter of the phantom company if she had talked of being known to fame! Even the hope of earning money by her pen was only a half formed thing.

One day Mr. Bassett had listened while she told a children's story. And he had said, 'You should write that down, Miss Swift.'

Matilda and Eunice really wanted to love each other, but they never thoroughly succeeded. Matilda was a born autocrat; Eunice insisted on being free. Matilda was prosaic to the last degree; Eunice saw a touch of poetry in the commonest things of life. They were spirits that could never come together without clashing; and clash they did, to the great discomfiture of all concerned in their affairs.

Poor people and little children always found it easy to open their hearts to Eunice Swift. She had no pride, they would say. She was just like one of themselves, only wiser, and had a sweet comforting way of her own. Mrs. Goad was good natured, and sent them blankets and soup. But Miss Swift would take their babies to her bosom, and console the weary mothers with true sisterly love. Perhaps she liked the babies better than the mothers; anyhow, it was through the babies that she found her way into their confidence.

The Vicar found her invaluable in the Sunday school, although her mode of instruction was far from orthodox. Falsehood, selfishness, and other vices were powerfully depicted as ugly monsters. Truth and charity and the rest of the virtues were radiant beings, crowned with stars or flowers. The little scholars listened greedily to moral lessons presented in such an enchanting guise. And while Harriet Cox's boys rolled marbles under their seats, and punched each other openly in class time, Eunice's charges sat motionless, and hung upon her words in unbroken silence.

When Mr. Bassett was advised by the Coxes to discountenance her fanciful way of teaching, he showed a decided reluctance to interfere with her. She kept the children quiet, he said. And he really did think that her monsters and angels made some impression upon their dull brains.

It was never easy to rouse Mr. Bassett into action. The Coxes, after many attempts, were glad to let him alone. And Eunice was let alone too, so that the fiends and fairies grew and multiplied.

Mr. Swift took care to lecture his youngest daughter on her dispute with Mrs. Goad. For his part, he declared, he stood amazed at her extraordinary folly.

'I don't know what will become of you,' he said, 'if you quarrel with Matilda. You are as poor as a church mouse, and you've no friends, no standing in the world, no anything! You can't expect me to take your part. Think of all that I owe to the Goads how comfortable they make me in my old age!'

It was observable that Mr. Swift's thoughts always turned to himself, and the comforts of his last days. He was terribly alarmed at any rupture between the sisters. Matilda might, he feared, suspect him of being on Eunice's side, and then there would, perhaps, be a falling off in those little attentions that made life so pleasant to him. It was utterly impossible for him to understand the independence of a spirit that would not part with its freedom at any price. In his eyes, Eunice was simply an incomprehensible fool.

'You should always yield to Matilda,' said Lavinia, backing up her father, but speaking in a gentler tone than he had used. 'Don't you see, Eunice, that it is absurd in you to oppose her? You must just be submissive to anyone who is willing to befriend you. Why should you concern yourself about Gwen Netterville at all? There is nothing to be gained by becoming her champion.'

Eunice had borne Mr. Swift's storm of words with greater patience than usual, and Lavinia's milder expostulations were also listened to in silence. Her face seemed to grow sadder and paler while they talked, but her lips were firmly closed. With resolute composure she drank her tea, and ate her bread and butter, and then slipped away to finish the evening in the little attic that was called her own.

White Cottage, as the Swifts' house was named, had none of those rustic charms that gave a touch of poetry to The Nest; but it was drier and healthier. Being tall and narrow, it had an air of greater importance than other houses which contained more rooms but had lower roofs. Altogether, it was prim and slim, like a maiden lady with pretensions to gentility. Its walls were always dazzlingly clean, its porch was of the freshest green, and its brass knocker shone like burnished gold.

There were two sitting rooms, two bedrooms, and two garrets; and the upper story belonged entirely to Miss Swift and the little maid of all work, who were on very good terms with each other. Eunice would not willingly have exchanged that garret of hers for the chamber below which was occupied by Lavinia. She felt freer and happier up there at the top of the house. Moreover, her little side window commanded a view of the highway, white and narrow, that went winding out of dull old Seacastle into the wide world.

Along that road her thoughts often traveled, when her body was weary of the routine of the day. She never dreamed that any friend would come to seek her in her loneliness. Like Whittington, she felt that she must go out to find her fortune. Solitary and unaided, her fate would send her forth one day, and she must either be lost in the vast crowd of unsuccessful ones, or be led in safety to a sure resting place.

The sunshine of an early June evening was resting on that dusty road when Eunice went to her window, after the storm downstairs. She had it in her heart to weep bitterly; but tears always gave her a headache and unfitted her for daily duties, and she dared not shed them. So she sat down, close to the open casement, and moaned softly to herself in the stillness and peace.

Was it possible that a bleak and friendless future awaited her? Was she indeed the wrong headed, obstinate fool that Mr. Swift took her to be? Was there truly no help in the universe, save that which could come to her through the bounty of the Goads? Perhaps our darkest moments are those when the brain is too tired to distinguish the false voices from the true. In most lives there are times when the raven's croak is louder than the lark's heavenly song.

To offend Matilda was, in Mr. Swift's opinion, to affront Providence. It never seemed to occur to him that there might be kind hearts in the world that lay outside Seacastle. And he could not believe that, although Eunice did not get on with Mrs. Goad, she might make friends elsewhere.

Week after week she was compelled to hear that she was of no importance, and that Matilda was the only influential person who was ever likely to notice her. The mistress of Myrtle Villa was a great lady in her father's eyes. Like many men who have failed in business, he worshiped the prosperity he had never possessed. If Eunice did not worship it too, it must be because she was obstinate or blind.

'Must it always go on like this?' sighed the girl, rocking herself softly to and fro. 'Shall I always hear the same dismal chime You have no standing in the world?" Other women have gone out and won a standing! But I am here always.'

There is no audible answer to the cry of such eager spirits. And yet a soft breath of comfort stole in with the evening air, and the utterance of the cry was a relief.

'There was Charlotte Bronte,' she went on. 'I can fancy her pacing up and down in the little study at Haworth. The wonderful book was written there. But then she had genius. What have I? If I were surrounded with clever people, I should soon know. But how is one to measure one's intellect here?'

Her thoughts went forward to the time when the little Barrons would be sent to school. Where could she find other pupils? There was rather a dearth of children among the upper class in Seacastle. The Barrons alone had their quiver full of them. Eunice did not know where to look for more employment.

There was only one person in Seacastle to whom she could turn for help and advice, and that was the clergyman. But he was, unfortunately, no favorite with Mrs. Goad. She was an energetic soul. He was indolent and sweet tempered. If he would only have quarreled with her, she would have liked him better. It was his tranquil indifference that made her almost hate him.

He did not even care about her parties, but always came late, and went away early. He did not mind her criticism of his sermons. He never disagreed with her. To expend words on him was like pummeling a pillow: you knew he did not feel, and he would not offer any resistance. But Mrs. Goad had never thoroughly detested him until Mrs. Collington came to Seacastle.

Then, indeed, her indignation knew no bounds. Mrs. Collington had quietly repelled all the advances made by Mrs. Goad. She had politely declined all invitations; and no one, save Mr. Bassett, had succeeded in getting a footing in Verbena Lodge.

He evidently enjoyed himself in the society of Mrs. Collington and her guests. They gave him glimpses of his old world    a world which he had found very pleasant when he was young. Mrs. Goad's outbursts of eloquence were entirely thrown away upon him. He only smiled serenely when she abused his new parishioner more than usual.

Eunice did not dare to ask the Vicar for his aid. To have done so would have been to defy Matilda. She had ventured already to brave Mrs. Goad's resentment; but that was for the sake of another. And in the cause of another Eunice could often be courageous enough.

Gwen Netterville was beautiful, and her beauty was as good as a poem to Eunice Swift. She had conceived for Gwen a romantic liking, and yet they had never been on close terms. She liked to watch Gwen's comings and goings, and make up stories of which Miss Netterville was the heroine. And when her heroine was unjustly assailed, it had seemed the most natural thing to take up arms in her defense.

 

CHAPTER VI

'A HIT, A VERY PALPABLE HIT'

Mays went and came, and years seemed to have passed over Gwen Netterville since Captain Ashburn's departure. She had begun to feel as if she were dead and buried, like the duke and the lady in Mr. Browning's poem. And like them, too, she fell to pondering on 'what a gift life was ages ago!'

Aunt Margery pronounced her, on the whole, to be very much improved. She was quieter and graver than of yore; and quietness and gravity were virtues in the eyes of the minister's wife. Old Hannah, better skilled than her mistress in reading the signs of heartsickness, watched the girl with secret anxiety. She knew why the small household tasks were now so patiently performed, and why the Saturday night's mending was so neatly done. Gwen was trying hard to take an interest in common things, and make them fill the place of the one thing that she had lost.

There was a faint thrill of gladness within her when she heard that Mrs. Collington and Miss Wallace had returned from town. They were the only tangible link between her and her absent lover. He had lived under Mrs. Collington's roof; she was his relative; and that kinship endeared her to poor desolate Gwen.

Meanwhile Mrs. Goad was holding firmly to her resolution. She intended to punish Miss Netterville in a marked manner; and she was conscious that the eyes of the whole village were turned upon her in eager expectation.

The pain of her own heartache had somewhat dulled Gwen's perceptions. She suffered too much to notice every petty slight that she received from her neighbors. And yet she could not help being aware that Mrs. Goad passed her in the village street with a short nod, a mode of salutation which was faithfully imitated by Lavinia Bertie, and by Mrs. Cox and her daughters.

But there came a certain Thursday afternoon when the fact of her exclusion from Seacastle society was rudely forced upon her mind. So rudely, indeed, that for many a year afterwards her memory retained a distinct picture of the scene. That fair June day was a strongly marked page in her history.

A walk to Field Farm had always been one of the pleasures of Gwen's simple life. The way lay altogether apart from the monotonous highroad. It was merely a footpath, running across wide meadows that extended to the base of a low hill. There was no romantic scenery here, but the loneliness of these sunny fields was sweet. The air came to you with a fresh sweep; sheep bells tinkled faintly from the distant slopes; larks warbled in the stillness. The path was too narrow for two to walk abreast. Gwen led the way, putting out her hand sometimes to pull a great daisy, or brush the long rustling grass.

'I like to be among fields,' she said. 'This soft grass how it whispers and sways! If we could but make Uncle Andrew live at the farm!'

'Well, it does seem a pity that there should only be the Greens there,' Hannah answered. 'Such a big, rambling house, with plenty of rooms!'

'I could be quite happy there,' Gwen continued. 'It would be a tame kind of happiness, though. All my interests would be centered in the poultry and cows. I think that kind of life might suit me very well.'

Hannah, in the rear, gave an expressive shake of the head. But Gwen did not see it, and went on picturing the delights of a henhouse and a dairy. And then the white gate of the farmyard came in sight, and Mrs. Green made haste to give them welcome.

They lingered about the farm for an hour or more, and then turned homeward. Hannah was laden heavily with eggs, butter, and cream; Gwen carried a basket, filled with cakes of Mrs. Green's own making, and bore her burden with evident satisfaction.

Still keeping out of the highroad, they approached Seacastle by a way that lay across its market gardens and meadows. Then the sounds of busy life began to meet their ears. In the fields lying near the houses there was haymaking going on. Men and women were tossing about the grass, children in sunbonnets were taking their share of playful toil, and shouts and laughter came ringing through the quiet air. To get to The Nest by a short cut it was necessary to cross a field that belonged to Mr. Goad, And even when the grass was high a path was always left open. The little Goads and the little Barrons were sitting down to afternoon tea among the haycocks. A white cloth was spread on the ground, and some of the elders were filling the cups and cutting up cake. The children, with chubby faces all aglow, had arranged themselves in a semicircle. Summer frocks, with their mirthful tints, gave life and color to the scene, which was pretty enough in its way; the sunlight shone on golden childish heads and gleamed in bright eyes.

Gwen stood still, and enjoyed the sight of the happy group. She was young, and felt a sudden desire to have her share in their pleasures. Just for the moment she had forgotten the Seacastle ladies and their ill will. She looked at the children, and did not remember their mothers and sisters. They were so rosy and mirthful, these little ones! It would be a pleasant thing to add her mite to their happiness.

There was no time for Hannah to give a word or glance of warning. With a quick movement Gwen stepped up to the party, and stood facing them all with a smile. Her cakes would be a dainty addition to the feast.

Long afterwards, when the scene was reenacted in her mind, she could never remember the words that she spoke. Even while she was speaking to them, they were frozen by Mrs. Goad's cold stare and the stony looks of Mrs. Cox and her daughters.

Yet, with some unconscious power of observation, she took in the aspect and attitude of all those figures. And in a moment they were photographed upon her memory.

The central figure was Mrs. Goad, a stout, dark person, by no means uncomely. She wore a straw hat with a big white ostrich feather, and the broad ends of a lace scarf rested on her ample bosom. A little behind her stood Lavinia Bertie, taller, thinner, more sallow, with a face as impassive as the Sphinx. Then came Mrs. Cox and her 'girls'    faded blondes with high cheekbones and pale eyes. Then Mrs. Barron, short, plump, and deeply flushed. And next to her, Eunice Swift.

'We are much obliged to you, Miss Netterville,' said Mrs. Goad, with a stately wave of the hands. 'But we are plentifully supplied with cakes. We really do not want any more.'

Again the hands were waved, motioning off Gwen and her basket. No one else spoke, and for an instant the girl endured the gaze of all those pitiless eyes. Then, with a face that looked like sculptured marble, she turned silently away.

The group of ladies, too, was silent. The sight of that retreating figure seemed to subdue them all. Mrs. Barron, weak, but good natured, was exceedingly pained. And even the Coxes said to themselves that Mrs. Goad had gone too far.

Suddenly Eunice Swift made a bound from Mrs. Barron's side, and sped across the field. Gwen, still moving like one in a dream, started to hear a sweet voice speaking breathlessly at her elbow.

'Miss Netterville, here are some roses. Won't you take them, just to please me?'

Gwen's cold hand closed upon the flowers. The eyes of the two girls met. Eunice had nerved herself to overcome her timidity, and the soft gaze of those blue eyes amply repaid her.

The little governess marched back to her party with her head held up. Her air of quiet dauntlessness was not lost on one of them. Mrs. Goad, crimson with indignation, opened fire upon her at once.

'You followed her on purpose to annoy us all!' she cried. 'I tremble to think of the future that lies before you, Eunice! I don't think I should be surprised at anything. But you do things with your eyes open.'

Eunice answered not a word. Mrs. Barron gave her an approving nod, and was frowned upon by Matilda.

The feast went on, but even the children felt that they were under a cloud. The sweetness was taken out of the tea and cake; everyone looked fidgety and ill at ease. The party broke up early, conscious that its joviality was over.

'We shall meet again at my house on Tuesday,' said Mrs. Goad, trying to be as dignified as usual. 'Tomorrow I shall go and invite the Ormistons. I am not one to shrink from an unpleasant duty. Miss Netterville has already had one lesson. She will be prepared, I think, to be left out.'

Not a word was spoken by Gwen or Hannah until they gained the cottage gate. And then the girl's words came suddenly, and with a sob.

'Hannah, I can't stand it!' she said. 'Have I got to stay here, and let them kill me with their insults? Will no one ever take me away?'

'Yes, Miss Gwen, you will be taken away some day. It's very hard, dearie, but the end will come.'

There was a ring of confidence in the nurse's voice that gave new strength to Gwen. She was young: youth always believes in an escape from its prison. Seacastle and its miseries might soon be left behind forever.

Before she raised the latch Hannah paused, and a moment or two sufficed to restore Gwen's self control. Aunt Margery should not see her shaken and broken down, she thought. If she suffered, she would not turn to Mrs. Ormiston for consolation. She lifted her head proudly as she passed into the dark little entry.

Quite suddenly a well remembered voice fell on her ears. There was a cheerful clink of teacups. Miss Wallace was seated in the dim sitting room, perfectly at ease, talking to the minister and his wife.

Hannah muttered an exclamation of pleasure, and slipped away to the kitchen. Miss Wallace's friendship made up for Mrs. Goad's incivility. As to Gwen, all her old courage and self confidence came back with the sound of Cora's clear tone.

Cora rose to meet her with graceful friendliness. There was not the least dash of patronage in her manner. But it was encouraging, and almost caressing the manner of a woman of the world to a young girl ignorant of life. And Gwen, so recently wounded, felt the full force of its charm, and was intensely grateful.

Miss Wallace was the bearer of a second invitation from Mrs. Collington. A few guests were invited to dine on Tuesday; would Miss Netterville come and meet them? Aunt Margery, with most unwonted graciousness, had already answered for her niece. And Uncle Andrew's kindly face expressed satisfaction.

'I have promised to stay with Mrs. Collington until Christmas,' said Cora to Gwen. 'She has owned to being rather lonely in Seacastle, and there is no one else who needs me. So you and I are destined, I hope, to see a great deal of each other.'

Gwen's eyes and smile gave a better answer than could be conveyed in words. And Cora felt more and more impressed with her singular beauty a beauty so unlike her own that she could honestly admire it.

In spite of that cool, worldly manner which Victor had never laid aside in her presence, Cora had discovered his secret. With a cruel feminine pleasure she had stabbed him through his mask, and her parting words rankled in his memory for many a long day. He had never done her any harm, nor interfered with her plans; but he was a man, and she was glad to find out his hidden feelings and wound them.

It was so seldom, she reflected, that such an opportunity occurred. It was so seldom that these long practiced triflers ever did feel so rarely that your keenest weapon ever struck into anything but the thick padding that came between your stroke and a man's heart.

'Goodbye, Captain Ashburn,' she had said cheerfully. 'I shall make a point of looking after Miss Netterville. I like her quite well enough to take pains with her. Perhaps I may even get her decently married by-and-by; who knows? Don't vex your soul with the idea that you have left an ineffaceable impression on her heart. I would undertake to efface any man's image from any young girl's heart in a month! So you may be quite at ease about her.'

And Cora Wallace, to do her justice, did really mean to do her best for Gwen. The task of training an intelligent girl would while dull hours away.

Miss Wallace had excellent reasons for making a long stay at Verbena Lodge. Mrs. Collington was fully acquainted with those reasons, and the pair had entered into an agreement of mutual accommodation. They liked each other sufficiently well to call their close bond a friendship. Both were good tempered, and there was no important point on which they were likely to disagree. Mrs. Collington was quite willing to show kindness to Gwen Netterville. She would not thwart Cora in her fancies. The girl was very pretty and presentable. It would be a good deed to lift her altogether out of Seacastle society.

When Cora had taken her leave, Gwen gave a thought to Eunice's flowers. They were Marechal Niel roses, fresh and delicate, and she carried them away carefully to her own room.

'I wish I could do something for that brave girl,' she thought, as she bent over them. 'How Mrs. Goad must have hated her for running after me! If I ever get a chance, I'll try to repay Eunice Swift.'

Meanwhile Mrs. Ormiston and Hannah were talking in the kitchen. The door was shut fast; but they both spoke with lowered voices.

'Mayn't I tell her anything, ma'am?' pleaded Hannah eagerly. 'Isn't it right to give her the least hint? It would put new heart into the child, and help her to carry her head above them all!'

'No, no,' Mrs. Ormiston answered. 'The old man may yet outlive his last son. Better her ignorance than uncertain hopes. My husband and I have talked the matter over a hundred times.'

'Still, ma'am, it's hard to see her trampled on by Mrs. Goad, and all for a bit of girlish thoughtlessness!'

'She was imprudent, Hannah,' said Aunt Margery, always severely just. 'But Mrs. Goad shall not trample on my niece,' she added, drawing up her tall figure, and throwing back her head. 'I know how to take her part.'

'That was spoken like the Miss Margery of old days,' thought Hannah, with secret satisfaction. And there the conversation ended.

Eunice Swift's bold act of championship cost her a sleepless night, and drew a terrible storm upon her devoted head. Mrs. Goad could not rest until she had acquainted her father with Eunice's daring conduct. And Mr. Swift, as usual, thundered and raged, and declared that his youngest daughter was trying to destroy the peace of the family.

'I could not help doing as I did,' was the only excuse she had to offer. She spoke in a weary tone, and endured the outpouring of wrath with a kind of sad patience.

'How can you be so foolish, Eunice!' said Lavinia, when the old man had talked himself hoarse and gone to his room. 'What do you mean by saying that you could not help running after that girl and giving her your roses?'

'Did you look at her face, Lavinia? If you did, I think you must know why I longed to comfort her.'

'She was very white,' Lavinia admitted. 'I dare say she was distressed. But Matilda says she only did her duty.'

'Matilda does not call things by their right names. It was cruelty, not duty.'

'I am always telling you, Eunice, that you must try to agree with Matilda, and see things as she sees them.'

'I cannot call good evil, and evil good,' replied Eunice calmly.

'Well, there will be no peace while you persist in thinking you know better than Matilda does. Papa will take care to keep on good terms with her, of course. And you will have no one on your side.'

'Except my conscience, Lavinia. That is the best ally that one can have.'

And then Eunice went up to her attic, and lay awake for hours. Through her open window she could see the summer midnight, which was not night at all, but only a soft gloom. It failed to still the throbbing of her restless pulses, although there was never sweeter air than the gentle breath that strayed over her pillow. Life was so hard; the petty warfare so wearying to body and mind; the daily path so beset with thorns. The soft gloom was gone, and the dawn had spread over the village before her tired eyes closed. She rose later than usual, and did not begin lessons with her little pupils until the appointed time was past.

'Never mind,' said Mrs. Barron, good-humoredly interrupting her apologies. 'You are very seldom late; and you don't look fit for work. Your face is paler and thinner than ever, child. I hope you are not fretting.'

Then seeing that tears filled Eunice's eyes, she patted her kindly on the shoulder and went away.

In the course of the afternoon, Mrs. Goad, accompanied by Harriet Cox, set out to call upon the Ormistons. In her heart of hearts there was a vague feeling of discomfort connected with the scene of yesterday. But she was none the less resolved to hold firmly to her purpose.

To have swerved from that purpose would, she believed, have lowered her standing in Seacastle. Moreover, she had been so openly braved by Eunice that it behooved her to keep up her dignity. Yet she had felt an unacknowledged need of a support of some kind, and so Harriet Cox was asked to be her companion.

Miss Cox had not courage enough to refuse, but she was not altogether willing to accompany Mrs. Goad to The Nest. The Ormistons were remarkably quiet people, who kept much within doors, and had few words to say to their neighbors. But Harriet had a slight fear of a coming disturbance    just the spirit of fear that was sufficient to make her ill at ease. Quiet people were sometimes very formidable when they were roused, and surely it was always wisest to let sleeping dogs lie.

'A duty must be done, let it be ever so difficult, dear Harriet,' said Mrs. Goad. 'And I know how thoroughly you approve of my line of conduct.'

Dear Harriet murmured a faint 'Yes,' and Matilda talked on, lashing herself into a state of virtuous indignation.

Before they reached The Nest she had quite succeeded in stirring up her own temper, and was in the right mood for strife.

'Dear me, how heated you are looking!' said Harriet uneasily, as her friend raised her hand to the knocker.

'It is only the weather,' panted Mrs. Goad. 'And, of course, my mind has been a little upset. If an unpleasant thing has to be done, I have always got to do it. Like old Douglas, I am the one to bell the cat.'

She had expected to receive a compliment for her courage, but Miss Cox was sparing of compliments that day. There was a moment's pause after her knock. And then Hannah, with a grim face, presented herself at the door.

They were ushered at once into the little parlor, and saw at a glance that Gwen was not there. The minister and his wife received them with a grave politeness that was discouraging to begin with. The distant civility of the Ormistons betokened expectation of an attack, and Mrs. Goad was dimly conscious that they were ready for her onslaught.

'I am going to give a garden party on Tuesday,' Matilda began. 'It will be on rather a larger scale than my usual entertainments: some people from Marsham are coming. I hope we shall have the pleasure of seeing you and your husband, Mrs. Ormiston?'

'We are greatly obliged to you,' responded Aunt Margery coldly. 'But you must not expect us, Mrs. Goad. We are too old for festivities.'

'Pray do not disappoint me,' said Mrs. Goad, forcing a smile. 'You really are not too old to enter into the amusements of the young. It is charming to see young people enjoying themselves, you know.'

'Very charming indeed,' remarked the minister, chiming in. 'It must be a hard heart that is not tender to youth,' he added, looking steadily into Matilda's face.

The matron's cheeks took a deeper flush, and Harriet Cox trembled. Like a foolish woman, Mrs. Goad picked up the cap at once, and fitted it upon her head.

'I am a mother,' she said solemnly. 'Who should be tender to youth if I am not? But I reverence propriety, Mr. Ormiston, and I know the value of a good example. You may have noticed that I do not include your niece in my invitation. There are young ladies in Seacastle who feel that they cannot get on with her because, in short, her conduct has been highly unsatisfactory.'

'Even if you had been good enough to invite Miss Netterville, she must have declined,' said Aunt Margery, in her quietest tone. 'She is asked to a dinner party at Verbena Lodge, and will go there on Tuesday.'

The words were as water dashed upon fire. The blaze of Mrs. Goad's temper was instantly quenched; the sparkle died out of her eyes.

'Oh, we shall hope to see her at another of our little gatherings,' she faltered out. 'But as I have been saying to Miss Cox    '

'I have never said or thought anything unpleasant,' interrupted Harriet hastily. 'Mamma always warned us against uncharitableness.'

Thus basely deserted by her trusted ally, Mrs. Goad felt herself to be completely routed and undone. She rose with a poor attempt at ease.

'Goodbye, Mrs. Ormiston,' she said, trying to speak in a light, everyday manner. 'Pray tell Miss Netterville that I hope she will come to my little Julia's birthday party later on. She must not entirely desert old friends for new.'

'I will deliver your message,' rejoined Aunt Margery stiffly. 'But I must say, once for all, that my niece will not accept any future invitation to Myrtle Villa.'

Mrs. Goad was about to make a reply, but one glance at the old lady's unyielding face convinced her that words would be thrown away. With most unusual humility, she took her departure, and drew a long breath of relief when she found herself outside The Nest.

'Matters have taken an unexpected turn,' she said, somewhat awkwardly, to her companion.

'A very disagreeable turn,' Harriet answered. 'To tell the plain truth, Mrs. Goad, we all thought you were too hard on poor Miss Netterville. Mamma has always cautioned us against hasty judgments: they are very dangerous.'

'But you seemed to agree with me!' cried Mrs. Goad, aghast.

'We agreed with you to a certain extent,' replied Harriet. 'We thought, of course, that Miss Netterville had been a little foolish, but we never dreamed of offering her a direct slight. That idea emanated entirely from your own mind, Mrs. Goad.'

 

 

CHAPTER VII

'RISE FROM THE FEAST OF SORROW, LADY'

Mrs. Goad was painfully conscious that she had sustained a crushing defeat, and smarted sorely under a sense of humiliation. If she had gone alone to The Nest, she might have been spared many of the pangs of the vanquished. But she had dragged Harriet Cox into the presence of the foe, and the companion on whom she had counted as an ally had been the witness of her overthrow.

To a casual observer her garden party would have seemed exactly like the other parties that had been given at Myrtle Villa. The guests came with smiles, and departed in high good humor. But there was a subtle change in their manner which was perfectly perceptible to Matilda Goad.

They were as mirthful and genial as her heart could desire, and did full justice to the good things that she had provided; but they no longer treated her with that extreme deference which she had been accustomed to command. They had found out a way of letting her know that she was only of common clay like themselves. More than once they ventured to differ with her opinions. It was ' Oh, I don't quite agree with you there, Mrs. Goad,' instead of ' We think, of course, that you are perfectly right.'

There are, perhaps, few of the autocrats of common life who are fortunate enough to escape a like experience. Sooner or later the despot meets his match; and, when he has once been worsted, it is hopeless to attempt to regain absolute power. All Seacastle knew that Mrs. Goad had been utterly routed by a quiet old lady who had never before manifested the slightest disposition to fight.

Nevertheless the village was by no means inclined to quarrel with its autocrat. She was a good neighbor, a generous friend, and an upright woman. So straightforward and simple was her nature, that the boldness of Miss Cox astonished her beyond measure. She had never dreamed that it was possible for Harriet, the humble and ever devoted Harriet, to turn against her.

With Eunice she was still very angry indeed. It seemed to her that her youngest sister had given the signal for a revolt. She had marked her displeasure by saying that Eunice should not come to her party; but the girl received her punishment with perfect equanimity. Mrs. Barron had recounted to her governess all that she had heard from Miss Cox. And Eunice silently rejoiced in Gwen Netterville's triumph.

Meanwhile the weather was growing warmer and warmer, and Mrs. Collington found it impossible to venture beyond the limits of her own garden. All through the heat of the day she sat in her cool room, where the sunshine was tempered to her liking, and the atmosphere was redolent of roses. Her food consisted of dainty trifles that gave no trouble to the digestion.

'Do you think that poor child is fretting about my nephew, Cora?' she said to Miss Wallace one afternoon. 'There is a pathetic look in her eyes; and I saw her furtively lingering over his photograph in my album.'

'I am afraid she hasn't quite forgotten him yet,' Cora replied. 'Some girls' hearts retain a first impression for a long time.'

'My girls never gave me any trouble in that way,' the widow remarked. 'Helen was a stayed little woman of the world from her nursery days, and quite understood what was expected of her. As to Maud, it was simply her love of coquetry that made her difficult to manage. Her heart was never concerned in any of her flirtations.'

'Not even in the case of Captain Ludlow?'

'No. She encouraged him partly because he took her fancy, and partly to worry me. Dear Maud was always very troublesome. She gave me far more anxiety than Helen ever did. Yet Helen was decidedly the handsomer of the two.'

'They were both very pretty,' said Cora.

'Helen was pretty always; Maud was only pretty when she was in a good humor. I used to be afraid that her sulky look would scare all the eligible men away. It is a terrible thing to have a daughter with a temper. I assure you that my path wasn't strewn with roses in those days!'

'Well, everything ended satisfactorily,' remarked Cora. 'You may spend the rest of your days in peace.'

'Yes, I can take my rest nowadays. At heart I was always a lover of peace. "There is no joy but calm," was my motto. This is the best time that I have ever known. It was too cruel of Victor to come here spooning, and making people talk about that poor girl! It has quite upset me, Cora; it has indeed. I hope the wretched story will be forgotten soon.'

'It will never be forgotten. Do people ever forget anything that is spiced with wrongdoing?' Cora asked. 'It is only good things that fade completely out of mind.'

'I'm not quite sure of that,' said Mrs. Collington, looking dreamily at her flowers. 'An evil thing may live on people's tongues, but a good thing dwells in their hearts. No one is in the least abashed in talking about evil. But there is always a shyness in speaking of good. It's very curious.'

'I think you have never realized the spitefulness of human nature,' smiled Cora. 'Even your society life could not sour your sweetness. The world always calls you one of the best of women.'

'There has never been enough desire in me to do wickedness,' answered the other composedly. 'If I had ever intended to do something bad, I should have put it off until the desire waxed cold. That Florentine bride who wanted to elope with the Duke, and was too lazy to go beyond admiring him from her window, was a woman of my type, I dare say.'

'Well, at any rate, you have won the reputation of being exceedingly good!'

'It has been earned very cheaply, I can assure you! The fact is that I have never had the misfortune to feel intensely about anything. I was a good wife; the General was happier, I am sure, than most married men. And I never shrank from a mother's duties, although the charge of those dear girls was an awful responsibility. But I have my own notion of goodness, Cora; and I cannot honestly call myself good.'

'Well, other people call you so,' returned Cora lightly.

Mrs. Collington's thoughts had strayed back to early days, seeking, perhaps, the source from which that notion of hers had been derived. But as she could never think without getting drowsy, her eyes gradually closed, and her head sank gently into the downy cushions of her chair.

For a few moments Cora sat contemplating the handsome placid face that showed so little of life's wear and tear. The room itself was as cool and calm as a lotus eater's paradise. Subdued light and rose scented air made a dreamy atmosphere around the sleeper, and Miss Wallace began to feel that a gentle weariness was stealing over her own senses.

'I must rouse myself,' she thought, with a smile. 'It will not do for me to indulge in afternoon naps, and develop a tendency to laziness. She has gained her haven; but my bark has not yet come into port.'

Quietly rising from her seat, Cora glided away to her room, donned her hat, and went out into the afternoon sunshine. A little later Mrs. Goad, stationed at her bay window, beheld Miss Wallace and Miss Netterville sauntering along the village street together.

By mutual consent the pair took their way to the old castle. Passing through the shadows of the massive gateway, they entered the keep, and sat down on a bench in a shady spot. There were no excursionists to be seen that day within those moldering grey walls. No footstep was heard upon the steps that led to the great tower; no voice echoed through the empty chambers of the ruin. And for some minutes the silence of the place was unbroken by the two girls, who sat side by side absorbed in their own musings.

The grass was thick and green in this enclosure, and the milky white blossoms of the elder filled the air with their faint scent. Elder bushes grew and flourished luxuriantly in all parts of the ruined castle, filling up broken arches, and springing out of the rents in the rough walls. Here and there the ivy made a dense bower of its own, hiding the grim entrance to a dungeon, or hanging a thick veil over some unsightly heap of stones.

A few wallflowers gave a touch of gold to the crumbling masonry, but wildflowers were not plentiful. There was a desolateness in the decay of this great fortress that is seldom found in ruins far removed from the sea. In rich midland valleys the convent molders peacefully away, and even the stern feudal castle gathers the sweetness of a smiling country into its wasted strength. But where the sea is, there is the sadness of desolation; the chill of its briny mists, and the sting of its biting breath.

'Seacastle is a depressing place,' said Gwen suddenly. 'I should be heartily glad to turn my back upon it, now and forever!'

It was a little burst of impatience that could not be repressed at that moment; and Cora understood it very well. It told her a story that is as old as the hills, a story that underlies a good many of the striking histories of women.

Did Elsie, of the 'Golden Legend,' discover that 'the life of woman was full of woe' before Prince Henry of Hohenheck came to Gotlieb's farm? Better the long journey to Salerno, and the shedding of young blood, than the monotony of a peasant's home in which he had no part. Did not Rose Bradwardine find all she needed within her father's walls before Waverley became 'an honored guest' of Tully-Veolan? And did Elaine sicken of the Castle of Astolat, among the quiet downs, until Lancelot came and went, and left his shield behind? Before she knew Victor Ashburn, Gwen had been only mildly discontented with her lot, the sort of discontent that spends itself occasionally in a few girlish grumblings. But now there was the restlessness of a dissatisfied heart, the secret consciousness that everything which had made life interesting was gone.

'Poor child!' said Cora, in a caressing tone; 'we must try to brighten your existence if we can. Why did Mr. Ormiston not choose some cheerier spot to settle in?'

'The Nest was left to him by a distant relation,' Gwen answered; 'and they decided that we must live here. Uncle Andrew is contented; they both love retirement and seclusion.'

'But seclusion is not good for a young girl,' remarked Cora, with decision.

'It is not altogether good for me,' admitted Gwen. 'In so small a place I cannot run away from myself.'

'And in the great world we can run away from everything, even from our loves.'

There was a faint smile of incredulity on Gwen's fair face. Cora observed it, and went on.

'Love,' she said, 'is kept alive by associations, especially in the case of a woman. Many a girl, like Moore's Zelica, is fool enough to hold as sacred the gem or flower that her Azim's hand has touched. But let her be removed from the paths where they dreamed and sentimentalized, and his memory will fade.'

Gwen shook her head.

'You don't believe me? I tell you that it is only the sweet, morbid feeling that she has cherished, not the man who has inspired it. A flame may outlive the person who first kindled it, you know. It often does.'

'Perhaps you are right,' said Gwen, in a tone which told that she was half weary of the subject. 'But I think there is a saying that "the heart hurt young is hurt for long.'"

'Ay, if it nurses its hurt in solitude and silence,' Cora replied. 'Trust me, my dear child, that all the wounds of first love may be healed by the balsams sold in Vanity Fair!'

Gwen knew well enough that her secret was no secret from her keen sighted companion. She was attached to Miss Wallace, and honestly grateful for her kindness. And yet she felt no inclination to lay bare her heart to the gaze of her new friend. It was impossible to blind Cora's eyes or baffle her quick instinct. But Gwen would make no voluntary revelation.

There was another silence. Miss Wallace waited to see if any confession were forthcoming. But none came, and she spoke again in her lightest manner.

'By the way, don't you think it is possible to have too much of the scent of elder blossoms? If we sit here any longer, I shall imagine myself under the spell of Andersen's Elder mother.'

'She was one of my nursery friends,' said Gwen. 'A wonderful combination of old woman and little girl, who wore a green gown bordered with elderflowers.'

'I wonder somebody doesn't go to a fancy ball in that costume,' remarked Cora, rising. 'One is always tired to death of Italian peasants and shepherdesses. Now I must return to Mrs. Collington; she will be waiting for me to pour out her five o'clock tea.'

The friends strolled slowly out of the castle precincts, and retraced their steps through the village street. Again Mrs. Goad caught a glimpse of them from her bay window, and followed them with a long gaze.

'It was very mean of Eunice to take up that girl's cause,' she said to Lavinia, who was sitting with her. 'But I can see her motive quite plainly. She wants to creep into Verbena Lodge through Gwen Netterville! Our society does not content her, I suppose; and she is pining after Mrs. Collington and her set.'

'I don't know what she pines for,' Lavinia replied; 'she does pine, certainly; and it makes her get very plain.'

'Very plain indeed; it is quite painful to see her. Sometimes I think she is devoured with discontent. Papa says he is always telling her to be thankful and happy.'

Lavinia was silent; but it occurred to her that it could not be very easy to cultivate content when you received a daily lecture on unthankfulness. What with Mrs. Goad's complaints of Eunice, and his own conviction of her bad disposition, Mr. Swift was moved to lead the girl a troublesome life.

'What do you think will become of her, Lavinia?' asked the elder sister, breaking the pause. 'She will never marry, that is certain; and as to the little Barrons, they will soon be sent to school. There are no other pupils to be found here; and when she loses them she will lose her occupation.'

'Eunice is clever,' said Lavinia, in a hesitating tone. 'Perhaps she will try to get a situation as teacher, or    .'

'Now that is so ridiculous!' Matilda interrupted. 'No one wants her to leave home. You know I disliked her teaching Mrs. Barron's children; but she was determined to make a slave of herself. Why should she go away when she has a shelter in Seacastle? Why should she persistently set herself against me and my sisterly kindness?'

'She feels that she ought not to be a burden,' rejoined Lavinia. 'That is what she is always saying.'

'She is worse than a burden: she is positively a thorn in the flesh. It is so irritating to feel that she secretly thinks herself superior to any of us. As to her cleverness, we have never had any substantial proof of it. Harriet Cox says she tells nonsensical stories at the Sunday school; and Mr. Bassett, who is certainly in his dotage, declares that he admires them.'

'Mrs. Cox and Harriet called at The Nest today,' said Lavinia, not sorry to impart the intelligence. 'I saw them as I passed the door.'

'Well, I confess I am disappointed in Harriet,' Mrs. Goad observed, with a sigh. 'And, indeed, all my neighbors seem to have lost confidence in my judgment. They placed me in the front of the battle, and then retired.'

Again Lavinia was silent. She would not straightforwardly say that Matilda had rushed to the front of her own accord, and expected everybody to follow. Mrs. Bertie was a person who never deviated from the course that she had laid down for herself. And that course was perfect submission to Matilda Goad.

'Harriet Cox has been ungrateful,' Matilda continued. 'I never deserted her. You remember how I took her part against those Barcombes, when they said she was a talebearer?'

'You have been very kind to her,' Lavinia replied.

'It is hard that I should get no return. It has lately seemed to me, Lavinia, that you and dear papa are the only grateful persons in my world. Of course it is disheartening to see one's opinion disregarded, and one's counsel set at nothing.'

'Of course it is,' the faithful echo answered.

'And I think that Eunice is in a great measure to blame for the the disrespectful way in which I have been treated. She openly defied me. It all began with that!'

'Her behavior was very inconsiderate.'

'I can forgive her, Lavinia; it is not in my nature to bear malice. But if she gets up a friendship with Gwen Netterville, it will annoy me very much. Mrs. Ormiston plainly said that any invitation of mine would be declined by her niece. After that it will never do for my own sister to become Miss Netterville's friend. Such an intimacy would be a direct insult to me.'

'I dare say Miss Netterville will repulse her if she makes any advances,' responded Lavinia confidently. 'One can see that Gwen is regularly taken up by Mrs. Collington and her clique. She will not want Eunice's attentions.'

The foliage had thickened round Gwen's old bower at the bottom of the garden; and the sigh of the west wind was softer now, than it had been in those May days that seemed so long ago.

The syringa had put forth its thick clusters, starry blossoms that looked as if they were carved out of ivory; the air was heavy with their breath. An amorous honeysuckle clasped the low wall, and buried the ivy under a mass of bloom. All day the place was haunted by swarms of bees; and at eventide it was the favorite rendezvous of things that crawled and crept and wriggled. Neither morn nor eve ever saw Aunt Margery penetrate to this secluded nook; so well was it defended by snails, slugs, spiders, and woodlice, that Gwen was perfectly safe from intrusion. Even Hannah gathered her skirts tightly round her, and cast suspicious glances to right and left, when she was sent there in search of Miss Gwen.

'Cora Wallace thinks me a little fool,' mused Gwen, sitting down on her crazy bench, and turning her face to the sunset. 'I am as silly as Zelica, every bit. Don't I love this rotten old seat because he sat here by my side! And after he had kissed me in my olive gown, the poor old frock was " sacred from that hour"! There may be forgetfulness in the world, but it is not in me to forget. I should be glad to go away glad to lose sight of this dreary place forever. But wherever I go I must carry his memory with me, let Cora say what she will.'

There was a steadfast look in the blue eyes as they gazed across the quiet field. He had loved her. Nothing in her future could ever deprive her of that joy. Looking forward through a vista of long years, Gwen saw herself an old woman, with the fresh heart of a young girl still throbbing for her first lover. Her form might be bowed, her eye dim; but the love of her youth, she thought, could undergo no change.

It is almost impossible for girlhood to realize inconstancy. While there is perfect ignorance of life, there is always a blind belief in the immutability of feeling. The gentle and gradual process by which time detaches the useless hopes from our lives is wholly disbelieved in. And poor Gwen, sitting disconsolately among the snails, never dreamed of a day when her heart should yield to unknown influences and learn to forget.

Suddenly she became aware that a small, slight figure was crossing the field and approaching the garden wall. A little vexed and surprised, she moved uneasily in her seat, half resolved to leave the spot. No one had ever come across that field to seek her nook since he went away. She dreaded the thought of an intruder. It would be sacrilege for any other to find out this retreat and ask for a place by her side.

Had the crazy bench been Solomon's throne of gold and ivory, it could not have seemed more precious in her eyes. As the figure drew nearer her indignation increased, and not even Cora Wallace could have called up a haughtier look. But the frown vanished, and her heart softened at once when she recognized the face of Eunice Swift.

'I beg pardon, Miss Netterville,' said Eunice's sweet voice. 'I did not know that you were sitting there. It was the honeysuckle that attracted me.'

'Don't go away!' exclaimed Gwen. 'I have never yet thanked you for the roses you gave me. As to the honeysuckle, it is half wild, and overruns the wall. Do you want to gather some?'

Eunice said 'Yes,' and began to break off a few sprays, while Gwen attentively studied her worn face.

'You are looking pale and tired, Miss Swift,' she remarked, after a pause.

'I am always tired,' Eunice answered quietly. 'And yet,' she added, 'I wish I had more work to do.'

'What kind of work?' Gwen asked.

'I should like to be a secretary or a writer's assistant. Only, I suppose, those posts are seldom given to women.'

'I don't know much about secretaries,' Gwen confessed; 'but I dare say you find it wearisome to teach easy lessons to children. It would be nice if you had a pleasanter occupation    an employment that would not tire you.'

'The employment does not tire me.' Eunice trifled with her honeysuckle, and spoke in a hesitating tone. 'I would not mind being a teacher in a school; in fact, I would be anything, or do anything, if I could    .'

'Leave Seacastle?' said Gwen, filling up the gap.

Eunice looked at her and smiled, and the smile brought tears into Gwen's eyes, and made her forget herself and her own sorrows.

She realized, all at once, that here was a life far harder and lonelier than hers. Certain hints that Hannah had dropped concerning the Swifts returned to her mind at that moment. She understood why Eunice was tired. Not tired of working, but tired of being nagged at, and scolded, and regarded as a family encumbrance. In all her days, Gwen had never known what it was to feel herself a burden to others. Aunt Margery was severe, but her niece was dear to her as the apple of her eye; Uncle Andrew was a man of few words, but the girl knew that he loved the very sound of her footfall in the cottage. But none of this tenderness had ever brightened the path of Eunice Swift.

'Do not stand there,' cried Gwen inconsequently. 'Come and sit here by my side.'

And she made room for Eunice upon the sacred bench without a moment's hesitation.

But the little governess paused, and glanced timidly across the field. The warm light was not yet beginning to fade; not a human being could be seen; and there was small fear of being followed or observed. Her wan face brightened. She climbed the low wall lightly enough, and took the seat that had never been occupied since Victor Ashburn went away.

Before the first shades of dusk had begun to fall, Gwen had made herself thoroughly acquainted with those yearnings which had long been cherished in secret. Eunice Swift was of an open nature; hers was one of those frank confiding spirits that always suffer under repression; and yet there had been no kindly ear to listen to her poor little hopes and dreams.

A mother might have sympathized with and guided the girl, and defended her from the harshness of the coarser natures around her; but Mrs. Swift had been dead for years, and Eunice, a luckless little vessel of porcelain, had got chipped and cracked by contact with the earthenware pots among which her lot was cast.

Nevertheless, she made no complaints of her relations. Not one word did she say of the railings and upbraidings that were making her life intolerable, and depriving her of her small share of health and strength. But Gwen knew all that was not put into words, and her heart opened to receive this friendless girl, and give her help and comfort.

When Eunice had gone her way, Gwen went slowly up the long garden path to the house, conscious of a new interest in life. For the first time since Victor's departure, her thoughts were entirely occupied with another subject; and Hannah, coming down the path to meet her young lady, was gladdened by the sight of her bright, eager face and cheerful eyes.

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

'ROSES WILL BLOOM, NOR LACK BEHOLDERS'

The London season had drawn to a close. People were hurrying out of town by hundreds, and seeking fresh air in quiet places where soiled costumes might be worn, and economy practiced in comfort. The luxurious calm of Verbena Lodge was broken up. Mrs. Collington's daughter Maud had arrived with her husband and baby, and there was an end to peace. Handsome, Maud Heatherstone certainly was. Hers was a solid type of beauty which, if it had lacked the charm of a pure complexion, might have been pronounced a trifle coarse. She had a straight but somewhat thick nose, and a well cut but heavy mouth and chin. Her eyes, deep set, were of the very darkest shade of blue; and her mother well knew what sudden gleams of wrath could be shot out through their thick fringes. Miss Wallace had once ungenerously said that Maud always reminded her of a slumbering, volcano. Yet the comparison was apt enough; and even slight acquaintances were sometimes conscious of the existence of a smouldering fire in that handsome Mrs. Heatherstone.

As to Mr. Heatherstone, he had been said by all his wife's friends to be the very husband for dear Maud. A big, rosy Saxon, with a loud voice, never failing spirits, and ten thousand a year, he held to the firm belief that he was one of the luckiest men in the universe. If Maud displayed ill temper, he never noticed it. She was a beauty; just the kind of beauty that suited his taste. People openly admired her; he admired her himself; and that was quite enough for him.

On other men Mr. Heatherstone was in the habit of lavishing a good deal of pity. They were poor devils, always getting into the blues, don't you know. Thought their livers must be all wrong. Didn't know anything about his own liver, thank Heaven! Never had a day's illness in his life; took regular exercise, and never worried himself about anything. Men came to him, and said, "By Jove, Heatherstone, how well you look!" Always told them his secret. Very simple: 'hang all doctors, and don't worry yourself!'

People who were wholly unaccustomed to Mr. Heatherstone's style sometimes listened to his talk at first with a certain amount of approval, and thought that there might, perhaps, be 'something in it.' But the Heatherstone conversation was speedily found to grow monotonous, and in some cases was known to produce almost maddening results. That unassailable belief in his immunity from all ills frequently inspired his hearers with a desire to punch his head.

'Take my advice, never worry yourself,' he would say to those who were suffering from incurable maladies, or groaning under a load of embarrassments; and they turned from him with a disgust too deep for words. Of all the sundry and manifold plagues that infest society, the eternally jovial man is perhaps the least patiently endured.

Maud had brought her sister-in-law to Verbena Lodge; and Lilly Heatherstone, an heiress and a pretty girl, was reckoned no unimportant person in the world. But it was impossible to divest one's mind of the idea that Miss Heatherstone was a large child, plump and good humored, and caring for very little beyond its meals and its pretty frocks. Her soft golden hair was rough with natural curliness; her eyes, a light blue, were round, and always widely opened unless it was near bedtime. A nondescript baby nose, a pouting mouth, and a skin as purely pink and white as it was in her nursery days, completed her infantile appearance. Her manner agreed with her face; she lisped a little, and brought out her words slowly; and altogether it seemed absurd to dress her like a grownup woman, and set her in the company of adults, who did not find her particularly interesting.

The arrival of the Heatherstones was the beginning of a course of dinner parties and afternoon teas. Seacastle was near enough to a large garrison town for military visitors to come and go with ease; and Gwen, now regarded as an intimate acquaintance by Mrs. Collington, soon proved that she could be useful to her friends.

Her singing was found to be so far above the average that Cora Wallace practiced duets with her protegee. Then, too, her beauty charmed Mrs. Collington's guests, and had the merit of being perfectly fresh and new.

At one of the dinner parties there were present a certain Captain Torwood and his sister. It seemed to be pretty well understood by the Heatherstones and Mrs. Collington that Lilly, of the baby face, must soon be settled in life, and it was thought that Captain Torwood had his eyes upon the little heiress.

Gwen's heart beat quickly at the name of Torwood. She had heard that name from Victor Ashburn, and it had acquired a charm. True, it had only been mentioned once or twice, but the men had known and liked each other, and Gwen had linked them together in her mind.

'I don't think he would be a bad match for Lilly,' said Mrs. Collington, just before the dinner party, 'and I fancy Robert Heatherstone wouldn't object to him.'

'But she ought to do better,' remarked Cora.

'Oh, Captain Torwood has expectations. He will have all his aunt's fortune, and he is a very nice man indeed.'

So Miss Heatherstone and Captain Torwood were permitted to have opportunities, and Gwen watched them with quiet interest.

It was not easy to sustain a conversation with Lilly at dinner. Her thoughts were always so fully occupied with her plate, that the most delicate flattery failed to make any impression on her mind. Her round blue eyes were ever on the watch for new dainties. Her rosebud of a mouth was too busy to respond to those pretty speeches which Captain Torwood knew so well how to make. After many valiant efforts that gallant officer began to grow weary. He was getting heartily tired of the golden haired gourmand by his side.

Still, she was a sweet little thing, he told himself a hundred times, and perhaps it was all for the best that she had so excellent an appetite. Women who were fond of good eating were generally amiable, he believed; and it would certainly be easy enough to keep Miss Heatherstone amused if you liberally supplied her with nice things. Then, if he married her, it would be in his power to make Angeline perfectly comfortable; and Captain Torwood had a deep affection for his sister Angeline.

These reflections stimulated him to persevere in his attentions after dinner. Lilly in the drawing room was a shade more interesting than Lilly at the table. She exerted herself to speak when she was spoken to, and showed her dimples very prettily.

'"What did you think of Mrs. Heatherstone's portrait?' Captain Torwood asked: 'People said it was one of Palette's best things.'

'It was sweet,' said Lilly; 'she had such a lovely frock on.'

'Ah, peacock-blue, wasn't it? I suppose you are aesthetic, too, Miss Heatherstone?'

'Oh yes, very.'

'And do you go in immensely for peacock's feathers?'

'Oh yes; I've got a little hat covered with them.'

'It must be charming! Why didn't Palette paint your portrait for this year's Exhibition? I heard he was going to do it.'

'Maud said I was to wait until hers was done.'

'Do you always obey Mrs. Heatherstone? I should think it must be very easy to get on with you if you are so easily managed by your sister-in-law.'

'Oh yes; Maud says I'm very easy to manage.'

At that moment Mrs. Collington came to Lilly's side, and begged for a song, not without a secret hope that the petition might be refused. But Lilly was far too amiable to utter a negative, and took her place at the piano at once.

The hostess had a vague impression that those who had once listened to Miss Heatherstone's performance would not desire a repetition of that delight. Lilly's upper notes were husky; she had no notion of tune, and her plump little hands thumped out wrong chords with a force that had often made her music master grind his teeth. Mrs. Heatherstone, sitting sulkily on a sofa, made an impatient movement of her handsome shoulders when Lilly began to play her little prelude, and as she proceeded, Captain Torwood's heart sank within him.

Angeline Torwood cast a sympathizing glance at her brother. Kind old Lawrence! he had been steadily doing the thing that he conceived to be his duty! But would he have strength to go on to the end, and make yonder lisping doll his wife?

The sister knew that he was perfectly heart free, yet she had never counseled heiress - hunting, and her spirit was oppressed with a vague dread of unhappiness to come. Without being a thoroughly intellectual man, Lawrence was intelligent, a lover of books and art, and he had always found in Angeline a sympathizing and cultivated companion. How would it be with him if he were bound for life to a girl like Lilly Heatherstone? The charm of her baby prettiness would soon lose its freshness; one could see at a glance that a few more years of easy living and unbroken self complacency would turn the rosebud into a very full blown rose.

It was a relief to everybody when Lilly rose from the piano and resumed her seat.

But although she sat looking exquisitely pretty after her mild exertions, Captain Torwood did not return to her side.

Gwen was the next singer; and as Miss Heatherstone had blundered painfully through a modern ballad, it occurred to Miss Netterville to sing an old song.

She chose 'Kathleen Mavourneen,' and then forgot to sing for effect. The power of memory swept her away from Mrs. Collington's drawing room, and carried her back to Hawthorn Island in the twilight of the bygone May. A silence fell upon the room; the soft buzz of conversation was entirely hushed. Even Mr. Heatherstone was moved to listen, and Lilly was perhaps the only person present who did not feel the influence of that rich, fresh voice.

'You never sang so well before,' said Miss Wallace, gliding up to Gwen's side when the song was finished. 'Everyone is charmed with you, my child.'

But Gwen's heart was full of one whose simple word of thanks was worth a thousand praises like these. She murmured some commonplace reply, and made her escape to a seat near the open window. The room was warm; the night was balmy and still. Outside the French windows was the veranda, with its pendent baskets of flowers, and its slender pillars wreathed with clematis and jessamine. Cora, with her usual tact, had covered her friend's retreat, and Gwen found it easy to slip out into the cool evening air.

Of all the many places suitable for decorous flirtation, a veranda is perhaps the best. Although you may be within a few paces of mothers and chaperons, there is little danger of being overheard if you are careful to keep the wall behind you. Then, too, there is the perfume of flowers; the fresh breath of the vesper wind; the flutter of light tendrils against the sky. It is the very spot most favorable for whispering soft nothings; and Captain Torwood, stealing out after Gwen, was in the mood for philandering.

Little pink and white Lilly had by no means absorbed his whole attention, although he had paid her a good deal of external homage. Gwen's perfectly chiseled face had attracted many a glance that ought to have been bestowed, in prudence, upon the little heiress. The song completed the spell, and Captain Torwood flung policy to the winds, and stepped out in pursuit of Miss Netterville.

Cora Wallace looked after the pair with concealed amusement. If this were the beginning of a new flirtation, so much the better for Gwen. A second admirer would drive the first out of the girl's head, and cure her of fretting and low spirits. As to the Torwood-Heatherstone alliance, Miss Wallace did not concern herself about it in the least. If Captain Torwood were seriously smitten by Gwen's charms, Cora saw no reason why he should not propose to her. He had not committed himself with Lilly, and Cora, having no liking for the Heatherstones, was rather pleased at the thought of any slight mortification that they might possibly undergo. Even the simpleminded Lilly was not without a touch of her brother's self complacency. There would be a positive pleasure in seeing the heiress neglected for the sake of a portionless girl like Gwen.

Meanwhile Captain Torwood was beginning his new game with much ardor. In the sweet air, among the flowers, he could breathe freely, and there was a sense of relief in escaping from Miss Heatherstone's side.

But Miss Netterville, although she accepted his pleasant speeches with a good grace, was evidently not disposed for flirtation. She could talk, and talk well, and she showed no desire to avoid him. Yet there was a vague something in her manner that made him conscious of her indifference to the most subtle flattery.

'Seacastle is really quite a charming old village,' he remarked, after a little pause. 'I used to wonder why Mrs. Collington chose to bury herself here, but now I think that she has done wisely. Her nephew seemed to amuse himself in this place very well. By the way, you must have met him Captain Ashburn?'

'Yes, I knew him,' answered Gwen.

There was a peculiar quietness in her tone, which instantly awakened suspicion. The voice was almost too composed, and the words were followed by an involuntary long breath. Lawrence Torwood remembered that Ashburn had expressed himself as being uncommonly well satisfied with Seacastle.

'I wonder I did not guess that there was a pretty face here,' he thought, laughing to himself. And then aloud he said, very quietly:

'It must have been pleasant for Ashburn to find people worth knowing! I can quite understand now why he thought the place so attractive, and lingered in it so long.'

Gwen was thankful to the kindly evening for drawing its light veil over her face. It would not be difficult to speak of Victor in the dusk; and she could trust the steadiness of her voice. To speak of him at all was an indescribable delight; and here was one whom he had liked and known well, a pleasant, unsuspicious kind of man, she thought just the sort of person who would never divine her secret.

Thus mused a girl learned in books, and wholly unlearned in men and women. The man by her side was waiting to hear what came next; he stood idly winding a spray of clematis round his fingers, and listening intently for another sigh.

'I suppose Captain Ashburn will be very mirthful in India,' she said, looking away to the soft yellow light in the west.

'As mirthful as most men,' replied her companion. 'He wouldn't have gone out if he could have helped it, I believe; but he could not, so far as I can see, have taken any other course.'

'He was not rich,' said Gwen, in a lower tone.

'Very far from rich. But he was a downright good fellow, and I wish him well. He went away in rather low spirits, I thought. However, a few years of foreign service will work a cure for many ailments.'

'I thought India was dreadfully bad for the health,' remarked Gwen, with a simplicity that might have befitted Lilly Heatherstone.

'It plays the mischief with the liver, but sets the heart all to rights,' Captain Torwood answered, stripping the blossoms off his spray, and then casting it to the winds.

And this was all that foolish Gwen obtained by speaking on the subject that lay nearest to her heart.

In rather a sullen mood Captain Torwood took his departure from Verbena Lodge; and Angeline, seeing that he was disinclined for conversation, kept silent until they had reached the boardinghouse which was her temporary home.

It was not late enough for the large drawing room to be empty. Like other places of the same kind, the house was full of visitors at that season of the year; and many of the boarders, who had been strolling by the sea all day, were now writing letters before going to rest. Angeline found a sofa in a retired corner, and coaxed her brother to come and sit by her side.

'Stay with me for a few minutes, Lawrence,' she pleaded. 'We have hardly exchanged a word all day.'

He took the seat, but his face still showed signs of depression and discontent.

'That little girl is by no means interesting,' he said at last. 'And her singing wasn't it terrible? She ought always to wear a pinafore, and be kept in the nursery.'

'I knew it wouldn't do, old man,' remarked Angeline softly. 'And you mustn't try to make it do.'

'But there is her fortune, Angeline.'

'Yes, Lawrence, and a man may pay too high a price for a fortune.'

'If I could make you a better allowance, dear, I wouldn't bother myself about heiresses,' he said. 'But we are so miserably cramped; and Aunt Virginia    .'

'Don't be wishing for her end, Lawrence. Honestly, I do not believe her to be the invalid that she thinks herself. As far as I am concerned, dear boy, my wants are all satisfied; and I should be quite happy if you did not stint yourself for my sake.'

'As if I could possibly do less! A paltry hundred a year, Angeline.'

'I would not accept any more, even if you married the heiress. But be advised by me, and let nothing short of love ever lure you into matrimony.'

'You romantic, old fashioned girl!' he said, laughing. 'I wonder what Miss Wallace would say to such notions?'

'I should not care for her opinion,' replied Angeline composedly. 'She is a splendid woman, Lawrence, but heartless if I am not mistaken.'

'You are not often mistaken, little wiseacre; she is heartless. How handsome she looked today!'

'Why doesn't she marry?' Angeline asked. 'She is getting past girlhood, and such beauty as hers ought to achieve something wonderful.'

'She always flies at high game,' Captain Torwood answered. 'She will make a good match one of these days, I dare say. But, Angeline, that new girl, with the great blue eyes, is the lovelier of the two.'

'I quite agree with you,' said Angeline, nodding sagely. 'You wanted to flirt with her, didn't you, old man?'

'Very much; but the spirit of flirting is not in her. My old friend Ashburn has been fooling with her, I am afraid.'

'Well, let them all go their ways,' responded Angeline, giving his arm an affectionate squeeze; 'and do you just wait until you see somebody you should like to live with, and then propose to her. You wouldn't like to spend a lifetime with Baby Heatherstone, you know. She is a good looking infant, but her sweet lispings would bore you to death before the honeymoon was ended.'

Captain Torwood wished his sister goodnight, and went off to his quarters with a lighter spirit. It was a relief to know that Angeline did not want him to sacrifice himself for the sake of Miss Heatherstone's money. Never before had she spoken out her opinions in such plain language; and although he had pretended to laugh at her 'notions,' he thoroughly agreed with her in his heart.

Angeline, with her ideas about love, was not more romantic than her mother had been when she ran away from a luxurious home to marry a poor soldier. The father of Captain Torwood, with nothing besides a captain's pay, had wooed and won Sir John Paisley's youngest daughter; but neither prayers nor tears could move the old baronet to pardon the imprudent couple, and he went to his grave without granting them forgiveness. The whole of his property was left to his elder child, that ' Aunt Virginia' who was now supposed to be a confirmed invalid.

For many years Colonel Torwood survived the young wife who had given up friends and fortune for his sake. There was very little left for his two children after his death; but fate proved kinder to the son than to the daughter. Lawrence inherited three hundred a year from his godfather; and then Miss Paisley astonished everyone by taking a sudden fancy to her nephew.

She openly announced her intention of making him her heir, but obstinately refused to have anything to do with her niece. Angeline, she said, might shift for herself.

The girl had her father's features and expression; and Miss Paisley had always detested Colonel Torwood.

But her aunt's injustice seemed to take very little effect upon the well balanced mind of Angeline. She was one of those girls to whom all hearts and all doors seem to open naturally; and yet few could have told why she was such a general favorite. Her accomplishments were not brilliant; she could do things quickly and cleverly, yet not better than many others could do them. She was pleasant to look upon, but by no means beautiful; and when Miss Paisley, in contempt, had spoken of her niece as an 'unremarkable person,' she was not very far wrong.

But does the world ever estimate its 'unremarkable persons ' at their full value? It has no laurels to give them in life, nor does it erect monuments to their memory; and yet they are the most useful and best beloved members of society. Not brilliant enough to excite jealousy, not ambitious enough to pine for a higher station, they fill up all the social gaps, and quietly pick up the common duties that our beauties and geniuses too often fling down. Their names are not to be found in society journals, but they are spoken of tenderly and familiarly by the fireside. Their photographs are not exhibited in shop windows, but people put them into those sacred albums which contain only the portraits of friends. And so they pass pleasantly through life these happy, everyday men and women and have but little cause to envy the celebrities. Better, a thousand times better, to gather heart's ease in the Valley of Humiliation, than be tricked out in all the gaudy decorations of Vanity Fair.

Angeline, in one of the rooms of the crowded boardinghouse, went peacefully and happily to sleep. Her mind was set at rest about dear old Lawrence. He would not, she felt convinced, plunge rashly into an engagement with Miss Heatherstone; and he would still be her own intimate and beloved companion, dearer to her than to anyone else in the world.

'But I shall give him up cheerfully enough when the right woman comes,' she thought. 'I only want to be sure that she is the right woman, and that my brother feels he can't do without her. Until he has got that kind of feeling he had better content himself with his old comrades in the regiment, and his plain sister Angeline.'

 

CHAPTER IX

'BY MY TROTH, A PLEASANT-SPIRITED LADY!'

Eunice Swift had given her last lessons to Mrs. Barron's children. They were to be sent away to boarding school when the midsummer holidays were over; and the poor little governess was looking about anxiously for other pupils.

Many a confidential talk went on at the bottom of the old garden. Only the birds and flowers were near to listen to Eunice's revelations. To her, Gwen seemed a sort of fairy princess, and the shrubbery seat was an enchanted bower.

Hannah alone was aware of the full extent of this intimacy. Like a wise woman as she was, she encouraged it with all her heart. Gwen, exalted to the post of counselor, had less leisure for lonely musing. She was called upon to pass judgment on Eunice's literary efforts, and began to feel herself of some importance.

'Do you think it ever will be printed?' sighed Eunice, with a pile of manuscript on her knee. 'They say that fools are always trying to write books. Am I a fool or not? It's so difficult to know.'

'If you are one,' said Gwen, 'I prefer fools to wise people. Anyhow, they are much nicer and more amusing. But now I have just got hold of a brilliant idea!' Eunice listened, open eyed. 'I'm going to lend your manuscript to Cora Wallace. She is a clever woman, fond of books: She has a cool head, too, and somehow her judgment is always right. I like you so much, Eunice, that I can hardly trust my own.'

Miss Wallace accepted the office of critic without hesitation. The manuscript had fallen into good hands. The earlier part of Cora's life had been spent among literary people, and she had learned to read and reflect. Eunice's story was something to enliven the tedium of these long summer days.

The air of Seacastle was languid in sultry weather. The old castle, with its cool grey shadows, was a welcome place of shelter; and a party from Verbena Lodge were often to be found within its walls. The citadel, with its soft grass and broken arches, was their favorite resort. And one afternoon they chanced to light upon Eunice Swift, sitting on a fragment of stone, and rapidly filling a page of her drawing book with quaint figures.

Gwen at once approached her friend, and begged for a view of the drawings. Miss Wallace came up to Eunice with her usual frank grace, and was quickly followed by Captain Torwood and his sister. Lilly Heatherstone, whose baby blue eyes had been getting sleepy, was roused to childish pleasure at the sight of the sketches, and the forlorn little governess soon found herself the center of an admiring group.

They were all more or less disposed to hail a new face with satisfaction. The warm weather, and certain conditions of mind, had made them politely tired of each other, and their efforts to veil the general boredom were fast giving way to apathy.

Captain Torwood admired Gwen as much as ever, but he could not quite forgive her for being deeply interested in Ashburn. On her side, Gwen felt it impossible to pardon him for insinuating that India was a cure for heartache. Angeline found the heat trying, and thought Lilly Heatherstone sillier than ever. And Cora, although perfectly amiable, did not exert herself to amuse the others in the least.

As to Eunice, she felt as if these people had stepped out of the pages of her favorite books. Lilly, she thought at first, was like Lucy Ashton. But no; poor Lucy had surely never looked so plump and self-satisfied. And Captain Torwood did not in the least resemble the Master of Bavenswood; she imagined that he had a look of Lord Nigel Olifaunt. For he was tall and straight, and had a shade of red gold in his hair and moustache; and there was a spark of martial fire in his bright blue eyes. 'What have we here?' said Cora, busy with the sketchbook. 'A very pretty maiden, waving a handkerchief on the castle wall. What a light, graceful figure it is! Of course there is a departing lover in the distance?'

'Yes; but I have not put him in yet,' replied Eunice. 'He is riding out into the world in quest of adventures.'

'Depend upon it, he will forget all about the maiden,' remarked Cora lightly. 'Change of place means change of heart; doesn't it, Captain Torwood?'

'It very often does,' he answered, with an involuntary glance at Gwen.

'I don't accept that doctrine,' said Miss Netterville, her cheeks showing a delicate tinge of pink.

'It is only youth that believes in constancy,' observed Cora, taking her seat upon the bench, and looking round on the little group with her queenly smile.

'What does maturity believe in?' Gwen asked.

'In the world's good opinion, in Worth's costumes, perfect cookery, and dry champagne. In all the pleasant things that are sanctioned by society, and all the substantial things that carry us creditably through life. As for love and constancy, they are merely the dreams of our bread and butter days.'

'But love and constancy are realities sometimes,' said Eunice's sweet voice, softly breaking the pause that followed Cora's speech. 'I heard a little story one day of a girl's devotion. In the time of the last war with France a French privateer was captured in the Channel yonder, and the crew were brought as prisoners to this old castle. Among them was a slim lad, who lived quietly among his fellow captives for eight or ten months without attracting any particular notice. At last he fell ill, and then the supposed French sailor boy was discovered to be a woman. Her lover had been taken prisoner by the English, and she had resolved to follow his fortunes. Fate was kind; she found him here, within these very walls, and joyfully shared his captivity.'

'But the end?' asked Gwen eagerly.

'"Like an old tale still." The girl received an assurance of his approaching exchange. She laid aside her boy's dress, and went back to France; he followed her, and so they met in their own land again. I like to think of their living happily ever afterwards. How often they must have talked over their captive days!" Stone walls do not a prison make" when true hearts are beating together.'

Eunice's eyes were lifted to the stern grey tower, now bathed in sunshine. But Captain Torwood was looking fixedly at her.

She had told her little story simply, and without the least straining after effect. But it had been told in a remarkably sweet voice, and with an easy flow of words. And, plain as she was, she had the charm of looking well when she talked.

When she spoke her expression was a pleasant surprise. The sad eyes took a sudden luster; the mouth revealed soft curves that were hidden in repose. Angeline, who was watching her with newly awakened interest, felt herself instinctively drawn towards this shabby young person.

'A pretty story,' said Cora, 'and Miss Swift has the gift of storytelling. I dare say the lover was glad to meet his sweetheart in this grim old place! But if she had found him in a palace instead of a prison, what then? There was nothing to test his faith, you see.'

'You are too cynical, Miss Wallace,' said Captain Torwood. 'The world is bad enough, but honor and manliness haven't utterly died out of it yet. It's quite possible, believe me, for a man to be true to his love in "the fearless old fashion."'

Eunice looked at him with pleasure shining in her grey eyes. Gwen gave him a glance of astonishment. She had set him down as a heartless trifler, and now he was appearing in a new character. Cora smiled, and softly applauded him.

'Captain Torwood turns out to be a man of sentiment!' she cried. 'Why have we never known you until this present happy moment?'

'One doesn't always air one's sentiments,' he answered.

'Well, I'm beginning to feel myself a groveling cynic,' Cora went on. 'You all believe in the dignity of human nature. And Miss Swift has nearly converted me; but I think she made the story out of her own head.'

'Indeed I didn't,' said Eunice; 'it is quite true.'

'True or false, it was charmingly told. And we owe you a thousand thanks for waking us out of our apathy,' Cora replied.

'I should like to hear some more stories another day,' said Captain Torwood, as they were leaving the citadel.

Lilly Heatherstone, who had been half asleep, awoke at the words ' afternoon tea,' and smiled at the thought of cream and cake. Gwen gave Eunice a parting look of approval, and then the party sauntered lazily back to Verbena Lodge.

'Lawrence, that little storytelling girl is very nice,' said Angeline, speaking confidentially to her brother. 'I never heard a sweeter voice nor a prettier accent. And she lights up wonderfully, although she is plain.'

'It isn't a common style of plainness,' he replied. 'I can imagine that girl looking very different under other circumstances. But she has been snubbed and sat upon, they say.'

'Yes; worried to death by her relations.'

'Poor little thing! Relations are not a pleasant race, upon the whole. We have had some experience of their amiable ways. I'm glad I've only one sister; if there had been another, she might have made herself a nuisance to us both.'

'I have got on very well without sisters,' said Angeline contentedly. 'I should not have liked interference, I am afraid. My amiability is due to my being let alone.'

'It would be a good thing if that poor little Miss Swift could be let alone; she looks as if another year of worrying and scolding would send her straight to Heaven.'

'Life is very hard for some girls, Lawrence. I could not help glancing from that thin, sad little face to Miss Heatherstone'

'Who was only half awake. You will hardly agree with me, Angeline; but if Miss Swift lives and prospers, I believe she will yet be the better looking of the two. That pretty baby will eat, and drink, and sleep, until she loses all shape and feature. If I were her husband, the sight of that round face, growing fatter and rounder every day, would drive me to desperation. How could I ever have seriously entertained the idea of marrying her?'

'Perhaps if you had asked her, she would have said "No," ' suggested Angeline.

'Nonsense! She is far too amiable to refuse anybody, unless her brother made her do it.'

'What do you think of Mrs. Heatherstone?' Angeline asked.

'A handsome, ill tempered woman. She looks sulkier now than she did in her maiden days, when she was flirting with Sidney Ludlow.'

'Ah, I have heard of that affair,' said Miss Torwood musingly; 'and Captain Ludlow, was he really fond of her?'

'As fond as ever man was of woman. In her way, she liked him better than anyone else, I believe; but she never dreamt of marrying him. I didn't like Maud Collington, and I do not like Mrs. Heatherstone.'

'She seemed to be making advances to Miss Netterville,' Angeline remarked. 'I 'wonder why?'

'Miss Netterville will do well to keep out of her way. There is something dangerous in that woman. I am sure she is always plotting mischief.'

Cora Wallace had bestowed a good deal of thought upon Eunice's manuscript. Her opinion was more favorable than Gwen had dared to hope.

'That little woman is really clever,' she said; 'she has an original mind. I have thoroughly enjoyed her bogies and fairies. And I think I know a way to help her.'

Gwen said nothing; but she caught Cora's hand and pressed it.

'Ah, I see you have taken Eunice Swift to your heart. Well, you might have taken many worse people. I am going to ask my godfather to look after her.'

'Your godfather?'

'Yes; you must have heard of Mr. Radcliffe? He writes historical works, and no end of heavy books. And yet, in his spare hours, he has actually written stories for children. I was rather a matter of fact little girl myself, but I can remember the delight those tales gave me.'

'And will he take an interest in Eunice? It seems too much to hope for,' said Gwen.

'It is certain that he will. And I shall put the manuscript into his hands tomorrow. I am going up to town.'

'In this hot weather, when everybody is away?'

'Yes; my godfather is also my guardian. There are certain business matters to be arranged, and I must see him at once. He lives with a sister, older than himself, in an old house in Queen Anne Street. They wanted me to make my home with them; but I never could endure their tame life.'

'Yet your life here is tame.' 'True; but Mrs. Collington is a woman of the world, and we can mingle sympathies. My godfather's sister, at seventy, is as simple as a daisy. I am too worldly for such society. There would not be a single link between Mrs. Densley and myself.'

'I suppose not,' said Gwen. 'And yet I should think it must be a peaceful home.'

'Peaceful, but painfully dull. Gwen, I have a word of warning for you before I go away.'

'But, Cora, you will soon return?'

'Of course, child; I am only going to stay a week in town. But a good deal of mischief may be done in six or seven days. Beware of making a friend of Maud Heatherstone!'

'I do not like her,' said Gwen decidedly.

'Few women do. Nevertheless, when Maud chooses to be agreeable, she has a way of bending people to her will. She possesses force of character.'

'But I will not be bent,' cried Gwen haughtily; 'and, really, I don't think she will want to grow intimate with me. I am not a person of consequence.'

'She has been pointedly civil to you, Gwen; and when Maud takes the trouble to be civil, I always know that she has a design in her head.'

'What design?'

'How can I possibly answer such a question, child?' said Cora wearily. 'All I know is, that Maud never makes up to people without a purpose. I remember her ways when we were children together. She seldom failed to gain her point.'

'But there is no weakness in you, Cora. You are surely a match for Mrs. Heatherstone?'

'Yes,' replied Miss Wallace, with a slight smile. 'Maud will not venture to play tricks while I am looking on. But in my absence there will be no one to guard you.'

'Forewarned is forearmed,' said Gwen confidently. 'She will find me proof against her devices.'

The time was six o'clock in the evening, and the two were standing under the porch of The Nest. The air was laden with the sweetness of the jessamine, now shedding white stars upon the ground, and flinging its feathery sprays over the trellised sides of the rustic portico. After the heat of a long day, a cool breath came stealing through the shrubs and trees that sheltered the cottage, and the freshness seemed to tempt Cora to linger.

'I like you, Gwen,' she said softly, laying her hand on the girl's shoulder. 'It's an admission that I do not often make. I don't know why I should stand here saying foolish things in this rambling fashion.'

'Indeed, Cora, you have said a very pleasant thing.'

'Well, it was said in all sincerity. Farewell, little one; and don't forget my warning.'

The two beautiful faces met in a kiss, and then Miss Wallace went her way. With all her high opinion of Cora's wisdom, Gwen was a little disposed to make light of that warning. In her eyes Maud was not at all a dangerous person, but simply a lazy and rather uninteresting woman. She did not like Maud, and did not desire a closer intimacy. But she thought that Cora had unconsciously magnified her defects.

And then, too, Gwen felt perfectly sure of being on her guard. She rather prided herself on the tact that can repel politely.

'If I find that Mrs. Heatherstone is getting too demonstrative, I can build up a little barrier of reserve,' she thought. 'But she is too indolent to make more advances. Cora must have been dreaming.'

 

CHAPTER X

'"NOW YOU MUST GO WITH ME," SHE SAID'

Cora Wallace had been absent for two days, and Gwen was busying herself with home occupations.

Poor Eunice was in disgrace again. That 'little bird,' who is always on the watch in every small community, had espied the group under the castle walls, and flew to Mrs. Goad with the news.

Matilda immediately declared that her worst fears were realized. Eunice was bent on copying Miss Netterville's ways, and would end in bringing trouble upon her family. She had been seen seated in the middle of a party from Verbena Lodge, and making herself the center of attraction. And she had actually had the assurance to amuse those strangers by telling them one of her ridiculous stories.

'It would not have been quite so bad if they had all been ladies,' Mrs. Goad continued, 'although even then Eunice's self-confidence would have disgusted me. But there was an officer among them    a vain, frivolous, dissipated military fop. And she tried to attract his notice by telling a love tale!'

'I never tried to attract his notice,' said Eunice indignantly. 'And I only told an old story connected with the castle. It was a true tale; not one of my inventions.'

'It does not matter what it was,' Matilda replied; 'it is quite clear that you are trying to get intimate with people who will not associate with your own relations. It's that aspiring spirit of yours, Eunice, that is at the bottom of everything. You want to hold your head above us all.'

There was another storm; the little servant trembled in the kitchen when she heard Mr. Swift raging. Eunice crept upstairs to her attic, and sat down by the window in her old attitude of despair.

'How long?' she murmured, half aloud. And then, remembering that thousands of tortured souls were sending up the same cry, her head sank upon her hands. Who was she, that she should expect to be relieved, while so many were waiting for an answer?

It was no comfort at that moment to think of herself as belonging to a brotherhood of sufferers. When a multitude is calling for help, what hope is there for one among the million? For some minutes she sat and struggled with her misery, while the afternoon light streamed in through her casement, and merry swallows twittered under the eaves.

Looking back afterwards on that wretched day, she saw that it was like the dark hour before the dawning. Every pang that she endured was a round in the ladder by which she was to climb to fame. But she knew nothing of that bright future as she sat crouching in the sunbeams, and wishing that they were shining upon her grave.

Meanwhile, Aunt Margery and Gwen were tasting the sweets of repose after a busy morning. All the doors and windows of the little house were standing open, and flies and bees came humming in and out, keeping up a drowsy din that lulled Uncle Andrew into the soundest of afternoon naps.

Mrs. Ormiston began to nod over the stocking she was knitting, and Gwen found a pleasant dreaminess stealing over her own senses. Her needlework was not important enough to keep her interests awake, and by-and-by the lace and muslin lay untouched upon her lap. Outside the open window was the green gloom of the shrubbery, shutting in the cottage with thick foliage, and hiding its lower storey from passersby. Every faint sigh of the south wind brought in the rich breath of the jessamine, and her thoughts went wandering away    far away to a land of temples, and palms, and flowers.

He was there; in 'yonder shining orient where his life began to beat.' The land where he drew his first breath was destined, perhaps, to be his last resting place. It had been the burial ground of many of our bravest sons and fairest daughters that vast, costly India. The graves of his parents were there; and under the wings of the great white angel at Cawnpore, a little sister lay at rest. What marvel if the soil which had proved fatal to all his kindred should demand his life also?

'If I could but see him once again!' sighed Gwen; 'if I could only know that, before I die, he would kiss me once more! That little hope would make it quite easy to go on living; but now there is nothing to cling to, nothing that seems to connect my life with him.'

Her eyes closed; the longings began to be half realized in dreams. Uncle Andrew, in the next room, was roaming in spirit over his old Highland braes, and listening to the voices of his youth. Aunt Margery, in her slumber, heard the chime of her father's church bells, and saw the village folk coming in companies across the fields of her childhood. And Gwen, in her sleep, was sitting in the sunset light on the beach of Seacastle, with Victor Ashburn by her side.

A loud, discordant sound rudely dissolved the spells of dreamland, and brought the three sleepers sharply back to the realities of earth. It was only a double knock at the open house door; but it broke in upon their stillness like a clap of thunder.

Aunt Margery started into an upright posture, and gave her cap an involuntary twitch, which displaced the top bow. Another moment, and then there was a soft rustle in the entry, as Hannah ushered in Mrs. Heatherstone.

Maud wore the historic gown of peacock blue, with some pale yellow roses at the bosom. She looked strikingly handsome, and her face, when animated, was always seen at its best. It was only in her sullen moods that the heavy molding of lips and chin became observable, and the look of animalism was brought into notice. Even Gwen, who had been little disposed to admire her, began to see that she had never done full justice to Maud's beauty.

It has been said, not infrequently, that we suffer when we disregard a warning conveyed in a first impression. The face that at first repelled may captivate on closer acquaintance; but the first instinct was the true guide. The king, in Grimm's fairytale, who could not help shuddering when he was introduced to the witch's beautiful daughter, and yet ended in taking her home to his palace, was not such an uncommon fool after all. And Gwen, in spite of her own premonitory dislike, and Cora's words, allowed herself to be fascinated.

Maud excelled in the are of delicate flattery. When it suited her to be amiable, she could throw all her natural haughtiness aside. And in a few minutes she had managed to captivate Mrs. Ormiston.

'It is too cruel of Miss Netterville to stay away from Verbena Lodge,' she said; 'we haven't seen her for three whole days! And now that Cora has deserted us, we are a terribly dull household.'

Aunt Margery was pleased that Gwen was missed. She even suffered a gleam of satisfaction to be visible in her face.

'Where have you been hiding?' continued Maud, turning swiftly to Gwen. 'I have pined for a sight of you. My husband has gone out boating; and as to Lilly, she lives in the garden, devouring plums. You have no idea how lonely I am!'

As she spoke, she looked straight into Gwen's face, and smiled. There was a compelling power in that smile, and a sort of witchery in the eyes. The girl's prejudices were beginning to give way.

'Won't you walk with me to the railway station?' she went on, coaxingly. 'It's only a little distance, but I hate walking alone. You will make me eternally grateful if you will come.'

It was almost impossible to refuse such pleading. Gwen yielded cheerfully, and even dressed herself with unusual care. She tied a delicate muslin scarf over her shoulders, picked out her best gloves, and put a cluster of scarlet geranium into her bodice. Maud gave her a swift glance of criticism when she came downstairs, and then the two went off together.

It was one of those perfect afternoons which often come to us when the wheat is nearly ready for the sickle; a day when the sunny south coast was steeped in languid calm. Looking across the warm gold of cornfields, you saw the creek of Seacastle brimming with blue seawater, and caught a glimpse of white sails gleaming in the sun.

The moldering old village lay half asleep amid a wealth of broadleaved fig trees, and orchard boughs heavily laden with ripening apples and pears. Very few persons were to be met on the dusty highroad. A hurdy-gurdy player stood resting under the shade of a grey wall; and a brown Italian woman, with a string of gilt beads round her neck, besought the ladies for alms. But the village people were busily gathering plums and early pippins; and even the children were not to be seen.

As they drew near the quiet railway station, Maud ceased talking, and slightly quickened her pace. The pink on her cheeks had deepened now into carmine; and there was the sparkle of the sapphire in her eyes.

'Certainly I have never done justice to her beauty,' Gwen thought. 'She is kind and pleasant to me. I wonder why I don't thoroughly like her?'

Why indeed? When hearts as unlike as those two can beat in unison, the time shall have truly come when the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.

They ascended the steep flight of steps that led to the railway platform; and Maud turned at once towards the booking office.

'I am going to Marsham,' she said abruptly.

'The train will come up in seven minutes.'

There was no one on the platform, and Gwen sat down on a bench to wait until Mrs. Heatherstone had taken her ticket.

The spell of drowsiness and dreams seemed still to linger about her; and her perceptions were, perhaps, hardly so keen as usual. She sat looking lazily away to the chalky downs that made a barrier between the low lying coast villages and the fair inland country. And then it occurred to her to wonder vaguely why Maud should go to Marsham.

Marsham was the slowest and most prosaic of market towns, containing no first rate shops, and few objects of interest. It was a place that seemed to be always buried under a weight of sleepy gentility; and even its rare festivities were of so tame a kind that Gwen had stayed away from them without a single pang of regret. She had never entered its broad, quiet street, full of stately houses, without longing to get back to the rambling old garden of The Nest, where she might hide among the flowers, and keep tryst with fancy. What could there be in Marsham to lure Mrs. Heatherstone there?

'The whole world seems to be asleep this afternoon,' said Maud, coming out of the office. 'The ticket man was dozing in his stuffy little den, and gave me my ticket in a dream.'

She took a seat by Gwen's side, and gazed eagerly down the shining metals that went winding along the white railroad. There was still the same light in her eyes, although her voice was perfectly firm and calm.

Presently the little platform began to quiver with the thunder of the train, and in a few seconds more it came rushing into the station. Without waiting for assistance, Maud herself turned the handle of a first class carriage, and pulled the door open with a strong hand.

'You are coming with me,' she said to Gwen, speaking as if the matter had been already decided between them.

'No,' Gwen answered, with a surprised look.

'But I took two tickets. Pray come; I detest being alone in a railway carriage,' pleaded Maud, with her foot on the step.

'Indeed I cannot; they will be expecting me at home.'

Mrs. Heatherstone seated herself quickly. Trains waited scarcely a minute at that sleepy little station; and there was no time to be lost.

'Miss Netterville!' she cried suddenly, 'jump in for one instant you must, indeed! I want to say something important; we can make them wait.'

She seized the girl's hand with a grasp of steel; and before Gwen realized her intention, she found herself forcibly drawn into the carriage.

'I must go; let me get out!' exclaimed the victim. But the door was slammed sharply by a porter, and the train moved on.

'Too late, too late! The words have been echoing through the world ever since Adam fell!' said Maud, in a chanting tone of triumph that brought a flush of annoyance into Gwen's cheeks. Then instantly changing her manner, she began to plead for forgiveness.

'Don't be very angry,' she entreated. 'It was only a childish trick. I have been sadly petted and indulged all my life, and I can't help always trying to get my own way. I know I'm babyish and undignified; but do pardon me.'

There are women who can play the part of a spoiled child to perfection; but to succeed in such a role there must be a certain childishness of heart. No touch of the child had ever lingered in Maud's nature; she was woman all through, with some of the worst qualities of her gender. The excuses had a false ring; Gwen thought bitterly of Cora's warning, and blamed herself for having been so easily taken in.

Self control enabled Maud's unwilling companion to smother her vexation. Her manner was cold and quiet; but it retained all its smoothness. Although Mrs. Heatherstone was occupied with her own concerns, that dignified composure was not lost upon her. She knew, by instinct, that Gwen would never forgive the trick that had been played her that day. Yet the girl's fair face was as tranquil as ever, the voice perfectly clear; and any casual observer would have said that Miss Netterville was entirely unruffled.

'I'm glad she takes it so calmly,' Maud thought. 'The child is marvelously well-bred. Some girls would have made me an awful scene; I might have had to alight at Marsham with a flushed and palpitating specimen of maidenhood. But now I shall be quite comfortable.'

The journey was so short that there was no need to make conversation; and after offering her apologies, Mrs. Heatherstone drew back silently into her corner. The train rushed on, speeding along between trim hedges, with the low hills on the right hand, and the blue waters of the harbor on the left. Then, crossing a viaduct that spanned the muddy creek of Marsham, it slackened speed, and ran quietly into the station of the old market town.

There were people on the platform, porters hurried to and fro, and altogether some show of bustling life was presented here. Maud descended quickly, gave up the tickets, and led the way out into the dusty road.

But they seemed to have left all stir and movement inside the station. A few fly men, nodding on their box seats, woke up to cast inquiring glances on the ladies; then, resigning all hope of a fare, went comfortably off to sleep again. Gwen, feeling desperately bored, was beginning to wonder whether Mrs. Heatherstone's shopping would be a lengthy business? Some vague hint had been dropped about purchasing gloves, but that was all.

'Do you know when the next down train is due?' she asked wearily.

'Not yet,' Maud answered. 'I'm afraid we shall have ever so long to wait. It is very tiresome.'

'Shall I step back to the station and make inquiries?'

'No; yes, please. Perhaps it is well to know exactly how much time we have to spend here,' Maud replied.

Gwen turned at once, and retraced her steps. A civil porter met her at the door of the station, and answered her question without delay.

Two hours before the next down train came in! Two hours to be spent in meandering about the dull town, and wearying of Maud's society! The strain upon her temper was severe, and she fought a silent battle with herself as she returned slowly to her companion.

Maud was waiting for her on the footpath, but not alone. A tall, handsome man was standing by her side, and she was speaking fast and low. Catching sight of Gwen, she advanced a few steps to meet her, with eyes that sparkled like jewels, and cheeks glowing with the richest rose.

'Fancy meeting an old friend in this deadly lively place!' she cried. 'Let me introduce Captain Ludlow, Miss Netterville.'

The young man lifted his hat, and Gwen's glance sought his face with a doubting look.

An attractive face it undoubtedly was, with bold, clearly cut features, and a perfectly frank expression. Perhaps the chief charm lay in the kindly brown eyes, which looked    as some brown eyes always do    as if they kept sunshine imprisoned under their thick lashes. The skin was brown too; a dark moustache shaded the mouth, and wavy hair, nearly black, rippled over the closely cropped head. As to the figure, it matched the face to perfection, and was tall and strong; but there was nothing gigantic about Sidney Ludlow. He was just a good specimen of a stalwart Englishman deep-chested, long limbed, a thorough soldier and sportsman.

'Two hours to wait!' echoed Maud, when Gwen had stated the result of her inquiries. 'That is even worse than I thought. Shall we hire one of those horrid flies, and drive back to Seacastle?'

'There is a pleasanter conveyance to be had, if you would really like the drive,' said Captain Ludlow, and it seemed to Gwen that he spoke as if he were repeating a lesson. 'I borrowed Ainslie's carriage today; it is standing at the Oak. Shall I take you home?'

'That would be quite too delightful!' Maud responded. 'We found the train stifling. And there need be no dawdling here; we can be off at once. You approve of the plan, Miss Netterville?'

Gwen did not approve, but her objections could hardly be put into words.

She now saw, only too clearly, that Mrs. Heatherstone had made use of her to serve her own ends, and there was a quiet but deep resentment in the girl's heart. A bitter scorn, too, was mingling with the just indignation. She had been tricked and dragged here, that Maud might be defended by the shadowy image of propriety.

'Have you forgotten the gloves?' she asked, with the faintest suspicion of a sneer.

'Of course not,' Maud answered promptly. 'We shall pass several shops on our way to the Oak.'

They walked on through the broad, quiet street of the town, and Mrs. Heatherstone paused at the first draper's door that presented itself. It was impossible not to see through her flimsy pretense. She asked for gloves, bought a pair at random, and came out gaily, in all the pride of her beauty, flinging an insolent glance at Gwen.

Captain Ludlow, in spite of Maud's attempts to set him at ease, was obviously constrained and uncomfortable. Nature had not intended him for a deceiver, and he played his part so badly that his bolder confederate almost lost patience with him.

The Oak was one of those prim old-fashioned hotels that are always to be found in places like Marsham. It was a stiff, bow windowed old house, with flowers blooming over the portico, and the inevitable waiter lounging in the doorway. Today the waiter had come beyond the door, and was standing on the curb to talk to the smart groom in charge of the carriage and pair of horses.

'Capital horses,' said Maud, with an approving glance at the fiery bays. 'Don't like the flies, do they? Well, we won't keep them standing any longer.'

And without paying the least attention to Gwen, she sprang up quickly into the front of the carriage, leaving Captain Ludlow to place Miss Netterville in the back seat.

Mrs. Heatherstone had achieved her purpose. She had secured the companionship of a girl who was on intimate terms with her mother and Cora Wallace, and was using her as a shield against possible scandal. But she knew full well that never again would she have the chance of duping Gwen. This was not the kind of shield that could be used a second time. And Maud, reading resentment in that calm young face, was coarse enough to be rude.

Very gravely, and without a gleam of pleasure in his eyes, Captain Ludlow took his place by Maud's side. He drew the reins scientifically through his strong fingers, and the servant released the heads of the impatient bays. Off they started with an exulting bound, and away went the carriage down the street, leaving the groom to wait at the Oak until its return.

'It is a nuisance to have that girl sitting behind us,' said Mrs. Heatherstone, with a bright glance at her gloomy knight. 'But it was well for you to have a pair of ladies on your hands.'

'Who is she?' he asked.

'Never mind. One of the mother's pet nobodies, that's all. And now, Sidney, are you not very glad to see me again?'

'Can you doubt it?' he said, rather awkwardly.

'Humph! I don't see any signs of rapture. I think, considering the trouble I have taken to get here, that you might have given me a more cordial greeting.'

The road from Marsham to Seacastle was not remarkable for any striking charms of scenery. The principal street ended abruptly in the sharp descent of a narrow, tree shadowed lane, that opened out upon the bridge and creek. At low tide this creek was a mere waste of greenish mud, displeasing alike to eyes and nose. But at high water, when the willow boughs dipped their slender leaves into the ripples, and little wavelets came washing up to the margin of the road, the aspect of the place was pleasant enough.

Today the creek was full, and its fresh, briny scent filled the air.

Maud drew in a long breath, and leaned back in her seat with a look of satisfaction.

'This is simply delicious!' she said. 'There is quite a cool breeze. Don't drive too fast, Sidney.'

'The horses want to go their own pace,' he answered. 'I fancy Ainslie hasn't given them enough to do lately. They are pulling my arms off. Steady, then, steady! be quiet, can't you?'

'Don't talk to them!' cried his companion, with a touch of pettishness. 'We have a thousand things to say to each other. Now, to make a beginning: you know that I expect you to come to Fairwood?'

The bays became very troublesome at that moment, and the effort of controlling them sent the blood up into the driver's brow.

'I think perhaps it's better not to come,' he muttered, getting out the words with evident difficulty.

The rich bloom on Mrs. Heatherstone's cheek suddenly paled, and there shot from her eyes just one purple gleam of anger. Such a look the lady of Smaylhome might have cast upon the phantom Sir Richard when she conjured him to come to her bower. All the force of the woman's strong will was concentrated in her tone when she spoke again; and yet she had never spoken more softly.

'Do I deserve to be slighted, Sidney?' she asked. 'I thought we were to be friends    friends always.'

'We are friends,' he replied. 'And if there is anything that I can do to prove my friendship, you know how gladly it will be done.'

She laughed, very gently, but bitterly.

'You can say that,' she said, 'and yet decline my invitation. The first proof of friendship that I ask for, you refuse to give.'

His face showed plainly that a struggle was going on within, and she watched him keenly. But not to take the part of his better self. There are women who will help a man to fight against his good angel, rather than lose one jot or one tittle of their power.

He spoke at last, in a low voice, earnestly, and without glancing at Mrs. Heatherstone.

'You must forgive me, Maud, if I have seemed formal and distant. From the very day of your marriage I have honestly tried to conquer the old feeling, but it is not easily overcome; and until I have quite succeeded in mastering my folly, I think we had better not meet too often. Now you know all, and you will not urge me to go to Fairwood.'

'Oh, Sidney!' she said plaintively, 'I am sure you are imagining a danger. I have so longed to renew the old fellowship, and there cannot possibly be any harm in friendship.'

'No harm at all, so long as the friendship is kept within certain limits. Only, Maud, don't tempt me to tread on dangerous ground. Let us say no more about the matter; I am not a man of many words, you know. And I hate talking about this kind of thing.'

The bays resented an unnecessary cut with the whip. They gave a plunge that startled Gwen, busy with her own meditations, and taking little thought of the pair on the front seat.

'Ah,' sighed Maud, 'I might have been happy, but for the mother's worldliness! It is quite too hard.'

'I don't think it is fair to blame the mother,' said Captain Ludlow frankly. 'You were very firm once when I was weak enough to lose my head and talk nonsense. No, Maud; you never had a thought of becoming the wife of a wandering soldier; and of course you were quite right.'

'The wisest man on earth is but a poor judge of a woman,' she murmured sadly. 'You don't know what a pressure was brought to bear upon me; you little guess what arguments were used. If you did know all, you would not speak so harshly.'

'I am not harsh, Maud. I hope I have said nothing to give you pain,' said poor Ludlow.

'You have wounded me deeply,' she replied, with a meek and patient sweetness that was new in her. 'But I forgive you for old time's sake. Never mind my pain; I can bear that and all my other troubles alone.'

It was only the old well worn trick which cost Samson his liberty, and Merlin his glory, and brought the Scottish James to his woeful end on the field of Flodden. But it seldom fails, even in these prosaic days, when men are supposed to be thoroughly versed in all the wiles of the weaker gender. The stratagem never changes; the nature of the fair ensnarer repeats itself from age to age. Delilah, Vivien, Dame Heron of Ford the spirit of the sorceress was in them all, and lives again in all its evil strength in the bosoms of such women as Maud Heatherstone.

Captain Ludlow gave one look into his companion's dark blue eyes, and she knew that her game was won.

'Don't speak so,' he said hoarsely. 'I had no suspicion that you were unhappy. I have been a brute, Maud, if I've hurt you. Only tell me what I can do to make amends for my clumsiness!'

'Come to Fairwood, Sidney. Let me have my old friend by my side again, just for a little while. Let me try to feel myself a girl once more. It isn't wicked to cling to the memory of the old life, and all its dear associations.'

'I will come,' he answered, speaking very low. 'I had no idea that you wished it so earnestly. Right or wrong, I will do my utmost to please you.'

They were now drawing near the end of the drive; the road, a perfectly level one, ran on between hedges wreathed with bindweed, and banks sprinkled with poppies. Captain Ludlow, more shaken and agitated than he cared to show, had perhaps relaxed a little in his watchful care of the bays. Moreover, there appeared to be small need for such extreme vigilance; no vehicle of any kind was in sight, and the way seemed to be thoroughly clear and quiet.

Maud was just looking up, with eloquent eyes, into the handsome troubled face by her side, when the horses gave a start and sprang suddenly to the other side of the road. Another instant, and the carriage, with its three occupants, was completely overturned; and the maddened bays, straining and plunging, were held fast and entangled by the harness and the fallen carriage.

 

CHAPTER XI

'IT IS JOVE'S DOING, AND JOVE MAKE ME THANKFUL!'

It was just one of those accidents which seem at first to be utterly inexplicable; but the cause was to be found in the prostrate figure of a tramp, asleep under the hedge with a bundle by his side.

The sight of such a shabby heap of humanity had been too much for the irritable nerves of the bays; and they might have been conscious, too, that the hand which held the reins had slackened in its firm grasp. Anyhow the start, and the crash that followed it, took place in the space of a few seconds; and the miserable tramp, rudely aroused from his slumbers, woke up to see that terrible jumble by the roadside.

Captain Ludlow, half persuaded that he must be in the middle of a bad dream, discovered that he was sitting in a bed of nettles. His first thoughts were for his companions; but Maud's voice soon let him know that she was close at hand, and in a pitiful plight.

The hedge had received Mrs. Heatherstone in a close embrace. Amorous brambles were laying hold of the peacock blue gown, and clutching the Parisian bonnet. With some difficulty she was extracted from her thorny predicament, leaving fragments of her costume upon bush and brier, and wearing a scratch upon her cheek which would be visible for weeks to come.

It was a sorry ending to that dramatic little dialogue which she had managed with such skill and success. Beauty in distress is popularly supposed to have a resistless charm. But beauty scratched and torn, and hampered with strips of tattered clothing, can hardly hope to escape a touch of the ridiculous. Moreover, the temper that all Maud's family knew so well had got the better of her judgment, and was showing itself too plainly.

'I am awfully hurt,' she cried, and Captain Ludlow's fears on her account instantly vanished. 'My face is disfigured for life. Don't take hold of my arm; all the skin is torn off. Oh! what an idiot I was to trust myself with a man who doesn't know how to drive!'

If her luckless knight winced under this thrust, he was too brave to show that it had gone home. With all possible care and tenderness, he extricated her from the brambles, and seated her on the grass that bordered the road. Then, remembering her young companion, he turned quickly away, and heard a husky voice saying:

'Seems to me, sir, this lady's badly hurt!'

It was the tramp who bad spoken. With real concern on his sunburnt features, he was bending over Gwen, and gazing into her beautiful, still face.

The two men, who stood so helplessly looking down upon her, both thought at first that her young life was at an end. Gentleman and vagrant, forgetting the vast social gulf that lay between them, had met in spirit over that prostrate form, and were moved by the same feeling of unutterable regret.

'Why do you leave me sitting here?' demanded Maud, in an indignant whine. 'You must go on to Verbena Lodge at once, Sidney, and get mamma's carriage. Don't bother about Miss Netterville; she has only fainted. Girls always do faint when anything happens. It is the people who are seriously injured that retain their miserable consciousness! I only wish I could faint.'

Perhaps at that moment it might have occurred to Captain Ludlow that he was a luckier man than Robert Heatherstone. There are such strange chances and changes in our lives that the heartbreaking loss of today may look like a deliverance tomorrow; and a man may live long enough to pity a successful rival. It is possible that Beauseant might have learned, in time, not only to forgive Melnotte for winning the Lady of Lyons, but also to thank the kind foe who had snatched the once coveted treasure from his grasp. It is only death that has the power of idealizing our lost treasures. Life, as a rule, teaches us that they were not of much value, after all.

'I am afraid Miss Netterville is stunned,' said Sidney Ludlow gravely.

'I tell you it is nothing but a fainting fit!' cried Maud angrily. 'How can she be hurt when she was pitched out upon soft grass? My own state is really serious, and you don't pay me the least attention. It's quite awfully cruel of you to neglect me so!'

A welcome sound of wheels, coming from the direction of Marsham, prevented Captain Ludlow's reply. Maud at once left off bewailing herself, and began to make futile attempts to straighten her bonnet.

The sound came nearer, and then a carriage and pair appeared in sight. A solitary gentleman occupied the vehicle, which proved to be an open fly belonging to the Oak. The driver, who instantly recognized Captain Ludlow and the bays, pulled up at once, and the gentleman got out.

'It is Lord Inglefield!' muttered Maud; 'and here am I in this horrible condition!'

A very few words sufficed to explain the whole matter. Mrs. Heatherstone, suddenly becoming gentle and gracious, gladly accepted a seat in the fly, and showed herself deeply concerned about 'that poor dear child.' Gwen was gently lifted in by the newcomer, and the carriage moved on, leaving the captain and the tramp upon the scene of the disaster.

As the wheels rolled away, Sidney Ludlow drew a long breath of relief. The temper that Maud had so freely displayed to him was instantly controlled by the presence of the peer. Before Lord Inglefield, too, she was ready to make a show of womanly tenderness to the poor girl whom she had totally neglected a few moments ago. For the old love's sake, Sidney might have excused her temper, but he could not condone her selfishness and baseness.

As he stood in the dusty road, surveying the wreck of the carriage, he felt that one danger had been the means of delivering him from another. He had lost his head; and this crash had brought him back to his senses, and given him a new view of Maud's character. With something like contempt, he recalled the parting smile which had been supposed to make amends for all her faults, and win him back to his former allegiance. Of a truth, it is the sorceress herself who is often the breaker of her own spell.

Slowly and painfully Gwen Netterville returned to consciousness, but not until the carriage stopped at the gate of The Nest. Strong arms carried her along the garden path to the cottage, and she became vaguely aware that the face bending over her seemed scarcely to belong to the everyday world. Bruised and bewildered as she was, that face could not fail to leave a clear impression on her memory.

It haunted her troubled dreams all through that night of pain. Sometimes the features seemed to be those of the great archangel who trampled the fiend under his feet; and sometimes they belonged to King Arthur, and wore the look that he had bent upon his fallen queen. While she tossed and turned in restless slumber, Gwen always beheld that face, lifted high above her, pitiful, yet a little stern, and ever calm.

At intervals she woke to the full consciousness of her bruised condition, and was relieved to find herself lying in her own bed. Hannah was keeping sleepless watch by her side; the casement had been left unfastened, and the scented breath of the summer night crept into the little chamber. Once a large moth flitted in, and hovered round the taper, casting a wavering shadow of wings upon the walls. And then the soft light of dawn filled the room with a faint glow that brightened and deepened into the full glory of morning.

The day brought Mrs. Collington, in real concern and distress, to The Nest. Her knowledge of Maud and Maud's ways convinced her that Gwen had been a dupe and a victim. But she was too worldly wise to make excuses for her daughter, and simply confined herself to regret and sympathy most warmly expressed. Her best light wines, her choicest fruits, were sent to the sufferer; and her cook was directed to prepare daily dainties and send them to the cottage. All these attentions were so delicately paid that it would have been ungracious to refuse them. And poor Aunt Margery, shaken and anxious to the last degree, found them useful and comforting.

The accident made an excellent opportunity for a display of kindliness on the part of the ladies of Seacastle. One and all availed themselves eagerly of the chance, and were unremitting in their inquiries. Even Mrs. Goad ventured to present herself once more at The Nest, and was received with a stately courtesy, that made her feel smaller than ever. She returned to her home, grumbling at the inconstancy of her neighbors, and complaining loudly of the haughtiness of the Ormistons. And somehow, when Mrs. Goad's temper was ruffled, Eunice Swift was always a sufferer.

Long afterwards, Eunice was accustomed to call this period of her life her 'worst time.' Heaven only knew her sickening anxiety to learn the fate of her manuscripts. The friend that she loved best was lying in a sick chamber, and home troubles pressed her to the very dust.

Even Lavinia Bertie was beginning to feel exceedingly uncomfortable. She knew that the people of Seacastle were all regarding Eunice with compassion, and the girl's sad face told her story. Moreover, Lavinia's conscience    by no means oversensitive as a rule    was now bestirring itself, and pleading for this unhappy youngest sister, who seemed to be standing quite alone in her little world.

Naturally of a cold temperament, Lavinia had always endured Matilda's tyranny equably and patiently. Her own married life had been very brief; no great love had ever taken deep root in the barren soil of her nature; no aspiration had ever troubled her placid spirit. Such as it was, she made the best of her lot, and accepted Matilda as the ruler and benefactor of the family. Lavinia had no influence with Mr. Swift; she had never had any influence with anybody. But she saw, plainly enough, that he was using Eunice ill, and she lamented it in a dull, helpless fashion.

To do Lavinia justice, she was not possessed by that spirit of toadyism which was the ruling trait in Mr. Swift's character. She did not wish to accept favors from Matilda. Her wants were few, and she could have lived a contented life supported by her own little income. But it was right that she should be her father's housekeeper in his old age. And if she desired solitude, she did not let him know it. She could best please him by accepting Matilda's bounties, and being humble and grateful.

But of late her conscience, long torpid, had begun to disturb her peace. The sight of Eunice's worn face had given her many a dull pang. It was not in Lavinia to feel anything keenly; but she was conscious of a desire to take the girl's part. She saw that Mr. Swift, obstinate and obtuse, had no idea of the harm he was doing. He was firmly persuaded that his was a just and fatherly resentment; Eunice, in his eyes, was the veritable black sheep of the family.

After her last call at The Nest, Matilda hastened to pour her complaints into her father's willing ear.

'The whole village has turned against me!' she said. 'Was there ever anything so cruel, papa? The Ormistons received me with the greatest coldness. It doesn't seem to matter to them whether I make advances or not! And there was quite a crowd of inquirers round the door. You should have seen Harriet Cox's smirk when she asked for dear Miss Netterville. I don't believe they would make such a fuss if I broke all my bones at once!'

Mr. Swift was overflowing with sympathy.

'Eunice has been privately undermining me,' said Mrs. Goad, rising to take her leave. 'I have to thank her for it all.'

Eunice had another scolding before she went to bed that night, and she looked so ill, that Lavinia took a desperate resolution. She waited until the house was still, and then crept noiselessly upstairs, carrying some sandwiches and a bottle of wine. For a few seconds she listened at the door of Eunice's attic, but heard no sound within.

'Eunice!' she said, knocking softly.

There was no answer. Her heart beat a little faster as she turned the handle of the door, and found that it was not locked. It was the first time that she had ever broken in upon her sister's solitude; the first time that she had ever striven to minister to the fainting spirit under her own roof.

Yet it was by no means the first time that she had performed an errand of mercy. For two short years she had been the wife of a curate in a large manufacturing town, and it had been her business to visit those who were in poverty and affliction. She had done her duties conscientiously, in a machinelike manner, it is true, but still with an honest desire to do her best.

But there are not a few among us who can remember the needy out of doors, and forget the sufferers at home. The stranger is often tended with ease and readiness, while the kinsman is approached with difficulty and reluctance.

Lavinia, hesitating at her sister's door, was conscious of having neglected a duty that lay very near her feet. And yet it cost her a mighty effort to take it up. Eunice was sitting on a low seat near her attic window, and the room was sweet and cool with the fresh air of night. She had put out the candle, but the chamber was not dark; so clear was the atmosphere, and so fair was the starlight, that the outlines of her face and figure were distinctly seen. She sat in her old despairing attitude, her hands clasped in her lap, her face uplifted to the sky; and so absorbed was she in her own reverie of sorrow, that she did not hear Lavinia's quiet entrance.

'You have eaten hardly anything today, Eunice,' Mrs. Bertie said softly. 'I have brought you some wine and sandwiches. It won't do for you to be making yourself ill, you know.'

 

CHAPTER XII

'THERE MIGHT YOU HAVE BEHELD ONE JOY CROWN ANOTHER'

At the sound of Lavinia's voice Eunice started slightly; but she was too apathetic just then to be very much astonished at anything.

She really had a vague consciousness that she was getting ill, and yet she knew that she had pulled through a good many incipient illnesses in that old attic.

It had been one of Matilda's established rules to declare that there never was anything the matter with Eunice. If the poor girl had a headache, Matilda always called it a fit of the sulks; and on one occasion, when Eunice spent a day in bed, Mrs. Goad came to White Cottage in a state of virtuous indignation. Even now so strong was the force of habit and influence, that Lavinia approached her with the old formula: 'It won't do for you to be making yourself ill.'

No, it wouldn't do. Some voice within Eunice's dull heart seemed to echo the words, and she made an earnest effort to rouse herself.

'I know I ought to be in bed,' she said meekly. 'My head throbbed, and I didn't want to lie down. But I won't sit up any longer.'

'Don't lie down until you have had the wine and sandwiches,' replied Mrs. Bertie, depositing her tray upon the bed, and then softly closing the door.'

She groped about for the matches, and lighted the candle again, while Eunice sat and watched her movements with languid surprise.

'If that is papa's wine, Lavinia, I won't drink it,' she said at last.

'It is my own wine,' Mrs. Bertie answered. 'I hope you are not going to be absurd. You have got weak and exhausted, and you'll have a fearful neuralgic headache tomorrow if you don't take something.'

'I didn't know that you kept any wine of your own,' said Eunice heavily.

'I keep it in a cupboard in my room,' confessed Lavinia after a moment's hesitation. 'But you mustn't mention it to Matilda. She might take it into her head that I was becoming a drunkard. I only keep it because I don't want to drink any that she sends to papa.'

Eunice raised herself slowly from her weary posture. She let Lavinia put the wineglass into her hand, and the plate into her lap.

'It bothers me to eat,' she said with a sigh.

'I dare say it does,' Lavinia replied. 'But we have all got to do things that bother us. I don't very much enjoy eating and drinking, as a rule, myself.'

'I don't think you enjoy anything very much, Lavinia,' said Eunice, who had taken a few mouthfuls, and found them rather nice.

'No, I don't. There's nothing in life that's worth going into raptures about.'

'Oh, I think there is!' exclaimed Eunice, emptying her glass. 'Life doesn't seem half so dreary when you have had some wine. I feel quite a new creature.'

'Then you shall have another glass,' said Lavinia, promptly producing the bottle.

'If ever I get rich,' Eunice remarked with increasing cheerfulness, 'I'll have a regular burst with champagne. And I'll invite all the people who have got heartaches, and fill them up. I hope you'll come to my feast, Lavinia! I should like, just for once, to see you slightly intoxicated!'

'You are slightly intoxicated yourself,' said Lavinia coolly. 'But I really believe it agrees with you!'

'Yes, it does. I only need a wreath of vine leaves to make me a perfect Bacchante!'

'Good gracious, what a queer girl you are, Eunice!' said Mrs. Bertie wonderingly. 'You must have been very much run down, if a little wine takes such an effect on you!'

'It isn't mere wine; it's the stolen fire of Prometheus! You are a brick, Lavinia. We shall both remember this carousal in happy years to come!'

Later on they did remember it.

Eunice wished her sister a cheerful goodnight, and went obediently to bed. And Mrs. Bertie crept down to her own room in a puzzled frame of mind.

Was there anything prophetic in Eunice's queer words? Or did she only talk in that way because the wine had got into her head? Lavinia was a dull woman. But it had often occurred to her that Eunice had in her some sparks of the thing called genius.

The girl had the sensitive temperament that is instantly kindled by a gleam of hope. A breath could dim her flame; a breath could revive it. She had a bright wit, ever ready to shine through the gloom of her life. Without knowing it, she possessed the very qualities that made up the true poet nature: the pathos, the strong feeling, and that curious dash of the confidant which imparts such a charm to other gifts. If she ever did develop into a somebody, she would make more friends than enemies.

If she ever did! When this thought had once found its way into Lavinia's mind, it lingered there. She even began to chuckle over it in the solitude of her room.

She was not gifted with a vivid fancy; but she could manage to picture Mrs. Goad's discomfiture. Yet farther than this her imagination could not go. She could not paint the ugly duckling in her swan's plumage, nor realize the marvelous changes that success can make. Still she had got up quite a little entertainment for herself, and was merry over it in secret. For her own part she had grown quite used to being sat upon by Matilda. But she could still find pleasure in the thought of seeing Matilda sat upon in her turn.

Eunice slept soundly, and woke rather later than usual. Her heart felt a little lighter as she rose and dressed, and yet there was really no change in her lot. There was another weary day to be gone through; and, worst of all, there was no work for those willing hands to accomplish. Even the drudgery of teaching dull children was a thousand times better than inaction. She had begun to eat the bread of independence, and it was the only kind of food that had a wholesome taste.

After breakfast she slipped away from the house as soon as possible, and went out into the fields, carrying a workbag on her arm. Could she ever contrive to earn a living by her needle, she wondered? Alas, her skill as a seamstress was not great; and she almost thought she should prefer being a parlor maid or a nurse. Parlor maids and nurses were always in request; but somehow the demand for governesses appeared to be terribly small.

It was a perfect summer day: a day of such strong light and untempered brilliancy that one was glad to avoid the glaring white road, and keep to the grass. The shouts of a band of charity children kept Eunice away from the castle and its precincts. She wanted to take counsel with herself and be quiet, and her head was not quite strong enough to stand the cheering. Yet it was pleasant to hear the outbursts softened by distance, and to think of the poor little souls so heartily enjoying a rare holiday.

Eunice was a woman of large sympathies; her thoughts and prayers embraced the whole world, and she could thank God that others basked in the sun, even while she walked in the shade. There was no ill temper now in her poor worn face and sad eyes; and she smiled to herself as she listened to the children's cheers. Some trees were in the fields, and she sauntered on towards a group of elms that had often sheltered her on days like this. There was an inviting spot of soft turf just at the foot of the largest tree, and Eunice was about to settle herself comfortably, workbag and all, when a clear voice said ' Good morning.'

It was Cora Wallace who had spoken, as she came out from behind the elms, a queenly figure in 'a pretty figured linen gown' such as Lady Teazle might have worn. She wore a coarse gipsy straw hat, with a bunch of poppies in it; and her face, framed in this rustic fashion, looked so rarely beautiful that Eunice's honest admiration shone in her eyes, and half amused and wholly gratified Cora.

It was seldom indeed that Miss Wallace met so sweet and frank a gaze from any woman in her own set. She laughed to herself at the remembrance of the bland smiles that scarcely veiled the spite and heartburning of some of her rivals. Here, at any rate, was a plain girl taking a genuine pleasure in the beauty of another woman, and looking at her without a spark of envy in her candid glance.

'I have some news for you,' said Cora kindly, holding out her hand.

Eunice's heart throbbed painfully, and a hot flush dyed her sallow cheeks. But surely the news must be good; for Cora's look and tone were full of encouragement.

'News about my manuscript?' she asked, falteringly.

'Yes, capital news. My godfather says that your story is really almost perfect in its kind. There need be no more doubts about your power, Miss Swift; you have the true literary capacity.'

Eunice's poor tired face became deadly pale; her lips parted in a vain attempt to say grateful words, but only a choking sob could be heard. Yet there was something so infinitely pathetic in that mute gratitude that Cora's heart was moved.

It was seldom that Miss Wallace found her feelings getting the upper hand. From her earliest girlhood she had trained herself to self possession. By controlling herself she had generally succeeded in managing others. No one had ever seen her discomposed; and it was tacitly assumed that she was a philosopher. But today there were no worldly eyes looking on. She was alone in the fields with this poor girl; and for once in her life she was deeply stirred.

'I have other good things to say,' she said gently. 'Do you think you can hear them now?'

'Yes,' Eunice whispered. 'Oh, how kind you are! You will have a little patience with my weakness?'

There was a brief pause. Again the sound of laughing voices came drifting across the quiet field. Cora looked away from Eunice to the grey tower. A flag was flying from its summit, unfurling its mirthful folds in the clear air. But tower and flag were seen dimly, as through a mist; for her eyes were full of tears.

After all, what a little kindness she had done! It was absurdly easy, she thought, to make some people happy. Her own cravings were not so easily satisfied. Her present life seemed commonplace and cold, a dull march of days tending onwards to nothing. She had always missed the thing that she desired most. Once or twice she had been near to gaining it; time and opportunity must surely have made it her own. But time and opportunity had been denied.

Her beauty was not yet on the wane. It was the kind of beauty that ripens gradually, and fades slowly. Only a minute ago Eunice's frank glance had paid a tribute to her charms. But this waiting and watching life would soon begin to leave its traces. For half a moment she could almost have envied the girl she had befriended; Eunice at any rate had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

'Well,' she said, rousing herself from her dream, 'I've not told you anything yet. My godfather has placed your manuscript in good hands. You will get a letter from a publisher very soon; and you must go on writing more stories.'

Eunice's eyes glistened.

'There is still something else. Mr. Radcliffe is an old man, and his sight is failing fast. He wants someone to write down his thoughts for him. His sister cannot do it, of course; she is older than himself. Do you think you could go and help him?'

'Go to him? Live in London?'

'Yes. They are in a dull old house in Queen Anne Street. But you don't mind dullness? It would be a real home; and Mrs. Densley would be like a mother. Ah, that pleases you, doesn't it?'

'Pleases me!' Eunice repeated. 'Oh, you don't understand! I know now how the princess felt when she got a glimpse of Heaven.'

'Poor child! how miserable you must have been in this place! I dare say Queen Anne Street will be a Heaven to you. To me it seems like a very different region. They will want you there very soon. You must begin to make your preparations.'

'When am I to go?' Eunice asked eagerly.

'This is August. Well, they will be ready for you on the first of October. The doctors are sending my godfather to the seaside. But he hates to be away from home.'

'I was afraid I might have to wait a long time.'

She drew a deep breath of relief.

'Miss Wallace, I shall try to thank you by-and-by.'

'Oh, never mind the thanks,' said Cora lightly.

'I wonder whether, you will ever know the good you have done? No; I don't think you ever will. To know it you would have to realize the sort of life I have led.'

'I, perhaps, I do realize it a little. I have often been very sorry for you.'

'I dare say I ought to have liked it better,' said Eunice simply. 'I tried to get on, but they will all be happier without me. As for me, I am set free; and I owe everything to you.'

'Goodbye,' said Cora kindly. 'I shall be imagining myself an angel of goodness if I stay longer. You will be happy and famous too some day.'

She went her way across the wide sunny field. And Eunice sat down at the foot of the elm, and watched her with misty eyes.

The blue sky seemed suddenly to grow dim; a haze gathered over the old castle, and the children's voices died away. Her head sank back against the trunk of the tree. There was a sound in her ears like the noise of many waters; she was fast losing her hold of realities. Life itself had become a dream.

Yet she was not altogether without consciousness; after a second or two the rushing noise ceased, and the mist cleared gradually away. Presently she could hear again the soft stir of leaves overhead, and the hum of insects around. Through all these gentle murmurs there came a whisper, low as the summer breeze, that told her that her trials were ended. Whatever sorrows the future might bring, the old misery of humiliation and bitterness would never be endured again.

The first part of her life was done with forever. She was set free    free to move the cramped limbs of the spirit, and rejoice in liberty and sunshine. She was going away from Seacastle going to enter into a blissful region where Matilda's influence was unknown. There would be new voices in the new life; the old rasping tones, always blaming or sneering, would die into the silence of the past. She might have to toil and suffer, perhaps, but not here. She scarcely dared to think that she should be quite happy; and yet, yet Miss Wallace had spoken of a real home.

Nearly two hours passed away before she stirred from her resting place. Extreme exhaustion succeeded the shock of joy. Dame Nature, in her summer mood, was kind to this tired child, who lay wearily in her lap. Bees hummed a droning lullaby; tinted butterflies flitted before the heavy eyes; the south wind fanned her aching brow. She slumbered, sweetly and soundly, under the shadow of the old tree.

Two charity boys, strolling in the meadow, hushed their voices when they came suddenly upon the sleeping woman. Even children seem to realize that there is something sacred in a deep sleep; and they stood and looked at her in silence. At the first glance, they almost decided that she must be a tramp or a gypsy. Her brown cotton frock was faded and old; her hat, a soft grey felt, discarded by Mrs. Goad, had fallen back from her face, and made a pillow for her head. One thick coil of dark chestnut hair had escaped from its fastenings, and lay on her shoulder in a rough heavy curl. But the little hands, slim and delicate, were not the hands of a vagrant; and one of the boys pointed to them silently.

'It's a lady, aren't it?' he whispered, as they moved away.

They had crossed the field, and gone out of sight, before her eyes unclosed. The languid air was fresher and sweeter. Eunice raised herself slowly, pinned up the loose curl, carefully dusted the ancient felt hat, and then, picking up the neglected workbag, began to think about turning homewards.

It was odd, she thought, that sleep had overpowered her when her heart was so full of its new joy. And yet, long afterwards, when she recalled the wakeful nights and anxious days that had preceded that memorable morning, she knew that it was not strange at all. It was truly the work of sleep to 'knit up the raveled sleeve of care,' and repair the waste that trouble and suspense had wrought.

'He gives His beloved sleep.' The words were ringing in her ears like a soft chime as she retraced her steps over the sunburnt grass. That little spell of oblivion was as good a gift as her new happiness; and it gave her strength to bear her load of delight. She could go home calmly now, and carry herself as composedly as if there were no change in her destiny.

She did not enter the house by the front door, but stole quietly through the little garden, and into the kitchen. Rachel, the maid of all work, was beginning to dish up the one o''clock dinner; but she paused to glance at Eunice, and ask her how she did. Poor Rachel, in her humble way, had been a comforter to her young lady, and loved her with an unselfish affection. It was one of the charges brought against Eunice that she won the love of servants and workpeople, and received from them such heart service as they never rendered to the rich Mrs. Goad.

'I am much better, Rachel,' Eunice answered, with glad eyes.

And then she went lightly upstairs to her attic to brush her rough hair, and bathe her face, before she ventured to meet her father and Mrs. Bertie.

 

 

CHAPTER XIII

'BUT YOU SHALL BE ALONE NO MORE.'

To look at Lavinia, one would have supposed that she had utterly forgotten the episode of last night. No one would have believed her capable of a smile. She presided over the beefsteak pudding with her usual gloom, and did not speak a word unless her father addressed her.

But Mr. Swift seldom cared to hear anybody's voice but his own. Matilda was the only person who ventured to speak unrestrainedly in his presence. He was one of those men who talk in season and out of season. Like the brave companion of the pilgrims, he could talk of 'things heavenly, or things earthly; things moral, or things evangelical; things sacred, or things profane; things foreign, or things at home.' And truly might it have been said of him, 'All that he has lies in his tongue.' People either fled before his face, or encountered him with gloomy resignation; the Vicar had been known to hide himself in odd nooks and corners rather than meet this talkative parishioner. But still Mr. Swift talked on, blissfully unconscious of the horror he excited; and talk he would, so long as his vocal powers were left.

He held forth as unceasingly as usual over the beefsteak pudding. Eunice, trying to eat her portion, felt the old desire to put up her hands to her ears; and then remembered that the days of endurance were nearly done.

She began to picture her future dinners in Queen Anne Street; the soft voices of Mrs. Densley and Mr. Radcliffe seemed to be speaking near her; a noiseless servant glided to and fro. She was sure that they both spoke softly; and she was quite sure, too, that their rooms were shadowy and cool. The last idea was suggested by the dreadful glare in the little dining room, the roller blind being pulled up as high as it would go, and the curtains pushed back to allow a full view of the road.

Presently, being much charmed with her fancy pictures, she smiled. The smile made Lavinia profoundly uncomfortable, and she darted a warning glance at her sister. At that moment Mr. Swift was in the middle of giving them his notions of sermons, not as they were preached in Seacastle, but as they ought to be preached everywhere! He had got through firstly and secondly while Eunice was in her dreams, and was just beginning on thirdly. 'These are solemn thoughts,' he was saying, 'awfully solemn thoughts for unbelievers.' And then Eunice smiled.

She was detected, of course. Mr. Swift chanced to look at her just when that unlucky smile was brightest. He stopped short, and no one ever heard the conclusion of thirdly.

'What are you laughing at, Eunice?' he demanded, glaring at her across the table.

'I wasn't laughing, papa,' she answered, innocently enough.

'Not laughing!' he repeated furiously. 'You were laughing in my face. You want to turn everything solemn into ridicule, I suppose! Really, as Matilda says, we must all tremble when we think of your future lot!'

'Indeed, papa, I didn't know that I was smiling. I did not hear what you were saying,' said Eunice.

'You are like the deaf adder that stops her ears! Always busy with your vain imaginations, instead of listening to instructive conversation!'

Eunice took care not to smile again, and slipped quietly away as soon as dinner was over. Lavinia, after a little while, followed her, and found her in the garden.

The Swifts' garden was merely a strip of ground where serviceable vegetables grew thickly. There were no flowers; no plants with poetical associations. But sometimes, when Mr. Swift was safely out of the house, Eunice had found a kind of pleasantness here. The butterflies    those fairy friends of hers    were condescending enough to come and alight upon the cabbages. The summer wind brought a breath of sweetness from her neighbors' roses; even the cats, with their sleek fur shining in the sun, blinked at her with lazy friendliness from the top of the wall. She had heard the bang of the hall door, and knew that Mr. Swift had gone out. And so, with a happy sense of freedom, she sauntered up and down the narrow path, softly humming an old tune.

'Oh, you are here,' said Lavinia, appearing at the end of the path. 'Eunice, I'm afraid you have very much upset papa.'

'I always do upset him, don't I?'

'Well, yes. But you ought to have been on your guard today. It was really silly to sit there smiling at nothing.'

'Perhaps I had something to smile at.'

'Only your own fancies. I am come to warn you. Matilda met me in the village this morning, and seemed quite exasperated. It's the old story; people are turning against her, she says. And she blames you.'

'Well, that's nothing new. If she fell down in the street and broke her leg, she'd blame me.'

And Eunice put her hands behind her, and hummed again.

'Papa is gone to Myrtle Villa,' Mrs. Bertie went on. 'I wish he hadn't. But he always does go there when he is in rather an unpleasant mood. He'll be worse when he comes back. They are sure to talk you over.'

'Oh, they've done that thousands of times! Look here, Lavinia, why are you in a fidget? You are quite used to these things, and so am I.'

'Because everything seems to be getting worse! Because people are beginning to pity you openly. Mrs. Barron goes about declaring that you are being worried into your grave. And you really do look very thin and miserable.'

'I'm not going to my grave yet,' smiled Eunice.

'Then don't look as if you were! You ate nothing today. I'll buy some cod liver oil if you will promise to take it and get stouter. Or some quinine. Or Rachel shall make some camomile tea?'

'I've had something better than cod liver oil, or quinine, or camomile tea.'

'What was that?' Lavinia asked.

'A dose of hearts ease.'

'Rubbish!' said Lavinia impatiently.

'My dear Lavinia, you have been prescribing rubbish! All that I need is hope, freedom, occupation. And I'm going to have what I want.'

Mrs. Bertie was puzzled. Eunice's grey eyes looked brightly into hers, and there was perfect confidence in her tone.

'I don't understand you, Eunice,' she said. 'But I should be thankful for anything that brought us peace. I think Matilda believes you are trying to starve yourself, on purpose to annoy her. And I really don't see what is to be done.'

'There's only one thing to be done, Lavinia. And I'm going to do it.'

'I hope it's nothing rash or foolish. I'm afraid they won't think it right, whatever it is,' said Mrs. Bertie, with a sigh.

'Of course they won't think it right. But in time to come they may feel differently. While I am with them they will always misunderstand me, and quarrel with me. The only way to make them think more kindly is to leave them.'

'Oh, you are going away!' Lavinia drew a long breath, and a dull flush came into her sallow cheek. 'But you have no money, no friends, no place to go to?'

'I have found friends and a home. Indeed, Lavinia, this isn't one of my empty dreams. I will tell you all about it by and by.'

'But who has taken you up? Are you sure that there is no uncertainty?' Mrs. Bertie asked anxiously. 'When people are wretched, they often grasp at shadows.'

'This is no shadow. It is Miss Wallace who has come to my help.'

'Oh, if it's Miss Wallace,' Lavinia began, and then stopped in her sentence. Her doubts had all vanished at the mention of that name. Eunice looked fixedly at her for a moment, smiled, and ran away.

Left to herself, Lavinia glanced round cautiously to be certain that she was not observed. Then, pulling out her handkerchief, she quietly shed a few tears. Quite suddenly, her memory pictured the room in the old farmhouse where her mother lay dying; and she seemed to see Eunice, a child of five, sitting mutely beside the bed. She remembered how a thin hand had wandered over the little girl's head; and a weak voice had whispered, 'Be kind to her when I am gone.' Had they been kind? Lavinia's tears flowed faster, and she crept away to the end of the garden to hide them.

Eunice, upstairs in her garret, was crying a little, too. She knew that poor Lavinia had meant well.

On the wall, among the pen and ink sketches, hung a photograph in a little oak frame. It was the portrait of a lady, with a sweet, calm face of a teacher who had been Eunice's guardian angel in her schooldays. She looked at it through her tears, and then rested her head on her hands.

'Will Mrs. Densley be as good to me as you were?' she murmured. 'Oh, I'm afraid they will think me shy and plain! I am timid, I know, and not very strong. Will they understand? Will they know that I want to please them? I am stupid sometimes. And, worst of all, I want to cry when anyone speaks kindly.'

She looked up once more at the portrait of her dead friend; and the calm face seemed to restore her strength and courage.

'I must conquer all my weakness,' she said bravely. 'I must fight hard against this distrust of self.'

Meanwhile, Gwen Netterville was still a prisoner in her little chamber in The Nest, and was bearing her captivity with languid patience.

The window filled up nearly the whole of one side of the room    a long, low window, with latticed casements that were flung wide open, affording a free entrance to breezes, butterflies, and all the other sweet things that drift indoors to us on summer days. Hour after hour, Gwen would lie motionless, giving a mute welcome to the tokens from the garden and meadow, watching such sky changes as were visible through a network of boughs, and listening to the trill and chirp of birds. The roses did their best to enliven her solitude, wafting fragrant sighs across her face, and sometimes scattering a few pink petals over her pillow.

Looking back, long afterwards, on this period of enforced quietness, she used to say that it was the very last bit of her old life.

It was the last time that she was to hold unbroken communion with the memory of her first love, and talk of him to the west wind in her girlish fashion. In these quiet days he was still entirely her own; she could recall, with just the old thrill, the touch of his hand and the pressure of his lips. The world was shut out of her silent room; and he was near her always, a dear phantom, with sad grey eyes that seemed to speak of an eternal love. She clung to her dream    clung to it with the unconscious tenacity with which we always grasp that part of ourselves that is slipping away.

But Miss Wallace's return put an end to her reverie. It was impossible to go on dreaming, when Cora, worldly and practical, came to spend long hours in the little room, creating a new atmosphere around her. She sat by the open lattice and talked, pleasantly enough, in the good-natured cynical strain which always amused Gwen, even while it made her heart ache.

'The Heatherstones have gone back to Fairwood,' she said, with a mischievous light in her eyes. 'Mrs. Collington is sincerely thankful to be left in peace; and we shall have no more dinner parties at present. Poor Maud will hide her disfigured cheek in the shades of her rural home.'

'Is she scratched very badly?' Gwen asked.

'Not half so badly as she ought to have been. However, for the present she has spoiled her three quarter face: the portrait aspect, you know. And she must have suffered tortures when Lord Inglefield found her sitting in tatters by the roadside. But, by-the-way, my belle, how did it come to pass that you were in that luckless carriage?'

Gwen colored faintly under the inquisitive glance of the brilliant hazel eyes.

'It will take quite a long time to tell you the story, Cora,' she said. 'After your warning, it was very weak of me to be taken into Mrs. Heatherstone's toils.'

'Oh, I saw that she was determined to make use of you,' replied Miss Wallace. 'I am well acquainted with all her ways and doings. Go on, my child, if you really are strong enough to tell the tale.'

In a languid voice poor Gwen went through the history of that disastrous trip to Marsham, beginning with Maud's afternoon visit, and leaving out none of the details. And Cora listened with a curling lip, and a bright attentive gaze fixed upon the speaker.

'It was a Maud-like trick,' she said, when Gwen's story was ended. 'As to Mr. Heatherstone, he has gone home with the firm conviction that Maud was the innocent victim of your flightiness. "Dangerous girl, that Miss Netterville," he remarked confidentially to me. "Insisted on jumping into Ludlow's carriage, and got my wife into no end of a scrape!"'

'Mr. Heatherstone may rest undisturbed in his belief,' replied Gwen, with quiet haughtiness. 'But I hope Mrs. Collington doesn't misjudge me?'

'She understands her daughter,' responded Cora. 'Very few words passed between Maud and her mother; but Mrs. Collington told her child some home truths. I fancy it will be long before Maud ventures on another visit to Seacastle.'

'It was altogether a miserable affair,' sighed Gwen.

'But there was a bit of romance at the end. Lord Inglefield came most opportunely to the rescue. He is a man that society raves about; did you happen to get a glimpse of his face?'

'Yes, I came to my senses as he was carrying me into the house. He has a wonderful face, Cora, like    .'

'Like the Archangel Michael, and St. George, and King Arthur. Like all the heroes that we have been worshiping in picture galleries all our lives.'

'Exactly,' said Gwen, smiling. 'In short, he looks half a saint. Is he really a good man?'

'Somebody once remarked that he lived up to his face,' Miss Wallace answered. 'Yes; he is a fine character    goes in for moral elevation and that sort of thing. And as he is rich, handsome, and a viscount, of course he is sure to succeed. Everybody is delighted to be elevated by his influence. But you have been talking too much, my child; and I will leave you to sleep.'

So Cora kissed her friend and went her way; and Gwen was left to stillness.

She was too languid and tired now to care about anything but rest; the effort of talking had overtaxed her shaken nerves, and she lay back among her pillows with a sigh of weariness. It was sunset; the room was filled with the mellow amber of the dying day, and the leaves were whispering softly outside the window. The hour was so calm and sweet that all angry thoughts of Maud Heatherstone died out of Gwen's mind; the roses were breathing of peace, and the golden light soothed her to a deep repose.

She thought of Eunice Swift, the poor desolate girl whose journey through the Valley of Humiliation was now nearly at an end. Already Eunice had won her heart's desire; her foot was planted firmly on the first steppingstone to fame; and she would soon leave Seacastle and its dreary associations far behind. And Gwen began to wonder dreamily whether her own path was still destined to run on in the old course, without turning to the right hand or the left. Aunt Margery was always saying that the world was full of snares; but her niece was conscious of many a yearning after that enchanted ground that lay beyond her narrow way.

Old Hannah, coming into the room with a dainty little evening meal, found her young lady lying with half closed eyes, and stole softly to the bedside.

'I am not asleep, Hannah,' Gwen said drowsily. 'I was just wondering whether any changes will ever come to me. Eunice Swift will soon be going away, you know; but it seems as if I were doomed to stay on in this place until the end of my days.'

 

 

A Woman's Glory, Part 2

By Sarah Doudney, 1883

CHAPTER I

GOING AWAY

Mrs. Collington had taken a liking to the Torwoods, and Angeline was asked to stay at Verbena Lodge. Lilly Heatherstone had returned to Fairwood with her brother and his wife; and without any words it was quietly understood that the Torwood-Heatherstone alliance would never come to pass.

After the bustle of a fashionable watering-place, the sleepy calm of Seacastle was pleasant to Angeline. August had now come to an end; the early September days were dreamy and sweet; at evening there were golden mists veiling the low-lying fields and pebbled beach, and creeping up to the old castle walls. Gwen Netterville was released from her room, and wandered about all day in the autumn sunshine. Cora and Angeline were her daily companions, and, in spite of Mrs. Goad, Eunice was now bold enough to join them.

The thought of her approaching emancipation had inspired her with new courage; and somehow Matilda (a little crushed, perhaps) was beginning to see that Eunice was throwing off her yoke. Anyhow, the girl had plucked up her courage, and ventured to join her friends, even when Captain Torwood was part of the party.

'She was uncommonly nice to talk to.' That was Captain Torwood's opinion of Eunice Swift; and yet he saw clearly that she had never been trained in the world, and knew nothing of the conventional style of conversation.

The truth was that, in talking, Eunice forgot herself; all the small miseries of her life were put out of sight, and she became a free and happy soul. Captain Torwood was well satisfied to listen sometimes without speaking; and he could speak or hold his peace as he chose. She did not look for compliments or attentions. Anything untrammeled is amusing; and as Lawrence Torwood loved being amused, and dreaded nothing so much as a bore, the pair quickly glided into friendliness.

As they grew better acquainted, Eunice ceased to find resemblances between Captain Torwood and any of her beloved heroes of fiction. This man of everyday life (by no means a remarkable fellow, if the truth must be told) was rapidly becoming more interesting than the Nigels and Peverils who had so long enchained her fancy.

It was, in fact, the first time that she had ever been brought into close contact with a man of the period. Captain Torwood, with his gentlemanly languor and quiet grace of manner, was a good type of the class to which he belonged, so far as externals went. As regarded the inner self, he was, on the whole, more liberally endowed with brains and heart than many of his associates. But neither brains nor heart had ever yet been called into full play.

He lived much as other men lived, spending most of his energies in endeavoring to escape boredom, and never quite succeeding. He was in the swim; fair faces smiled upon him, and matronly eyes encouraged him to make advances towards the blossoms that were carefully guarded from undesirable hands. 'Gather you rosebuds while you may,' they seemed to say; but somehow he was slow in availing himself of the permission. Flower after flower was hovered over and sighed over, until he found it suddenly snatched away, or was sickened of its sweetness. A true reluctant in love was Lawrence Torwood: dallying with opportunities; sauntering when he should have put forth all his speed; whispering soft nothings when he should have uttered decisive words; and letting all his chances slip, just because he could never be thoroughly in earnest.

He could not contemplate marriage without leaping over the bridal day, and seeing an arid waste beyond the orange-blossoms. Sometimes (when a thinking mood was on him) he would roughly divide the women of society into two classes. Firstly, there were the soft-spoken girls, formal and well-trained, who might be trusted to make good wives, and slowly bore a man to death. And secondly, there were the mirthful coquettes, who never failed to sparkle and amuse, but whose witcheries had a dash of the devil # just enough to warn, while it enchanted a possible suitor. On all sides he found women to waltz with, and ride with, and laugh with. But where were the women to marry?

Doubtless they were to be found, as everything is to be found, if the seeker is resolved to find. But he was merely a seeker in name, never putting his heart into the search. And on the whole he was rather pleased with his lack of success.

After a few walks with Eunice Swift, he discovered that she possessed a quality which is rare in her gender; she could be a good comrade. And yet there was nothing in the least masculine in her manner or nature. Something soft and shy in the grey eyes, and something infinitely gentle in the sweet voice, always reminded him that she was a very woman.

They talked or were silent as the fancy of the moment dictated; there was no fetter nor barrier between them. And at every meeting some new similarity of thought was discovered, some fresh sympathy found out. Narrow as her world had been, her charity was wide, her judgment sound and true. He could speak to her as to a woman# and not as he would have spoken to a society belle; and he was conscious of finding in her presence a haven of peace.

'You are going to leave this place?' he said one day.

It was afternoon#, just such an afternoon as might have reigned perpetually in the Lotus-eater's paradise.

'All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
 Breathing like one that has a weary dream.'

The waters of the harbor were clouded by a thin haze, through which the vessels showed like phantoms; there was not a touch of intense color anywhere to be found, nor a sharp outline to be seen; everything was dreamy and vague. You could not tell where shadow ended and substance began; there were no boundary lines visible; earth and sea and sky were all blended in the soft mist. Even the castle towers had lost their stern contour, and seemed to be slowly fading into a background of neutral tints. A purplish vapor had crept into the ruined chambers of the citadel; the elder-bushes that grew so luxuriantly in every nook and cavity were motionless in the still atmosphere. The ivy, hanging in heavy masses over the crumbling stones, had put forth those thick clusters of small greenish blossoms which tell us that the year is near its end.

Captain Torwood and Eunice, apart from the rest of their party, were standing on the top of the flight of steps that led to the interior of the great tower.

'Yes, I am going away,' she answered absently.

'And you will be glad to go? You want to mingle with the madding crowd?'

'I shall only be a looker-on; I don't think I was meant to "mix with action,"' Eunice replied. 'Mine must always be a contemplative kind of life.'

'But you are one of the workers,' he said. 'Miss Wallace has been telling us about your book. You will be a swell one, one of these days.'

'Have I the elements of a swell in me?' she asked, with her soft little laugh.

'I am sure you have. It is lucky that you have plenty of occupation before you, Miss Swift; you will never know the horrors of boredom.'

'I think it will be a long while before I come to the end of all the things that interest me,' Eunice said frankly.

'Then you will keep young a long time. We never grow old while we are capable of being amused,' remarked Captain Torwood. 'For my part, I have used up all objects of interest, and age steals on me apace.'

Eunice glanced at him with an incredulous smile as he stood leaning against the broken masonry, a graceful figure, well-knit and strong. It was impossible to look long at that fair, handsome face without seeing in it the lines of power and thought; the golden moustache shaded a boldly cut mouth and chin, and if the lips took a slight curve of disdain, it did not mar their beauty. The eyes, deep blue, had the brightness and clearness of a boy's eyes, and looked out honestly and fearlessly upon the whole world.

Undoubtedly it was a beautiful face, Eunice thought, and its owner must be destined to live a life of ease always, never knowing a thwarted wish, nor finding a crumpled rose-leaf.

As she looked at him, quietly and earnestly, she was conscious of a half-formed pain, the dull beginning of a heartache that she could not understand.

She might hope to rise steadily and surely in the world, never getting very high, perhaps, but just high enough to be lifted above the reach of want and care. But no matter how high she stood, he would never need a helping hand of hers; there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that she could ever do for him.

Deep down in the heart of every true woman there is always a desire to render service to the man who is her chosen friend. In her nature there must ever be a craving after the queenly privilege of giving. Eunice, with this unconscious royalty of mind, began to suffer from a sense of poverty that could never be put into words.

She looked at the heir of the rich Miss Paisley, much as the dumb mermaid looked at the beautiful prince. She did not belong to his kingdom. And there could be nothing, she thought, that he would covet in her own sea-world of coral and shells. It was a fair world enough, purer and more pleasant than the region that he dwelt in; but society knew nothing about it. And a mermaid, although she might prove an amusing companion for a day, would be wise if she stayed patiently in the retirement of her native deep.

There was silence for a few seconds; and then he became conscious of her scrutiny. He met the thoughtful eyes with a questioning glance.

'Why don't you resist the advances of old age?' she asked.

He slightly raised his eyebrows.

'Why do these stones let the ivy come creeping over them?' he said. 'Will you tell me how to begin resisting?'

'Just put forth some of your disused power, that's all. Just make an effort to get interested in something. Find an object.'

'No, don't tell me to find objects,' he entreated. 'The person with an object is such an atrocious nuisance to his fellows. He always wants them to see it too. He can't be content to gaze, and press towards it alone. Somebody once wrote an excellent little book with a title that made me shudder. It was called "Life in Earnest," and I think it was cheap. Yes, I'm sure it was cheap, because an aunt of mine, in one of her benevolent moments, presented me with a copy.'

'I know the book,' Eunice said quietly.

'And you like it? If you were a rich aunt, you would present it to your frivolous nephew?'

'I don't know how it feels to be a rich aunt. But I was wondering where Longfellow discovered the young man who is supposed to give utterance to the "Psalm of Life." He doesn't exist nowadays, does he?'

'I think he does, in America. The Yankees are always wanting to make their lives sublime.'

'And some of them succeed, I fancy. Anyhow, they give us glimpses of the sublime in their books.'

'Yes, they do,' he admitted frankly; 'And they have more "go" in them, and a stronger sense of humor than we have. We never get any fun out of anything.'

'That's a melancholy confession,' said Eunice. 'I can almost find it in my heart to pity you, although I'm one of the poorest little women in the world. You remind me of Mrs. Browning's tired child at a show,

'"Who sees through tears the jugglers leap."

'Now I am quite certain that I can get fun out of everything jugglers and all.'

'Because the jugglers will be new to you,' he replied. 'You do well to pity me, Miss Swift; I envy your unwearied eyes! I dare say you have managed to be amused sometimes, even here?'

'Yes,' she answered, thinking of the little comedies which had made her dull life endurable. 'I have really found something to laugh at now and then, even in Seacastle. But I hope to laugh more by and by,' she added, in a tone which told him that mirth had probably been one of her prohibited things.

'Poor child!' he said, in a soft voice.

The best part of his nature was aroused at that moment; a man's compassion for a patient, suffering woman shone in his blue eyes. It would be a pleasant thing, he thought, to watch the light of happiness and the bloom of health coming into that wan face; it would be a positive joy to take her by the hand, and lead her out into the world, and witness her innocent delight in new scenes.

Thinking these thoughts, he surveyed her critically as she stood beside him in the mellow sunshine. If she were dressed as the women of his circle dressed, how would she look? Pretty she never could he; but in the carriage of her small person, and the pose of her shapely head, there was a certain something which we call distinguished for lack of a better word. And it was a significant fact that Eunice, despite her shabbiness, always received from servants, railway-porters, and shop men, that involuntary respect which Mrs. Goad could never command.

Captain Torwood's glance, long-practiced, took in all the girl's good points in an instant. There was in her sad face a kind of nobility which made him reverence her while he pitied. He realized the dignity of this lonely woman, who had quietly defended her refinement and self-respect against those who had tried hard to deprive her of both.

She turned and looked at him with a frank gratitude in her grey eyes, just as if she could read all those kindly yearnings that had never risen to his lips. And the look and smile thrilled him suddenly and strangely, piercing through the thick crust of selfishness and conventionalism which had been forming over his heart for years.

He was by no means an impulsive man; and yet it is certain that an impulse did truly master him just at that moment.

Her fingers were trifling idly with the ivy-leaves that clustered all round them on the ruined wall. And with a quick movement he took possession of that little hand, and kept it fast imprisoned in his own.

It need scarcely be said that he was perfectly well used to imprisoning little hands in this fashion; but it would have been hard to explain why the touch of these fragile fingers saddened him, and made him half ashamed of himself. They were, however, soon withdrawn from his clasp, and Eunice said simply:

'I shall be expected at home, Captain Torwood; I must go.'

She began to descend the flight of steps as she spoke, and he mechanically followed her. Down below they found Cora Wallace, seated on a bench between Angeline and Gwen, and Eunice said adieu to them all.

As she turned her steps towards White Cottage, she felt as if she were leaving a fairy-land behind her. Never had the castle precincts looked so beautiful, invested as they were with the golden charm of autumn; never had that green spot upon the old wall appeared so like an enchanted bower. But stern commonsense was never far away from Eunice Swift, and it aided her that day to escape from a perilous dreamland.

'Eunice is not so plain as she was,' thought Mrs. Bertie, meeting her sister in the entry.

The next morning brought a letter which was destined to shorten her stay in Seacastle. Mr. Radcliffe, tired of the sea-side, and impatient to get back to his literary work, had insisted on returning to town. He sent an urgent request to Miss Swift to come at once to Queen Anne Street. And Eunice was thankful for the summons, and felt herself quite ready to depart.

Mr. Swift and Matilda appeared to have washed their hands of the girl and her concerns. She would surely come back again, they said, like the bad shilling; and when Lavinia faintly hinted that Eunice might possibly get on in the world, she was answered with angry sneers. So Lavinia was silent, and did not venture to show any great interest in Eunice's humble preparations, which were, however, very speedily completed.

When her school trunk was packed, and all the luggage-labels made ready, Eunice snatched half an hour to go and say farewell to some of her old friends those lowly friends who dwelt in shabby cottages, and sent their little boys and girls to the Sunday-school. She refrained from taking leave of any of the upper-class neighbors; to have done so would have irritated Mrs. Goad, who would instantly have declared that she was trying to win their sympathy and work upon their compassion. So she resolved to content herself with the goodbyes and parting blessings of the poor, and in truth desired nothing more.

It was her intention to leave Seacastle early on a Tuesday morning, and it was on Monday evening that her last visits had to be paid. She slipped out, just at sunset, when the mists were rising and the light waning, and took her way first to a little cottage that stood, quite alone, upon a desolate part of the shore.

A man, dressed in a dark blue woolen shirt, was standing in the doorway, looking out across the waste of greenish mud left by the receding tide. That mud was his harvest field, where periwinkles were to be found; but Luke Gosling had other occupations besides 'winkling.' He had a share in a boat, and went out fishing with his mates, and in his spare hours he cultivated vegetables in his garden. Of late, life had gone pretty smoothly with Luke; he had been able to provide comfortably for the wife and little ones, and had even risen so high as to purchase a donkey and cart. But, not so very long ago, he had known what it was to be very low in the world, so low that he had almost lost the hope of ever rising again.

In those days there had been a friend who had sat by his side in his sickness, and had talked to him, and told him stories that had made him forget his troubles. While she had talked, her hands were often busy with patching and mending doing some of that necessary work which his poor burdened wife had been forced to leave undone. She had never given him any money; he had known quite well that the kind heart and the empty purse often go together. But, in a way past explaining, she had managed to help the whole family. She had come in among them and toiled with them, putting her shoulder to the wheel just as if they had a right to demand her services, and they had all felt the most perfect confidence in her strength and sympathy.

And now Luke Gosling knew that this friend was going away. The news had been whispered to his little Jenny by Rachel at White Cottage; and Jenny had come home to her mother in an agony of tears.

The tide-pools were glittering here and there with amber light; golden rays came slanting across the coarse grass that grew sparsely outside his garden fence. The donkey, standing contentedly in her shed, put her grey nose out of the doorway as if to remind Luke of her presence. He glanced at her with all the pardonable pride of ownership, but his thoughts soon came back to the cause of little Jenny's grief; and then his wife stepped out upon the threshold and stood by his side.

'I s'pose there's no mistake, Jane!' he said. 'It must be true enough that Miss Swift's going away?'

'Oh yes, it's true enough,' she answered. 'And Rachel said she was a-going to a good home a home up in London. That child Jenny nearly cried herself sick, and no wonder!'

'She's going,' Jane; going,' and we can't make her no returns. That's what frets me!'

Jane Gosling gave her husband's arm an energetic pull. Although the low light was dazzling her eyes, she had caught sight of a slim figure coming towards them across the coarse grass, and Luke looked up to meet Eunice's wistful gaze.

'Miss,' he said abruptly, 'be you really come to say good-bye?'

'Yes, Luke,' she replied. 'And I have come, too, to ask you to do me a kindness: the very last kindness, perhaps, that I ever shall ask of anyone here.'

'Think o' that, Jane!' said Luke ecstatically. 'It do seem as if she'd read my very thoughts!'

'I would like you to take my luggage to the station in your donkey-cart,' Eunice continued. 'It will be a great help to me, Luke; the fly costs eighteen-pence, you know. I shall start tomorrow morning by the eight o'clock train.'

The faces of husband and wife literally beamed at this request; it tempered the pain of parting, as Eunice had intended that it should. Luke Gosling was proud of his new possessions, and all his pride in them was doubled and tripled at this moment; moreover, there was no small pleasure in knowing that the landlord of the Crab, who kept a fly or two, and charged fancy prices for their use, would lose one-and-sixpence. Miss Swift (bless her heart!) should have her boxes carried to the railway-station for nothing; and Luke would be at White Cottage by seven o'clock to bring the luggage downstairs.

'Rachel will want me to lend her a hand, miss,' he said cheerily, 'and I shan't leave your things until I've seen 'em all safe into the luggage-van.'

'Thank you, Luke; that will be a great comfort,' answered Eunice simply. 'I'm not well used to traveling, you know, and I shall be glad to have someone to look after me.'

She spoke bravely enough, and yet, just for an instant, a pain smote her sharply. Other women had fathers, brothers, or lovers to 'look after them;' she had only Luke Gosling, the rough fisherman.

But the pang passed as quickly as it came; the farewells were cheerfully spoken, and even little Jenny's tears were stayed by the promise of a brand-new story-book to be sent to her from London. Eunice walked homeward along the lonely shore, remembering the days when she had trodden this very path in bitterness of heart, and comparing the doleful past with the hopeful present. She had a spirit that was thankful for small mercies, perhaps; but then the 'mercies' that would have seemed but molehills to some people were like mountains of joy to her. There were patches of blue in the sky that had been long covered with clouds, and the soul of this poor traveler was full of gratitude and peace.

One or two other cottages were visited before the September night set in, and then Eunice returned to her attic. It looked very bare and cheerless now; all the pen-and-ink pictures were taken down from the walls, and the photograph in its oak frame was packed up with her scanty stock of treasures. She was too tired to take a tender farewell of her old chamber that night; and even the parting with her father did not move her as she had thought that it would.

'Well, Eunice,' said Mr. Swift, taking up his bedroom candle, 'you are determined to choose your own course, and I hope you'll keep to the straight road. As you couldn't treat Matilda properly, you would only have embittered my last days if you had stayed here. I wish that you may prosper, but I doubt it.'

'Thank you, papa,' Eunice answered, quite cheerfully.

A word of tenderness, a touch of regret, would have unnerved her at once, and sent her to bed weeping and distrusting herself. But the harshness and the reference to Matilda gave her strength, and hardened the poor little heart that was only too ready to be soft and wavering. If, at this sharp turning-point of her life, things had shaped themselves differently, she might have gone back to the dead level of her old dull existence, and have resolutely extinguished her yearnings after a larger sphere. But the doubtful moment was past; and she went to her attic as cool and firm as if no change awaited her on the morrow.

The morning was fresh and still, and the village was scarcely astir when the cavalcade passed through the street on its way to the railway-station. First came Eunice, carrying her satchel and a shabby shawl; Luke followed, walking proudly at the donkey's head, and glancing over his shoulder sometimes to assure himself of the safety of the luggage in the cart. Ted Gosling, a sturdy lad of fourteen, brought up the rear, and gave himself airs of importance. The procession passed Myrtle Villa, and was greeted with derision by Mrs. Goad, peeping cautiously through the closed blinds of her bedroom. But Eunice marched on without bestowing a single glance upon Matilda's windows.

As she drew near the gate of The Nest, her heart began to beat with a faint hope of catching one last glimpse of Gwen. Eunice had written her a loving note of farewell, but Gwen was still delicate, and the old habit of early rising had been discontinued since her fall from the carriage. Her friend had, therefore, but small expectation of seeing her in these last moments, and yet, in her heart-loneliness, Eunice felt that the least parting sign would be unspeakably dear. She was young; it seemed to be a hard fate that had condemned her to be utterly self-sufficing. She yearned for a little love, a little sympathy to look back upon and think over in years to come.

The gate opened as she approached, and Hannah appeared with a tin box of sandwiches. In the next instant Gwen herself came tripping down the garden path and joined her.

'Eunice,' she said, 'I'm going with you to the railway-station. You must take Hannah's sandwiches, else she'll be mortally wounded. And Aunt Margery has sent you a bottle of cherry cordial. Now give me that satchel directly, and don't look at me like that!'

For tears were gathering in Eunice's eyes, and there was the faintest possibility of a scene. Gwen made a snatch at the satchel, deposited the sandwiches and cordial inside it, and then drew Eunice's arm within her own.

'Come,' she cried, 'this isn't only the prosaic road to the train; it's the direct path to fame. Think of all the people who have ever gone marching on to victory, and then march serenely after them.'

'I am marching after them,' Eunice answered with a tremulous little laugh. 'But not quite serenely, I'm afraid.'

They walked at a brisk pace along the quiet road, and Eunice took a silent leave of all the familiar things. Strips of gossamer clung to the yellowing hedges, and floated on the still air; sparrows chirped and twittered. The light was dreamy and soft, and white mists hung gauze-like over the level fields. Seacastle was a flowery old place, and its gardens always made a brave show in autumn. The fluted velvet of dahlias could be seen behind decaying fences; yellow snapdragons flourished in the crannies of moldering walls; old porches were laden with the tender pink clusters of the monthly rose. She gave a parting sigh to the flowers, and that was all.

"When they had passed the last cottages, and were approaching the viaduct, her lips quivered once; but there were no more tears. They climbed the steps to the platform, and Luke and his boy staggered up manfully after them, carrying the box. Then the ticket was taken, and they learned that the train might be expected in three minutes. There was scanty time for last words. As Eunice stepped out of the booking-office a column of white steam arose above the autumn trees.

She took a hasty leave of her faithful henchmen, and received Gwen's earnest kiss. Then the train rushed up, the door of a second-class carriage was opened, and she found herself the solitary occupant of the compartment. It was all over in another minute. She caught a last glimpse of Gwen's blue eyes, and saw a fisherman's hat waved wildly in the air. And then she was whirled away.

She was quite composed now. With a calm face she looked out upon the square tower of the castle rising rugged and stern above the roofs of the village. Through the open window came the morning breath of the incoming tide, and fanned her cheek with a briny coolness. It was the last farewell of the sea.

 

 

CHAPTER II

'MUCH TO LEARN, MUCH TO FORGET'

It was October; and although there were still sunbeams and flowers, the days were short and the nights long; and Seacastle was beginning to prepare itself for the coming winter.

Cora Wallace had gone away for a few days, and a pensive mood had come upon Gwen. The languor of the dying year seemed to be stealing over her spirit; she missed the stimulating influence of Cora's caustic speeches missed, too, the stolen meetings with Eunice Swift.

There were no brisk winds to sweep the autumn mists away and clear the thick atmosphere; the air was heavy with the scent of rotting leaves; people were beginning to whisper vague hints of fever. Gwen, absorbed in her reveries, went about in a dream, and did not notice that Uncle Andrew followed all her movements with wistful eyes, and that Aunt Margery and Hannah were unsettled and ill at ease.

One afternoon, between four and five o'clock, she strolled slowly down the long garden - path on her way to her old shrubbery-seat. All around the trees were shedding their leaves; the glory of the flower-beds had departed; the blaze of nasturtiums was gone, but the dull purple monks-hood shot up its spires, and sober Michaelmas daisies grew in stiff clusters. Roses were still lingering here and there; the Grloire de Dijon (always plentiful in Seacastle) was trying to unfold its crowded petals in the waning sunshine; but its buds swelled without bursting into full bloom, and hung heavy and chill for lack of a stronger sun.

Gwen remembered the abundant blooms of the early summer, and sighed. And then her eyes fell on a group of pansies, rich in their royal velvet, and glittering with autumn dew; and she stooped down to gather them. Victor Ashburn had been fond of the pansy, the quaint old-world flower that all 'the sons of light' had loved to sing about, and Shelley had wreathed into a melancholy crown. It was truly a flower of remembrance; in the May-days it had been the companion of hyacinths and lilies, and all the queen blossoms of the year; and now in the damp air of October it lived among scattered rose-leaves, and whispered to the wintry chrysanthemums of the summer that was past.

Hannah's voice came ringing faintly down the long path, and Gwen, looking up languidly, saw the old servant approaching, and beckoning with an impatient hand. Hannah's placid old face was flushed, her eyes were shining, and she was carrying herself altogether like a younger and prouder woman.

'There's great news, my dear good news,' said she, speaking slowly and impressively. 'Your father will be here tomorrow.'

'Is he really coming?' Gwen asked. 'But it will only be for a short visit; I shall see him, and lose him again,' she added wearily.

'No, you will not lose him again, Miss Gwen. Wasn't I always telling you to have patience? Your father is coming to take you away from this place; you are going to lead a very different life, and you'll have done forever with Mrs. Goad and all her set!'

Hannah spoke the last words with a toss of her ancient cap; and Gwen laughed merrily and unrestrainedly.

'How lightly you take it, miss!' said the good woman, with offended dignity. 'You must go at once to your aunt, if you please. Sir Bertram's telegram has just come, and she has a great deal to tell you.'

'Who on earth is Sir Bertram?' demanded Gwen.

'Your father,' replied Hannah solemnly.

Gwen was silent. Instinctively she lifted the pansies, and pressed the damp velvet petals against her cheek, as if to assure herself that she was not dreaming; and then she walked slowly into the house.

The minister and his wife were seated in their armchairs, one on each side of the hearth. A small fire was burning, but the open lattice freely admitted the soft air and the last mellow light of the autumn day.

Mrs. Ormiston was folding and unfolding the telegram with fingers that trembled. Gwen could hear the rustling of the crisp paper in the stillness. She spoke first, partly to relieve her aunt of the necessity of beginning, and partly because there was a considerable strain upon her own patience. Why had all the mystery existed so long?

'Hannah tells me that papa is coming,' she said; 'and she calls him Sir Bertram. Aunt Margery, why have I never been told that he is Sir Bertram?'

But it was the minister who answered her question.

'He has only been Sir Bertram lately; three weeks ago he was plain Bertram Netterville. You think we have been making unnecessary mysteries, my child; but we have acted as we thought best. Now come here, and sit in your old place, while I talk to you.'

Mr. Ormiston's voice had its usual quieting influence upon the girl's spirit. A moment ago she had been half disposed to resent the long silence of her faithful guardians; but Uncle Andrew's words brought back all her old sense of perfect trust in his wisdom. In silence she drew a footstool to his side, and sat down at his feet as she had sat in her childhood. His hand wandered gently over her soft hair, and sometimes rested on her shoulder as he talked, and his tone was just as calm as if he had been telling one of the old fairy legends, so beloved in her nursery days. Aunt Margery held the message crushed in her fingers, and settled herself in her chair with a rigid face.

'Years ago,' Uncle Andrew began, 'there were two orphan sisters, living a withdrawn life in a little village in Oakshire; the elder was your aunt Margery there, and the younger was your mother, Bridget Thome. They had no relatives, very few friends, and only a small income, so that the world took but slight notice of such a lowly pair, and they were all in all to each other. Margery, being ten years older than Bridget, was more like a mother than a sister, and truly no mother could ever have been more unselfish and kind.'

Gwen stole a glance in her aunt's direction; but Mrs. Ormiston was shielding her face with her hand. While the minister talked, her youth was coming back to her like a perfume of days gone by. Dreams, hopes, sorrows, such as Gwen could never understand, were returning as she sat and listened to this old tale.

'Bridget was beautiful,' Mr. Ormiston went on. 'She had, as folks said, the air of a princess, and yet she was a winsome lass for all that. Ah, well! one need not be dwelling too long upon those old times. The Lord lifted the tender feet out of the rugged way, and set them in a quiet resting-place! You are like her, my child; but there is more pride in your nature than there ever was in hers ay, and more strength too!'

'I am glad to be like her,' Gwen said softly.

'We have seen the likeness growing and growing, Gwen,' he continued tenderly. 'And sometimes when you have thought your aunt stern, she has been looking at her own lost sister in your face. You will learn by-and-by, my lassie, that there are some who must give you either frowns or tears; and Margery has meant well always meant well, when she has kept the tears back.'

'She might have meant well, but it would have been wiser to have shed them!' thought Gwen, with a quiet sigh.

'And now comes the romantic part of the story,' said the minister, more lightly. 'Such a bonny birdie as Bridget must needs have her lovers; and it was small wonder, say I, that old Sir Hugh Netterville's two sons should seek her out. Sir Hugh's park and the cottage garden were only kept apart by a fence, and it was a fence that lads could climb easily enough. But these lads were not alike in their wooing, Gwen, for James meant sport, and Bertram meant earnest; and James was the eldest son and heir. And at last, when the game got too serious, what could Margery do but send her young sister to London to stay a while with an old governess?'

The girl moved restlessly in her seat, and looked up at the speaker with eager eyes. But Mrs. Ormiston still sat as motionless as stone.

'Margery stayed behind to take care of the cottage; but Hannah, the faithful maid, was sent to town with Bridget. And as Hannah had relations in London, her mistress gave her leave to remain there for a day or two. She did remain a week, and then came back to make a startling confession to Miss Thome. Bridget and Bertram Netterville had been married privately in a London church, and Hannah had witnessed the wedding.'

'And afterwards?' said Gwen breathlessly.

'Bertram was afraid to tell his father the truth, and the secret had to be kept.'

But Margery at once resolved to leave Brackenhurst and follow her sister to London. She left the cottage and went up to town with Hannah; and then began a time of deep anxiety for both sisters. But it was ordained that Margery's burden should not be borne alone; I married her, Gwen, and took my share of the family troubles. And not very long after our marriage the heaviest blow fell.'

Uncle Andrew paused, and passed his hand once or twice across his forehead. He had told the story freely and fluently, but now that it was nearly ended, his eloquence began to fail. Aunt Margery seemed to shrink and dwindle in her chair; the tall upright figure appeared to have suddenly succumbed to old age; her head had sunk down upon her bosom; her face was hidden in her trembling hands. But Gwen did not notice her at all.

'Uncle Andrew,' the girl cried impatiently, 'what was the heaviest blow?'

'My child, it is hard to explain everything. It seems that when Bertram returned to Brackenhurst, he had a bitter quarrel with his brother James. I have never known the full story of that quarrel; both were young and hot-headed, and doubtless many passionate things were said. James Netterville was, I believe, a weakly man one of those men to whom excitement is often fatal and he died, suddenly and terribly, with angry words upon his lips. Sir Hugh's heart was bound up in his eldest son, and he could never forgive Bertram; he banished him from his sight forever.'

'It was cruel and unjust to banish my poor father,' said Gwen, with indignation.

'At that time it seemed quite unlikely that Bertram would ever succeed to the title,' proceeded Uncle Andrew. 'There was another son, William, who came next to poor James. Sir Hugh consented to make Bertram an allowance on condition that he would never return to England during his father's life. It was not a very liberal allowance, Gwen; but then Sir Hugh knew nothing of the marriage; in fact, he never did know it to the day of his death.'

'Then my grandfather never knew of my existence, Uncle Andrew?'

'No, child; and he would not have been gracious to you if he had known it. He was a stern old man, I fancy; his wife had been dead for years, and there was no one to plead for Bertram. Well, Bertram went abroad, and it was arranged that Bridget should follow him after her baby was born. She never did follow him; you have been told, my lassie, that she died when you were only a few weeks old.'

'Poor mother!' Gwen whispered tearfully.

'And then you were left to us, Gwen,' the minister continued, with a slight tremor in his voice. 'If we had told you that your father was Sir Hugh Netterville's son, we should but have made you discontented with your lot. Even when we heard that William Netterville had died unmarried, we still kept silence; Sir Hugh was living on, a robust old man who might survive Bertram. But now .'

He stroked her hair with a trembling hand, and paused to draw a long breath. The girl drew that kind hand down to her lips, and kissed it lovingly.

'But now the time to speak has come. May the Lord guide you, my child, when the world's glare dazzles your eyes! Sir Hugh is dead; he died quite suddenly; and your father comes in to the title and all the property.'

There was a moment of deep silence ; the rich, dreamy light of the autumn sunset filled the little room with a strange glory, and Gwen rose up from her low seat and stood upright in the glow.

'Uncle Andrew,' she said, 'if I had known all this before, I think I should have been more loving, more grateful. I want you to forgive me you and Aunt Margery for all the things that I have ever done amiss. You have both been so good to me, and there is nothing that I can do for you nothing! As to our parting, I will not think of it, I cannot speak of it now.'

She turned and left the room. And in the next minute Hannah saw her tall lithe figure going swiftly down the long garden path, moving like one who was hardly conscious of motion.

'If I had known it all before,' Gwen was repeating to herself 'if I had only known it all before, it would have changed my life!'

 

 

CHAPTER III

'IS YOUR FACE LIKE YOUR MOTHER'S, MY FAIR CHILD?'

It was not unnatural that Gwen should lie awake all night, rehearsing the role of a duteous daughter, and resolving to devote herself heart and soul to a father who had been so cruelly exiled. She thought that she knew exactly what he would be like gentle, somewhat spiritless, crushed by early sorrow and long banishment. He would lean on her a good deal, of course; and for the future she must not expect to belong to herself. He would never be satisfied unless she was constantly by his side; she would be required to read aloud, to sing to him, to walk with him, to do everything, in short, to freshen his blighted life, and charm his thoughts away from a dreary past.

Naturally, too, her own new position had to be looked at in various lights; she was not so perfect a Christian as to refrain from chuckling a little over the discomfiture of Mrs. Goad. And then, just as the October dawn was slowly breaking, and the leaves outside the lattice were rustling in the breath of morning, she fell asleep and dreamed. Yet it was not a dream of the new life, but an old dream of a boat gliding over a smooth sea; and Victor Ashburn's eyes were looking into hers again. She stretched out her hands to touch him, and then woke with a start to find Hannah standing by her side.

'It's growing late, my dear,' said Hannah, in a soothing tone. 'But I wouldn't have wakened you if you had not seemed so restless. You were murmuring and moving your arms, and an uneasy sleep is best broken. There's a lot of packing to be done today,' added the good woman, with a sigh of importance.

'A lot of packing,' repeated Gwen, smiling drowsily. 'Nonsense, Hannah! you know that my possessions consist of three or four shabby frocks.'

Hannah winced a little at this bit of plain-speaking; and her young mistress, raising herself on her elbow, looked at her with laughing eyes.

'You silly old thing!' cried the girl lovingly. 'You know that I haven't come in to any of the magnificence yet. Don't you think they will have a poor opinion of my old brown serge at Brackenhurst Park? But never mind, Hannah, we will soon show them that we know how to dress when we have got money to spend.'

The old servant answered her with an admiring glance. They might think what they liked of the brown serge, but there could be no question about the beauty of the wearer. Gwen might go to her father's mansion like Enid in the faded silk a blossom vermeil-white, That lightly breaks its faded flower-sheath and none would fail to recognize her charms.

'It will be a proud time for me, my dearie, when I see you in all your glory,' said Hannah, with glistening eyes. 'Your aunt always promised that I should go to live with you, and it isn't likely that Sir Bertram will say me nay.'

'My father! oh no, he will not refuse me anything !' Gwen responded confidently. 'I shall tell him, of course, that I cannot possibly do without you. But, Hannah, I must have some breakfast up here, I believe; I am feeling heavy and need to be refreshed. You see I am beginning fine-lady ways already!'

But no one in the household was in the least disposed to find fault with this small piece of fine-lady-hood. Aunt Margery was feverishly anxious that Gwen should be looking her best when her father arrived. She fidgeted here and there in a way that was so unlike her usual formal self, that Uncle Andrew was half alarmed and half angry. He made two or three long speeches on the folly of being over-anxious about anything; and then, finding that his words were falling on deaf ears, went out upon the shore to meditate, until his wife should have returned to her usual frame of mind.

A letter had followed Sir Bertram's telegram. He might be expected at Seacastle at five in the afternoon, and would remain all night. Gwen must be ready to take her departure with him on the following day, and they were to proceed direct to Brackenhurst.

All through that long morning, Mrs. Ormiston was expending her strength in a hundred unnecessary efforts, dragging about boxes, turning out drawers, and looking more and more haggard as the day wore on. Gwen's gentle protests were not heeded in the least; her aunt toiled desperately, scarcely pausing to eat, and hardly speaking until the trunks were corded and the labels gummed on.

The minister looked ruefully at his wife when she came downstairs at four o'clock, wearing her best cap and gown. Such traces of loveliness as had survived the wear and tear of life had now entirely vanished from her face, a long, pale, melancholy face, rendered all the more ghastly by the violet cap-ribbons. Twenty one years ago, when Bertram Netterville had wooed and won her sister Bridget, Margery had been a good-looking woman of thirty; nowadays everybody spoke of her as an old lady, and today she might have been taken for a woman of sixty-five, or even seventy. What would Sir Bertram think of this sister-in-law, who would look at him with lack-luster eyes, and smile on him with lips from which the last vestiges of bloom had departed?

Good man as he was, Mr. Ormiston could not help feeling a little mortified when he surveyed his spouse with a critical glance. His Margery had always been a good woman; but it could not be said that her goodness wore a lovely aspect. Years ago the girl Bridget had shrunk from telling her heart-secrets to her stern sister; and from her earliest childhood Gwen had hidden her feelings resolutely from Aunt Margery's searching gaze. Hannah, and Uncle Andrew himself, had found it easy to win the girl's confidence; and all the little thoughts and plans that were carefully concealed from Mrs. Ormiston had been openly confided to them.

And now Gwen was going to leave her guardians, and the minister's heart told him that she would part with one of them without any deep regret.

Aunt Margery had been a faithful guide, but the hand that had clasped Gwen's soft little fingers had been cased in a glove of iron. Her voice had only known one tone the tone of warning; praise, encouragement, tenderness, were notes that she could not utter. Well was it for Gwen that her uncle and nurse could sing in another key, for their voices had made the sweetest music in her young life.

And yet the minister knew that his poor Margery's heart was torn with the anguish of parting from Bridget's child. He had spoken truly in saying that she gave frowns instead of tears. Hers was one of those oyster-natures which turns its rough shell to the world, and tightly shuts up its pearls; but who, alas, is the better for the treasures that are never disclosed to view?

The moment hoped for, yet dreaded, came at last; and Sir Bertram arrived in the waning sunshine of the afternoon.

He was a tall slender man, and had an indescribably withered look, although he had hardly passed the prime of life. A small well-shaped head; hair soft and fine, a mixture of silver and gold; delicate cameo features; eyes a cold blue; a tawny moustache untouched with grey; perfect hands and feet. Gwen took rapid note of all these details, and decided at once that he was a father of whom any daughter might be justly proud.

But there were traces in his face of irritability, instead of the melancholy which she had so confidently expected to find there. If Sir Bertram had ever suffered deeply, he had entirely outlived his early sorrow. A thoroughly selfish man, with expensive tastes and limited means, is rarely known to cherish the griefs of his youth; and Bertram Netterville had found it so hard to get all the comforts he wanted in life, that the struggle left him no leisure to lament the wife he had lost. Looking at that fretful, aristocratic face, you felt it difficult to believe that this man had ever experienced a great passion. His voice was silvery, but a little querulous at times; and the bland manner was only the mask of a peevish temper.

He met his daughter with a grace that chilled, while it set her at ease. He kissed her calmly, spoke a few well-chosen words, and looked at her with serene approval. Then, turning to Aunt Margery, who stood stiff and speechless with suppressed emotion, he thanked her for the care which she had bestowed on his dear child.

'So good of you, dear Margery, to have trained her,' he said. 'Of course I always felt that she was safe in your hands, but I hardly hoped to find her so perfectly satisfactory! I am really delighted to claim her, I assure you.'

He was delighted to claim her not because she was the child of his lost Bridget, but because she possessed a patrician type of beauty, and a repose of manner and movement which satisfied his fastidious taste. With her quick instinct, Gwen had instantly divined that her feelings were not wanted here; all that was required of her was a gentle expression of pleasure, and she bore herself as tranquilly as Cora Wallace would have done.

But from that moment the girl knew that her dream of filial tenderness was shattered forever. Life with Sir Bertram would not be in the least like the life that she had pictured to herself. Yet it might be a very pleasant existence, and some of her old cravings, at any rate, would be amply satisfied.

The instincts of race had ever been strong in Gwen; she had always longed to be surrounded with all the luxuries and refinements of life ; the hereditary fastidiousness developed prominently in her character, and had been one of the causes of her unpopularity with the ladies of Seacastle. Well, the sordid village life had come to an end at last; and now there would be wealth and dignity and ancestral halls for Gwen Netterville. She had yet to learn the true value of these things; but that knowledge would be gained by-and-by.

'I have a wretched digestion,' said Sir Bertram, looking mournfully at Mrs. Ormiston's tea-pot. 'In fact, I fear I must confess myself to be a confirmed invalid. You are to be envied, Ormiston; in spite of your years, you are a younger man than I am.'

'I have not had so much knocking about in the world as you have,' replied the minister. 'But you will renew your youth when you are settled at home. Your native air, and the society of your child, will restore all the health you have lost.'

'Health never returns when it has once taken flight,' said Sir Bertram petulantly. 'A narrow income has been the destruction of my liver; for years I have had to deny myself the very comforts that I most required. All the best part of my life has gone by in exile.'

'Not "the best part," I hope,' remarked Uncle Andrew cheerfully. 'The evening may be better than the dawn. I think you are taking too gloomy a view of yourself. Here is Gwen, ready to brighten the close of your day; we shall miss her sorely enough, but we give her up gladly to you.'

'She will be duly prized,' responded Sir Bertram, with an approving glance at his daughter, a glance which Gwen returned with just the right kind of smile. How quickly and easily she was learning to adapt herself to the tastes of this newly found father! Poor Aunt Margery noticed this exchange of smiles with a pang of jealousy; in all the years of family fellowship there had never been any understanding established between Gwen and herself. And there had been the same invisible barrier between Bridget's life and her own Bridget had always got on admirably with strangers, while with Margery she had ever been silent, shrinking, and repressed. It was all incomprehensible and infinitely sad, thought the poor woman, stirring her un-tasted tea, and looking so grim that even her husband quickly averted his eyes from her face.

'She will do,' said the Baronet, when he found himself alone with the Ormistons. 'My dear Margery, I am not given to ecstasies, but she is really one of the loveliest girls I have ever seen. Our poor Bridget was very pretty, but Gwen is taller, more distinguished in short, she has all the grace of the Nettervilles. If my father could have seen her, I think he might have been charmed into forgiving my youthful follies.'

His youthful follies! The minister looked in silent amazement at this man, who could speak thus lightly and pleasantly of a tragedy which had darkened more lives than one. Mrs. Ormiston did not attempt to utter a reply. Her thoughts had gone back to the death-bed of the poor Bridget who had been so airily pronounced 'very pretty;' and she remembered that the young wife's last words had been a message to her husband, 'her dear Bertram, who loved her so.' Ah me! what was love? Was it a thing worth living for, or dying for? Aunt Margery was asking herself these troubled questions, and getting lost in the mazes of memory, while the guest talked on.

'While we are on this subject, Ormiston,' continued Sir Bertram, 'I must also say a word about the dear girl's expenses. They have not, I hope, inconvenienced you very much? My wretchedly limited means made it so difficult for me to spare a pound, that I fear I left the burden on your hands too long. But you will allow me to offer you .'

'Nothing,' interrupted the minister, with a gesture of decision. 'The lassie has been the light of our eyes; we want no pay for harboring a sunbeam. Say no more on this point, Bertram, if you do not wish to pain us both.'

'What a good man you are, my dear Ormiston!' said Sir Bertram, not effusively, but in a tone that gave a hint of subdued feeling. 'All these years I have had no home to give my poor motherless girl; it would be difficult for you even to imagine what an unsettled life I have led. And then there was the anxiety of waiting for news from Brackenhurst. When William's death was announced, I was worried by the thought of coming into an empty title. I did not know how far my father's animosity would go; but I am happy in thinking that it died with him.'

'It was a relief to us also, Bertram, when we found that you would inherit all your late mother's property. Without adequate means, it would have been impossible to have kept up Brackenhurst.'

'I should not have attempted such a thing. The place must have been let, and I should probably have continued to live abroad. But all has ended satisfactorily, and I can give my daughter her rightful position at last. It is well for her that the tide has turned for me while she is still in the bloom of her youth; and well for her, too, that she has had such guardians as dear Margery and yourself.'

And then the three parted for the night, and the Baronet stumbled up the dark stairs to the chamber prepared for his use.

He shut the door, gave vent to an expletive or two, and bemoaned himself to himself. A night spent in this poor little room would be a grievance to be looked back upon and grumbled over for months to come.

 

 

CHAPTER IV

'AND YOU SHALL WALK IN SILK ATTIRE.'

They were not to start until afternoon; but Gwen rose early, and went out into the old garden soon after the tardy sunrise.

It was now a wilderness of yellow leaves, with clusters of evergreens showing darkly here and there, and walks and foliage were dank with heavy dew. She was wearing a dark grey tweed gown, which Aunt Margery, with some vague anticipation of a hasty summons, had had made for her, and she drew the skirt carefully away from contact with the wet bushes. It was by no means a costly gown, but suitable enough for a traveling costume, and tasteful enough to stand the test of Sir Bertram's criticism. As to ball and dinner-dresses, she could have them in plenty by-and-by; but this homely tweed was, perhaps, the last gift of a self-denying love.

As she looked down at the soft grey skirt, the sudden tears sprang to her eyes, and there came to her that keen consciousness of loss which does so often come to us in the midst of newly found prosperity. Our delicate kid gloves will not hold out kindly palms to us in our need, nor will our Paris shoes run to support us like the willing feet of an old friend. The grave aunt and uncle had been dull companions for a young girl; and yet what good thing had she lacked with them? She had never known the extent of their sacrifices for her sake, but she did know that they had lived for her, rather than for themselves.

There was a rich cluster of pansies, purple and gold, growing in the old spot. She stooped and gathered a handful, and then carried them upstairs to her room, where they would be kept fresh in a glass of water until she was ready to depart. She wanted to wear some of the old garden flowers on her journey: flowers that would breathe sweetly of this lowly home that she was going to leave. Hannah was going too; and Hannah's substitute, an accommodating widow of the village, was now busily preparing breakfast in the kitchen.

So, in the first sunshine of that autumn morning, she took her farewell glimpse of the garden. The wet ivy was shining in the fresh light; golden leaves were dropping from the wall; a bird was chirping in the leafless walnut-tree. Her lattice, twinkling under the thatch, was still framed in late blooming roses; overhead some clouds were slowly breaking apart and showing a deep blue cleft; the smoke went up in a thin column from the quaint old chimney. Just then, Hannah, in her second-best black gown, appeared at the back-door and summoned her into the house.

Sir Bertram at the breakfast-table was somewhat languid and silent. He had had a restless night, and had seen a spider running across his coverlet. The Nest was literally a nest of spiders, he thought; a miserably unwholesome little place, that ought to have been pulled down long ago. It was wonderful that Gwen could have managed to exist in it all these years, and grow up into a healthy, beautiful Englishwoman. She must have inherited her Aunt Margery's strength of constitution. It certainly was a most fortunate thing that she had turned out to be strong; a delicate daughter on one's hands would have been a terrible nuisance. Girls with unsound lungs or weak spines were always difficult to marry; and even when married, they sometimes appealed for paternal help to settle the doctors' bills. But Gwen, with that pure creamy skin, and those clear blue eyes, would assuredly set all doctors at defiance.

At last the hour of parting came, and Sir Bertram was not quite free from the fear of a scene. But Gwen proved herself a true daughter of the Nettervilles, and if her lips quivered at Uncle Andrew's last blessing, she contrived to keep back the tears. Aunt Margery preserved her cast iron countenance to the end, but waved her hand as the carriage drove away.

The only person who gave way to unrestrained weeping was Hannah; but then Hannah was privileged to travel second class, and sympathizing fellow-passengers discreetly looked another way while she wept. No such license was granted to Gwen, seated by her father's side in a first class carriage, and furtively watched and studied by those cold eyes.

'Decidedly she will do,' he repeated to himself. 'My own cameo-like features and her mother's lovely complexion; hair just the color that those painter fellows have brought into fashion. Has a good notion of dressing herself, too; that bouquet of pansies looks very well on the soft dark grey. May safely be trusted in the matter of costume, I think looks as if she would not lose her head about anything.'

Feeling herself silently criticized, Gwen kept her feelings well in hand, and refrained even from stealing a last glance at the old grey tower of the castle. She would do nothing and think of nothing that might tend to destroy her self-control. Sir Bertram, she knew instinctively, would have no mercy on emotion of any kind; and so she valiantly stifled the natural pangs of affection and regret, and preserved an outer calm that gave him a high opinion of her emotional control.

'Andrew Ormiston is an excellent man,' he said after a pause, 'but singularly unfortunate in his choice of a place of residence. Do you happen to know, my dear, why he fixed upon Seacastle?'

'The Nest was left to him by an old friend,' Gwen answered. 'You know, of course, that his voice failed, and he had to give up preaching. Seacastle seemed to him a fitting retreat for a broken-down minister.'

'And I suppose he left the question of drainage to be settled by Providence? I never had the misfortune to smell such a wonderful combination of evil odors in my life. Saltwater mud, decaying vegetable matter, stagnant pools, and other indescribable horrors, filled my bedroom with their pestilential gases. I wonder that you did not have periodical attacks of typhoid fever.'

'I have never had anything but measles,' said Gwen.

She knew that his description of the smells of Seacastle was not greatly exaggerated, and yet she felt oddly disposed to stand up in defense of the poor old place. In bygone days she had hated it very bitterly, and had said a thousand times that she longed to escape from it forever; and now the hour of escape was come, but it was an hour of stifled pain, of unexpressed regrets, of unsuspected yearnings. Old voices that had once sounded harshly in her ears were softened by increasing distance; old kindnesses, once so lightly regarded, were remembered as mighty deeds of love that could never be duly repaid.

The journey was by no means long, but there was the trouble of changing carriages and shifting luggage before it came to an end; and Sir Bertram grew querulous over the smallest nuisance.

At last, however, the train stopped at a quiet country station, where the most important persons on the platform were two solemn servants in livery. There was a display of eager attention on the part of the stationmaster; and then Gwen found herself seated in an open carriage by her father's side, going at a brisk pace along a narrow road that went winding through the gloom and glow of the October dusk.

The road wound westward, where Sir Bertram's woods, tawny with autumn gold, rose up against the dull saffron of the sky. It was a lonely country, with patches of heath and solitary cottages here and there; and once there was a passing glimpse of a gypsy encampment, a glow of red cloaks and mirthful bandanas, and a ring of brown faces round a blazing wood-fire.

The air was heavy and still, yet sweet with the fresh smell of newly turned fields and damp thickets. At length the open country was altogether lost to sight, and the woods rose like a dense wall on the right and left, dark and solemn, full of mysterious whispers that seemed to gather force as the dusk deepened. Gwen began to sigh for a break in this impenetrable gloom, for just one glimpse of a bit of furzy common or breezy field, or some humble farmhouse where the cocks and hens were going to roost, and the babies to bed. But there was no break, no change, until the carriage turned in at a wide gate, and passed an ivy-grown lodge, and then at last the house came in view.

A red house with many turrets and oriel windows that revived Gwen's childish memories of Hampton Court. Here and there the ivy had asserted its ancient rights, but it was trained and kept in due subjection, and no vagrant tendrils ever straggled and swayed about those heavy stone mullions and shining panes. The flowerbeds showed dimly rich in the twilight, and beyond the grounds were vistas of far reaching turf, stately trees, and gliding shadows; these were deer, venturing near the mansion under cover of the evening shades.

Father and daughter dined at half-past seven. The dinner was small but choice one of those dinners that a man of Sir Bertram's stamp could keenly appreciate; and it put him into an excellent temper with his cook and the whole world.

But Gwen, on her part, was quite unmoved by this display of culinary skill, and ate and drank like one in a dream. She was enchanted with the portraits hanging on the old oak-paneled walls, and realized that it is a fine thing to have ancestors. Those gentlemen with pale thin noses, and pointed beards; those ladies in ruffs, with stiff white hands, had all been living, breathing Nettervilles; they had loved (although it seemed impossible that such calm visages could ever have been ruffled by emotion), they had plotted, entering into the spirit of their time; they had grown old and devout, and striven to atone for their sins with prayer and fast. Other Nettervilles, who had left no portraits, had worn the armor that garnished the hall yonder; there were the suits of armor, once mirthful with their waving plumes, the breastplates dinted with many a fell stroke. Her thoughts were still busy with these dead and gone warriors, when she perceived that the dinner had come to an end.

Sir Bertram withdrew with his daughter into an apartment adjoining the dining room, and here the coffee and liqueurs were brought by the noiseless servant. This room had been the favorite retreat of the late Lady Netterville, and still went by the name of her boudoir, although it retained few traces of feminine occupation. Quaint old mirrors gleamed on the walls; here and there were cabinet pictures; china monsters and ancient jars and vases filled up every corner and recess. Bright flames, darting round the accommodations, lit up the curious carvings of the oaken mantelpiece, and shone on the little velvet-covered table that bore the coffee-cups; and Gwen, after wandering to the curtained window, came back to the hearth and the firelight.

'You are a little distracted, my dear,' said Sir Bertram, leaning back in his chair, and surveying her at his ease. 'Do not indulge in dreamy habits; absence of mind is fatal to one's success in society; there is nothing that people resent more than inattention. But perhaps you are tired.'

'Yes, I am tired,' she admitted quietly. 'Then you must go early to your room. Yours is a face that will soon show signs of fatigue delicate, clearly cut faces always do. Your beauty is none the worse for a little toning down, but there is no superfluous bloom about the Nettervilles; you must not permit yourself to grow any thinner, or a shade paler. A woman should never be too delicate.'

'No,' said Gwen, thinking of Cora Wallace's sumptuous charms.

'That is really a pretty gown that you have on,' Sir Bertram continued; 'those soft shiny dresses are becoming to you. But you must have something richer; I know I can trust you in the matter of dress. Tomorrow you must go to Highminster and make purchases. There is a good shop where you can get all that you require at present. When we are more settled here, I will take you up to town.'

'I should like to go to town,' said Gwen.

'You will come out next season; I shall put you into Lady Emily Swynford's hands. Clever woman; I made her acquaintance at Nice. She contrived to marry her two plain daughters very creditably, and they were really a most unattractive pair of girls. I always felt it to be a pity that such talents as hers were wasted upon them.'

A chill seemed to have fallen on Gwen; although the room was warm, she shivered slightly as she rose.

'Good-night, papa,' she said in her quiet voice.

She breathed more freely when she found herself in her bedroom, where Hannah was awaiting her. Here, too, there was firelight, gleaming on her nurse's grey hair and kindly face the face of a true friend.

'I must not cry,' said the girl, kneeling down by the good woman's side, and speaking with quiet bitterness. 'The Nettervilles mustn't shed tears, nor do anything to spoil their complexions. When one possesses chiseled features one has to remember that they will not stand wear and tear. If I had been blessed with a round rosy face and a little snub nose, I might have indulged in a good boo-hoo tonight!'

'But surely my pet has nothing to cry about?' said Hannah, in an anxious tone.

'Oh no. Your pet is to be put into Lady Emily Swynford's hands; Lady Emily has already disposed satisfactorily of some very un-saleable goods, so that she will be sure to get a high price for a first-rate article. Meanwhile the first-rate article must be beautifully dressed up and got ready for display; so, nurse, you will have to go with me on a shopping expedition tomorrow.'

'To Highminster, I suppose,' Hannah rejoined. 'Old Lady Netterville used to buy a great many things there. You are tired tonight, dearie; but tomorrow you will be glad enough to choose your pretty dresses.'

'Yes, I shall be glad enough,' Gwen repeated absently. 'But, I wish I could hear Uncle Andrew say "God bless you, my child," before I go to sleep.'

There was nothing to be said in answer to those words. Hannah could only kiss her, and coax her to retire to rest; a little more talking might bring on the much dreaded fit of weeping.

When the nurse had departed, Gwen lay wide awake on her pillow, and watched the ghostly dance of lights and shadows on walls and floor. Here there was a sudden gleam on the brass handles of a Queen Anne chest of drawers; there the lion-claw of a slim-legged table seemed to make a stealthy advance as the firelight touched it. She was not like Eunice Swift, a creature often tormented by the vagaries of a vivid imagination; nevertheless, she caught herself wishing that this stately chamber had been a little smaller and more cozy. Not a single article of luxury was lacking; every comfort of modern life had been supplied, although the room retained its antique furniture, and even some of the faded needlework of long ago. But, in her depressed mood, Gwen could not help sighing for the little bedroom at The Nest, where there was not space enough for the parade of a train of ghosts.

After tossing restlessly for a few minutes, she sprang out of bed, and made straight for the oriel window. It was easily unclosed; the cool moist air of the autumn night came stealing in, bringing the scent of wet fern and decaying foliage, and the soft sound of the cropping mouths of deer. There was no moonshine to reveal the beauty of those dim glades; but their fragrance breathed of the wide domains of nature, and reminded her of the fair world that lay outside this formal house. In the sunlight she might take refuge in the park and the woods, and forget that she was a Netterville.

She went back to her pillow and forgot to watch the dancing shadows in thinking of the wooded solitudes out of doors. From thinking she glided gradually into dreaming, and slept sweetly until morning.

 

 

CHAPTER V

'CERTAIN FIRST STEPS WERE ACHIEVED'

These grey October days, said by all Londoners to be their dull time, were full of brightness and marvelous vitality to Eunice Swift.

She wondered what they meant by saying that town was empty. The endless procession of men and women, always moving, always pressing on to some unknown goal, had an indescribable charm for one who had lived so long in a narrow sphere. Oxford Street, the 'stony-hearted stepmother' of De Quincey, was daily trodden by Eunice's eager feet; she preferred to take her exercise with the crowd rather than in the comparative quietness of the squares. Nor was she ever lonely in these daily walks as she went, a silent student of humanity, through a throng of strangers. Like the great opium-eater himself, she felt that 'plain human nature in its humblest and most homely apparel' could interest her and conciliate her affections. A dozen times in the course of a morning's stroll she was pained by wrongs that she could not redress, and woes that she had no power to alleviate; but it was a pain that strengthened and elevated, rather than depressed.

She was working hard in these days, throwing herself heart and soul into her occupations, bringing the freshness of an unworn brain to bear upon all that she did. Already Mr. Radcliffe was beginning to feel the comfort of this intelligent little companion, who was something more than a mere copying machine; already he found himself growing young again in spirit as he watched her eager pursuit of knowledge, her unwearying delight in literary toil.

Mrs. Densley, too, seemed to revive in the presence of this strong young life, and unconsciously imbibed something of its vitality. Here, in Queen Anne Street, Eunice was no longer the quiet gloomy girl, always chilled by the shadow of Mrs. Goad's grandeur, and always conscious that her father regarded her as the stubborn enemy of family peace. Her real self was coming to the surface at last; the kindness and perfect breeding of her new friends inspired her with confidence; she dared to give her wit full play, and, in short, to be the sunny, lovable creature that nature had always meant her to be. Very quickly and easily she adapted herself to her surroundings, and fell into all the household ways as if she had never known any other routine. Eager to please, she contrived, somehow, to avoid any of those blunders so often committed by over zeal; and, as Mrs. Densley said, she filled a niche in the house that must have been waiting for her for years.

November set in; but Eunice was too happy to be depressed, even by London fogs. She worked away merrily by gaslight, and then withdrew to her bedroom, pacing the floor with light, measured footsteps, and indulging in dreams that were fast shaping themselves into realities. She had to ascend three flights of stairs to her chamber; but what of that? Her room was spacious and airy; there was ample space for all her belongings, and such light as London can give came freely through two large windows. Here were her old well-used books; her desk, ink, pens, and paper; all the needs of an author. It was delightfully easy to write now; her thoughts were fresh and sweet, un-embittered by resentful feeling and wounded pride. And so the work made speedy progress, and the worker rejoiced in her labor.

As the winter advanced, the fogs cleared away, and the weather brightened. In December, people came straggling back to town; men, who had been shooting on the moors, returned to the lazy luxuries of club life; women, who were rather tired of rural delights, or seaside philandering, repaired once more to their homes in the 'long, unlovely street' or stately square. Callers became more numerous, and the quiet house in Queen Anne Street was invaded by after noon tea-drinkers, mostly pleasant folks enough, fresh from summer tours and full of yachting and traveling experiences. Some of these were writers known to fame; others were artists, whose names inspired Eunice with mingled feelings of awe and delight. But, to use her own phrase, she found them all 'surprisingly easy to get on with.' And they, on their part, went away with the conviction that Mr. Radcliffe's house was livelier than they had ever known it in bygone days. The girl who had sat sullen and mute at the Seacastle parties was becoming a light in town circles, a new voice and a fresh face, destined to be an influence in a larger sphere than Mrs. Goad had ever known.

On Christmas Eve, Eunice, at her bedroom window, was enjoying one of her reveries in the twilight.

It had been a fresh, sunshiny day, and Mr. Radcliffe had released her from all duties, and sent her out to make Christmas purchases with Mrs. Densley. They had come home in a cab, laden with parcels, and both in high spirits. Even the placid old lady had been stirred to unwonted excitement, and returned with such bright eyes and pink cheeks that her brother paid her an old-fashioned compliment upon her improved appearance. Eunice had bought a little present for Lavinia, and had written her a sisterly letter, full of affection and goodwill. Even Matilda had been remembered in that letter, and the writer's heart was at peace.

She watched the mist thicken, and saw the gas-lamps start up, one after another, out of the gloom of the long street. Then a star appeared above the opposite chimneys; and she thought of evenings gone by when she had sat alone in her attic, and looked up yearningly to the darkening skies.

The chilled bud of her life had been long in bursting into flower; a thousand times she had said to herself that for her there would never come a time of expansion. She must go to her grave (she had thought) with all her capacities folded and crumpled up like the petals of a rose that lacks the sun.

Eunice had always longed ardently to unfold that inner self of hers; she had, in a vague way, been conscious of a certain richness and sweetness that could be drawn forth only by warm light and soft air. And now the sunbeams were penetrating to the very heart of the rose; the leaves were uncurling and spreading themselves out, and the process was very sweet so sweet that she could find no words to tell of her delight.

A knock at the door interrupted these happy musings, and the housemaid looked in.

'If you please, miss,' she said, 'Miss Torwood has called, and asked for you.'

Eunice rose hastily in pleased surprise. She had little expected to meet Angeline again, although some pleasant things had been said about keeping up the acquaintance. It seemed hardly possible, she had thought, that the Torwoods would remember the shabby little woman they had known at Seacastle. Her heart beat faster than usual, and an unwonted flush tinged her cheeks as she ran lightly down the dim stairs. Life was kind indeed; friends were gathering round her; and this wintry Christmas world was surely a sphere of warmth and light.

Angeline was sitting alone in the drawing-room when Eunice entered, coming full into the glow of gas and firelight. At the sight of her, Miss Torwood almost started, so great was the change that had been wrought in her appearance; so striking was the improvement in dress, carriage, manner. Everything about Eunice had altered, and altered for the better; and yet this transformation had been effected in less than three months. It was marvelous.

'I am glad to see you. It was good of you to come.'

It was the old musical voice, but not quite the old manner. There was a new ring; a new way of expression. The tone was firmer, and perhaps less plaintive, but just as sweet.

'It is a great pleasure to meet you again,' said Angeline. 'You are looking marvelously well and bright. This new life makes you happy?'

'Very happy.' Eunice's eyes shone. 'It is the greatest pleasure to work for Mr. Radcliffe. As to Mrs. Densley, she has more than half spoiled me. Fancy my astonishment at finding myself petted!'

'Your good days are only beginning,' sighed Angeline. 'And by-and-by you will make a name. I am trying hard not to envy you.'

'To envy me? Now isn't that too absurd? You must have forgotten the little nobody you met at Seacastle. Think of my old struggle for existence!'

'I do think of it,' Angeline said gravely. 'But I don't see many traces of the past. You cannot realize how greatly you have changed.'

'I am better dressed, that's all,' Eunice answered with her old frankness. 'Yet, no, that isn't all. I'm living the kind of life I always wanted to live; and everybody is good to me.'

'And you have a gift that makes you independent.' Angeline's voice trembled. 'You are not leaning on others for support, and taking money that doesn't belong to you!'

'No,' said Eunice thoughtfully. 'It is very bitter, that bread of dependence.'

'Bitter, even when it comes freely from a loving hand!'

There was a sadness in the tone that Eunice's quick ear caught at once.

She knew very little of the Torwoods and their history. Once or twice it had been mentioned in her hearing that Captain Torwood was a man of great expectations; but that was all. Of Angeline's means and prospects she had heard absolutely nothing. But it had never even occurred to her to suppose that Miss Torwood was not well provided for. A lady, always well dressed, always moving in good society, must of course be in easy circumstances, she thought. Her own life had been so simple that she was ignorant of all those devices that make semi-poverty look like affluence.

'I'm a Saturday's child,' she said lightly. 'It was decreed that I should work hard for my living. But we must have some pleasant idlers in the world. Society would be dull enough without them.'

'Yes.' Angeline looked dejectedly into the fire. 'But one doesn't like to feel that one can do nothing but smirk and make small-talk.'

There was a brief silence. Eunice was puzzled and surprised.

'Lawrence is in town,' Angeline went on. 'He will call here presently. He has gone to see Aunt Virginia Paisley, and tell her something that she'll be glad to know. I ought to have been glad to know it. But I wasn't ecstatic enough, I fear.'

'Did Captain Torwood expect ecstasies?'

Eunice knew quite well what she was going to hear. She felt as if a cold hand were suddenly laid on her heart.

'I don't know,' said Angeline. 'The truth is that Miss Paisley has lately taken it into her head to get him married. Of course everyone knows that the dear boy has been harmlessly flirting about for years, but never settling on anything. It does seem odd that Aunt Virginia should suddenly issue positive commands, after letting him alone so long.'

'Has he made his choice at last?'

'I think he has; or, rather, he has actually allowed Miss Paisley to choose for him. In the summer she wrote dozens of letters, insisting that he should be introduced to a Miss Devereux, a girl who has five thousand a year. It happened that he was asked for the shooting season to a house where this girl was staying; and it seems that she really has taken his fancy.'

'Well, that is fortunate, all things considered,' said Eunice quietly.

'I hope it is. But now that Lawrence is really in earnest about marrying, I should like to provide for myself. Unhappily, I have hardly sufficient means even to dress upon, and my brother has always made me an allowance. He has three hundred a year in addition to his pay, and he has been generous, dear boy!'

'But when he is married to his heiress he will surely be more generous still.'

'Ah, that is what I cannot bear to think of. His wife will always feel that there is an encumbrance in the shape of a pauper sister.'

'Are you not misjudging her?' Eunice asked. 'A kind-hearted woman will sympathize with you at once. Do you know Miss Devereux?'

'I know her slightly. About a year ago she was staying at a watering-place where I had taken up my quarters with some friends. Naturally there were opportunities of studying her, and I think I read her character correctly.'

'She did not quite please you, perhaps?'

'Well, not quite. But there is nothing flighty or inconstant about her; she is a woman in whom a man may safely trust. On the whole, Lawrence may be congratulated; and yet .'

'And yet what?'

'She is almost too discreet and worldly wise. And I know she is in the habit of practicing little economies for which there is no necessity at all; in fact, her thrift may be said to amount to excessive frugality. She is just the person to whom a needy sister-in-law would be a heavy cross, and I want to relieve her of the burden.'

Eunice was silent for a moment. This confidence coming from Angeline surprised her; but then she remembered that Miss Torwood had been perfectly well acquainted with her own unhappy position at Seacastle. It is easy to confide in one who has suffered, and the nature of Eunice's sufferings had impelled Angeline to seek her sympathy.

'But Captain Torwood will himself be rich one day,' she remarked at last. 'It cannot be expected that he will keep the whole of Miss Paisley's fortune.'

'It is expected. But that fortune is yet in the future; and I, for one, have never thoroughly believed in Aunt Virginia's doubtful health. She delights in assuring everybody that her days are numbered, and that her dear nephew will soon inherit all her possessions. It is a whim of hers to be looked upon as a dying woman; it invests her with a fictitious interest. And it would be a harmless whim if it did not mislead people enough to influence their actions.'

'I understand,' said Eunice, after another short pause. 'You will be happier if you provide for yourself; but you will pain your brother.'

'Better that my dear boy should be pained by my independence than by his wife's innuendoes. He does not know Celia Devereux as I know her; he sees her as an almost faultless woman beautiful, cultivated, intelligent all that a man can reasonably desire. Mind, I don't say that he has not chosen well; but he has happened to choose the very girl from whom it would be impossible for me to accept a favor. I can best ensure his comfort by doing without his allowance; that is, I believe, the only thing that is likely to make discord between his wife and himself.'

The entrance of Mrs. Densley put an end to the intimate talk. She was followed by the tea-tray; and Eunice began to fill the cups, and talk on everyday subjects, as naturally as if she had always been well acquainted with the world and its ways. Angeline could not help looking at her and silently wondering at her ease and grace.

But although her manner was bright, Eunice was conscious that her inner world was not quite so cloudless as it had been earlier in the day. She refrained, however, from anything in the shape of self-examination; by-and-by there were questions to be asked and answered in stillness and solitude; she must be alone in her room before she ventured to commune with her own heart. Meanwhile she had to carry on a conversation, to pour out tea, and to mount guard over her nerves lest she should start at the sound of the door-bell. And when at last the ring came, she was able to hear it with admirable composure.

 

 

CHAPTER VI

'HEAVEN, I THOUGHT, WAS IN HER AIR'

In the last light of the winter afternoon, Captain Torwood took his way to Miss Paisley's house in Brook Street. His betrothed had returned to her relations in town, and he was to dine with her on Christmas Day. It was a curious sensation to be walking about in his old haunts as a newly engaged man, and as he went along Bond Street with his military stride he was not feeling quite so sure of his rapture as he ought to have been.

This easy bachelor life of his would soon be only a remembrance. He might revisit old scenes of festivity, and try to call back the pleasures of former days, but they would never present themselves to him in exactly the same guise again. He might amuse himself by trying to play at single blessedness; but it would be a very poor imitation of the real game. There would always be the indisputable facts of a wife and a household, and all the heavy responsibilities and claims that those sacred possessions must necessarily entail.

Yet he could not doubt that he was one of the luckiest men in the world. Celia Devereux was a very pretty girl; she had a look of the Empress Eugenie in her youth. He recalled his first impression of her aristocratic face and tall slight figure as she stood on the terrace of the old country house. Then, too, how charming her manner was! How well she understood the exquisite art of letting a man know that his attentions were welcome without being too demonstrative! She was, as Angeline had said, a woman who might be safely trusted; never had she been known to descend to the level of vulgar flirtations; every word of hers was well considered; every action was eminently discreet.

He rather feared that Angeline might think her a little too cold; but that was mere nonsense. In his younger days he had always preferred women who were capable of emotions, but such foolish tastes had of course been outlived.

The boy loves a storm; the world wearied man is enchanted with repose. As to 'intense feeling,' he thought that it was, on the whole, an objectionable thing; passionate attachments ended in wreck; girls who were 'all heart' not infrequently gave you a good deal of annoyance. A calm sensible woman, with five thousand a year and a fair face, was a prize in the lottery of life, and Lawrence Torwood was the winner of that prize.

Certainly he was as deeply in love as any reasonable man could desire to be. Aunt Virginia was right, quite right; his marriage ought not to be delayed. The longer he waited the less he would desire to part with his liberty. That was natural, he supposed; doubtless every man experienced a few slight pangs of regret when he said a long farewell to a single life. Afterwards, when the knot was securely tied, you accepted your position, and felt that you had done the very best thing that possibly could be done.

But he could not help wishing that his own means were not so contemptibly small. Delightful as it was to marry a girl with a fortune, it would be still pleasanter to feel that your income was as good as hers. Miss Paisley was a richer woman than Celia Devereux, and Celia was of course aware that her affianced husband was heir to seven thousand a year. Yet although Aunt Virginia, poor dear soul! seemed to be growing more fragile every day, there did not appear to be any immediate danger of her departing this life.

As he turned into Brook Street, he hated himself for these thoughts. They were thoughts that were unworthy of his father's son. Colonel Torwood had not been one of those men whom the world terms saintly; but he had had a horror of everything vulgar and false, and a devotion to honor and truth. And, just at this moment, there suddenly occurred to Lawrence certain words that the Colonel had spoken shortly before his death.

'I do not wish my boy to be taken into favor by Virginia Paisley,' he had said. 'If she ever relents towards my children, I hope they will not know it until she is dead. The expectation of wealth is often more demoralizing than wealth itself.'

The words were ringing in Captain Torwood's ears as he paused at his aunt's door.

Miss Paisley lived in a cozy house that nestled in between two larger houses, and displayed a daintiness and brightness that put its more stately neighbors to shame. When the door was opened to Lawrence, he found himself at once received into an atmosphere of warmth and luxury. Oriental rugs had been laid down on the richly tiled floor of the hall; flowers in stands were in bloom under the shaded lamplight; and the bland footman led the way upstairs to a sanctum where lights, flowers, and colors were softer and richer still.

Aunt Virginia was sitting, or rather reclining, in a deep armchair, full of satin pillows: a little woman, so small and white and delicate, that you wondered how she contrived to preserve such a frail existence. In her youth she had been a sickly-looking girl, with sandy hair and pale eyes and eyelashes; but at fifty she was not without her attractions. There are women who never learn how to please until they are growing old. Miss Paisley had acquired, late in life, the art of smiling a certain saintly smile, that had wrung positive veneration from the heart of many a hardened worldling. It was a smile that seemed to speak of patience and longsuffering and perfect resignation, and it made you feel almost ashamed of bringing your rude health and spirits into the presence of this gentle invalid. As to that luxurious little boudoir, it had none of the obnoxious signs of a sick-room. One or two small books of devotion were always placed on a table near the armchair, and the eau-de-cologne flask was ever at hand; but there were no ugly medicine-bottles and pill-boxes. Miss Paisley's decline was the gentle decay of the flower; her light hair, slightly silvered, was smoothly arranged under a charming cap; she wore a rich brocaded gown of costly black, that invested her fragile person with quiet dignity; and, either by accident or design, you were permitted frequent glimpses of a fairy shoe.

'You are a very welcome visitor, dear boy,' she said, holding out a thin little hand. 'I was so delighted to get your letter.'

'I came up only last night,' he answered, seating himself close to her side. 'Do you find yourself any better, Aunt Virginia?'

'I shall never be any better,' she replied, with her patient smile. 'I try not to think about my poor weak self at all; other subjects are far more interesting. I believe I have guessed your good news, Lawrence. It concerns Miss Devereux, does it not?'

'It concerns Miss Devereux very much. You were quite right in saying that I should be charmed with her.'

'But did you let her know that she had charmed you?'

Miss Paisley put the question with some anxiety in her tone, fixing her pale eyes on her nephew's face.

'I have proposed to her, Aunt Virginia, and she has accepted me.'

'Thank Heaven!' exulted the invalid, with a sigh of satisfaction. 'Your happiness is secured. It made me quite sad, Lawrence, to see you drifting about in life without any tie to bind you to a home. You will not always be young and handsome, my dear; there must come a time when girls will cease to be eager for your attentions. By-and-by you will be glad to feel that you can turn to a wife and family.'

'Very true,' said Captain Torwood, really touched by her warm interest in his welfare. 'And I shall always feel that I owe my happiness to your good advice.'

'I knew that Celia Devereux would suit you. She is one of those calm, dignified creatures that a man likes to see at the head of his table. So discreet, too; no vulgar tastes, and no betting or flirting propensities. Her mother was a city heiress; but she died when Celia was a mere child, and the dear girl has been trained most carefully by her father's sister, Mrs. Keane. I suppose you have not seen the Keanes yet?'

'No; I am to dine with them tomorrow. Celia has gone back to her house in Eaton Square.'

'They are delightful people, and you will find it easy to get on with them. But Celia is entirely her own mistress; their consent is only a matter of form.'

'She has told me that she is quite free to dispose of herself as she pleases.'

'Altogether it is a most fortunate affair,' said Miss Paisley, closing her eyes as if in silent ecstasy.

Then opening them again, she asked quickly, 'And what does Angeline say about the matter?'

'I saw Angeline this morning, and she said everything that was sisterly and kind. She is staying with Dr. Allanson in Henrietta Street, so that she will have opportunities of getting intimate with Celia.'

'Ah!' said Miss Paisley dubiously, 'I hope the intimacy will do no harm. A sister is often a deadly foe to her brother's betrothed.'

'My dear aunt, what can you mean?' cried Captain Torwood, with indignation. 'Are you afraid that Angeline will poison Celia, or stick a dagger into her breast?'

'Oh no, I am not in fear of any tragedies; engagements may be broken off without the instrumentality of poison or daggers, my dear boy. A woman's tongue.'

'Aunt Virginia, you don't know Angeline in the least! She thinks far more of my happiness than of her own; I never knew anyone so utterly unselfish. Please do not begin to abuse my sister.'

Miss Paisley sighed deeply, and had recourse to the eau-de-cologne.

'A dying woman is not likely to abuse anybody,' she said meekly. 'I desire to be at peace with the whole world. But I cannot stand harsh words, Lawrence; they shake my poor shattered nerves too cruelly.'

'Forgive me if I spoke harshly,' pleaded Captain Torwood, with a troubled look in his honest blue eyes. 'But if you only knew Angeline's goodness, you would never doubt her for a moment. Celia will be quite sure to love her.'

'Does Miss Devereux know that you make your sister an allowance?' asked Miss Paisley, after a pause.

'Yes.'

'I am glad you have told her; it is much better that she should hear it from you than from others. And now, Lawrence, I hope you will hasten the marriage. Strike while the iron is hot; I hate delays.'

'I do not want any delay, Aunt Virginia. But Celia, perhaps, will object to being hurried.'

'Nonsense, my dear; no woman objects to the impatience of love.'

Miss Paisley's white face was positively tinged with faintest pink, and her pale eyes seemed to brighten as she spoke. This sudden animation gave her such a look of youthfulness that her nephew surveyed her with astonishment.

'You are young enough to sympathize with her,' he said, smiling, and watching the effect of his words.

'It is by sympathizing that I sometimes renew my youth,' she replied, with one of her soft sighs. 'While we live for others we never grow old.'

The words were so sweetly uttered that Captain Torwood forgot all the hardness of this woman. He did not recall the earlier time when she had had no pity on the romantic attachment of her sister; nor did he remember, at that moment, her cruel prejudices against Angeline. He saw only the fragile, suffering saint whose last days were brightened by kindly thought for those she was leaving behind.

'I want to see you settled, Lawrence,' she continued. 'I cannot hope to be with you much longer; it would make me very happy to hear you call Celia your wife.'

'Dear Aunt Virginia, I will plead with her,' he said, much moved. 'And I shall bring her to see you often.'

'You will find her easy to persuade; she is a sweet girl, and very much in love. Ah, how fortunate you are!'

Lawrence rose to depart, and held Miss Paisley's dainty hand with reverent affection. It trembled a little in his clasp, and again that faint pink flush stole up into her face dear Aunt Virginia, she was full of tender feeling! He wanted to say something affectionate and grateful; but, like all men of his type, he was slow at making a pretty speech. And while he lingered, the door was flung open, and the bland footman announced 'Mr. Castelle.'

A tall man came quietly into the room, and cast a quick, inquisitive glance at the Captain. Miss Paisley withdrew her hand from Lawrence, and extended it, gently and graciously, to the newcomer.

'Let me introduce my nephew,' she said. 'Captain Torwood Mr. Castelle.'

The two men exchanged bows; and Lawrence went out, full of wonder and curiosity. Who was this Mr. Castelle? He had a face that was not commonly seen, and there seemed to be something slightly foreign about him. Certainly he was a very handsome person, with aquiline features and heavy-lidded dark eyes; it was an Italian physiognomy, thought Lawrence to himself. The man looked like an artist's model from Rome.

It was dark now; and he must keep his appointment with Angeline in Queen Anne Street. There would be some pleasure in renewing his acquaintance with that little Miss Swift. He hoped that Angeline would settle herself in London near Eunice; the two girls seemed intended by nature and destiny to be close friends.

 

 

CHAPTER VII

'I'M DEEP IN LOVE WITH YOU'

They were still drinking tea when Lawrence entered the old house in Queen Anne Street. It was a comfortable house although it could not boast of the luxury and elegance of Miss Paisley's home; and everywhere there were tokens of a highly cultured taste which went far beyond Aunt Virginia's superficial refinement. The drawing-room was glowing with cheerful light; Angeline had thrown off her thick mantle, and was seated, very much at ease, between an old lady and gentleman. Captain Torwood knew something of Mr. Radcliffe by reputation, and looked at him with curiosity and reverence the reverence that the intelligent idler generally feels for the literary worker. The calm face, deeply graven with lines of thought, and the grand head with its soft white hair, inspired respect at the first glance. Mrs. Densley, with her tranquil air and dainty dress, possessed an old-world charm that harmonized with her ancient china cups and saucers. And as for the young woman who presided over the tea, Lawrence could not help looking at her with a confused notion that she was that little Swift girl mixed up with somebody else.

Had her frock anything to do with this mysterious change in her, he wondered? It was only a velveteen gown of a warm brown shade; but it fitted the slim figure perfectly, and took rich tints from the dancing firelight. There was a small lace ruffle round her neck, and she wore a knot of gold-colored ribbon. Long afterwards it astonished him to find that these trivial details remained printed on his memory, while others, more important, had faded and left no trace.

He sat down in a low chair close to her little table, and thought that her eyes, at any rate, were unchanged. Although the lips smiled, there was still the old pathetic look in those dark-grey eyes. It was a look that made him oblivious, for a moment, of the London drawing-room, and carried him back in spirit to the green nook on the old castle-wall. Just for a second or two he lingered in that dreamy atmosphere of golden mist, and felt once more the languid sweetness of the autumn day. So many things had happened since they had loitered together in their ivy bower!

'I must offer you my congratulations,' said Eunice, handing him a cup of tea. 'Miss Torwood tells me that you are going to be married.'

In an instant the autumn dream vanished. He was the affianced husband of a pretty woman with five thousand a year; and he was deeply in love, of course, and supremely happy.

'Thank you,' he answered, making one acknowledgment suffice for the tea and the congratulations. 'I suppose Angeline has been discussing her own future plans with you. I hope you will persuade her to live in town.'

'She does not need much persuasion. I think she already feels that she wants to mix with the crowd, and make use of her faculties.'

'Make use of her faculties! Ah, she has caught your spirit!'

'It is the spirit of the age. You could hardly expect a woman of your sister's stamp to escape its influence.'

'Oh, she is not of the stuff that workers are made of. Nature has given you a vocation, and therefore you are possessed with the idea that everybody can do something. That is one of the delusions that clever people always indulge in.'

'A truth always looks like a delusion to a prejudiced mind. You have taken up the notion that Miss Torwood can do nothing, and you refuse to believe in her capabilities.'

'But surely I can judge of my own sister's powers!'

'My sisters were not good judges of mine. Nothing blinds the eyes like near relationship.'

'I do not choose that Angeline shall work at anything,' said Lawrence, a little haughtily. 'I have enough for both. She must accept her lot, and continue to be a leisurely young woman.'

He had foreseen that something of this kind would be one of the first results of his engagement; there were depths in Angeline's character that he had never sounded, but he had always suspected her of concealing a fund of independence. And certain instincts, half stifled, whispered that Angeline Torwood and Celia Devereux would never be sisters in heart while the world endured. He knew intuitively that Angeline had flown to Eunice for sympathy and advice, and he was disposed to be unreasonably angry with the wise little counselor.

'Are you quarreling with Lawrence?' asked Miss Torwood, hearing that a discussion was going on.

'No,' said Eunice, smiling; and then in a lower tone she added: 'I cannot quarrel with anyone for being a good brother. It must be sweet to be cared for, even in an arbitrary fashion.'

In an instant he was back again at Seacastle in the ivy bower. There was just the old look in her face, just the old ring in her voice; and look and voice seemed to speak of an intense loneliness of heart. Her rich fancy and brave spirit might combine to make her independent and strong, but nature had not intended Eunice Swift to be a self-sufficing woman.

'You will soon know what it is to be cared for,' he said, almost bitterly.

At that moment he was conscious of a strange pang a vague regret for something he knew not what.

Angeline rose, saying that it was time to go. Captain Torwood said good-bye rather stiffly to Eunice; but her smile softened him against his will. He wanted to be angry with her for encouraging Angeline in her rebellious ideas; but anger could not live in the light of those pleading eyes of hers. The brother and sister walked to Henrietta Street almost in silence, and Angeline's heart was aching when they paused at Dr. Allanson's door.

'Will you come in, Lawrence?' she asked.

There was a lamp in the doorway, and the light shone down upon his face. He looked grave and almost gloomy, she thought, as she stood awaiting his reply.

'No,' he answered; 'but I will look in tomorrow afternoon. Tonight I am going to dine with Hayward.'

'Then I won't detain you longer; it must be past six now. Good-night, dear.'

'Angeline,' he said hurriedly, 'I hope you have made up your mind to get on with Celia. You must not suppose that that.'

'That what?'

'That she will wish to alter any of our old arrangements. Things will be as they have always been; my marriage will make no changes that will affect you.'

'Dear Lawrence, of course I know that your heart will always be the same. You are the best of brothers.'

'And Celia will be the best of sisters. Angeline, won't you believe that?'

'I am willing to believe it; but I have not yet proved her.'

'Ah, there is doubt in your tone.'

'Indeed, Lawrence, I think that Celia Devereux will make a good wife; but I do not yet know her intimately. You mustn't expect me to be gushing just at first.'

'You know I hate gush. I hope you are not plotting anything, Angeline?'

'My dear boy, is mine a plotting nature?'

'No; but I am afraid Miss Swift has been putting some absurd ideas into your head. By the way, how is it that you have taken so strong a liking to her?'

'Can we always give a reason for our likings? I find her exceedingly attractive. Are you displeased that I want her for my friend?'

'Displeased? No; she is a good little woman, and yes, I suppose she has her attractions. Now good-night, my dear, and remember that I insist on knowing all your secret intentions.'

A little later Lawrence and his friend Captain Hayward dined together at their club. It was an excellent dinner, the wine was good, and both these young men were in high spirits. Captain Hayward's uncle, a patient and long-suffering person, had just paid his nephew's debts, and started him afresh; and the nephew was in that state of gratitude, repentance, and hilarity which is commonly felt on such occasions. Then, too, he beheld his friend's prospects in such a brilliant light, and congratulated him so warmly on his engagement, that Captain Torwood was confirmed in his opinion of his own good fortune.

His mood was, perhaps, a trifle more sober as he dressed for the family dinner on Christmas Day. It is always a trying ordeal to appear before a girl's friends for the first time as her accepted lover. And when the girl is an heiress, and the lover a comparative pauper, all the stiffness and awkwardness are painfully intensified. Until he had won Miss Devereux, Lawrence had never realized how poor he actually was; and he found himself chafing at his small means as he had never chafed before.

He had had to buy her a ring, and had come away from the jeweler's shop disgusted with his purchase. It was, he thought, about forty guineas cheaper than it ought to have been, and would look contemptible among the splendid possessions of his promised bride. In vain did commonsense argue that Miss Devereux would prize the gift for the giver's sake, and that love asks nothing more costly than love. When he examined his poor little offering he despised the modest glimmer of its pearls, and felt a desperate inclination to pitch it out into the street.

Meanwhile Miss Devereux herself was feeling a little less composed than usual. She was of a calm temperament, and it was the first time that anything like a genuine attachment had disturbed the quiet of her inner life. Offers had come to her of course, but not one of them had been good enough to tempt her to resign her freedom; and now, at five-and-twenty, she had suddenly made the discovery that she possessed a heart.

She was dressed for dinner, and had dismissed her maid; but she still lingered over her bedroom fire in a thoughtful mood. Mrs. Keane, coming in to say a few unimportant words, found her sitting in a low chair, with one foot on the fender, and her hands clasped round her knee.

It was almost startling to see Celia Devereux in anything approaching an unconventional attitude. All her usual postures were stately, and perhaps a little stiff; even in her schooldays she had seldom been reproved for the lolling and lounging ways in which many girls delight to indulge. She had always sat bolt upright in church and at class-time, and had been constantly pointed out as a model of deportment to her ease-loving companions.

To Mrs. Keane, who had watched over her from childhood, there was something significant in this unwonted pose. If Celia had abandoned herself to languid dreaming over the fire, she must be very much in love; and her aunt had never believed her to be capable of anything stronger than a mild and decorous liking.

'You are looking very well in that gown, my dear,' said Mrs. Keane pleasantly. 'I like the combination of ivory color and crimson. Does Captain Torwood criticize ladies' dress?'

'I think he notices everything; but I have not had time to find out his tastes yet,' Celia replied.

She blushed faintly as she spoke, and then unclasped her hands, and took her foot from the fender.

'I had a nice talk with Miss Paisley the other day,' Mrs. Keane remarked. 'What a sweet fragile creature she is! Evidently passing away very fast.'

'Of course we are sure that she has only a short time to live. And she is so calm, and so ready for her end, that one admires her goodness,' said Celia piously. 'But it would be quite nice if she could stay on earth.'

Mrs. Keane was quietly amused. She understood her niece perfectly, and knew that Celia would always keep up a decent little fiction of regret for Aunt Virginia, even in the presence of her nearest relations. And, on the whole, Mrs. Keane respected Celia for her fictions; at any rate, they were better than the brutal candor with which some men and women deal with a death that they anxiously desire. Yet she knew that if Miss Devereux had been less certain of Aunt Virginia's approaching demise, Captain Torwood would hardly have prospered in his wooing.

'She is fonder of him than she has ever been of anyone,' Mrs. Keane said to herself. 'But I believe she would have conquered her feelings if there had been no chance of his getting Miss Paisley's fortune. She could not permit herself the luxury of marrying a poor man.'

'Are you satisfied with Maria?' she asked, suddenly changing the subject of conversation.

Maria was Celia's new maid, and it was whispered among Miss Devereux's intimate friends that her maids were changed very often.

'Well, not entirely,' Celia rejoined, with more animation than usual. 'She is so very wasteful; I never saw anybody use such a quantity of thread. And then, too, she breaks an incalculable number of needles, and literally strews the floor with pins.'

'Very trying,' murmured Mrs. Keane, in a sympathizing tone.

'Very trying,' repeated Celia, rising and giving a last look at herself in the mirror.

There was no reason to be dissatisfied with the figure that was reflected in the glass. It looked, perhaps, a little too much like a beautifully dressed image of Dresden china; but china is very pretty in its way, and what would a drawing-room be without it?

The ladies went downstairs, and very soon afterwards Captain Torwood was announced; The Keanes received him with kindliness, and Celia's fair face greeted him with a serene smile. He was favorably impressed with her uncle and aunt they were as pleasant a pair of elderly worldlings as could be met with in Vanity Fair: calm, genial, and sweet as summer.

The dinner was good; the wine first-rate; and the courting after dinner was made as easy as possible. Lawrence and Celia had the cozy back drawing-room to themselves, and although there were only half-drawn curtains between them and the guardians, they were left entirely to their own devices.

It was all perfectly smooth and delightful, and yet Lawrence found it a little difficult to sustain a conversation with his betrothed. Most unaccountably, his thoughts wandered more than once from this calm smiling face to another woman's face, with irregular features and pathetic eyes. When Celia dropped her little remarks in a thin treble voice, he recalled a certain contralto, fall, yet often tremulous in its tones; and then he wondered at himself, and instantly devoted all his energies to the task of entertaining the maiden by his side.

People had always spoken of Miss Devereux as an intelligent woman, and it is certain that she believed in her own powers of mind to a very great extent. She subscribed to the paper, and read all the popular books of biography and travel, finding it easier work to get through them than to toil through the novels. Fiction she could neither appreciate nor understand; it appealed to a faculty that she did not possess, for she was utterly lacking in imagination. But she could store up hard facts, and bring them out when occasion called for them; and a good many of her friends spoke of her as being very intellectual indeed.

Having got through the requisite amount of spooning, Captain Torwood and his affianced bride began to discuss art and literature. Miss Devereux mentioned the names of several leading painters, and made her comments upon their various styles. She produced her portfolio, and her lover had the privilege of examining sundry drawings in water-colors, which owed their finishing-touches to her master. A little bored by this exhibition, he begged her to come to the piano, and kept her there until it was time to take his leave.

And then they parted, and he went out into the frosty night-air, and drew a long breath of relief. Certainly he was the happiest of men, and she was the most perfect of women; but freedom is sweet, and so he gave a faint sigh for the liberty that he must soon resign.

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

'SPEAK, MY FAIR, AND FAIRLY, I PRAY YOU'

While Captain Torwood was devoting himself to the duties of courtship, his sister Angeline was pondering anxiously over the changes that his marriage must bring. In spite of all his affectionate commands, her resolution to support herself remained unshaken; she would not pain him by talking about her plans, she thought, but she would carry them out quietly, trusting that time and good sense would soften his objections. Meanwhile, the Christmas world was by no means a mirthful world to her troubled spirit, and her friends said that she looked pale and grave.

The Allansons were a quiet couple. Soon after the birth of her second child, Mrs. Allanson's health had begun to fail, and there was now little hope of any return of vigor. She was a woman of a gentle nature, and accepted her fate with outward calmness; yet her husband knew that she suffered much in secret. To know that she might live perhaps as long as any of the healthy people around her, was not a very great consolation. Life without the power of usefulness seemed but a poor possession to Mrs. Allanson, and she was often tempted to wish that she might pass quickly away from a world in which she could no longer play an active part.

But, for her husband's sake, it was best that she should live. His was one of those rare natures which are incapable of producing more than one love in a lifetime. It was better, she knew, that he should cherish this poor blighted plant, rather than mourn over its uprooting.

Moreover, he was a prosperous man, and his beloved invalid could be surrounded with luxuries. Grave and quiet always, the stillness of the household did not depress him as it would undoubtedly have depressed a man of gayer temperament, but he was contented with his lot. The quietness that was peace to him could hardly be said to agree so well with the two healthy little girls in the nursery.

The elder was nearly eight years old, an age that demands a good deal of amusement and attention. She was beginning to make claims that the poor weak mother was wholly unfit to meet, and had sometimes complained pretty loudly of mamma's inability to tell stories and explain hard lessons. An exacting young person was Miss Helen Allanson; imperious, impatient, yet not insensible to good influence. Her father, entirely engrossed by his love for his wife, and concern for her health, was unable to judge quite fairly of the requirements of a lively, high-spirited child, and the younger Nelly was occasionally rebuked with more sternness than her faults deserved.

To this little girl the coming of Angeline Torwood had been a positive blessing. Angeline had a head well stored with tales, an even temper, and a strong constitution. She could enjoy a nursery tea without afterwards paying the penalty of a headache, and could even endure being hugged and sat upon without a murmur. Such a person was a valuable acquisition to the quiet household, and the children had already avowed a decided intention of keeping her forever and ever.

But although the little ones found her as cheerful as usual, Angeline's spirits were sinking fast when the day was closing in. Last Christmas was haunting her with its pleasant memories; then, Lawrence had been staying with her at an old house far away in the country, and his marriage with Miss Devereux was an utterly undreamed of event. A hundred times, as the tears rose to her eyes, she accused herself of being selfish and unjust. She had always hoped that he would marry one day, and now that the day was really drawing near, she shrank from its approach. If only he had fixed on somebody else on anybody in the world but Celia Devereux!

With a slower step than usual she went downstairs to the warm little drawing-room. It was half-past six; the dinner hour was seven, and she knew that she should find the doctor sitting in a low chair near his wife's couch, and talking in his usual soft tones. Just then poor Angeline could almost have found it in her heart to envy Mary Allanson. The invalid had a place to fill in the world; but for Angeline there seemed to be no place at all.

'We have been speaking of you, Angeline,' said Mrs. Allanson, in her weak, pleasant voice. 'Come here, please, and sit close to my sofa; I have something very important to say.'

The doctor rose and gave his seat to Miss Torwood. She sat down, trying to smile and look interested; her hostess was kind always, and she honestly wanted to keep her own wretched restlessness and dissatisfaction out of sight. Not for one moment did she believe that Mary Allanson had anything of importance to communicate; there was, perhaps, some pleasant little scheme for the amusement of the guest; some bright surprise that husband and wife had been planning together.

'We are dull creatures, Edward and I,' said the doctor's wife, smiling; 'so dull that we want a sunny person to take up her abode with us altogether. Will you stay, dear Angeline, and be all to my poor children that I cannot be? We have set our hearts on keeping you always.'

Angeline, in her glad surprise, was silent for a moment, and the color rushed into her pale face. She had looked forward to months of anxious thought, and lo! all her perplexity had suddenly found an end. Her words did not come readily, and her voice trembled when she spoke.

'I shall be very glad to stay,' she answered. 'In fact, I meant to try to do something to provide for myself, in short. Lawrence's marriage will make a great difference to me.'

'We thought so,' remarked the doctor quietly. 'It is a very good thing for us that you are willing to remain. We all know that we have got a treasure.'

'And I think Lawrence will not be angry now,' said poor Angeline, with a sigh of relief. 'He could not bear to hear of my little schemes of independence; but indeed I cannot let him make me an allowance after he is married. His wife would always look on me as a burden that she had accepted for his sake. It would be too hard and humiliating.'

'But she is rich,' said Mrs. Allanson.

'And, like many rich people, she clings to her money,' rejoined the doctor. 'I know something of Miss Devereux, and, on the whole, I think Angeline is right.'

So the day that had had a dark dawning ended in gratitude and peace; and Angelina went to her rest a happy woman. Meanwhile, in Eaton Square, two ladies were making her the subject of a confidential conversation. Captain Torwood had gone his way, and Mrs. Keane and her niece were talking in low voices over the drawing-room fire.

'So he is in haste to marry,' said Mrs. Keane, with her motherly smile. 'Well, that is not surprising, of course. And are you going to yield to his entreaties?'

'I don't know,' Celia answered gravely. 'It would be better, perhaps, to wait until .'

The eyes of the elder lady twinkled, but she did not attempt to come to her niece's assistance.

'Until dear Miss Paisley is no more,' continued Celia with an effort. 'You know, Aunt Laura, that Angeline Torwood is dependent on her brother. It is a pity; but one must accept her, I suppose.'

'Of course you must accept your husband's relations,' said Mrs. Keane, showing a little more feeling than usual. 'My husband was generous to my brother your father, Celia.'

'I know papa was not rich before he married mamma,' Celia replied calmly.

'Your mother had a heart; she gave herself and her fortune to the man of her choice,' Mrs. Keane went on. 'I don't believe she ever regretted her love-match. She did not live long, poor thing, but that short life of hers was happy.'

'I have always heard of her happiness,' said Celia. 'But I do not think I am as romantic as she was, Aunt Laura. It seems to me that a fortune should wed a fortune.'

'And your mother thought that a heart should wed a heart. I see you are far wiser than she was, my dear.'

'I believe I have a great deal of common-sense,' said Celia complacently.

'I am sure that you have. You really don't need any advice or guidance; I do not know any girl who can take care of herself as well as you can. Good-night, dear child; I am a stupid old woman, and I always get sleepy after ten.'

And Mrs. Keane aroused her dozing husband in his armchair, and quickly betook herself upstairs to her own room.

'What do you think of Captain Torwood, Anthony?' she asked, when the chamber-door was closed.

'Nice gentlemanly fellow,' replied Mr. Keane, with a yawn. 'Celia is very sweet on him, isn't she?'

'She is sweet on him in her discreet and cautious fashion.'

'As fond of him as she can be of anybody?'

'Yes, but her fondness is a very cold thing. That girl is made of wood all through. She loves nothing so well as her money.'

'I always said that she would bury us all with the greatest composure,' remarked Mr. Keane placidly. 'But she really seems to have taken a fancy to Torwood, and she can afford to indulge her fancy, just as her mother did.'

'Don't compare her with her mother! When I think of that generous, warmhearted woman, I am amazed at the daughter's hard nature.'

'Is the marriage to come off soon ?' asked the uncle, with another yawn.

'Heaven only knows! I suspect that she will keep the engagement meandering on until Miss Paisley dies.'

'Well, Laura, there is no need for you to get excited about the matter. For my part, I feel surprised to find her going in for a romantic love-match; but it does not look so romantic if there is a certainty of Miss Paisley's fortune in the background. Captain Torwood has played his cards very well so well that I fancy the wooing will not be long a-doing.'

'He knows very little of the maiden of his choice,' said Mrs. Keane, with most unwonted bitterness. 'He thinks he has got a sweet pliant creature who will let him have the entire control of herself and her five thousand a year. By-and-by he will be astonished to find that he cannot influence her in the least, and he will be not a little surprised at her strict economy.'

'Go to sleep, Laura,' said Mr. Keane, in a tone of quiet authority. 'You have done your duty to your niece, and she is off your hands. As to Torwood, he is old enough to know that husbands always do make astounding discoveries. Good-night, my dear.'

Angeline had promised her brother that she would call upon Miss Devereux without delay; and on the day that followed Christmas she duly performed her vow. She could take her way now to Eaton Square with a heart free from despondency; and Lawrence's betrothed should know that his sister would be no burden to anyone. Angeline was in excellent spirits; she could be civil and even affectionate to Celia in this happy consciousness of independence. And she was too much a woman of the world to make her communication with any lack of grace.

Celia received her with a gracious formality which instantly set up a little barrier between them. In her heart of hearts Miss Devereux had quietly resolved that there should not be too much familiarity between her sister-in-law and herself. She was very much in love with Lawrence, and meant to make him an irreproachable wife; but Angeline must be kept at a certain distance. It was only too probable that she was an encroaching girl, who would expect to have her traveling expenses paid, and be looking out for presents. Anyhow, it was hard enough that Lawrence should make her an allowance; no doubt he was absurdly liberal, but Celia hoped to correct his views after marriage.

'Shall you stay long in town?' she asked, with her frosty smile. And while she spoke, her eye traveled slowly over Angeline's figure, appraising every article of her dress. Certainly Lawrence had been ridiculously generous; his sister's outfit was bordered with expensive fur, and her gown was of no cheap material.

'I am going to live in Henrietta Street,' Angeline answered, understanding the glance very well, and resenting it in a silent fashion. 'I have decided to remain with my friends the Allansons, and undertake the education of their little girls.'

'Oh, really! That will be very nice indeed.'

'Yes; it is a most satisfactory arrangement. Lawrence has ever been the best of brothers, but I shall be off his hands now. The Allansons are very liberal; I shall have no need of any other help.'

'Everyone must admire your independent spirit,' said Celia, quite cordially. 'I have always thought it a noble thing for a woman to support herself.'

'I believe the working women are the happiest,' Angeline rejoined quietly.

'Of course they are. And dear Lawrence will thoroughly appreciate your unselfishness.'

'Not so thoroughly as you do, I am afraid,' Angeline said, smiling. 'He has set himself against this independent spirit of mine. But I am sure I may rely on your influence.'

'Yes, indeed,' Celia replied with evident sincerity. 'I shall make him see the matter in the right light. Men are nearly always more unreasonable than we are; but a good sensible talk will overcome all his objections.'

'Then you don't think it will be at all difficult to manage him?' remarked the sister, with a gleam of amusement in her eyes.

'Not at all. Miss Paisley says he has plenty of common-sense and amiability, and has listened very willingly to her advice. He will always know that I am anxious only for his good; I never fail to see my duties clearly,' said the heiress, in a solemn tone.

Angeline wondered whether Lawrence would see that it was his wife's duty to direct his conduct! A man who has been a bachelor for more than thirty years is not always found to be amenable to feminine authority. And it even seemed possible to the sister, who knew her brother well, that he would submit more readily to the influence of a woman less calmly correct, less certain of her own perfections than Celia Devereux.

But Celia was the woman of his choice, and Angeline was quite ready to scold herself for not liking her better. She was conscious of a sense of relief when Mrs. Keane entered the room, and began to talk and smile with her usual sunny pleasantness. And then Miss Torwood departed with a dreary sense of having done her duty, and went home gratefully to the comfortable house on Henrietta Street, and the companionship of Mrs. Allanson and the children.

A little later, Lawrence and his fair lady were again seated in the back drawing-room together. He had been calling on Miss Paisley, and had listened to the gentle invalid's counsels as patiently as usual. Of course she was right; he must bring Celia to a speedy decision about the marriage. There was nothing to wait for; and it was clear that Celia loved him quite well enough to forget that he had only the prospect of a fortune instead of a fortune itself.

It might be whispered that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush ; but then the birds in the bush were simply waiting tamely for his grasp. Aunt Virginia was evidently getting weaker and weaker; her color came in hectic flushes and then faded suddenly; her voice often sank to a whisper. But while he was mentally enumerating these symptoms a sudden sense of degradation stung him sharply. Was he truly his father's son? Was not this the very kind of demoralization that the brave, high-principled soldier had dreaded for his only boy?

'Your sister called this afternoon,' said Celia, breaking the momentary silence between them. 'She has a sweet manner, Lawrence; my aunt was quite charmed with her.'

'I am glad you like Angeline,' he answered, with a brightening face.

'Oh yes; I always knew that she was a general favorite. She was staying at Hyde with the Mordaunts when I met her first. It is decided, she tells me, that she is to live in Dr. Allanson's family.'

'That is news to me,' Captain Torwood said quickly. 'But Mrs. Allanson has been her intimate friend for years; they will get on very well together. In fact, Angeline can always get on with anybody.'

'I can quite believe that she is charmingly easy to live with. Mrs. Allanson is very fortunate in having secured her services.'

'Her services! Good heavens, Celia, what an extraordinary expression!'

Miss Devereux at once perceived that she had made a blunder. Like most intensely self-confident women, she was deficient in tact, and she now saw, too late, that her lover's pride was up in arms. Yet it displeased her that he should look and speak with such haughtiness; surely a man ought always to order himself lowly and reverently to a woman who had five thousand a year.

'Of course I only meant the highest and most useful of all services,' she said impressively. 'Angeline has consented to educate Dr. Allanson's children. It will be a happy and interesting occupation.'

'Happy and interesting fiddlestick! I will not have my sister turning herself into a governess.'

'I think you are wrong, Lawrence, to raise objections. I told her that I thoroughly approved of her sensible conduct.'

'Well, we will not discuss the matter,' he said, still speaking loftily. 'I shall talk to Angeline, and bring her to reason.'

'It is somebody else who ought to be brought to reason,' remarked Celia, laying her hand upon his coat-sleeve, and looking down complacently on the engagement-ring that glistened on one of her white fingers.

She tried to speak in a sportive tone, but nature had never intended her to be sportive. Still, she was looking pretty at the moment, and that glance at the ring did not pass unnoticed by Captain Torwood. It gave him an opportunity which he was quick enough to seize at once.

'When will you let me put on another ring?' he asked, taking possession of her left hand, and pressing it fondly.

'Oh, I don't know; one doesn't want to wear too many,' she answered, blushing, and pretending not to understand him.

'Nonsense,' he said, drawing her closer to him. 'I mean to have a decided answer this very moment. Celia, darling, when are we going to be married?'

Notwithstanding her secret and firm determination to rule, there was something very winning in this masterful way of his. Moreover, his arm was round her waist, and his golden moustache brushed her cheek. Celia was beginning to feel herself conquered; but not yet.

'We have been engaged only a little while. There has been hardly time enough for us to know each other thoroughly,' she murmured.

'We know quite enough to be sure that we are suited,' he said tenderly. 'Are you afraid of being disappointed in me by-and-by?'

'Oh no.'

'Then why will you not give me a definite answer? You are really too cruel, love.'

But the reproach was softened by a kiss; and Celia, in the weakest moment that she had ever yet known, was heard to whisper something that sounded like 'early in the new year.'

 

 

CHAPTER IX

'SHE IS SO SELF-ENDEARED'

There is a day that is photographed on Eunice Swift's memory. Other days come and go, joys and sorrows crowd into her life, but they never blot out the picture of that day.

The month is January, the time is afternoon, and she feels that she is removed farther than ever from her old life. She is in the swim. Her book has proved to be a veritable success. It is pronounced witty, quaint, original; just the kind of book to captivate common minds. And common minds are plentiful enough in nurseries, as well as in drawing-rooms and clubs.

Eunice's book was intended for the nursery; but fashionable fathers and mothers seized upon it with delight. It showed them themselves and their follies in a new light, and they thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. Anything in the shape of a looking-glass is hailed with joy by a humanity that is never sated with self-contemplation. And it was a kindly hand that held up the mirror.

In the Fine Arts Society's rooms in Bond Street there is a select gathering of literary, artistic, and fashionable people. They are drawn together by a collection of rare articles of virtue, and a few choice pictures.

Mr. Radcliffe, looking worn and feeble, is here, with Eunice by his side. And Mrs. Densley is here too, feeling a quiet triumph in her young friend's success. Everyone is gracious to Eunice, and she is grateful to everybody. But somewhere in a remote corner of her heart there is a spot that aches.

'They are to be married early this year,' she says to herself again and again. She knows it must be true, for Angeline has said it. Of late, fortune has bestowed her gifts with a liberal hand. Hidden deep in Eunice's soul there has always lurked a love of dress. She has never ceased to cherish a desire for rich soft silks, draped by artistic hands; for perfect little gloves, and shoes that are models of French skill. And she does find immense satisfaction in the garments that she wears today.

She is standing before a glass case of rare old fans talking to a man who has already done her good service, and will do more yet. He has a keen well-cut face, lined and worn as the faces of literary men are accustomed to be. Mr. Kennard has never written a novel in his life; but no man can better appreciate those delicate lights and shades of thought that a true novelist displays. Eunice likes him, and is grateful for all the kind things that he has said and written of her.

She wanders in the middle of a sentence, and recovers herself with an effort. He looks at her, and then quietly follows the direction of her eyes.

They are entering the room together a tall, martial-looking man with a golden moustache, and a lady, tall also. She has never in her life seen Celia, but she knows her at the first glance.

Most women are able to recognize their rivals by instinct. Eunice has been trying hard to be good and placid and indifferent; But at the first sight of the heiress she is conscious of a wicked little thrill, that makes her quiver down to the tips of her fingers.

'I hate her,' she says inwardly. 'No, I don't. I hate myself, my nasty contemptible self! I didn't think I was going to be quite such a fool as this.'

The betrothed pair approach, and Eunice resolutely stands her ground. Mr. Kennard does not move away. He looks on quietly, and sees everything.

Captain Torwood drawls more than usual, and is very lazy and slow. He begs to introduce Miss Devereux, and then the two women stand confronting each other, and Mr. Kennard watches them with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes.

Eunice calmly returns Miss Devereux's arrogant gaze. It is with positive delight that she detects all Celia's weak points at once, and never forgets one of them to the end of her days. With the swiftness of a lightning-flash she criticizes face, figure, costume, and audaciously decides that she is the better-dressed woman of the two.

Her furs are not half so costly as those which Miss Devereux wears; but she has an air of sumptuousness that the heiress never attains. Celia's poverty of nature reveals itself somehow in her attire. She moves stiffly, her gowns never fall into those easy folds which depend on the wearer as well as on the dressmaker. In spite of all that can be done, she gives an impression of leanness. There is a little pinched frosty look about her that suggests needless austerities.

Eunice, slim as she is, has a roundness and suppleness of form. Every movement is free. Her gait is firm and unconstrained; her foot is that of a girl of Seville. Even in the old days, Captain Torwood had perceived her little graces. But as he looks at her today, he wonders more and more at the changes that a short time has wrought.

He wonders too, not a little, at himself. There is something in Eunice that appeals to something within him, and wins a swift response. He likes this new look of dainty prosperity, and yet he feels that the little teacher in the shabby frock must have crept very close to him unawares. Miss Swift, mirthful, self-possessed, and successful, is decidedly farther away. He would like to bring her nearer if that could possibly be done. But how can it be done with Celia standing by his side?

She is dressed from head to foot in black. Whether it be silk or satin he is unable to decide, but it is shiny to the eye and soft to the touch. There is a good deal of dark brown fur about her, and a cluster of yellow chrysanthemums is fastened near the throat. Eunice is one of those women who cannot exist without flowers; she always manages to get them at all seasons. In these winter days they come from divers quarters, and she makes the most of anything in the shape of a blossom. Those delicate yellow things, nestling on the dark fur, captivate Lawrence Torwood's fancy at once.

'Your flowers make one forget that it is winter,' he says, with approval in his glance.

'Do they? To me they are a reminder of the season,' she answers. 'Pale, scentless things, only valued because there is nothing else to be had.'

'But they are very pretty,' Miss Devereux condescends to remark.

'Pretty when they have no rivals near them pretty while the roses keep out of sight. Dr. Johnson used to say that he had never had as much wall fruit as he wanted, and I have never yet had my fill of roses. I should like to wade through them, as the old Romans did when they went to their feasts.'

'How you must regret Seacastle and its flowers!' says Captain Torwood, not sorry to remind her of the past.

'No.' She gives him a frank look. 'The Seacastle flowers were for "other hands than mine." Ours was an unromantic little kitchen-garden, full of carrots and cabbages. There wasn't even a pumpkin in it to remind me of Cinderella.'

'But other people had plenty.'

'Oh yes. Mrs. Goad had thousands. But I should have been sentenced to five years' penal servitude if I'd taken one.'

'Couldn't you enjoy your friend's flowers without wanting to gather them?' Celia asks the question with a slight touch of rebuke in her tone. She is rather fond of administering lady-like rebukes.

'Mine is an acquisitive nature,' owns Eunice, with a gleam of fun in her grey eyes. 'Of course I know it's wicked to want all the things I like for my very own. But I always do. It torments me to see roses that I mustn't touch. I went to a floricultural show once, and suffered agonies.'

'It must be very unpleasant, I should think, to have such unruly feelings,' says Celia icily.

'It is very unpleasant. It makes one feel so dreadfully inferior to all the people who have well-regulated desires. And yet I fancy I should find life too uninteresting if I had no cravings. To be like Jack Horner, sitting in his corner, pulling plums out of his pie would be slow work. It's almost too easy to be good when you have all that you want in your lap, isn't it?'

Captain Torwood smiles, and flushes slightly. Can it be possible that Miss Swift is hinting at a faint resemblance between Jack Horner and his betrothed?

Now that he thinks about the matter, he finds that Celia certainly is a little like that celebrated nursery prig. She has no need to go about coveting other people's plums, with such a well-filled pie of her own. And then the irreproachable goodness!

Celia herself is puzzled by this young person's eccentric talk, and regards her with a cold suspicion. Where did Lawrence pick her up? She does not like the intimacy, and means to discourage it. Quite aware that Miss Devereux has had enough of her, Eunice turns to Mr. Kennard, and the lovers occupy themselves with the case of fans.

They begin with a fan that belongs to the early days of Louis the Fourteenth. The painter had depicted him as Endymion sleeping on Mount Latmos, while La Valliere, as Diana, descended from a flowery chariot. Miss Devereux looks with mild interest at poor Louise, with the well-known curly rings upon her forehead, and says she supposes that it must be a good likeness.

'No doubt of it,' says Captain Torwood absently.

'Do you think La Valliere could have been a beauty, Lawrence?' she asks.

'Hardly,' giving his mind to the subject. 'Pretty light hair and a white skin, I believe. De Montespan, too, was very fair. The Grand Monarque had the good taste to prefer blonde women.'

Celia smiles quietly. Eunice Swift is dark-haired and somewhat sallow.

'Let us get on to the pictures,' she says, making towards another room. 'I want to see Mr. Minto. He is sure to be here. What a grand painter he is!'

'He has done some wonderfully fine things.'

'I can see him now, Lawrence. The tall man, sun burnt. He is actually talking to that little woman we met a minute ago,' says Celia, with a slight projection of the lower lip. 'That Miss I didn't catch the name aims at being original, I think.'

'She is original.' He had seen that little grimace. 'She has written a successful book, and people are running after her.'

'Oh, really! Is she well connected, and that sort of thing?'

'I don't know much about her connections. We met her last year at a quiet little village. She and Angeline are great friends.'

'Ah, she is a friend of Angeline's! Well, I dare say she is clever; but I thought there was something odd about her dress.'

'She is exceedingly well dressed.'

'I don't admire that style myself. And isn't there something funny in her manner?'

'She has a very good manner, I think.'

His tone is cold and quiet. But Celia is not the woman to take warning.

'Do you? Now I thought she had too much dash,' she goes on. 'People of low origin often get a dashing air when they are noticed in society.'

'I am not acquainted with many people of low origin. Perhaps you have studied their ways more than I have,' he says, drawling.

'Oh dear no!' Celia speaks loftily. But I am very quick in detecting the slightest sign of vulgarity. 'I never can like a woman who is not perfectly refined! And one can't be too particular in making acquaintances.' He is silent.

'We are stamped by our associates.' She will talk on in that oracular voice of hers. 'Perhaps I am rather too exclusive. But society is getting so mixed nowadays that one must draw the line somewhere. I dare say Angeline isn't quite so cautious as I am.'

A dark cloud is gathering over Captain Torwood's handsome face; yet Celia is blind as well as deaf.

'Angeline is not likely to make mistakes,' he says. 'She has her instincts.'

Celia, in her frigid way, is already jealous of Miss Torwood. And Lawrence believes too much in her! He is a little stubborn sometimes, she thinks.

'I don't care about knowing new people,' she remarks. 'Your sister's ideas are more liberal than mine. I like to be satisfied that a person has an assured position before I am in the least intimate. So, Lawrence, you must not expect me to take up all Angeline's dear friends.'

Captain Torwood had always been looked upon as a sweet-tempered man, indolent, and slow to wrath. But if any of his old comrades had seen his face at that moment, they would have been startled at the flash of rage that deformed it. It was such impotent rage, too! He could not say or do anything to a woman; and she was the woman who had promised to be his wife.

He had an intense horror of scenes of any kind. Their two lives had to be spent together, and he must make the best of Celia Devereux. Nothing should ever induce him to bandy reproaches with a girl who must be his daily and hourly companion for years to come. Yet he must make her understand that he is no slave.

They are standing side by side before one of those pictures of love and summer which artists are never weary of painting, and people are never tired of seeing. Leafy shade and golden sunshine; a stream; a man and a girl in a boat gliding on among water-lilies. In his present mood, Lawrence thinks that the painter must have been a fool to depict those two idiots, simpering into each other's eyes. Men have got to make love, of course; it is a part of the necessary business of life; but there is no reason why they should be represented in the act of making it. His own face certainly is not lover-like at this moment, nor is there any ring of tenderness in his tone.

'I am not unreasonable in my expectations,' he rejoins haughtily. 'It shall be settled, if you please, that Angeline and I will keep our own friends apart from you. Now let us drop the subject; and if you have had enough of this place, we had better, I think, be moving homeward.'

'I am quite ready to go home,' says Celia, in an aggrieved tone.

And then they leave the rooms, and in departing Captain Torwood catches a last glimpse of Eunice, keeping up an animated conversation with Mr. Minto and Mr. Kennard.

He does not guess that he is leaving an aching heart behind him. Eunice, with the keen sight of deep interest, has seen that he looks discontented and bored. She begins to share Angeline's doubts and fears; and in her own far-seeing little soul she pictures his future life with Celia Devereux.

'Ten minutes spent in her society are enough to depress one's spirits for a week!' she says to herself. 'Fancy having to spend years and years with that woman! I wish I could save him from his fate.'

 

 

CHAPTER X

'AH, OLD THOUGHTS, THEY CLING, THEY CLING!'

Sir Bertram was resolved to pay all possible respect to the memory of the dead; he would have no Christmas festivities, no guests to stay in the house. Moreover, the duties of his new position occupied much of his time, and there was probably a good deal of private and personal business to be settled. He went up to town several times, remaining away for a day or two; and then his daughter and the servants had the great house to themselves. Gwen did not greatly miss him on these occasions; she had already learned that she was not in the least necessary to his happiness, and looked back with a smile sometimes on her old dreams of filial devotion.

Gwen Netterville in her new home the winter was passing quietly and speedily away. But she knew what was expected of her well enough, and made good use of her leisure in these quiet days. Masters came weekly from the cathedral town of Highminster, and Hannah watched her young lady with astonishment and admiration. Miss Netterville was determined that her father should not be disappointed; he should find her no unworthy daughter of the house, she said to herself; and so she worked on, harder, perhaps, than she would have worked if love, not pride, had been the stimulating power.

Brackenhurst Church was about half a mile from the house, if you followed a short cut which led through the park to the village. It was the smallest church that Gwen had ever seen: so small, that it seemed at first sight incapable of holding anyone besides the Nettervilles and their servants. But there was a gallery at the west end which contained a tiny organ, and was always well filled on Sundays with smock-frocks, and uncomfortable coats and jackets of every conceivable cut. Young ploughmen and carters in their Sunday suits have, as Miss Netterville soon discovered, a difficulty in using their limbs in a natural way, and she learned to regard some of the occupants of that gallery with compassion. They were, however, happy in the consciousness of heads shiny with grease, and neckties of the most brilliant hues, and bore the bondage of tight clothes with complacency. Moreover, there was the hope of an approving word or smile from Miss Ryan after the service was over, if they had acquitted themselves well in the singing, and there was not a man or boy in Brackenhurst who would not have walked miles to win a kind look from Kate Ryan.

Kate was the Vicar's only child, and on her devolved the task of playing the organ and training the choir. Without being a genius, she was one of those practically clever persons who can always do the very things that are required of them; and when she came home from school to take her place permanently in the parish, it was not long before sundry beneficial changes were wrought. Instead of bellowing like bulls of Bashan, the men and boys learned to sing in subdued voices, and poor Mr. Ryan's Sunday headaches became less frequent. He was a quiet sensitive man, with an inborn horror of loud and discordant sounds, and the Sabbath roar from the gallery had been very terrible to him.

The Vicar and his daughter were the first callers on the Nettervilles. They came on a day when Sir Bertram was absent, and Gwen received them alone.

The two girls knew at once that they would suit each other, and they formed, then and there, one of those quick, warm attachments which are peculiarly the friendships of women. 'Swift as a shadow, short as any dream' such friendships frequently are. And yet there is a sweetness in these sudden likings, and a pleasant sense of sympathy and mutual appreciation often lingers long after the friends have parted forever.

Kate Ryan was a very pretty little woman, and everything about her was singularly dainty and refined. She had a soft round face, framed in flossy hair of golden-brown, and her cheeks were tinged with tender rose-pink. Her eyes were those long, lustrous eyes, blue-grey, that seem to change color, and get dark or light according to the mood of their possessor. Hers was a little blossom of a face, tinted as delicately as a pink-and-white morning glory, and she was almost as fragile as a flower. A sudden joy would send the blood to her cheek, but the bloom would fade as quickly as it came. She was nervous, afraid of shocks, easily worried by little fears, and yet capable of daring anything for the sake of those she loved. 'A brave little coward,' the Vicar would say lovingly, as he stroked the silky waves of her hair.

'It's only my heart that makes me a coward,' she would answer. 'If I get the least bit frightened, it either stops altogether or else goes on beating too fast! What are you to do when you have such a silly heart as mine?'

What indeed? Mr. Ryan would think of another heart, just as warm and true, which had throbbed its last on his breast. As the mother was, so was the child. Sensitive, intensely loving, always unselfish, it was no marvel that she was the pet of the little parish. The poor welcomed her as they welcomed the sunshine. And Miss Netterville found it easy to make friends in the cottages, when she went among the people with Kate by her side.

Sir Bertram did not concern himself in the least about the growing intimacy between Gwen and Kate. The Nettervilles had always lived on good terms with their parsons. Mr. Ryan (in Sir Bertram's opinion, a muff) was unquestionably a man of good family; his daughter was pretty and lady-like, and would be useful in amusing Miss Netterville during her days of retirement. By-and-by, of course, Gwen would go into society and forget all about her little friend at the Vicarage, but while it suited her to make a companion of the girl, she was free to take her own way.

One January morning, when Sir Bertram had again betaken himself to town, Gwen set out through the park, hoping to meet Kate Ryan. The girls had agreed to have lunch together; both felt that lunch at the Hall was a more pleasant meal in Sir Bertram's absence, and gladly seized upon the opportunity of an intimate talk. The path which Gwen followed was the 'short cut' that led directly to the church, and close to the church stood the Vicarage.

She walked on briskly, with only Jove, the bloodhound, for a companion. A grand, tawny fellow was Jove; a dog of majestic presence, capable of inspiring timid or guilty strangers with terror, but quite incapable of frightening any member of the household. To those who knew him intimately, he seemed nothing but a splendid fraud: a creature too lazy and unsuspecting even to growl at a tramp. Jack, the wiry little terrier who had been dismissed by Sir Bertram for much barking, had always sniffed a vagrant afar off, and rushed out madly to do battle; but like many a trusty servant, he had made himself obnoxious by over-zeal, and the place that knew him once would know him no more.

Gwen and Jove had speedily become fast friends. He had won her heart by affably presenting her with his massive paw, and she had openly declared him to be one of the most perfect gentlemen that she had ever seen.

It was now understood that he was the attendant chosen to accompany her in all her rambles. He padded at her heels, never hurrying himself, seldom stopping to examine objects by the wayside, rarely showing that interest in trivial things which distinguishes a dog of more sportive temperament. He was not amusing; but he was stately and well-bred, and in the depths of his indolent nature there really lurked a sincere affection for his mistress.

The morning was calm, and bright with the sunshiny peace which seems to belong rather to October than to January. It was a day that might have stolen back from the old year; an autumn Spirit in whose presence the sharp winds died away, and mists began to hang their light veils over the fields again. Tomorrow the winter blasts would return and the mists would vanish; but today was like a dream, hazy and still, and its quietness was sweet to Gwen.

The path that she had chosen was seldom used, save by the inhabitants of the Hall. It was a narrow way, in summer fragrant with honeysuckle; in spring, haunted by the faint sighs of violets; in winter, cheerful with the glossy green of the holly. And Gwen, as she walked onward through the tranquil lights and shades, recalled her old self to bear her company, and revive the past.

She tried to fancy herself back again in the old Seacastle garden, bare and wintry now, with gleams of sunlight shining on the wet mold. Did anyone ever sit in her sacred shrubbery seat nowadays?

By-and-by the 'merry May-time' would sprinkle the meadow with buttercup-gold; and the west wind would tell its old tale to the creepers, sighing and singing when the sunset light burnt low. Well, it was folly to remember; and yet she knew that she had not quite learned forgetfulness.

Next month Lady Emily Swynford was coming to the Hall, and it was understood that Gwen's training was to begin in earnest. Lady Emily had already written an affectionate letter to her dear Miss Netterville, saying that she looked forward with delight to her easy duties as a chaperon; and Gwen had dispatched a prettily worded reply.

So everything was arranged; her path was plainly marked out, and she was prepared to be docile and obedient. Still, if there had been the faintest tone of hope in Victor Ashburn's parting words, she would have taken her life into her own hands and shaped it after her own fashion. It was no lack of will that made Gwen submissive; it was her utter hopelessness that said, 'Let them do as they will; there shall be no opposing spirit in me.'

But if if he had only asked her to wait for him, she could have been as patient as Penelope, and as wise. His very declaration of love had been a farewell; there was nothing, absolutely nothing, to warrant remembrance. He had expected to be forgotten; perhaps he even intended to forget.

The last thought stung her sharply, so sharply that her pace was quickened unawares, and she came suddenly to the end of the path. A gate in the park-fence opened into the highway of the village, and the Vicarage was within a stone's-throw of the spot on which she stood.

The old house, with all its masses of ivy glistening in the sun, was the type of a pleasant country parsonage, time-honored and home-like. The ample porch was mirthful with berry-bearing creepers; the golden graveled path leading to the door was always kept smoothly rolled, a strip of warm color on a winter day. Partly to shake off the influence of sad thoughts, partly in expectation of seeing Miss Ryan present herself, Gwen paused within the fence, instead of coming out into the road. She did not wait long; only a few seconds passed before Kate's pretty figure emerged from the porch, but she was not alone.

Her companion was a man, and a man whom Gwen knew.

The dull High Street of Marsham; the old hotel; the smart carriage and pair of fiery horses; Maud Heatherstone with the rich flush on her cheeks, and the strange light in her dark-blue eyes this was the scene that rose up before her with startling distinctness; and in spite of habitual self-control she shuddered and drew back behind a bush of holly. Again she seemed to feel the shock and crash as the carriage turned over in the dusty road; and then came the remembrance of the painful awaking to consciousness, and the long days and nights of illness spent in her little room.

It was Captain Ludlow who stood yonder in the January sunlight, talking to the Vicar's daughter. Mr. Ryan had followed them out onto the porch, and now all three were standing on the graveled path; and their voices reached Gwen's ears, although she could not hear the words they said.

But it was no longer a troubled, embarrassed man whom she saw, acting a part which nature had never intended him to play. Sidney Ludlow, perfectly at ease, and bearing himself with frank soldierly grace, was not the same Sidney who had kept an assignation with Robert Heatherstone's wife. How handsome he looked with the fresh morning light shining on his brown face and well-cut features! And Gwen could not help thinking that the strong soldier and the fair girl made a charming pair, for Kate was certainly at her prettiest that day. Her sweet face and sunny hair were seen to advantage under her little velvet hat. Her plain cloth jacket fitted closely to a perfect figure, and her skirt was short enough to reveal the tiny high-heeled shoes that were not too dainty for country walking.

Not wishing to be seen and recognized just then by Captain Ludlow, Gwen began slowly to retrace her steps along the footpath. The sight of her would recall circumstances that he, doubtless, desired to forget. She had heard enough from Cora Wallace to know that he had suffered a good many things from Maud's hands, and her sympathies were enlisted on the side of the man for whom the sorceress had spread her snare. He had been weak, perhaps, but it is no easy task to shake off the shackles of an old love; and Gwen could forgive him.

After a little while she turned again, much to the astonishment of Jove, who, however, imitated all her movements meekly enough. And then a slight rustle, and the fall of a light step on the crisp dead leaves, told her that Kate Ryan was coming towards her at last.

'I have been detained by a visitor,' began Kate, in a silvery tone of apology. 'A visitor who arrived quite unexpectedly last night, and took our quiet household by surprise. At first I thought Granny was going to be horribly cross; but she behaved beautifully after all. You know Granny has a trick of conducting herself in an unlooked-for manner. She is like Fate, and always does the very things that you don't expect her to do.'

After a few visits to the parsonage, Gwen had easily discovered the ruling spirit of the house. Mr. Ryan lived in a state of contented subjection; from the first hour of his marriage his mother-in-law had taken the management of him into her own hands, and she managed him still. Although she was nearly seventy years old, Mrs. Hay's governing powers were by no means on the wane. In all but age she was a young woman, alert, active, vigorous; exacting prompt obedience from every member of the family. Kate, on her return from school, had once or twice endeavored to assert herself, and had been speedily extinguished nobody understood the art of clamping down so well as Granny.

Yet it was a happy household that acknowledged Mrs. Hay's tyrannical rule. On the whole she was a pleasant tyrant; her son-in-law respected her from the very bottom of his heart; the servants found her just, and not over-severe, and Kate was perhaps the only person who ever resented her autocratic ways. But then, in Kate's nature there was not one grain of bitterness, and all her little powers of malice were exhausted in a pretty pout or a pettish repartee. And in her innermost soul she was distinctly conscious that Granny loved her well.

'And the visitor?' said Gwen, gently recalling Miss Ryan to the point from which she had started.

'Well, the visitor was a man, a Captain Ludlow. For years and years I have heard papa talk of Mr. Ludlow, his dearest college friend; and I don't know how it was that two such intimate friends came to lose sight of each other. I think, however, that the fault must have been on papa's side; he has a warm heart and an indolent nature, and his laziness generally prevails over his affection to such an extent that he leaves letters unanswered. Anyhow, we never knew what had become of Mr. Ludlow until his death was announced in the papers. And yesterday morning there came a letter from his nephew.'

'From Captain Ludlow?'

'Yes; the note said that he was coming to see papa, and talk to him on an important subject. He arrived in the afternoon, prepared to take up his quarters in the village inn. But we would not hear of that, and so he spent last night under our roof.'

'And you liked him?' 'Well, yes very much indeed. Even Granny was fascinated, and displayed all her antiquated graces. It seems that Mr. Ludlow married late in life, and was left a widower with one little girl. The father accepted a foreign chaplaincy, and the child was left in the charge of her aunt a woman with an immense number of boys. Just before poor Mr. Ludlow died, he wrote to his nephew, saying that he did not feel quite easy about his little daughter, and earnestly wished papa to have the care of her.'

'And are you really going to take her?'

'Yes; it is all arranged. Instead of crushing the scheme at once, Granny assented readily. It is only because she wants another person to manage; I fathom her motives, of course. But I think it will be very amusing to have a little girl in the house. Captain Ludlow means sometimes to come and see her.'

'His visits will be very amusing, too,' said Gwen demurely.

'Well, life is rather tame at the Vicarage,' admitted Kate. 'A parson's daughter is a sort of curate, you see; and sometimes I can't help getting tired of "the trivial round, the common task."'

'But you are a very happy little woman?'

'Oh yes; very happy. And after all I never do get really weary of helping papa.'

Gwen knew that the last words came straight from her companion's heart. When the girl spoke of her father her eyes shone under the silken lashes, and the tender pink deepened on her cheeks. She watched the sweet pure face, so lovely in its swift changes; and then the vision of another face rose up in her mind again.

Could Maud Heatherstone, with her sensuous beauty and evil soul, ever lure a man's love away from a girl like Kate? Gwen thought not. For she, too, was mercifully ignorant of many things that some of her more worldly sisters had learned all too quickly. She knew nothing of that baneful fascination which may enslave the senses, although it never touches the heart.

 

 

CHAPTER XI

'SHE WAS A PHANTOM OF DELIGHT'

The week passed away, and then Captain Ludlow reappeared at the Vicarage. He was accompanied by his little cousin, a child of eight, whom he presented to Mrs. Hay with manifest fear and trembling, uncertain about the impression she would make on that lady's mind.

'Muriel has been brought up with boys, he said, in an apologetic tone. 'But she means to be very good and obedient, I am sure.'

Mrs. Hay's mouth went down at the corners, and an irrepressible smile dimpled Kate's cheeks, as the little girl came forward. A most unique child was Miss Muriel Ludlow, stout and square-shouldered, and dressed in a rough cloth jacket of sailor-like cut. A broad-brimmed shiny hat was stuck at the back of her curly head, and the face that was upraised frankly to meet Granny's kiss was round, plump, and brown. Merry dark eyes, full of shrewdness; a turned-up nose, a large rosy it was the kind of countenance, thought Kate, that often went with white mice and a hurdy-gurdy. To her it seemed decidedly attractive, and promised a good deal of fun for the future; but Granny was taken aback.

She had expected a mild pale faced orphan, longing to be consoled, and ready to submit at once to her excellent system of training. But Muriel was clearly not in need of consolation, and the task of training her would be by no means an easy one. Those dark eyes could be mutinous sometimes; the laughing red lips knew how to pout. Yet anyhow, the child had been received into the family, and they must make the best of her.

'So your name is Muriel,' said Granny, by way of beginning a conversation.

'Yes; but I'm always called Mew.' The voice was pleasant, but it rang out loud and clear as a boy's. Mrs. Hay's eyebrows went up, and the corners of her mouth went down again.

The drawing-room at the Vicarage was a long low room which had once been divided into two parts by folding-doors. But the doors had long since given place to thick olive curtains, now looped back and falling into graceful folds. At each end of the room a fire blazed and crackled merrily, filling every nook and corner with ruddy light.

Everything here seemed to welcome a stranger; couches and chairs were meant to be used; Kate's piano was open, ready to be played upon; her guitar stood close by. Some of Granny's old china was wired upon the walls; her Dresden shepherds and shepherdesses, and courtiers and ladies that looked as if they had come out of the Little Trianon, were perched gaily on the chimney-pieces. Muriel could not take her eyes off these bewitching china people; and Kate, foreseeing that looking would lead to handling, gently drew her away to the room upstairs prepared for her use.

There she was left to the care of a good-tempered housemaid, who divested her of the sailor's hat and jacket, and conducted her downstairs again to partake of afternoon tea.

'I am quite sure I shall like you all very much. You seem to be regular bricks here,' remarked Miss Ludlow, on being liberally supplied with strawberry jam.

Fortunately for the new-comer, this statement was unheard by Mrs. Hay. Muriel had been accommodated with a seat at the well-spread tea-table. Kate presided over an ancient silver tea-urn, and watched the child with amused eyes.

'Has that come off the top of a tomb?' inquired Muriel, pointing to the urn. 'It looks as if it came out of a churchyard.'

'What!' said Mrs. Hay sharply.

She was drinking her tea at her own little table; and the Vicar and Captain Ludlow were discussing politics. But the clear boyish voice made itself heard through their conversation.

'Old Mrs. Smith has got one just like it over her grave,' Muriel went on. 'Jack said they used to burn up dead folks, and put all that was left of them into those things.'

'Muriel!' exclaimed Captain Ludlow, in a warning tone, 'I cautioned you against talking too much!'

'Why, Cousin Sidney, I've hardly spoken a word yet! But I do so want to know if that thing was ever in the churchyard. We are very close to people's graves here, and I thought .'

'Little girls must be silent at meals,' said Granny solemnly. 'I am accustomed to seeing well-behaved children around me. I have had three little girls of my own.'

'You must have been sorry that they weren't boys, ma'am,' observed the irrepressible. 'Boys are ever so much jollier! But I suppose you had to make the best of the little girls.'

'You must go to bed very early,' said Mrs. Hay severely. 'You are getting overexcited and feverish. I shall have to dose you if I see any more of these dangerous symptoms!'

'"Will it be a powder or a draught?' asked Muriel, with great anxiety.

'Both,' quoted Granny grimly; 'and a pill into the bargain.'

Muriel's lips were pursed up into whistling form, but no sound issued from them. Mrs. Hay had got the better of her at last. She devoted herself to the jam in silence.

The remembrance of that quiet evening haunted Sidney Ludlow for many a day. Kate Ryan, flitting about with soft footfalls and bright eyes, answered perfectly to his idea of a home-fairy:

'A creature not too bright and good

For human nature's daily food.'

Hers was a delicate and gracious beauty that stood the test of close inspection. Her face had many changes, but not one look that was not pure and sweet. And then there was 'something of an angel,' too, in this girl. Her voice and smile soothed, while they charmed him, and almost revived his boyish belief in the sanctity of womanhood.

It was not wonderful that he should have forgotten such a creed. There were not many of his women-friends who desired to keep it in his mind. His thoughts strayed from Kate to the girls who betted with him, smoked with him, listened to his most racy stories, and related some (still racier) in return. They were pleasant enough in their way; good fellows in petticoats, yet without a good fellow's best points. Somehow they always retained the petty meannesses of their own gender, while they failed to grasp the nobler qualities of his.

They were amusing, doubtless. Had they not studied the art of amusing men? Yes; but their gaiety sickened him sometimes, and sent him away thinking of old world traditions, and ancient household sayings. He had even caught himself wondering whether he should ever find again those men and those women, who had won their glorious eulogy in the days of yore.

The Vicar was called away to a sick parishioner. Muriel, really sleepy after her journey, had been led off to bed in a docile mood. Granny, seated in her favorite chair, began to nod a little over the Times. And Sidney and Kate were busy in the music-corner, turning over a heap of old songs, and trying bits of new ones.

Kate had a silvery soprano voice, fresh and well-trained. She was fond of singing songs about mountains and waterfalls. And something in those clear trills reminded you always of a morning sky; a bird soaring; a blue alpine set high up in crystals of snow. Sidney Ludlow had listened to many richer voices voices that had called up dreams of glowing sunsets, and passionate meetings and farewells. But there was no passion in Kate's singing, and yet he did not miss the deeper tones. He had been so long bound to earth that he was tired of the bonds, and wanted to soar.

He felt that night that he could heartily rejoice in his freedom. He wanted to love again, and to love a woman as unlike his old love as possible. His lip curled now in disgust at his former weakness. What a slave he had been! How he had despised his idol, even while he laid his heart beneath her feet!

With Maud he had always been passion tossed morbid dissatisfied, even when he had imagined himself loved. Her fondest words and caresses were like the fruit sold in Goblin Market, rich to the taste, but leaving behind a bitter hunger and burning pain. Well, the cravings were stilled; the thirst was quenched; the madness was over (as he believed) forever.

And when Kate came to the end of one of those mountain-songs of hers, she found Sidney's brown eyes fixed upon her with a look that deepened the pink on her cheeks. She tried to think of something commonplace to say, but not one word could she utter at that moment.

'Do you ever read Shelley?' he said suddenly, his eyes still shining, his voice deep and tender,

'"My soul is an enchanted boat,

Which, like a sleeping swan, does float

Upon the silver waves of your sweet singing;

And your does like an angel sit

Beside the helm conducting it,

While all the winds with melody are ringing."

'I shall want to hear you sing very often, Miss Ryan. Yours is just the kind of music that a man pines for, when he has been as troubled and tossed as I have.'

Her soft eyes could meet his then. He had known sorrow, and the girl's instinctive desire to comfort conquered her shyness.

'Have you been troubled?' she said gently. 'I am so sorry. It seems easy for a woman to bear her trials, but a man .'

'Ah, we have not half your fortitude. We don't shrink from gunpowder and steel, but we take the common disappointments of life far less bravely than you do. I wish you could teach us that quiet courage of yours.'

'I have been but little tried.' She spoke in a shy voice. 'Mine is such a simple, ignorant life. I'm afraid sometimes that I don't know enough about trouble to be a good consoler. And yet I want to comfort people so much.'

Her beautiful eyes were lifted timidly to his. The innocent look charmed and thrilled him.

'You do comfort people,' he answered. 'You create an atmosphere of peace around you. It is a long time since I have had a glimpse of a true home. But I've found one here in this dear old house at last. And I'm beginning to feel that my lost faith in women is coming back.'

Then it was a woman who had disappointed him, and embittered his life!

As she jumped to that conclusion her eyes brightened, her face took a soft flush, like a fresh apple-blossom; Most women love to heal a wound that has been inflicted by one of themselves. They think that while they cure the hurt they can charm away the memory of her who dealt the blow. In that moment Kate began to have her visions of soothing his heartache, and restoring his trust in Heaven.

It was an innocent little dream enough, poor child! And it is doubtful whether she would have cared half so much for a lover who had come to her swearing that she was his first love. Romeo was not, perhaps, less successful with Juliet because of his former passion for Rosaline. Nor did Duke Orsino fail to win Viola because he had wooed Olivia in vain. That virginity of heart which a man prizes in a woman is by no means so highly valued by a woman when she finds it in a man.

To succeed thoroughly, a wooer should guide his steps by the light of experience. And if he can convince his new love that he brings her a crushed spirit and blighted affections, he will at once awaken that strong compassion which is only a deeper feeling in disguise.

'I am sorry that you ever lost your faith in us,' said Kate, after a little pause. 'We are often weak and frivolous, I know. But we can be constant and unselfish.'

'Constant unselfish!' he repeated bitterly. 'What hollow words they seem to me!'

She gave him a gentle look of reproach, and he became penitent in a moment.

'I am tired of my skeptical mood, Miss Ryan. I want to believe in people again. Will you go on with the good work you have begun, and win me back into a better frame ?' he asked eagerly.

'I will try,' she answered simply. And so the compact was made.

Waking up with a jerk, Granny was heard to wonder what time it was. Kate, feeling unaccountably nervous, began to play a dreamy waltz; and Captain Ludlow sauntered across the room to the old lady's side. Presently the Vicar returned to the drawing-room, and then came prayers and bedtime.

So they all went, with much apparent serenity, to their respective chambers that night. But if the truth must be told, a certain phantom with brown eyes and dark hair, and a martial bearing, haunted Kate's dreams. And a delicate, rose-tinted face seemed to hover over Captain Ludlow in his slumbers, until he woke with a start, only to remember that the sweet face had its counterpart in real life, and would smile upon him at the breakfast-table tomorrow.

Morning dawned brightly enough for January, and Sidney found all the members of the household assembled when he came downstairs. Muriel, very sharp and vigorous, after a sound sleep, was so well pleased with her quarters that she was disposed to patronize everybody in a good humored way, from Granny downwards. But that august lady had an eye upon her new charge, and was prepared to begin her system of training without loss of time.

'Come here, Muriel,' she said when breakfast was over, and the child had skipped away to the window.

'Yes, in a minute,' was the reply.

'You must learn prompt obedience. Come at once.'

'All right. I want just to see these robins one, two, three. And oh, what a jolly speckled thrush! I'll set a trap for him.'

'You will do nothing of the kind,' said Granny, the bows of her cap quivering with indignation. 'And if you do not immediately come to me I shall have to punish you.'

Muriel turned her back to the window and the birds, and advanced slowly towards Mrs. Hay. She had caught a warning glance from Sidney, and an entreating one from Kate, and was evidently resolved to behave herself very well indeed.

'Now I want to know all about your studies,' Granny began. 'First, there is your religious training to be attended to. Can you say your Catechism?'

'Little bits of it,' said Muriel honestly. 'But I never thought anybody could say it right through. The part about the Lord's prayer is such a difficult one.'

'I could say it right through when I was your age,' remarked Mrs. Hay sadly. 'But they don't know how to train children nowadays. I suppose you have learned some chapters out of the Bible?'

'Oh yes; I can tell you all about Samson setting fire to the foxes' tails. That was a lark, and no mistake, wasn't it?'

'Your tone is irreverent, my dear; but you are hardly to be blamed for that. It is easy to see that you have been infamously neglected. Is it possible that you have never been taught to repeat a hymn, or a pretty little poem?'

'I do know one little piece of poetry, ma'am,' responded Muriel, with earnest gravity. 'Jack taught it to me; it's very short, and I think you'll like it. It's not a hymn exactly, though.'

'Well, let me hear it,' said Granny, in quite an encouraging tone.

And Muriel, with much dramatic action, recited the vainglorious lines:

'"Two skinny Frenchmen, and a Portuguee,

One jolly Englishman whacked all three !"'

A smothered burst of laughter from the end of the room, and then a sound of rustling skirts made Granny sharply turn her head. But she was too late to reprove the culprits. Both Sidney and Kate had taken to flight, and were seen no more until they appeared for lunch.

 

 

CHAPTER XII

'THE HEART IS ALL ATHEIST AGAIN, THE DROPS ARE ALL OF GOLD'

Lady Emily and her husband arrived at Brackenhurst Hall in February, and Gwen felt that her spell of peace and quietness had really come to an end. No more solitary rambles with Jove at her heels; no more free and easy fellowship with her little friend at the Vicarage; Lady Emily was watchful, affectionate, and exacting to the last degree. Of the arrangements that had been made between her father and his guests, Gwen knew little, but she guessed a good deal. Lady Emily was not the woman to work for nothing.

Mr. Swynford was a meek little man whom she had married rather late in her life; rumor said he was her last chance. She was, and always had been, a plain woman of the angular type, with a hard Roman nose and cold eyes. From her youth up she had fought that bitter battle with the world which only the aristocratic poor can fully understand; and it had seamed her face with traces that no after time of peace could ever smooth away. And yet there was an indescribable charm in her trained voice and quiet manner, and in the ready sympathy which (unreal as it was) was never lacking at the right moment.

Her heart, if she had ever had one, must have been shriveled up long ago; but tact and perfect breeding are excellent substitutes for feeling, and Lady Emily was generally spoken of among her friends as a woman of sweet temper and kindness of nature.

Perhaps they were not very wrong after all. It was not her fault that her toil had been all against the collar ever since she had emerged from the schoolroom, and struggling, watching, and scheming had occupied her from girlhood to womanhood. In another state of life she might have turned out a clever worthy woman; a keen manager always, but quite ready to expend her natural shrewdness in helping her neighbors.

Anyhow, she had been a devoted if somewhat tyrannical mother; and if her children did not rise up and call her blessed, they were not slow to acknowledge that they owed everything to her management.

Soon after Gwen's departure from Seacastle, Mrs. Collington and Miss Wallace had gone to Rome. They were spending the winter there; but the spring would bring them home again.

Miss Wallace was never surprised at anything; she generally foresaw the things that were coming to pass; and even the startling change in Gwen's fortunes was accepted with perfect coolness and philosophy.

'I always expected something romantic to happen to you,' she wrote. 'Of course you were not born to blush unseen in that nastiest of villages. We shall hear a great deal about you next season.'

The Swynfords had been staying at the Hall for several days, and life was going on smoothly and monotonously enough. It was very seldom that anything happened at Brackenhurst; there was no gossip, no news of any kind. One morning, however, Sir Bertram came down to breakfast with tidings of a sudden disaster.

'Sad thing at Fairwood,' he said.

'Where is Fairwood?' Lady Emily asked.

'A small place about eight or nine miles off. The Forresters used to live there when I was a boy. I don't know anything of these new people the Heatherstones. It seems that poor Heatherstone fell off his horse yesterday at his own gate, and never spoke afterwards.'

'Heatherstone!' repeated Gwen.

'Heatherstone!' echoed Lady Emily. 'That must be the man who married Maud Collington. I knew her mother very well.'

Lady Emily did not add that she and Mrs. Collington had fought a valiant battle over poor Robert Heatherstone; but Maud's beauty had secured the prize which had been coveted for the elder Miss Swynford.

'I remember Heatherstone,' piped little Mr. Swynford. 'A man who never had anything the matter with him.'

'He must have had something the matter with him on Monday,' said Sir Bertram. 'A sudden attack of giddiness, Hudson says. But how the deuce can anyone tell what it was when the man never spoke after his fall?'

'It is very sad,' sighed Lady Emily. 'Those cheerful ruddy men almost always die suddenly; and he was perpetually talking about his perfect health, poor fellow! His widow must be very well provided for. She will marry again soon, I dare say. A handsome girl she was; but the men used to be afraid of her temper. I think her mother must have found her very troublesome. The other daughter went to India, or somewhere. I wonder what has become of Mrs. Collington!'

'She is in Rome,' said Gwen. 'And my friend Miss Wallace is with her.'

'Oh, do you know that beautiful Cora Wallace?' cried Lady Emily, with rather more animation than she usually displayed. 'I always liked her exceedingly. She will make a great match one of these days, I believe.'

'I have often wondered why she was not married,' Gwen remarked.

'Where did you meet her, Gwen?' asked Sir Bertram.

'At Seacastle, papa. Mrs. Collington lived there, and Miss Wallace stayed with her. I got quite intimate with them.'

Lady Emily slightly inclined her head backwards, drooped her eyelids, and then took a survey of Miss Netterville in the most unobtrusive manner possible. Her daughters knew that look and dreaded it; but Gwen was unacquainted with Lady Emily's ways, and did not suspect that she was being closely studied.

There was just a shade of embarrassment in the girl's manner. The warm creamy fairness of her cheek was tinted with a very faint blush; her mouth was not quite so placid as usual. Lady Emily saw everything, and began to draw her own conclusions.

'Poor Mrs. Collington,' she said, smiling. 'She must have got worn out with her duties as a chaperon and a mother! Yet I never thought she would have taken kindly to a rustic life. Is Seacastle a very charming village?'

'It's detestably unwholesome!' exclaimed Sir Bertram. 'I spent one night there among spiders, and caterpillars, and noisome odors! If I had known what kind of place it was,' he added, with a paternal air, 'I should not have allowed my daughter to remain in it so long.'

'But it seems to have agreed with Miss Netterville,' observed Lady Emily smoothly. 'And she made some pleasant acquaintances, I am sure. Mrs. Collington always had the art of drawing the nicest people around her. No doubt her house was full of guests?'

'Sometimes,' answered Gwen.

She did not want to talk about the guests at Verbena Lodge. A nervous dread of hearing Captain Ashburn's name made her long to change the subject of conversation. But even while the pink was deepening on her cheek, the veteran chaperon divined her anxiety, and quietly came to her relief.

'My dear, I am quite impatient to see your new brown costume,' she said, speaking in a maternal voice. 'You must indulge me by trying it on before lunch. My girls used to say I took a deeper interest in their dress than they did themselves.'

So the costume was donned soon after breakfast, and Lady Emily gave it her entire approval. A very pleasant hour was idled away in Gwen's room. They discussed the merits of certain shades, and speculated on the coming fashions. Then from dress they passed on to jewelry, and Gwen produced her grandmother's jewels. She had never cared much about wearing them. Victor Ashburn had loved best to see her decked with flowers; and the fancy lingered with her still. But Lady Emily was well pleased with the display.

They were still sitting with the glittering things spread out around them, when Hannah entered with a note from the Vicarage.

Lady Emily, trifling with a fine set of pearls, was quietly studying Gwen's face. There were only a few lines in the letter.

'I wish you could come to me today, dear Gwen' (the words ran). 'It is the very happiest day I have ever known. Captain Ludlow has asked me to be his wife, and papa has given his consent. You may fancy that I want somebody to talk to! Granny is too old, and Mew too young to sympathize. This is a stupid scrawl, but it is so difficult to write when one is so happy! Is there any bliss like mine, I wonder? I think not.'

Out of doors there was bright February sunshine; snowdrops were hanging their pale heads in the fresh light; crocuses made a glimmer of gold in the borders. A fire blazed merrily in the room, and yet a strange chill was creeping over Gwen Netterville. Her cheek paled as she folded up that little letter.

The news of Maud's widowhood, and of Kate's betrothal, had come to her on the same day.

'Isn't it a pity to waste the whole of this lovely morning?' she said, rousing herself, and turning to Lady Emily. 'We ought, I think, to get a drive before lunch.'

The carriage was ordered, and took the road that led past the Vicarage. Kate, dressed for walking, was standing at the gate, and while the two girls chatted for a few minutes, Lady Emily placidly contemplated the landscape.

'He will be here this evening,' Kate whispered. 'I have had a telegram.'

She was so lovely in her happiness, and so calm in her trust, that a weight seemed to be lifted off Gwen's spirit. After all, there could be no real danger to be apprehended from Maud Heatherstone; surely that sullen, sensuous beauty could never compete with the sunny charm of Kate's sweet face!

'That is a very pretty girl,' said Lady Emily, as they drove onward. 'A delicate, graceful little thing; decidedly thoroughbred.'

'Yes, she is perfectly charming,' Gwen answered, well pleased. 'And she is my friend; the only friend I have made since I left Seacastle.'

Lady Emily smiled. 'How young this girl is!' she thought. 'She fears no rivalry; she has not developed any of the spite that must be latent in her nature. In all my experience I've never known a woman quite devoid of spite. However, she is really beautiful enough to be good-natured.'

Then aloud she said in her blandest voice: 'I'm afraid you will be overwhelmed with friends by-and-by, dear child. The women always come purring round an acknowledged beauty. They are ever ready to smile sweetly on one of the favorites of fortune.'

Gwen sighed a little, thinking of the days when fortune seemed to have forgotten her altogether, and love had only sought her to breathe an eternal farewell. And then came the remembrance of Eunice's brave championship, and Cora's unselfish kindness.

'I hope you are not one of those who sneer at woman's friendship, Lady Emily,' she said inquiringly.

The old chaperon's smile was a study for the character judge.

'I never sneer at anything, my dear,' she answered. 'It's always bad form to be satirical; we must accept all the pretty fictions of society with an air of perfect faith. So long as they are not rivals, women may like each other fairly well, I believe in fact, they may even play into each other's hands. But .'

'But what, Lady Emily?'

'But it is safest never to trust a woman; that's all. Never put any weapon into her hands that can be turned against you. A man may become your foe and yet forbear to strike; but a woman will always use the power she possesses.'

Gwen answered with a slight incredulous shake of the head.

'Forgive me,' she said, 'for setting my opinion against yours. You will laugh at me, I dare say, when I tell you that I have known women who were capable of really unselfish kindness capable of taking pains to defend a girl's fair fame, and giving her their countenance and friendship.'

Lady Emily narrowed her eyes as she looked at her companion.

'How very interesting, my dear!' she exclaimed. 'I have always thought that the quietest lives were full of the most instructive experiences; and here is a proof that I was not mistaken. Did you meet these women at Seacastle? And the girl they defended what had she done?'

'The story is not worth telling,' replied Gwen, in a nonchalant tone. 'Do you see that break in the trees yonder? In clear weather you can catch a glimpse of the spire of Highminster Cathedral from this spot. It is a very pretty view.'

'All the views here are pretty,' Lady Emily responded readily. 'Yes, I really think I can see the spire; but my eyes are getting old. Sir Bertram is cutting down a little timber well, he can spare a few trees; the woods are very dense.'

'Papa says they need thinning,' Gwen remarked. 'I have not seen them in their full perfection yet; it was late in autumn when we came here. What picnics we can have in these old woods next summer, Lady Emily!'

'Yes, when the season is over,' said the chaperon. 'But there are a great many things to be accomplished before next summer comes, my dear child.'

Gwen was silent, thinking of what last summer had done for her.

Later in the day, when dinner was over, and she sat in her grandmother's old boudoir with Lady Emily, her thoughts strayed away to the Vicarage. While her guest, with gold-rimmed eye-glasses lodged on the bridge of her Roman nose, was studying the columns of a lady's newspaper, Gwen's fancy drew a fair picture of Kate and her soldier-lover in the quaint old drawing-room, with Granny's Dresden china people smirking upon their courting, and Mrs. Hay herself slumbering opportunely in her favorite armchair.

And that fancy picture was not one whit pleasanter than the reality.

Sidney and his betrothed had repaired as usual to the music-corner, behind the friendly shelter of the piano. Their performance was of a soothing kind; songs and waltzes which had a lullaby strain were artfully selected; and Granny speedily yielded to their influence. At length a gentle snore announced that the good lady's slumbers were sweet and deep; and then the notes died away into silence. Sidney brought his chair very near to Kate's side, and drew the girl's slight figure close to his breast.

'Kate, I love you!' he said for the thousandth time.

'You have told me that so often,' she whispered, with the prettiest pout imaginable.

'There's nothing so delightful as the old, old story,' he said, pressing a long kiss on the soft red lips.

She raised a slim finger, and stroked that dark, handsome face with a curious consciousness of possession. Her eyes sought his coyly, and then sank quickly beneath his gaze.

'What are you thinking about, darling?' he asked.

'Only only, how strange it seems that you should belong to me. It is all so new. Sidney, have you never loved anyone as you love me now?'

He hesitated.

'I love you with my best love, dearest,' he answered. 'The first is not always the deepest, nor the best.'

And she was satisfied.

 

 

CHAPTER XIII

'FOR SHE IS WISE, IF I CAN JUDGE OF HER.'

The month of April was very near its end, and the sunlight, growing stronger and brighter every day, was shining into the open windows of a mirthful little house in Park Lane.

The house had a small balcony which looked like a little garden in the air; festoons of ivy swung to and fro in the light winds; saffron-flowers and tulips of gaudy hues glistened in the sun. In the room behind the balcony there were flowers too: hyacinths in pots and stands, and baskets and bowls full of violets. A Mirabeau would have reveled in that scented atmosphere; but Sir Bertram Netterville, looking wan and peevish on a Sunday morning, declared that it was sickly and over-sweet.

'This room smells like Atkinson's shop,' he said complainingly. 'I can scarcely breathe it in; there must be a bushel of violets here.'

'Lord Inglefield sent them last night,' replied Lady Emily quietly. 'Gwen happened to say that she was fond of them.'

'I never could get on with Inglefield myself,' he remarked, wrinkling up his white forehead. 'I object to men who can't leave the world as they find it. And he goes in for too many things at once an aristocratic Jack-of-all-trades, isn't he? Philanthropic, literary, artistic, and Heaven knows what besides.'

'All the women rave about him,' said Lady Emily.

'Humph! He looks so insufferably like the Arthurs and Galahads of modern pictures, that I'm sick of the sight of his face.'

'But it is a wonderfully handsome face,' Lady Emily answered. 'And its owner has about twenty thousand a year. He's a most desirable match in every way; dear Gwen has made a splendid hit.'

'Are you sure that she has made it?' the father asked. 'She has a good deal of romance in her, and he sees that she's interested in all those trumpery regeneration schemes of his. Perhaps he will be content with her sympathy, and ask for nothing more.'

'Sympathy!' repeated Lady Emily, with quiet scorn. 'Do you suppose I would let him be philandering if that were all he wanted? I have had too many years of experience, Sir Bertram, to be deceived in a man's intentions. No; he means all that he ought to mean. I'm quite certain of it.'

'Of course you are right,' admitted Sir Bertram, reassured by her firmness. 'But wasn't there some story about his dead wife? People said he would never try marriage a second time.'

'People are generally wrong when they say things of that kind. Yes; there was a very sad story indeed. He married soon after he came of age, some pretty nobody who turned out to have been false from the very beginning of their acquaintance. Fortunately for himself and everybody else, she died shortly after the painful discoveries were made.'

'He must have been an uncommon fool to have married her,' observed Sir Bertram, with a sneer.

'Not an uncommon fool. Most men are tempted to commit such follies at a certain period of their lives,' rejoined Lady Emily composedly.

If Sir Bertram winced, he did not show it. He knew well enough that in the eyes of Lady Emily and her set, Gwen's mother was merely a 'pretty nobody'; and he had been willing enough to make a fool of himself for her sake.

But that was years ago; and it almost seemed to him as if the youth who had wooed pretty Bridget under the old trees at Brackenhurst must have been buried in her grave. There are some men who are never aware of their own follies until they see them repeated in another person. To Sir Bertram it seemed impossible to believe that Lord Inglefield could have had the same excuses for his indiscretion that he had.

'I have always expected that Lord Inglefield would come home and marry again,' Lady Emily continued. 'You know he has been abroad a good deal, and hasn't spent a season in town for a long while. He must be past thirty now; of course he wants a suitable wife, and an heir, and a settled life. All the mothers have got their eyes upon him; but I think they are beginning to lose hope. Gwen's conquest is so very evident.'

'His attentions are decidedly marked, then?'

'Most marked. And it seems that he and Gwen are old acquaintances no, hardly acquaintances; but he saw her last summer at Seacastle.'

'How on earth could he have seen her at Seacastle?' exclaimed Sir Bertram. 'I always thought she was buried alive there.'

'I am surprised that you were not told of her adventure. The poor child was thrown out of a carriage, it seems, and nearly lost her life. Lord Inglefield came up in a carriage, and took her home with her companion in misfortune; some lady who was driving with her, I believe.'

'What could the Ormistons have been thinking of? How dared they let her go driving about the country in a carriage?' cried Sir Bertram, more excited than Lady Emily had ever seen him.

'I must leave that question to be answered by others,' she replied, with her usual coolness. 'Anyhow, good has come out of ill; Lord Inglefield has never forgotten her face.'

'Your admirable management will arrange everything.' Sir Bertram became his calm and polished self again. 'Really, it will be a capital match. And if he imagined the child last summer when she was in very different circumstances .'

'She certainly made a deep impression on him. I have only had to stand still and look on,' smiled Lady Emily. 'Of course we must be watchful. But I have no doubt about the issue.'

This little conversation took place just before lunch. Gwen and her chaperon had been to church, and then the former had gone to her own room, leaving her elders to chat.

Not until the luncheon-bell sounded did Miss Netterville reappear. Sir Bertram, eyeing her narrowly, observed that she looked grave. It was a sign that she was turning a certain matter over in her mind, and preparing an answer to the momentous question that was coming. Grave or mirthful, she was always lovely. But gaiety with her never came in flashes of mirth or high spirits; it was only a soft glow.

'You are none the worse for last night's ball, my love,' he said, in his best paternal tone.

'No, papa. I am quite well, thank you.'

'Gwen has perfect health,' said Lady Emily. 'She takes everything with such delightful coolness. Girls are literally destroyed by excitement.'

'Inglefield dines here tonight, doesn't he?' asked Sir Bertram, busy with his cutlet.

The question was addressed to nobody in particular. Gwen answered it.

'Yes. And he wants us to go to the opera. Tomorrow he is to take us to the private view of the Grosvenor Gallery. It will be amusing, I think. One likes to see authors and artists.'

'Quite right, my dear,' said Lady Emily. 'They are in the swim nowadays.'

Later in the day, Miss Netterville and Lord Inglefield were sitting in the violet scented drawing-room, close to one of the windows. Lady Emily, with half-closed eyes, reclined in a low chair; Mr. Swynford and Sir Bertram sustained a languid conversation by the fireside, and the pair at the window could talk in low tones without any fear of interruption.

It was one of those balmy evenings that sometimes come to us at the close of April, when the air has all the softness of summer and the subtle sweetness of spring. Above the crowded park and its budding trees was a clear sky, faintly tinted with gold, and flecked here and there with detached clouds, bright as snow. Gwen was in a happy mood; life was new, homage was sweet, and moreover she had begun to feel a pleasure in Lord Inglefield's companionship.

Was she truly in love with him? Her eyes sought his face with keen appreciation of its marvelous perfection; her ears listened to his voice without losing one of its melodious tones; her spirit reverenced him as a teacher, and a seeker after the highest good. She was calmly aware of his intentions; no doubt as to his real meaning ever crossed her mind. From the very beginning of their fellowship she had read his character as correctly as Lady Emily, with her cold worldly penetration, had done; and knew that his was one of those earnest natures that are incapable of trifling or pretense.

A bunch of his own violets was set deep in lace on the bodice of her gown. Lady Emily's eyes had taken note of that little bouquet, and she had silently commended Gwen for her attention to trifles. Lord Inglefield was just the man to be gratified by the subtle flattery implied in wearing his flowers.

She was honestly proud of Miss Netterville. Never had a chaperon's duties been made easier, never had her efforts been so quickly crowned with success. What a handsome pair they were! She meant to feign sleepiness, and listen to every word they said.

'So you are to deliver a lecture to women tomorrow?' said Gwen, in her soft voice.

She sat with the light falling full upon her face, and bringing out all the rich gold in her hair. Her calm eyes, blue as forget-me-nots, were raised frankly to meet his gaze.

'Yes,' he answered; 'a lecture to working-women.'

'I should like to hear it. Not that I can lay claim to the title of a working-woman. There never was a girl so idle as I have been lately. But I think the lecture might do me some good. What is the subject?'

'It is a very old subject,' he said. '"A Woman's Glory."'

'"A Woman's Glory"?' she repeated musingly. 'Ah, I know what it means. Those words are taken from a poem that I've read somewhere.'

'You have a quick memory. They are taken from Mrs. Browning's poem, "The Romaunt of the Page." I am going to read some of the verses tomorrow. But these are the lines that are specially marked.'

He repeated them distinctly, yet in a very quiet voice:

'"Look up! there is a small bright cloud

Alone amid the skies!

So high, so pure, and so apart,

A woman's glory lies."

The page looked up the cloud was sheen;

A sadder cloud did rush, I ween,

Between it and his eyes.'

Never was it given to any man of these times to look more like 'a knight of gallant deeds' than Lord Inglefield did at that moment. Although a modern coat and snowy shirt-linen took the place of shining mail, there was a stamp of old-world pride and dignity on his perfect features that is right rarely seen on the faces of Englishmen of today. To Gwen he seemed the very impersonation of that haughty Sir Hubert, who broke a true heart unawares when he scoffed at his page's tale.

'The knight was a hard man,' she said suddenly.

'No,' Lord Inglefield answered; 'he could be tender enough to his supposed page. He was but true to certain traditions of honor which were as sacred as his vows to God. No man can have too exalted an idea of the purity of womanhood.'

'But no woman on earth could have been purer than his disguised wife,' argued Gwen. 'Think of her patience, her courage, her devotion .'

'And think of the scenes that she must have looked upon! Could any lady, carefully cherished and gently nurtured, become familiar with the coarseness of camp life, and keep an unsullied mind? Remember that her disguise deprived her of that respect which would have been shown to her gender. Men dealt with her roughly, as one of themselves. No, no; the knight was right.'

'He was wrong,' persisted Gwen. 'He was like the base Indian who threw the pearl away. It was a pearl still, although it had been in the mire.'

'You cannot look at a woman with our eyes,' Lord Inglefield said gravely. 'Her glory is truly akin to that of the cloud high, pure, and apart. It must not be touched even by the faintest shade of contamination. It must never stoop to float too near the common earth.'

'That will sound beautifully in your lecture,' smiled Gwen. 'I can fancy all the young women wanting to float very high. But where will you find a woman who comes up to your standard of perfection? Not in our everyday world.'

Lady Emily (still making an elaborate pretense of dozing) could scarcely help smiling in scorn. Here was a man who had no business in this pleasant, degenerate world of today. His talk was something like an old romance, full of inflated nonsense, high-sounding, utterly ridiculous. Yet she devoutly hoped that Gwen's spirit of resistance would not carry her too far.

'It is in our everyday world that I shall find her,' he said confidently. 'The principles of chivalry were beautiful enough, but the times were not pure. Our women are far better, I honestly believe, than their sisters who were fought for at the tournaments. Only they have a less exalted opinion of their own importance.'

'Do you want us to be vainer than we are?' Gwen asked.

'Not vainer.' He spoke gravely and sweetly. 'I only want you to be fully conscious of your power. I want you to feel that the Duke of Bourbon spoke simple truth to his knights of the Golden Shield. He bade them above all to reverence the ladies, because from them, after God, comes all the honor that men can acquire.'

A faint flush crept up into Gwen's cheek. He was convinced that something within her responded to that desire of his.

The little mocking smile had died away; the lashes veiled the large blue eyes.

'I think you are right,' she answered softly. 'We have grown so terribly prosaic, that we are afraid of anything that seems to be touched with romance. And even when we are conscious of power, we are too careless about the use of it.'

Lady Emily silently applauded that little speech.

'How gracefully the girl yields to his absurdities!' she thought. And then, unclosing her eyes a very little way, she saw that Lord Inglefield's glance was eloquent. He had drawn an inch nearer to Gwen, and his voice sank almost to a whisper.

'You will be a perfect queen if you will only take up your scepter,' he murmured.

It was entirely owing to Lady Emily's excellent management that Lord Inglefield had his opportunity after dinner.

In the soft dusk of the spring night he found Gwen standing by the open window alone. There was only the glow of firelight in the room; the lace curtain was stirred by the evening air; and she stood, a stately, still figure, looking out at the darkening sky.

'It is growing cold,' he said, taking her hand in his, and drawing her nearer to the fire. 'The air is too chill for you. Do you know that I can't bear you to run the least possible risk?'

The little hand remained passively in his clasp.

'Will you give yourself to me, Gwen?' he asked. 'I want you to help me in my work in life; I want you to be my queen. You said, a little while ago, that you wondered where I should find a woman who came up to my standard of perfection. I knew that I had found her.'

Hawthorn Island, with its May-blossoms scenting the air, and the golden light dying on the waters; another arm clasping her; another voice saying 'I love you, Gwen.' Then the buttercup-meadow; and the shrubbery seat at the end of the old garden; and the great grey tower of the castle in the waning sunshine all these images went drifting by, as if the swift current of her life was carrying them fast out to sea!

'Will you give yourself to me?' repeated the voice at her side.

'Yes.'

Did someone else speak the word, or did it fall from her own lips? That noble, knightly face was close to hers; rank, wealth, the love of a good man all these treasures were within her grasp, and yet she held them with a languid hold.

'We shall be very happy, love,' he said confidently.

They would be very happy; yes. Gwen would realize it all, later on, when she was alone, and could look her good fortune steadily in the face. And then there was a rustling of skirts outside the door, and Lady Emily returned to her post.

 

 

CHAPTER XIV

'TIS WISER TO FORGET'

The brightest spring sunlight was shining on the long string of carriages and well-groomed horses that blocked up New Bond Street; a good deal of fashionable life was sweeping up the carpeted steps of the Grosvenor Gallery, and accepting neat little grey catalogues at the entrance; and Gwen, with Lord Inglefield and Lady Emily in close attendance, was much amused with the show.

A fawning poet that day compared Miss Netterville to a rich white rose of summer, set in autumn foliage. He wrote a sonnet about her, and got it printed in a magazine which 'took' aesthetic poetry. The simple truth was that Gwen wore a satin gown, of that peculiar shade which our grandmothers used to call 'dead-leaf;' a color that toned well with her creamy fairness and bright hair. She was too fully occupied with the crowd to care much at first for looking at the pictures. And what a crowd it was!

It was easy, at the first glance, to see that Beauty was in great force in this throng; and yet the guise in which she had dressed herself out was often passing strange. Maidens with pale chiseled features and sunken eyes wore masses of auburn hair trailing over their sad-colored gowns; square-cut bodices, puffed sleeves, and jonquils showing a great deal of stalk, were seen on every side. All the heroines of a certain great poet seemed to have assembled here; the Blessed Damsel, tall and willowy, had come back, with her yearning gaze, to earth; and the wan face of 'sad Rose Mary' was framed in dark tresses

'As the moon lies in the lap of night.'

They were almost all melancholy beauties, whose smiles were faint and rare, and whose eyes perhaps had watched 'the wind hunting for the primrose-seed' until they were somewhat lusterless and weary.

There were plenty of other faces as well worth looking at as the beauties: faces of thoughtful men, always digging in the heaviest literary soil; of keen-eyed, genial men who did the leaders in the great 'dailies;' of novelists of both sexes, watching the world with quietly observing eyes; of artists, mostly bronzed, cheery, and mirthful; of an actor or two; of numerous distinguished amateurs in every branch of art. These, with other faces that belonged to the purely fashionable sphere, came floating and drifting about Gwen, who was herself a point of attraction.

Lord Inglefield knew everybody, and was known of everybody. The crowd was dense; their progress through the rooms was slow; and Lady Emily, although well used to crushes, was feeling as intensely bored as she had ever been in the whole course of her hard-working life. Still, she kept up her bland smile, and sustained herself with thoughts of a half-hour doze that might be snatched between afternoon tea and dinner. And then, too, all her anxiety was over; the fortress had surrendered without even a show of defense. Gwen had whispered something into her ear on Sunday night, and had been rewarded with a calm kiss and fervent blessing.

Suddenly, among all these strange faces, Miss Netterville met the gaze of a pair of familiar eyes, and felt her heart throb at the recognition.

The last time she had seen those grey eyes, they had looked at her from the window of a second-class railway-carriage. She remembered the farewell glimpse of the departing train, and then the solitary walk homeward along the leaf-strewn road in the quiet of the early morning.

Scarcely six months had gone by since that parting on an autumn day, and now the girls were meeting again in this great crowd both changed beings.

For just one instant Gwen almost imagined that she had been deceived by a chance resemblance; the change in Eunice Swift was so striking and inexplicable that it seemed as if a miracle must have been wrought. She had always thought Eunice plain, although it was a plainness which George Eliot would have called 'of a good human sort;' and the irregularity of feature was still noticeable, but it was softened and tempered in a wonderful way. The complexion had grown clearer, and there was a general look of health and prosperity; but the most startling thing of all was the transformation of the down-trodden little teacher into a charming woman of the world.

There was a touch of the Frenchwoman in Eunice. She had a happy tact and grace of manner which set everybody around her at ease. There was something French, too, about her dress, and in her mode of wearing it. Her colors were always rightly chosen; there was perfect harmony between her bonnet and gown. She was gloved and shod to perfection. You found her pleasant to look upon, although you saw at a glance that she had not the slightest pretension to beauty.

At the sight of Gwen a sudden light broke over her face. She came up at once, quiet and self-possessed, yet showing her delight in lips and eyes.

'At last,' she said. 'I've been wondering if I should catch a glimpse of you this season!'

People always listened when she spoke. The voice, low and musical, won approval from Lady Emily at once.

It was fortunate for the friends that they had chanced to meet near a corner where no attractive picture was to be seen. Gwen spoke a few rapid words to Lord Inglefield, and then drew Eunice into this little nook. Lady Emily, discovering a chair at the same moment, pounced down on it like a hawk dropping on its prey, and secured a blissful interval of repose.

'Eunice,' said Gwen, surveying her critically, 'you are beautifully dressed, and delightfully altered altogether. What have you been doing to yourself? Your eyes are the only bits of you that are not changed.'

'I'm glad that something familiar is left,' Eunice answered cheerfully. 'I was quite fond enough of my poor old self to wish to retain some tokens of her! And you, Gwen you are more than ever like a princess out of a fairy-tale! Your new life suits you well.'

'And yet I sometimes feel a faint pang of regret for the old,' said Gwen.

To no other woman would she have made such an admission.

Eunice's eyes sought Lord Inglefield, who stood chatting to an acquaintance, and then her glance came back to Gwen.

'Has the princess found her prince?' she whispered.

'Yes,' Gwen murmured, with half a sigh.

'He is worthy even of you,' Eunice said warmly. 'Don't encourage those regrets for a dead past, dearest Gwen; no woman should hang over the faint scent of potpourri, while she may breathe the rich fragrance of living flowers. After all, there is a fictitious charm in remembrance.'

'I believe mine is an unthankful nature,' Gwen replied. 'I do not want to part with any of my new treasures, and yet I don't value them as I ought. There is something cold in me, Eunice something unresponsive and apathetic. I want to be kindled into a glow!'

'Everything is new yet,' said her friend hopefully. 'They say that the fire that kindles slowly burns longest.'

The blue eyes, wistfully seeking that kind clever face, seemed to brighten a little at those words.

'There is hope for me in that saying, Eunice. Oh, there are a thousand things I want to say to you! Let us meet often, and talk over the old time and the old life.'

'No,' said Eunice, shaking her head; 'there must be no revival of Seacastle memories. Lady Inglefield must live in the present and the future; her hands are full of fresh duties and joys. As for me, dear, I'm a hard-working author, who utilizes her own emotions and everyone else's. We have little leisure, you see, for treading old paths.'

'Ah, you are so busy so happy! By-and-by I shall find myself envying your laurels.'

'What does a woman want with laurels when she wears her myrtle crown?' Eunice asked, smiling. 'You are "half-angered with your happy lot;" but the mood will soon pass. Go and look at the picture of "Rare pale Margaret," and behold a portrait of yourself:

'"Your sorrow, only sorrow's shade,

Keeps real sorrow far away.'"

And with a hand-pressure, and a loving look which Gwen perfectly understood, Eunice glided off to rejoin Mrs. Densley and Mr. Kennard, and was soon lost in the crowd.

A little later there was a tap at the door of Angeline Torwood's schoolroom, and Miss Swift presented herself, to ask for a cup of tea with the children. She was hailed with vociferous delight by the two little Allansons, and a smile of welcome from Angeline; but there was something grave in the smile. Miss Torwood, usually so sunny in her manner, was almost distracted today, and listened to her friend's vivacious talk with feeble interest. Even a vivid description of the costumes worn at the Grosvenor Gallery failed to win her full attention; and she was only moved to languid laughter by Eunice's aesthetic antics and poses.

The children, immensely delighted, applauded with all their might, and lingered over their tea until Angeline gently reminded them that their mother would expect them downstairs. It was their custom to spend an hour with Mrs. Allanson between five and six in the evening; but they departed with little howls of reluctance, imploring Miss Swift not to go until they came back.

When the door had closed upon them, Eunice's gaiety instantly subsided.

'What is the matter, Angeline?' she asked, gravely and anxiously.

'Oh!' said Angeline, with a nervous movement of her hands, 'I have had a shock today! Dr. Allanson has heard strange news!'

'Anything about your brother?' said Eunice faintly.

'No no; but if the rumor is true he will be a terrible loser. It is said that Miss Paisley is married!'

'Miss Paisley married? It must be a mistake, Angeline; a dying woman would not think of marriage!'

'Dr. Allanson says she always does think of it up to her last moment!' replied Angeline, with a shadowy smile; 'and I'm afraid he believes that Aunt Virginia has been only playing at dying.'

'An awful game to play at,' Eunice said. 'No doubt she had a morbid craving for something dramatic, and felt herself fitted, for the role of the departing saint. I dare say she got to believe in the reality of the situation at last.'

'She must have been a determined hypocrite,' cried Angeline, with unwonted bitterness. 'To lie on her couch, and talk sweetly to Lawrence of her approaching end, until the poor fellow almost thought he saw a halo round her head!'

'Now I really don't think Captain Torwood's imagination ever went so far as that,' said Eunice, laughing outright. 'But aren't you exciting yourself about nothing? You are not sure that the story is true.'

'I could see that Dr. Allanson thought it true.'

'Well, if it is, we will hope that there won't be any change in your brother's prospects. Why not look on the bright side of the matter?'

'Eunice, there is no bright side. Dr. Allanson has heard that the bridegroom is a sort of handsome adventurer, who has got Aunt Virginia completely into his power.'

Eunice's countenance fell.

'There can be nothing more wretched than the expectation of a fortune,' Angeline went on, sadly. 'Hundreds of times I've wished that my dear boy had been ignorant of Miss Paisley's intentions. He has gone on for years, behaving as if he were a rich man; and on the strength of his supposed wealth he proposed to Celia. Literally, he has been living and acting on an idea. However, I am thankful now that his marriage has been delayed.'

'Why was it delayed?' Eunice asked.

'Celia made little difficulties, and I don't think Lawrence put forth his full powers of persuasion. He told me once that Aunt Virginia said he was a dawdler. He has dawdled over his courtship, I do believe.'

Eunice sat silent, with a strange joy stirring in her heart. What did it matter to her whether he married Celia Devereux or not?

And then, almost abruptly, she got up, kissed Angeline, and took her departure.

 

 

A WOMAN'S GLORY, PART 3
 

CHAPTER I

'WAS EVER A MAN SO BEATEN'

Not long after Eunice had left Dr. Allanson's house, Captain Torwood called to seek an interview with his sister.

It was all true. Angeline instantly read the confirmation of the story in his face.

Mrs. Allanson purposely kept the children downstairs, and Angeline drew her brother into the schoolroom, and shut the door. She looked so intensely woeful that his own mood suddenly changed, and he laughed aloud.

'What a face, my dear child!' he said. 'And all because an elderly spinster has chosen to make a fool of herself. Poor Aunt Virginia; it was rather too late in the day to try matrimony!'

'Oh, Lawrence, can you take it so lightly?'

'Well, honestly, I am sorry for the poor old thing,' he went on. 'If she had taken one of those mild parson fellows who used to come bleating round her, she might have had a fair chance of peace. But this man Castelle is a sad scoundrel, well known in all the continental gambling-houses. He is good-looking, strikingly good-looking in fact. It was his appearance that settled the business.'

'How did you hear of the marriage?' Angeline asked.

'Hammond, her butler, came round to my rooms last night, and told me everything. They were married early on Saturday morning, and are gone to the Isle of Wight for a week or two. Her maid confided in Hammond, it seems. He means to give warning. Things about Castelle have lately come to his knowledge, and he doesn't relish the idea of being in his service.'

'But why was Aunt Virginia so deceitful? Why not have said openly that she meant to marry the man?'

'Because she didn't want to hear any dissuasion. She must have acted under his influence from beginning to end.'

'Oh, Lawrence, I see through it all now!' Angeline spoke with deep disgust. 'She wanted to provide for you with a lie. You were to marry Celia before her own marriage took place. She meant Celia to believe that she was marrying a rich man.'

'That was why she grumbled at my dawdling,' laughed Captain Torwood. 'We were very slow over our business, Celia and I. Castelle's patience wouldn't hold out any longer, I suppose. It really is amusing, isn't it? Somebody ought to put it into a novel.'

Angeline looked at him in astonishment. Now that the first bitterness of the surprise was over, he seemed actually to enjoy the situation.

'Lawrence,' she said, 'I should like to be glad if I may dare to be.'

'Be as glad as you please, my dear,' he answered cheerfully.

'You know our father never liked Aunt Virginia. He didn't want you to have any expectations from that quarter. He thought you would be a better man without them.'

'He was right,' said Captain Torwood more gravely. 'I've hated myself sometimes. It was impossible to help wondering how much longer that poor soul would live. Somehow those expectations seemed to develop all the baseness that was in me!'

Angeline kissed him.

'And Celia?' she asked.

'Celia will hear the truth tomorrow morning.'

She did not say any more. Her instinct told her that in losing Miss Paisley's fortune, Lawrence would probably lose something else. But her mind was very little disturbed about that second loss.

The children were heard coming upstairs, and Captain Torwood took his leave. As he went down, he paused at the open door of the drawing-room where Mrs. Allanson was resting on her couch.

'I have set Angeline's mind at rest,' he said, in a cheery tone. 'I found her with her oldest frock on, looking awfully dismal. She evidently thought I couldn't survive the blow.'

'You will survive it, and be all the better for it,' Mary Allanson answered, with her kind smile. 'Won't you stay for dinner?'

'Not this evening, thanks. But I shall look in again tomorrow.'

He dined quietly in his own rooms that night, and began to look his position steadily in the face.

Those rooms of his were very pleasant, and the furniture was good and well-chosen. His regiment was quartered so near town, that the running to and fro had been easy enough, and he had stowed most of his personal belongings in these comfortable chambers, in anticipation of the time when he should remove them to the house in Eaton Square.

The Eaton Square house was Miss Devereux's own property, and she had decided to live in it after her marriage. And it was also arranged that Captain Torwood should retire from the Service when he became a married man. Celia had no fancy, she said, for being a military lady; and did not choose that her husband should lead a soldier's life.

As he looked around him, unconsciously taking in all the little luxuries and refinements of his quarters, he began to ask himself how long these habits of ease and self-indulgence were to last?

He wondered how Celia would receive the news of his altered prospects. She was very fond of money; he had not been too blindly in love to discover her devotion to filthy lucre. Miss Paisley's marriage would be a sore disappointment to her, and she would probably complain, not unjustly, of the deception that had been played upon her by the interesting invalid.

Yes, she would complain; and he knew that he should never hear the last of her complaints. Aunt Virginia's perfidy would be a story without an end; she would go on telling it over and over, all through the years of their wedded life. Their children would learn the tale with their alphabet, and would grow up with the full understanding that papa had been cheated out of his fortune, and all their money came from mamma.

Of course other men were going through a like experience, and they did not look as if they minded it much. There was Motley of the Guards pshaw! what was the good of raking up examples? And then he came back to the idea that had suggested itself a moment ago, when he had glanced around the room with a sudden strong consciousness of its luxury. If Celia were to withdraw her promise, how long would his present state of ease endure?

He had been living up to his income, and beyond it. He owed a little, of course, but he had managed hitherto to keep out of the hands of the creditors. But Angeline had been right quite right. Aunt Virginia's expected fortune had proved the curse of his life.

If Celia, no; he did not in the least believe that Celia would throw him over. And at this point in his reverie a faint complacent smile curved his lips; he was not vainer than other men, but he felt quite sure that Celia would never give him up.

He was almost tempted to wish that she would. Deep down, at the bottom of his heart, lay the consciousness that she was not the kind of woman he wanted to marry.

He meant to ask her, with graceful tenderness and resignation, whether she desired to be released from her engagement? He meant to tell her that if her feelings had changed with the change in his prospects, she was free. But he did not think that she would accept her freedom; in her cold formal way, and with as much heart as she possessed, he believed that she loved him.

He got up from his chair and began, slowly and thoughtfully, to pace the room. From one end to the other he walked with measured strides, which had a maddening effect on the lodger beneath him. But as that lodger was guilty of possessing a flute, and tooting on it night and day, those regular footsteps shaking the floor over his head might have been regarded as a just retribution.

Stopping at last in that walk of his, Lawrence came to a standstill on the hearthrug. There were photographs upon the chimney-piece; an actress or two, encased in plush frames, and Miss Devereux planted in the post of honor in the center of the velvet-covered shelf.

Like most women of her type, Celia made an excellent picture. She liked being photographed, and never grudged any money that was expended on the photographer.

The portrait on which Lawrence gazed represented her three-quarter face with its best Eugenie look. It is true that Miss Devereux's features were larger, and her outlines much harder than those of the beautiful Empress in her prime. Yet there was an undeniable resemblance; and Celia, cabinet-size, in a rich white with plenty of lace, looked fair and stately enough to satisfy the most fastidious taste. 'How that portrait flatters her!' murmured her betrothed. 'Her nose is too large I always thought so and her lips are too thin. Still, she is of course a very nice-looking girl.' He took another turn, and then came back, and paused on the same spot. 'She'll make an admirable wife,' he said, again contemplating the portrait; 'an admirable wife, there's no doubt about that. Marriage is a state that we must all come to, sooner or later; and that's the girl I've got to go through life with. There she'll always be, before my eyes night and day; there won't be any escaping, by Jove! It will be a case of "Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge." And if ever I'm ill, she'll nurse me, and never go out of the room. When pain and anguish wring my brow, she'll be a ministering angel, and a large circle of appreciating friends will applaud her devotion.'

He began his walk again, faster this time, and went on with his musings.

'My governor went in for feeling. He married my mother because he wanted her, and never felt comfortable until he'd got her. That isn't my state of mind at all. Celia is a nice girl, but I don't feel in the least uncomfortable without her. However, if you really look at the thing sensibly, I don't see why a calm sort of liking shouldn't do as well as love.'

He took a final look at the portrait, and then turned from it with a sort of groan.

'It would be so much more satisfactory,' he muttered, 'if all the money wasn't on her side!'

 

CHAPTER II

'TIS NOT UNKNOWN TO YOU, MADAM, I AM A POOR FELLOW'

The garden in the middle of Eaton Square looked fresh and green in the morning sunshine. The summer was advancing steadily; May had come in with clear skies and a balmy breath; windows were open, and lace curtains were stirred softly by a gentle breeze. A soldierly man, with a golden moustache, was striding along the pavement, as well-dressed and well-looking a man as could be found in town that day.

He knocked at Miss Devereux's door, and went straight upstairs to the room where she was usually to be found. Celia was a girl of methodical habits; she breakfasted early, and might be generally seen amusing herself among her plants at eleven o'clock.

At the sound of her lover's footstep she came out of the green-house, scissors in hand, looking very fair in a pale-blue morning gown.

'You are quite early, Lawrence,' she said. 'Oh, what a lovely rose-bud! Is that really for me?'

Of course it was for her; a delicate yellow-tinted rose, half-opened, just fresh from Covent Garden.

She made a pretty little fuss with the flower, and set it carefully in a slender glass vase. He stood and watched her movements in silence for a moment; then roused himself, and began to think how he should tell his news.

'That's a very nice frock that you've got on, Celia,' he said, drawing her over to the window.

Celia always wore what was chosen by her dressmaker; in matters of dress and millinery she was entirely dependent on the taste of those whom she employed to clothe her.

'Pale blue is becoming to fair people,' she remarked complacently.

'Quite so,' replied her lover rather absently.

He was looking out upon the sunny square, where a neat nursemaid was slowly wheeling a carriage. One day, perhaps, a rosy atom of humanity, belonging to Celia and himself, might be trundled over that very pavement. The thought did not awaken that throb of rapture which ought to have been produced. He quickly averted his eyes from the carriage.

'Have you seen anything of Aunt Virginia lately, Celia?' he asked.

'I called on her let me see about six days ago,' answered Miss Devereux, with precision. 'She seemed very weak and low, poor darling!'

Captain Torwood smiled.

'I'm afraid she's a sham,' he said frankly. 'Anyhow, she was strong enough to get up early and be married on Saturday morning.'

'Oh, no, no, Lawrence! You are joking.'

'I'm quite in earnest, Celia, I assure you. I had a letter from her this morning confirming the news I had heard. It's not a nice letter.'

Miss Devereux's fair face was a vivid pink from brow to chin.

'Oh,' she said, 'how shocking how disgusting! And the man what is he?'

'I don't know what he is exactly. A good-looking adventurer, I believe.'

'An adventurer! Then he is almost a beggar, I suppose!'

'I shouldn't be surprised if he was.'

'Oh, Lawrence, this is dreadful! And your prospects?'

'My dear Celia,' he said, taking her hand, and looking gravely into her face, 'I have no prospects now. I came here to tell you so. When I proposed to you I believed I should one day be a rich man. But everything has changed, dear.'

He paused. But she said nothing, and did not meet his eyes.

'It is my duty,' he continued, 'to offer you your freedom.'

She was still silent. He gently loosened his hold of her hand; but her fingers did not cling to his: they slipped easily from his clasp. The hands parted; he stepped back a little and looked at her searchingly.

There are human countenances as incapable of expressing emotion as the dial plate of a clock. Celia's face was still very pink, and her lips were shut rather more tightly than usual; but there were no other signs of feeling to be seen.

'Well,' he said wearily, 'I am waiting for your answer.'

'It is not easy to give an answer, Lawrence.' (Her words came out slowly.) 'But of course, as you have said, everything has changed.'

Disgust mortification relief it would be hard to say which feeling predominated in Captain Torwood's mind at that moment.

'I feel that I have been basely deceived,' she said, after a brief pause. 'Your Aunt Virginia has been terribly false. She distinctly told me that you would be her heir.'

'Perhaps she hadn't made up her mind to take Castelle when she said that,' he answered, still speaking in a tired voice. 'At any rate, Celia, I have not deceived you. Am I to understand that you accept your freedom?'

'It will be best to think the matter over, and then write to you,' she replied.

'That isn't at all necessary, Celia. You like me well enough to take me without Aunt Virginia's fortune, or you don't. The thing is so very simple that it is not worth while to write a letter about it.'

He did not throw himself at her feet and vow that he must perish if she deserted him. He did not even put his arm round her waist, and tell her that life without her would be dark and dreary. He stood erect, speaking in the calmest of voices; and she began to feel herself aggrieved. It is doubtful, perhaps, whether eloquence or caresses would have reversed her decision; but she would have liked a little scene.

'Very well,' she said. 'I will consider myself free.'

He slightly bowed his head.

'Good-bye,' said he, holding out his hand. 'I hope your life will be ever so much brighter than a poor man, like myself, could have made it. God bless you always!'

The hand that he pressed for an instant was cold. Her lips moved, but no sound came from them.

In another moment he was gone, and she remained standing, just as he had left her, until she heard the hall-door close. Then she moved, stiffly and slowly, across the room to the little table where the flower-glass was placed, and fell to gazing dreamily at the yellow rose-bud.

It was the last thing that he had given her: the last frail link in the chain that bound them together. Celia was not, as we know, a sentimental woman, but at this moment all the feeling that she possessed was suddenly called into play. She was suffering suffering acutely enough to wish that a flood of tears would come to her relief.

Her attachment to Captain Torwood had been the one touch of poetry in her most prosaic life. No other lover had ever wooed her so sweetly; no other voice had ever penetrated so far into her innermost self. Well, it was all ended now; he had offered her a release, and she had taken it.

Never again should she hear that light, firm step on the stairs; never again would he come to seek her in this room, where many a sunny morning hour had been pleasantly idled away. It had been a little difficult sometimes to sustain a conversation, and once or twice she had seen the brown fringes half-veiling languid blue eyes; but even when he had been silent and lazy, she had always liked him.

This gown that she was wearing he had approved of it. Had only half an hour gone by since he had said cheerily, 'That's a very nice frock that you've got on, Celia'? She half resolved that she would give it to her maid, and get it banished altogether from her sight. Thrift might regain the upper hand by-and-by; but just then she was reckless enough to feel as if she would rather burn that blue dress than wear it again.

And then her thoughts returned to the yellow rose-bud. Taking it out of the vase, she began to examine it closely, with a kind of dreary curiosity, as if she had never seen and worn scores of similar flowers. It was not until you inspected it minutely that you discovered the little wire that pinned up its rich heart, and kept it from bursting into fuller bloom.

Poor rose! it would never be permitted to expand; it must die the death of flowers without unfolding half of its scented, crumpled petals. It was the helpless victim of the flower-seller, who had thwarted nature for his own ends. Celia liked roses quite well enough to pity this luckless bud, and think how glorious it would have been if it had opened freely to the sun and air.

And yet, had she not wired up her own heart, just as the flower-seller had wired up the heart of the rose? She would not permit herself to give full play to her affections; all the best feelings of her nature were carefully compressed and restrained lest they should be too bounteous and free.

Even when her pain was sorest, Celia was not tempted to recall the lover she had sent away. She had always said that wealth should mate with wealth, and she felt she must be true to the ruling principle of her life.

She put the rose-bud back into the vase, and began steadily to fight with her regret. After all, would Lawrence have been everything that she could desire? The lover was charming, tender, courteous, refined. But matrimony has a trick of taking the gilt off the gingerbread; and Captain Torwood, as a husband, might have been found disagreeably self-asserting and strong willed. She had never thought him a prudent man; he was one of those men who part with half-crowns when they should only bestow shillings. And then, too, there was Angeline.

It was true that Angeline had struck out into an independent path, but who could tell how long that mood of hers would last? She might quarrel with the Allansons, and come drifting back into her brother's way, expecting to receive the old help and support. Celia had never liked Miss Torwood; that young woman had not seemed properly conscious of the difference between the heiress and herself. She had managed quietly to maintain her own dignity, and to let Miss Devereux understand, without any words, that the Torwoods did not feel themselves likely to be wonderfully exalted by the projected alliance.

Well, if she had resigned the brother with a pang, she should get rid of the sister with satisfaction. And then it suddenly occurred to her that Lawrence had arranged to dine with her that evening, and go to the theater afterwards. This plan would not, of course, be carried out; and she must seek Mrs. Keane, and tell her of the change. She turned her back upon the rose, and was moving towards the door when her aunt entered the room.

'Has Lawrence gone?' asked Mrs. Keane. 'I thought you meant to do some shopping together. Those new curtains for the dining-room ought to be chosen on a bright morning if they are to match the carpet.'

'I shall put off choosing the curtains,' Celia replied, and there was something odd in her tone that made her aunt look at her keenly. 'The truth is, Aunt Laura, that Lawrence and I have parted.'

'A lovers' quarrel, my dear.'

'No, no; we shall never be lovers anymore. He has offered me my freedom, and I've taken it.'

'Did you let him see that you desired it?'

'Perhaps I did. The news that he brought has changed everything. Miss Paisley is a disgusting old hypocrite; she has never had the least intention of dying, it seems.'

Mrs. Keane was almost stricken mute with astonishment. It was the first time in her discreet life that Celia had ever expressed herself with unfitting excitement. Even the iniquities of her maids had only drawn from her a few sentences uttered with lady-like severity; and here she was, looking flushed and strange, and calling names. Her aunt stood and gazed at her until positive alarm began to mingle with her bewilderment.

'My dear child, what do you mean?' she faltered out at last.

'I mean that Miss Paisley has been lying to us all. She meant marrying instead of dying. Yes, Aunt Laura, I am in my senses, I assure you. She was married on Saturday to some low adventurer, and Lawrence will never have a farthing of her money.'

'Poor fellow!' said Mrs. Keane, with softening eyes. 'This is a terrible blow for him.'

'He seemed to bear it very well, I thought. In fact he appeared to be quite unmoved, and asked me, with the greatest coolness, if I wanted to be free.'

'Men like Captain Torwood never make a show of feeling, Celia; they are Spartans in their way.'

'But he was absurdly haughty, and he didn't plead with me in the least. He made no allowance for the shock and the disappointment. "You either like me well enough to take me without the fortune, or you don't," he said. The question had to be answered there and then.'

'A woman's heart is very quick in answering such questions, my dear.'

'Silly women are always in a hurry, Aunt Laura. I never speak without reflection. Even in those trying moments I reflected, and I don't regret my decision.'

'Well, Celia. I dare say everything is for the best,' said Mrs. Keane blandly. 'And it's a good thing that you are too sensible to fret about the matter.'

'I I do suffer a little,' confessed Miss Devereux, with a quaver in her voice. 'He was very nice, you know.'

'Yes, my dear, he was very nice. You liked your toy, but you couldn't be satisfied with it unless it was gilded. On the whole it was quite right, I think, to let it go.'

 

 

CHAPTER III

'SPEAK YOU IN SOBER MEANINGS?'

May had come to a close, and June days were fast gliding away, when Angeline Torwood sat crying bitterly in Eunice Swift's room.

But her tears were not flowing for Miss Devereux's broken faith. Captain Torwood had worn his willow like a philosopher, and if his pride was wounded, his heart was perfectly sound. Troubles, however, have a trick of 'gathering flock around their victim,' and the air around Lawrence was dark with sorrows.

The little income that had been left him by his godfather was utterly and irretrievably lost. It had been paid to him regularly for years and years by the bankers who were the old gentleman's trustees, and no doubt of their having assets in excess of liabilities had ever entered his mind. And then, one fine morning came the news that the bank had crashed, and the bankers were nowhere to be found.

He owed money, of course. Not so much, perhaps, as many men with his expectations would have owed, but quite enough to make life hard. He could not afford to remain in the Service. He must look up his friends, and get a secretaryship or a clerkship, and learn to do without those expensive frivolities that had made existence such a pleasant thing.

To do him justice, he had faced his trouble like a man; but Angeline was facing it like a child. For herself, she could carry the heaviest burdens cheerfully, but to see even the lightest cross laid on Lawrence was more than she could bear.

'He's getting thinner and thinner,' she sobbed. 'And there are wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. He says that something is sure to turn up soon, and he means to work hard. Fancy my boy having to work like a common man!'

'Why shouldn't he?' demanded Eunice. 'You are working like a common woman.'

'But he is so fastidious so refined.'

'And he'll be fastidious and refined still, whatever he has to work at. Isn't there a difference between being common, and doing common things?'

'Yes; but this is an awful trial, Eunice.'

'Of course it is;' and Eunice's eyes were full of tears. 'But you are a silly thing, Angeline; it must torture him to see you fretting as you do!'

She turned towards the open window as she spoke, and looked out across the roofs of the opposite houses.

It was evening, the June sunshine hung like a golden veil over the long dim street, and the sky was filled with a soft glory. Eunice did not see it; her heart was yearning and aching for the poor fallen prince, who was still the hero of her dreams. There was no reason now why she should not be a fool and love him he did not belong to any other woman; he was poor, and downcast, and shorn of his old magnificence. After all, it was a delicious kind of foolery, even if it did make her heart ache and bring the tears into her eyes.

'What a wretch I have been!' said poor Angeline, full of genuine penitence; 'I have no business to look haggard and deplorable. It can't be any comfort to him to see me making a wreck of myself. I'm glad you scolded me, Eunice; it was a kind thing to do.'

'I was afraid it seemed unkind,' Eunice answered. 'I felt myself to be quite a monster when I had spoken, my words sounded so harshly; but true friends have to be cruel sometimes.'

Angeline sighed, pushed back the hair from her hot forehead, and felt better. She was seated in a deep armchair, covered with chintz a chair in which Eunice generally sat while she made up her stories, and conjured up visions of the heroes and heroines who were to play their parts according to her will. The room was not hot and stuffy as London chambers too often are in summer the air came freely through the open windows, and there were flowers here and there. Poor Angeline began to feel a calm influence stealing over her troubled spirit. Eunice had not soothed her with smooth words, but her plain-dealing had done good.

'Well, there's one thing to rejoice over, Eunice,' she said, after a pause; 'he is free from that wooden woman. Heaven forgive me! but I don't think I ever disliked anyone so much!'

'You ought to be in charity with her, my dear child. Wasn't it nice of her to give him up?'

'I believe he was sincerely thankful, although he did try to sentimentalize a little. I heard one or two quotations from "Locksley Hall."'

'How naturally all rejected suitors fly to that poem!' laughed Eunice. 'There's a line in it for everybody. I like spoony poetry.'

'Were you ever spoony on anyone?' Angeline asked.

'Yes; on the men in books. On James Fitzjames, in the "Lady of the Lake," and on Ivanhoe; and I was very hard hit by Roland Graeme.'

'Ah, the love of your life is yet to come! Your imagination has been so busy, that your heart has never had full play. Eunice, I believe Mr. Kennard is thinking of you.'

'I hope not.'

'You hope not! Don't you like him?'

'"Truth, no; no more than reason!" as Beatrice says.'

'But he is so clever: as clever in his way as you are in yours; and he has so much energy.'

'That's just why I could never be in love with him. I'm fond of languid, indolent men; they're so restful.'

'Oh, Eunice!'

'I could adore a lazy swell. There was once a picture in a magazine that charmed me. It represented a man sitting in a boat, with three girls pulling him against the stream. He didn't do anything, but simply sat still, and murmured, "Wow, ladies! wow!" My admiration for that man is past explaining!'

'Do you mean to say that you'd like to work for a man, instead of his working for you?'

'I think I should. You see, I've got such an immense capacity for working, that I can do enough for two. It would give me a headache to see my husband very busy; and it would refresh me to see him lounging on the sofa, and rewarding me with a languid smile of content.'

'You don't mean a word that you say. Surely you must feel contempt for an acknowledged idler? Don't you think that everybody should try to achieve something? I have heard you talk about the necessity of being up and doing.'

'That was when I was in a fierce and vigorous mood; nowadays I'm beginning to feel that if I am to do "noble things," I should like to have someone near me who would "dream them all day long."'

She turned from the window as she was speaking, and Angeline saw a new expression in her face it was not weariness, but the forerunner of weariness. To her the literary life was fresh, but in a little while the strain would begin to tell; as yet she was but vaguely conscious of the cost of her labor.

'I think I understand you,' said Angeline slowly.

'I'm glad you do. I'm generally in earnest when I seem to talk the most atrocious nonsense. The present generation is too hard on its idlers, Angeline. Carlyle shouted, "Work! work!" and all the smaller people have taken up the cry; now I am beginning to fall back on my Milton, and say, "They also serve who only stand and wait." The true workers would get on ever so much better if the sham ones would cease from troubling.'

'But about men, Eunice you couldn't love a man who was inactive because he was stupid?'

'Of course not. Does inaction always represent stupidity? There are thousands of busy fools!'

'Yes.'

'I have a great sympathy with a man whose standing is above the level, and below the height. I like him for being on that middle ground. He seldom has a vocation; he is never aggressive; he sees alike the blunders committed by those on the plain, and the grander mistakes of his brethren overhead; he is "too low for a high praise, and too high for a low popularity." That is just the kind of man I should choose for a life-companion.'

'Well,' said Angeline, getting up to go, 'I think he would have a pleasant time if he lived with you; he'd get more indulgence than any ordinary woman would give him.'

It did not take a long time to 'wind up' Captain Torwood's affairs. He sent in his papers, said good-bye to the old regiment, disposed of the few valuable things he possessed, and established himself and his remaining belongings in one room. He had promised Angeline that he would not move far from her neighborhood; and his room was at the top of a house in a Westend street not a very aristocratic street by any means, but clean, and tolerably quiet, and near enough to his sister to set her heart at rest.

And then he began to wait for something to turn up, just as thousands of other men were waiting in the streets all around him. He wrote to everybody he could think of that is, everybody who had any influence; and Angeline wrote too. Between them they expended a small fortune in postage-stamps, and got in return a fair amount of heart-sickness and disgust.

One morning, early in July, he was walking briskly along Regent Street, and wondering whether he showed, ever so little, any of fortune's changes in his outer man. He had seen Angeline for a few minutes after breakfast, and she had looked as if she didn't think him flourishing. She had said nothing, but there was something wistful in the expression of her eyes. He wished she wouldn't be wistful; it worried him. He would have preferred being met with a jaunty air of unconcern; anything was better than the consciousness that he was perpetually calling forth sympathy. Could it be possible that there was something in his aspect that moved people to compassion? He hoped not. It was quite a relief to find the old Hindu at the crossing, begging of him just as usual.

Two ladies were getting out of their brougham at Lewis and Allonby's door, and came suddenly face to face with him on the pavement. Both were tall, one was comfortable and portly, the other decidedly thin. In an instant there was a thrill of recognition. Celia, as pink as on the day of their parting, greeted him with a stiff bend of the head. Mrs. Keane gave him an affable little bow.

It was the first time that the pair had met since the breaking of the engagement. Mrs. Keane watched Celia quietly, and with much curiosity, as they entered the shop together. Miss Devereux had come to buy costumes for the seaside. She seated herself in the chair placed for her by the bowing shopman, and stared rather blankly at him for an instant.

'Tussore silk,' she ejaculated, collecting her faculties. 'I want to look at some Tussore silks.'

Very soon the counter was heaped with soft fawn-colored stuffs, and she regarded them with an abstracted gaze, until Mrs. Keane compassionately came to her assistance.

'I like the darkest shade best, my dear,' she said. 'It will look richer than the others.'

'Yes, the darkest shade. I will take that piece,' decided Celia.

'Shall you get lace or fringe for trimming?'

'Fringe. No, lace.'

'A good silk lace to match,' said Mrs. Keane to the man behind the counter.

Celia sat vacantly staring at things without seeing any object distinctly. Just then she was feeling that silks and laces and fringes do not play a very important part in one's life. She was by no means an imaginative person, and yet she was trying to picture a sensational scene. Supposing that Lawrence, instead of bowing coldly, had stopped her and uttered impassioned words. Supposing he had said, ' Celia, I have been trying to live without you; but I cannot.'

She could not make up her mind as to the answer that would have been given him. But she was distinctly conscious that this meeting had disappointed her. She had thought that if they ever met again he would, perhaps, betray a little emotion. He could live without her, and he was doing it very comfortably; it was that perfect indifference that stung her to the quick.

Her heart was beating much faster than the hearts of discreet and rational young women are accustomed to beat. Was it love or wounded pride that was making her so uncomfortable? She could not tell.

Yards and yards of lace were respectfully placed at her disposal; but it was Mrs. Keane who decided on the pattern. Then from silks they went on to chintz cambrics, and Celia remembered Captain Torwood's tastes with a pang. She must dress now to please herself and the world; not to please him. His eyes would never rest on these stuffs that she was buying; his voice would never speak approval or disapproval again.

At last the shopping was finished; the parcels were put into the carriage, and the ladies took their places again.

'Do you want to go anywhere else, dear?' Mrs. Keane asked.

'No, Aunt Laura.'

'Home,' said the matron, and then settled herself as cosily in her corner as if there were no such things as broken engagements in the world. Celia wished that she would say something about that accidental meeting, but she did not.

'Aunt Laura,' she said at last, 'did you think that Lawrence was looking as well as usual?'

'I saw no change in him, my dear.'

'Didn't you? I imagined he was pale.'

'He never was a florid man.'

'Oh no. Don't you think that, all things considered, it is strange he has not tried to renew our fellowship?'

'Well no I hardly expected that he would.'

'Of course it is better as it is,' said Celia, sighing. 'He has spared himself useless pain by not making the attempt. Still, I did think his feelings would have been too strong for him.'

Mrs. Keane was silent.

'Miss Paisley used to say he was deeply in love. You thought he was deeply in love with me, didn't you, Aunt Laura?'

'No,' said Mrs. Keane, with sudden and startling frankness. 'I can't say that I ever did!'

She told her husband afterwards that she was utterly unable to restrain her tongue. That burst of candor would have its way. Her niece's self-complacency had provoked her at last beyond endurance.

If the truth had been uttered brutally, Celia's inner consciousness did not deny that it was the truth. Captain Torwood had wooed her sweetly; but the dullest woman knows the difference between a suitor and a lover.

He had admired, liked, respected her in the beginning of their relationship, and had begun his wooing in the honest belief that love would come. How was it that it didn't come? A sillier, plainer girl who could have given herself and her wealth unreservedly (as Portia did) would have won all Lawrence Torwood's heart in return.

But Celia could never divest herself of the conviction that she was a great prize. She exacted deference, submission, an unquestioning assent to all her proposals. She thought that her money gave her the right to rule, and had a perfect confidence in her own power of ruling.

No, he had never loved her; Aunt Laura was right. But that glimpse of his face today had painfully convinced her that she was very nearly loving him still.

'We will not talk about him any more.' she said stiffly, but her voice was not quite steady.

'I hope I haven't pained you, my dear,' rejoined Mrs. Keane, already penitent. 'But I quite agree with you that it will be best to drop the subject entirely. There are other men, you know, who will'

'Oh yes; plenty of them, Aunt Laura. All are not blind and insensible!' remarked Celia, bridling.

And then there was silence.

CHAPTER IV

'SHE CHARMED MY SOUL, I KNOW NOT HOW'

The Nettervilles left town early in July. Now that her mission was accomplished, there was small need for Gwen to waste her bloom in London. All the world knew that her marriage was already planned. She was an acknowledged success; a triumphant beauty; and no one was more hearty in her congratulations than her trusty friend Cora Wallace.

It was late in June before Cora arrived in town. A series of delays had detained her abroad, and changed all her program for the spring and summer. And when at last she reappeared in the fashionable world, it was to find her little Seacastle friend transformed into a reigning belle, and the affianced wife of Lord Inglefield.

Lady Emily was to have gone down to Brackenhurst with the Nettervilles, but one of her married daughters required her presence. Gwen felt quite sorry to part with her. She had performed the duties of a chaperon with so much tact and pleasantness that the girl had learned to like her.

'Who will take your place, Lady Emily?' she said. 'I shall miss you dreadfully at Brackenhurst.'

'You are very kind, my dear child,' replied Lady Emily, really flattered. 'If you feel that you must have an old married woman at the Hall, my sister will be delighted to go with you. Anne is a gentle soul, who gets on well with everybody.'

So Lady Anne Waring went down to Brackenhurst, and was found to be an agreeable and useful person in the household. She was not so amusing as Lady Emily, and had always been looked upon by her family as an amiable fool. And as she was a widow with small means, it had become one of Lady Emily's duties to get her invitations to good country houses in the summer houses where luxuries were plentiful, and hosts and hostesses did not require too much from their guests. In truth, it was not much that poor Lady Anne had to give. Her conversational powers were small; she could not get through the simplest dance-music without blunders; she was a terrible card player. But she was gentle and sweet-tempered, and hurt nobody by word nor by deed; and Gwen, who liked elderly ladies in caps, was glad to have her.

Cora Wallace, too, was invited to Brackenhurst, and went there readily enough.

Everyone seemed to be looking forward to a particularly pleasant summer. Lord Inglefield owned a small house about a mile and a half from the Hall, and would be always coming and going. His old grey mansion was situated in a bleak Northern county, where the air was too keen for a man who had lived much in the sunny South. There were other reasons, too, why his ancestral home was not pleasant to him. Certain it is that the overgrown cottage, on the outskirts of Brackenhurst, was his favorite English residence. It had no unhappy associations, no dark memories; and there he could paint his pictures and write his poems in peace.

'He's a grand, beautiful man, my darling,' said old Hannah to her young mistress. 'It does seem to me, dearie, as if all the treasures of the world were being poured out at your feet!'

'Yes; that's just the feeling that I have,' Gwen answered. 'And sometimes I think they are being poured out too fast, and I shall soon get to the bottom of the bag.'

'Now that's a thankless sort of thought,' said the nurse, shaking her head.

'Isn't it? And I'm a thankless sort of woman. But we won't discuss my imperfections. Do you know, Hannah, that your kind old face is one of the nicest things I've seen for a long time?'

'I hardly thought you'd miss me up in town, dearie.'

'What a fib!' said the girl, resting a velvet cheek on the old woman's shoulder. 'How is it possible for me to take any interest in Miss Jones as a human being? She's a clever creature and helper in her way; but I've a notion that if I cut her open I should find a pin-cushion instead of a heart. She's never tired, no matter how late she sits up; there are never any wrinkles in her gown. I can't divest myself of the idea that she is stuffed with saw-dust.'

'Nature never made her figure; I've always said so,' remarked Hannah, with irrepressible triumph.

They were sitting together in Gwen's room upstairs. It was drawing near the dinner-hour, but the young lady seemed to have forgotten the business of dressing, and nestled up to Hannah with infinite content.

'There's no such view as this to be seen from London windows,' said the good woman, looking out upon the rich woods, now growing golden in the evening light. Overhead was a soft sky, beautiful with amber clouds that hung motionless above the trees. It was the loveliest hour of the day, and no county in all England could offer a fairer scene. Yet Gwen seemed to gaze at it with weary eyes.

'Do you know what I'm seeing now?' she said suddenly. 'I will tell you. I am looking at the tower of a ruined castle, grim and rugged and grey. The setting sun gilds its masses of ivy, and the tide comes creeping up and up, until it covers the stony beach, and reaches the moldering old walls. I can see the crazy fishing-boats rocking gently on the ripples, and Hawthorn Island lying bathed in the low sunlight. And I'm seized with a strange love and longing for the place that I hated so much while I lived in it. Oh, Hannah, why is this? Why do I care for it now, and here?'

'How can I tell, dearie?' asked the nurse, in an uneasy tone. 'You're far too full of fancies. Why not try to banish the dreary old scenes from your memory? You'll not go to Seacastle again until you are Lady Inglefield, and your husband lets you visit the good old people in the old home. But you are done with the girlish life, Miss Gwen, and you mustn't get dreaming about it any more.'

'Yes, I'm done with it, Hannah. But it hasn't finished with me. Is it my fault if ghosts appear? Often and often I see visions that I don't want to see, and dream old dreams that I long to forget.'

'You will be different when you are a wife,' said the old woman hopefully.

'Yes, yes; the wedding-ring works wonders,' Gwen answered with a little laugh. 'I've been talking sad nonsense, haven't I? And now you must dress me, Hannah. I told Miss Jones that I shouldn't want her this evening.'

What change was there in Cora Wallace? She was not quite the same Cora, but never, even in the days of the Seacastle friendship, had Gwen liked her so well. Her cynicism was forgotten or laid aside; she had grown softer and sweeter, and yet more brilliant. Her voice had mellower tones; she talked in a new strain about men and women and life. Gwen felt that she had undergone some mysterious process, which had taken out of her nature all that was hard and bitter.

Her beauty, too, had increased, and was now so brilliant and vivid in its character that it lit up dark places with the splendor of a gem. The hazel eyes were more languid, yet more lustrous; the bloom on the cheek deeper; the lips a richer scarlet. Everyone who looked at her was reminded of some gorgeous tropical flower. Even Sir Bertram, who wasted few thoughts on women nowadays, declared that she was the handsomest girl he had ever seen.

Guests came and went, and Gwen's duties as a hostess left her less time with her lover than he desired. But Cora adapted herself readily to all his tastes and ideas, and Gwen was well pleased. She had been half afraid that they would have disliked each other. How could Cora's cold worldly-wisdom accept his Utopian dreams? How could she be led to believe in a humanity that she mocked and despised? Yet here she was, looking and talking as if she had never lost faith in human nature at all!

'Alfred, I am glad you like Cora Wallace,' said Gwen to Lord Inglefield one evening.

They were sauntering up and down the terrace together in the glow of the sunset. All around them was the world of summer in its deepest flush. The air was heavy with perfumes; the gardens were splendid with pink and scarlet and gold. There was a small pond in the grounds, where the ivory chalices of lilies rested on the clear brown water. And Cora wandered by its brink alone, looking down thoughtfully into the lily-cups.

The pair on the terrace watched her as they walked. She wore a rich gown of Spanish lace, and had a bunch of deep crimson flowers in her bosom.

'Like her!' Lord Inglefield repeated. 'It wouldn't be at all easy to dislike her, I fancy.'

'And yet I think you might have disliked her if you had known her last year. She used to sneer at the very things that you believe in. It must be your good influence that has made her so much softer and nicer.'

He smiled, not ill pleased.

'My dearest child,' he said, 'you think far too much of me and my influence.'

'Oh no. You are very good, Alfred. The best man I ever saw in my life.'

'You know very little of men and their ways, dear. Do not over-rate me.'

'I don't think I do. Sometimes I'm afraid that I don't thoroughly appreciate you. Mine is only a commonplace girl's nature, and yours .'

'I won't let you run yourself down,' he said, putting his arm round her waist and drawing her closer to him. 'My darling, do you think I could have fallen in love with a commonplace woman? That is a poor compliment.'

Cora, looking up from the water-lilies, caught a glimpse of the pair, and smiled bitterly, Just so might King Arthur have looked at Guenevere, she thought, before he had found out the other man who lay hidden in her heart. Lord Inglefield, with his knightly head bent, and his arm encircling that slim yet stately figure, was the very prototype of the blameless king in the days of his blind belief. And Gwen, with her bright hair and pale proud face was she altogether unlike the fair queen who loved Lancelot before her eyes had ever rested on her lord?

'Haven't you idealized me?' Gwen asked, lifting her blue eyes to his. 'Does it answer to idealize people and expect them to live up to your idea? That's how Arnold used to manage his boys. I wonder how many of them disappointed him!'

'A good many, I dare say. But, Gwen, that doesn't prove that his plan was a bad one. At any rate, it must be a better plan than believing the worst of a person until he actually sinks to the level of your belief.'

'Oh yes. But, all the same, it's hard to be perched on a throne when you know you ought to sit on its step. Sometimes good people make up beautiful characters for their friends; and when a friend doesn't fit his character, they throw him off in disgust.'

'Are you afraid that you don't fit the character I have made for you?' he asked, laughing.

She shook her head.

'I'm not going to acknowledge my fears. I am working very hard to live up to your ideal. Now don't talk about me any more. Look at Cora; how wonderfully handsome she is!'

'Yes, she is worth looking at,' he said slowly.

'She reminds me of Rappaccini's daughter, walking there among the flowers,' she went on. 'Only they are not such terrible flowers as those that grew in the doctor's garden.'

'Gwen,' said Lord Inglefield gravely, 'what a horrible idea! Why should Miss Wallace remind you of the girl who was fed upon poisons'?'

'Just because there is such a strange richness in her beauty,' replied Gwen. 'Did you ever see cheeks with such a bloom as hers? Or eyes with such a glorious luster in them? She is feeding on new emotions, nourishing herself secretly with new thoughts. She is a new Cora altogether.'

'You are full of fancies,' he said, unconsciously repeating old Hannah's remark.

'Yet there is some truth in the fancies, I admit. Miss Wallace does look as if she were sustained by some great hope. There is a splendid eagerness in her face sometimes.'

'I know,' Gwen answered musingly. 'I can't understand it. She used to be so cool and careless about everything. Now let me go, Alfred. There's Lady Anne making signs to me through the window.'

It seemed to Gwen that Cora was restless that evening. When dinner was ended, and the men were lingering over their wine, Miss Wallace drew her friend towards the open windows of the drawing-room, and coaxed her to come out into the fast-deepening dusk.

'Do come, Gwen,' she pleaded. 'I want to talk to you, and I can't talk indoors.'

'Why not?' Gwen asked.

'Oh, must one always give a reason for everything? I hate "whys"'

'My dearest Gwen, you will certainly catch cold if you go out without a shawl!' cried Lady Anne, in a warning voice.

'As if we were in the middle of November!' said Cora, with impatience. 'What are summer nights made for if we mustn't enjoy them?'

'But Gwen's throat is a little delicate,' said Lady Anne meekly.

'Is it really? Then it must be a newly developed delicacy. Not very long ago she could have spent a whole summer night out of doors without doing herself any great harm!'

A faint glow overspread Gwen's face for a moment. Then she carelessly took up a white fleecy wrap that was lying on a chair and folded it round her head and shoulders.

'There,' she said lightly, 'I hope everybody will be satisfied now. If I don't go out with Cora, she will quarrel with Lady Anne all the rest of the evening.'

Two other matrons, staying in the house with their husbands, laughed at the notion of anyone quarreling with Lady Anne Waring.

The friends stepped out upon the terrace into the twilight; two tall figures with trailing gowns that mocked the soft rustle of the leaves about them. The sky was not yet dark, a faint afterglow lingered in the west a cedar stood out blackly against the last sallow rift in the dusk. The breath of the night was rich and soft, laden with jessamine and heliotrope and myrtle; and large, heavy roses, clinging to the trellises, seemed to whisper to each other in the old language that Gwen remembered so well.

'Come away from those lighted windows,' Cora said. 'Here, we will rest now, close to the myrtle and the Gloire de Dijon. Have the flowers nothing to say to you, Gwen?'

'I don't listen to them nowadays,' Gwen answered in a nonchalant tone. 'Children and young girls like to fancy that flowers have voices. But I've done with childhood and girlhood.'

Her face, encircled with the fleecy wrap, looked white and calm. Cora gazed at her with eager, lustrous eyes, and spoke in that mellow voice of hers that trembled once or twice.

'No, you haven't quite done with girlhood. Don't you remember the pale pink roses you used to wear on your olive gown? You wore that gown when I first called at The Nest. And Victor Ashburn was breaking his heart about you that day.'

Gwen drew her breath quickly. Leaning forward, Cora would have touched her cheek, but the girl drew away, almost haughtily.

'I don't believe in broken hearts,' she said; 'and I don't like nonsense. Let us go indoors.'

'Oh, not yet. It is so lovely here. You are not going to get angry with me, Gwen?'

Could it be really Cora Wallace who spoke in that soft key, so humbly and lovingly? Gwen turned, and looked at her intently for a moment.

'How you are changed, Cora!' she said. 'You have grown softer and younger, and I harder and older.'

'You haven't changed a bit.'

Cora's arm was round her now, and Cora's warm lips pressed her brow.

'Only that you are more beautiful. Your heart is a girl's heart still; you have a girl's liking and fancies. Ah, you didn't know your own value in the old days. (They are not so very old!) But Victor did, and he loved you as he will never love woman again.'

'You mustn't say these things.'

Gwen tried to speak sternly, but her voice died in the effort. It was so sweet to hear his name again, so sweet to be assured of the love she had hardly dared to believe in.

Her heart began to throb wildly in the stillness, and there was joy in every throb. Cora heard it, and her arm tightened its clasp.

'Don't you want to hear of him, Gwen?' she asked. 'Our true lovers are not numerous enough to be easily forgotten. I found out his secret easily, and he saw that it was discovered. Poor Victor! I tried to serve him by being your friend, but I could do no more. I could not give him wealth, and set him free from all those wretched troubles. Yet I have wished a thousand times that I could have seen you happy together.

'I must not think about him. It's all over now, you know.' Gwen spoke in a broken whisper, and Cora felt her trembling.

'How can we tell when anything is over? Life is so    strange, Gwen. The story that we think ended may be only just begun. Suppose you should meet him when you are Lady Inglefield. Suppose he is on his way home now, a weary broken-down man yearning for the sight of your face.'

'Oh, Cora, is he coming?'

The question seemed to force its way from her lips. The constraining power of her companion's will, the charm of the summer night, the balmy breath of the flowers, all these influences, working together, were too strong to be resisted any longer. She found her strength giving way (it had been, perhaps, little more than the semblance of strength), and her words ended in a sob.

'Poor Gwen, poor darling!' Cora's voice was intensely soft and tender. 'Yes, he is coming. Mrs. Collington has heard once or twice. India has made him a perfect wreck. But somebody has died, and left him just enough to pay his debts. Only just enough, though. When he has cleared them all off, there won't be much remaining.'

There was silence, but a tired head sank gently down on Cora's shoulder, and rested there for a moment.

'Poor Gwen and poor Victor! Ah, child, you never suspected me of having a soft heart. And even now you don't know how I'm grieving over you both. It's a hard thing to miss the one joy that makes life worth living. Hush! don't cry, sweet. We must go, or they'll be coming to look for us. We'll take them in some roses.'

A few seconds later Cora returned to the drawing-room, and showered a handful of flowers on one of the tables. Gwen, following, kept a little in the background.

'Look at our spoils,' said Miss Wallace to Lord Inglefield. 'You always know everything. Tell me, isn't there some potent spell in flowers that have the dew of night upon their leaves?'

'They must be gathered by moonlight if they are to be woven into a magic wreath,' he answered. 'Are you going to turn enchantress? If you do, I prophesy that you will succeed.'

 

 

CHAPTER V

'THOUGH I DO MY BEST I SHALL SCARCE SUCCEED'

Kate Ryan, still firmly persuaded that she was the happiest woman in existence, came to the conclusion that Gwen had somehow got prouder and colder. As to Lord Inglefield, he was so lofty and perfect that the parson's little daughter was quite afraid of him.

'I'm glad I'm not going to marry such a very superior man,' she said confidentially to Granny. 'It must be so tiresome to be always looking up and craning one's neck. And Gwen has no thought to bestow on any of the poor mortals who are so far beneath him.'

But Kate wronged her. The poor child shrank nervously from the frank outpourings of that happy little heart. She could not answer the girl's innocent questions. It was impossible to compare her own calm love-story with Kate's glowing descriptions of bliss. About this time, therefore, these two friends began to drift apart.

But every day, and every hour of the day, seemed to strengthen the influence that Cora Wallace was gaining over Gwen. Not over Gwen only. Everybody in the house seemed to have fallen under her spell. She would talk to Lord Inglefield for hours about his pet schemes. She knew his favorite painters, had always read the books he liked best, and seemed, in some miraculous way, to be acquainted with every preference or aversion of his. It was she who suggested excursions, and planned amusements. Her eloquence covered Gwen's silence; beside her splendid beauty Gwen appeared to grow more pale. And yet there was never the least display of power. It was an invisible scepter that she swayed, and no one had any definite consciousness of being ruled.

As to Sir Bertram, he was looking noticeably worn and old. The wealth and luxury that he had long pined for, did not seem to bring the expected ease. He was always restless, and wandered about the house like an unquiet Spirit. Lady Anne watched him furtively, and once said to Gwen, in her timid way, that she thought he could not be quite well.

'There is nothing the matter with him,' Gwen answered confidently; 'he only wanders because he has nothing to do. We are dreadfully lazy people, Lady Anne. I shall have to go to work by-and-by;' but instead of going to work, she seemed, Lady Anne thought, to get more indolent and dreamy.

She appeared to take life altogether in a nonchalant fashion. Everybody told her that she was one of the happiest and most fortunate girls in the world. She had won the love of a man who was much flattered and admired by women, and yet there were times when she seemed scarcely conscious of the splendor of her conquest.

One morning Lord Inglefield entered the boudoir with a roll of papers in his hand. Lady Anne was sitting by the window with some fancy-work; Gwen, moving languidly to and fro, was putting flowers in the vases; and Cora, with a basket and scissors, was getting a fresh supply from the flower-beds. Lord Inglefield unrolled his papers, and straightened them out upon a table. His betrothed gave a little sigh, and glanced at him with rather weary blue eyes.

'Come and look at these, Gwen,' he said. 'They are the plans for my new lecture-room at Knightsbridge. You remember the spot?'

'Oh yes; quite well!'

'I'm not sure that I like Gothic windows; they are too churchified. You see, I want my lecture-room to be like a big drawing-room; and my working friends must feel as if they were asked to spend the evening in my house. The piano will stand here.'

Gwen fingered the plans absently.

'When we have done our tour,' he went on, 'we shall have a grand opening of the room. We must start with readings, recitations, songs. You will sing an old ballad something simple and touching?'

'Oh, Alfred!' she roused herself suddenly ' do you really wish me to sing to them? It would seem so strange. I haven't nerve enough for that sort of thing.'

'Not nerve enough to sing to poor working people? I am disappointed, Gwen!'

She put up two slender hands, and rested them lightly on his shoulders.

'Dear,' she said, 'I will try to please you in all things; only you won't expect too much from me, will you? I can never be so fond of doing good as you are. You are always wanting to help people, and I am lazy, and want to let them alone; but I know it is wrong to be so indifferent.'

'It is wrong.' He spoke gently, but gravely.

'Yes yes; I know. Sometimes I feel as if you had actually kindled a spark of enthusiasm in me; but it always goes out. Alfred, I'm very much ashamed of myself: don't be too hard upon me.'

Her face was uplifted with a pleading look. He stooped and kissed her.

'You will never find me hard,' he said; 'but, my darling girl, you will fall into my ways by-and-by, I hope?'

'Oh yes; I hope so! Only I have no self-confidence. If I did try to do good to people I should always be afraid of boring them, it is so difficult to find out what they really want, I think; we are so ignorant about each other's lives and needs.'

'But we must study their lives and needs, and find out what is best for them,' said Lord Inglefield, unconsciously falling into his lecturing key.

'Don't you think, perhaps, that they would feel as if we had no business to pry into their lives?' Gwen spoke timidly. 'I fancy that the working-classes must sometimes get rather tired of being studied so very much. I am stupid, I know.'

'You will understand these things better soon,' he answered, in an indulgent tone.

Cora Wallace had come into the room unheard. Rich perfumes entered with her: her basket was laden with flowers, and she herself looked like a glowing damask rose.

'Gwen has a horror of being studied,' she said, laughingly. 'She never can understand that other people like it. Are those the plans for the lecture-room? I want to see them.'

Lady Anne Waring had always been taught to regard herself as a fool. Her family had often said so in plain terms, and of course they were right; and yet she had a vague idea that she saw things sometimes which clever people could not see. She wished that Lady Emily would come to Brackenhurst.

Lady Emily had a positive genius for managing the affairs of young people. She knew how to kindle waning fires and mend broken links; she always kept guard over a betrothed pair, when their union was a desirable thing, and seemed to know in a moment if any danger threatened them. But Lady Anne had not courage enough to write to her sister and say that things were not going well at the Hall. Lady Emily was really needed by her married daughter, and Anne had nothing of importance to tell her. She could only drop vague hints that would probably be heard with quiet contempt.

Gwen's wedding was to come off after Christmas, and the summer was fast wearing away. Anybody would have laughed at Lady Anne, and her irrational doubts and fears. There was not the slightest change in any of the arrangements. Great rejoicings were to celebrate the day there would be arches of flags and evergreens, feasts for the tenants and school-children, bonfires and fireworks at night. All the details were already settled and planned. Cora Wallace was asked to be chief bridesmaid, and would stay on at the Hall until the wedding was over.

Lady Anne did not like Miss Wallace. She imagined that Cora treated her with a kind of bland scorn; and then, too, she had an undefined notion that those long private talks with Gwen did not bode any good.

After one of those talks Gwen always seemed doubly absent and languid, and yet she eagerly sought to be alone with her friend. Cora had only to whisper or beckon, and Gwen would follow her out on the terrace with eagerness. However preoccupied she might be, she never failed to hear when Cora spoke. She would follow Miss Wallace with her eyes: there was certainly some secret understanding between them. After all, what harm could there be in this romantic sort of friendship? But it gave uneasiness to Lady Anne.

Lady Emily had always disapproved of woman's friendships. She would never allow a daughter of hers to have a bosom-friend; and Lady Anne did not think that her sister would have looked on tamely while Cora won the entire confidence of Gwen Netterville.

Cora had entered heart and soul into the plans for the lecture-room. Gwen had left her suggesting alterations, and giving new ideas, and had glided away to her room upstairs. It was very quiet and cool at this hour of the day. She had grown accustomed to the quaint furniture and old needlework, and had learned to like it well. Of late she had not cared to talk much with Hannah. A little barrier of reserve was built up between the old woman and herself; and Hannah felt that it was there, and held sorrowfully aloof. It was to Cora that she now turned for sympathy Cora, who was never weary of talking about Seacastle days, and Victor Ashburn's love.

At first she had tried to shut her ears to the voice of the charmer. But the voice was very sweet, and Cora knew the trick of charming wisely. After all, she was not yet actually a wife. When the ring was on her finger she meant to give up these dreams, and devote herself to the realities of married life. She had believed, a little while ago, that it would not be difficult to walk by Lord Inglefield's side, and perform the duties that he would put into her hands. But somehow the thought of these duties was beginning to appall her.

The oriel window had its lovely frame of tremulous leaves and sprays; delicate tendrils quivered against the blue of a cloudless sky, but they had lost the freshness of early summer. The old room was full of golden sunbeams that seemed to find out the quaintest things and light them up. Over the chimney-piece hung a picture in crewels, worked on silk by hands that had ceased from their labors long ago. It was a queer representation of Christ and the Woman of Samaria, two stiff figures posed beside a drab well, and over-shadowed by a blue-green palm. Gwen had smiled at it a hundred times when she was in a gayer mood, but today she looked upon it through gathering tears.

What was this life, after all, but a feverish, unquenchable thirst? Of every sparkling draught it might be said, 'Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again.' She knew that feeling of thirsting again only too well.

Cora, with her talk about former days, had revived all the old yearnings. For a little while the world, and the homage of the world, had seemed to satisfy every craving of Gwen's nature. But now she was ' thirsting again.'

In one corner of the old picture-frame there was a date, and the name, 'Prudence Netterville.'

Who was this Prudence Netterville? She had left only the merest outline of a story behind her. A quiet woman, tradition said, who had gone visiting among the sick and poor, and had died unmarried at thirty-five. In the library Gwen had once lighted on an old prayer-book with her name written on the title-page, and a dried flower pressed between its leaves. Had Prudence known anything about this heart-thirst when she wrought the woman of Samaria with her crewels? Had her tears ever fallen upon those quaint figures? There were the stitches, just as she had set them; but there lingered no trace of the many thoughts that had been worked into the silk. Here, perhaps, the flying needle had put in a thread of regret, here of hope, there of resignation. So Gwen sat alone in the sunshine of the calm old chamber, and tried to soothe herself with these fancies; and by and-by Cora Wallace came in to look for her.

 

 

CHAPTER VI

'SOME WITH LIVES THAT CAME TO NOTHING'

It was a cloudless August. Day after day came and went without bringing any change in the hot, still weather. All round Brackenhurst the corn was ready to be gathered in, and the laborers toiled with a will under the broiling sun. They talked of abundant crops, and a cheap loaf; and Mr. Ryan was making plans for a thanksgiving service of unusual magnificence. He told Kate to consult Miss Netterville about the decorations; but Kate said, a little curtly, that Miss Netterville was too frail to be consulted about anything, and she would rather manage the whole business herself.

It was true that Gwen was always languid nowadays. Lady Anne suggested tonics; Lord Inglefield decided that she was in need of bracing air; and Cora kept silent whenever her friend's state of health was discussed. Lady Anne thought that silence rather odd. Miss Wallace was ready enough to give an opinion on other matters, but not one word would she say about Gwen's depression.

Gwen herself denied that there was anything the matter with her. She laid the blame of her low spirits on the weather. If they let her alone they would find that she would soon be quite well. By-and-by there would be cool winds and refreshing rains, and then she would be sure to revive; of course her appetite would come again if they did not tease her to take their doses of bitters. She could not bear to be watched and fussed over, that was all.

All this was not said pettishly, but wearily. She had always a smile and a caress for Lord Inglefield when he spoke in a tone of gentle chiding.

'You take too much notice of me, dear,' she said one day, when he found her resting on a couch in the library. They had gone for a walk in the morning, and after lunch she had crept away to be still.

'Oh, Gwen! Gwen!' he answered, in a voice of reproach.

She stroked his hair gently for a moment, and then a tear trembled on her lashes and fell.

'How good you are!' she said, for the hundredth time. 'I want to make myself better for your sake. I want to be "trebled twenty times myself," as Portia says; and even then I should not be half worthy of you, Alfred.'

Her humility pleased him.

'If you have Portia's spirit, darling, that is all I desire.' He spoke with exceeding tenderness. '"The unlessoned girl" may prove a noble help-meet: sometimes I think I know you better than you know yourself.'

She shook her head with a little sigh.

'You are frightened at the thought of new responsibilities; isn't that the truth? Don't be afraid, love; the burdens that look heavy are often the lightest to bear; and I shall be at your side always. You will trust me with all your little doubts and fears?'

A sudden light shone in her large blue eyes.

'I will trust you,' she said eagerly; 'yes, with everything. Alfred, we will have a long, long talk. I will tell you all about my foolish feelings, and you will advise and guide me. Shall it be now?'

He smiled indulgently at her earnestness.

'No, darling not now; wait until the evening. I have letters to write, and you must get a sleep this afternoon.'

They were never nearer to each other than they were at that moment; but the moment drifted by. He knelt down by her sofa, and two slender hands clasped his neck.

'Poor sweet child!' he thought, as he went his way, 'she torments herself with imaginary terrors. Of course she is afraid of the new life and new duties it is natural enough that she should be better that she should fear, perhaps, than walk forward too boldly confident of her strength. One can soothe her in five minutes those gentle timid spirits are easily dealt with.'

As if it was an easy thing to deal with any human soul! But Lord Inglefield had so often been told that he could manage everybody, it was no wonder that the task seemed simple enough to him.

There was no fear that Gwen would be disturbed in the library. She might sleep peacefully in the cool, dim room, among the books that few people cared to read. Her father's guests never entered that room. Lady Anne thought it gloomy, and shunned it; but when the day was on the wane, that old library was full of golden touches that brought out all the richness of its carved oak; and the sofa, in a corner near one of the windows, was known to be Gwen's favorite resting-place.

So Lord Inglefield took his leave, and she fell into a sweet sleep. Her head did not ache now; a burden was lifted off her spirit. The windows were open, and sometimes the brown bees came humming in, sated with their luscious feast out of doors. The golden afternoon wore slowly away: the quiet hours passed, and still she slumbered on.

Lord Inglefield had taken a short cut across the grounds, and plunged at once into the shadows of the Park. He was on his way to his cottage, and the nearest path lay through Sir Bertram's oaks and beeches. The bracken-plumes showed yellow and russet tinges here and there; brown leaves were beginning to fall on the ground-ivy that spread out a glorious carpet over the old roots; but overhead the rich canopy was as dense as ever, and the sunbeams came slipping through in narrow rays that strewed the foot-path like fragments of gold.

He was not the kind of man who goes along whistling, or smiting the bushes with a stick. Even in solitude he was always stately; and his mind was seldom occupied with the trifles that engage the thoughts of everyday men. He was not often amused; he did not care for anything in the shape of a comedy. Life for him had only one aspect the earnest and serious. He had been sent into the world to try to leave it better than he found it. Wealth, power, and personal influence must all be used for the good of mankind; they were merely lent to him that they may be wisely spent.

Somebody, sitting on the trunk of a felled tree, and watching him as he approached, thought that he looked like Sir Galahad in quest of the Holy Grail. He had taken off his hat, and was carrying it carelessly in his hand. The golden lights, sliding down through the leaves, brightened the crisp waves of his hair, and gleamed in the wide blue eyes, that always seemed to be looking for some blessed vision. That grand, calm face, with the leaf-shadows flickering over it, wore the aspect of a 'just and faithful knight of God.' But there are other just and faithful knights whose features do not express the language of their souls; it is not given to all good men to look the thing that they mean.

To tell the truth, it was the outward rather than the inward beauty which had a charm for Cora Wallace; yet she liked him, too, for his unlikeness to other men. Of the crowd of gentlemanly frivollers who thronged ball-rooms, and related the latest bit of fashionable scandal, Cora had grown thoroughly weary. Their attentions bored her; their pursuits moved her to quiet scorn. If she took one of them for a husband she knew that she should sink down to the level of ordinary women, and she wanted to rise and shine.

As Lord Inglefield turned a bend in the path he saw her before him, sitting quietly on the fallen tree. She had a book on her knees, but her head was lifted, and her glorious eyes greeted him.

'I couldn't stay in the house,' she said lightly; 'everybody was going to sleep, and I never can sleep while the sun shines, so I came here.'

'This is better than a sofa on a summer day.' He seated himself by her side as he spoke. 'The hot weather does not make you languid, it seems?'

'Oh no, I am dreadfully vigorous. I believe Lady Anne thinks I should be nicer if I affected a little debility; she always looks so pleased when anybody is tired, or has a headache.'

'Perhaps she likes to play at nursing,' he said; 'small ailments are not beyond her limited powers. But just put her into a hospital ward for ten minutes, and she would be frightened into sickness herself!'

'Poor Lady Anne!' smiled Cora. 'Who would ever think of putting her into a hospital ward? She is only fit to sit in easy-chairs, and look matronly and comfortable. Gwen says it is good to have somebody in the drawing-room who wears a cap. Lady Anne wears very nice caps, and does as well as anyone else.'

'There isn't much under the cap!' said Lord Inglefield; 'but Lady Emily Swynford is a clever woman. The sisters are not in the least alike.'

'Yes; Sir Bertram was wise in his choice of a chaperon for Gwen.' As Cora spoke she shut her book, and began to pull a bit of bracken to pieces. 'Lady Emily has a genius for managing girls; she makes them say and do anything she likes. It is quite wonderful!'

There was a brief pause. The scent of fern and moss came up from the ivied ground beneath their feet; flickering lights, creeping lower, began to play on the rough bark of an old wood-giant near them.

'I don't know how she does it all,' Cora went on. 'It answers well enough in many cases, I suppose; but I have noticed sometimes that, when her influence is withdrawn, the girl relapses into her old state of mind. Lady Emily is very clever, but she cannot really change hearts and natures, you see.'

'You are investing her with a kind of mesmeric power,' said Lord Inglefield. He spoke in a musing tone, and watched the play of the sunbeams with an absent gaze.

'Exactly. She wills that they are to do certain things, and they do them. I don't attempt to explain or understand it; you, of course, have studied everything.'

'I don't think there is anything mysterious in Lady Emily's power,' he said, rousing himself; 'it is simply the influence of a very wise woman of the world over inexperienced girls. They believe thoroughly in her sagacity, and trust themselves entirely to her guidance.'

'Oh, I think it is something more than that. She has a way of ridiculing all their poor little dreams and fancies; she makes them quite ashamed of anything in the shape of sentiment. A good match is the only thing worth thinking about; any previous attachment must be laughed to scorn.'

Lord Inglefield picked up a dry leaf, and regarded it with a thoughtful frown.

'All that sort of thing is bad,' he said gravely. 'A man does not want to marry a girl who has been laughed out of a first attachment.'

'Of course not,' Cora answered quietly. 'But men don't always know; and all men have not your exalted ideal of womanhood. Mind, I think you are right. Your ideal can never be too high for me.'

'I am glad.' He spoke with a pleased smile. 'Women set too low a value on themselves nowadays. They won't let us reverence them as we ought; they do not seem to realize how slight a thing may dim a woman's glory.'

'Ah, that was the title of your lecture!' Her eyes shone. 'I was delighted to see it in print; every word is exquisitely beautiful and true!'

'Then you have read it? And you did not think it too visionary and high-flown?'

'No. It ought to be read by every woman in the kingdom. I believe you are destined to do great things with your pen.'

'Do you?' a faint glow of pleasure came into his face. 'I have had my dreams of doing something; but I shall never accomplish much.'

'You have already accomplished a great deal; more than you are aware of.' Her voice was strangely rich and soft. 'Why will you not go on and do more?'

He dropped the dead leaf and plucked a living one, fresh and green, from the ivy at his feet.

'I was going on to do more,' he confessed; 'but then, you know, I fell in love.'

'But need love be a hindrance? Ah, it is sometimes! You remind me of something I have been reading here.'

She opened her book again, and bent over it with a deepening glow on her smooth cheek.

'Listen. It is Andrea del Sarto the painter who is speaking to Lucrezia, his wife:

'"But had you oh, with the same perfect brow,
And perfect eyes, and more than perfect mouth,
And the low voice my soul hears, as a bird
The fowler's pipe, and follows to the snare
Had you, with these the same, but brought a mind!

Some women do so. Had the mouth there urged
'God and the glory! never care for gain.
The present for the future, what is that?
Live for fame, side by side with Agnolo!
Rafael is waiting: up to God, all three!'
I might have done it for thee."'

There was a depth and earnestness in her mellow tones that thrilled him. He knew the poem well; but the lines came to him now with a new force and meaning.

Could it be possible (the thought flashed swiftly into his brain) that she had noticed Gwen's faint interest in his great plans? Cora Wallace was a woman; Gwen, poor child, was a girl still, a loving, trusting, timid girl. It would take years of training to bring her thoughts into perfect unison with his own; and that training-work would be very sweet. Yes; but it was a work that would steal his time from the nobler, larger labor that he had set himself to do.

Some men never have any doubts about their capabilities. Lord Inglefield had none; and yet he had lived a good many years in the world without achieving anything worthy of record. He had written some poems, painted some pictures, delivered a few lectures; and poems, pictures, and lectures were praised a little for their own merits, a great deal for the sake of his rank. The title has not yet lost its charm. And now he was busily devising schemes for the amusement and instruction of the working-classes, and believed earnestly and devoutly in his mission. Out of those very working-classes had arisen voices that drowned his feeble tones, as the organ drowns the shepherd's pipe. But he thought himself a leading voice for all that.

Andrea del Sarto had put a new fear into his mind. What if his career should be dwarfed and stunted by the possession of a fair wife? How could he expect Gwen's soul to climb the lofty heights that he had gained? He supposed there were but few women in the world who were capable of following him. And then he turned, and met Cora's inquiring gaze.

'Well,' he said, with a resigned smile, 'the painter made his choice. And having made the choice, one must be content to abide by it.'

 

 

CHAPTER VII

'FAREWELL THE TRANQUIL MIND! FAREWELL CONTENT!'

Cora sighed, and was silent. Lord Inglefield flung away the ivy-leaf and rose to his feet.

'We have got through the afternoon very pleasantly,' he said. 'Do you know it is half-past four? They will be drinking tea without you.'

'I don't want to miss my cup of tea,' she answered, rising too. 'I shall go back now.'

'And I will walk with you as far as the shrubberies. The path is lonely; I think you should not come here without a companion.'

'Oh, I'm not troubled with fears. But Gwen doesn't venture into the park without Jove. She is wiser than I.'

They walked on through golden lights and shifting shadows; and light and shade fell on two grave faces. Cora's rich bloom had paled a little; there was an anxious look in her eyes. Lord Inglefield glanced at her once or twice without speaking. He broke the silence somewhat abruptly at last.

'What do you think of Gwen's health?' he asked.

She hesitated for a moment.

'Oh, I don't think there's any cause for alarm.' She spoke hurriedly. 'We must remember that this is a trying time for her.'

'She gets nervous,' he said. 'There is quite a frightened look in her eyes sometimes. Poor child, she need not fear! I shall bear all the burdens.'

'For your sake I wish she were stronger.'

There was no fright in the eyes that met his now; they were clear and sad.

'I wish she could be all that you want. If she would only give up brooding and fretting, there would be more hope.'

'Brooding and fretting about the future?' He sighed. 'Yes, I know she is terribly afraid of her new duties.'

'Do you think so? Now I imagined that she is fretting about the past. It isn't the future that troubles her.'

'But her past is simply a blank. She never saw anything of life until they took her up to town last season. You forget that she was fresh from a quiet village that nobody knows.'

'No, I don't forget. I have lived in that quiet village,' said Cora calmly.

'Ah yes. She has often talked of your friendship. You know how dull and grey her life must have been. There is nothing in Seacastle to regret.'

'To regret? Oh no; she was only too glad to go away. And I was sincerely thankful to hear that Sir Bertram had claimed her. Poor girl! you can imagine how sadly she needed a father's care.'

'But she was living with an uncle and aunt,' said Lord Inglefield musingly. 'I remember the cottage well. You recollect 'that carriage accident, of course?'

'Perfectly.'

'I carried her into the little house, and the old couple were dreadfully scared. She wasn't unhappy with them. They were good people, I believe.'

'Very good people, but too simple to have the care of a young girl,' said Cora gravely. 'I don't think they ever realized how beautiful she was. There was a great deal of spite in that wretched little place. All the women envied her.'

'Yes,' he answered, 'I can understand that. Beauty always makes enemies.'

'And after that miserable adventure on the island, you can fancy what bitter things they said.' Cora spoke in a low sad voice. 'Poor darling Gwen, how she clung to me in those days! It was a dreary time after Captain Ashburn was gone. She had to bear a great many humiliations, I am afraid.'

'What was the adventure? Where was the island? Who was Captain Ashburn?'

The rich color faded out of Cora's cheeks and lips, but her eyes were intensely bright.

He had come to a sudden stop in the path, and stood looking her full in the face. He was amazed, shocked, bewildered; but as he stood with his brows knit, and his eyes questioning her, he looked like the hero of a tragedy, beautiful and stern. It might have been a scene from a play, with the grand old trees for a background, and the dark-haired woman standing mute before that proud man.

'Why do you ask about these things?' she faltered at last. 'Of course you have been told everything.'

'What is everything?' He was the very incarnation of righteous wrath, quiet and self-restrained, speaking in measured tones that made her tremble. 'Don't you know that you have either said too little or too much?'

There was a brief silence, while she nerved herself to reply.

A. squirrel peered inquisitively at them from the boughs overhead; a magpie, with his head cocked on one side, seemed waiting to hear what came next. But there was no sound loud enough to break the stillness.

'I have said too much,' she sighed. 'But how was I to know that you hadn't been told? How could I think that she would keep it from you?'

'I don't blame you,' he answered, with perfect calmness. 'But you must go on now.'

'It is very hard to go on. She is my friend.'

'You cannot serve her now by being silent,' he said coldly.

'No.' There was a little quaver in her voice that touched him. 'But you mustn't be hard upon her. She was only a girl, and did not know anything of the world.'

'Was it long ago?' he asked.

'A year ago last May. Captain Ashburn came to Seacastle on a visit to his aunt. You know the kind of man well enough lazy, frivolous, encumbered with debts but not devoid of some real feeling. Oh, I know he acted inexcusably, but he did what any other man of his stamp would have done!'

'He made out to love her, I suppose?'

'Yes, in an aimless fashion. They both knew that it could come to nothing. But they dreamed away long hours together day after day, and people talked as they always will.'

'Yes?'

'I wish you would not make me go on!' she said suddenly. 'Why can't you let her tell you the rest?'

'Later on she shall tell me. But I must hear all that you have to say.'

He spoke in a gentler tone. But the gentleness was all for her, not for Gwen.

'Well, there came a certain May evening when they were together on the shore. They didn't stop to think, I suppose. There was a boat, and they got into it; and he rowed her away to a lonely little island where not a soul was to be found. They meant to come back, you know, before it got dark.'

He was silent; and there was something terrible in the calm of his face.

'They landed, and made the boat fast as they thought. But it wasn't fast. It broke loose, and drifted away. And they had to stay all night upon the island.'

Her task was ended now. She drew a deep breath of relief, and began to move slowly onward. She had obeyed his command and told all that there was to tell; but she had not got through her story without pain. Her cheeks were still pale, her eyes weary. She walked listlessly and slowly as if she were tired, and sick at heart.

He, too, began to move onward, with a burning anger in his soul. He had been tricked, blinded, cheated by a girl in her first season. Never for a moment had he thought that another had won the first place in her heart. That clinging tenderness, that implicit faith in his goodness had seemed to him the sweet proof of a virgin love. He saw it all now in a new light. The coyness had been deceit; the timidity a cloak to cover a guilty conscience. He recalled the memory of the woman who had deceived him in his younger days, and spoiled the earlier part of his life. Good Heaven! what had he to do with women? What was there in him that made them always false to him?

A sigh broke gently in upon his musings; Cora's skirts were rustling softly by his side. And then he looked down into her beautiful sad face, and felt that she was suffering.

'I am sorry for you,' he said. 'You are attached to her. And you would have shielded her if you could.'

'That is just what she will never believe,' Cora answered mournfully. 'She will think I am her enemy.'

'Her enemy! The best friend she has ever had. But for you I might have gone blindfold into marriage. Do you think I could ever have forgiven her if I had heard this story after she became my wife?'

'No,' said Cora. 'Secrets between married people are fearful things. But you can forgive her now?'

'Yes, I can forgive her now.' His voice was very quiet. Cora's heart was throbbing loud and fast.

'You will talk over the matter with her? She will tell you how wretched she has been. And then there will be a perfect understanding between you?'

'Yes, a perfect understanding,' he answered, still in the same quiet tone.

She looked up quickly into that studiously calm face. Her work was done. There was no need of words to tell her that Gwen and Lord Inglefield were sundered forever.

They had come to a gate in the fence that divided the shrubberies from the park. Eight in front of them rose the great red house, with terraces, lawns, and gardens bathed in afternoon sunshine. It looked as sunny and still as that enchanted palace where the princess slept out a hundred years. But to Gwen, asleep in the dim library, there would come another kind of awaking. Not for her would be the prince's kiss; there was a cold and changed heart awaiting her outside the world of dreams. And Cora lingered for a moment, hardly knowing how she should face her friend.

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

'IT IS NOT WORTH THE KEEPING; LET IT GO'

It was drawing near sunset. The hot earth was cooled by the soft west wind. Gwen had had her afternoon sleep, and had dressed for dinner. Afterwards she had returned to the library, knowing that Lord Inglefield would come to seek her there.

She felt as if her weary days and troubled nights were done. Her mind was made up at last. She meant to tell him all the poor little story of her first love. She was prepared even to confess that she had lately returned to the old dreams and longings. It would be a difficult task, but how much easier to confess to him than to a man of smaller soul! His very greatness and goodness would make him pitiful.

If she must meet Victor Ashburn again, she would meet him with a clear conscience. With her husband by her side, knowing everything, she could face her first lover bravely. She would be true, perfectly true, whatever it cost her.

The evening sunshine filled the dim old room with its glow. She stood by the open window, looking out across the lawn, where the low light made a golden mist. The summer gardens, thus glorified, had a look of fairy-land; flowers glistened and glowed like gems; leaves and stems were gilded. As she stood there, looking and thinking, the door opened, and Lord Inglefield came in.

She turned and met him with a brightening face. But the brightness faded before his first glance, and she stood still, a few paces from him, questioning him with her eyes.

'Are you angry, Alfred?' she asked at last.

'More pained than angry,' he said coldly. 'Why were you not open with me, Gwen? You might have known that I should hear all, sooner or later.'

She was very pale, paler than he had ever seen her yet.

'There wasn't much to tell,' she said. 'You are speaking of the Seacastle days, and that luckless adventure of mine. Indeed, Alfred, I meant to tell you everything this very evening.'

'Was it fair to put it off until this evening? Wouldn't it have been fairer to have told me last May?'

She looked up at him earnestly. He stood like a statue, with his stern eyes fixed upon her.

'Yes,' she said with a sigh, 'I think it would; I see now that it would. But I didn't see it then; the past seemed so very far away. And I had never been engaged to marry any other man. He went to India did you hear that?'

'I have heard all. It was a painful story. Of course I can make some allowance for your inexperience. Yet, Gwen, a girl's instinct ought to be her safeguard.'

'I was foolish,' she said meekly. 'But it was so pleasant being with him. And I had been very lonely.'

There were tears in her eyes, and her lips quivered. Her thoughts had gone back to the simple, willful girl who had learned her first love-lesson from the lips of a wandering soldier. Ah, why is it that such lessons are often remembered when the lore of later years is forgotten? And yet sometimes the teacher is the first to bid the scholar forget.

'I loved to think of your loneliness,' said Lord Inglefield. 'I had pictured you growing up in sweet solitude with those two old guardians. I believed I had found a girl who was truly unspotted from the world.'

'And I have disappointed you,' she sighed. 'Oh, Alfred, is there nothing that I can do?'

'Nothing. How can you restore the lost freshness? Don't you see that you have no power?'

She turned away from him with a sob. He was so good, so noble; and she had deceived him, and wrung his heart. Never, perhaps, had he been so dear to her as he was at this moment; never had she so passionately desired to rise to the level of his high ideal. He had always seemed perfection in her eyes a saint, lifted far above the ordinary faults and follies of mankind. No sacrifice could be too great, she thought, to atone for the pain she had caused. To spend a lifetime with an indignant and wounded saint was scarcely a cheerful prospect. But she was willing to face it, willing to do anything that might heal the hurt he had sustained.

'I don't think any woman in the world is good enough for you,' she said. 'I was always afraid of not being all that you wanted. But life is long, isn't it? And I thought that I might learn, and improve.'

He shook his head sadly.

'Don't you think it is possible?' she asked. 'I mean to give up all my foolish dreaming ways. I mean to shape my life according to your will. And in the time to come .'

'Don't talk about the time to come.' He lifted his hand solemnly. 'We must part here, and part forever.'

It was a parting of which she had never even dreamed. In spite of all her misgivings about herself, in spite of wayward thoughts that had gone straying into the past, she had never believed that the bond could be broken. She had been too sure of his devotion to anticipate the shadow of a change, and a thousand times she had blamed herself for not giving her love as lavishly as he had given his.

And now, why were they to part? What dreadful thing had she done, that he should cast her from him? Her tears were suddenly stayed, the color came back into her lips and cheeks. She lifted her eyes dauntlessly to his.

'Alfred,' she said calmly, 'are you in earnest? Do you truly mean the thing that you say?'

'I do mean it,' he answered. 'How would it be possible for us to live together? Yesterday I thought you as innocent and true as an angel. Today .'

'Do you dare to tell me that I am not innocent?'

Her look and tone startled him. She stood before him like an angry queen, her blue eyes flashing, her delicate cheek flushed. A minute ago she had been a meek timid girl, pleading with him to pardon her folly. Now she was a haughty woman, all her pride up in arms, all her humility forgotten.

'No,' he said, quailing a little before that proud gaze. 'No, you cannot think so, Gwen. But I have been deceived right and left. Do you not remember what I said about "a woman's glory "? Well, I cling to my ideal, and I cannot part with it.'

'You do right to cling to it,' she answered coldly.

'You think me harsh.' He spoke sadly. 'You don't know what I suffer in letting you go.'

'Better such suffering now, than repentance later on,' she said. 'You are right. It would not be possible for us to live together. You would be kind, I dare say; but I should always read distrust in your eyes.'

'And Sir Bertram and the world?' he asked, with trouble in his face.

'Ah yes, Sir Bertram and the world. Am I to tell everybody that you have thrown me over?'

'No, no. Let them think that you have changed your mind. Say anything that seems best.'

'I shall tell my father the truth,' she said proudly. 'As for the world, let it say what it will. And now, Lord Inglefield, good-bye.'

'Good-bye,' he said, holding out his hand.

She took it frankly. Her eyes softened.

'Good-bye,' she repeated. 'This is all for the best; I shall be at rest, now that it is over. If I had married you I would have been your true and faithful wife. But oh, how hard I should have striven to rise to your ideal! My life would have been one long strain.'

He bowed his head in silence, and stepped out through the open window upon the terrace. She stood and watched him go away into the golden mist of the sunset; and then the shrubberies hid him from her sight.

Well, it was all over, and she was free to begin her life again. But first there would be a hard ordeal to pass through. Everybody would know it tomorrow; there would be smiles and head-shakings over the fine match that had come to nothing. There had been a great slip between cup and lip, they would say; such things did happen sometimes in spite of clever chaperons and well-laid schemes. And Sir Bertram, how would he receive her news? Turning slowly away from the window, she crossed the room and opened the door. There seemed to be an unwonted commotion going on in the house, a sound of many voices and footsteps echoed through the long corridor. What did it all mean? She paused to think and listen. And in the next minute Lady Anne Waring came, hastening towards her.

 

 

CHAPTER IX

'FORGIVEN'

So Lady Anne was not, after all, so useless as had been supposed. She was less fluttered, too, than many a stronger woman would have been. The wintry pink that time had left upon her cheeks had all faded; her lips quivered as she spoke. But she had promptly sent a messenger for the doctor, and had seen Sir Bertram carried at once to his room.

'I knew it was a stroke of paralysis, my dear,' she said, taking Gwen's cold hands in hers. 'I am very stupid, they say, but I had suspected that something was going to happen to him. And it did happen, very suddenly.'

'Where is Hannah? Does she know?' Gwen asked, trembling.

'Hannah is with him. She begged me to come to you, and tell you not to go to his room yet. Oh, how you are shaking, poor child! I thought Lord Inglefield was here.'

'He has just gone,' said Gwen, putting her hand to her forehead, and looking round her with bewildered eyes.

Had he indeed just gone? or was it a month ago that he said good-bye, and stepped out through the open window? While they were saying their parting words, Sir Bertram had been stricken.

'Shall we send after him, dear, and bring him back?' asked Lady Anne innocently. 'He could comfort you better than anyone else.'

'No, you mustn't send for him.' Gwen collected herself and spoke quietly. 'It will be best not, dear Lady Anne. And I shan't be alone. You will stay?'

'Stay with you? Yes, poor child, indeed I will,' said the little old lady kindly. 'The other people will go away, of course.'

'Yes, yes; let them all go,' said Gwen.

At last the summer night closed in over the great house, where the master lay stricken for death. All the guests were gone save Miss Wallace and Lady Anne Waring. Gwen, sitting upstairs in her room, had heard the carriages driving away. There had been no ceremony of leave-takings; the grim visitant who had stalked so suddenly into the hall had put an end to forms and courtesies. And Gwen, in her pain and trouble, desired nothing so much as solitude.

It was nearly ten o'clock. She had sent her maid away, and was sitting in her dressing-gown, with hair hanging loose over her shoulders, unwilling to go to bed. There was a doctor in the sick-chamber, watching with Hannah and the nurse. Her presence was not wanted there; they would not let her enter the room. Did anybody want her? she wondered bitterly. 'Lover and friend have You put far from me' (how the old words haunted her!) 'and hid mine acquaintance out of my sight.'

The night was warm and very still. As she sat musing and listening a light footstep came swiftly along the corridor, and paused outside her door. There was a gentle knock. It was only Miss Jones come back, she thought.

But it was not Miss Jones who entered. She glanced up wearily as the door opened, and saw Cora Wallace looking at her with sorrowful eyes.

'Why are you here, Cora?' she asked. 'Didn't they tell you that I wanted to be alone?'

Her tone was haughty and cold; but Cora was not to be driven away. She came nearer, and knelt down by Gwen's chair.

'I'll go presently,' she said. 'Let me talk to you just for a little while only a little while. I shall leave the house tomorrow morning. Let me have half an hour with you tonight.'

'Better not.' Gwen spoke in a tired voice. 'You have come to make excuses, I know. But you might have spared yourself the trouble. Lord Inglefield and I have parted; we should have parted, I believe, if you had had nothing to say. So the blame doesn't rest entirely with you.'

'The blame does rest with me,' said Cora firmly. 'I don't think he would have heard anything if I hadn't told him. No excuse is possible. I have done a mean thing, and I know it.'

This was not quite the line which Gwen had expected her to take. She was silent, and the other went on.

'You don't know what it feels like to be mean. Be thankful for that. I was never mean until today. I've done wrong things before, of course; but wrong things are not always mean things. It is the first time that I have ever really despised myself.'

'A very interesting confession,' Gwen said coldly. 'But unfortunately I'm not in the mood to hear it. You have to travel tomorrow. Why not go and get some sleep?'

Cora smiled a bitter little smile.

'There isn't much spirit left in me, is there?' she said. 'I shouldn't be kneeling here if I respected myself. But if you were to strike me I wouldn't go away. There are things that I must say tonight.'

'This is indeed a self-imposed penance,' said Gwen. 'What a pity our chapel exists no longer! You might have knelt upon the cold stones, and got somebody to scourge you. Miss Jones would have done it, I think, for a small remuneration.'

Cora looked at her fixedly. 'Ah,' she sighed, 'you may think more kindly of me one day. Or you may not. Anyhow, you will not forget the words that I am going to speak.'

Gwen leaned back in her chair with eyes closed. She was tired of Cora and her confessions, tired of life, tired of everything.

The candlelight shone on her pale face, set in masses of bright hair, and Cora thought it looked almost like the face of a dead girl. On the dressing-table lay a bunch of myrtle which Gwen had gathered and worn that day. It was a flower that Lord Inglefield liked, and it had been worn, Cora knew, to please his eye. She took it up and held it clasped in her fingers while she spoke again.

'I love him, Gwen.' Her voice suddenly broke the silence that had fallen on them both. 'I loved him before you ever saw him. And I have never loved anyone else in all my life.'

Gwen opened her eyes and raised herself. The listlessness was gone. There was a ring of truth in Cora's words that had reached her heart at last.

'I met him in Rome, nearly two years ago,' Cora went on. 'We didn't get very intimate; I was summoned away, and there wasn't time for an acquaintance to ripen. Isn't it cruel when the opportunity is denied? The fates were dead against me after that; I was always missing him!'

Her breath came quickly. She paused for a moment with parted lips and burning cheeks.

'Last summer, when I left Seacastle only for a few days, that accident happened. You remember, Gwen? I came back to hear of his sudden appearance. He had vanished, of course; it was always the same. And at last, when we did meet again, I found him engaged to you.'

'Don't go on,' Gwen said pityingly. 'I am sorry for you now. I did not suspect this.'

'Didn't you suspect that I was trying to win him from you today? It was my last throw. I staked everything upon it honor, self-respect, everything!'

'I did think that you wanted to win him, Cora. How could I think otherwise? I knew that he could have heard that story from no one else. But I didn't guess that you really loved him.'

'No. You thought I was scheming for the title. Oh, it wasn't that; it was for the man! I couldn't have been so low, and horrid, and mean for anything else!'

Again there was silence. A time-piece ticked loudly; its hands pointed to twenty minutes past ten. Cora's half-hour had nearly expired.

'You would not have been happy with him, Gwen,' she said more calmly; 'I saw that you gave him but half a heart. Oh, child, there can only be great patience where there is great love! His wife will need patience. He is one of those men whose plans will come to nothing: he will be always devising, and always failing, yet unconscious of failure. You would have got terribly tired of it all!'

'I did get tired of it,' Gwen answered, with a faint smile; 'he was so full of dreams. There was a fear, deep down in my soul, that we were not made for each other. I used to think it was because I wasn't good enough that the fear came.'

'No no; it was because you didn't love enough! Is there any kind of fear that a perfect love cannot cast out? True love is never bored, nor disgusted, nor deceived; it takes a man just as he is, and knows his weakness far better than he knows it himself. It foresees the inevitable failure, and is ready to console.'

'I couldn't have loved him like that,' said Gwen thoughtfully, 'never; not even if we had lived together for a hundred years!'

'He would have wearied you; and just when you were feeling unutterably bored your first lover would have crossed your path again. Oh, I know how these things come to pass; I have watched them often enough! Don't you see what might have been?'

'Hush!' Gwen lifted up her hands and let them fall 'it is too dreadful to think about tonight!'

She felt like one who recoils from a half-seen abyss. It did truly seem to her that she had caught a momentary glimpse of the hidden path; and it made her feel as if she should walk with timid steps for many a day to come.

'I am going now,' said Cora, rising. 'You won't see me any more, I shall leave early tomorrow morning; but I couldn't go without asking for your forgiveness first. It is very little use to ask, I think; you never can forgive me!'

'Yes, I can; the bitterness is all gone. Goodbye, Cora! God help you!'

'I believe any other woman would have cursed me!' Cora said, with a sob.

They kissed each other without speaking another word. Then the door opened and closed softly, and Gwen was alone once more.

 

CHAPTER X

'AMONG THE SUNFLOWERS'

There was only one unoccupied house in Brackenhurst and, like all houses that have been long empty, it had gotten a bad name. People said that it was unwholesome and damp, and there had even been a vague hint of a Spirit. It was, in truth, a somewhat uncanny-looking place, heavily built of grey stone, with little diamond-paned casements imbedded in its massive walls. There were only two storeys: all the rooms were dark and low, so low that a tall person could not enter them without stooping; but the cottage stood in the midst of a beautiful old garden, where old-fashioned flowers wasted their sweetness, and crowds of roses bloomed their lives away. That garden always attracted Kate and Muriel when they passed it in their walks. It was protected merely by a low wall of flints, which Mew could have scrambled over with perfect ease. She was sorely tempted to steal the flowers, and only the most earnest entreaties availed to restrain her.

One day workmen were seen to be busy about Stone Cottage. A lady was coming there, they said; and all preparations must be made without delay. Granny shook her head over their hasty doings, and declared that it would take a month to put the place into complete repair.

The new tenant arrived just when August was drawing to a close. She brought with her an elderly lady, and two stayed women-servants; and all four were dressed in the deepest mourning.

Kate Ryan had her first glimpse of the new-comer one evening as she passed by the garden wall. A woman, dressed richly in black, was walking slowly along the path. The low sun shone on her golden head, and lit up the face that was turned, just for one moment, towards the Vicar's daughter. It was a sullen face, strikingly handsome. The girl imagined that there was a malignant gleam in the dark-blue eyes, and hastened her steps homeward.

'I don't like that strange lady,' she said to Mrs. Hay. 'I wish she hadn't come here. She looks as if she means to do evil.'

'Kate, I am really ashamed of you!' said Granny, with severity. 'You have been reading too many novels lately, and they have unsettled your mind. That poor woman is a widow a Mrs. Heatherstone; her husband died suddenly last spring. She has come here to be in perfect retirement. We must call, of course.'

Kate answered with a little grimace, expressive of reluctance; but the call was made, and they were received by Mrs. Heatherstone's elderly companion. Mrs. Heatherstone, she explained, was not well enough to see visitors.

'She didn't look a bit ill,' said Kate, as they walked away from the house.

But the tenant of Stone Cottage was quite forgotten when Captain Ludlow arrived at the Vicarage. He came unexpectedly, and Kate had no thoughts to spare for anyone else. They were to be married in October. Already the quiet work of preparation was going on, and Granny was busy with her needle. There was so much to be done, she said; and Kate could not be trusted with anything.

From morning until evening the lovers were together. Maud Heatherstone, sitting alone in her dark room, saw them pass her window twice or thrice a day. She kept much indoors, scarcely ever going beyond the limits of her garden, and speaking very little to her attendants. Maud had never been a great talker; it was always a way of hers to sit and brood over her plans in silence. Mrs. Fancourt, her companion, was deaf. Her servants were utter strangers to the village folk, and could be trusted not to make acquaintances. She had guarded herself securely against gossip and intrusion, and was waiting in sullen patience. Waiting for what? She scarcely knew; but she never ceased to watch and wait.

One evening her chance came. Kate, as delicate as a blossom or a butterfly; was sometimes the victim of a nervous headache. On these occasions Granny laid determined hands upon her, and bore her off to bed; and Sidney saw her no more until morning. Her foe attacked her one day, and was fought with resolutely until five o'clock. And then, even Captain Ludlow admitted that she was not fit to take her place at the tea-table.

She went away to her room with a rueful face, and he wondered how he should get through the evening without her. The Vicar was absent; Mew had crept upstairs after the invalid; and Granny, having poured out tea, excused herself and vanished. Sidney lounged about the drawing-room, and tried to read. And then, just as the church clock was striking six, he flung the book aside and strolled out of doors.

Sauntering down a lane, he came to the conclusion that there would be a thunderstorm. The air was hot and still. Heavy masses of clouds began to purple the west, taking a red copper-like tinge here and there. Farmyard sounds and bird-notes were silent. The hush was intense; not a breeze stirred, not a leaf rustled. He pushed his hat back from his forehead, and sighed for a breath of wind.

Unexpected thoughts began to spring up in his brain in the stillness. Where was he last August? Memories came trooping back; he recalled the yellow wheat-fields and blue sea-water; the fiery bays and the dusty white road that led to Seacastle. And then that last glimpse of Maud Heatherstone, furtively straightening her bonnet, and trying to atone for her bad temper by giving him a parting smile.

He had never gone to Fairwood. Even if there had been no scene between them, he could not have kept his promise to Maud. Only a few weeks after that luckless drive, he had been summoned to the death-bed of a relation, and had found himself heir to a modest fortune. Then came law business, and divers wearisome matters connected with his new possessions. And then the first journey to Brackenhurst, and the meeting with Kate Ryan.

He had heard of poor Robert Heatherstone's death when his heart was full of his new love. It did not even occur to him to wonder how Maud would receive the news of his engagement. He had drifted miles and miles away from her since their last interview. Kate, sweet sunny Kate, was everything to him nowadays; and under her influence his life was growing purer and calmer. He wished that she had not been so delicate a blossom poor child! The Vicar had told him a sad story of her mother's sudden death. And Kate, in the rapidly changing tints of her flower-like face, betrayed that oversensitiveness which sometimes betokens a swift ending.

A sudden turn in the lane brought him into a new atmosphere. The fragrance of jessamine, sweet, rich, overpowering, loaded the still air.

'I must be near a garden,' he thought.

He found himself close to a low flint wall enclosing a mirthful wilderness of flowers. And then he remembered that he had seen this place in his walks with Kate; but somehow its wild sweetness had never charmed him as it did this evening.

It was utterly unlike the old Vicarage garden, always formal and trim. Granny gloried in the high yew hedge, which never seemed to have a twig out of place. And Kate took pride in the smooth graveled paths with their stiff box-bordering, shut in by those thick walls of green. But Sidney thought them a little too precise, and said he always felt as if he ought to be dressed like Sir Peter Teazle, when he walked there. He stood looking across the low wall with infinite satisfaction. There was a kind of lawless beauty here, which caught his fancy.

He was fascinated by the deep gold of great sunflowers, towering above a tangle of large daisies, that seemed to mimic their stately forms. Gilly-flowers, white bellflowers, passion-flowers, and foxgloves, were all blended in delightful confusion. Fuchsia trees were hung with tassels of coral; but the jessamine seemed to reign supreme over all, filling up every corner with white stars and feathery foliage. He idly gathered a spray from a mass that trailed over the wall.

'Sidney,' called a contralto voice, coming from the midst of the flowers.

He was taken by surprise.

'You didn't expect to find me here,' said the voice, half mournfully. And then a woman in a black gown came into view among the sunflowers.

The dead black silk fitted closely to the full bust; there was nothing but a crape frill round the massive white throat. But never had Maud Heatherstone looked so handsome. Her golden hair shone in the evening light; lips and cheeks glowed with the richest crimson; the dark-blue eyes were intensely bright. For a moment Sidney was stricken mute. This beautiful vision, appearing so suddenly in the wild garden, seemed hardly to belong to the everyday world at all.

'No,' he said at last. 'Who could have expected to find you in such a strange, lonely place?'

'All places are alike to me now,' she sighed. 'No, not quite; I couldn't bear to stay at Fairwood. So I let the house and wandered about for a time. And then I heard of this cottage.'

'But it is far too small and poor for you?'

'I like it. The rooms are dark and low, but that doesn't matter; I see no visitors. And I'm fond of this neglected old garden.'

'It is charming,' he said. 'A sort of enchanted wilderness, full of color and perfume.'

'Ah, I'm glad that you like it too! You know I always had a disorderly fancy. I never did care much for my own well-kept grounds; they belonged more to the gardener than to me.'

'I can imagine that,' said Captain Ludlow.

'Come in, and stroll in my wilderness. You can't possibly realize its charms on the other side of the wall. Do come, Sidney,' she added softly. 'I have a thousand things to say to you.'

He could not say her nay. Moreover there was something pleasant and romantic in this unexpected meeting, and he had been feeling dull and bored. In another moment he had opened a rusty little iron gate, and they were standing among the sunflowers together.

'One can walk here unseen,' she said, as they paced along a grassy path. 'I have caught a glimpse of you, once or twice, through my screen of shrubs and flowers. But I was completely hidden.'

A faint glow came into his brown cheek, and there was a brief silence. The west was turning crimson a lurid splendor began to redden the slope of a newly reaped field; but the light was too intense, too fiery. Maud looked away from the sunset with a sigh.

'I wonder how many more times I shall have to see the sun go down!' she said wearily. 'Length of days is supposed to be a blessing, isn't it? I think I've heard good people say so.'

'You have everything that makes a long life desirable,' he answered.

'How can you tell? Is your heart so full of bliss that you can't believe in another's emptiness?'

She spoke softly, but with some bitterness in her tone. He was touched, although he knew the trick.

'I know you have had a great loss,' he said gently. 'But you are young, and by-and-by you will find some new joy.'

'I don't want any new joys!' It was the old willful Maud who was speaking now. 'I hate everything that's new. New scenes, new friends, new loves they are all intolerable! The things that I prized most were snatched away, just when I was beginning to learn their value. And I want them back again.'

He was troubled shaken. The passionate contralto voice was waking up an old echo unawares. He looked at the glowing face and ripe lips, and then turned away quickly to pull off a jessamine-spray. She noted the restless hands and averted head, and knew that he was ill at ease.

'This mood will pass away,' he said, trying to speak in a dry matter-of-fact voice. 'Naturally you are feeling lonely and sad, and you get morbid in this dull place.'

'Perhaps I am morbid,' she said, with curious meekness. 'I'm very wicked, I know. I never was good and calm and saintly, you see. I don't know how to talk to poor people, and visit the sick. If I tried, I should make terrible mistakes.'

'You never have tried, I think. That kind of work may be easier than you imagine. You might get comfort out of it. Many women do.'

'Not women of my stamp.' There was the old dangerous gleam beneath her eyelashes. 'We can't find our consolations in soup-kitchens and mothers' meetings. Even church-services are of little avail, and curates are apt to irritate rather than soothe. I couldn't embroider a cape to save my life. But I could work a scarf for my true love to wear over his armor. And, better still, I could don a page's suit, and follow him to the field; ay, and thrust myself a hundred times between him and death!'

So she spoke, the handsome daring woman, her broad chest heaving, her eyes shining. It was no marvel if his pulses quickened as he listened, and looked in her face.

'But we are in the nineteenth century,' he said, still trying to talk common-sense. 'We don't want our ladies to be pages nowadays.'

'No. Then what is there left for women like me to do? Can you answer me?'

'I cannot,' he said gravely. 'Perhaps a better man could. I never was a wise counselor.'

She lifted her eyes to his with a wistful glance.

'Ah, Sidney,' she sighed, 'you are wiser than you used to be! I only wish you would teach me your wisdom. I should suffer less if you could.'

'Don't talk so, Maud!' A dark flush rose to his face, and he spoke in a hurried tone. 'You will begin a new life, and and be useful and happy, I hope!'

'Useful and happy!' she echoed mockingly. 'Has the parson's daughter taught you to talk like that? It sounds like a bit out of a sermon. But that isn't the way to heal a sore heart, Sidney. And mine is very sore.'

The flushed cheeks were wet with tears, the full scarlet lips quivered piteously. "What could he say or do? In a man's helpless fashion he stood and looked at her for a moment. And then he drew a step nearer, and laid a hand gently on her shoulder.

'Don't cry, Maud,' he pleaded. 'I know I have a clumsy way of putting things. There are some wounds that only time can heal and patience. You mustn't think me heartless if I say be patient.'

'Oh, I know,' she said meekly. 'But, Sidney, you don't realize how hard it is! Men never do. To see you with her!'

'Hush!' he said, and the hand was withdrawn. 'We won't talk of that. I hoped the old feeling was dead and buried. Why do you stay here, Maud? You would be far happier elsewhere.'

'I am going,' she answered. 'But I can't forget as you can. You want to banish me from your sight? That's the way with you men. You never cherish the least tenderness for an old love. Men are born without memories, I believe. It's better so memory is only another word for misery.'

'Maud, you are saying hard things!' There was a slight quiver in his voice. 'If I want you to go away, it is for your own good.'

'I am going,' she repeated. 'I will start next week if you like. I know I ought not to stay here now. And I'd do anything rather than pain you.'

He sighed. She saw that her submissiveness moved him deeply.

'This is Wednesday,' he said thoughtfully. 'I shall leave the Vicarage on Friday. And I don't think I shall come back until .'

'Until the wedding?' She drew her breath quickly. 'Oh, I won't wait until that comes to pass! You will find me gone when you return. And I will never cross your path again if I can help it never.'

'If we could only meet as old friends,' he was beginning to say. But the words died upon his lips. It was so plain that there never could be any ordinary friendliness between this woman and himself. She still had the power to set all his pulses throbbing wildly; there was danger in her presence. Yet he could not be hard and cruel. She had more heart than he had thought, this poor stormy, fiery Maud! And in her own way she really was trying to school herself, and be docile and meek.

He took her hand in his (that firm white hand whose touch he had known so well of old), and looked down at her with a troubled gaze.

'God help you, Maud!' he said. 'l am sorely distressed about you. It seems terribly brutal to have told you to go. But what is there that I can do?'

'Not much,' she answered quietly. 'I had my chance of happiness years ago, and I let it slip. The chance doesn't come twice in a lifetime. But I should like to see you again, just once more, before I say good-bye forever.'

'Ah, Maud, it will be better to not!' he sighed.

'Well, it shall all be as you will,' she said, in a tone of submission. 'But, oh, Sidney, be good to me! It's such a little thing to ask, isn't it? And it would comfort me so afterwards.'

He stood irresolute, longing to yield, and yet fearing for her and himself.'

'Couldn't it be managed?' she went on. 'Do you leave early on Friday?'

'I have arranged to go at ten minutes past two. It would be difficult, Maud, to plan another meeting. Yet if it would make you happier'

'Oh, it would it would! And it's the last time I shall ever ask you anything the very last. There's another train two hours later, you know.'

'Yes'

'Can't you drive to meet the train you fixed on, and then come back? You have only to wait until the carriage has gone home; and then you can take a short cut across that field. There is no need to be seen in the open road at all; the fields are quite deserted now, and it is easy enough to climb this little wall without going round into the lane.'

The garden was completely enclosed by the low wall, which divided it from the lane on one side, and from the field on the other. As Maud had said, it was easy enough to cross that newly-reaped field, and scale the wall, without fear of being seen by anyone walking in the lane. But Captain Ludlow shrank from the proposal. The better part of him revolted against the deception. No, he could not do it, he thought. And yet poor Maud!'

'It would be acting a lie,' he said.

'Would it?' she asked innocently. 'It doesn't seem so bad as that. Oh, Sidney, won't you do it for my sake?'

Their hands were still clasped. A thrill ran through him as her fingers softly pressed his. He thought of his earlier days, and the passionate love that he had once poured out on Maud Collington. It seemed to him that it was a gentler, softer Maud who was standing here with wistful eyes upraised to his. After, all, was it a great thing that she had asked of him? Their two paths would soon be very far apart. Moreover, she had promised, readily and meekly, to go away from Brackenhurst. If they met on Friday, it would indeed be for the very last time.

'I will do it, Maud,' he said, after a long pause. 'And now I must hasten away. Ah, here comes the storm!'

A flash of lightning darted across her upturned face. And then came a peal of thunder, loud and long, that rumbled and rolled away to the distant hills.

 

CHAPTER 11

'FOOLISH FEARS'

Kate came down to breakfast the next morning, looking as fragile as a white butterfly. At the sight of Captain Ludlow, standing tall and straight by the window, she brightened in an instant, and flitted across the room to his side.

'Are you better, pet?' he asked tenderly.

'Ever so much better,' she answered. 'See, my roses are coming back, aren't they!'

But the cheek that she lifted for his inspection was as pale and delicate as a white rose-leaf. There was no tinge of pink on that pure pallor.

He took her in his arms with a sigh.

'Why are you such a sprite?' he said. 'What gave you that terrible headache?'

'Nothing,' she told him, hiding her face on his shoulder.

'Is that quite true?' he inquired.

'Well, then, I think it was your coming so suddenly. I was over-glad, you know. And there's such a fuss going on in the house such a bustle of preparation!'

'I see. It is a trying time for my little blossom. But it will soon be all over; and then we shall get some rest.'

'We are always looking forward to something, aren't we?' said Kate, lifting her face again. 'There isn't time to feel how sweet the present is. I am realizing its sweetness now: just for this one little moment.'

'My dear child, you will have thousands of such moments!'

'Ah, how can one be sure of that? This is now a delicious now.'

His arms were folded round her; his darkly handsome face was bent over her sunny head. Through the open window came the sweet breath of morning. The air was cool and clear after last night's storm; a light breeze brought in a few petals from the monthly roses, and strewed them over the floor.

The pair were alone together alone in the freshness of the early day. Who does not know the strange, delicate charm that lingers about such fragments of time? Footsteps were heard; the strong arms were unclasped; and when the others entered the room, Kate and Sidney were several feet apart. He was whistling softly and looking out at the sky. She was picking up rose-leaves from the carpet.

The day wore away. But when Kate rested her head on her pillow that night, she was constrained to acknowledge that it had been an unsatisfactory day. Was anything amiss with Sidney? No, she thought not. Yet she certainly had not had as much of him as usual. There had been a broken morning; a strange clergyman came to lunch; one or two formal callers spoiled the afternoon. Then a vicar from a neighboring parish had dined with them, and stayed long enough to curtail the evening music. When he was gone, Granny had declared that Kate looked too pale to sit up a moment longer.

And Sidney had agreed with Mrs. Hay. He did not seek to detain Kate. And although his good-night had been very tenderly spoken, she had seen an absent look in his eyes. Love always resents such looks. Where had his thoughts wandered. Her little spirit was restless because it could not follow them.

Captain Ludlow, too, went early to his room that night, and lingered a little, looking out of his window. He thought of Maud in the dreary cottage, dreaming of the lover who could never be hers again. He seemed to feel her firm white hand clasping his, and a thrill ran through him at the mere fancy.

What would she do, he wondered, when he was married? His own path with Kate lay before him clear and plain enough. But where would Maud's lonely way lead her? Downhill or uphill, crooked or straight, that path, she had vowed, should never cross his own again.

He was half sorry that he had promised to see her on Friday. His last rendezvous with Maud had ended in a disaster, he remembered.

'Suppose someone sees us!' he thought. 'But no, that isn't likely.'

And then he recalled the stolen meetings of other days, when they were a pair of willful young lovers, bent on eluding the vigilance of watchful friends. Maud had always been clever in devising plans for secret interviews. And there had been a spice of risk and adventure in their old love-making that had given it a charm.

But Captain Ludlow was older and wiser now, and such risks had lost a good deal of their flavor. The course of his new love had been running smoothly enough. There had been no need to bribe servants; convey notes in fans; leave letters at a pastry-cook's; and invent secret signs. He could not imagine his little Kate having a secret. She was so delicate and innocent and pure, that you could look into the depths of her heart as freely as if it were the heart of a flower. He would never let her know anything about Maud and his old infatuation. She was easily worried, poor darling, and so fragile! A little fright would drive the pink out of her cheeks; a little pain would take all her strength away.

As to Maud, it seemed improbable that that young woman had ever known anything in the shape of illness. She was a splendid specimen of health and vigor. He recalled her as she stood among the sunflowers in her black gown, a grandly modeled figure, firm and strong. He did not want to see too much of her; he was glad that she meant in future to avoid him. But it was impossible to recall her image without a heart-throb. And he pitied her: in spite of all the past, he pitied her deeply.

He could not help feeling a little guilty when he received Kate's morning greeting. That April face of hers was brighter after a night's sleep. She clung to him in her pretty, wistful way when the time came for his departure.

'You foolish pet!' he said. 'You will have enough of me by-and-by!'

'Ah, but I hate good-byes,' she answered. 'Don't you ever think of the things that may happen between a parting and a meeting?'

'Life wouldn't be worth having if we did think of them! You are all nerves, Kate? What shall I do to set your little heart at rest?'

He took her into his arms, and held her in a long close clasp. At that moment he bitterly repented his rash promise to Maud. Not that he feared discovery, but he hated the baseness of the whole thing. They were good people at the Vicarage, simple and true. Why could he not be quite true also? And yet, it was only a small matter just a little deception that he would never have to practice again.

'Sorry to disturb you,' said the Vicar's voice outside the door. 'But if you must go by this train, there isn't any time to lose. The carriage is waiting.'

'Go,' whispered Kate, as he bent over her for another kiss. 'Go; and I'll promise not to fret a bit. It will be only for a little while. You'll write tonight?'

'Do I ever forget to write?' he asked, lingering fondly over the delicate little face.

'My dear boy, you'll think me quite a nuisance!' came from the other side of the door. 'But if you do mean to go by the next train .'

Sidney dashed out into the hall, and bade Mr. Ryan a hurried farewell. Kate stood at the window and watched the carriage as it rolled out of the gate; and even when it had disappeared, she listened eagerly to the sound of the departing wheels. Her treasure was being borne away from her 'only for a little while,' as she had said. But her poor little heart was strangely disquieted with nervous fears. It was wrong, she felt, to give way to this foolish despondency. It would irritate Granny and pain her father if she went on fretting. And, besides, she had just promised Sidney that she would not fret. Oddly enough this last thought set her lips quivering again. She stifled a sob, turned quickly away from the window, and came face to face with Mrs. Hay.

'Hoity toity!' said Granny, inspecting her with sternness. 'Now do you really think it worth while to cry after a man who is coming back to marry you in a month? I hope you won't be falling out with him by-and-by! "Love me little, love me long," says the old proverb. Come, come, be reasonable!'

'I am a little silly,' Kate confessed, blushing and brightening at the old lady's scolding.

'Oh, you do think you are! Then there is a hope that you will listen to reason. Doesn't it strike you that you had better not waste any more of this lovely day?'

'You don't mean to send me out walking, Granny? I've been in the garden all the morning!'

'And what good did the garden do you? Shall I tell you how you spent your time there? I could see your philandering from my bedroom window.'

'How horrid of you to look!' cried Kate hotly.

 

'Don't excite yourself, Miss Ryan. It wasn't worth looking at,' said Mrs. Hay, with a twinkle in her eyes. 'Besides, I am not wholly inexperienced in that kind of thing. But you will admit, I think, that you were not exactly taking pedestrian exercise?'

'Well, perhaps not, very much.'

'Then I must insist that you go out with Muriel. Yes, this very minute! The child can't settle to her lessons today. Indeed I fear there will be no permanent settling for any of us yet! These comings and goings are turning the household topsy-turvy.'

Kate pouted and yielded. Tripping off to dress, she met Mew with her hat on, and a basket on her arm.

'What are you going to do with that basket?' Kate inquired. 'You don't want to dig up roots, do you, Mew? That always makes such a dreadfully long business of our walks, you know.'

'Oh; no; I don't want any more roots,' Mew answered. 'They aren't good for much those ferns and things that I get myself. And I'm to have your own bit of garden, you see, when you are married. I shan't let any rubbish grow there.'

'Well, why do you carry the basket?'

'Granny is going to fill it with fruit. We've got to take it to Stone Cottage. One of the ladies there is sick, she says.'

'Stone Cottage oh, I don't want to go there!' said Kate.

'I do,' exclaimed Mew. 'Don't be disagreeable. You know I've always longed to be inside that little gate. And I've been so good; I wouldn't climb the wall because it would have vexed you. It's cost me many a bitter pang not to do it!'

Again Kate yielded, but not with a very good grace. She came downstairs five minutes afterwards, and found Mew awaiting for her in the hall. The basket was lined with leaves, and filled with those delicate plums which were the pride of the Vicarage garden.

'That poor old Mrs. Fancourt is ill,' said Granny. 'Those women hate to be called upon. But we must be kind. You need not go into the house, Kate; just leave the fruit with a civil message.'

The two girls went out into the still sunlight of the afternoon, and Granny stood watching them from the door. Could she have foreseen the manner of their return, how eagerly she would have followed, and dragged them back! But she stood looking after them with a smile on her fine old face. Bees were humming; the air was sweet with mignonette; burnished ivy leaves were shining in the sun. The old lady was conscious of a delicious sense of contentment and peace. Just for a moment or two she sat down on the porch, and floated off to a tranquil dreamland.

The girls passed through the open gate, and turned their steps towards the narrow lane which ran past Stone Cottage. The quiet of the dying summer rested on wood and field; in this warm southern village the harvest was all gathered in not a sheaf was left standing. Even Mew (a born chatterer) was lulled into stillness, and walked sedately with the basket on her arm. But her sober moods never lasted long, and were generally followed by an outbreak of wild spirits.

'Here we are!' she said, as they stopped at the rusty little gate. And there was a mischievous gleam in her dark eyes that ought to have given Kate a warning.

 

 

CHAPTER 12

'IN MAUD'S GARDEN'

Kate opened the gate, and took the basket into her own hands. The little house was as silent as a tomb: not a sound could be heard, although the casements were unclosed. Just as Miss Ryan was lifting her hand to the knocker there was a smothered laugh from Mew; turning her head quickly, she saw the child running at full speed down one of the narrow paths of the rambling garden.

'Mew!' she called after her; but Mew was gone. The desire to explore that mysterious old garden was too strong to be overcome. Kate was vexed.

There was a general impression in the village that Mrs. Heatherstone was a haughty woman, who resented the least intrusion; it was also rumored that she spent a great deal of time in her garden. What would she think or say if Mew suddenly broke in upon her privacy? After a moment of irresolution Kate set her basket down upon the threshold, and went off in quest of her unruly companion.

The garden was large, and flowers and shrubs grew so thickly that the whole place seemed made for hide-and-seek. It was almost as bewildering as a maze. Paths opened to right and left; and Kate looked in vain for a glimpse of Mew's grey frock. A flush of vexation came into her cheeks, and she stood still to listen for footsteps; but Mew's flying feet made no sound upon the grass, yet, as she paused, a slight rustle did certainly meet her ears, and then a low murmur of voices.

Right in front of her ran a path which must surely have tempted Mew. It was bordered with ranks of sunflowers such sunflowers as the Vicarage garden had never yet produced. They were the largest and most gorgeous that Kate had ever seen. Embarrassed though she was, her glance lingered on the rich blending of russet and gold, and she passed them slowly. At every step she trembled lest Mew should suddenly appear, flourishing one of these gigantic flowers in triumph; it was too much to hope that the child would leave the garden without taking something as a trophy.

The path ended abruptly at an old summer-house, much battered and decayed by time. It was overhung by a dense cloud of jessamine, and the little space of sward around it was whitened with fallen blossoms. The scent was overpoweringly sweet. Again Kate paused; and this time her feet refused to carry her another step she stood as motionless as if some invisible power had chained her to the ground.

A man and woman were standing just in front of the summer-house. The woman was tall, and the sun fell on a mass of golden hair, knotted up carelessly, and breaking out into rough loose tresses. Her back was turned to Kate. Her arms were round the man's neck, and his hands were clasped about her waist; she had drawn his face down to hers. O my! whose face was it?

Either Sidney Ludlow, or some evil spirit in his likeness, was standing there, with a passionate trouble in his dark eyes. No, it could not be Sidney; he had gone away in the train more than an hour ago, and this was all a wild dream! But he was speaking yes, it was his voice; and the woman was clinging closer and closer!

Kate saw no more: a great black cloud came suddenly over her sight; a sharp cry went ringing through the garden, and she dropped, like a dead thing, with her face to the earth. That cry was echoed by another cry that reached Maud's ear alone. In the next instant Captain Ludlow had freed himself from her hands, almost flinging her from him; and then she saw him on his knees by that still figure, gently raising it, and gathering it into his arms.

Her punishment was complete at last. As she stood there, silently looking on, she knew that nothing on earth was so hateful to Sidney Ludlow as herself. Her schemes, her wiles and witcheries, had brought about this result. Hard and intrepid as she was, she dreaded to meet his eyes. She did not dare to move or speak, not even to offer aid. Helplessly and mutely she watched him as he strode swiftly away with his light burden, knowing that if she followed she should hear that muttered cry again.

He did not go down the long path to the garden gate. With swift steps he marched straight across the flower-beds, scaled the low wall, and made at once for the Vicarage. It was only a few yards away; there was little loss of time. Afterwards, when he looked back upon this day, he recalled one over-mastering feeling: he must take Kate away from that hateful spot. If her eyes ever unclosed again, they must not rest upon the last objects that they had seen. He hardly knew whether he were carrying a dead or a living girl. In his awful agony and remorse it seemed almost presumptuous to hope that she would be given back to life.

Swift as he was, Muriel was before him. She had seen Kate fall, and Sidney lift her from the grass; and quick as thought the child flew homewards, calling for help as soon as she reached the gate. Kate was laid upon the large old sofa in the breakfast room that very room in which they had taken their leave of each other. The windows were still wide open; more rose-petals had drifted in.

'Don't you ever think of the things that may happen between a meeting and a parting?' Kate had said. Oh, to think of what had happened; and to know that he had brought it to pass!

Little Muriel was looking up at him, scared at his aspect. His brown face was almost unearthly in its pallor; his eyes were wild and strained; the veins on his forehead stood out like cords, and yet the weight that he had carried had been light. He spoke no word, but stood mutely looking on while others were busy about that inanimate figure.

The old doctor was there too. Someone had flown out and found him; but he could do little more than had been done already. The delicate little face was set and white as ever; the brown lashes still rested on the cheeks; the sweet lips were still colorless. The Vicar had already resigned hope, and was standing with his elbow on the mantelpiece, and his forehead resting on his hand. His sorrow was of the intensely quiet kind: and as Sidney looked at this stricken father the weight grew heavier on his own heart and mind.

No one seemed to wonder at Captain Torwood's presence. It appeared natural enough that he should be standing there among them. They had forgotten his supposed departure; or, if they remembered it, it did not seem strange that he should have come back. Does anything seem strange when death is hovering near our threshold? Do not the most unusual things look trivial and commonplace under that awful shadow? Muriel alone had been a witness of the scene in the garden; but she, too, was watchful and silent.

At last 'there was a faint murmur of thankfulness. No one knew who uttered it. It might, perhaps, have come unawares from Granny's lips: the brave old woman had never left off hoping, and nothing could draw her away from her grandchild's side. Kate had moved slightly, and there was a feeble stirring of the white eyelids. At length there came a sobbing breath. The Vicar heard it, and started from his post at the mantelpiece. Captain Ludlow heard it too, and strode across the room to the sofa.

'Let me come,' he said to the doctor, who would have kept him away.

Granny gave him a warning look, and stooped over Kate. The girl's eyes unclosed, and settled, vacantly at first, on the old lady's face. Another moment, and the intelligence came stealing back. She smiled faintly.

'Am I at home?' she asked, after a pause.

'Yes, my darling,' Granny said.

Another pause. Her glance traveled slowly to the spot where Captain Ludlow was standing. There was a pathetic look of pained reproach in the sweet eyes as they rested on him.

They met the agonized entreaty in his gaze before they closed again. An expression of content crossed the white face. She understood (dimly, perhaps) that he wanted to be forgiven.

Dr. Brand sent them all away, insisting that the patient should be left entirely to Mrs. Hay and himself. He had known Kate from the time when she came, a tiny child, to the old Vicarage with her parents. And he understood that frail and delicate organization, and realized (more fully than any of the rest) how near she had been to death. Even now he feared for the poor worn little heart. Still, there was good reason to hope for returning strength, and he smiled and nodded in answer to the Vicar's murmured words. In the next instant he had turned them all out of the room. Mr. Ryan went straight to his study, and shut himself in. Captain Ludlow strolled aimlessly into the garden.

No one but his poor little Kate knew how guilty he had been. He wondered what she would say or do when she could speak to him again. He did not expect upbraidings. She was too gentle to chide, too timid to make a scene. But he knew that an explanation was due to her, and he should have to account for his conduct as best he could. Walking up and down the trim lawn, he remembered Maud again. Not only had he swerved from the right when he went to meet her in that lonely garden; he had let himself be fooled by her eyes and tongue. And now, pacing here in front of Kate's window, he shuddered at the remembrance of that woman's clinging hands, and hated himself bitterly for his weakness.

Come what may, he would be true in future. As he looked towards the room where Kate was lying, he made a solemn vow to himself. He would never fight against his sense of truth and honor again. When she got well (if she ever did get well) he would take her little hand in his, and tell her the whole story of his old infatuation.

He had come to the border of the lawn, and turned to retrace his steps. The turn brought him face to face with Mew, who had run across the grass unheard, and was regarding him with angry black eyes.

'You are a wicked, wicked boy,' she said, speaking in a low voice. 'Cousin Sidney, I'll never like you any more.'

'Why not?' he asked, feeling his face burn under the child's gaze.

'You've nearly killed Kate! It'll be your fault if she dies,' said Mew, trembling with indignation. 'You pretended to be gone away, and you weren't gone at all. You came back and spooned with that horrid woman, and Kate saw you. Oh, aren't you a sneak!'

He tried to say that she was a naughty little girl. But she went on loftily, not noticing the feeble interruption.

'I haven't told any of them,' waving her hand towards the house, 'and I don't mean to tell. Only I shall never forget. And you'll always know that I know you're mean.'

She tossed her curly black head, gave a parting scowl, and sped away. In spite of all his trouble and remorse, it was impossible not to feel the humor of the situation. He broke into a rueful little laugh as he watched her retreating figure. Mew had unburdened her mind of its load of righteous wrath. She felt that she couldn't possibly be too hard on him. But she also felt herself bound not to betray his secret.

He could not help respecting the child for her honest indignation. She had told him the truth roundly enough, describing his conduct just as it looked to her eyes. He did not think, then, that she had been too severe. He had yielded to Maud's entreaties for a last meeting, knowing all the while that he was not proof against her spells. And, as Mew had said, he had pretended to be gone away.

Certainly he was by no means a hero in his own sight. He might blame Maud for being the evil genius of his life. But then he had voluntarily run into the arms of his evil genius; and she had triumphed through the worst part of his nature. Yes, she had won a triumph, short-lived as it was. It had ended in her own complete defeat, but she had left a sting in two hearts, Kate's and his own.

The sun was sinking lower, level bars of gold lay across the sward: a little breath of wind came faintly blowing over the beds of mignonette. He looked towards the porch, and saw the Vicar approaching him.

'You won't go away tonight,' Mr. Ryan said. 'She is a little better, they say. And she has asked for you. Come in, my dear lad; I will send to the station for your luggage.'

 

 

CHAPTER 13

'A FELLOWSHIP WITH HEARTS'

September came and went. And while Kate Ryan was slowly recovering at the Vicarage, Sir Bertram was slowly dying at the Hall. A letter came from Gwen to Eunice Swift, telling of Sir Bertram's condition, and of her broken engagement.

'I am wearying for a glimpse of old friends,' she wrote. 'Ever since I left Seacastle, I have been living in a feverish dream. And yet I think I am happier now than I have been for a long time. There is a hush in this great house; the days quietly come and go. But I have a sense of freedom that makes it easy to bear the loneliness.'

Eunice was back again in Queen Anne Street, after a long holiday at the seaside. It had been the merriest holiday that she had ever known. Even Mr. Radcliffe had found the sea pleasanter than usual, and had been persuaded to prolong his stay. The Allansons and Angeline had joined them; Mr. Kennard had looked them up, and lingered with the party from day to day. And he and Angeline had delighted in evening strolls on the beach, and long talks under the awning on the pier. Eunice, too, had enjoyed the strolls and talks, but there was a haunting consciousness that her happiness was not quite complete.

Captain Torwood had at last succeeded in getting appointed secretary to an Institution. It was not in his opinion a very interesting Institution, nor was the salary large. But he could manage to live on it, and, with strict economy, to save out of it.

The summer that had been so bright to others had passed away wearily enough to him. He could do no more than dream of a blue sea, and white sails, and mirthful watering-place society. His old careless life was over now, and done with. And when Angeline met him on her return, she was grieved to see him looking graver and older.

'What have you been doing with yourself?' she asked.

'Making myself acquainted with my new duties,' he answered; 'and trying to get used to the dreariness of life. You have no idea how dull it has been here! But you have had a perfect holiday?'

'Yes; I never liked the seaside so well. There wasn't a single drawback to the fun. But Eunice scarcely enjoyed herself as I did. She had been working a little too hard, I think; and she hated all the talk about her novel.'

'Do people ever hate success?' he asked doubtfully.

'Not the success, but the sight of that olive-green cover in everybody's hands. It was always before her eyes; she couldn't go anywhere without hearing the book discussed. Mr. Kennard says she hasn't enough vanity to enjoy popularity.'

'Mr. Kennard? Oh, he is the man who is always after her, isn't he?'

'No,' said Angeline. 'They are good friends, of course. But he is not so devoted as you implied.'

Captain Torwood looked at his sister, and was silent. She had spoken a little curtly, he thought; and she had colored. Angeline was just as fond of him as ever, of course; but there was a little falling off in her sisterly devotion. Could he expect anything but fallings-off from anybody? He was down in the world; he had lost all chance of a fortune. Angeline was beginning to find out other objects of interest, and who could blame her? There was that little Miss Swift, too! A short time ago she had been a poor governess, snubbed and oppressed by her relations. He could distinctly recall a certain moment of tender compassion; he had actually longed once to take her by the hand, and lead her out into a brighter sphere! Well, she had managed to get into the brighter sphere without his aid at all. Nobody wanted him. He mocked at himself as he walked the streets, and remembered the days when he had thought himself one of the favorites of Fate.

'I suppose I ought to go and call on her,' he mused. 'She used to like me pretty well, I think. Is she spoiled by this last great success? Angeline says she isn't. We shall see.'

He found Eunice alone in the old drawing room. She was writing letters at a table by the window, and lifted her face eagerly as he came in. Perhaps his greeting was grave; perhaps his losses and troubles had left deeper traces on him than he guessed. Certain it was that he read in her eyes a questioning look earnest, tender, and yearning. He read it, and it was there. And those grey eyes, and that little outstretched hand, gave him a sudden thrill of gladness.

'I am glad to be at home again,' she said. 'Even at the seaside I used to find myself pining for this old street. But we kept Mr. Radcliffe away as long as we could.'

'He doesn't work much now, I suppose?' asked Captain Torwood.

'No.' Her face was saddened. 'He is obliged to take a great deal of rest. They could do without me now, but they will not let me leave them. I must stay on, and be a daughter, they say.'

'You must be very happy!' he said suddenly. 'You seem to have won everything that you hoped for. Success friends a name!'

'More than I hoped for,' she answered frankly. 'The old Eunice only asked for freedom and peace. How you used to talk to me, and give me glimpses of a hidden world! I was laying up stores of wisdom all the time.'

'Very poor wisdom,' he said. 'And it was of more use to you than to me. I didn't manage my own affairs particularly well, you see!'

'I am so grieved that you should have been unfortunate,' she replied.

'Don't grieve about me, Miss Swift. I have no right to complain. Other men have had worse troubles, and have borne them a great deal better.'

'Oh, I think you have been very brave! The world had so petted you, that reverses must have seemed terribly hard. If I had been in your place I should have been quite crushed!'

'No,' he answered; 'you have a higher kind of courage than mine. I used to laugh at people who had an object in life. I see now that it is a good thing. When other things fail, there is still the goal.'

She looked at him and smiled. 'I never had anything but the goal,' she said.

He was touched by her little reference to the barrenness of her old lot. His own life had become stern and cold all at once; their conditions had changed. Around her there was now an atmosphere of summer; but she could not enjoy the warmth and brightness alone. Her look and tone asked him to come and sit in the sun. He went away, feeling that there was one genial spot where a welcome always awaited him.

After he was gone, she sat and mused in the afternoon dusk. Another visitor broke in upon her reverie. This time it was Dr. Allanson.

'I am glad to have found you at home,' he said. 'There is a little patient of mine who desires to see you.'

She rose at once, ready as usual to render a service; and he smiled, well pleased at her promptitude.

'I see your carriage is waiting,' she said. 'I'll come back to you in five minutes, Dr. Allanson. I know the value of a doctor's time.'

He looked after her with an approving glance as she left the room. The doctor was a quiet man, much given to studying characters as well as constitutions. This little woman had touched his ideal of gentle bravery. She was strong, yet sweet; tender, yet true. It is not always that life rewards such souls as hers. But as he stood and waited in the dim drawing room, he smiled to think of certain good things that were in store for Eunice Swift.

She returned before the five minutes had passed, and entered, drawing on her gloves.

'You don't ask where you are going?' he said, as they went out to the carriage.

'Why should I?' she replied. 'It's enough to know that somebody wants me.'

The carriage rolled on through the formal old streets, and she leaned back silently in her corner. It was a fair October day one of those days when it is sweet to be among woods and fields, watching the golden touches of autumn. But Eunice loved the dim London skies, and the gloomy houses and squares. Those houses contained human beings her unknown brothers and sisters. She had 'a fellowship with hearts;' the things that she had most desired were coming into her life. It was not towards wealth or pomp that her eager spirit had turned. She had longed for power; but only for that kind of power which she had won.

They drove on into Grosvenor Square, and stopped at the door of a great house, stately and still. The doctor helped her to alight, and they entered the mansion together.

The heavy door closed noiselessly behind them.

A butler, grave and silver-haired, preceded them up the great staircase, and Eunice felt as if she were moving in a dream. The stillness was intense. No voice met her ears; no footfalls could be heard; all was silence and gloom. And yet it was a house in which many a stately banquet had been held in days gone by. Court beauties had swept down that wide staircase with their cavaliers. Royalty had been there with its star and its charm of condescension; Whig and Tory statesmen had plotted, by turns, within those walls. To Eunice the place seemed to be full of ghosts ghosts who only made their presence known by a sigh, or a vague outline seen faintly in the twilight.

The butler ushered them into a rich, faded old room. It was warm with the glow of a fire, and the paler light of wax candles in antique silver candlesticks. An old man was sitting in an armchair near the fire; and Eunice saw that he had a white head and a delicate wax-like face.

He rose stiffly, yet with dignity, and was introduced to her as Mr. Lennox. It was all very strange and dreamlike, Eunice thought. She looked round in vain for the doctor's little patient. It did not seem possible that there could be any children in this quiet house. The old man had an air of proud, old-fashioned courtesy which harmonized with the carved oak and ancient silver. He looked at her with a faint light of interest in his tired eyes.

'It is very good of you to come,' he said. 'My little grandchild has been longing to see you. Indeed, I think she has been living on the hope for the last day or two.'

He led the way into another room, not far off a room full of soft light and warm shadows. There was neither gloom nor mystery here. A lovely nurse sat at needlework; a large wax doll was enthroned on the top of a chest of drawers. Everything told that it was a child's chamber, and the pretty bed, with its mirthful satin coverlet, was a dainty nest for a spoiled darling. A small face, with great dark eyes, looked out of a heap of pillows. The eyes seemed to grow larger and larger as they settled on Eunice, and then came a bright smile.

No introduction was needed here. But Eunice's heart gave a quick throb of pleasure and pain.

The child's little arm was resting on a book of fairy-tales a book with bright covers that Eunice knew well. Her own old stories (written in dark days, with laughter and tears) had won her this child-friend. Her fairies and bogies had whiled away languid hours, and soothed a little suffering soul. A faint shrill voice like the Spirit of a merry child-voice gave her a joyful greeting.

'Oh, you're come! I'm so glad. I've loved them all so much especially the kind bogey with the ugly face. Sit quite near me, please. May I look at you very close?'

'Yes, dear,' said Eunice, stooping to kiss her.

'You have a nice soft voice I think the fairy godmother spoke like that. Do tell me, please, where you wrote the stories. Was it in a room like this?'

Eunice shook her head with a little smile. She recalled the whitewashed walls of her attic the chill fingers that had held the pen on winter evenings the shabby shawl wrapped round the shivering shoulders. But she would not cast the shadow of her sufferings over the pages. The child should not know that her bright fancies had had a sorry birthplace.

'No,' she said, 'my room was not so pretty as this. But it was up at the top of the house, and the stars helped me, shining through the window. Stars are very good company, you know. They are like kind eyes.'

'Yes, I know. Everything up in Heaven is kind, isn't it? I don't think I shall be afraid to go there. Should you?'

'Oh no,' said Eunice calmly. 'I never did feel afraid when I thought I was going. I always knew I should go straight to some safe, sweet place.'

 

'But then there's the grave,' whispered the child.

'And the flowers,' Eunice said quickly. 'There's nothing to be afraid of in God's beautiful earth. Don't you love the ground where all the roots are quietly growing? All the flower-life is hidden there. It is up here that things are fading; they are fresh and living under the sod. It must be sweet to be among them.'

'Oh, I shan't mind,' the child said, taking Eunice's hand in her tiny fingers, 'But I wanted to see you first, and talk to you about it. I love you better than anyone else excepting poor grandpa.'

'I'm glad,' Eunice answered. 'I think there's nothing so good as love.'

She kissed the small thin face again, and went quietly out of the pretty room. It was not until she was once more seated in the carriage, and rolling away from the dim house, that she could feel like her usual self. After all, it had been only the stillness and the October dusk that had made the old mansion seem so dreamlike. Her heart was aching for the little girl whose life might have been so bright. Why must she be taken away? Why should her place in the world be so soon closed up? It seemed hard, she thought hard for the white-haired grandfather who idolized her. She could not help speaking out at last.

'Dr. Allanson,' she said, 'is there no hope that she will live? It is so sad that she must go!'

'It would be sadder still if she stayed,' he answered. 'There is an incurable disease of the spine. We could not wish her to linger through years of helplessness and pain. Even her grandfather sees that death is best.'

'And he worships her,' said Eunice, with tears in her eyes.

'No wonder. She is the last of his race; the only child left out of all his children. He is rich; but all his wealth will go to some distant kinsman somebody he knows little about. I think he is one of the loneliest old men I ever knew.'

Eunice went home full of sorrow and happiness. With her thoughts of the dying child, there were other thoughts strangely blending. Her mind was a confusion of lights and shadows. 'You seem to have won everything that you hoped for!' Captain Torwood's voice was saying. Had she? She wondered what he had read in her face. He had looked at her as if he had found out something. She lay awake for hours that night, thinking of the child's sweet outspoken love, and of that look in Lawrence Torwood's eyes. All the wrong things in her inner world had been quietly set right. But she was anxious that another's inner world should also be at peace.

 

 

CHAPTER 14

'A LAST LOVE GIFT'

Two days after his visit to Eunice Swift, Captain Torwood found himself in Queen Anne Street again. He hardly knew how he got there. But he was conscious that her face had been floating before him ever since their last meeting. And he was also aware of some mysterious influence drawing his steps towards the spot where she lived.

He tried to persuade himself that he took an interest in the street for its own sake. It was quiet and old-fashioned, and had a host of quaint associations. He looked at the iron extinguishers on the area railings, and thought of the link-boys, and the patched and powdered beauties under the flare of their torches. But it wouldn't do. He did not go there to gaze at extinguishers; nor did he care to conjure up visions of Sacharissa in her rouge and diamonds. He wanted to meet the glance of certain dark-grey eyes, and to see a trim little figure in a nineteenth-century costume. And he had his heart's desire.

It was early in the afternoon. Even in town the golden charm of autumn was not entirely lost. A tender glory touched the commonplace bricks and mortar. The air was soft and still; the light pure and calm; Eunice, walking briskly along the street, was moving in a tranquil little dream.

She was a sober little woman, in a warm russet-colored dress. There were bits of shady golden ribbon about her, here and there; and she had an autumn aspect. But hers was a genial autumn, rich with a subdued glow; and she found favor in Captain Torwood's sight. He quickened his pace, and went forward to meet the brown-and-golden maiden with a glad heart.

'Isn't this a perfect day!' he said. 'A day that makes one think of dreamy old Seacastle, and the ivied walls! I can fancy the quiet light on the sea this afternoon.'

He had turned with her, and was walking by her side. She looked up with a questioning glance.

'Do you want to go there?' she asked.

'Not now,' he answered. 'But there are certain days, you know, when the fancy goes a-traveling.'

'And you have had no holiday this year,' she said regretfully.

'I think my holiday is just beginning. Life is looking brighter than it did last month.'

His tone was so simple and tender that she looked up again. Their eyes met. There was a quiet contentment in his face that she had never seen there before.

'You have got Angeline back again,' she said.

'I am not sure that I have. It strikes me forcibly that Angeline doesn't belong to me so much as she did. And she is getting fearfully intellectual. Her information on abstruse subjects really appalls me. Can you account for it?'

'Well, she sees Mr. Kennard very often,' smiled Eunice. 'And one learns a great deal from him.'

'I guessed as much. Her room is literally crammed with high-class journals. I don't think she ever looks at a lady's newspaper or a fashion-book nowadays. But she was nicer when she was more frivolous.'

'She is as nice as ever,' Eunice said loyally. 'Only the influence is fresh, and it has carried her completely out of her old groove.'

'Will it be a lasting influence, I wonder?'

'I think it will. He seeks her, evidently. They seem to be drawing closer together.'

They were coming out now into Oxford Street, and it was not so easy to sustain a conversation. It did not occur to Captain Torwood to ask where Eunice was going. They simply walked on, in a pleasant aimless fashion, until they got to the Marble Arch, and turned into the park.

'Won't you tell me a little more about yourself?' she said, speaking after a pause. 'You say that life is brighter. Is there any happy change?'

'Not in my prospects,' he answered frankly. 'They are about the same. But my work is light, and I am getting used to it.'

'And there may be something better to come. When there is a rift in the clouds it is sure to widen.'

'There is a rift,' he said. 'I had my first glimpse of blue when I saw you the other day. I was morbid and lonely, and you did me good.'

She looked out across the park, into a space of misty gold. Her eyes shone as if they had just caught sight of some paradise, seen only in dreams until this moment.

'I am glad,' she said simply.

They turned their steps homeward, speaking only of everyday things, yet conscious of unuttered sympathies. The gold of the day was beginning to fade when they paused at Mr. Radcliffe's door.

'You will come in?' said Eunice, with a touch of earnestness in her tone.

He smiled, with a slight movement of his head, and his blue eyes looking intently into hers.

The two old people made him welcome. It was not their day for seeing visitors, but they received him as Eunice's favored friend. Mr. Radcliffe, always quiet, was now seldom disposed to talk much; but there was nothing sullen in his quietness. His was the silence that proceeds from a gentle weariness. He looked very worn and bent; and his face (which had been keen and eager once) was now intensely peaceful. He had done with all the great questions of life. Or perhaps he knew that he was going where he should find them answered, and so was content to wait.

Mrs. Densley was one of those old ladies who are always popular with young men. Lawrence liked her delicate old-world ways. Her face was still pretty in its winter bloom, framed quaintly in soft rolls of silver hair and old lace. There was a subtle scent of lavender clinging to her dress an old-fashioned perfume that was like a memory of bygone summers. She looked as fragile as one of her own porcelain cups; and yet (like the old china) she had survived a good many of the chances and changes of time.

Captain Torwood drank his tea in an atmosphere of sunshiny calm. He was well accustomed to the delicate flatteries which men of his stamp receive from women. But no flattery had ever been so sweet as Eunice's happy smile and shining eyes. She had all the grace of society without its insincerity; her gladness was a genuine gladness: she feigned nothing. Her successes and triumphs were all forgotten or put out of sight; she made him feel that he was just as welcome as in the days when her life was barren, and her friends were few.

He went back to his lodgings in a pleasant mood. He had moved into comfortable rooms, but the furniture was poor, and the old luxurious trifles were all gone. Yet the darkest days of his adversity were over; and there had come to him many a cheery letter from old comrades, giving scraps of news from the fashionable world. One of these letters lay unopened on his table. It had been delivered in his absence; and he took it up, and read it by the light of the fire.

'I'm not in good scribbling form,' the letter said; 'but I want to know how you are getting on, old man, and I can't wait any longer. By the way, I met a fair friend of yours at Cowes; but we didn't talk of you. I suppose there is no chance of mending the broken link? She looks colder and older. Your place, I believe, is not yet filled up.'

Lawrence smiled as he folded up the letter.

'It soon will be filled,' he said.

He had never caught a glimpse of Celia since their encounter in Regent Street. Sometimes he was almost astonished to find how slight a trace she had left on his life. Her image was fading fast. In days to come it would be a mere phantom, whose features had lost all outline and meaning. No; the broken link would never be mended, and there had been little pain in the breaking.

Scarcely a week went by before Eunice had another call from Dr. Allanson.

'I can guess your tidings,' she said sadly. 'My little friend is gone?'

'Yes,' he answered; 'but you don't guess everything. I am the bearer of her last love-gift.'

Eunice opened and read the letter which he put into her hand. As she read, her face flushed and grew pale again. Then she looked up at him with bewildered eyes.

'Oh, it's too much!' she said tremulously. 'Think of all the people who have written far better books than mine, and gone poor to their graves! Why is this come to me? Oh, Dr. Allanson, ought I to take it?'

'Do you think you are robbing somebody else?' he asked, with a smile. 'I can set your mind at rest. The six thousand pounds that little Ida Lennox has given to you was truly her own to give. It was her mother's dowry a dowry that her husband did not need, and put aside untouched. She knew that it was hers to "do as she liked with." Lately, she has talked about it night and day. "I am going away," she said, "and I want to give it to her."'

Eunice could not keep back her tears.

'You gave her your bright fancies,' the doctor went on. 'You peopled her sickroom with the beings you had created. In their quaint way, those beings taught her faith hope trust. This is more than the mere whim of a dying child. It is the gift of a loving spirit, eager to give something for all that it has received.'

He went his way, and Eunice stole upstairs to her own room, to think and cry in solitude. The sunshine was dying slowly off the house-tops; mists were creeping up the long, dim street. She did not understand. She wanted to be sure that this treasure was rightfully her own. Why were her poor thoughts so richly paid for, when great thinkers had received nothing for theirs? And then, as the dusk deepened, her heart grew quieter, and voices seemed to be speaking in the silent room. Whose voices? She could not tell. They recalled her own blighted childhood; her crushed, sorrowful girlhood. They reminded her of weak hands, giving loving service when they had nothing else to give. They spoke of sympathy with the distressed; of bright thoughts, poured out freely to gladden child-hearts; of longings to help others, even when her own feet were clogged with mire and clay.

What a long time it takes for the good measure to be pressed down, and shaken together, before it is poured into the bosom! Eunice was comforted by her solitary musings; but she never could believe that she deserved the child's love-gift. Somewhere in this crowded street in that lonely village there were waiting lives that ought to have been crowned instead of hers; she could only hope that their turn would come.

 

 

CHAPTER 15

'A FAMILY GATHERING'

Eunice wrote to Lavinia, telling her about the legacy; and Lavinia wrote in return, to say that Eunice was expected to visit Seacastle. Mr. Swift was seized with fatherly yearnings for the absent daughter. Mrs. Goad was heard to say that blood was thicker than water; and she could find it in her heart to forgive her sister for the past.

'I shall start off tomorrow,' said Eunice to Angeline. 'They want to bury the hatchet; for my part, I am willing with all my heart!'

'But you won't stay there long?' asked Angeline.

'No; I can't spare much time. They will be satisfied when they have seen me, and said their say.'

'Ah, well, it is right to go!' said Angeline. 'But we don't want you to be drawn back into the old life. There is no fear of their wishing to keep you, I hope?'

'No fear at all: they are all happier without me. If I remained, Matilda would regard me as a rival queen. There would be more strife than ever.'

It was a tedious journey; and the day was grey and still. The gold of the year was getting tarnished now; heavy rains had drenched the autumn glory of the trees. There was a forlorn look about the low lying villages: farmyards were miry; gardens were sodden and colorless.

Eunice felt the dreariness of the country, and looked back regretfully to warm London rooms and shops getting ready for the coming winter. She was going to be an exile for a few days a willing exile, it is true, yet not without her pangs. The scent of decaying leaves came in through the open window of the carriage. It was a scent that made her think of dead hopes, dead friendships, dead loves; yet what had she to do with these things? Other lives were encumbered with them, not hers.

It was evening when the train stopped at last at the familiar little station. An upright, shadowed figure was standing on the platform, and Eunice knew it at a glance. She summoned the porter, got out of her carriage, and went up to it at once. 'Lavinia?' she said quietly.

'Oh, Eunice! is it really you? I got quite confused trying to see you; the train came in so suddenly!' said Mrs. Bertie.

The sisters kissed each other, and descended the steps that led from the platform to the road. The porter followed with a trunk of modest dimensions. The carriage was waiting a musty old vehicle that smelt like a hearse. Eunice thought of Luke Gosling and his donkey-cart. It was all chilly and cheerless; and poor Lavinia, trying to frame neat speeches, discovered that her command of language was small.

'Is papa well?' Eunice asked.

'Oh yes! We were all glad when your telegram came,' Lavinia answered; 'we thought, perhaps, that .'

'That I shouldn't come so quickly? Well, I don't like delays; you wanted to see me, and I was ready to come. How is Matilda?'

'She has been a little depressed; there have been worries in her house. First of all, Mademoiselle turned out very badly, and had to be sent off in a hurry; and the girls have been unmanageable ever since she was with them. You used to think Mademoiselle a mistake.'

'I wouldn't have trusted her myself; but I always had fancies and prejudices.'

'You were right about her. It has been a trial for Matilda; she feels that Mademoiselle's conduct has lowered her in the eyes of the village. Don't refer to the subject unless she does.'

Eunice promised to be silent. They were passing the well-remembered houses; she could see lights gleaming from Verbena Lodge; and then came the brightly illumined windows of Myrtle Villa.

'I hope you will let me sleep in my old attic, Lavinia?' she said, after a pause; 'I like it better than any room in the house.'

'I knew you would like it best,' Lavinia answered. 'Papa said it wasn't good enough for you; he wanted me to give you my room.'

No one could have seen Eunice's smile in the gathering darkness. Mrs. Bertie had spoken in her usual impassive voice; she seemed to accept the change in Mr. Swift's views with utter apathy. What did she really think about the matter? Eunice had never found it easy to read Lavinia's mind.

There were lights in all the windows of White Cottage. The front door was wide open: there was a lamp in the entry, and rays of ruddy firelight flickered in the passage. Rachel stood at the little green gate, her white apron showing out in the gloom. Mr. Swift was stationed on the doorstep.

Eunice rather wondered at her own lack of emotion. This home-coming which might have been worked up into a touching scene in a novel was actually tame and commonplace. She pressed Rachel's hand as the girl eagerly helped her to alight from the carriage; and then she went up to her father and calmly kissed him.

'I'm glad to see you again, papa,' she said, in an easy tone. 'How bright the house looks! I have had quite a dreary journey.'

'There's a fog coming on,' said Mr. Swift, endeavoring to be easy too. 'Damp weather for traveling, isn't it? I dare say you are a little chilled?'

'Just a little,' Eunice allowed.

She stepped at once into the sitting-room, and went towards the blazing fire. The warm glow fell upon her rich mantle and furs, and revealed the composed face and dainty bonnet. They looked at her intently, and something in her aspect silenced them. What was it? Only the sudden consciousness that she belonged to their world no more that the gulf between her and them was wider than they had ever supposed.

The pause was noticeable. She broke it by asking pleasantly when she should see Matilda.

'Oh, Matilda will come in presently,' Mr. Swift replied. 'She has been worried by that fine French governess of hers. Better have engaged a decent Englishwoman; Goad always thought so.'

Eunice wondered how anyone could possibly have discovered Mr. Goad's opinion on the subject. That meek man had never yet been known to utter his thoughts. She detected a slight lack of reverence in her father's tone. Had Matilda's splendor ceased to dazzle his eyes? She hid the smile she could not repress, and followed Lavinia upstairs.

The old attic had assumed quite a festive air. A fire was burning brightly in the long-disused grate; a bunch of golden asters adorned the mantel-shelf. The little bed was decked with draperies, and the window had pretty chintz curtains. Eunice recognized Lavinia's looking-glass, and a pair of pink china candlesticks belonging to Mrs. Goad.

'Lavinia,' she said, 'you need not have made my poor old room so fine; I didn't want to see any changes. You have been taking too many pains for me!'

Mrs. Bertie looked at her doubtingly. Did she really expect to be still treated as a nobody?

'I don't mind taking pains,' she answered at last. 'If it had been possible, I would have done more for you, long ago. I dare say it does seem mean of us to make a fuss now.'

Eunice went up to her, and kissed her.

'Oh, Lavinia, I never thought you mean!' she said. 'Do you think I've forgotten the wine and the sandwiches? You always felt kindly, I know. But you didn't feel strong enough to take up my cause boldly. No one could blame you.'

'Well, I have blamed myself sometimes,' Lavinia sighed. 'I had some wretched hours after you were gone. It was dreadful to come up here, and think how you used to sit and fret by that window. I wonder if mamma ever knew? I hope not.'

'You mustn't trouble yourself with such thoughts.' Eunice's voice was very gentle. 'It must have been difficult for papa and Matilda to get on with me; I know I used to sit and sulk at Matilda's parties. Of course it was trying for her.'

Mrs. Bertie smiled sadly.

'Matilda never had any trials,' she answered. 'She was married before the reverses came upon us. She has done nothing but domineer all her life.'

'She was a little like a Juggernaut,' laughed Eunice, throwing off the furred mantle, and untying her bonnet-strings.

Lavinia stood and watched her silently. She noticed the softly rounded outlines of her sister's figure, and recalled the thin, dreary looking girl of other days.

'What a charming gown!' she said. 'And that fur on your mantle is so lovely!'

'Do you like it?' asked Eunice gaily. 'Well, that's fortunate, for I've got a mantle for you in that box! It has plenty of fur about it; I wanted to see you looking sumptuous and dignified. You always did pinch yourself too much.'

Lavinia's stolid face actually brightened. She cast a longing glance at the large pasteboard box, lying beside the neat traveling bag.

'I hope it won't annoy Matilda,' she said. 'You are very good, Eunice.'

'Oh, I'll undertake to soothe Matilda!'

Eunice spoke with such smiling audacity that Mrs. Bertie took courage.

A comfortable tea was ready downstairs. The table was smartly set out, and some of Mrs. Goad's best wine sparkled in the decanter. Eunice brought a good appetite to the feast; she praised everything, and delighted Mr. Swift with her cheerful talk. She chatted about town-doings, and gave him a great deal of interesting information. He sat and wondered at her, thinking that he had never been so well entertained in his life.

Just before the meal came to an end Matilda was mentioned again. There was a little more talk about Mademoiselle; Mr. Swift shook his head hopelessly.

'Matilda isn't always right,' he remarked. 'But she can't endure to be contradicted. It's a great pity. We must let her take her own way.'

When the table was cleared they drew their chairs nearer to the fire. There were a hundred questions to be asked and answered. A loud knock at the hall-door interrupted the conversation. Mrs. Bertie rose, looking a little flurried and anxious; Eunice's face was perfectly composed. In another minute Matilda and her husband came in.

Mrs. Goad was flushed and nervous. She had tied a woollen scarf over her mouth to keep out the foggy air, and she could not get it off at the right moment. She had prepared a suitable little speech, half dignified, half conciliatory. But it was uttered in muffled accents, and a little bit of wool got into her throat and produced a tickling cough. Lavinia came dutifully to her relief, and unwound the perverse scarf; but the moment for making a good impression had gone by. Eunice, calm and genial, had spoken her pleasant greetings, and had shaken hands with Mr. Goad before Matilda had fairly regained her breath.

When they had all gathered round the fire again, there was an awful pause. Lavinia trembled. She knew that such pauses are too often broken by some unlucky remark. She would have given anything to have made some safe observation. But no fitting sentence occurred to her mind; and she looked from one relation to another in dumb anguish. Eunice understood her anxiety quite well, and was tranquilly amused; but she broke the silence with perfect ease.

'I haven't told you all about my legacy yet, papa,' she said. 'I waited until Matilda came, because I wanted her to hear the little story.'

Mrs. Goad looked pleased, and Lavinia gave her a glance of gratitude. And then, in the simplest way, she told them of her visit to the doctor's little patient of the dim house in Grosvenor Square the brief talk by the bedside. It was by no means a lengthy narrative, but they were all in tears before she got to the end. Mr. Swift found a drop trickling unawares down the side of his nose; Mr. Goad openly produced his handkerchief. As to Matilda, she was too honest to be ashamed of weeping; and Eunice had never liked her so well before. Lavinia was glad to be allowed to cry quietly. She was afraid to shed her tears until she had seen that other eyes were wet.

At length the Goads rose to depart. And while Mr. Swift and Mr. Goad went to the door to look at the fog, the three sisters had a minute to talk.

'You will dine with us tomorrow, Eunice?' said Matilda warmly. 'And if you don't mind, I should like to get up a little party before you go away. Everybody wants to see you.'

'And I shall be glad to see everybody. Matilda, I'll promise not to be disagreeable this time. I won't sulk, and I'll wear a pretty gown!'

'We'll let bygones be bygones,' Matilda replied. 'But I will frankly say that papa was much to blame. He was too hard on you, Eunice; a great deal too hard.'

She was muffled up again by Lavinia, and went her way. The hands of the timepiece pointed to half-past ten, and Eunice began to long for her pillow.

'Good-night, my dear,' said Mr. Swift, as she took up her candlestick. 'I was very glad to see you so friendly with Matilda. I love family peace. But I don't mind admitting that Matilda used to misjudge you. She was too severe far too severe.'

Eunice went up to her attic, and laughed softly to herself in solitude. It was good-humored laughter, for all the bitterness had been taken out of her heart. She loved her people while she laughed at them; but there was nearly always an undercurrent of fun beneath her emotions. And she could find a great deal to laugh over in the part that she, too, had played that evening.

'I believe I gave myself airs,' she thought. 'I found myself posing as an amiable woman of the world, prepared to make allowances. I was partly myself and partly a person I have never known. How odd it all is!'

She was wakeful, and got only snatches of sleep. At last, rousing up suddenly, she saw the window faintly outlined in dull grey, and heard the roosters crowing loudly to the dawn.

 

 

CHAPTER 16

'OLD FACES'

The fog had cleared away, and there were gleams of sunshine breaking through the clouds. It was a day of grey and gold; miry paths were strewn thickly with dead leaves; not an excursionist was to be seen about the ruins, and the little village seemed half asleep in the pale autumn light. Eunice, bright and active, bent her steps to The Nest, and enjoyed the stillness of the morning.

She imagined that there was a deserted look about the tiny house. It was covered with wet ivy and withered creepers, and the monthly roses did their best to call up memories of the departed summer. They made tender touches of pink here and there, and there was a cheerful blaze of marigolds in the borders of the little front garden. But she missed Hannah's familiar face at the door.

Mrs. Ormiston was getting old and grey. She had pined for Gwen in secret, and had fretted herself to a shadow. And she had felt the loss of the trusty old servant, who had understood her better, perhaps, than anyone else. But she brightened a little at the sight of Eunice, and was grateful for her visit.

The minister was away. He had gone to Brackenhurst to say farewell to the dying man, and see his niece. There was little change in Sir Bertram's condition, only a perceptible decrease of strength. Gwen was still living her quiet, lonely life, and waiting for the end. She was not ill, but her uncle thought her looking very weary and pale.

'Do you think she is fretting over her broken engagement?' Mrs. Ormiston asked.

She had been feeling the need of opening her heart to someone. Eunice had walked quietly in, followed by a train of associations, and her natural reserve gave way.

'No, I don't think she is.' Eunice spoke after a brief pause. 'It would have been a brilliant match, and Lord Inglefield was a good man. But I am not sure that she ever loved him.'

'I don't know. I have no skill in reading hearts,' sighed Aunt Margery. 'I never did understand young people very well, I believe. And she was always so still and proud.'

'She finds her freedom a relief. His love seemed to burden her,' Eunice said thoughtfully. 'Wait until this melancholy time has gone by, and see if she does not regain her spirits.'

'I have thought that is, I have been half afraid that she could not forget Captain Ashburn,' Aunt Margery faltered. 'She had a fancy for him, poor child! After he went away there was such a curious meekness and quietness about her. It used to make my heart ache. Those vain, trifling men do such terrible mischief.'

Eunice was silent. Deep down in her heart there had always lurked a conviction that she would not have uttered for the world. She looked out of the little diamond-paned casement, and caught a glimpse of the quiet road. No one was walking there, but her memory called up two figures that used to pace that old road leisurely in the sunshine. Do we ever come back to old paths, without seeing phantoms of those who once traversed them? Often enough, it is the phantoms who bear us company, and the substantial people who are like shadows.

She said a few cheering words, and took her leave of Mrs. Ormiston. Old neighbors met her as she sauntered back to White Cottage. Mrs. Barron ran out of her door, and gave her a demonstrative welcome; the Coxes came up, all smiles and compliments; Mr. Bassett had his quiet congratulations to speak. The rest of the day was devoted to her friends; there was Matilda's dinner in the evening, and when that was over she went gladly to rest.

And then came Mrs. Goad's party, which turned out to be a brilliant success.

Eunice had ever spoiled any of her sister's bygone festivities, she atoned for everything that night. Her manner to Matilda was perfect; a gentle blending of deference and affection. Once, Harriet Cox tried to get her into a corner, and began the history of the French governess. Eunice was pleasant to the Coxes, but there was a shade of indifference in her manner.

'Oh, I think Mademoiselle's place will soon be filled,' she said to Harriet. 'Matilda is very kind to governesses. I mean to send her somebody from town. The girls are getting older, and they naturally need more discipline.'

That entertainment was the means of restoring Mrs. Goad to the proud position she had lost. It was a great triumph. Eunice had worked with her from beginning to end, mingling freely with the guests, yet always hovering round Matilda. They exchanged quiet signs, and smiles of goodwill which everybody saw. It was evident that there was a perfect understanding between them.

Sunday came, and she went to the dim old church, and filled her old place in the pew. It was rather a dreary service. Mr. Bassett droned away (as usual), in a gentlemanly voice. Harriet Cox's boys rolled their marbles (as usual) across the chancel floor, and the sexton tried vainly to detect the criminals. Mrs. Barron sneezed in the middle of the Creed, and Eunice instantly remembered that she always had sneezed just at that particular sentence. Nothing was changed save Eunice Swift herself.

She took her departure on Monday, promising to return early in the new year. It was past noon when she stepped into her place in the train, and waved an adieu to Lavinia. The weather had brightened again; the old castle was touched tenderly with sunshine, and the well-remembered fields were freshly green. Eunice nestled in her corner and closed her eyes. Instead of looking out upon the autumn scenery she fell into a sweet sleep.

The light was dim and grey when the train stopped at its destination. There was the foggy gloom of the great London terminal; the porters hurrying to the carriage doors; the never-ending din. Still drowsy, she roused herself, and alighted.

It seemed as if she had been away for months instead of days. The welcome in Queen Anne Street was quiet and tender. Mrs. Densley clung to her, and Mr. Radcliffe held out a feeble hand, and drew her to his side. It was understood that little Ida Lennox's legacy would make few changes in her mode of life. She would not have to work so hard, that was all.

Eunice, shut up in her room that night, began to ask herself what she had been expecting? She had looked for something which she had not found. This return to town was full of quiet happiness, and yet there was a vague hope unfulfilled. It was all indefinite and absurd. People go away and leave part of their lives behind them; and then they come back and wonder that the part they left is just the same. They had some idea that it would be added to; but it is there, unchanged, neither diminished nor increased.

Eunice could not have said what it was that she had expected. And yet her heart was sore and chilled because she was disappointed.

 

 

CHAPTER 17

'EUNICE'S PARADISE'

Angeline Torwood was a very happy woman in these October days. Mr. Kennard had proposed to her, and Lawrence had patted her on the shoulder, and told her to do as she liked. He did not object to his brother-in-law. He was glad to see Angeline's gladness; but the news of her engagement made him feel himself more than ever alone.

Captain Torwood had very little of the hero in his composition. He had plenty of dashing courage; but (as he often said to himself) he could not be great in little things. Yet he was wise enough to know his own weakness, and to be sorry for it. He could accept losses and changes with a perfect external calm, that was grand in its way; but he had not that inner vital force that lifts a soul above fate.

The tidings of Angeline's engagement and Eunice's legacy had come to him at the same time. Six thousand pounds was not wealth; it would only insure a modest competency. It was just the sum that his godfather had left to him, and it had been lost. He began to feel himself entirely forgotten by fortune. Angeline was engaged, and Eunice, in a small way, had become an heiress. He felt as if he never could get on with engaged people and heiresses.

Then an old comrade came up suddenly to town, and they talked of bygone times and new. Couldn't Torwood get a holiday before Christmas? Well, then, he must promise to run down and spend Christmas at Bath. There would be a good deal going on. People were inquiring after him right and left. Did he remember the Talbots? Nice girls very pretty would have five hundred a year apiece. Nelly Talbot was so glad to hear that he wasn't going to marry that Miss Devereux. There was Mrs. Fletcher, too, wanting to know what had become of him? Poor Mr. Fletcher died at the Punjaub. Lots of men had come to grief lately, in one way or another. Sinclair had never been heard of since Goodwood. Gresham had not held up his head since that affair the talk went on, half-cheering, half-dispiriting Lawrence. He liked to hear news of his old world, but he could not forget that it was partly lost to him.

They would be glad to welcome him back, but they would not pay the old homage. He was weak enough to feel that he should miss the incense that they used to burn before his shrine. They would welcome him, oh yes! But the censers would be swung before others. And yet; what a fool he was! What was the worth of it?

He went back to his rooms, and pondered half through the night. He knew that if he could win back everything incense and all he should still be a bored and dissatisfied man.

When he awoke the next morning the autumn sunshine flooded the room. He had slept late. It was Sunday. As he rose and dressed, the sound of church-bells began to fill the air; and he went through his morning routine slowly, listening to the clang. All the bell-voices were jangling together, singing the same old song in different keys. Some were clear and sharp and imperative; some ding-donged in a sleepy old-world tone; some were plaintive and sweet. As he dawdled over his breakfast, watching the last stragglers hurrying to church, he was conscious of a sense of peace.

How that peace had come to him he could not have explained. We can generally find the origin of strife; but it is not so easy to know the source of a great calm. It comes to us, and overflows our lives unawares. We cease to struggle; we are content with our lot. Yet it is just the same lot that it was a little while ago; the change is not without us, it is within.

After breakfast, he sauntered up and down the quiet Sunday roads in the sun. His new lodgings were in a western suburb, where there were little gardens and trees. Ivy glistened in the sunshine: yellow leaves drifted slowly down; and then a wave of organ-music came rolling towards him. By-and-by the people were seen coming from church; comfortable fathers and mothers; pretty girls with their prayer-books and admirers; children skipping along, all legs and flowing hair. They amused him today. He listened to scraps of chat and prattle with mild interest; and yet he remembered other Sundays when these sights and sounds had irritated him.

Later on, he was walking westward in the soft glow of the afternoon. The sky was golden when he turned onto Queen Anne Street, and there were faint glories lingering about the quaint old houses. Mr. Radcliffe's house was at the end of the street. It had curious iron railings (furnished with huge extinguishers), and there were balconies to the windows. The sound of the doorbell went echoing through the large quiet house. And then he was ushered upstairs, and into the drawing room.

Eunice was there alone. She, too, had found peace after a wakeful night or two, and her face was placid and patient. Life was full of good things: could she murmur if the best thing of all were withheld? She had stifled all her vague expectations; and perhaps the stifling process had made her a little sad and cold. Lawrence missed the eager look, the sunshiny smile. She seemed to come to him out of the shadows.

'"Why are you sitting in that dark corner?' he asked. 'Do come nearer to the window. There is one of Turner's skies to be seen!'

Eunice put down a book of 'Meditations,' and mechanically obeyed him. She had been trying hard to enter into the spirit of that book, and she had failed. The writer's voice had seemed to come echoing out of a cloister; and she was, as we know, an earthly woman, pining after earthly delights. No combination of circumstances would ever have forced her into a nunnery. And yet she could sympathize with women who could find peace and happiness in the tranquil routine. She liked to think of them, singing and praying with calm faces. But she could not join them; she wanted all the very things that they had renounced forever.

'What have you been reading?' he asked. 'Oh, I see. Why do women always try to be so good on Sunday afternoons? There is generally a reaction. Just at this hour I have invariably found girls sitting with their little manuals, beautifully bound, like yours. They used to put them away, with smiling alacrity, and plunge into worldly conversation.'

'I'm not worldly; I am earthly,' she answered, in rather a sad tone.

Something in his manner had jarred upon her mood.

'I am very glad to hear it,' he said, looking at her with eyes full of meaning, and an arch smile.

'Why?'

'Because I want to talk to you about earthly things. You wouldn't have listened if you had been in a lofty, self-renouncing frame.'

'I don't know that I want to listen now.'

She was not addicted to lying. And as she popped out that obvious falsehood she blushed and smiled too.

'That was a fib, Miss Swift. You must never read that manual any more. It has a very bad effect upon a naturally sincere mind.'

'I can't soar above earth when you are here!' she said desperately. 'No, I didn't mean to say that' (horrified at the construction that might be put upon her words); 'I only meant that you are antagonistic to spiritual .'

'Aunt Virginia always said so,' he interrupted. 'Please, don't remind me of Aunt Virginia, now there's a dear little woman!'

They both laughed. Out of doors there was the soft brightness of the sunset, spreading farther and farther along the street. The gold seemed to come flowing into the room, tiding over the faded old carpet, and the dim roses and lilies that Mrs. Densley had worked when her roses were fresh and young. The room was full of her needlework. Captain Torwood was sitting upon a gigantic pansy; Eunice's foot rested on a stool which was entirely covered by a vast tulip. Quite suddenly he deserted the monster pansy, and she found him kneeling down by her side.

'Eunice,' he said, with his arms round her, 'I believe you have a sort of kindness for lazy, commonplace men, haven't you?'

'Yes,' she answered, feeling her inability to utter a second fib.

'Then take me, dear. I'm lazy and commonplace. But I love you, and want you. Will you have me?'

'Yes,' Eunice said.

So these two entered into their paradise, among the impossible woollen flowers and shabby furniture. What a lifetime they had lived since they had stood together on the old ivied wall! What voices had echoed through their lives, and died away! And now at last they understood themselves and each other. They had found out the best thing in life; and the sunset enfolded them in the light of a solemn peace.

 

CHAPTER 18

'OH, FIRST LOVE! OH, LAST LOVE!'

In the spring it was rumored in Seacastle that Gwen was coming back. Coming back, it was said, to The Nest in delicate health; Sir Bertram had lingered on until the end of November; and then Gwen herself had fallen ill. Mrs. Hay, having successfully nursed her granddaughter, and seen her married to Captain Ludlow, was in need of another girl to nurse. She seized upon Gwen, and had her removed to the Vicarage. Hannah went there too; and the new heir (a cousin) came to take possession of the Hall.

Gwen stayed very contentedly with Granny and the Vicar. She was not strong enough to go back to Seacastle, and she was far too weak and languid to try another climate. So she just stayed on, obeying all Granny's commands, and finding a great deal to amuse her in Mew's society. The news of Eunice's marriage came to her early in the new year. She would lie on the sofa in Kate's old room, watching the budding trees and busy birds, and thinking of the fulfilled hopes of other lives. And then they would come to take her out in the low carriage; or sometimes she would be wheeled along through the ferny lanes, with Hannah and Mew in close attendance. She was always gentle and calm, trying to take pleasure in little things in brimstone butterflies flitting in the sun in the barren strawberry-blossoms in the hedges in the first violets that Mew had gathered. But she soon sank back again into a state of apathy which filled Hannah with dismay.

The long-deferred time came at last. Gwen shrank from Seacastle, and yet longed to go back to her faithful guardians. She loved the place, yet trembled at the thought of seeing it again.

She might make a home where she would, for she was a rich woman now; rich, without being a great heiress. But she felt that until her plans were settled, she must find a resting-place at The Nest.

Only she dreaded the sweet, yet bitter associations of the old home. She had never found anything to replace that first love-dream. At first, in the stir and change of a new life, she thought that she had forgotten. And then came Cora with her whispered talk about old days, and all the buried feelings were brought to light again. She knew that she had not been quite true in heart to Lord Inglefield. Never for a moment had she regretted their parting. Where was he now? Where was Cora? Lover and friend had passed away from her path, leaving no traces behind them.

The train was flying along the flat southern coast, and Hannah was sitting by her side. The journey had been a short one, and they were now very near its end. She looked out upon fields, silvered with daisies and gilded with buttercups. Those flat fields that went stretching away to the edge of the creek how well she knew them! How well she knew the little grey church, standing among its graveyard trees! And then the lonely houses by the white roadside, where the tide came washing up, leaving seaweed close to the doorsteps. Her heart began to throb fast as the train slackened speed. The old love, the old anguish came pressing back upon her again, and she had not strength to put it away. How could she bear it all?

It was a clear evening, early in May; there was a calm sky, not yet touched with gold; a freshness of greenery, a cluster of young blossoms. Uncle Andrew was standing on the platform with a glad, yet anxious face. At the sight of him Gwen's tired heart felt a thrill of joy. The carriage door was opened, and she held out her arms to him.

With all his old gentleness he helped her to alight, and she crossed the platform leaning on his arm. Station-master and porter did homage to the lovely, helpless woman in the black dress. She was a girl no longer: nowadays she looked older than she really was. More beautiful than ever, people said; but stayed and reserved. Poor child, they knew nothing of the regrets and yearnings that were hidden under that stately grace!

Uncle Andrew placed her in the old carriage, and seated himself quietly by her side. With delicate tact he refrained from speaking as they drove homeward: he understood her mood, and left her to herself. She drew back into the corner, unwilling to be seen.

Oh to weep unrestrainedly, as a humbler, less reserved woman would have done! Eunice Swift had suffered much, but her suffering had been tempered by her sympathy with a sorrowful world    even in her moments of bitterest pain she had been ready to admit others into her heart. She had loved and studied human beings wherever she had met them; they interested and amused her. But Gwen's nature was full of closed channels; sweet common interests could not find their way into her soul. Old Hannah understood this isolation of spirit, and mourned over it in secret. She, too, had dreaded the return to Seacastle, knowing how sorely the dignified, constant girl would be tried.

It was but a short distance from the railway station to The Nest; but to Uncle Andrew and his companion it seemed endless. At last the carriage stopped at the little gate: the faint sweetness of jonquils greeted Gwen like a sigh from the past; and then Aunt Margery appeared on the porch.

She had never seen her niece since Sir Bertram had taken her away. The stateliness, the dignified, melancholy beauty took her by surprise; she started, and was awkward and constrained. Uncle Andrew came quickly to her relief, and atoned for her apparent coldness. But somehow that coldness did not trouble Gwen; she was not looking at Aunt Margery's frozen face, but at the other shadowy faces that had risen up in the little room. She saw Cora Wallace, frank and kind as she used to be; she met the wistful gaze of Victor Ashburn's eyes. People speak they utter commonplace words of greeting, and yet every word is    a moan. They answer us, yet they are listening to other voices, and we know not what they hear and say. Is it any wonder that we misjudge each other so terribly sometimes? We can hardly know our friends unless we also know the phantoms with which they are surrounded. If our eyes were opened we should see them standing among their old lovers their dead or estranged companions; and we should learn what it was that had come between them and us.

Everyone longed to hasten the lagging hours that evening. Gwen kept on telling herself that she would get used to it tomorrow that it would all be different by-and-by.

'I will go early to my room, Aunt Margery,' she said. 'I'm afraid I must own to being still half an invalid, but I don't need to be waited on; you mustn't trouble yourself about me.'

'We thought, perhaps, you would bring your maid,' Mrs. Ormiston remarked awkwardly. 'I was surprised to see only Hannah.'

'I parted with Miss Jones before I left the Hall. Indeed, Aunt Margery, she wouldn't be of much use here. I shan't be going out, you know; and there will be no millinery nor dressmaking now. There would not have been anything for her to do.'

'Well, I am glad you did not bring her,' admitted Aunt Margery, with a sigh of relief; 'this cottage is so absurdly small!'

'It was large enough for us in the old days,' said Gwen.

'The old days are done with. You have been living a new life, child; everything here will be too poor and lowly for you!'

'Don't say that!' There was a quiver in Gwen's voice that went to the minister's heart. 'I can do without luxury and show. There have been sorrows in the new life; it will be good to come back to the old.'

'True, my child,' Uncle Andrew said tenderly; 'we often return to old paths to find balm growing there.'

She put her arms round his neck and kissed him, and then went slowly up the dim stairs. It was hardly dark yet: May twilight lingers long, and a star was twinkling faintly above the old pear-tree. She opened the casement: cool leaves brushed her cheek, and a sweet whisper came creeping up the garden. It seemed to the weary girl like a message from some distant world of peace. Peace? She should find it again one day when she was old and had forgotten everything; and then she shut the window and went languidly to rest.

The next day was Sunday. Hannah said that her young lady was not strong enough to go to church; and Aunt Margery bit her lips and shook her head. The truth was, that Gwen did not feel herself equal to the ordeal of seeing Seacastle faces en masse, and meeting the gaze of all the eyes in the village. She wanted a little rest first; but Mrs. Ormiston was shocked and distressed. 'She will have to meet everybody by-and-by,' she said; 'isn't it better to get it over? The longer she stays at home the harder it will be to go out. We mustn't over-indulge her, Andrew.'

'You are not capable of over-indulgence, Margery,' the minister replied; and there was a steadfast look about his kind eyes and mouth that she knew well. 'You always mean to do right, my dear; but you never did understand nerves and feelings.'

'Well, Andrew, give me your advice about her.'

'You won't take it if I do,' he answered gravely.

'Oh yes, I will! You know I am anxious. What is it?'

'Leave her alone. Don't worry her about anything; let her do just as she likes!'

'Am I to stand still and see her getting paler and more inanimate every day? That is how it will be!' exclaimed Aunt Margery. 'Of course this apathy will grow; I am sure of it!'

'How can you be sure? She has only been here a few hours. Let her get used to the old home and the old associations, and then you will see.'

Aunt Margery sighed heavily, and went off to morning service in her best bonnet and gown; and her niece strayed away into the garden, and hid herself among the old shrubs and flowers.

The morning passed away, and afternoon crept quietly on. It was one of those placid days that seem to belong to June rather than to May. The shrubbery seat was overgrown with encroaching boughs; the ivy masses had thickened on the low wall; but the buttercup meadow was unchanged. There it lay, shining as of old in the sleepy sunlight a level waste of gold, scarcely stirred by wandering breezes. The honeysuckle was in bloom again, flinging long tendrils over into the field, and losing its lush trailers among green waving grasses.

Sometimes a rush of sweetness swept over Gwen as she sat in her old nook. Swallows were skimming about, finches burst out into their little trills above her, butterflies glanced to and fro; everything was fragrant and lovely, but nothing satisfied her. She looked out across the glistening field with yearning eyes.

The stillness was intense. No voices came drifting towards her on the soft air: the trill of birds and hum of insects only seemed to deepen the quietness of the spot. She still gazed intently on the golden meadow until her eyes began to be dazzled with its shine. Presently she saw, or imagined that she saw, a figure coming towards her across the gold; and then she passed her hand over her eyes, and shielded them for a little while.

When she looked up again she was almost startled to find that the vision had not vanished. It looked more real now, and was coming nearer and nearer. She saw that it was a man, dressed in a light summer suit, and moving languidly, but not with the heavy motion of a tramp or a laborer. He drew nearer yet. She did not stir in her place, but her pulses seemed to stop beating, and all the wheels of time were standing still.

He came to a pause close to the low wall, and stood looking at her with a fixed dreamy gaze. The May light shone on his pale bronzed face and deep-grey eyes. His steadfast look seemed to go through and through her heart. How long did that silence last? About five seconds, perhaps; but to her it was an hour.

'I did not even dream of seeing you,' he said at last. 'I only came last night rather late. Have you been here long?'

'I arrived yesterday; my train got in at six in the evening.'

She never knew how she uttered the commonplace words. Another person seemed to speak them in her stead. There was silence again, but only for a moment.

'I followed you unawares,' he said. 'This is strange. How quiet the place is! It seems but yesterday that I went away. And you are you well?'

'I have been ill,' she answered. 'My father died in November. I was left all alone in the world, and so I came back here.'

He laid a slender brown hand upon the ivy, and got over the little wall. Her breath came quickly, so quickly that her lips grew white. He looked at her anxiously, and with all the old tenderness in his glance.

'I have startled you,' he said regretfully; 'and you are not strong.'

'Oh, it is nothing, nothing. I get startled so easily now. It seems very silly, but I can't help it.'

'Of course you can't help it. May I come and sit in my old place and talk to you?'

She smiled an answer, and drew aside her black skirt to make room on the bench. The warm blood was stealing back into her lips; a faint tinge of pink crept into her cheeks. She was more like the old girlish Gwen again.

'You are looking thin and worn,' she said, remembering all that Cora had told her. 'Were you ill in India?'

'I had a fever; but I pulled through it pretty well. It was rather a severe illness, they said. There isn't much left of me, you see.'

He turned towards her with a smile, and read the sadness in her eyes. Now that he was near she saw, all too plainly, the ravages that sorrow and sickness had made.

'Tell me about yourself,' he said earnestly; 'There are so many things I want to know. Isn't it like a dream that we should be sitting together in this old nook? I have often had such dreams. There were buttercups in that meadow when we said good-bye; do you remember?'

'Yes.'

'It was May-time. The honeysuckle was running over the wall, and you had some pansies in your dress. You see I don't forget anything. And now, how have you fared? You have been out into the great world?'

'You heard that my father came and claimed me at last?'

'Yes; my Aunt Collington mentioned it in one of her rare letters. You were a reigning belle last season. I was not surprised. That letter came while I was lying ill, and never dreamt of seeing you again.' He spoke in a resigned, quiet tone, and waited for her to say something. But she dared not attempt to speak, and there was a brief pause.

'There isn't much to tell,' she said at last. 'I had a glimpse of town life, and then went back to Brackenhurst. Cora Wallace came to stay with me through the summer.'

'I thought there would have been more to hear.' He uttered his words with studied calmness. 'Aunt Collington told me that you were to be married to Lord Inglefield.'

'Yes, I was engaged to him. But we parted last August. Have I not said that I was alone in the world?'

He drew a long breath, and a flush rose to his bronzed cheek. Birds and bees filled up the silence, and a soft sigh of wind came whispering to the buttercups. She was intensely still. He stole a glance at the white hands folded in her lap, and saw that they did not stir.

Had she suffered through the loss of her lover? He longed to know, but he could not ask. That silence seemed as if it would never come to an end; and yet both feared to break it by making some trifling speech. So much depends, sometimes, on the breaking of a pause like this. She was the first to speak, and in speaking she felt as if she were taking her fate into her own hands.

'You may as well hear it all,' she said, in a quiet voice. 'Cora Wallace was, as you know, my friend. Well, one day my friend and my lover were out together, and she told him a story that he had never heard before. It won't be new to you. It was the story of Hawthorn Island.'

'Miss Wallace told him that?'

'Yes, and he came back to me with reproaches. He had some reason to be angry, for he was a man with an ideal. The slightest breath, he felt, would dim a woman's glory. She must be lifted high above the common earth.'

'And he dared to say . . . .'

'Don't blame him rashly! I was no longer the being he had thought me. It was scarcely my fault if he had idealized me from the first. I always had a haunting fear that I was not perfect enough.'

'Gwen, this is too much!' he said, in a low, passionate tone. 'Was there no one to take your part? Did nobody go and . . . .'

'Hush!' Her hand was laid lightly on his arm. 'I wasn't very sorry to get my freedom. I never gave him my whole heart. It was wrong, I know; I wanted to give it, but I could not.'

'Why not? Oh, Gwen darling, why not?'

'Don't make me tell you,' she whispered. 'I have been so ill so unhappy so lonely!'

He looked at her fixedly, and she could hear the loud throbbing of his heart. Tears swam in her sad blue eyes; her hand, still resting on his sleeve, was trembling.

'Poor child!' he said, gently taking her into his arms. 'They will all scold you for caring about me! No one will ever love you better than I do; but other men are more worthy of you, dear. A broken-down man, without friends or fortune what will they say?'

Their lips met in a long kiss. Her hands stole up and clung about his neck.

'Oh, Victor, never mind what they say! I have only had one love. I tried to make esteem, gratitude, confidence, do instead of love. But it won't do; one must never put anything in love's place. And I'm good enough for you, am I not? You have no high ideal? You will be satisfied?'

'I should be hard to please if I were not,' he answered. 'Don't talk so, darling. What does a man want with ideals? What he wants is a woman's heart, herself, her life. And to love perfectly and entirely (as you can love) that is a woman's glory.'

THE END