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Title: A Crooked Path - A Novel
Author: Alexander, Mrs., 1825-1902
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Crooked Path - A Novel" ***

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A CROOKED PATH

_A NOVEL_

BY MRS. ALEXANDER,

_Author of "The Wooing O't," "A Life Interest," Etc._



NEW YORK THE F. M. LUPTON PUBLISHING COMPANY,
NOS. 72-76 WALKER STREET.



A CROOKED PATH.



CHAPTER I.

"GATHERING CLOUDS."


The London season had not yet reached its height, some years ago, before
the arch admitting to Constitution Hill had been swept back to make room
for the huge, ever-increasing stream of traffic, or the plebeian 'bus
had been permitted to penetrate the precincts of Hamilton Place. It was
the forenoon of a splendid day, one of the earliest of June, and at that
hour the roadway between the entrance to Hyde Park and the gate then
surmounted by the statue of the Duke of Wellington on his drooping steed
was comparatively free, when two gentlemen coming from opposite
directions recognized each other, and paused at the gate of Apsley
House--the elder, a stout, florid man of military aspect, middle age,
and average height, with large gray mustache and small, slightly
bloodshot eyes; the younger, who was tall and bony, might have been
thirty, or even forty, so grave and sedate was his bearing, although his
erect carriage, elastic step, and clear keen dark eyes suggested earlier
manhood.

Both had the indescribable well-groomed, freshly bathed look peculiar to
Englishmen of the "upper ten."

"Ha! Errington! I didn't know you were in town. I thought you were
cruising somewhere with Melford, or rusticating at Garston Hall. I think
your father expected you about this time."

"I don't think so. I was summoned by telegraph from Paris. My father was
seized with a paralysis last week. He had just come up to town, and for
a few days was dangerously ill, but is now slowly recovering."

"Very sorry to hear of it. A man of his stamp would have been of immense
value to the country. He had begun to take a very leading part in local
matters. I trust he will come round."

"I fear he will never be the same again. I doubt if he will be able to
direct his own affairs as he used."

"That's bad! You are not in the business, I believe?"

"No; I never took any part in it. I almost regret I did not. It would, I
imagine, be a relief to my father, now that his mind is less clear, to
know that I was at the helm. But we have a capital man as manager, quite
devoted to the house. I shall get my father down to the country as soon
as I can, and I trust he'll come round."

"No doubt he will. He was wonderfully hale and strong for his years."

"Ay! how d'ye do, Bertie?" interrupted the first speaker, holding out
his hand to a young man who came up from Hyde Park and seemed about to
pass with a smile and a nod. "Who would have thought of meeting you in
these godless regions? I hear you are busy 'slumming' from morning till
night."

"Well, Colonel," returned Bertie--a slight, fair, boyish-looking man--"I
am so far false to my new vocation as to have lost some irrevocable
moments looking at the horses and horsewomen in the Row."

"Aha! the old leaven, my dear boy! You are on the brink of
perdition.--Don't you know Bertie Payne?" he continued, to his newly met
friend. "He was one of my subs before he renounced the devil and all his
works. He was with us at Barrackbore when you were in India."

"I do not think we have met," the other was beginning, when a young
lady--toward whom the Colonel had already cast some sharp, admiring
glances as she stood on the curbstone holding a hand of the smaller of
two little boys in smart sailor suits--uttered a cry of dismay. The
elder child had rushed into the road, as if to stop a passing omnibus,
not seeing that a hansom was coming up at speed.

The young man called Bertie dashed forward, and barely succeeded in
snatching the child from under the wheel. A scramble of horses' feet, an
imprecation or two shouted by the irritated driver, a noisy declaration
from the "fare" that he should lose his train, and the scuffle was over.

The little man, held firmly by the shoulder, was marched back to his
young guardian.

"Thank you!--oh, thank you a thousand times! You have saved his life!"
she exclaimed, fervently, in unsteady tones. Then to the child: "How
could you break your promise to stay by me, Cecil? You would have been
killed but for this gentleman!"

"I wanted to catch the 'omlibus' for you, auntie!" he cried, with an
irrepressible sob, though he gallantly tried to hold back his tears.

"Hope the little fellow is none the worse of his fright," said the
Colonel, advancing and raising his hat. "Can I be of any use?--can I
call a cab?"

"No, thank you; I will take an omnibus and get home as soon as I can.
Cecil will soon forget his fright, I fear--"

"Sooner than you will," remarked Bertie. "There is a Royal Oak omnibus.
Will that do?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Come along, then, my young man; I will not let you go."

Bertie put the trio into the vehicle, and the lookers-on saw that he
shook hands with "auntie" as the conductor jumped on his perch and they
rolled on.

"Gad! there's a chance for you!" cried the Colonel as Bertie joined him.
"An uncommon fine girl, by George! What a coloring! and a splendid pair
of black eyes!"

"I suspect extreme fright did a good deal for both, poor girl. Her eyes
are brown, not black."

"Brown! Nonsense! Didn't _you_ think they were black?"

"I did not observe them," returned the grave personage he addressed,
indifferently. "The boy had a narrow escape. I must say good morning,"
he added.

"Stop a bit," cried the Colonel. "I must see you again before you leave
town. Dine with me to-morrow at the Junior. And, Bertie--"

"Thanks, no, I am engaged." He said good-by and walked on.

"Queer fellow that," said the Colonel, looking after him. "He got into
some money troubles in India, left the army, and got converted. Now he
is not exactly a Salvation soldier, but something of the kind. He'll be
at you one of the days for a subscription to convert the crossing
sweepers or some such undertaking. But you'll dine with me to-morrow.
I'll tell you all the Clayshire gossip."

"Thank you, I shall be very happy."

"Then good-by for the present, I am engaged to lunch to meet one of the
prettiest little widows you ever saw in your life, but she has no cash.
Here, hansom," calling to the driver of a cab which was passing slowly.
"I am a little late." He jumped in and drove off.

His friend, with a slight grave smile, continued his walk to the
Alexandria Hotel, the portals of which received him.


Meantime the hero of the cab incident sat very demurely by his young
aunt, as the omnibus rolled slowly up Park Lane, occasionally stealing
inquisitive glances at her face.

"You have been a _very_ naughty boy, Cecil!" she exclaimed as her eyes
met his. "How could I have gone home to mamma if I had been obliged to
leave you behind?"

"But you needn't, you know; you could have tied me up in a bundle and
taken me back. Mamma would have known it wasn't your fault."

"I am not so sure of that, and you have made poor Charlie cry,"--drawing
the younger boy to her side.

"Charlie is just a baby," contemptuously.

"He is a better boy than you are." Silence.

"Auntie, do you think the gentleman who pulled me back was the old
gentleman's son?"

"No, I do not think he was."

"Why don't you, auntie?"

"I can hardly say why."

"I have seen that gentleman--the old gentleman--in Kensington Gardens,"
said little Charlie, nestling up to his aunt. "He spoke to mammy the day
she took me to feed the ducks."

"I think that is only a fancy, dear."

"No; I am quite sure."

"Oh, you are always fancying things; you are a silly," cried Cecil, now
quite recovered, and turning to kneel upon the seat that he might look
out, thereby rubbing his feet on the very best "afternoon" dress of a
severely respectable female, whose rubicund face expressed "drat the
boy!" as strongly as a face could.

The rest of the journey was accomplished after the usual style of such
travels when the aunt and nephews went out together. Cecil was
constantly rebuked and made to sit down, and as constantly resumed his
favorite position; so that he ultimately reached home with beautifully
clean shoes, having wiped "the dust off his feet" effectually on the
garments of his fellow-passengers, while his little brother nestled to
his auntie's side and gazed observantly on his fellow-travellers,
arriving at curious conclusions respecting them, to be afterward set
forth to the amusement of his hearers.

Leaving the omnibus at the Royal Oak, the trio diverged to one of the
streets between that well-known establishment and the Bayswater Road--a
street which had still a few trees and small semi-detached villas, with
front gardens left at one end, the relics of a past when Penrhyn Place
was "quite the country"; while at the other, bricks, mortar,
scaffolding, and a deeply rutted roadway indicated the commencement of
mansions which would soon swallow up their humbler predecessors.

At one of these villas, the garden of which was tolerably neat, the
little boys and their aunt stopped, and were admitted by a smart but not
over-clean girl, who welcomed the children with a cheerful, "Well,
Master Cecil, you are just in nice time for dinner! Come, get your
things off; your gran'ma has a treat for you."

"Has she? Oh, what is it? Do tell, Lottie!"

"Don't mind, dear, if you are tired; your morning-gown will do very
well, as we are alone."

"No, no; I must honor Cecil's birthday with my best dress. These trifles
are important."

"I suppose so," returned her daughter, looking after her gravely, as she
left the room.

Mrs. Liddell was tall, and the lines of her figure considerably
enlarged. Yet she had not quite lost the grace for which she was once
remarkable. Her light brown hair had a pale look from the increasing
admixture of gray, and her blue eyes seemed faded by much use. It was a
kind, thoughtful, worn face from which they looked, yet it could still
smile brightly.

"She looks very, very tired," thought her daughter. "I must make her lie
down if I can; it is so hard to make her rest!" She too looked uneasily
at the mass of writing on the table, and then went away to remove her
out-door attire.

The birthday dinner gave great satisfaction. It was crowned by a
plum-pudding, terrible as such a compound must always be in June; but it
was a favorite "goody" with the young hero of the day. Grandmamma made
herself as agreeable as though she was one of a party of wits, and drank
her grandson's health in a bottle of choice gooseberry, proposing it in
a "neat and appropriate" speech, which gave rise to much uproarious
mirth and delight. At last the feast was over; the children retired to
amuse themselves with a horse and a wheelbarrow--some of the birthday
gifts--in the back garden (a wilderness resigned to their ravages), and
Mrs. Liddell and her daughter were left alone.

"Now, mother, _do_ come and lie down on the sofa in the drawing-room. I
see you are out of sorts. You hardly tasted food, and you are dreadfully
tired; come and rest. I will read you to sleep."

"No, Kate; there can be no rest for me, my darling," returned her
mother, rising, and beginning to put the plates and glasses together
with a nervous movement. "I _am_ out of sorts, for I have had a great
disappointment. _The Family Friend_ has refused my three-volume novel,
and I really have not the heart to try it anywhere else after such
repeated rejections. At the same time Skinner & Palm write to say they
cannot use my short story, 'On the Rack,' for five or six months, as
they have such a quantity of already accepted manuscripts."

"How provoking!" cried Katherine. "But come away; the drawing-room is
cooler; let us go there and talk things over."

Mrs. Liddell accepted the suggestion, and sank into an arm-chair, while
her daughter let down the blinds, and then placed herself on a low
ottoman opposite her.

There was a short silence; then Mrs. Liddell sighed and began: "I
counted so much on that short story for ready money! Skinner always pays
directly he has published. Now I do not know what to do. If I take it
back I may fail to dispose of it, yet I cannot wait. But the novel--that
is the worst disappointment of all. I suppose it was foolish, but I felt
_sure_ about that."

"Of course you did," cried Katherine, eagerly. "It is an excellent
story."

"It is not worse than many Santley brings out," resumed Mrs. Liddell;
"but one is no judge of one's own work. It was with reluctance I offered
it to _The Family Friend_, and you see--" her voice faltered, and she
stopped abruptly.

Katherine knew the tears were in her eyes and swelling her heart. She
restrained the impulse to throw her arms round her; she feared to
agitate her mother; rather she would help her self-control.

"Well, dear, I am no great judge, but I am quite sure that such a story
as yours must succeed sooner or later. So we will be patient."

"Ah! but, Katie, the landlord and the butcher will not wait, and, my
child, I have only about five pounds. I made too sure of success for I
did so well last year. Then Madame de Corset will soon be sending in her
bill for that famous dress of Ada's, and she will want the money she
lent me."

"Then Madame de Corset must wait," said Katherine, firmly. "Ada is
really your debtor. Where could she live at so small a cost as with you?
Where could she be so free to run about without a thought for the
children? What has become of her? Couldn't she stay with Cecil on his
birthday?"

"She is gone to luncheon with the Burnetts. It is as well to keep up
with them; their influence might be useful to the boys hereafter; but I
do wish I could pay her."

"I wish you could, for it would make you happier; but she really owes
you ten pounds and more."

"What shall I do about that novel? If I could get two hundred--even one
hundred--pounds for it, I should do well. I began to hope I might make
both ends meet with my pen. Oh, Katie dear, I am ashamed of myself, but
for the first time in my life I feel beaten. I feel as if I could not
come up to time again. It has been such a long, weary battle!" She
pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.

"I wish _I_ could give you rest, darling mother!" said Katherine, taking
her hand and fondling it. "I fear I have been too useless--too
thoughtless."

"You have done all you could, my child; one cannot expect much from
nineteen. But I wish--I wish I could think of any means of deliverance
from my present difficulty. A small sum would suffice. Where to find it
is the question. I counted too much on those unlucky manuscripts, and
now I do not know where to turn; I see a vista of debt." A sudden fit of
coughing interrupted her.

"You have taken cold, mother," cried Katherine. "I heard you coughing
this morning. I was sure you would suffer for sitting near the open
window in the study last night."

"It was so hot!" murmured Mrs. Liddell, lying back exhausted.

"Yes, but it was also frightfully damp. Tell me, mother, is there
anything we can sell?--anything--"

Mrs. Liddell interrupted her. "Nothing, dear. The few jewels I had
preserved went when I was trying to furnish this house. I fancied we
should do well in a house of our own, and I was so anxious to make a
home for my poor boy's widow!"

"When do you expect any more money?"

"Not for nearly two months, and then another quarter's rent will be
due."

"Mother," said Katherine, after a moment's silence, "would not my
father's brother, of whom I heard you speak, help you? It is dreadful to
ask, but he is so near a kinsman, and childless."

"It is useless to think of it. He and your father quarrelled about
money, and he is implacable. His only child, a son, opposed him, and he
drove him away. Poor fellow! he was killed in Australia."

"Why have hard-hearted wretches heaps of money, while kind, generous
souls like you never have a farthing?"

"That is a mystery of long standing," said Mrs. Liddell, with a faint
smile. "Katie, I cannot think or talk any more. I will go and lie down
in my own room. There neither Ada nor the children can disturb me. Oh,
my darling, how can I ever die in peace if I leave _you_ to do battle
with the bitter, bitter world unprovided for?" Her voice quivered, and
the hand she laid on her daughter's trembled.

"Do not fear for me, mother. I am tougher and more selfish than you are.
It is time I worked for you. How feverish you are! Come up to your own
room. You will see things differently when you have had a little sleep.
If the worst comes, _I_ will tell Ada that we must give up the house and
go back to lodgings. We never had difficulties before we came here."

"No, for we never had debts. Now I have, and I have this house for
nearly three years longer. It is not so easy to shake off engagements as
you would a cloak that had grown too heavy."

So saying, Mrs. Liddell rose and ascended to the room she shared with
her daughter, whom she allowed to take off her dress and put on her
wrapper, to arrange her pillows, to bathe her brow in eau-de-cologne and
water, and soothe her with those loving touches, those tender cares,
that the heart alone can prompt, till in spite of the cloud and thick
darkness that hid her future, Mrs. Liddell was calmed by the delicious
sense of her daughter's love and sympathy.

"I will make a list of editors," said Katherine--"I mean those whom you
have not tried--and go round to them myself. Perhaps I may bring you
luck."

"Yes; your young life is more likely to have fortune on its side: the
fickle jade has forsaken me."

Katherine made no reply beyond a gentle kiss. She sat silently by her
mother's side, till feeling the hand that held hers relax its hold, she
slowly and softly withdrew her own, comforted to perceive that balmy
sleep had stolen upon the weary woman.

Still she sat there thinking with all the force of her young brain,
partly remembering, partly anticipating.

Of her father she had scarce any knowledge. She was but four years old
when he died, and her only brother was nearly fourteen. The eldest and
youngest of Mrs. Liddell's children were the survivors of several.

Katherine's memory of her childish days presented the dim picture of a
quaint foreign town; of blue skies, bright sunshine, and abundant
vegetation; of large rooms and a smiling black-eyed attendant in a
peculiar head-dress; of some one lying back in a large chair, near whom
she must never make a noise. Then came a change; mother always in black,
with a white cap, and often weeping, and of colder winters, snow and
skating--a happy time, for she was always with mother both in lesson and
play time, whilst Fred used to go away early to school. Next, clear and
distinct, was the recollection of her first visit to London, and from
this time she was the companion and confidante of her mother. They were
poor--at least every outlay had to be carefully considered--but Katie
never knew the want of money. Then came the excitement and preparation
attending Fred's departure for India, the mixture of sorrow and
satisfaction with which her mother parted from him, of how bitterly she
had cried herself; for though somewhat tyrannical, Fred had been always
kind and generous.

How well she remembered the day he had left them never to return--how
her mother had clasped her to her heart and exclaimed: "You must be all
in all to me now, Katie. I have done but little for you yet, dear, Fred
needed so much."

A spell of happy, busy life in Germany followed, enlivened by long
letters from the young Indian officer, whose career seemed full of
promise. But when Katherine was a little more than thirteen sorrow fell
upon them. Fred's letters had become irregular; then came a confession
of weakness and debt, crowned by the supreme folly of marriage,
concluding with a prayer for help.

Mrs. Liddell was cruelly disappointed. She had hoped and expected much
from her boy. She believed he was doing so well! She told all to Katie,
who heartily agreed with her that Fred must be helped. Some of their
slender capital was sold out and sent to him, while mother and daughter
cheerfully accepted the loss of many trifling indulgences, drawing the
narrow limits of their expenditure closer still, content and free from
debt, though as time went on Katherine cast many a longing glance at the
world of social enjoyment in which their poverty forbade her to triumph.

Mrs. Liddell had always loved literature, and her husband had been an
accomplished though a reckless and self-indulgent man. She had wandered
a good deal with him, and had seen a great variety of people and places.
It occurred to her to try her pen as a means of adding to her income,
and after some failures she succeeded with one or two of the smaller
weekly periodicals. This induced her to return to London, hoping to do
better in that great centre of work. Here the tidings of her son's death
overwhelmed her. Next came an imploring letter from the young widow, who
had no near relatives, praying to be allowed to live with her and
Katherine--sharing expenses--as the pension to which an officer's widow
and orphans were entitled insured her a small provision.

So Mrs. Liddell again roused herself, and managed to furnish very
scantily the little home where Katherine sat thinking. But the addition
to their income was but meagre compared to the expenses which followed
in the train of Mrs Frederic Liddell and her two "little Indian boys."

All the efforts of the practical mother and daughter did not suffice to
keep within the limits they dreaded to overpass. Mrs. Liddell's pen
became more than ever essential to the maintenance of the household,
while the younger widow considered herself a martyr to the most sordid,
the most unnecessary stinginess.

A tapping at the door and suppressed childish laughter called Katherine
from her thoughts. She rose and opened the door quickly and softly.

"Hush, Cecil! be quiet, Charlie! poor grannie is asleep. Come with me
downstairs; I will read to you if you like."

"Oh yes, do," said Charlie.

"I don't care for reading," cried Cecil. "Can't you play bears?"

"It makes too much noise. I will play it to-morrow if grandmamma is
better. Shall I tell you a story?"

"No," said Cecil; "_I_ will tell _you_ one."

"Very well. I shall be delighted to hear it."

"I would rather have you read, auntie," said the little one.

"Never mind, Charlie; I will read to you after."

"Shall we sit in the garden? We have made it quite clean and tidy."

"No, dear; grannie would hear us there. Come into the dining-room."

Established there, the boys one on each side of her, Katherine listened
to the young story-teller, who began fluently: "There was once two
little boys called Jimmie and Frank. Frank was the biggest; he was very
strong and very courageous; and he learned his lessons very well when he
liked, but he did not always like. The two little boys had an aunt; she
was nice and pleasant sometimes, but more times she was cross and
disagreeable, and she spoiled Jimmie a great deal. One day they went out
to walk a long way, and saw lots of people riding, and Jimmmie grew
tired, and so did Frank, but Frank would not complain, and their aunt
was so unkind that she would not call a hansom; so when they came to a
great street Frank thought he would catch an omnibus, and he ran out
quick--quick. He would have caught it, but his aunt was so silly and
such a coward that she sent a man after him, who nearly dragged him
under the feet of a horse that was coming up, and they would both have
been killed if Frank had not called out to the cabman to stop."

"Oh, Cecil, that is you and I. _What_ a story! Auntie is not unkind, and
you did not call out," cried Charlie.

Katherine could not help laughing at the little monkey's version of the
incident.

"Cecil, Cecil, you must learn to tell the truth--" she was beginning,
when the door was opened, and a small, slight lady in black silk, with a
profusion of delicate gray ribbons, jet trimming, and foamy white tulle
ruching, stood in the doorway. She was very fair, with light eyes, a
soft pink color, and pale golden brown hair--altogether daintily pretty.

"Oh, mammy! mammy! where have you been all my birthday?" cried the elder
boy, rushing to her.

"My own precious darling, do not put your dear dirty little paws on my
dress!" she exclaimed, in alarm. "I was _obliged_ to go, my boy; but I
have brought you a bag of sweets; it is in the hall. Dear me! how stuffy
this room is! Mrs. Burnett's house is _so_ cool and fresh! It looks into
a charming garden at the back; and oh, how delightful it must be to be
rich!" She had advanced into the room as she spoke, and began to untie
and smooth out her bonnet strings.

"It must indeed," returned Katherine, with a deep sigh.

"I will go and put on an old dress; this one is too pretty to spoil, and
the house is _so_ dusty. Do you think it becoming, Katherine?"

"Yes, very"--with an indulgent smile. "You ought always to wear
half-mourning; it suits you admirably."

"I think it does; but I must put it off some day, you know. Cecil dear,
go and ask cook to make me a cup of tea. I will have it up in my room.
Charlie, don't cuddle up against your aunt in that way; it makes her too
hot, and you will grow crooked." Charlie jumped down from his chair and
held up his face.

"There, dear," giving a hasty kiss. "Don't worry."

"Mammy," said Cecil, with much solemnity, "I was nearly killed to-day."

"Nonsense, dear! This is one of your wonderful inventions. What does he
mean, Katherine?"

"He might have been. He darted from me at Hyde Park Corner, intending to
catch an omnibus, and would have been run over if a gentleman had not
snatched him from under the horses' feet."

"My precious boy!" laying her hand on his head, but keeping him at a
distance. "How wrong of you, Katherine, to let his hand go!"

"I did not let it go; I was not holding it," returned Katherine, dryly.

"At Hyde Park Corner?" pursued Mrs. Frederic Liddell, eagerly. "Was the
gentleman soldierly and stout, with gray mustaches?"

"No. He was young and slight and clean-shaved."

"That is curious; for Colonel Ormonde was saying at luncheon to-day that
he had saved, or helped to save, such a pretty little boy from being run
over. I don't exactly remember what he said. I was listening to Mrs. De
Vere Hopkins, and Mrs. Burnett's boy was making a noise. Colonel Ormonde
said he was just like a little fellow he had seen nearly run over that
morning. I am sure Tom Burnett is not half as handsome as my Cecil."

"I should not have been run over if auntie had left me alone."

"Go and get mother's tea, and you, Charlie, fetch her some nice bread
and butter," said Katherine, who, though six or seven years her
sister-in-law's junior, looked at first sight older. "There _was_ an
elderly gentleman such as you describe, talking with the young man who
rescued Cecil, and he was very polite and interested in Cecil, who broke
away from me, though he had promised to stay by my side."

"Promised," repeated Mrs. Frederic, lightly, and carefully dusting her
bonnet with her handkerchief. "What can you expect from a child's
promise? But poor Cecil rarely does right in your eyes."

"Nonsense, Ada!"

"Not at all. I am very observant. But tell me, did Colonel Ormonde take
much notice of Cecil?"

"I do not know. I was too much frightened to see anything but the dear
child himself."

Mrs. Frederic did not reply for a moment; she seemed to be thinking
deeply. "Where did you get those flowers--those you bought on Saturday
for sixpence?"

"Oh! at the little florist's on Queen's Road. It was late in the
evening, you know, or they would not have been so cheap."

"I should like some to-morrow to make the drawing-room look pretty, if
possible, for Colonel Ormonde said he would call. He wishes to see some
of my Otocammed photographs. Heigho! it is a miserable place to receive
any one in."

"Well, you see, it must do."

"Really, Katherine, you are very unsympathetic. If you have a fault,
dear, it is selfishness. You don't mind my saying so?"

"Oh, not at all. I am thankful for the 'if.'"

"Where is your mother?"

"Lying down. She is tired, and has a horrid headache."

"I'm sure I don't wonder at it, toiling from morning till night for
those wretched papers. I was telling Mrs. Burnett to-day that my
mother-in-law was an authoress, but when I mentioned that she wrote for
_The Family Friend_ and _The Cheerful Visitor_, Lady Everton, who writes
in _The Court Journal_ and various grand things of that kind, said they
were quite low publications, and never got higher than the servants'
hall."

"You need not have gone into particulars, Ada. Whether my mother writes
well or ill, the pressure on her is too great to allow of her picking or
choosing; she must catch at the quickest market."

"I'm sure it is a great pity. That is the reason I stay on here, and let
you teach Cis and Charlie, though Colonel Ormonde says the sooner boys
are out of a woman's hands the better."

"If Colonel Ormonde is the old man I saw this morning, he looks more
capable of judging a dinner than what is the best training for youth."

"Old!" screamed the pretty widow. "He is not old; he is only mature. He
is very well off, too. He has a place in the country. And as to
mentioning those papers, I know nothing of such things. _The Nineteenth
Century_, or _Bow Bells_, or _The Family Friend_, they are all the same
to me. Only I am sure such a nice lady-like woman as Mrs. Liddell should
not write for the servants' hall. She must have been so handsome, too!
Fred, poor fellow, was her image. You will never be so good-looking,
Kate."

"No, I don't suppose I shall," returned Katherine, with much equanimity.

"Are there any letters for me?" asked Mrs. Frederic, looking round as
she lifted her bonnet from the table.

"Here are two."

"Ah! this is from Harry Vigors. I suppose he is coming home. And oh!
this is Madame de Corset's bill"--putting down her bonnet and opening
it. "Eleven pounds seventeen and ninepence-half-penny. Why, this is
abominable! She promised it should not be much more than ten pounds.
There is five per cent off for ready money. Oh, I'll pay it immediately.
How much will that be altogether, Kate? Eleven shillings? Well, that is
worth saving. It will buy me two pairs of gloves. Now I'll go and rest.
Tell me when Mrs. Liddell is awake."



CHAPTER II.

BREAKING NEW GROUND.


Katherine took care that her sister-in-law should not have an
opportunity of private conversation with Mrs. Liddell, that evening at
least.

She rolled up and arranged the disordered manuscripts, putting the small
study in order, and locking away the rejected tales. Then she proposed
conducting the young widow to the florist's, as the evening grew cooler,
and made herself agreeable by listening attentively to the little
woman's description of the luncheon party, and her repetition of all the
pretty things said to her by the various gentlemen present, especially
by Colonel Ormonde.

"Of course I do not mind their nonsense, but however my heart may cling
to dear Fred's memory, I must think of my precious boys," was her
conclusion. To which Katherine answered, "Of course," as she would have
answered any proposition, however wild, provided only she could save her
mother from worry, at least for that evening.

Next day was showery and dull. True to her resolution, Katherine put her
mother's lucubrations into their covers, and prepared to start on her
projected round.

"I am not sure I ought to let you go, Katie dear," said Mrs. Liddell,
as her daughter came into the study in her out-door dress. "It is rather
a wild goose chase. Why should you succeed for me when I have failed for
myself? Besides, personal interviews are of no avail. No editor will
take work that does not suit him, however interesting the applicant."

"Nevertheless I will go. I shall bring a new element into the business,
and I _may_ be lucky! Why have you plunged into these horrid accounts?"
pointing to a pile of small books, and a sheaf of backs of letters
scribbled over with calculations. "This is not the way to cheer
yourself."

"My love, it is a change of occupation, at least, to revert to the old
yet ever new problem of life--how to extract thirty shillings from a
sovereign. I am trying to see where we can possibly retrench. What is
Ada doing?"

"She is decking the drawing-room and herself for the reception of
Colonel Ormonde, who is coming to afternoon tea."

"What, already?"

"She is quite excited, I assure you. Is it not soon to think of----"

"Do not judge her harshly. She is a woman not made to live alone. In due
time I shall be glad to see her happily married, for she _will_ marry."

"Tell me, is that irreconcilable uncle of mine really still alive? How
long is it since you heard anything of him?"

"Oh, more than six or seven years. But I am sure he is alive. I should
have heard of his death. I suppose he is still living on in Camden
Town."

"Not a very agreeable quarter," returned Katherine, carelessly.
"Good-by, mother dear! Do not expect me to dinner. I can have something
whenever I come in."

Katherine walked briskly toward town, intending to save some of her
omnibus fare, for she had planned a long and daring expedition--an
undertaking which taxed all her courage. In truth, though she had never
known the ease or luxury of wealth, she had been most tenderly brought
up. Her mother had constantly shielded her from all the roughness of
life, and the deed she contemplated seemed to her mind an almost
desperate effort of independent action.

Through one of the very few sleepless nights she had ever experienced
she had thought out an idea which had flashed through her brain while
Mrs. Liddell was explaining her difficulties, and which she had
carefully kept to herself.

She saw clearly enough the hopelessness of their position; probably with
the intensity of youth she exaggerated it, which was scarcely necessary,
as a small rut is apt to widen into a bottomless pit if it crosses the
path of those who are living up to the utmost verge of a narrow income.
As she reviewed the endless instances of her mother's self-abnegation
which memory supplied--her cheerful industry, her brave struggle to live
like a gentlewoman on a pittance, her tender thought for the welfare and
happiness of her children--she felt she could walk through a burning
fiery furnace if by so doing she could earn ease and repose for her
mother's weary spirit.

"She is looking ill and worn," thought Katherine, "and years older. She
has never been the same since that attack of bronchitis last year. Ada
and the boys are too much for her, though they are dear little fellows;
but they are costly. If Ada would even give us twenty pounds a year more
it would be a great help."

The project Katherine had evolved through the night-watches was to visit
her uncle and ask him, face to face, for help! It is, she argued, harder
to say "no" than to write it; even if she failed she should know her
fate at once, and not have to endure the agony of waiting for a letter.
Nor, were she refused, need her mother ever know now she had humiliated
herself in the dust.

How her young heart sank within her at the thought of being harshly,
contemptuously rejected! It was a positive painful physical sense of
faintness that made her limbs tremble as she pressed on faster than she
was aware. "But I _will_ do it--I will! If I succeed no humiliation will
be too great," she said to herself. "I will speak with all my soul! When
I begin, this horrible feeling that my tongue is dry and speechless will
go away. I must find out where this awful old man is; what is his street
and number. I dared not ask mother. First I will try the publisher; as
the 'servants' hall' publications have rejected it, I shall offer
_Darrell's Doom_ to a first-rate house. Why not try Channing & Wyndham?
They cannot say worse than 'no,' and I shall no doubt see a Directory
there." Thus communing with herself, she took an omnibus down Park Lane
and walked thence to the well-known temple of the Muses in Piccadilly.

Arrived there, a civil clerk took her card--which was her mother's--and
soon returning, asked if she had an appointment. "No, I have not, but
pray ask Mr. Channing or Mr. Wyndham to see me; I will not stay more
than a few minutes." The young man smiled slightly; he was accustomed to
such assurances. Almost as Katherine spoke, a stout "country gentleman"
looking person came into the warehouse, slightly raising his hat as he
passed her. A sudden inspiration prompted her to say, "Pray excuse me,
but are you Mr. Wyndham?"

"I am."

"Then do let me speak to you for five minutes."

"With pleasure," said the great publisher, graciously, and ushered her
into a sort of literary loose box or small enclosure in the remote
back-ground.

"I have ventured to bring you a manuscript," began Katherine, smiling
with all her might, with an abject desire to propitiate the arbiter of
her mother's fate.

"So I see," he returned, ruefully but politely.

"It is a beautiful story, and I thought it ought to be published by a
great house like yours," pursued Katherine.

"Thank you," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. "Pray is it your own?"

"Mine! Oh dear no! It is my mother's. She is not very strong, so _I_
brought it."

There was a slight faltering in her voice that suggested a good deal to
her hearer. "Then you are not Mrs. W. Liddell," glancing at the card,
"but Mrs. Liddell's daughter. Pray put down that heavy parcel. Three
volumes, I suppose?"

"Yes, three volumes, but they are not very long, and the story is most
interesting."

"No doubt. I hope it is not historical?"

"Oh no! quite modern."

"So much the better. Well, Miss Liddell, I will look at the manuscript,
or rather our reader shall, and let you know the result in due course;
but I must warn you that we are rather overdone with three-volume
novels, and there are already a large number of manuscripts awaiting
perusal, so you must not expect our verdict for some little time."

"When you will, but oh! as soon as you can," she urged.

"I will keep your address, and you shall hear at the earliest date we
can manage. Good-morning. Very damp, uncomfortable day."

Katherine felt herself dismissed, and almost forgot her ulterior
intention. "Would you be so very good as to let me look at the
Directory, if you have one?"

"Certainly," said Wyndham, who was slipping the card under the string of
poor Katherine's parcel. "Here, Tompkins, let this young lady see the
Directory. Excuse me--I am a good deal pressed for time;" and with a bow
he went off, the manuscript under his arm.

"Well, it is really in his hands, at all events," thought Katherine,
looking wistfully after it.

A boy with inky hands here placed that thick volume, the Post-Office
Directory, before her, and she proceeded to search confusedly among the
endless pages of names, a little strengthened and cheered by her brief
interview with the publisher. It seemed that she was in a lucky vein:
trouble is always conducive to superstition. When visible hope fails,
poor human hearts turn to the invisible and the improbable.

At last she paused at "John Wilmot Liddell, 27 Legrave Crescent, Camden
Town, N. W." That must be her uncle; they were all Wilmot Liddells. How
to reach his abode was the question.

The inky boy soon gave her the requisite information. "You take a
Waterloo 'bus at Piccadilly Circus; it runs through to Camden Town; that
is, to the beginning of Camden Town," he said. Katherine thanked him,
and again set forth.

It was a long, tedious drive. The omnibus was crammed with warm
passengers and damp umbrellas, but Katherine was too racked with
impatience and fear to heed small discomforts. Would her dreaded
relative order her out of his sight at once? Was her interview with the
publisher a good omen?

At last she reached the end of her journey, and addressing herself to
the tutelary policeman solemnly pacing past the Tavern where the omnibus
paused, she asked to be directed to Legrave Crescent.

It was an old-fashioned row of houses, before them a few sooty trees in
a half-moon of grass, one side railed off from the street and dignified
with gates at either end--gates which were always open.

The place had a still, deserted air, but about the middle stood a cab,
on which a rheumatic driver, assisted by a small boy, was placing a
cumbrous box. As Katherine approached she found that the house before
which it stood bore the number she sought, and on reaching it she found
the door held open by a little smutty girl, the very lowest type of
slavey, with unkempt hair, and a rough holland apron of the grimiest
aspect. On the top step stood a stout woman, fairly well dressed in a
large shawl and a straw bonnet largely decorated with crushed artificial
flowers; a very red, angry face appeared beneath it, with watery eyes
and a coarse, half-open mouth. All this Katherine saw, but hardly
observed, so strongly was her attention attracted to a figure that stood
a few paces within the entrance--a tall, thin old man, bent and leaning
on a stick. He was wrapped in a long dressing-gown of dull dark gray,
evidently much worn; slippers were on his feet, and a black velvet
skull-cap on his head, from under which some thin straggling locks of
white hair escaped. His thin aquiline features and dark sunken eyes were
alight with an expression of malignant fury; one long claw-like hand was
outstretched with a gesture of dismissal, the other grasped the top of
his stick. "Begone, you accursed drunken thief!" he was almost screaming
in a shrill voice. "I would take you to the police, court if there was
anything to be got out of you; but it would only be throwing good money
away after bad. Get you gone to the ditch where you'll die! You
guzzling, muzzling fool, to leave my house without a shilling after all
your pilfering!"

While he uttered these words with frightful vehemence, the woman he
addressed kept up a rapid undercurrent of reply.

"Living with a miserable screwy miser like you would make a saint drink!
Do you think people will serve you for nothing, and not pay themselves
somehow? The likes of you are born to be robbed--and may your last crust
be stole from you, you old skinflint!" With this last defiance, she
turned and threw herself hastily into the cab, which crawled away as if
horse and driver were equally rheumatic.

"Shut the door," said the old man, hoarsely, as if exhausted.

"Please, sir, there's a lady here," said the little slavey. Katherine,
who was as frightened as if she were face to face with a lunatic, had a
terrible conviction that this appalling old man was her uncle. How
should she ever address him? What an unfortunate time to have fallen
upon!

"What do you want?" asked the old man, fiercely, frowning till his
shaggy white eyebrows almost met over his angry black eyes.

"I want to see Mr. John Wilmot Liddell."

"Then you see him! Who are you?"

"Katherine Liddell, your niece."

"My niece!" with inexpressible contempt and disbelief, "Well, niece or
not, you may serve a turn. Can you read?"

"Yes, of course."

"Come, then--come in." He turned and walked with some difficulty to the
door of the front parlor. Half bewildered, Katherine followed
mechanically, and the small servant shut the front door, putting up the
chain with a good deal of noise.

The room to which Katherine was so unceremoniously introduced was of
good size, covered with a carpet of which no pattern and very little
color were left. The furniture was old-fashioned and solid; a
dining-table covered with faded green baize was in the middle, and a
writing-table with several drawers was placed near the fireplace, beside
which stood a high-backed leather arm-chair, old, worn, dirty. A
wretched fire was dying out in the grate, almost choked by the red ashes
of the very cheapest coal.

An odor of dust long undisturbed pervaded the atmosphere, and the dull
damp weather without added to the extreme gloom. Indeed the door of this
apartment might well have borne Dante's inscription over the entrance to
a warmer place.

Mr. Liddell went with feeble rapidity across to where a large newspaper
lay upon the floor, and resting one hand on the writing-table, stooped
painfully to raise it.

"There! read--read the price-list to me. I am blind and helpless, for
that jade has hid my glasses. I know she has. I cannot find them
anywhere, and I _must_ know how Turkish bonds are going. Read to me.
I'll hear what you have to say after." He thrust the paper into her
hand, and sat down in the high-backed chair.

Poor Katherine felt almost dazed. She took a seat at the other side of
the table, and began to look for the mysterious list. The geography of
the mighty _Times_ was unknown to her, and even in her mother's humbler
penny paper the City article was a portion she never glanced at. While
she turned the wide pages, painfully bewildered, the old man "glowered"
at her.

"I don't think you know what you are looking for," he cried,
impatiently.

"I do not indeed! If you will show it to me----"

He snatched it from her, and pointed out the part he wished to hear.
"Read from the beginning," he said.

Katherine obeyed, her courage returning as she found herself thus
strangely installed within the fortress she feared to attack. She
stumbled occasionally, and was sharply set upon her feet, in the matter
of figures, by her eager hearer. At last she came to Turkish six per
cents.

"Eighty-seven to eighty-eight and a quarter."

"Ha!" muttered the old man, "that's an advance! good! nothing to be done
there yet. Now read the railway stocks."

Katherine obeyed. When she came to "Florida and Teche debentures,
sixty-two and a half to sixty-five and three-fourths," she was startled
by a sort of shrill shout. "Ay! _that's_ a rise! Some rigging design
there! I must write--I must. Where, where has that----harridan hid my
glasses? Why, it is almost twelve o'clock! the boy will be here for the
paper immediately. And the post! the post! I must catch the post. Can
you write?"

"Oh yes! Shall I write for you?"

"You shall! you shall! here's paper"--rising and opening an ancient
blotting-book, its covers all scribbled over with tiny figures, the
result of much calculating, he hastily set forth writing materials, his
lean, claw-like, dirty hands trembling with eagerness. "Hear, hear,
write fast."

Katherine, growing a little clearer, and amazed at her own increasing
self-possession, drew off her gloves, and taking the rusty pen offered
her, wrote at his dictation:

"_To Messrs. Rogers & Stokes, Corbett Court, E. C._:

"GENTLEMEN,--Sell all my Florida shares if possible to-day,
even if they decline a quarter.

"I am yours faithfully--"

"Now let me come there!" he exclaimed. "I'll let no one sign my name.
I'll manage that. There? there! Direct an envelope. Oh Lord! I haven't a
stamp--not one! and its ten minutes' walk to the post-office."

"I think--I believe I have a stamp," said Katherine, drawing her slender
purse from her pocket and opening it.

"Have you?" eagerly. "Give it to me. Stick it on! Go! go! There is a
pillar just outside the left-hand gate there; and mind you come back. I
will give you a penny. Ah, yes, you shall have your penny?"

"I hope you will hear me when I return," she said, appealingly, as she
left the room.

"Ay, ay; but go--go now."

When Katherine returned she found the old man, with the half-opened door
in his hand, waiting for her.

"Were you in time?" he asked, eagerly.

"Oh yes, quite. I saw the postman coming across the road to empty the
box as I was dropping the letter in."

"That's well. I will rest a bit now, and you can tell me what you
please. First, what have you come here for?"

It was an appalling question, and nothing but the simple truth occurred
to her as an answer. Indeed, some irresistible power seemed to compel
the reply, spoken very low and distinct, "I came here to beg."

The old man burst into a singularly unpleasant laugh. "Well, I like
candor. Pray what business have you to beg from me?"

"Because I know no one else to turn to--because, you are so near a
kinsman. Let me tell you about my mother." Simply and shortly she gave
the history of their life and struggles, of the coming of her brother's
young widow and orphans, of the disappointment of her mother's literary
expectations, of the present necessity. The quiver in her young voice,
the pathetic earnestness with which she told her story, the deep love
for her mother breathing through the recital, might well have moved a
heart of ordinary coldness, but it seemed to small impression on her
grim uncle.

"You come of a wasteful extravagant lot," he said, faintly, "if you are
what you represent yourself to be--of which there is no proof whatever.
How do I know you are the daughter of Frederic Liddell?"

This was an objection Katherine had never anticipated, and knew not how
to meet. She colored vividly and hesitated; then, struck with the
ghastly pallor of the old man's face, she exclaimed, "You are ill! you
are fainting!" drawing near him as she spoke.

"I am not ill," he gasped. "I am weak from want of food. I have tasted
none since yesterday afternoon."

"Will you not order some?" said Katherine, looking round for a bell.

"There is nothing in the house. That drunken robber I have just driven
out went off to her revels last night and left me without anything; but
while she was away a tradesman came with a bill I thought was paid, and
so I discovered all her iniquity."

"You must have something," cried Katherine, seriously alarmed. "Can I
get you some wine or brandy?" and she rang hastily.

Mr. Liddell drew a bunch of keys from his trousers pocket, and feebly
selecting one, put it in her hand, pointing to the sideboard.

The first cellaret Katherine opened was quite empty, the opposite one
held two empty bottles covered with dust, and another, at the bottom of
which was about a wineglass of brandy. She sought eagerly for and found
a glass, and brought it to the fainting man, pouring out a small
quantity, which he sipped readily enough. "Ah!" he said, "I was nearly
gone. I must eat. I suppose that wretched brat can cook something. Ring
again." Katherine rang, and rang, but in vain.

"May I go down and see what has become of her?"

"If you please," he murmured, more civilly than he had yet spoken.

Katherine, with increasing surprise and interest, descended the dingy
stair and entered a chaotic kitchen.

Such a scene of dirt and confusion she had never beheld. Nothing seemed
fit to touch. The little girl's rough apron lay on the floor in the
midst, and she herself was tying on a big bonnet, while a small bundle
lay on a chair beside her. She started and colored when Katherine stood
in the doorway. "Mr. Liddell has sent me to look for you. He is very
ill. Why did you not answer the bell?"

"Because I was going away to mother," cried the girl, bursting into
tears. "I could not stay here by myself. Mr. Liddell is more like a wild
beast than a man when he is angry, and I have had a night and a day as
would frighten a policemen. I can't stay--I can't indeed, miss."

"But you _must_," said Katherine, impressively. "I am Mr. Liddell's
niece, and at least you must do a few things for me before you go."

"Oh! if you are here, miss, I don't mind. I can't think as how you are
Mr. Liddell's niece."

"I am, and I must not leave him till he is better. What is your name?"

"Susan, ma'am."

"Well, Susan, is there any bread or anything in the larder?"

"Not a blessed scrap, miss, and I _am_ so hungry"--a fresh burst of
tears.

"Don't cry. Do as I bid you, and then you had better ask your mother to
come here. Now get me some fresh water."

"There's only water in the tap; the filterer is broke."

"Well, give me a jugful. And are you too hungry to make up the fire?"

"I'll manage that, 'm; we had a hundred of coal in yesterday morning
before the row."

"Then clear away the ashes and get as clear a fire as you can. I will
get some food."

The desperate, deserted condition of the old man seemed to rob him of
his terrors, and all Katherine's energy was roused to save him from the
ill effects of his own fury. She hastened back to the dining-room. Mr.
Liddell was sitting up, grasping the arms of his chair.

"There is nothing downstairs. Will you allow me to go and buy you some
food? You will be ill unless you eat."

"Can't that child fetch what is needful?" he said, with an effort.

"I am afraid she may not return."

"Then you had better go. I'll open the door to you when you come back."

"I will go at once. But you must give me a little money. I would gladly
pay for the things, but I have only my omnibus fare back."

"How much do you want?" he returned, drawing forth an old worn green
porte-monnaie.

"If you will be satisfied with a chop, two shillings will get all you
want," said Katherine.

"There, then; bring me the change and account," he returned, handing her
the required sum.

Since her mother had become a housekeeper Katherine had done a good deal
of the marketing and household management, and had put her heart into
her work, as was natural to her. She therefore felt quite competent to
make these small purchases.

"You will want a little more wine or something," she ventured to
suggest.

"I have plenty--plenty. Make haste!"

Katherine called the little girl, told her she was going out, and
promised to bring her back some food. Then she sped on her way to some
shops she had noticed on her way, and soon accomplished her errand. This
necessity for action put her right with herself, and gave her the
courage she needed. With a word to the fainting old miser, she descended
to the chaotic kitchen, where she rejoiced the heart of the small slavey
by the sight of the cold beef and bread she had brought for her. Then
she set to work to cook the chops she had purchased. This done, to the
amazement of the little servant, she looked in vain for a cloth to
spread upon the only battered tray she could find. She was obliged to be
content with dusting it and placing the result of her cooking between
two warm plates thereupon. Then she carried the whole up to her starving
relative. Mr. Liddell had fallen into a doze from exhaustion, and looked
quite wolfish when, rousing up, his eyes fell upon the sorely needed
food.

"You have been quick, but it is surely wasteful to cook _two_ chops."

"You will not find them too much, I hope. I am sure you ought to eat
both."

"I do not know, but the meat is good." He fell to and ate with relish.
Katherine asked where she could find some wine for him. He again
produced his keys, selected one, and told her to open a door at the end
of the room, which she fancied led into another. It was a cupboard,
plentifully filled with bottles of various descriptions, from among
which, by her patient's direction, she selected one labelled cognac, and
gave him some in water.

Katherine sat down and watched the old man demolish both chops with
evident enjoyment. Then he paused, drank a little brandy and water, and
drew over the plate containing the butter, and smelled it very
deliberately.

"You have extravagant ways, I am afraid," he said. "This is fresh
butter."

"That piece only cost fourpence-halfpenny," she said, gravely, "and the
little you eat you had better have good."

"Fourpence-halfpenny!" he repeated, and fell into profound meditation,
from which he broke with a sudden return of anger. "What a double-dyed
villain and robber that infernal woman has been! She told me that prices
had risen to such a height that the commonest salt butter was
eighteenpence a pound, that every chop was a shilling, that--that--"
Then breaking off, with an air of the deepest pathos he exclaimed:
"Thirty shillings a week I gave her to keep the house, and she has left
the butcher unpaid for six months. But _I_ will not pay him. He shall
suffer. Why did he trust her? What did you pay for these things?" he
ended, abruptly, in a high key.

Katherine silently handed him the back of a letter on which she had
scribbled down the items.

"What is the use of showing me this, when I cannot read--when I have no
glasses?" he exclaimed, impatiently.

"True. I must try and find them for you. Where did you first miss them?"

"Oh, I don't know. I had them on when I went to see that----woman out
of the house."

Calling Susan to assist in the search, Katherine looked carefully in the
hall, but in vain, when her young assistant gave a cry of joy; she had
almost trodden on them as they lay between a mangy mat and the foot of
the stairs.

The recovery of his precious glasses did more to soothe the ruffled
spirit of the recluse than anything else. He wiped them tenderly, and
looking through them, observed that they were all right. Then he sat in
profound silence, while Susan, under Katherine's directions, cleared up
the hearth, and removed the heap of dust and ashes which had nearly put
out the fire. When she had retired, carrying off the tray, Mr. Liddell
turned his keen eyes on his young visitor, and said:

"You came in the nick of time, and you seem to know what you are about;
but I dare say I should have pulled through without you. Now about your
story. Before anything else I must be assured that you are really
Frederic Liddell's daughter. Not that your being so gives you the
smallest claim upon me."

"I suppose it does not," returned Katherine, sadly. "Still, if you could
help us with a loan at this trying time it might be the saving of our
fortunes, and both my mother and myself would do our best to repay you."

"That's but indifferent security," said the miser with a sardonic grin.

"I feel sure that my mother's novel will succeed. It is a beautiful
story--and you know how some of the best books have been rejected--and
when it is taken they will give her at least a hundred pounds for it!"
cried Katherine, eagerly.

"Good Lord! a hundred pounds for trashy scribblings."

"They are not trash, sir," returned Katherine, with spirit.

"And what sum do you want on this first-class security?" he asked.

"Oh, thirty or forty pounds!" she said, her heart beating with wild
anxiety.

"Thirty pounds! Why, that is a fortune!"

"It would be to us," said Katherine, fighting bravely against a
desperate inclination to cry.

"And all you have to offer in exchange is a mortgage on an unpublished
novel?"

"We have nothing in the world but the furniture," she replied, with a
slight sob.

"Furniture!" repeated Mr. Liddell, sharply. "How much?--how many rooms
have you?"

"A drawing-room and dining-room, my mother's study, and four bedrooms,
besides--"

"Well!" exclaimed Liddell, interrupting her, "you'll have a hundred
pounds' worth in it, and I dare say it cost you two. Now you have shown
you have some knowledge of the value of money, and you have served me
well at this uncomfortable crisis. I'll tell you what I will do; I'll
write to my solicitor to go and see you, at the address you have told
me, to-morrow. He shall find out if you are speaking the truth, and look
at your goods and chattels. If he reports favorably I will do something
for you, on the security of the furniture. You haven't given a bill of
sale to any one else, I suppose?"

"A bill of sale?--I do not know what you mean."

"Ah! perhaps not." He rose and hobbled to his writing-table, where he
began to write. "What's your address?" he asked. Katherine told him.
Presently he finished and turned to her. "Put this in the post. Look at
it. Mr. Newton, my solicitor, will take it with him when he calls,
to-morrow or next day. No!" suddenly. "I will send the girl with it to
the pillar, and you shall stay till she returns. You may or you may not
be honest; but I will never trust any one again."

"As you like," returned Katherine, overjoyed not to be utterly refused.
"And before I go, do let me try and find some one to be with you. It is
dreadful to think of your being alone in this large house with only that
poor little girl! and she is inclined to run away! I think her mother is
coming here; let me stay till she comes."

"I don't want any one," said the old man, fiercely. "I am hale and
strong; the child can do all I want. You got some food for her I see.
The strength of that meat will last till to-morrow. Then you must come
to hear what I decide, and you can do what I want, _if_ you _are_ my
niece!"

"Do--do let me find some one to stay with you! I cannot bear to think of
your being alone." The old man stared at her curiously, and a sort of
mocking smile parted his lips. "May I at least ask Susan if her mother
can come? for I am sure the girl will not stay alone."

"Very well," he said; "but be sure you do not promise her money! She
_may_ come here to keep the child company--not for my sake."

Katherine hastened to question Susan, and found that her mother, a
char-woman, lived near. She despatched the little girl to fetch her,
and, after some parleying, agreed to give her half a crown if she would
remain for the night, determining to pay it herself rather than mention
the subject to the ogre upstairs. Then she put her hat straight and
resumed her gloves. "I must bid you good-morning now," she said. "This
mother of Susan's looks a respectable woman, and will not ask you for
any money. Will you not let me get you some tea and sugar before I go,
and something for--"

"No!" cried the old man. "I have some tea. It is all that----robber
left behind her. I want nothing more. Mind you come back to-morrow. If
you are my brother's daughter (though it is no recommendation!) I'll do
something for you. If you are _not_, I'd--I'd like to give you a piece
of my mind." He laughed a fiendish, spiteful laugh as he said this.

"Then accept my thanks beforehand," said Katherine smiling a little
wearily.

She was very tired. It was an oppressive day, and she had been under a
mental strain of no small severity. Now she was longing to be at home to
tell her mother all her strange adventures, and she had yet to find out
by what route she should return.

Once more she said good-by. Mr. Liddell followed her to the door, with
an air of seeing her safe off the premises, rather than of courtesy, and
Katherine quickly retraced her steps to the place where she had
alighted, hoping to find that universal referee, a policeman, who would
no doubt set her on her homeward way.



CHAPTER III.

THE LAWYER'S VISIT.


While her young sister-in-law was thus seeking fortune in strange
places, Mrs. Fred Liddell was spending a busy and, it must be confessed,
a cheerful morning, preparing for the anticipated visit of Colonel
Ormonde.

It was rather inconsiderate, she thought, of Katherine to go out and
leave all the extra dusting of the drawing-room to her. If she,
Katherine, had remained at home she would have taken the boys, as she
always did, and then Jane, the house and children's maid, would have
been able to help.

If Katherine would only stay out all day she could forgive her--but she
would be sure to come in for dinner, and so appear at afternoon tea,
which by no means suited Mrs. F. Liddell's views.

The Colonel had given so very highly colored a description of the young
lady who was with the little boy so nearly run over on the previous
morning that the pretty widow's jealousy was aroused.

In spite of her flightiness and love of pleasure she had a very keen
sense of her own interest, and perceiving Colonel Ormonde's decided
appreciation, she had made up her mind to marry him.

This, she felt, would be more easily designed than accomplished. Colonel
Ormonde was an old soldier in every sense, and an old bachelor to boot,
with an epicurean taste for good dinners and pretty women. He might
sacrifice something for the first, but the latter were too plentiful and
too come-at-able to be worth great cost. Still, it was generally
believed he was matrimonially inclined, and Mrs. Fred thought she might
have as good a chance as any one else, had she not been hampered with
her two boys.

It would be too dreadful if Ormonde's fancy were caught by Katherine's
bold eyes and big figure. So Mrs. Fred wished that her sister-in-law
might not put in an appearance.

"She is not a bit like other girls," thought the little woman, as she
finally shook the duster out of the open window and set herself to
distribute the flowers she had bought the previous evening to the best
advantage. "She has no dear friends, no acquaintances with whom she
likes to stop and chatter; she never stays out, and I don't think she
ever had the ghost of a lover. When _I_ was her age I had had a dozen,
and I was married. Poor Fred! Heigho! I wish he had left me a little
money, and I am sure I should never dream of giving him a successor. But
for the sake of the dear boys I should never think of marrying! How
cruel it is to be so poor, and to be with such unenterprising people! If
Mrs. Liddell would only venture to make an appearance, and just risk a
little, she might dispose of Kate and of me too. There _are_ men who
might admire Kate, and there they go on screwing and scribbling. I wish
my mother-in-law would write for some big magazine--_Blackwood_ or
_Temple Bar_--or not write at all! That will do, I think. That is the
only strong arm-chair in the house; it will stand nicely beside the
sofa. Oh, have you come in already, children?"--as the two boys peeped
in. "Couldn't Jane have kept you out a little longer! Don't attempt to
come in here!"

"Jane had to come back to lay the cloth. Mamma, where is aunty?"

"She has not come in yet. Why, dear me, it is nearly one o'clock! Go and
get off your boots, my darlings, and ask grandmamma when she expects
aunty."

Mrs. Liddell did not know when Katherine might return, and, moreover,
she was getting uneasy. She did not like to say much about her errand,
for she knew her daughter-in-law thought but indifferently of her
writings, and with an indescribable "crass" dislike of what she could
not do herself, would have been rather pleased than otherwise to know
that a manuscript had been rejected.

In looking over one of the drawers in her writing-table Mrs. Liddell had
found that Katherine had left the shorter story behind. This rendered
her prolonged absence less accountable, for she could have interviewed
several publishers of three-volume novels in the time. The poor lady
naturally feared that they must have refused even to look at her work,
or Katherine would have returned.

When dinner was over, and four o'clock came, Mrs. Liddell's anxiety rose
high; she could not bear her daughter-in-law's presence, and retired
into her own den.

"Won't you stay and see Colonel Ormonde? He used to be quite friendly
with poor Fred in India, and I should like him to see what a nice
handsome mamma-in-law I have," said Mrs. Fred, caressingly: she rather
liked her mother-in-law, and felt it was as well to be on affectionate
terms with her.

"No, my dear; my head is not quite free from pain, and I want to give
Katherine something to eat when she comes in; she will be very hungry.
Then I can see that the children do not get into any mischief in the
garden."

The younger lady then went to pose herself with a dainty piece of
fancy-work in the drawing-room, and the elder to sit at her
writing-table, pen in hand, but not writing; only thinking round and
round the circle of difficulties which hedged her in, and longing for
the sight of her daughter's face.

At last it beamed upon her through the open door-window which led out on
the stairway to the garden; her approach had been seen by her little
nephews, who had admitted her through the back gate.

"You must not come in now, dears; I want to talk to grannie. If you keep
away I will tell you a nice story in the evening."

"My dearest child, what has kept you? I have been uneasy; and how
dreadfully tired you look!"

"I am tired, but that is nothing. I think, dear, I have a little good
news for you."

"Come into the dining-room. I have some dinner for you, and we can talk
quietly. Ada is expecting a visitor."

But Katherine could not eat until she told her adventures. First she
described her interview with Mr. Channing.

"It is something certainly to have left my unfortunate MS. in his hands;
still I dare not hope much from that," said Mrs. Liddell.

"Then, mother dear," resumed Katherine, "I ventured to do something for
which I hope you will not be angry with me--I have found John Liddell! I
have invaded his den; I have spoken to him; I have cooked a chop for
him, as I used for you last winter; and though I have been sent empty
away, I am not without hopes that he will help us out of our
difficulties."

"Katie, dear, what _have_ you done?" cried her mother, aghast. "How did
you manage--how did you dare?" Whereupon Katherine gave her mother a
graphic account of the whole affair.

"It is a wonderful history," said Mrs. Liddell. "I feel half frightened;
yet if Mr. Liddell's solicitor is an honest, respectable man, he will
surely be on our side; at the same time, I am half afraid of falling
into John Liddell's clutches. He has the character of being a relentless
creditor: he will have his pound of flesh! If he gives this money as a
loan, and I fail in paying the interest, he will take me by the throat
as he would the greatest stranger."

"Why should you fail?" cried Katherine. "You only want time to succeed.
I am sure you will sell your books, and then we can pay principal and
interest; besides, old Mr. Liddell could _not_ treat his brother's widow
as he would a stranger."

"I am not so sure."

"And you are not angry with me for going to him?"

"No, dear love; I am proud of your courage. Had I known what you
intended, I should have forbidden you. I should never have allowed you
to run the risk of being insulted: it was too much for you. I wish I
could shield you from all such trials, my Kate; but I cannot--I cannot."
The unwonted tears stood in her kind, faded eyes.

"Ah, mother, _you_ have borne the burden and heat of the day long enough
alone; I must take my share now, and I assure you, after my adventures
to-day, I feel quite equal to do so. I have been too long a heedless
idler; I want to be a real help to you now. Do you think I have done any
good?"

"Yes, certainly! but everything depends on this man who is coming
to-morrow. Your poor father used to know Mr. Liddell's solicitor, and I
think liked him; of course he may have a different one now. Still it is
a gleam of hope; which is doubly sweet because _you_ brought it."

Katherine hastily pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, and choked down
the sob that would swell her throat. She was dreadfully tired,
physically and mentally.

"Ada asked me for that money this morning as soon as you were gone. I
told her I could not return it for a while, and she did not look
pleased, naturally enough."

"I think she is very selfish," said Katherine.

"No, dear, only thoughtless, and younger than her years. She is always
nice with me, and would be with you if you had more patience. You must
remember that no character is stronger than its weakest part, and hers
is--"

"Self," put in Katherine.

"No! love of admiration and pleasure," added her mother.

"Well," returned Katherine, good-humoredly, "they both are very nice."

Here the person under discussion came hastily into the room, in the
crispest of lilac and white muslins, with a black sash and bows, and a
rose at her waist, looking as fresh as if the heaviest atmosphere could
not touch her.

"Oh, you have arrived, Katherine! I wish you would come and see Colonel
Ormonde. He wants so much to speak to you!"

"But I do not want to speak to him. I don't want to see any one."

"Do come, Katie! I assure you you have made quite an impression; come
and deepen it," cried Mrs. Frederic, with a persuasive smile, while she
thought, "She is looking awfully bad and pale, and Katherine without
color is nowhere; her eyes are red too.--Come, like a dear," she
persisted, aloud, "unless you want to go up and beautify."

"No, I certainly do not," said Katherine, rising impatiently. "I will go
with you for a minute or two, but I am too tired to talk."

"Your hair is in utter disorder," remarked her mother.

"It is no matter," returned Katherine, following her sister-in-law out
of the room.

Her dress was by no means becoming. It was of thin black material, the
remains of her last year's mourning; the white frill at her throat was
crushed by the friction of her jacket, and some splashes on the skirt
gave her a travel-stained aspect. But no disorder could hide the fine
warm bronze brown of her abundant hair, nor disguise the shape of her
brows and eyes, though the eyes themselves lost something of their color
from the paleness of her cheeks; nor did her weariness detract from the
charm of her delicate upturned chin.

"Here is my naughty sister-in-law, who has been wandering about all the
morning alone, and making us quite uneasy."

"What! In search of further adventures--eh?" asked Colonel Ormonde,
rising and making an elaborate bow. He spoke in a tone half paternal,
half gallant, in right of which elderly gentlemen sometimes take
liberties.

"I went to do a commission for my mother," said Katherine,
indifferently.

"Ah! if we had a corps of such _commissionnaires_ as you are, we should
spend our lives sending and receiving messages," returned the Colonel,
with a laugh. He spoke in short authoritative sentences, with a loud
harsh voice, and in what might be termed the "big bow-wow" style.

"You must not believe all Colonel Ormonde says," observed the fair
widow, smiling and slightly shaking her head. "He is a very faithless
man."

"By George! Mrs. Liddell, I don't deserve such a character from _you_.
But"--addressing Katherine, who had simply looked at him with quiet,
contemplative eyes--"I hope you have recovered from your fright of
yesterday. I never saw eyes or cheeks express terror so eloquently."

"Yes, I was dreadfully frightened, and very, very grateful to the
gentleman who saved poor Cecil. I hope he was not hurt?"

"Shall I tell him to come and report himself in person?"

"No, thank you."

"Wouldn't you like to thank him again? It might be a pleasant process to
both parties--eh?"

Katherine smiled good-humoredly, while she thought, "What an idiot!"

"Katherine is a very serious young woman," said Mrs. Frederic--"quite
too awfully in earnest; is always striving painfully to do her duty. She
despises frivolities and never dreams of flirtation."

"This is an appalling description," said Ormonde. "Pray is it on
principle you renounce flirtation?"

"For a much better reason," replied Katherine, wearily. "Because I have
no one to flirt with."

"By Jove! there's a state of destitution! Why, it is a blot on society
that you should be left lamenting."

"Yes; is it not melancholy?" replied Katherine, carelessly. "Ada, I am
so tired I am sure you will excuse me if I go away to rest?"

"Before you go," said Ormonde, eagerly, "I have a request to make. A
chum of mine, Sir James Brereton, and myself are going up the river on
Thursday, with some friends of Mrs. Liddell's--a picnic affair. Your
sister-in-law has promised to honor me with her company, and I earnestly
hope _you_ will accompany her. I promise you shall be induced to rescind
your anti-flirtation resolutions."

"Up the river?" repeated Katherine, with a wistful look, and paused. "On
Thursday next? Thank you very much, but I'm engaged--quite particularly
engaged."

"Nonsense, Katie!" cried her sister-in-law. "Where in the world are you
going? You know you never have an engagement anywhere."

"Come, Miss Liddell, do not be cruel. We will have a very jolly day, and
I'll try and persuade your hero of yesterday to meet you."

"I should like to go very much, but I really cannot. I thank you for
thinking of me." She stood up, and, with a slight bow, said,
"Good-morning," leaving the room before the stout Colonel could reach
the door to open it.

"Phew! that was sharp, short, and decisive," said Ormonde.

"Yes, wasn't it? She is quite a character. Leave her to me if you wish
her to go. I will manage it."

"Yes, do. She is something fresh, though she is not so handsome as I
thought. I suspect there is a strong dash of the devil in her."

"I cannot say _I_ have seen much of it," said the young widow, frankly.
She was extremely shrewd in a small way, and had adopted an air of
candid good-nature as best suited to her style and complexion. "Handsome
or not, if you would like to have her at your party, I will try to
persuade her to come."

"Thanks. What a little brick you are!" said Ormonde, admiringly. "No
nonsense with you, or trying to keep a pretty girl out of it. I say,
Mrs. Liddell, it must be an awful life for you, shut up in this stuffy
suburban box?"

"Well, it is not cheerful; but I have no choice, so I just make the best
of it," she returned, with as bright a smile as she could muster. "No
use spoiling one's eyes or one's temper over the inevitable. Then I am
really fond of my mother-in-law, poor soul! She would spoil me if she
had the means; and Katherine--well, she isn't bad."

"By George! if you make your mother-in-law fond of you, you must be an
angel incarnate."

"An angel!" echoed the little lady. "That would never do. No, no; it is
because I am so desperately human I get on with them all."

"Delightfully human, you mean. No house could be dull with you in it.
There's nothing like pluck and good-humor in a woman."

"Well, Heaven knows I want both!"

"I am afraid I must be off," said the Colonel. "I am going to dine with
Eversley, and he has a villa at Rochampton--quite a journey, you know.
Where is the little chap that was nearly run over?"

"Playing in the garden, very happy and very dirty. I dare not have him
in--he always climbs up and hangs about me, for I have my best dress
on!"--the last words in large capitals.

"A deuced becoming dress too; but it's not so fine as what you had on
yesterday."

"No, of Course not; there are degrees of best dress. Yesterday's was my
_very_ best go-to-luncheon dress, and must last me a whole year."

"A year! By Jove! And you always look well dressed! You are a wonderful
woman! Now I must be off. Mrs. Burnett says she will send the carriage
for you on Thursday. We drive down to Twickenham."

"Oh, thank you, Colonel Ormonde! I am sure I am indebted to you for that
lift," said Mrs. Frederic, while she thought, "He might have driven me
down himself."

"_Au revoir_, then. Always hard to tear myself away from such a charming
little witch as you are."

Ormonde kissed her hand and departed.

"Jolly, plucky little woman," he thought, as he walked toward the
Bayswater Road, looking for a hansom. "Just the sort to save a man
trouble, and get full value out of a sovereign." He continued to muse on
the wonderful discovery he had made of a woman perfectly planned,
according to man's ideal--sweet, yielding, tenderly sympathetic, willing
and capable to ward off all annoyances from her master, full of feeling
for _his_ troubles, and not to be moved by her own to sad looks,
unbecoming tears, or downcast spirits--all softness to him, all
bristling sharpness to the rest of the world. "Such a woman would answer
my purpose as well as a woman with money, and she is an uncommonly
tempting morsel. But then those infernal boys! I am not going to provide
for another fellow's brats, and they can't have more than sixty pounds
between them from the fund! No; I must not make an ass of myself, even
for a pretty, clever woman, who has rather a hankering for myself, or I
am much mistaken. That sister-in-law of hers is the making of an
uncommon fine woman. There's a dash of a tragedy queen about her, but it
will be good fun to play her against the widow."

And the widow, as she rang for the house-maid to remove the tea-things,
indulged in a few speculations on her side. "He was evidently
disappointed with Katherine. I am not surprised. She is looking ill, and
she has _such_ ungracious manners! Of course she will come to this
Richmond party when I ask her, and I must ask her. Ormonde is a good
deal smitten with me, but he'll not lose his head. It is an awful thing
to be poor and to have two boys. Oh, how dreadful it is to live in this
horrible dull hole! I wonder if Colonel Ormonde will ever propose for
me! He is very nice and pleasant, but he is awfully selfish. I hate
selfishness. Perhaps if Mrs. Liddell would undertake to keep the little
boys altogether it might make matters easier. Poor children! if I were
only rich I would never wish to part with them; but who can hold out
against poverty?"

The night which followed was sleepless to Mrs. Liddell. How could she
close her eyes when so much depended on the visit she hoped to receive
to-morrow? If this agent of John Liddell's was propitious, she might get
breathing-time and be able to wait till her manuscript brought forth
some fruit; if not--well she dared not think of the reverse. She
listened to the soft, regular breathing of her daughter, who was wrapped
in refreshing slumber, and thanked God for the quick forgetfulness of
youth. It was like a fresh draught of life and hope to think of her
courage and perseverance in finding out and affronting her miserly
uncle. Good must come of it.

Day dawned bright and clear, and the little party met as usual at
breakfast. Neither mother nor daughter had breathed a word of their
hopes or fears to the pretty widow. Breakfast over, they all dispersed
to their usual avocations. Katherine, downstairs, was consulting cook,
and Mrs. Liddell was wearily sorting and tearing up papers, when the
servant came into the study and said, "Please, 'm, there's a gentleman
wanting you.'

"Where have you put him?" asked Mrs. Liddell, glancing at the card
presented to her, on which was printed, "Mr. C. B. Newton, 26 Manchester
Buildings."

"He is by the door, 'm."

"Oh, show him into the dining-room. Where is Mrs. Frederic?"

"Gone out, 'm."

"I will come directly," and Mrs. Liddell hastily locked a drawer and put
a weight on her papers; "Tell Miss Liddell to come to me," she said as
she passed.

A short, thick-set man of more than middle age, slightly bald, with an
upturned nose, quiet, watchful eyes of no particular color, and small
sandy mutton-chop whiskers, was standing near the window when she
entered. He made a quick bow, and stepped nearer "Mrs. Liddell?" he
asked.

"Yes, I am Mrs. Liddell."

"I have called on the part of my client, Mr. John Liddell, of Legrave
Crescent, to make certain inquiries. This note, which I received from
him yesterday afternoon, will explain the object of my visit."

"Pray sit down, Mr. Newton"--taking a chair as she spoke, while she read
the small, crabbed, tremulous characters written on the page presented
to her. The note contained directions to call on Mrs. Liddell and
ascertain if she really was the widow of his late brother; also what
security she could offer for a small loan.

Her color rose faintly as she read.

"You must not regard the plainness of business phraseology," said the
visitor, in dry, precise tones. "My client means no offence."

"Nor do I mean to take any," she replied, handing him back the note.
"Pray how am I to prove my own identity?"

"It would not, I suppose, be very difficult; but, as it happens, _I_ can
be your witness. I quite well remember seeing you with Mr. Liddell, your
late husband, some sixteen or seventeen years ago."

"Indeed! I am surprised that I do not recall you. I generally have a
good memory, but--"

"_I_ am not surprised. I was unhappily the bearer of an unpleasant
message, which excited Mr. Liddell considerably, and your attention was
absorbed by your efforts to calm him."

"I remember," said Mrs. Liddell, coloring deeply. "It was a trying
time."

"We will consider this inquiry answered. As regards the loan"--the door
opening to admit Katherine interrupted him; he rose and bowed formally
when her mother named her; then he resumed his sentence--"as regards
the loan, I must first know the amount it is proposed to borrow, in
order to judge of the security offered."

"I asked my uncle for thirty pounds, but I should be very glad if he
would lend us forty."

"No, Katie; I dare not take so much," interrupted her mother. "Remember,
it must be repaid; and," addressing the lawyer, she added, "the only
security I have to offer is the furniture of this house--furniture of
the simplest, as you will see."

"Have you seen Mr. Liddell?" asked Mr. Newton, a slight expression of
surprise passing over his face.

"My daughter has," said Mrs. Liddell.

"Yes; I ventured to visit him, because"--she hesitated, and then went
on, frankly--"because we wanted this money very much indeed; and I found
him in a sad condition." Katherine went on to describe the scene of
yesterday, dwelling on the desolate position of the old man. "I felt
frightened to leave him alone; he seems weak, and unfit to take care of
himself. I hope, Mr. Newton, you will go to him and induce him to have a
proper servant. I am going, because I promised in any case to go; and I
must give the little servant's mother the half-crown I promised her."

"I have been somewhat uneasy respecting Mr. Liddell. For a considerable
time I had my doubts of his cook housekeeper; but he is a man of strong
will and peculiar views. Then the fear of parting with money increases
with increasing years. I am glad Miss Liddell succeeded in making
herself known to him; he is a peculiar character--very peculiar." He
paused a moment, looking keenly at Katherine, and added: "With a view to
arranging for the loan you require, I must ask to look at your rooms. I
do not suppose I am a judge of such things, but the knowledge of former
transactions, my recollection of our last interview, determines me to
come myself rather than to send an ordinary employee."

"I feel your kind consideration warmly," said Mrs. Liddell. "Follow me,
and you shall see what few household goods I possess."

Gravely and in silence Mr. Newton was conducted to the drawing-room, the
best bedroom, Mrs. Liddell's, and the children's rooms. The examination
was swiftly accomplished. Then the sedate lawyer returned to the
dining-room and began to put on his right-hand glove. "I presume," he
said--"it is a mere, formal question--I presume there is no claim or
lien upon your goods and chattels?"

"None whatever. I want a little temporary help until--" She paused.

"My mother has been successful in writing short stories. Channing &
Wyndham have a three-volume novel of hers now, and I am sure they will
take it; then she can pay Mr. Liddell easily."

The lawyer smiled a queer little withered, half-developed smile. "I
trust your anticipations may be verified," he said. "Now, my dear madam,
I need intrude on you no longer; I shall go on to see Mr. Liddell. But
though I shall certainly represent that he may safely make you this
small advance, it is possible he may refuse; and it is certain he will
ask high interest. However, I shall do my best."

"It will be a great accommodation if he consents. And if he is rich
surely he will not deal as hardly with his brother's widow as with a
stranger."

"Where money is concerned, Mr. Liddell recognizes neither friend nor
foe. He will wish some form of the nature of a bill of sale to be
signed."

"Whatever you both think right," said Mrs. Liddell.

Here some shouts from the garden drew Newton's attention to the window,
through which Cecil and Charlie could be seen endeavoring to put some
noxious insect on the neck of the nurse-maid, who had taken them their
noonday slices of bread and butter. "My grandsons," said Mrs. Liddell,
smiling--"My poor boy's orphans."

"Hum!" said the little man; and he stood a moment in thought.

"I think Miss Liddell said her uncle expressed a wish that she should
return to see him?"

"He made me promise to go back to-day."

"Then by no means disappoint him. He is a very difficult man to manage,
and if your daughter"--to Mrs. Liddell--"could contrive to interest him,
to make him indulge in a few of the comforts necessary to his years and
his position, it would be of the last importance, and ultimately, I
hope, not unprofitable to herself."

"I fear the last is highly improbable; but Katherine will certainly
fulfil her promise."

"I am going to drive over to Legrave Crescent myself: if it would suit
Miss Liddell to accompany me, I shall be most happy to be her escort."

"Thank you; I shall be very glad."

"My brother-in-law will not imagine there is any collusion between you?"
asked Mrs. Liddell, with a smile. "Men of his character are suspicious."

"No; I think I may venture so far, though Mr. Liddell _is_ suspicious."

"Then I must ask you to wait while I put on my hat," said Katherine, and
left the room.

She had changed her dress when her mother followed her. "My love, you
had better take a few shillings, and try and come back soon. Why, Katie,
considering you had to do cooking yesterday, you ought not to have put
on your best frock, dear, for I see little chance of another."

"Oh, mother, I could _not_ go out in my old black cashmere with Mr.
Newton. Why, he is the perfection of neatness."

"Here is Ada, just coming in."

"What a volley of questions she will ask! Now, mother, do _not_ satisfy
her. Tell her my rich uncle has sent his solicitor to interview us, and
that I am going to dine with him. I wish I could have had some dinner
before I went, for I am going to Hungry Hall."

"Courage, darling! If we _can_ get this loan it will be a great relief.
Do not keep him waiting any longer--there are your gloves. Come back as
soon as ever you can."



CHAPTER IV.

"A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS."


"Where in the world is Katherine going, and who is that man?" exclaimed
the younger widow, her light blue eyes wide open in amazement, when
Katherine had passed her with a smiling "Good-by for the present," and
walked down the road beside the precise lawyer.

"She is going-to her uncle, Mr. John Liddell, who expressed a wish to
see her to-day, and that gentleman is Mr. Liddell's solicitor," returned
the elder lady, smiling to think how soon she had been driven in upon
the reserved force of her daughter's suggestion.

"What! that terrible old miser poor Fred used to talk of? Why, he will
take a favorable turn, and leave everything to Katie! Oh, dear Mrs.
Liddell, that will not be fair. _Do_ contrive to let him see Cis and
Charlie. We will declare that Cecil is his very image. Old men like to
be considered like pretty young creatures. I always get on with crabbed
old men. Let _me_ see him too. Katherine must not keep the game all in
her own hands. Let me have a chance."

"I don't fancy Katie has much of a chance herself," returned Mrs.
Liddell, as she followed her daughter-in-law into the dining-room. "It
is an old man's whim, and he will probably never wish to see her again."

"Very likely. You know dear Katherine does not do herself justice; her
manners are so abrupt. You do not mind my saying so?"

"Not in the least." Mrs. Liddell had a fine temper, and also a keen
sense of humor. Though fond of and indulgent to her daughter-in-law, she
saw through her more clearly than Katherine did, as she gave full credit
for the good that was in her, in spite of her little foibles and
greediness. "Katherine is much more abrupt than you are."

"Exactly. She will never be quite up to her dear mother's mark. Few
step-mothers and daughters get on as we do, and I am sure you would look
after poor Fred's boys as if they were your own."

"So would Katherine. Of that you may be sure, my dear."

"Oh yes; she is very fond of them, especially Charlie. I do not think
she is really just to Cecil."

"Real justice is rare," returned Mrs. Liddell, calmly. "There is a note
for you, Ada, on the chimney-piece; it came just after you went out."

"Why, it is from Mrs. Burnett!"--pouncing on it and tearing it open.
"What shall I do?" she almost screamed as she read it. "I am afraid I
shall never get there in time. What o'clock is it?--my watch is never
right. Half-past twelve, and luncheon is at half-past one. Oh, I must
manage it! Read that, dear.--Jane! Jane! bring me some hot water
immediately, and come help me to dress.--What is the cab fare to Park
Terrace? Eighteenpence?--it can't be so much. Just lend me a shilling;
you can take it out of the ten pounds you are to pay me next week." And
she flew out of the room.

"Mrs. Liddell sat down with a sigh, and read the note which caused this
excitement:


"DEAR MRS. LIDDELL,--Do help me in a dilemma! We have a box for
Miss St. Germaine's benefit matinee to-morrow, and Lady Alice Mordaunt
wants to come with Fanny and Bea. You know she is not out yet. Now I am
engaged to go with Florence to Lady McLean's garden party at Twickenham.
So may I _depend_ on you to come and chaperon them? If it were my own
girls only, they could go with Ormonde or any one. But Lady Alice is to
be escorted to our house by that incarnation of propriety, Mr.
Errington; so they must have a chaperon. I therefore depend on you.
Luncheon at 1.30. Do not fail. Ever yours affectionately.
                                                    E. BURNETT."


Mrs. Liddell folded up the epistle and placed it in its envelope; then
she sat musing. How cruel it would be to break this butterfly on the
wheel of bitter circumstance! It would be irrational, she thought, "to
expect the strength that could submit to and endure the inevitable from
_her_. She will at once suffer more and less than my Katie. Small
exterior things will sting Ada and make her miserable. As long as
Katherine's heart is satisfied all else can be borne; but _her_
conditions are more difficult. Heigho! for material ills there is
nothing so intolerable as debt." She rose and went to her room with the
vague intention of doing some of the hundred and one things which needed
doing, one more than another, as was usual in her busy life, but somehow
the uncertainty and anxiety oppressing her heart made her incapable of
continued action; she was always breaking off to think--and the more she
thought, the more uneasy she grew. If she had worked out the thin vein
of invention and observation which gained her her humble literary
success, one source of income was gone--a source on which she had
reckoned too surely. Then she had not anticipated that her
daughter-in-law would be so expensive an inmate. Self-denial was a thing
incomprehensible to her. As long as she took care of her clothes, and
refrained from buying the very expensive garments her soul longed for,
she considered herself most exemplary. As for the smaller savings of
omnibus and cabs not absolutely needful, she rarely thought of such
matters, or, if she did, it made her frightfully cross, and urged her to
many spiteful and contemptuous remarks on girls who have the strength of
a horse, and do not care what horrid places they tramp through: so that
she never was able to lighten the household burdens by a farthing beyond
the very small amount she had originally agreed to contribute toward
them.

Her mother-in-law's meditations were interrupted by the young widow
skurrying in in desperate haste. "Jane has gone for a cab," she
exclaimed; "have you that shilling?"

"Here; you had better have eighteenpence, in case--"

"Oh yes, I had better; and do I look nice?"

"Very nice indeed. I think you are looking so much better than you did
last year--"

"That is because I go out a little; I delight in the theatre. Now I must
be off. There is the cab--oh! a horrid four-wheeler. Good-by, dear."

Mrs. Burnett was the wife of a civilian high up in the Indian service,
and was herself a woman of good family. She had come home in the
previous winter in order to introduce her eldest daughter to society,
and accidentally meeting Mrs. Frederic Liddell, whom she had known in
India, was graciously pleased to patronize her. She had taken a handsome
furnished house near Hyde Park, and kept it freely open during the
season. Admission to such an establishment was a sort of "open sesame"
to heaven for the little widow. She loved, she adored Mrs. Burnett and
her dear charming girls, to say nothing of two half-grown sons, "the
most delightful boys!" She was really fond of them for the time, and it
was this touch of temporary sincerity that gave her the unconscious
power to hold the hearts of Mrs. Burnett and her daughters.

She was quite the pet of the family, and always at their beck and call.
To keep this position she strained every means; she even denied herself
an occasional pair of gloves in order to tip the stately man-servant who
opened the door and opened her umbrella occasionally for her.

She found the whole party assembled in the dining-room, and her entrance
was hailed with acclamations.

"I had just begun to tremble lest you should not come," cried Mrs.
Burnett, stretching out her hand, but not rising from her seat at the
head of the table.

"I only had your note half an hour ago," said Mrs. Liddell, with
pardonable inaccuracy, feeling her spirits rise in the delightful
atmosphere, flower-scented, and stirred by the laughter and joyous
chatter of the "goodlie companie."

A long table set forth with all the paraphernalia of an excellent
luncheon was surrounded by a merry party, the girls in charming summer
toilettes, and as many men as women. Men, too, in the freshest possible
attire, all "on pleasure bent."

"Do you know us all?" asked Mrs. Burnett, looking round. "Yes, I think
all but Lady Alice Mordaunt and Mr. Kirby."

"I have never had the pleasure of meeting Lady Alice Mordaunt
before"--with a graceful little courtesy--"but Mr. Kirby, though _he_
has forgotten me, I remember meeting him at Rumchuddar, when I first
went out to my poor dear papa. Perhaps you remember _him_--Captain
Dunbar, at----?" Thus said Mrs. Liddell, as she glided into her seat
between one of the Burnetts and a tall, big, shapeless-looking man with
red hair, small sharp eyes, a yellow-ochreish complexion, and craggy
temples, who had risen courteously to make room for her.

"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed, turning red--a dull deep red. "I
remember perfectly--that is, I don't remember _you_; I remember your
father. I'm sure I do not know how I could have forgotten you," with a
shy, admiring glance.

"Nor I either," cried Colonel Ormonde, who sat opposite. "Though Mrs.
Liddell does not seem to remember _me_."

"Why, I only saw you yesterday, and I am sure I bowed to you as I came
in." So saying, Mrs. Liddell lifted her head with a sweet caressing
smile to the eldest of the Burnett boys, who himself brought her some
pigeon pie; and from that moment she devoted herself to her new
acquaintance, utterly regardless of the hitherto tenderly cultivated
Colonel.

Kirby, a newly arrived Indian magistrate, was not given to conversation,
but he was assiduous in attending to his fair neighbor's wants, and
seemed to like listening to her lively remarks.

Colonel Ormonde glanced at them from time to time; he was amazed and
indignant that Mrs. Liddell could attend to any one save himself. He was
rather unfortunately placed between Miss Burnett, whose attention was
taken up by Sir Ralph Brereton, a marriageable baronet, who sat on her
other side, and Lady Alice Mordaunt, a timid, colorless, but graceful
girl, still in the school-room, who scarcely spoke at all, and if she
did, always to her right-hand neighbor, a stately-looking man with grave
dark eyes, which saved him from being plain, and a clear colorless brown
complexion. He said very little, but his voice, though rather cold, was
pleasant and refined, conveying the impression that he was accustomed to
be heard with attention. He too was very attentive to Lady Alice, but in
a kind, fatherly way, as if she were a helpless creature under his care.

"I believe we are quite an Indian party," said Mrs. Burnett, looking
down the table. "Of course my children are Indian by inheritance; then
there are Mr. Kirby and Mr. Errington"--nodding to the dark man next
Lady Alice--"and Colonel Ormonde."

"I am not Indian, you know; I was only quartered in India for a few
years," returned Ormonde, contradictiously.

"And I was only a visitor for one season's tiger-shooting," said
Brereton.

"And I do not want to go," cried Tom Burnett; "I want to be an attache."

"Oh yes; you speak so many languages!" said his younger sister.

"I certainly do not consider myself an old Indian," said the man
addressed as Errington, "though I have visited it more than once."

"You an Indian!" cried Ormonde. "Why, you have just started as an
English country gentleman. We are to have Errington for a comrade on the
bench and in the field down in Clayshire. His father has bought Garston
Hall--quite close to Melford, Lady Alice. But I suppose you know all
about it."

"Yes," said Lady Alice, in a tone which might be affirmation or
interrogation. "There are such pretty walks in Garston Woods!"

"Errington was born with a silver spoon in his mouth," returned Ormonde.
"Garston dwarfs Castleford, I can tell you. It was a good deal out of
repair--the Hall I mean?"

"It is. We do not expect to get it into thorough repair till winter.
Then I hope, Mrs. Burnett, you will honor us by a visit," said
Errington.

"With the greatest pleasure," exclaimed the hostess.

"And oh, Mr. Errington, do give a ball!" cried Fanny, the second
daughter.

"I fear that is beyond my powers. I do not think I ever danced in my
life."

"Are you to be of the party on board Lord Melford's yacht?" asked
Ormonde, speaking to Lady Alice.

"Oh no. I am to stay with Aunt Harriet at the Rectory all the summer."

"Ah, that is too bad. You'd like sailing about, I dare say?"

"Oh, yachting must be the most delightful thing in the world," cried
Mrs. Liddell, from her place opposite. "If I were you I should coax my
father to let me go."

"Papa knows best. I am very fond of the Rectory," said Lady Alice,
blushing at being so publicly addressed.

"And _you_ understand the beauty of obedience," said Errington, with
grave approval.

"Now, if you intend to see the whole 'fun of the fair,'" said Mrs.
Burnett, "you had better be going, young people. The carriage is to come
back for us after setting you down at the theatre. Who are going? My
girls, Lady Alice, and Mrs. Liddell? Who is to be their escort? Colonel
Ormonde?"

He glanced across the table. Mrs. Liddell sent no glance in his
direction; she again devoted her attention to Kirby.

"No, thank you. To be intensely amused from two to six is more than I
can stand; besides, I hope to meet you at Lady Maclean's this
afternoon."

"I have an engagement, a business engagement at three," said Errington;
"but I shall be happy to call for these ladies and see them home."

"You need not take that trouble," said Mrs. Burnett. "My son will be in
the theatre later, and take charge of them; but there is still a place
in the box. Will you go, Mr. Kirby?"

"Oh, pray do!" cried Mrs. Liddell. "You will be sure to be amused; a
matinee of this kind is great fun. There is singing and dancing and
acting and recitations of all kinds." She spoke in her liveliest manner
and her sweetest tones.

"You are very good. I have not been in a theatre since I arrived; so if
you really have a place for me, I shall be most happy to accompany you."

"That's settled. Go and put on your hats, my dears," said Mrs. Burnett;
and her daughters, with Lady Alice, left the room.

"Well, Mrs. Liddell, have you persuaded your handsome sister-in-law to
join our party on Thursday?" asked Ormonde.

"I have really had no time to speak much to her. An old uncle of hers,
as rich as a Jew and a perfect miser, sent his lawyer for her this
morning. I suppose he is going to make her his heiress. I hope they will
give a share to my poor little boys. I am going to take them to ask a
blessing from their aged relative, I assure you."

"Oh yes, by George! you try and hold on to him. The little fellows ought
to have the biggest share, of course, as the _nephew's_ children. Why,
it would change your position altogether if your boys had ten or fifteen
thou. between them."

"Or apiece," said Mrs. Liddell, carelessly. She was immensely amused by
the Colonel's tone of deep interest. "You may be very sure I shall do my
best. I know the value of money."

"May I ask where this Mr. Liddell resides?" asked Mr. Errington, joining
them, with a bow to the young widow.

"I really do not know, though he is my uncle-in-law. Pray do you know
him?"

"No; I know of him, but we are not personally acquainted."

"And is he not supposed to be very rich?"

"That I cannot say; but I have an idea that he is well off."

With another bow Errington retreated to say good-morning to his hostess.

"Well, whether your sister-in-law comes or not, I hope we are sure of
your charming self?" said Ormonde.

"Unless I am obliged to parade my boys for their grand-uncle's
inspection, I am sure to honor you."

"Of course everything must give away to _that_. I shall come and inquire
what news soon, if I may?"

"Oh yes; come when you like."

"They are all ready, Mrs. Liddell," remarked her hostess.

Mr. Kirby offered his arm, which was accepted with a smile, and the
little widow sailed away with the sense of riding on the crest of a
wave. The ladies were packed into the carriage, the polite man out of
livery whistled up a hansom for the two gentlemen, and the luncheon
party was over.

It was a weary day to Mrs. Liddell--the dowager Mrs. Liddell, as society
would have called her, only she had no dower. All she had inherited from
her husband was the remnant of his debts, which she had been struggling
for some years to pay off, and the care and maintenance of her boy and
girl, on her own slender funds.

At present the horizon looked very dark, and she almost regretted for
Katherine's sake that she had agreed to make a home for her son's widow
and children. Yet what would have become of them without it?

Partly to rouse herself from her fruitless reflections, partly to
relieve the house-maid, who had been doing some extra scrubbing, Mrs.
Liddell took her little grandsons to Kensington Gardens, and when they
had selected a place to play in she sat down with a book which she had
brought in the vain hope of getting out of herself. But her sight was
soon diverted from the page before her by the visions which came
thronging from the thickly peopled past.

Her life had been a hard continuous fight with difficulty after the
first few years of her wedded existence. She had seen her gay,
pleasure-loving husband change under the iron grasp of untoward
circumstances into a querulous, bitter, disappointed man, rewarding all
her efforts to keep their heads above water by sarcastic complaints of
her narrow stinginess, venting on her the remorseful consciousness,
unacknowledged to himself, that his reverses were the result of his own
reckless extravagance. Perhaps to her true heart the cruelest pain of
all was the gradual dying out, or rather killing out, of the love she
once bore him, the vanishing, one by one, of the illusions she cherished
respecting him, till she saw the man as he really was, weak, unstable,
self-indulgent, incapable of true manliness. Still she was patient with
him to the last; and when she was relieved by friendly death from the
charge of so wilful and ungrateful a burden--though things were easier,
because hers was the sole authority--it was a constant strain to provide
the education necessary for her boy. But that accomplished, she had a
sweet interlude with her daughter in humble peace, and while she did her
best to arm the child for the conflict of life, she avoided weakening
herself by too much thought for her future. This spell of repose was
broken by the necessity for sacrificing some of her small capital to set
her son free from his embarrassments. Then came his death and her
present experiment in house-keeping in order to give his widow and
children a refuge.

For the last four or five years she had made a welcome addition to her
small income by her pen, contributing to the smaller weekly periodicals
stories and sketches; for Mrs. Liddell had seen much with keen,
observant eyes, and had a fair share of humor. This small success had
tempted her to spend several months on a three-volume novel, thereby
depriving herself of present remuneration which shorter, lighter tales
had brought in. She sorely feared this ambitious step was a
mistake--that she had over-estimated her own powers. She feared that she
could never manage to keep up the very humble establishment she had
started. Above all, she feared that her own health and physical force
were failing. It was such an effort to do much that formerly was as
nothing. That attack of bronchitis last spring had tried her severely:
she had never felt quite the same since. And if she were called away,
what would become of Katherine? Never was there a dearer daughter than
her Katie. She knew every turn, every light and shade in her nature--her
faults, her pride and hastiness, her deep, tender heart. A sob rose in
her throat at the idea of Katherine being left alone to engage
single-handed in the struggle for existence. No! She _would_ live!--she
would battle on with poverty and difficulty till Katherine was a few
years older; till she was stronger and better able to stand alone.

"Yet she is strong and brave for nineteen," thought the mother, proudly.
"Perhaps I have kept her too much by my side. I wish I could let her pay
a visit to the Mitchells. They have asked her repeatedly; but we must
not think of it at present."

Here her little grandsons, who had more than once broken in upon her
musings, came running across the grass to inform her they were sure it
was tea-time, as they were very hungry.

"Then we shall go home," said Mrs. Liddell, immediately clearing her
face of its look of gloom, and rising to accompany them, cheered by the
thought that perhaps Katie's dear face might be ready to welcome her.

But neither daughter nor daughter-in-law awaited her, and a couple of
hours went slowly over--slowly and wearily, for she forced herself to
tell the boys a couple of thrilling tales, before they went to bed, to
keep them quiet and cool. Then, with promises that both mamma and auntie
should come and kiss them as soon as they returned, she dismissed the
little fellows.

It was past seven when Katherine at last appeared at the garden gate.

"I am so glad you have come in before Ada," cried Mrs. Liddell,
embracing her. "Are you very tired, dearest?"

"No, not nearly so tired as yesterday; and, mother dear, I think that
strange old man will certainly give us the money."

"Thank God! Tell me all about your day."

"It was all very funny, but not terrible, like yesterday. My uncle seems
determined to make a cook of me. He would not let them buy or prepare
any food for him, except a cup of tea and some toast, until I came. How
that frail old man can exist upon so little nourishment I cannot
imagine; but though I seem to give him satisfaction, he does not express
any. While he and Mr. Newton talked I was sent to look at the condition
of the rooms upstairs. Such a condition of dust and neglect you could
not conceive. Oh, the gloom and misery of the whole house is beyond
description!"

"Did you get anything to eat yourself?" asked Mrs. Liddell.

"Yes; Mr. Newton, who is really kind and friendly under his cool,
precise exterior, sent for some cakes. He staid a good while. I think he
has a good deal of influence on Mr. Liddell. (I can hardly call him
uncle.) He was more polite when Mr. Newton was present. When he was
going away he said, 'I am happy to say I have convinced Mr. Liddell that
you are his niece, and if you and your mother will call upon me at noon
to-morrow, the loan you wish for can be arranged, if you will agree to
certain conditions, which I should like to explain both to you and to
Mrs. Liddell.' He gave me his card. Here it is. He has written 'twelve
to one' on it."

"They must be very hard conditions if we cannot agree to them," said
Mrs. Liddell, taking out her porte-monnaie and putting the card into it.
"This is indeed a Godsend, Katie, dear. I am thankful you had the pluck
to attack the old lion in his den."

"Lion! Hyena rather. Yet I cannot help feeling sorry for him. Think of
passing away without a soul to care whether you live or die--without one
pleasant memory!"

"His memories are anything but pleasant," returned Mrs. Liddell,
gravely. "His wife, of whom I believe he was fond in his own way, left
him when their only child, a son, was about ten years old. This seemed
to turn his blood to gall. He took an unnatural dislike to his poor boy,
and treated him so badly that he ran away to sea. Poor fellow? he used
sometimes to write to your father. Their mutual dislike to John Liddell
was a kind of bond between them. It is an unhappy story, for, as I told
you, he was afterward killed at the gold diggings.

"Very dreadful!" said Katherine, thoughtfully. "What a cruel visiting of
the mother's sin on the unfortunate child!--that horrible bit of the
decalogue! With all his icy cold selfishness Mr. Liddell is a gentleman.
His voice is refined, and except when he was carried away by hi-fury
against his roguish housekeeper he seems to have a certain self-respect.
After Mr. Newton went away I read for a long time all the money articles
in two penny papers, for the _Times_ had been taken away. Then I wrote a
couple of letters, and all my uncle said was: 'So it seems you really
are my niece. Well, I hope you know more of the value of money than
either your father or mother.' I could not let that pass, and said, 'My
father died when I was too young to know him; but no one could manage
money better nor with greater care than my mother.' He stared at me. 'I
am glad to hear it,' he returned, very dryly. He had a note from his
stock-broker in reply to one I wrote for him yesterday. He seemed
greatly pleased with it. He kept chuckling and murmuring, 'Just in time,
just in time!'"

"Perhaps he will fancy you bring him luck."

"I am awfully afraid he will want me to go and read to him every day,
for when I was directing one of the letters he said, as though to
himself, 'If she can read and write for me I need not buy a new pair of
spectacles.' It would be too dreadful to be with that cynical hyena
every day."

"Oh, when he gets a good servant he will not want you."

"I hope not."

"Now come, you must have your supper, dear. I am sure you have earned
it. We will have it quietly together before Ada comes back. I feel so
relieved, I shall be able to eat now."



CHAPTER V.

"INTO THE SHADOWS."


To avoid Mrs. Frederic Liddell's almost screaming curiosity was not
easy, and to appease it Kate assumed an air of frankness, saying that
she believed Mr. Liddell merely wished to test her powers as secretary,
and that she hoped she had not succeeded too well.

"Oh, you lazy thing! You really ought to try and get in with him.
Oughtn't she, Mrs. Liddell?"

"Yes, certainly, if she can; but I fancy it will not be so easy. What
are you going to do to-day, Ada?"

"Oh, nothing"--in a rather discontented tone. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I am obliged to go into town on a matter of business, and I
want to take Katherine."

"Well, I will look after the boys"--condescendingly, as if it were not
her legitimate business. "But I really think you worry too much about
those tiresome publishers. They would think more of you if you troubled
them less. Your mother looks pale and fagged, Katherine."

"Yes, she does indeed," looking anxiously at her.

"I am afraid the publishers would leave me too utterly undisturbed if I
left them alone," returned Mrs. Liddell, smiling, and leaving the
suggestion uncontradicted. This conversation took place at breakfast.

Mother and daughter made the journey cityward very silently, both a good
deal occupied conjecturing what conditions John Liddell could possibly
mean to impose. Perhaps only a very high rate of interest, which would
cost no small effort to spare from their narrow income.

Mr. Newton received his visitors directly their names were sent up to
him. His was an eminent firm; their offices, light, clean, well
furnished, an abode which impressed those who entered with the idea of
fair dealing, and forbade the notion of dark dusty corners moral or
physical.

Katherine's quick eyes took in the aspect of the place: the bookshelves,
where stores of legal learning in calf-bound volumes were ranged: the
various brown tin boxes with names in white paint suggestive of the
title-deeds "of all the land"; the big knee-hole table loaded with
papers; the heavy chairs upholstered in the best leather for the
patients who came to be treated; and Mr. Newton himself, more intensely
cleaned up and starched than ever, in an oaken seat of mediæval form.

He rose and set chairs for Mrs. Liddell and her daughter himself; then
he rustled among his papers, and spoke down a tube.

"Ahem!" he began. "Your brother-in-law, madam, is a man of peculiar
character, but by no means without discrimination. Thank you"--to a
clerk who brought in a long folded paper and laid it beside him,
disappearing quickly. "By no means without discrimination," repeated Mr.
Newton. "Unfortunately the love of money grows on a childless man, and
his terms for the loan you require may not meet your approbation."

"Pray what are they?" asked Mrs. Liddell.

"My client will accept a bill of sale on your furniture as security, but
he will give you a period of eighteen months to repay him, and he will
charge ten per cent.; but if you agree to another condition, which I
will explain, he will be content with five per cent."

"This must be a severe condition," said Mrs. Liddell, with a slight
smile.

"No; it may prove a fortunate condition," said the lawyer, with some
hesitation. "In short, I have persuaded Mr. Liddell to allow me to
choose him a respectable servant at fair wages. The state into which he
has fallen is deplorable. I felt it my duty to remonstrate with him, and
he is not averse to my influence. I therefore pressed upon him the
necessity of having a better class of housekeeper, a person who could
read to him and write for him, and would be above drink and pilfering."

"What did he say to that?" asked Katherine, with a bright, amused look.

"He said, very decidedly: 'I will have that girl you say is my niece to
be my housekeeper and reader. She gave me the best and cheapest dinner I
ever ate; her letter to my stock-broker brought me luck; and I will pay
ready money for everything, so she shall not be able to leave books
unpaid. If she comes I will be content with five per cent, on the loan,
which must do instead of salary; and if she refuses, why, so do I.' An
ungracious speech, Mrs. Liddell, but there is the condition."

"Do you mean my brother-in-law will refuse to help me if my daughter
does not go to manage his house?"

"So he says."

"But did you not say at first that he would take ten per cent, without
this sacrifice?"

"_He_ said so at first; then this plan seemed to strike him, and he was
very firm about it."

"It is an awful place to go to." The words burst from Katherine's lips
before she could stop herself.

"I can hardly agree to such a condition as this," cried Mrs. Liddell.

"And I must urge you not to reject it," said Mr. Newton, impressively,
"for the sake of your daughter and grandsons. I must point out that by
refusing you not only deprive yourself of the temporary aid you
require, but you cut off your daughter from all chance of winning
over her uncle by the influence of her presence. Propinquity, my dear
madam--propinquity sometimes works wonders; and Mr. Liddell has a great
deal in his power. I would not encourage false hopes, but this is a
chance you may never have again--a chance of sharing her uncle's
fortune. If she refuses, he will never see her again."

Silence ensued. The choice was a grave difficulty. Mrs. Liddell looked
at Katherine, and Katherine looked at the carpet.

Suddenly Katherine looked up quickly, and said, in a clear, decided
voice: "I will go. I will undertake the office of secretary and
housekeeper--at least until my mother pays off this loan."

"Katie, my child, how shall you be able to bear it?"

"Miss Liddell has decided wisely and well," said the lawyer. "I
earnestly hope--nay, I believe--she will reap a rich reward for her
self-sacrifice."

"But, Mr. Newton, I cannot consent without some reflection. I too have
some conditions to impose."

"And they are?" put in Newton, uneasily.

"I cannot define them all clearly on the spur of the moment; but I must
have leave to go and see my daughter whenever I choose, and she must
have the right to spend one day in the week at home."

"This might be arranged," said the lawyer, thoughtfully. "Be brave, my
dear madam. Sacrifice something of the present to secure future good."

"Provided we do not pay too high a price for a doubtful benefit. It will
be terrible for a young girl to be the bond-slave of such a man as John
Liddell."

"Well, mother, I am quite willing to undertake the task. Not that I am
going to be a bond-slave, but as soon as you have paid your debt, I
shall consider myself free."

"By that time, my dear young lady, I hope you will have made yourself of
so much importance to your uncle that he will make it worth your while
to stay," exclaimed Newton, who was evidently actuated by a friendly
feeling toward both mother and daughter.

"He must bribe high, then," returned Kate, laughing.

"Then may I inform Mr. Liddell that you accept his proposition? and you
are prepared to begin your duties at once! Remember he considers his
acceptance of five instead of ten per cent, frees him from the necessity
of paying you any salary."

"Surely the laborer is worthy of his hire," said Mrs. Liddell.

"No doubt of it, madam; but the case is a peculiar one."

Some more particulars were discussed and arranged; Mr. Newton begged
Mrs. Liddell to look out for and select a servant, that Katherine might
begin with some prospect of comfort. It was settled that an interview
should be arranged between Mrs. Liddell and her brother-in-law on the
day but one following, at which Mr. Newton was to assist, Finally she
signed a paper, and received six lovely new crisp bank-notes, the magic
touch of which has so marvellously reviving an effect.

Katherine slipped her arm through her mother's and pressed it lovingly
as they walked to the Metropolitan station for their return journey.
"Now, dear, you will have a little peace," she said.

"Dear-bought peace, my darling. I cannot reconcile myself to such a fate
for you."

"Still, the money is a comfort."

"It is indeed. I will pay the rent to-day, and to-morrow I will give Ada
her money. That will be an infinite relief. And still I shall have a few
pounds left. Katie dear, is it not too dreadful, the prospect of eating,
drinking, sleeping, and beginning _di nuovo_ each morning in that gloomy
house? How shall you bear it?"

"You shall see. If I can have a little chat with you every week I shall
be able for a good deal. Then, remember, the book still remains. When
that succeeds we may snap our fingers at rich uncles."

"When that time comes," interrupted her mother, "you will be tied to the
poor old miser by habit and the subtle claims which pity and
comprehension weave round the sympathetic."

"Oh, if I ever grow to like him it will simplify matters very much. I
almost hope I may, but it is not likely. How strange it will be to live
in a different house from you! How dreadfully the boys will tease you
when I am away! Come; suppose we go and see the _Cheerful Visitor_--the
editor, I mean--before we return, and then we can say we _have_ been to
a publisher. I really do not think Ada knows the difference between an
editor and a publisher."

"Very likely; nor would you, probably, if you had not a mother who
scribbles weak fiction."

"It is a great deal better than much that is published and paid for,"
said Katherine, emphatically.

"Ah! Kate, when money has long been scarce you get into a bad habit of
estimating things merely at their market value. However, let us visit
the _Cheerful Visitor_ on our homeward way. Of course we must tell Ada
of the impending change, but we need not explain too much."

The journey back was less silent. Both mother and daughter were
oppressed by the task undertaken by the latter. But Katherine was
successful in concealing the dismay with which she contemplated a
residence with John Liddell. "Whatever happens, I must not seem afraid
of him or _be_ afraid of him," she thought, with instinctive perception.
"I will try to do what is just and right, and leave the rest to
Providence. It must be a great comfort to have faith--to believe that if
you do the right thing you will be directed and assisted by God. What
strength it would give! But I haven't faith. I cannot believe that
natural laws will ever be changed for me, and I _know_ that good,
honest, industrious creatures die of hunger every day. No matter. Do
rightly, come what may, is the motto of every true soul. I don't
suppose I shall melt this old man's stony heart, but I will do my best
for him. His has been a miserable life in spite of his money. There is
so much money cannot buy!"

"How dreadfully late you are!" said Mrs. Frederic, querulously, when
they reached home. "I really could not keep the children waiting for
you, so we have finished dinner; but Maria is keeping the mutton as hot
as she can for you. Dear me! how sick I am of roast mutton! but I
suppose it is cheap"--contemptuously.

"Poor dear! it shall have something nice to-morrow," returned Mrs.
Liddell, with her usual strong good temper.

"I suppose you are too tired, Katherine, to come with me. The band plays
in Kensington Gardens to-day, and I wanted so much to go and hear it."

"I am indeed! Besides, mother has a great deal to tell you when we have
had some dinner."

"Oh, indeed! Has your book been accepted, Mrs. Liddell? or has that
terrible uncle of ours declared Katherine to be his heiress?"

"Have a little patience, and you shall hear everything."

"I am dying of curiosity and impatience. Here, Sarah, _do_ bring up
dinner--Mrs. Liddell is so hungry!"

The announcement that Katherine was invited to live with John Liddell
created a tornado of amazement, envy, anticipation--with an undercurrent
of exultant pride that they were at last recognized by the only rich man
in the family--in the mind of the pretty, impressionable little widow.

"Gracious! What a grand thing for Kate! But she will be moped to death,
and he will starve her. Why, Katherine, when it is known that a
millionaire has adopted you his den will be besieged by your admirers.
You will never be able to stand such a life for long at a time. Suppose
I relieve guard every fortnight? You must let me have my innings too.
Old gentlemen always like me, I am so cheerful. Then I might have the
boys to see him; you know he ought to divide the property between us."

"Of course he ought. I wish he would have us alternately; it would be a
great relief," said Katherine, laughing.

"I fancy he is _im_-mensely rich," continued Ada. "Why, Mr. Errington
evidently knew his name."

"Who is Mr. Errington?" asked Mrs. Liddell, with languid curiosity.

"Did you never hear of the Calcutta Erringtons?" cried Ada, with
infinite superiority. "There are as rich as Jews, and one of the
greatest houses in India. Old Mr. Errington bought a fine place in the
country lately, and this young man--I'm sure I don't know if he _is_
young; he is as grave as a judge and as stiff as a poker--at all events
he is an only son. I met him at the Burnett's yesterday. Well, he seemed
to know Mr. Liddell's name quite well. Colonel Ormonde pricked up his
ears too when I said you had gone to see him. It is a great advantage to
have a rich old bachelor uncle, Katherine, but you must not keep him all
to yourself."


The next few days were agitated and much occupied. Katherine went for
part of each to read and write and market for the old recluse, and he
grew less formidable, but not more likable, as he became more familiar.
He was an extraordinary example of a human being converted into a
money-making and accumulating machine. He was not especially irritable;
indeed his physical powers were weak and dying of every species of
starvation; but his coldness was supernatural. Fortunately for
Katherine, his former housekeeper was greedy and extravagant, so that
his niece's management seemed wise and economical, and she had an
excellent backer-up in Mr. Newton.

The old miser was with difficulty persuaded to see his sister-in-law;
but Mrs. Liddell insisted on an interview, and Mr. Newton himself
supported her through the trying ordeal.

The mother's heart sank within her at she sight of the gloomy, desolate
abode in which her bright daughter was to be immured; but she comforted
herself by reflecting that it need not be for long.

Mr. Liddell did not rise from the easy-chair in which he sat crouched
together, his thin gray locks escaping as usual from under the
skull-cap, his long lean brown hands grasping the arms of his chair,
when Mrs. Liddell came in; neither did he hold out his hand. He looked
at her fixedly with his glittering dark eyes.

"You wanted to see me?" he said. "Why?"

"Because I thought it right to see and speak with you before committing
my only child to your keeping."

"But you have done it!--She has agreed to the conditions, has'nt she?"
turning to Newton. "If you go back, I must have my money back."

"Of course, my dear sir--of course," soothingly.

"I am glad that Katherine can be of use to you. I do not wish to retract
anything I have agreed to, but I wish to remind you that my child is
young; that you must let her go in and out, and have opportunities for
air and exercise."

"She may do as she likes; she can do anything. So long as she reads to
me, and buys my food without wasting my money, _I_ don't want her
company. She seems to know something of the value of money, and I'll
keep her in pledge till you have paid me. I'll never let myself be
cheated again, as I was by your worthless husband."

"Let the dead rest," said Mrs. Liddell, sadly. "I have paid you what I
could."

"Ay, the principal--the bare principal. What is that? Do men lend for
the love of lending?" he returned, viciously.

"Pray do not vex yourself. It is useless to look back--annoying and
useless," said the lawyer, with decision.

"Useless indeed! What more have you to say?"

"I should like to see the room my daughter is to occupy. It is as well
she should have the comforts necessary to health, for all our sakes.
_You_ will not find one who will serve you as Katherine can, even for a
high price. I think you feel this yourself," said Mrs. Liddell,
steadily.

"You may go where you like, but do not trouble me. You can come and see
your daughter, but _I_ shall not want to see you; and she may go and see
you of a Sunday, when there are no newspapers to be read; but, mark you
I will not pay for carriages or horses or omnibuses; and mark also that
I have made my will, and I'll not alter it in any one's favor. Your
daughter will have her food and lodging and my countenance and
protection."

"She has done without these for nineteen years," said Mrs. Liddell, with
a slight smile. "But you have given me very opportune help, for which I
am grateful; so I have accepted your terms. Kate shall stay with you
till I have paid you principal and interest, and then _I_ warn you I
shall reclaim my hostage."

"She'll be a good while with me," he said, with a sneer. "None of
you--you, your husband, or your son--ever had thirty pounds to spare in
your lives."

"Time will show," returned Mrs. Liddell, with admirable steadiness and
temper. "Now I will bid you good-day, and take advantage of your
permission to look over your house."

"Let me show you the way," said Newton. "I shall return to you
presently, Mr. Liddell."

The old man bent his head. "See that the girl comes to-morrow," he said,
and leaned back wearily in his chair.

The friendly lawyer led the way upstairs, and showed Mrs. Liddell a
large room, half bed, half sitting, with plenty of heavy old-fashioned
furniture. "This was, I think, the drawing-room," said Mr. Newton; "and
having extracted permission from my very peculiar client to have the
house cleaned, so far as it could be done, which it sorely needed, the
person I employed selected the best of the furniture for this room. We
propose to give the next room at the back to the servant. You have, I
believe, found one?"

"Yes, a respectable elderly woman, of whom I have had an excellent
character."

After Mrs. Liddell had visited the rooms upstairs--mere dismantled
receptacles of rubbish--and they returned to what was to be Katherine's
abode, she sat down on the ponderous sofa, and in spite of her efforts
to control herself the tears would well up and roll over.

"I feel quite ashamed of myself," said she, in a broken voice; "but when
I think of my Katie, here alone, with that cruel old man, it is too much
for my strength. She has been so tenderly reared, her life, though quiet
and humble, has been so cared for, so tranquil, that I shrink from the
idea of her banishment here."

"It is not unnatural, my dear madam, but indeed the trial is worth
enduring. Do not believe that the will of which Mr. Liddell speaks is
irrevocable. He has made two or three to my certain knowledge, and it
would be foolish to cut your daughter off from, any chance of sharing
his fortune, which is considerable, I assure you, merely to avoid a
little present annoyance."

"It would indeed. Do not think me very weak. It is a passing fit of the
dolefuls. I have had much anxiety of late, and for the moment I have a
painful feeling that I have sold myself and my dear daughter into the
hands of a relentless creditor; that I shall never free my neck from his
yoke. I shall probably feel differently to-morrow."

"I dare say you will. You are a lady of much imagination; a writer, your
daughter tells me. Such an occupation should be an outlet for all
imaginative terrors or anticipations, and leave your mind, your
judgment, clear and free. I am sure Miss Liddell will do her uncle and
herself good by her residence here. Mr. Liddell has been a source of
anxiety to me and to my partners. We have, you know, been his legal
advisers for years, and to know that he is in good hands will be a great
relief. Rely on my--on our doing our best to assist your daughter in
every way."

Mrs. Liddell, perceiving the friendly spirit which actuated the precise
lawyer, thanked him warmly, and after a little further discussion of
details, took her way home.

From the step she had voluntarily taken there was no retreat, nor, to do
her justice, was Katherine Liddell in the least disposed to turn back,
having once put her hand to the plough. Indeed the blessed
castle-building powers of youth disposed her to rear airy edifices as
regarded the future, which lightened the present gloom. Suppose John
Liddell were to soften toward her, and make her a handsome present
occasionally, or forgive this debt to her mother? What a delightful
reward this would be for her temporary servitude! But though Katherine
really amused herself with such fancies, they never crystallized into
hope. Hope still played round her mother's chance of success with the
publishers. Not that she fancied her dear mother a genius; on the
contrary, because she _was_ her mother, she probably undervalued her
work; but she knew that hundreds of stories printed and paid for lacked
the common-sense and humor of Mrs. Liddell's.

How ardently she longed to give her mother something of a rest after the
burden and heat of the day, which she had borne so well and so long--a
spell of peaceful twilight before the gray shadows of everlasting
darkness closed, or the brightness of eternal light broke upon her! Yes,
she would stand four-square against the steely terrors of John Liddell's
cold egotism and penuriousness, against the desolation and gloom of his
forbidding abode, the crushing sordidness of an existence reduced to the
merest straws of sustenance, provided she could lighten her mother's
load--perhaps secure her future ease; and she would do her task well,
thoroughly, keeping a steady heart and a bright face. Then, should the
tide ever turn, what deep draughts of pleasure she would drink!
Katherine was not socially ambitious; finery and grandeur as such did
not attract her; but real joys, beauty and gayety, the company of
pleasant people, _i.e._ people who suited _her_, graceful surroundings,
becoming clothes, and plenty of them, all were dear and delightful to
her.

Some of these things she had tasted when she lived with her mother in
the German and Italian towns where she had been chiefly educated; the
rest she was satisfied to imagine. Above all, she loved to charm those
with whom she associated--loved it in a half-unconscious way. Were it to
a poor blind beggar woman, or a little crossing sweeper, she would speak
as gently and modulate her voice as carefully as to the most brilliant
partner or the greatest lady. This might be tenderness of nature, or the
profound instinct to win liking and admiration. As yet it was quite
instinctive; but if hurt or offended she could feel resentment very
vividly, and was by no means too ready to forgive.

Unfortunately she started with a strong prejudice against her uncle, and
sometimes rehearsed in her own mind exceedingly fine speeches which she
would have liked to address to her miserly relative on the subject of
his cruelty to his son, his avarice, his egotism.

Still a strain of pity ran through her meditations. Was life worth
living, spent as his was? How far had his nature been warped by his
wife's desertion?

It was an extraordinary experience to Katherine, this packing up of her
belongings to quit her home. She took as little as she could help, to
keep up the idea that she was entering on a very temporary engagement;
besides, as she meant to adhere rigidly to her right of a weekly visit
to her mother, she could always get what she wanted.

After Mrs. Liddell, Katherine found it hardest to part with the boys,
specially little Charlie, whose guardian and champion she had
constituted herself. Her sister-in-law had rather an irritating effect
upon her, of which she was a little ashamed, and whenever she had spoken
sharply, which she did occasionally, she was ready to atone for it by
doing some extra service, so that, on the whole, the pretty little widow
got a good deal more out of her sister than out of her mother-in-law.

But meditations, resolutions, regrets, and preparations notwithstanding,
the day of Katherine's departure arrived. It was a bright, glowing
afternoon, and the Thursday fixed for the boating party. Mrs. Liddell
junior had expended much eloquence to no purpose, as she well knew it
would be, in trying to persuade her sister-in-law to postpone the
commencement of what the little widow was pleased to call her "penal
servitude," and accompany her to Twickenham.

She departed, however, without her, looking her very best, and uttering
many promises to come and see Katie soon, to try her powers of pleasing
on that dreadful old uncle of ours, to bring the dear boys, and see if
they would not cut out their aunty, etc.

Mrs. Liddell and her daughter were most thankful to have the last few
hours together, and yet they said little, and that chiefly respecting
past days which they had enjoyed together--little excursions on the Elbe
or in the neighborhood of Florence; a couple of months once passed at
Siena, which was a mental epoch to Katherine, who was then about
fifteen; promises to write; and tender queries on the mother's side if
she had remembered this or that.

The little boys clung to her, Charlie in tears, Cecil very solemn. Both
had taken up the sort of camera-obscura image of their elders' views
which children contrive to obtain so mysteriously without hearing
anything distinct concerning them, and both considered "Uncle John" a
sort of modern ogre, only restrained by the policeman outside from
making a daily meal of the nearest infant school, and sure to gobble up
aunty some day. Charlie trembled at the thought; Cecil pondered
profoundly how, by the judicious arrangement of a trap-door in the
middle of his room, he might carry out the original idea of Jack the
Giant-Killer.

"Pray don't think of coming with me, mother," said Katherine, seeing
Mrs. Liddell take out her bonnet. "I could not bear to think of your
lonely drive back. Trust me to myself. I am not going to be either
frightened or cast down, and I will write to-morrow."

"Then I must let you go, darling! On Sunday next, Katie, we shall see
you."

A long, fond embrace, and Mrs. Liddell was indeed alone.



CHAPTER VI.

"SHIFTING SCENES."


Parting is often worst to those who stay behind. Imagination paints the
trials and difficulties of the one who has put out to sea as far worse
than the reality, while variety and action brace the spirit of him who
goes forth.

Katherine's reception, however, was paralyzing enough.

Nothing was in her favor save the mellow brightness of the fine warm
evening, though from its south-east aspect the parlor at Legrave
Crescent was already in shadow. There, in his usual seat beside the
fire--for, though a miser, John Liddell had a fire summer and
winter--sat the old man watching the embers, in himself a living
refrigerator.

"You are late!" was his greeting, in a low, cold voice. "I have been
expecting you. The woman Newton found for me has been up and down with a
dozen questions I cannot answer. I must be saved from this; I will not
be disturbed. Go and see what she wants; then, if there is more food to
be cooked, come to me for money. Mark! no more bills. I will give you
what cash you want each day, so long as you do not ask too much."

"Very well. Your fire wants making up, uncle." She brought out this last
word with an effort. "I suppose I _am_ to call you uncle?"

"Call me what you choose," was the ungracious reply.

In the hall she found the new servant, whom she had already seen,
waiting her orders. She was a stout, good-humored woman of a certain
age, with vast experience, gathered in many services, and partly tempted
to her present engagement by the hope that in so small a household her
labor would be light.

"Will you come up, miss, and see if your room is as you like it?" was
her first address. "I'm sure I _am_ glad you have come! I've been
groping in the dark, in a manner of speaking, since I came yesterday;
and Mr. Liddell, he's not to be spoke to. Believe me, miss, if it wasn't
that I promised your mar, and saw you was a nice young lady yourself,
wild horses wouldn't keep me in such a lonesome barrack of a place!"

"I hope you will not desert us, Mrs. Knapp," returned Katherine,
cheerfully. "If you and I do our best, I hope the place will not be so
bad."

"Well, it didn't ought to," returned Mrs. Knapp. "There's lots of good
furniture everywhere but in the kitchen, and that's just for all the
world like a marine store!"

"Is it?" exclaimed Katherine, greatly puzzled by the metaphor. "At all
events you have made my room nice and tidy." This conversation,
commenced on the staircase, was continued in Katherine's apartment.

"It ain't bad, miss; there's plenty of room for your clothes in that big
wardrobe, and there's a chest of drawers; but Lord, 'm, they smell that
musty, I've stood them open all last night and this morning, but they
ain't much the better. I didn't like to ask for the key of the bookcase,
but I can see through the glass the books are just coated with dust,"
said Mrs. Knapp.

"We must manage all that by-and-by," said Katherine. "Have you anything
in the house? I suppose my uncle will want some dinner."

"I gave him a filleted sole with white sauce, and a custard pudding, at
two o'clock, and he said he wanted nothing more. I had no end of trouble
in getting half a crown out of him, and he had the change. If the
gentleman as I saw with your mar, miss, hadn't given me five shillings,
I don't know where I should be."

"I will ask my uncle what he would like for dinner or supper, and come
to you in the kitchen afterward."

Such was Katherine's inauguration.

She soon found ample occupation. Not a day passed without a battle over
pennies and half-pennies. Liddell gave her each morning a small sum
wherewith to go to market; he expected her to return straight to him and
account rigidly for every farthing she had laid out, to enter all in a
book which he kept, and to give him the exact change. These early
expeditions into the fresh air among the busy, friendly shopkeepers soon
came to be the best bit of Katherine's day, and most useful in keeping
up the healthy tone of her mind. Then came a spell of reading from the
_Times_ and other papers. Every word connected with the funds and money
matters generally, even such morsels of politics as effected the pulse
of finance, was eagerly listened to; of other topics Mr. Liddell did not
care to hear. A few letters to solicitor or stock-broker, some entries
in a general account-book, and the forenoon was gone. Friends,
interests, regard for life in any of its various aspects, all were
nonexistent for Liddell. Money was his only thought, his sole
aspiration--to accumulate, for no object. This miserliness had grown
upon him since he had lost both wife and son. Fortunately for Katherine,
his ideas of expenditure had been fixed by the comparatively liberal
standard of his late cook. When, therefore, he found he had greater
comfort at slightly less cost he was satisfied.

But his satisfaction did not prompt him to express it. His nearest
approach to approval was not finding fault.

In vain Katherine endeavored to interest him in some of the subjects
treated of in the papers. He was deaf to every topic that did not bear
on his self-interest.

"There is a curious account here of the state of labor in Manchester and
Birmingham; shall I read it to you?" asked Katherine, one morning, after
she had toiled through the share list and city article. She had been
about a fortnight installed in her uncle's house.

"No!" he returned; "what is labor to me? We have each our own work to
do."

"But is there nothing else you would care to hear, uncle?" She had grown
more accustomed to him, and he to her; in spite of herself, she was
anxious to cheer his dull days--to awaken something of human feeling in
the old automaton.

"Nothing! Why should I care for what does not concern me? You only care
for what touches yourself; but because you are young, and your blood
runs quick, many things touch you."

"Did you ever care for anything except--except--" Katherine pulled
herself up. The words "your money" were on her lips.

"I cannot remember, and I do not wish to look back. I suppose, now, you
would like to be driving about in a fine carriage, with a bonnet and
feathers on your head. I suppose you are wishing me dead, and yourself
free to run away from your daily tasks in this quiet house, to listen to
the lying tongue of some soft-spoken scoundrel, as foolish women will;
but the longer I live the better for _you_, till your mother's debt is
paid, or my executors will give her a short shrift and scant time."

"I don't want you to die, Uncle Liddell," said Katherine, with simple
sincerity, "but I wish there was anything I could do to interest you or
amuse you. I am sorry to see you so dull. Why, you are obliged to sleep
all the afternoon!"

"Amuse _me_?" he returned, with infinite scorn. "You need not trouble
yourself. I have thoughts which occupy me of which you have no idea, and
then I pass from thoughts to dreams--grand dreams!"--he paused for a
moment. "Where is that pile of papers that lay on the chair there?" he
resumed, sharply.

"I have taken them away upstairs; when I have collected some more I am
going to sell them. My mother always sells her waste paper--one may as
well have a few pence for them."

"Did you mother say so?" with some animation--then another pause. "Are
you going to see her on Sunday?"

"Not next Sunday," returned Katherine, quite pleased to draw him into
conversation. "You know we must let Mrs. Knapp go out every alternate
Sunday, and you cannot be left alone."

"Why not? Am I an imbecile? Am I dying? I can tell you I have years of
life before me yet."

"I dare say; still, it is my duty to stay here in case you want
anything. But I shall go home on Saturday afternoon instead, if you have
no objection."

"You would not heed my objections if I had any. You are self-willed, you
are resolute. I see things when I care to look. There, I am very tired!
You will find some newspapers in my room; you can add them to the
others. How soon will dinner be ready?" Katherine felt herself
dismissed.

The afternoons were much at her own disposal; and as she found a number
of old books, some of which greatly interested her, she managed to
accomplish a good deal of reading, and even did a little dreaming.
Still, though time seemed to go so slowly, the weeks, on looking back,
had flown fast.

The monotony was terrible; but a break was at hand which was not quite
unexpected.

The day following the above conversation, Katherine had retired as usual
after dinner to write to a German friend with whom she kept up a
desultory correspondence; the day was warm, and her door being open, the
unwonted sound of the front door-bell startled her.

"Who could it possibly be?" asked Katherine of herself. The next minute
a familiar voice struck her ear, and she quickly descended to the front
parlor.

There an appalling sight met her eyes. In the centre of the room, her
back to the door, stood Mrs. Fred Liddell, a little boy in either
hand--all three most carefully attired in their best garments, and
making quite a pretty group.

Facing them, Mr. Liddell sat upright in his chair, his lean, claw-like
hands grasping the arms, his eyes full of fierce astonishment.

"You see, my dear sir, as you have never invited me, I have ventured to
come unasked to make your acquaintance, and to introduce my dear boys to
you; for it is possible you have sent me a message by Katherine which
she has forgotten to deliver; so I thought--" Thus far the pretty little
widow had proceeded when the children, catching sight of their auntie,
sprang upon her with a cry of delight.

"Who--who is this?" asked Mr. Liddell, compressing his thin lips and
hissing out the words.

"My brother's widow, Mrs. Fred Liddell," returned Katherine, who was
kissing and fondling her nephews.

"Did you invite her to come here?"

"No, uncle."

"Then explain to her that I do not receive visitors, especially
relations, who have no claims upon me, and--and I particularly object to
children."

"I shall take my sister-in-law to my room for a little rest," returned
Katherine, wounded by his manner, though greatly vexed with Ada for
coming.

"Ay, do, anywhere you like."

But Mrs. Fred made a gallant attempt to stand her ground.

"My dear sir, you must not be so unkind as to turn me out, when I have
taken the trouble to come all this way on purpose to make your
acquaintance. Let Katherine take away the children by all means--some
people _are_ worried with children--but let _me_ stay and have a little
talk with you."

Mr. Liddell's only reply was to rise up. Gaunt, bent, his gray locks
quivering with annoyance, and leaning on his stick, he slowly walked to
the door, his eyes fixed with a cold glare on the intruder. At the door
he turned, and addressing Katherine, said, "Let me know when she is
gone;" then he disappeared into the hall.

Little Charlie burst into tears. Cecil cried out, "You are a nasty,
cross old man"; while Mrs. Fred grew very red, and exclaimed: "I never
saw such a bear in all my life! Why, a crossing-sweeper would have
better manners! I am astonished at you, Katie. How can you live with
such a creature? But _some_ people would do anything for money."

"I am dreadfully sorry," said Katherine; "do come up to my room. If you
had only told me you were coming I should have advised you against it.
You must rest a while in my room."

"I really do not think I will sit down in this house after the way in
which I have been treated," said the irate widow, while she followed her
sister-in-law upstairs.

"Oh yes, do, mammy; I want to see the house," implored Cecil.

"Why did you not tell me what a dreadful man he is, Katherine, and I
should not have put myself in the way of being insulted?"

"I think I told you enough to keep you away, Ada. What put it into your
head to come?"

"I scarcely know. I always intended it, and Colonel Ormonde said it was
my duty to let him, Mr. Liddell, see the boys. I really did not want to
come."

"I wish Colonel Ormonde would mind his own affairs," cried Katherine. "I
fancy he only talks for talking's sake."

"That is all you know," indignantly; "he is a very clever man of the
world, and I am fortunate in having such a friend to interest himself in
me."

"Oh, well, perhaps so. At all events, I am very glad to see the bays,
and--you too, Ada. Charlie is very pale. Come here, Charlie."

"Oh, auntie, is this your own, own room? Does the cross old man ever
come here? Are all those books yours--and the funny little table with
the crooked legs? Who is the man in a wig?" cried Cecil. "Mightn't we
stay with you? we would be so quiet? Mother says we are _dreffully_
troublesome since you went away. We could both sleep with you in that
great big bed! The cross old gentleman would never know. It would be
such fun! Do, do, let us stay, auntie!"

"But I am afraid of the old gentleman," whispered the younger boy. "Does
he ever hurt you, auntie dear? I wish you would come home."

"Charlie is such a coward," said Cecil, with contempt.

"Don't talk nonsense, children," exclaimed their mother, peremptorily.
"I should die of fright if I thought you were left behind with that
ogre. _I_ wouldn't sacrifice my children for the sake of filthy lucre."

"Do not talk nonsense, Ada?" said Katherine, impatiently. "I am
infinitely distressed that my uncle should have behaved so rudely, but
he is really eccentric, and if you had consulted--"

"He is the boys' uncle as well as yours," interrupted Ada, indignantly.
"Why should they not come and see him? How was I to suppose he was such
an unnatural monster?"

"I always told you he was very peculiar."

"Peculiar! that is a delicate way of putting it. If I were you I should
be ashamed of wasting my time and my youth acting servant to an old
miser who will not leave you a sou!"

"No, I don't suppose he will," returned Katherine, quietly. "Still, I am
not the least ashamed of what I am doing; I am quite satisfied with my
own motives."

"Oh, you are always satisfied with yourself, I know," was the angry
answer, "But"--with a slight change of tone--"I am sorry to see you look
so pale and ill, though you deserve it."

"Never mind, Ada. Take off your bonnet and sit down. I will get you a
cup of tea."

"Tea! no, certainly not! Do you think me so mean as to taste a mouthful
of food in this house after being ordered out of it?"

"Oh, I am _so_ hungry!" cried Cecil, in mournful tones.

"You are a little cormorant: Grannie will give you nice tea when we get
home. Put on your gloves, children, I shall go at once."

"Do come back with us, auntie," implored the boys. "Grannie wants you
ever so much."

"Not more than I want her," returned Katherine. "How is she, Ada?"

"Oh, very well; just the same as usual. People who are not sensitive
have a great deal to be thankful for. _I_ feel quite upset by this
encounter with your amiable relative, so I will say good-by."

"Oh, wait for me; I will come with you. Let me put on my hat and tell
Mr. Liddell I am going out."

"Of course you must ask the master's leave!"

"Exactly," returned Katherine, good-humoredly. And she put on her hat
and gloves.

"Well, I shall be glad of your guidance, for I hardly know my way back
to where the omnibus starts. Such a horrible low part of the town for a
man of fortune to live in! I wonder what Colonel Ormonde would say to
it?"

"I am sure I don't know," returned Kate, laughing. "Now come downstairs.
If you go on I will speak to my uncle, and follow you."

"I am sorry you have been annoyed," said Katherine, when having tapped
at the door, Mr. Liddell desired her to "come in." He was standing at an
old-fashioned bureau, the front of which let down to form a writing-desk
and enclosed a number of various-sized drawers. He had taken out several
packets of paper neatly tied with red tape and seemed to be rearranging
them.

"I am going to take my sister-in-law back to the omnibus; you may be
sure she will never intrude again."

"She shall not," he replied, turning to face her. Katherine thought how
ghastly pale and pinched he looked. "I see the sort of creature she
is--a doll that would sell her sawdust soul for finery and glitter; ay,
and the lives of all who belong to her for an hour of pleasure."

Katherine was shocked at his fierce, uncalled-for bitterness.

"She has lived with us for more than a year and a half, and we have
found her very pleasant and kind. Her children are dear, sweet things.
You should not judge her so harshly."

"You are a greater fool than I took you for," cried Mr. Liddell. "Go
take them away, and mind they do not come back."

Katherine hastened after her visitors and led them by a more direct
route than they had traversed in coming. It took them past a cake shop,
where she spent one of her few sixpences in appeasing her nephews'
appetite, which, at least, with Cecil, grew with what it fed upon, in
the matter of cakes.

The children, each holding one of her hands, chattered away, telling
many particulars of grannie and Jane, and the cat, to say nothing of a
most interesting gardener who came to cut the grass. To all of which
Katherine lent a willing ear. How ardently she longed to be at home with
the dear mother again! She had never done half enough for her. Ah, if
they only could be together again in Florence or Dresden as they used to
be!

Mrs. Fred Liddell kept almost complete silence--a very unusual case with
her--and only as she paused before following her little boys into the
omnibus did she give any clew to the current of her thoughts. "Should
Colonel Ormonde come on Saturday when you are with us--which is not
likely--do not say anything about that horrid old man's rudeness; one
does not like to confess to being turned out."

"Certainly not. I shall say nothing, you may be sure."

"Good-by, then. I shall tell your mother you are looking _wretchedly_."

"Pray do not," cried Katherine, but the conductor's loud stamping on his
perch to start the driver drowned her voice.

It was a fine evening, fresh, too, with a slight crispness, and
Katherine could not resist the temptation of a walk in Regent's Park.
She felt her spirits, which had been greatly depressed, somewhat revived
by the free air, the sight of grass and trees. Still she could not
answer the question which often tormented her, "If my mother cannot sell
her book, how will it all end--must I remain as a hostage forever?" It
was a gloomy outlook.

She did not allow herself to stray far; crossing the foot-bridge over
the Regent's Canal, she turned down a street which led by a circuit
toward her abode. It skirted Primrose Hill for a few yards, and as she
passed one of the gates admitting to the path which crosses it, a
gentleman came out, and after an instant's hesitation raised his hat.
Katherine recognized the man who had rescued Cecil at Hyde Park Corner.
She smiled and bowed, frankly pleased to meet him again; it was so
refreshing to see a bright, kindly face--a face, too, that looked glad
to see her.

"May I venture to inquire for my little friend?" said the gentleman,
respectfully. "I trust he was not the worse for his adventure?"

"Not at all, thanks to your promptness," said Katherine, pausing. "I
have only just parted with him and his mother. She would have been very
glad of an opportunity to thank you."

"So slight a service scarcely needs your thanks," he said, in a soft,
agreeable voice, as he turned and walked beside her.

Katherine made no objection; she knew he was an acquaintance of Colonel
Ormonde, and it was too pleasant a chance of speaking to a civilized
human being to be lost. Her new acquaintance was good-looking without
being handsome, with a peculiarly happy expression, and honest, kindly
light-brown eyes. He was about middle height, but well set up, and
carried himself like a soldier.

"Then your little charge does not live with you?" he asked.

"Not now. I am staying with my uncle. Cecil lives with his mother and
mine at Bayswater."

"Indeed! I think my old friend, Colonel Ormonde, knows the young
gentleman's mother."

"He does."

"Then, may I introduce myself to you? My name is Payne--Gilbert Payne."

"Oh, indeed!" returned Katherine, with a vague idea that she ought not
perhaps to walk with him, yet by no means inclined to dismiss a pleasant
companion.

"I fancy your young nephew is a somewhat rebellious subject."

"He is sometimes very troublesome, but you cannot help liking him."

"Exactly--a fine boy. What bewildering little animals children are! They
ought to teach us humility, they understand us so much better than we
understand them."

"I believe they do, but I never thought of it before. Have you little
brothers and sisters who have taught you this?"

"No. I am the youngest of my family; but I am interested in a refuge for
street children, and I learn much there."

"That is very good of you," said Katherine, looking earnestly at him.
"Where is it--near this?"

"No; a long way off. There are plenty of such places in every direction.
I have just come from a home for poor old women, childless widows,
sickly spinsters, who cannot work, and have no one to work for them. If
you have any spare time, it would be a great kindness to go and read to
them now and then. The lees of such lives are often sad and tasteless."

"I should be glad to help in any way," said Katherine, coloring, "but
just now I belong (temporarily) to my uncle, who is old, and requires a
good deal of reading--and care."

"Ah, I see your work is cut out for you: that, of course, is your first
duty."

The conversation then flowed on easily about street arabs and the
various missions for rescuing them, about soldiers' homes, and other
kindred topics. Katherine was much interested, and taken out of herself;
she was quite sorry when on approaching Legrave Crescent she felt
obliged to pause, with the intention of dismissing him. He understood.
"Do you live near this?" he asked.

"Yes, quite near."

"May I bring you some papers giving you an account of my poor old
women?"

"I should like so much to have them," said Katherine. "But my uncle is
rather peculiar. He does not like to be disturbed; he does not like
visitors; he was vexed because my sister-in-law and the children came
to-day."

"I understand, and will not intrude. But should you be able and willing
to help these undertakings, Colonel Ormonde will always know my address.
He honors me still with his friendship, though he thinks me a
moon-struck idiot."

"Because you are good. The folly is his," said Katherine, warmly. Then
she bowed, Mr. Payne lifted his hat again, and they parted, not to meet
for many a day.

When Mrs. Knapp opened the door she looked rather grave, but Katherine's
mind was so full of her encounter with Gilbert Payne that she did not
notice it, seeing which, Mrs. Knapp said, "I'm glad you have come in,
miss."

"Why?" with immediate apprehension. "Is my uncle ill?"

"He is not right, miss. I took him up his cup or tea and slice of dry
toast about five, and he was lying back, as he often does, asleep, as I
thought, in the chair. I says, 'Here's your tea, sir,' but he made no
answer, and I spoke again twice without making him hear; then I touched
his hand; it was stone cold; so I got water and dabbed his brow, when he
sat up all of a sudden, and swore at me for making him cold and damp
with my--I don't like to say the word--rags. Then he shivered and shook
like an aspen; but I made up the fire and popped a spoonful of brandy in
his tea--he never noticed. But he kept asking for you, miss. I think he
doesn't know he was bad."

Katherine hastened to her uncle, greatly distressed at having been
absent at the moment of need. In her eagerness she committed the mistake
of asking how he felt now, and received a tart reply. There was nothing
the matter with him, nothing unusual--only his old complaint, increasing
years and infirmity; still he was not to be treated like a helpless
baby.

Katherine felt her error, and turned the subject; then, returning to it,
begged him to see a doctor. This he refused sternly. Finally she had
recourse to an article on the revenue in the paper, which soothed him,
and she saw the old man totter off to bed with extreme uneasiness, yet
not daring even to suggest a night light, so irritable did he seem.

Before she slept she wrote a brief account of what had occurred to Mr.
Newton, and implored him to come and remonstrate with his client.



CHAPTER VII.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END.


Katherine Liddell had never spent so uneasy a night, save when her
mother had been ill. Her nerves were on the stretch, her ears painfully
watchful for the smallest sound. What if the desolate old man should
pass away, alone and unaided, in the darkness of night! The sense of
responsibility was almost too much for her. If she could have her mother
at her side she would fear nothing. She was up early, thankful to see
daylight, and eager for Mrs. Knapp's report of her uncle.

Generally the old man was afoot betimes, and despised the luxury of warm
water. This morning Mrs. Knapp had to knock at his door, as he was not
moving, and after a brief interview returned to inform Katherine that
Mr. Liddell grumbled at her for being up too early, and on hearing that
it was half past eight, said she had better bring him a cup of tea.

Katherine carried it to him herself. He took very little notice of her,
but said he would get up presently and hear the papers read.

When she came back with some jelly, for which she had sent to the
nearest confectioner, he ate it without comment, and told her she
might go.

It was a miserable morning, but about noon, to her great delight,
she saw Mr. Newton opening the garden gate. She flew to admit
him.

"I am so thankful you have come!"

"How is Mr. Liddell?"

"He seems quite himself this morning, except that he is inclined
to stay in bed."

"He must see a doctor," said Mr. Newton, speaking in a low
voice and turning into the parlor. "We must try and keep him
alive and in his senses for every reason. I am glad he is still in bed;
it will give me an excuse for urging him to take advice, for of
course I shall not mention your note."

"No pray do not. He evidently does not like to be thought ill."

"Pray how long have you been here--nearly a month? Yes, I
thought so. I cannot compliment you on your looks. How do you
think you have been getting on with our friend?"

"Not very well, I fear," said Katherine, shaking her head. "He
rarely speaks to me, except to give some order or ask some necessary
question. Yet he does not speak roughly or crossly, as he does
to Mrs. Knapp; and something I cannot define in his voice, even in
his cold eyes, tells me he is growing used to my presence, and that
he does not dislike it."

"Well, I should think not, Miss Liddell," said the precise lawyer,
politely. "I trust time may be given to him to recognize the claims
of kindred and of merit. Pray ask him if he will see me, and in the
mean time please send a note to Dr. Brown--a very respectable
practitioner, who lives not far; ask him to come at once. I must
persuade Mr. Liddell to see him, and if possible while I am present."

The old man showed no surprise at Mr. Newton's presence; it was
almost time for his monthly visit, and as he brought a small sum of
money with him, the result of some minor payments, he was very
welcome.

Katherine, immensely relieved, sat trying to work in the front
parlor, but really watching for the doctor. Would her uncle see
him? and if not, ought she still to undertake the responsibility of
such a charge?

At last he arrived, a staid, thoughtful-looking man; and before
he had time to do more than exchange a few words with her, Mr.
Newton appeared and carried him off to see the patient.

They seemed a long time gone; and when they returned the doctor
wrote a prescription--a very simple tonic, he said. "What your
uncle needs, Miss Liddell," he said, "is constant nourishment. He
is exceedingly weak; the action of the heart is feeble, the whole
system starved. You must get him to take all the food you can, and
some good wine--Burgundy if possible. He had better get up.
There is really no organic disease, but he is very low. He ought to
have some one in his room at night."

"It will be difficult to manage that," said Mr. Newton.

"I shall look in to-morrow about this time," said the doctor, and
hurried away.

"How have you contrived to make him hear reason?" asked
Katherine, eagerly.

"I took the law into my own hands, for one thing, and I suggested
a powerful motive for living on. I reminded him that he and
another old gentleman are the only survivors in a 'Tontine,' and
that he must try to outlive him. So the cost of doctor, medicine,
etc., etc., ought to be considered as an investment. Do not fail to
get him all possible nourishment. If he rebels, send for me."

"I will indeed. I am almost afraid to stay here alone. Might I
not have my mother with me?"

"Do not think of it"--earnestly. "I was going to say that I believe
you are decidedly gaining on your uncle; but the intrusion of
Mrs. Frederic Liddell yesterday was very unfortunate. My rather
peculiar client is impressed with the idea that you invited her."

"Indeed I did not!" cried Katherine.

"I did not suppose you did, but her appearance seems to have
given Mr. Liddell a shock." Mr. Newton paused, and then asked
in a slow tone, as if thinking hard, "What was your sister-in-law's
maiden name?"

"Sandford," said Katherine.

"Sandford? That is rather a curious coincidence. The late Mrs.
John Liddell was a Miss Sandford."

"Is she dead, then?"

"Yes; she died eight or nine years ago."

"Could they have been related?"

"Possibly. Some likeness seems to have struck your uncle."

There was a short silence, and Mr. Newton resumed. "I trust
you do not find your stay here too trying? I consider it very important
that you should persevere, though it is only right to tell you
that Mr. Liddell has made a will--not a just one, in my opinion--and
it is extremely unlikely he will ever change it."

"That does not really affect me. Of course I should be very glad
if he chose to leave anything to my mother or myself, but I shall do
my best for him under any circumstances. Besides, I have a sort
of desire to make him speak to me and like me--perhaps it is vanity--quite
apart from a sense of duty. He is so like a frozen man!"

"Try, try by all means, my dear young lady."

"What I do not like is the hour or half hour after market. The
wolfish greed by which he clutches the change I bring back, the
glare in his eyes, the fierce eagerness with which he asks the price
of everything--he is not human at such times, and I almost fear
him."

"It is a dreadful picture, but perhaps the details may soften in
time."

"How shall I get money for all he wants?" asked Katherine,
anxiously.

"I shall impress upon Mr. Liddell the necessity of his case, and
even make out that the good things he requires cost more than they
do. I will beg him to allow me to supply the money during his indisposition
and enter it in his account. Here, I will give you five
pounds while we are alone."

"Thank you so much! You see I dare not get into debt. I will keep a
careful account of all expenditure, and ask him--my uncle, I mean--not
to give me any money, then there will be no confusion.

"Very well. I will go back to him now. He will be almost ready to come
in here. Write to me frequently. I shall try to look in to-morrow for a
few minutes."

Katherine stirred the fire, and placed a threadbare footstool before the
invalid's easy-chair, thanking Heaven in her heart for sending her such
an ally as the friendly lawyer.

Then Mr. Liddell appeared, leaning on Newton's arm, and not looking much
worse than usual, Katherine thought. He took no notice of her until she
put the footstool under his feet; then, wonderful to relate, he looked
down into her grave, kindly face and smiled, not bitterly or cynically,
but as if, on the whole, pleased to see her. He seemed a little
breathless, yet he soon began to speak to Newton as if in continuation
of their previous conversation--"And is Fergusson really a year younger
than I am?"

"Yes, quite a year, I should say, and he takes great care of himself. I
do not think he has really so good a constitution as you have, but he
takes everything that is strengthening--good wine, turtle soup, and I do
not know what."

"Ah, indeed!" returned Mr. Liddell, thoughtfully.

"I have been explaining to Mr. Liddell," said the lawyer, turning to
Katherine, "that it would be well to let me give you the house-keeping
money for the present, so that he need not be troubled about anything
except to get well; and when well, my dear sir, you really must go out.
Fresh air--"

"Fresh fiddle-sticks," interrupted the old man; "I have been well for
years without going out, and I'll not begin now. I'll give in to
everything else; only, if _I_ am obliged to take costly food as a
medicine, I expect the rest of the household to live as carefully as
ever."

"I shall do my best, uncle," said Katherine, softly.

After a little more conversation the lawyer took his leave, and then
Katherine applied herself to read the papers which had been neglected.

It was not till toward evening she was able to write a few lines to her
mother describing Mr. Liddell's illness, and begging she would come to
see her on Saturday, as she (Katherine) could not absent herself while
her uncle was so unwell.

After this things went on much as usual, only Mr. Liddell never resumed
his habits of early rising; he was a shade less cold too, though at
times terribly irritable.

He took the food prepared for him obediently enough, but with evident
want of appetite, rarely finishing what was provided.

Mr. Newton generally called every week, and Katherine wrote to him
besides; she was strict in insisting on the audit of her accounts, which
the accurate lawyer sometimes praised. By judicious accounts of
Fergusson, the other surviving member of the Tontine, he managed to keep
his client in tolerable order. Katherine, though grateful to him for his
friendly help, little knew how strenuously he strove to lengthen the old
miser's days, hoping he would make some provision for his niece, while
he dared not offer any suggestion on the subject, lest it should
produce an effect contrary to what he desired.


Mrs. Fred Liddell was bitterly disappointed by the result of her visit
to the rich uncle. A good deal, indeed, hung upon it. A wealthy
succession was certainly a thing to be devoutly wished for in itself,
but the sharp little widow felt that provision for her boys and a dowry
for herself meant marriage, _if_ she chose, with Colonel Ormonde.

And she very decidedly did wish it. Her imagination, which was vivid
enough of its kind, was captivated by the Colonel's imposing "bow-wow"
manner, the idea of a country place--an old family place too--by his
diamond ring and florid compliments, his self-satisfied fastidiousness
and his social position. In short, to her he seemed a fashionable hero;
but she was quite sure he never would hamper himself with two little
portionless boys. Ada Liddell was by no means unkind to her children;
she was ready to pet them when they met, and give them what did not cost
her too much; but she considered them a terrible disadvantage, and
herself a most generous and devoted mother.

The day after she had been so ignominiously expelled from John Liddell's
house she put on the prettiest thing she possessed in the way of a
bonnet--a contrivance of black lace and violets--and having inspected
the turn-out of the children's maid in her best go-to-meeting attire,
also the putting on of the boys' newest sailor suits, the curling of
their hair, and many minor details, she sallied forth across Kensington
Gardens to the ride, feeling tolerably sure that, in consequence of a
hint she had dropped a day or two before, when taking afternoon tea in
Mrs. Burnett's drawing-room, Colonel Ormonde would probably be amongst
the riders on his powerful chestnut, ready to receive her report. She
was quite sure he was very much smitten, and eager to know what her
chances with old Liddell might be; and as her mother-in-law had a bad
habit of presiding over her own tea-table, it would be more convenient
to talk with her gay Lothario in the Park.

Many admiring glances were cast upon the pretty little woman in becoming
half-mourning, with the two golden-haired, sweet-looking children and
their trim maid, which did not escape their object, and put her into
excellent spirits. She felt she had gone forth conquering and to
conquer. About half-way down the row she recognized a well-known figure
on a mighty horse, who cantered up to where she stood, followed by a
groom.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Liddell; I thought this piece of fine weather would
tempt you out," cried Colonel Ormonde, dismounting and throwing his rein
to the groom, who led away the horse as if in obedience to some
previously given command. "I protest you are a most tantalizing little
woman!" he exclaimed, when they had shaken hands and he had patted the
children's heads. "I have been looking for you this half-hour. Where did
you hide yourself?"

"I did not hide myself. I am dying to tell you about my uncle."

"Ah! was he all your prophetic soul painted him?"

"He was, and a good deal more. He is quite an ogre, and lives in a
miserable hovel. How Katherine can degrade herself by grovelling there
with him for the sake of what she can get passes my understanding."

"Deuced plucky, sensible girl! She is quite right to stick to the old
boy. Hope she will get his cash. Gad! with her eyes and _his_ thousands,
she'd rouse up society!"

"Well, I believe she intends to have them all. She was quite vexed at my
going over to see the ogre, and I think has prejudiced him against my
poor darling boys, for as soon as he saw them he called out that he
could not receive any one, that he was ill and nervous. But I smiled my
very best smile, and said I had come to introduce myself, and I hoped he
would let me have a little talk with him. The poor old ogre looked at me
rather kindly and earnestly when I said that, and I really do think he
would have listened to me, but my sister-in-law would make me come away,
as if the sight of me was enough to frighten a horse from his oats; so
somehow we got hustled upstairs, and there was an end of it."

"Ah, Mrs. Liddell, you ought not to have allowed yourself to be
outmanoeuvred," cried the Colonel, who greatly enjoyed irritating his
pretty little friend. "Your _belle-soeur_ (as she really is) is too
many for you. Don't you give up; try again when the adorable Katherine
is out of the way."

"I fully intend to do so, I assure you," cried Mrs. Frederic, her eyes
sparkling, her heart beating with vexation, but determined to keep up
the illusion of ingratiating herself with the miserly uncle. "Pray
remember this is only a first attempt."

"I am sure you have my devout wishes for your success. How this wretched
old hunk can resist such eyes, such a smile, as yours, is beyond my
comprehension. If such a niece attacked _me_, I should surrender at the
first demand."

"I don't think you would"--a little tartly. "I think you have as keen a
regard for your own interest as most men."

"I am sure you would despise me if I had not, and the idea of being
despised by you is intolerable."

"You know I do not"--very softly. "But it is time I turned and went
toward home."

"Nonsense, my dear Mrs. Liddell! or, if you will turn, let it be round
Kensington Gardens. Do you know, I am going to Scotland next week, to
Sir Ralph's moor; then I expect a party to meet Errington at my own
place early in September; so I shall not have many chances of seeing you
until I run up just before Christmas. Now I am going to ask a great
favor. It's so hard to get a word with you except under the Argus eyes
of that mother-in-law of yours."

"What can it be?" opening her eyes.

"Come with me to see this play they have been giving at the Adelphi. I
have never had a spare evening to see it. We'll leave early, and have a
snug little supper at Verey's, and I'll see you home."

"It would be delightful, but out of the question, I am afraid: Mrs.
Liddell has such severe ideas, and I dare not offend her."

"Why need she know anything about it? Say--oh, anything--that you are
going with the Burnetts: they have gone to the Italian lakes, but I
don't suppose she knows."

The temptation was great, but the little widow was no fool in some ways.
She saw her way to make something of an impression on her worldly
admirer.

"No, Colonel Ormonde," she said, shaking her head, while she permitted
the "suspicious moisture" to gather in her eyes. "It would indeed be a
treat to a poor little recluse like me, but though there is not a bit of
harm in it, or you would not ask me, I am sure, I must not offend my
mother-in-law; and though Heaven knows I am not straight-laced, I never
will tell stories or act deceitfully if I can help it; that is my only
strong point, which has to make up for a thousand weak ones."

Colonel Ormonde looked at her with amazement; her greatest charm to men
such as he was her dolliness, and this was a new departure.

"Well," he said, in his most insinuating tones, "I thought you might
have granted so much to an old friend and faithful admirer like myself.
There is no great harm in my little plan."

"Certainly not, but you see I must hold on to my mother-in-law: she is
my only real stay. While pleasant and friendly as you are, my dear
Colonel"--with a pretty little toss of her head--"you will go off
shooting, or hunting, or Heaven knows what, and it is quite possible I
may never see your face again."

"Oh, by George! you will not get rid of me so easily," cried Ormonde, a
good deal taken back.

"I shall be very glad to see you if you do turn up again," said Mrs.
Liddell, graciously. "So as this will probably be the last time I shall
see you for some months, pray tell me some amusing gossip."

But gossip did not seem to come readily to Colonel Ormonde; nevertheless
they made a tour of the gardens in desultory conversation, till Mrs.
Liddell stopped decidedly, and bade him adieu.

"At last," said the cautious ex-dragoon, "you will write and tell me how
you get on with this amiable old relative of yours."

"I shall be very pleased to report progress, if you care to write and
ask me, and tell me your whereabouts."

"Then I suppose it is to be good-by?" said Ormonde, almost
sentimentally. "You are treating me devilishly ill."

"I do not see that." Here the boys came running up, at a signal from
their mother.

"Well, my fine fellow," said Ormonde, laying his hand on Cecil's
shoulder, "so you went to see your old uncle. Did he try to eat you?"

"No; but he is a nasty cross old man. He wouldn't speak a word to mammy,
but took his stick and hobbled away."

"Yes, he is a wicked man, and I am afraid he will hurt auntie," put in
Charlie.

Colonel Ormonde laughed rather more than the mother liked. "I think you
may trust 'auntie' to take care of herself.--So you forced the old boy
to retreat? What awful stories your sister-in-law must have told of
you!" to Mrs. Liddell.

She was greatly annoyed, but, urged by all-powerful self-interest, she
maintained a smooth face, and answered, "Oh yes, when Katherine kept
worrying about our disturbing her uncle, the poor old man got up and
left the room."

"Well, you must turn her flank, and be sure to let me know how matters
progress. I suppose you will be here all the autumn?"

"I should think so; small chance of my going out of town," she returned,
bitterly, and the words had scarce left her lips before she felt she had
made a mistake. Men hate to be bothered with the discomforts of others.

The result was that Colonel Ormonde cut short his adieux, and parted
from her with less regret than he felt five minutes before.

The young widow walked smartly back, holding her eldest boy's hand, and
administered a sharp rebuke to him for talking too much. To which Cecil
replied that he had only answered when he was spoken to. This elicited a
scolding for his impertinence, and produced further tart answers from
the fluent young gentleman, which ended by his being dismissed in a fury
to Jane, _vice_ Charles, promoted to walk beside mamma.


As may be supposed, Mrs. Liddell lost no time about answering her
daughter's note in person. In truth, toward the end of a week's
separation she generally began to hunger painfully for a sight of her
Katie's face, to feel the clasp of her soft arms, and to this was added
in the present instance serious uneasiness respecting the strain to
which her sense of responsibility as nurse as well as housekeeper must
subject so inexperienced a creature.

It was rather late in the afternoon when Mrs. Liddell reached Legrave
Crescent, and the servant showed her into the front parlor at once.
Katherine almost feared to draw her uncle's attention to the visitor. He
had had all the papers read to him, and even asked for some articles to
be read a second time; now after his dinner he seemed to doze. If he had
not noticed Mrs. Liddell's entry she had perhaps better take her away
upstairs at once, but while she thought she sprang to her and locked her
in a close, silent embrace.

Turning from her, he saw that Mr. Liddell's eyes were open and fixed
upon them, and she said, softly: "I am sorry you have been disturbed. I
shall take my mother to my room; perhaps if you want anything you will
ring for me."

"I will," he returned; and Mrs. Liddell thought his tone a little less
harsh than usual. "I said you might come and see your daughter when you
like," he added, "and I repeat it. You have brought her up more usefully
than I expected." Having spoken, he leaned his head back wearily and
closed his eyes.

"I am pleased to hear you say so," returned Mrs. Liddell, quietly, and
immediately followed her daughter out of the room.

"Oh, darling mother, I am so delighted to have you here all to myself!
It is even better than going home," cried Kate, when they were safe in
her own special chamber. "But you are looking pale and worn and
thin--_so_ much thinner!"

"That is an improvement, Katherine," returned Mrs. Liddell; "I shall
look all the younger."

"Ah! but your face looks older, dear. What has been worrying you? Has
Ada--"

"Ada has never worried me, as you know, Katie," interrupted Mrs.
Liddell. "She is not exactly the companion I should choose for every day
of my life, but she has always been kind and nice with me."

"Oh, she is not bad, and she would be clever if she managed to make
_you_ quarrel. I am quite different. Now I must get you some tea. Pray
look round while I am gone, and see how comfortable it is;" and
Katherine hurried away.

She soon returned, followed by Mrs. Knapp, who was glad to carry up the
tea-tray to the pleasant, sensible lady who had engaged her for what
proved to be not an uncomfortable situation. When, after a few civil
words, she retired, with what delight and tender care Katie waited on
her mother, putting a cushion at her back and a footstool under her
feet, remembering her taste in sugar, her little weakness for cream!

"It was very warm in the omnibus, I suppose, for you are looking better
already."

"I _am_ better; but, Katherine, your uncle is curiously changed. It is
not so much that he looks ill, but by comparison so alarmingly amiable."

"Well, he is less appalling than he was, and I have grown wonderfully
accustomed to him. But for the monotony, it is not so bad as I expected,
and it will be better now, as Mr. Newton is to give me the weekly money.
I think my uncle is trying to live."

"Poor man! he has little to live for," said Mrs. Liddell.

"He wishes to outlive some other old man, because then he will get a
good deal of money, according to some curious system--called a
'Tontine.'"

"Is it possible? The ruling passion, then, in his instance is strong
against death."

"What a poverty-stricken life his has been, after all!" exclaimed
Katherine. "Did Ada tell you how vexed he was at her visit?"

"She was greatly offended, but I should like your version of it."

Katherine told her, and repeated Mr. Newton's inquiry about Mrs. Fred
Liddell's family name.

"Mr. Newton is very kind. He is very formal and precise, and very
guarded in all he says, yet I feel that he likes me--us--and would like
my uncle to do something for us."

"I never hoped he would do as much as he has. If he would remember those
poor little boys in his will it would be a great help. You and I could
always manage together, Katie."

"I wish that we were together by our own selves once more," returned
Kate, nestling up to her mother on the big old-fashioned sofa, and
resting her head on her shoulder.

"I wish to God we were! I miss you so awfully, my darling!"

There was a short silence while the two clung lovingly together. Then
Katherine said, in a low tone, "Mr. Newton evidently thinks he--my
uncle--has made a very unjust will, and fears he will never change it."

"Most probably he will not; but he ought not to cut off his natural
heirs."

"Would Cecil and Charlie be his natural heirs?"

"I suppose so, and something would come to you too; but I do not
understand these matters. It is dreadful how mean and mercenary this
terrible need for money makes one."

"You want it very much, mother? There is trouble in your voice; tell me
what it is."

"There is no special pressure, dear, just now; but unless I am more
successful with my pen I greatly fear I shall get into debt before I can
liberate myself from that house. Yet if I do, what will become of Ada
and the boys?" She paused to cough.

Katherine was silent; the tone of her mother's voice told more than her
words. "But," resumed Mrs. Liddell, "all is not black. The _Dalston
Weekly_ has taken my short story, and given me ten pounds for it.
However, you must take the bad with the good; my poor three-decker has
come back on my hands."

Katherine uttered a low exclamation. "I did hope they would have taken
it! and what miserable pay for that bright, pretty story! Mother, I
cannot believe that the novel will fail. _Do, do_ try Santley & Son! I
have always heard they were such nice people. Try--promise me you will."

"Dear Katie, I will do whatever you ask me; but--but I confess I feel as
if Hope, who has always befriended me, had turned her back at last. I am
so dreadfully tired! I feel as if I was never to rest. Oh for a couple
of years of peace before I go hence, and a certainty that _you_ would
not want!"

"Do not fear for me," cried Katherine, pressing her mother to her and
covering her pale cheeks with kisses. "For myself I fear nothing, but
for _you_, I greatly fear you are unwell; you breathe shortly; your
hands are feverish. Do not let hope go. A few weeks and my uncle will be
stronger, or he may be invigorated by feeling he has killed out the
other old man, and then I will go back to you and help you, whatever
happens. I won't stay here to act compound interest. My own darling
mother, keep up your heart."

"I am ashamed of myself," said Mrs. Liddell, in an unsteady voice. "I
ought not to have grieved your young heart with my depression, for I
_have_ been depressed."

"Why not? What is the good of youth and strength if it is not to uphold
those who have already had more than their share of life's burdens?"

"I assure you this outpouring has relieved me greatly; I shall return
like a giant refreshed," said Mrs. Liddell, rallying gallantly; "and you
may depend on my trying the fortune of my poor novel once more, with
Santley & Son. Now tell me how your domestic management prospers."

A long confidential discussion ensued, and at last Mrs. Liddell was
obliged to leave.

Katherine went to tell her uncle she was going to set her mother on her
way, and to see his cup of beef tea served to him. His remark almost
startled her. "Very well," he said. "Come back soon."

This interview agitated Katherine more than Mrs. Liddell knew. Her worn
look, her cough, her unwonted depression, thrilled her daughter's warm
heart with a passion of tender longing to be with her, to help her, to
give her the rest she so sorely needed; and in the solitude of her large
dreary room she sobbed herself to sleep, her lips still quivering with
the loving epithets she had murmured to herself.



CHAPTER VIII.

"THE LONG TASK IS DONE."


The facility with which human nature assimilates new conditions is among
its most remarkable attributes. A week had scarcely elapsed since John
Liddell's sudden indisposition and subsidence into an invalid condition,
yet it seemed to Katherine that he had been breakfasting in bed for
ages, and might continue to do so for another cycle without change. Her
inexperience took no warning from the rapidly developing signs of
decadence and failing force which Mr. Newton perceived; and, on the
whole, she found her task of housekeeper and caretaker less ungrateful
since weakness had subdued her uncle, and the friendly lawyer had been
appointed paymaster.

The days sped with the swiftness monotony lends to time. Mrs. Liddell
always visited her daughter once a week. Occasionally Katherine got
leave of absence, and spent an hour or two at home, where she enjoyed a
game of play with her little nephews. Otherwise home was less homelike
than formerly. Ada was sulky and dissatisfied; she dared not intrude on
Mr. Liddell in his present condition; and she was dreadfully annoyed at
not being able to give Colonel Ormonde any encouraging news on this
head. Her influence on the family circle, therefore, was not cheerful.
Besides this, though Mrs. Liddell kept a brave front, and did not again
allow herself the luxury of confidence in her daughter, there were
unmistakable signs of care and trouble in her face, her voice. She was
unfailing in her kind forbearance to the woman her son had loved, and
whatever good existed in Mrs. Fred's rubbishy little heart responded to
the genial, broad humanity of her mother-in-law. But Katherine
perceived, or thought she perceived, that Mrs. Liddell was wearing
herself down in the effort to make her inmates comfortable, and so to
beat out her scanty store of sovereigns as to make them stretch to the
margin of her necessities. It was a very shadowy and narrow pass through
which her road of life led Katherine at this period, nor was there much
prospect beyond. Moreover, as her mother had anticipated, the invisible
cords which bound her to the moribund old miser were tightening their
hold more and more, she often looked back and wondered at the sort of
numbness which stole over her spirit during this time of trial.

September was now in its first week; the weather was wet and cold; and
Katherine was thankful when Mr. Newton's weekly visit was due. It was
particularly stormy that day, and he was a little later than usual.

When she had left solicitor and client together for some time, she
descended, as was her custom, to make a cup of tea for the former, and
give her uncle his beef tea or jelly.

Mr. Newton rose, shook hands with her, and then resumed his conversation
with Mr. Liddell.

"I do not for a moment mean to say that he is a reckless bettor or a
mere gambling horse-racer; and, after all, to enter a horse or two for
the local races, or even Newmarket, is perfectly allowable in a man of
his fortune--it will neither make him nor mar him."

"It _will_ mar him," returned Mr. Liddell, in more energetic tones than
Katherine had heard him utter since he was laid up. "A man who believes
he is rich enough to throw away money is on the brink of ruin. He
appears to me in a totally different light. I thought he was steady,
thoughtful, alive to the responsibility of his position. Ah, who is to
be trusted? Who?"

There seemed no reply to this, for Mr. Newton started a new and
absorbing topic.

"Mr. Fergusson is keeping wonderfully well," he remarked. "His sister
was calling on my wife yesterday, and says that since he took this new
food--'Revalenta Arabica,' I think it is called--he is quite a new man."

"What food is that?" asked Mr. Liddell. While Newton explained,
Katherine reflected with some wonder on the fact that there was a Mrs.
Newton; it had never come to her knowledge before. She tried to imagine
the precise lawyer in love. How did he propose? Surely on paper, in the
most strictly legal terms! Could he ever have felt the divine joy and
exultation which loving and being loved must create? Had he little
children? and oh! did he, could he, ever dance them on his knee? He was
a good man, she was sure, but goodness so starched and ironed was a
little appalling.

These fancies lasted till the description of Revalenta Arabica was
ended; then Mr. Liddell said, "Tell my niece where to get it." Never had
he called her niece before; even Mr. Newton looked surprised. "I will
send you the address," he said. "And here, Miss Liddell, is the check
for next week."

"I have still some money from the last," said Katherine, blushing. "I
had better give it to you, and then the check need not be interfered
with." She hated to speak of money before her uncle.

"As you like. You are a good manager, Miss Liddell."

"Give it to me," cried the invalid from his easy-chair; "I will put it
in my bureau. I have a few coins there, and they can go together."

"Very well; but had not my uncle better write an acknowledgment? We
shall be puzzled about the money when we come to reckon up at the end of
the month, if he does not."

Katherine had been taught by severe experience the necessity of saving
herself harmless when handling Mr. Liddell's money.

"An acknowledgment," repeated the old man, with a slight, sobbing,
inward laugh. "That is well thought. Yes, by all means write it out, Mr.
Newton, and I will sign. Oh yes; I will sign!"

Newton turned to the writing-table and traced a few lines, bringing it
on the blotting-pad for his client's signature.

"I can sign steadily enough still," said Mr. Liddell, slowly, "and my
name is good for a few thousands. Hey?"

"That it certainly is, Mr. Liddell."

"Do you think old Fergusson could sign as steadily as that?" asked Mr.
Liddell, with a slight, exulting smile.

"I should say not. What writing of his I have seen was a terrible
scrawl."

"Hum! he wasn't a gentleman, you know. He drank too; not to be
intoxicated, but too much--too much! For he will find the temperance man
too many for him. _I'll_ win the race, the waiting race;" and he laughed
again in a distressing, hysterical fashion, that quite exhausted him.

Katherine flew to fetch cold water, while the old man leaning back
panting and breathless, and Mr. Newton, much alarmed, fanned him with a
folded newspaper.

He gradually recovered, but complained much of the beating of his heart.
Mr. Newton wished to send for the doctor, but Mr. Liddell would not hear
of it. Then he urged his allowing the servant at least to sleep on the
sofa in the front parlor, leaving the door into Mr. Liddell's room open.
To this the object of his solicitude was also opposed, so Mr. Newton
bade him farewell. Katherine, however, waylaid him in the hall, and they
held a short conference.

"He really ought not to be left alone at night."

"No, he must not," said Katherine. "I will make our servant spend the
night in the parlor. She can easily open the door after the lights are
out, without his being vexed by knowing she is there. I could not sleep
if I thought he was alone. I will come very early in the morning to
relieve her."

"Do, my dear young lady. I will call on the doctor and beg him to come
round early."

"Do you think my uncle so ill, then?"

"He is greatly changed, and his weakness makes me uneasy. I trust in God
he may be spared a little longer."

Katherine looked and felt surprised at the fervor of his tone. Little
did she dream the real source of the friendly lawyer's anxiety to
prolong a very profitless existence.

After a few more remarks and a promise to come at any time if he were
needed, Mr. Newton departed; and Katherine got through the dreary
evening as best she could.

How she longed to summon her mother! but she feared to irritate her
uncle, who was evidently unequal to bear the slightest agitation.

Next day was unusually cold, and though Mr. Liddell had passed a
tranquil night, he seemed averse to leave his bed. He lay there very
quietly, and listened to the papers being read, and it was late in the
afternoon before he would get up and dress. From this time forward he
rarely rose till dusk, and it grew more and more an effort to him. He
was always pleased to see Mr. Newton, and to converse a little with him.
He even spoke with tolerable civility to Mrs. Liddell when she came to
see her daughter.

As the weather grew colder--and autumn that year was very wintry--he
objected more and more to leave his bed, and at last came to sitting up
only for a couple of hours in the chair by his bedroom fire. It was
during one of these intervals that Katherine, who had been racking her
brains for something to talk of that would interest him, bethought her
of a transaction in old newspapers which Mrs. Knapp had brought to a
satisfactory conclusion. She therefore took out "certain moneys" from
her purse.

"We have sold the newspapers at last, uncle," she said. "I kept back
some for our own use, so all I could get was a shilling and three
half-pence." She placed the coins on a little table which stood by his
arm-chair, adding, "I suppose you know the Scotch saying, 'Many mickles
make a muckle'; even a few pence are better than a pile of useless
papers."

"I know," said Liddell, with feeble eagerness, clutching the money and
transferring it to his little old purse. "It is a good saving--a wise
saying. I did not think you knew it; but--but why did you keep back
any?"

"Because one always needs waste paper in a house, to light fires and
cover things from dust. I shall collect more next time," she added,
seeing the old man was pleased with the idea.

He made no reply, but sat gazing at the red coals, his lips moving
slightly, and the purse still in his hand. Again he opened it, and took
out the coins she had given him, holding them to the fire-light in the
hollow of his thin hand.

"Do you know the value of money?" he said at length, looking piercingly
at her. "Do you know the wonderful life it has--a life of its own?"

"If the want of can teach its value I ought to know," she returned.

"You are wrong! Poverty never teaches its worth. You never hold it and
study it when, the moment you touch it, you have to exchange it for
commodities. No! it is when you can spare some for a precious seed, and
watch its growth, and see--see its power of self-multiplication if it is
let alone--just let alone," he repeated, with a touch of pathos in his
voice. "Now these few pence, thirteen and a half in all--a boy with an
accumulative nature and youth, early youth, on his side, might build a
fortune on these. Yes, he might, if he had not a grovelling love of food
and comfort."

"Do you think he really could?" asked Kate, interested in spite of
herself in the theories of the old miser.

"Would you care to know?" said her uncle, fixing his keen dark eyes upon
her.

"I should indeed." Her voice proved she was in earnest.

"Then I will tell you, step by step, but not to-night. I am too weary.
You are different from the others--your father and your brother. You
are--yes, you are--more like _me_."

"God forbid!" was Katherine's mental ejaculation.

Mr. Liddell slowly put the thirteenpence half penny back in his purse,
drew forth his bunch of keys, looked at them, and restored them to his
pocket; then, resting his head wearily against the chair, he said, "Give
me something to take and I will go to bed."

Katherine hastened to obey, and summoned the servant to assist him, as
usual.

The next morning was cold and wet, with showers of sleet, and Mr.
Liddell declared he had taken a chill, and refused to get up. He was
indisposed to eat, and did not show any interest in the newspaper. About
noon the doctor called. Mr. Liddell answered his questions civilly
enough, but did not respond to his attempts at conversation.

"Your uncle is in a very low condition," said the doctor, when he came
into the next room, where Katherine awaited him. "You must do your best
to make him take nourishment, and keep him as warm as possible. I
suppose Mr. Newton is always in town?"

"I think so; at least I never knew him to be absent since I came here. I
rather expect him to-day or to-morrow. Do you think my uncle seriously
ill?"

"He is not really ill, but he has an incurable complaint--old age. He
ought not to be so weak as he is; still, he may last some time, with
your good care."

Katherine took her needle-work and settled herself to keep watch by the
old man. The doctor's inquiry for Mr. Newton had startled her, but his
subsequent words allayed her fears. "He may last for some time,"
conveyed to her mind the notion of an indefinite lease of life.

Mr. Liddell seemed to be slumbering peacefully, when, after a long
silence, during which Katherine's thoughts had traversed many a league
of land and sea, he said suddenly, in stronger tones than usual, "Are
you there?" He scarcely ever called her by her name.

"I am," said Katherine, coming to the bedside.

"Here, take these keys"--he drew them from under his pillows; "this one
unlocks that bureau"--pointing to a large old-fashioned piece of
furniture, dark and polished, which stood on one side of the fireplace;
"open it, and in the top drawer left you will find a long, folded paper.
Bring it to me."

Katherine did as he directed, and could not help seeing the words, "Will
of John Wilmot Liddell," and a date some seven or eight years back,
inscribed upon it. She handed it to her uncle, arranging his pillows so
that he might sit up more comfortably, while she rather wondered at the
commonplace aspect of so potent an instrument. A will, she imagined, was
something huge, of parchment, with big seals attached.

John Liddell slowly put on his spectacles, and unfolding the paper, read
for some time in silence.

"This will not do," he said at last, clearly and firmly. "I was mistaken
in him. The care for and of money must be born in you; it cannot be
taught. No, I can make a better disposition. Could _you_ take care of
money, girl?" he asked sternly.

"I should try," returned Katherine, quietly.

There was a pause. The old man lay thinking, his lean, brown hand lying
on the open paper. "Write," he said at length, so suddenly and sharply
that he startled his niece; get paper and write to Newton. Katherine
brought the writing materials, and placed herself at the small table.

"Dear sir," he dictated--"Be so good as to come to me as soon as
convenient. I wish to make a will more in accordance with my present
knowledge than any executed by me formerly. I am, yours faithfully."

Katherine brought over pen and paper, and the old man affixed his
signature clearly.

"Now fold it up and send it to post. No--take it yourself; then it will
be safe, and so much the better for you."

Katherine called the good-natured Mrs. Knapp to take her place, and
sallied forth. She was a good deal excited. Was she in a crisis of her
fate? Would her grim old uncle leave her wherewithal to give the dear
mother rest and peace for the remainder of her days? It would not take
much; would he--oh, would he remember the poor little boys? She never
dreamed of more than a substantial legacy; the bulk of his fortune he
might leave to whom he liked. How dreadful it was that money should be
such a grim necessity!

She felt oppressed, and made a small circuit returning, to enjoy as much
fresh air as she could, and called at some of the shops where she was
accustomed to deal, to save sending the servant later. She was growing a
little nervous, and disliked being left alone in the house.

When she returned, her uncle was very much in the same attitude; but he
had folded up his will and placed his hand under his head.

"You have been very long," he said, querulously.

Katherine said she had been at one or two shops.

"Read to me," he said, "I am tired thinking; but first lock the bureau
and give me the keys; you left them hanging in the lock. I have never
taken my eyes from them. Now I have them," he added, putting them under
his pillow, "I can rest. Here, take this"--handing her the will: "put it
in the drawer of my writing-table; we may want it to morrow; and I do
not wish that bureau opened again; everything is there."

Having placed the will as he desired, Katherine began to read, and the
rest of the day passed as usual.

She could not, however, prevent herself from listening for Mr. Newton's
knock. She felt sure he would hasten to his client as soon as he had
read his note. He would be but too glad to draw up another and a juster
will.

Without a word, without the slightest profession of friendship, Newton
had managed to impress Katherine with the idea that he was anxious to
induce Mr. Liddell to do what was right to his brother's widow and
daughter.

But night closed in, and no Mr. Newton came. Mr. Liddell was unusually
wakeful and restless, and seemed on the watch himself, his last words
that night being, "I am sure Newton will be here in good time
to-morrow."

Instead, the morrow brought a dapper and extremely modern young man, the
head of the firm in right of succession, his late father having founded
the house of Stephens & Newton.

Mr. Liddell had just been made comfortable in his great invalid's chair
by the fire, having risen earlier than usual in expectation of Mr.
Newton's visit. When this gentleman presented himself, Katherine
observed that her uncle was in a state of tremulous impatience, and the
moment she saw the stranger she felt that some unlucky accident had
prevented Newton from obeying his client's behest.

"Who--what?" gasped Mr. Liddell, when a card was handed to him. "Read
it," to Katherine.

"Mr. Stephens, of Stephens & Newton, Red Lion Square," she returned.

"I will not see him, I do not want him," cried her uncle, angrily.
"Where is Newton? Go ask him?"

With an oppressive sense of embarrassment, Katherine went out into the
hall, and confronted a short, slight young man with exceedingly tight
trousers, a colored cambric tie, and a general air of being on the turf.
He held a white hat in one hand, and on the other, which was ungloved,
he wore a large seal ring. Katherine did not know how to say that her
uncle would not see him, but the stranger took the initiative.

"Aw--I have done myself the honor of coming in person to take Mr.
Liddell's instructions, as Mr. Newton was called out of town by very
particular business yesterday morning. I rather hoped he might return
last night, but a communication this morning informs us he will be
detained till this afternoon, not reaching town till 9.30 P.M. I am
prepared to execute any directions in my partner's stead."

He spoke with an air of condescension, as if he did Mr. Liddell a high
honor, and made a step forward. Katherine did not know what to say. It
was terrible to keep this consequential little man in the hall, and
there was literally nowhere else to take him.

"I am so sorry, but my uncle is very unwell and nervous. I do not think
he could see any one but Mr. Newton, who is an old friend, you know,"
she added, deprecatingly.

"I am his legal adviser too," returned the young man, with a slightly
offended air. "I am the senior partner and head of the house, and the
worse Mr. Liddell is, the greater the necessity for his giving
instructions respecting his will."

"I will tell him Mr. Newton is away," said Katherine, courteously;
"and--would you mind sitting down here? I am quite distressed not to
have any better place to offer you, but I cannot help it."

"It is of no consequence," returned the young lawyer, struck by her
sweet tones and simple good-breeding, yet looking round him at the worn
oil-cloth and shabby stair-carpeting with manifest amazement.

"Mr. Newton is out of town, and does not return till late this evening,"
said Katherine, returning to the irate old man. "This gentleman says he
is the head of the firm, and will do your bidding in Mr. Newton's
stead."

"Tell him he shall do nothing of the kind," returned Mr. Liddell, in a
weak, hoarse, impatient voice. "I saw him once, and I know him; he is an
ignorant, addle-pated jackanapes. He shall not muddle my affairs; send
him away; I can wait for Newton. I don't suppose I am going to die
to-night."

And Katherine, blushing "celestial rosy red," hied back to the smart
young man, who was reposing himself on the only seat the entrance
boasted, and conjecturing that if this fine, fair, soft-spoken girl was
to be the old miser's heir, she would be almost deserving of his own
matrimonial intentions.

"My uncle begs me to apologize to you, Mr. Stephens, but he is so much
accustomed to Mr. Newton, and in such a nervous state, that he would
prefer waiting till that gentleman can come."

"Oh, very well; only I wish I had known before--I came up here at some
inconvenience; and also wish Mr. Liddell could be persuaded that delays
are dangerous."

"The delay is not for very long. I am sorry you had this fruitless
trouble. Mr. Liddell is very weak."

"I am sure if anything could restore him, it would be the care of such a
nurse as you must be," with a bow and a grin.

"Thank you; good-morning," said Katherine, with such an air of decided
dismissal that the young senior partner at once departed.

Mr. Liddell fretted and fumed for an hour or two before he had exhausted
himself sufficiently to sit still and listen to Katherine's reading; and
after he had apparently sunk into a doze, he suddenly started up and
exclaimed: "That idiot, young Stephens, will never think of sending to
his house. Write--write to Newton's private residence."

"I think Mr. Stephens will, uncle. He seemed anxious to meet your
wishes."

"Don't be a fool--do as I bid you! Get the paper and pen. Are you
ready?"

"I am."

"Dear sir, Let nothing prevent your coming to me to-morrow," he
dictated; "I want to make my will. It is important that affairs be not
left in confusion. Yours truly. Give me the pen," he went on, in the
same breath. "I can sign as well as ever. Now go you yourself and put
this in the post. I do not trust that woman--they all stop and gossip,
and I want this to go by the next despatch."

Katherine, always thankful to be in the air, went readily enough. She
was distressed to find how the nervous uneasiness of yesterday was
growing on her. The perpetual companionship of the grim old skeleton,
her uncle, was making her morbid, she thought; she must ask leave to go
and spend a day at home to see how her mother was getting on, to refresh
herself by a game of romps with the children. Why, she felt absolutely
growing old!

When she re-entered the house she found, much to her satisfaction, that
the doctor was with Mr. Liddell; and after laying aside her out-door
dress, she went to the parlor.

"I have been advising Mr. Liddell to try the effect of a few glasses of
champagne," said the former, who was looking rather grave, Katherine
thought. "But as there is none in his cellar, he objects. Now you must
help me to persuade him. I am going on to a patient in Regent's Park,
and shall pass a very respectable wine-merchant's on my way; so I shall
just take the law into my own hands and order a couple of bottles for
you. Consider it medicine. It is wonderful how much more generally
champagne is used than when you and I were young, my dear sir!" etc.,
etc., he went on, with professional cheerfulness. But Mr. Liddell did
not heed him much.

"He is very weak. The action of the heart is extremely feeble," said the
doctor, when Katherine followed him to the door. "Try and make him take
the champagne."

Another day dragged through; then Katherine, rather worn with the
constant involuntary sense of watching which had strained her nerves all
day, slept soundly and dreamlessly. She woke early next morning, and was
soon dressed. Mrs. Knapp reported Mr. Liddell to be still slumbering.

"But law, miss, he have had a bad night--the worst yet, I think. He was
dreaming and tossing from side to side, and then he would scream out
words I couldn't understand. I made him take some wine between two and
three, but I do not think he knew me a bit. I have had a dreadful night
of it."

Katherine expressed her sympathy, and did what she could to lighten the
good woman's labors.

Mr. Liddell, however, though he looked ghastly, seemed rather stronger
than usual. He insisted on getting up, and came into the sitting-room
about eleven.

It was a cold morning, with a thick, drizzling rain. Katherine made up
the fire to a cheerful glow, and by her uncle's directions placed pen,
ink and paper on the small table he always had beside him. Then he
uttered the accustomed commanding "Read," and Katherine read.

Suddenly he interrupted her by exclaiming, "Give me the deaths first."

It had been a whim of his latterly to have this lugubrious list read to
him every day.

Katherine had hardly commenced when she descried Mr. Newton's well-known
figure advancing from the garden gate.

"Ah, here is Mr. Newton!" she exclaimed.

"Ha! that is well," cried her uncle, with shrill exultation. "Now--now
all will go right."

The next moment the lawyer was shown in, and having greeted them,
proceeded to apologize for his unavoidable absence. "Here I am, however,
sir," he concluded, "at your service."

"Go--leave us," said Liddell, abruptly yet not unkindly, to Katherine;
then, as she left the room, "Finish the deaths for me, will you, before
we go to business. She had just read the first two. Read--make haste!"

Somewhat surprised, Mr. Newton took up the paper and continued: "On the
30th September, at Wimbledon, universally regretted, the Rev. James
Johnson, formerly minister of "Little Bethel, Bermondsey." On October
1st, at her residence, Upper Clapton, Esther, relict of Captain
Doubleday, late of the E. I. C. Service. On the 2nd instant, at
Bournemouth, Peter Fergusson, of Upper Baker Street, in the
seventy-fifth year of his age."

"Fergusson dead! and he is three years my junior! Now it is all
mine--all!--all! I shall be able to settle it as I like. I haven't
eaten and drunk in vain. I'm strong, quite strong. All the papers are
there, in my bureau. I'll show them to you. Aha! I thought I'd outlive
him! I was determined to outlive him!"

With an uncanny laugh he struggled to his feet, and attempted to walk to
his bedroom, his stick in one hand and the keys he had taken from his
pocket in the other. For a few steps he walked with a degree of strength
that astonished Newton; then he gave a deep groan, staggered, and fell
to the ground with a crash.

Newton rushed to raise him, which he did with some difficulty. The noise
brought the servant to his assistance.

"Go! fetch Dr. Bilhane," said Mr. Newton, as soon as they had laid the
helpless body on the bed. "Though I doubt if he can do anything. The old
man is gone."



CHAPTER IX.

"TEMPTATION."


To Katherine, who was in her own room, the sound beneath came with a
subdued force, and knowing Mr. Newton was with him, she thought it
better to stay where she was, for it never struck her that Mr. Liddell
had fallen.

When, therefore, Mrs. Knapp, with that eagerness to spread evil tidings
peculiar to her class, rushed upstairs to announce breathlessly that she
was going for the doctor, but that the poor old gentleman was quite
dead, Katherine could not believe her.

She quickly descended to the parlor, where she found Mr. Newton standing
by the fire, looking pale and anxious.

"Oh, Mr. Newton, he cannot be dead!" cried Katherine. "He seemed
stronger this morning, and he has fainted more than once. Let me bathe
his temples." She took a bottle of eau-de-Cologne from the sideboard as
she spoke.

"My dear young lady, both your servant and I have done what we could to
revive him, and I fear--I believe he has passed away. The start and the
triumph of finding himself the last survivor of the Tontine association
were too much for his weak heart. I would not go in if I were you: death
is appalling to the young."

Katherine stopped, half frightened, yet ashamed of her fear. "Oh yes; I
must satisfy myself that I can do nothing more for him. Can it be
possible that he will never speak again--never search for news of that
other poor old man?" She went softly into the next room, followed by
Newton, and approaching the bed, laid her hand gently on his brow. "How
awfully cold!" she whispered, shrinking back in spite of herself at the
unutterable chill of death. "But he looks so peaceful, so different from
what he did in life!" She stood gazing at him, silent, awe-struck.

"Come away," said Newton, kindly. "The doctor will be here, I trust, in
a few minutes, and will be able to give a certificate which will save
the worry of an inquest."

Katherine obeyed his gesture of entreaty, and went slowly into the
front room, where she sat down, leaning her elbows on the table and
covering her face with her hands, while Mr. Newton closed the door.

It was all over, then, her hopes and fears; the poor wasted life, as
much wasted and useless as if spent in the wildest and most extravagant
follies, was finished. What had it left behind? Nothing of good to any
human being; no blessing of loving-kindness, of help and sympathy, to
any suffering brother wayfarer on life's high-road; nothing but hard,
naked gold--gold which, from what she had heard, would go to one already
abundantly provided. Ah, she must not think of that gold so sorely
needed, or bad, unseemly ideas would master her!

But Mr. Newton was speaking. "It is fortunate I was here to be some stay
to you," he said; "the shock must be very great, and--" He interrupted
himself hastily to exclaim, "Here is the doctor! I shall go with him
into our poor friend's room; let me find you here when I come back."
Katherine bent her head, and remained in the same attitude, thinking,
thinking.

How long it was before the kind lawyer returned she did not know; but he
came and stood by her, the doctor behind him.

"It is as I supposed," said Newton, in a low tone. "Life is quite
extinct." Katherine rose and confronted them, looking very white.

"Yes," added the doctor; "death must have been instantaneous. Your uncle
was in a condition which made him liable to succumb under the slightest
shock. Can you give me paper and ink? I will write a certificate at
once. Then, Miss Liddell, I shall look to you."

Katherine placed the writing materials before him silently, and watched
him trace the lines; then he handed the paper to Mr. Newton, saying,
"You will see to what is necessary I presume," and rising he took
Katherine's hand and felt her pulse. "Very unsteady indeed; I would
recommend a glass of wine now, and at night a composing draught, which I
will send. If I can do nothing more I must go on my rounds. I shall be
at home again about six, should you require my services in any way."

He went out, followed by Mr. Newton, and they spoke together for a few
moments before the doctor entered his carriage and drove off.

"Now, my dear," said Mr. Newton, when he returned--the startling event
of the morning seemed to have taken off the sharp edge of his
precision--"what shall you do? I suppose you would like to go home. It
would be rather trying for you to stay here."

"To go home!" returned Katherine, slowly. "Yes, I should, oh, very much!
but I will not go. My uncle never was unkind to me, and I will stay in
his house until he is laid in his last resting place. Yet I do not like
to stay alone. May I have my mother with me?"

"Yes, by all means. I tell you what, I will drive over and break the
news to her myself; then she can come to you at once. I have a very
particular appointment in the city this afternoon, but I shall arrange
to spend to-morrow forenoon here, and examine the contents of that
bureau. I have thought it well to take possession of your uncle's keys."

"Yes, of course," said Katherine; "you ought to have them. And you will
go and send my mother to me! I shall feel quite well and strong if she
is near. How good of you to think of it!" and she raised her dark
tearful eyes so gratefully to his that the worthy lawyer's heart kindled
within him.

"My dear young lady, I have rarely, if ever, regretted anything so much
as my unfortunate absence yesterday, though had I been able to answer my
late client's first summons, I doubt if time would have permitted the
completion of a new will. Now my best hope, though it is a very faint
one, is that he may have destroyed his last will, and so died
intestate."

"Why?" asked Katherine, indifferently. She felt very hopeless.

"It would be better for you. You would, I rather think, be the natural
heir." Katherine only shook her head. "Of course it is not likely.
Still, I have known him destroy one will before he made another. He has
made four or five, to my knowledge. So it is wiser not to hope for
anything. I shall always do what I can for you. Now you are quite cold
and shivering. I would advise your going to your room, and keeping there
out of the way. You can do no more for your uncle, and I will send your
mother to you as soon as I can. I suppose you have the keys of the
house?"

Katherine bowed her head. She seemed tongue-tied. Only when Mr. Newton
took her hand to say good-by she burst out, "You will send my mother to
me soon--soon!"

Then she went away to her own room. Locking the door, she sat down and
buried her face in the cushions of the sofa. She felt her thoughts in
the wildest confusion, as if some separate exterior self was exerting a
strange power over her. It had said to her, "Be silent," when Mr. Newton
spoke of the possibility of _not_ finding the will, and she had obeyed
without the smallest intention to do good or evil. Some force she could
not resist--or rather she did not dream of resisting--imposed silence on
her. To what had this silence committed her? To nothing. When Mr. Newton
came and examined the bureau he would no doubt open the drawer of the
writing-table also. She had locked it, and put the key in the little
basket where the keys of her scantily supplied store closet and of the
cellaret lay: there it stood on the round table near the window, with
her ink-bottle and blotting-book. She sat up and looked at it fixedly.
That little key was all that intervened between her and rest, freedom,
enjoyment. The more she recalled her uncle's words and manner on the day
he had dictated his first note to Mr. Newton, the more convinced she
felt that he had intended to provide for her, and now his intentions
would be frustrated, and the will the old man wished to suppress would
be the instrument by which his possessions would be distributed.

It was too bad. She did not know how closely the hope of her mother's
emancipation from the long hard struggle with poverty and its attendant
evils by means of Uncle Liddell's possible bequest had twined itself
round her heart. Now she could not give it up. It seemed to her that her
mental grasp refused to relax.

She rose and began to make some little arrangement for her mother's
comfort, and presently the servant came to ask if she would take some
tea.

"I'm sure, miss, you must be faint for want of food, and we are just
going to have some--the woman and me."

"What woman?"

"A very respectable person as Dr. Bilham sent in to--to attend to the
poor old gentleman, miss."

"Ah! thank you. I could not take anything now. I expect my mother soon;
then I shall be glad of some tea.

"Well, miss, you'll ring if you want me. And dear me! you ought to have
a bit of fire. I'll light one up in a minnit."

"Not till you have had your tea. I am not cold."

"You look awful bad, miss!" With this comforting assurance Mrs. Knapp
departed, leaving the door partially open.

A muffled sound, as if people were moving softly and cautiously, was
wafted to Katherine as she sat and listened: then a door closed gently;
voices murmuring in a subdued tone reached her ear, retreating as if the
speakers had gone downstairs.

Katherine went to the window. It was a wretchedly dark, drizzling
afternoon--cold too, with gusts of wind. She hoped Mr. Newton would make
her mother take a cab. It was no weather for her to stand about waiting
for an omnibus. Would the time ever come when they need not think of
pennies?

Suddenly she turned, took a key from her basket, and walked composedly
downstairs, unlocked the drawer of the writing-table, and took out her
uncle's last will and testament. Then she closed the drawer, leaving the
key in the lock, as it had always been, and returned to her room.

Having fastened her door, she applied herself to read the document. It
was short and simple, and with the exception of a small legacy to Mr.
Newton, left all the testator possessed to a man whose name was utterly
unknown to her. Mr. Newton was the sole executor, and the will was dated
nearly seven years back.

Katherine read it through a second time, and then very deliberately
folded it up. "It shall not stand in my way," she murmured, her lips
closing firmly, and she sat for a few minutes holding it tight in her
hand, as she thought steadily what she should do. "Had my uncle lived a
few hours more, this would have been destroyed or nullified. I will
carry out his intentions. I wonder what is the legal penalty for the
crime or felony I am going to commit? At all events I shall risk it. The
only punishment I fear is my mother's condemnation. She must never know.
It is a huge theft, whether the man I rob is rich or poor. I hope he is
very rich. I know I am doing a great wrong; that if others acted as I am
acting there would be small security for property--perhaps for life--but
I'll do it. Shall I ever be able to hold up my head and look honest folk
in the face! I will try. If I commit this robbery I must not falter nor
repent. I must be consistently, boldly false, and I must get done with
it before my dearest mother comes. How grieved and disappointed she
would be if she knew! She believes so firmly in my truthfulness. Well, I
have been true, and I _will_ be, save in this. Here I will lie by
silence. Where shall I hide it? for I will not destroy it--not yet at
least. No elaborate concealment is necessary."

She rose up and took some thin brown paper--such as is used in shops to
wrap up lace and ribbons--and folded the will in it neatly, tying it up
with twine, and writing on it, "old MSS., to be destroyed." Then she
laid it in the bottom of her box. "If my mother sees it, the idea of old
MS. will certainly deter her from looking at it." She put back the
things she had taken out and closed the box; then she stood for a moment
of thought. What would the result be? Who could tell? Some other unknown
Liddells might start up to share the inheritance. Well, she would not
mind that much; so long as she could secure some years of modest
competence to her mother, some help for her little nephews, she would be
content.

Now that she had accomplished what an hour ago was a scarcely
entertained idea, she felt wonderfully calm, but curious as to how
things would turn out, with the sort of curiosity she might have felt
with regard to the action of another.

She did not want to be still any more, however; she went to and fro in
her room, dusting it and putting it in order; she rearranged her own
hair and dress, and then she went to the window to watch for her mother.
Time had gone swiftly while her thoughts had been so intensely occupied,
and to her great delight she soon saw a cab drive up, from which Mrs.
Liddell descended.

Katherine flew to receive her, and in the joy of feeling her mother once
more by her side she temporarily forgot the sense of a desperate deed
which had oppressed her.

Mrs. Liddell had been much shocked by the sudden death of her
brother-in-law, but her chief anxiety was to fly to Katie, to shorten
the terrible hours of loneliness in the house of mourning.

She too honestly confessed her regret that the old man had been cut off
before he could fulfil his intention of making a new will, "though," she
said to her daughter as they talked together, "we cannot be sure that he
would have remembered us--or rather you. But there is no use in thinking
of what is past out of the range of possibilities. Let us only hope
whoever is heir will not insist on immediate repayment of that loan. It
is strange that you should have managed to make the poor old man's
acquaintance, and to a certain degree succeed with him, only in his last
days."

"Try and talk of something else, mother dear. It is all so ghastly and
oppressive! Tell me about Ada and the boys."

"Ada was out when Mr. Newton came. I left a little note telling her of
your uncle's awfully sudden death, and of my intention of remaining with
you until after the funeral. What a state of excitement she will be in!
I have no doubt she will be here to-morrow."

"Very likely," said Katherine, who was pouring out tea.

"Did Mr. Newton mention to you that your uncle had written to him to
come and draw up a new will?"

"Why, I wrote the note, which my uncle signed."

"Yes, of course; I had forgotten. But did Mr. Newton say that he had a
faint hope that he might have destroyed the other will?"

"He did; but it is not probable."

"It would make an immense difference to us if he had."

"Would it?" asked Kate, to extract an answer from her mother.

"Mr. Newton believes that if he died intestate you would inherit
everything."

"What! would not the little boys share?"

"I am not sure. But to get away from the subject, which somehow always
draws me back to it, I have one bit of good news for you, my darling. I
had a letter from Santley this morning. He will take my novel, and will
give me a hundred and fifty pounds for it."

"Really? Oh, this is glorious news! I am so delighted! Then you will get
more for the next; you will become known and appreciated."

"Do not be too sure; it may be a failure. And at present I do not feel
as if I should ever have any ideas again. My brain seems so weary."

"Perhaps," whispered Katherine, "you _may_ be able to rest. You are
looking very tired and ill."


Somewhat to her own surprise, Katherine slept profoundly that night. The
delicious sense of comfort and security which her mother's presence
brought soothed her ineffably. It seemed as if no harm could touch her
while she felt the clasp of those dear arms.

The early forenoon brought Mr. Newton, and after a little preliminary
talk respecting the arrangements he had made for the funeral, he
proposed to look for the will which he had drawn up some years before,
and which, to the best of his recollection, Mr. Liddell had taken charge
of himself.

"Might you not wait until the poor old man is laid in his last home?
asked Mrs. Liddell.

"Perhaps it would be more seemly," said the lawyer; "but it is almost
necessary to know who is the heir and who is the executor. Besides, it
is quite possible that since he signed the will I drew up for him in
'59, and to which I was executor, he may have made another, of which I
know nothing, and I may have to communicate with some other executor. I
will therefore begin the search at once. Would you and your daughter
like to be present?"

"Thank you, no," returned Mrs. Liddell.

"I would rather not," said Katherine.

Mr. Newton proceeded on his search alone, while Mrs. Liddell and her
daughter went to the latter's room, anxious to keep from meddling with
what did not concern them.

Scarcely had the former settled herself to write a letter to an old
friend in Florence with whom she kept up a steady though not a frequent
correspondence, when she was interrupted by a tap at the door. Before
she could say "Come in," it was opened to admit Mrs. Frederic Liddell,
who came in briskly. She had taken out a black dress with crape on it,
and retouched a mourning bonnet, so that she presented an appearance
perfectly suited to the occasion.

"Oh dear!" she cried, "I have been in such a state ever since I had your
note! I thought I should never get away this morning. The stupidity of
those servants is beyond description. Now do tell all about everything."
She sat down suddenly, then jumped up, kissed her mother-in-law on the
brow, and shook hands with Katherine.

"There is very little more to tell beyond what I said in my note,"
returned Mrs. Liddell. "The poor old man never spoke or showed any
symptom of life after he fell. Mr Newton, of course, will make all
arrangements. The funeral will be on Friday, and Katherine and I will
remain here till it is over."

"And the will?" whispered Mrs. Frederic, eagerly. "Have you found out
anything about that?"

Mrs. Liddell shook her head. "I have not even asked, so sure am I that
it will not affect us in any way. Mr. Newton is now examining the bureau
where my brother-in-law appears to have kept all his papers, hoping to
find the will."

"Is it not cruel to think of all this wealth passing away from us?"
cried the little woman, in a tearful tone.

"I do not suppose that John Liddell was wealthy," said Mrs. Liddell. "He
was very careful of what he had, but it does not follow that he had a
great deal."

"Oh, nonsense! My dear Mrs. Liddell, you only say that to keep us quiet.
Misers always have heaps of money. What do you say, Katherine?"

"That from all I saw I should say he was not rich. He never mentioned
large sums of money, or--"

"I do not mind you," interrupted the young widow. "You always affect to
despise money."

"Indeed I do not, Ada. I am only afraid of thinking too much of it."
Katherine perceived that her mother had wisely abstained from telling
the whole circumstances to this most impulsive young person.

"And do you mean to say," pursued Mrs. Frederic, who could hardly keep
still, so great was her excitement, "that the horrid lawyer is rummaging
through the old man's papers all alone? You ought to be present, Mrs.
Liddell. You don't know what tricks he may play. He may put a will in
his own favor in some drawer. It is very weak not to have insisted on
being present, and shows such indifference to our interests!"

"I am not afraid of Mr. Newton forging a will," said Mrs. Liddell,
smiling; "and I greatly fear that whoever may profit by the old man's
last testament, we will not. But I assure you Mr. Newton did ask me to
assist in the search, and I declined. Indeed I asked him not to search
while the poor remains were unburied."

"Why, my goodness! you do not mean to say you are pretending to be
_sorry_ for this rude--miser!" cried Mrs. Frederic, with uplifted hand
and eyes.

"Personally I did not care about him, but, Ada, death demands respect."

"Oh yes, of course. Then there is absolutely nothing to do or to hear."

"Nothing," said Katherine, rather shortly.

"Could I go out and buy anything for you? Surely the executors, whoever
they may be, will give you some money for mourning?"

"I do not think it at all likely. I will tell you what you can do, Ada:
go to my large cupboard and bring me," etc., etc.--sundry directions
followed. "Katherine and I can quite well do all that is necessary
ourselves to make a proper appearance on Friday."

"Very well; and I will come to the funeral too, and bring the boys. A
little crape on their caps and sleeves will be quite enough. They will
produce a great effect. I dare say if I speak to Mrs. Burnett's friend,
that newspaper man, he will put an account into the _Morning News_, with
all our names. Whatever comes, it would have a good effect."

"Of course you can come if you like, Ada, but I would not bring the
boys. Children are out of place except at a parent's grave."

"Well, I do not agree with you, and I do not think you need grudge my
poor children that much recognition."

"Poor darlings! Do you believe we could grudge them anything that was
good for them?" cried Katherine.

"Oh, there is no knowing! Pray is there any plate in the house,
Katherine, or diamonds? You know the nephew's wife _ought_ to have the
diamonds!"

"Do not make me laugh, Ada, while the poor man is lying dead!" exclaimed
Katherine, smiling. "The idea of plate or diamonds in _this_ house is
too funny!"

"Then are the spoons and forks only Sheffield ware?" asked her
sister-in-law. "How mean!"

After a good deal more cross-examination Mrs. Fred rose to depart, her
pretty childish face clouded, not to say very cross.

"I might have saved myself the trouble of coming here," she said.

"We are very glad to see you, and it will be a great help if you can
send or bring the things I want."

"Perhaps, if I wait a little longer, this admirable Mr. Newton may find
something," resumed Mrs. Fred, pausing, and reluctant to move.

"If he does I will let you know immediately," said Katherine; "but there
are numbers of little drawers in the bureau; it will take him a long
time to look through them all."

"Have you seen the inside of it?" asked Mrs. Fred, greedily.

"I have seen my uncle writing at it," returned Katherine; "but I never
had an opportunity of examining it."

"Well, I suppose I had better go. I am evidently not wanted here!"
exclaimed Mrs. Frederic, longing to quarrel with some one, being in that
condition of mind aptly described as "not knowing what to be at."
Finding no help from her auditors, she went reluctantly away.

"I wish poor Ada would not allow her imagination to run away with her.
It will be such a disappointment when she finds it is all much ado about
nothing," said Mrs. Liddell, as she returned to her letter. "I am
afraid, Katie dear, you have had a great shock; you do not look a bit
like yourself."

"I feel dazed and stupid, but I dare say I shall be all right
to-morrow." She took a book and pretended to read, while her mother's
pen scratched lightly and quickly over the paper.

The light was beginning to change, when a message from Mr. Newton
summoned both mother and daughter to the sitting-room, where they found
him awaiting them.

"I have looked most carefully through the bureau, and can find no sign
of the will. There are various papers and account-books, a very clear
statement of his affairs, and about a hundred and fifteen pounds of
ready money, but no will. I have also looked in his writing-table
drawer, his wardrobe, and every possible and impossible place. It may be
at my office, though I am under the impression he took charge of it
himself. There is a possibility he may have deposited it at his banker's
or his stock-broker's, though that is not probable."

"It is curious," remarked Mrs. Liddell, feeling she must say something.

"Pray," resumed Newton, addressing Katherine, "have you ever seen him
tearing up or burning papers?"

She thought for a moment, and then said quietly, "No, I never have."

"I can do no more here, at least to-day," Newton went on. "I must bid
you a good-afternoon. You may be sure I will leave nothing undone to
discover the missing will, and I can only say I earnestly hope I may not
be successful."



CHAPTER X.

"FRUITION."


The funeral over, Mrs. Liddell and her daughter went back to their
modest home, feeling as though they had passed through some strange
dream, which had vanished, leaving "not a wrack behind."

To Katherine it was like fresh life to return to the natural cheerful
routine of her daily cares and employments, to struggle good-humoredly
with indifferent servants, to do battle with her little nephews over
their lessons, to walk with them and tell them stories. At times she
almost forgot that the diligently sought will lay in its
innocent-looking cover among her clothes, or that any results would flow
from her daring and criminal act; then again the consciousness of having
weighted her life with a secret she must never reveal would press
painfully upon her, and make her greedy for the moment when Mr. Newton
would relinquish the search, and she should reap the harvest she
expected.

She never believed that her uncle was as rich as Ada supposed, but she
did hope for a small fortune which might secure comfort and ease.

Mrs. Frederic Liddell was a real affliction during this period. The idea
of inheriting John Liddell's supposed wealth was never absent from her
thoughts, and seldom from her lips. Even the boys were infected by her
gorgeous anticipations.

"I shall have a pony like that, and a groom to ride beside me," Cecil
would cry when his attention was caught by any young equestrian. "And I
will give you a ride, auntie. Shall you have a carriage too, or will you
drive with mammy?"

"And I shall have a beautiful dog, like Mrs. Burnett's, and a garden
away in the country," was Charlie's scheme. "You shall come and dig in
it, auntie."

"Do not think of such things, my dears," was auntie's usual reply. "I am
afraid we shall never be any richer than we are; so you must be diligent
boys, and work hard to make fortunes for yourselves."

"Where did Uncle Liddell keep all his money?" was one of Cecil's
questions in reply. "Did he keep it in big bags downstairs? He hadn't a
nice house; it was quite a nasty one."

"Had he a big place in a cave, with trees that grow rubies and diamonds
and beautiful things?" added Charlie.

"Why doesn't mamma buy us some ponies now?" continued Cis; "we should be
some time learning to ride."

"I will not listen to you any more if you talk so foolishly. Try and
think of something else--of the Christmas pantomime. You know grannie
says you shall go if you do your lessons well," returned Katherine.

"It isn't silly!" exclaimed Cecil. "Mammy tells us we must take care of
her when we are rich men, and that we shall be able to hold up our heads
as high as any one. _I_ can hold up my head _now_."

Such conversations were of frequent occurrence, and kept Katherine in a
state of mental irritation.

Toward the end of October Mrs. Burnett brought relief in the shape of an
invitation to Mrs. Frederic.

The Burnett family were spending the "dark days before Christmas" at
Brighton, and thither hied the lively young widow in great glee. Things
generally went smoother in her absence; the boys were more obedient, the
meals more punctual.

Nevertheless Katherine observed that her mother did not settle to her
writing as usual. Occasionally she shut herself up in the study, but
when Katherine came in unexpectedly she generally found her resting her
elbow on the table and her head on her hand, gazing at the blank sheet
before her, or leaning back in her chair, evidently lost in thought.

"You do not seem to take much to your writing, mother dear," said
Katherine one morning as she entered and sat down on a stool beside her.

"In truth I cannot, Katie. I do not know how it is, but no plots will
come. I have generally been able to devise something on which to hang my
characters and events; but my invention, such as it is--or rather
was--seems dried up and withered. What shall I do if my slight vein is
exhausted? Heaven knows I produced nothing very original or remarkable,
but my lucubrations were saleable, and I do not see how we can do
without this source of income."

"You only want rest," returned Katherine, taking her hand and laying her
cheek against it. "Your fancy wants a quiet sleep, and then it will wake
up fresh and bright. Take a holiday; put away pen, ink, and paper; and
you will be able to write a lovely story long before the money we expect
for your novel is expended."

"I hope so." She paused, and then resumed, with a sigh: "I ought to have
more sense and self-control at my age, but I confess that the
uncertainty about John Liddell's will absorbs me. Suppose, Katie, that
his money were to come to you. Imagine you and I rich enough not to be
afraid of the week after next! Why, our lives would be too blissful."

"They would," murmured Katherine. "When do you think we shall know?"

"I cannot tell. All possible search must be made before the law can be
satisfied. My own impression is that your uncle _did_ destroy his will,
intending to make a different distribution of his money, and to provide
for you."

"Yes, I believe he did," said Katherine, quietly. "I wish--oh, I _do_
wish my uncle had had time to divide his property between us all; then
there would be no ill feeling. But I suppose Cis and Charlie will get
some, even if no will is found?"

"I have no idea. If poor Fred had lived, I suppose he would take a
share."

They sat silent for some minutes. Then Kate rose and very deliberately
shut up her mother's writing-book, collected her papers and rough
note-book, and locked them away in her drawer. "Now, dearest mother,"
she said, "promise me not to open that drawer for ten days at least,
unless a very strong inspiration comes to you. By that time we may know
something certain about the will, and at any rate you will have had
change of occupation. Then put on your bonnet and let us go to see our
friend Mrs. Wray. Perhaps she may let us see her husband's studio, and
if he is there we are sure to have some interesting talk. We both sorely
need a change of ideas."


Mrs. Frederic Liddell returned from Brighton in a very thoughtful mood.
She said she had had a "heavenly visit." Such nice weather--such a
contrast to dirty, dreary, depressing London! She had met several old
acquaintances, they had had company every night, and had she only had a
third evening dress her bliss would have been complete. As it was, a
slight sense of inferiority had taken the keen edge off her joy. "At any
rate, the men didn't seem to think there was much amiss with me. Sir
Ralph Brereton and Colonel Ormonde were really quite troublesome. I do
not much like Sir Ralph. I never know if he is laughing at me or not,
though I am sure I do not think there is anything to laugh at in me.
Colonel Ormonde is so kind and sensible! Do you know, Mrs. Liddell, he
says _I_ ought to see Mr. Newton myself, to look after the interests of
my darling boys, and--and try to ascertain the true state of affairs.
That is what Colonel Ormonde says, and I suppose you wouldn't mind, Mrs.
Liddell?" she ended, in a rather supplicating tone; for she was just a
little in awe of her mother-in-law, kind and indulgent though she was.

"Go and see Mr. Newton by all means, Ada, if you feel it would be any
satisfaction to you; but until the right time comes it will be very
useless to make any inquiries. We leave it all to Mr. Newton."

"Oh, you and Katherine are so cold and immovable; you are not a bit like
me. I am all sensitiveness and impulse. Well, if it is not raining cats
and dogs I _will_ go into that awful City and see Mr. Newton
to-morrow."

"Would it not be well to make an appointment?"

"Oh dear no! I will take my chance; I would not write. Katie dear, I
have torn all the flounce off my black and white dinner dress; you are
so much more clever with your needle than I am, would you sew it on for
me to-morrow?"

"No, I cannot, Ada--not to-morrow at least. I am busy altering mother's
winter cloak, and she has nothing warm to put on until it is finished. I
will show you how to arrange the flounce, and you will soon do it
yourself if you try."

"Very well"--rather sulkily. "I am sure I was intended to be a rich
man's wife, I am _so_ helpless."

"And I am sure I was born under 'a three-half-penny constellation,' as
L. E. L. said, for I rather like helping myself," returned Katherine,
laughing. "Only I should like to have a little exterior help besides."

"Do you know, Katherine, I am afraid you are very proud. I believe you
think yourself the cleverest girl in the world."

"I should be much happier if I did," said Katherine, good-humoredly.
"Don't be a goose, Ada; let my disposition alone. I am afraid it is too
decidedly formed to be altered."

"Colonel Ormonde was asking for you," resumed Mrs. Frederic, fearing she
had allowed her temper too much play. "He is quite an admirer of yours."

"I am much obliged to him. Would you like to come to the theatre
to-night? Mr. and Mrs. Wray have a box at the Adelphi, and have offered
us two places. My mother thought you might like to go."

"With the Wrays? No, thank you. I never seem to get on with them; and if
Colonel Ormonde happens to be there (and he might, for he is in town
to-day), I should not care to be seen with them; they are not at all in
society, you know."

"True," said Katherine, with perfect equanimity. "Then, dear mother, do
come. Nothing takes you out of yourself so much as a good play. I shall
enjoy it more if you are with us."

After a little discussion Mrs. Liddell agreed to go, and Mrs. Frederic
retired to unpack, and to see what repairs were necessary, in a somewhat
sulky mood.

The following morning Mrs. Liddell's head was aching so severely that
her daughter would not allow her to get up. She therefore gave her
sister-in-law an early luncheon, and saw her set forth on her visit to
Mr. Newton. She was a little nervous about it; she wished Katherine to
go with her, and yet she did not wish it.

She attired herself completely in black, and managed to give a mournful
"distressed widow" aspect to her toilette: the little woman was an
artist in her way, so long as her subject was self and its advantages.
Then Katherine devoted herself to her mother, who had taken a chill. It
grieved her to see how the slightest indisposition preyed upon her
strength.

The period of waiting was terribly long and wearing. Had she, after all,
committed herself to an ever-gnawing loss of self-respect to enrich
another? Katherine asked herself this question more than once.

She had refrained from troubling Mr. Newton with fruitless questions or
impatient expressions, and her mother admired her forbearance. But in
truth Catherine hated to approach the subject of her possible
inheritance, though she never faltered in her purpose of keeping the
existence of her uncle's will a profound secret.

Mrs. Frederic Liddell returned from her visit to the friendly lawyer
rather sooner than Katherine expected.

The moment she entered the drawing-room, where the latter was dusting
the few china and other ornaments, her countenance evinced unusual
disturbance.

"I am sure," she began, in a very high key, "if I had known what I was
going to encounter, I should have stayed at home. There's no justice in
this world for the widow and the fatherless."

"I cannot believe that Mr. Newton could be rude or unkind!" exclaimed
Katherine, much startled.

"I do not say he was," returned Mrs. Fred, snappishly. "But either he is
a stupid old idiot, or he has been telling me abominable stories. I
don't--I can't believe them! Do you know he says he, they, all the old
rogues together, believe that wretched miser had destroyed his will and
died intestate, and that every penny will be yours; not a sou comes to
the widow and children of the nephew. It is preposterous. It is the most
monstrous injustice. If it is law, an act of Parliament ought to be
passed to--to do away with it. Fancy your having everything, and me, my
boys and myself, dependent on _you_!"--scornful emphasis on "you."

"Is this possible?" exclaimed Katherine, dropping her duster in dismay.
"I thought that the property would be divided between the boys and
myself."

"Why, that is only common-sense! If you _do_ get everything you will be
well rewarded for your three months' penal servitude. You knew what you
were about, though you _do_ despise rank and riches."

"But, Ada, I suppose my uncle would have destroyed his will whether I
had been there or not."

"No. Mr. Newton's idea is that he intended to make a new will, probably
leaving you a large sum, and so destroyed the old one. Mr. Newton thinks
he grew to like you. Oh! you played your cards well! But it is too hard
to think you cut out my dar-arling boys," she ended, with a sob.

Katherine grew very white; this outburst of fury roused her conscience.
She pulled herself together in an instant of quick thought, however.
"This is folly. What I have done will benefit the boys more than
myself," she reflected.

"I do not wonder at your being vexed, Ada," she said, gently. "But
fortunately one is not compelled to act according to law. If the whole
of the fortune, whatever it may be, becomes mine, do you think I would
keep it all to myself?"

"I am sure I don't know" said Mrs. Frederic, who had now subsided into
the sulks. "When people get hold of money they seldom like to part with
it; and I know you do not like _me_?"

"Why should you think so, Ada? We may not agree in our tastes, but that
is no reason for dislike; and you know how glad I am to be of use to
you, both for your own sake and poor Fred's."

"Well, I would rather not be dependent on you or any one. But there! I
do not believe what that stupid old man says--I do not believe such a
horrible law exists. I shall write and consult Colonel Ormonde, and find
out if I could not dispute the will--no, not the will--the property. I
should not like to give up my rights."

"Please, Ada, do not speak so loudly. My mother had just fallen asleep
before you came in; and she had such a bad night!"

"Loud? I am not talking loudly. You mean to insinuate I am in a
passion? I am nothing of the kind. I am perfectly cool, but
determined--determined to have justice, and my fair share of this man's
wealth!"

"It may not be wealth; it may be only competence, and it is not ours to
share yet."

"Not yours, you mean; that is what you _thought_, Katherine. And as to
wealth, I believe that cruel old miser was _enor_mously rich! Where are
the boys?"

"Out walking with Lottie. I am _so_ glad they were not in to hear all
this! Do not talk to them of being rich, dear Ada; it puts unhealthy
ideas into their minds, and--"

"Upon my word! I like to hear _you_, a mere girl, not quite nineteen
yet, advising me, a mother, a married woman, about my own children. You
need not presume on your expected riches. _I'll_ never play the part of
a poor relation, and submit to be lectured by _you_."

Her sister-in-law's stings and passing fits of ill-humor never irritated
Katherine unless they worried her mother, nor did this most unwonted
outburst of irrepressible indignation, but it distressed her. "Come,
Ada, don't be cross," she said. "It was perhaps want of tact in me to
suggest anything, though my idea is right enough. It is quite natural
that you should be awfully vexed. Perhaps Mr. Newton _is_ wrong; at all
events, if the law is unjust, _I_ need not act unjustly, and believe me,
I _will_ not."

"I hope not," returned the young widow, a little mollified. "I always
believe you haven't a bad heart, Katherine, though you have a
disagreeble sullen temper. Now _I_ am too open; you see the worst of me
at once; but I do not remember unkindness; and if you do what is right
in this, I--I shall always speak of you as you deserve. Do get me
something to eat; I am awfully hungry, and though I hate beer, I will
take some; it is better than nothing. How _you_ go on on water I cannot
imagine; it will ruin your digestion."

So they went amicably enough into the dining-room together, one to be
ministered to, the other to minister.

Here the boys joined them; but for a wonder their mother was silent
respecting her visit to the lawyer, and soon went away to write to
Colonel Ormonde, on whom she had conferred, unasked, the office of prime
counsellor and referee. This opened up a splendid field for letters full
of flattering appeals to his wisdom and judgment, and touching little
confessions of her own weakness, folly, and need for guidance.


"DEAR MISS LIDDELL,--I should be glad if you could call on
Tuesday next about one o'clock. I have various documents to show you,
or I should not give you the trouble to come here. If Mrs. Liddell is
disengaged and could come also it would be well. I am yours faithfully,
                                                            A. NEWTON."


Such was the letter which the first post brought to Katherine about six
weeks after the death of John Liddell.

Katherine, who always rose and dressed first, found it on the table when
she went down to give the boys their breakfast, to coax the fire to burn
brightly if it was inclined to be sulky, and to make the coffee for her
mother and Mrs. Fred.

As soon as she had seen the two little men at work on their bread and
milk she flew back to her mother.

"Do read this! Do you think that Mr. Newton wants me because I am to
have my uncle's money at last?"

"Yes, I do. There can be no other reason for his wishing to see you,
dearest child. What a wonderful change it will make if this is the case!
I can then cease, to mourn the failure of my poor powers, and let the
publishers go free. My love, I did not think anything could affect you
so much. You are white and trembling."

"I have been more anxious than you knew," returned Katherine, who felt
strangely overcome, curiously terrified, at the near approach of
success--the success she had ventured on so daring an act to secure. "I
greatly feared some other claimant--some other will, I mean--might be
found."

"Yes, I feared too. Yet there could be no claimant, apart from another
will. Poor George, your uncle's only son, was killed, I remember. Take a
little water, dear, and sit down. No, I did not fear another claimant
when I thought, but I feared to hope too much."

"I feel all right now, mother. Such a prospect does not kill. Suppose we
say nothing to Ada--she will worry our lives out--not at least till we
know our fate certainly?"

"Perhaps it will be better not."

"And whatever I get we will share with the dear children, and give Ada
some too. Oh, darling mother, think of our being alone together again,
and tolerably at ease!"

It would be wearisome to the reader were the details of the interview
with Mr. Newton minutely recorded.

He was evidently relieved and delighted to announce that all attempts to
find the will had failed, and explained at some length to his very
attentive listeners the steps to be taken and the particulars of the
property bequeathed; how it devolved on Katherine to take out letters of
administration; how at her age she had the power of choosing her own
guardian for the two years which must elapse before she was of age; and
finally that the large amount of which she had become mistress was so
judiciously invested that he (Mr. Newton) could advise no change save
the transference of stock to her name.

As it dawned upon Katherine that the sum she inherited amounted to
something over eighty thousand pounds, she felt dizzy with surprise and
fear. She had no idea she had been playing for such stakes. The sense of
sudden responsibility pressed upon her; her hands trembled and her cheek
paled.

"My dear young lady, you look as if you had met a loss instead of
gaining a fortune," said Mr. Newton, looking kindly at her. "I have no
doubt you will make a good use of your money, and I trust will enjoy
many happy days."

"But my nephews, my sister-in-law, do they get nothing?"

"Not a penny. Of course you can, when of age, settle some portion upon
them."

"I certainly will; but in the mean time--"

"In the mean time I will take care that you have a proper allowance."

"Thank you, dear Mr. Newton. Do get me something big enough to make us
all comfortable, and I can share with Ada--with Mrs. Frederic. I do so
want to take my mother abroad, and I could not leave Ada and the boys
unless they were well provided for."

"Make your mind easy; the court will allow you a handsome income. So you
must cheer up, in spite of the infliction of a large fortune," added Mr.
Newton, with unwonted jocularity.

"Both Katherine and myself are warmly grateful for your kind sympathy,"
said Mrs. Liddell, softly. Then, after a short pause, she asked, "Do you
know what became of Mr. Liddell's unfortunate wife?"

"She died eleven or twelve years ago. The family of--of the man she
lived with had the audacity to apply for money, on account of her
funeral, I think, and so I came to know she was dead. It was a sad
business. The poor woman had a wretched life, but I don't think she was
in any want."

"I only asked, because if she was in poverty--"

"Oh," interrupted the lawyer, "if she were alive, she would have her
share of the estate, as her marriage was never dissolved."

A short pause ensued, and then Newton asked if Miss Liddell would like
some money, as he would be happy to draw a check for any sum she
required. Then, indeed, Katherine felt that her days of difficulty were
over.


Mrs. Liddell and her daughter were in no hurry to leave their humble
home. In truth Katherine was more frightened than elated at the amount
of property she had inherited, and would have felt a little less guilty
had she only succeeded in obtaining a moderate competence.

A curious stunned feeling made her incapable of her usual activity for
the first few days, and averse even to plan for the future.

She kept her sister-in-law quiet by a handsome present of money
wherewith to buy a fresh outfit for herself and her boys. Finally she
roused up sufficiently to persuade Mrs. Liddell to see an eminent
physician, for she did not seem to gather strength as rapidly as her
daughter expected.

The great man, after a careful examination, said there was nothing very
wrong; the nervous system seemed to be a good deal exhausted, and the
bronchial attack of the previous year had left the lungs delicate, but
that with care she might live to old age.

He directed, however, that Mrs. Liddell should go as soon as possible to
a southern climate. He recommended Cannes or San Remo--indeed it would
be advisable that several winters in future should be spent in a more
genial atmosphere than that of England.

This advice exactly suited the wishes both of Katherine and her mother.

How easy it was to make arrangements in their altered circumstances! How
magical are the effects of money! How quickly Katherine grew accustomed
to the unwonted ease of her present lot! _If_--oh, if--she were ever
found out, how should she bear it? How could she endure the pinch of
poverty, added to the poison of shame? But the idea that all this wealth
was really _hers_ gained on her, while her fears were lulled to sleep by
a pleasant sense of comfort and security.

Mrs. Frederic Liddell was a good deal disturbed on hearing that her
mother-in-law was ordered abroad.

"Pray what is to become of _me_?" was her first question when Katherine
announced the doctor's verdict. They were sitting over the fire in the
drawing-room, after the boys had said good-night.

"Would you prefer staying in England?" asked Mrs. Liddell.

"For some reasons I should, but you know I _must_ have something to live
on."

"I know that," returned Katherine. "As I cannot execute any any deed of
gift for two years, I think I had better give you an allowance for
yourself and the boys, and let you do as you like. I have talked with
Mr. Newton about it."

"Well, dear, I think it _would_ be the best plan," said Mrs. Frederic,
amiably. "I have not the least scruple in taking the money, because you
know it ought really to be ours."

"Exactly," returned Katherine, with a slight smile, and she named so
liberal a sum that even Mrs. Fred was satisfied.

"Well, I am sure that is very nice, dear," she said; "and when you are
of age will you settle it on my precious boys?"

"I will," replied Katherine, deliberately; "and I hope always to see a
great deal of them."

"Of course you will, but you will not long be Katherine Liddell. When
Mr. Wright comes, my boys will get leave to stay with their mother as
much as they like."

"I do not think I shall easily forget them, even if Mr. Wright appears,"
said Katherine, good-humoredly.

"What a strange girl Katie is!" pursued her sister-in-law. "Was she
never in love, Mrs. Liddell? Had she never any admirers?"

"Not that I know of, Ada."

"Oh! I have been in love many times!" cried Katherine, laughing. "Don't
you remember, mother, the Russian prince I used to dance with at Madame
du Lac's juvenile parties?--I made quite a romance about him; and that
young Austrian--I forget his name--whom we met at Stuttgart, Baron
Holdenberg's nephew; he was charming, to say nothing of Lohengrin and
Tannhauser. I have quite a long list of loves, Ada. Oh, I _should_ like
to dance again! To float round to the music of a delightful Austrian
band would be charming."

"My dear Katherine, that is all nonsense, as you will find out one day."
Then, after some moments of evidently severe reflection, her brows knit,
and her soft baby-like lips pressed together she said: "I think I should
like to move nearer town, and get a nice nursery governess for Cis and
Charlie, and--Don't you think it would be a good plan?"

"The governess, yes, as they will lose their present one when Katherine
goes. But why not stay on here till next autumn, when the lease or
agreement expires? You will have it all to yourself in about ten days,
and it will be quite large enough," said Mrs. Liddell.

"Stay on here!" began her daughter-in-law, in a high key, and with a
look of great disgust. She stopped herself suddenly, however, smoothed
her brow, and added, "Well, I will think about it," after which, with
unusual self-control, she changed the subject, and talked gravely about
governesses, their salaries and qualifications, till it was time to go
to bed.

A few days after this conversation the house was invaded by a host of
applicants for the post of instructress to the two little boys. Every
shade of complexion, all possible accomplishments, the most varied and
splendid testimonials, were presented to the bewildered little widow, in
consequence of her application to a governesses' institution. She was
fain to ask Katherine to help her in choosing, much to the latter's
satisfaction, as she did not like to offer assistance, though she wished
to influence the choice of a preceptress. Together they fixed on a
quiet, kindly looking young woman, to whom both took rather a fancy, and
Katherine felt very much relieved to know that this important point was
settled.

But Mrs. Frederic did not seem at ease; there was a restlessness about
her, a disinclination to leave the house, that attracted Katherine's
notice, although she was much occupied with preparations for their
departure. At last the mystery was solved.

One afternoon Mrs. Liddell and Katherine had been a good deal later than
usual in returning home, having determined to finish their shopping and
take a few days' complete rest before starting on their travels.

Mrs. Frederic met them with a heightened color and a curious embarrassed
look. The drawing room was lit by a splendid fire, and sweet with the
perfume of abundant hot-house flowers; there was something vaguely
prophetic in the air.

"Do come to the fire, dear Mrs. Liddell; you must be so cold! I have
been quite uneasy about you," she exclaimed, effusively.

"Have you had a visitor, Ada?" asked Katherine, whose suspicions were
aroused.

"I have, and I want to tell you all about it. I am far too candid to
keep anything from those I love. My visitor was Colonel Ormonde. He
asked me to marry him, and--and, dear Mrs. Liddell--Katherine--I hope
you will not be offended, but I--I said I would," burst forth Mrs.
Frederic; and then she burst into tears.

There was a minute's silence. Katherine flushed crimson, and did not
speak, but Mrs. Liddell said, kindly: "My dear Ada, if you think Colonel
Ormonde will make you happy and be kind to the boys, you are quite
right. I never expected a young creature like you to live alone for the
rest of your existence, and I believe Colonel Ormonde is a man of
character and position."

"He is indeed," cried Ada, falling on her mother-in-law's neck. "You are
the wisest, kindest woman in the world. And you, Katherine?"

"I _do_ hope you will be _very, very_ happy," responded Katherine; "but
I must say I think he is rather too old for you. That, however, is your
affair."

"Yes, of course it is"--leaving Mrs. Liddell to hug Katherine. "I am
quite fond of him; that is, I esteem and like him. Of course I shall
never love any one as I did my dear darling Fred; but I do want some one
to help me with the boys, and Marmaduke (that's his name) is quite fond
of them. So now, dear Mrs. Liddell, I will stay on here till--till I am
married, if you don't mind."

"It is the best thing you can do, Ada. I wish we could stay and be
present at your marriage."

"But that is impossible," cried Katherine.

"And not at all necessary," added Mrs. Frederic, hastily. "My friend
Mrs. Burnett will help me in every way, and I have been trouble enough
already."

"I do not think so," said Mrs. Liddell, quietly. "But I am very weary. I
will go to my room. Katie dear, bring me some tea presently."

And the widow escaped to rest, perhaps to weep over the bright boy so
dear to her, so soon forgotten by the wife of his bosom.

Not many days after, Katherine and her mother set forth upon their
travels, leaving nothing they regretted save the two little boys,
respecting whose fate Katherine felt anything but satisfied. Of this she
said nothing to her mother. And so, with temporary forgetfulness of the
deed which was destined to color her whole life, she saw the curtain
fall on the first act of her story.



CHAPTER XI.

"A NEW PHASE."


"An interval of three weeks--six months--ten years," as the case may
be--"is supposed to have elapsed since the last act." This is a very
commonly used expression in play-bills, and there seems no just cause or
impediment why a story-teller should not avail himself of the same
device to waft the patient reader over an uneventful period, during
which the hero or heroine has been granted a "breathing space" between
the ebb and flow of harrowing adventures and moving incidents.

It was, then, more than two years since the last chapter, and a still
cold day at the end of February--still and somewhat damp--in one of the
midland shires--say Clayshire. The dank hedges and sodden fields had a
melancholy aspect, which seemed to affect a couple of horsemen who were
walking their jaded, much-splashed horses along a narrow road, or
rather lane, which led between a stretch of pasture-land on one side and
a ploughed field on the other. The red coats and top-boots of both were
liberally besprinkled with mud; even their hats had not quite escaped.
Their steeds hung their heads and moved languidly; both horses and
riders had evidently had a hard day's work. Presently the road sloped
somewhat steeply to a hollow sheltered at one side by a steep bank
overgrown with brushwood and large trees. The country behind the
huntsmen was rather flat and very open, but from this point it became
broken and wooded, sloping gradually up toward a distant range of low
blue hills.

"Ha, you blundering idiot!" exclaimed the elder of the two men, pulling
up his horse, a powerful roan, as he stumbled at the beginning of the
descent. He was a big, heavy man with a red face, thick gray mustache,
and small, angry-looking eyes. "He'll break my neck some day."

"Don't take away his character," returned his companion, laughing.
"Remember he has had a hard run, and you are not a feather-weight." The
speaker was tall (judging from the length of the well-shaped leg which
lay close against his horse's side), large-framed, and bony; his plain
strong face was tanned to swarthiness by exposure to wind and weather;
moreover, a pair of deep-set dark eyes and long, nearly black mustache
showed that he had been no fair, ruddy youth to begin with.

"No, by Jove!" exclaimed the first speaker. "I don't understand how it
is that I grow so infernally stout. I am sure I take exercise enough,
and live most temperately."

"Exercise! Yes, for five or six months; the rest of the twelve you do
nothing. And as to living temperately, what with a solid breakfast, a
heavy luncheon, and a serious dinner, you manage to consume a great deal
in the twenty-four hours."

"Come, De Burgh! Hang it, I rarely eat lunch."

"Only when you can get it. Say two hundred and ninety times out of the
three hundred and sixty-five days of the year."

"I admit nothing of the sort. The fact is, what I eat goes into a good
skin. Now you might _cram_ the year round and be a bag of bones at the
end of it."

"Thank God for all his mercies," replied De Burgh. "The fact is, you are
a spoiled favorite of fortune, and in addition to all the good things
you have inherited you pick up a charming wife who spoils you and
coddles you in a way to make the mouth of an unfortunate devil like
myself water with envy."

"None of that nonsense, De Burgh," complacently. "The heart of a
benedict knoweth its own bitterness, though I can't complain much. If
you hadn't been the reckless _roue_ you are, you might have been as well
off as myself."

De Burgh laughed. "You see, I never cared for domestic bliss. I hate
fetters of every description, and I lay the ruin of my morals to the
score of that immortal old relative of mine who persists in keeping me
out of my heritage. The conviction that you are always sure of an
estate, and possibly thirty thousand a year, has a terrible effect on
one's character."

"If you had stuck to the Service you'd have been high up by this time,
with the reputation you made in the Mutiny time, for you were little
more than a boy then."

"Ay, or low down! Not that I should have much to regret if I were. I
have had a lot of enjoyment out of life, however, but at present I am
coming to the end of my tether. I am afraid I'll have to sell the few
acres that are left to me, and if that gets to the Baron's ears, good-by
to my chance of his bequeathing me the fortune he has managed to scrape
together between windfalls and lucky investments. The late Baroness had
a pot of money, you know."

"I know there's not much property to go with the title."

"A beggarly five thousand a year. I say, Ormonde, are you disposed for a
good thing? Lend me three thousand on good security? Six per cent., old
man!"

"I am not so disposed, my dear fellow! I have a wife and my boy to think
of now."

"Exactly," returned the other, with a sneer. "You have a new edition of
Colonel Ormonde's precious self."

"Oh, your sneers don't touch me! You always had your humors; still I am
willing to help a kinsman, and I will give you a chance if you like.
What do you say to a rich young wife--none of your crooked sticks?"

"It's an awful remedy for one's financial disease, to mortgage one's
self instead of one's property; still I suppose I'll have to come to it.
Who is the proposed mortgagee?"

"My wife's sister."

"Oh!"

The tone of this "Oh!" was in some unaccountable way offensive to
Colonel Ormonde. "Miss Liddell comes of a very good old county family I
can tell you," he said, quickly; "a branch of the Somerset Liddells; and
when I saw her last she was the making of an uncommon fine woman."

"But your wife was a Mrs. Liddell, was she not?"

"Yes. This girl is her sister-in-law, really, but Mrs. Ormonde looks on
her as a sister."

"Hum! She _has_ the cash? I suppose you know all about it?"

"Well, yes, you may be sure of sixty or seventy thousand, which would
keep you going till Lord de Burgh joins the majority."

"Yes, that might do; so 'trot her out.'"

"She is coming to stay with us in a week or two, before the hunting is
quite over, so you will be down here still."

"I suspect I shall. The lease of the lodge won't be out till next
September, and I may as well stay there as anywhere."

"Katherine Liddell is quite unencumbered; she has neither father nor
mother, nor near relation of any kind; in fact Mrs. Ormonde and myself
are her next friends, and in a few weeks she will be of age."

"All very favorable for her," said De Burgh, in his careless, commanding
way. His tones were deep and harsh, and though unmistakably one of the
"upper ten," there was a degree of roughness in his style, which,
however, did not prevent him from being rather a favorite with women,
who always seemed to find his attentions peculiarly flattering.

"Come," cried Ormonde, "let us push on. I am getting chilled to the
bone, and we are late enough already."

He touched his horse with the spur, and both riders urged their steeds
to a trot. Turning a bend of the road, they came suddenly upon a young
lady accompanied by two little boys, in smart velvet suits. They were
walking in the direction of Castleford--walking so smartly that the
smaller of the two boys went at a trot. "Hullo!" cried Colonel Ormonde,
pulling up for an instant. "What are you doing here? I hope the baby has
not been out so late?"

"Baby has gone to drive with mother," chorussed the boys eagerly, as if
a little awed.

"All right! Time you were home too," and he spurred after De Burgh.

"Mrs. Ormonde's boys?" asked the latter.

"Yes; have you never seen them?"

"I knew they existed, but I cannot say I ever beheld them before."

"Oh, Mrs. Ormonde never bores people with her brats."

"After they are out of infancy," returned the other, dryly.

A remark which helped to "rile" Colonel Ormonde, and he said little more
till they reached their destination, and both retired to enjoy the
luxury of a bath before dressing for dinner.

John de Burgh was a distant relation of Ormonde's, but having been
thrown together a good deal, they seemed nearer of kin than they really
were. De Burgh was somewhat overbearing, and dominated Colonel Ormonde
considerably. He was also somewhat lawless by nature, hating restraint
and intent upon his own pleasure. The discipline of military life, light
as it is to an officer, became intolerable to him when the excitement
and danger of real warfare were past, and he resigned his commission to
follow his own sweet will.

Ultimately he became renowned as a crack rider, and one of the best
steeple-chase jockeys on the turf in all competitions between gentlemen.

Mrs. Ormonde considered him quite an important personage, heir to an old
title, and first or second cousin to a host of peers. It took many a day
to accustom her to think of her husband's connections without a sense of
pride and exultation, at which Ormonde laughed heartily whenever he
perceived it. On his side De Burgh thought her a very pretty little toy,
quite amusing with her small airs and graces and assumption of
fine-ladyism, and he showed her a good deal of indolent attention, at
which her husband was rather flattered.

The rector of the parish and one or two officers of Colonel Ormonde's
old regiment, which happened to be quartered at a manufacturing town a
few miles distant, made up the party at dinner that evening, and
afterward they dropped off one by one to the billiard-room, till Mrs.
Ormonde and De Burgh found themselves _tete-a-tete_.

"Do you wear black every night because it suits you down to the ground?"
he asked, after very deliberately examining her from head to foot, when
he had thrown down a newspaper he had been scanning.

"No; I am in mourning. Don't you see I have only black lace and jet, and
a little crape?"

"Ah! and that constitutes mourning, eh? Well, there is very little
mourning in your laughing eyes. Who is dead?"

"My mother-in-law."

"Your mother-in-law! I didn't know Ormonde----"

"I mean Mrs. Liddell; and I am quite sorry for her; she was wonderfully
fond of me, and very kind."

"Why, what an angel you must be to fascinate a _belle-mere_! Then the
dear departed must be the mother of that Miss Liddell whom Ormonde was
recommending to me this afternoon?"

"Who--my husband? How silly! She would not suit you a bit."

"Well, Ormonde thought her fortune might."

"Oh, her fortune! that is another thing. But she will not be so very
rich if she fulfils her promise to settle part of her fortune on my
boys. You see, if their poor father had lived, he would have shared
their uncle's money with his sister. Now it is too hideously unjust that
my poor dear boys should have nothing, and Katherine is very properly
going to make it up to them."

"A young woman with a very high sense of justice. A good deal under the
influence of her charming sister-in-law, I presume."

"Well, rather," returned Mrs. Ormonde, with an air of superiority.
"Katherine is a mere enthusiastic school-girl, easily imposed upon. Both
Colonel Ormonde and myself feel bound to look after her."

"Will she let you?" asked De Burgh, dryly.

"Of course she will. She knows nothing of the world, or at least very
little, for she did not go much into society while they were abroad."

"Has she been abroad?"

"Yes; Mrs. Liddell was out of health when Katherine came into this
money, and they have been away in Italy and Germany and Paris for quite
two years. They were on their way home when Mrs. Liddell was taken ill.
She died in Paris, of typhoid fever, just before Christmas."

"Two years in Italy, Germany, and Paris," repeated De Burgh; "she can't
be quite a novice, then."

"Oh, she thinks she knows a great deal; and she _is_ a nice girl, though
curious and fanciful. I like her very much indeed, but I do not fancy
_you_ would. She is certainly obstinate. Instead of coming direct to us,
and making her home here, as we were quite willing she should, she has
gone to Miss Payne, a woman who, I believe, exists by acting chaperon to
rich girls with no relations. Fancy, she has absolutely agreed to live
with this Miss Payne for a year before consulting us, or asking our
consent--or--or anything!"

"Is she not a minor?"

"She will be of age in a week or two, and it makes me quite nervous to
think that other influences may prevent her keeping her promise to my
boys. It is a mercy she did not marry some greedy foreigner while she
was under age. Fortunately, men never seemed to take a fancy to
Katherine."

"They will be pretty sure to take a fancy to her money."

"I think she lived so quietly people did not suspect her of having any.
She is awfully cut up about the death of her mother, and does not go
anywhere. I hope she will come down here next week. The only person I am
afraid of is a horrid stiff old lawyer who seems to be her right hand
man. He went over to Paris when Mrs. Liddell died, and did everything,
instead of sending for Colonel Ormonde! I felt quite hurt about it."

"Ha! a shrewd old lawyer is bad to beat," said De Burgh, looking at his
lively informant with half-closed eyes and an amused expression. "I
wouldn't be too sure of your sister if I were you. Under such guidance
the young lady may alter her generous intentions."

"Pray do not say such horrible things, Mr. De Burgh!" cried Mrs.
Ormonde, growing very grave, even pathetic, and looking inclined to cry.
"What would become of me--I mean us--if she changed her mind? 'Duke
would be furious; he would never forgive me."

"Pooh! nonsense! a man would forgive a woman like you anything."

"A woman, perhaps, but not his wife," she returned, shaking her head.
"But I won't think of anything so dreadful. I am quite sure Katie will
never break her word; she is awfully true."

"That is rather an alarming character. You make me quite curious. What
is she like--anything like you?"

"Not a bit. You know, she is only my sister-in-law. She is tall and
large, and much more decided"--looking up in his face with a caressing
smile.

"I understand. Not a delicate little darling, made for laughter and
kisses, and sugar, and spice, and all that's nice, like _you_." This
with an insolent, admiring look. "Not a woman to fall in love with, but
useful as a wife to keep one's household up to the collar."

"Really, Mr. De Burgh, you are very shocking! You must not say such
things to me."

"Mustn't I? How shall you prevent me? I am a relative, you know. You
can't treat me as a stranger."

"You are quite too audacious--" she was beginning, when a slim young
cornet came back from the billiard-room.

"The Colonel wants you, Mrs. Ormonde," he said; "and you too, De Burgh.
We are not enough for pool, and you play a capital game, Mrs. Ormonde."

"What are the stakes?" asked De Burgh, rising readily enough.

"Oh, I can't play well at all," said Mrs. Ormonde, following him with
evident reluctance. "Certainly not when Colonel Ormonde is looking on."

"Oh, never mind him. I'll screen you from his hypercritical eyes,"
returned De Burgh, as he held the door open for her to pass out.

So it was, after a spell of heavenly tranquility, as Katherine and her
mother were on their way to England, intending to make a home in or near
London, Mrs. Liddell had been struck down with fever, and Katherine was
left unspeakably desolate. Then she turned to her old friend Mr. Newton,
and found him of infinite use and comfort.

A short space of numb inaction followed, during which she fully realized
the loneliness of her position, and from which she roused herself to
plan her future.

At the time Mrs. Liddell was first attacked with fever they had just
renewed their acquaintance with a Miss Payne, whom they had met in Rome
and at Berlin. She was not unknown in society, for she came of a good
old county family, and was half-sister of the Bertie whose name has
already appeared in these pages.

Their father, with an old man's pride in a handsome only son, had left
the bulk of his fortune to Bertie, while Hannah, who had ministered to
his comfort and borne his ill-humor, inherited only a paltry couple of
hundred a year, with a fairly well furnished house in Wilton Street,
Hyde Park. Her brother would have willingly added to this pittance, but
she sternly refused to accept what did not of right belong to her.
Bertie went with his regiment to India, whence he returned a wiser, a
poorer, and a physically weaker man.

His sister, whose business instincts were much too strong to permit her
wrapping up such a "talent" as a freehold house in the napkin of
unfruitful occupation, looked round to see how she could best turn it to
account. Accident threw in her way a girl of large fortune with no
relations, whose guardians, thankful to find a respectable home for her,
readily agreed to pay Miss Payne handsomely for taking charge of the
orphan. Her first _protegee_ married well, under her auspices, and from
henceforth her house was rarely empty. Sometimes she accepted a roving
commission and travelled with her charge, meanwhile letting her house in
town, so making a double profit. It was on one of these expeditions that
she was introduced to Mrs. and Miss Liddell. There was an air of
sincerity and common-sense about the composed elderly gentlewoman which
rather attracted the former, and, when they met again in Paris, Miss
Payne came to Katie in her trouble and proved a brave and capable nurse;
nor was she unsympathetic, though far from effusive. So, finding that
Miss Payne's last young lady had left her, Katherine, with the approval
of Mr. Newton, proposed to become her inmate for a year--an arrangement
entirely in accordance with Miss Payne's wishes.

"I did not know you were acquainted with Miss Liddell," she said one
evening when she was sitting with her brother, Katherine having retired
early, as she often did. "It is quite a surprise to me."

"I can hardly say I am acquainted with her; I happened to be of some
slight use to her once, and I met her after by accident, when we spoke;
that is all."

"I wonder she did not mention it to me."

"I imagine she hardly knew my name." Miss Payne uttered an inarticulate
sound between a h'm and a groan, by which she generally expressed
indefinite dissent and disapprobation. Then she rose and walked to the
dwarf bookcase at the end of the room to fetch her tatting. She was tall
and slight. Following her, you might imagine her young, for her figure
was good and her step brisk. Meeting her face to face, her pale,
slightly puckered cheeks, closely compressed lips, keen light eyes, and
crisp pepper-and-salt hair--Cayenne pepper, for it had once been
red--suggested at least twenty or twenty-five additional years as
compared with the back view.

Returning to her seat, she began to tat, slowing drawing each knot home
with a reflective air.

"That woman is hunting her up," she exclaimed suddenly, after a few
minutes' silence, during which Bertie looked thoughtfully at the
fire--his quiet face, with its look of unutterable peace, the strongest
possible contrast to his sister's hard, shrewd aspect.

"What woman?" asked, as if recalled from a dream.

"Mrs. Ormonde. There was a telegram from her this afternoon. She has
been worrying Miss Liddell to go to them ever since she set foot in
England; and as that won't do, she is coming up to-morrow to see what
personal persuasion will do."

"I dare say Mrs. Ormonde is fond of her sister-in-law. She is too well
off to have any mercenary designs."

"Is that all your experience has taught you?" (contemptuously). "If
there is any truth in hand-writing, that Mrs. Ormonde is a fool. Her
letter after Mrs. Liddell's death, which Katherine showed me because it
touched her, was the production of an effusive idiot. I don't trust
sentimentalists; they seldom have much honesty or justice. Katherine
Liddell is a little soft too, but she is by no means so asinine as the
others I have had. Wait, however--wait till some man takes her fancy;
that is the divining-rod to show where the springs of folly lie."

"Miss Liddell is a good deal changed," returned Bertie, slowly. "She
looks considerably older. No, that is not the right expression: I mean
she seems more mature than when I saw her before. What she says is said
deliberately; what she does is with the full consciousness of what she
is doing; but she looks as if she had suffered."

"She has," said Miss Payne, with an air of conviction. "Her grief for
her mother was, is, deep and real. I don't believe in floods of
tears--they are a relief."

"Yes; and though she looks so pale and sad, she is not a whit less
beautiful than she was."

"Beautiful!" repeated Miss Payne. "I rather admire her myself, but I
don't think any one could call her beautiful."

"Perhaps not. There is so much expression in her face, such feeling in
her eyes, that not many really beautiful women would stand comparison
with her."

Miss Payne sniffed, and then she smiled. "She is not a commonplace young
woman, though I fear she is easily imposed upon. I am afraid she may be
snapped up by some plausible fortune-hunter."

Bertie frowned slightly. "I trust she may be guided to happiness with
some good, God-fearing man," he said, and then, he bid his sister
good-night somewhat abruptly.

Meantime, Katherine sat plunged in thought beside the fire in her
bedroom. She was not given to weeping, but she was profoundly sad. To
find herself again in London without her mother seemed to renew the
intense grief which had indeed lost but little of its keenness. Never
had a mother been more terribly missed. They had been such sympathetic
friends, such close companions; they had had such a hearty respect for
and appreciation of each other's qualities, such a pleasant
comprehension of each other's different tastes, that it would be hard to
fill the place of the dear, lost comrade with whom she had hitherto
walked hand in hand. It soothed her to think of the delightful
tranquility Mrs. Liddell had enjoyed for the last two years, of the
untroubled sweetness of their intercourse, of her mother's last
contented words: "I am quite happy, dear. Your future is secure, and you
have never given me a moment's pain. We have had such delightful days
together!"

How could she have borne to have seen a pained, anxious look--such a
look as was once familiar to them--in those dear eyes, as they closed
forever on this mortal scene! Oh, thank God for the heavenly security of
those last days whatever the price she had paid for them!

Motherless, she was utterly desolate. It would be long, long before she
could find any one to fill her mother's place, if she ever did. For the
present she was satisfied to stay with Miss Payne, but she did not think
she could ever love her. The idea of residing with Colonel Ormonde and
his wife was distasteful. The most attractive scheme was to beg her
little nephews from their mother, and take them to live with her. She
was almost of age, and _felt_ old enough to set up for herself. As she
pondered on these things she felt bitterly that, rich or poor, a
homeless woman is a wretched creature.

At last she went to bed, and lay for a while watching the fire-light as
it cast flickering shadows, thinking of the tender, watchful love which
had dropped away out of her life; and with the murmured words, "Dear,
dear mother!" on her lips she fell asleep.


The next day broke bright and clear, though cold, and having kept
Katherine at home all day, Mrs. Ormonde made her appearance in time for
afternoon tea.

"My dear, dearest Katherine!" cried the little woman, fluttering in, all
fur and feathers, in the richest and most becoming morning toilette,
looking prettier and younger than ever, "I am _so_ delighted to see you
once more! Why have you staid in town, instead of coming straight to
us?" and she embraced her tall sister-in-law effusively.

Katherine returned her embrace. For a moment or two she could not
command her voice; the sight of the known childish face, the sound of
the shrill familiar voice, brought a flood of sudden sorrow over her
heart; but Mrs. Ormonde was not the sort of woman to whom she could
express it.

"And _I_ am very glad to see _you_, Ada! How well you are looking--even
younger and fairer than you used!"

"Yes, I am uncommonly well; and you, dear, you are looking pale and ill
and older! You will forgive me, but I am quite distressed. You must come
down to Castleford at once."

"Thank you. Where are the boys? I hoped you would bring them."

"Oh, Colonel Ormonde thought they would be too troublesome for me in a
hotel, so I left them behind. They were awfully disappointed, poor
dears; but it is better _you_ should come down and see them. Cecil is
going to school after Easter, and I believe Charlie must go soon."

"I long to see them," said Katherine, assisting her visitor to take off
her cloak.

"And _I_ long to show you my new little boy," cried Mrs. Ormonde,
drawing a chair to the fire, and putting her small, daintily shod feet
on the fender. "He is a splendid child, amazingly forward for six
months."

"I am glad you are so happy, Ada; I shall be pleased to make the
acquaintance of my new nephew. I suppose I may consider him a sort of
nephew?"

"My dear, of _course_! Colonel Ormonde, as well as myself, is proud to
consider you his aunt. Yes, I am very happy--though Ormonde _is_ rather
provoking sometimes; still, he is not half bad, and I know how to manage
him. You are _such_ a favorite with my husband, Katie. He admires you so
much, I sometimes threaten to be jealous--why, what is the matter,
dear?"

Katherine had suddenly covered her face with her handkerchief and burst
into tears.

"Do not mind me, Ada!" she said, when she could speak. "It was just that
name; no one has called me Katie except my mother and you, and the idea
that I should never hear her speak again overpowered me for a moment."

Mrs. Ormonde was puzzled. Not knowing what to do in face of a great
grief, she took out her own pocket-handkerchief politely.

"Of course, dear," she said; "it is quite natural. I was awfully cut up
when I heard of your sad loss--and mine too, for I am sure Mrs. Liddell
loved me like her own child; it was quite wonderful for a mother-in-law.
I was afraid to speak to you about her, but I am sure she would like you
to live with us; it is your natural home. And--and she would, I am sure,
be pleased if she can know what is going on here below, to see that you
fulfilled your kind intentions to her poor little grandsons." These last
words with some hesitation.

Katherine kept silence, and still held her handkerchief to her eyes. So
Mrs. Ormonde resumed: "A good, religious girl like you, Katherine, must
feel that it is right to submit to the will of--"

"Yes, yes; I know all about that," interrupted Katherine, who was rather
irritated than soothed by her sister-in-law's attempt at preaching; and
recovering herself, she added: "I will not worry you with my tears. Tell
me how the boys get on with Colonel Ormonde."

"Very well indeed, especially Cecil. 'Duke is very kind. They have a
pony, and quite enjoy the country; but now that we have a boy of our
own, we feel doubly anxious that Cis and Charlie should be permanently
provided for; so do, dear, come back with me, and talk it all over with
my husband. He is _such_ a good man of business."

Katherine smiled faintly; she had not seen the drift of Mrs. Ormonde's
remarks at first; there was no mistaking them now. A slightly
mischievous sense of power kept her from setting her sister-in-law's
mind at rest immediately.

"I do not think it necessary to consult with Colonel Ormonde, Ada, for I
have quite made up my mind what to do. I think you may trust your boys
to me. I must see Mr. Newton and arrange many matters, so I do not think
I can go to you just yet. Then, I do not like to be in the way, and I
could _not_ mix in society just yet. Oh, I am not morbid or sentimental,
but some months of seclusion I _must_ have."

Mrs. Ormonde played with the tassel of the screen with which she
sheltered her face from the fire while she thought: "What can she really
mean to do? I wonder if she is engaged to any one, and waiting for him
here? Once she is married, good-by to a settlement. She is awfully
deep!" Then she said aloud, coaxingly, "Oh, we are very quiet
home-staying people. We have a few men to stay now and again, but we
never give big dinners. Tell me the truth, dear, are you not engaged? It
would be but natural. A charming girl like you, with a large fortune,
could not escape a multitude of lovers."

"You are wrong, Ada. I am not engaged, and I have no lovers. Of course a
prince or two and a German graf did me the honor of proposing to annex
my property, taking myself with it. Any well-dowered girl may expect
such offers in Continental society; but they did not affect me."

"No, no; certainly not! It will be an Englishman. Quite right. And 'Duke
must find out all about him. You know, dear, you would marry ever so
much better from _my_ house than you possibly could _here_, with a
person who, after all, merely keeps a _pension_."

"If Miss Payne could hear you!" said Katherine.

"Oh, I should never say it to her. But, Katherine, now is your time,
when you are of age, and before you marry--now is the time to settle
whatever you intend to settle on my poor little boys. I am sure you will
excuse me for mentioning it, won't you? Between you and me, I don't
think 'Duke would have married if he had not believed you would provide
for Cis and Charlie. I don't know what would become of us if they were
thrown on his hands."

"You need not fear," cried Katherine, quickly. "My nephews shall never
cost Colonel Ormonde a sou."

"No, I was sure you wouldn't, dear, you are such a kind, generous
creature, so unselfish. I do hate selfishness, and though the allowance
you now give is very handsome--"

"I am to make it a little larger," put in Katherine, good-humoredly, as
Mrs. Ormonde paused, not knowing how to finish her sentence. "Be
content, Ada; you shall have due notice when I have made all my plans. I
have a good deal to do, for I ought to make my will too."

"Your will! Oh yes, to be sure. I never thought of that. But if you
marry it will be of no use."

"Until I _am_ married it will be of use."

"And when do you intend to come to us?"

"Oh, some time next month."

"I hope so. I want to come up for a while after Easter, and am trying to
get the Colonel to take a house; _that_ depends on you a good deal. If
you would join me in taking a house for three months he would agree at
once."

"But I have just agreed to stay with Miss Payne for a year."

"How foolish! how short-sighted!" cried Mrs. Ormonde. "You will be just
lost in a second-rate place like this."

"It will suit me perfectly. I only want rest and peace at present. I
dare say it will not be so always."

"Well, I know there is no use in talking to you. You will go your own
way. Only, as I am in town, _do_ come to my dressmaker's. Though you had
your mourning in Paris, do you know, you look quite dowdy. You'll not
mind my saying so?"

"I dare say I do. Miss Payne got everything for me."

"Oh, are you going to give yourself into her hands blindfold? I am
afraid she is a designing woman. You really must get some stylish
dresses. You must do yourself justice."

"I have as many as I want, and there is no need of wasting money, even
if you have a good deal. How many poor souls need food and clothes!"

"Oh, Katherine, if you begin to talk in that way, you will be robbed and
plundered to no end."

"I hope not. Here is tea, and Miss Payne. I will come and see you
to-morrow early, and bring some little presents for the boys."



CHAPTER XII.

"I WAS A STRANGER AND YE TOOK ME IN."


Mrs. Ormonde lingered as long as she could. Bond Street was paradise to
her, Regent Street an Elysian Field. While she staid she gave her
sister-in-law little peace, and until she had departed Katherine did not
attempt to go into business matters with Mr. Newton. She was half
amused, half disgusted, at Mrs. Ormonde's perpetual reminders, hints,
and innuendoes touching the settlement on her boys. Ada was the same as
ever, yet Katherine liked her for the sake of the memories she evoked
and shared.

It was quite a relief when she left town, and Katherine felt once more
her own mistress. Her heart yearned for her little nephews, but she felt
it was wiser to wait and see them at home rather than send for them at
present. She greatly feared that the new baby, the son of a living,
prosperous father, was pushing the sons of the first husband--who had
taken his unlucky self out of the world, where he had been anything but
a success--from their place in her affections.

Meantime she held frequent consultations with Mr. Newton, who was very
devoted to her service, and anxious to do his best for her. He
remonstrated earnestly with her on her over-generosity to her nephews.
"Provide for them if you will, my dear young lady, but believe me you
are by no means called upon to _divide_ your property with them. Do not
make them too independent of you; hold something in your hand. Besides,
you do not know what considerations may arise to make you regret too
great liberality."

"I have very little use for money now," said Katherine, sadly.

"You have always been remarkably moderate in your expenditure," returned
the lawyer, who had the entire management of her affairs. "But now you
will probably like to establish yourself in London, say, for
headquarters."

"Not for the present. I shall stay where I am until some plan of life
suggests itself."

"Perhaps you are right, and certainly you are a very prudent young
lady."

This conversation took place in Mr. Newton's office, and after some
further discussion Katherine was persuaded to settle a third instead of
the half of her property on her nephews, out of which a jointure was to
be paid to Mrs. Ormonde.

"I wish I could have the boys with me," said Katherine, as she rose to
leave Mr. Newton.

"My dear Miss Liddell, take care how you saddle yourself with the
difficult task of standing _in loco parentis_; leave the very serious
responsibilities of bringing up boys to the mother whose they are. At
your age, and with the almost certainty of forming new ties, such a step
would be very imprudent."

"At all events I shall see how they all get on at Castleford before I
commit myself to anything. You will lose no time, dear Mr. Newton, in
getting this deed ready for my signature. I do not want to say anything
about it till it is 'signed, sealed, and delivered.'"

"It shall be put in hand at once. When shall you be going out of town?"

"Not for ten days or a fortnight."

"The sooner the better. I do not like to see you look so pale and sad.
Excuse me if I presume in saying so. Well, I don't think your uncle ever
did a wiser act than in destroying that will of his before he made
another. The extraordinary instinct he had about money must have warned
him that his precious fortune would be best bestowed on so prudent yet
so generous a young lady as yourself."

"Don't praise me, Mr. Newton," said Katherine, sharply. "Could you see
me as I see myself, you would know how little I deserve it."

"I am sure I should know nothing of the kind," returned the old lawyer,
smiling. Katherine was a prime favorite with him--quite his ideal of a
charming and admirable woman. All he hoped was that when the sharp edge
of her grief had worn off she would mix in society and marry some highly
placed man worthy of her, a Q.C., if one young enough could be found,
who was on the direct road to the woolsack.

The evening of this day Bertie Payne came in, as he often did after
dinner. Katherine was always pleased to see him. He brought a breath of
genial life into the rather glacial atmosphere of Miss Payne's
drawing-room. Yet there was something soothing to Katherine in the
orderly quiet of the house, in the conviction, springing from she knew
not what, that Miss Payne liked her heartily in her steady,
undemonstrative fashion. She never interfered with Katherine in any way;
she was ready to go with her when asked, or to let her young guest go on
her own business alone and unquestioned, while she saw to her comfort,
and proved much more companionable than Katherine expected.

On this particular evening which marked a new mental epoch for Katherine
Liddell, the two companions were sitting by the fire in Miss Payne's
comfortable though rather old-fashioned drawing-room, the curtains
drawn, the hearth aglow, Miss Payne engaged on a large piece of
patchwork which she had been employed upon for years, while Katherine
read aloud to her. This was a favorite mode of passing the evening; it
saved the trouble of inventing conversation--for Miss Payne was not
loquacious--and it was more sympathetic than reading to one's self. Miss
Payne, it need scarcely be said, had no patience with novels; biography
and travels were her favorite studies; nor did she disdain history,
though given to be sceptical concerning accounts of what had happened
long ago. She had never been so happy and comfortable with any of her
_protegees_ as with Katherine, though, as she observed to her brother,
she did not expect it to last. "Stay till she is a little known, and the
mothers of marriageable sons get about her; then it will be the old
thing over again--dress, drive, dance, hurry-scurry from morning till
night. However, I'll make the most of the present."

Miss Payne, then, and her "favored guest" were cozily settled for the
evening when Bertie entered.

"May I present myself in a frock coat?" he asked, as he shook hands with
Katherine. "I have had rather a busy day, and found myself in your
neighborhood just now, so could not resist looking in."

"At your usual work, I suppose," said Miss Payne, severely. "Pray have
you had anything to eat?"

"Yes, I assure you. I dined quite luxuriously at Bethnal Green about an
hour and a half ago."

"Ha! at a coffee-stall, I suppose; a cup of coffee and a ha'p'orth of
bread. I must insist on your having some proper food." Miss Payne put
forth her hand toward the bell as she spoke.

"Do not give yourself the trouble; I really do not want anything, nor
will I take anything beyond a cup of tea." Bertie drew a chair beside
Katherine, asked what she was reading, and talked a little about the
news of the day. Then he fell into silence, his eyes fixed on the fire,
a very grave expression stilling his face.

"What are you thinking of?" asked his sister. "What misery have you been
steeping yourself in to-day?"

"Misery indeed," he echoed. Then, meeting Katherine's eyes fixed upon
him, he smiled. "Of course I see misery every day," he continued, "but I
don't like to trouble you with too much of it. To-day I met with an
unusually hard case, and I am going to ask you for some help toward
righting it."

"Tell me what you want," said Katherine.

"Are you sure the story is genuine?" asked Miss Payne.

"I am quite sure. I went into Bow Street Police Court to-day, intending
to speak to the sitting magistrate about some children respecting whom
he had asked for information, when I was attracted by the face of a
woman who was being examined; she was poorly clad, but evidently
respectable--like a better class of needle-woman. I never saw a face
express such despair. It seemed she had been caught in the act of
stealing two loaves from the shop of a baker. The poor creature did not
deny it. Her story was that she had been for some years a widow; that
she had supported herself and two children by needle-work and
machine-work. Illness had impoverished her and diminished her
connection, other workers having been taken on in her absence. In short
she had been caught in that terrible maelstrom of misfortune from which
_no_ one can escape without a helping hand. Her sewing machine was
seized for rent; one article after another of furniture and clothes went
for food; at last nothing was left. She roamed the city, reduced to beg
at last, and striving to make up her mind to go to the workhouse, the
cry of the hungry children she had left in her ears. At several bakers'
shops she had petitioned for food and had been refused. At last,
entering one while the shop-girl's back was turned, she snatched a
couple of small loaves and rushed out into the arms of a policeman, who
had seen the theft through the window."

"And would the magistrate punish her for this?" asked Katherine,
eagerly.

"He must. Theft is theft, whatever the circumstances that seem to
extenuate it. Nothing, no need, gives a right to take what does not
belong to you. But, for all that, I am certain the poor creature has
been honest hitherto, and deserves help. She is committed to prison for
stealing, and I promised her I would look to her children; so I have
been to see them, and took them to the Children's Refuge that you were
kind enough to subscribe to, Miss Liddell. To-morrow we must do what we
can for the mother. I imagine it is worse than death to her to be put in
prison."

"I do not wonder at it," ejaculated Miss Payne. "And in spite of what
you say, Bertie, I should not like to give any materials to be made up
by a woman who deliberately stole in broad daylight."

"I do not see that the light made any difference," returned Bertie; and
they plunged into a warm discussion. Katherine soon lost the sense of
what they were saying. Her heart was throbbing as if a sudden stunning
blow had been dealt her, and the words, "Theft is theft, whatever the
circumstances that seem to extenuate it," beat as if with a
sledge-hammer on her brain.

If for a theft, value perhaps sixpence, this poor woman, who had been
driven to it by the direst necessity, was exposed to trial, to the gaze
of careless lookers-on, to loss of character, to the exposure of her
sore want, to the degradation of imprisonment, what should be awarded to
her, Katherine Liddell, an educated gentlewoman, for stealing a large
fortune from its rightful owner, and that, too, under no pressure of
immediate distress? True, she firmly believed that had her uncle not
been struck down by death he would have left her a large portion of it;
that she had a better right to it than a stranger. Still that did not
alter the fact that she was a thief. If every one thus dared to infringe
the rights of others, what law, what security would remain?

These ideas had never quite left her since the day she had written
"Manuscript to be destroyed" on the fatal little parcel, which had been
ever with her during her various journeyings since. More than once she
had made up her mind to destroy it, but some influence--some terror of
destroying this expression of what her uncle once wished--had stayed her
hand; her courage stopped there. Perhaps a faint foreshadowing of some
future act of restitution caused this reluctance, unknown to herself,
but certainly at present no such possibility dawned upon her. She felt
that she held her property chiefly in trust for others, especially her
nephews. Often she had forgotten her secret during her mother's
lifetime, but the consciousness of it always returned with a sense of
being out of moral harmony, which made her somewhat fitful in her
conduct, particularly as regarded her expenditure, being sometimes
tempted to costly purchases, and anon shrinking from outlay as though
not entitled to spend the money which was nominally hers. Nathan's
parable did not strike more humiliating conviction to Israel's erring
king than Bertie Payne's "ower true tale." At length she mastered these
painful thoughts, and sought relief from them in speech.

"What do you think of doing for this poor woman?" she asked, taking a
screen to shelter her face from the fire and observation.

"I have not settled details in my own mind yet," he said; "but as soon
as she is released I must get her into a new neighborhood and redeem her
sewing-machine. Then, if we can get her work and help her till she
begins to earn a little, she may get on."

"Pray let me help in this," said Katherine, earnestly. "I live quite a
selfish life, and I should be thankful if you will let me furnish what
money you require."

"That I shall with great thankfulness. But, Miss Liddell, if you are
anxious to find interesting work, why not come and see our Children's
Refuge and the schools connected with it? Then there is an association
for advancing small sums to workmen in time of sickness, or to redeem
their tools, which is affiliated to a ladies' visiting club, the members
of which make themselves acquainted personally with the men and their
families."

"I shall be most delighted to go with you to both, but I do not think I
could do any good myself. I am so reluctant to preach to poor people,
who have so much more experience, so much more real knowledge of life,
than I have, merely because they _are_ poor."

"I do not want you to do so, but I think personal contact with the
people you relieve is good both for those benefited and their
benefactor."

"I suppose it is; and those poor old people who cannot read or are
blind, I am quite willing to read to them if they like it."

"I can find plenty for you to do, Miss Liddell," Bertie was beginning
when his sister broke in with:

"This is quite too bad, Bertie. You know I will not have you dragging my
young friends to catch all sorts of disorders in the slums. You must be
content with Miss Liddell's money."

"Miss Payne, I really do wish to see something of the work on which your
brother is engaged, and--forgive me if I seem obstinate--I am resolved
to help him if I can."

The result of the conversation was that the greater portion of the
contents of Miss Liddell's purse was transferred to Bertie's, and he
left them in high spirits, having arranged to call for Katherine the
next day in order to escort her to the Children's Refuge and some other
institutions in which he took an interest.

From this time for several weeks Katherine was greatly occupied in the
benevolent undertakings of her new friend. The endless need, the
degradations of extreme poverty, the hopeless condition of such masses
of her fellow-creatures, depressed her beyond description. She would
gladly have given to her uttermost farthing, but it would be a mere drop
in the ocean of misery around.

"Even if we could supply their every want, and give each family a decent
home," she said to Bertie one evening as she walked back with him, "they
would not know how to keep it or to enjoy it. If the men, and the women
too, have not the tremendous necessity to labor that they may live, they
relax and become mere brutes. We must, above all things, educate them."

"Yes, education is certainly necessary; but the most ignorant being who
has laid hold on the Rock of Ages, who has received the spirit of
adoption whereby he can cry, 'Abba, Father!' has a means of elevation
and refinement beyond all that books and art can teach," cried Bertie,
with more warmth than he usually allowed himself to show.

"You believe that? I cannot say I do. We need other means of moral and
intellectual life besides spiritualism. At least I have tried to be
religious, but I always get weary."

"That is only because you have not found the straight and true road,"
said Bertie, earnestly. "Pray, my dear Miss Liddell--pray, and light
will be given you."

"Thank you--you are very good," murmured Katherine "At all events,
though we can do but little, it is a comfort to help some of these poor
creatures, especially the children and old people."

"It is," he returned. "And if it be consolatory to minister to their
physical wants, how much more to feed their immortal souls!"

Katherine was silent for a few minutes, and then said: "It is impossible
they can think much about their souls when they suffer so keenly in
their bodies. Poverty and privation which destroy self-respect cannot
allow of spiritual aspiration. Is it to be always like this--one class
steeped in luxury, the other grovelling in cruel want?"

"Our Lord says, 'Ye have the poor always with you,'" returned Bertie.
"Nor can we hope to see the curse of original sin lifted from life here
below until the great manifestation; in short, till Shiloh come."

"Do you think so? I do not like to think that Satan is too strong for
God," said Katherine, thoughtfully.

Bertie replied by exhorting her earnestly not to trust to mere human
reason, to accept the infallible word of God, "and so find safety and
rest." Katherine did not reply.

"I think you could help me in a difficult case," said Bertie, a few days
after this conversation.

"Indeed!" said Katherine, looking up from the book she was reading by
the fire after dinner. "What help can I possibly give?"

"Hear my story, and you will see."

"I shall be most happy if I can help you. Pray go on."

"You know Dodd, the porter and factotum at the Children's Refuge? Well,
Dodd has a mother, a very respectable old dame, who keeps a very mild
sweety shop, and also sells newspapers, etc. Mrs. Dodd, besides these
sources of wealth, lets lodgings, and seems to get on pretty well. Now
Dodd came to me in some distress, and said, 'Would you be so good, sir,
as to see mother? she wants a word with you bad, very bad.' I of course
said I was very ready to hear what she had to say. So I called at the
little shop, which I often pass. I found the old lady in great trouble
about a young woman who had been lodging with her for some time. She,
Mrs. Dodd, did not know that her lodger was absolutely ill, but she
scarcely eats anything, she never went out, she sometimes sat up half
the night. Hitherto she had paid her rent regularly, but on last
rent-day she had said she could only pay two weeks more, after which she
supposed she had better go to the workhouse. When first she came she
used to go out looking for work, but that ceased, and she seemed in a
half-conscious state. As I was a charitable gentleman, would I go and
speak to her? Well, rather reluctantly, I did. I went upstairs to a
dreary back room, and found a decidedly lady-like young woman, neatly
dressed enough, but ghastly white with dull eyes. She seemed to be
dusting some books, but looked too weary to do much. She was not
surprised or moved in any way at seeing me. When I apologized for
intruding upon her, she murmured that I was very good. Then I asked if I
could help her in any way. She thanked me, but suggested nothing. When I
pressed her to express her needs, she said that life was not worth
working for, but that she supposed they would give her something to do
in the workhouse, and she would do it. As for seeking work, she could
not, that she was a failure, and only cared not to trouble others. I was
quite baffled. She was so quiet and gentle, and spoke with such
refinement, that I was deeply interested. I called again this morning,
and she would hardly answer me. As she is young (not a great deal older
than yourself), perhaps a lady--a woman--might win her confidence. She
seems to have been a dressmaker. Could you not offer her some
employment, and draw her from the extraordinary lethargy which seems to
dull her faculties? No mind can hold out against it; she will die or
become insane."

"It is very strange. I should be very glad to help her, but I feel
afraid to attempt anything. I shall be so awkward. What can I say to
begin with?"

"Your offering her work would make an opening. Do try. I am sure her
case needs a woman's delicate touch."

"I will do my best," said Katherine. "It all sounds terribly
interesting. Shall I go to-morrow?"

"Yes, by all means. I am so very much obliged to you. I feel you will
succeed."

"Don't be too sure."

The next day, a drizzling damp morning, Katherine, feeling unusually
nervous, was quite ready when Bertie called for her. The drive to Camden
Town seemed very long, but it came to an end at last, all the sooner
because Bertie stopped the cab some little way way from the sweety shop.

"I have brought a young lady to see your invalid," said Bertie,
introducing Katherine to Mrs. Dodd, a short broad old lady, with a shawl
neatly pinned over her shoulders, a snowy white cap with black ribbons,
and a huge pair of spectacles, over which she seemed always trying to
look.

"I'm sure it's that kind of you, sir. And I _am_ glad you have come. The
poor thing has been offering me a nice black dress this morning to let
her stay on. It's the last decent thing she has. I expect she has been
just living on her clothes. I'll go and tell her. Maybe miss will come
after me, so as not to give her time to say no?"

Katherine cast a troubled look at Bertie. "Don't wait for me," she said;
"your time is always so precious. I dare say I can get a cab for
myself." And she followed Mrs. Dodd up a steep narrow dark stair.

"Here is a nice lady come to see you," said Mrs. Dodd, in a soothing
tone suited to an infant or a lunatic.

"No, no; I don't want any lady; I would rather not see any lady," cried
a voice naturally sweet-toned, but now touched with shrill terror.
Curiously enough, this token of fear gave Katherine courage. Here was
some poor soul wanting comfort sorely.

"Do not forbid me to come in," she said, walking boldly into the room,
and addressing the inmate with a kind bright smile. "I very much want
some needle-work done, and I shall be glad if you will undertake it."
While she spoke, Mrs. Dodd retired and softly closed the door. Katherine
found herself face to face with a ladylike-looking young woman, small
and slight--slight even to extreme thinness--fair-skinned, with large
blue eyes, delicate features, a quantity of fair hair carelessly coiled
up, and with white cheeks. The strange pallor of her trembling lips, the
despair in her eyes, the shrinking, hunted look of face and figure,
almost frightened her visitor. "I hope you are not vexed with me for
coming in," faltered Katherine, deferentially; "but they said you wanted
employment, and I should like to give you some. You must be ill, you
look so pale. Can I not be of some use to you?"

The girl's pale cheek flushed as, partially recovering herself, she
stood up holding the back of her chair, her eyes fixed on the floor; she
seemed endeavoring to speak, but the words did not come. At last, in a
low, hesitating voice: "You are too good. I have tried to find work
vainly; now I do not think I have the force to do any." The color faded
away from the poor sunken cheeks, and the eyes hid themselves
persistently under the downcast lids.

"I am sure you are very weak," returned Katherine, tenderly, for there
was something inexpressibly touching in the hopelessness of the
stranger's aspect. "But some good food and the prospect of employment
will set you up, When you are a little stronger and know me better you
will perhaps tell me how Mr. Payne and I can best help you. We all want
each other's help at times; and life must not be thrown away, you know.
I do not wish to intrude upon you, but you see we are nearly of an age,
and we ought to understand and help each other. It is my turn now; it
may be yours by-and-by."

"Mine!" with unspeakable bitterness.

"Do sit down," said Katherine, who felt her tears very near her eyes,
"and I will sit by you for a little while. Why, you are unfit to stand,
and you are so cold!" She pulled off her gloves, and taking one of the
poor girl's hands in both her own soft warm ones, chafed it gently. No
doubt practically charitable people would smile indulgently at
Katherine's enthusiastic sympathy; but she was new to such work, and
felt that she had to deal with no common subject. Whether it was the
tender tone or the kindly touch, but the hard desperate look softened,
and big tears began to roll down, and soon she was weeping freely,
quietly, while she left her hand in Katherine's, who held it in silence,
feeling how the whole slight frame shook with the effort to control
herself.

At length Katherine rose and went downstairs to take counsel with Mrs.
Dodd. "She seems quite unable to recover herself. Ought she not to have
a little wine or something?"

"Yes, miss; it's just _that_ she wants. She is nigh starved to death."

"Have you any wine?"

"Well, no, miss; but there's a tavern round the corner where you can get
very good port from the wood. I'll send the girl for a pint."

"Pray do, and quickly, and some biscuits or something; here is some
money. What is her name?"

"Trant--Miss Trant," returned Mrs. Dodd, knowing who her interrogator
meant. "Leastways we always called her miss, for she is quite the lady."

Katherine hurried back, and found Miss Trant lying back in her chair
greatly exhausted. With instinctive tact Katherine assumed an air of
authority, and insisted on her patient eating some biscuits soaked in
wine.

Presently Miss Trant sat up, and, as if with an effort raised her eyes
to Katherine's. "I am not worth so much trouble," she said. "You deserve
that I should obey you. It is all I can do to show gratitude. If, then,
you will be content with very slow work, I will thankfully do what you
wish; but I must have time."

"So you shall," cried Katherine, delightedly. "You shall have plenty of
time to make me a dress; that will be more amusing than plain work. I
will bring you the material to-morrow, and if you fit me well, you know,
it may lead to a great business;" and she smiled pleasantly.

"What is your name?" asked the patient, feebly. Katherine told her. "You
are so good, you make me resigned to live."

"Do you care to read?"

"I used to love it; but I have no books, nor could I attend to the sense
of a page if I had."

"If you sit here without book or work, I do not wonder at your being
half dead."

"Not nearly half dead yet; dying by inches is a terribly long process. I
am dreadfully strong."

"I will not listen to you if you talk like that. Well, I will bring you
some books--indeed, I will send you some at once if you will promise to
read and divert your thoughts. To-morrow afternoon I will come, you
shall take my measure (I like to be made to look nice), and you shall
begin again."

"Begin again! Me! That would be a miracle."

"Now try and get a little sleep," said Katherine, "your eyes look so
weary. You want to stop thinking, and only sleep can still thought. When
you wake you shall find some of the new magazines, and you must try and
attend to them."

"I will, for your sake."

"Good-by, then, till to-morrow;" and having pressed her hand kindly,
Katherine departed.

It was quite a triumph for Katherine to report her success to Bertie
that evening. Miss Payne rather shook her head over the whole affair.

"I must say it puts me on edge altogether to hear you two rejoicing over
this young woman's condescension in accepting the work you lay at her
feet, while such crowds of starving wretches are begging and praying for
something to do; and here is a mysterious young woman with lady-like
manners and remarkable eyes, taken up all at once because she won't eat
and refuses to speak. It isn't just. I suspect there is something in her
past she does not like to tell."

"Your _resume_ of the facts makes Mr. Payne and me seem rather foolish,"
said Katherine. "Yet I am convinced she is worth helping, and that no
common methods will do to restore to her any relish for life. She
interests me. I may be throwing away my time and money, but I will risk
it."

"It is hard to say, of course, whether she is a deserving object or
not," added Bertie, thoughtfully; "and I have been taken in more than
once."

"More than once?" echoed his sister in a peculiar tone.

"Still, I feel with Miss Liddell that this girl's, Rachel Trant's, is
not a common case," continued Bertie.

"Her very name is suggestive of grief," said Katherine, "and she, too,
refuses to be comforted. I am sure she will tell me her story later. Her
landlady says she never receives or sends a letter, and does not seem to
have a creature belonging to her. Such desolation is appalling."

"And shows there is something radically wrong," added Miss Payne.

"I acknowledge that it has a dubious appearance," said Bertie, and
turned the conversation.

Katherine was completely taken out of herself by the interest and
curiosity excited by her meeting with Rachel Trant. She visited her
daily, and saw that she was slowly reviving. She took a wonderful
interest in the dress which Katherine had given her to make, and,
moreover, succeeded in fitting her admirably. She was evidently weak and
unequal to exertion, yet she worked with surprising diligence. Her
manner was very grave and collected--respectful, yet always ready to
respond to Katherine's effort to draw her out.

The subject on which she spoke most readily was the books Katherine lent
her. Her taste was decidedly intelligent and rather solid. To the
surprise of her young benefactress, she expressed a distaste for
novels--stories, as she called them. "I used to care for nothing else,"
she said; "but they pain me now." She expressed herself like an
educated, even refined, woman; and though she said very little about
gratitude, it showed in every glance, in the very tone of her voice, and
in her ready obedience to whatever wish Katherine expressed. The
greatest sacrifice was evidently compliance with her new friend's
suggestion that she should take exercise and breathe fresh air.

Miss Payne, after critically examining Katherine's new garment, declared
it really well made, inquired the cost, and finally decided that she
would have an every-day dress for herself, and that "Miss Trant" should
make it up. Then Katherine presented the elegant young woman who waited
on her with a gown, promising to pay for the making if she employed her
protegee.

"Miss Trant" could not conceal her reluctance to come so far from the
wilds of Camden Town; but she came, closely muffled in a thick gauze
veil, doubtless to guard against cold in the chill March evening.
Katherine was immensely pleased to find that both gowns gave
satisfaction, though the "elegant young woman's" praise was cautious and
qualified.



CHAPTER XIII.

RECOGNITION.


"After all, life is inexhaustible," said Katherine.

She was speaking to Rachel Trant, who had laid aside her work to speak
with the good friend who had come, as she often did, to see how she was
going on and to cheer her.

"Life is very cruel," she returned. "Neither sorrow nor repentance can
alter its pitiless law.

"Still, there are compensations." Katherine did not exactly think what
she was saying; her mind was filled with the desire of knowing her
interlocutor's story.

"Compensations!" echoed Rachel. "Not for those who deserve to suffer,
nor, indeed, often for the innocent. I don't think we often find vice
punished and virtue rewarded in history and lives--true stories, I
mean--as we do in novels."

Katherine did not reply at once; she thought for a moment, and then,
looking full into Rachel's eyes, said: "I wonder how you came to be a
dressmaker? You have read a great deal for a girl who must have had her
hands full all day. I am not asking this from idle curiosity, but from
real interest."

"I may well believe you. I should like to tell you much; but--" She
paused and grew very white for a second, her lips trembling, and a
troubled look coming into her eyes. "I always loved reading," she
resumed; "it has been almost my only pleasure, though I was apprenticed
to a milliner and dressmaker when little more than sixteen. Then I went
to work with another, a very great person in her way, and I like the
work. Still I used to think I was a sort of lady; my poor mother
certainly was."

"I am sure of it," cried Katherine, impulsively. "I quite feel that
_you_ are."

"Thank you," said Rachel, in a very low voice, the color rising to her
pale cheek. "My mother was so sweet and pretty," she continued, "but so
sad! I was an orphan at ten years old, and then a very stiff,
severe-looking woman, the sister of my father, had charge of me. I was
sent to a school, a kind of institution, not exactly a charity school,
for I know something was paid for me. It was a very cold sort of place,
but I was not unhappy there. I had playfellows--some kind, some
spiteful. One of the governesses was very good to me, and used to give
me books to read. Had she remained, things might have been very
different; but she left long before I did. The rare holidays when I was
permitted to visit my father's sister were terrible days to me. She
could not bear to see me. I felt it. She seemed to think my very
existence was an offence. I was ashamed of living in _her_ presence. Of
my father I have a very faint recollection. He died abroad, and I
remember being on board ship for a long time with my mother. When I was
sixteen my father's sister sent for me, and told me that the money my
mother left was nearly exhausted, and what remained ought to provide me
with some trade or calling by which I could earn my own bread; that she
did not think I was clever enough to be a governess, so she advised my
to apprentice myself to a dressmaker. I had seen enough of teaching in
school, so I took her advice. At the same time she gave me some papers
my mother had left for me. _They_ fully explained why my existence was
an offence--why I belonged to nobody. It was a bitter hour when I read
my dear mother's miserable story. I felt old from that day. Well, I
thanked my father's sister--mind you, she was not my aunt--for what she
had done, and promised she should never more be troubled with me. I have
kept my word."

Katherine, infinitely touched by the picture of sorrow and loneliness
this brief story conjured up, took and pressed the thin quivering hand
that played nervously with a thimble. Rachel glanced at her quickly,
compressed her lips for an instant, and went on:

"I will try and tell you all. You ought to know. As far as work went, I
did very well. I loved to handle and drape beautiful stuffs--I enjoy
color--and it pleased me to fit the pretty girls and fine ladies who
came to our show-rooms. It was even a satisfaction to make the plain
ones look better. I should have made friends more easily with my
companions but for the knowledge of what I was. Even this I might have
got over--I am not naturally morbid--but I could not share their chatter
and jests, or care for their love affairs. They were not bad, poor
things! but simply ordinary girls of a class to which it would have
been, perhaps, better for me to belong. With my employers I did fairly
well. They were sometimes just, sometimes very unjust; but when I was
out of my time, and receiving a salary, I found I was a valued
_employee_. Then it came into my mind that I should like to found a
business--a great business. It seemed rather a 'vaulting ambition' for
so humble a waif as myself. But I began to save even shillings and
sixpences. I tried to kill my heart with these duller, lower aims, it
ached so always for what it could not find. I began to think I was
growing so useful to madame that she might make me a partner; for even
in millinery mental training is of use." She stopped, and clasping her
hands, she rested them on her knee for a few moments of silence, while
her brow contracted as if with pain. "It is dreadfully hard to go on!"
she exclaimed at length, and her voice sounded as if her mouth were
parched.

"Then do not mind now; some other time," said Katherine, softly.

"No," cried Rachel, with almost fierce energy; "I _must_ finish. I
cannot leave _you_ ignorant of my true story." She paused again, and
then went on quickly, in a low tone: "I don't think I was exactly
popular--certainly not with the men employed in the same house. I was
thought cold and hard, and to me they were all utterly uninteresting.
One or two of the girls I liked, and they were fond of me." Another
pause. Then she pushed on again: "One evening I went out with another
girl and her brother--at least she said he was her brother--to see the
illuminations for the Queen's birthday. In Pall Mall we got into a crowd
caused by a quarrel between two drunken men. I was separated from my
companions, and one of the crowd, also tipsy, reeled against me. I
should have been knocked down but for a gentleman who caught me; he had
just come down the steps from one of the clubs. I thanked him. He kindly
helped me to find my companions. He came on with us almost to the door
of Madame Celine's house. He talked frankly and pleasantly. Two days
after I was going to the City on madame's business. He met me. He said
he had watched for me. There! I cannot go into details. We met
repeatedly. For the first time in my life I was sought, and, as I
believed, warmly loved. I knew the unspeakable gulf that opened for me,
but I loved him. At last there was light and color in my
poverty-stricken existence." She stopped, and a glow came into her sad
eyes. "I was bewildered, distracted, between the passion of my heart and
the resistance of my reason. I ceased to be the efficient assistant I
had been. I was rebuked, and looked upon coldly. Six months after I had
met _him_ first, I gave madame warning. I said I was going into the
country. So I was, but not alone. No one asked me any questions; no one
had a right. I belonged to no one, was responsible to no one, could
wound no one. I was quite alone, and, oh, so hungry for a little love
and joy!" She paused, and then resumed rapidly, "I was that man's
unwedded wife for nearly two years." She rested her arm on the table,
and hid her face with her hand.

Katherine listened with unspeakable emotion. The eloquent blood flushed
cheek and throat with a keen sense of shame. She had read and heard of
such painful stories, but to be face to face with a creature who had
crossed the Rubicon, overpassed the great gulf, which separates the
sheep from the goats was something so unexpected, so terrible, that she
could not restrain a passionate burst of tears. "Ah," she murmured at
last, "you were cruelly deceived, no doubt. You are too hard upon
yourself. You----"

"No, Miss Liddell; I am trying to tell you the whole truth. The man I
loved never deceived me--never held put any hope that we could marry. He
was not rich; there were impediments--what, I never knew. But I thought
such love as he professed, and at the time felt for me, would last; and
so long as he was mine, I wanted nothing more. Have you patience to hear
more, or have I fallen too low to retain your interest?"

"Ah, no! tell me everything."

"I was very happy--oh, intensely happy for a while. Then a tiny cloud of
indifference, thin and shifting like morning mist, rose between us. It
darkened and lowered. He was a hasty, masterful man, but he was never
rough to me. Gradually I came to see that time had changed me from a joy
to a burden. How was it I lived? How was it I shut my eyes and hoped? At
last he told me he was obliged to go abroad, but that he could not take
me with him; and then proposed to establish me in some such undertaking
as my late employer's. When he said _that,_ I knew all was over; that
nothing I could do or say would avail; that I had been but a toy; that
he could not conceive what my nature was, nor the agony of shame, the
torture of rejected love, he was inflicting. I contrived to keep silent
and composed. I knew I had no right to complain: I had risked all and
lost. I managed to say we might arrange things later, and he praised me
for being a sensible, capital girl. I had seen this coming, or I don't
suppose I could have so controlled myself. But I could not accept his
terms. I had a little money and some jewels; I thought I might take
these. So I wrote a few lines, saying that I needed nothing, that he
should hear of me no more, and I went away out into the dark. If I could
only have died then! I was too great a coward to put an end to my life.
Why do I try to speak of what cannot be put into words? Despair is a
grim thing, and all life had turned to dust and ashes for me. I could
not even love him, though I pined for the creature I _had_ loved, who
once understood me, but from whose heart and mind I had vanished when
time dulled his first impression, and to whom I became even as other
women were. But as I could not die, I was obliged to work, and there was
but one way. I dreaded to be found starving and unable to give an
account of myself, so I applied to one of those large general shops
where they neither give nor expect references. There I staid for some
months, so silent, so steeled against everything, that no one cared to
speak to me. I dare not even think of that time. I do not understand how
I managed to do anything. At last I grew dazed, made blunders, and was
dismissed. I wandered here. I failed to find employment, and felt I
could do no more. Still death would _not_ come, I think my mind was
giving way when _you_ came. Now am I worth helping, now that you know
all?"

"Yes. I will do my best for you. Suffering such as yours must be
expiation enough," cried Katherine, her eyes still wet. "Put the past
behind you, and hope for the better days which _will_ come if you strive
for them. But, oh! tell me, did _he_ never try to find you?"

"Yes. I saw advertisements in the paper which were meant for me; but
after a while they ceased, and no doubt I was forgotten. I reaped what I
had sown. Few men, I imagine, can understand that there are hearts as
true, as strong, as tenacious, among women such as I am as among the
irreproachable, the really good. I have no real right to complain; only
it is _so_ hard to live on without hope or--" She stopped abruptly.

"Hope will come," said Katherine, gently; "and time will restore your
self-respect. I should be so glad to see you build up a new and better
life on the ruins of the past! I am sure there is independence and
repose before you, if you will but fold down this terrible page of your
life and never open it again."

"And can you endure to touch me--to be to me as you have been?" asked
Rachel, her voice broken and trembling.

Katherine's answer was to stretch out her hand and take that of her
_protegee_, which she held tenderly. "Let us never speak of this again,"
she said. "Bury your dead out of sight. All you have told me is sacred;
none shall ever know anything from me. Let us begin anew. I am certain
you are good and true; and how can one who has never known temptation
judge you?"

Rachel bent her head to kiss the fair firm hand which held hers; then
she wept silently, quietly, and said, softly, in an altered voice, "I
will do _whatever_ you bid me; and while you are so wonderfully good to
me I will not despair."

There was an expressive silence of a few moments. Then Katherine began
to draw on her gloves, and trying to steady her voice and speak in her
ordinary tone, said:

"Mr. Payne is going to make you known to a lady who may be of great use
to you in obtaining customers. I have not met her myself, but should you
receive a note from Mrs. Needham, pray go to her at once. There is no
reason why you should not make a great business yet. I should be quite
proud of it. Now I must leave you. Promise me to resist unhappy
thoughts. Try to regain strength, both mental and physical. Should you
see Mrs. Needham before I come again, pray ask quite two-thirds more for
making a dress than I paid, for both your work and your fit are
excellent."

With these practical words Katherine rose to depart. Rachel followed her
to the door, and timidly took her hand. "Do you understand," she said,
"all you have done for me? You have given me back my human heart,
instead of the iron vise that was pressing my soul to death. I will live
to be worthy of you, of your infinite pity."

Katherine had hardly recovered composure when she reached home. The sad
and shameful story to which she had listened had not arrested the flow
of her sympathy to Rachel. There was something striking in the strength
that enabled her to tell such a tale with stern justice toward herself,
without any whining self-exculpation. What a long agony she must have
endured! Katherine's tears were ready to flow afresh at the picture her
warm imagination conjured up. Weak and guilty as Rachel was to yield to
such a temptation, what was her wrong-doing to that of the man who,
knowing what would be the end thereof, tempted her?


Castleford was an ordinary comfortable country house, standing in not
very extensive grounds. The scenery immediately around it was flat and
uninteresting, but a few miles to the south it became undulating, and
broken with pretty wooded hollows, but north of it was a rich level
district, and as a hunting country second only to Leicestershire.

Colonel Ormonde was a keen sportsman, and when he had reached his
present grade had gladly taken up his abode in the old place, which had
been let at a high rent during his term of military service. Castleford
was an old place, though the house was comparatively new. It had been
bought by Ormonde's grandfather, a rich manufacturer, who had built the
house and made many improvements, and his representative of the third
generation was considered quite one of the country gentry.

Colonel Ormonde was fairly popular. He was not obtrusively hard about
money matters, but he never neglected his own interests. Then he
appreciated a good glass of wine, and above all he rode straight. Mrs.
Ormonde was adored by the men and liked by the women of Clayshire
society, Colonel Ormonde being considered a lucky man to have picked up
a charming woman whose children were provided for.

That fortunate individual was sitting at breakfast _tete-a-tete_ with
his wife one dull foggy morning about a month after Katherine Liddell
had returned to England. "Another cup, please," he said, handing his in.
Mrs. Ormonde was deep in her letters. "What an infernal nuisance it is!"
he continued, looking out of the window nearest him. "The off days are
always soft and the 'meet' days hard and frosty. The scent would be
breast-high to-day." Mrs. Ormonde made no reply. "Your correspondence
seems uncommonly interesting!" he exclaimed, surprised at her silence.

"It is indeed," she cried, looking up with a joyful and exultant
expression of countenance. "Katherine writes that she has signed a deed
settling twenty thousand on Cis and Charlie, the income of which is to
be paid to me until they attain the age of twenty-one, for their
maintenance, education, and so forth; after which any sum necessary for
their establishment in life can be raised or taken from their capital,
the whole coming into their own hands at the age of twenty-five. Dear
me! I hope they will make me a handsome allowance when they are
twenty-five. I really think Katherine might have remembered _me_." She
handed the letter to her husband.

"Well, little woman, you have your innings now, and you must save a pot
of money," he returned, in high glee. "What a trump that girl is! and,
by Jove! what lucky little beggars your boys are! I can tell you I was
desperately uneasy for fear she might marry some fellow before she
fulfilled her promise to you. Then you might have whistled for any
provision for your boys; no man would agree to give up such a slice of
his wife's fortune as this. I know I would not. Women never have any
real sense of the value of money; they are either stingy or extravagant.
I am deuced glad I haven't to pay all _your_ milliner's bills, my dear.
I am exceedingly glad Katherine has been so generous, but I'll be hanged
if it is the act of a sensible woman."

"Never mind; there is quite a load off my heart. I think I'll have a new
habit from Woolmerhausen now."

"Why, I gave you one only two years ago."

"Two years ago! Why, that is an age. And _you_ need not pay for this
one."

"I see she says she will pay us a visit if convenient. Of course it is
convenient. I'll run up to town on Sunday, and escort her down next day.
The meet is for Tuesday. And mind you make things pleasant and
comfortable for her, Ada. She would be an important addition to our
family. A handsome, spirited girl with a good fortune to dispose of
would be a feather in one's cap, I can tell you."

"You'll find her awfully fallen off, Ormonde, and her spirits seem quite
gone. Still I shall be very glad to have her here. But I do not see why
you should go fetch her. You know Lady Alice Mordaunt is coming on
Saturday."

"What does that matter? I shall only be away one evening; and between
you and me, though Lady Alice is everything that is nice and correct,
she is enough to put the liveliest fellow on earth to sleep in half an
hour."

"How strange men are!" exclaimed Mrs. Ormonde, gathering up her letters
and putting them into the pocket of her dainty lace and muslin apron.
"Nice, gentle, good women never attract you; you only care for bold----"

"Vivacious, coquettish, attractive little widows, like one I once knew,"
said the Colonel, laughing, as he carefully wiped his gray moustache.

"You are really too absurd!" she exclaimed, sharply. "Do you mean to say
I was ever bold?"

"No; I only mean to say you are an angel, and a deuced lucky angel in
every sense into the bargain! Now, have you any commissions? I am going
to Monckton this morning, and I fancy the dog-cart will be at the door.
Where's the boy? I'll take him and nurse down to the gate with me if
they'll wrap up. The little fellow is so fond of a drive."

"My dear 'Duke!--such a morning as this! Do you think I would let the
precious child out?"

"Nonsense! Do not make a molly-coddle of him. He is as strong as a
horse. Send for him anyway. I haven't seen him this morning. And be sure
you write a proper letter to Katherine Liddell; you had better let me
see it before it goes."

"Indeed I shall do nothing of the kind. Do you think I never wrote a
letter in my life before I knew you?"

"Oh, go your own way," retorted the Colonel, beating a retreat to save a
total rout.

In due course Katherine received an effusive letter of thanks, and a
pressing invitation to come down to Castleford on the following Monday,
and saying that as the hunting season was almost over, they would be
very quiet till after Easter, when Mrs. Ormonde was going to town for a
couple of months, ending with an assurance that the dear boys were dying
to see her, and that Colonel Ormonde was going to London for the express
purpose of escorting her on her journey.

"It is certainly not necessary," observed Katherine, with a smile,
"considering how accustomed I am to take care of myself. Still it is
kindly meant, and I shall accept the offer." This to Miss Payne, as they
rose from luncheon where Katherine had told her the contents of her
letter.

"Ahem! No doubt they are anxious to show you every attention. Would you
like to take Turner with you? I could spare her very well." Turner was
the maid expressly engaged to wait upon Miss Liddell.

"Oh no, thank you, I want so little waiting on. Lady Alice Mordaunt will
be with Mrs. Ormonde, and will be sure to have a maid, so another might
be inconvenient."

"My dear Miss Liddell, if you will excuse me for thrusting advice upon
you, I would say that 'considering' people is the very best way to
prevent their showing you consideration."

"Do you really think so? Well, it is really no great matter."

"Then you shall not want Turner? Then I shall give her a holiday. Her
mother or her brother is ill, and she wants to go home. Servants'
relations always seem to be ill. It must cost them a good deal."

"No doubt. Will you come out with me? I have some shopping to do, and
your advice is always valuable."

"I shall be very pleased, and I will say I shall miss you when you
leave--miss you very much."

"Thank you," said Katherine, gently. "I believe you will as you say so."

Without fully believing Ada's rather exaggerated expressions of
gratitude and affection, Katherine was soothed and pleased by them. She
was so truthful herself that she was disposed to trust others, and the
hearty welcome offered her took off from the sense of loneliness which
had long oppressed her. Hers was too healthy a nature to encourage
morbid grief. To the last day of her life she remembered her mother with
tender, loving-regret; but the consolation of knowing that her later
days had been so happy, that she had passed away so peacefully, did much
toward healing the wounds which were still bleeding.

On the appointed Monday Colonel Ormonde made his appearance in the early
afternoon, and found Katherine quite ready to start. He was stouter,
louder, bluffer, than ever. When Miss Payne was introduced to him he
honored her with an almost imperceptible bow and a very perceptible
stare. Turning at once to Katherine, he exclaimed:

"What! in complete marching order already? I protest I never knew a
woman punctual before. But I always saw you were a sensible girl. No
nonsense about you. Why, my wife told me you were looking ill. I don't
see it. At any rate Castleford air will soon bring back your roses."

"I am feeling and looking better than when I came over, and Miss Payne
has taken such good care of me," said Katherine, who did not like to see
the lady of the house so completely over-looked.

"Ah! that's well. You know you are too precious a piece of goods to be
tampered with. I believe Bertie Payne is a nephew of yours," he added,
addressing Miss Payne--"a young fellow who was in my regiment three or
four years ago, the Twenty-first Dragoon Guards?"

"He is my brother," returned Miss Payne, stiffly.

"Ah! Hope he is all right. Have scarcely seen him since he has gone, not
to the dogs, but to the saints, which is much the same thing. Ha! ha!
ha!"

"Indeed it is not, Colonel Ormonde!" cried Katherine. "If every one was
as good as Mr. Payne, the world would be a different and a better
place."

"Hey! Have you constituted yourself his champion? Lucky dog! Come, my
dear girl, we must be going. Are you well wrapped up? It is deuced cold,
and we have nearly three miles to drive from the station."

He himself looked liked a mountain in a huge fur-lined coat.

"Good-by, then, dear Miss Payne. I suppose I shall not see you again for
a fortnight or three weeks."

"By George! we sha'n't let you off with so short a visit as that! Say
three years. Come, march; we haven't too much time." Throwing a brief
"good-morning" at the "old maid" of uncertain position, the Colonel
walked heavily downstairs in the wake of his admired young guest.

Monckton was scarcely four hours from London, but when the drive to
Castleford was accomplished there was not too much time left to dress
for dinner.

Mrs. Ormonde was awaiting Katherine in the hall, which was bright with
lamps and fire-light; behind her were her two boys.

When Katherine had been duly welcomed. Mrs. Ormonde stood aside, and the
children hesitated a moment. Cecil was so much grown, Katherine hardly
knew him. He came forward with his natural assurance, and said,
confidently: "How d'ye do, auntie? You have been a long time coming."

Charlie was more like what he had been, and less grown. He hesitated a
moment, then darted to Katherine, and throwing his arms round her neck,
clung to her lovingly. She was infinitely touched and delighted. How
vividly the past came back to her!--the little dusty house at Bayswater,
the homely establishment kept afloat by her dear mother's industry, the
small study, and the dear weary face associated with it. How ardently
she held the child to her heart! How thankfully she recognized that here
was something to cherish and to live for!

"They may come with me to my room?" she said to her hostess.

"Oh, certainly!--only if you begin that sort of thing you will never be
able to get rid of them."

"I will risk it," said Katherine, as she followed Mrs. Ormonde upstairs
to a very comfortable room, where a cheerful fire blazed on the hearth.

"I am afraid you find it rather small, but I was obliged to give the
best bedroom to Lady Alice--_noblesse oblige_, you know. I am sure you
will like her, she is so gentle; I think her father was very glad to let
her come, as she can see more of her _fiance_. They are not to be
married till the autumn, so--Oh dear! there is the second bell. Cis, run
away and tell Madeline to come and help your auntie to dress; and you
too, Charlie; you had better go too."

"He may stay and help me to unpack."

"Why did you not bring your maid, dear? It is just like you to leave her
behind; but we could have put her up; and you will miss her dreadfully."

"I do not think either of us has been so accustomed to the attentions of
a maid as not to be able to do without one," returned Katherine,
smiling.

"You know _I_ always had a maid in India," said Mrs. Ormonde, with an
air of superiority. "Don't be long over your toilet; Ormonde's cardinal
virtue is punctuality."

In spite of the hindrance of her nephew's help, Katherine managed to
reach the drawing-room before Lady Alice or the master of the house.
Mrs. Ormonde was talking to an elderly gentleman in clerical attire
beside the fireplace, and at some distance a tall, dignified-looking man
was reading a newspaper. Mrs. Ormonde was most becomingly dressed in
black satin, richly trimmed with lace and jet--a brilliant contrast to
Katherine, in thick dull silk and crape, her snowy neck looking all the
more softly white for its dark setting: the only relief to her general
blackness was the glinting light on her glossy, wavy, chestnut brown
hair.

"You have been very quick, dear," said the hostess. "I am going to send
you in to dinner," she added, in a low tone, "with Mr. Errington, our
neighbor. He is the head of the great house of Errington in Calcutta,
and the _fiance_, of Lady Alice; but Colonel Ormonde must take her in.
Mr. Errington!" raising her voice. The gentleman thus summoned laid down
his paper and came forward. "Let me introduce you to my sister, Miss
Liddell." Mr. Errington bowed, rather a stately bow, as he gazed with
surprised interest at the large soft eyes suddenly raised to his, then
quickly averted, the swift blush which swept over the speaking face
turned toward him, the indescribable shrinking of the graceful figure,
as if this stranger dreaded and would fain avoid him. It was but for a
moment; then she was herself again, and the door opening to admit Lady
Alice, Errington hastened to greet her with chivalrous respect, and
remained beside her chair until Colonel Ormonde entered with the butler,
who announced that dinner was ready.



CHAPTER XIV.

IN THE TOILS.


The drawing and dining rooms at Castleford were at opposite sides of a
large square hall, and even in the short transit between them Errington
felt instinctively that Miss Liddell shrank from him. The tips merely of
her black-gloved fingers rested on his arm, while she kept as far from
him as the length of her own permitted. At table her host was on her
right, and Lady Alice opposite, next to the rector, who was the only
invited guest; Errington was always expected, and had returned from a
distant canvassing expedition, for the present member for West Clayshire
was believed to be on the point of retiring on account of ill health,
and Mr. Errington of Garston Hall, intended to offer himself for
election to the free and independent.

He had had a fatiguing day, but scarcely admitted to himself how much
more restful a solitary dinner would have been, with a cigar and some
keen-edged article or luminous pamphlet in his own comfortable library
afterward, than making conversation at Colonel Ormonde's table. However,
to slight the lady who had promised to be his wife was impossible, so he
exerted himself to be agreeable.

The rector discussed some parish difficulties with his hostess, while
Colonel Ormonde, though profoundly occupied with his dinner, managed to
throw an observation from time to time to his young neighbors.

"Rode round by Brinkworth Heath in two hours and a half," he was saying
to Lady Alice, when Katherine listened. "That was fair going. I did not
think you would have got Mrs. Ormonde to start without an escort."

"We had an escort. Lord Francis Carew and Mr. De Burgh came over to
luncheon, and they rode with us."

"Ha, Errington! you see the result of leaving this fair lady's side all
unguarded! These fellows come and usurp your duties."

"Do you think I should wish Lady Alice to forego any amusement because I
am so unlucky as to be prevented from joining her?" returned Errington,
in a deep mellow voice.

Katherine looked across the table to see how Lady Alice took the remark,
but she was rearranging some geraniums and a spray of fern in her
waistband, and did not seem to hear. She was a slight colorless girl of
nineteen, with regular features, an unformed though rather graceful
figure, and a distinguished air.

Errington caught the expression of his neighbor's face as she glanced at
his _fiancee_, a sympathetic smile parting her lips. It was rarely that
a countenance had struck him so much, which was probably due to his odd
but strong impression that his new acquaintance, was both startled and
displeased at being introduced to him--an impression very strange to
Errington, as he was generally welcomed by all sorts and conditions of
men, and especially of women.

The silence of Lady Alice did not seem to disturb her lover; he turned
to Katherine and asked, "Were you of the riding party to-day!"

"No," she replied, meeting his eyes fully for an instant, and then
averting her own, while the color came and went on her cheek; "I only
arrived in time for dinner."

"Have I ever met this young lady before?" thought Errington, much
puzzled. "Have I ever unconsciously offended or annoyed her? I don't
think so; yet her face is not quite strange to me." And he applied
himself to his dinner.

"I fancy you have had rather a dull time of it in town?" said Colonel
Ormonde, leaning back, while the servants removed the dishes.

"No, I was not dull," replied Katherine, glad to turn to him. "I was
very comfortable, and of course not in a mood to see many strangers or
to go anywhere. Then I was interested in Mr. Payne's undertakings; they
are quite as amusing as amusements."

"Bertie Payne! to be sure; the nephew or brother of your doughty
chaperon. He is always up to some benevolent games. Queer fellow."

"He is very, _very_ good," said Katherine, warmly, "and he _does_ so
much good; only the amount of evil is overpowering."

"Yes," said Errington; "I am afraid such efforts as Payne's are mere
scratching of the surface, and will never touch the root of the evil."

"I suspect he is a prey to impostors of every description," said Colonel
Ormonde, with a fat laugh. "He is always worrying for subscriptions and
God knows what. But I turn a deaf ear to him."

"I cannot say I do always," remarked Errington. "While we devise schemes
of more scientific amelioration, hundreds die of sharp starvation or
misery long drawn out. Payne is a good fellow, and enthusiasts have
their uses."

"You are so liberal yourself, Mr. Errington," cried Mrs. Ormonde, "I
dare say you are often imposed upon in spite of your wisdom."

"My wisdom!" repeated Errington, laughing. "What an original idea, Mrs.
Ormonde! Did you ever know I was accused of wisdom?" he added,
addressing Lady Alice.

"Papa says you are very sensible," she returned, seriously.

"Of course," cried Mrs. Ormonde. "Why, he has written a pamphlet on 'Our
Colonies,' and something wonderful about the state of Europe--didn't he,
Mr. Heywood?"

"Yes," returned the rector. "I suspect our future member will be a
cabinet minister before the world is many years older."

Lady Alice looked up with more of pleasure and animation than she had
yet shown. Errington bent his head.

"Many thanks for your prophecy;" and he immediately turned the
conversation to the ever-genial topics of hunting and horses. Then Mrs.
Ormonde gave the signal of retreat to the drawing-room.

Here Katherine looked in vain for her nephews.

"I suppose the boys have gone to bed, Ada?"

"To bed! oh yes, of course. Why, it is more than half past eight; it
would never do to keep them up so late. Would you like to see baby boy
asleep? he looks quite beautiful."

"Yes, I should, very much," returned Katherine, anxious to gratify the
mother.

"Come, then," cried Mrs. Ormonde, starting up with alacrity. As the
invitation was general, Lady Alice said, in her gentle way.

"Thank you; I saw the baby yesterday."

"She has really very little feeling," observed Mrs. Ormonde, as she went
upstairs with her sister-in-law. "She never notices baby."

"I am afraid I should not notice children much if they did not belong to
me."

"My dear Katherine, you are quite different. Of course Lady Alice is
sweet and elegant, but not clever. Indeed, I cannot see the use of
cleverness to women. There is a fine aristocratic air about her. After
all, there is nothing like high birth. I assure you it is a high
compliment her being allowed to stay here. Her aunt, Lady Mary Vincent,
is a very fine lady indeed, and chaperons Lady Alice. But her father,
Lord Melford, is a curious, reckless sort of man, always wandering
about--yachting and that kind of thing; he is rather in difficulties
too. They are glad enough to send her down here to see something of
Errington. You know Errington is a very good match; he has bought a
great deal of the Melford property, and when old Errington dies he will
be immensely rich. The poor old man is in miserable health; he has not
been down here all the winter. I believe the wedding is to take place in
June; we will be invited, of course; you see Colonel Ormonde is so
highly connected that I am in a very different position from what I was
accustomed to. And you, dear, you _must_ marry some person of rank;
there is nothing like it."

"Yes," said Katherine, with a sigh, "everything is changed."

"Fortunately!" cried the exultant Mrs. Ormonde, opening the door of a
luxuriously appointed nursery.

"Here, nurse, I have brought Miss Liddell to see Master Ormonde."

A middle-aged woman, well dressed, and of authoritative aspect, rose
from where she sat at needle-work, and came forward.

"I have only just got him to sleep, ma'am," she said, almost in a
whisper, "and if he is awoke now, I'll not get him off again before
midnight."

"We'll be very careful, nurse. Is he not a fine little fellow,
Katherine?" and she softly turned back the bedclothes from the sturdy,
chubby child, who had a somewhat bull dog style of countenance and a
beautifully fair skin.

"How ridiculously like Colonel Ormonde he is!" whispered Katherine. "I
do not see any trace of you."

"No; he is quite an Ormonde. He is twice as big as either Cis or Charlie
was at his age."

After a few civil comments Katherine suggested their visiting the other
children.

"Perhaps it would be wiser not to go," said the mother; "they will not
be so sound asleep as baby, and----"

"You must indulge me this once, Ada. I long to look at them."

"Oh! of course, dear; ring for Eliza, nurse; she will show Miss Liddell
the way. I must go back; it would never do to leave Lady Alice so long
alone."

"Do not apologize," said Katherine, with a curious jealous pang, as she
noted Mrs. Ormonde's indifference to the children of her first poor
love-match.

A demure, flat-faced girl answered the bell, and led Katherine down
passages and up a crooked stair to another part of the house.

Here she was shown into a room sparsely supplied with old furniture.
There was a good fire, and a shaded lamp stood on a large table, where a
girl sat writing.

"Here is a lady to see the young gentlemen," said the nurse-maid. The
young scribe started up, looking confused.

"If it would not disturb them," said Katherine, gently, "I should like
to see my nephews in their sleep."

"Oh, Miss Liddell!" exclaimed the governess, a younger, commoner-looking
person than Katherine had chosen before she left England. "This is their
bedroom," and she led Katherine through a door opposite the fireplace
into an inner room. There in their little beds lay the boys who were all
of kith or kin left to Katherine Liddell.

How lovingly she bent over and gazed at them!

Cecil had grown much. He looked sunburnt and healthy. One arm was thrown
up behind his head, the other stretched straight and stiff beside him,
ending in a closely clinched little brown fist. His lips, slightly
apart, emitted the softly drawn regular breath of profound slumber, and
the smile which some pleasant thought had conjured up before he closed
his eyes still lingered round his mouth. Katherine longed to kiss him,
but feared to break his profound and restful slumbers. She passed to
Charlie. His attitude was quite different. He had thrown the clothes
from his chest, and his pinky white throat was bare; one little hand lay
open on the page of a picture-book at which he had been looking when
sleep overtook him; the other was under his soft round cheek; his sweet
and still baby face was grave if not sad. He looked like a little angel
who had brought a message to earth, and was grieved and wearied by the
sin and sorrow here below. Katherine's heart swelled with tenderest love
as she gazed upon him, and unconsciously she bent closer till her lips
touched his brow. Then a little hand stole into hers, and, without
moving, as though he had expected her, he opened his eyes and whispered,
"Will you come and kiss me every night, as grannie did?"

"I will, my darling, every night."

"Will grannie _never_ come and kiss me again?"

"Never, Charlie! She will never come to either of us in this life." A
big tear fell on the boy's forehead.

"Don't cry, auntie; she loves us all the same." And he kissed the fair
cheek which now lay against his own as his aunt knelt beside his bed.

"Go to sleep, dear love; to-morrow you shall take me to see your garden
and the pony."

"You will be sure to come?"

"Yes, quite sure."

In a few minutes the clasp of the warm little hand relaxed, and
Katherine gently disengaged herself.

"The boys are no longer first in their mother's heart," thought
Katherine, as she returned to the drawing-room. "Were they ever first?
They are--they might become all the world to me. They might fill my life
and give it a fresh aspect. The new ties at which Mr. Newton hinted can
never exist for me. Could I accept an honorable man and live with a
perpetual secret between us? Could I ever confess? No. My most hopeful
scheme is to be a mother to these children. And oh! I do want to be
happy, to feel the joy in life that used to lift up my spirit in the old
days when we were struggling with poverty! I _will_ throw off this load
of self-contempt. I have not really injured any one."

In the drawing-room Colonel Ormonde was seated beside Lady Alice, making
conversation to the best of his ability. She looked serenely content,
and held a piece of crochet, the kind of fancy-work which occupied the
young ladies in the "sixties." The rector and Mr. Errington were in deep
conversation on the hearth-rug, and Mrs. Ormonde was reading the paper.

"So you have been visiting the nursery?" said the Colonel, rising and
offering Katherine a chair. "Your first introduction to our young man, I
suppose?"

"Yes. What a great boy he is!--the picture of health!"

"Ay, he is a Trojan," complacently. "The other little fellows are
looking well, eh?"

"Very well indeed. Cis is wonderfully grown; but Charlie is much what he
was."

"He'll overtake his brother, though, before long," said Colonel Ormonde,
encouragingly, as he rang and ordered the card-table to be set.

"You play whist, I suppose? We want a fourth."

"I am quite ignorant of that fascinating game," returned Katherine, "and
very sorry to be so useless."

"It _is_ lamentable ignorance! Lady Alice, will you take compassion on
us? No?--then we _must_ have Errington."

Errington did not seem at all reluctant, and the two young ladies were
left to entertain each other.

Katherine, who had gone to the other end of the room to look at some
water-color drawings, came back and sat down beside her. Lady Alice
looked amiable, but did not speak, and Katherine felt greatly at a loss
what to say.

"What very fine work!" she said at length, watching the small,
weak-looking hands so steadily employed.

"Yes, it is a very difficult pattern. My aunt, Lady Mary, never could
manage it, and she does a great deal of crochet, and is very clever."

"It seems most complicated. I am sure I could never do it."

"Do you crochet much?"

"Not at all."

"Then," with some appearance of interest, "what _do_ you do?"

"Oh! various things; but I am afraid I am not industrious. I would
rather mend my clothes than do fancy work."

"Mend your clothes!" repeated Lady Alice, in unfeigned amazement.

"Yes. I assure you there is great pleasure in a symmetrical patch."

"But does not your maid do that?"

"Now that I have one, she does. However, you must show me how to
crochet, if you will be so kind; my only approach to fancy-work is
knitting. I can knit stockings. Isn't that an achievement?"

"But is it not tiresome?"

"Oh! I can knit like the Germans, and talk or read."

"Is it possible?" A long pause.

"Mrs. Ormonde says you are very learned and studious," said Lady Alice,
languidly.

"How cruel of her to malign me!" returned Katherine, laughing. "Learned
I certainly am not; but I am fond of indiscriminate reading, though not
studious."

"I like a nice novel, with dreadful people in it, like Miss St. Maur's.
Have you read any of hers?"

"I don't think so. I do not know the name."

"The St. Maurs are Devonshire people--a very old country family, I
believe. Still, when she writes about the season in London, I don't
think it is very like." Another pause.

"You have been in Italy, I think, Lady Alice?" recommenced Katherine.

"Oh yes, often. Papa is always cruising about, you know, and we stop at
places. But I have never been in Rome."

"Yachting must be delightful."

"I do not like it; I am always ill. Aunt Mary took me to Florence for a
winter."

"Then you enjoyed that, I dare say," said Katherine.

"I got tired of it. I do not care for living abroad; there is nothing to
do but to go to picture-galleries and theatres."

"Well, that is a good deal," returned Katherine, smiling. "Where do you
like to live, Lady Alice?"

"Oh, in the country. I am almost sorry Mr. Errington has a house in
town. I am so fond of a garden, and riding on quiet roads! I am afraid
to ride in London. The country is so peaceful! no one is in a hurry."

"What a happy, tranquil life she will lead under the ægis of such a man
as Mr. Errington!" thought Katherine.

"Do you play or sing?" asked Lady Alice, for once taking the initiative.

"Yes, in a very amateur fashion."

"Then," with more animation, "perhaps you would play my accompaniments
for me; I always like to stand when I sing. Mrs. Ormonde says she
forgets her music. Is it not odd?"

"Well, people in India do as little as possible. I shall be very pleased
to play for you. Shall we practice to-morrow?"

"Oh yes; immediately after breakfast. There is really nothing to do
here."

"Immediately after breakfast I am going out with the boys--Mrs.
Ormonde's boys. Have you seen them? But we shall have plenty of time
before luncheon."

"Are you fond of children?" slowly, while her busy needle paused and she
undid a stitch or two.

"I am fond of these children; I do not know much about any other."

"Beverley's children (my eldest brother's) are very troublesome; they
annoy me very much." Silence while she took up her stitches again. "The
worst of this pattern is that if you talk you are sure to go wrong."

"Then I will find a book and not disturb you," said Katherine,
good-humoredly. She felt kindly and indulgent toward this gentle
helpless creature, who seemed so many years younger than herself, though
barely two, in fact. That she was Errington's _fiancee_ gave her a
curious interest in Katherine's eyes. She would willingly have done him
all possible good; she was strangely attracted to the man she had
cheated. There was a simple natural dignity about him that pleased her
imagination, yet she almost dreaded to speak to him, lest the very tones
of her voice, the encounter of their eyes, should betray her.

At last Errington, looking at his watch, declared that as the rubber was
over, he must say good-night.

"What, are you not staying here to-night?" said Colonel Ormonde.

"No; I have a good deal of letter-writing to get through to-morrow, so
did not accept Mrs. Ormonde's kind invitation."

"You'll have a deuced cold drive. Come over on Thursday, will you? Old
Wray, the banker, is to dine here, and one or two Monckton worthies.
Stay till Tuesday or Wednesday. The next meets are Friday and Monday, on
this side of the county. There will not be many more this season."

"Thank you; I shall be very happy." He crossed to where Lady Alice still
sat placidly at work, and made his adieux in a low tone, holding her
hand for a moment longer than mere acquaintanceship warranted, and
having exchanged good-nights, left the room, followed by his host.

There was a good fire in Katherine's bedroom, and having declined the
assistance of Mrs. Ormonde's maid, she put on her dressing-gown and sat
down beside it to think. She was still quivering with the nervous
excitement she had striven so hard and so successfully to conceal.

When Mrs. Ormonde had given her rapid explanation of who Errington was,
and without a pause presented him, Katherine felt as if she must drop at
his feet. Indeed, she would have been thankful if a merciful
insensibility had made her impervious to his questioning eyes. _She_
well knew who he was.

He was the real owner of the property she now possessed. The will she
had suppressed bequeathed all John Liddell's real and personal property
to Miles Errington, only son of his old friend Arthur Errington, of
Calton Buildings, London, E. C., and Calcutta. She, the robber, stood in
the presence of the robbed. Did he know by intuition that she was
guilty? How grave and questioning his eyes were! Why did he look at her
like that? How he would despise her and forbid his affianced wife to be
outraged by her presence if he knew!

He looked like a high-minded gentleman. If he seemed almost sternly
grave, his smile was kind and frank, and she had made herself unworthy
to associate with such men as he.

But he was rich. He did not need the money she wanted so sorely. What of
that? Did his abundance alter the everlasting conditions of right and
wrong? Perhaps if she had not attempted to play Providence for the sake
of her family, and let things follow their natural course, Mr. Errington
might have spared a few crumbs from his rich table--a reasonable
dole--to patch up the ragged edges of their frayed fortunes. Then she
would not be oppressed with the sense of shame, this weight of riches
she shrank from using. She had murdered her own happiness; she had
killed her own youth. Never again could she know the joyousness of
light-hearted girlhood, while nothing the world might give her could
atone for the terrible trespass which had broken the harmony of her
moral nature by the perpetual sense of unatoned wrong-doing. How she
wished she had never come to Castleford! True, her seeing Mr. Errington
did not make her guilt a shade darker, but oh, how much more keenly she
felt it under his eyes! And now she could not rush away. She must avoid
all eccentricities lest they might possibly arouse suspicion. Suspicion?
What was there to suspect? No one would dream of suspicion. Then that
will! She would try and nerve herself to destroy it, though it seemed
sacrilege to do so. Whatever she did, however, she must think of Cis and
Charlie. Having committed such an act, her only course was to bear the
consequences, and do her duty by the innocent children, whose fate would
be cruel enough should she indulge in any weak repentance or seek relief
in confession. She had burdened herself with a disgraceful secret, and
she must bear it her life long. It gave her infinite pain to face Miles
Errington, yet while at one moment she longed to fly from him, the next
she felt an extraordinary desire to hear him speak, to learn the
prevailing tone of his mind, to know his opinions. There was an
earnestness in his look and manner that appealed to her sympathies. He
was a just, upright gentleman. What would he think of the dastardly deed
by which she had robbed him?

"I must not think of it. I must try and forget I ever did it, and be as
good and true as I can in all else. And the will! I must destroy it. I
am sure my poor old uncle meant to do away with it. Perhaps if it were
clean gone I might feel more at rest. How strange it is that instead of
growing accustomed to the contemplation of my own dishonesty I become
more keenly alive to the shame of my act as time rolls on! Perhaps if I
am brave and resolute I may conquer the scorpion stings of
self-reproach. How dear those two sweet peaceful years have cost me!
Would I undo it all to save myself these pangs? No. Then I suppose to
bear is to conquer one's fate."



CHAPTER XV.

CROSS PURPOSES.


The first ten days at Castleford would have been dull indeed to
Katherine but for the society of Cis and Charlie in the mornings, and
the interest she took in watching Errington (who was of course a
frequent visitor) in the evenings.

Though she avoided conversing with him as much as possible, he was a
constant study to her. He was different from all the men she had
previously met. She often wondered if anything could disturb him or
hurry him. Had he ever climbed trees and torn his clothes, or thrashed
an adversary? Had he any weaknesses, or vivid joys, or passionate
longings? Yet he did not seem a prig. His manner, though dignified, was
easy and natural; his eyes, though steady and penetrating, were kindly;
his bearing had the repose of strength. It was too awful to contemplate
what his estimate of herself would be if he knew; but then he must
_never_ know!

As it was, he seemed inclined to be friendly and communicative, pleased
when he met her strolling in the garden with Lady Alice, and gratified
to find that she could accompany his _fiancee's_ songs. Indeed he said
he had never heard Lady Alice sing so well as when Miss Liddell played
for her.

Apart from the boys and Errington, Katherine found time hang very
heavily on her hands. The aimless lingering over useless fancy-work or
second-rate novels, the discussion of such gossip as their
correspondence supplied, by means of which Mrs. Ormonde and Lady Alice
got through the day, were infinitely wearisome to her.

Miles Errington was one of those happy individuals said to be born with
a silver spoon in his mouth. The only son of a wealthy father, who,
though enriched by trade, had come of an old Border race, he had had the
best education money could procure. More fortunate still in the
endowments of nature, he was well formed, strong, active, and blessed
with perfect health; while mentally he was intelligent and reflective,
thoughtful rather than brilliant, and by temperament profoundly calm. He
had never got into scrapes or committed extravagance. He was the despair
of managing mammas and fascinating young married women; yet he was not
unpopular with either sex. Men respected his strong, steady character,
his high standard, his sound judgment in matters affecting the stable
and the race-course; women were attracted by his obligingness and
generosity. Still he was the sort of man with whom few became intimate,
and none dared take a liberty. Preserved by his fortunate surroundings
and strong tranquil nature from difficulties or temptations, he could
hardly understand the passionate outbreaks of weaker and more fiery men.

His greatest physical pleasure was an exciting run with the hounds; his
deepest interest centred in politics; though never indulging in
sentiment, he was an earnest patriot. Whether he could be moved by more
personal feelings remained to be proved. At present the sources of
tenderer affection, if they existed, lay so deep below the strata of
reason and common-sense that only some artesian process could pierce to
the imprisoned spring's and set the "water of life" free, perhaps to
bound, geyser-like, into the outer air.

Having travelled by sea and land, and looked into the social and
political condition of many countries, having mixed much with men and
women at home and abroad, Errington thought it time to take his place in
the great commonwealth--to marry, and to try for a seat in the House of
Commons. He therefore selected Lady Alice Mordaunt. She was rather
pretty, graceful, gentle, and quite at his service. He really like her
in a sort of fatherly way; he looked forward with quiet pleasure to
making her very happy, and did not doubt she would in his hands mature
into a sufficient companion, for though Errington was not naturally a
selfish man, his life and training disposed him to look on those
connected with him as on the whole created for him.

He had been absent for two or three days, having gone up to town to
visit his father, who had been somewhat seriously unwell, and as he rode
toward Castleford he gave more thought than usual to his young
_fiancee_. In truth, a visit to Colonel Ormonde was a great bore to him.
He had nothing in common with the Colonel, whose pig-headed conservatism
jarred on Errington's broader views, while his stories and reminiscences
were exceedingly uninteresting, and sometimes worse. Mrs. Ormonde's
small coquetries, her airs and graces, were equally unattractive to him.
Still it was well to have Lady Alice at Castleford, within easy reach,
while there was so much to occupy his time and attention in the country.
As soon as he was sure of his election he would hasten his marriage, and
perhaps get the honey-moon over in time to take his seat while there was
still a month or two of the session unexpired.

From Lady Alice it was an easy transition of thought to the new guest at
Castleford. Where had he seen her face? and with what was he associated
in her mind? Nothing agreeable; of that he was quite sure. The vivid
blush and indescribable shrinking he had noticed more than once (and
Errington, like most quiet men, was a close observer) seemed
unaccountable. Miss Liddell was far from shy; she was well-bred and
evidently accustomed to society; her avoidance had therefore made the
more impression. His experience of life had hitherto been exceedingly
unemotional, and Katherine's unexpected betrayal of feeling puzzled him
not a little.

At this point in his reflections he had reached that part of the road
where it dipped into a hollow, on one side of which the Melford woods
began. A steep bank rose on the right, thickly studded with beech and
oak trees, still leafless, but the scanty, yellowish grass which grew
beneath them was tufted with primroses and violets.

As Errington came round a bend in the little valley the sound of shrill,
childish laughter came pleasantly to his ear, and the next minute
brought him in sight of a lady in mourning whom he recognized
immediately, and two little boys, who were high up the back, busily
engaged filling a basket with sweet spring blossoms.

Errington paused, dismounted, and raising his hat, approached her.

"I did not expect so meet _you_ so far afield," he said. "You are not
afraid of a long walk."

"My nephews have led me on from flower to flower," she returned, again
coloring brightly, but not shrinking from his eyes. "Now I think it is
time to go home."

"It is not late," he returned. "How is every one at Castleford?"

"Quite well. Lady Alice has lost her cold, and regained her voice--she
was singing this morning," said Katherine, smiling as if she knew the
real drift of his question.

"I am glad to hear it," he returned, soberly.

Errington and Lady Alice did not write to each other every day.

"Auntie," cried Cis, "the basket is quite full. If you open your
sunshade and hold it upside-down, I can fill that too."

"No dear; you have quite enough. We must go back now."

"Oh, not yet, please?" The little fellow came tumbling down the bank,
followed by Charlie, who immediately caught his aunt's hand and
repeated, "Not yet, auntie!"

"These are Mrs. Ormonde's boys, I suppose?" said Errington.

"Yes; have you never seen them before?"

"Never. And have you not had enough climbing?" he added, good-humoredly,
to Charlie.

"No, not half enough!" cried Cis. "There's _such_ a bunch of violets
just under that biggest beech-tree, nearly up at the top! Do let me
gather them--just those; do--do--do!"

"Very well; do not go too fast, or you will break your neck."

Both boys started off, leaving their basket at Katherine's feet.

"I remember now," said Errington, looking at her, "where I saw I saw you
before. Is was two--nearly three--years ago, at Hyde Park corner, when
that elder boy had a narrow escape from being run over."

"Were _you_ there?" she exclaimed, so evidently surprised that Errington
saw the impulse was genuine. "I recollect Mr. Payne and Colonel Ormonde;
but I did not see _you_."

"Then where _have_ you met me?" was at his lips, but he did not utter
the words.

"Well, Payne was of real service; I did nothing. The little fellow had a
close shave."

"He had indeed," said Katherine, thoughtfully, with downcast eyes; then,
suddenly raising them to his, she said, as if to herself, "And you were
there too! How strange it all is!"

"I see nothing so strange in it, Miss Liddell," smiling good-humoredly.
"Have you any superstition on the subject?"

"No; I am not superstitious; yet it was curious--I mean, to meet by
accident on that day just before--" She stopped. "And now I am connected
with Colonel Ormonde, living with Mr. Payne's sister and--and talking
here with--_you_."

"These coincidences occur perpetually when people move in the same set,"
returned Errington, feeling absurdly curious, and yet not knowing how to
get at the train of recollection or association which underlay her
words--words evidently unstudied and impulsive.

"I suppose so. And, you know--Mr. Payne," Katherine continued,
quickly--"how good he is! He lives completely for others."

"Yes, I believe him to be thoroughly, honestly good. How hard he toils,
and with what a pitiful result!"

"I wish he would go. Why does he stand there making conversation?"
thought Katherine, while she said aloud: "I don't see that. If every one
helped two or three poor creatures whom they knew, we should not have
all this poverty and suffering which are distracting to think about."

"I doubt it; it would be more likely to pauperize the whole nation."

Here Charlie and Cis, with earth-stained knees and hands--the latter
full of violets--reluctantly descended. Adding these to the basket
already overflowing, they had a short wrangle as to who should carry it,
and then Katherine turned her steps homeward. Errington passed the
bridle over his arm, and to her great annoyance, walked beside her.

"Are you, then, disposed to give yourself to faith and to good works?"

"I do not know. I should like to help those who want, but I fear I am
too fond of pleasure to sacrifice myself--at least I was and I suppose
the love will return. Of course it is easy to give money; it is hard to
give one's self."

"You seem very philosophic for so young a lady."

"I am not young," said Katherine, sadly; "I am years older than Lady
Alice."

"How many--one or two?" asked Errington, in his kind, fatherly, somewhat
superior tone, which rather irritated her.

"The years I mean are not to be measured by the ordinary standard; even
_you_ must know that some years last longer--no, that is not the
expression--press heavier than others."

"Even I? Do you think I am specially matter-of-fact?"

"I have no right to think you anything, for I do not know you; but you
give me that impression."

"I dare say I am; nor do I see why I should object to be so considered."

Here Cecil, who got tired of a conversation from which he could gather
nothing, put in his oar: "Are you Mr. Errington?"

"I am. How do you know my name?"

"I saw you going out with the Colonel to the meet--oh, a long while ago!
And Miss Richards and nurse were talking about you."

"They said you had a real St. Bernard dog--one that gets the people out
of the snow," cried Charlie. "Will you let him come here? I want to see
him."

"_You_ had better come and pay him a visit."

"Oh yes, thank you!" exclaimed Cis. "Auntie will take us, perhaps.
Auntie will take us to the sea-side, and then we shall bathe, and go in
boats, and learn to row."

"Cis, run with me to that big tree at the foot of the hill. Auntie will
carry the basket," cried Charlie, and the next moment they were off.

"Fine little fellows," said Errington. "I like children."

"I am going to ask Mrs. Ormonde to lend them to me for a few months, for
they are all I have of kith or kin."

"They are not at all like you," returned Errington, letting his quiet,
but to her most embarrassing, eyes rest upon her face.

"Yet they are my only brother's children." Here Katherine paused with a
sense of relief; they had reached a stile where a footway led across
some fields and a piece of common overgrown with bracken and gorse. It
was the short-cut to Castleford, by which Cecil had led her to the
Melford Woods.

"Oh, do come round by the road, auntie," he exclaimed; "perhaps Mr.
Errington will let me ride his horse."

"I do not know if _he_ will, Cis, but I certainly will not. I am tired
too, dear, and want to get home the shortest way I can, so bid Mr.
Errington good-by, and come with me. No, don't shake hands; yours are
much too dirty."

"Never mind; when you are a big boy I'll give you a mount. Good by,
Master Charlie--_you_ are Charlie, are you not? Till we meet at dinner,
Miss Liddell." He raised his hat, and divining that she wished him to
let her get over the stile unassisted, he mounted his horse and rode
swiftly away.

"I am sure he would have given me a ride if you had gone by the road,
auntie," said Cecil, reproachfully.

"I could not have allowed, you, dear; so do not think about it."
Errington meanwhile rode on, unconsciously slackening his pace as he
mused. "No, she certainly has never seen me before, yet she knows me.
How? She was very glad to get rid of me just now. Why? I am inoffensive
enough. There is something uncommon about her; she gives me the idea of
having a history, which is anything but desirable for a young woman.
What fine eyes she has! She is something like that Sibyl of Guercino's
in the Capitol. Why does she object to me? It is rather absurd. I must
make her talk, then I shall find out."

Here his horse started, and broke the thread of his reflections. By the
time the steed had pranced and curvetted a little, Errington's thoughts
had turned into some of their usual graver channels, and Katherine
Liddell was--well, not absolutely forgotten.

The object of his reflections reached the house rather late for the
boys' tea, and expecting to find her hostess and Lady Alice enjoying the
same refreshment, she gave her warm out-door jacket to Cecil, who
immediately put it on as the best mode of taking it upstairs, and went
into Mrs. Ormonde's morning-room, where afternoon tea was always served.
It was a pleasant room in warm summer weather, as its aspect was east,
and the afternoons were cool and shady there; but of a chill evening at
the end of March it was cold and dim, and needed the glow of a good fire
to make it attractive.

Daylight still lingered to the sky, but was fast fading, and the dancing
light of a cheerful fire was a pleasant contrast to the gray shadows
without. The room was very nondescript; its furniture was of the spidery
fashion which ruled when the "first gentleman" held the reins; thin hard
sofas and scanty draperies were supplemented by Persian rugs and showy
cushions, while various specimens of doubtful china crowded the
mantel-piece and consoles. Mrs. Ormonde was quite innocent of original
taste, but was a quick, industrious imitator, while of comfortable
chairs she was a most competent judge.

Quite sure of finding Mrs. Ormonde, Lady Alice, and Miss
Brereton--another visitor--refreshing themselves after their out-door
exercise, and intending to announce the pleasant news of Errington's
return, Katherine exclaimed, "Lady Alice!" as she crossed the threshold,
then seeing no one, stopped.

"Lady Alice is not here," said a strong, harsh voice, and a tall figure
in a shooting-coat and gaiters rose from the depths of a large
arm-chair, the back of which was toward the door and stood before her.

Katherine was slightly startled, but guessed it was one of two guests
expected to arrive that day. She advanced, therefore, and said, "Mrs.
Ormonde is unusually late, but I am sure she will soon be here."

"Meantime tea is quite ready. It has stood twice the regulation five
minutes; and is there any just cause or impediment why it should not be
poured out?"

"Not that I am aware of," returned Katherine, taking off her hat and
smoothing back her hair, which showed golden tints in the fitful
fire-light.

The low tea-table was set before the fire, she drew a chair beside it
and removed the cozy from the teapot.

Recognizing De Burgh from Mrs. Ormonde's description, she felt that he
was even more at home at Castleford than herself, and she also came to
the conclusion that he knew who she was. She had been prepared by Mrs.
Ormonde's evident admiration to dislike De Burgh, having made up her
mind that he would prove an empty-headed, insolent grandee, whose
pretensions imposed upon her sister-in-law's somewhat slender
experience, and whose life was probably given up to physical enjoyment.
He had not, however, the aspect of a mere pleasure-seeker. His dark,
strong face and bony frame looked as if he could work as well as play.

"Do you take sugar?"

"No, thank you; neither sugar nor cream."

"Neither? That is very self-denying!"

"Not self-denying! Were I foolish enough to do what I did not like, I
should take the sugar and cream. They do not happen to please my
palate."

"It is well we do not all like the same things."

"It is indeed!" He held his cup untasted for a moment, looking
thoughtfully into the fire. "Tea is the best drink you can have in
difficult, fatiguing journeys. Even the gold-diggers of Australia know
that. They drink hard enough when they are on the spree, but when at
work in earnest they stick to the teapot," he said, turning his eyes
full upon her with a cool, critical gaze, which half amused, half
irritated her. It was curious to sit there talking easily with a total
stranger. Perhaps she ought to have left him to himself, but it was not
much matter. Looking toward the window to avoid her companion's eyes,
she exclaimed:

"It is raining quite fast! I am glad I brought the children home before
this shower."

"An avant-courier of April. You were walking with Mrs. Ormonde's boys,
then?"

"Yes; I take them out every day."

"An uncommonly good-looking governess," thought De Burgh. "You have not
been here long, I think?" he said.

"About three weeks. The boys are quite used to me now, and enjoy their
walks, for I take them outside the grounds," said Katherine, feeling
sure that De Burgh must guess who she was.

"Indeed! You are a daring innovator. I suppose they were kept on the
premises till you came?"

"They were; and it is always tiresome to be kept within bounds."

"I quite agree with you. The sentiment is extremely natural, only young
ladies rarely confess it."

"Why?"

"Oh, you ought to know better than I do. You give me the idea of being a
plucky woman."

"You must be quick in gathering ideas," said Katherine, dryly.

"Yes; some subjects inspire me," he returned, handing in his cup.
"Another, please. I am a bit of a physiognomist. I think I could give a
rough sketch of your character." He stirred the fire to a brighter blaze
and added, "It is so deuced dark since that shower came on I can hardly
see you, but I will tell you my ideas, if you care to hear them."

"Yes, I should," she returned, laughing. "It will be curious to hear the
result of an instantaneous estimate. Why, five minutes ago you had never
seen me."

"Five minutes? No; ten at least. Well, then, I should say you are a
remarkably plucky girl, though perhaps not impervious to panic. And, let
me see," fixing his keen, fierce eyes on hers, "gifted with no small
power of enjoyment. With a strong dash of the rebel in you, and--well, I
could tell you more, but I won't."

Katherine laughed good-humoredly.

"Have I hit it off?" he asked, after waiting for her to speak.

"I cannot tell. Do we ever know ourselves?"

"That's true; but few admit their ignorance. I begin to think that you
are dangerous, in addition to your other qualities, as you can refrain
from discussing yourself; that is a bait which draws out most women."

"And most men," added Katherine. "We haven't much to reproach each other
with on that score."

"No, I must admit that. Self is a fascinating topic."

"Some more tea?" asked Katherine, demurely.

"No, thank you. I am not absolutely insatiable. Tell me," he went on,
with a quaint familiarity which was not offensive, "how can a girl with
your nature--mind, I have not told half I guess--how can you stand your
life here--walking about with those brats, making tea while the others
are out amusing themselves, hammering away at the same round day after
day? You are made for different things."

"I should not care to live at Castleford all the days of my life," said
Katherine, a little surprised by his question, and feeling there was a
mistake somewhere; "but I do not intend to stay long."

"Oh, indeed! How do you get on with Mrs. Ormonde? She doesn't worry you
about the boys? She is a jolly, pretty little woman; but you are not
exactly the sort of young lady I should have fancied would be her
choice."

"Why not?" asked Katherine, beginning to see his mistake.

"Because"--began De Burgh, looking full at her, and then paused. "You
are too handsome by half!" were the words on his lips, but he did not
utter them; he substituted, "You don't seem quite the thing for Mrs.
Ormonde."

"She finds I suit her admirably," said Katherine, gravely.

"I don't quite understand"--De Burgh was beginning, when the door opened
to admit Mrs. Ormonde.

"Ah, Mr. De Burgh, I did not expect you so early; but I am glad
Katherine was here to give you your tea. It is not necessary to
introduce you. I was afraid you would have been caught in that shower,
Katie."

"We just escaped it. I hope Lady Alice has found shelter, or she will
renew her cold."

"You are Miss Liddell, then?" said De Burgh, as he placed a chair for
Mrs. Ormonde and took her cloak.

"To be sure. Didn't you guess who she was?"

"Mr. De Burgh guessed a good deal, but he did not guess my identity,"
said Katherine, handing her a cup of tea.

"What! Were you playing at cross questions and crooked answers?"

"Something of that sort," he returned, and changed the subject by asking
if they had heard how Errington's father was.

"Better, I suppose, for Mr. Errington has returned. He met us when we
were in Melford Woods."

"I dare say he met Alice and Miss Brereton, then," said Mrs. Ormonde;
"they were riding in that direction."

"Lady Alice will be taken care of, then," said Katherine, and taking her
hat she went away, seeing that Mrs. Ormonde was quite ready to absorb
the conversation.

"So that is Katherine Liddell," said De Burgh, looking after her,
regardless of Mrs. Ormonde's declaration that she was going to scold
him.

"Yes. Is she not like what you expected?"

"Expected? I did not expect anything; but she isn't a bit like what you
described."

"How so? Did I say too much?"

"Yes, a great deal too much, but the wrong way."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, you talked as if she was a regular gushing school-girl, ready to
swallow any double-barrelled compliment one chose to offer, whereas she
is a finely developed woman, by Jove! with brains too, or I am much
mistaken. Why, my charming little friend, she is older in some ways than
you are."

"Oh, nonsense. You need not flatter _me_."

"It's not flattery, it's--"

The arrival of the riding party with the addition of Errington prevented
him from finishing his sentence.



CHAPTER XVI.

HANDLING THE RIBBONS.


De Burgh was told off to take Katherine in to dinner that day and the
next, and bestowed a good deal of his attention on her during the
evening. He rather amused her, for he was a new type to her. The men she
had met during her sojourn on the Continent were chiefly polished French
and Italians, whose softness and respectful manner to women were perhaps
exaggerated, and a sprinkling of diplomatic and dilettante Englishmen.
De Burgh's style was curiously--almost roughly--frank, yet there was an
unmistakable air of distinction about him. He seemed not to think it
worth while to take trouble about anything, yet he could talk well when
by chance a topic interested him, Katherine would have been very dull
had she not perceived that he was attracted by her. She was by no means
so exalted a character as to be indifferent to his tribute; nevertheless
she was half afraid of the cynical, outspoken, high-born Bohemian, who
seemed to have small respect for people or opinions. She showed little
of this feeling, however, having held her own with spirit in their
various arguments, as, it need scarcely be said, they rarely agreed.

"What is this mysterious piece of work I see constantly in your hands?"
asked De Burgh, taking his place beside Katherine when the men came in
after dinner a few days after his arrival.

"It is a black silk stocking for Cecil."

"One of the nephews, eh? So you are capable of knitting! It must be a
dreary occupation."

"No; it becomes mechanical, and it is better than sitting with folded
hands."

"I am not sure it is. I have great faith in natures that can take
complete rest--men who can do nothing, absolutely nothing--and so create
a reserve fund of fresh energy for the next hour of need. There is no
strength in fidgety feverishness."

"There is not much feverishness in knitting," returned Katherine,
beginning a new row.

"There is very little feverishness about _you_, yet you are not placid.
I am extending and verifying my original estimate of your character, you
see."

"A most interesting occupation," said Katherine, carelessly.

"_Yes_, most interesting. I wish I had more frequent opportunities of
studying it; but one never sees you all day. Where do you hide
yourself?"

"I take long rambles with the children, and--" She paused.

"Does it amuse you to play nurse-maid?"

"Yes, at present. Then my nephews and I were playfellows long ago."

"I imagine it is a taste that will not last."

"Perhaps not."

"Miss Brereton and Lady Alice, with Errington and myself, are going to
ride over to Melford Abbey to-morrow. You will, I hope, be of the
party?"

"Thank you. I do not ride."

"It is rather refreshing to meet a young lady who is not horsy, but it
is a loss to yourself not to ride."

"I dare say it is. Yet what one has never known cannot be a loss. I am
sorry I was not accustomed to ride in my youth."

"It is not too late to learn, remote as that period must be," said De
Burgh, smiling. "You are in the headquarters of horsemen and horsewomen
at present. Appoint me your riding-master, and in a couple of months I
shall be proud of my pupil."

"I am not particularly brave," she returned, "and the experiment would
produce more pain than pleasure."

"Pain! nothing of the kind. I have a capital lady's horse, steady as a
rock, splendid pacer, temper of an angel. He is quite at your service.
Let me telegraph for him, and begin your lessons the day after
to-morrow." De Burgh raised himself from his lounging position, and
leaned forward to urge his pleading more earnestly. "Let me persuade
you. You will thank me hereafter."

"Thank you," said Katherine, shaking her head. "It is too late. I shall
never learn how to ride, but I should like to know how to drive."

"There I can be of use to you too. You will want an instructor. Pray
take me!"

The last words, spoken a little louder than the rest, caught Mrs.
Ormonde's ear as she was crossing the room, and she paused beside her
sister-in-law to ask, "Take him for what?--for better or worse,
Katherine?"

"Blundering little idiot!" thought De Burgh; while Katherine answered,
with remarkable composure.

"Nothing so formidable; only to be my instructor in the art of driving."

"Well, and do you accept?"

"Yes; I shall be very pleased to learn. I should like to be able to
'conduct' a pair of ponies, as the French would say."

"Ah yes! and cut a dash in the Park," said Mrs. Ormonde, taking the seat
De Burgh reluctantly vacated for her. "I don't see why she should not,
Mr. De Burgh; do you?"

"Certainly not, provided only Miss Liddell can handle the ribbons."

"Very well, Katherine: you devote yourself to acquire the art here, and
then join us in a house in town this spring. I was reading the
advertisements in the _Times_ to-day. I always look at the houses to
let, and there is one to let in Chester Square which would suit us
exactly; that is, if you will join. She ought to have a season in town,
ought she not, Mr. De Burgh?"

He looked keenly at Katherine, and smiled. "Yes, Miss Liddell ought to
taste the incomparable delights of the season by all means. Life is
incomplete without it."

"I should like to experience it certainly, for once, but I shall be more
in the mood for such excitements next year--_perhaps_," returned
Katherine, gravely.

"Oh, my dear Katie, never put things off! At all events, be presented.
That would be a sort of beginning; and I am to be presented too, so we
might go together."

"I do not intend to be presented," said Katherine; "it would be needless
trouble. I have not the least ambition to go to court."

"But, Katherine, it is absolutely necessary to take your proper position
in society. It is not, Mr. De Burgh?"

"What is your objection?" asked De Burgh, disregarding his hostess. "Are
you too radical, or too transcendental, or what?"

"Neither. I simply do not care to go, and do not see the necessity of
going."

"You were always the strangest girl!" cried Mrs. Ormonde, a good deal
annoyed. "But still, if you were with _us_, you might see a good deal--"

"You know, Ada, I am fixed for this year, and would not change even if I
could."

"Forgive me for interrupting you," said Errington, coming from the next
room. "But if you are disengaged, Lady Alice would be greatly obliged by
your playing for her."

"Certainly," cried Katherine. She had a sort of pleasure in obliging
Errington, and Lady Alice for his sake; and putting her knitting into
its little case, she rose and accompanied him to what was called the
music-room, because it contained a grand piano and an old, nearly
stringless violin.

"I don't think," said De Burgh, looking after her, "that your
sister-in-law is quite as much under your influence as you fancy."

"Oh, don't you?" cried Mrs. Ormonde, feeling a flash of dislike to
Katherine thrill through her. It was terribly trying to find an admirer,
of whom she was so proud, drawn from her by that "tiresome, obstinate
girl"; it was also enough to vex a saint to see her turn a deaf ear to
her more experienced and highly placed sister's suggestion. "When you
know a little more of her you will see how obstinate and headstrong she
is."

"Ah! troublesome qualities those, especially in a rich woman, and a
handsome one to boot. There is something very taking about that
sister-in-law of yours, Mrs. Ormonde. If I were Lady Alice I wouldn't
trust Errington with her: she would be a dangerous rival."

"Oh, nonsense! Do you think our Admirable Crichton could go wrong?"

"I don't know. If he ever does, he'll go a tremendous cropper."

"Well, Mr. De Burgh, if you would like to go in and win, you had better
make the running now. Once she 'comes out' in town, you will find a host
of competitors."

"Ha! I suppose you think a rugged fellow like me would have little or no
chance with the curled darlings of May Fair and South Kensington?" Mrs.
Ormonde looked down on her fan, but did not speak. De Burgh laughed.
"Who is going to bring her out?" he asked.

"I am," with dignity.

De Burgh's reply was short and simple. He said, "Oh!" and the
interjection (is there an interjection now?--I am not young enough to
know) brought the color to Mrs. Ormonde's cheek and a frown to her fair
brow. "The young lady is, on the whole, original," he continued. "She
does not care to be presented."

"Do you believe her? I don't. She only said so from love of
contradicting."

"Yes, I believe her; she does not care about it now; but she will
probably get the court fever after a plunge into London life. Who is
singing?--that is something different from the penny whistling Lady
Alice gives us."

"Why it must be Katherine! It is the first time she has sung since she
came. She is always afraid of breaking down, she says. I don't believe
she has sung since the death of her mother." De Burgh's only reply was
to walk into the next room. Leaving Mrs. Ormonde in a state of
irritation against him, Katherine, and the world in general.

Katherine was singing a gay Neapolitan air. She had a rich, sympathetic
voice, and sang with arch expression.

Errington stood beside her, and Lady Alice, the rector's wife and one or
two other guests, were grouped round.

"Thank you. That is thoroughly Italian. You must have studied a good
deal," said Errington, who rather liked music, and was accustomed to the
best.

"Very nice indeed," added Lady Alice. "Very nice" was her highest
praise. "I should like to learn the song."

"I do not think it would suit you," observed Errington.

"Why, Katherine, I had no notion you could 'tune up' in this way," cried
Colonel Ormonde. "Give us another, like a good girl; something
English--'Robin Adair.' There was a fellow in 'ours' used to sing it
capitally."

"I cannot sing it, Colonel Ormonde. I am very sorry."

"Oh, Katherine! I have heard you sing it a hundred times," cried Mrs.
Ormonde, joining them. "Why, it was a great favorite with poor dear Mrs.
Liddell."

"I cannot sing it, Ada," repeated Katherine, quick and low. As she spoke
she caught Errington's eyes.

"No one ought to dictate to a songstress," he said, very decidedly.
"Give us anything you like, so long as you sing."

Kate bent her head, feeling that he understood her, and her hands
wandered over the keys for a minute; then, with a glance at Colonel
Ormonde, she began "Jock o' Hazeldean."

Katherine was not the kind of girl to nurse her grief, to dwell upon it
with morbid insistence: but she remembered, warmly, lovingly. At times
gusts of passionate regret swept over her and shook her self-control,
and she dared not attempt her mother's favorite song; the mere request
for it called up a cloud of memories. She saw the dear face, the sweet
faded blue eyes that used to dwell upon her so tenderly, with such
unutterable content. No other eyes would ever look upon her thus; never
again could she hope for such perfect sympathy as she had once known.

"Does that make up for 'Robin Adair,' Colonel Ormonde?" she said when
the song was ended.

"A very good song and very well sung, but it's not equal to 'Robin
Adair.'"

"Lady Alice, will you try that duet of Helmer's?" asked Katherine; and
Lady Alice graciously assented.

"I shall miss your accompaniment dreadfully when I leave," she said,
when the duet was accomplished. "I feel so sure when you play, and you
help me. I hope you will come and see me. Lady Mary, my aunt, would be
very pleased; don't you think she would?" to Errington, appealingly.

"Certainly. I hope, Miss Liddell, you will not desert Alice. If you will
permit it, Lady Mary Vincent will have the pleasure of calling on you."

"That will be very kind," returned Katherine, softly. If this man were
safely married and settled, she thought, she would like to be friends
with his wife, and serve him in any way she could. If his eyes did not
always confuse and distress her, how much she could like him!

As she rose from the piano, De Burgh, who had been speaking aside with
Colonel Ormonde, left him to join her. "I have settled it all with
Ormonde," he said. "I am to have the pony-carriage and the dun ponies
(not those Mrs. Ormonde generally drives) to-morrow; so, if it does not
rain, I'll give you your first lesson; that is, _if_ you will allow me."

"You are very prompt," returned Katherine, "and very good to take so
much trouble. If it is fine, then, to-morrow. Pray arm yourself with
patience. Are not the dun ponies rather frisky?"

"Spirited, but free from vice. Ormonde had them from _my_ stables. It's
no use learning to drive with dull, inanimate brutes. You'll consider
yourself engaged?"

"I do, if Mrs. Ormonde does not want me to go anywhere with her."

"She will not," said De Burgh, confidently.

"Good-night," returned Katherine. "Tell Mrs. Ormonde I have stolen away,
for I have a slight headache."

"What? going already?" cried De Burgh. "No more songs? The evening,
then, is over."


The following day was soft and bright. March had evidently made up his
martial mind to go out in a lamb-like fashion, and De Burgh was
unusually amiable and communicative. "When shall you be ready to start?"
he asked, following Katherine from the breakfast-table.

"To start where?" she asked.

"What! have you forgotten our plans of last night?" was his
counter-question. "I am to give you your first lesson in driving this
morning. I only wait your orders before going to see the ponies put in.
We had better take advantage of the fine morning."

"Ay, that's right, De Burgh; make hay while the sun shines," said
Ormonde, with his usual tact and jocularity. "But it would be better to
have tried a quieter pair than Dick and Dandie."

"I think you may trust Miss Liddell to me," returned De Burgh,
impatiently. "Well, when shall I bring round the trap?"

"Whenever you like. I am afraid you have set yourself a tiresome task."

De Burgh laughed. "If you prove careless or disobedient, why, I'll not
repeat the dose. In half an hour, then, I'll have the carriage at the
door."

That half-hour was spent by Katherine in explaining to Cis and Charlie
that she could not go out with them that day, for the morning was
promised to De Burgh, and after luncheon she had undertaken to try over
the song which had pleased her with Lady Alice, who was to leave the
next day. The little fellows thought themselves very ill-used. But Miss
Richards, who had greatly prized her deliverance from long muddy rambles
since Katherine's advent, promised to take them to fish in a stream
which ran between the Castleford and Melford properties.

"Do you suppose I shall dare to touch the reins of these terrible
creatures?" said Katherine when De Burgh dashed up to the door, and held
the spirited, impatient animals steady with some difficulty.

"We'll get rid of some of the steam first, and you will get accustomed
to their playfulness," he returned. "Here, Ormonde, haven't you a rug
for Miss Liddell? It may come on to rain."

"Yes; here you are;" and Colonel Ormonde, who was examining the
turn-out, tucked up his fair guest carefully, and warned them to be back
in good time, as he wanted De Burgh to ride over with him to see some
horses which were for sale a mile or two at the other side of Monckton.

"What a frightful pace;" said Katherine, after they had whirled out of
the gates, yet feeling comforted by De Burgh's evident mastery of the
ponies.

"You are not frightened? Don't you think I can manage them?"

"I am not comfortable, because I am not accustomed to horses and furious
driving."

"Oh, they will settle down presently. Where shall we go--through
Garston? It's a fine place. Perhaps you have seen it?"

"I have not, and I should like to see it very much." She was delighted
with the suggestion. It would be a help to her, a consolation, to see so
visible a token of Errington's wealth.

"Curious fellow, Errington," resumed De Burgh. "I suppose he is about
the only man who isn't spoiled by the most unbroken prosperity. Still, a
fellow who never did anything wrong in his life is rather uninteresting;
don't you think so?"

"Has he never done anything wrong? That seems rather incredible."

"If he has, he has kept it deucedly close. But you are right; it is very
incredible."

They drove on for a while in silence. It was a delicious morning--a blue
sky flecked with fleecy white clouds, bright sunlight, birds singing,
hedges budding, all nature welcoming the first sweet intoxication of
renewed youth stirring in her veins. Katherine loved the spring-time,
and felt its influence profoundly, but it was the first spring in which
she had been alone; this time last year she--they--had been at
Bordighera. How heavenly fair it had been! But De Burgh was speaking:

"You did not hear, or rather heed, what I said, Miss Liddell; that's not
civil."

"Indeed it is not--forgive me. What did you say?"

"I suppose you like country life best, as you demolished Mrs. Ormonde's
scheme respecting a house in town so promptly?"

"I enjoy looking at the country, but I know nothing of country life. I
am not sure I should like it."

"What's your objection to drawing-rooms and balls--the season
generally?"

"I do not object; but is my deep mourning suited to these gayeties, Mr.
De Burgh?"

"Well, no. I beg your pardon. Mrs. Ormonde started it, you know. I fancy
it would take double-distilled mourning to keep her out of the swim."

"It is impossible for one nature to judge another which is totally
different, fairly."

"Very true and very prudent. I have not got to the bottom of your
character yet, but I am pursuing my studies," said De Burgh, with a grim
sort of smile. "You see they are settling down to their work now,"
pointing his whip to the ponies. "I'll give you the reins in a minute or
two."

"I think I ought to begin with something quieter," said Katherine,
looking at them uneasily.

De Burgh laughed. "There is a nice stretch of level road before
us--nothing to interfere with you. Change places with me, if you please.
Here, put the reins between your fingers--so; now a turn of the wrist
guides them. I'll hold your hand for a bit. You had better not let the
whip touch them--so. There you are. I'll show you how to handle the
ribbons before you are a fortnight older; that is if you will come out
every day with me."

"Would you take that trouble?" exclaimed Katherine.

"I can take a good deal of trouble if I like my work. Now hold them
steady, and keep your eye on them. When we come to the trees, on there,
turn to the left."

"So far there doesn't seem to be much difficulty; they seem to go all
right of their own accord," she said, after a few minutes.

"They are a capital pair; but there is nothing to disturb them."

For the rest of the way to Garston, De Burgh only spoke to give the
lesson he had undertaken, and Katherine found herself growing interested
and pleased. When they entered the gates, however, she asked him to take
the reins. She wanted to look about her, to remark the surroundings of
Errington's house.

It was a fine place, somewhat flat, perhaps, but beautiful with splendid
trees, and a small lake, through which ran the stream in another part of
which Cis and Charlie were going to fish. The house stood well, the
grounds were admirably laid out and perfectly kept; evidences of wealth
were on all sides.

"I suppose it costs a great deal of money to keep up a place like this,"
said Katherine, breaking a silence which had lasted some minutes: De
Burgh never troubled himself to speak unless he really had something to
say.

"I shouldn't care to live here on less than ten thousand a year," he
returned, glancing round.

"And has Mr. Errington all that money?"

"His father has a good deal more. He bought this place for him, I
believe. Old Errington is very wealthy, and on his last legs, from what
I hear."

"Ten thousand a year! What a quantity of money!"

"Hem! I think I could get through it without much trouble."

"Then you have always been rich?"

"Rich! I have been on the verge of bankruptcy all my life. I never knew
what it was to have enough money."

"But you seem to have gone everywhere and done everything."

"Yes, by discounting my future at a ruinous rate," he returned, with a
sort of reckless candor that amused his hearer. "You scarcely understand
me, I suppose."

"I think I do. I know how uncomfortable it is to want money."

"Indeed! Still, it's not so hard on women as on men."

"Why?"

"We want so much more."

"Then you have so many more chances of earning it."

"Earning it! Oh, that is a new view of the case!"

"I should not mind doing it; that is, if I could succeed."

"Do you know, I took you for your nephews' governess. It never crossed
my mind you were an heiress. As a rule, heiresses are revolting to the
last degree."

"I feel the compliment."

"Remember, I like their money, only I object to its being encumbered."

"You are wonderfully frank, Mr. De Burgh."

"I dare say you said 'brutally frank' in your thoughts, Miss Liddell,
and you are right. I am rather a bad lot, and a little too old to mend.
But let it be a saving clause in your mind, if I ever recur to it, that
the fact of your being nice enough for the governess impelled me to
offer driving lessons to the heiress. Will you take the reins? You might
hold them forever if you choose."

"Not yet, thank you--when we get out on the road again," returned
Katherine, not seeing or seeming to see his covert meaning. "You are
surely not a democrat?"

"A democrat? No. I have no particular view as regards politics; but if
the devil ever got so completely the upper hand in this world as to
leave it without a class to serve and obey _us_, their natural
superiors, I'd decline to stay here any longer, and descend by the help
of a bullet to lower regions, where I should have better society."

"More congenial society, I am sure," said Katherine, laughing, though
revolted by his tone. She felt it would never do to show she was. "You
are quite different from any one _I_ ever met. Do you know, you give me
the idea of a wicked Norman Baron in the Middle Ages."

De Burgh laughed, as if he rather enjoyed the observation. "I know," he
said; "a regular melodramatic villain, 'away with him to the lowest
dungeon beneath the castle moat' sort of fellow, who would draw a Jew's
teeth before breakfast and roast a restive burgher after. I wonder,
considering you possess the two strongest attractions for men of this
description--money and (may I say it?) beauty--that you trust yourself
with me."

"Ah! you concealed your vile opinions successfully; so you see I could
not know my danger," returned Katherine, laughing. "You are not at all a
modern man."

"I accept the compliment."

"Which I did not intend for one. When we get through the gates I will
take the reins again."

"Certainly; but the ponies' heads will be turned homeward, and I am
afraid they will pull. They have steadied down wonderfully." The rest of
the drive was spent in careful instruction, and Katherine was surprised
to find how quickly the time had gone when they reached the house.

De Burgh interested her in spite of her dislike of the opinions and
sentiments he expressed. There was something picturesque about the man,
and she felt that he was attracted to her in a curious and almost
alarming manner. Yet she was conscious of an inclination to play with
fire. It was some time since she felt so light-hearted. The sight of
Errington's luxurious surroundings seemed to take something from the
load upon her conscience, and this sense of partial relief gave
brilliancy to her eyes, as the fresh balmy air gave her something of her
former rich coloring.

"By Jove!" cried Colonel Ormonde, as Katherine took her place at
luncheon, "your drive has agreed with you. I've never seen you look so
well. You must pursue the treatment. How did she get on, De Burgh?"

"Not so badly. But Miss Liddell is more timid than I expected. She'll
get accustomed to the look of the cattle in a little while. Courage is
largely made up of a habit. I'll take some of that cold lamb, Ormonde."
And De Burgh spoke no more till he had finished his luncheon.

"Do you know, Miss Liddell, that my father was an old friend of your
uncle's?" said Errington that evening, as he placed himself beside her
on a retired sofa, while Miss Brereton was executing some gymnastics on
the piano. "I have just been taking to Ormonde about him. I remember
having been sent to call upon him--long ago, when I was at college, I
think. He lived in some wild north-land; I remember it was a great way
off. Then my father went for a trip to Calcutta, and I fancy lost sight
of his old chum."

Katherine grew red and white as he spoke; she could only murmur, "Yes, I
was told they had been friends."

"Then you must accept me as a hereditary friend," said Errington,
kindly. "I shall tell my father that I have made your acquaintance,
though he does not take much interest in anything now, I am sorry to
say."

"I am sorry--" faltered Katherine.

"Both Lady Alice and I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you in town,"
continued Errington, having waited in vain for her to finish her
sentence. "I am going to see her safely in her aunt's charge to-morrow,
and shall not return, I fancy, till you have left."

"You are both very good. I shall be most happy to see you again,"
returned Katherine, mastering her forces, though she felt ready to fly
and hide her guilty head in any corner. Errington felt that she was
unusually uneasy and uncomfortable with him, so made way the more
readily for De Burgh, who monopolized her for rest of the evening.

The next day was wet, and for a week the weather was unsettled, so that
Katherine had only one more lesson in driving before the party broke up,
and De Burgh too was obliged to leave.

But Katherine prolonged her stay. Charlie, in ardor for fishing, had
slipped into the river and caught a severe, feverish cold.

The way in which he clung to his auntie, the evident comfort he derived
from her presence, the delight he had in holding her cool soft hand in
his own burning little fingers, made him impossible for her to leave
him. By the time he was able to sit up and play with his brother, poor
Charlie was a pallid little skeleton, and his auntie bade him a tender
adieu, determined to lose no time in finding sea-side quarters for the
precious invalid.



CHAPTER XVII.

TAKING COUNSEL.


Miss Payne was busy looking over several cards which lay in a small
china dish on her work-table. It was early in the forenoon, and she
still wore a simple muslin cap and a morning gown of gray cashmere. Her
mouth looked very rigid and her eyes gloomy. To her enters her brother,
fresh and bright, a smile on his lips and a flower in his button-hole.

Miss Payne vouchsafed no greeting. Looking at him sternly, she asked,
"Well! what do you want?"

"To ask at what hour Miss Liddell arrives, and if I am to meet her at
the station."

"She is not coming to-day," snapped Miss Payne; "she is not coming till
Saturday."

"Indeed!" In a changed tone, "I hope she is all right?"

"It's hard to answer that. It seems one of the nephews has had a
feverish cold, and she did not like to leave him. I do not feel sure
there is not some real reason under this, for she adds that she is
anxious to see and consult me about some matter she has much at heart.
Perhaps there is a man at the bottom of it."

"I hope not," said Bertie, quietly, "unless she has found some former
friend at Castleford. I do not think Miss Liddell is the sort of girl to
accept a man on five or six weeks' acquaintance, and she has scarcely
been at Castleford so long."

"It is impossible to fathom the folly of women when a lover is in the
case."

"You are hard, Hannah."

"I do not care whether I am or not. I don't want to lose Miss Liddell
before the time agreed for."

"No doubt she is a profitable--"

"It is no question of profit," interrupted Miss Payne, grimly. "Whether
she goes or whether she stays she is bound to me financially for twelve
months. But I am interested in Katherine, and it will be far better for
her to stay on here and feel her way before she launches into the whirl
of what they call society. I want to save her for a while from the wild
rush of dressing, driving, dining, dancing, that has swept away all my
girls sooner or later. Look here: the mothers are flocking round her
already." She began to take the cards out of the dish and read the
names: "Lady Mary Vincent, 23 Waldegrave Crescent; she is a sister of
that Lord Melford who ran such a rig years ago. _Her_ boys are still at
Eton. I suppose she comes because her niece and Miss Liddell have struck
up a friendship at Castleford. Then here are Mrs. and Miss Alford; we
all knew them in Rome; there's a son _there_; they are respectable
people, well off, and fighting their way up judiciously enough. Lady
Barrington; _she_ has a nephew, but she will be useful. Mr. and Mrs.
Tracey; they were at Florence, and have a couple of daughters; there may
be a nephew or a cousin, but I never heard of one; they are pleasant,
sensible, artistic people, who just enjoy themselves and don't trouble.
Lady Mildred Reptan, Miss Brereton, John de Burgh; I don't know these.
All these people evidently think she is in town, or have only just come
themselves, but you see the outlook."

"John de Burgh," repeated Bertie, thoughtfully. "I remember something
about him; nothing particularly good. I believe he is on the turf. Yes,
he is a famous steeple-chase rider, and rather fast--not too desirable a
follower for Miss Liddell."

"She met him at Castleford, and I rather think he is related to Colonel
Ormonde." Miss Payne put back the cards in the dish as she spoke, and
remained silent for some instants.

"You will be glad when Miss Liddell returns," said Bertie.

"So will you," she returned, tartly. "But I hope you won't dip into her
purse so freely as you used for your reformed drunkards and ragged
orphans. It was _too_ bad."

"Miss Liddell never waits to be asked. She seems on the lookout for
cases on which to bestow money. As she has plenty, why should I hesitate
to accept it?"

Miss Payne slowly rubbed her nose with the handle of a small hook she
used for pulling out the loops of her tatting. "Katherine Liddell is an
uncommon sort of girl," she said, "but I like her. I have an idea that
she likes me better than any of the others did, yet there are not many
things on which we agree. She is a little flighty in some ways, but she
has some sense too, some notion of the value of money; she does not lose
her dead about dress, nor does she buy costly baubles at the jewellers'.
She, certainly wastes a good many pounds on books, when a three-guinea
subscription to Mudie's would answer the purpose quite as well. Then
she is honestly deeply grieved at the loss of her mother, but she does
not parade it, or nurse it either, and I think she has some opinion of
_my_ judgment. Still she is a little unsettled, and not quite happy."

"I think she deserves to be happy," observed Bertie, with an air of
conviction--"if any erring mortal can deserve anything."

"We seldom get our deserts, either way, _here_; indeed, this world is so
upside down I am inclined to believe there must be another to put it
straight."

"We have fortunately better proof than that," returned her brother,
gravely.

"I must say I feel very curious to know what Katherine's plan is; I am
terrible afraid there is a man in it."

"Nothing more probable;" and Bertie fell into a fit of thought. "You
know Mrs. Needham!" he asked suddenly.

"Well, I just know her."

"She is a most earnest, energetic woman, though we are not quite of one
mind on all subjects. She wants to secure Miss Liddell's assistance in
getting up a bazar for the Stray Children's Home. I shall bring her to
call on you."

"Don't!"--very emphatically. "I know more than enough people already,
and I don't want any well-dressed beggars added to the number."

"Well, I will not interfere; but that is of little consequence. If Mrs.
Needham wants to come, she'll come."

"I hate these fussy subscription-hunting women!" cried Miss Payne.

"She does _not_ hunt for subscriptions, nor does she take any special
interest in religious matters, but she approves of this particular
charity. She is an immensely busy woman, and writes in I don't know now
many newspapers."

"Newspapers! And are our opinions made up for us by rambling hussies of
_that_ description?"

Bertie burst out laughing. "If Mrs. Needham heard you!" he exclaimed.
"She considers herself 'the glass of fashion and the mould of form,' the
most successful and important woman in the world--the English world."

Miss Payne's only reply was a contemptuous upward toss of the head. "If
you will be at Euston Square on Saturday to meet the five-fifty train
from Monckton," she resumed, "I should be obliged to you--Miss Liddell
travels alone--and you can dine with us if you like after, unless you
are going to preach the gospel somewhere."

"Thank you. Why do you object to my preaching?"

"Because I like things done decently and in order. You are not ordained,
and there are plenty of churches and chapels, God knows, for people to
go to, if they would wash their faces and be decent. Now I can't stay
here any longer, so good-by for the present." She took up a little
basket containing an old pair of gloves, large scissors, and a ball of
twine, and walked briskly away to attend to the plants in her diminutive
conservatory.

De Burgh did not prolong his absence; he returned to Castleford while
Katherine was still in attendance on the little invalid; but he found
his stay neither pleasant nor profitable. Katherine was far too much
occupied nursing her nephew to give any time or attention to her
impatient admirer.

"Miss Liddell is a peculiar specimen of her sex," he growled, in his
usual candid and unaffected manner, as he and Colonel Ormonde sat alone
over their wine. "She never leaves those brats. She must know that it's
not every girl _I_ should take the trouble of teaching, and yet she
throws over each appointment I make. Does she intend to adopt your
wife's boys? Adopted sons are an appendage no man would like to accept
with a bride, be she ever so well endowed."

"Oh, she will forget them as soon as she falls in love! You must carry
on the siege more vigorously."

"How the deuce are you to do it when you never get within hail of the
fortress? There is something peculiar about Katherine Liddell I can't
quite make out. If she were a commonplace woman, angular, squinting, or
generally plain, I could go in and win and collar the cash without
hesitation, but somehow or other I can't go into the affair in this
spirit. I want the woman as well as the money."

"Well, I see no reason why you shouldn't have both. Your faintness of
heart never lost _you_ any fair lady, I am sure, Jack."

"Perhaps not." And he smoked meditatively for a minute or two.

"Then you will not leave us to-morrow?" said Ormonde.

"When does _she_ go up to town?" asked De Burgh.

"On Monday, I believe."

"Then I'll run up the day after to-morrow. Old De Burgh has just come
back from the Riviera. I'll go and do the dutiful, and tell him I have
found a suitable partner for my joys and sorrows; it will score to my
credit. He doesn't half like me, you know. Then I'll have a dozen better
chances to cultivate Miss Liddell in town, and away from your nursery,
than I have here. Give me her address. She is a frank, unconventional
creature, and won't mind coming out with me alone."

"Very true. Mrs. Ormonde has persuaded me to take her to town for a
couple of months; so we'll be there to back you up."

"Good! Meanwhile I will do my best for my own hand. If she starts on
Monday, I'll pay my respects to the peerless one by the time she has
swallowed her luncheon on Tuesday," said De Burgh, with a harsh laugh.

Thus it came to pass that De Burgh's card was amongst those preserved
for Katherine's inspection; but she postponed her departure first to
Wednesday, next to Saturday, and De Burgh grew savagely impatient when
Colonel Ormonde informed him of these changes in a private note.

When at last she did arrive, Miss Payne was struck by the look of
renewed hope and cheerfulness in her young friend's face. Her movements
even were more alert, and her voice had lost its languid tone.

"I thought you would find it difficult to get away," said Miss Payne,
as she assisted her to remove her travelling dress. "But I am very
pleased to see you again, and to see you looking more like yourself."

"I _feel_ more like my old self," returned Katherine, actually kissing
Miss Payne--a kind of treatment exceedingly new to her.

"In fact, I am full of a project which will, I hope, make me much
happier. I will tell you all about it after dinner, if we are alone.
Your advice will be of great value to me."

"Such as it is, I shall be glad to give it; though I do not suppose
you'll take it unless it suits your wishes."

"Perhaps not," said Katherine, laughing; "but I think it will."

"She is going to marry some fortune-hunting scamp," thought Miss Payne.
"I was afraid no good would come of her visit to that little dressy
dolly sister-in-law of hers." She only said, "Dinner will be ready in
half an hour, and we shall be quite alone."

Then she went quickly down stairs to her brother, who was gazing out of
the window, but not seeing what he looked at.

"You can't dine here to-day, Bertie," said Miss Payne, abruptly, as she
entered the room.

"And why not?"

"Because she wants to have some confidential conversation with me after
dinner, and we must be alone."

"Have you any idea what it will be about?"

"No; and I am astonished at your putting the question. You may come in
after church to-morrow if you like."

"Thank you. I shall be rather late, as I am going to an open-air service
beyond Whitechapel."

"Well, I do hope you'll get something to eat after. Are _you_ going to
preach?"

"No. I seldom preach. I haven't the gift of eloquence."

"Which means you have a little common-sense left. Really, Gilbert, for a
man of thirty-five, or nearly thirty-five, you are too credulous."

"It is my nature to be so," he returned, laughing. "Well, good-by to
you. It is really unkind to turn me out in this unceremonious fashion."
So saying, with his usual sweet-tempered compliance he departed.

"What a good boy he is!" said Miss Payne to herself, looking at the
grate, while by a dual brain action she made a brief calculation as to
how much longer she must burn coal. "He ought to have been a girl. Why
don't rich young women see that he is the very stuff to make a pleasant
husband, instead of those monsters of strength and determination that
fools of women make gods of, and themselves door mats for, and often
find to be only big pumpkins after all?"

Miss Payne's anticipations were of the gloomiest when, after their
quickly despatched dinner, she settled herself between the fire and
window with her favorite tatting, drawing up the knots with vicious
energy. She opened proceedings by an interrogative "Well?" and closed
her mouth with a snap.

"Well, my dear Miss Payne," began Katherine, who had settled herself
comfortably in a corner of the sofa, "I have an important plan in my
mind, and I want your co-operation. I should have written to you about
it, only I waited to get Colonel Ormonde's consent."

"It's a man!" ejaculated Miss Payne to herself.

"To begin: I was not at all satisfied with the boys when I first went to
Castleford. They were not exactly neglected, but they were quite
secluded. Mrs. Ormonde scarcely saw them, and their governess or
attendant was not at all lady-like; she speaks with a London accent and
misplaces her _h'_s; altogether she is not the sort of person I should
have placed with the boys. Then the poor little fellows clung to me and
monopolized me as if I had been their mother; they made me feel like
one. Moreover, I seemed to see my own dear mother and hear her voice
when they spoke to me. She loved them so much!"

Katherine paused suddenly, but almost immediately resumed: "The
youngest, Charlie, is not yet seven, and is very delicate. He has had
rather a sharp attack of bronchitis. I am very anxious about him. How I
want to take them to the sea-side next month, and to keep them there all
the summer, and I want your help to find a nice place. I know nothing of
the English coast. More than this: I feel I could not get on without
you, so you must come with us. Suppose, dear Miss Payne, we take a house
with a garden near the sea, and you let this one? I will gladly pay all
extra cost, while our original agreement, as far as I myself am
concerned, shall hold good."

Miss Payne listened attentively to this long speech, the expression of
her countenance relaxing; but she did not reply at once.

"I think," she said, after a moment's thought, "that you are exceedingly
liberal, but I am not sure you are wise. As far as I am concerned, I
should like your plan very much. I do not profess to be fond of
children, but I dare say these little boys would not interfere with me.
As regards yourself, if you keep the children for the whole summer, it
is possible Mrs. Ormonde might be inclined to leave them with you
altogether, and this would create a burden for you--a burden you are by
no means called upon to bear. It is a dangerous experiment."

"Not to me," returned Katherine, thoughtfully. "In fact it is a
consummation for which I devoutly wish. I should like to adopt my
nephews."

"That would certainly be foolish. It would not be kind to the children,
Katherine (as you wish me to call you). In the course of a year or two
you will marry, and then the creatures who had learned to love you and
look on you as a mother would be again motherless. Do not take them from
their natural guardian."

"What you say is very reasonable. You cannot know how certain I feel
that I shall _not_ marry. However, let us leave all that to arrange
itself in the future; let us think of the present. Colonel and Mrs.
Ormonde are coming up to town, for two or three months, in May, and I do
not like the idea of Cis and Charlie being left behind; so will you help
me, my dear Miss Payne? Shall you mind a spring and summer in some quiet
sea-side place?"

Again Miss Payne reflected before she spoke. "I should rather like it:
and your idea of letting this house is a good one. Yes, I shall be happy
to assist you as far as I can. The first question is, where shall we
go?"

"That, I am sure, _you_ know best."

An interesting disquisition ensued. Miss Payne rejected Bournemouth,
Weymouth, Worthing, Brighton, and Folkestone, for what seemed to
Katherine sufficient reason, and finally recommended Sandbourne, a quiet
and little-known nook on the Dorsetshire coast, as being mild but not
relaxing, not too near nor too far from town, and possessing fine sands,
while the country round was less bare and flat than what usually lies
near the coast.

Finally the "friends in council" decided to go down and look at the
place. "For," observed Miss Payne, "if we are to go away the beginning
of next month, we have little more than a fortnight before us."

"By all means," cried Katherine, starting up. "Let us go to-morrow; we
might 'do' the place in a day, and come back the next. You are really a
dear, to fall into my views so readily."

"To-morrow? Oh! that's a little too fast; the day after, if you like.
Now I wish you would look at these cards; they have all been left for
you in the last few days."

Katherine took and looked over them with some running comments. "Mrs.
Tracy! I shall be quite glad to see them again; they were always so kind
and pleasant. Lady Mary Vincent! I did not think she would call so soon;
I think I must go and see her to-morrow. I rather like her niece, Lady
Alice Mordaunt; she is a nice, gentle girl. She is to be married very
soon to a man who interested me a good deal; such a thoughtful, clever
man, but rather provokingly composed and perfect--a sort of person who
never makes a mistake."

"He must be a remarkable person," said Miss Payne.

"He will soon be in Parliament, and has some of the qualities which make
a statesman, I imagine. I shall watch his progress." Here Katherine took
up a card, and while she read the inscription, "John Fitzstephen de
Burgh," a slight smile crept round her lips. "I had no idea _he_ was in
town, or that he would take the trouble of calling on me so soon. I
thought he was too utterly offended."

"Why?" asked Miss Payne, looking at her curiously.

"He is rather ill-tempered, I fancy, and he was vexed because I
preferred staying with Charlie to going out with him: he offered to
teach me how to drive; so I believe, like the rich young man in the
gospel, he went away in desperation."

"Hum! Is _he_ a rich young man?"

"He is not young, and I am not sure about his being rich. He has a
hunting-lodge and horses, yet I don't fancy he is rich. He is a sort of
relation of the Ormondes."

"I suspect he is a spendthrift, and would like _your_ money."

"Oh, very likely; but, my dear Miss Payne, you need not warn me; I am
quite sufficiently inclined to believe that the men who show me
attention are thinking more of what I have than what _I_ am. Believe me
it is not an agreeable frame of mind. Mr. De Burgh is a strange sort of
character. He amuses me; he is not a bit like a modern man. He doesn't
seem to think it worth while to conceal what he feels or thinks. There
is an odd well-bred roughness about him, if I may use such an
expression; but I greatly prefer him to Colonel Ormonde."

"Oh, you do? Colonel Ormonde is just an average man," added Miss Payne.

"I should hope the general average is higher; but I must not be
ill-natured. He has always been very kind to me."

This was a pleasant interlude to Katherine. She had succeeded in hushing
her heart to rest for a while, in banishing the thoughts which had long
tormented her. Nothing had comforted and satisfied her as did this
project of adopting her nephews. It is true she had not yet announced
it, but in her own mind she resolved that once they were under her wing,
she would not let them go again, unless indeed something quite
unforeseen occurred; nor did she anticipate any difficulties with their
mother. She would thus secure a natural legitimate interest in life, and
make a home, which to a girl of her disposition was essential. Yet she
knew well that in renouncing the idea of marriage she was denying one of
the strongest necessities of her nature. The love and companionship of a
man in whom she believed, for whom she could be ambitious, who would
link her with the life and movement of the outer world, who would be the
complement of her own being, was a dream of delight. Not that she felt
in the least unable to stand alone, or fancied she was too delicate to
take care of herself, but life without the love of another self could
never be full and perfect. She was too true a woman not to value deeply
the tenderness of a man; yet she had firmly resolved in justice to
herself, in fairness to any possible husband, to renounce that crown of
woman's existence. It was the only atonement she could make. Well, at
least her loving care of these dear little boys, who were in point of
fact motherless, would in some degree expiate her evil deed, and would
keep her heart warm and her mind healthy.

[**extra space]

Possessed of the true magic, "money," obstacles faded away. The
expedition to Sandbourne was most successful. Katherine was brighter
than Miss Payne had ever seen her before. The day was sunny, the place
looked cheerful and picturesque. It lay under a wooded hill, ending in a
bold rocky point, which sheltered it and a wide bay from the easterly
winds. A splendid stretch of golden sands offered a playground for the
racing waves, and an old tower crowned an islet near the opposite point
of the land, which there lay low, and was covered with gorse and
heather.

There was an objectionable row of lodging-houses, against which must be
entered a low, red-brick, ivy-grown inn, old-fashioned, picturesque, and
comfortable. One or two villas stood in their own grounds but were
occupied, and one, evidently older was shut up.

Perhaps because it was inaccessible, perhaps because it had a pleasant
outlook across the bay to the island and tower at its western extremity,
Katherine at once determined it was the very place to suit them, and
made her way to the local house agent to see what could be done toward
securing it. Cliff Cottage was not on his books, said the agent; but if
the lady wished "he would apply to the owner, who had gone with his wife
in search of health to the Riviera. In the meantime there is Amanda
Villa, at the other end of Beach Terrace, very comfortable and elegantly
furnished"--pointing to a glaring white edifice with a Belvedere tower
in would-be Italian style. "I don't think you could find anything
better." But the aspect of Amanda Villa did not please either lady, so
they returned to Cliff Cottage: and remarking a thin curl of blue smoke
from one of the chimneys, they ventured to make their way to a side
entrance, where their knocking was answered by an old deaf caretaker,
who, for a consideration, permitted them to inspect the house. It proved
to be all Katherine wished. Though the furniture was scanty and worn, it
was clean and well kept, and "We can easily get what is necessary," she
concluded, with the sense of power which always goes with a full purse.

"Let us go back to the agent and get the address of the owner."

"Better make your offer through him," returned Miss Payne, and Katherine
complied.

The days which succeeded seemed very long. Katherine had taken a fancy
to the quaint pretty abode, and was impatient to be settled there with
her boys. There was a "preparatory school for young gentlemen," which
was an additional attraction to Sandbourne, both children being
extremely ignorant even for their tender years; and Katherine was
greatly opposed to Colonel Ormonde's intention of sending Cecil away to
a boarding-school. She wished him to have some preliminary training
before he was plunged into the difficulties of a large boarding-school.
To Colonel Ormonde her will was law, and if only she could get the house
she wanted, all would go well.

Of course Katherine lost no time in visiting her _protegee_ Rachel. She
had written to her during her absence to let her feel that she was not
forgotten; and the replies were not only well written and expressed, but
showed a degree of intelligence above the average.

When Katherine entered the room where Rachel sat at work she was touched
and delighted at the sudden brightening of Rachel's sunken eyes, the
joyous flush that rose to her cheek.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "I did not expect you so soon. How good of you to
come!" She placed a chair, and in reply to Katherine's friendly
question, "How have you been going on?" Rachel gave an encouraging
account of herself. Mrs. Needham had introduced her to two families,
both of whom wished her to work in the house, which, though infinitely
disagreeable to her, she did not like to refuse.

"Perhaps," she added, "the counter-irritation was good for me, for I
feel more braced up. And of all your many benefits, dear Miss Liddell,
nothing has done me so much good as the books you sent me, except the
sight of yourself. Do not think I am exaggerating, but I am a mere
machine, resigned to work because I must not die, save when I see you
and speak to you; then I feel I can live--that I have something to live
for, to show I am not unworthy of your trust in me. Perhaps time will
heal even such wounds as mine. Is it not terrible to try and live
without hope?"

"But you must hope, Rachel. You are not alone. I feel truly, deeply
interested in you; believe me, I will always be your friend. You are
looking better, but I want to see your eyes less hollow and your mouth
less sad. We are both young, and life has many lights and shades for us
both, so far as we can anticipate."

A long and confidential conversation ensued, in the course of which
Katherine quite forgot there was any difference of position between
herself and the humble dressmaker whom her bounty of purse and heart had
restored.



CHAPTER XVIII.

"MRS. NEEDHAM."


When Katherine returned that afternoon she found Miss Payne was not
alone. On the sofa opposite to her sat a lady--a large, well-dressed
lady--with bright black eager eyes, and a high color. She held open on
her lap a neat black leather bag, from which she had taken some papers,
and was speaking quickly, in loud dictatorial tones, when Katherine came
in.

"Here is Miss Liddell," said Miss Payne.

"Ah! I am very glad," cried the large lady, starting up and letting the
bag fall, much of its contents scattering right and left.

"Mrs. Needham, Miss Liddell," said Miss Payne, with the sort of rigid
accent which Katherine knew expressed disapprobation.

"Oh, thank you--don't trouble!" exclaimed Mrs. Needham, as Katherine
politely bent down to collect the letters, note-book, memorandum, etc.
"So sorry! I am too careless in small matters. Now, my dear Miss
Liddell, I must explain myself. Mr. Payne and I are deeply interested in
the success of a bazar which I am trying to organize, and he suggested
that I should see you and make our objects thoroughly clear."

With much fluency and distinctness she proceeded to describe the origin
and progress of the work she advocated, showing the necessity for a new
wing to the "Children's Refuge," and entreating Katherine's assistance
at the bazar.

This Katherine gently but firmly declined. "I shall be most happy to
send you a check, but more I cannot undertake," she said.

"Well, that is very good of you; and in any case I am very pleased to
have made your acquaintance. Mr. Payne has told me how ready you are to
help in all charitable undertakings. Now in an ordinary way I don't do
much in this line; my energies have been directed to another channel. I
am not what is generally called a religious woman; I am too broad in my
views to please the orthodox; but, at the same time, religion is in our
present stage essential."

"I am sure religion is much obliged to you," observed Miss Payne. "How
do you and my brother get on?"

"Remarkably well. _I_ think him rather a fanatic; he thinks me a pagan.
But we both have common-sense enough to see that each honestly wishes to
help suffering humanity, and on that broad platform we meet. Mr. Payne
tells me you don't know much of London, Miss Liddell. I can help you to
see some of its more interesting sides. I shall be most happy, though I
am a very busy woman. I am a journalist, and my time is not my own."

"Indeed?" cried Katherine. "You mean you write for newspapers?"

"Yes; that is, I get what crumbs fall from the press_men's_ table. They
get the best work and the best pay; but I can work as well as most of
them, and sometimes mine goes in in place of what some idle,
pleasure-loving scamp has neglected. Let me see"--pulling out her
watch--"five minutes to four. I must not stay. I have to look in at Mrs.
Rayner's studio; she has a reception, and will want a mention of it.
Then there are Sir Charles Goodman's training schools for deaf-mutes and
the new Art Photography Company's rooms to run through before I go to
the House of Commons to do my 'Bird's-eye View' letter for the
Australian mail to-morrow."

"My dear Mrs. Needham, you take my breath away!" exclaimed Katherine. "I
am sure you could show me more of London--I mean what I should like to
see--than any one else."

"Very well. Let me know when you come back to town, and you shall hear a
debate if you like. I am not a society woman, but I have the _entree_ to
most places. Now good-morning--good-morning. You see your agreeable
conversation has made me forget the time." And shaking hands cordially,
she hastened away.

"_Our_ agreeable conversation," repeated Miss Payne, with a somewhat
cynical accent. "I wonder how many words you and I uttered! Why she
makes me stupid. Really Gilbert ought not to inflict such a tornado on
us."

"I like her," said Katherine; "there is something kind and true about
her. I should like to see some of the places she goes to and the work
she does. She seems happy enough, too. I must not forget to write to her
and send that check I promised."

"Hem! If you give right and left you'll not have much left for
yourself," growled Miss Payne. Katherine laughed.

"Oh, by-the-way," resumed her chaperon, "I forgot to tell you that
Colonel Ormonde arrived, shortly after you went out, with a large basket
of flowers. He was vexed at missing you. He came up about some business,
and wanted to take you to see some one. However, he could not come back.
I can't say that I think he is well mannered. He was quite rough and
brusque, and asked with such an ill-bred sneer if you were off on any
private business with my brother."

"I can't help thinking that he was annoyed because I appointed Mr. Payne
co-trustee with Mr. Newton to my deed of gift," said Katherine,
thoughtfully. "But I know I could not have chosen a better man."

"Well, I believe so," returned his sister, graciously. "He is coming to
dinner, so you can give him your check."

It was a great day for Cis and Charlie when they arrived in London to
stay with "auntie," who was at the station to receive and convey them to
Wilton Street.

Charlie still looked pale and thin enough to warrant a general treatment
of cuddling and coddling calculated to satisfy any affectionate young
woman's heart. They were to sleep at Miss Payne's residence, in order to
be rested and fresh for their journey to the sea-side next day.

Miss Payne herself was unusually amiable, for she had let her house
satisfactorily for the greater part of the season, and this as Katherine
paid for the Sandbourne villa, was clear gain.

When the boys and their auntie drove up to Miss Payne's abode she was a
good deal annoyed to find De Burgh at the door in the act of leaving a
card. He hastened to hand her out of the carriage, exclaiming:

"This is the first bit of luck I have had for weeks. You always manage
to be out when I call. Come along, my boys. What lucky little fellows
you are to come to town for the season!"

"Ah, but we are not going to stay in town. We are going to the sea-side
to bathe, and to sail in boats, and--"

"Run in, Charlie, like a good boy," interrupted Katherine. "Your tea
will be quite ready."

"I suppose you will think me horribly intrusive if I ask you to let me
come in?" said De Burgh. There was something unusually earnest in his
tone.

"Oh, not at all," returned Katherine, politely, though she would have
much preferred bidding him good-morning. "Here, Sarah, pray take the
boys to their room and get their things off. I am sure they want their
tea."

Miss Payne's sedate elderly house-maid looked quite elated as she took
Charlie's hand and, preceded by Cecil, led him upstairs.

"Are you really 'out' when I come?" asked De Burgh when they reached the
drawing-room.

Katherine took off her hat and pushed her hair off her brow as she
seated herself in a low chair.

"Yes, I think so. I do not usually deny myself to any visitor." She
looked up, half amused, half interested, by the almost imploring
expression of his usually hard face.

"I rather suspect I am not a favored guest?"

"Why do you say that, Mr. De Burgh? am I uncivil?"

"No. What a fool I am making of myself! Tell me, are you really going
away to-morrow to bury yourself alive?"

"I am _really_."

"After all, I believe you are right. _I_ am always bored in London.
Women think it a paradise."

"I like London so well that I shall probably make it my headquarters."

"It's rather premature for you to make plans, isn't it?"

"Whether it is or not, I have arranged my future much to my own
satisfaction."

"The deuce you have! What, at nineteen?"

"Is that an attempt to find out my age?" asked Katherine, laughing.

"No! for I fancy I know it. How far is this place you are going to from
town, and how do you get to it?"

"The journey takes about three hours and a half, and you travel by the
Southwestern line."

"Well, I intend to have the pleasure of running down to see you
presently, if you will permit me."

"Oh, of course, we shall be very happy to see you."

"I hope so," said De Burgh, with a smile. "I don't think you are very
encouraging. If there are any decent roads about this place, shall we
resume the driving lessons?"

"Thank you"--evasively. "I think of buying a donkey and
chaise--certainly a pony for the boys."

De Burgh laughed. "I suppose there is some boating to be had there. I
shall certainly have a look at the place, even if I be not admitted to
the shrine." There was a pause, during which De Burgh seemed in profound
but not agreeable thought; then he suddenly exclaimed: "By-the-way, have
you heard the news? Old Errington died, rather sudden at last, some time
last night."

"Indeed!" cried Katherine, roused to immediate attention. "I am very
sorry to hear it. The marriage will then be put off. You know they were
going to have it nearly a month sooner than was at first intended,
because Mr. Errington feared the end was near. He was with his father, I
hope?"

"Yes, I believe he hardly left him for the last few days. Now the
wedding cannot take place for a considerable time."

"It will be a great disappointment," observed Katherine.

"To which of the happy pair?"

"To both, I suppose," she returned.

"Do you think they cared a rap about each other?"

"Yes, I do indeed. Every one has a different way of showing their
feelings, and Mr. Errington is _quite_ different from _you_."

"Different--and immensely superior, eh?"

"I did not say so, Mr. De Burgh."

"No, certainly you did not, and I have no right to guess at what you
think. You are right. I am very different from Errington; and _you_ are
very different from Lady Alice. I fancy, were you in her place, even the
irreproachable bridegroom-elect would find he had a little more of our
common humanity about him than he suspects," said De Burgh, his dark
eyes seeking hers with a bold admiring glance.

Katherine's cheek glowed, her heart beat fast with sudden distress and
anger. De Burgh's suggestion stirred some strange and painful emotion.

"You are in a remarkably imaginative mood, Mr. De Burgh," she said,
haughtily. "I cannot see any connection between myself and your ideas."

"Can't you? Well, my ideas gather round you very often."

"I wish he would go away; he is too audacious," thought Katherine. While
she said, "I think Mr. Errington will be sorry for his father; I believe
he has good feeling, though he is so cold and quiet."

"Oh, he has every virtue under the sun! At any rate he ought to be fond
of him, for I fancy the old man has toiled all his life to be able to
leave his son a big fortune."

"Has he no brothers or sisters?"

"Two sisters, I believe, older than himself; both married."

There was another pause. Katherine would not break it. She felt
peculiarly irritated against De Burgh. His observations had greatly
disturbed her. She could not, however, tell him to go, and he stood
there looking perfectly at ease. This awkward silence was broken by the
welcome appearance of Cecil, who burst into the room, exclaiming:
"Auntie, tea is quite ready! There is beautiful chicken pie and buttered
cakes, and _such_ a beautiful cat!"

"What! for tea, Cis?" said Katherine, letting him catch her hand and try
to drag her away.

"No--o. Why, what a silly you are! Puss is asleep in an arm-chair. Do
come, auntie. The lady said I was tell you that tea was _quite_ ready."

"Which means that the audience is over," said De Burgh; "and I rather
think you are not sorry." He smiled--not a pleasant smile. "Well, young
man, did you never see me before?"--to Cecil, who was staring at him in
the deliberate, persistent way in which children gaze at objects which
fascinate yet partly frighten them.

"I was thinking you were like--" The little fellow paused.

"Like whom?"

Cis tightened his hold on his auntie's hand, and still hesitated.

"Whom is Mr. De Burgh like?" asked Katherine, amused by the boy's
earnestness.

"Like the wicked uncle in the 'Babes in the Wood.' Auntie gave it to me.
Such a beautiful picture book!"

De Burgh laughed heartily and good-humoredly. "I can tell you, my boy,
you would not find me a bad sort of uncle if it were ever my good
fortune to call you nephew."

"But I have no uncle--only auntie," returned Cis.

"Ay, a very pearl of an auntie. Try and be a good boy. Above all, do
what you are bid. I never did what I was bid, and you see what I have
come to."

"I don't think there is much the matter with you," said Cis, eying him
steadily. Then, with a sudden change in the current of his thoughts, he
cried, "Do come, auntie; the cakes will be quite cold."

"I will keep you no longer from the banquet," said De Burgh. "I know you
are wishing me at--well, my probable destination; so good-by for the
present." Then, to Cecil: "Shall I come and see you at--what is the name
of the place?--Sandbourne, and take you out for a sail in a boat--a big
boat?"

"Oh, yes, please."

"Will you come with me, though I _am_ like the wicked uncle?"

"Yes, if auntie may come too."

"If she begs very hard she may. Well, good-morning, Miss Liddell. I'll
not forget Sandbourne, _via_ Southwestern Railway." So saying, De Burgh
shook hands and departed.

The next day Miss Payne escorted her suddenly increased party to their
marine retreat, returning the following afternoon to attend to the
details of letting her house, for which she had had a good offer.

Then came a breathing space of welcome repose to Katherine. The
interest--nay, the trouble--of the children drew her out of herself, and
dwarfed the past with the more urgent demands of the present. Cliff
Cottage was a pretty, pleasant abode. The living rooms, which were of a
good size, two of them opening with bay-windows on the pleasure-ground
which surrounded the house on three sides, were, with the bedrooms over
them, additions to a very small abode.

These Katherine succeeded in making pretty and comfortable. To wake in
the morning and hear the pleasant murmur of the waves; to open her
window to the soft sweet briny air, and look out on the waters
glittering in the early golden light; to listen to the laughter and
shrill cries of Cis and Charlie chasing each other in the garden, and
feel that they were her charge--all this contributed to restore her to a
healthy state of mind, to strengthen and to cheer her.

Cecil, to his dismay at first, was dispatched every morning to school,
where he soon made friends and began to feel at home. Charlie Katherine
taught herself, as he was still delicate. Then a pony was added to the
establishment, and old Francois, ex-courier and factotum, used to take
the young gentlemen for long excursions each riding turn about on the
quiet, sensible little Shetland.

The pale cheeks which helped to make Charlie so dear to his aunt began
to show something of a healthy color before the end of May, and
Katherine sometimes laughed to find herself boasting of Cecil's parts
and progress to Miss Payne. But the metamorphosis wrought by the young
magicians in this important personage was the most remarkable of the
effects they produced. Had Miss Liddell been less pleasant and
profitable, it is doubtful if Miss Payne would have consented to allow
children--boys--to desecrate the precincts of her spotless dwelling;
they were in her estimation extremely objectionable. Katherine was,
however, a prime favorite; she had touched Miss Payne as none of her
former inmates ever did.

Years of battling with the world had coated her heart with a tolerably
hard husk; but there was a heart beneath the stony sheath, and by some
occult sympathy Katherine had pierced to the hidden fount of feeling,
and her chaperon found there was more flavor and warmth in life than she
once thought.

When, therefore, she had completed her business in London and was
settled at Cliff Cottage, she was surprised to find that the boys did
_not_ worry her; nay, when they came racing to meet her in wild delight
to show a tangled dripping mass of shells and sea-weed which they had
collected in their wading, scrambling wanderings on the shore and among
the rocks, she found herself unbending, almost involuntarily, and
examining their treasures with unfeigned interest. Then Cecil's very
fluent descriptions of his experiences at school, his escapades, his
torn garments, the occasional quarrels between the two boys, their
appropriation of Francois, and their breakages--all seemed to grow
natural and pardonable when the young culprits ran to take her by the
hand, and looked in her face with their innocent, trusting eyes. On the
whole, Miss Payne had never been so happy before, and Katherine forgot
the shifting sands on which she was uprearing the graceful fabric of her
tranquil life.

Sometimes they lured Bertie to spend a couple of days with them--days
which were always marked with a white stone. What arguments and rambles
Katherine enjoyed with him, and what goodly checks she drew to further
his numerous undertakings!

De Burgh did not fail to carry out his threat of inspecting Sandbourne.
He found a valid excuse in a commission from Colonel Ormonde to advise
Miss Liddell respecting a pair of ponies she had asked him to buy for
her.

His visit was not altogether displeasing. No woman is quite indifferent
to a man who admires her in the hearty, wholesale way which De Burgh did
not try to conceal. Katherine was much too feminine not to like the
incense of his devotion, especially when he kept it within certain
limits. She did not credit him with any deep feeling; but in spite of
her strong conviction that he was attracted by her money, she recognized
a certain sincerity in his liking for herself. She enjoyed the idea of
humbling his immense assurance, believing that any pain she might
inflict would be short-lived, while he was amazed to find how swiftly
the hours flew past when he allowed himself to spend a couple of days at
Sandbourne--surprised to feel so little of the contemptuous bitterness
with which he generally regarded his fellow-creatures, and sometimes
wondered if it were possible that something more simple than even his
boyish self had come back to him.

Still, Bertie Payne was a more welcome guest than De Burgh, in spite of
his unspoken but evident devotion. With Bertie she could speak openly of
matters on which she would not touch when with the other. To Bertie she
could talk of the mysteries of life, and argue on questions of belief.
She was touched by the eagerness he showed to convert her to his own
extremely evangelical views, and though differing from him on many
points, she deeply respected the sincerity of his convictions.

The degree of favor shown by her to "that psalm-singing Puritan," as De
Burgh termed him, was gall and wormwood to the latter, and indeed so
irritated his spirit that he was driven to speak of the annoyance it
caused him to Mrs. Ormonde, of whose discretion and judgment he had but
a poor opinion.

Meantime no one heard or saw anything of Errington, who was supposed to
be deep in the settlement of his father's affairs, and winding up the
estate, as the well-known house of Errington ceased to exist when the
head and founder was no more. Lady Alice had gone to stay with her
brother and sister-in-law, who lived abroad, as it was impossible for
her to enter into the gayeties of the season under existing
circumstances, and the marriage was postponed until the end of July.

In short, a lull had stilled the actors in this little drama. The stream
of events had entered one of the quiet pools which here and there hold
the most rapid current tranquil for a time.

With Mrs. Ormonde all went well. She had the newest and most charming
gowns and bonnets, mantles and hats. She found herself very well
received by society, and quite a favorite with Lady Mary Vincent, who
was a very popular person. So much occupied was the pretty little woman
that May was nearly over before she could find time to accept her
sister-in-law's repeated invitation to Cliff Cottage.

"I am going down to Sandbourne on Friday," she said to De Burgh one
evening as she was waiting for her carriage after a musical party at
Lady Mary Vincent's.

"Indeed! I thought you were going last Monday."

"Oh, I could not go on Monday. But if I don't go on Friday I do not
think I shall manage my visit at all. Tell me, what does Katherine find
to keep her down there? Is it Bertie Payne?"

"How can I tell? She seems contented enough. For that matter, she might
find my society equally attractive. Payne does not go down as often as I
do."

"No?--but then Katherine has a leaning to sanctity, and you are no
saint."

"True. By-the-way, talking of saints, there is a report that old
Errington's affairs were not left in as flourishing a condition as was
expected."

"Oh, nonsense! It is some mere ill-natured gossip."

"I hope so. I think I will come down on Saturday and escort you back to
town."

"Pray do; it will enliven us a little." A shout of "Mrs. Ormonde's
carriage!" cut short the conversation, and Mrs. Ormonde did not see De
Burgh again until they met at Cliff Cottage.

Mrs. Ormonde's visit, long anticipated, did not prove an unmixed
pleasure. She objected to what she considered the terribly long drive of
some five miles from the railway station to Katherine's secluded
residence; she turned up her pretty little nose at the smallness of the
cottage and its general homeliness; she evinced an unfriendly spirit
toward Miss Payne, who was perfectly unmoved thereby; and when the boys,
well washed and spruced up, approached her, not too eagerly, she
scarcely noticed them. This, of course, reacted on the little fellows,
who showed a decided inclination to avoid her.

She was tired after a warm journey and previous late hours, and
dreadfully afraid that sea air and sun together would have a ruinous
effect on her complexion. When, however, she had had tea and made a
fresh toilette, she took a less gloomy view of life at Sandbourne, and
having recovered her temper, she remembered it would be wiser not to
chafe her sister-in-law.

"To be sure," thought the astute little woman, "the boys' settlement is
out of her power to revoke; but it would be rather good if she came to
live with us, instead of filling the pockets of this prim, presumptuous,
self-satisfied old maid. I am sure she is awfully selfish, and I do hate
selfishness."

So reflecting, she descended serene and smiling. Half an hour after, she
had so completely recovered herself as to declare she had never seen the
boys look so well, that they were quite grown, etc., etc.

After dinner Cecil displayed his exercise and copy books, and received a
due meed of praise, not unmixed with a little sarcastic remark or two
respecting the wonderful effect of his aunt's influence, which did not
escape the notice of her son, who felt, though he did not understand
why, that she was not quite so well pleased as she affected to be.

"And don't you feel dreadfully dull here?" asked Mrs. Ormonde, as the
sisters-in-law strolled along the beach under the shelter of the east
cliff, which hid them from the bright morning sunlight.

"No, not as yet. I should not like to live here always; but at present I
like the place. You must confess it is very pretty."

"Yes, just now, when the weather is fine. When you have rain and a gale,
it must be fearfully dreary."

"We have had some rough days, but the bay has a beauty of its own even
in a storm, and we shall not be here in the winter."

"De Burgh runs down to see you pretty often?" asked Mrs. Ormonde, after
a short pause. The old regimental habit of calling men by their surnames
still returned when she was off guard.

"Yes," replied Katherine, calmly; "he seems to enjoy a day by the
sea-side."

Mrs. Ormonde laughed--a hard laugh. "I dare say _you_ enjoy it too."

"Mr. De Burgh is not particularly sympathetic to me, but I like him
better than I did."

"Oh, I dare say he makes himself very pleasant to you, and I never knew
him show attention to an unmarried woman before, nor to many married
women either. Of course it would be absurd to suppose that if you had
not a good fortune you would see quite so much of him."

"Naturally," returned Katherine. "I fancy my money would be of great use
to him; so it would to most men. That does not affect me. If it is an
incentive to make them agreeable and useful, why, so be it."

"I did not expect to hear _you_ talk like that. Now I hate and despise
mercenary men."

"Well, you see, the man or the woman _must_ have money or there can be
no marriage."

"How worldly you have grown, Kate!" cried Mrs. Ormonde, in a superior
tone. She did not perceive anything but sober seriousness in her
sister-in-law's tone, and was infinitely annoyed at her taking the
insinuations against De Burgh's disinterestedness with such
indifference. "I suppose you think it would be a very fine thing to be
Baroness De Burgh, and go to court with all the family jewels on."

"I shall certainly not go as Katherine Liddell."

"Pray, why not? Ah, yes; it would all be very fine! But I am too deeply
interested in you, dear, not to warn you that De Burgh would make a very
bad husband; he has such a horrid, sneering way sometimes; and as to
being faithful--constancy is a thing unknown to him."

"What would Colonel Ormonde say if he knew you gave his favorite kinsman
so bad a character?"

"Oh, my dear Katherine, you must not betray me! Duke would be furious.
But of course your happiness is my first consideration."

"Thank you," returned Katherine, gravely.

"And Mr. Payne, how does he like Mr. De Burgh's visits here?"

"I don't think he minds"--seriously. "I should be sorry if he were
annoyed. I am very fond of Bertie Payne."

This declaration somewhat bewildered Mrs. Ormonde. But before she could
find suitable words to reply, Charlie came running to meet them, jumping
up to kiss his aunt first, and cried; "Mr. De Burgh has come. I saw him
driving up to the hotel outside the omlibus."

"The omnibus!" repeated Mrs. Ormonde.

"He would find no other conveyance from the train unless he ordered one
previously," said Katherine, laughing.

"Dear me! I suppose he will be here directly. How early he must have
started!" in a tone of annoyance. "I feel so hot and uncomfortable after
this dreadfully long walk, I _must_ change my dress before I see any
one." And she hastened on.

After holding his aunt's hand for a while, Charlie darted away to
overtake Francois, whom he perceived at a little distance.

"I declare, Katherine, you are quite supplanting me with those boys!"
exclaimed their mother, querulously.

"Ada, I would not for the world wean them from you, if--I
mean"--stopping the words which rushed to her lips. "I should be sorry.
But you have new ties--another boy. Could you not spare Cis and Charlie
to me--for I have no one?"

"I am sure that is your own fault. However, if after three or four
months' experience you are not tired of them, I shall be very much
surprised."

On reaching the house, Mrs. Ormonde went straight to her own apartment
to "refit," and Katherine sat down in the smaller drawing or morning
room, which looked west and was cool. She had not been there many
minutes before De Burgh was announced.

"Alone!" he exclaimed. "Where is Mrs. Ormonde?"

"She will be here immediately."

"Has she persuaded you to return with her? I wish you would. Lady G----
gives a dinner at Richmond on Thursday; it will be rather amusing. I
know most of the fellows who are going, and I think you would enjoy it.
You like good talkers, I know."

"Thank you; I have refused."

"Absolutely?"

"Absolutely."

De Burgh came over and leaned his shoulder against the side of the
window opposite to where Katherine sat.

"What are you thinking of, if I may ask, Miss Liddell?" he said. "You
have scarcely heard what I said. They are not pleasant thoughts, I
fancy."

"No," she returned, glad to put them into words that she might exorcise
them. "Ada has just reproached me with supplanting her with her boys,
and it made me feel, as Americans say 'bad.'"

"Why?" he asked. "Why should you not? I would lay long odds that you
love them more than she does. You are more a real mother to them. Why
are you always straining at gnats? You really lose a lot of time, which
might be more agreeably occupied, worrying over the rights and wrongs of
things. Follow my example: go straight ahead for whatever you desire,
provided it's not robbery, and let things balance themselves."

"Has that system made you supremely happy?"

"Happy! Oh, that is a big word. I have had some splendid spurts of
enjoyment; and now I have an object to win. It will give me a lot of
trouble; it's the heaviest stake I ever played for; but it will go hard
with me if I don't succeed."

De Burgh had been looking out at the stretch of water before him as he
spoke, but at his last words his eyes sought Katherine's with a look she
could not misunderstand. She shivered slightly, an odd passing sense of
fear chilling her for a moment as she turned to lay her hat upon the
table near, saying, in a cold, collected tone.

"You must always remember that the firmest resolution cannot insure
success."

"It goes a long way toward it, however," he replied.

"Ah, there is Cis!" cried Katherine, glad to turn the conversation,
"come back from school. Are you not earlier than usual, Cis?"--as the
boy came bounding over the grass to the open window.

"No, auntie; it is one o'clock."

"Well, young man," said De Burgh, who was not sorry to be interrupted,
as he felt he was treading dangerous ground, and with instinctive tact
endeavored always to keep friends with Katherine's pets, "I have brought
you a present, if auntie will allow you to keep it."

"What is it?--a box of tools, real tools? I do so want a box of tools!
But auntie is afraid I will cut myself."

"No; it's a St. Bernard puppy that promises to turn out a fine dog."

"Oh, thank you! thank you! that _is_ nice. I don't think you are a bit
like the wicked uncle now. May I go and fetch it now, this moment?"

"Not till after dinner, dear."

"Oh, isn't it jolly! A real St. Bernard dog!"--capering about. "You
_are_ a nice man!"

"What _are_ you making such a noise for, Cis?" exclaimed his mother
coming in, looking admirably well, fresh, becomingly dressed. "Go away,
dear, and be made tidy for your dinner. Well, Mr. De Burgh, I never
dreamed of your arriving so early. Did you get up in the middle of the
night?"

"Not exactly. The fact is, I must drive over to Revelstoke late this
evening and catch the mail train. I have a command to dine with the
Baron to-morrow, to talk over some business of importance, and dared not
refuse, as you can imagine. The everlasting old tyrant has been quite
amiable to me of late."

"Then you'll not be here to escort me back to town, and I hate
travelling alone!" cried Mrs. Ormonde.

"Unfortunately no," said De Burgh. "But I have a piece of news for you
that will freeze the marrow in your bones: Errington is completely
ruined."

"Impossible!" cried both his hearers at once.

"It's too true, I assure you. When, after the old man's death, he began
to look into things with his solicitor, he was startled to find certain
deficiencies. Then the head clerk, the manager, who had everything in
his hands--bossed the show, in short--disappeared, and on further
examination it proved that the whole concern was a mere shell, out of
which this scoundrel had sucked the capital. There was an awful amount
of debt to other houses, several of which would have come down, and
ruined the unfortunates connected with them, if Errington had not come
forward and sacrificed almost all he possessed to retrieve the credit of
his name. He says he ought to have undertaken the risks as well as
reaped the profit of the concern. Garston Hall is advertised for sale;
so is the house in Berkley Square; his stud is brought to the
hammer--everything is given up. What he'll do I haven't an idea. But I
must say I think his sense of honor is a little overstrained."

"And Lady Alice!" ejaculated Katherine.

"Of course Melford will soon settle that, if it is not settled already,
for a good deal was done before the matter got wind. There hasn't been
such a crash for a long time. In short, Errington is utterly, completely
ruined."

"I never heard of such a fool!" cried Mrs. Ormonde. "It was bad enough
to be disappointed of the wealth old Errington was supposed to have left
behind him, but to give up everything! Why, he is only fit for a lunatic
asylum. What an awful disappointment for poor Lady Alice!"

Katherine did not, could not speak. The rush of sorrow for the heavy
blow which had fallen on the man she had robbed, the shame and
self-reproach, which had been lulled asleep for a while, which now woke
up with renewed power to torment and irritate--these were too much for
her self-control, and while Mrs. Ormonde and De Burgh eagerly discussed
the catastrophe, she kept silence and struggled to be composed.



CHAPTER XIX.

CONFESSION.


"Errington is completely ruined!" De Burgh's words repeated themselves
over and over again in Katherine's ears through the darkness and silence
of her sleepless night. What would become of him--that grave, stately
man who had never known the touch of anything common or unclean? How
would he live? And what an additional blow the rupture of his engagement
with Lady Alice! He was certainly very fond of her. It was like him to
give up all he possessed to save the honor of his name, but how would it
be if he were penniless? Had _she_ not robbed him, he might have enough
to live comfortably after satisfying every one. As she thought, a
resolution to restore what she had taken formed itself in her mind.
Perhaps if he could show that he had still a solid capital, his
engagement to Lady Alice need not be broken off. If she could restore
him to competence, he would not refuse some provision for the poor dear
boys. Were she secure on _this_ point, she would be happier without the
money than with it. But the humiliation of confession--and to _such_ a
father confessor? How could she do it? Yet it must be done.

"Good gracious, Katherine, you look like a ghost!" was Mrs. Ormonde's
salutation when the little party met at breakfast next morning. "Pray
have you seen one?"

"Yes; I have been surrounded by a whole gallery of ghosts all
night--which means that a bad conscience would not let me sleep."

"What nonsense! Why, you are a perfect saint, Kate, in some ways; but in
others I must say you are foolish; yes, dear, I must say it--_very_
foolish."

"I dare say I am," returned Katherine; "but whether I am or not, I have
an intense headache, so you must excuse me if I am very stupid."

"I am sure you want change, Katherine. Do come back with me to town.
There is quite time enough to put up all you want before 11, and the
train goes at 11.10. There is a little dance, 'small and early' at Lady
Mary Vincent's this evening, and I know she would be delighted to see
you."

"I do not think hot rooms the best cure for a headache," observed Miss
Payne; "and till yesterday Katherine had been looking remarkably well.
She was out boating too long in the sun."

"You are very good to trouble about me, Ada. My best cure is quiet. I
will go and lie down as soon as I see you off, and I dare say shall be
myself again in the evening. I may come up to town for a day or two
before you return to Castleford, but I will let you know."

Nothing more was said on the subject then, but when Katherine returned
from the station after bidding her sister-in-law good-by, Miss Payne met
her with a strong recommendation to take some "sal volatile and water,
and to lie down at once."

"I did not, of course, second Mrs. Ormonde's suggestions--the idea of
your going for rest or health to _her_ house!--but I am really vexed to
see you look so ill. How do you feel?"

"Very well disposed to follow your good advice. If I could get some
sleep, I should be quite well." Katherine smiled pleasantly as she
spoke. She was extremely thankful to secure an hour or two of silence
and solitude.

During the night her heart, her brain, were in such a tumult she could
not think consecutively. Alone in her room, and grown calmer, she could
plan her future proceedings and screw her courage to the desperate
sticking-point of action such as her conscience dictated.

She fastened her door and set her window wide open. After gazing for
some time at the sea, golden and glittering in the noonday sun, and
inhaling the soft breeze which came in laden with briny freshness, she
lay down and closed her eyes. But though keeping profoundly still, no
restful look of sleep stole over her set face; no, she was thinking
hard, for how long she could not tell. When, however, she came
downstairs to join Miss Payne at tea, the anxious, nervous, alarmed
expression of her eyes had changed to one of gloomy composure.

"Though I do not care to stay with Ada, I want to go to town to-morrow
for a little shopping, and to see Mr. Newton if I can. I will take the
quick train at half-past eight and return in the evening. You might send
to meet the nine o'clock express. Should anything occur to keep me, I
will telegraph."

"Very well"--Miss Payne's usual reply to Katherine's propositions. "But
are you quite sure you feel equal to the journey?"

"Yes, quite equal," returned Katherine, with a short deep sigh. "I
believe it will do me good."


That Errington had been stunned by the blow which had fallen so suddenly
upon him cannot be disputed. His first and bitterest concern was dread
lest the character of his father's house, which had always stood so
high, lest the honor of his own name, should suffer the smallest
tarnish. It was this that made him so eager to ascertain the full
liabilities of the firm, so ready to sacrifice all he possessed so that
no one save himself should be the loser. "If I accepted a handsome
fortune from transactions over which I exercised no supervision, I must
hold myself doubly responsible for the result," he argued, and at once
set to work to turn all he possessed into money.

In truth the prospect of poverty did not dismay him.

His tastes were very simple. It was the loss of power and position,
which wealth always bestows, which he would feel most, and the necessity
of renouncing Lady Alice.

This was imperative. Yet it surprised him to perceive how little he felt
the prospect of parting with her on his own account. Indeed he was
rather ashamed of his indifference. It was for Lady Alice he felt. It
would be such a terrible disappointment--not that Errington had much
personal vanity. He hoped and thought Lady Alice Mordaunt liked him in a
calm and reasonable manner, which is the best guarantee for married
happiness. But it was the loss of a tranquil home, a luxurious life, an
escape from the genteel poverty of a deeply embarrassed earl's daughter
to the ease and comfort of a rich man's wife, that he deplored for her.
Poor helpless child! she would probably find a rich husband ere long who
would give her all possible luxuries, for a noble's daughter of high
degree is generally a marketable article. But he, Miles Errington, would
have been kind and patient. Would that other possible fellow be kind and
patient too? Knowing his own sex, Errington doubted it. He had a certain
amount of the generosity which belongs to strength. To children, and the
kind of pretty, undecided women who rank as children, he was wonderfully
considerate. But it was quite possible that were he married to a
sensible, companionable wife he might be exacting.

At present it seemed highly improbable that he should ever reach a
position which would enable him to commit matrimony. Thirty-four is
rather an advanced age at which to begin life afresh.

The prospect of bachelorhood, however, by no means dismayed him. Indeed
it was more a sense of his social duties as a man of fortune and a
future senator that had impelled him to seek a wife, not an irresistible
desire for the companionship of a ministering spirit. He was truly
thankful that his marriage had bean delayed, and that he was not
hampered by any sense of duty toward a wife in his design of sacrificing
his all to save his credit.

After the first few days of stunning surprise, Errington set vigorously
to work to clear the wreck. Garston was advertised; his stud, his
furniture--everything--put up for sale, and his own days divided between
his solicitor and his stock-broker. His first step was to explain
matters to his intended father-in-law, who, being an impulsive,
self-indulgent man, swore a good deal about the ill-luck of all
concerned, but at once declared the engagement must be at an end.

As Lady Alice was still in Switzerland with her brother and his wife, it
was considered wise to spare her the pain of an interview. Lord Melford
explained matters to his daughter in an extremely outspoken letter,
enclosing one from Errington, in which, with much good feeling, he bade
her a kindly farewell. To this she replied promptly, and a week saw the
extinction of the whole affair. Errington could not help smiling at this
"rapid act." It was then about three weeks after the blow had fallen--a
warm glowing June morning. Errington's man of business had just left
him, and he had returned to his writing-table, which was strewn, or
rather covered, with papers (nothing Errington ever handled was
"strewn"), and continued his task of making out a list of his
private liabilities, which were comparatively light, when his
valet--not yet discharged, though already warned to look for another
master--approached, with his usually impassive countenance, and
presented a small note.

Errington opened it, and to his inexpressible surprise read as follows:


  "TO MR. ERRINGTON,--Allow me to speak to you alone.
                                         "KATHERINE LIDDELL."


"Who brought this?" asked Errington, suppressing all expression as well
as he could.

"A young person in black, sir--leastways I think she's young."

"Show her in; and, Harris, I am engaged if any one calls."

Errington went to the door to meet his most unexpected visitor. The next
moment she stood before him. He bowed with much deference. She bent her
head in silence, but did not offer to shake hands. She wore a black
dress and a very simple black straw hat, round which a white gauze veil
was tied, which effectually concealed her face.

"Pray sit down," was all Errington could think of saying, so astonished
was he at her sudden appearance.

Katherine took a seat opposite to his. She unfastened and took off her
veil, displaying a face from which her usual rich soft color had faded,
sombre eyes, and tremulous lips. Looking full at him, she said, without
greeting of any kind, "Do you think me mad _to_ come here?"

"I am a little surprised; but if I can be of any use--" Errington began
calmly. She interrupted him.

"I hope to be of use to _you_. No one except myself can explain how or
why; that is the reason I have intruded upon you."

"You do not intrude, Miss Liddell. I am quite at your service; only I
hope you are not distressing yourself on my account."

"On yours and my own." Her eyes sank, and her hands played nervously
with the handle of a small dainty leather bag she carried, as she
paused. Then, looking up steadily, and speaking in a monotonous tone, as
if she were repeating a lesson, with parched lips she went on: "I did
you a great wrong some years ago. I was sorry, but I had not the courage
to atone until I learned (only yesterday) that you had lost, or rather
given up, your fortune, and that your engagement might be broken off. (I
_must_ speak of these things. You will forgive me before I come to an
end.) Then I felt something stronger than myself that forced me to tell
you all." Her heart beat so hard that her voice could not be steadied.
She stopped to breathe.

"I fear you are exciting yourself needlessly," said Errington, quite
bewildered, and almost fearing that his visitor's brain was affected.

"Oh, listen!--do listen! My uncle, John Liddell, your father's old
friend, left all his money to you. I hid the will, and succeeded as next
of kin. The property amounts to something more than eighty thousand
pounds, and I have not spent half the income, so there are some savings
besides. Can you not live comfortably on that, and marry Lady Alice?"

Errington gazed at her for a moment speechless. A sigh of relief broke
from Katherine. The color rose to her cheeks, her throat, her small
white ears, and then slowly faded.

"I can hardly understand you, Miss Liddell. I fear you are under the
effect of some nervous hallucination."

"I am not. I can prove I am not." She drew forth the packet inscribed
"MS. to be destroyed," and laid it before him. "There is the will. Thank
God I never could bring myself to destroy it. Here, pray read it." She
opened the document and handed it to him.

There were a few moments' dead silence while Errington hastily skimmed
the will. "_I_ am most reluctantly obliged to believe you," he said at
length. "But what an extraordinary circumstance! How"--looking earnestly
at her--"how did it ever occur to you to--to--"

"To commit a felony?" put in Katherine, as he paused.

"No; I was not going to use such a word," he said, gravely, but not
unkindly.

"If you have time to listen I will tell you everything. Now that I have
told the ugly secret that has made a discord in my life, I can speak
more easily." But her sweet mouth still quivered.

"Yes, tell me all," said Errington, more eagerly than perhaps he had
ever spoken before.

In a low but more composed voice Katherine gave a rapid account of the
circumstances which led to her residence with her uncle: of her intense
desire to help the dear mother whose burden was almost more than she
could bear; then of the change which came to the old miser--his
increasing interest in herself, and finally of his expressed intention
to change his will--as she hoped, in her favor; of her leaving it, by
his direction, in the writing-table drawer; of his terribly sudden
death.

Then came the great temptation. "When Mr. Newton said that if the will
existed it would be in the bureau, but that as he had been on the point
of making another, so he (Mr. Newton) hoped he had destroyed the last,"
continued Katherine, "a thought darted through my brain. Why should it
be found? _He_ no longer wished its provisions to be carried out. I
should not, in destroying or suppressing it, defeat the wishes of the
dead. I determined, if Mr. Newton asked me a direct question, I would
tell him the truth; if not, I would simply be silent. In short, I
mentally _tossed_ for the guidance of my conduct. Silence won. Mr.
Newton asked nothing; he was too glad that everything was mine. He has
been very, very good to me. I imagined that half my uncle's money would
go to my brother's children, but it did not; so when I came of age I
settled a third upon them. Of course the deed of gift is now but so much
waste paper, and for them I would earnestly implore you to spare a
little yearly allowance for education, to prepare them to earn their own
bread. I feel sure you will do this, and I do deeply dread their being
thrown on Colonel Ormonde's charity; their lot would be very miserable.
My poor little boys!" Her voice broke, and she stopped abruptly.

Errington's eyes dwelt upon her, almost sternly, with the deepest
attention, while she spoke. Nor did he break silence at once; he leaned
back in his chair, resting one closed hand on the table before him. At
last he exclaimed: "I wish you had not told me this! I could not have
imagined you capable of such an act."

"And more," said Katherine; "although I wish to make what reparation I
can, had that act to be done again--even with the anticipation of this
bitter hour--I'd do it."

She looked straight into Errington's eyes, her own aflame with sudden
passion. He was silent, his brow slightly knit, a puzzled expression in
his face. The natural motion of his mind was to condemn severely such a
lawless sentiment, yet he could not resist thinking of those brilliant
speaking eyes, nor help the conviction that he had never met a real live
woman before. It was like a scene on the stage; for demonstrative
emotion always appeared theatrical to him, only it was terribly earnest
this time.

"You would not say so were you calmer," said Errington, in a curious
hesitating manner. "Why--why did you not come and tell me your need for
your uncle's money? Do you think I am so avaricious as to retain the
fortune, or all the fortune, that ought to have been yours, when I had
enough of my own?"

"How could I tell?" she cried. "If I knew you then as I do now I
_should_ have asked you, and saved my soul alive; but what did the name
of Errington convey to me? Only the idea of a greedy enemy! Are men so
ready to cast the wealth they can claim into the lap of another? When
you spoke to me that day at Castleford I thought I should have dropped
at your feet with the overpowering sense of shame. But withal, when I
remember my disappointment, my utter inability to help my dear
overtasked mother, round whom the net of difficulty, of debt, of
fruitless work, was drawing closer and closer, I again feel the
irresistible force of the temptation. You, who are wise and strong and
just, might have resisted; but"--with a slight graceful gesture of
humility--"you see what I am."

"If you had stopped to think!" Errington was beginning with unusual
severity, for he was irritated by the confusion in his own mind, which
was so different from his ordinary unhesitating decision between right
and wrong.

"But when you love any one very much--so entirely that you know every
change of the dear face, the meaning even of the drooping hand or the
bend of the weary head; when you know that a true brave heart is
breaking under a load of care--care for you, for your future, when it
will no longer be near to watch over and uphold you--and that no thought
or tenderness or personal exertion can lift that load, only the magic of
gold, why, you would do almost anything to get it. Would you not if you
loved like _this_?" concluded Katherine. She had spoken rapidly and with
fire.

"But I never have," returned Errington, startled.

"Then," said she, with some deliberation, "wisdom for you is from one
entrance quite shut out." She pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, and
was very still during a pause, which Errington hesitated to break.

"It is no doubt lost breath to excuse myself to a man of your character,
only do believe I was not meanly greedy! Now I have told you everything,
I readily resign into your hands what I ought never to have taken.
And--and you will spare my nephews wherewithal to educate them? Do what
I can, this is beyond my powers, but I trust to your generosity not to
let them be a burden on Colonel Ormonde. I leave the will with you." She
made a movement as if to put on her veil.

"Listen to me, Miss Liddell," said Errington, speaking very earnestly
and with an effort. "You are in a state of exaltation, of mental
excitement. The consciousness of the terrible mistake into which you
were tempted has thrown your judgment off its balance. I do not for an
instant doubt the sincerity of your proposition, but a little reflection
will show you I could not entertain it."

"Why not? I am quite willing to bear the blame, the shame, I deserve,
rather than see you parted from the woman who was so nearly your wife,
who would no doubt suffer keenly, and who--"

"Pray hear me," interrupted Errington. "To part with Lady Alice is a
great aggravation of my present troubles; but considering the kind of
life to which we were both accustomed, and which she had a right to
expect, I am sincerely thankful she was preserved from sharing my lot.
Alone I can battle with life; distracted by knowing I had dragged _her_
down, I should be paralyzed. I shall always remember with grateful
regard the lady who honored me by promising to be my wife, but I shall
be glad to know that she is in a safe position under the care of a
worthier man than myself. _That_ matter is at rest forever. Now as to
using the information you have placed in my power, you ask what is
impossible. First, it is evident that the late Mr. Liddell fully
intended to alter his will in your favor. It would have been most unjust
to have bestowed his fortune to me. I am extremely glad it is yours."

"But," again interrupted Katherine, "why should you not share it at
least? Why should you be penniless while I am rich with what is not
mine?"

"I shall not be absolutely penniless," said Errington, smiling gravely.
"Even if I were," he continued, with unusual animation, "do you think me
capable of rebuilding my fortune on your disgrace? or of inventing some
elaborate lie to account for the possession of that unlucky will? No
amount of riches could repay me for either. I dare say the temptation
you describe was irresistible to a nature like yours, and I dare say too
the punishment of your self-condemnation is bitter enough. Now you must
reflect that your duty is to keep the secret to which you have bound
yourself. If you raise the veil which must always hide the true facts of
your succession, you would create great unhappiness and confusion in
Colonel Ormonde's family, and injure the innocent woman whom he would
never have married had he not been sure you would provide for the boys.
It would so cruel to break up a home merely to indulge a morbid desire
for atonement. No, Miss Liddell. Be guided by me; accept the life you
have brought upon yourself. _I_, the only one who has a right to do it,
willingly resign what ought to have been yours without your
unfortunately illegal act. Your secret is perfectly safe with me. Time
will heal the wounds you have inflicted on yourself and enable you to
forget. Leave this ill-omened document with me; it is safer than in your
hands. Indeed there is no use in keeping it."

"But what--what will become of _you?_" she asked, with strange
familiarity, the outcome of strong excitement which carried her over all
conventional limits.

"Oh, I have had some training in the world both of men and books, and I
hope to be able to keep the wolf from the door."

"Would you not accept part at least--a sum of money, you know, to begin
something?" asked Katherine, her voice quivering, her nerves relaxing
from their high tension, and feeling utterly beaten, her high resolves
of sacrifice and renunciation tumbling about her, like a house of cards,
at the touch of common-sense.

"I do not think any arrangements of the kind practicable," returned
Errington, with a kind smile. "I understand your eagerness to relieve
your conscience by an act of restitution, but now you are exonerated. I
ask nothing but that you should forgive yourself, and knit up the
ravelled web of your life. The fortune ought to be yours--is
yours--shall be yours."

"Will you promise that if you ever want help--money help--you will ask
me? I shall have more money every year, for I shall never spend my
income."

"I shall not want help," he returned, quietly. "But though it is not
likely we shall meet again, believe me I shall always be glad to know
you are well and happy. Let this painful conversation be the last we
have on this subject. For my part, I grant you plenary absolution."

"You are good and generous; you are wise too; your judgment constrains
me. Yet I hope I shall _never_ see you again. It is too humiliating to
meet your eyes." She spoke brokenly as she tied the white veil closely
over her face.

"Nevertheless we part friends," said Errington, and held out his hand.
She put hers in it. He felt how it trembled, and held it an instant with
a friendly pressure. Then he opened the door and followed her to the
entrance, where he bowed low as she passed out.

Errington returned at once to his writing-table and his calculations. He
took up his pen, but he did not begin to write. He leaned back in his
chair and fell into an interesting train of thought. What an
extraordinary mad proceeding it was of that girl to conceal the will! It
was strangely unprincipled. "How impossible it is to trust a person who
acts from impulse! The difference between masculine and feminine
character is immense. No man with a grain of honor in him would have
done what she did; only some dastardly hound who could cheat at cards.
And she--somehow she seems a pure good woman in spite of all. I suppose
in a woman's sensitive and weaker nature good and evil are less
distinct, more shaded into each other. After all, I think I would trust
my life to the word of this daring law-breaker." And Errington recalled
the expressive tones of her voice, surprised to feel again the strange
thrill which shivered through him when she had looked straight into his
eyes, her own aglow with momentary defiance, and said, "Had it to be
done again, I'd do it!" He had never been brought face to face with real
emotion before. He knew such a thing existed; that it led like most
things to good and to evil; that it was exceedingly useful to poets, who
often touched him, and to actors, who did not; but in real every-day
life he had rarely, if ever, seen it. The people with whom he associated
were rich, well born, well trained; a crumpled rose leaf here and there
was the worst trouble in their easy, conventional, luxurious lives. Of
course he had met men on the road to ruin who swore and drank and
gambled and generally disgraced themselves. Such cases, however, did not
affect him much; he only touched such characters with moral tongs. Now
this delicate, refined girl had humbled herself before him. Her sweet
varying tones, her moist glowing eyes, the indescribable tremulous
earnestness which was the undertone of all she said, her determined
efforts for self-command, made a deep impression on him. Was she right
when she said that from him "wisdom by one entrance was quite shut out?"
At all events he felt, though he did not consciously acknowledge it even
to himself, that this impulsive, inexperienced girl, whom he strove to
look down upon from the unsullied heights of his own integrity, had
revealed to him something of life's inner core which had hitherto been
hidden from his sight.

But all this dreaming was unpardonable waste of time when so much
serious work lay before him. So Errington resolutely turned from his
unusual and disturbing reverie, dipped his pen in the ink, and began to
write steadily.



CHAPTER XX.

PLENARY ABSOLUTION.


Katherine never could distinctly remember what she did after leaving
Errington. She was humbled in the dust--crushed, dazed. She felt that
every one must perceive the stamp of "felon" upon her.

The passionate desire to restore his rightful possessions to Errington,
to confess all, had carried her through the dreadful interview. She was
infinitely grateful to him for the kind tact with which he concealed the
profound contempt her confession must have evoked, but no doubt that
sentiment was now in full possession of his mind. It showed in his
unhesitating, even scornful, rejection of her offered restitution. She
almost regretted having made the attempt, and yet she had a kind of
miserable satisfaction in having told the truth, the whole truth, to
Errington; anything was better than wearing false colors in his sight.

It was this sense of deception that had embittered her intercourse with
him at Castleford; otherwise she would have been gratified by his grave
friendly preference.

How calm, how unmoved, he seemed amid the wreck of his fortunes. Yes,
his was true strength--the strength of self-mastery. How different, how
far nobler than the vehemence of De Burgh's will, which was too strong
for his guidance! But Lady Alice could never have loved
Errington--never--or she would have loved on and waited for him till the
time came when union might be possible. Had _she_ been in her place! But
at the thought her heart throbbed wildly with the sudden perception that
_she_ could have loved him well, with all her soul, and rested on him,
confident in his superior wisdom and strength--a woman's ideal love. And
before this man she had been obliged to lay down her self-respect, to
confess she had cheated him basely, to resign his esteem for ever! It
was a bitter punishment, but even had she been stainless and he a free
man, she, Katherine, was not the sort of girl _he_ would like. She was
too impulsive, too much at the mercy of her emotions, too quick in
forming and expressing opinions. No; the feminine reserve and
tranquility of Lady Alice were much more likely to attract his
affections and call forth his respect. This was an additional ingredient
of bitterness, and Katherine felt herself an outcast, undeserving of
tenderness or esteem.

The weather was oppressively warm and sunless. A dim instinctive
recollection of her excuse for coming to town forced Katherine to visit
some of the shops where she was in the habit of dealing, and then she
sat for more than a weary hour in the Ladies' Room at Waterloo Station,
affecting to read a newspaper which she did not see, waiting for the
train that would take her home to the darkness and stillness in which
friendly night would hide her for a while. The journey back was a
continuation of the same tormenting dream-like semi-consciousness, and
by the time she reached Cliff Cottage she felt physically ill.

"It was dreadfully foolish to go up to town in this heat," said Miss
Payne, severely, when she brought up some tea to Katherine's room, where
she retreated on her arrival. "I dare say you could have written for
what you wanted."

"Not exactly"--with a faint smile.

"I never saw you look so ill. You must take some sal volatile, and lie
down. If there had been much sun, I should have said you had had a
sunstroke. I hope, however, a good night's rest will set you up."

"No doubt it will; so I will try and sleep now."

"Quite right. I will leave you, and tell the boys you cannot see them
till to-morrow." So Miss Payne, who had a grand power of minding her own
affairs and abstaining from troublesome questions, softly closed the
door behind her.


It took some time to rally from the overwhelming humiliation of this
crisis. Katherine came slowly back to herself, yet not quite herself.
Miss Payne had been so much disturbed by her loss of appetite, of
energy, of color, that she had insisted on consulting the local doctor,
who pronounced her to be suffering from low fever and nervous
depression. He prescribed tonics and warm sea-water baths, which advice
Katherine meekly followed. Soon, to the pride of the Sandbourne
Æsculapius, a young practitioner, she showed signs of improvement, and
declared herself perfectly well.

Perhaps the tonic which had assisted her to complete recovery was a
letter which reached her about a week after the interview that had
affected her so deeply. It was addressed in large, firm, clear writing,
which was strange to her.



"I venture to trouble you with a few words," (it ran) "because when last
I saw you I was profoundly impressed by the suffering you could not
hide. I cannot refrain from writing to entreat you will accept the
position in which you are placed. Having done your best to rectify what
is now irrevocable, be at peace with your conscience. I am the only
individual entitled to complain or interfere with your succession, and I
fully, freely make over to you any rights I possess. Had your uncle's
fortune passed to me, it would have been an injustice for which I should
have felt bound to atone: nor would you have refused my proposition to
this effect. Consider this page of your life blotted out, casting it
from your mind. Use and enjoy your future as a woman of your nature, so
far as I understand it, can do. It will probably be long before I see
you again--which I regret the less because it might pain you to meet me
before time has blunted the keen edge of your self-reproach. Absent or
present, however, I shall always be glad to know that you are well and
happy.
         "Will you let me have a line in reply?
               "Yours faithfully,              MILES ERRINGTON."



The perusal of this letter brought Katherine the infinite relief of
tears. How good and generous he was! How heartily she admired him! How
gladly she confessed her own inferiority to him! Forgiven by him, she
could face life again with a sort of humble courage. But oh! it would
be impossible to meet his eyes. No; years would not suffice to blunt the
keen self-reproach which the thought of him must always call up--the
shame, the pride, the dread, the tender gratitude. Long and passionately
she wept before she could recover sufficiently to write him the reply he
asked. Then it seemed to her that the bitterness and cruel remorse had
been melted and washed away by these warm grateful tears. He forgave
her, and she could endure the pressure of her shameful secret more
easily in future. At last she took her pen, and feeling that the lines
she was about to trace would be a final farewell, wrote:


"My words must be few, for none I can find will express my sense of the
service _yours_ have done me. I accept your gift. I will try and follow
your advice. Shall the day ever come when you will honor me by accepting
part of what is your own? Thank you for your kind suggestion not to meet
me; it would be more than I could bear. Yours,   KATHERINE."


Then with deepest regret she tore up his precious letter into tiny
morsels, and striking a match, consumed them. It would not do to incur
the possibility of such a letter being read by any third pair of eyes.
Moreover, she was careful to post her reply herself. And so, as
Errington said, that page of her story was blotted out, at least, from
the exterior world, but to her own mind it would be ever present: round
this crisis her deepest, most painful, ay, and sweetest memories would
cling. It was past, however, and she must take up her life again.

She felt something of the weakness, the softness, which convalescents
experience when first they begin to go about after a long illness, the
dreamy, quiet pleasure of coming back to life. The boys continued to be
her deepest interest. So time went on, and no one seemed to perceive the
subtle change which had sobered her spirit.

The season was over, and Mrs. Ormonde descended on Cliff Cottage for a
parting visit. She had only given notice of her approach by a telegram.

"You know you are quite too obstinate, Katherine," she said, as the
sisters-in-law sat together in the drawing-room, waiting for the cool of
the evening before venturing out. "You never came to me all through the
season except once, when you wanted to shop, and now you refuse to join
us at Castleford in September, when we are to have really quite a nice
party: Mr. De Burgh and Lord Riversdale and--oh! several really good
men."

"I dare say I do seem stupid to you, but then, you see, I know what I
want. You are very good to wish for me. Next year I shall be very
pleased to pay you a visit."

"Then what in the world will you do in the winter?"

"Remain where I am--I mean with Miss Payne--and look out for a house for
myself."

"But, my dear, you are much too young to live alone."

"I am twenty-one now; I shall be twenty-two by the time I am settled in
a house of my own. And, Ada, I am going to ask you a favor. Lend me your
boys to complete my respectability."

"What! for altogether? Why, Katherine, you will marry, and--"

"Well, suppose I do, that need not prevent my having the comfort of my
nephews' company until the fatal knot is tied."

"Now, dear Katherine, _do_ tell me--_are_ you engaged to any one? Not a
foreigner?--anything but a foreigner!"

"At present," said Katherine, with some solemnity, "I am engaged to two
young men."

"My dear! You of all young girls! I am astonished. There is nothing so
deep, after all, as a demure young woman. I suppose you are in a scrape,
and want Colonel Ormonde to help you out of it?"

"I think I can manage my own affairs."

"Don't be too sure. A girl with money like you is just the subject for a
breach-of-promise case. Do I know either of these men?"

"Yes, both."

"Who are they?" cried Mrs. Ormonde, with deepening interest.

"Cis and Charlie," returned Katherine, laughing.

"I really cannot see anything amusing in this sort of stupid
mystification," cried Mrs. Ormonde, in a huff.

"Pray forgive me; but your determination to marry me out of hand tempts
me to such naughtiness. However, be forgiving, and lend me the boys till
next spring. They might go to Castleford for Christmas."

"Oh no," interrupted Mrs. Ormonde, hastily. "I forgot to mention that
Ormonde has almost promised to spend next Christmas in Paris. It is such
a nuisance to be in one's own place at Christmas; there is such work
distributing blankets and coals and things. If one is away, a check to
the rector settles everything. I assure you the life of a country
gentleman is not all pleasure."

"Then you will let me have the boys?"

"Well, dear, if you really like it, I do not see, when you have such a
fancy, why you should not be indulged."

"Thank you. And I may choose a school for Cis?"

"I am sure the neither Ormonde nor I would interfere; just now it is of
no great importance. But--of course--that is--I should like some
allowance for myself out of their money."

"Of course you should have whatever you are in the habit of receiving."

After this, Mrs. Ormonde was most cordial in her approbation of
everything suggested by her sister-in-law. The friendly conversation was
interrupted by the entrance of Cecil with his satchel over his shoulder.
He went straight to his young aunt and hugged her.

"Well, Cis, I see you don't care for mother now," exclaimed Mrs.
Ormonde, easily moved to jealousy, as she always was.

"Oh yes, I do! only you don't like me to jump on you, and auntie doesn't
mind about her clothes." And he kissed her heartily.

"Do you want to come back to Castleford?"

"What, now? when the holidays begin next week?"--this with a rueful
expression. "Why, we were to have a sailing boat, and old Norris the
sailor and his boy are to come out every evening."

"Then you don't want to come?"

"Oh, mayn't we stay a little longer, mother? It _is_ so nice here!"

"You may stay as long as your aunt cares to keep you, for all I care,"
cried Mrs. Ormonde, somewhat spitefully.

"Oh, thank you, mother dear--thank you!" throwing his arms round her
neck. "I'll be such a good boy when I come back; but it _is_ nice here.
Then you have baby, and he does not worry you as much as we do."
Katherine thought this a very significant reply.

"There! there!" cried Mrs. Ormonde, disengaging herself from the warm
clinging arms. "Go and wash your hands; they are frightfully dirty."

"It's clean dirt, mother. I stopped on the beach to help Tom Damer to
build up a sand fort."

"Why did Miss North let you?"

"Oh, I was by myself! I don't want _any_ one to take care of me," said
Cecil, proudly.

"Good heavens! do you let the child walk about alone?" cried Mrs.
Ormonde, with an air of surprise and indignation.

"Run away to Miss North," said Katherine, and as Cecil left the room she
replied: "As Cecil is nine years old, Ada, and a very bright boy, I
think he may very well be let to take care of himself. The school is not
far, and he cannot learn independence too soon."

"Perhaps so. But of course you know better than I do. You were always
more learned, and all that; besides, you are not over anxious, as a
mother would be."

"Nor careless either," said Katherine thinking of the nights at
Castleford when she used to steal to the bedside, of little feverish,
restless Charlie, while his mother kept within the bounds of her own
luxurious chamber.

"No, no; certainly not," returned Mrs. Ormonde, remembering it was as
well not to offend so strong a person as she felt Katherine to be. "Only
Cecil is a tiresome, self-willed boy, and very likely to get into
mischief."

"If you wish it, Ada, I shall, of course, have him escorted to and fro
to school."

"Oh, just as you like. I suppose you know the place better than I do."

"Colonel Ormonde has never come down to see me," resumed Katherine,
after a pause. "You must tell him I am quite hurt."

"Well, dear, you must know that Duke is rather vexed with you."

"Vexed with me! Why?" asked Katherine, opening her eyes.

"You see, he thinks you ought to have come to us for a while; and then
De Burgh came back from this last time in such a bad temper that my
husband thought you were not behaving well to him--making a fool of him,
in short; inviting him down here to amuse yourself, and then refusing
him, if you _did_ refuse."

"No, I did not; for Mr. De Burgh never gave me an opportunity," cried
Katherine, indignantly. "Nor did I ever ask him here. I cannot prevent
his coming and lodging at the hotel. I am quite ready to talk to him,
because he amuses me, but I am not bound to marry every man who does.
Tell Colonel Ormonde so, with my compliments."

"I am sure _I_ don't want you to marry De Burgh! Indeed, I am surprised
at Duke; but you see, being chums and relations (and men stick together
so), that he only thinks of De Burgh, who, _entre nous_, has been
awfully fast. He _is_ amusing, and very _distingue_, but I am afraid he
only cares for your money, dear."

"Very likely," returned Katherine, with much composure.

"Then another reason why the Colonel does not care to come down is that
he has a great dislike to that Miss Payne. _She_ is really hostess here,
and it worries Duke to have to be civil to her."

"Why?" asked Katherine. "I can imagine her being an object of perfect
indifference; but dislike--no!"

"Well, dear, men never like that sort of women;--people, you know, who
eke out their living by--doing things, when they are plain and old.
Handsome adventuresses are quite another affair--they are amusing and
attractive."

"How absurd and unreasonable!"

"Yes, of course; they are all like that. Then he thinks Miss Payne has a
bad and dangerous influence on you. He disapproves of your living on
with her, for you don't take the position you ought, and--"

Katherine laughed good-humoredly as Mrs. Ormonde paused, not knowing
very well how to finish her speech. "Colonel Ormonde will hide the light
of his countenance from me, then, I am afraid, for a long time; for I
like Miss Payne, and I am going to stay with her for the period agreed
upon; and I will _not_ marry Mr. De Burgh, nor will I let him ask me to
do so, for there is a degree of honesty about him which I like. You may
repeat all this to your husband, Ada, and add that but for a lucky
chance his wife and myself would have been among the sort of women who
eke out their living by doing things. I don't think I should be afraid
of attempting self-support if all my money were swept away."

"Don't talk of such a thing!" cried Mrs. Ormonde, turning pale. "Thank
God what you have settled on the boys is safe!"

Katherine's half-contemptuous good humor carried her serenely through
this rather irritating visit, but the totally different train of thought
which it evoked assisted her to recover her ordinary mental tone. It
was, however, touched by a minor key of sadness, of humility (save when
roused by any moving cause to indignation), which gave the charm of soft
pensiveness to her manner.

Mrs. Ormonde was rather in a hurry to go back to town, as she had
important interviews impending with milliner and dressmaker prior to a
visit to Lady Mary Vincent at Cowes, from which she expected the most
brilliant results, for the little woman's social ambition grew with what
it fed upon. Nor did the rational repose of Katherine's life suit her.
Books, music, out-door existence, were a weariness, and in spite of her
loudly declared affection for her sister-in-law she found a curious
restraint in conversing with her.

They parted, therefore, with many kind expressions and much
satisfaction.

"I will write you an account of all our doings at Cowes. I expect it
will be very gay and pleasant there. How I wish you were to be of the
party, instead of moping here!" said Mrs. Ormonde.

"Thank you. I should like it all, no doubt, but not just now. I will
keep you informed of our small doings."

So Mrs. Ormonde steamed on her way rejoicing, and Katherine re-entered a
pretty low pony-carriage in which she drove a pair of quiet, well-broken
ponies, selected for her by Bertie Payne, whose conversion had not
obliterated his carnal knowledge of horseflesh. A small groom always
accompanied her, for though improved by the practice of driving, she did
not like to be alone with her steeds.

She had nearly reached the chief street of Sandbourne, when a tall
gentleman in yachting dress strolled slowly round the corner of a lane
which led to the beach. He paused and raised his hat. She recognized De
Burgh and drew up.

"And so you are driving in capital style," was his greeting; "all by
yourself, too. Will you give me a lift back?"

"Certainly. Where have you come from?"

"Melford's yacht. I escorted my revered relative, old De Burgh, down to
Cowes. He has a little villa there. As he has grown quite civil of late,
I think it right to encourage him. Melford was there, and invited me to
take a short cruise. So I made him land me here just now. The yacht is
still in the offing. Lady Alice was on board."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Katherine, with much interest. "How is she?"

"So far as one can judge from the exterior, remarkably well, and exactly
the same as ever. It is rather funny, but they had Renshaw on board too,
the son of the big brewer who has bought, or is going to buy,
Errington's house in Berkeley Square. I fancy it is not impossible he
may come in for Errington's ex-_fiancee_ as well as his ex-residence."

"It cannot be, surely!" cried Katherine, flushing with a curious
feeling.

"Why not? I don't say immediately. I have no doubt everything will be
done decently and in order."

"Well, it is incomprehensible."

"Not to me. What can--(Make that little brute on the off side keep up to
the collar. You want a few lessons from me still.) What can a girl like
Lady Alice do? She is an earl's daughter. She cannot dig; to beg she is
ashamed; she must therefore take to herself a husband from the mammon of
unaristocratic money-grubbers."

"I should like to meet her again--poor Lady Alice!" said Katherine, more
to herself than to her companion.

"I think you are wasting your commiseration," he returned. "She seems
quite happy."

"She may be successful in hiding her feelings."

De Burgh laughed. "Tell me," he asked, "do you really think Errington is
the sort of fellow women break their hearts about?"

"I cannot tell. He seems to me very good and very nice."

"That is a goody-goody description. Well done!"--as Katherine guided
her ponies successfully through the gate of her abode and turned them
round the gravel sweep. "I must say you have a pretty little nook here."

"Had you arrived an hour sooner you would have seen Mrs. Ormonde. I have
just seen her off by the 12.30 train. She has been paying us a farewell
visit, and is gone to Lady Mary Vincent."

"Indeed! She will have her cup of pleasure running over there; they live
in a flutter of gayety all day long."

Here De Burgh sprang to the ground and assisted Katherine to alight.

"Will you lunch with us?" she asked, an additional tinge of color
mounting to her cheek; for she knew De Burgh was no favorite of Miss
Payne, who was no doubt rejoicing at the prospect of repose and
deliverance from their late guest, who generally managed to rub her
hostess the wrong way.

"You are very kind. I shall be delighted."

While Katherine went ostensibly to put aside her hat--really to warn
Miss Payne--De Burgh strolled into the drawing-room. How cool and fresh
and sweet with abundant flowers it was! An air of refined homeliness
about it, the work and books and music on the open piano, spoke of
well-occupied repose. Its simplicity was graceful, and indicated the
presence of a cultured woman.

De Burgh wandered to the window--a wide bay--and took from a table which
stood in it a cabinet photograph of Katherine, taken about a year
before. He was absorbed in contemplating it when she came in, and he
made a step to meet her. "This is very good," he said. "Where was it
taken?"

"In Florence."

"It is like"--looking intently at her, and then at the picture. "But you
are changed in some indescribable way, changed since I saw you last,
years ago--that is, a month--isn't it a month since you drove me from
paradise?--but _you_ don't remember."

"But, Mr. De Burgh, I did not drive you away. You got bored, and went
away of your own free-will."

"I shall not argue the point with you--not now; but tell me," with a
very steady gaze into her eyes, "has anything happened since I left to
waken up your soul? It was by no means asleep when I saw you last, but
it has met with an eye-opener of some kind, I am convinced."

"I should not have given you credit for so much imagination, Mr. De
Burgh."

Here Miss Payne made her appearance, and the boys followed. They were
treated with unusual good-humor and _bonhomie_ by De Burgh, who actually
took Charlie on his knee and asked him some questions about boating,
which occupied them till lunch was announced.

Miss Payne was too much accustomed to yield to circumstances not to
accept De Burgh's attempts to be amiable and agreeable. He could be
amusing when he chose; there was an odd abruptness, a candid avowal of
his views and opinions, when he was in the mood, that attracted
Katherine.

"You _are_ a funny man!" said Cecil, after gazing at him in silence as
he finished his repast. "I wish you would come out in the boat with us.
Auntie said we might go."

"Very well; ask her if I may come."

"He may, mayn't he?"--chorus from both boys.

"Yes, if you really care to come: but do not let the children tease
you."

"Do you give me credit for being ready to do what I don't like?"

"I can't say I do."

"When do you start on this expedition?"

"About seven, which will interfere with your dinner, for Miss Payne and
I have adopted primitive habits, and do not dine late; we indulge in
high tea instead."

"Nevertheless, I shall meet you at the jetty. Till then adieu."

"May we come with you?" cried the boys together--"just as far as the
hotel?"

"No, dears; you must stay at home," said Katherine, decidedly.

"Then do let him come and see how the puppy is. He has grown quite big."

"Yes, I'll come round to the kennel if you'll show me the way," replied
De Burgh, with a smiling glance at Katherine. "Till this evening, then,"
he added, and bowing to Miss Payne, left the room, the boys capering
beside him.

"I should say that man has breakfasted on honey this morning," observed
Miss Payne, with a sardonic smile. "Does he think that he has only to
come, to see, and to conquer?"

"He has been quite pleasant," said Katherine. "I wonder why he is not
always nice? He used to be almost rude at Castleford sometimes." She
paused, while Miss Payne rose from the table and began to lock away the
wine. "I wonder what has become of Mr. Payne? He has not been here for a
long time."

"What made you think of him?" asked his sister, sharply.

"I suppose the force of contrast reminded me of him. What a difference
between Bertie and Mr. De Burgh!--your brother living only to help
others, and utterly forgetful of self; he regardless of everything but
the gratification of his own fancies--at least so far as we can see."

"Yes; Mr. De Burgh can hardly be termed a true Christian. Still, Gilbert
is rather too weak and credulous. I suspect he is very often taken in."

"Is it not better he should be sometimes, dear Miss Payne, than that
some poor deserving creature should perish for want of help?"

"Well, I don't know. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and
if that law were more carefully obeyed, fewer would need help."

"Life is an unsolvable problem," said Katherine, and the remark reminded
her of her humble friend Rachel. She therefore sat down and wrote her a
kind, sympathetic letter, feeling some compunction for having allowed so
long an interval to elapse since her last.

Her own troubles had occupied her too much. Now that time was beginning
to accustom her to their weight, her deep interest in Rachel revived
even with more than its original force. Katherine did not make intimates
readily. Let there be ever so small a nook in the mind, ever so tiny an
incident in the past, which must be hidden from all eyes, and there can
be no free pass for outsiders, however dear or valued, to the sanctum of
the heart, which must remain sealed, a whispering gallery for its own
memories and aspirations. But Rachel Trant never dreamed of receiving
confidence, nor, after once having strung herself up to tell her sad
story, did she allude to her bitter past, save by an occasional word
expressing her profound sense of the new life she owed to Katherine; nor
did the latter, when talking with her face to face, ever realize that
there was any social difference between them. Rachel's voice, manner,
diction, and natural refinement were what might be expected from a
gentlewoman, only that through all sounded a strain of harsh strength,
the echo of that fierce despair from whose grip the tender consideration
of her new friend had delivered her. The evening's sail was very
tranquil and soothing. De Burgh was agreeable in the best way; that is,
he was sympathetically silent, except when Katherine spoke to him. The
boys and their governess sat together in the bow of the boat, where they
talked merrily together, occasionally running aft to ask more profound
questions of De Burgh and auntie. Fear of rheumatism and discomfort
generally kept Miss Payne at home on these occasions.

De Burgh walked with Miss Liddell to her own door, but wisely refused to
enter. "No," he mused, as he proceeded to his hotel; "I have had enough
of a _solitude a trois_. It's an uncomfortable, tantalizing thing, and
though I have been positively angelic for the last seven or eight hours,
I can't stand any more intercourse under Miss Payne's paralyzing optics.
I wonder if any fellow can keep up a heavenly calm for more than
twenty-four hours? Depends on the circulation of the blood. I wonder
still more if it is possible that Katherine is more disposed to like me
than she was? She is somehow different than when I was here last. So
divinely soft and kind! I have known a score or two of fascinating
women, and gone wild about a good many, but _this_ is different, why the
deuce should she _not_ love me? Most of the others did. Why? God knows.
I'll try my luck; she seems in a propitious mood."



CHAPTER XXI.

"NO."


Next morning's post brought a letter from Bertie, which was a kind of
complement to Katherine's reflections of the night before. After
explaining that he had hitherto been unable to take a holiday from his
various avocations, he promised to spend the following week with his
sister and Miss Liddell. He then described the success of Mrs. Needham's
bazar, and proceeded thus:

"Meeting my old friend Mrs. Dodd a few days ago, I was sorry to find
from her that your favorite, Rachel Trant, had been very unwell. She had
had a great deal of work, thanks to your kind efforts on her behalf, and
sat at it early and late; then she took cold. I went to see her, and
found her in a state of extreme depression, like that from which you
succeeded in rousing her. I think it would be well if she could have a
little change. Are there any cheap, humble lodgings at Sandbourne, where
she might pass a week or two? I shall pass this matter in your hands."

"I am sure old Norris's wife would take her in. They have a nice
cottage, almost on the beach, close to the point."

"No doubt. Really that Rachel of yours is in great luck. I wonder how
many poor girls in London are dying for a breath of sea-air?"

"Ah, hundreds, I fear. But then, you see, they have not been brought
under my notice, and Rachel has; so I will do the best I can for her. I
am sure she is no common woman."

"At all events she has no common luck."

Katherine lost no time in visiting Mrs. Norris, and found that she was
in the habit of letting a large, low, but comfortable room upstairs,
where the bed was gorgeous with a patchwork quilt of many colors, and
permitting her lodgers to dine in a small parlor, which was her own
sitting-room.

The old woman had not had any "chance" that season, as she termed it,
and gladly agreed to take the young person recommended by her husband's
liberal employer. So Katherine walked back to write both to Bertie and
their _protegee_.

During her absence De Burgh had called, but left no message. And
Katherine felt a little sorry to have missed him, as she thought it
probable he would go on to town that afternoon, and she wanted to hear
some tidings of Errington, yet could hardly nerve herself to ask.

The evening was gloriously fine, and as Miss Payne did not like boating,
the pony-carriage was given up to her, the boys, and Miss North the
governess, for a long drive to a farm-house where the boys enjoyed
rambling about, and Miss Payne bought new-laid eggs.

When they had set out, Katherine took a white woolen shawl over her
arm--for even in July the breeze was sometimes chill at sundown--and
strolled along the road, or rather cart track, which led between the
cliffs and the sea to the boatman's cottage. She passed this, nodding
pleasantly to the sturdy old man, who was busy in his cabbage garden,
and pursued a path which led as far as a footing could be found, to
where the sea washed against the point. It was a favorite spot with
Katherine, who was tolerably sure of being undisturbed here. The view
across the bay was tranquilly beautiful; the older part of Sandbourne
only, with the pretty old inn, was visible from her rocky seat among the
bowlders and debris which had fallen from above, while the old tower at
the opposite point of the bay stood out black and solid against the
flood of golden light behind it. She sat there very still, enjoying the
air, the scene, the sweet salt breath of the sea, thinking intently of
Rachel Trant's experience, of her fatal weakness, of the unpitying
severity of that rule of law under which we social atoms are
constrained to live; of the evident fact that were we but wise and good
we might always be the beneficent arbiters of our own fate; that there
are few pleasures which have not their price; and after all, though she,
Katherine, had paid high for hers, it had not cost too much, considering
she had been groping in the dimness of imperfect knowledge. Oh, hew she
wished she had never attempted to act providence to her mother and
herself, but trusted to Errington's sense of generosity and justice! Of
course it would have been humiliating to beg from a stranger, yet before
that stranger she had been compelled to lower herself to the dust, and--

The unwonted sound of approaching feet startled her. She turned, to see
De Burgh within speaking distance. "I am like Robinson Crusoe in my
solitude here," she said, smiling. "I turn pale at the sound of an
unexpected step, as he did at the print of Friday's foot."

"And to continue the smile," he returned, leaning against a rock near
her, "the footprint or step, as in Crusoe's case, only announces the
advent of a devoted slave." He spoke lightly, and Katherine scarce
noticed what seemed to her an idle compliment.

"I fancied you had gone to town," she said.

"No; I am not going to town; I don't know or care where I am going. Some
kind friends might say I am on my way to the dogs."

"I hope not," said Katherine, gravely. "I imagine, Mr. De Burgh, that if
you had some object of ambition--"

"I should become an Admirable Crichton? I don't think so. There are such
dreary pauses in the current of all careers!"

"Of course. You would not live in a tornado!"

"I am not so sure"--laughing. "At all events I shall never be satisfied
with still life like our friend Errington."

"Do you know anything of him? Mrs. Ormonde never mentions his name."

"Of course not; when a fellow can't keep pace with his peers, away with
him, crucify him."

"As long as a few special friends are true----"

"If they are," interrupted De Burgh; and Katherine did not resume,
hoping he would continue the theme, which he did, saying: "He has left
his big house, gone into chambers somewhere, and has I believe, taken up
literature, politics, and social subjects. So Lady Mary Vincent says. I
fancy he is a clever fellow in a cast-iron style."

"What a change for him!"

"I believe there was something coming to him out of the wreck, and I
think he is a sort of man who will float. I never liked him myself,
chiefly, I fancy, because I know he doesn't like me. Indeed, I don't
care for people in general." There was a pause, during which Katherine
glanced at her companion, and was struck by his sombre expression, the
stern compression of his lips.

"Did you call at the cottage?" she asked.

"No; you were out this morning, and I did not like to intrude again," he
laughed. "Growing modest in my sere and yellow days, you see; so I
thought I should perhaps find you here, as I saw your numerous party
drive past the hotel."

"I like this corner, and often come here. But, Mr. De Burgh, you look as
if the times were out of joint."

"So they are"--suddenly seating himself on a flat stone nearly at
Katherine's feet, leaning his elbow on another, and resting his head on
his hand, so as to look up easily in her face.

"What gloomy dark eyes he has!" she thought.

"I should like to tell you why," he went on.

"Very well," returned Katherine, who felt a little uneasy.

"I am pretty considerably in debt, to begin with. If I paid up I should
have about three half-pence a year to live on. Besides my debts I have
an unconscionably ancient relative whose title and a beggarly five
thousand a year must come to me when he dies, if he ever dies. This
venerable impediment has some hundred or more thousands which he can
bequeath to whom he likes. Hitherto he has not considered me a credit to
the family. Well, I went to him the other day, on his own invitation,
and to my amazement he offered to pay my debts--on one condition."

"I do hope he will," cried Katherine, as De Burgh paused. She was quite
interested and relieved by the tone of his narrative.

"Ay, but there's the rub. I can't fulfil the condition, I fear. It is
that I should marry a woman rich enough to replace the money my debts
will absorb; a particular woman who doesn't care for me, and whom,
knowing the hideous tangle of motives that hangs round the central idea
of winning her, I am almost ashamed to ask; but a woman that any man
might court; a woman I have loved from the first moment my eyes met
hers, who has haunted and distracted me ever since, and who is, I dare
say, a great deal too good for me; but a creature I will strive to win,
no matter what the cost of success. This girl or rather (for there is a
richness and ripeness of nature about her which deserves the term) this
fair, sweet woman--I need not name her to you." He stopped, and his
passionate pleading eyes held hers. Katherine grew white, half with
fear, half with sincere compassion. She tried to speak. At last the
words came.

"You make me terribly sad, Mr. De Burgh," she said, with trembling lips.
"You make me _so_ sorry that I cannot marry you; but I cannot--indeed I
cannot. Will Lord De Burgh not pay your debts if he knows you have done
your best to persuade me to marry you?"

De Burgh laughed a cynical laugh. "You are infinitely practical,
Katherine. (I am going to call you Katherine for the next few minutes.
Because I think of you as Katherine, I love to speak your name to
yourself; it seems to bring me a little nearer to you.) Listen to me.
Don't you think you could endure me as a husband? I am a better fellow
than I seem, and mine is no foolish boy's fancy. I am a better man when
I am near you. Then this old cousin of mine will leave me all he
possesses if you are my wife, and the Baroness de Burgh, with money
enough to keep her place among her peers, would have no mean position;
nor is a husband passionately devoted to you unworthy of
consideration."

"It is not indeed. But, Mr. De Burgh, do you honestly think that
devotion would last? These violent feelings often work their own
destruction."

"Ay: God knows they do, amazingly fast," he returned, with a sigh and a
far-away look. "But what you say applies to all men. If you ever marry
you must run the risk of inconstancy in the man you accept. I am at
least old enough and experienced enough to value a good woman when I
have found one, especially when she does not make her goodness a bore.
And you--you have inspired me with something different from anything I
have ever felt before. Yes, yes," he went on, angrily, as he noticed a
slight smile on her lips. "I see you try to treat this as only the
stereotype talk of a lover who wants your money more than yourself; but
if you listen to the judgment of your own heart, it is true and honest
enough to recognize truth in another, and it will tell you that,
whatever my faults (and they are legion), sneaking and duplicity are not
among them. It is quite true that when first I heard of you I thought
your fortune would be just the thing to put me right, as I have no doubt
my dear friend Mrs. Ormonde has impressed upon you, but from the moment
I first spoke to you I felt, I knew, there was something about you
different from other women. I also knew that in the effort to win the
heiress I was heavily handicapped by the sudden strong passion for the
woman which seized me."

"That surely ought to have been a means of success?" said Katherine, a
good deal interested in his account of himself.

"No: it made me, for the first time in my life, hesitating,
self-distrustful, and awfully disgusted at having to take your money
into consideration. Had you been an ordinary woman, ready to exchange
your fortune for the social position I could give my wife, and perhaps
with a certain degree of liking for the kind of free-lance reputation I
am told I possess, I should have carried my point, and presented the
future Baroness de Burgh to my venerable kinsman months ago."

"And suppose the unfortunate heiress had been a soft-hearted, simple
girl?" said Katherine, with a slight faltering in her tones. "Suppose
she were credulous, loving, attracted by you--you are probably
attractive to some women--and married you believing in your
disinterested affection?"

De Burgh, who had risen from half-recumbent position, and stood leaning
against a larger fragment of rock, paused before he replied: "I think
that I am a gentleman enough not to be a brute, but I rather believe a
woman of the type you describe would not have a blissful existence with
me."

"I am sure of it. You are quite capable of making the life of such a
woman too dreadful to think of." She shuddered slightly.

De Burgh looked curiously at her. "If you will have the goodness to
undertake my punishment," he said, "by marrying me without love, and
letting me prove how earnestly I could serve you and strive to win it,
I'll strike the bargain this moment. I have been reckless and
unfortunate. Now give me a chance; for I _do_ love you, Katherine. I'd
love you if you were the humblest of undowered women."

The tears stood in her eyes, for the passion and feeling in his voice
struck home to her.

"I believe it," she said, softly, "and I am almost sorry I cannot love
you. But I do not, nor do I think I ever could. You will find others
quite as likely to draw forth your affection as I am. But there are some
natural barriers of disposition, and--oh, I cannot define what--which
hold us apart. Yet I am interested in you, and would like to know you
were happy. Yet, Mr. De Burgh, I must not sacrifice my life to you. If I
did, the result might not be satisfactory even to yourself."

"Sacrifice your life! What an unflattering expression!" cried De Burgh,
with a hard laugh. "So there is no hope for me?"

Katherine shook her head.

"I felt there was but little when I began," he said, as if to himself.
"Tell me, are you free? Has some more fortunate fellow than myself
touched that impregnable heart of yours? I know I have no right to ask
such a question."

"You have not indeed, Mr. De Burgh. And if I could not with truth say
'no,' I should be vexed with you for asking it. Weighted as I am with
money enough to excite the greed of ordinary struggling men, I shall not
be in a hurry to renounce my comfortable independence."

De Burgh's eyes again held hers with a look of entreaty. "That
independence will last just as long as your heart escapes the influence
of the man whom you will love one day; for though love lies sleeping, it
is in you, and will spring to life some time, all the stronger and more
irresistible because his birth has not come early. _Then_ you will feel
more for _me_ than you do now."

"I do feel for you, Mr. De Burgh"--raising her moist eyes to his.

"Thank you"--taking her hand and kissing it. "Will you, then be my
friend, and promise not to banish me? I'll be sensible, and give you no
trouble."

"Oh yes, certainly," said Katherine, glad to be able to comfort him in
any way; and she withdrew her hand.

"I am not going to worry you with my presence now," he continued. "I
shall say good-by for the present. I am going away north. I have entered
a horse for a big steeple-chase at Barton Towers, and will ride him
myself. If I win I can hold out awhile longer. You must wish me
success."

"I am sure I do, heartily. After this, _do_ give up racing."

"Very well. But"--pressing her hand hard--"I'll tell you what I will
_not_ give up, my hope of winning _you_, until you are married to some
one else and out of my reach."

He kissed her hand again, and then, without any further adieu, turned
away, walking with long swift steps toward the town, not once looking
back.

"Thank God he is gone!" was Katherine's mental exclamation as the sound
of his foot-fall died away. She was troubled by his intensity and
determination, and touched by his unmistakable sincerity. "If I loved
him I should not be afraid to marry him. I think he might possibly make
a good husband to a woman he was really attached to; but I have not the
least spark of affection for him, though there is something very
distinguished in his figure and bearing; even his ruggedness is
perfectly free from vulgarity. Yes, he is a sort of man who might
fascinate some women; but he is terribly wrong-headed. If he keeps
hoping on until I marry, he has a long spell of celibacy before him. I
dare say he will be married himself before two years are over."

She sat awhile longer thinking, her face growing softer and sadder. Then
she rose, wrapped her shawl round her, and walked slowly back to the
cottage, where she found the rest of the party just returned, joyous and
hungry.


Bertie came down late on the following Saturday, and brought a note from
Rachel Trant to Katherine, accepting her offer of quarters at Sandbourne
with grateful readiness. Katherine was always pleased with her letters;
they expressed so much in a few words; a spirit of affectionate
gratitude breathed through their quiet diction.

Katherine was very glad to receive it, for Bertie's accounts of their
_protegee_ made her uneasy. She had at first refused to move, saying it
was really of no use spending money upon her, and seemed to be sinking
back into the lethargic condition from which Katherine had woke her.

Her kind protectress therefore set off early on Monday to tell Mrs.
Norris she was coming, and to make her room look pretty and cheerful. By
her orders the boatman's son was despatched to meet their expected
tenant on her arrival. Miss Payne having arranged a picnic for that day,
at which Katherine's company could not be dispensed with.

When they returned it was already evening; still Katherine could not
refrain from visiting her friend. "She will be so strange and lonely
with people she has never seen before," she said to Bertie. "As soon as
tea is over I shall go and see her."

"It will be rather late, yet it will be a great kindness. I will go with
you, and wait for you among the rocks on the beach."

Miss Payne expressed her opinion that it was unwise to set beggars on
horseback, but offered no further opposition.

The sun had not quite sunk as Katherine and her companion walked
leisurely by the road which skirted the beach toward the boatman's
dwelling.

"I wish we could find some occupation that could so fill Rachel Trant's
mind as to prevent these dreadful fits of depression," began Katherine.

"She had plenty of work, and seemed successful in her performance of
it," he returned; "but it does not seem to have kept her from a
recurrence of these morbid moods. Loneliness does not appear to suit
her."

"Sitting from morning till night, unremittingly at work, in silence,
alone with memories which must be very sad, is not the best method of
recovering cheerfulness, and unfortunately, Rachel is too much above her
station to make many friends in it. She wants movement as well as work,"
remarked Katherine.

"As you consider her so good a dressmaker, it might be well to establish
her on a larger scale, and give her some of the older girls from our
Home as apprentices. Looking after and teaching them would amuse as well
as occupy her."

"It is an idea worth developing!" exclaimed Katherine; and they walked
on a few paces in silence.

"So De Burgh has been paying you a visit?" said Bertie at length.

"He has been paying Sandbourne a visit. He did not stay with us."

"It is wonderful that he could tame his energies even to stay here a few
days."

"He was here only two days the last time."

"_You_ cannot have much in common with such a man."

"Not much, certainly; still, he interests me. He has had such a narrow
escape of being a _good_ man."

"Narrow escape! I should say he never was in much danger of _that_
destiny."

"Perhaps if the door of every heart were opened to us we should see more
good in all than we could expect." A few words more brought them to the
boatman's house, where they parted.

Miss Trant was at home, Mrs. Norris said. Katherine ascended the steep
ladder-like stair, and having knocked at the door, entered the room.
Rachel was seated in the window, which was wide open. Her elbows rested
on a small table, and her chin on her clasped hands, while her large
blue eyes looked steadily out over the bay, which slept blue and
peaceful below; the lines of her slightly bent figure looked graceful
and refined, but there was infinite sadness in her pose.

"I am very glad to see you again," said Katherine. Rachel, who was too
deep in thought to hear her enter, started up to clasp her offered hand.
Her pale thin face was lit with pleasure, and her grave, almost stern
eyes softened.

"And so am I. You do not know _how_ glad. Do you know, I began to think
I never should see you again," and she kissed the hand she held.

"Do not!" said Katherine, bending forward to kiss her brow. "Were you so
ill, then?"

"Not physically ill, except for my cough; but for all that I felt dying,
and really I often wonder why you try to keep me alive. I am a trouble
to you, and I do very little good. Had I not been a coward I should have
left the world, where I have no particular place, long ago."

"Well, you see, I have a sort of superstition that life is a goodly gift
which must not be cast aside for a whim; and why should you despair of
finding peace? There is so much that is delightful in life!"

"And so much that is tragic!"

"Ah, yes! but if we only seek for the sorrowful we destroy our own
lives, without helping any one. You must let the dead past bury its
dead."

"How if the dead past comes and crosses your path, and looks you in the
face?"

"What do you mean, Rachel?"

"You will think me weak and contemptible, but I must confess to you the
cause of my late prostration."

"Yes, do; it may be a relief."

"About a month ago," said Rachel, sitting down by the table opposite
Katherine, and again resting her elbow on it, while she half hid her
face by placing her open hand over her eyes, "I was walking to Mrs.
Needham's with some work I had finished, when, turning into Lowndes
Square, I came face to face with--him. It is true I had a thick veil on,
and my large parcel must have partially disguised me, but he did not
recognize me. He passed me with the most unconscious composure, and he
was looking better, brighter, than I had ever seen him. The sight of him
brought back all the torturing pangs of helpless sorrow for the
sweetness, the intense happiness I can never know again; the stinging
shame, the poison of crushed hopes, the profound contempt for myself,
the sense of being of no value to any one on earth. I think if I could
have spoken to _you_, I might have shaken off these fiends of thought;
but I was alone, always alone: why should I live?"

"Rachel, you _must_ put this cruel man out of your mind. He has been the
destroyer of your life. Try and cast the idea of the past from you. Life
is too abundant to be exhausted by one sorrow. You have years before you
in which to build up a new existence and find consolation. I will not
listen to another word about your former life; let us only look forward.
I have a plan for you--at least Mr. Payne has suggested the idea--in
which you can help us and others, and which will need all your time and
energy. But I will not even talk of this business. We must try lighter
and pleasanter topics. Not another word about by-gone days will I speak.
You have started afresh under my auspices, and I mean you to float. Now
that you are here, Rachel, you must read amusing books, and be out in
the open air all day. You will be a new creature in a week. You must
come and see my cottage and my nephews; they are dear little fellows.
Are you fond of children?"

"I don't think I am. I never had anything to do with them. But I would
rather not go to your house, dear Miss Liddell. I feel as if I could not
brave Miss Payne's eyes."

"That is mere morbidness. There is no reason why you should fear any
one. You must discount your future rights. A few years hence, when you
are a new woman, you will, I am sure, look back with wonder and pity as
if reading the memoir of another. I _know_ that spells of
self-forgiveness come to us mercifully."

"When I listen to you, and hear in the tones of your voice more even
than in your words that you are my friend, that you really care for me,
that it will be a real joy to you to see me rise above myself, I feel
that I can live and strive and be something more than a galvanized
corpse. You give me strength. I wonder if I shall ever be able to prove
to you what you have done for me. Stand by me, and I _will_ try to put
the past under my feet. I do not wish to presume on the great goodness
you have shown me nor to forget the difference between us socially, but
oh! let me believe you love me--even me--with the kindly affection that
can forgive even while it blames."

"Be assured of that, Rachel," cried Katherine, her eyes moist and
beautiful with the divine light of kindness and sympathy, as she
stretched out her hand to clasp Rachel's. "I have from the first been
drawn to you strangely--it is something instinctive--and I have firm
belief in your future, if you will but believe in yourself. You are a
strong, brave woman, who can dare to look truth in the face. You will be
useful and successful yet."

Rachel held her hand tightly for a minute in silence; then she said, in
a low but firm voice: "I will try to realize your belief. I should be
too unworthy if I failed to do my very best. There! I have discarded the
past; you shall hear of it no more."

They were silent for a while; then a solemn old eight-day clock with a
fine tone struck loudly and deliberatedly in the room below. Katherine,
with a smile, counted each stroke. "Nine!" she exclaimed, when the last
had sounded; "and though it is 9 P.M., let it be the first hour of your
new life." She rose, and passing her arm over Rachel's shoulder, kissed
her once more with sisterly warmth. "Mr. Payne is waiting for me, so I
must leave you. I have sent you some books; I have but few here. One
will amuse you, I am sure, though it is old enough--a translation of the
_Memoirs of Madam d'Abrantes_. It is full of such quaint pictures of the
great Napoleon's court, and does not display much dignity or nobility,
yet it is an honest sort of book."

"Thank you. I don't want novels now; they generally pain me. But my
greatest solace is to forget myself in a book."

Bertie Payne's visit was a very happy one. The boys adored him, and
subjects of discussion and difference of opinion never failed between
Katherine and himself. She consulted him as to what school would be best
for Cecil, and he advised that he should be left as a boarder at the one
which he now attended, and where he had made fair progress, when Miss
Payne and Katherine returned to town.

Bertie looked a new man when he bade them good-by, promising to come
again soon.

Beyond sending a newspaper which recorded his victory in the Barton
Towers steeple-chase De Burgh made no sign, and life ran smoothly in its
ordinary grooves at Sandbourne.

Rachel Trant revived marvellously. The change of scene, the fresh
salt-air, above all the society of Katherine, who frequently visited and
walked with her, all combined to give her new life--even emboldening her
to look at the future. Her manner, always grave and respectful, won
reluctant approval from Miss Payne. And the boys were always pleased to
run to the boatman's cottage with flowers or fruit, and talk to, or
rather question, their new friend. Rachel seemed always glad to see
them, though she evidently shrank from returning their visits. She was
never quite herself, or off guard, except when alone with Katherine.
Then she spoke out of her heart, and uttered thoughts and opinions which
often surprised Katherine, and set her thinking more seriously than she
had ever done before. Finally, hearing from her good old landlady that
some of her customers had returned to town and were inquiring for her,
Rachel said it was time her holiday came to an end.

"I feel now that I can bear to live and try to be independent. Indeed
my life is yours; you have given it back to me, and I will yet prove to
you that I am not unworthy of your wonderful generosity," she said, the
morning of the day she was to start for London, as she sat with
Katherine among the rocks at the point. "The idea of an establishment
such as Mr. Payne suggests is excellent. It ought to be your property,
and good property--I need only be your steward--while it may be of great
use to others."

"I feel quite impatient to carry out the project, and we will set about
it as soon as I return to town," returned Katherine.

"Will you write to me sometimes?" asked Rachel, humbly. "I feel as if I
dare not let you go: all of hope or promise that can come into my
wrecked life centres in you. While you are my friend I can face the
world."

"Yes, Rachel, write to me as often as you like, and I will answer your
letters. Trust me: I will always be your true friend."



CHAPTER XXII.

"WARP AND WOOF."


When the rough weather of a stormy autumn obliged Katherine to keep
in-doors she began to feel the monotony of existence by the sad sea
waves, and to wish for the sociability of London. The end of October,
then, saw Miss Payne and party re-established in Wilton Street, having
left Cecil at school. With Charlie, Katherine could not part just yet.
She intended to keep him till after Christmas, when he was to go to
school with his brother.

Though town was empty as regarded "society," there was plenty of life
and movement in the streets, and Katherine, always thankful for
occupation which drew her thoughts away from her profound regret for the
barrier which existed between Errington and herself, was glad to be back
in the great capital. She threw herself into the scheme of establishing
Rachel Trant as a "court dressmaker" most heartily, and Bertie Payne
spared time from his multifarious avocations to give important
assistance. Rachel herself, too, proved to be a wise counsellor, her
previous training having given her some experience in business.
Katherine therefore found interesting employment in looking for a small
house suited to the undertaking.

Mr. Newton was writing busily in his private room one foggy afternoon
when he was informed that Miss Liddell wished to speak to him.

"Show her in at once," he said, cheerfully, as if pleased, and he rose
to receive her. "Glad to see you, Miss Liddell, looking all the better
for your sojourn by the sea-side. Why, it must be nearly six months
since I saw you."

"Yes, quite six months, Mr. Newton. I suppose you have been refreshing
yourself too, after the fatigues of the season. You must try Sandbourne
next year. It is a very nice little place."

"Sandbourne? I don't think I know it. But now what do you want, my dear
young lady? I don't suppose you come here merely for pleasure."

"I assure you it always gives me great pleasure," said Katherine, with a
sweet, sunny smile. "You have always been my very good friend."

"Well, a sincere one, at all events," returned the dry old lawyer, whose
aridity was not proof against the charm of his young client.

"I must not waste your time," she resumed, drawing her chair a little
nearer the table behind which he was ensconced. "I want to buy a house
which I have seen, and I want you to attend to all details connected
with it."

"Oh--ah! Well, a good house would not be a bad investment; it would be
very convenient to have a residence in London."

"It is not for myself; it is a speculation."

"A speculation? What put that into your head?"

Whereupon Katherine told him her story.

"I think it rather a mad undertaking," was Mr. Newton's verdict. "These
projects seldom succeed. I don't care for clever interesting young women
who have no one belonging to them and cannot corroborate their stories.
How do you know she was not dismissed from Blackie & Co.'s for theft?"

Katherine laughed. "I certainly do not know," she said, "but I _feel_ it
is quite as impossible for her to steal as it is for myself."

"Feel!--feel!" (impatiently). "Just so: impostors thrive on the good
feelings of--of the simple."

"You were going to say fools," said Katherine. "Don't let us waste time,
my dear Mr. Newton," she went on, with good-humored decision. "We shall
never agree on such a topic; and I am going to buy this house, or
another of the same kind if this proves not to be desirable; and I
should be very sorry to employ any one but you to arrange the purchase."

"Oh, you know your own mind, and how to threaten--eh, Miss Liddell?" he
returned, with a smile. "I must know more about the tenement before I
can consent to act for you."

"It is an ordinary three-storied house, with a couple of rooms built out
at the back, in a small street where there are a few shops; but it is
near Westbourne Terrace, and therefore in a region of good customers.
The late owner has been succeeded by a son, who seems very anxious to
get rid of it. The price asked is seven hundred and fifty pounds, and I
believe the taxes are under ten pounds. Do, dear Mr. Newton, look into
the matter, and get it settled as soon as possible, and on the best
terms you can."

"Hum! and the furniture? Do you undertake that too?"

"Of course. Don't you see, I can do it all out of the money I have not
been able to use. There is quite three thousand pounds on deposit in the
bank. You know you wrote to me only a month ago about letting the money
lie idle. I shall employ it now, for my _protegee_, Miss Trant, will be
my only manager. I will pay her wages, and whatever profit after comes
to me."

"A very unknown quantity," said the lawyer, drily. "Still, the house
can't run away, and I suppose will aways let for fifty or sixty pounds a
year."

"Fifty, I think."

"Then I will look into the matter. Is it in habitable repair?"

"It seems so. Do your best to have the purchase completed as soon as
possible, dear Mr. Newton. I want to start my modiste in good time to
catch the home-coming people."

"Believe me, it is an unwise project," said Newton, thoughtfully.

"I know you think so, and you are right to counsel me according to your
conscience; but as I am quite determined, you must not let me go to a
stranger for help."

"Very well; give me the address."

"Seven Malden Street, Paddington. Bell & Co., house agents, in Harrow
Road, have it on their books."

"Good! I'll get a surveyor to see to sanitary arrangements, etc. Now
that, as usual, you have conquered again and again, tell me something of
yourself. Are you tired of the little nephews yet?"

"No, indeed. I have been happier with them than I dared hope to be when
I was left alone nearly a year ago, yet"--Her voice faltered and her
soft dark eyes filled.

"Yes, yes," hastily, with a man's dread of tears; "you couldn't get over
that all at once. But you know it is a very Quixotic business taking
those boys; and Mrs. Ormonde is not the woman to relieve you should any
difficulty arise."

"But when boys are well provided for there never can be a difficulty.
Ah, Mr. Newton, what a wonderful magician money is! What would become of
me without it? It is almost worth risking anything to get it."

"Or, apparently, to get rid of it," remarked Mr. Newton. "By-the-way,
that was a tremendous smash of Errington's. Did you hear anything about
him?"

"Yes," rather faintly.

"The reason I mention him is that, curiously enough, _he_ was the man
your uncle left everything to in that will he very fortunately
destroyed. Of course I should only mention it to you: though now all is
passed and gone, it is of no importance. He has behaved very well. I am
told he has turned to literature. It's a pity he did not follow his
profession; but it would be rather late in the day for that. I think you
must find these rooms rather stuffy and warm after the sea-breezes, for
you are looking pale and fagged again."

"I feel a headache coming on," said Katherine, pulling herself together.
"I hope you will pay me a visit someday. I should like to show you my
dear little Charlie. He has a great look of my mother, especially his
eyes; they are _just_ like hers."

"If you will allow me to come some Sunday----"

"Certainly. You will sympathise with Miss Payne. She shares your
deep-rooted distrust of your fellow-creatures. Yet even _she_ has some
faint faith in Rachel Trant."

"That is the best symptom about the affair I have yet heard of.
By-the-bye, this Miss Payne has made you comfortable? she has been a
successful experiment?"

"Very successful indeed. I quite like her, and respect her; but I shall
not stay longer than the time I agreed for. I want to make a home for
the boys and myself."

"What! Will Mrs. Ormonde give them up?"

"Not avowedly, but they will ultimately glide into my hands."

"I trust you will not regret the charge you are taking on yourself."

"I do not fear failure. These children are a great source of pleasure to
me."

A few more words, a promise on Mr. Newton's part to hurry matters, and
Katherine, bidding him adieu for the present, descended to the brougham
which she usually hired for distant expeditions. Ordering the coachman
to stop at Howell& James', Katherine leaned back and reflected on the
interview with Mr. Newton. No doubt he thought he had given her a good
deal of curious information. If he only knew what a living lie she was!
Her duplicity met her at every turn, and cried shame upon her. However,
she had the pardon and permission of him against whom she had chiefly
offended; that counted for much. Still, it was too hard a punishment
that the ghost of her transgression should thus cry out against her, and
she had done her best to rectify it. She felt profoundly depressed. It
was an effort to execute the commissions intrusted to her by Miss Payne.
These performed, she was leaving the shop, when a gentleman who was
passing rapidly almost ran against her. He paused and raised his hat as
if to apologize. It was Errington.

"Miss Liddell!" he exclaimed, a startled, pleased look animating his
eyes. "I understood you were out of town. I hardly hoped to meet you
again."

Katherine flushed up, and then grew white. "I have been out of town ever
since--" Since what?--that turning-point in her life when she confessed
all to him?

"And I have been _in_ town," rejoined Errington. "It is not nearly so
bad as some people imagine. Where are you staying?"

"Oh, I am always with Miss Payne, in Wilton Street."

"I remember. But I am keeping you standing. May I come and see you?"

"Oh no; I would rather not," cried Katherine, with an irresistible
impulse which she regretted the next moment.

"You are always frank," said Errington, with a kind smile, yet in a
disappointed tone. "I will not intrude, then. How are your nephews, and
Mrs. Ormonde? I seem to have lost sight of every one, for I have become
a very busy man."

"Yes, I know," she returned, her color going and coming, her heart
beating so fast she could hardly speak. "I must seem so rude! But I have
read some of your papers in _The Age_. It must, indeed, take time and
study to produce such articles."

"And patience on the part of a young lady to wade through them."

"No; they always interest me, even when a little over my head. Though I
do not want you to come and see me, I am always so glad to hear about
you, to know you are well."

"Then why avoid me?"

"How can I help it?"--looking at him with dewy eyes and quivering lips.

"Well, I must accept your decision. I wish--But I will not detain you."
He opened the carriage door and handed her in.

For an instant her eyes sought his with a wistful, deprecating look,
then she said, "Tell him 'home,' please," and she drove off.

The encounter unhinged her for the day. Why had he crossed her path, and
why had she allowed herself to reject his friendly offer to come and see
her? Yet it would have made her miserable to bear the quiet scrutiny of
his eyes through a whole visit. He had evidently quite forgiven her, but
that could not restore her self-respect or render her less keenly alive
to the silent reproach of his presence. And yet it was pleasant to hear
him speak, his voice was so clear, so well modulated, so intelligent.
And how well he looked!--better and brighter than she had ever seen him.
It was evident that he was not breaking his heart about Lady Alice. How
could she have given him up?

Though nothing was more natural or probable than that they should meet
when both lived in the same town, huge as it is, it was an immense
surprise to Katherine, who had somehow come to the conclusion that they
were never to set eyes on each other again. This impression upset her.
She was constantly on the outlook for Errington wherever she drove or
walked, and the composure which she had been diligently, and with a sort
of sad resignation to Errington's wishes, building up, was replaced by a
feverish, restless anticipation of she knew not what.

The result was increased eagerness to see the completion of her
dressmaking scheme, and she made Mr. Newton's life a burden to him till
all was accomplished.

In this she found a shrewd assistant in Mrs. Needham, who took up the
cause furiously, and drove hither and thither, exhorting, entreating,
commanding, and really bringing in customers, somewhat to Katherine's
surprise, as she did not expect much wool from so great a cry.

Shortly before Christmas Miss Trant's establishment was in full working
order, a couple of clever assistants had been engaged, and Rachel
herself seemed to wake up to the full energy of her nature under the
spur of responsibility.

The affair was not brought to a conclusion, however, without a struggle
on the part of Mr. Newton against Katherine's resolution not to appear
in the matter. The house was bought in Rachel Trant's name, the sale was
made to her, and Miss Liddell's name never appeared. Newton declared it
to be sheer madness; even Bertie Payne considered it unwise; but
Katherine was immovable.

"I am Miss Trant's creditor," she said. "If successful, she will pay me:
if not, why, she will give up the house to me. I have full faith in her,
and I wish her to be perfectly unshackled in the undertaking. As the
owner of a house she will more readily obtain any credit she may need."

"Which means," said Mr. Newton, crossly, "that you will have to pay her
debts if you ever intend to get possession of the house."

"Well, I have made up my mind to the risk," returned Katherine, with
smiling determination; "so we will say no more about it."


The unexpected meeting with Errington haunted Katherine for many a day,
and many a night was broken by unpleasant dreams. She was filled with
regret for having so hastily refused his proffered visit. Yet had he
come she would have been uneasy in his presence. She longed to see him
again; she came home from driving or walking each day with aching eyes
and dulled heart because she had been disappointed in encountering him.
Yet she dreaded to meet him, and trembled at the idea of speaking to
him. She was dismayed at the restless dissatisfaction of her own mind.
Was she never to find peace? never to know real enjoyment in her
ill-gotten fortune? Why was it that the image of this man was
perpetually before her, the sound of his voice in her ears? Then the
answer of her inner consciousness came to overwhelm her with shame and
confusion: "Because you love him with all the strength and fervor of a
heart that has never frittered away its force in senseless flirtations
or passing fancies." This was the climax of misfortune. To know that the
one of all others she most looked up to must, in spite of his kind
forbearance, despise her as a cheat. Surely it was a sufficient
punishment for a delicately proud woman to know that she had given her
love unasked. All that remained for her was to hide her deep wounds,
that by stifling the new and vivid feelings which troubled her they
would die out, and so leave her in a state of monotonous repose. She
would endeavor by all possible means to win forgetfulness.

When Cis came back for the Christmas holidays, therefore, he found his
auntie ready to go out with Charlie and himself to circus and pantomime,
Polytechnic and wax-works, to his heart's content. It was not a brisk
frosty Christmas, or she would no doubt have been with them on the ice,
and the round of boyish dissipations called forth an oracular sentence
from Miss Payne. "It's just as well those boys are going back to school,
Katherine. You are more foolish about them than you used to be, and if
they staid on you would completely ruin them."

Just before the holidays were over, Mrs. Ormonde visited London, or
rather paused in passing through from the distinguished Christmas
gathering to which, to her pride and satisfaction, she had been invited
at Lady Mary Vincent's. The little boys were indifferently glad to see
her, and with the jealousy inherent in a disposition such as hers she
was vexed at not being first with her own boys, yet delighted to hand
over the care and trouble of them to any one who would undertake it.
These mixed feelings ruffled the bright surface of her self-content,
inflated as it was by her increasing social success.

She chose to put up at a quiet hotel in Dover Street rather than accept
Katherine's and Miss Payne's joint invitation to Wilton Street.

"I know you will not mind, Katie dear," she said, as she sat at tea (to
which refreshment she had invited her sister-in-law). "You see if it
were your own house, quite your own, I should prefer staying with you to
going anywhere else. As it is----"

"You are quite right to please yourself," put in Katherine.

"Yes, you are always kind and considerate. But, do you know, both
Colonel Ormonde and I are very anxious you should establish yourself on
a proper footing. Believe me, you do not take the social position you
ought, living with an obscure old maid like Miss Payne"--this in a tone
of strong common-sense. "The proper place for you is with us at
Castleford in the autumn and winter, and a house in town with us in the
spring. Then you and I might go abroad sometimes together, and leave
Ormonde to his turnips and hunting. You would be sure to marry
well--quite sure."

"But I am going to settle myself in a house of my own this spring," said
Katherine, smiling.

Against this project Mrs. Ormonde exhausted herself in eloquent if
contradictory argument: but finding she made no impression, suddenly
changed the subject. "That is a very expensive school you have chosen
for the boys, Katherine. 'Duke thinks it ridiculous. Sixty pounds a year
for such a little fellow as Cis! and now Charlie will cost as much."

"It is not cheap, certainly; but it is, I think, worth the money. Cecil
has improved marvellously, and Sandbourne agrees so well with them
both."

"You will do as you think best, of course. We have the highest regard
for your opinion. But you must remember that what with clothes and
travelling and--oh, and doctors!--it all comes to more than three
hundred a year, and at Castleford I could keep them for next to nothing,
while the stingy trustees you have chosen only allow me four hundred and
fifty."

"So you have only about a hundred and fifty out of the total for your
personal expenses, eh?" said Katherine, laughing. "Then you have a
husband behind you."

"Oh, I assure you that does not count for much. 'Duke doesn't care to
spend money, and my having something of my own makes matters wonderfully
smooth. I am sure you would not like to make any unhappiness between
us."

"No, certainly not. I think it quite right, as my brother's widow, you
should have something for yourself as long as you live."

"You really have a great sense of justice, Katherine, I must say! Living
as you do, dear, you can form no idea what it costs to present an
appearance when you are in a certain set."

"I don't suppose I ever shall, though I like nice clothes too."

"And look so well in them!" added Mrs. Ormonde, who was always ready,
when she deemed it necessary, to burn the incense of flattery on her
sister-in-law's shrine. "By-the-way, that is a very pretty, well-made
costume you have on. I think you are slighter than you used to be."

"The effect of a good fit. I wish you would employ my dressmaker. She is
very moderate."

"Is she?"

A short discussion of prices followed, and Mrs. Ormonde declared she
would call on Miss Trant that very afternoon and bespeak two dresses,
for all she had were quite familiar to the eyes of her associates.

"I suppose you have heard or seen nothing of De Burgh lately?" exclaimed
Mrs. Ormonde, suddenly.

"No, not for a long time."

"He has been away--somewhere in Hungary, hunting or shooting--and then
he has been staying with old Lord de Burgh. They used hardly to speak,
and now he seems taken into favor. He is a curious sort of man, and he
can be _so_ insolent! How he will put his foot on people's necks when he
gets the old man's title and wealth!"

"If they let him," said Katherine, quietly.

"As he is in town, I thought he might have called on you. He was always
running down to that stupid place in the summer, so I----"

"Mr. De Burgh!" said a waiter, opening the door with a burst.

"Talk of an angel!" cried Mrs. Ormonde, rising to receive him with a
welcoming smile. "My sister was just saying it was a long time since she
had seen you."

Katherine felt annoyed at the thoughtless speech--if it _was_
thoughtless. However, she kept a composed air, though the varying color
which she never could regulate told De Burgh that she was not unmoved.

"And probably hoped it would be longer," he replied, as he shook hands
with Mrs. Ormonde, but only bowed to Miss Liddell.

"Don't answer him," cried the former; "such decided fishing does not
deserve success."

"I will not," said Katherine, with a kind smile. She was too thorough a
woman not to have a soft corner in her heart for the man who had
professed, with so convincing an air of sincerity, to love her with all
his heart.

It did not, however, seem to please or displease him, for he sat down
beside the tea-table with his usual unaffected ease, and addressed his
conversation to Mrs. Ormonde.

"Just heard from Carew that you were in town, and I have only escaped
from Pontygarvan, where I have been playing the dutiful kinsman to my
immortal relative. I don't know which is most to be avoided, his enmity
or his liking. He is an amusing old cynic at times, but a born despot.
He only let me away to prosecute a scheme that he has taken up, and
which I have gone pretty deeply into myself."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Ormonde, handing him some tea. "Have you turned
promoter, or--"

"Well, I am going to be my own promoter; time only will show how I'll
succeed. You must both give me your best wishes."

"I am sure I do," said Mrs. Ormonde.

De Burgh raised his eyes slowly to Katherine's. She had not spoken.
"Don't _you_ wish me success? No; I thought you didn't."

"I wish you all possible happiness," she said, in a low tone.

"Have you quarrelled with Katherine, or offended her, that she is so
implacable?" asked Mrs. Ormonde.

"Neither, I hope. Now what are you doing in the way of amusement? Have
you seen a play since you came up? The pantomimes are still on at the
big theatres. But I want you to come and see _Ours_ at the Prince of
Wales on Thursday; it's very good in parts. Then if you'll sup with me
after, at my rooms, I'll get Carew and Brereton and one or two others to
meet you."

"It would be very nice!" exclaimed Mrs. Ormonde.

"Thank you," returned Katherine. "I am, strange to say, going to a party
on Thursday."

"To a party! How extraordinary! Where, Katherine?"

"To Lady Barrington's--a lady I knew in Florence, and who has invited me
repeatedly."

"I am sure I am very glad you are coming out of your shell at last.
Where does this Lady Barrington live?"

"In Lancaster Square, not far from my abode."

"Well, let us say Friday for _Ours_," said De Burgh; "for I too am going
to Lady Barrington's on Thursday."

"Then why did you invite us for that evening?" cried Mrs. Ormonde.

"I could have gone afterwards. Lady Barrington's gatherings are always
late."

"You really know every one."

"Oh, not every one, Mrs. Ormonde."

"Then our 'play' is not to come off unless Katherine is to be of the
party"--rather pettishly.

"If you like I will take you on Thursday, and Miss Liddell (if she will
allow me) on Friday."

"What nonsense! We will all go together on Friday. Katie, do you think
this friend of yours would invite me? I don't care to mope here when you
are out enjoying yourself."

"I am sure she would be very pleased to see you. I will write and ask
her for an invitation as soon as I go home." Katherine rose as she
spoke.

"Do, like a good girl; and I will go and interview this dressmaker of
yours. Till to-morrow, then."

The little woman stood on tiptoe to kiss her tall sister-in-law, who
left the room, followed by De Burgh.

"Haven't I been a reasonable, well-behaved fellow not to have haunted or
worried you all these months? Will you let me come and tell you how wise
and staid and prudent I have become?" he said.

He spoke half in jest, but there was a wonderfully appealing look in his
eyes.

"I am very glad to hear it, Mr. De Burgh. I hope you will go on and
prosper."

"And will you shut your doors against me if I call?"

"No; why should I?"

"Thanks! How heavenly it is to see you again! though you don't look
quite as bright as you did at Sandbourne. Is this your carriage? I see
you have not started a turn-out of your own yet."

"And never shall, probably."

"Not, at all events, till you have appointed your 'master of the horse.'
Good-by till to-morrow night."

He handed her carefully into the brougham, and stood looking after it as
she drove away.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A WANDERER RETURNS.


It was quite an event in Katherine's quiet life to go to a party. She
had never been at one in London, and anticipated it with interest. Both
in Florence and Paris she had mixed in society and greatly enjoyed it.
Now she felt a little curious as to the impression she might make and
receive. Her nature was essentially vigorous and healthy, and threw off
morbid feelings as certain chemicals repel others inimical to them. She
would have enjoyed life intensely but for the perpetually recurring
sense of irritation against herself for having forfeited her own
self-respect by her hasty action. It would have been somewhat
humiliating to have taken charity from the hands of Errington, but this
was as nothing to the crushing abasement of knowing that she had cheated
him. Still, no condition of mind is constant--except with
monomaniacs--and Katherine was often carried away from herself and her
troubles.

She was glad, on the whole, that De Burgh was to be at Lady Barrington's
reception.

She was too genial, too responsive, not to find admiration very
acceptable. Nor could she believe that a man like De Burgh, hard,
daring, careless, could suffer much or long through his affections. It
flattered her woman's vanity, too, that with her he dropped his cynical,
mocking tone, and spoke with straightforward earnestness. He might have
ended by interesting and flattering her till she loved him--for he had a
certain amount of attraction--if her carefully resisted feeling for
Errington had not created an antidote to the poison he might have
introduced into her life.

Altogether she dressed with something of anticipated pleasure, and was
not displeased with the result of her toilette.

Her dress was as deeply mourning as it was good taste to wear at an
evening party. A few folds of gauzy white lisse softened the edge of her
thick black silk corsage, a jet necklet and comb set off her snowy,
velvety throat and bright golden brown hair.

"I had no idea you would turn out so effectively!" exclaimed Mrs.
Ormonde, examining her with a critical eye as they took off their wraps
in the ladies' cloak-room. "Your dress might have been cut a little
lower, dear; with a long throat like yours it is very easy to keep
within the bounds of decency. I wonder you do not buy yourself some
diamonds; they are so becoming."

"I shall wait for some one to give them to me," returned Katherine,
laughing.

"Quite right"--very gravely--"only if I were you I should make haste and
decide on the 'some one.'"

"Mrs. Ormonde and Miss Liddell!" shouted the waiters from landing to
door, and the next moment Lady Barrington, a large woman in black velvet
and a fierce white cap in which glittered an aigret of diamonds, was
welcoming them with much cordiality.

"Very happy to see any friend of yours, my dear Miss Liddell! I think I
had the pleasure of meeting you, Mrs. Ormonde, at Lord Trevallan's
garden-party last June?"

"Oh yes; were _you_ there?" with saucy surprise.

"Algernon," continued Lady Barrington, motioning with her fan to a tall,
thin youth. "My nephew, Mrs. Ormonde, Miss Liddell. I think Algernon had
the pleasure of meeting you at Rome?" Katherine bowed and smiled. "Take
Mrs. Ormonde and Miss Liddell in and find them seats near the piano.
Signor Bandolini and Madam Montebello are good enough to give us some of
their charming duets, and are just going to begin. I was afraid you
might be late."

So Mrs. Ormonde and Miss Liddell were ushered to places of honor, and
the music began.

"I don't see a soul I know," whispered Mrs. Ormonde, presently. "Yet the
women are well dressed and look nice enough, but the men are decidedly
caddish."

"London is a large place, with room in it for all sorts and conditions
of men. But we must not talk, Ada."

Mrs. Ormonde was silent for a while; and then opening her fan to screen
her irrepressible desire to communicate her observations, resumed:

"I am sure I saw Captain Darrell in the doorway only for a minute, and
he went away. I hope he will come and talk to us. You were gone when he
came back from leave--to Monckton, I mean. He is rather amu--" A warning
"hush-sh" interrupted her.

"What rude, ill-bred people!" she muttered, under her breath. And soon
the duet--a new one, expressly composed to show off the vocal gymnastics
of the signore and madame--came to an end; there was a rustle of relief,
and every one burst into talk.

"How glad they are it is over!" said Mrs. Ormonde. "Look at that tall
girl in pink. You see those sparkles in the roses on her corsage and in
her hair; they are all diamonds. I know the white glitter. What airs she
gives herself! I suppose she is an heiress, and, I dare say, not half as
rich as you are."

"Don't be too sure. I am no millionaire," began Katherine, when she was
interrupted by a voice she knew, which said, "I had no idea it was to be
such a ghastly concern as this!" and turning, she found De Burgh close
behind her.

"What offends you?" she asked, smiling.

"All this trilling and shrieking. There's tea or something going on
downstairs. You had better come away before they have a fresh burst;
they are carrying up a big fiddle."

"Tea!" exclaimed Mrs. Ormonde. "Oh, do take me away to have some!"

"Here, Darrell," said De Burgh, coolly, turning back to speak to some
one who stood behind him. "Here's Mrs. Ormonde dying for deliverance and
tea. Come, do your _devoir_."

Darrell hastened forward, smiling, delighted. With a little pucker of
the brow and lifting of the eyebrows Mrs. Ormonde accepted his arm.

"Now, Miss Liddell," said De Burgh, offering his; and not sorry to
escape from the heated, crowded room, Katherine took it and accompanied
him downstairs.

"I did not think you knew Lady Barrington," said Katherine, as he handed
her an ice.

"Know her? Never heard of her till you mentioned her name the day before
yesterday."

"How did she come to ask you to her house, then?"

"Let me see. Oh, I went down to the club and asked if any one knew Lady
Barrington, and who was going to her party. At last Darrell said he was
a sort of relation, and that he would ask for a card. He did, and here I
am."

"But you said you were coming."

"So I was. I made up my mind to come as soon as you said you were."

"You are very audacious, Mr. De Burgh!" said Katherine, laughing in
spite of her intention to be rather distant with him.

"Do you think so? Then I have earned the character cheaply. Are they
going to squall and fiddle all night? I thought it might turn into a
dance."

"I did not imagine you would condescend to dance."

"Why? I used to like dancing, under certain conditions. Don't fancy I
haven't an ear for music, Miss Liddell, because I said the performance
upstairs was ghastly. I am very fond of music--real sweet music. I liked
_your_ songs, and I should have liked a waltz with you--_im_mensely. You
know I never met you in society before--" He stopped abruptly and looked
at her from head to foot, with a comprehensive glance so full of the
admiration he did not venture to speak that Katherine felt the color
mount to her brow and even spread over her white throat, while an odd
sense of uneasy distress fluttered her pulses. She only said,
indifferently: "I might not prove a good partner. I have never danced
much."

"I might give you a lesson in that too, as well as in handling the
ribbons. And for that there will be a grand opportunity next week. Lord
De Burgh is coming up, and I shall have the run of his stables, which I
will take good care shall be well filled. We'll have out a smart pair of
cobs, and you shall take them round the Park every morning, till you are
fit to give all the other women whips the go-by."

"Do you seriously believe such a scheme possible?"

"It shall be if you say yes. Do you know that you have brought me luck?
You have, 'pon my soul! I am A-1 with old De Burgh, and I won a pot of
money up in Yorkshire, paid a lot of debts, sold my horses. Now, don't
you think you ought to be interested in your man Friday? You remember
our last meeting at Sandbourne--hey? Don't you think I am going to
succeed all along the line?"

"It is impossible to say," returned Katherine. "You know there is a
French proverb--" She stopped, not liking to repeat it as she suddenly
remembered the application.

"Yes, I do know the lying Gallic invention! _Heureux au jeu, malheureux
en amour_. I don't believe it. If luck's with you, all goes well; but
then Fortune is such a fickle jade!"

"I trust you will always be fortunate, Mr. De Burgh," said Katherine,
gently.

"I like to hear you say so. Now I don't often let my tongue run on as it
has, but if you'll be patient and friendly, I'll be as mild and
inoffensive as a youngster fresh from school."

"Very well," said Katherine, smiling and confused. Here she was
interrupted by the sudden approach of Mrs. Needham, her dark eyes
gleaming with pleased recognition, and her high color heightened by the
heat of the rooms. She was gorgeous in red satin, black lace and
diamonds. "My dear Miss Liddell! I have been looking for you everywhere!
I want so much to speak to you about a project I have for starting a new
weekly paper, to be called _The Woman's Weekly_. There is an empty sofa
in that little room at the other side of the hall. Do come, and I will
explain it all. It is likely to do a great deal of good, and to be a
paying concern into the bargain. You will excuse me for running away
with Miss Liddell"--to De Burgh--"but we have some matters to discuss.
We shall meet you upstairs afterwards." She swept Katherine away, while
De Burgh stood scowling. Who was this audacious pirate who had cut out
his convoy from under the fire of his angry eyes?

"You see, my dear," commenced Mrs. Needham, in a low voice and speaking
rapidly, "there is an immense field to be cultivated in the humble
strata of the better working-class, and the paper I wish to establish
will be quite different from _The Queen_, more useful and less than
half-price. No stuff about fashionable marriages in print that is enough
to blind an eagle, but useful receipts and work patterns, domestic
information, and a story--a story is a great point--a description of any
great events, and fashion plates, etc." And she poured forth a torrent
of what she was pleased to term "facts and figures" till Katherine felt
fairly bewildered.

"It seems a great undertaking," she replied, when she could get a word
in. "I shall require a great deal of explanation before I can comprehend
it. Will you not come and see me when we shall be alone, and we can
discuss it quietly?"

"Certainly, my dear Miss Liddell--to-morrow. No; to-morrow I have about
seven or eight engagements between two and six-thirty. Let me see. I am
terribly pressed just now; I will write and fix some morning if you will
come and lunch with me. If you could see your way to taking a few shares
it would be a great help. Money--money--money. Without the filthy lucre
nothing can be begun or ended. Now tell me how you have been. I have
been coming to see you for _months_, but never get a moment to myself;
but I have heard of you from Mr. Payne. What a good fellow he is! How is
Miss Payne?" Katherine replied, and Mrs. Needham rushed on: "Nice party,
isn't it? There are several literary people here to-night. I did not
know Lady Barrington went in for literary society, but one picks up a
little of all sorts when you live abroad for a while. Here is a very
interesting man. He is coming very much to the front as a political and
philosophic writer. It is said he is to be the editor of _The Empire_,
that new monthly which they say is to take the lead of all the
magazines. I met him at Professor Kean's last week. I don't think he
sees me--Good-evening! Don't think you remember me--Mrs. Needham. Had
the pleasure of meeting you at Professor Kean's last Monday. Mr.
Errington, Miss Liddell!"

"I have already the pleasure of knowing Miss Liddell," he returned, with
a grave smile and stately bow, as he took the hand Katherine
hesitatingly held out.

"Oh, indeed; I was not aware of it." Errington stood talking with Mrs.
Needham, or, rather, answering her rapid questions respecting a variety
of subjects, until she suddenly recognized some one to whom she was
imperatively compelled to speak. With a hasty, "Will you be so good as
to take Miss Liddell to her friends?" she darted away with surprising
lightness and rapidity, considering her size and solidity.

"Would you like to go upstairs?" asked Errington.

"If you please." Katherine was quivering with pain and pleasure at
finding herself thus virtually alone with the man whose image haunted
her in spite of her constant determined efforts to banish it from her
mind.

On the first landing was a conservatory prettily lit and decorated, and
larger than those ordinarily appended to London houses. "Suppose we rest
here," said Errington. "From the quiet which reigns above, I think some
one is reciting and that is not an exhilarating style of amusement."

"I should think not. I have never heard any one attempt to recite in
England."

"May you long be preserved from the infliction! There are very few who
can make recitation endurable."

After some enquiries for Colonel and Mrs. Ormonde, and a few
observations on the beautiful, abundant flowers, Errington said: "Won't
you sit down? If it is not unpleasant to you, I should like to improve
this occasion, as I rarely have an opportunity of seeing you."

Katherine complied, and sat down on a settee which was behind a central
group of tall feathery ferns. She was another creature from the bright
and somewhat coquettish girl who was always ready to answer De Burgh or
Colonel Ormonde with keen prompt wit. Silent, downcast, scarcely able to
raise her eyes to Errington's, yet too fascinated to resist his wish to
continue their interview.

"I am very glad to meet you here," began Errington in his calm,
melodious voice. "It is so much better for you to mix with your kind; it
has a wholesome, humanizing influence, and may I venture to say that you
are inclined to be morbid?"

"Can you wonder?" said Katherine, soft and low.

"Yes, I do. There is no reason why you should not be bright and happy,
and enjoy the goods the gods--"

"No," she interrupted, playing nervously with the flowers in her
bouquet; "not given by the gods! Stolen from you!" She did not raise her
eyes as she spoke.

"I do beg you to put that incident out of your mind. We have arranged
the question of succession, as only I had a right to do. No one else
need know, and you will, I am sure, make a most excellent use of what is
now really yours. Forget the past, and allow me to be your friend."

"I am always thinking of you," she said, almost in a whisper. "Yet it is
always a trial to meet you. I think I would rather not. Tell me," with a
sudden impulse of tenderness and contrition, looking up to him with
humid eyes, "are you well and happy? How have you borne the terrible
change in your life?"

"I am perfectly well and quite happy," returned Errington, with a slight
smile. "The terrible change, as you term it, has affected me very
little. I find real work most exhilarating, and slight success is sweet.
Since I knew that the tangle of my poor father's affairs was
satisfactorily unravelled, I have been at ease, comparatively. Life has
many sides. I miss most my horses."

"Ah, yes, you must miss them! Well, from what I hear, you seem to be
making a place for yourself in literature. I am so glad!"

"Thank you. And you, may I ask, what are your plans?"

"If you are so good as to care, I am going to take a house and make a
home for myself and my little nephews. Without any formal agreement,
Mrs. Ormonde leaves them very much to me. They are a great interest to
me. And as you are so kind in wishing me to be happy and not morbid, I
will try to forget. I think I could be happier if you would promise me
something."

"What?"

"If ever--" She hesitated; her voice trembled. "If you ever want
anything," she hurried on, nervously, "anything, even to the half of my
kingdom, you will deign to accept it from me?"

"I will," said Errington, with a kind and, as Katherine imagined, a
condescending smile.

"He thinks me a weak, impulsive child, who must be forgiven because she
is scarcely responsible," she said to herself.

"And this preliminary settled, you will admit me to the honor of your
acquaintance?"

"Oh, Mr. Errington, do not think me ungrateful. But can you not
understand that, good and generous as you are, your presence overwhelms
me?"

"Then I will not intrude upon you. Gently and very gravely I accept your
decree."

They were silent for a moment; then Katherine said, "I was sure you
would understand me." As she spoke, De Burgh suddenly came round the
group of ferns and stood before them with an air of displeased surprise.

"Why, Miss Liddell! I thought that desperate filibuster in red satin
had carried you off. I have sought you high and low. How d'ye do,
Errington? Haven't seen you this age. Mrs. Ormonde wants to go home,
Miss Liddell."

"I suppose the recitation is over," said Errington, coolly. "I will take
Miss Liddell to Mrs. Ormonde, whom I have not seen for some time."

De Burgh, therefore, had nothing for it but to walk after the man whom
he at once decided was a dangerous rival, as indeed he would have
considered any one in the rank of a gentleman.

Mrs. Ormonde was quite charmed to see Errington. She had put him rather
out of her mind. It was a pleasant surprise to meet him once more in
society, for she had a sort of dim idea his ruin was so complete that he
must have sold his dress clothes to provide food, and could never,
therefore, hold up his head in society again.

"It is quite nice to see you once more!" she exclaimed, with a sweet
smile, after they had exchanged greetings. "Colonel Ormonde will be
delighted to hear of you. I wish you could come down for a few days'
hunting. Do give me your address, and Duke will write to you."

"There is my address," he said, taking out his card case and giving her
a card; "but I fear there is little chance of my getting out of town
till long after the hunting is over."

"Oh, you must try. At all events, come and see me. I am at Thorne's
Hotel, Dover Street, and almost always at home about five. But I leave
town next week."

Here the hostess sailed up, and touching Errington's arm, said "Sir
Arthur Haynes, the great authority on international law, you know, wants
to be introduced to you, Mr. Errington."

Mrs. Ormonde took the opportunity of saying good-night, and Katherine
took farewell of Errington with a bow.

"Twenty-four, Sycamore Court Temple. What a come-down for him!" said
Mrs. Ormonde, looking at the card she held, when they reached the
cloak-room.

"He seems cheerful enough," said Katherine, irritated at the tone in
which the observation was made; "and I thought the Temple was rather a
smart place to live in."

"I am sure I don't know. Come, it must be late. What a stupid party! How
cross De Burgh looks! I am sure he has a horrid temper."

In the hall Captain Darrell and De Burgh awaited them. The latter was
too angry to speak. He handed Katherine into the carriage, and uttering
a brief good-night, stepped back to make way for Captain Darrell, who
expressed his pleasure at having met Mrs. Ormonde, and begged to be
allowed to call next day.


On the whole, Katherine felt comforted by the assurance of Errington's
friendly feeling toward her. How cruel it was to be obliged thus to
reject his kindly advances! But it was wiser. If she met him often, what
would become of her determination to steel her heart against the
extraordinary feeling he had awakened? Besides, it could only be the
wonderful patient benevolence of his nature which made him take any
notice of her. In his own mind contempt could be the only feeling she
awakened. No; the less she saw of him, the better for her.

By the time De Burgh called to escort Katherine and Mrs. Ormonde (who
had dined with her) to the theatre he had conquered the extreme, though
unreasonable, annoyance which had seized him on finding Errington and
Katherine in apparently confidential conversation. He exerted himself
therefore to be an agreeable host with success.

A play was the amusement of all others which delighted Katherine and
drew her out of herself. De Burgh was diverted and Mrs. Ormonde half
ashamed of the profound interest, the entire attention, with which she
listened to the dialogue and awaited the _denouement_.

"I should have thought you had seen too much good acting abroad to be so
delighted with this," said Mrs. Ormonde.

"But this is excellent, and the style is so new I have to thank you, Mr.
De Burgh, for a delightful evening."

"The same to you," he returned. "Seeing you enjoy it so much woke me up
to the merits of the thing."

The supper was bright and lively. Three men besides himself, and a
cousin, a pretty, chatty woman of the world, completed De Burgh's party.
There was plenty of laughing and chaffing. Katherine felt seized by a
feverish desire to shake off dull care, to forget the past, to be as
other women were. There was no reason why she should not. So she laughed
and talked with unusual animation, and treated her host with kindly
courtesy, that set his deep eyes aglow with hope and pleasure.

"It is a great advantage to be rich," said Mrs. Ormonde, reflectively,
as she leaned comfortably in the corner of the carriage which conveyed
her and her sister-in-law home. She was always a little nettled when she
found how completely Katherine had effaced herself from De Burgh's
fickle mind. She had been highly pleased with the idea of having her
husband's distinguished relative for a virtuous and despairing adorer,
and his desertion had mortified her considerably.

"Yes, money is certainly a great help," returned Katherine, scarce
heeding what she said.

"It certainly has been to you, Katie. Don't think me disagreeable for
suggesting it, but do you suppose De Burgh would show you all this
devotion if you were to lose your money?"

"Oh no! He could not afford it. He told me he must marry a rich woman."

"Did he, really? It is just like him. What audacity! I wonder you ever
spoke to him again. Then you _are_ going in for rank, Katherine?"

"How can you tell? I don't know myself. Good-night. I shall tell you
whenever I know my own mind."

"She is as close as wax, with all her frankness," thought Mrs. Ormonde
as she went up to her room, after taking an affectionate leave of her
sister-in-law.

The boys at school, Katherine found time hung somewhat heavily on her
hands--a condition of things only too favorable to thought and visions
of what "might have been." So, with the earnest hope of finding the
exhilarations which might lead, through forgetfulness, to the happiness
she so eagerly craved, Katherine accepted almost all the invitations
which were soon showered upon her. At the houses of acquaintances she
had made abroad she made numerous new ones, who were quite ready to
_fete_, the handsome, sweet-voiced, pleasant-mannered heiress, who
seemed to think so little about herself.

"Just the creature to be imposed upon, my dear!" as each mother
whispered to the one next her, thinking, of course, of the other's son.

But her most satisfactory hours were those spent with Rachel, when they
talked of the business, and often branched off to more abstract
subjects. To the past they never alluded. Katherine was glad to see that
the dead, hopeless expression of Rachel Trant's eyes had changed, yet
not altogether for good. A certain degree of alertness had brightened
them, but with it had come a hard, steady look, as though the spirit
within had a special work to do, and was steeled and "straitened till it
be accomplished."

"You are quite a clever accountant, Rachel," said Katherine, one
afternoon in early April, after they had gone through the books
together. "You have been established nearly five months, and you have
paid expenses and a trifle over."

"It is not bad. Then, you see, the warehouses will give me credit for
the next orders, three months' credit, and my orders are increasing. I
am sure it is of great importance to have materials for customers to
choose from. Ladies like to be saved the trouble of shopping, and I can
give a dress at a more moderate rate, if I provide everything, than they
can buy it piecemeal. I hope to double the business this season, and pay
you a good percentage. Even on credit I can venture to order a fair
supply of goods."

"Don't try credit yet, Rachel," said Katherine, earnestly. "I can give
you a check now, and after this you can stand alone."

"Are you quite sure you can do this without inconvenience?" asked
Rachel. "If you can, I will accept it. I begin to feel sure I shall be
able to develop a good business and what will prove valuable property to
you. It is an ambition that has quite filled my heart, and in devoting
myself to it I have found the first relief from despair--a despair that
possessed my soul whenever you were out of my sight. When I am not
thinking of gowns and garnitures, I am adding up all the money you have
sunk in this adventure, and planning how it may ultimately pay you six
per cent. over and above expenses. It does not sound a very heroic style
of gratitude, but it is practical, and I believe feasible."

"You are intensely real," said Katherine, "and I believe you will be
successful."

After discussing a few more points connected with the undertaking they
parted, and before Katherine dressed for dinner she wrote and despatched
the promised check.

De Burgh had throughout this period conducted himself with prudence and
discretion. He often called about tea-time, and frequently managed to
meet Katherine in the evening, but he carefully maintained a frank,
friendly tone, even when expressing in his natural brusque way his
admiration of herself or her dress. He talked pleasantly to Miss Payne,
and subscribed to many of Bertie's charities. Katherine was getting
quite used to him, though they disagreed and argued a good deal. She
sometimes tried to persuade herself that De Burgh had given up his
original pretentions and would be satisfied with platonics. But her
inner consciousness rejected the theory. Still, De Burgh came to be
recognized as a favored suitor by society, and the "mothers, the
cousins, and the aunts" of eligible young men shook their heads over the
mistake she was making.

Now, after mature consideration, Katherine determined to make the will
she had so long postponed, and bequeath all she possessed to Errington.
It was rather a formidable undertaking to announce this intention to Mr.
Newton, who would be sure to be surprised and interrogative, but she
would do it. Having, therefore, made an appointment with him, she
screwed up her courage and set out, accompanied by Miss Payne, who had
been laid up with a cold, and was venturing out for the first time. She
took advantage of Katherine's brougham to have a drive. The morning was
very fine, and they started early, early enough to allow Miss Payne to
leave the carriage and walk a little in the sun on "the Ladies' Mile."

As they proceeded slowly along, a well-appointed phaeton and pair of
fine steppers passed them. It was occupied by two gentlemen, one old,
gray, bent, and closely wrapped up; the other vigorous, dark, erect,
held the reins. He lifted his hat as he passed Katherine and her
companion with a swift, pleased smile.

"Who are those women?" asked the old gentleman, in a thick growl.

"Miss Liddell and her companion."

"By George! she looks like a gentlewoman. Turn, and let us pass them
again."

De Burgh obeyed, and slackened speed as he went by. At the sound of the
horses' tramp Katherine turned her head and gave De Burgh a bright smile
and gracious bow.

"She is wonderfully good-looking for an heiress," remarked Lord de
Burgh, who was, of course, the wrapped-up old gentleman. "I should say
something for you if you could show such a woman with sixty or seventy
thousand behind her as your wife. Why don't you go in and win? Don't let
the grass grow under your feet."

"It is easier said than done. Miss Liddell is not an ordinary sort of
young lady; she is not to be hurried. But I do not despair, by any
means, of winning her yet. If I press my suit too soon, I may lose my
chance. Trust me, it won't be my fault if I fail."

"I see you are in earnest," said the old man, "and I believe you'll
win."

De Burgh nodded, and whipped up his horses.

"That must be the old lord," said Miss Payne, as the phaeton passed out
of sight. "Mr. De Burgh seems in high favor. I cannot help liking him
myself. There is no nonsense about him, and he is quite a gentleman in
spite of his _brusquerie_."

"Yes, I think he is," said Katherine, thoughtfully, and walked on a
little while in silence. Then Miss Payne said she felt tired; so they
got into the carriage again and drove to Mr. Newton's office. There
Katherine alighted, and desired the driver to take Miss Payne home and
return for herself.

"And what is your business to-day?" asked Mr. Newton, when, after a
cordial greeting, his fair client had taken a chair beside his knee-hole
table.

"A rather serious matter, I assure you. I want to make my will."

"Very right, very right; it will not bring you any nearer your last hour
and it ought to be done."

The lawyer drew a sheet of paper to him, and prepared to "take
instructions."

"I should like to leave several small legacies," began Katherine, "and
have put down the names of those I wish to remember, with the amounts
each is to receive. If you read over this paper" (handing it to him) "we
can discuss----"

She was interrupted by a tap at the door which faced her, but was on
Newton's left. A high screen protected the old lawyer from draughts, and
prevented him from seeing who entered until the visitor stood before
him.

"Come in," said Newton, peevishly; and as a clerk presented himself,
added, "What do you want?"

"Beg pardon, sir. A gentleman downstairs wants to see you so very
particularly that he insisted on my coming up."

"Well, say I can't. I am particularly engaged. He must wait."

While he spoke Katherine saw a man cross the threshold, a tall, gaunt
man, slightly stooped. His clothes hung loosely on him, but they were
new and good. His hair was iron gray, and thin on his craggy temples.
Something about his watchful, stern eyes, his close-shut mouth, and
strong, clean-shaven jaw seemed not unfamiliar to Katherine, and she was
strangely struck and interested in his aspect. Mr. Newton's last words
evidently reached his ear, for he answered, in deep, harsh tones, "No,
Newton, I will _not_ wait!" and walked in, pausing exactly opposite the
lawyer, who grew grayly pale, and starting from his seat, leaned both
hands on the table, while he trembled visibly. "My God!" he exclaimed,
hoarsely; "George Liddell!"

"Ay, George Liddell! I thought you would know me."



CHAPTER XXIV.

A TRAVELLER'S STORY.


When these startling sentences penetrated to Katherine's comprehension
she saw as with a flash their far-reaching consequences. Her uncle's
will suppressed, his son and natural heir would take everything. And her
dear boys--how would they fare?

She sat with wide-dilated eyes, gazing at the hard, displeased face of
this unwelcome intruder. There were a few moments of profound silence;
the old lawyer's hands, which relaxed their grasp of his chair as he
looked with startled amazement at his late client's son, visibly
trembled.

Liddell was the first to speak. "So you thought I was dead and out of
the way," he said, with a sneer; "that nothing would happen to disturb
the fortunate possessor of my father's money. I was dead and done for,
and a good riddance."

"But how--how is it that you are alive!" stammered Mr. Newton.

"Oh, that I can easily account for." And he looked round for a chair.

"Yes, pray sit down," said Mr. Newton, recovering himself.

Here Katherine, with the unconscious tact of a sensitive woman, feeling
how terrible it must be to find one's continued existence a source of
regret to others, rose and held out her hand. "Let me, your kinswoman,"
she said, "welcome you back to life and home. I hope there are many
happy years before you."

Liddell was greatly surprised. He mechanically took the hand offered to
him, and looking earnestly into her face, exclaimed, "Who are you?"

"Katherine Liddell, your uncle Frederic's daughter."

He dropped--indeed, almost threw--her hand from him. "What!" he cried,
"are _you_ the supplanter, who took all without an inquiry, without an
effort to find out if I were dead or alive?"

"Sit down--sit down--sit down," repeated Newton, still confused. "Let us
talk over everything. As to trying to find you, we never dreamed of
finding you, considering that twelve, fourteen years ago we had an
account of your death from an eye-witness."

"Cowardly liar! It was worth a Jew's ransom to see him turn white and
drop into a chair when I confronted him the day before yesterday."

"Why did you not communicate with me on hearing of your father's death?"

"When do you think I heard of it? Do you fancy I sat down in the midst
of my busy day to pore over the births, deaths, and marriages in a
paper, like a gossiping woman? Kith and kin were dead to me long ago.
What did I care for English papers? What had my life or the life of my
poor mother been that I should give those I had left behind a thought?"
He paused, and taking a chair, looked very straight at Katherine. "Now I
shall tell you my story, once for all, to show you that there is no use
in disputing my rights. You know"--addressing Newton--"how my life was
made a burden to me, and that I ran away to sea, ready to throw myself
into it rather than return to my miserable home. After several voyages I
found myself at Sydney. A young fellow who had been my mate on the
voyage out, an active, clever chap, proposed that we should start for
the gold fields; so we started. It was a desperate long tramp, but we
reached them at last. Life was hard and rough, and for a time we worked
and worked, and got nothing. At last we found a pocket, just as we were
going to give up, and having secured a fair lot of gold, we divided our
gains and determined to leave the camp, which was not too safe for a
successful digger, before the rest knew of our treasure-trove. We
decided to trudge it to the nearest place where we could buy horses, and
then to make our way to Sydney as fast as we could. Somehow it must have
got out that we _had_ gold, for as the dusk of evening was closing round
us on the second day of our march we were attacked by some men on
horseback--bush-rangers, I suppose. We showed fight, and I was hit in
the shoulder. At the same time I stumbled over a stump, and pitched on
to my head, which stunned me. Just then, it seems, the sound of horses
approaching frightened the scoundrels, and they made off. My mate, not
knowing whether the new-comers were friends or foes, he says, got away
as fast as he could. His story is that as soon as all was still he crept
back, and finding me apparently quite dead, went on to report the
catastrophe at the first road-side inn he came to. _I_ believe that,
thinking me dead, he took all my gold, and said precious little about
me."

"His story to me," interrupted Mr. Newton, "was that he got assistance
and buried your remains as decently as he could."

"What induced him to apply to you at all?"

"I do not know. I fancy it was to hand over a few small nuggets, which
he said was your share of the findings, and which he took from your
waistband before committing you to the grave. As he seemed frank and
straightforward and quite poor, I confess I believed him, and even
requested Mr. Liddell to give him some small present. He said he was
going afloat again, and would sail in a few days. He had an old
clasp-knife which I myself had given you, and with it a small
pocket-book in which your name and my address were written in your own
hand. These were tolerably convincing proofs that he at least knew you.
Moreover, there seemed no need whatever that he should have made any
attempt to communicate with your people. He might have held his tongue,
and no question would have been raised respecting you."

"You are right," returned Liddell, bitterly.

"And how did you escape?" asked Katherine, with eager interest.

"He--this Tom Dunford--_did_ go to the next inn and told of the attack;
he even guided some men to the spot, and left _them_ to bury me, because
he was obliged to hurry on to Sydney; but I believe he returned, before
going to the inn, and robbed me. Anyhow I was not killed by the bullet,
but stunned by the fall. Some of the fellows who came with Tom fancied I
did not seem quite dead. Finally I recovered, and instead of digging for
gold myself, got others to dig for me. I set up an inn and a store, with
the help of an American whose daughter I married, and now I am rich
enough to be a formidable foe. I have a little girl, and when my wife
died I determined to realize everything, to come to England, and have
the child brought up as an English lady. On the voyage home I fell in
with a man--a fellow of the rolling-stone order--to whom I used to talk
now and again. He turned out to be the brother of one of your clerks,
and from him I heard that my father had died intestate, that my cousin
had taken possession of everything, and that I was looked upon as dead.
Did you never attempt to prove the truth of Tom Dunford's story?"

"We did. I communicated with the police of Sydney, and they found that
there had been a fight between bush-rangers and diggers returning from
Woollamaroo at the time and place specified; moreover, that one of the
diggers was killed, while the other escaped, but further nothing was
known. The man who kept the inn mentioned by Dunford had made money and
moved off, so the track was broken. Then all these years you made no
sign. Did you not see the advertisements I put in an Australian paper?"

"No; I was far away from any town, and rarely saw any but the American
papers which came to my master. Well, here I am, determined to have
every inch of my rights, let who will stand in my way; and
_you_"--looking fiercely into Newton's eyes--"shall be my first
witness."

"I cannot deny that I recognize you," said Newton, reluctantly.

Liddell laughed scornfully. "And you?" turning to Katherine.

"I have no doubt you are my cousin George."

"Right! As to that fellow Tom--he would never have hurt me, but I am
sure he robbed me, especially if he thought I was dead. His game was to
hold himself harmless whether I lived or died, only he ought not to have
committed himself to seeing me buried. I found him out in Liverpool, and
gave him a fright, for he really believed me dead. Now, cousin, I hope
you understand that I mean to take every farthing of my father's
fortune. He never did me much good in my life, nor my poor mother
either, and I am determined to get all I can out of what he has left
behind him. But I never dreamed he could pass away without taking care
that nothing should come to me. It is strange that your mother and my
uncle should make no fresh attempt to discover me."

"We had looked upon you as dead for years, and my father had died before
the news of your supposed murder reached us." Katherine could hardly
steady her voice; she was burning to get away. "I beg you will not
resent the fact of my most unconscious usurpation. I would not do
anything unjust." She stopped, remembering what she _had_ done. Surely
the punishment was coming quick upon her.

"Ay," said George Liddell, looking sternly at her. "It is a bitter pill
for a fine lady like you to swallow, to find a ragged outcast like me
thrusting you from the place you have no right to; where my poor little
wild untutored girl will take her stand in spite of you all."

"From what I have heard, I do not think my father or mother ever treated
you as an outcast," said Katherine, with quiet dignity; adding, as she
rose to leave them, "You seem so irritated against me I will leave you
with Mr. Newton, who will, I know, act as a true friend to both of us."

Mr. Newton, with a grave and troubled face, hastened after to see her
to her carriage. "This is an awful blow!" he said in a low voice.

"It is, no doubt. Do you think, as he is already rich, that he might do
something for the boys? Then I should not care."

"The boys!"--impatiently. "You need not trouble about them when he has
the power to _rob_ you even of the trifle you inherit from your father
by demanding the arrears of income since your uncle's death, as he has
the right to do. Why, he can beggar you!"

"Indeed! He looks like a hard man; he is like his father."

"Well, trust me, I will do my best for you."

"I know you will," returned Katherine, pressing the old lawyer's hand as
he leaned against the carriage door.

"Good-by! God bless you!" he returned; and Katherine was carried away
from him. Slowly and sadly the old man ascended to his office again to
confront the angry claimant, who awaited him impatiently.

Meantime Katherine was striving to think clearly, to rouse herself from
the stunned, bewildered condition into which the appearance of George
Liddell had thrown her, and which Mr. Newton's words increased. What was
to become of Cis and Charlie if she were beggared? She could not face
the prospect. There was still a way of escape left, a glimpse of which
had been given to her as she listened to her cousin's vindictive
utterances. If she could prevail on Errington to produce the will and
assert his right, he would provide for those poor innocent boys, and
never ask _her_ for any of the money she had spent. Maybe he would share
with George himself. She must see Errington at once, and with the
strictest secrecy. Her thoughts cleared as, bit by bit, her plan
unfolded itself in her busy brain. Then she made up her mind. Touching
the check-string, she desired the driver to stop at a small fancyware
and stationer's shop near Miss Payne's house. Arrived there, she
dismissed the carriage, saying she would walk home.

"Give me paper and an envelope: I want to write a few lines," she said
to the smiling shopwoman, who knew her to be one of their best
customers.

Having traced a few words entreating Errington to see her early next
day--should he happen to be out or engaged--she hailed a hansome, and
went as quickly as she could to his lodgings in the Temple.

It was quite different, this second visit, from the first. He now knew
all, and in spite of her fears and profound uneasiness she felt a thrill
of pleasure at the idea of the necessity for taking counsel with him,
the prospect of half an hour's undisturbed communication, of hearing his
voice, and feeling his kind forgiving glance. Still it was an awful
trial too--to tell him the upshot of her dishonesty, the confusion she
had wrought by her deviation into a crooked path. She was trembling from
head to foot by the time she reached Errington's abode.

A severe-looking woman, a caretaker apparently, was on the stair as
Katherine ascended, feeling dreadfully puzzled what to do, as she
feared having to knock in vain and go away without leaving her note.

"Can you tell me if Mr. Errington is at home?" she asked, timidly, quite
frightened at the sound of her own voice in so strange a place.

"I am sure I don't know, miss. I dare say he's gone out. He is up the
next flight."

"May I ask you to inquire if he is in? If not, would you be so kind as
to leave this note?"

The woman took it with a rather discontented suspicious air, but finding
it was accompanied by a coin of the realm, went on her errand with great
alacrity. Katherine followed slowly.

"You're to walk up at once; he's in," said the emissary, meeting her at
the top of the stair.

At the door stood Errington, her note in his hand, and a serious, uneasy
expression on his countenance. Katherine was very white; her eyes were
dilated with a look of fear and distress.

"Pray come in," said Errington; and he closed the door behind her. "I
fear you are in some difficulty. You can speak without reserve; I am
quite alone."

Katherine was aware of passing through a small room with doors right and
left, and possessing only a couple of chairs and a small table; through
this Errington led her to his sitting-room, which was almost lined with
books, and comfortably furnished. He placed a chair for her, and
returned to his own seat by a table at which he had been writing.

"The last time I came it was in the hope of assisting _you_ by my
confession; now I have come to beg for your help--" She stopped
abruptly. "My uncle's son George, who was believed to have been killed
by bush-rangers in Australia more than fourteen years ago, has returned,
alive and well."

"But can he prove his identity?"

"I was with Mr. Newton when he came into the office, and the moment Mr.
Newton saw him he started up, exclaiming, 'George Liddell!' and I--I saw
the likeness to his father."

"Did Newton know him formerly?"

"Yes; he seems to have been almost his only friend."

"How was it he did not put in an appearance and assert his rights
before?"

"I will tell you all." And she went on to describe the interview which
had just taken place, the curious vindictive spirit which her cousin
displayed, his very recent knowledge of his father's death, and Mr.
Newton's words of warning, "He has the power to rob you even of the
trifle you inherit from your father, by demanding the arrears of income
since your uncle's death; he can beggar you."

"No doubt he can, but surely he will not!" exclaimed Errington.

"It seems to me that if he can he will. To give him up that which is his
is quite right, and will not cost me a pang; but to be penniless, to
send back my poor dear little boys, to be considered and treated as
burdens by their mother and Colonel Ormonde--oh, I cannot bear it! I
know now Charlie would be crushed and Cecil would be hardened. It is
for this I come to you for help. Mr. Errington, I implore you to produce
the will which puts this cruelty out of George Liddell's power. Surely
you might say that not liking to disinherit me, you suppressed it? This
is true, you know."

"The will!" exclaimed Errington, starting up and pacing the room in
great agitation. "My God! I have destroyed it. Thinking it safer for you
that it should be out of the way, I destroyed it, and by so doing I have
given you, bound hand and foot, into the power of this man. Can you
forgive me?--can you ever forgive me?" He took and wrung her hand,
holding it for a moment, while he looked imploringly into her eyes.

"Oh yes, I do heartily forgive you. You only did it to save me from any
chance of discovery. If only George Liddell will be satisfied not to
claim the money I have spent, I may still be able to keep the boys, for
I have nearly a hundred and fifty pounds a year quite my own," cried
Katherine, loosing her hand. "Do not distress yourself, Mr. Errington. I
know Mr. Newton will do his best for me, and perhaps my cousin will not
exact the arrears. He says he is rich, and if I give him no trouble----"
she paused, for she could not command her voice, while the tears were
already glittering in her eyes. Another word and they would have been
rolling down her cheeks.

"Don't cry, for God's sake!" said Errington, in a low tone, resuming his
seat. "What can be done to soften this fellow? Ah! Miss Liddell, we are
quits now. If you robbed me, I have ruined you."

"From what different motives!" said Katherine, recovering her
self-control. "_I_ am still the wrong-doer."

How heavenly sweet it was to be consoled and sympathized with by him!
But she dared not stay. It was terribly bold of her to have come to his
rooms, only he would never misjudge her, and she was so little known she
scarcely feared recognition by any one she might meet.

"Could I assist Mr. Newton at all in dealing with this kinsman of
yours?" resumed Errington, gazing at her with a troubled look.

"I fear you could not. How are you to know anything of my troubles? No
one dreams that you have any knowledge of my affairs; that you and you
only are aware what an impostor I am."

"You are expiating your offence bitterly. But when the story of this
George Liddell comes out, why should I not, as the son of his father's
old friend, make his acquaintance, and try to persuade him to forego his
full rights?"

"You might try," said Katherine, dejectedly. "Now I have trespassed long
enough. I must go. I have to explain matters to Miss Payne, and I feel
curiously dazed. Oh, if I can keep the boys!"

"If any effort of mine can help you, it is my duty as well as my sincere
pleasure to do all I can."

"And if the will existed would you have acted on it?"

"Most certainly--in your defence."

"Ah!" cried Katherine, her eyes lighting up, her tremulous lips parting
in a smile. "Then you would have had some of the money too."

"Then you quite forgive me?" again rising, and coming over to stand
beside her.

"You must feel I do, Mr. Errington. Now I will say good-by. If you can
help me with George, I shall be most grateful."

"Promise that you will look on me as one of your most devoted friends.
He took her hand again.

"Can you indeed feel friendship for one you cannot respect?" she
returned, in a low tone, with one of the quick, vivid blushes which
usually rose to her cheek when she was much moved.

"But I do respect you. Why should I not? A generous, impulsive woman
like you cannot be judged by the cold maxims of exact justice; you must
be tried by the higher rules of equity."

"You comfort me," said Katherine, with indescribably sweet graceful
humility. "I thank you heartily, and will say good-by."

"I will come and see you into a cab," returned Errington, feeling
himself anxious that no one should recognize her, and not knowing when
their _tete-a-tete_ might be interrupted.

They went out together, and walked a little way in silence. "You will
let me come and see you, to hear--" began Errington, when Katherine
interrupted him.

"Not just now. I think we had better not seem to know anything of each
other, or perhaps George Liddell may suspect you of being my friend."

"I see. But at least you will keep me informed of how things go on.
Remember how tormented I am with remorse for my hasty act."

"You need not be. But I will write. There--there is a cab."

Errington hailed it, handed her in carefully, and they said good-by with
a sudden sense of intimacy which months of ordinary communication would
not have produced.


It was a very serious undertaking to break the intelligence to Miss
Payne, and poor Katherine felt quite exhausted before her exclamations,
questions, and wonderings were half over.

On one or two points Miss Payne at once made up her mind, nor had she
ever quite altered her opinion: This man representing himself as George
Liddell was an impostor who had known the real "Simon Pure," and got
himself up accordingly as soon as he heard that the late John Liddell
had died intestate; that Mr. Newton was a weak-minded, credulous idiot
to acknowledge this impostor at first sight, _if_ he were not a
double-dealing traitor ready to play into the hands of the new claimant.
He ought to have thrown the onus of proof on _him_, instead of
acknowledging his identity by that childish exclamation. Don't tell
_her_ that he was startled out of prudence and precaution. A spirit from
above or below would not have thrown her (Miss Payne) off her guard
where property was concerned, and what was the use of men's superior
strength and courage if they could not hold their tongues in presence of
an unexpected apparition?

She was, however, profoundly disturbed, and sent at once for her
brother.

It was evening before he arrived in Wilton Street, having gone out
before Miss Payne's note reached him. Like Errington, he was at first
incredulous, and when he had gathered the facts of the case, absolutely
overcome. In fact, he showed more emotion than Errington, yet it did not
impress Katherine so much as Errington's deep, suppressed feeling.

"But what are you to do?" he said, raising his head, which he had bowed
on his hand in a kind of despair.

"It is just the question I have been asking myself," said Katherine,
quietly. "For even if dear old Mr. Newton succeeds in softening George
Liddell, and he forgives me the outlay of what was certainly his money,
the little that belongs to myself I shall want for my nephews."

"And pray is their mother to contribute nothing toward the maintenance
of her children?" asked Miss Payne, severely.

"Poor Ada! she has nothing of her own; it will be desperately hard on
her;" and Katherine sighed deeply. Her hearers little knew the remorse
that afflicted her as she reflected on the false position into which she
had drawn her sister-in-law. What a rage Colonel Ormonde would be in!
How unwisely audacious it was in any mere mortal to play Providence for
herself or her fellows! But Miss Payne was speaking:

"I don't see the hardship; she has a husband behind her--a rich man
too."

"For herself it is all well enough, but it must be very hard to think
that one's children are a burden on a reluctant husband; besides, the
boys will feel it cruelly. Oh, if I can only keep them with me!"

"I understand you," cried Bertie. "Would to God you could lay your
burden at His feet who alone can help in time of need. If you could----"

He was interrupted by Francois, who brought a letter just arrived by the
last post.

"It is from Mr. Newton," exclaimed Katherine, opening it eagerly. And
having read it rapidly, she added, "You would like to hear what he says."


"'MY DEAR MISS LIDDELL,--As I cannot see you early to-morrow I
will send you a report. I had a long argument with your cousin after you
left to-day, and although he is still in an unreasonable state of
irritation against you and myself and every one, I do not despair of
bringing him to a better and a juster frame of mind. For the present it
would be as well you did not meet. I should advise your taking steps at
once to remove your nephews from Sandbourne, and also, while you have
money pay the quarter in advance, as you do not know how matters may
turn. It was a most fortunate circumstance that the house occupied by
Miss Trant was purchased in her name, as Mr. Liddell cannot touch that,
and if she is at all the woman you suppose her to be, she will pay you
interest for your money. If you could only persuade your cousin to let
you see and make friends with this little daughter of his--_there_ lies
the road to his heart.

"'Meanwhile say as little as possible to any one about this sudden
change in your fortunes. To Miss Payne you must, of course, explain
matters; but she is a sensible, prudent woman.

    "'With sincere sympathy, believe me yours most truly,
                                                "'W. NEWTON.'"


"There is a gleam of hope, then," exclaimed Bertie.

"I don't know what you mean about hope. At best a drop from about two
thousand a year to a hundred and fifty is not a subject for
congratulation.--Well, Katherine, you are most welcome to stay here as
my guest till you find something to do, for find something you must."

"I knew you would be kind and true," said Katherine, her voice a little
tremulous, "and believe me I will not sit with folded hands."



CHAPTER XXV.

"BREAD CAST ON THE WATERS."


There were indeed long and heavy days for Katherine, few though they
were, before Mr. Newton thought it well to communicate the intelligence
to Colonel and Mrs. Ormonde. He wished to be able to extract some more
favorable terms from Liddell, so that his favorite client might fulfil
her ardent desire to keep her nephews still with her, and assist in
their maintenance and education. This was, in the shrewd old lawyer's
estimation, a most Quixotic project, but he saw it was the only idea
which enabled her to bear the extreme distress caused by the prospect of
returning the poor children on their mother's hands.

A period of uncertainty is always trying, and the reflection that the
present crisis was the result of her unfortunate infringement of the
unalterable law of right and wrong overwhelmed her with a sense of
guilt. Had she not meddled with the matter, no doubt such a man as
Errington would, were the case properly represented to him, have given
some portion of the wealth bequeathed him to the family of the testator.
But how could she have foreseen? True; but she might have resisted the
temptation to deviate from the straight path. "She might!" What an abyss
of endless regret yawns at the sound of those words, used in the sense
of too late!

This was a hard worldly trouble over which she could not weep. Over and
over again she told herself that nothing should part her from the boys,
that she would devote her life to repair as far as possible the injury
she had done them. And Ada, would she also suffer for her (Katherine's)
sins? But while brooding constantly on these miserable thoughts she kept
a brave front, quiet and steady, though Miss Payne saw that her
composure hid a good deal of suffering.

It was more, however, than Katherine's resolution could accomplish to
keep a few evening engagements which she had made. "I should feel too
great an impostor," she said. "How thankful I shall be when the murder
is out and the nine days' wonder over! Have you any commissions, dear
Miss Payne? I want an object to take me out, and I feel I must not mope
in-doors."

"No, I cannot say I have any shopping to do, and I am obliged to go into
the City myself. Take a steady round of Kensington Gardens; it is quite
mild and bright to-day. I shall not return till six, I am afraid."

So Katherine went out alone immediately after luncheon, before the world
and his wife had time to get abroad. She had made a circuit of the
ornamental water, and was returning by the footpath near the sunk fence
which separates the Gardens from the Park, when she recognized De Burgh
coming toward her. He had been in her thoughts at the moment; for,
feeling that it was quite likely he had been considered a suitor, she
was anxious to give him an opportunity of making an honorable retreat
before society found out that the sceptre of wealth had slipped from her
hand.

"Pray is this the way you cure a cold?" he asked, abruptly. "Last night
Lady Mary Vincent informed me that you had staid at home to nurse a
cold. This morning I call to enquire for the interesting invalid, and
find she is out in the cool February air."

"It is very mild, and it is at night the air is dangerous," returned
Katherine, smiling.

"Now I look at you, I don't think you look so blooming as usual. May I
go back with you and pay my visit of condolence, in spite of having left
my card?"

"Yes," said Katherine, with sudden decision. "I want to speak to you."

"Indeed!"--with a keen, eager look. "This is something new. May I ask--"

"No; not until we are in Miss Payne's drawing-room."

"You alarm me. Could it be possible that you, peerless as you are, have
got into a scrape?"

"Well, I think I can say I have," said Katherine, smiling.

"Great heavens! this is delightful."

"Let us talk of something else."

"By all means. Will you hear some gossip? I don't often retail any, but
I fancy you'll be amused and interested to know that Lady Alice Mordaunt
is really going to marry that brewer fellow. You remember I told you
what I thought was going on last autumn."

"Is it possible?" cried Katherine. "Imagine her so soon forgetting Mr.
Errington!"

"And why should not that immaculate individual be exempt from the usual
fate of man?"

"I don't know--except that he is not an ordinary man."

"No; certainly not. He is an extraordinary fellow; but I must say he has
shown great staying power in his late difficulties. They tell me he has
been revenging himself by writing awful problems, political and
critical, which require a forty-horse intellectual power to understand."
And De Burgh talked on, seeing that his companion was disinclined to
speak until they reached Miss Payne's house.

Katherine took off her hat and warm cloak with some deliberation,
thinking how best to approach her subject. Pushing back her hair, which
had become somewhat disordered from its own weight, she sat down on an
ottoman, and raising her eyes to De Burgh, who stood on the hearth-rug,
said, slowly, "I have a secret to tell you which you must keep for a few
weeks."

"For an eternity, if you will trust me," he returned, in low, earnest
tones, his dark eyes fixed upon her, as if trying to read her heart.

"Well, then, my uncle's son and heir, whom we believed to be dead, has
suddenly reappeared, and of course takes the fortune I have been, let us
_say_, enjoying."

De Burgh did not reply at once; his eyes continued to search her face as
if to discover some hidden meaning.

"Do you mean me to take you seriously, Miss Liddell?"

"Quite. Moreover, I fear my cousin means to demand the arrears of
income--income which I have spent."

"But the fellow must be an impostor. Your man of business, Newton, will
never yield to his demands. He must prove his case."

"I think he has proved it. Mr. Newton recognized him at the first
glance; and he bears a strong resemblance to his father. I feel he is
the man he asserts himself to be."

"Do you intend to give up without a struggle? What account does this
intruder give of himself?"

Katherine gave him a brief sketch of the story, speaking with firmness
and composure.

"What an infernal shame!" cried De Burgh, when she ceased speaking. "I
wish I had had a chance of sending a bullet through his head, and as
sure as there is a devil down below I'd have verified the report of his
death! Why, what is to be done?"

"I still faintly hope Mr. Newton may persuade him to forego his first
demand for the restoration of those moneys I have spent. If so, I am not
quite penniless, and can hope to-- At all events, I thought it but right
to give you early information, as--"

"Why?" interrupted De Burgh (for she hesitated), throwing himself on the
ottoman and leaning against the arm which divided the seats, till his
long dark mustaches nearly touched the coils of her hair. "Why?" he
repeated, as she did not answer immediately. "I know well enough. It is
your loyalty that makes you wish to open a way of escape to the friend
who is credited with seeking your fortune. I see it all."

"You can assign any motive you like, Mr. De Burgh, but I thought--I
wished--I believed it better to let you know; for I shall always
consider you my friend, even if we do not meet," said Katherine, a good
deal unhinged by the excitement and distress he displayed.

"Meet? why, of course we shall meet! Do you think anything in heaven or
earth would make me give up the attempt, hopeless as it may seem, to win
you? I know you don't care a rap for me now, but I cannot, dare not
despair. I've too much at stake. There is the awful sting of this
misfortune. Even if you, by some blessed intervention of Providence,
were ready to marry me, I don't see how I could drag you into such a sea
of trouble. Besides, there's old De Burgh; he must be kept in
good-humor. By Heaven! this miserable want of money is the most utter
degradation--irresistible, enslaving. I feel like a beaten cur. I am
tied hand and foot. Had I not been such a reckless idiot, why, your
misfortunes might have been my best chance. I dare say that sounds
shabby enough, but I like to let you see what I am, good and bad;
besides, I am ready to do _anything_, right or wrong, to win you."

"Ah, Mr. De Burgh, no crookedness ever succeeds. And then I do not
deserve that you should think so much or care so much for me, for I do
not wish to marry you or any one. My plan of life is framed on quite
different lines. Do put me out of your mind, and think of your own
fortunes. Do not vex Lord De Burgh; but oh! pray give up racing and
gambling. You know I really do like you, not exactly in the way you
wish, but it adds greatly to my troubles (for I am very sorry to lose my
fortune, I assure you) to see you so--so disturbed."

"If you look at me so kindly with those sweet wet eyes I shall lose my
head," cried De Burgh, who was already beside himself, for the gulf
which had suddenly yawned between him and the woman he coveted seemed to
grow wider as he looked at it. "I am the most unlucky devil in
existence, and I have brought _you_ ill luck. I should have kept away
from you, for you are a hundred thousand times too good for me; but as I
_have_ thrown myself headlong into the delicious pain of loving you,
won't you give me a chance? Promise to wait for me: a week, a day, may
see me wealthy, and I swear I will strive to be worthy too: why were
those bush-rangers such infernally bad-shots?--and I can be no use to
you whatever?"

"But I have many kind friends, Mr. De Burgh. You must not distress
yourself about me. I am not frightened, I assure you. Now I have told
you everything, don't you think you would better go?" She rose as she
spoke, and held out her hand.

"Better for you, yes, but not for me. Look here, Katherine, don't banish
me. I am obliged to go with old De Burgh to Paris. He is making for
Cannes again, and asked me to come so far. Of course he has a chain
round my neck. I must obey orders like his bond-slave, but when I come
back--don't banish me. I swear I'll be an unobtrusive friend, and I may
be of use. Don't send me quite away; in short, I won't take a dismissal.
What is it you object to? What absurd stories have been told you to set
you against me? Other women have liked me well enough."

"I have no doubt you deserve to be loved, Mr. De Burgh, but there are
feelings that, like the wind, blow where they list; we cannot tell
whence they come or whither they go. I am sorry I do not love you,
but--I am very tired. If you care to come and see me when you come back,
come _if_ I have any place in which to receive you."

"If I write, will you answer my letters?"

"Oh no; don't write; I would rather you did not."

"I am a brute to keep you when you look so white; I'll go. Good-by for
the present--only for the present, you dear, sweet woman!" He kissed her
hand twice and went quickly out of the room.

Katherine heaved a sigh of relief. The degree of liking she had for De
Burgh made her feel greatly distressed at having been obliged to give
him pain. Yet she was not by any means disposed to trust him; his
restless eagerness to gratify every whim and desire as it came to him,
the kind of harshness which made him so indifferent to the feelings and
opinions of those who opposed him--this was very repellent to
Katherine's more considerate and sympathetic nature. Besides, and above
all, De Burgh was not Errington; and it needs no more to explain why the
former, who had no reason hitherto to complain of the coldness of women,
found the only one he had ever loved with a high order of affection
untouched by his wooing.


The day after this interview Katherine, accompanied by Miss Payne, went
down to Sandbourne to interview the principal of the boys' school, to
explain the state of affairs, to give notice that she should be obliged
to remove them, and to pay in advance for the time they were to remain.

The visit was full of both pain and pleasure. The genuine delight of the
children on seeing her unexpectedly, their joy at being permitted to go
out to walk with her, their innocent talk, and the castles in the air
which they erected in the firm conviction that they were to have horses
and dogs, man-servants and maid-servants, all the days of their lives,
touched her heart. The principal gave a good account of both. Cecil was,
he said, erratic and excitable in no common degree, but though
troublesome, he was truthful and straightforward, while Charlie promised
to develop qualities of no common order. He entered with a very friendly
spirit into the anxiety of the young aunt, whose motherly tenderness for
her nephews touched him greatly. He gave her some valuable advice, and
the address of two schools regulated to suit parents of small means, and
which he could safely recommend. By his suggestion nothing was said for
the present to Cis or Charlie regarding the impending change, lest they
should be unsettled.

"And shall we come to stay at Miss Payne's for the Easter holidays?"
cried the boys in chorus, as Katherine took leave of them the next day.

"I hope so, dears, but I am not sure."

"Then will you come down to Sandbourne? That would be jolly."

"I cannot promise, Cecil. We will see."

"But, auntie, we'll not have to go to Castleford?"

"Why? Would you not like to go?"

"No. Would you, Charlie? I don't like being there nearly so much as at
school. I don't like having dinner by ourselves, and yet I don't care to
dine with Colonel Ormonde; he is always in a wax."

"He does not mean to be cross," said Katherine, her heart sinking within
her. Should she be obliged to hand over the poor little helpless fellows
to the reluctant guardianship of their irritable step-father? This would
indeed be a pang. Was it for this she had broken the law, and marred the
harmony of her own moral nature?

"Well, my own dear, I will do the best I can for you, you may be quite
sure. Now you must let me go; I will come again as soon as I can." Cis
kissed her heartily, and scampered away to take his place in the
class-room, quite content with his school life. Charlie threw his arms
around his auntie's neck, and clung to her lovingly. But he too was
called away, and nothing remained for Katherine and her companion but to
make their way to the station and return to town.

This visit cost Katherine more than any other outcome of George
Liddell's reappearance. Her quick imagination depicted what the boys'
lives would be under the jurisdiction of their mother and her
husband--the worries, the suppression, the sense of being always naughty
and in the wrong, the different yet equally pernicious effect such
treatment would have on the brothers.

"This is the worst part of the business to you," said Miss Payne, when
they had reached home and sat down to a late tea together. "You look
like a ghost, or as if you had seen one. You will make yourself ill, and
really there is no need to do anything of the kind. Those children have
a mother who is very well off. I always thought it frightfully imprudent
of you to take those boys even when you had plenty of money. Now, of
course, when it is impossible for you to keep them, it is a bitter
wrench to part, but--"

"But I am not sure that we must part," interrupted Katherine, eagerly.
"Should my cousin be induced to forego his claims upon me for the income
I have expended, and I can find some means of maintaining myself, I
could still provide for their school expenses and keep them with me."

"Maintain yourself, my dear Katherine; it is easier said than done. You
are quite infatuated about those nephews of yours, and I dare say they
will give you small thanks."

"I know it is not easy for an untrained woman like myself to find
remunerative work, but I shall try. Here is a note from Mr. Newton
asking me to call on him to-morrow. Let us hope he will have some good
news, though I cannot help fearing he would have told me in this if he
had."

It was with a sickening sensation of uneasy hope shot with dark streaks
of fear that Katherine started to keep her appointment with Mr. Newton.
Eager to begin her economy at once, Katherine took an omnibus instead of
indulging in a brougham or a cab. She could not help smiling at her own
sense of helpless discomfort when a fat woman almost sat down upon her,
and the conductor told her to look sharp when the vehicle stopped to let
her alight; as she reflected that barely three years ago she considered
an omnibus rather a luxury, and that it was a matter of careful
calculation how many pennies might be saved by walking to certain points
whence one could travel at a reduced fare. How easily are luxurious and
self-indulgent habits formed! Well, she had done with them forever now;
nor would anything seem a hardship were she but permitted to repair in
some measure the evil she had wrought.

She found Mr. Newton awaiting her with evident impatience. "Well, my
dear Miss Liddell," he said, "I have been most anxious to see you,
though I have not much that is cheering to communicate. I have had
several interviews with your cousin, but he seems still unaccountably
hard and vindictive. However, as I am, of course, _your_ adviser, he has
been obliged to seek another solicitor, and I am happy to say he has
fallen into good hands, and that by a sort of lucky chance."

"How?" asked Katherine, who was looking pale and feeling in the depths.

"Well, a few days ago a gentleman called here to ask me for the address
of a former client of whom I have heard nothing for years. I think you
know or have met this gentleman--Mr. Errington."

"I do," cried Katherine, now all attention.

"While we were speaking Mr. Liddell was announced. Errington looked at
him hard, and then asked politely if he were the son of the late Mr.
John Liddell, who had been a great friend of his (Errington's) father.
Your cousin seemed to know the name, and, moreover, very pleased at
being spoken to and remembered. Mr. Errington offered to call, and now I
find he has recommended his own solicitors, Messrs. Compton & Barnes, to
George Liddell. I had an interview with the head of the firm yesterday,
and he has evidently advised that the strictly legal claims against you
should not be pressed. I cannot help thinking that Mr. Errington has
interested himself on your side."

"Indeed!" cried Katherine, life and warmth coming back to her heart at
his words.

"Yes, I do. Compton appears to have the highest possible opinion of
Errington as a man of integrity and intelligence. He, Compton says,
believes that if Liddell could be persuaded such a line of conduct
toward you would injure him socially, he would not seek to enforce his
rights, for he is evidently anxious to make a position in the
respectable world. As you make no opposition to his claims he ought to
show you consideration. This accidental encounter between Errington and
your cousin will, I am sure, prove a fortunate circumstance."

In her own mind Katherine could not help doubting its accidental
character. How infinitely good and forgiving Errington was! While she
thought, Mr. Newton mused.

"I suppose you have a tolerable balance at the bank?" he said, abruptly.

"Yes. I have never spent a year's income in a year. Just lately, except
for buying that house, I have spent very little."

"That house! Oh--ah! I shall be curious to see how Miss Trant will
behave. If she is true to her word; if she looks upon your loan to her
as a loan--an investment on your side--you may gain an addition to your
income through what was an act of pure benevolence. When you go home, my
dear young lady, look at your bank-book, and let me know exactly how you
stand. We might offer this cormorant of a cousin a portion of your
savings to finish the business. Indeed I should advise you to draw a
good large check at once so as to provide yourself with ready money."

"Would it be quite--quite honest to do so?" asked Katherine, anxiously.

"Pray do you impugn my integrity?"

"No! But suppose George Liddell found I had drawn a large check--perhaps
the very day before I propose through you to hand over what remains to
me--he would think me a cheat?"

"And pray why should he know anything about your bank-book? or what
consideration do you owe him? He is behaving very harshly and badly to
you. We will state what is in the bank after you have drawn your check,
and offer him half--which is a great deal too much for him. Yet I should
like him to be your friend, if possible. Could you get hold of that
little girl of his? Affection for her seems to be the only human thing
about him."

"I think I should rather have nothing to do with him," murmured
Katherine.

"Well, well, we will see. Now, though we have not succeeded in coming to
any settlement with Liddell, I believe we ought not to leave Mrs.
Ormonde any longer in ignorance respecting the change which has taken
place."

"No, I am sure they ought to know. I have been troubling myself about
both the Colonel and Mrs. Ormonde," said Katherine. "This is what I
dread most." And she sighed.

"I do not see why you need. I am sure you acted with noble liberality to
Mrs. Ormonde and her boys when you thought you were the rightful owner
of the property."

"The rightful owner," repeated Katherine, with a thrill of pain. "It has
been an unfortunate ownership to me."

"It has--it has indeed, my dear young lady, but we must see how to help
you at this juncture. If Miss Trant behaves as she ought, we must put a
little more capital in that concern if it is as thriving as you believe.
It may turn out very useful to you."

"I have not seen her since my cousin came to life again, for I could not
see her and keep back my strange story. May I tell her now?"

"Certainly. It was from Colonel and Mrs. Ormonde I wished to keep back
the disastrous news till some agreement should be come to."

"You must not call my cousin's return to life and country disastrous,"
said Katherine, smiling. "I am sure, if he will only give me the chance
of keeping my boys with me, I am quite ready to welcome him to both. Now
I shall leave you, for I want to send away my letter to Ada this
evening, and it is a difficult letter to write."

"I have no doubt you will state your case clearly and well," returned
Mr. Newton, rising to shake hands with her. "Let me hear what Mrs.
Ormonde says in reply; and see your protegee, Miss Trant. I am anxious
to learn her views."

"I am quite sure I know what they will be," said Katherine.

"Don't be too sure. Human nature is a very crooked thing--more crooked
than a true heart like yours can imagine," continued the old man,
holding her hand kindly.

"Ah, Mr. Newton," she cried, with an irresistible outburst of penitence,
"you little know what crooked things I can imagine."

"Can't I?" he said laughing at what he fancied was her little joke, and
glad to see her bearing her troubles so lightly. "You'll come all right
yet, my dear; you have the right spirit. Is your carriage waiting?"

"Not here; but in Holborn I have several at my command," she returned.
"Good-by; no, you must not come downstairs; it is damp and chilly."

On reaching her home, the home she must so soon resign, Katherine sent a
note to Rachel Trant asking if she had a spare hour that evening, as
she, Katherine, had something to tell her, and preferred going to her
house. Then she sat down to write a full and detailed account of what
had taken place to her sister-in-law. It was dusk before she had
finished and she herself felt considerably exhausted. Miss Payne had
gone out to dine with one of her former girls, now the wife of a rackety
horsy man, whose conduct made her often look back with a sigh of regret
to the tranquil days passed under the guardianship of the prudent
spinster; so having partaken of tea at their usual dinner-time she sat
and mused awhile on the one subject from which she could derive
comfort--Errington and his wonderful kindness to her. If he took the
matter in hand she thought herself safe. Her confidence in him was
unbounded. Ah! why had she placed such a gulf between them? How she had
destroyed her own life! There was but one tie between her and the world,
little Charlie and Cis, and perhaps she had been their greatest enemy.
She almost wished she could love De Burgh. He was undoubtedly in
earnest; he interested her; he--But no. Between her and any possible
husband she had reared the insurmountable barrier of a secret not to be
shared by any save one, from whom, somehow, instead of dividing her, had
bound her indissolubly; at least she felt it to be so.

It was near the hour she had fixed to call on Rachel, so she roused
herself, and asking the amiable Francois to accompany her, started for
Malden Street.

Rachel Trant had made a back parlor, designated the "trying-on" room,
bright and cosy, with a shaded lamp, a red fire, a couple of easy-chairs
at either side of it, and a gay cloth over the small round table erst
strewn with fashion books, measuring tapes, pins, patterns and
pin-cushions.

"How very good of you to come to me!" cried Miss Trant, hastening to
divest her friend of bonnet and cloak. "I am very curious to hear the
story you have to tell." Then, as Katherine sat down where the
lamp-light fell upon her face, she added, "But you are not looking well,
Miss Liddell; your eyes look heavy; your mouth is sad."

"I am troubled, more than sad," said Katherine; "the why and wherefore I
have come to tell you."

"Yes; tell me everything." And Rachel took a low seat opposite her
guest; her usually pale face was slightly flushed, her large blue eyes
darkened with the pleasure of seeing the friend she loved so warmly and
the interest with which she awaited her disclosure, and as Katherine
looked at her she realized how pretty and attractive she must have been
before the fresh grace of her girlhood had been withered by the cruel
fires of passion and despair. "I am listening," said Rachel, gently, to
recall her visitor, whose thoughts were evidently far away.

"Yes; I had forgotten." And Katherine began her story.

Rachel Trant listened with rapt, intense attention, nor did she
interrupt the narrative by a single question.

When Katherine ceased to speak she remained silent for a second or two
longer: then she asked, "Are you convinced of the truth of this man's
story?"

"I am, for Mr. Newton does not seem to have a doubt. Oh! he is my uncle
John's only son--only child, indeed--and he is like him. I always
fancied from the little my uncle said about George that he was naturally
kind and sympathetic, but he has had a hard life, and it has made him
hard. The loss of his mother was a terrible misfortune."

"Was he young when she died?"

"He was about fourteen, I think; but he lost her by a worse misfortune
than death. She was driven away by my uncle's severity and harshness;
she left him for another."

"What! left her son?"

"Yes--it seems incredible--nor does my cousin resent her desertion. On
the contrary, all the affection and softness in him appears to centre
round his daughter and the memory of his mother."

"Then," said Rachel, "if this man persists in demanding his rights, you
will be beggared, and those dear boys must go back to their mother. They
will not be too welcome."

"Oh no! no! I feel that only too keenly."

"But you will not be penniless nor homeless," cried Rachel. "He cannot
touch this house. You made it over to me, and I will use it for you.
There are two nice rooms I can arrange for you upstairs. I am doing
well, and if I had but a little more capital, I should not fear; I
should not doubt making a great success. My dear, dearest Miss Liddell,
I may be of use to you, after all. Tell me, is this Mr. Newton truly
interested in you--anxious to help you?"

"I am sure he is; he is very unhappy about me."

"Do you think he would let me call on him? I want to tell him the plans
that are coming into my head. I can explain all the business part to
him. If I can get through this year without debt, I am pretty sure of
providing you with an income--an increasing income. This is a joy I
never anticipated. And then you can keep your little nephews, and be a
real mother to them. I don't want to trouble you with the business
details of my plan; you would not understand them. But Mr. Newton will.
Pray write a line asking him to see me, to name his own time. Stay; here
are paper and pen and ink; ask him to write to me. He knows--he knows my
story. At least--" She stopped, coloring crimson.

"He knows all it is needful for me to tell," said Katherine, gravely.
"Yes, Rachel, it is better to explain all to him. He is kind and wise,
and I am strangely stupefied by this extraordinary overturn of my
fortunes. I shall be glad of your help, but do not neglect your own
future, dear Rachel."

"I shall not: I shall make enough for us both. You have indeed given me
something to live for."



CHAPTER XXVI.

COLONEL AND MRS. ORMONDE.


The moral effect of feeling in touch with some loyal, tender,
sympathizing fellow-creature is immense. It gives faith in one's self--a
belief in the possibilities for good hidden in the future; above all,
relief from that most paralyzing of mental conditions, a sense of
isolation.

Katherine walked back alone in the dark. The sooner she accustomed
herself to habits of independence the better; for the future she must
learn to stand alone, to take care of herself, unassisted by maid or
flunky. It made her a little nervous; for although in the old
impecunious days she went on all necessary errands in the morning alone,
she rarely left the house after sundown even with a companion. They were
very monotonous days, those which seemed to have fled away so far into
the soft misty gloom of the past. Yet how full of fragrance was their
memory! The castle-building, the vague bright hopes, the joy of helping
the dear mother, the utter absolute trust in her, the struggle with the
necessities of life--all were more or less sweet; and now to what an end
she had brought the simple drama of her youth! Had she resisted that
strange prompting which kept her silent when Mr. Newton began to look
for the will, how different everything might have been! Errington might
be well off too, and she might never have seen him.

With the thought of him came the sudden overpowering wish to hear his
voice--clear, deliberate, convincing--which sometimes seized her in
spite of every effort to banish it from her mind, and of which she was
utterly, profoundly ashamed, the recurrence of which was infinitely
painful. She must fill her heart with other thoughts, other objects.
"Life is serious enough (the life which lies before me especially) to
crowd out these follies. Why do I increase its gloom with imaginary
troubles?"

Miss Payne, returning from her dinner, found Katherine sitting up for
her, apparently occupied with a book, and in the little confidential
talk which ensued Katherine told her of Rachel Trant's intention of
consulting Mr. Newton respecting her plans for increasing her business
with a view to assisting her benefactress.

Miss Payne received this communication in silence; but after a moment's
thought observed, in a grave, approving tone; "You have not been
deceived in her, then. I really believe Rachel Trant is a young woman of
principle and integrity."

"Yes, I have always thought so." Then, after a pause, she resumed: "I
wonder what reply I shall have from Ada to-morrow--no, the day after
to-morrow."

"Do not worry yourself about it. She will make herself disagreeable, of
course; but it is just a trouble to be got through with. Go to bed, my
dear; try to sleep and to forget. You are looking fagged and worn."

But Katherine could not help dwelling upon the picture her imagination
presented of the morrow's breakfast-time at Castleford; of the dismay
with which her letter would be read; of Ada's tears and Colonel
Ormonde's rage; of the torrent of advice which would be poured upon her.
Then what decision would Colonel Ormonde come to about the boys? He
would banish them to some cheap out-of-the-way school. It was impossible
to say what he would do.

Naturally she did not sleep well or continuously, disturbed as she was
by such thoughts--such uneasy anticipations--and her eyes showed the
results of a bad night when she met Miss Payne in the morning.

About eleven o'clock Katherine came quickly into Miss Payne's particular
sitting-room, where she made up her accounts and studied her bank-book.

"What is it?" asked that lady, looking up, and perceiving that Katherine
was agitated.

"A telegram from Ada. They will be here about five this afternoon."

"Well, never mind. There is nothing in that to scare you."

"I am not scared, but I wish that interview was over."

"Yes; I shall be glad when it is; though I shall not obtrude on his
Royal Highness. (I suppose he is coming as well as she.) I shall be in
the house, so you can send for me if you want me."

"Thank you, Miss Payne; you are very good to me. I feel that I ought not
to stay here crowding up your house."

"Nonsense! I am not in such a hurry to find a new inmate. I shall not
like any one as well as you. I wish I could give up and live in a neat
little cottage, but I cannot. Indeed, if you think I may, I should like
to mention this deplorable change in your fortunes to Mrs. Needham. She
knows every one, and can bring all sorts of people together if she
likes."

"By all means, Miss Payne. There is no reason why you should not."

And after a little more conversation Katherine went back to her
occupation of arranging her belongings and wardrobe, that when the
moment of parting came she might be quite ready to go.

To wait patiently for that which you know will be painful is torture of
no mean order. It was somewhat curtailed for Katherine on that memorable
day, for Colonel and Mrs. Ormonde arrived half an hour sooner than she
expected.

They had driven direct from the station to Wilton Street, and Katherine
saw at a glance that both were greatly disturbed.

"Katherine, what is the meaning of your dreadful letter?" cried Mrs.
Ormonde, without any previous greeting, while the Colonel barked a gruff
"How d'ye do?"

"My letter, Ada, I am sorry to say, meant what it said," returned
Katherine, sadly. "Do sit down, and let us discuss what is best to be
done."

"What can be done?" exclaimed Mrs. Ormonde, bursting into tears.

"For God's sake, don't let us have tears and nonsense," said Colonel
Ormonde, roughly. "Tell me, Katherine, is it possible Newton means to
give in to this impostor? Why does he not demand proper proof, and throw
the whole business into chancery?"

"I am sure Mr. Newton could not doubt George Liddell's story. He could
not go back from his own involuntary recognition, nor could I pretend to
doubt what I believe is true."

"Pooh! that is high-flown bosh. You need not say what you do or do not
believe. All you have to do is to throw the onus of proof on this
fellow."

"It is all too dreadful," said Mrs. Ormonde, in tearful tones. "To think
that you will allow yourself to be robbed, and permit the dear boys to
be reduced to beggary, for a mere crochet--it is too bad. I never will
believe this horrid man is the person he represents himself to be;
never."

"I wish you would go and speak to Mr. Newton. He would explain the folly
of resisting."

"And how do you know that he is not bribed?" returned Mrs. Ormonde, with
a little sob. "Every one knows what dreadful wretches lawyers are. And
though I dare say you meant well, Katherine, but having induced us to
believe you would provide for the boys, it is a little hard--indeed very
hard--on Colonel Ormonde to have them thrown back on his hands, and it
is really your duty to do something to relieve us."

"Back on my hands!" echoed the Colonel. "I'll not take them back. Why
should I? I have been completely swindled in the whole business. I am
the last man to support another fellow's brats. Why didn't that old
lawyer of yours ascertain whether your uncle's son was dead or alive
before he let you pounce upon the property and play Lady Bountiful with
what did not belong to you?" And Colonel Ormonde paced the room in a
fury, all chivalrous tradition melting away in the fierce heat of
disappointed greed.

"You have no right to find fault with me," cried Katherine, stung to
self-assertion. "I did well and generously by your children and
yourself, Ada (I must say so, as you seem to forget it). There is more
cause to sympathize with me in the reverse that has befallen me than to
throw the blame of what is inevitable on one who is a greater sufferer
than yourselves. Do you not know that the worst pang my bitterest
enemy--had I one--could inflict is to feel I must give up the boys?
Matters are still unsettled, but if my cousin can be induced to deal
mercifully with me, and not absorb my little all to liquidate what is
legally due to him, I will gladly keep Cis and Charlie, and give them
what I have, rather than throw them on Colonel Ormonde's charity. I am
deeply sorry for your disappointment, but I have done nothing to
irritate Colonel Ormonde into forgetting what is due to a lady and his
wife's benefactress." Katherine was thoroughly roused, and stood, head
erect, with glowing eyes, and soft red lips curling with disdain.

"I always said she was violent; didn't' I, Duke?" sobbed Mrs. Ormonde.
"Katherine, you do amaze me."

"There is no denying she is a plucky one," he returned, with a gruff
laugh. "I too deny that you should consider it a misfortune for the boys
to come under my care. I owe a duty to my own son, and am not going to
play the generous step-father to his hurt. If you can't come to
advantageous terms with this--this impostor, as I verily believe he is.
I'll send the boys to the Bluecoat School or some such institution. They
have turned out very good men before this."

"I am sure we could expect no more from Colonel Ormonde, and when you
think that I shall be entirely dependent on him for"--sob--"my very
gowns"--sob--"and--and little outings--and" a total break down.

"If I am penniless," said Katherine, controlling her inclination to
scream aloud with agony, "I must accept your offer--any offer that will
provide for my nephews. If not, I will devote myself and what I have to
them. I really wish you would go and see Mr. Newton; he will make you
understand matters better than I can; and as you have come in such a
spirit, I should be glad if you would leave me. I cannot look on you as
friends, considering how you have spoken."

"By George!" interrupted the Colonel, much astonished. "This is giving
us the turn-out."

"What ingratitude!" cried his wife, with pious indignation, as she rose
and tied on her veil.

Her further utterance was arrested, for the door was thrown open, and
Francois announced, "Mr. Errington."

A great stillness fell upon them as Errington walked in, cool,
collected, well dressed, as usual.

"Very glad to meet you here, Mrs. Ormonde," he said, when he had shaken
hands with Katherine. "Miss Liddell has need of all her friends at such
a crisis. How do, Colonel; you look the incarnation of healthy country
life."

"Ah--ah; I'm very well, thank you," somewhat confusedly. "Just been
trying to persuade Miss Liddell here to dispute this preposterous claim.
I don't believe this man is the real thing."

"I am afraid he is," gravely; "I know him, for John Liddell was a friend
of my father's in early life, and I feel satisfied this man is his son."

"You do. Well, I shall speak to my own lawyers and Newton about it: one
can't give up everything at the first demand to stand and deliver."

"No; neither is it wise to throw good money after bad. We were just
going to Mr. Newton's, so I'll say good-morning. Till to-morrow,
Katherine. I'll report what Newton says."

"Good-morning, Mr. Errington," said Mrs. Ormonde, pulling herself
together, and her veil down. "This is a terrible business! I feel it as
acutely as if it were myself--I mean my own case. I am sure it is so
good of you to come and see Katherine. I hope you will give us a few
days at Castleford." So murmuring and with a painful smile, she hastened
downstairs after her husband.

Then Errington closed the door and returned to where Katherine stood,
white and trembling, in the middle of the room. "I am afraid your
kinsfolk have been but Job's comforters," he said, looking earnestly
into her eyes, his own so grave and compassionate that her heart grew
calmer under their gaze. "You are greatly disturbed."

"They have been very cruel," she murmured. "Yet, not knowing all you do,
they could not know how cruel. They are so angry because what I tried to
do for the boys proved a failure. They little dream how guilty I feel
for having created this confusion. If I am obliged to give up Cis and
Charlie to--to Colonel Ormonde, their lot will be a miserable one!" She
spoke brokenly, and her eyes brimmed over, the drops hanging on her long
lashes.

"Sit down, Miss Liddell. I am deeply grieved to see you so depressed. I
have ventured to call because I have a pin's point of hope for you,
which I trust will excuse me for presenting myself, as I know you would
rather not see me."

"To-day I am glad to see you. I should always be glad to see you
but--but for my own conscience. Do not misunderstand me." With a sudden
impulse she stretched out her fair soft hand to him. He took and held
it, wondering to find that although so cold when first he touched it, it
grew quickly warm in his grasp.

"Thank you," he said, gently, and still held her hand; "you give me
infinite pleasure. Now"--releasing her--"for my excuse. Among my poor
father's papers were a few letters of very old date from John Liddell,
in which was occasional mention of his boy. It struck me these might be
a _modus operandi_, and enable me approach a difficult subject. I
contrived to meet your cousin at Mr. Newton's, and he permitted me to
call. I gave him the letters, and we became--not friends--but friendly
at least." Here his face brightened. "We began to talk of you, and I saw
that he was bitter and vindictive against you to an extraordinary
degree. He grew communicative, and I was able to represent to him the
cruelty and unreasonableness of his conduct. At last--only to-day--he
suddenly exclaimed, 'How much of my money has that nice young lady made
away with?' I could not, of course, give him any particulars, but having
learned from himself that he had amassed a good deal of money himself,
and that with the addition of _your_ fortune (I cannot help calling it
yours) he would really be a man of wealth, I ventured to suggest that he
should not demand the refunding of what you had used while in possession
of the property, and showed him what a bad impression it would create in
the minds of those among whom he evidently wishes to make a place for
himself. He thought for a few moments, and then said he would consider
the matter and consult his legal advisers before coming to a decision,
adding that he did not understand how it was that they as well as myself
were on your side. Then I left him, and I feel a strong impression that
he will lay aside his worst intentions. I only trust he will spare
whatever balance may stand to your credit with your banker."

"You have indeed done me a great service," cried Katherine, "If George
Liddell does as you suggest I shall not be afraid to face the future. I
shall surely be able to find some employment myself; then I need not
importune Colonel Ormonde for my nephews."

"He will surely not leave them without means," cried Errington.

"I am not sure. They have no legal claim upon him, and he is very angry
with me for causing such confusion, though--"

--"Though," interrupted Errington, "your only error was
over-generosity."

"My _only_ error, Mr. Errington!"--casting down her eyes and interlacing
her fingers nervously. "If he only knew!"

"But he does not; he never shall!" exclaimed Errington, with animation,
drawing unconsciously nearer. "That is a secret between you and me. None
shall ever know our secret. All I ask is that you will forgive me for my
unfortunate precipitancy in destroying the means of saving you, which
you had placed in my hands--that you will forgive me, and let me be your
friend. It is so painful to see you shrink from me as you do."

"Can you wonder, guilty as I feel myself to be? But if you so far
overlook my evil deeds as to think me worth your friendship, I am glad
and grateful to accept it. As to forgiveness, what have I to
forgive?--your haste to save me from the possibility of discovery?"

"Then," said Errington, who had gazed for a moment in silence on his
companion, whose face was slightly turned from him, every line of her
pliant figure, from the graceful drooping head to the point of her shoe
peeping from under her soft gray dress, expressed a sort of pathetic
humility, "will you give me some idea of your plans, if you have any?"

"They are very vague. I have a small income apart from my uncle's
property. I earnestly hope it will be enough to educate the boys. Then I
must try to find employment--something that will enable me to provide
for myself. Miss Payne is already looking out for me. That is all I can
think of."

"It is a tremendous undertaking for a young girl like you," said
Errington, looking down in deep thought. "But I think I understand that
the cruelest trial of all would be to part with the boys. Still it is
not wise to allow Mrs. Ormonde to thrust her sons on you, though I never
can believe that Ormonde could act so dastardly a part as to refuse to
do his part in maintaining them. There, again, the fear of what society
would say will do more than a sense of justice or honor. I don't believe
Ormonde will dare refuse to contribute his quota to the support of his
wife's sons."

"Perhaps not. I wish I could do without it. But though Ada was harsh and
unreasonable to-day, I am sorry for her. It must be dreadful to be tied
to a man who looks on you as a burden."

"She will manage him. Their natures are admirably suited. Neither is too
exalted. And Mrs. Ormonde has established herself very firmly as
mistress of Castleford and the Colonel."

"I hope so." There was a short silence. Then Errington said, in a low
tone, looking kindly into her face, "I trust you do not feel too
despondent as regards the future."

"Far from it," returned Katherine, with a brief bright smile. "If only
I can bring up my dear boys without too great privations, and fit them
to work their way in life! From my short experience I should say that
riches can buy little true happiness. Extreme poverty is terrible and
degrading. Nor can money alone confer any true joys."

"So I have found," said Errington, thoughtfully; "and I can see that to
you too the finery and distractions which wealth gathers together are
mere dust heaps."

There was a pause, broken by the appearance of Miss Payne, who had only
just discovered that Colonel and Mrs. Ormonde had left, and was not
aware that Katherine had another visitor. After a little further and
somewhat desultory conversation Errington took leave; nor was Katherine
sorry, for the presence of Miss Payne seemed to have set them as far
apart as ever, and how near they had drawn for a few moments!

"So that is Mr. Errington!" said Miss Payne, when the door had closed
upon him. "He has never been here before?" The tone was interrogative.

"Mr. Errington has some acquaintance with George Liddell," returned
Katherine, "and has very kindly done his best to dissuade him from
claiming the money I have expended."

"How very good of him! I am sure I trust he will succeed!" exclaimed
Miss Payne. "Now tell me how did Colonel Ormonde and your sister-in-law
behave?"

Whereupon Katherine recounted all that had been said. Many and cynical
were Miss Payne's remarks on the occasion, but Katherine scarcely heard
her. That Errington should take so deep an interest in her, should
persist in wishing to be her friend, was infinitely sweet and consoling.
He was transparently true, and she did not doubt for a moment that he
was sincere in all he said. Still she could not forget the sense of
humiliation his presence always inflicted. It was always delightful to
speak to him, and to hear him speak. What would she not give to be able
to stand upright before him and dare to assert herself? How silent and
dull and commonplace she must appear! not a bit natural or--She would
think no more of him. Why was his face ever before her eyes? She would
not be haunted in that way.

Here Bertie Payne's entrance created a diversion, which was most
welcome. He was looking white and ill, as though suffering from some
mental strain, Katherine observed, and then remembered that he had been
very silent and grave of late; but he replied cheerfully to her
inquiries, and exerted himself to do the agreeable during dinner, for
which he staid.


Katherine almost hoped for a summons from Mr. Newton next day, also for
some communication from Mrs. Ormonde, but none reached her. Still she
possessed her soul in patience, fortified by the recollection of her
interview with her new friend.

It was wet, and Katherine did not venture out, having a slight cold. She
tried to read, to write, to play, but she could not give her attention
to anything. It was an anxious crisis of her fate, and the sense of her
isolation pressed upon her more heavily than ever. She really had no
family ties. Friends were kind, but she had no claim on them or they on
her. Colonel and Mrs. Ormonde had ceased to exist for her. How would her
future life be colored? From consecutive thought she passed to vague
reverie, from which she was glad to be roused by the return of Miss
Payne, who never staid in for any weather.

"Where do you think I have been?" asked Miss Payne, untying her bonnet
strings as she sat down.

"How can I guess? Your wanderings are various."

"I went to see Mrs. Needham, and I am very glad I did. I found her just
bursting with curiosity. All sorts of reports have got about respecting
your cousin and your loss of fortune, and she was enchanted to get the
whole truth from me. Besides, she has just been applied to by the
friends of a girl only sixteen to find a proper chaperon. She is full of
enthusiasm about us both, and begged me, and you too, to dine with her
the day after to-morrow to meet a Miss Bradley, the relative or friend
of the sixteen-year-old. We are to look at each other, and are supposed
to be in total ignorance of each other's identity. Mrs. Needham delights
in small plots and transparent mysteries."

"And why am I to go?" asked Katherine, carelessly.

"To make a fourth, and talk to the hostess while I discourse with Miss
Bradley."

"Very well; I will come."

"Any further news to-day?"

"Not a word; not a line."



CHAPTER XXVII.

A DINNER AT MRS. NEEDHAM'S.


Mrs. Needham was a very important at personage in her own estimation,
and very popular with a large circle of acquaintances. Most of them
thought she was a widow, and only a few old friends were aware that away
in a distant colony Needham masculine was hiding his diminished head
from creditors of various kinds and penalties of many descriptions, not
in penitence, but with as much of enjoyment as could be extracted from
the simple materials of antipodean life. Having taken with him all the
cash he could lay hands upon, his deserted wife was left to do battle
alone on a small income which was her own, and fortunately secured to
her on her marriage.

She was much too energetic to sit still when she might work and earn
money. The editor of a provincial paper, a friend of early days, gave
her space in his columns for a weekly letter, and an introduction to a
London _confrere_. On this slender foundation she built her humble
fortunes. There were, in truth, few happier women in London. Brimful of
interest in all the undertakings (and their name was legion) in which
she was concerned, kind and unselfish, though quite free from sentiment,
her life was full of movement and color. She had an enormous capacity
for absorbing the marvellous, quite uninfluenced by the natural
shrewdness with which she acted in all ordinary matters. In a bright
surface way she was clever and full of ideas--ideas which others took up
and fructified--from which Mrs. Needham herself derived no benefit
beyond the pleasure of imparting them. She was constantly taken in by
barefaced impostors, yet at times, and in an accidental way, hit on
wonderfully accurate estimates of persons whom the general public
credited with widely different qualities.

She had a nice little old-fashioned house in Kensington, with a pretty
garden, just large enough to allow of visitors being well wet in rainy
weather between the garden gate and the hall door. This diminutive
mansion was crammed with curios, specimens of china, of carved wood, of
Japanese lacquer--these much rarer than at present. It was a pleasant
abode withal; a kindly, generous, happy-go-lucky spirit pervaded it. Few
coming to seek help there were sent empty away, and the owner's earnest
consideration was ready for all who sought her advice. It was real joy
to her to entertain her friends in an easy, unceremonious way, and her
friends were equally pleased to accept her hospitality.

On the present occasion Mrs. Needham was deeply interested in her
expected guests. Katherine Liddell had pleased her from the first,
practical and unsentimental as she was. She was disposed to weave a
little romance round the bright sympathetic girl, who listened so
graciously to her schemes and projects, whose brightness had under it a
strain of tender sadness, which gave an indescribable subtle charm to
her manner. Miss Payne she had known more or less for a considerable
time, and regarded as a worthy, useful woman; while her third guest was
the only child of the wealthy publisher George Bradley, the owner of
that new and flourishing publication, _The Piccadilly Review_, wherein
those brilliant articles on "Our Colonial System," "Modern European
Politics," etc., supposed to be from the pen of Miles Errington,
appeared.

"A _partie carree_ of ladies does not seem to promise much," said Mrs.
Needham, when she had greeted Miss Payne and "her young friend," into
which position Katherine had sunk; "but unless I could have three or
four men it is better to have none; besides we want to talk of business,
and men under such circumstances always exclude us, so I don't see why
we should admit them. Miss Bradley--Miss Payne, Miss Liddell, of whom
you have heard me speak."

Miss Bradley rose from the sofa, where she was half reclining beside a
bright wood fire, a tall stately figure in a long pale blue plush dress,
cut low in front, and tied loosely with a knot of blue satin ribbon,
nestling among the rich yellow white lace which fell from the edge of
the bodice. She was extremely fair, even colorless, with abundant but
somewhat sandy hair. Her features were regular and marked, a well-shaped
head was gracefully set on a firm white column-like throat, and her eyes
were clear and cold when in repose, but darkened and lit up when
speaking of whatever roused and interested her. Indeed, she looked
strong and stern when silent.

"I am very pleased to meet you," she said, in a full, pleasant voice.
"I have often heard of you from Mrs. Needham, and I think you know a
friend of mine--Mr. Errington."

"Yes; I know him," returned Katherine, feeling her face aflame.

"I have heard of you too," continued Miss Bradley, addressing Miss
Payne, "from several mutual friends, though we have never happened to
meet before. I think you had just left Rome with Miss Jennings when I
arrived there some four years ago."

"I had; and remember you were expected there."

"Miss Jennings married a relation of mine, and I see her very often, at
least often for London. She really looks younger, if possible, than
formerly," etc., etc., and their talk flowed in the Jennings channel for
a few minutes.

Meantime Mrs. Needham, passing her arm through Katherine's, led her away
to a very diminutive back room, draped and carpeted with Oriental
stuffs, then beginning to be the fashion, and crammed with all
imaginable ornaments and specimens, from bits of rare "Capo di monti" to
funny sixpenny toys. "I have just found such a treasure," she exclaimed;
"a real saucer of old Chelsea, and only a small bit out of this side.
Isn't Angela Bradley handsome? She is a very remarkable girl, or perhaps
I ought to say woman. She speaks four or five languages, and plays
divinely; then she is a capital critic. It was she who advised her
father to publish that very singular book, _The Gorgon's Head_; every
publisher in London had refused it. He took it, and has cleared--oh, I'd
be afraid to say how much money by it."

"I hope the writer got a fair share," said Katherine, smiling.

"Hum! ah, that's another matter; but I dare say Bradley will treat him
quite as fairly as any one else. She will have a big fortune one of
these days. Her father perfectly adores her."

"I wish I could write," said Katherine, with a sigh. "It must be a
charming way to earn money."

"Why don't you try? You seem to me to have plenty of brains; and I
suppose you will have to do something. I was so sorry--" Mrs. Needham
was beginning, when dinner was announced, and her sympathetic utterances
were cut short.

The repast was admirable, erring perhaps on the side of plenteousness,
and well served by two smart young women in black, with pink ribbons in
their caps. Nor was there any lack of bright talk a good deal beyond the
average. Miss Bradley was an admirable listener, and often by well-put
questions or suggestions kept the ball rolling. Dinner was soon over,
and coffee was served in the drawing-room.

"Now, Miss Payne, I should like to consult with you," said Miss Bradley,
putting her cup on the mantel-piece, and resuming her seat on the sofa,
where she invited Miss Payne by a gesture to sit beside her, "about the
daughter of an old friend of mine, who does not want her to join him in
India, as she is rather delicate, and he cannot retire for a couple of
years. It is time she left school, and the question is, where shall she
go?"

While Miss Bradley thus attacked the subject uppermost in her mind, Mrs.
Needham settled herself in an arm-chair as far as she could from the
speakers, and asked Katherine to sit down beside her.

"Let them discuss their business without us," she said, "and I want to
talk to you. Here, these are some rather interesting photographs. They
are all actors or singers on this side; you'll observe the shape of the
heads, the contour generally; these are politicians, and have quite a
different aspect. Remarkable, isn't it? But I was just saying when we
went down to dinner that I was awfully sorry to hear of all your
troubles--of course we must not regret that the man is alive; though if
he is a cross-grained creature, as he seems to be, life won't be much
good to him--and I shall be greatly interested if you care to tell me
what your plans are."

"I really have none. There are several things I could do pretty well. I
could teach music and languages, but it is so difficult to find pupils.
Then I am still in great uncertainty as to what my cousin may do."

"He is a greedy savage," said Mrs. Needham, emphatically; "but he will
not dare to demand the arrears. He would raise a howl of execration by
such conduct. Now, as you have nothing settled, and if Angela Bradley
and Miss Payne make it up, you will have to leave where you are. Suppose
you come to me?"

"To you? My dear Mrs. Needham, it would be delightful."

"Would it? It is not a very magnificent appointment, I assure you. You
see, I have so much to do that I really _must_ have help. I had a girl
for three or four months. I gave her twenty-five pounds a year, and
thought she would be a great comfort, but she made a mess of my room and
my papers, and could not write a decent letter; besides, she was
discontented, so she left me, and I have been in a horrid muddle for the
last fortnight. Now if you like to come to me, while you are looking out
for something better, I am sure I shall be charmed, and will do all I
can to push you. It's a miserable sort of engagement, but there it is;
only I'll want you to come as soon as you can, for there are heaps to
do."

"Indeed I am delighted to be your help, or secretary, or whatever you
choose to call me, and as for looking for something better, if I can
only save enough to provide for the boys, I would rather work with you
for twenty-five pounds a year than any one else for--"

"For five hundred?" put in Mrs. Needham, with an indulgent smile, as she
paused.

"No, no. Five hundred a year is not to be lightly rejected," returned
Katherine, laughing. "But as I greatly doubt that I could ever be worth
five hundred a year to any one, I gladly accept twenty-five."

"Remember, I do not expect you to stay an hour after you find something
better. Now do me tell how matters stand with you."

Katherine therefore unbosomed herself, and among other things told how
well and faithfully Rachel Trant had behaved toward her, of the fatherly
kindness shown her by her old lawyer, and wound up by declaring that the
world could not be so bad a place as it is reckoned, seeing that in her
reverse of fortune she had found so much consideration. "Of course," she
concluded, "there are heaps of people who, once I drop from the ranks of
those who can enjoy and spend, will forget my existence; but I have no
right to expect more. They only want playfellows, not friends, and ask
no more than they give."

"Quite true, my young philosopher. Tell me, can you come on
Saturday--come to stay?"

"I fear not. Besides I have a superstition about entering on a new abode
on Saturday. Don't laugh! But I will come to-morrow, if you like, and
write and copy for you. I will come each day till Monday next, and so
help you to clear up."

"That is a good child! I wish I could make it worth your while to stay;
but we don't know what silver lining is behind the dark clouds of the
present."

Katherine shook her head. Mrs. Needham's suggestion showed her that
peace and a relieved conscience was the highest degree of silvery
brightness she anticipated in the future. One thing alone could restore
to her the joyousness of her early days, and that was far away out of
her reach.

"Mr. Errington and Mr. Payne," said one of the smart servants, throwing
open the door.

"Ah, yes! Mr. Errington, _of_ course," exclaimed Mrs. Needham, under her
breath. "I might have expected him. And you too, Mr. Payne?" she added
aloud. "Very glad to see you both."

As soon as they had paid their respects to the hostess, Errington spoke
to Katherine, while Payne remained talking with Mrs. Needham.

"I am glad to see you looking better than when we last spoke together,"
said Errington, pausing beside Katherine's chair. "Have you had any
communication from Newton yet?"

"I have heard nothing from him, and feel very anxious to know George
Liddell's decision. I had a note from Mrs. Ormonde, written in a much
more friendly spirit than I had expected, but still in despair. She,
with the Colonel, had been to demand explanations from Mr. Newton, and
do not seem much cheered by the interview."

"No doubt the appearance of your cousin was a tremendous blow, but they
have no right to complain."

"However that may be, I will not quarrel with the boys' mother, in spite
of her unkindness. I fear so much to create any barrier between us."

"Those children are very dear to you," said Errington, looking down on
her with a soft expression and lingering glance.

"They are. I don't suppose you could understand how dear."

"Why? Do you think me incapable of human affection?" asked Errington,
smiling.

"No, certainly not; only I imagine justice is more natural to you than
love, though you can be generous, as I know."

Errington did not answer. He stood still, as if some new train of
thought had been suddenly suggested to him, and Katherine waited
serenely for his next words, when Miss Bradley, who had not interrupted
her conversation, or noticed the new-comers in any way, suddenly turned
her face toward them, and said, with something like command, "Mr.
Errington!"

Errington immediately obeyed. Katherine watched them speaking together
for some minutes with a curious sense of discomfort and dissatisfaction.
Miss Bradley's face looked softer and brighter, and a sort of animation
came into her gestures, slight and dignified though they were. They
seemed to have much to say, and said it with a certain amount of
well-bred familiarity. Yes, they were evidently friends; very naturally.
How happy she was to be thus free from any painful consciousness in his
presence! She was as stainless as himself, could look fearlessly in his
eyes and assert herself, while she (Katherine) could only crouch in
profoundest humility, and gratefully gather what crumbs of kindness and
notice he let fall for her benefit. It was quite pitiable to be easily
disturbed by such insignificant circumstances. How pitiably weak she
was! So, with an effort, she turned her attention to Mrs. Needham and
Bertie, who had slipped into an argument, as they often did, respecting
the best and most effective method of dealing with the poor. In this
Katherine joined with somewhat languid interest, quite aware that
Errington and Miss Bradley grew more and more absorbed in their
conversation, till Miss Payne, feeling herself _de trop_, left her place
to speak with Mrs. Needham, while Katherine and Bertie gradually dropped
into silence.

"Miss Bradley's carriage," was soon announced, and she rose tall and
stately, nearly as tall as Errington.

"Will you excuse me for running away so soon, dear Mrs. Needham?" she
said, "but I promised Mrs. Julian Starner to go to her musical party
to-night. I am to play the opening piece of the second part, so I dare
not stay longer. You are going?"--to Errington, who bowed assent. "Then
I can give you a seat in my brougham," she continued, with calm, assured
serenity.

"Thank you," and Errington, turning to Katherine, said quickly: "Will
you let me know when you hear from Newton? I am most anxious as regards
Liddell's decision."

"I will, certainly. Good-night." She put her hand into his, and felt in
some occult manner comfort by the gentle pressure with which he held it
for half a moment. Yes, beaten, defeated, punished as she was, he felt
for her with a noble compassion. Ought not that to be enough?

"Good-night, Miss Liddell. I hope you will come and see me. I am always
at home on Tuesday afternoons; and Miss Payne, when I have seen the
grandmother of the girl we have been speaking about, I will let you
know, and you will kindly take into consideration the points I
mentioned. Good-night." And she swept away, leaning on Errington's arm.

"Now that we are by ourselves," said Mrs. Needham, comfortably, "I must
tell you what I have been proposing to Miss Liddell. I should like you
to know all about it," and she plunged into the subject. "I know it is
but a poor offer," she concluded; "but for the present it is better than
nothing, and she can be on the lookout for something else."

Bertie wisely held his tongue. Katherine declared herself ready and
willing to accept the offer, and Miss Payne, with resolute candor,
declared that the remuneration was miserable, but that it was as well to
be doing something while waiting for a better appointment.

Poor Katherine was terribly distressed by this frankness, but Mrs.
Needham was quite unmoved. She said she saw the force of what Miss
Payne said, but there it was, and it remained with Miss Liddell to take
or leave what she suggested.

Then Miss Payne's prospects came under discussion, and the doubtful
circumstances connected with Miss Bradley's proposition.

"Now it is long past ten o'clock, and we must say good-night," remarked
Miss Payne. "Really, Mrs. Needham, you are a wonderful woman! You have
nearly 'placed' us both. How earnestly I hope there are better and
brighter days before my young friend, whom I shall miss very much!"

"That I am quite sure. Well, she can go and see you as often as you
like. Now tell me, isn't Angela Bradley a splendid creature?"

"She is indeed," murmured Katherine.

"Well, there is a good deal of her," said Miss Payne, with a sniff.

"Not too much for Mr. Errington, I think," exclaimed Mrs. Needham with a
knowing smile. "I fancy that will be a match before the season is over.
It will be a capital thing for Errington. Old Bradley is _im_-mensely
rich, and I am sure Errington is far gone. Well, good-night, my dear
Miss Payne. I am so glad to think I shall have Miss Liddell for a little
while, at all events. You will come the day after to-morrow at ten,
won't you, and help me to regulate some of my papers? Good-night, my
dear, good-night."


Mr. Newton came into his office the afternoon the day following Mrs.
Needham's little dinner. His step was alert and his head erect, as
though he was satisfied with himself and the world. A boy who sat in a
box near the door, to make a note of the flies walking into the spider's
parlor, darted out, saying, "Please sir, Miss Liddell is waiting for
you."

"Is she? Very well." And the old lawyer went quickly along the passage
leading to the other rooms, and opening the door of his own, found
Katherine sitting by the table, a newspaper, which had evidently dropped
from her hand, lying by her on the carpet. She started up to meet her
good friend, who was struck by her pallor and the sad look in her eyes.

"Well, this is lucky!" exclaimed Newton, shaking hands with her
cordially. "I was going to write to you, as I wanted to see you, and
here you are."

"I was just beginning to fear I might be troublesome, but I have been so
anxious."

"Of course you have. And you have been very patient, on the whole.
Well"--laying aside his hat, and rubbing his hands as he sat down--"I
have just come from consulting with Messrs. Compton, and I am very happy
to tell you it is agreed that George Liddell shall withdraw his claim to
the arrears of income, but not to the savings you have effected since
your succession to the property, also the balance standing to your name
at your banker's is not to be interfered with; so I think things are
arranging themselves more favorably, on the whole, than I could have
hoped."

"They are, indeed," cried Katherine, clasping her hands together in
thankfulness. "What an immense relief! I have more than three hundred
pounds in the bank, and I have found employment for the present at
least, so I can use my little income for the boys. How can I thank you,
dear Mr. Newton, for all the trouble you have taken for me?" And she
took his hard, wrinkled hand, pressing it between both hers, and looking
with sweet loving eyes into his.

"I am sure I was quite ready to take any trouble for you, my dear young
lady; but in this matter Mr. Errington has done most of the work. He has
gained a surprising degree of influence over your cousin, who is a very
curious customer; but for him (Mr. Errington, I mean), I fear he would
have insisted on his full rights, which would have been a bad business.
However, that is over now. Nor will Mr. Liddell fare badly. Your savings
have added close on three thousand pounds to the property which falls to
him. I am surprised that he did not try at once to make friends with
you, for his little girl's sake. I hear he is in treaty for a grand
mansion in one of the new streets they are building over at South
Kensington. He is tremendously fond of this little girl of his. It seems
Liddell was awfully cut up at the death of his wife, about a year and a
half ago. He fancies that if he had known of his father's death and his
own succession he would have come home, and the voyage would have saved
her life. This, I rather think, was at the root of his rancor against
you."

"How unjust! how unreasonable!" cried Katherine. "Now tell me of your
interview with Mrs. Ormonde and her husband."

"Well--ah--it was not a very agreeable half-hour. I have seldom seen so
barefaced an exhibition of selfishness. However, I think I brought them
to their senses, certainly Mrs. Ormonde, and I am determined to make
that fellow Ormonde pay something toward the education of his wife's
sons."

"I would rather not have it," said Katherine.

"Nonsense," cried the lawyer, sharply. "You or they are entitled to it,
and you shall have it. Mrs. Ormonde evidently does not want to quarrel
with you, nor is it well for the boys' sake to be at loggerheads with
their mother."

"No, certainly not; but, Mr. Newton, I can never be the same to her
again. I never can forgive her or her husband's ingratitude and want of
feeling."

"Of course not, and they know you will not; still, an open split is to
be avoided. Now, tell me, what is the employment you mentioned?"

Katherine told him, and a long confidential conversation ensued, wherein
she explained her views and intentions, and listened to her old friend's
good advice. Certain communication to Mrs. Ormonde were decided on, as
Katherine agreed with Mr. Newton that she should have no further
personal intercourse concerning business matters with her sister-in-law.

"By-the-way," said Newton, "one of the events of the last few days was a
visit from your protegee, Miss Trant. I was a good deal struck with her.
She is a pretty, delicate-looking girl, yet she's as hard as nails, and
a first-rate woman of business. She seems determined to make your
fortune, for that is just the human touch about her that interested me.
She doesn't talk about it, but her profound gratitude to you is
evidently her ruling motive. I am so persuaded that she will develop a
good business, and that you will ultimately get a high percentage for
the money you have advanced--or, as you thought, almost given--that I am
going to trust her with a little of mine, just to keep the concern free
of debt till it is safely floated."

"How very good of you!" cried Katherine. "And what a proof of your faith
in my friend! How can you call her hard? To me she is most sympathetic."

"Ay, to you. Then you see she seems to have devoted herself to you. To
me she turned a very hard bit of her shell. No matter. I think she is
the sort of woman to succeed. You have not seen her since--since her
visit to me?"

"No. I have not been to see her because--not because I was busy, but
idle and depressed. I will not be so any more. So many friends have been
true and helpful to me that I should be ashamed of feeling depressed. I
will endeavor to prove myself a first-rate secretary, and be a credit to
you, my dear good friend."

"That you will always be, I'm sure," returned Newton, warmly.

"Now you must run away, my dear young lady, for I have fifty things to
do. Your friend Miss Trant will tell you all that passed between us, and
what her plans are."

"I am going to pay her a visit this evening. I do not like to trouble
her either in the morning or afternoon, she is so busy. But I always
enjoy a talk with her. She is really very well informed, and rather
original."

"I believe she will turn out well. Good-by, my dear Miss Liddell. I
assure you, you are not more relieved by the result of the morning's
consultation than I am."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

KATHERINE IN OFFICE.


The beginning of a new life is rarely agreeable, and when the newness
consists of poverty in place of riches, of service instead of complete
freedom, occupations not particularly congenial instead of the exercise
of unfettered choice, in such matters--why, the contrast is rather
trying.

A fortnight after the interview just described, Katherine was thoroughly
settled with Mrs. Needham.

Although she justly considered herself most fortunate in finding a home
so easily, with so pleasant and kindly a patroness, she would have been
more or less than human had she not felt the change which had befallen
her. Mrs. Ormonde's conduct, too, had wounded her, more than it ought,
perhaps, for she always knew her sister-in-law to be shallow and
selfish, but not to the degree which she had lately betrayed.

Her constant prayer was that she should be spared the torture of having
to give up her dear boys to such a mother and such a step-father. She
thought she saw little, loving, delicate Charlie shrinking into himself,
and withering under the contemptuous indifference neglect of the
Castleford household; and Cis--bolder and stronger--hardening into
defiance or deceit under the same influence.

By the sort of agreement arrived at between Mr. Newton and Mrs. Ormonde,
it was decided that so long as Katherine provided for the maintenance of
her nephews, their mother was only entitled to have them with her during
the Christmas holidays; and Colonel Ormonde was with some difficulty
persuaded to allow the munificent sum of thirty pounds a year toward the
education of his step-sons.

This definite settlement was a great relief to Katherine's heart. How
earnestly she resolved to keep herself on her infinitesimal stipend, and
save every other penny for her boys! Of the trouble before her, in
removing them from Sandbourne to some inferior, because cheaper, school,
she would not think. Sufficient to the day was the evil thereof.

She therefore applied herself diligently to her duties. These were
varied, though somewhat mechanical.

Mrs. Needham's particular den was a very comfortable, well-furnished
room at the back of the house, crowded with books and newspapers, and
prospectuses, magazines, and all possible impedimenta of journalism, on
the outer edge of which women were beginning with faltering footsteps
tentatively to tread. Mrs. Needham not only wrote "provincial letters"
(with a difference!), but contributed social and statistical papers to
several of the leading periodicals; and one of Katherine's duties was to
write out her rough notes, and make extracts from the books, Blue and
others, the reports and papers which Mrs. Needham had marked. Then there
were lots of letters to be answered and MSS. to be corrected.

Besides these, Mrs. Needham asked Katherine as a favor to help her in
her house-keeping, as it was a thing she hated; "and whatever you do,"
was her concluding instructions, "do not see too much of cook's doings.
She is a clever woman, and after all that can be said about the feast of
reason, the success of my little dinners depends on _her_. I don't think
she takes things, but she is a little reckless, and I never could keep
accounts."

Katherine therefore found her time fully filled. This, however, kept her
from thinking too much, and her kind chief was pleased with all she did.
Her mind was tolerable at rest about the boys, her friends stuck
gallantly to her through the shipwreck of her fortune, and yet her heart
was heavy. She could not look forward with hope, or back without pain.
She dared not even let herself think freely, for she well knew the cause
of her depression, and had vowed to herself to master it, to hide it
away, and never allow her mental vision to dwell upon it. Work, and
interest--enforced, almost feverish interest--in outside matters, were
the only weapons with which she could fight the gnawing, aching pain of
ceaseless regret that wore her heart. How insignificant is the loss of
fortune, and all that fortune brings, compared to the opening of an
impassable gulf between one's self and what has grown dearer than self,
by that magic, inexplicable force of attraction which can rarely be
resisted or explained!

Life with Mrs. Needham was very active, and although Katherine was
necessarily left a good deal at home, she saw quite enough of society
in the evening to satisfy her. The all-accomplished Angela Bradley
showed a decided inclination to fraternize with Mrs. Needham's
attractive secretary, but for some occult reason Katherine did not
respond. She fancied that Miss Bradley was disposed to look down with
too palpably condescending indulgence from the heights of her own calm
perfections on those storms in a teacup amid which Mrs. Needham
agitated, with such sincere belief in her own powers to raise or to
allay them. Yet Miss Bradley was a really high-minded woman, only a
little too well aware of her own superiority. She was always a favored
guest at the "Shrubberies," as Mrs. Needham's house was called, and of
course an attraction to Errington, who was also a frequent visitor. The
evenings, when some of the _habitues_ dropped in on their way to
parties, or returning from the theatre (Mrs. Needham never wanted to go
to bed!), were bright and amusing. Moreover, Katherine had complete
liberty of movement. If Mrs. Needham were going out without her
secretary, Katherine was quite free to spend the time with Miss Payne,
or with Rachel Trant, whom she found more interesting. At the house of
the former she generally found Bertie ready to escort her home, always
kindly and deeply concerned about her, but more than ever determined to
convert her from her uncertain faith and worldly tendencies, to
Evangelicalism and contempt for the joys of this life.

Already the days of her heirship seemed to have been wafted away far
back, and the routine of the present was becoming familiar. There was
nothing oppressive in it. Yet she could not look forward. Hope had long
been a stranger to her. Never, since her mother's death, since she had
fully realized the bearings of her own reprehensible act, had she known
the joy of a light heart. Some such ideas were flitting through her mind
as she was diligently copying Mrs. Needham's lucubrations one afternoon,
when the parlor maid opened the door and said, as she handed her a card,
"The lady is in the drawing-room, ma'am."

The lady was Mrs. Ormonde.

"Is Mrs. Needham at home?"

"No, ma'am."

It was rather a trial, this, meeting with Ada, but Katherine could not
shirk it. She did not want to have any quarrel with the boys' mother, so
she ascended to the drawing-room.

There stood the pretty, smartly dressed little woman, all airy elegance,
but the usually smiling lips were compressed, and the smooth white brow
was wrinkled with a frown. She was examining a book of photographs--most
of them signed by the donors.

"Oh, Katherine! how do you do?" she said, sharply, and not in the least
abashed by any memory of their last meeting. "I am up in town for a few
days, and I couldn't leave without seeing you. You see I have too much
feeling to turn _my_ back on an old friend, however injured I may be by
circumstances over which you had no control. You are not looking well,
Katie; you are so white, and your eyes don't seem to be half open."

"I am quite well, I assure you," said Katherine, composedly, and
avoiding a half-offered kiss by drawing a chair forward for her
visitor.

"I wish I could say as much," returned Mrs. Ormonde, with a deep sigh,
throwing herself into it. "I am perfectly wretched; Ormonde is quite
intolerable at times since everything has collapsed. I am sure I often
wish you had never done anything for the boys or me, and then we should
never have fancied ourselves rich. Of course I don't blame you; you
meant well, but it is all very unfortunate."

"It is indeed; but is it possible that Colonel Ormonde is so unmanly as
to--"

"Unmanly?" interrupted his wife. "Manly, you mean. Of course he revenges
himself on me. Not always. He is all right sometimes; but if anything
goes wrong, then I suffer. Fortunately I was prudent, and made little
savings, with which I am--but"--interrupting herself--"that is not worth
speaking about."

"I am sorry you are unhappy, Ada," said Katherine, with her ready
sympathy.

"Oh, don't think I allow myself to be trodden on," cried Mrs. Ormonde,
her eyes suddenly lighting up. "It was a hard fight at first, but I saw
it was a struggle for life; and when we knew the worst, and Ormonde
raved and roared, I said I should leave him and take baby (I could, you
know, till he was seven years old), and that the servants would swear I
was in fear of my life; and I should have done it, and carried my case,
too! I'm not sure it would not have been better for me. But he gave in,
and asked me to stay. I felt pretty safe then. Now, when he is
disagreeable, I burst into tears at dinner, and upset my glass of claret
on the table-cloth, and totter out of the room weak and tremulous. I can
see the butler and James ready to tear him to pieces. When he is
good-humored, so am I; and when he tries to bully, why, what with
trembling so much that I break something he likes, and fits of
hysterics, and being awfully frightened before strangers, and making
things go wrong when he wishes to create a great effect on some one, I
think he begins to see it is better not to quarrel with me. Still, it is
awfully miserable, compared with what it used to be when I really
thought he loved me. How pleasant we all were together at Castleford
before this horrid man turned up! Why didn't that awkward bush-ranger
take better aim?"

"I dare say George Liddell is not quite of your opinion," said
Katherine, smiling at her sister-in-law's candor.

"He was quite rich before," continued Mrs. Ormonde, querulously. "Why
couldn't he be satisfied to stay out there and spend his own money? I
hate selfishness and greed!"

"They _are_ odious in every one," said Katherine, gravely.

"Now that I feel satisfied you are well and happy," resumed Mrs.
Ormonde, who had never put a single question respecting herself to
Katherine, "there are one or two things I wanted to ask you. Where are
the boys?"

"They are still at Sandbourne; but they leave, I am sorry to say, at
Easter."

"Oh, they do! It is an awfully expensive school. Are you quite sure,
Katherine, they will not send in the bill to me?"

"Quite sure, Ada, for I have paid in advance."

"That was really very thoughtful, dear. Then--excuse my asking; I would
not interfere with you for the world--but what _are_ you going to do
with them in the Easter holidays? I _dare_ not have them at Castleford.
I should lose all the ground I have gained if such a thing was even
hinted to the Colonel."

"Why apologize for inquiring about your own children? Do not be alarmed,
they shall _not_ go. I am just now arranging for them to go to a school
at Wandsworth, and for the Easter holidays Miss Payne has most kindly
invited them."

"Really! How very nice! I will send her a hamper from Castleford. I can
manage that much. This is rather a nice little place," continued Mrs.
Ormonde, evidently much relieved and looking round. "What lots of pretty
things! Is Mrs. Needham nice? She seemed rather a flashy woman. You must
feel it an awful change from being an heiress, and so much made of, to
being a sort of upper servant! Do you dine with Mrs. Needham?"

"Yes, I really do, and go out to evening parties with her."

"No, really?"

"It is a fact. She is a kind, delightful woman to live with. I am most
fortunate."

"Fortunate? You cannot say that, Katie! You are the most unfortunate
girl in the world. You know how penniless women are looked upon in
society. _I_ remember when Ormonde thought himself such a weak idiot for
being attracted to me, all because I had no money. It makes such a
difference! Why, there is Lord De Burgh; I met him yesterday, and asked
him to have a cup of tea with me, and he never once mentioned your
name."

"Why should he? I never knew Lord De Burgh," said Katherine.

"Yes, you did, dear! Why, you cannot know what is going on if you have
not heard that old De Burgh died nearly a fortnight ago in Paris, and
our friend has come in for _every_thing. He had just returned from the
funeral, so he said, and is looking darker and glummer than ever. Well,
you know how he used to run after you. I assure you he never made a
single inquiry about you. Heartless, wasn't it? I said something about
that horrid man coming back, and--would you believe it?--he laughed in
that odious, cynical way he has, and called me a little tigress. The
only sympathetic word he spoke was to call it an infernal business. He
doesn't care what he says, you know. Then he asked if Ormonde was
tearing his hair about it. What a pity you did not encourage him, Katie,
and marry him! Once you were his wife he could not have thrown you off.
Now I don't suppose you'll ever see _him_ again. I rather think Mrs.
Needham does not know many of _his_ set."

"She knows an extraordinary number of people--all sorts and conditions
of men; Mr. Errington often dines here."

"Does he? But then he is a sort of literary hack now. Just think what a
change both for you and him!"

"It is very extraordinary; but he keeps his position better than I do."

"Of course. Men are always better off. Now, dear, I must go. I am quite
glad to have seen you, and sorry to think that my husband is absurdly
prejudiced against you from the way you spoke to him last time. It was
by no means prudent."

"Well, Ada, should Colonel Ormonde so far overcome his objection to me
as to seek me again, I think it very likely I may say more imprudent
things than I did last time. Pray, what do I owe him that I should
measure my words?"

"Really, Katherine, when you hold your head up in that way I feel half
afraid of you. There is no use trying to hold your own with the world
when your pocket is empty. You see nobody troubles about you now,
whereas--"

"Miss Bradley!" announced the servant; and Angela entered, in an
exquisite walking dress of dark blue velvet; bonnet and feathers,
gloves, parasol, all to match. Mrs. Ormonde gazed in delighted
admiration at this splendid apparition.

"My dear Miss Liddell!" she exclaimed, shaking hands cordially. "I have
rushed over to tell you that we have secured a box for Patti's benefit
on Thursday, and I want you to join us. I know Mrs. Needham has a stall,
but she will sup with us after. Mr. Errington and one or two musical
critics are coming to dine with me at half past six, and we can go
together."

"You are very good," said Katherine, coloring. She did not particularly
care to go with Miss Bradley, and she was amused at Mrs. Ormonde's
expression of astonishment. "Of course I shall be most happy."

"Now I must not stay; I have heaps to do. Will you be so kind as to give
me the address of the modiste you mentioned the other day who made that
pretty gray dress of yours? Madame Maradan is so full she cannot do a
couple of morning dresses for me, so I want to try your woman."

"I shall be so glad if you will," cried Katherine. "I will bring you one
of her cards. Let me introduce my sister-in-law to you. Mrs. Ormonde,
Miss Bradley." She left the room, and Miss Bradley drew a chair beside
her. "I think I had the pleasure of seeing you at Lady Carton's garden
party last July?" she said, courteously.

"Oh, dear me, yes! I thought I knew your face. Lady Carton introduced
you to me. Lady Carton is a cousin of Colonel Ormonde's."

"Oh, indeed! Miss Liddell was not there?"

"No; she chose to bury herself by the sea-side for the whole season."

Here Katherine returned with the card.

"I am so glad you are going to give my friend Rachel Trant a trial. I am
sure you will like her. She has excellent taste."

"Now I must not wait any longer. So good-by. Shall you be at Madame
Caravicelli's this evening?"

"I am not sure. I don't feel much disposed to go."

"Good-by for the present, then. Good-morning," to Mrs. Ormonde, and Miss
Bradley swept out of the room.

"Well, Katherine!" cried Mrs. Ormonde, when her sister-in-law returned,
"you seem to have fallen on your feet here. Pray who is that fine,
elegant girl who seems so fond of you?"

"She is the daughter of a wealthy publisher, and has been very kind to
me."

"Ah, yes! I remember now, Lady Carton said she would have a large
fortune; and so she is your intimate friend?"

"Well, a very kind friend."

"Now I must bid you good-by. I am sure I am very glad you are so
comfortable. I am going back to Castleford to-morrow, or I should call
again. You are going to be Lucky Katherine, after all; I am sure you
are;" and with many sweet words she disappeared.

"Lucky," repeated Katherine, as she returned to her task, "mine has been
strange luck."

       *       *       *       *       *

Despite Mrs. Ormonde's assurances that De Burgh had quite forgotten her,
the news that he was once more in town disturbed Katherine. Unless some
new fancy had driven her out of his head, she felt sure that his first
step in the new and independent existence on which he had entered would
be to seek her out and renew the offer he had twice made before. Money
or no money, position, circumstances, all were but a feather-weight
compared to the imperative necessity of having his own way.

It would be very painful to be obliged to refuse him again, for, in
spite of her grave disapprobation of him in many ways, she liked him,
and had a certain degree of confidence in him. There were the
possibilities of a good character even in his faults, and it grieved her
to be obliged to pain him.

"After all, I may be troubling myself about a vain image; it is more
than a month since I saw him. He is now a wealthy peer, and it is
impossible to say how circumstances may have changed him."

When Mrs. Needham had dressed for the dinner which was to precede Madam
Caravicelli's reception, Katherine put on her bonnet and cloak and set
off to spend a couple of hours with Rachel Trant, not only to avoid a
lonely evening, but to change the current of her thoughts--loneliness
and thought being her greatest enemies at present.

She had grown quite accustomed to make her way by omnibus, and as the
days grew longer and the weather finer, she hoped to be able to walk
across Campden Hill, not only shortening the distance but saving the
fare. A visit to Rachel amused Katherine and drew her out of herself
more than anything; the details of the business and management of
property which she felt was her own had a large amount of
interest--real, living interest. The state of the books, the increase of
custom, the addition to the small capital which Rachel was gradually
accumulating--all these were subjects not easily exhausted. Both
partners agreed that their great object, now that the undertaking was
beginning to maintain itself, was to lay by all they could, for of
course bad debts and bad times would come.

"It is a great satisfaction to think that though people may do without
books or pictures or music, they must wear clothes; and if you fit well,
and are punctual, you are certain to have customers. Of course if you
give credit you must charge high; people are beginning to see that now.
You cannot get ready money in the dressmaking trade except for those
costumes you give for a certain fixed price; but I stand out for
quarterly accounts."

"And do you find no difficulty in getting them paid?"

"Not much; you see, I deduct five per cent. for punctual payment. Every
one tries to save that five per cent. But talking of these things has
put a curious incident out of my head, which I was longing to tell you.
You remember among my first customers were Mrs. Fairchild and her
daughters. They keep a very high class ladies' school in Inverness
Terrace, and have been excellent customers. Yesterday Miss Fairchild
called and said that she wanted an entire outfit for a little girl of
ten or eleven, who was to be with them. They did not wish for anything
fine or showy; at the same time, cost was no object. I was to furnish
everything, to save time. This morning they brought the child to be
fitted; she is very tall and thin, but lithe and supple, with dark hair,
and large, bright, dark-brown eyes. She will be very handsome. I could
not quite make her out; she is not an ordinary gentlewoman, nor is she
the very least vulgar or common. She gives me more the idea of a wild
thing not quite tamed. When all was settled I was told to address the
account to Mr. George Liddell, Grosvenor Hotel."

"Why, it must be my cousin George!" cried Katherine. "How strange that
in this huge town they should fix on you amongst the thousands of
dressmakers! You must make my little cousin look very smart, Rachel."

"She is not little. She is wonderfully mature for ten years old,
something like a panther."

"I should like to see her. I believe she is a great idol with her
father. I wish," added Katherine, after a pause, "he were not so
unreasonably prejudiced against me. You may think me weak, Rachel, but I
have a sort of yearning for family ties."

"Why should I think you weak? It is a natural and I suppose a healthy
feeling. _I_ don't understand it myself because I never had any.
Isolation is my second nature. The only human being that ever treated me
with tenderness and loyal friendship is yourself, and what you have been
to me, what I feel toward you, none can know, for I can never tell."

"Dear Rachel! How glad I am to have been of use to you! And you amply
repay me, you are looking so much better. Tell me, are you not feeling
content and happy?"

Rachel smiled, a smile somewhat grim in spite of the soft lips it
parted. "I am resigned, and I have found an object to live for, and you
know what an improvement that is compared to the condition you found me
in. But I don't think I am really any more in love with life now than I
was then. However, I am more mistress of myself." She paused, and her
face grew very grave as she leaned back in her chair, her arm and small
hand, closely shut, resting on the table beside her.

"All the minute details, the thought and anxiety, my business, or rather
our business, requires an enormous help--it is such a boon to be too
weary at night-time to think! But _no_ amount of work, of care, can
quite shut out the light of other days. It is no doubt wrong, immoral,
unworthy of a reformed outcast, but _if_ my real heart's desire could
be fulfilled, I would live over again those few months of exquisite
happiness, and die before waking to the terrible reality of my
insignificance in the sight of him who was more than life to me--die
while I was still something to be missed, to be regretted. He would have
tired of me had I been his wife, and that would have been as terrible as
my present lot--even more, for I must have seen his weariness day by
day, and no amount of social esteem would have consoled me. As it is, my
real self seems to have died, and this creature"--striking her
breast--"was a cunningly contrived machine, that can work, and
understand, but, save for one friend, cannot feel. I do not even look
back to _him_ with any regretful tenderness. I do not love him--that is
dead. I do not hate him--I have no right. He did not deceive me; I
voluntarily overstepped the line which separates the reputable and
disreputable; as long as I was loved and cherished I never felt as if I
had done wrong. I never felt humiliation when I was with him. When he
grew tired of me he could not help it; he never did try to resist any
whim or passion. But better, stronger men cannot hold the wavering
will-o'-the-wisp they call 'love'; and once it flickers out, it cannot
be relighted. No, I have no one to blame; I can only resign myself to
the bitterest, cruelest fate that can befall a woman--to be loved and
eagerly sought, won, and adored for a brief hour, then thrown carelessly
aside--a mere plaything, unworthy of serious thought. Ah, I have
forgotten my resolution not to talk of myself to you. It is a weakness;
but your kind eyes melt my heart. Now I will close it up--I will think
only of the task I have set myself, to make a little fortune for you, a
reputation for my own establishment--not a very grand ambition, but it
does to keep the machine going; and I am growing stronger every day,
with a strange force that surprises myself. I fear nothing and no one. I
think my affection for you, dear, is the only thing which keeps me
human. Now tell me, are you still comfortable with Mrs. Needham?"

The tears stood in Katherine's eyes as she listened to this stern wail
of a bruised spirit, but with instinctive wisdom she refrained from
uttering fruitless expressions of sympathy. She would not encourage
Rachel to dwell on the hateful subject; she only replied by pressing her
friend's hand in silence, and she began to speak of Mrs. Ormonde's
visit, and succeeded in making Rachel laugh at the little woman's
description of the means she adopted of reducing Colonel Ormonde to
reason.

"Real generosity and unselfishness is very rare," said Rachel. "The
meanness and narrowness of men are amazing--and of women too; but
somehow one expects more from the strength of a man."

"When men are good they are very good," said Kate, reflectively. "But
the only two I have seen much of are not pleasant specimens--my uncle,
John Liddell, and Colonel Ormonde. Then against them I must balance
Bertie Payne, who is good enough for two."

"He is indeed! I owe him a debt I can never repay, for he brought you to
me. I wish you could reward him as he would wish."

"I am not sure that he has any wishes on the subject," said Katherine,
her color rising. "He thinks I am too ungodly to be eligible for the
helpmeet of a true believer. Ah, indeed I am not half good enough for
such a man!"



CHAPTER XXIX.

DE BURGH AGAIN.


That Rachel Trant should have drifted into communication George Liddell
seemed a most whimsical turn of the wheel of fortune to Katherine, and
she thought much of it.

Would it lead to any reconciliation between herself and her strange,
unreasonable, half-savage kinsman? She fancied she could interest
herself in his daughter, and towards himself she felt no enmity; rather
a mild description of curiosity. Why should they not be on friendly
terms?

But this and other subjects of thought were swallowed up in the
anticipated pain of removing her nephews from their school at
Sandbourne, where they had been so happy and done so well. Miss Payne's
friendly offer to take them in for a week or two had relieved Katherine
of a difficulty; and Mrs. Needham was most considerate in promising to
give her ample time to prepare them for their new school.

What a difference, poor Katherine thought, between the present and the
past! quite as great as between the price of Sandbourne and Wandsworth.
There was a certain rough and ready tone about the latter establishment
which distressed her; yet the school-master's wife seemed a kindly,
motherly woman, and the urchins she saw running about the playground
looked ruddy and happy enough. It was the best of the cheaper schools
she had seen, and to Dr. Paynter's care she resolved to commit them. As
Wandsworth was within an easy distance, she could often go to see them.

Another matter kept her somewhat on the _qui vive_. In spite of Mrs.
Ormonde's assurance that De Burgh had forgotten her, Katherine had a
strong idea that she had not seen the last of him.

Though Mrs. Needham's wide circle of acquaintances included many men and
women of rank, she knew nothing of the set to which De Burgh belonged.
Those of his class, admitted within the hospitable gate of the
Shrubberies, were usually persons of literary, artistic, or dramatic
leanings and connections, of which he was quite innocent.

It was a day or two after Katherine's last interview with Rachel Trant,
and Mrs. Needham was "at home" in a more formal way than usual.
Katherine was assisting her chief in receiving, when, in the tea-room,
she was accosted by Errington. "Have you had tea yourself?" he asked,
with his grave, sweet smile.

"Oh yes! long ago."

"Then, Miss Liddell, indulge me in a little talk. It is so long since I
have had a word with you! It seems that since we agreed to be fast
friends, founding our friendship on the injuries we have done each
other, that we have drifted apart more than ever. Pray do not turn away
with that distressed look. I am so unfortunate in being always
associated with painful ideas in your mind."

"Indeed you are not. All the good of my present life I owe to you," and
she raised her soft brown eyes, full of tender gratitude, to his. It was
a glance that might have warmed any man's heart, and Errington's answer
was:

"Come, then, and let us exchange confidences," the crowd round the door
at that moment obliging him, as it seemed to her, to hold her arm very
close to his side.

At the end of the hall, which was little more than a passage, was a door
sheltered by a large porch. The door had been removed, and the porch
turned into a charming nook, with draperies, plants, colored lamps, and
comfortable seats. Here Errington and Katherine established themselves.

"First," he began, "tell me, how do you fare at Mrs. Needham's hands? I
am glad to see that you seem quite at home; and if I may be allowed to
say it, you bear up bravely under the buffets of unkindly fortune."

"I have no right to complain," returned Katherine. "As to Mrs. Needham,
were I her younger sister she could not be kinder. I think the great
advantage of the semi-Bohemian set to which she belongs, is that among
them there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, for all are
one in our common human nature. Were I to go down into the kitchen and
cook the dinner, it would not put me at any disadvantage with my good
friend. I should have only to wash my hands and don my best frock, and
in the drawing-room I should be as much the daughter of the house as
ever."

Errington laughed. There was a happy sound in his laugh. "You describe
our kind hostess well. Such women are the salt of the social earth. And
your 'dear boys.' How and where are they?"

"Ah! that is a trial. I go down to Sandbourne the day after to-morrow,
to take them from that delightful school, and place them in a far
different establishment."

"Ha! Does Mrs. Ormonde go with you?"

"Mrs. Ormonde? Oh no. You know--" she hesitated. "Well, you see, Colonel
Ormonde is exceedingly indignant with me because I have lost my fortune,
and I fancy he does not approve of Ada's having anything to do with me.
Besides--" She paused, not liking to betray too much of the family
politics. "They have agreed to give the boys over to me."

"I know. I paid Mr. Newton a long visit the other day, and he told
me--perhaps more than you would like."

"I do not mind how much you know," said Katherine, sadly. "I am glad you
care enough to inquire."

"I want you to understand that I care very, very much," replied
Errington, in a low, earnest tone. "You and I have crossed each other's
paths in an extraordinary manner, and if you will allow me, I should
like to act a brother's part to you if--" He broke off abruptly, and
Katherine, looking up to him with a bright smile, exclaimed, "I shall be
delighted to have such a brother, and will not give you more trouble
than I can help."

"Thank you." He seemed to hesitate a moment, and then, with a change of
tone, observed: "You and Miss Bradley seem to have become intimate. You
must find her an agreeable companion. I think she might be a useful
friend."

"She is extremely kind. I cannot say how much obliged to her I am; but,"
continued Katherine, impelled by an unaccountable antagonism, "do you
know, I cannot understand why she likes me. There is no real sympathy
between us. She is so wise and learned. She never would do wrong things
from a sudden irresistible impulse, and then devour her heart with, not
repentance, exactly, but remorse which cannot be appeased."

"Probably not. She is rather a remarkable woman. Strong, yet not hard. I
fancy we are the arbiters of our own fate."

"Oh no! no!" cried Katherine, with emotion. "Just think of the snares
and pitfalls which beset us, and how hard it is to keep the narrow road
when a heart-beat too much, a sudden rush of sorrow or of joy, and our
balance is lost: even steady footsteps slide from the right way. Believe
me, some never have a fair chance."

Errington made a slight movement nearer to her, and after a brief pause
said, "I should like to hear you argue this with Angela Bradley."

It sounded strange and unpleasant to hear him say "Angela."

"I never argue with her," said Katherine. "Mine are but old-fashioned
weapons, while hers are of the latest fashion and precision. Moreover,
we stand on different levels, I am sorry to say. I wonder she troubles
herself about me. Is it pure benevolence? or"--with a quick glance into
his eyes, which were unusually animated--"did you ask her of her
clemency to throw me some crumbs of comfort? If so, she has obeyed you
gracefully and well."

"Unreason has a potent advocate in you, Miss Liddell," said Errington;
smiling a softer smile than usual. "But I want you to understand and
appreciate Miss Bradley. She is a fine creature in every sense of the
word. As friend, I am sure she would be loyal with a reasonable loyalty,
and I flatter myself she is a friend of mine."

"Another sister?" asked Katherine, forcing herself to smile playfully.

"Yes," returned Errington, slowly, looking down as he spoke; "a
different kind of sister."

Katherine felt her cheeks, her throat, her ears, glow, as she listened
to what she considered a distinct avowal of his engagement to the
accomplished Angela, but she only said, softly and steadily, "I hope she
will always be a dear and loyal sister to you."

There was a moment's silence. Then Errington said, abruptly, his eyes,
as she felt, on her face, "Have you seen De Burgh since his return?"

"No."

"No doubt you will. What a curious fellow he is! I wonder how he will
act, now that he has rank and fortune? He has some good points."

"Oh yes, many," cried Katherine, warmly, "I could not help liking him.
He is very true."

"And extremely reckless," put in Errington, coldly, as Katherine paused
to remember some other good point.

"Certainly not calculating," she returned.

"Probably his new responsibilities may steady him."

"They may. I almost wish I dare----"

"My dear Katherine, I have been looking everywhere for you. I want you
so much to play Mrs. Grandison's accompaniment. She is going to sing one
of your songs, and no one plays it as well as you do. So sorry to
interrupt your nice talk; but what can a wretched hostess do?"

"Oh, I am quite ready, Mrs. Needham," said Katherine; and she rose
obediently.

"Will you come, Mr. Errington?" asked the lady of the house.

"To hear Mrs. Grandison murder one of Miss Liddell's songs, which I dare
say I have heard at Castleford? No, thank you. I shall bid you
good-night. I am going on to Lady Barbara Bonsfield's, where I shall not
stay long."

"Horrid woman! she robbed me of Angela Bradley to-night!" exclaimed Mrs.
Needham.

With a quick "Good-night," Katherine went to fulfil her duties in the
drawing-room, and did not see Errington again for several days.


"I was vexed with you for not singing last night," said Mrs. Needham, as
she sat at luncheon with her young friend the next morning. "You may not
have a great voice, but you are much more thoroughly trained than half
the amateurs whose squallings and screechings are applauded to the
echo."

"I do not know why, but I really did not feel that I could sing, Mrs.
Needham. I do not often feel miserable and choky, but I did last night.
I am so anxious and uneasy about the boys and the school they are going
to, that I was afraid of making a fool of myself. When the change is
accomplished I shall be all right again, and not bore you with my
sentimentality."

"You don't do anything of the sort. You are a capital plucky girl. Now I
have nothing particular for you to do this afternoon, and I can't take
you with me; so just go out and call on Miss Bradley or Miss Payne to
divert your----"

"A gentleman for Miss Liddell;" said the parlor maid, placing a card
beside Katherine.

"Lord de Burgh!" she exclaimed, in great surprise.

"Lord who?" asked Mrs. Needham.

"Lord de Burgh; he is a relation of Colonel Ormonde; I used to meet him
at Castleford."

Mrs. Needham eyed her curiously. "Oh, very well, dear," she said, with
great cheerfulness. "Go and see him, and give him some tea; only it is
too early. I am sorry I cannot put in an appearance, but I have just a
hundred and one things to do before I go to Professor Maule's scientific
'afternoon' at four. Give me my bag and note-book. I must go straight
away to the 'Incubator Company's Office;' I promised them a notice in my
Salterton letter next week. There, go, child; I don't want you any
more."

"But I am in no hurry, Mrs. Needham. Lord de Burgh is no very particular
friend of mine."

"Well, well! That remains to be seen. Just smooth your hair, won't you?
It's all rough where you have leaned on your hand over your writing.
It's no matter? Well, it doesn't much. Do you think he has any votes for
the British Benevolent Institution for Aged Women? I do so want to get
my gardener's mother--There, go, go, dear! You had better not keep him
waiting." And Katherine was gently propelled out of the room.

In truth, she was rather reluctant to face De Burgh, although she felt
gratified and soothed by his taking the trouble to find her out.

Katherine found her visitor pacing up and down when she opened the
drawing-room door, feeling vexed with herself for her changing color and
the embarrassment she felt she displayed. De Burgh was looking taller
and squarer than ever, but his dark face brightened so visibly as his
eyes met Katherine's, that she felt a pang as she thought how unmoved
she was herself.

"I thought you had escaped from sight!" he exclaimed, holding her hand
for a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. "The first time I
went to look for you in the old place, I was simply told you had left,
by a stupid old woman who knew nothing. Then I called again and asked
for Miss--you know whom I mean; she is rather a brick, and told me all
about you. In the mean time I met Mrs. Ormonde. I was determined not to
ask _her_ anything--she is such a selfish little devil. Now here I am
face to face with you at last." And he drew a chair opposite her, and
was silent for a minute, gazing with a wistful look in her face.

"You have not a very high opinion of my sister-in-law," said Katherine,
beginning as far away from themselves as she could.

"She is an average woman," he said, shortly. "But tell me, what is the
matter with you? I did not think you were the sort of girl to break your
heart over the loss of a fortune."

"But I have not broken my heart!" she exclaimed, somewhat startled by
his positive tone.

"There's a look of pain in your eyes, a despondency in your very figure;
don't you think I know every turn of you? Well, I won't say more if it
annoys you. We have changed places, Katherine--I mean Miss Liddell.
Fortune has given me a turn at last, and I have been tremendously busy.
I had no idea how troublesome it is to be rich. There are compensations,
however. This doesn't seem a bad sort of place"--looking round at the
crowd of china and bric-a-brac ornaments and the comfortable chairs.
"How did you come here, and what has been settled? Don't think me
impertinent or intrusive; you know you agreed we should be friends, and
you must not send me adrift!"

"Thank you, Lord de Burgh. I am sure you could be a very loyal friend.
My story is very short." And she gave him a brief sketch of how her
affairs had been arranged.

"By George! Ormonde is a mean sneak. To think of his leaving those boys
on your hands! and he has plenty of money. I happen to know that his
wife has been dabbling in the stocks, and turned some money too. Now
where did she get the cash to do it with but from him? So I suppose you
intend to starve yourself in order to educate the poor little chaps?"

"Oh no. On the contrary, I am living on the fat of the land, with the
kindest mistress in the world."

"Mistress! Great heavens! Why _will_ you persist in such a life?"

"My dear Lord de Burgh, don't you know that it is not always easy to
judge or to act for another?

"Which means I am to mind my own business?"

"You have a very unvarnished style of stating facts."

"I know I have." A short pause, and he began again. "Where are those
boys now?

"At Sandbourne. But, alas! I am going to take them away to-morrow. They
are going to a school at Wandsworth."

"Going down to Sandbourne to-morrow? Is Miss Payne going with you?"

"Oh no; I don't need any one."

"Nonsense! you can't go about alone. I'll meet you at the station and
escort you there."

Katherine laughed. "I am afraid that would never do. You have increased
in importance and I have diminished, till the distance between our
respective stations has widened far too much to permit of familiar
intercourse, or--"

"I never thought I should hear _you_ talking such rubbish. What
difference can there be between us, except that you are a good woman and
I am _not_ a good man? I don't think it's quite fair that on our first
meeting after ages--at least quite two months of separation--you should
talk in this satirical way."

"I speak the words of truth and soberness, Lord de Burgh."

"Perhaps. I can't quite make you out. I am certain you have been in
worse trouble than even want of money. I wish you'd confide in me.
That's the right word, isn't it? Do you know, I can be very true to my
friends, and silent as the grave. I could tell _you_ everything."

"Thank you. I am sure you could be a faithful friend."

"Do you ever see Errington?" asked De Burgh, changing the subject
abruptly.

"Oh yes. He often comes here."

"Indeed? To see you, or Mrs.--what's her name?"

"To see Mrs. Needham," returned Katherine, smiling.

"Hum! I suppose he has a taste for mature beauty?"

"I do not know. At all events Mrs. Needham knows charming girls--enough
to suit all tastes, and Mr. Errington--"

"Is too superior a fellow to be influenced by such attractions, eh?" put
in De Burgh.

"I am not so sure;" and she laughed merrily. "I think there is one fair
lady for whom he is inclined to forego his philosophic tranquility."

"Ha! I thought so. Yourself?"

"_Me_! No, indeed! A young lady of high attainments and a large fortune."

"Indeed? I am glad of it. He must be awfully hard up, poor devil!"

"Mr. Errington can never be poor," cried Katherine, offended by the
disparaging epithet. "He carries his fortune in his brain."

"Well, I am exceedingly thankful I carry mine in my pocket," returned De
Burgh, laughing. "Evidently Errington can do no wrong in your eyes. Let
us wish him success in his wooing. So I am not to be your escort to
Sandbourne? You ought to let me be your courier, I have knocked about so
much. I thought I'd take to the road in the modern sense, when I came to
my last sou, if the poor old lord had not died. Now I am going to be a
pattern man as landlord, peer, and sportsman. Can't give up that, you
know."

"I do not see why you should."

"I see you are looking at the clock; that means I am staying too long.
You don't know how delightful it is to sit here talking to you, without
any third person to bore us."

"I don't mean to be rude, Lord de Burgh, but you see I have letters to
write for my chief."

"The deuce you have! It is too awful to see you in slavery."

"Very pleasant, easy slavery."

"So this chief of yours gives parties, receptions, at homes. Why doesn't
she ask me?"

"I am sure she would if she knew of your existence."

"Do you mean to say you have never mentioned me to her, nor enlarged
upon my many delightful and noble qualities?"

"I am ashamed to say I have not."

Lord de Burgh rose slowly and reluctantly. "Are you going to bring the
boys here?"

"No; Miss Payne has most kindly invited them to stay with her. As yet
she has not found any one to replace me. Poor little souls, I shall be
glad when their holidays are over, for I fear they are not the same joy
to Miss Payne as they are to me."

"Ah! believe me, you want some help in bringing up a couple of boys.
Just fancy what Cis will be six or seven years hence. Why, he'll play
the devil if he hasn't a strong hand over him."

"I don't believe it!" cried Katherine, smiling. "Why should he be worse
than other boys?"

"Why should he be better?"

"Well, I can but do my best for them," said Katherine with a sigh.

"I am a brute to prophesy evil, when you have enough to contend with
already," cried De Burgh, taking her hand, and looking into her eyes
with an expression she could not misunderstand.

"You must not exaggerate my troubles," returned Katherine, with a sweet
bright smile on her lips and in her eyes that thanked him for his
sympathy, even while she gently withdrew her hand.

"I wish you would let me help you," said De Burgh; and as her lips
parted to reply, he went on, hastily: "No, no; don't answer--not yet, at
least. You will only say something disagreeable, in spite of your
charming lips. Now I'll not intrude on you any longer. I suppose there
is no objection to my calling on the young gentlemen at Miss Payne's,
and taking them to a circus, or Madame Tussaud's, or any other
dissipation suited to their tender years?"

"My dear Lord de Burgh, what an infliction for you! and how very good
of you to think of them! Pray do not trouble about them."

"I understand," said De Burgh. "I'll leave my card for your chief below;
and be sure you don't forget me when you are sending out cards.
By-the-way, I have a pressing invitation to Castleford. When I write to
refuse I'll say I have seen you, and that I am going to take charge of
the boys during the holidays."

"No, no; pray do not, Lord de Burgh," cried Katherine, eagerly. "You
know Ada, and--"

"Are you ashamed to have me as a coadjutor?" interrupted De Burgh,
laughing. "Trust me; I will be prudent. Good-by for the present."

Katherine stood in silent thought for a few moments after he had gone.
She fully understood the meaning of his visit; though there had been
little or nothing of the lover in his tone. He had come as soon as
possible to place himself and all he had at her disposal. He was
perfectly sincere in his desire to win her for his wife, and she almost
regretted she could not return his affection: it might be true
affection--something beyond and above the dominant whim of an imperious
nature. And what a solution to all her difficulties! But it was
impossible she could overcome the repulsion which the idea of marriage
with any man she did not love inspired. There was to her but one in the
world to whom she could hold allegiance, and _he_ was forbidden by all
sense of self-respect and modesty. How was it that, strive as she might
to fill her mind to his exclusion, the moment she was off guard the
image of Errington rose up clear and fresh, pervading heart and
imagination, and dwarfing every other object?

"How miserably, contemptibly weak I am, and have always been! Why did I
not stifle this wretched, overpowering attraction in the beginning?" Ay!
but when did it begin?

This is a sort of question no heart can answer. Who can foresee that the
tiny spring, forcing its way up among the stones and heather of a lonely
hill-side, will grow into the broad river, which may carry peace and
prosperity on its rolling tide to the lands below, or overwhelm them
with destructive floods, according to the forces which feed it and the
barriers which hedge it in?



CHAPTER XXX.

"CIS AND CHARLIE."


Again the spring sunshine was lending perennial youth even to London's
dingy streets, and making the very best winter garments look dim and
shabby. Hunting was over, and Colonel Ormonde found himself by the will
of his wife, once more established in London lodgings--of a dingier and
obscurer order than those in which they had enjoyed last season.

Mrs. Ormonde was neither intellectually nor morally strong, but she had
one reflex ingredient in her nature, which was to her both a shield and
spear. She knew what she wanted, and was perfectly unscrupulous as to
the means of getting it. A woman who is pleasantly indifferent to the
wants and wishes of her associates, if they happen to clash with her
own, is tolerably sure to have her own way on the whole. Now and then,
to be sure, she comes to grief; but in her general success these
failures can be afforded.

When first the tidings of George Liddell's return and his assertion of
his rights reached her, she was terrified and undone by Colonel
Ormonde's fury against Katherine, herself, her boys, every one. In
short, that gallant officer thought he had done a generous and manly
thing, when he married the piquant little widow who had attracted him,
although she could only meet her personal expenses and those of her two
sons, without contributing to the general house-keeping. This sense of
his own magnanimity, backed by the consciousness that it did not cost
him too dear, had kept Colonel Ormonde in the happiest of moods for the
first years of his married life. Terrible was the awakening from the
dream of his own good luck and general "fine-fellowism"; and heavily
would the punishment have fallen on his wife had she been a sensitive or
high-minded woman. Being, however, admirably suited to the partner of
her life, she looked round, as soon as the first burst of despair was
over, to see how she could make the best of her position.

She was really vexed and irritated to find how little tenderness or
regard her husband felt for her, for she had always believed that he was
greatly devoted to her. To both of them the outside world was all in
all, and on this Mrs. Ormonde counted largely. Colonel Ormonde could not
put her away or lock her up because the provision made by Katherine for
the boys failed her, so while she was mistress of Castleford she must
have dresses and carriages and consideration. Knowing herself secure on
these points, she fearlessly adopted the system of counter-irritation
she described to Katherine; and to do her justice, her consciousness
that the boys were safe under the care of their aunt, who would be sure
to treat them well and kindly, made her the more ready to brave the
dangers of her husband's wrath.

"He must behave well before people, or men will say he is a 'cad' to
visit his disappointment on his poor little simple-hearted wife," she
thought. "He knows that. Then it is an enormous relief that Katherine
still clings to the boys, poor dears! She really is a trump; so I have
only myself to think of; and Duke shall find that his shabbiness and
ill-temper do him no good. It's like drawing his teeth to get my
quarter's allowance, beggarly as it is, from him."

Colonel Ormonde's reflections, as he composed a letter to his steward,
were by no means soothing. Though it was all but impossible for him to
hold his tongue respecting his disappointment, whenever a shade of
difference occurred between him and his wife, he was uncomfortably
conscious that he often acted like a brute toward the mother of his boy,
of whom he was so proud; he was not therefore the more disposed to rule
his hasty, inconsiderate temper. The fact that Mrs. Ormonde had her own
methods of paying him back disposed him to respect her, and it could not
be doubted that in time the friction of their natures would rub off the
angles of each, and they would settle down into tolerable harmony,
whereas a proud, true-hearted woman in her place would have been utterly
crushed and never forgiven.

Ormonde, then, was meditating on his undeserved misfortunes, when the
door was somewhat suddenly and vehemently pushed open, and Mrs. Ormonde
came in, her eyes sparkling, and evidently in some excitement.

"What's the matter?" asked her husband, not too amiably. "Has that
rascally, intruding fellow Liddell kicked the bucket?"

"No; but whom do you think I saw as I was leaving Mrs. Bennett's in Hyde
Park Square, you know?"

"How can I tell? The policeman perhaps."

"Nonsense, Duke! I had just come down the steps, and was turn turning
toward Paddington, for, as it was early, I thought I would take the
omnibus to Oxford Circus (see how careful I am!), when I saw a beautiful
dark brougham, drawn by splendid black horse--the coachman, the whole
turn-out, quite first rate--come at a dashing pace towards me. I
recognized Lord de Burgh inside, and who do you think was sitting beside
him?"

"God knows! The Saratoffski perhaps."

"Really, Ormonde, I am astonished at your mentioning that dreadful woman
to me.

"Oh! are you? Well, _who_ was De Burgh's companion?"

"Charlie! my Charlie! and Cis was on the front seat. Cis saw me, for he
clapped his hands and pointed as they flew past. What do you think of
that?"

"By George!" he exclaimed, in capital letters. "I believe he is still
after Katherine. If so, she'll have the devil's own luck."

"Now listen to me. As Wilton Street was quite near, I went on there to
gather what I could from Miss Payne. She was at home, and a little less
sour and silent then usual. She was sorry, she said, the boys were out.
They have been with her for a week, and Lord de Burgh had been most
kind. He had taken them to the Zoological Gardens and Madame Tussaud's,
and just now had called for them to go to the circus. Isn't it
wonderful? Do try and picture De Burgh at Madame Tussaud's."

"There is only one way of accounting for such strange conduct," returned
the Colonel, thoughtfully. "He means to marry your sister. This would
change the face of affairs considerably."

"Yes; it would be delightful."

"I'm not so sure of that," returned Ormonde, seriously. "Now that he is
in love--and you know he is all fire and tow--he makes a fuss about the
boys; but wait till he is married, and he will try to shift them back on
you. Why should he put up with his wife's nephews any more than I do
with _my_ wife's sons?"

"Because he is more in love, and a good deal richer," returned Mrs.
Ormonde.

"More in love! Bosh! In the middle of the fever, you mean. Of course
that will pass over."

"Really men are great brutes," observed Mrs. Ormonde, philosophically.

"And women awful fools," added her husband.

"Well, perhaps so," she returned, with a slight smile and a sharp
glance.

"Seriously, though," resumed Colonel Ormonde, "it's all very well for
Katherine to make a good match, and if De Burgh is fool enough to be in
earnest, it will be a splendid match for her; but things may be made
rather rough for me. That fellow De Burgh has the queerest crotchets,
and doesn't hesitate to air them. He'd think nothing of slapping my
shoulder in the club before a dozen members, and asking me if I meant to
leave my wife's brats on his hands."

"Do you really think so? Oh, Katherine would never let him. She dearly
loves the boys."

"Wait till she has a son of her own."

"Even so. She has her faults, I know. Her temper is rather violent, her
ideas are too high-flown and nonsensical, and she won't take advice, but
she never would injure _me_, I am sure of that."

An inarticulate grunt from Colonel Ormonde, as he fixed his double glass
on his nose and took up his pen again.

"Duke," resumed Mrs. Ormonde, after a pause, "don't you think I had
better go and see Katherine? You know we never had any quarrel, and that
Mrs. Needham she lives with gives very nice parties."

"Parties! By Jove! you'd go to old Nick for a party. What good will it
do you to meet a pack of beggarly scribblers?"

"They may not have money, Duke, but they have _manners_, and something
to say for themselves," she retorted. "Never mind about the parties.
Don't you think I would better call on Katherine?"

"Do as you like but consider that she has behaved very badly--with
extreme insolence; but I don't want to influence you." This in a tone of
magnanimity, as he began to write with an air of profound attention.

Mrs. Ormonde made a swift contemptuous grimace at his back, and said, in
mellifluous tones: "Very well, dear. I may as well go at once, and
perhaps she will come with me to that dressmaking ally of hers, Miss
Trant. I hear she is raising her prices, but she will not do so to me if
I am with her original patroness."

"Oh, do as you like; only don't send me in a long milliner's bill."

"I am sure, Duke, my clothes never cost you much."

"Not so far, but the future looks rather blue."

To this she made no reply. Leaving the room noiselessly, she retired to
give a touch of kohl to her eyes, a dust of pearl powder to her cheeks,
and then started on her mission of inquiry and reconciliation.


It is not to be denied that Katherine was greatly touched by De Burgh's
thoughtful kindness to her boys. She had been a good deal troubled about
their holidays, for she did not like to take full advantage of Mrs.
Needham's kind permission to absent herself as much as she liked in
order to be with them, and she well knew that in Miss Payne's very
orderly establishment the two restless, active little fellows would be
a most discordant ingredient. Above all, she wanted them to have a very
happy holiday, as she feared their cloudless sunny days were numbered.

The second morning, therefore, after she had deposited them in Wilton
Street, when she went to inquire for them, and found that Lord de Burgh
had called and carried them off to have luncheon with him first, and to
spend the afternoon at the Zoological Gardens after, she could hardly
credit her ears.

"I must say," observed Miss Payne, "that I am agreeably surprised. I had
no idea Lord de Burgh was so straightforward and well-disposed a man. A
little abrupt, and would not stand any nonsense, I fancy, but a sterling
character. He has tact too. He always spoke of the boys as his cousin
Colonel Ormonde's step-sons. He might be a good friend to them,
Katherine."

"No doubt," she replied, thoughtfully.

"He will send his butler or house-steward to take them to Kew Gardens
to-morrow; but I dare say he will call and tell you himself."

"He is wonderfully good," said Katherine, feeling puzzled and oppressed.
"I will go back, then, as fast as I can, and get my work done by six
o'clock; then I may spend the evening here with you and the boys."

"Pray do, if you can manage it."

Lord de Burgh's remarkable conduct troubled Katherine a good deal. How
ought she to act? Certainly he would not put himself out of the way for
Cis and Charlie, had he not wished to please her, or really interested
himself in them for her sake. Ought she to encourage him by accepting
these very useful and kindly attentions? How could she reject them
without saying as plainly by action as in words, "I know you are
pressing your suit upon me, and I will not have it," which, after all,
might be a mistake; besides, she would thus deprive her nephews of much
pleasure. She could not come to a conclusion; she must let herself
drift. But the question tormented her, and it was with an effort she
banished it, and applied herself to her task of arranging her chief's
notes.

Mrs. Needham was exceedingly busy that afternoon, and did not go out, as
she had some provincial and colonial letters to finish, and had a couple
of engagements in the evening. She and her secretary therefore wrote
diligently till about half-past five, when Ford, the smart parlor-maid,
announced that "the gentleman" and two little boys were in the
drawing-room.

"Good gracious!" cried Mrs. Needham, slipping off her glasses. "This is
growing interesting. I shall go and speak to Lord de Burgh myself.
Besides, I want to see your boys, my dear. How funny it sounds!"

"Do, Mrs. Needham. I will come."

Lord de Burgh was glaring absently out of the window, and the boys were
eagerly examining the diverse and sundry objects thickly scattered
around. They had wonderfully dirty hands and faces, their jackets were
splashed as if with some foaming beverage, the knees of their
knickerbockers were grubby with gravel and grass, and they had generally
the aspect of having done wildly what they listed for some hours.

"Lord de Burgh, I suppose?" said Mrs. Needham, in loud and cheerful
accents. "I am very pleased to see you" (De Burgh bowed); "and you, my
dears--I am very glad to see you too, especially if you will be so good
as not to touch my china!"

"We haven't broken anything!" cried Cecil, coming up to her and giving
her a dingy little paw, while he stared in her face. "Where is auntie?"

"She'll be here directly. This is Charlie: what a sweet little fellow!
Why, your eyes are like your aunt's."

"Do you think so?" said De Burgh, drawing near. "They are lighter--a
good deal lighter."

"Perhaps so. The shape and expression are like, though. And so you have
been to see the lions and tigers?"

"And the bears," put in Charlie.

"Isn't Lord de Burgh kind to take you--"

"He _is!_ he's a jolly chap!" cried Cecil, warmly. "I shouldn't mind
living with him."

"Nor I either," added Charlie.

Here Katherine made her appearance, a conscious look in her eyes, a
flitting blush on her cheek. The boys immediately flew to hug and kiss
her, barely allowing her to shake hands with De Burgh. Then, when she
sat down on the sofa, Charlie established himself on her knee and Cecil
knelt on the sofa, the better to put his arms round her neck.

"What dreadfully dirty little boys! What have you been doing to
yourselves?"

"Oh, we have been on the elephant and the camel, and in the ostrich
cart. Then Charlie tumbled down in the monkey-house. Oh, how funny the
monkeys are! and he" (pointing to Lord de Burgh) "took us to dinner.
Such a beautiful dinner in a lovely room! He says he will take us to the
circus."

"I'll ask him to take you too, auntie!" cried Charlie.

"Oh yes!" echoed Cecil. "You'll take her, Lord de Burgh, won't you? I
don't think auntie ever saw a circus."

"If you promise to be _very_ good, and that your aunt too will be quiet
and well-behaved, I may be induced to let her come," returned De Burgh,
his deep-set eyes glittering with fun and anticipated pleasure.

"Thank you," said Katherine, laughing, as soon as her delighted nephew
ceased kissing her.

"And you'll come?--the day after to-morrow? I will call for the boys,
bring them round here."

"If I have nothing special--" she began.

"Certainly not; I will take care of that," cried Mrs. Needham, "It is
such a great thing to get a little amusement for the poor little
fellows, and so very kind of Lord de Burgh to take so much trouble."

"It is indeed. I really don't know how to thank you enough," said
Katherine. "Mrs. Needham, I must really take them to wash their hands;
they are so terribly dirty!"

"No; ring the bell; Ford will manage them nicely, and bring them back in
a few minutes." Mrs. Needham rang energetically as she spoke, and the
young gentlemen were speedily marched off.

"I am afraid I am not a wise child's guide," said De Burgh, laughing;
"but they ran and tumbled about till they got into an awful pickle. They
are really capital little fellows, and most amusing. When do they go
back to school?"

"In about ten days--on the 25th. I assure you I quite dread their going
to this Wandsworth place. They have been asking, entreating me to let
them go back to Sandbourne, but I think Cis at last grasps the idea that
it is a question of money."

"It's an early initiation for him," observed De Burgh, as if to himself.
Then, eagerly: "You'll be sure to come with us on Friday, Miss Liddell?
The boys will enjoy the performance ever so much more if you are with
them."

Katherine looked for half a second at Mrs. Needham, who nodded and
frowned in a very energetic and affirmative way. "I shall be very glad
to enjoy it with them," she said, hesitatingly, "if Mrs. Needham can
spare me."

"Of course I can,"--briskly. "Lord de Burgh, if you care for music--not
severe classical music, you know--ballads, recitatives, and that sort of
thing--Hyacinth O'Hara, the new tenor, and Mr. Merrydew, that wonderful
mimic and singer, are coming to me next Tuesday; I shall be delighted to
see you."

"Not so delighted, I am sure, as I shall be to come," returned De Burgh,
with unusual suavity.

"Very well--half past nine. Don't be late, and don't forget."

"No danger of forgetting, I assure you."

"By-the-bye," resumed Mrs. Needham, as if seized with a happy thought,
"Angela Bradley receives on Sunday afternoons at their delightful villa
at Wimbledon all through the season. Her first 'at home' will be the
Sunday after next. I am sure she will be delighted to see any friend of
Miss Liddell's."

"If Miss Liddell will be so good as to answer for me, I shall be most
happy to present myself. To make sure of being properly backed up,
suppose I call here for Miss Liddell and yourself, and and drive you
down?

"Is it not rather far off to make arrangements?" asked Katherine,
growing somewhat uneasy at thus drifting into a succession of of
engagements with the man she half liked, half dreaded.

"Far off!" echoed Mrs. Needham. "You don't call ten days far off? But I
must run away and finish my letter. A journalist is the slave of her
pen. Good morning, Lord de Burgh. I'll send the boys to you, Katherine."

"That is an admirable and meritorious woman," and De Burgh, drawing a
chair beside the sofa where Katherine sat. "Why are you so savagely
opposed to anything like friendly intercourse with me--so reluctant to
let me do anything for you? Do you think I am such a cad as to think
that _anything_ I could do would entitle me to consider you under an
obligation?"

"No, indeed, Lord de Burgh! I believe you to be too true a gentleman
for--"

"For what? I see you are afraid of giving me what is called, in the
slang of the matrimonial market, encouragement. Just put all that out of
your mind, Let me have a little enjoyment, however things may end, and,
believe me, I'll never blame you. I am not going to trouble you with my
hopes and wishes, not at least for some time; and then, whatever the
upshot, on my head be it."

"But I cannot bear to give you pain."

"Then don't--"

"Auntie, we are quite clean. Won't you come back to tea at Miss Payne's?
Do make her come, Lord de Burgh."

"Ah, it is beyond my powers to make her do anything."

"I cannot come now, my darlings; but I will be with you about half past
six, and we'll have a game before you go to bed."

"Come along, boys; we have intruded on your aunt long enough. Don't
forget the circus on Friday, Miss Liddell."

Another hug from Cis and Charlie, a slight hand pressure from their
newly found playfellow, and Katherine was left to her own reflections.


The expedition to the circus was most successful. It was on his way from
Wilton Street to call for Katherine, on this occasion, that De Burgh
encountered Mrs. Ormonde. Need we say that she lost no time in making
the proposed call on her sister-in-law; unfortunately Katherine was out;
so Mrs. Ormonde was reduced to writing a requisition for an interview
with her boys and their aunt.

This was accordingly planned at Miss Payne's house, and Mrs. Ormonde was
quite charming, playful, affectionate, tearful, repentant, apologetic
for "Ormonde," and deeply moved at parting from her boys, who where
somewhat awed by this display of feeling. Still she did not succeed in
breaking the "cold chain of silence" which Katherine persisted in
"hanging" over the events of the past week.

"So De Burgh took the boys about everywhere?" said Mrs. Ormonde, as
Katherine went downstairs with her when she was leaving, and they were
alone together. "It is something new for him to play the part of
children's maid; and, do you know, he only left cards on us, and never
asked to come in."

"He was always good-natured," returned Katherine, with some
embarrassment; "and, you remember, he used to notice Cis and Charlie at
Castleford a good deal."

"Yes; after _you_ came," significantly. "Never mind, Katie dear, I am
not going to worry you with troublesome questions; but I am sure no one
in the world would be more delighted than myself _did_ you make a
brilliant match."

"Believe me, there will never be anything brilliant about me, Ada."

"Well, we'll see. When do you take the boys to school?

"On Wednesday; should you like to come and see the place?"

"I should like it of all things, but I mustn't, dear."

"I do hope the school may prove all I expect; but the change will be bad
for Charlie. He had lost nearly all his nervousness; strange teachers
and a new system may bring it back."

"Oh, I hope not. Does he still stop short and speechless, and then laugh
as if it were a good joke, when he is puzzled or frightened?"

"Very rarely, I believe. I will write to you the day after I leave the
boys at Wandsworth. They don't like going at all, poor dears.'

"Well, we shall not be much longer in town, I am sorry to say, and I
want a few things from Miss Trant before I go. I suppose she will not
raise her prices to me?"

"Oh no, I am sure she will not."



CHAPTER XXXI.

"MISS BRADLEY AT HOME."


It was a bleak, blowy day when Katherine took the boys to school, and on
returning she went straight to Miss Payne, who had promised to have tea
ready for her.

Somewhat to her regret, she found only Bertie Payne, who explained that
his sister had been called away about some business connected with a
lady with whom she was trying to come to terms respecting her house,
which she had now decided on letting.

"And how did you part with the boys?" he asked when he had given her a
cup of tea and brought her the most comfortable chair.

"It was very hard to leave them," returned Katherine, whose eyes looked
suspiciously like recently shed tears. "The place did not look half so
nice to-day as I thought it was. Everything is rough and ready. The
second master, too, is a harsh, severe-looking man. Of course he has not
much authority; still, had I seen him, I do not think I should have
agreed to send Cis and Charlie there; but now I am committed to a
quarter. I cannot afford to indulge whims, and, at all events, they are
within an easy distance. Charlie looked so white, and clung to me as if
he would never let me go! How hard life is!"

"This portion of it is, and wisely so. We must set our affections on
things above. I have been learning this lesson of late as I never
thought I should have to learn it."

"_You_?--you who are so good, so unworldly? Oh, Mr. Payne, what do you
mean? You are looking ill and worn."

"I have been fighting a battle of late," he returned, with his sweet,
patient smile, "and I have conquered. The right road has been shown to
me, the right way, and I am determined to walk in it."

"What are you going to do?" asked Katherine, with a feeling of alarm.

"I am going to take orders, and join the missionary ranks, either in
India or China. Work in England was growing too easy--too heavenly
sweet--to be any longer saving to my own soul."

"But Mr. Payne, don't you see that your own poor country people have the
first claim upon you--that you are leaving a work for which you are so
wonderfully well suited, in which you are so successful? Oh, do think!
Here you leave people of your own race, whose wants, whose characters
you can understand, to run away to creatures of another climate--a
different stock--whose natures, in my opinion, unfit them for a faith
such as ours, and who never, never will accept our religion!"

"Hush!" cried Payne, in an excited tone. "Do not torture me by showing
the appalling gulf which separates us. Strange that a heart so tender as
yours to all mere human miseries should yet be adamant against the
Saviour's loving touch. This has been my cruel cross, and my only safety
lies in flight, wretched man that I am!"

"I am dreadfully distressed about you, Mr. Payne. Does your sister know?
It is really unkind to her."

"That must not weigh with me. Even if the right hand offends you, 'cut
it off,' is the command."

"At all events, you must study, or go though some preparation, before
you are ordained, and perhaps in that interval you may change your
views. I do hope you will. I should be indeed sorry to lose sight of a
true friend like yourself."

"A friend!" he returned, his brow contracting as if with pain. "You do
not know the depths of my selfishness----"

The entrance of Miss Payne interrupted the conversation, and Bertie
immediately changing the subject, Katherine understood that he did not
as yet intend to speak to his sister of his new plans.

To Miss Payne, Katherine had again to describe her parting with her
nephews, and she, in her turn, talked comfortably of her affairs. She
thought of going abroad for a short time should she let her house, as
nothing very eligible offered in the shape of a young lady to chaperon.
Indeed she was somewhat tired of that sort of life, etc., etc. At length
Katherine bade them adieu, and returned to her present abode with a very
sad heart.

The parting with her nephews had been a sore trial. The idea of Bertie,
her kind friend, whose sympathetic companionship had helped her so much
to overcome the poignancy of her first grief for her dear mother, going
away to banishment, and perhaps death, at the hands of those whose souls
he went to save, caused her the keenest pain; and for nearly a fortnight
she had not seen Errington! She could not bring herself to ask where he
was, and no one had happened to mention him. This was really better. His
absence should be a help to forgetfulness; but somehow it was not. He
was so vividly before her eyes; his voice sounded so perpetually in her
heart.

Why could she not think thus of De Burgh, whose devotion to her was
evident, and whom, in spite of herself as it seemed, she was, to a
certain degree, encouraging?

She felt unutterably helpless and oppressed. Moreover, she was
distressed by the consciousness that the small reserve fund which she
had with difficulty preserved, could barely meet unexpected demands such
as removing the boys from school, if necessary, an attack of illness, a
dozen contingencies, any or all of which were possible, if not imminent.

Such a mood made her feel peculiarly unfit to shine at Mrs. Needham's
reception. Still it was better to be obliged to talk and to think about
others than to brood perpetually on her own troubles. So she arrayed
herself in one of the pretty soft grey demi-toilette dresses which
remained among her well-stocked wardrobe, and prepared to assist her
chief in receiving her guests, who soon flocked in so rapidly as to make
separate receptions impossible. Miss Bradley came early, arrayed in
white silk and lace with diamond stars in her coronet of thickly-plaited
red hair. She was looking radiantly well--so well and unusually animated
that her aspect struck sudden terror into Katherine's heart; something
had gladdened her heart to give that expression of joyous softness to
her eyes. But it was weak and contemptible to let this sudden fear
overmaster her, so she strove to be amused and interested in the
conversation of those she knew, and her acquaintance had increased
enormously since she came to reside with Mrs. Needham.

Presently Katherine caught sight of a stately head above the general
level of the crowd, and a pair of grave eyes evidently seeking
something. Who was Errington looking for? Miss Bradley, of course! As
she arrived at this conclusion, De Burgh appeared at the head of the
stairs, looking, as he always did, extremely distinguished--his dark
strong face showing in remarkable contrast to the simpering young
minstrels, pale young poets, and long-haired professors who formed the
larger half of the male guests.

"Well, Miss Liddell, are you quite well and flourishing? Why, it is
quite three days since I saw you," he asked, and his eyes dwelt on her
with a look of utter restful satisfaction--a look that disturbed her.

"Is it, indeed? They seem all rolled into a single disagreeable one to
me."

"Tell me all about it," said De Burgh, in a low confidential tone. "Must
you stand here in the gangway? it's awfully hot and crowded."

Before she could reply, Errington forced his way through the crowd, and
addressed her.

"I began to fear I should not find you, Miss Liddell," he said, with a
pleasant smile. "I have been away for some time--though perhaps you were
not aware of it."

"I was aware we did not see you as frequently as usual. Where have you
been?"

"On a secret and delicate mission which taxed all my diplomatic skill,
for I had to deal with an extremely crotchetty Scotchman."

"You make me feel desperately curious," said Katherine, languidly.

"How do you do, Errington?" put in De Burgh. "I heard of you in
Edinburgh last week;" and they exchanged a few words. Then, to
Katherine's annoyance, De Burgh said, with an air of proprietorship, "I
am going to take Miss Liddell out of this mob, to have tea and air, if
we can get any. I have to hear news, too," he added, significantly.

Errington grew very grave, and drew back immediately with a slight bow,
as if he accepted a dismissal.

There was no help for it, so Katherine took De Burgh's offered arm and
went downstairs.

"I wonder what the secret mission could have been?" said Katherine, when
they found themselves in the tea-room.

"God knows! I wonder Errington did not go in for diplomacy when he
smashed up. He is just the man for protocols, and solemn mysteries, and
all that."

"Men cannot jump into diplomatic appointments, can they?"

"No, I suppose not. I hear some of Errington's political articles have
attracted Lord G----'s notice; they say he'll be in Parliament one of
these days. Well, he deserves to win, if that sort of thing be worth
winning."

"Of course it is. Have you no ambition, Lord de Burgh? Were I a man, I
should be very ambitious."

"I have no doubt you would; and if you had a husband you'd drive him up
the ladder at the bayonet's point."

"Poor man! I pity him beforehand."

"I don't," returned De Burgh, shortly. "Do you know, I have just been
dining with Ormonde and his wife, not as their guest, but at Lady Mary
Vincent's. Tell me, hasn't he behaved rather badly to you? I want to
know, because I don't want to cut him without reason."

"Pray do not cut him on my account, Lord de Burgh. Colonel Ormonde has
very naturally, for a man of his calibre, felt disgusted at my inability
to carry out my original arrangements respecting my nephews, and he
showed his displeasure, after his kind, with remarkable frankness; but I
am not the least angry, and I beg you will make no difference for my
sake."

"If you really wish it--" he paused, and then went on--"Mrs. Ormonde
whined a good deal to me in a corner about her affection for you, her
hard fate, Ormonde's brutality, etc., etc.; she is a _rusee_ little
devil."

"Poor Ada! I fancy she has not had a pleasant time of it. Had she been a
woman of feeling, it would have been too dreadful...."

"Well, you make your mind easy on that score. Now, what about the boys?"

Katherine was vexed to find how impossible it was to talk of them with
composure; she was unhinged in some unaccountable way, and Lord de
Burgh's ill-repressed tenderness made her feel nervous. At length she
asked him to come upstairs and look for Mrs. Needham, as her head ached,
and she thought she would like to retire if she could be spared.

"Yes, you had better--you don't seem up to much," he returned, pressing
her hand slightly against his side. "I can't bear to see you look
worried and ill. That's not a civil speech, I suppose; but, ill or well,
you _know_ your face is always the sweetest to me, and I am always dying
to know what you are thinking of. There, I will not worry you now; but
shall you be 'fit' for this function on Sunday?"

"Oh, yes, quite."

"I am obliged to run down to Wales--some matters there want the master's
eye, they tell me--but I shall return Friday or Saturday. By the way, I
wish you would introduce me to this wonderful Angela of Mrs. Needham's."

"Certainly."

On entering the drawing-room, the first forms that met their eyes were
Errington and Miss Bradley; she was sitting in a large crimson velvet
chair, against the back of which Errington was leaning. Angela was
looking up at him with a peculiarly happy, absorbed expression, while
his head was bent towards her.

"She is deucedly handsome," said De Burgh, critically, "and much too
pleasantly engaged to be interrupted. I can wait."

"Yes, I think it would be unkind to break in on such a conversation. Oh,
here is Mrs. Needham! Do you want me very much, Mrs. Needham? because,
if not, I should like to go to bed. I have a tiresome headache."

"Go by all means, my dear; you are looking like a ghost; they are all
talking and amusing each other now, and don't want you or me." "Good
night, then," said Katherine, giving her hand to De Burgh, and she
glided away.

"What a lot she takes out of herself!" said De Burgh, looking after her.

"She does indeed," cried Mrs. Needham; "she is so unselfish. I hate to
see her worried. I wonder if he has proposed?" she thought.

"I think he is pretty far gone. Now pray don't run away just now;
Merrydew is going to give one of his musical sketches, and then I want
to introduce you to Professor Gypsum. He thinks there ought to be a rich
coal seam on your South Wales property; he is a most intelligent,
accomplished man."

"Very well--with pleasure," said De Burgh, complacently.


It was rather a relief to be quite sure that De Burgh was safe out of
the way for a few days. His presence always disturbed her with a mixed
sense of pain and self-reproach. He gave her no opening to warn him off,
yet she felt that he lost no opportunity of pushing his mines up to the
defences; and she liked him--liked him sincerely--always believing there
was much undeveloped goodness under his rough exterior.

Sunday came quickly, for the intervening days had been very fully
occupied, and thus Katherine had been saved from too much thought of the
boys and their possible trials.

It was a soft, lovely spring day. The lilacs and laburnums had put on
their ball-dresses for the season, and there was a fresh, youthful
feeling in the air. The villa of which Angela was the happy mistress was
one of the few old places standing on the edge of the common at
Wimbledon, and boasting mossy green lawns, huge cedar trees, and
delightful shrubberies, paths leading through a well-disposed patch of
plantation, and a fine view from the windows of the deep red-brick
mansion, with its copings, window-heads, and pediments of white stone.

Katherine started with a brave determination to throw off dull care and
enjoy herself, if possible--why should she not? Life had many sides,
and, though the present was gloomy, there was no reason why its clouds
should not hide bright sunshine which lay awaiting the future. She had
manoeuvred that Mrs. Needham should join an elderly couple of their
acquaintance in an open carriage, and so avoided appearing in Lord de
Burgh's elegant equipage.

The grounds were already dotted with gaily dressed groups; for, although
there were no formally invited guests, Miss Bradley's Sundays were
largely attended by her extensive circle of acquaintance, and this first
Sabbath of really fine spring weather brought a larger number than
usual.

"I am glad you put on that pretty black and white dress," whispered Mrs.
Needham, as they alighted and went into the hall. "I see everyone is in
their best bibs and tuckers;--isn't it a lovely house! Ah! many a poor
author's brain has paid toll to provide all this."

"I suppose so."

"Miss Bradley is in the conservatory," said a polite butler, and into a
deliciously fragrant conservatory they were ushered.

"Very glad to see you, Miss Liddell," said Angela, kindly, when she had
greeted Mrs. Needham. "This is your first visit to the Court. Do you
know I wanted to ask you to come down to us for a few days; but, when I
looked for you at Mrs. Needham's the other night, you had vanished, and
since I have been so much taken up, as I will explain later, that I have
been quite unable to write. I hope you will manage to pay us a visit
next week; the air here is most reviving."

"You are too good, Miss Bradley," returned Katherine, touched by her
kind tone. "If Mrs. Needham can spare me, I shall of course be delighted
to come;" and she resolved mentally that she should _not_ be spared.

"Major Urquhart," continued Miss Bradley, turning to a very tall, thin,
soldierly-looking man, who might once have been fair, but was now burnt
to brickdust hue, with long tawny moustache and thick overhanging
eyebrows of the same color, "pray take Miss Liddell round the grounds,
and show her my favorite fernery."

Major Urquhart bowed low and presented his arm.

"I see," continued Angela, "that Mrs. Needham is already absorbed by a
dozen dear friends."

"You have not been here before," said Major Urquhart, in a deep hollow
voice.

"Never."

"Charming place! immensely improved since I went to India five years
ago."

"Miss Bradley has great taste," remarked Katherine.

"Wonderful--astonishing; she has made all this fernery since I was here
last."

Then there was a long pause, and a few more sentences expressive of
admiration were exchanged, and somehow Katherine began to feel that her
companion was rather bored and preoccupied, so she turned her steps
towards the house, intending to release him.

At the further side of the fernery, in a pretty path between green
banks, they suddenly met Errington face to face.

"Miss Bradley wants you, Urquhart," he said, as soon as they had
exchanged salutations. "You may leave Miss Liddell in my charge, if she
will permit." Major Urquhart bowed himself off, and Errington continued,
"You would not suspect that was a very distinguished officer."

"I don't know; he seems very silent and inanimate."

"Well, I assure you he is a very fine fellow, and did great deeds in
the Mutiny. But come, the lawn is looking quite picturesque in the
sunshine, with the groups of people scattered about. It would be perfect
were it sleeping in the tranquil silence of a restful Sabbath day."

"Are you not something of a hermit in your tastes?" asked Katherine,
looking up at him with one of her sunny smiles.

"By no means. I like the society of my fellow-men, but I like a spell of
solitude every now and then, as a rest and refreshment on the dusty road
of life."

"I begin to think peace the greatest boon heaven can bestow."

"Yes, after the late vicissitudes, it must seem to you the greatest
good. Let us sit down under this cedar; there is a pretty peep across
the common to the blue distance. We might be a hundred miles from
London, everything is so calm."

They sat silent for a few moments, a sense of peace and safety stealing
over Katherine's heart.

Suddenly Errington turned to her, and said,

"Our friend De Burgh can scarcely know himself in his new condition."

"He seems remarkably at home, however. I hope he will distinguish
himself as an enlightened and benevolent legislator."

"He must be a good deal changed if he does. You have seen a great deal
of him, I believe, since he returned to London?"

"I have seen him several times. He seems to get on with Mrs. Needham."

"With Mrs. Needham?" repeated Errington, in a slightly mocking tone, and
elevating his eyebrows in a way that made Katherine blush for her
uncandid remark.

"Well, Mrs. Needham seems to have taken immensely to him."

"I can understand that. De Burgh has wherewithal now to recommend him to
most party-giving dowagers."

"That speech is not like you, Mr. Errington; you know my dear good chief
is utterly uninfluenced by worldly considerations. Lord de Burgh has
been very good and helpful to me with the boys, I assure you," said
Katherine, feeling that she changed color under Errington's watchful
eyes.

"Yes, I have no doubt he could be boundlessly kind where he wishes to
please--more, I think he _is_ a generous fellow; but--I am going to be
ill-natured," he said, with a slight change of tone, "and, as you have
allowed me the privilege of a friend, I must beg you to reflect that De
Burgh is a man of imperious temper, given to somewhat reckless seeking
of what he desires, and not too steady in his attachments. Though in
every sense a man of honor, and by no means without heart, yet I fear as
a companion he would be disturbing, if not----"

"Why do you warn me?" cried Katherine, growing somewhat pale. "And what
has poor Lord de Burgh done to earn your disapprobation?"

"I know I am somewhat Quixotic and unguarded in speaking thus to you;
but it would be affectation to say I did not perceive De Burgh's very
natural motive. There is much about him that is attractive to women,
apart from his exceptional fortune and position; but I doubt if he
could make a woman like you happy. If the ease and luxury he could
bestow ever prove tempting, I do not think that anything except sincere
affection would enable you to surmount the difficulty of dealing with a
character like his."

While Errington spoke with quiet but impressive earnestness, a perverse
spirit entered into Katherine Liddell. Here was this man, sailing
triumphantly on the crest of good fortune, about to ally himself to a
woman, good, certainly, and suited to him, but also rich enough to set
him above all care and money troubles, urging counsels of perfection on
_her_. Why was she to be advised to reject a man who certainly loved her
by one who only felt a temperate and condescending friendship for her?
How could he judge what amount of influence De Burgh's affection for
herself might give her?

"I ought to feel deeply grateful to you for overstepping the limits of
conventionality in order to give me what is, no doubt, sound advice."

"Do you mean that as a rebuke?" asked Errington, leaning a little
forward to look into her eyes. "Do you not think that a friendship,
founded as ours is on most exceptional and unconventional circumstances,
gives me a sort of right to speak of matters which may prove of the last
importance to you? You cannot realize how deeply interested I am in your
welfare, how ardently I desire your happiness."

The sincerity of his tone thrilled Katherine with pain and pleasure. It
was delightful to hear him speak thus, yet it would be better for her
never to hear his voice again.

"I daresay I am petulant," she said, looking down, "and you are
generally right; but don't you think in this case you are looking too
far ahead, and attributing motives to Lord de Burgh of which he may be
entirely innocent?"

"Of that you are the best judge," returned Errington, coldly; and
silence fell upon them--a silence which Katherine felt to be so awkward
that she rose, saying,

"I must find Mrs. Needham; she will wonder where I am;" and, Errington
making no objection, they strolled slowly towards the front of the
house, where most of the visitors were standing or sitting about.

There they soon discovered Mrs. Needham, in lively conversation with
Lord de Burgh, who was a good deal observed by those present as his name
and position were well known to almost all of Mrs. Needham's set. He
turned quickly to greet Katherine, and spoke not too cordially to
Errington, who after some talk with Mrs. Needham, quietly withdrew, and
kept rather closely to Angela's side.

The rest of the afternoon was spoiled for Katherine by a sense of
irritation with Lord de Burgh, who scarcely left her, thereby making her
so conspicuous that she could hardly refrain from telling him.

"What is the matter with you?" asked De Burgh, as they walked, together
behind Mrs. Needham to the gate where their carriage awaited them. "Do
you know you have hardly said a civil word to me--what have I done?"

"You are mistaken! I never meant to be uncivil, I am only tired, and I
have rather a headache."

"You often have headaches. Are you sure the ache is in your _head_?"

"No, I am not," said Katherine, frankly. "Don't you know what it is to
be out of sorts?"

"Don't I, though? If that's what ails you I can understand you well
enough. I wish you would let me prescribe for you: a nice long wandering
through Switzerland, over some old passes into Italy (they are more
delicious than ever, now that they are deserted), and then a winter in
Rome."

"Thank you," returned Katherine, laughing. "Perhaps you might also
recommend horse exercise on an Arab steed."

"Yes, I should. You would look stunning in a habit."

"Dreams, idle dreams, Lord de Burgh. I shall be all right to-morrow."

"I intend to come and see you if you are," he returned, significantly.

"To-morrow I shall be out all the afternoon," said Katherine, quickly.

"Some other day then," he replied, with resolution.

"Good-morning, Lord de Burgh, or rather good evening, for it is seven
o'clock," said Mrs. Needham. "Charming place, isn't it?"

"Very nice, indeed. I suppose I have the freedom of the house now,
through your favor."

"Certainly; good-bye, come and see us soon."

"May I?" he whispered, as he handed Katherine into the carriage.

She smiled and shook her head, looking so sweet and arch that De Burgh
could not help pressing her hand hard as he muttered something of which
she could only catch the word "mischief."

"Well," said Mrs. Needham, when they had left the villa behind, and she
had succeeded in wrapping a woollen scarf closely round her throat, for
the evening had grown chill, "I knew I was right all along, and now old
Bradley himself has as good as told me that Angela is engaged to
Errington."

"Indeed!" said the lady, who shared their conveyance. "What did he say?"

"He was sitting with me on the lawn, and Miss Bradley went past between
Errington and that tall military-looking man, who did not seem to know
anyone; so I just remarked what a distinguished sort of person Mr.
Errington was, and Bradley, looking after him in an exulting sort of
way, said, "Distinguished! I believe you. That man, ma-am," (you know
his style) "will be in the front rank before long. I recognized his
power from the first, and, what's more, so did Angela. I am going to
give a proof of my confidence in him that will astonish everyone; you'll
hear of it in a week or two." Now what can that mean but that he is
going to trust his daughter to him? You see, Errington is like a son of
the house. I am heartily glad, for I have reason to know that he has
been greatly attached to her a considerable time, and they are admirably
suited."

"Well! he is a very lucky fellow; independent of all the money Bradley
has made, this new magazine of his is a splendid property."

And Katherine, listening in silence, told herself that one chapter of
her life was closed for ever.



CHAPTER XXXII.

ILL MET.


A note from Mrs. Ormonde next morning informed Katherine that she had
returned to Castleford, and recorded her deep regret that she could not
call before leaving town, but that time was too short, although they had
delayed their departure for a couple of days.


"We met Lord de Burgh at Lady Mary Vincent's; you can't think what a
fuss she made about him. I remember when she would not let him inside
her doors. He is older and more abrupt than ever. He told me he was
going to meet you at Mrs. Needham's, and said hers was the only house in
London worth going to. I suspect there is great fortune in store for
you, Katie, and no friend will rejoice at it more warmly than I shall.
Do write and tell me all about everything; it is frightfully dull down
here.
                       "Your ever attached sister,
                                              "ADA."

Beyond a passing sensation of annoyance that De Burgh should make a
display of his acquaintance with Mrs. Needham and herself, this epistle
made no impression on Katherine, who was glad to have an unusual amount
of work for Mrs. Needham, who had started--or rather promised her
assistance in starting--a new scheme for extracting wax candle out of
peat. Respecting this she was immensely sanguine, for the first time in
her life she was to be properly remunerated for her trouble, and in a
year or two would make her fortune.

The day flew past with welcome rapidity, and in the evening Katherine
was swept off to a "first-night representation," which, though by no
means first-rate, helped to draw Katherine out of herself, and helped
her to vanquish vain regrets.

"You'll make a dozen copies of those notes please, dear," said Mrs.
Needham, as she stood dressed to go out after an early luncheon the
following day, "and I'll sign them when I come in; then there is the
notice of the play for my Dullertoova letter, and be sure you send those
extracts from the _Weekly Review_ to Angela Bradley. You know all the
rest; if I am not home by seven don't wait dinner for me."

Katherine had scarcely settled to her task, when the servant entered to
say that Lord De Burgh would be glad to speak to her, as he had a
message from Mrs. Needham.

"How strange!" murmured Katherine, adding aloud, "Then show him in."

"I have just met Mrs. Needham, and she told me to give you this," said
De Burgh, handing a card to Katherine as soon as she had shaken hands
with him. It was one of her own cards, and on the back was scribbled,

"Don't mind the notes."

"How extraordinary!" cried Katherine. "I thought they were of the last
importance. What did she say to you? you must have met her directly she
went out!"

"I think I did. I was coming through the narrow part of Kensington, and
was stopped by a block; just caught sight of your chief, and jumped out
of my cab to have a word with her. She told me I should find you, and
gave me that." De Burgh went on: "So this is the tremendous laboratory
where Mrs. Needham forges her thunderbolts," looking round with some
curiosity.

"And where _I_ forge _my_ thunderbolts, said Katherine, laughing.

"Thunderbolts!" echoed De Burgh, looking keenly at her. "No! where you
launch the lightning that either withers or kindles life-giving flames."

"Really, Lord De Burgh, you are positively poetical! I never dreamed of
your developing this faculty when you tried to teach me how to drive at
Castleford."

"No! it did not exist then--now I want to tell you of the cause of its
growth, you have silenced me often enough. To-day I will speak,
Katherine."

"If you please, 'm--there's twopence to pay," said the demure Ford,
advancing with a letter.

Half amused and partly relieved by the interruption, Katherine sought
for and produced the requisite coin, and then took the letter with a
look of some anxiety.

"It is my own writing," she said, "it is one of the envelopes I left
with Cis." Opening it and glancing at the contents her color rose, and
her bosom heaved. "Oh! do look at this," she cried.

De Burgh rose and read over her shoulder.


  "DEAR AUNTIE,

"I hope you are quite well. We have had a dreadful row! Charlie could
not say his lesson, so Mr. Sells roared at him like a bull. Charlie got
into one of his fits, you know, and then he burst out laughing. Mr.
Sells went into such a rage; he laid hold of him and whipped him all
over, and I ran to break the cane. I hit his nose with my head so hard
that the blood came. I was glad to see the blood; then they locked us
both up. I have no stamp. Do come and take us away, do do do!

                          "Your loving,
                                   "CIS."

"P.S.--If you don't come we'll run away to the gipsies on the common."


"The scoundrel! I'll go and thrash him within an inch of his life!"
cried De Burgh, when they had finished this epistle.

"I should like to do it myself," said Katherine in a low fierce tone,
starting up and crushing the letter in an angry grip.

"By Jove! I wish you could, I fancy you'd punish him pretty severely,"
returned De Burgh admiringly.

"I must go--go at once," continued Katherine, her lips trembling, her
lustrous eyes filling. "Think of the tender, fragile, sweet boy--who is
an angel in nature--beaten by a _dog_ like that! Lord de Burgh, I must
leave you, I must go at once."

"Yes, of course," said De Burgh, standing between her and the door; "but
not alone. May I come with you?"

Katherine paused, and put her hand to her head.

"No, I think you had better not."

"I will do whatever you like. Take Miss Payne with you--she is a shrewd
woman--and consult with her what you had better do. Shall you remove the
boys?"

She paused again before replying, looking rapidly, despairingly round.
These changes had cost her a good deal, and she had not much to go on
with unless she broke into the deposit which she hoped to preserve
intact for a long time to come.

"I do not know where to put them," she said, and there was a sound of
tears in her voice.

"You can do whatever you choose," said De Burgh, emphatically, "only,
while you are driving down to this confounded place, make up your mind
what to do. I wish you would feel yourself free to do anything or pay
anything. While you are dressing, I will go round to Miss Payne and
bring her back with me; then you must take my carriage, it will save
time; and don't exaggerate the effects of this whipping, a few impatient
cuts with a cane over his jacket would not hurt him much."

"Hurt him, no; crush and terrify him, yes. It will be months before he
can forget it; and I told the head master of Charlie's peculiarly
nervous temperament--this man seems to be an assistant. I will take your
advice, Lord de Burgh, and make some plan with Miss Payne. I hope she
will be able to come."

"She must--she shall," cried De Burgh, impetuously, and he hastily left
the room.

By the time Katherine had put on her out-door dress, and written an
explanatory line to Mrs. Needham, De Burgh returned with Miss Payne.

"You must tell me all about it as we go along," said that lady, as
Katherine took her place beside her, "and you must do nothing rash."

"Oh no, if I can only prevent a recurrence of such a scene. I am most
grateful to you for your kind help, Lord de Burgh. I will let you know
how things are settled."

"Thank you. I shall be glad of a line; but I shall call to-morrow to
hear a full and true account. Now, what's the name of the place?"

"Birch Grove, Wandsworth Common."

De Burgh gave the necessary directions, and the big black horse tossed
up his head, and dashed off at swift trot. Deep was the discussion which
ensued, and which ended in deciding that they would be guided by
circumstances.

The arrival of Miss Liddell was evidently most unexpected. She and her
companion were shown into the guest-parlor, where, after a while, Mr.
Lockwood, the principal, made his appearance.

"This is an unexpected pleasure, Miss Liddell. May I ask the reason of
your visit?"

Whereupon Katherine spoke more temperately than Miss Payne expected,
describing Cecil's letter, and reminding him that she had fully
explained Charlie's nervous weakness, and stating that, if she could not
be assured such treatment should not occur again, she must remove the
boy.

The 'dominie,' apparently touched by her tone, answered with equal
frankness. He had been called away by unavoidable business at the
beginning of the term, and had forgotten to warn his assistant
respecting Liddell minor. He regretted the incident; indeed, he had
intended to inform Miss Liddell of the unfortunate occurrence, but
extreme occupation must plead his excuse. Miss Liddell might be sure
that it should never happen again; indeed, her nephews were very
promising boys--the youngest a little young for his school, but it was
all the better for him to be accustomed to a higher standard. He hoped,
now that this unpleasantness was over, all would go on well.

"I hope so, Mr. Lockwood," returned Katherine; "but should my nephew be
again punished for what he cannot help, I shall immediately remove him
and his brother."

"So I understand, madam," said the schoolmaster, who was visibly much
annoyed by the whole affair. "I presume you would like to see the boys?"

"Yes, certainly. Will you be so good as to grant them a half-holiday?"

This was agreed to, and in a few minutes Cis and Charlie were hanging
round their aunt.

"Oh, auntie dear, have you come to take us away?"

"No, dears, but I have talked to Mr. Lockwood;" and she explained the
fact that Mr. Sells did not know that Charlie's laughter was
involuntary.

The poor little fellow did not complain of his aunt's decision; he just
laid his head on her shoulders and cried silently. This was worse than
any other line of conduct. Cis declared his intention of running away
forthwith; however, when matters were laid before him and the joys of a
half-holiday set forth, he consented to try 'old Sells' a little longer,
and then Katherine took them back to Wilton Street, where they spent a
quiet happy afternoon with their aunt, to whom they poured out their
hearts, and were finally taken back by the polite Francois.

"You are the kindest of much enduring employers," said Katherine,
gratefully, when she joined Mrs. Needham at dinner. "I earnestly hope my
sudden desertion has not inconvenienced you. Now I am ready to work far
into the night to make up for lost time."

"Oh, you need not do that; I changed my plans after I met Lord de Burgh,
and came home to write here. Now tell me all about those poor dears and
that brute of a master."


The excitement of this expedition over, Katherine felt rather depressed
and nervous the next morning. She dreaded Lord de Burgh's visit, yet did
not absolutely wish to avoid it. It was due to him that the sort of
probation which he had voluntarily instituted should come to an end.
She could not allow herself to be made conspicuous by the constant
attentions of a man who was known to be about the best match in London,
yet she was genuinely sorry to lose him--as a friend he had been so kind
and thoughtful about the boys too! Well, she would be frank and
sympathetic, and soften her refusal as much as possible. How she wished
it were over, she found writing an impossible task, and Mrs. Needham,
noticing her restlessness, observed, with a grave smile,

"I expect you will have some very good news for me this afternoon! I am
going out to luncheon."

"No, dear Mrs. Needham, I do not think I shall," returned Katherine. "I
fear----"

"Lord de Burgh is in the drawing room," said the parlor-maid.

"Go, Katherine," cried Mrs. Needham; "and don't tell me there is any
doubt about your having good news! You deserve bread and water for the
rest of your natural life if you don't take the goods the gods provide."

Katherine hesitated, smiled miserably, and left the room.

"Well, and how did you find the poor little chap?" were De Burgh's first
words. "There's nothing wrong, I hope?--you look as white as a ghost,
and your hand is quite cold;" placing his left on it, as it lay in his
grasp. "The boys are well?"

"Yes, quite well, and reconciled with some difficulty to remain where
they are," she returned, disengaging herself and sinking rather than
sitting down into a corner of a sofa nearest her.

"Then what has upset you? I suppose," softening his voice, "the whole
thing was too much for you."

"I daresay I excited myself more than I need have done, but I think my
little Charlie is safe for the future."

"Do you know that it makes me half mad to see that look of distress in
your eyes, to see the color fading out of your cheeks! Katherine, I
can't hold my tongue any longer. I thought I was far gone when I used to
count the days between my visits to Sandbourne; I am a good deal worse
now that you have let me be a sort of chum! Life without you is
something I don't care to face, I don't indeed! Why don't you make up
your mind to take me for better for worse? I'll try to be all better;
just think how happy we might be! Those boys should have the best
training money or care could get; and, Katherine, I'm not a bad fellow!
Now you know me better, you must feel that I should never be a bad
fellow to _you_."

"You are a very good fellow, Lord de Burgh, that I quite believe; but
(it pains me so much to say it) I really do not love you as I ought,
and, unless I do love I dare not marry."

"Why not?--that is, if you don't love some other fellow. Will you tell
me if any man stands in my way?"

"No, indeed, Lord de Burgh; who could I love?"

"That is impossible to say; however, your word is enough. If your heart
is free, why not let me try to win it? and the opportunities afforded by
matrimony are endless; you are the sort of woman who would be faithful
to whatever you undertook, and when you saw me day by day living for
you, and you only, you'd grow to love me! Just think of the boys running
wild at Pont-y garvan in the holidays, and----By heaven, my head reels
with such a dream of happiness."

"I am a wretch, I know," said Katherine, the tears in her eyes, her
voice breaking; "but I know myself. I am a very lawless individual,
and--you had better not urge me."

"What is your objection to me? I haven't been a saint, but I have never
done anything I am ashamed of. Why do you shrink from life with me?
Come, cast your doubts to the winds, and give me your sweet self. There
is no one to love you as I do, and I swear your life shall be a summer
holiday."

His words struck her with sudden conviction. It was true there was no
one to love her as he did, and what a tower of refuge he would be to the
boys! Why should she not think of him? He had been very true to her. Why
should she not drive out the haunting image of the man who did not love
her by the living presence of the man who did? But, if she accepted him,
she must confess her crime; she could not keep such an act hidden from
the man who was ready to give his life to her. How awful this would be!
And he might reject her; then her fate would be decided for her. Lord de
Burgh saw that she hesitated, and pressed her eagerly for a decision.

"You deserve so much gratitude for your kindness, your faithfulness,
that--ah! do let me think," covering up her face with her hands. "It is
such a tremendous matter to decide."

"Yes, of course, you shall think as much as ever you like," cried De
Burgh, rapturously, telling himself "that she who deliberates is lost."
"Take your own time, only don't say _no_," ferociously. "Reflect on the
immense happiness you can bestow, the good you can do. Why do you
shiver, my darling? If you wish it, I'll go now this moment, and I'll
not show my face till--till the day after to-morrow, if you like."

"The day after to-morrow? that is but a short space to decide so
momentous a question."

"If you can't make up your mind in twenty-four hours, neither can you in
two hundred and forty. I don't want to hurry you, but you must have some
consideration for me; imagine my state of mind. Why, I'll be on the rack
till we meet again. I fancy a conscientious woman is about the cruellest
creature that walks! However, I'll stick to my promise: I will not
intrude on you till the day after to-morrow. Then I will come at eleven
o'clock for your answer; and, Katherine, my love, my life, it must be
'yes.'"

He took and kissed her hand more than once, then he went swiftly away.

The hours which succeeded were painfully agitated. Katherine felt that
De Burgh had every right to consider himself virtually accepted. She
liked him--yes, certainly she liked him, and might have loved him, but
for her irresistible, unreasonable, unmaidenly attachment to Errington.
If she made up her mind to marry him, that would fill her heart and
relieve it from the dull aching which had strained it so long; once a
wife, she would never give a thought save to her own husband, but,
before she reached the profound and death-like peace of such a position,
she must tell her story to De Burgh--and how would he take it? With all
his ruggedness, he had a keen and delicate sense of honor; still she
felt his passion for her would overcome all obstacles for the time, but
how would it be afterwards, when they had settled down to the routine of
every-day life? It would be a tremendous experiment, but she could not
let him enter on that close union in ignorance of the blot on her
scutcheon, and then the door would be closed on the earlier half of her
life, which had been so bitter-sweet. How little peace she had known
since her mother's death! how heavenly sweet her life had been when she
knew no deeper care than to shield that dear mother from anxiety and
trouble! and now there was no one belonging to her on whose wisdom and
strength she had a right to rely. Perhaps, after all, it might be better
to accept De Burgh, and end her uncertainties. Though by no means given
to weeping, Katherine could not recover composure until after the relief
of a copious flood of tears.

"Well, dear!" cried Mrs. Needham, when they were left together after
dinner, "I am just bursting with curiosity. What news have you for me?
and what have you been doing with yourself? You look ghastly, and I
positively believe you have been crying. What have you done? I can't
believe that you have refused Lord de Burgh--you couldn't be such a
madwoman! Why you might lead----"

"How do you know he gave me an opportunity?" interrupted Katherine, with
a faint smile.

"Don't talk like that, dear!" said Mrs. Needham, severely. "What would
bring Lord de Burgh here day after day but trying to win you? I have
been waiting for what I knew was inevitable; now, Katherine, tell me,
have you rejected him?"

"No, Mrs. Needham, I have asked him for time to reflect."

"Oh, that is all right," in a tone of satisfaction, "and only means a
turn of the rack while you can handle the screws; of course you'll
accept him when he comes again. After all, though there are plenty of
unhappy marriages, there is no joy so delightful as reciprocal
affection. I am sure I never saw a creature so glorified by love as
Angela Bradley; she told me at Mrs. Cochrane's she had a wonderful piece
of news for me, and, when I said perhaps I knew it, she beamed all over
and squeezed my hand as she whispered, "Perhaps you do!" I saw her
driving Errington in her pony-carriage afterwards, and meeting old
Captain Everard just then, he nodded after them and said, 'That's an
excellent arrangement; the wedding, I hear, is fixed for the
twenty-ninth of next month.' Now, I don't quite believe _that_; Angela
would certainly have told me, but I am sure it will come off soon. I am
glad for both their sakes."

"I am sure they will make a very happy couple, and I really believe I
shall follow their example."

"Quite right! The double event will make a sensation, my dear child: to
see _you_ happily and splendidly settled will be the greatest joy I have
known for years, and what will Colonel Ormonde say?"

"I neither know nor care; and, Mrs. Needham, if you don't mind, I will
go to bed. I have _such_ a headache."

The fateful morning found Katherine resolved and composed.

She would tell De Burgh everything, and, if her revelation did not
frighten him away, she would try to make him happy and to be happy
herself. It would be painful to tell him, but oh! nothing compared with
the agony of humiliation it cost her to prostrate herself morally before
Errington. Still she would be glad when the confession was over;
afterwards, feeling her destiny decided, she would be calmer and more
resigned. Resigned? what a term to apply to her acceptance of an honest
man's hearty affection; for, whatever De Burgh's life may have been, he
had said he had done nothing he was ashamed of. By some unconscious
impulse she dressed herself in black, and went down to the drawing-room
with her knitting, that she might be ready to receive the man who, an
hour later, might be her affianced husband.

On the stairs she met Ford, who informed her that Miss Trant was waiting
for her. Katherine felt glad of any interruption to her thoughts,
especially as she knew that the arrival of a visitor would be the signal
for Rachel's departure.

"I am so glad to see you," exclaimed Katherine, "but how is it you have
escaped so early?"

"I have been to the City to buy goods, and came round here to have a
peep at you, for Miss Payne told me yesterday of your trouble about the
boys."

"How early you are! why, it is scarcely eleven. Yes, (sit down for a
moment,) yes, I was dreadfully angry and upset;" and Katherine proceeded
to describe Cecil's letter, and her visit to the school.

"I wish you could take them away," said Rachel, thoughtfully.

"Perhaps, later on, I may be able, but I do not think there is any
chance that poor Charlie will be punished again. He is never really
naughty, but he has had a great shock."

"So have you, I imagine, to judge from your looks."

"Do I look shocked? And how have you been? It is so long since I was
able to go and see you."

"I have been, and am very well--very busy, and really succeeding. I have
opened a banking account, and feel very proud of my cheque-book. Do you
know that Mr. Newton has advanced me two hundred pounds? Just now it is
worth a thousand, it lifts me over the waiting time. I have sent in my
quarter's accounts, and in a month the payments will begin to come in.
I'll make a good business yet."

"I believe you will."

"What a pretty room!" said Rachel, looking round. "How nice it is to
know you are comfortable; by the time you are tired of your
secretaryship, I hope to have a nice little sum laid by for you."

"What a wonderful woman of business you are, Rachel," said Katherine,
admiringly.

"I ought to be! It is the only thing left to me, and I am thankful to
say I get more and more---" she stopped, for the door opened and Lord de
Burgh was announced.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

REPULSION.


Rachel started from her seat and stood facing the door. Her cheek
flushed crimson, then grew deadly white, her lips parted as if she
breathed with difficulty.

De Burgh, the moment his eyes fell on her, stopped as if suddenly
arrested by an invisible hand; his eyes expressed horror and surprise,
his dark face grew darker. Rachel quickly recovered. "I will call
again," she murmured, and passing him swiftly, noiselessly, left the
room, closing the door behind her.

Like a flash of lightning, the meaning of this scene darted through
Katherine's brain. Clasping her hands with interlaced fingers, she
pressed them against her breast.

"Ah!" she exclaimed (there was infinite pain in that "ah!") "then _you_
are the man?"

"What do you mean?" asked De Burgh, in a sullen tone, his thick brows
almost meeting in a frown.

"The man she loved and lived with," returned Katherine, the words were
low and clear.

"I am!" he replied, defiantly. Then a dreadful silence fell upon them.

Katherine dropped into a chair, and, resting her elbows on the table,
covered her face with her hands.

"My God!" exclaimed De Burgh, advancing a step nearer. "How does she
come here?"

Katherine could not speak for a moment; at last, and still covering her
eyes and with a low quick utterance as if overwhelmed, she said,

"I have known her for some time. I found her dying of despair! I was
able to befriend her, to win her back to life, to something like hope.
She told me everything, except the name. We have ceased to speak of the
past! I little knew, I could not have dreamed--I never suspected;" her
voice broke, and she burst into tears, irresistible tears which she
struggled vainly to repress.

"Why should you _not_ suspect me!" exclaimed De Burgh, harshly. "Did you
suppose me above or below other men?"

"Ah! poor Rachel! what a flood of unspeakable bitterness must have
overwhelmed her, to find _you_ here!"

De Burgh paced to and fro, bewildered, furious, not knowing how to
defend himself or what to say.

"I am the most unfortunate devil that ever breathed!" he exclaimed at
last, pausing beside the table and resting one hand on it. "Look here,
Katherine, how can a girl like you--for, in spite of your mature airs,
you are a mere girl--how can you judge the--the temptations and ways of
a world of which you know nothing?"

"Temptations!" she murmured; "did Rachel ask _you_ to take her to live
with you?"

"No, of course not," angrily, "she is rather a superior creature, I
admit; but I deny that I ever deceived or deserted her! She was
perfectly aware I never Intended to marry her, and I was awfully put out
when she disappeared. I did my best to find her. But the fact is, when
she did _not_ reappear, I not unnaturally supposed she had gone off with
some other man."

Katherine looked upon him suddenly with such tragic, horrified eyes that
De Burgh was startled; then she slightly raised her hands with an
expressive gesture, again covering her face.

"Yes, yes," De Burgh went on, impatiently, "I see you think me a brute
for suspecting her capable of such a thing, but how was I to know she
was different from others? It is too infernally provoking that such an
affair should came to your notice! You are quite unable to judge
fairly;" and he resumed his agitated walk. "I swear I am no worse than
my neighbors. Ask any woman of the world, ask Mrs. Needham--they will
tell you I am not an unpardonable sinner! I will do anything on earth
for Rachel that you think right. Just remember her position and mine, it
was not as if--It is impossible to explain to you, but there was no
reason, had she been a little sensible, why such an episode should have
spoiled her life! Lots of women--" he stopped, and with a muttered curse
paused opposite her.

"And _could_ you have been her companion so long, without perceiving the
strength and pride and tenderness of the woman who gave up all hoping to
keep the love you no doubt ardently expressed? Ah! if you could have
seen her as she was when I found her!"

"How was I to know she was staking her gold against my counters?"
returned De Burgh, obstinately, though a dark flush passed over his face
at Katherine's words.

"Lord de Burgh! I did not think you could be so cruel," cried Katherine,
rising. "I will not speak to you any longer."

"Cruel!" he exclaimed, placing himself between her and the door. "How
can I be just or generous, when this most unfortunate encounter has put
me in such a hopeless position? Katherine, will you let this miserable
mistake of the past rob me of my best hopes, my most ardently cherished
desires----"

"It is but two or three years since you spoke in the same tone, possibly
the same words, to Rachel! At least, knowing her as I do, I feel sure
she would have yielded to no common amount of persuasion. She was mad,
weak to a degree to listen to you; but she was alone, and love is so
sweet."

"It is," cried De Burgh, passionately. "Why will you turn from love as
true, as intense as ever was offered to woman, merely because I let
myself fall into an error but too common--"

"Is it not a mere accident of our respective positions that you happen
to seek me as your _wife_?" said Katherine, a slight curl on her lip;
"and how can I feel sure that in time you will not weary of me as you
did of her?"

"The cases are utterly unlike. So long as the world lasts, men and women
too will act as Rachel Trant and I did; Nature is too strong for social
laws and religious maxims."

"And you said you had never done anything to be ashamed of?" she
exclaimed, bitterly.

"Nor have I!" said De Burgh, stoutly, "if I were tried by the standard
of our world. How can you know--how can you judge?"

"I do not judge, I have no right to judge," said Katherine, brokenly. "I
only know that, when I saw your eyes meet Rachel's I felt a great gulf
had suddenly opened between us, a gulf that cannot be bridged. I do not
understand and cannot judge, as you say, and I am sorry for you too; but
if life is to be this miserable shuffling of chances, this jumble of
injustice, I would rather die than live. No, Lord de Burgh, I _will_
go."

"Good Heavens! Katherine, you are trembling; you can hardly stand. I am
a brute to keep you; but I cannot help clutching my only chance of
happiness. You are an angel! Dispose of me as you will; but in mercy
give me some hope. I'll wait; I'll do anything."

"Oh, no, no. It is impossible. I am so fond of _her_; and you will find
many to whom your past will be nothing; for me it is irrevocable. The
world seems intolerable; let me go;" and she burst into such bitter sobs
that her whole frame shook.

"I must not keep you now; but I shall _not_ give you up. I will write.
Oh, Katherine, you would not destroy me!" He seized and passionately
kissed her hand, which she tore from him, and fled from the room.


When Rachel Trant escaped from the presence of her dearest friend and
her ex-lover, she could scarcely see or stand. Thankful not to meet
anyone, she hastily left the house, and, somewhat revived by the air,
she made her way to a secluded part of the Kensington Gardens. Here she
found a seat, and, still palpitating with the shock she had sustained,
strove to reduce the chaotic whirl of her thoughts to something like
order.

She divined by instinct why De Burgh was at Mrs. Needham's. She knew,
how she could not tell, that he was seeking Katherine as eagerly as he
had sought herself; but with what a different object! The sight of De
Burgh was as the thrust of a poisoned dagger through the delicate veins
and articulations of her moral system. To see the dark face and sombre
eyes she had loved so passionately--had!--still loved!--was almost
physical agony. It was as if some beloved form had been brought back
from another world, but animated by a spirit that knew her not, regarded
her not at all. Oh, the bitterness of such an estrangement, of this
expulsion from the paradise of warmth and tenderness where she had been
cherished for a while--a heavenly place which should know her no more.

"I brought it all upon myself," was the sentence of her strong stern
sense. "Losing self-respect, what hold can any woman have upon a
lover?--yet how many men are faithful even to death without the legal
tie! I do not love him now, but how fondly, how intensely I loved the
man I thought he was! Oh, fool, fool, fool, to believe that I could ever
tighten my hold upon a man who had gained all he wished unconditionally!
I have deserved all--all."

Yet she had no hatred against the real De Burgh, neither had she any
angelic desire to forgive him, or to do him good or convert him; what he
was now, he would ever be. He might even make a fairly good husband. The
episode of his connection with herself would in no way interfere with
_his_ moral harmony. But he was not worthy of Katherine; no unbreakable
tie would make him more constant; and, though his faithlessness could
not touch her social position, he might crush her heart all the same.
Rachel was far too human, too passionate, not to shrink with unutterable
pain from the idea of this man's entrancing love being lavished on
another, yet her true, devoted affection for her benefactress remained
untouched. Katherine stood before everything. Rachel did not wish to
injure De Burgh--her heart had simply grown strong, and she would not
hesitate for a moment to save Katherine from trouble at any cost to him.

What then should she do?--continue to withhold the name of the man of
whom she had so often spoken, or let Katherine know the whole truth and
judge for herself? If she decided on the latter, it would break up her
friendship with Katherine, and De Burgh would attribute her action to
revenge. Should that deter her? No; so long as she was sure of herself,
what were opinions to her? The one thing in life to which she clung now
was Katherine's affection and esteem; for her she would sacrifice much,
but she would not flatter her into a fool's paradise of trust and wedded
love with De Burgh by concealing anything, neither would she counsel her
against the desperate experiment, should she be inclined to risk it. He
might be a very different man to a wife.

A certain amount of composure came to her with decision, though a second
death seemed to have laid its icy hand upon her heart; she rose and made
her way towards her own abode, determining to await a visit or some
communication from Katherine before she touched the poisoned tract which
lay between them.

Rachel had scarcely reached the Broad Walk when she was accosted by a
little girl, who ran towards her, calling loudly,

"Miss Trant, Miss Trant, don't you know me?"

She was a slight, willowy creature with black eyes, profuse dark hair,
and sallow complexion. Her dress was costly, though simple, and she was
followed at a more sober pace by a lady-like but foreign-looking girl,
apparently her governess.

"Well, Miss Liddell, are you taking a morning walk?" asked Rachel, as
the child took her hand.

"I am going to see papa. I am to have dinner with him. He has a bad
cold, and he sent for me."

"Then you must cheer him up, and tell him what you have been learning."

"I haven't learnt much yet; it is so tiresome."

"Come, Mademoiselle Marie, you must not tease Miss Trant," said the
foreign-looking lady, whom Rachel recognized as one of the governesses
who sometimes escorted George Liddell's daughter "to be tried on."

"She does not tease me," returned Rachel, who had rather taken a fancy
to the child.

"Won't you come and see papa with me?" continued the little heiress. "I
wish you would, and he will tell you to make me another pretty frock--I
love pretty frocks."

"Not to-day; I must go home and make frocks for other people."

"Then I will bring him to see you--I will, I will; he does whatever I
like. Good-bye," springing up to kiss her. "I may come and see you
soon?"

"Whenever you like, my dear," said Rachel, feeling strangely comforted
by the child's warm kisses; and they parted, going in different
directions, to meet again soon.

Mrs. Needham had been sorely tried on that fatal day when De Burgh had
suddenly departed, after a comparatively short interval, and Katherine
had disappeared into the depths of her own room.

She had anticipated entertaining the bridegroom-elect at luncheon, and
had ordered lobster-cream and an _epigramme d'agneau a la Russe_ as
suitable delicacies; she expected confidential consultation and
delightful plans; she had even speculated on so managing that the double
event:--Angela Bradley's marriage with Errington and Katherine's with
Lord de Burgh,--might come off on the same day, even in the same church:
that would be a culmination of excitement! Now some mysterious blight
had fallen on all her schemes. What had happened? What could they have
quarrelled about? Then when Katherine emerged from her refuge she was
hopelessly mysterious; there was no penetrating the reserve in which she
wrapped herself.

"There is no one in whom I should more readily confide than in you, dear
Mrs. Needham, but a serious difference _has arisen_ between Lord de
Burgh and myself, respecting which I cannot speak to _anyone_. I regret
being obliged to keep it to myself, but I must."

"My dear, if you adopt that tone I have nothing more to say, but it is
horribly provoking and disappointing. I am quite sure people began to
expect it--that you would marry Lord de Burgh, I mean, and what a
position you have thrown away. You can't expect a man like him to be a
saint. There is no use trying men by our standard; in short, it's not
much matter what standard we have, we must always come down a step or
two if we mean to make both ends meet; but you see, when a man has money
and right principles, he can atone for a lot."

Katherine gazed at her astonished. How was it that she had found the
scent which led so near the real track?

"No money," she said, gravely, "could in any way affect the matters in
dispute between Lord de Burgh and myself, so I will not speak any more
on the subject. It has all been very painful, and the worst part is that
I cannot tell you."

"Well, it must be bad," observed Mrs. Needham, in a complaining tone,
"but I suppose I must just hold my tongue."

So Katherine was left in comparative peace. But it was a hard passage to
her; she could not shake off the sickening sense of wrong and sorrow,
the painful consciousness of being humiliated which the revelation
inflicted on her, the feeling that she was, in some inexplicable way,
touched by the evil-doing of those who were so near her.

A slight cold, caught she knew not how, aggravated the fever induced by
distress of mind, and next day Mrs. Needham thought her so unwell that
she insisted on sending for the doctor, who condemned Katherine to her
bed, a composing draught, and solitude.

The doctor, however, could not forbid letters, and Katherine's seclusion
was much disturbed by a long, rambling, impassioned epistle from De
Burgh, in which, though he promised not to intrude upon her at present,
he refused to give up all hope, as he could not believe that she would
always maintain her present exaggerated and unreasonable frame of
mind--a letter that did him no good in Katherine's estimation. Then she
tried to resume her work. But Mrs. Needham, returning from one of her
"rapid acts" of inspection and negotiation in and out divers and sundry
warehouses, dismissed her peremptorily to lie down on the sofa in the
drawing-room, in reality to get her out of the way, as she was expecting
a visit from Miss Payne, with whom she wanted a little private
conversation.

"Can you throw any light on this mysterious quarrel between Katherine
and Lord de Burgh?" she asked, abruptly, as soon as Miss Payne was
seated in the study.

"Quarrel? have they quarrelled? I know nothing about it. When did they
quarrel?"

"About three days ago. He came here to propose for her, I know he did,
they were talking together for--oh!--barely a quarter-of-an-hour in the
drawing-room, when I heard her fly up stairs, and he rushed away,
slamming the door as if he would take the front of the house out.
Katherine has never been herself since. It is my firm belief she is
strongly attached to him,--what do you think?"

"I don't know what to think; they were very good friends, but I do not
think Katherine was in love with him. She is a curious girl. I often am
tempted to fancy she has something on her mind."

"Nonsense, my dear Miss Payne. I never met a finer, truer nature than
Katherine Liddell's," cried Mrs. Needham, an affectionate smile lighting
up her handsome, kindly face. "The worst of it is, I do not know whom to
blame, and Katherine has put me on honor not to ask her."

"I cannot help you," said Miss Payne; and she fell into a thoughtful
silence, while Mrs. Needham watched her eagerly.

"I am going away for a few weeks," resumed Miss Payne. "I have let my
house, and I shall go to Sandbourne; the weather seems settled, and it
will be pleasant there. If you can spare her, I will ask Katherine to
come with me, she liked the place, and perhaps in the intimacy of
every-day life she may tell me what happened; but, remember, _I'll_ not
tell you unless she gives me leave."

"No, no, of course not; but I am sure she would trust _me_ as soon as
anyone.'

"Very likely. It will just depend upon who is near her when she is in a
confidential mood."

"Perhaps. I am sure it would do her good; and Sandbourne is not far. If
De Burgh wants to make it up, he can easily run down there."

"Yes, he knows his way. I am not sure that he is the right man, though,"
said Miss Payne, reflectively; "he is too ready to ride rough-shod over
everyone and everything."

"Do you think so? I must say I thought him a delightful person, so
natural and good-natured."

"Well, let me go and see Katherine. I am anxious to take her away with
me."

Katherine was most willing to accept Miss Payne's proposition. She was
soothed and gratified by the thoughtful kindness shown her by both her
friends, and anxious to refresh her mind and recruit her strength before
taking up her life again.

"You are so good to think of taking me with you," she cried, when Miss
Payne ceased speaking. "I should like greatly to go, if Mrs. Needham can
spare me."

"Of course I can. You will come back a better secretary than ever,"
exclaimed that lady, cheerfully. "I will try to run down and see you
some Saturday. It is rather a new place, this Sandbourne, isn't it?"

"Yes; it is not crowded yet."

"When do you go down there?"

"On Saturday afternoon," returned Miss Payne. "I have taken rooms at
Marine Cottage; you know, it is at the end of the parade, near an old
house."

"Yes, quite well; it is a nice little place."

"I will write to secure another bedroom; and let us meet at the station
on Saturday. I go by the 2.50 train." A few more preliminaries and the
affair was settled.

Previous to leaving town, however, Katherine felt she must see Rachel
Trant, though she half dreaded meeting her. It must have been an awful
blow to meet De Burgh as she did. Would she divine what brought him
there? Katherine felt she had been cold and remiss in having kept
silence towards her friend so long, and, when Miss Payne left, she
walked with her across the park to Rachel's abode, in spite of Mrs.
Needham's assurances that it would be too much for her, and retard the
recovery of her nervous forces, etc., etc.

Katherine was not kept long waiting in the neat little back parlor,
which was Miss Trant's private room. Rachel came to her looking very
white, while she breathed quickly. She paused just within the door, in a
hesitating, uncertain way, which seemed to Katherine very pathetic.

"Oh! Rachel," she cried, her soft brown eyes suffused with tears as she
tenderly kissed her brow, "I know everything, and--I will never see him
again."

"He is not all bad," said Rachel, in a low tone, as she clasped
Katherine's hand in both her own.

"No, I am sure he is not; but he has passed out of our lives; let us
speak of him no more."

"I should be glad not to do so; but he has written me a letter I should
like you to see. He seems grieved for the past and makes munificent
offers."

"I should rather not see it, Rachel. I want to forget. Did you reply?"

"I did, very gravely, very shortly. I told him I wanted nothing, that
the best friend I ever had had put me in the way perhaps to make my
fortune, and--and, dearest Miss Liddell, if you care for----"

"But I do not, I did not," interrupted Katherine. "Oh! thank God I do
not. How could I have borne what has come to my knowledge if I did? Now,
let the past bury its dead."

"Is it not amazing that we should be so strangely linked together?"
murmured Rachel.

Katherine made no reply. After a short silence, as if they stood by a
still open grave, Katherine began to speak of her intended visit to Miss
Payne, and before they parted, though both were hushed and grave, they
had glided into their usual confidential, affectionate tone. Business,
however, was not mentioned.

"I wish you could see your cousin's little daughter," said Rachel,
rather abruptly, as Katherine rose to bid her good-bye. "She's an
interesting, naughty little creature, small of her age, but in some ways
precocious. I am fond of her, partly, I suppose, because she likes me.
There is something familiar to me in her face, yet I cannot say that she
actually resembles anyone."

"I should like to see her," returned Katherine; and soon after she left
her friend, relieved and calmed by the feeling that the explanation was
over.

"Well, my dear," cried Mrs. Needham, when they met at dinner. "I have a
great piece of news for you: Mr. Errington is to be the new editor of
_The Cycle_. A capital thing for him! and that accounts for the
announcement of the marriage being held back, just to let people get
accustomed to the first start. It shows what Bradley thinks of him. It
is really a grand triumph to get such an appointment after so short an
apprenticeship."

"I am glad of it, very glad," returned Katherine, thoughtfully. "I
suppose he is considered very clever."

"A first-rate man, quite first-rate, for all serious tough subjects. I
think, dear, if I could run down on Saturday week till Monday it would
be an immense refreshment;" and Mrs. Needham wandered off into the
discussion of a variety of schemes.

On the Saturday following, Katherine and her faithful chaperon set out
for their holiday with mutual satisfaction and a hope that they left
their troubles behind them.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

RECONCILIATION.


The change to Sandbourne did Katherine good; she grew calmer, more
resigned, though still profoundly sad. The sense of having been brought
in touch with one of the most cruel problems of society affected her
deeply, and the contrast between the present and past of a year ago,
when she had the boys with her, forced her to review her mental
conditions since the great change in her fortunes wrought by her own
act.

She had ample time for thought. Miss Payne was suffering from touches of
rheumatism, which made long walks impossible; so Katherine wandered
about alone.

The weather was bright, but, although it was the beginning of May, not
warm enough to sit amongst the rocks at the point. Katherine, however,
often walked to and fro recalling De Burgh's looks and tones the day he
had opened his heart to her there. He was not a bad fellow--no, far from
it; indeed, she knew that, if her heart had not been filled with
Errington, she could have loved De Burgh. How was it that a man of
feeling, of so-called honor, with a certain degree of discrimination
between right and wrong, could have broken the moral law and been so
callous as he had shown himself?

There was no use in thinking about it; it was beyond her comprehension.
All she hoped was that time might efface the cruel lines which sorrow
and remorse had cut deep into Rachel's heart.

With Miss Payne, Katherine was cheerful and companionable. They spoke
much of Bertie. His decision to take orders would have given his sister
unqualified satisfaction had he also sought preferment in England.

"A clergyman's position is excellent," she said, confidentially, as they
sat together in the drawing-room window one blustery afternoon, when
Katherine was not tempted to go out. "Bertie is just the stuff to make a
popular preacher of, and so long as he is properly ordained I don't care
how he preaches, but I don't like him to be classed with ranting,
roaring vagabonds! Then, you see, there are no men who have such
opportunities as clergymen of picking up well-dowered wives. I believe
women are ready to propose themselves rather than not catch what some of
them are pleased to term "a priest." It's a weakness I never could
understand. What induces him to run off among the heathen?--can't he
find heathen enough at home? If he gets into these outlandish places, I
shall never see him again, and, between you and me, he is the only
creature I care for. He thinks he is inspired by the love of God, but I
know he is driven by the love of _you_."

"Of me, Miss Payne?" exclaimed Katherine, startled and greatly pained.

"Yes, you; and I wish you could see your way to marry him. It would be
no great match for either of you, but he would be another and a happier
man; and, as for you, your rejection of Lord de Burgh (I suppose you
_did_ refuse him) shows you do not care for riches."

"But, Miss Payne, I have no right to think your brother ever wished to
marry me."

"Then you must be very dull. I wonder he has not written before. Oh,
here is the postman!"

Katherine stepped through the window and took the letters from him.

"Only one for you and two for me," she said, returning. "One, I see, is
from Ada." Opening it, she read as follows:


"DEAREST KATHERINE,

"I write in great anxiety and surprise, as I see among the fashionable
intelligence of the _Morning Post_ that Lord de Burgh is on the point of
leaving England for a tour in the Ural Mountains (of all places!) and
will probably be absent for several months. Can this be true? and, if
so, what is the reason of it? Is it possible that you have been so
cruel, so insane, so wicked as to fly in the face of providence and
refuse him? You should remember your own poverty-stricken existence,
and think of the boys. Marriage with a man of De Burgh's rank and
fortune would be the making of them. I have hidden away the paper, for,
if the colonel saw it, it would drive him frantic. Do write and let me
mediate between you and De Burgh, if you are so mad as to have
quarrelled with him. I am feeling quite ill with all this excitement and
worry. I don't think many women have been so sorely tried as myself.
Ever yours,
                                     "ADA ORMONDE."


Having glanced through this composition, she handed it with a smile to
Miss Payne, and opened the other letter, which was from Rachel. This was
very short and very mysterious.


"I have been introduced to your relative, Mr. George Liddell," she
wrote, "by his daughter. We have had a conversation respecting you and
other matters. I cannot go into this now--I only write to say that Mr.
Liddell is going down to see you to-morrow or next day, and I earnestly
trust you may be reconciled. I am always your devoted RACHEL."


"This is very extraordinary," cried Katherine, when she had read it
aloud. "What can she mean by sending him down here! I rather dread
seeing him."

"Nonsense," returned Miss Payne, sternly. "If that dressmaking friend of
yours brings about a reconciliation between you and your very
wrong-headed cousin, she will do a good deed. I anticipate some
important results from this interview--you must see Mr. Liddell alone."

"I suppose so. I am sure I hope he will not snap my head off."

"You are not the sort of girl to allow people to snap your head off. But
I am immensely puzzled to imagine what Miss Trant can have said or done
to send this bush-ranger down here. How did Mr. Liddell come to know
her?"

"I can only suppose that his little girl, to whom I believe he is
devoted, brought him to Rachel's to get a dress tried on or to choose
one."

"It is very odd," observed Miss Payne, thoughtfully. "My letter," she
went on, after a moment's pause, "is from my new tenant; he wants some
additional furniture, which is just nonsense. He has as much as is good
for him; I'll write and say I shall be in town on Monday, and call at
Wilton Street to discuss matters."

"_Are_ you going to town on Monday?"

"Yes, I made up my mind when I read this," tapping the letter.

"I suppose you don't object to be left alone? And there is the chance of
Mrs. Needham coming down; probably she will stay over Monday."

"I fear that is not very likely."

No more was said on the subject then, but Katherine could not get her
mind free from the idea of George Liddell's anticipated visit. She was
quite willing to make friends with him, though his ungenerous and
unreasonable conduct towards herself had impressed her most
unfavorably.

The day passed over, however, without any visitor, nor was it until the
following afternoon that Katherine was startled, in spite of her
preparation, by the announcement that a gentleman wished to see Miss
Liddell.

"I'll go," exclaimed Miss Payne, gathering up her knitting and a book,
and she vanished swiftly in spite of rheumatic difficulties.

In another moment George Liddell stood before his dispossessed
kinswoman, a tall, gaunt figure with grizzled hair and sunken eyes. He
took the hand she offered in silence, and then exclaimed, abruptly,

"You knew I was coming?"

"Yes, Rachel Trant told me. Will you not sit down?"

He drew a chair beside her work-table, and looking at her for a minute
exclaimed, in harsh tones which yet showed emotion,

"You are a good woman!"

"How have you found that out?" asked Katherine, smiling.

"I will answer by a long, cruel story!" he returned with a sigh; "a
story I would tell to none but you." Again he paused, looking down as if
collecting his thoughts, while the brown, bony, sinewy hand he laid on
the table was tightly clenched. "You knew my father," he began, suddenly
raising his dark suspicious eyes to her, "and therefore can understand
what an exacting tyrant he could be to those who were in his power. As a
mere child I feared him and shrank from him; my earliest recollection
was of my mother's care in keeping me from him. He was not violent to
her--I don't suppose he ever struck her, but he treated her with cold
contempt, why, I never understood, except that she cost him money, and
brought him none. I won't unman myself by describing what her life was,
or how passionately I loved her; we clung to each other as desolate,
persecuted creatures only do! He grudged us the food we ate, the
clothes--rather the rags--we wore. One day playing in Regent's Park I
fell into the canal, and was nearly drowned. A gentleman went in after
me and saved me. He took me home, he gave me to my mother, he often met
us after. He gave me treats and money,--I can't dwell on this time. He
won my mother's love, chiefly through me. He was going away to the new
world. He persuaded her to leave her wretched home, to take me,--we
escaped. I shall never forget the joy of those few days! Then my father
(as we might have known he would) put out his torturing hand and seized
_me_. My mother had hoped that his miserly nature would have disposed
him to let me go, if he could thereby escape the cost of my maintenance.
But revenge was too sweet to be foregone. I was dragged away. He did not
want _her_ back. He hoped her lover would desert her after awhile, and
so accomplish her punishment; but he was true! No, I can never forget my
mother's agony when I was torn from her!" he rose and walked to the
window, and returned. "The hideous picture had grown faint," he said,
"but as I speak it grows clear and black! You can imagine my life after
this! It was well calculated to turn a moody, passionate boy into a
devil! I was nearly eleven when I lost my mother, and I never heard of
her or from her after; yet I never doubted that she loved me and tried
to communicate with me, but my father's infernal spite kept us apart. At
sixteen I ran away. Your father was friendly to me and tried to
persuade me against what he called rashness; but I always fancied he
might have helped my mother, backed her up more, and I did not heed him.
I went through a rough training, as you may suppose, and never saw my
father's face again."

"I can imagine that he could be terrible," murmured Katherine. "I was
dreadfully afraid of him, but I did not know he had been so cruel."

George Liddell did not seem to hear her, he was lost in thought.

"You wonder, I daresay, why I tell you this long story," he resumed;
"you will see what it leads up to presently."

"I am greatly interested," returned Katherine.

"You will be more so! From what I told Newton, you know enough of my
career in Australia, but you do _not_ know that I married a sweet,
delicate woman, who, after the birth of our little Marie, fell into bad
health. If I could have taken her away for a long voyage, it might have
saved her, but I was in full swing making my pile, and could not tear
myself away; that must have been about the time my father died. Had I
known I was his heir, I should have sent my wife home. But fool that I
was! I was too wrapped up making money (for the tide had just turned,
and I was floating to fortune) to see that she was slipping from me. I
never dreamed my father would die intestate. I always thought he would
take care of his precious gold. It was well for me he destroyed his
will."

Katherine felt her cheeks glow; but she did not speak.

"Well, I felt furious to think you had been enjoying my money when I did
not even know that my father was dead; but I have changed."

"Why?" asked Katherine, who could not imagine what was his motive for
telling her his history.

"You shall hear. You know I placed my little Marie at school. The
school-mistress employed a dressmaker to whom the child took a fancy;
she insisted on taking me to see her, and to choose some fal-lals." He
stopped again, his mouth twitched, his fingers played with his
watch-chain. "When the young woman came into the room," he resumed, "I
thought I should have dropped. She was the living image of my poor
mother, only younger. I could not speak for a minute. At last, when the
child had kissed her and chatted a bit, I managed to ask if I might come
back and speak to her alone, as she was so like a lady I once knew, that
I wanted to put a few questions to her. She seemed a little disturbed;
but told me I might come in the evening. I went. I asked her about her
parentage; she knew very little, save that she had been born in South
America. She offered, however, to show me her mother's picture, and,
when she brought it, I not only saw it was _my_ mother's likeness, but a
picture I knew well. Her initials were on the case, R. L. Then I told
her everything. I proved to her that I was her half-brother. How
bitterly she cried when I described a little brooch with my hair in it,
which Rachel still keeps. She has seen our mother kiss it and weep over
it. My heart went out to her; she is second now only to my child. Then,
Katherine, she told me her own sad story, and the part you played in it.
How you saved her, and gave her hope and strength. Give me your hand!
I'll never forget this service. It binds me more, a hundredfold more,
than if you had done it for myself. But neither entreaties nor
reproaches could induce her to tell me the name of the villain who--has
she told you?" he interrupted himself to ask sternly.

"She never named his name to me," cried Katherine. "It is cruel to ask
her. And of what possible advantage would the knowledge be? Any inquiry,
any disturbance, would only punish her."

Liddell started up, and walked to and fro hastily. "That's true," he
exclaimed; "but I wish I had my hand on his throat."

"That is natural; but you must think of Rachel, she has suffered so
much."

"She has!" said George Liddell, throwing himself into his chair again.
"But you don't know the sort of pain and sweetness it is to talk of my
poor mother to her daughter! It makes a different and a better man of
me. Rachel is a strong woman," he added, after a moment's thought; "she
wishes our relationship to be kept secret. It is no credit to anyone,
she says, and might be injurious to little Marie; we can be friends, and
she need never want a few hundreds to help on her business. It seems
that to please his people her father, on returning to England, only used
his second name, which I never knew. It is a sorrowful tale for you to
listen to--you are white and trembling, my girl," he added, with sudden
familiarity,--"but I haven't done yet; you have laid me under
obligations I can never repay. I could not offer a woman like you money;
but I will pay you in kind. You have saved my dear sister, I will
provide for the nephews that are dear to you. I have already seen Newton
and my own solicitor, and laid my propositions before them. I don't
pretend to munificence for them, besides, I shall not forget either you
or them in my will, but they shall have means for a right good education
and a good start in life. Now I want you to forgive my brutality when we
first met, and, more, I want you to be my daughter's friend." He grasped
her hand.

Katherine's eyes had already brimmed over.

"Forgive you!" she repeated. "I am quite ready to forgive. I was vexed,
of course, that you should be unreasonably prejudiced against me; but I
am deeply grateful for your generosity to the boys. If you knew the joy,
the relief you have given me, it would, I am sure, gladden you. But let
us try to make Rachel happy too. I wish----"

"She is happiest in her own way. Work is the only cure for ills like
hers," interrupted Liddell. "Time will do wonders, and her wish to keep
our relationship secret is wise." There was a pause; then Liddell,
looking steadily at Katherine, exclaimed, "You are a real true,
good-hearted woman; the world would be a better place if there were a
few more like you in it." He then passed on to his plans for the future;
his projects for his daughter's education, opening his mind with a
degree of confidence which amazed Katherine, considering that two days
before he was an enemy.

Presently he ceased to speak, and, after a moment's thought, stood up.

"Now I have said my say, and I must go," he exclaimed. "I only came to
explain myself to you, for the less of such a story committed to paper
the better. I am due in town to-morrow morning; write to Rachel, and
come and see her as soon as you can. I wish," he added, with a searching
glance, "that I had a woman like you to regulate matters and take care
of my little Marie; then I could keep her with me."

"She is far better at school," returned Katherine, a little startled by
this suggestive speech. "But will you not have some luncheon before you
go?"

"No, thank you. I had some before coming on here. I need very little
food, and scarcely anything gives me pleasure; but I like you, my
cousin, and I want your friendship for the child."

"She shall have it, I promise."

After a few more words, George Liddell bid her good-bye. She stood a few
minutes in deep thought before going to tell her good news to Miss
Payne, reflecting that she must not betray the real motive of his change
towards herself; the less she said the better. While she thought, Miss
Payne came in looking unusually eager.

"Wouldn't he stay and have a bit to eat?" she exclaimed. "I saw him
going out of the gate from my room."

"No, he is in a hurry to get back to town. Ah! my dear Miss Payne, he
came down to make his peace with me, and he is going to provide for the
boys."

"Why, what has happened to him? I can hardly believe my ears."

"I am sure I could hardly believe mine. I suppose as he grew accustomed
to feel that everything was in his hands, and that I had given him no
trouble, he saw that he had been unnecessarily severe. Then his little
girl took him to Rachel Trant's, and they evidently spoke of me;
probably she gave a highly colored description of my goodness, and,
being an impulsive man, he said he would come and see me, whereupon she
wrote to warn me."

"That's all possible; but somehow I feel there is more in it than I
quite understand."

"I am sure I do not care to understand the wherefore, if only my cousin
carries out his good intentions as regards Cis and Charlie."

"Just so; that is the main point. If he does, what a burden will be
lifted off your shoulders!"

"And what a change in the boys' fortunes!" returned Katherine; adding,
after a short pause, "I think I will go to town with you on Monday and
pay them a visit, while you arrange your affairs with your tenant. Mrs.
Needham will put me up for a night or two."

In truth, Katherine longed to see and talk with Rachel, to discuss the
curious turn in her changeful fortunes, and build up pleasant palaces in
the airy realms of the future.

The following day brought her a letter from De Burgh. It was dated from
Paris, and told her of his intention to be absent from England for some
time; he pleaded earnestly for pardon with a certain rough eloquence,
and repeated the arguments he had previously urged, evidently thinking
that his punishment was greatly disproportionate to his offence.

Katherine was much moved by this epistle; she could not help being sorry
for him, though she hoped not to meet him again. The association of
ideas was too painful; she was ashamed too to remember how near she had
come to marrying him, in a sort of despair of the future. She answered
this letter at once, frankly and kindly, setting forth the unalterable
nature of her decision, and begging him not to put her to unnecessary
pain by trying to renew their acquaintance at any future time.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE END.


The project of going to town, however, was not carried out. Miss Payne
caught a severe cold, owing to the unusual circumstance of having
forgotten her umbrella, and, in consequence, getting wet through by a
sudden heavy shower.

Instead, therefore, of speeding London-wards on Monday, Miss Payne spent
the weary hours in bed with a racking headache and Katherine in close
attendance.

Next day, however, she was considerably better, and even talked of
coming downstairs in the evening when the house was shut up. She
insisted on sending her kind nurse out for air and exercise, as she was
looking pallid and heavy-eyed; nor was Katherine reluctant to go, for
she enjoyed being alone to meditate on the curious interweaving of
fate's warp and woof which had made Rachel the means of reconciliation
between George Liddell and herself. She ought now to take up her life
again with courage and energy. The boys provided for, she had nothing to
fear, while, if the future held out no brilliant prospect of personal
happiness, much quiet content probably lay in the humble sufficiency
which was now hers. The interest she would take in the careers of Cis
and Charlie would renew her youth, and keep her in touch with active
life, while, as the impression of her various troubles wore away under
the swift-flowing stream of time, she would feel more and more the
restful excellence of peace. It was not a bad outlook, yet Katherine
felt sad as she contemplated it. Finding her self-commune less cheering
than she anticipated, she turned her steps homeward, and entered the
house through the window of the drawing-room which opened on a rustic
veranda. Coming from strong sunlight into comparative darkness, she took
off her hat, and pushed back her hair from her brow before she perceived
that a gentleman had risen from the chair where he sat reading.

"You see I have dared to take possession of the premises in your
absence," he said.

"Mr. Errington?" cried Katherine, her heart suddenly bounding, and then
beating so violently she could hardly speak. "How--where--did you come
from?"

"From London, to enjoy a brief breathing-space from pressure of
work--welcome as it generally is! I am sorry to find that your friend
Miss Payne is invalided, as she was not visible, I ventured to wait for
you."

"I am very glad to see you," returned Katherine, placing herself on the
sofa as far from the window as she could, for she felt herself changing
color in a provoking way.

"I saw Mrs. Needham yesterday, who gave me your address and sundry
messages, one to the effect that she hopes to pay you a visit next
Saturday; the rest I do not remember accurately, for she was much
excited and not very distinct."

"We shall be delighted to see her, she is so bright and sympathetic.
What was the immediate cause of her excitement?"

"The marriage of Miss Bradley in about a fortnight."

"Indeed!" cried Katherine, thinking this way of announcing it rather
odd, but never doubting it was his own marriage also. "Then accept my
warm congratulations; you have no well-wisher more sincere than myself."

Errington looked up surprised.

"Why do you congratulate me? I certainly was of some use in bringing it
about, but sooner or later they would certainly have married."

"They? who--whom is she going to marry?"

"My old friend Major Urquhart. It is a very old attachment, but Mr.
Bradley objected to his want of fortune; then, as Bradley's wealth
increased, Urquhart felt reluctant to come forward again. Accident
revealed the state of the case to me. I went to see Urquhart, who had
just returned from India, and was in Edinburgh. I persuaded him to
return with me, and once the lovers met, matters swiftly arranged
themselves. Finally, Bradley gave his consent. Now the air is resonant
with the coming chime of wedding bells."

"I am greatly surprised," said Katherine, and it was some minutes before
she could speak again. Her horizon seemed suddenly suffused with light;
she felt dizzy with a strange delightful glow, and confused with a sense
of shame at her own unreasoning, irrational joy. What difference could
Errington's marriage or no marriage make to her?

"I suppose," resumed Errington, after looking earnestly at her speaking
face, "that the intimacy which arose between Mr. Bradley and myself in
consequence of my connection with _The Cycle_ suggested the rumor of my
engagement with his daughter; but no such idea ever entered my head or
Angela's. You know, I suppose, I am now _de facto_ editor of _The
Cycle_. It is a good appointment, and enables me to hope for
possibilities, though I dare not say probabilities."

"I am sure you will be an admirable editor," said Katherine, pulling
herself together, and trying to speak lightly.

"Why?" asked Errington, smiling.

"You are just, and--and careful, and must be a good judge of the
subjects such a periodical treats of."

"Thank you." He paused; then, looking down, he continued, "Mrs. Needham
tells me you have been troubled about your nephews."

"Yes, I was very much troubled, but I think they are safe and well now;
later I should put them to a better school, as I now hope to do." She
stopped to think how she should best explain George Liddell's unexpected
generosity, and Errington exclaimed.

"These boys are a heavy charge to you! yet I suppose you could not bring
yourself to give them up?"

"How could I? their mother can really do nothing for them, and it would
be cruel to hand them over to Colonel Ormonde's charity."

"It would! you are right," said Errington, hastily. "Poor little
fellows! to lose you would be too terrible a trial for them."

Katherine raised her eyes to his; they were moist with gratitude for his
sympathy, and seemed to draw him magnetically to her. He changed his
place to the sofa; leaning one arm on the back, he rested his head on
his hand, and looked gravely down upon her.

"Will you forgive me if I ask an intrusive question? You know we agreed
to be friends, yet our friendship does not seem to thrive, it is dying
of starvation because we so rarely meet; still, for the sake of our
shadowy friendship, answer me: may I put the natural construction on De
Burgh's sudden departure from England?"

Katherine hesitated; she did not like to say in so many words that she
had refused him, a curious, half-remorseful feeling made her especially
considerate towards him.

"I do not like to speak of Lord de Burgh," she said at length.

"When does he return?

"I do not know. I know nothing of his plans."

"Then you sent him empty away?" said Errington, smiling.

"I very nearly married him!" she exclaimed, frankly. "He was kind and
generous, and would have been good to the boys; but at last I could not.
Oh! I could _not_!"

"I am sorry for De Burgh," said Errington, thoughtfully, "but you were
right; your wisdom is more of the heart than the head. Do you remember
that day (how vividly I remember it!) when you came to me and told me
your strange story? It was the turning-point of my life. When I
confessed I knew nothing of the deep, warm, tender affection that
actuated _you_, you said that for me wisdom was from one entrance quite
shut out."

"I can remember nothing clearly of that dreadful day, only that you were
very forgiving and good," returned Katherine, pressing her hands
together to still their trembling.

"Well, from the moment you spoke those words, the light of the wisdom
you meant dawned upon me, and grew stronger and brighter, till my whole
being was flooded with the love you inspired. You opened a new world to
me; your voice was always in my ears, your eyes looking into mine." He
spoke in a low, earnest, but composed tone, as if he had made up his
mind to the fullest utterance. Katherine covered her face with her hands
with the unconscious instinct to hide the emotion she felt it would
express. "Many things kept me silent. Fear that the sight of me was
painful to you; the dread of seeming to seek your fortune; my own
uncertain position. Then, when all was taken from you, and I was by my
own act deprived of the power to help you, you were so brave and patient
that profound esteem mingled with the strange, sweet, wild fire you had
kindled! Am I so painfully associated in your mind that you cannot give
me something of the wealth of love stored in your heart? You have
taught me what love is, will you not reward so apt a pupil?"

"Mr. Errington," said Katherine, letting him take her cold trembling
hand, "is it possible you can love and trust a woman who has acted a lie
for years as I have?"

"I cannot help both loving and trusting you, utterly," he returned,
holding her hand tenderly in both his own. "I believe in your truth as I
believe in the reality of the sun's light, and if you can love me I
believe I can make you happy. I have but a humble lot to offer you, yet
I think it is--it will be a tranquil and secure one. I can help you in
bringing up those boys, I will never quarrel with you for clinging to
them, and will do the best I can for them! You know _I_ have a
creditor's claim; Roman law gave the debtor over into the hands of the
creditor," continued Errington, growing bolder as he felt how her hand
trembled in his grasp; "you must pay me by the surrender of yourself, by
accepting a life for a life. Katherine----"

"Ah! how can I answer you? If indeed you can trust and respect me, I can
and will love you well," she exclaimed, with the sweet frankness which
always enchanted him.

"Will you love me with the whole unstinted love of your rich nature? I
cannot spare a grain," said Errington, jealously.

"But I do love you," murmured Katherine; "I am almost frightened at
loving you so much."

Could it be cold, composed, immovable Errington who strained her so
closely to his heart, whose lips clung so passionately to hers?

"I have a great deal to tell you," began Katherine, when she had
extricated herself and recovered some composure. "But I must go and see
poor Miss Payne; she will wonder what has become of me."

"Tell her you are obliged to talk to me of business, and come back soon.
I have much to consult you about, and I can only remain till to-morrow
evening--do not stay away."

And Katherine returned very soon.

"Miss Payne is dreadfully puzzled," she said, smiling and blushing,
quivering in every vein with the strange, almost awful happiness which
overwhelmed her.

"Now, what have you to tell me?" asked Errington, and she gave him a
full description of George Liddell's visit and proposal to provide for
Cis and Charlie.

Errington was too happy to heed the details much, he only remarked that
he was glad Liddell had come to his right mind.

"I want you to tell Miss Payne as soon as possible our new plans; she is
coming downstairs this evening, you say? Let me break the news to her. I
think she will give us her blessing; and, Katherine, my sweet Katherine,
there is no reason to delay our marriage. You have no fixed home; the
sooner you make one for yourself and me the better. The idea is
intoxicating. Our poverty sets us free from the trammels of
conventionality; we have nothing to wait for."


So they were married.

Here ought to come "Finis!" yet real life had only begun for them. Were
they happy? Yes. For under the wild sweetness of warmest passionate
love lay the lasting rock of comprehension and genial companionship.
Fuller knowledge brought deeper esteem, and the only secret Katherine
ever kept from her husband was the true history of Rachel Trant.

A severe attack of fever, brought on by overstudy, immediately after
Katherine's marriage, prevented Bertie Payne from carrying out his
missionary scheme. He was reluctantly obliged to put up with the
East-End heathen, "who," as Miss Payne observed, "were bad enough to
satisfy the largest appetite for sinners."

There his faithful sister established herself to make a home for him,
renouncing her comfortable West-End abode, and finding ample interest in
the pursuits she affected to treat as fads.

"Altogether everything has turned out in the most extraordinary and
unexpected manner," as Mrs. Ormonde observed to Mrs. Needham, whom she
encountered at one of Lady Mary Vincent's receptions. "Katherine seems
quite proud to settle down in a suburban villa away in St. John's Wood
as Mrs. Errington, while she might have made a figure at court as Lady
de Burgh. By the way, I see your friend, Mrs. Urquhart, was presented at
the last drawing-room."

"Yes, and was one of the handsomest women there.--But I don't suppose
Mrs. Errington ever gives a thought to drawing-room or Buckingham Palace
balls.--You see she is in a way always at court, for her king is always
beside her," returned Mrs. Needham, with a becoming smile. "Good-night,
Mrs. Ormonde."


THE END





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